Saturday, December 09, 2006

Extended Occupation Helps U.S. in Ramadi

Extended Occupation Helps U.S. in Ramadi - washingtonpost.com: "RAMADI, Iraq -- The soldiers swallow diet pills and slurp can after can of Red Bull, fighting to stay awake as they peer from armored Humvees into the pre-dawn darkness. Twangy country music pours from some vehicle sound systems, angry rap from others.

Every few minutes, an explosion is heard, but it's only the Marines blowing down doors as they storm from house to house, searching for sniper rifles, bomb-making materials and suspected insurgents."

"Operation Squeeze Play" is proving easier than expected considering this 20-block section of southeastern Ramadi _ known as "Second Officer's District" because it's home to so many former leaders of Saddam Hussein's army _ was not so long ago a no-go zone for U.S. troops.

"You used to look at a map and it'd be like the Columbus-era, 'South of here lies dragons,' because nobody ever went there," said Capt. Jon Paul Hart, assistant operations officer for the Army's 1st Battalion, 37th Armored Regiment. "All we knew was that it was really bad, really dangerous."

Ramadi, the capital of the western, overwhelming Sunni Arab province of al-Anbar, has seen some of the bloodiest street battles of the war. Sunni insurgents remain well-entrenched here and continue to move freely through parts of downtown where Americans often dare not set foot.

At least six U.S. troops were killed in fierce fighting in the province on Wednesday, the military said.

But as the White House faces calls to revisit its Iraq policy, U.S. forces in Ramadi insist their strategy here _ taking ground and holding it _ is proving effective.

"You have to occupy ground and stay there," said Capt. Greg Pavlichko, commander of a company involved in "Squeeze Play." "You have to live where you're fighting and let the people see you're committed to an area."

Commanders also say that any progress in Ramadi will evaporate almost overnight if U.S. forces pull out of the city. There is speculation the U.S. may scale back its operations here and throughout Anbar to focus on the violence and chaos in Baghdad.

"I think to give up on Anbar would be to give up on Iraq," Hart said. "It would be giving up all that we've worked very hard, sacrificed a lot of lives, to gain."

U.S. forces have compartmentalized much of south-central Ramadi, guarding key throughways with tanks and lookout posts to prevent the planting of roadside bombs. They also have established "command outposts" in mansions riddled with bullet holes and government buildings half-leveled by rocket attacks, while opening new police stations throughout the city.

"We're not losing this. Things aren't as dire as everybody says," said Lt. Col. Pete Lee, the executive officer for the 1st Brigade Combat Division's 1st Armored Division.

That assessment is still very much up for debate, however.

Explosions from roadside bombs still shake Ramadi around the clock and snipers perch on rooftops, loiter near windows and crouch in the back of vehicles waiting to take a shot at Americans. At one U.S. outpost in Ramadi, soldiers have to don body armor during daylight hours just to step into the backyard, where their makeshift outhouse is located.

Even "Squeeze Play" could have been ugly. Advance teams found a string of 11 anti-tank mines _ each the size of a medium pizza _ half-submerged in sewage in a creek-bed near the entrance to the neighborhood Marines were moving in to search. A trio of roadside bombs exploded during the mission, two of them damaging heavily armored vehicles but causing no casualties.

The insurgency first made significant gains in Ramadi and elsewhere in Sunni-dominated Anbar after the fall of Baghdad in 2003, and many Sunnis in Ramadi were receptive when al-Qaida in Iraq moved in.

Unlike in Baghdad, insurgents succeeded in taking over basic facets of life in the city and other parts of Anbar, controlling schools, health care and mosques.

"Al-Qaida in Iraq really made a stand here," said Lt. Col. V.J. Tedesco III, the 42-year-old commander of the 900-troop task force conducting "Squeeze Play," which includes soldiers, Marines, sailors and pilots and is assigned to central Ramadi.

In between heavy firefights, U.S. forces have worked to convince residents that the insurgents are interested in Anbar for purely selfish reasons. They are training a new Iraqi army and police force in hopes Iraqis will one day be strong enough to restore order in Ramadi on their own.

But the Iraqi army is largely made up of Shiites and Kurds and some of its officers freely acknowledge they don't trust Sunnis. Recruited locally, meanwhile, the police force in Ramadi is Sunni, prompting fears of feuds with the army.

Ramadi has no city council and the mayor only began work last month. Unemployment is rampant, and those without jobs are often willing to take cash payments to plant explosives on a highway or become full-time insurgents.

The few local leaders who have taken office here and elsewhere throughout Anbar complain that the Shiite-dominated central government in Baghdad ignores their funding requests for basic services, infrastructure and public safety.

Without U.S. forces, all pretense of government could collapse, said Tedesco, the task force commander.

"A lot of people may not like that so many years after the war ended, there are still Americans here," he said. "They may not love us, but they need us because the alternative is to live in a terrorist state."

Note the brand new weapon on the floor. The stock isn't even dirty nor is the sling used. The weaponss we are providing the Iraqi's are being openly sold on the black market. Posted by Picasa

Black-Market Weapon Prices Surge in Iraq Chaos

Black-Market Weapon Prices Surge in Iraq Chaos - New York Times: "SULAIMANIYA, Iraq, Dec. 8 — The Kurdish security contractor placed the black plastic box on the table. Inside was a new Glock 19, one of the 9-millimeter pistols that the United States issued by the tens of thousands to the Iraqi Army and police."

This pistol was no longer in the custody of the Iraqi Army or police. It had been stolen or sold, and it found its way to an open-air grocery stand that does a lively black-market business in police and infantry arms. The contractor bought it there.

He displayed other purchases, including a short-barreled Kalashnikov assault rifle with a collapsible stock that makes it easy to conceal under a coat or fire from a car. “I bought this for $450 last year,” he said of the rifle. “Now it costs $650. The prices keep going up.”

The market for this American-issued pistol and the ubiquitous assault rifle illustrated how fear, mismanagement and malfeasance are shaping the small-arms market in Iraq.

Weapon prices are soaring along with an expanding sectarian war, as more buyers push prices several times higher than those that existed at the time of the American-led invasion nearly four years ago.

Rising prices, in turn, have encouraged an insidious form of Iraqi corruption — the migration of army and police weapons from Iraqi state armories to black-market sales.

All manner of infantry arms, from rocket-propelled grenade launchers to weathered and dented Kalashnikovs, have circulated within Iraq for decades.

But three types of American-issued weapons are now readily visible in shops and bazaars here as well: Glock and Walther 9-millimeter pistols, and pristine, unused Kalashnikovs from post-Soviet Eastern European countries. These are three of the principal types of the 370,000 weapons purchased by the United States for Iraq’s security forces, a program that was criticized by a special inspector general this fall for, among other things, failing to properly account for the arms.

The weapons are easy to find, resting among others in the semihidden street markets here, where weapons are sold in tea houses, the back rooms of grocery kiosks, cosmetics stores and rug shops, or from the trunks of cars. Proprietors show samples for immediate purchase and offer to take orders — 10 guns can be had in two hours, they say, and 100 or more the next day.

Every type of gun that the Americans give comes to the market,” said Brig. Hassan Nouri, chief of the political investigations bureau for the Sulaimaniya district. “They go from the U.S. Army to the Iraqi Army to the smugglers. I have captured many of these guns that the terrorists bought.”

The forces propelling the trade can be seen in the price fluctuations of the country’s most abundant firearm, the Kalashnikov.

In early 2003, a Kalashnikov in northern Iraq typically cost from $75 to $150, depending on its condition, origin and style. Immediately after the invasion, as fleeing soldiers abandoned their rifles and armories were looted, prices fell, pushed down by a glut and a brief sense of optimism.

Today, the same weapons typically cost $210 to $650, according to interviews with seven arms dealers, two senior Kurdish security officials and several customers. In other areas of Iraq, prices have climbed as high as $800, according to Phillip Killicoat, a researcher who has been assembling data on Kalashnikov prices worldwide for the Small Arms Survey, a Geneva-based organization.

The price ranges reflect not only a weapon’s condition but its model. A Kalashnikov made in a former Soviet-bloc factory costs more than a Kalashnikov made in China, North Korea or Iraq. Collapsible-stock models have become disproportionately expensive. The price ranges do not include the most compact Kalashnikovs, like those Osama bin Laden has been photographed with, which now have a collector’s value in Iraq and can cost as much as $2,000.

In many ways, weapon prices provide a condensed history of Iraq’s slide into chaos.

Prices began moving upward in the summer of 2003 as several classes of customers entered the market together, Iraqi security officials and the arms dealers said. Western security contractors, Sunni insurgent groups, Shiite paramilitary units and criminals who were released from prison by Saddam Hussein before the war all sought the same weapons at once.

Kalashnikov prices quickly reached $200, they said. Since late last year, prices have been moving up again, as sectarian war has spread. Militias have been growing at the same time that more civilians have been seeking weapons for self-defense — twin demand pressures that pushed prices to new heights this fall.

“Now the Sunni want the weapons because they fear the Shia, and the Shia want the weapons because they fear the Sunni,” said Brig. Sarkawt Hassan Jalal, the chief of security in the Sulaimaniya district. “So prices go up.”

Mr. Killicoat put it another way. “When households start entering the market, that’s a free-for-all,” he said.

The surge is evident across a spectrum of arms. Pistol prices have nearly tripled since 2003. Western 9-millimeter pistols now sell for $1,100 to $1,800 in the bazaars of this city. Sniper rifles cost $1,100 to $2,000, the dealers said. In the West, similar pistols sell for $400 to $600.

Arms dealers say that rising prices have led to more extensive pilfering from state armories, including the widespread theft of weapons the United States had issued to Iraq’s police officers and soldiers.

In the south, if the Americans give the Iraqis weapons, the next day you can buy them here,” said one dealer, who sold groceries in the front of his kiosk and offered weapons in the back. “The Iraqi Army, the Iraqi police — they all sell them right away.”

No weapons were displayed when two visitors arrived. But when asked, the owner and a friend swiftly retrieved six pistols, a rocket-propelled grenade launcher and three Kalashnikovs from a car and another room.

The rifles and the grenade launcher were wrapped in rice sacks. He slipped two of the rifles out of the cloth. They were spotless and unworn, inside and out, and appeared never to have been used. They had folding stocks and were priced at $560 each.

The dealer said they had recently been taken from an Iraqi armory. “Almost all of the weapons come from the Iraqi police and army,” he said. “They are our best suppliers.”

One pistol was a new Walther P99, a 9-millimeter pistol that the dealer said had been issued by the Americans to the Iraqi police. It was still in its box.

Glock pistols were also easy to find. One young Iraqi man, Rebwar Mustafa, showed a Glock 19 he had bought at the bazaar in Kirkuk last year for $900. Five of his friends have bought identical models, he said.

When asked if he was surprised that the Iraqi police and soldiers sold their own guns, he scoffed.
Everything goes to the bazaar,” he said.

He added: “It is not only pistols. A lot of police cars are being sold. The smugglers brought us three cars and asked if we wanted to buy them. Their doors were still blue, and police labels were on them. The lights were still on top.”

Although the scale of weapons sales is unmistakably large, it is impossible to measure precisely. Sales are almost always hidden and unrecorded.

Tracing American-issued weapons back to Iraqi units that sell them is especially difficult because the United States did not register serial numbers for almost all of the 370,000 small arms purchased for Iraqi security forces, according to a report by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction.

The weapons were paid for with $133 million from the Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund. Among them were at least 138,000 new Glock pistols and at least 165,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles that had not previously been used, according to the report.

Lt. Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, commander of the Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq, agreed that weapons provided by the United States had slipped from custody.

I certainly concede that there are weapons that have been lost, stolen and misappropriated,” General Dempsey said. He noted that the inspector general had estimated that 4 percent, or about 14,000 weapons, were lost between arriving in Iraq and being transferred to Iraqi forces. Most of the weapons were pistols.

The general said that he thought the estimate was high and that accountability was improving. A weapons registry was being created, he said. “Serial numbers are being registered,” he said.

But the estimate of a 4 percent loss did not include weapons that were lost or stolen after being issued to Iraqi units. The arms dealers said this was the main source of their goods.

The arms dealers described several factors that kept weapons flowing from state custody.

Some have been taken by insurgents in ambushes or raids. Defections and resignations have also been common in Iraqi police and army units, they said, and often departing soldiers and officers leave with their weapons, which are worth more than several months of pay.

Aaron Karp, a small-arms researcher at Old Dominion University, said Iraq resembled African countries that had had extraordinary difficulties with the police selling off their guns. “The gun becomes the most valuable thing in the household,” he said.

“If anything happens to a police officer’s family and he needs money, he walks into work the next day and says, ‘Hey, my gun got stolen.’ ”

Another weapons dealer, who Kurdish officials said had been providing them with weapons since 1991, said the latest black-market sales followed an old pattern precisely.

Throughout Mr. Hussein’s rule, Iraqi Army officers were in the arms trade, he said, selling weapons to smugglers. This was how the Kurdish guerrillas kept themselves supplied.

Now, he said, the smugglers remain in business, and their trade is made easier because the units often do not have inventories. “I am surprised sometimes by the numbers,” he said. “Sometimes they come by the hundreds.”

James Glanz contributed reporting from Baghdad.

[bth: so the report of only 4% shrinkage despite the US army not collecting serial numbers was bogus. That only included shrinkage BEFORE delivery to the Iraqi units. Incompetence beyond all possible reason. Just pure stupidity ranking up there with leaving hundreds of armories unguarded for a couple of years.]

Anniston humvee boneyard Posted by Picasa

New combat turret design named for fallen Airman

New combat turret design named for fallen Airman: "12/9/2006 - SATHER AIR BASE, Iraq (AFPN) -- Sometimes a tragedy inspires others to strive for excellence. That's what happened here for two Air Force units near Baghdad as they worked together to bring in some good for fellow Airmen."

Airman 1st Class LeeBernard Emmanuel Chavis was killed while patrolling the streets of Baghdad Oct. 14 in the turret of his armored humvee. His death motivated a team of vehicle maintenance Airmen to design and build a new protective turret to avoid similar deaths.

"This is a story about Airmen helping Airmen. We're trying to help the people who go outside the wire by giving them the best equipment they can have," said Col. Gregory Marston, 447th Air Expeditionary Group commander.

"Our vehicle maintenance had already done repairs on a lot of the vehicles from Det. 7, and this just goes one step further. Our Tiger Team is committed to this fight and wants to support its fellow Airmen.

"The original, custom-made turret has been dubbed the "Chavis Turret" to honor Airman Chavis.

The initial prototype was made from scrounged materials using pieces cannibalized from junked vehicles and old parts. The design was a combined effort by Airmen of Detachment 7, 732nd Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron and the 447th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron's vehicle maintenance shop.

Colonel Marston said he approached the 732nd ESFS leadership after the Airman Chavis memorial service to form a partnership to conceive a new turret design to help alleviate some of the problems with the current models."We believe this new turret design solves many or all of the vulnerabilities that earlier designs have missed," the commander said.

"Right now, there's no standardization in terms of up-armored humvee turret designs."Chief Master Sgt. Stephen Rossi, 447th ELRS vehicle maintenance superintendent, challenged Staff Sgt. Derrick Bowman and Senior Airmen John Adams and Richard Gil to man the Tiger Team tasked with redesigning the turret.

Airman Gil said his initial reaction to being selected to work on the turret was total surprise."After the shock wore off, I was honored to take part in such a project," he said. "I feel like this has been the most important and highest impact part of my military career."Airman Gil said he's never depended on his own creativity and talents for the sole purpose of saving someone's life.

"If I was a gunner - the safer I feel in my station, the more I can concentrate on my duties, even down to taking better shots when and if the time comes to do that. With that comes better protection for the entire fire team," he said.

"The first thing we did was ask the troops who actually use the turret what they would like to see," said Airman Adams. "From there, we went into researching what parts would go where and what would be most beneficial to the actual cause."

Colonel Marston was impressed with how the Tiger Team members donated so much of their off time in an environment where off time is rare."It's a great story because three young Airmen are using their off time to scrape up spare parts and cannibalize all the pieces they need to design this prototype. It's a really good prototype," said the colonel.

"We've had a lot of really positive comments from Det. 7 and the Army personnel."Sergeant Bowman said the turret allows the gunner to remain protected from multiple threats in all directions."One big benefit is the increased protection from improvised explosive devices. That was one of the biggest things the Det. 7 guys we talked to were worried about," Sergeant Bowman said."

We also added a removable wire cutter to the front of the shield to protect the lead truck from choke wires strung under overpasses."Lt. Col. Michael Cannon, 447th ELRS commander, said he feels like he's been blessed with a squadron full of outstanding Airmen.

"The efforts of these three have been phenomenal," said Colonel Cannon.

"They worked on this design at every available opportunity, including their down time, to try and get this right. They solicited feedback and continued to tweak and rework the design to eliminate areas of vulnerability. Their drive has been to use their talents and skills to protect other Airmen, and the results are awesome.

"Regardless of the outcome of this effort, I am proud to have been associated with this project, even in an indirect role," Colonel Cannon said.

"I'll be telling this story and showing pictures of my Airmen and their turret to my grandchildren."Colonel Marston said the turret will be tested in-house before going out to those other units. The 447th ESFS Airmen will put it through its paces and make necessary modifications."We want to make sure this is ready for prime time," said Colonel Marston.

"It's like an airplane or any other type of design. You've got to try it at a slower pace to make sure it won't let you down when you really need it. We're also going to continue production of these because we think this design is going to bear fruit."

"These Airmen should be proud of their dedication and accomplishments," Colonel Marston said. "If this turret can save even one life, then this team's effort, ingenuity and dogged determination will be worth it."

Thousands of vehicles are waiting for overhaul. "Great job Rumsfeld, we'll give you a medal and to your generals - Pace, Meyers - thanks for the heads up - I'm sure you'll get medals too. Posted by Picasa

Terrorists could get N-device at little cost

Daily Times - Leading News Resource of Pakistan - Terrorists could get N-device at little cost: "WASHINGTON: Terrorists will need just $5.43 million to make a nuclear device and launch an attack, says a new study. "

the current issue of Foreign Policy, terrorists can construct a nuclear device within the United States, which could be a highly-enriched uranium bullet that they could fire through a gun. Once complete, the device is likely to be less than nine feet long and could be transported in a van or a small panel truck.

The two scientists recall that eight years earlier, aides to Osama bin Laden met Salah Abdel al-Mobruk, a Sudanese military officer and former government minister, who offered to sell weapons-grade uranium to the terrorists for $1.5 million. He proffered up a three-foot long cylinder. The Al Qaeda representatives agreed to the purchase. The cylinder turned out to be a dud. But had it actually contained highly enriched uranium, and if bin Laden’s deputies had managed to use it to assemble, then transport and detonate a nuclear bomb, history would have looked very different. September 11 would be remembered as the day when hundreds of thousands of people were killed.

They write, “Osama bin Laden’s longstanding interest in developing nuclear weapons is deeply troubling, and the attempt to purchase uranium from the Sudanese was far from an isolated incident. Al Qaeda operatives have repeatedly tried to acquire nuclear materials over the years. In August 2001, a month before the September 11 attacks, bin Laden received two former Pakistani nuclear officials, asking them to help recruit other Pakistani scientists with expertise in building nuclear weapons. After the military effort to oust the Taliban from Afghanistan, US forces found extensive documents, including crude bomb designs, at an Al Qaeda safe house in Kabul. In 2003, bin Laden sought a fatwa from an extremist Saudi cleric permitting the use of weapons of mass destruction, calling their acquisition a ‘religious duty’.”

As for the physics and computation of the device, a senior physicist with two assistants could be hired at a cost of $200,000. Metallurgy and casting would cost $270,000, precision machining and construction $230,000, gun design, assembly and training $230,000, electronics, arming, fusing and firing $150,000, other facilities $200,000, fissile material between $300,000 and $500,000 and transportation $153,000. The total cost would be $5,433,000. khalid hasan
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Secret American talks with insurgents break down

Secret American talks with insurgents break down - Sunday Times - Times Online: "SECRET talks in which senior American officials came face-to-face with some of their most bitter enemies in the Iraqi insurgency broke down after two months of meetings, rebel commanders have disclosed. "

The meetings, hosted by Iyad Allawi, Iraq’s former prime minister, brought insurgent commanders and Zalmay Khalilzad, the US ambassador to Iraq, together for the first time.

After months of delicate negotiations Allawi, a former Ba’athist and a secular Shi’ite, persuaded three rebel leaders to travel to his villa in Amman, the Jordanian capital, to see Khalilzad in January.

“The meetings came about after persistent requests from the Americans. It wasn’t because they loved us but because they didn’t have a choice,” said a rebel leader who took part.

Last week the long-awaited report of the Iraq Study Group, co-chaired by James Baker, the former secretary of state, and Lee Hamilton, a former congressman, called for America to seek to engage with all parties in Iraq, with the exception of Al-Qaeda.

However, the insurgents’ account of the hushed-up meetings reveals that concerted attempts to engage them in negotiations had already failed earlier this year.

Hopes were high when the insurgent leaders greeted Khalilzad in Amman. The Iraqis had just held their first democratic elections for a permanent government and the US ambassador hoped to broker an enduring political settlement.

Feelers had been put out to Iraqi insurgents before but not at such a high level. “The Americans had been flirting with such meetings for a while, but they needed to sit down with people who carried more weight in the insurgency,” said one leader of the National Islamic Resistance, an umbrella organisation representing some of the main insurgent groups.

The trio of Iraqi negotiators claimed to represent three-quarters of the “resistance”. It included Ansar al- Sunnah, the group responsible for a suicide bombing that killed 22 in a US army canteen in Mosul in December 2004, and also the 1920 Revolution Brigade, which has carried out many kidnappings and claimed to have shot down a British Hercules aircraft near Tikrit in January 2005, in which 10 people died.

At the first meeting with Khalilzad on January 17, the insurgents expressed concern about the emergence of Iran as a new regional power. With America equally worried about Iranian interference, the two sides appeared to have found some common ground. The talks continued in Baghdad for about eight weeks, sometimes on consecutive days at Allawi’s home.

At one point the insurgents offered Khalilzad a 10-day “period of grace” in which attacks on coalition forces would be suspended in return for a cessation of US military operations.

They called for a “timetable for withdrawal”, saying that it should be announced immediately although in practice it would be “linked to the timescale necessary to rebuild Iraq’s armed forces and security services”, according to one commander.
.
Other demands said to have been received sympathetically by Khalilzad, such as an amnesty for insurgents and a reversal of the “de-Ba’athification” process that stripped so many Sunnis of their jobs, have now been urged by the Iraq Study Group.

There was more. Brushing aside the results of Iraq’s democratic elections, the insurgents proposed that an emergency government be formed under Allawi’s leadership. Non-sectarian politicians should be appointed to the crucial ministries of defence and the interior, they urged, because they would be responsible for rebuilding a strong national army and security service. Under this proposal, the newly elected Iraqi government would, in effect, have been sidelined.

“I told Khalilzad that we had the know-how and the manpower to regain control of Baghdad and rid it of the pro-Iranian militias,” one of the insurgent commanders added.

“If he would just provide us with the weapons, we would clean up the city and regain control of Baghdad in 30 days.”

The atmosphere eventually soured at a meeting said to have been attended by Khalilzad and six US generals as well as tribal leaders from Baghdad, Anbar, Diyala and other hotspots. Each side apparently accused the other of stepping up attacks during the supposed period of grace and the insurgents refused to have lunch with the generals on the grounds that they were military occupiers.

The talks were further complicated by the different demands of warring Sunni rebel groups. A close associate of Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, Saddam Hussein’s former vice-president and the king of clubs in the US “most wanted” deck of playing cards, said that many of the insurgent groups were still being directed by Saddam’s former party and military leadership.

According to a senior Ba’athist representative, insurgent groups linked to al-Douri would not sit down with the Americans unless they first agreed to a series of other conditions ranging from compensation for Iraq’s losses during the war to the reinstatement of Saddam’s military.

The final blow to the negotiations came in mid-March when Khalilzad said that he would be willing to talk to Iran about resolving the conflict in Iraq. The news came as a bombshell to the Sunni insurgents, who complained to the ambassador at their final meeting.

Shortly afterwards the government of Nouri al-Maliki was formed with the support of pro-Iranian elements. The Sunni insurgents responded by sending a memo to Khalilzad — now tipped to become US ambassador to the United Nations — suspending all meetings and accusing the Americans of “dishonesty”.

According to one commander, the insurgent groups were told: “Place your faith in Allah, the gloves are off. Carry on with your resistance.”

A US embassy spokesman in Baghdad yesterday declined to comment on the talks but said America remained committed to the current government and to “an inclusive Iraqi political process, with representatives from all Iraq’s communities”.

Saddam's Nephew Escapes Prison in Iraq

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) - A nephew of Saddam Hussein serving a life sentence for making bombs for Iraq's insurgency escaped from prison Saturday in northern Iraq, authorities said.

Ayman Sabawi, the son of Saddam's half brother Sabawi Ibrahim Hassan al-Tikriti, fled the prison some 45 miles west of Mosul in the afternoon with the help of a police officer, according to local police Brig. Abdul Karim al-Jubouri.

Interior Ministry spokesman Brig. Abdul-Karim Khalaf confirmed the escape but declined to elaborate.

Sabawi was convicted of illegally crossing the border from Syria and sentenced to 15 years in prison late last year by an Iraqi court. He was sentenced to life in prison in an earlier case for possession of illegal weapons and manufacture of explosive devices.

He was captured in May 2005 by security forces during a raid on Tikrit, the former leader's hometown. His father, who served as a presidential adviser before the U.S.-led invasion, was captured there two months earlier.

Leave Iraq now; don't wait until 2008 election day

McClatchy Washington Bureau 12/07/2006 Leave Iraq now; don't wait until 2008 election day: "By JOSEPH L. GALLOWAY

McClatchy Newspapers

After nearly four years of living in what can be charitably described as a state of denial, everyone in Washington, from President Bush to the Baker Commission to incoming defense secretary Robert Gates, to outgoing Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to the study group assembled by Marine Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has finally admitted that pretty much nothing is going right in Iraq.

Duh. "

Our president, who froze the whole process of planning and fighting a war by declaring that he was "staying the course" even when the course was obviously wrong, finally abandoned those words, if not his dogged pursuit of "victory" in a place which has denied victory to a string of foreign invaders dating back to Alexander the Great.

The Baker Commission issued its report - which primarily recommended that we begin talking with Iraq's friends and enemies next door and Iraqi-izing the war by handing things over to Iraqi forces before we begin pulling out in time for the 2008 presidential election - on a day when 10 American troops were killed on the roads of Iraq by improvised explosive devices.

All things considered, it was too little, too late and too long a wait if you have a son or daughter serving a third or fourth combat tour in Iraq - something that few, if any, of the above referenced politicians and wise men have contributed to the war effort.

Gates, whose nomination to replace Rumsfeld in the Pentagon's top job is being rushed through the Senate at the speed of light, told the Senate Armed Forces Committee we're neither winning nor losing in Iraq and could offer them no path to victory.

The senators, clearly enamored of Bob Gates because he isn't Don Rumsfeld, had no hard questions for the nominee, and in a rare show of bipartisan unanimity voted 24-0 to send his nomination to the floor for swift approval.

The senators and much of official Washington clearly want Gates in and Rumsfeld on a Greyhound bus bound for oblivion as soon as humanly possible. The disgruntled Rumsfeld leaked his own Iraq report, dated two days prior to his firing, admitting that things weren't nearly as rosy as he'd been pretending they were.

While those who have nothing more at risk than their personal pride and the arrogance of power published reports and made statements devoid of any real answers, young American soldiers and Marines were being wounded and killed at an appalling rate on the dangerous streets and roads of Iraq.

This week, the American military death toll in Iraq crossed the 2,900 mark, with well over 20,000 wounded.

All the politicians paid the customary lip service in praising the troops and commending them for the terrible sacrifices they must continue to endure while the wrangling and dithering over a futile war goes on with no end in sight.

How can they look at themselves in the mirror every morning?

Some even suggest sending additional U.S. forces to Iraq - 20,000 to 30,000 more to try to clean up Baghdad, or as Sen. John McCain suggests, 100,000 more to achieve a victory of some kind.
What are they thinking?

The time to use overwhelming force, according to the Caspar Weinberger-Colin Powell doctrine, is when you launch an invasion. Ratcheting up later is just so 1965, and so hopeless a gesture when the situation has already gone to hell.

Let's get a few more things straight right now.

There's no victory waiting for President Bush in Iraq, and nothing that his father's friends say or do can save him from an ignominious end to his presidency in two years and two months, or from the judgment of history.

There will be no convenient and successful negotiation of a "decent interval" with our enemies Iran and Syria to cover our withdrawal from a war that we should never have started.

There can be no successful Vietnamization in Iraq - standing up more and better Iraqi army and police units and handing control over to them - when all we're doing is arming and training more recruits for the civil war that clogs the streets of Baghdad with the corpses of the victims of a Sunni-Shia bloodbath.

What we need to do is what none of the commissions and their reports dared to suggest: Begin withdrawing American forces from Iraq right now. Not in 2008. Not after the American death toll has crossed 5,000. Not just in time for a presidential election.

If you worry about the future of Iraq, don't. It will remain what it's always been: a violent, angry land of warring tribes only occasionally beaten and bludgeoned into submission by a homegrown despot like Saddam Hussein.

If you worry about added turmoil and instability in the Middle East, pull some of those departing American forces back to Kuwait and leave them there on standby. Then redirect thought, energy and effort into salvaging Afghanistan, finding Osama bin Laden, saving Lebanon, negotiating peace between Israel and its enemies, rebuilding the U.S. Army and Marine Corps and, oh yes, ending the uncivil war between Republicans and Democrats.

There may be 50 ways to leave your lover, but there's only one way to leave Iraq: Load our people up on their trucks and tank transporters and Bradleys and Humvees and head for the border. Now.
---
ABOUT THE WRITER

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

BBC NEWS World Europe Anger over Dutch Srebrenica medal: "Survivors of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre have criticised the Dutch government for giving an insignia to UN peacekeepers who served in the city.

They said honouring Dutch troops who were charged with protecting the Muslim Bosnian enclave was 'scandalous'.

Nearly 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed by Serb forces who overran Srebrenica in July 1995.
The Dutch government said the troops deserved recognition for their behaviour in difficult circumstances.

Presenting the insignia to some 800 soldiers from the Dutch battalion (Dutchbat) at a military barrack in Assen, Dutch Defence Minister Henk Kamp said they had been unjustly seen in an unfavourable light.
He said they were sent to Srebrenica on a mission impossible - without enough weaponry - and a limited mandate. "...

[bth: 8,000 dead and a medal. Wear it with pride.]
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Hedge Funds Hire Lobbyists To Gather Tips in Washington

WSJ.com - Login: "WASHINGTON -- As federal authorities try to crack down on illegal trading using secrets leaked from companies, some hedge-fund managers are tapping another source of information: the corridors of the Capitol.

Hedge funds are finding that Washington can be a gold mine of market-moving information, easily gathered by the politically connected. The funds are hiring lobbyists -- not to influence government, but to tell them what it's going to do. Several lobbying firms are ramping up their 'political-intelligence' units and charging hedge funds between $5,000 and $20,000 a month for tips and predictions.

The Securities and Exchange Commission is looking ..."

[bth: why should politicians, large corporations and congressional staffs make all the money on inside news. At least the hedge funds will make the market in insider information more efficient.]

Condoms too big for most Indian men

Condoms too big for most Indian men - Yahoo! News: "NEW DELHI (AFP) - Indian men's penises do not match international sizes and most condoms on sale in the country are too big, according to a medical study. "

The Indian Council of Medical Research, the country's top health research institute, found 60 percent of men in Mumbai had penises at least 2.4 centimeters (one inch) shorter than international condom sizes, The Times of India newspaper said Friday.

For 30 percent, the gap was five centimeters (two inches), said a researcher quoted in the article headlined "Indian men don't measure up".

The institute surveyed 1,400 men visiting family planning clinics across the country to conduct the "Study on proper length and breadth specification for condoms".

The study was carried out in a bid to improve the sizing of condoms, which have a failure rate of up to 20 percent in India.

"While improper usage is one of the reasons, there is also condom slippage or tear, which is associated with the size of the condom in relation to an erect penis," said Dr Chander Puri, director of the councils National Institute for Research in Reproductive Health.

The effectiveness of condoms in India, which has a growing population of 1.1 billion, is an important issue as they have emerged as a vital safeguard against sexually transmitted diseases such as
HIV' AIDS'.

India has the world's highest HIV-AIDS caseload, with 5.7 million people living with the illness, according to UN figures.
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Iraq’s oil-for-food scandal perpetrators go unpunished

FT.com / In depth - Iraq’s oil-for-food scandal perpetrators go unpunished: "Slightly more than a year after a United Nations inquiry discovered a staggering level of graft by officials and corporations worldwide in buying cheap oil and selling goods to Iraq experts warn the great majority of alleged perpetrators are escaping scot-free.

An 18-month inquiry by Paul Volcker, former Fed chairman, found that more than 2,000 companies, including some of the world’s most reputable blue chips, paid kickbacks to get a piece of the market to sell civilian goods to Iraq, providing the regime of Saddam Hussein with $1.8bn in illicit income."...

[bth: imagine that - corruption and corruption unpunished in Iraq and the UN. Who would have ever guessed.]
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Israelis peeved at nuclear arsenal remark

TheStar.com - Israelis peeved at nuclear arsenal remark: "New U.S. defence chief refers to weapons capability that Israel prefers kept secret
Dec. 8, 2006. 01:00 AM

JERUSALEM—Some Israelis were miffed to hear Robert Gates voice at his U.S. Senate confirmation hearing the open secret that Israel has the Middle East's only nuclear arsenal."


Gates won plaudits in Washington this week for his candour on the Iraq war.

But the incoming secretary of defence also speculated at the Tuesday hearing on why Iran might be seeking the means to build an atomic bomb. "They are surrounded by powers with nuclear weapons: Pakistan to their east, the Russians to the north, the Israelis to the west and us in the Persian Gulf," he said.

That statement led Israeli news bulletins, with some pundits suggesting former CIA chief Gates may have breached a U.S. "don't ask, don't tell" policy dating to the late 1960s.

A retired Israeli diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, called the testimony "quite unprecedented. ... I can only assume he (Gates) has yet to get to grips with the understandings that exist between us and the Americans."

According to recently declassified documents cited by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, under President Richard Nixon, the United States knew Israel had developed nuclear weapons but chose not to insist its Mideast ally come clean on the capability and accept international regulation.

Israel neither confirms nor denies having the bomb, as part of a "strategic ambiguity" policy that it says fends off numerically superior enemies while avoiding an arms race.

By not declaring itself, Israel also skirts a U.S. ban on funding states that proliferate weapons of mass destruction. It can thus enjoy more than $2 billion in annual military and other aid from Washington.

This sanctioned reticence is a major irritant for Arabs and Iran, which see a double standard in U.S. policy.


Outgoing U.S. Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld was careful not to discuss the Israeli nuclear option explicitly. Pressed on it during a 2004 briefing, he said only that Israel had "arranged itself so it hasn't been put in the sea" by its foes.

Gates replaces Rumsfeld as part of President George W. Bush's push to revitalize prospects for Iraq and a wider Mideast peace.

But no one yet has proposed that Washington publicly review Israel's open secret.
Reuters news agency

[bth: a reality check and a little less hypocracy would be appreciated in our middle east policies. Of course Israel has nukes and of course it bothers the Iranians - and the Egyptians and the Libyians and the Saudis. Let's have a little reality check.]
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Iran sets conditions for Iraq talks with U.S.

Iran sets conditions for Iraq talks with U.S. Top News Reuters.com: "MANAMA (Reuters) - Iran will only hold direct talks with the United States on Iraq if Washington announces plans to pull its troops out, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said on Saturday.

Mottaki was responding to the U.S. Iraq Study Group report, which recommended Washington should directly engage with Iran and Syria over Iraq, where violence is threatening to turn into civil war.

On the question of direct talks between Iran and the United States, 'the first and most essential step ... is the United States announce they have decided to withdraw from Iraq', Mottaki told reporters at a security conference in Bahrain.

He said that if the United States did announce a withdrawal 'Iran is ready to help the administration to withdraw its troops from Iraq'."...

Iraq Strategy Review Focusing on Three Main Options

Iraq Strategy Review Focusing on Three Main Options - washingtonpost.com: "As pressure mounts for a change of course in Iraq, the Bush administration is groping for a viable new strategy for the president to unveil by Christmas, with deliberations now focused on three main options to redefine the U.S. military and political engagement, according to officials familiar with the debate.

The major alternatives include a short-term surge of 15,000 to 30,000 additional U.S. troops to secure Baghdad and accelerate the training of Iraqi forces. Another strategy would redirect the U.S. military away from the internal strife to focus mainly on hunting terrorists affiliated with al-Qaeda. And the third would concentrate political attention on supporting the majority Shiites and abandon U.S. efforts to reach out to Sunni insurgents."

As President Bush and his advisers rush to complete their crash review and craft a new formula in the next two weeks, some close to the process said the major goal seems to be to stake out alternatives to the plan presented this week by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group. The White House denied trying to brush off the study group's report and said those recommendations are being considered alongside internal reviews.

But the growing undercurrent of discussions within the administration is shifting responsibility for Iraq's problems to Iraqis. Sources familiar with the deliberations describe fatigue, frustration and a growing desire to disengage from Iraq. The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the deliberations.

"None of us see the situation in Iraq as favorable. We all see it as extremely difficult," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said yesterday.

Bush will devote most of next week to his Iraq review. He plans to visit the State Department on Monday to consult with his foreign policy team, then he will host independent Iraq experts in the Oval Office. The next day, he will hold a videoconference with U.S. military commanders and U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad in Iraq. He will travel to the Pentagon for more consultations on Wednesday.

The crash White House review -- which involves the State Department, the National Security Council, the CIA and the Pentagon -- is tentatively expected to lead to a speech to the nation the week of Dec. 18, officials say.

While one of the options involves a surge of U.S. troops, there is no agreement on what the mission of those forces would be, sources say. Discussions center on accelerating the training of Iraqi forces and helping secure Baghdad before turning it over to the Iraqis. The goal generally could be to improve Iraq's defense capabilities so U.S. combat troops could begin to withdraw faster.

The second idea is the "al-Qaeda option," which would transform the U.S. mission to focus on fighting terrorism and would disengage forces from domestic aspects of the multisided conflict. U.S. troops would take a backseat on the Shiite-Sunni conflict and instead hunt down al-Qaeda operatives, the sources say.

On the ground, for example, that could mean a shift away from operations in Baghdad's volatile Sadr City slum, or from efforts to stop car bombs and sectarian attacks. The administration is increasingly resigned to the fact that it can neither prevent nor intervene in Iraq's sectarian war, which has begun to supersede both the Sunni insurgency and al-Qaeda's operations, the sources say.

The two military options are not necessarily linked. Some in the interagency discussions favor both, while others support the al-Qaeda option but not a military surge, the sources say.

On the political front, the administration is focusing increasingly on variations of a "Shiite tilt," sometimes called an "80 percent solution," that would bolster the political center of Iraq and effectively leave in charge the Shiite and Kurdish parties that account for 80 percent of Iraq's 26 million people and that won elections a year ago.

Vice President Cheney's office has most vigorously argued for the "80 percent solution," in terms of both realities on the ground and the history of U.S. engagement with the Shiites, sources say. A source familiar with the discussions said Cheney argued this week that the United States could not again be seen to abandon the Shiites, Iraq's largest population group, after calling in 1991 for them to rise up against then-President Saddam Hussein and then failing to support them when they did. Thousands were killed in a huge crackdown.

Of the major proposals under discussion, only the "al-Qaeda option" is reflected in the Iraq Study Group's report. Recommendation 43 calls for the United States to shift priority to "the training, equipping, advising, and support mission and to counterterrorism operations."

The study group says it could support a short-term troop surge but notes that "past experience indicates that the violence would simply rekindle as soon as U.S. forces are moved to another area." The report does not, in the end, recommend more troops.

Senior administration officials caution that the review process is still fluid. "I don't think we're at the stage where we're coalescing around an option," said a top official who declined to speak on the record about internal deliberations. "These are everything's-on-the-table kinds of discussions."

Yet, as it changes course, the administration is still struggling to resolve central issues, including how much it trusts Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to tackle the two issues basic to stability: reconciliation and the militias that are fueling the sectarian violence. Despite Bush's public endorsement of Maliki after their meeting last week in Amman, Jordan, U.S. officials have not yet decided whether he has the will or the capability to take on his brethren Shiites in the name of national reconciliation -- either by dismantling their militias or getting them to embrace the Sunni minority.

Bush aides said the president has been misinterpreted by those who believe he is giving the back of his hand to the Iraq Study Group, led by former congressman Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind.) and former secretary of state James A. Baker III, and they insist that the report's ideas are now part of the administration's review. "There's not a purpose to distinguish or make a distinction from the Baker-Hamilton commission," the senior official said. "In fact, many of their proposals are being seriously considered."

If anything, the official noted, the commission gave Bush some running room by rejecting a rapid troop withdrawal, something some Democrats have advocated. "Nobody's going to go below what they said," the official said, meaning that because the study group set a goal of pulling out combat units by early 2008, that is now the earliest that troops could be withdrawn.

But the stature of the commission members is such that the White House will have to justify any deviations from their plan. "The onus will be on us to explain why we are doing something they recommended or why not," the official said. "They can't just be jettisoned. They have to be dealt with."

The president, who met yesterday with congressional leaders, vowed to work with Democrats to forge a common strategy. "We talked about the need for a new way forward in Iraq," Bush told reporters. "And we talked about the need to work together on this important subject."

[bth: invariably the result will be one that favors the timing of Washington politicians instead of US troops or Iraqis - namely 2008 elections.]
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Four Arabs condemned to death over US ship attack in Jordan

Four Arabs condemned to death over US ship attack in Jordan - Yahoo! News: "AMMAN (AFP) - A Jordanian military tribunal has condemned to death three Syrians and an Iraqi over a rocket attack on US warships last year that killed a Jordanian soldier. "

Three other Iraqi citizens were sentenced to 10 years in jail, one Syrian and a Saudi-born Jordanian were given prison sentences of two years, while three Syrians were acquitted, an AFP correspondent said Thursday.

They were indicted in March over the rocket attacks in August 2005 on US warships moored in Jordan's Red Sea port of Aqaba in which the soldier was killed.
Rockets also landed on

Israel' 's Red Sea neighbouring resort of Eilat, but without causing US or Israeli casualties.
The Al-Qaeda in

Iraq' group of Jordanian-born Islamist frontman Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed in a US raid in Iraq in June, claimed responsibility for the attack. ...

Gunmen Kill Guards at Saudi Prison Holding Al Qaeda Members

RealtyTrac: "JIDDAH, Saudi Arabia — Armed men shot and killed two guards Thursday outside a prison in the western city of Jiddah, before taking cover in a residential building where they were surrounded by Saudi security forces, state-run media reported."

The security forces brought in armored vehicles and helicopters to surround the building where the gunmen had fled, witnesses said.

The clashes started when the gunmen opened fire on guards outside the prison, sparking a gunbattle in which the two guards were killed, the Interior Ministry said in a statement carried on the government news agency.

Several Al Qaeda suspects are being held at Ruwais prison and it wasn't immediately clear if the attack was an effort to break the prisoners free.

Saudi Arabia has been waging a heavy crackdown on Al Qaeda militants since a wave of attacks on foreigners in the kingdom in 2003. The ministry said last week that 136 suspected militants have been arrested in the past three months, some of whom were planning suicide attacks in the kingdom....
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Iraqis Near Deal on Distribution of Oil Revenues

Iraqis Near Deal on Distribution of Oil Revenues - New York Times: "BAGHDAD, Dec. 8 — Iraqi officials are near agreement on a national oil law that would give the central government the power to distribute current and future oil revenues to the provinces or regions, based on their population, Iraqi and American officials say. "

If enacted, the measure, drafted by a committee of politicians and ministers, could help resolve a highly divisive issue that has consistently blocked efforts to reconcile the country’s feuding ethnic and sectarian factions. Sunni Arabs, who lead the insurgency, have opposed the idea of regional autonomy for fear that they would be deprived of a fair share of the country’s oil wealth, which is concentrated in the Shiite south and Kurdish north.

The Iraq Study Group report stressed that an oil law guaranteeing an equitable distribution of revenues was crucial to the process of national reconciliation, and thus to ending the war.

Without such a law, it would also be impossible for Iraq to attract the foreign investment it desperately needs to bolster its oil industry.

Officials cautioned that this was only a draft agreement, and that it could still be undermined by the ethnic and sectarian squabbling that has jeopardized other political talks. The Iraqi Constitution, for example, was stalled for weeks over small wording conflicts, and its measures are often meaningless in the chaos and violence in Iraq today.

But a deal on the oil law could be reached within days, according to officials involved in the drafting. It would then go to the cabinet and Parliament for approval.

The major remaining stumbling block, officials said, concerns the issuing of contracts for developing future oil fields. The Kurds are insisting that the regions reserve final approval over such contracts, fearing that if that power were given to a Shiite-dominated central government, it could ignore proposed contracts in the Kurdish north while permitting them in the Shiite south, American and Iraqi officials said.

The national oil law lies at the heart of debates about the future of Iraq, particularly the issue of a strong central government versus robust regional governments. The oil question has also inflamed ethnic and sectarian tensions. Sunni Arabs, who preside over areas of the country that apparently have little or no oil, are adamant about the equitable distribution of oil revenues by the central government.

On the drafting committee, Sunni Arabs have allied with the Shiites against the Kurds, who have sought to maintain as much regional control as possible over the oil industry in their autonomous northern enclave. Iraqi Kurdistan has enjoyed de facto independence since 1991, when the American military established a no-flight zone above the mountainous region to prevent raids by Saddam Hussein.

Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the senior American commander here, and Zalmay Khalilzad, the American ambassador, have urged Iraqi politicians to put the oil law at the top of their agendas, saying it must be passed before the year’s end.

The drafting committee is made up of ministers and politicians from the main Shiite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish blocs in government. They began talks months ago, but the pace picked up recently, said an American official tracking the negotiations, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he did not want to give the appearance of Western interference in sovereign Iraqi matters.

At the start of the talks, the Kurds fought to ensure that regional governments have the power to collect and distribute revenues from future fields, Iraqi and American officials said. They also proposed that revenues be shared among the regions based on both population and crimes committed against the people under Mr. Hussein’s rule. That would have given the Kurds and Shiites a share of the oil wealth larger than the proportions of their populations.

But the Kurds dropped those demands, said Barham Salih, a deputy prime minister who is a Kurd and the chairman of the committee.

“Revenue sharing is an accepted principle by all the constituent elements of the Iraqi government, including the Kurds, and that is the unifying element that we’re all hoping for in the oil law,” Mr. Salih said in an interview.

The American official said the Kurds were willing to make concessions because a national oil law could attract more foreign oil companies to exploration and development in Kurdistan. A large foreign oil company would have more confidence in signing a contract with the Kurds if it were to operate under the law of a sovereign country rather than just the law of an autonomous region.

Some Kurdish leaders also believe that the concessions are a worthwhile price to pay for having a stake in the much larger revenue pool of the country’s oil industry, the American official said. The southern fields accounted for 85 percent of total Iraqi crude production last year, partly because northern production was hampered by insurgent sabotage. The south has an estimated 65 percent of the country’s 115 billion barrels of proven reserves.

But the Kurds are still holding out on the issue of oil contracts, arguing that the Constitution guarantees the regions absolute rights in those matters. The Kurds recently discovered two new oil fields after signing exploration contracts with a Turkish company and a Norwegian company.

“There are those among us who say we cannot go back to the former days of centralization, which were not conducive to good business practice and to the idea of federalism that is enshrined in the Constitution,” Mr. Salih said.

In its recommendations released Wednesday, the Iraq Study Group took the opposite tack, to the anger of the Kurds. The report said that “no formula that gives control over revenues from future fields to the regions or gives control of oil fields to the regions is compatible with national reconciliation.” Though the Kurds have ceded their position on the issue of future revenues, they are fighting for control over the development of future fields.

The drafting committee met Thursday night to try to resolve the contract issue, but could not reach an agreement.

Distributing revenues by population could be a difficult matter without a reliable census, which Iraq lacks. Sunni Arabs often claim they are at least 60 percent of the population, not the 20 percent that is commonly cited. The Shiites are generally estimated to be 60 percent of the population, and the Kurds 20 percent. The American official said a national census expected to be taken next year should determine the share of revenue that goes to each province or region.

If doing a census next year is too politically fraught, or if security conditions prevent it, then revenues could be distributed to provincial or regional governments according to the household counts used by Mr. Hussein’s government to distribute rations in the 1990s.

The Kurds have insisted that revenues collected by the central government should be put into an account that automatically redistributes the money into sub-accounts dedicated to the provinces or regions. This approach could be written into the national oil law or into a separate law, the American official said.

The working draft of the oil law re-establishes the state-run Iraq National Oil Company, which was founded in 1964 to oversee oil production but was shut down by Mr. Hussein in 1987. The company would operate using a business model and not through a government budget process. Iraqi and American officials say that would make management of oil production more efficient and separate it from the Oil Ministry, which has been rife with corruption.

The North and South Oil Companies, which currently manage production in their regions, would fall under the umbrella of the Iraq National Oil Company. Any exports would still be sold through a state marketing company.

The law also sets production thresholds for creating new regional companies. A province or region, for example, might have to show it can produce 100,000 barrels a day before a company can be created there. Officials in Maysan Province in the south have already said they want to start a company.
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British, Danish troops seize tribal leaders in Basra raid

British, Danish troops seize tribal leaders in Basra raid - Los Angeles Times: "BAGHDAD -- About 1,000 British and Danish troops staged a major operation today in Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, aimed at rival Shiite militias and detained five tribal leaders suspected of ties to the armed groups, British officials said.

The operation was the largest in Basra since the U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein's government in 2003, according Maj. Charlie Burbridge, a spokesman for British forces in Basra."

Shiites thoroughly dominate Basra and other parts of southern Iraq, but there has been mounting violence as rival Shiite militias fight for power and control of the region's lucrative smuggling routes.

British forces, which have occupied the city since the invasion, have struggled to keep the fighting under control.Today's raid began at 3 a.m., as troops descended on the Hartha area of Basra, which is bounded on two sides by a river, to seize the five men. Royal Marine amphibious assault teams arrived by boat as British troops closed in from the south and Danish troops from the north, helicopters and jets hovering overhead, Burbridge said....

Burbridge said that Basra is still plagued by sectarian violence beyond local police control.

British troops are working with local police to improve their neighborhoods, removing trash and sectarian graffiti, he said. "As the level of insecurity drops and the ability of Iraqi forces rises, we think ... Iraqi security will be able to deal with daily operations," Burbridge added.

"That has not happened yet."Basra residents protested the raid by blocking the main road to Baghdad.

By afternoon, they had sent a letter to British regional commanders demanding release of the five leaders and threatening to overthrow the local government, currently dominated by the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq or SCIRI.Ali Al-Khanani, who leads SCIRI's political bureau in Basra, said British troops needed to allow the Iraqi Army and police to secure the city, rather than, "use violence and violation in their raids."

"The best thing the Multi-National troops could do at this point is hand over security to the Iraqis," he said....

[bth: so much of this violence is really about access to long-term cash flow from oil facilities.]
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Kurds brand report 'unrealistic'

BBC NEWS Middle East Kurds brand report 'unrealistic': "The leader of Iraq's Kurdish region says the US Iraq Study Group report is 'unrealistic and inappropriate'.

Massoud Barzani was sceptical of plans to involve Iraq's neighbours in peace efforts, and for any weakening down of the Kurds' effective autonomy"

His comments were then echoed by Iraq's Kurdish president, Jalal Talabani, who said he agreed with Mr Barzani.

Earlier, the head of US forces in Iraq said most troops could be withdrawn by early 2008, as recommended.

But the commander, Lt Gen Peter Chiarelli, said such a pullout would only be realistic if Iraq first took significant steps towards political reconciliation.

US President George W Bush has publicly admitted the need for a "new approach" to the conflict in Iraq in the two days since the report was published.

But the president has hinted that he may not accept all of the report's key recommendations.

No co-operation

In the first Kurdish reaction to the Iraq Study Group (ISG) report, Mr Barzani said the Iraq's Kurds were not committed to the report "in any way".

Members of the ISG did not visit Kurdish regions of northern Iraq while compiling their report, Mr Barzani said, calling that a "huge shortcoming". ...

Only six fluent in Arabic at US Iraq embassy-panel

Reuters AlertNet - Only six fluent in Arabic at US Iraq embassy-panel: "WASHINGTON, Dec 6 (Reuters) - Among the 1,000 people who work in the U.S. Embassy in Iraq, only 33 are Arabic speakers and only six speak the language fluently, according to the Iraq Study Group report released on Wednesday.

'All of our efforts in Iraq, military and civilian, are handicapped by Americans' lack of knowledge of language and cultural understanding,' the bipartisan panel said in its report. 'In a conflict that demands effective and efficient communication with Iraqis, we are often at a disadvantage.'

The report, written by five Republicans and five Democrats, recommended the U.S. government give 'the highest possible priority to professional language proficiency and cultural training' for officials headed to Iraq. "

[bth: stunning. How many gay translators did we fire? 300 something?]

Friday, December 08, 2006

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AP Poll: Few Expect Victory in Iraq

News from The Associated Press: "WASHINGTON (AP) -- Americans are overwhelmingly resigned to something less than clear-cut victory in Iraq and growing numbers doubt the country will achieve a stable, democratic government no matter how the U.S. gets out, according to an AP poll.

At the same time, dissatisfaction with President Bush's handling of Iraq has climbed to an alltime high of 71 percent. The latest AP-Ipsos poll, taken as a bipartisan commission was releasing its recommendations for a new course in Iraq, found that just 27 percent of Americans approved of Bush's handling of Iraq, down from his previous low of 31 percent in November."

"Support is continuing to erode and there's no particular reason to think it can be turned back," said John Mueller, an Ohio State University political scientist and author of "War, Presidents and Public Opinion." Mueller said that once people "drop off the bandwagon, it's unlikely they'll say 'I'm for it again.' Once they're off, they're off."

Even so, Americans are not necessarily intent on getting all U.S. troops out right away, the poll indicated. The survey found strong support for a two-year timetable if that's what it took to get U.S. troops out. Seventy-one percent said they would favor a two-year timeline from now until sometime in 2008, but when people are asked instead about a six-month timeline for withdrawal that number drops to 60 percent...
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The Blog | Rep. John Murtha: Iraq Study Group's Policy no Different than the Current Policy | The Huffington Post

The Blog Rep. John Murtha: Iraq Study Group's Policy no Different than the Current Policy The Huffington Post: "On November 7th, 2006 the American public sent a message on Iraq and as the new Democratic majority, we must respond with decisive action. Staying in Iraq is not an option politically, militarily or fiscally. The American people understand this. Today there is near consensus that there is no U.S. military solution and we must disengage our military from Iraq."

The Iraq Study Group recommended that we begin a withdrawal of U.S. troops by early 2008, depending on conditions on the ground. This is no different than the current policy. In my view, Iraq is plagued by a growing civil war and what is best for America's security needs and the future of our military is a responsible plan for redeployment.
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Worries grow with expansion of Al-Sadr's army

News, Weather, and Sports for Albany, Valdosta, and Thomasville, from WALB. Leading the way for South Georgia. - Worries grow with expansion of Al-Sadr's army: "WASHINGTON The Iraq Study Group says the private army of anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr could be 60-thousand fighters strong"

Al-Sadr's Mahdi army is one of the concerns highlighted in the Iraq Study Group's report, released yesterday. It's one of many factions undermining U-S efforts to help Iraq's democracy gain control.

The study group says many of al-Sadr's followers are planted throughout the security forces that protect Iraqi government institutions.

And more worrisome than their numbers, which stood at ten-thousand in 2005, is al-Sadr's organizational ability. One terrorism expert says cell phones, Internet communications and other technology gives the Mahdi army an "enormous" ability to mobilize their forces.

And the panel worries that al-Sadr himself may not be able to manage his growing network.

Note the total destruction of this humvee (probably level 2) armored - except for the door. Posted by Picasa

Saudi citizens donating to Iraq Sunni insurgents

Saudi citizens donating to Iraq Sunni insurgents Jerusalem Post: "Private Saudi citizens are giving millions of dollars to Sunni insurgents in Iraq and much of the money is used to buy weapons, including shoulder fired anti-aircraft missiles, according to key Iraqi officials and others familiar with the flow of cash. "

Saudi government officials deny that any money from their country is being sent to Iraqis fighting the government and the US-led coalition.

But the US Iraq Study Group report released Wednesday said Saudis are a source of funding for Sunni Arab insurgents. Several truck drivers interviewed by The Associated Press described carrying boxes of cash from Saudi Arabia into Iraq, money they said was headed for insurgents.

Two high-ranking Iraqi officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the issue's sensitivity, told the AP most of the Saudi money comes from private donations, called zaqat, collected for Islamic causes and charities.
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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Rolling Stone : That Iraq Report? More of the Same

The great Baker-Hamilton crock: A classic bullshit-cloud in the proud tradition of congressional "studies

Rolling Stone : That Iraq Report? More of the Same: "In private, some members of the Iraq Study Group have expressed concern that they could find themselves in not-quite-open confrontation with Mr. Bush. 'He's a true believer,' one participant in the group's debates said. 'Finessing the differences is not going to be easy.'

--David Sanger, The New York Times, 'Idea of Rapid Withdrawal From Iraq Seems to Fade,' Dec. 1. "

What a fiasco this whole Baker-Hamilton episode is, with all its attendant leaks and media manipulations -- a veritable symphony of Typical Washington Bullshit. It has all the hallmarks of the pusillanimous, cover-your-ass mentality that rules our nation's capital, where all problems are political problems and actual real emergencies never make it to the desk of anyone who matters.

The Baker-Hamilton commission, also known as the Iraq Study Group, is due to release its long-awaited recommendations this Wednesday, but the overall gist of the panel's labors was obvious way back in March, when President Bush first appointed the panel. Baker-Hamilton from the very start was a classic bullshit-cloud in the proud tradition of those damnable congressional "studies" we hear about from time to time, in which "bipartisan panels" are convened to much fanfare and packed off to the wilds of suburban Virginia for years of intellectually masturbatory activity -- the usual solution, whenever House or Senate leaders are faced with a genuinely thorny political issue that offers no easy or obvious solutions, i.e. a problem that can't be simply blamed on one or the other political party, but which needs actual fixing.

Whenever one of those issues pops up, Washington politicians generally find themselves at a loss. They don't know what to do. For the vast majority of these buffoons, their expertise lies elsewhere. These guys know how to spread their legs for campaign contributors, raid the budget for redundant public works projects and worm their way onto the six o'clock news wearing a hardhat or a Cubs cap -- but the average elected official knows very little about actually solving real political problems, because in most cases that's not what got him elected.

The successful politician today is the one who can best convert the agendas of his campaign contributors into politically saleable policies. That's the business of government today; both the legislative and the executive branch are mainly engaged in searching out and finding the acceptable mean between voter sentiment and financial interest. It's sort of an ongoing math problem -- figuring out how many voters you can afford to fuck every four years, or how much money you should be extracting, and from which sponsors, for each rape of your constituents.

That kind of negotiation, Washingtonians are great at. But there's no upside to taking on difficult problems for most politicians, who a) usually don't give a shit anyway, since there are few problems outside of anthrax-infected envelopes that actually affect a Washington politician's life, and b) have few institutional remedies for effectively addressing problems even if they were so inclined, since so many backs need to be scratched en route to taking action.

And so, when faced with an unsolvable or seemingly unsolvable political conundrum, most politicians feel there's only one thing to do. You appear onstage with your rival party's leader, embrace him, announce that you're going to find a "bipartisan" solution together, and then nominate a panel of rotting political corpses who will spend 18 months, a few dozen million dollars, many thousands of taxpayer-funded air miles, and about 130,000 pages of impossibly verbose text finding a way for both parties to successfully take the fork in the road and blow off the entire issue, whatever it was.

It's important, when you nominate your panel, to dig up the oldest, saggiest, rubberiest, most used-up political whores on the Eastern seaboard to take up your cause. That way, you can be sure that the panel will know its place and not address any extraneous issues in its inquiry -- like, for instance, whose fault a certain war is, or whether the whole idea of a "War on Terrorism" needs to be rethought, or whether the idea of preemptive defense as a general strategy is viable at all, or whether previously unthinkable solutions may now have to be countenanced, or whether there is anyone currently in a position of responsibility who perhaps should immediately be removed from office and hung by his balls. Your panel should contain people who are not experts or interested parties in the relevant field (since experts or interested parties might be tempted to come up with real, i.e. politically dangerous solutions), but it should contain people who are recognizable political celebrities whose names will lend weight to your whole enterprise, although not for any logical reason.

Baker-Hamilton was a classic whore-panel in every sense. None were Middle East experts. None had logged serious time in Iraq, before or after the invasion. All of them had influential friends on both sides of the aisle all over Washington, parties in the future they wanted to keep getting invites to, ambitions yet to be realized. You could assign Jim Baker, Lee Hamilton, Sandra Day O'Connor and Vernon Jordan, Jr. to take on virtually any problem and feel very confident that between the four of them, they would find a way to avoid the ugly heart of any serious political dilemma. If the missiles were on the way, and nuclear Armageddon was just seconds off, those four fossils would find a way to issue a recommendation whose headline talking points would be something like "heightened caution," dialogue with Sweden, and a 14 percent increase in future funding for the Air Force.

Hence the conclusions of the Baker-Hamilton report were predetermined virtually from the start. We could all have expected that the group's only unequivocal conclusions would restate the obvious -- that we need an eventual withdrawal of troops, that there needs to be more "robust regional diplomacy," that Iraqi forces need to assume more of the security burden, and that there will be no hope of a political solution without some cooperation from Syria and Iran. Duh! Because the really thorny questions are the specifics: when do we leave, and, more importantly, what do we offer Iran and Syria in return for their cooperation, what horrifying inevitable humiliation will we be prepared to suffer at their hands, and what form will talks with those gloating countries take?

Baker-Hamilton blew off those questions, and it's no wonder, because no one in Washington wants to deal with them. The Republicans don't want to agree to a withdrawal timetable because it's an admission of defeat and policy failure, while the Democrats don't want to be the first to call for a withdrawal because they're afraid of being pilloried in the next election season for a lack of toughness. Both sides are afraid of being responsible for a civil war bloodbath if the U.S. troops pull out, and neither side wants to be the first to suggest taking the humiliating step of inviting Syria or Iran to the negotiating table with anything like equal status.

Baker-Hamilton takes all of this into account, offering no concrete or controversial suggestions that would bind either party to unpopular action in the near future. In essence, all Baker-Hamilton accomplished was a very vague admission that Bush's Iraq adventure is somehow irrevocably fucked and that we have to get our troops out of that country as soon as possible, a conclusion that was obvious to the entire world two long years ago. But even this pathetically timid intellectual assertion was deemed too controversial to risk unveiling before the 2006 midterm elections, and it's obvious now that both parties have decided to wait until 2008 to deal with the more important questions of "when" and "how."

In the midst of all of the recent fanfare about Baker-Hamilton, some of the actual actors in the Iraq disaster have been using the media to similarly absolve themselves of any responsibility to act. We started to see this happening on November 15, when Michael Gordon of The New York Times (who seems to be spending a lot of time fellating intelligence officials lately) ran a ponderous "news analysis" suggesting that a rapid withdrawal might not be the best idea ("Get Out Now? Not So Fast, Some Experts Say," Nov. 15). In this piece, a host of military and intelligence officials argued vociferously that America's problems in Iraq stemmed from not having enough troops, and that an early withdrawal would accelerate the country's decline into civil war. Among the voices quoted in Gordon's piece is former CIA analyst Ken Pollack, who as Jeff Cohen noted was one of the chief pom-pom wavers for the war before the invasion and one of the many experts who insisted that Iraq possessed WMDs. Gordon conveniently left Pollack's record on that score out of the article.

Pollack and other officials like former Central Command head Anthony Zinni furthermore argue in the Gordon piece that what is needed now is an increase in troops in the next six months to "regain momentum" as part of a broader effort to stabilize Iraq.

A few weeks later, Gordon ran another piece ("Bush Adviser's Memo Cites Doubts About Iraqi Leader," Nov. 29) which contained a leak of a memo by National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley which basically expressed doubts that Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki is capable of doing much of anything to control sectarian violence in Iraq.

The gist of both of these Gordon pieces is obvious: the military wants it known that it isn't responsible for any of America's problems in Iraq, and that the real problem is that Bush failed to set up an effective political context for the military to work within.

With the military inundating the newspapers with leaks that basically pass the buck for the Iraq disaster to the diplomats and the politicians, the Bush administration still refusing to publicly face reality, and the politicians outside the administration hiding behind a Baker-Hamilton report that shelves any meaningful decisions until some undetermined date far into the future (while being careful to avoid "not-so-open" confrontations with the president), the Iraq catastrophe can now be safely perpetuated ad nauseum -- and the only people who will suffer for it will be people who don't matter in Washington, i.e. the soldiers and the Iraqi people.

We may soon have to face this fact: With the midterm elections over, and George Bush already a lame duck, the Iraq war is no longer an urgent problem to anyone on the Hill who matters. The Democrats are in no hurry to end things because it will benefit them if Iraq is still a mess in '08; just as they did this fall, they'll bitch about the war without explicitly promising to end it at any particular time. George Bush has already run his last campaign and he's not about to voluntarily fuck up his legacy with a premature surrender or a humiliating concession to Syria or Iran. At least publicly, John McCain is going to head into '08 siding with those in the military who believe the problem is a lack of troops.

For the Iraq disaster to end, someone among these actors is going to have to make a difficult decision -- admit defeat, invite a bloody civil war, lose face before a pair of rogue terror-supporting states -- and it's obvious that none of them is ever going to do that, not until there's absolutely no choice.

The Baker-Hamilton report is being praised for its cautious, sensible, bipartisan approach to the Iraq problem (Time magazine even called it "genius") but actually all it is a tacit recognition of this pass-the-buck dynamic in Washington. Because there is currently no way to even think about ending the actual problem without someone in Washington having to eat a very big bucket of shit, both sides have agreed, in the spirit of so-called bipartisan cooperation, to avoid thinking about ending the problem in the immediate future. Instead, the official policy in the meantime, bet on it, will end up being some version of a three-pronged strategy that involves 1) staying the course or even increasing the amount of troops temporarily 2) seeing what happens in '08, and 3) revisiting the issue after we see who wins the White House two years from now.

Baker-Hamilton wasn't about finding solutions to the Iraq problem. It was about finding viable political solutions to the Iraq problem. Since there are none, it punted the problem to the next administration.

Maybe the war will be real to those folks and they'll actually do something. Don't hold your breath.

>>Talk back to Taibbi -- and see a complete archive of The Low Post.
Posted Dec 06, 2006 8:30 AM

[bth: so true. so true it hurts. One variable he forgot - Osama Bin Laden. He ain't dead and he won't let us (aka Great Satan) leave the middle east. He needs us there and he doesn't have to go to Iraq to get to us. He and his friends can and almost certainly will come to visit us again.]