Saturday, December 23, 2006

Thousands More Dead In Continuing Iraq Victory | The Onion - America's Finest News Source

Thousands More Dead In Continuing Iraq Victory The Onion - America's Finest News Source: "Statistics released by the Department Of Defense estimated that 2,937 U.S. troops and over 100,000 Iraqi civilians have died in the ongoing American military victory in Iraq. "

Victory deaths are at a higher level than we had anticipated, yes," Gen. George Casey, Jr. said at a press conference shortly after the figures were released. "But one of the crucial lessons of our Vietnam experience is that a victory, in order to remain victorious, can't be abandoned halfway through, or in the case of Iraq, one-eighth of the way through."

"And significantly more troops may be required if we are to continue to enjoy that victory, especially if this turns into an all-out civil war," Casey added, stressing that it was still too early to deem the victory a "quagmire."

Debate continues over whether U.S. troops should be withdrawn from the Iraqi theater of victory. While some in Congress argue that a withdrawal would force Iraqi leadership to enforce the victory on their own, many military experts say that Iraqi troops remain insufficiently trained and unprepared to handle the daily perils of victory.

President Bush has consistently warned that if we hand over victory to local forces right away, there's a risk that victory may worsen, as Iraqis won't be able to contend with the guerrilla attacks and improvised explosive devices that claim the lives of dozens of the victorious every day.

"We're paying dearly in the form of American lives," Bush said, "but, plainly speaking, that's just victory for you."

Casey's remarks came nearly two weeks after some 200 Iraqi Shi'ites died in a series of car bombs in Baghdad's Sadr City, the largest single victory-related death toll since the U.S. won the Iraq War in 2003.

In an address to the nation Dec. 10, President Bush predicted that, if efforts continue as they have in Iraq, "This could become America's longest victory ever," Bush said.

[bth: humor that bites deeply.]

Hillary's New Strategy: The Mom President

VOTE.COM Column Hillary's New Strategy: The Mom President: "December 21, 2006 -- 'We've never had a mother who ever ran or was elected president...'

That was Hillary Clinton speaking earlier this week, when she appeared on the television show The View. Don't think for a minute that she was just making an interesting historical observation. No, Hillary doesn't work that way. She never says or does anything that hasn't been perfectly scripted and endlessly polled beforehand. She had a message, a new strategy to try out. So look for the new 'Mom Strategy' to be the anchor of her presidential run.

Forget Soccer Moms and Security Moms; now it's going to be all Moms all the time -- with Hillary as the biggest Mom of all."

The "Mom Strategy" is key to presenting the latest iteration of Hillary. She needs to move out of the center space that she populated in her last reincarnation as a moderate. That's over. Because democratic primary voters are squarely at odds with her positions on the war in Iraq, she needs to move on. The "Mom Strategy" gives her a credible way to tack to the left on the war. She's already begun. Last week, she told an NPR audience that she would have voted against the war if only she had known then what she knows now. Woulda, shoulda, coulda.

In furtherance of the new Mom strategy, she has re-released her best-selling book It Takes A Village.
This time, she is pictured surrounded by adoring, well-groomed and respectful children on the cover.
Just like Mom. This is no coincidence; it's an element of the strategy. The subliminal message: I'm a Mom and I'm running for president. Moms take care of people, they're compassionate and don't want wars.

The fact that the book isn't selling well in its re-release -- Amazon ranks it at 5,000 -- doesn't matter.
It's the cover photo that resonates.

Hillary the Hawk may ultimately be the way to win the centrists who dominate the general electorate. But Hillary, the Mom, another Mother for Peace, is the way to capture the left that runs the Democratic primaries. And that's exactly what she's doing....

'Nyet' on Iran

'Nyet' on Iran - washingtonpost.com: "THE U.N. Security Council took up the Iranian nuclear program this year to pressure Tehran to suspend its work on enriching uranium. But in the past few months, something entirely different has happened. While Iranian enrichment has continued with impunity, the Security Council's deliberations have been hijacked by the Russian government of Vladimir Putin, which is using them to protect its economic interests and portray itself as a global power capable of countering the United States."...

Govt seeks better security at chemical plants

Govt seeks better security at chemical plants Politics News Reuters.com: "WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Department of Homeland Security on Friday proposed regulations to improve security at high-risk chemical facilities to make them safer them from attacks.

'The consequences of an attack at a high-risk chemical facility could be severe for the health and safety of the citizens in the area and for the national economy,' said Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

Under new authority provided to the DHS by Congress, the department wants chemical facilities fitting certain profiles to complete a secure online risk assessment to determine how vulnerable they are to attacks."

The facilities would submit their security plans to DHS, which would review and approve them. The department would then conduct audits and on-site inspections to make sure the plants' owners are following the security plans.

"Performance standards will be designed to achieve specific outcomes, such as securing the perimeter and critical targets, controlling access, deterring theft of potentially dangerous chemicals and preventing internal sabotage," the department said.

Chemical plants that do not meet the performance standards could be fined up to $25,000 a day and continuos violators could be shut down.

The DHS pointed out that most chemical facilities have already undertaken voluntary efforts to improve security and made significant investments to maintain satisfactory security programs

DHS officials could not immediately be reached to clarify what types of chemical plants would be subject to the regulations.

The department is using a broad definition of a "chemical facility" that would have to follow the regulations, saying it would be "any facility that possesses or plans to possess, at any relevant point in time, a quantity of a chemical substance determined by the (DHS) secretary to be potentially dangerous or that meets other risk-related criterion identified by the department."

The regulations would not apply to oil refineries, according to the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association. But a spokeswoman for the trade group did not know what kinds of chemical plants would fall under the regulations.

Republican Sen. Susan Collins, who co-sponsored the bill giving the DHS the new authority over chemical plants, said she was concerned the proposed regulations would restrict legal challenges to the department's implementation of the program.

Democratic Rep. Ed Markey said the regulations are not strong enough and that the new Democratic-controlled Congress "will be looking to close the wide-open security loopholes" at the 15,000 chemical facilities in the United States.

The DHS's proposed security regulations will be published in the Federal Register next week and the department will take public comment on them through February 7.

[bth: with a definition that broad and vague - it sounds like my garage would qualify. On the other hand how in heck does an oil refinery escape the regulations?]

U.S. Airstrike Kills Top Taliban Leader - washingtonpost.com

U.S. Airstrike Kills Top Taliban Leader - washingtonpost.com: "KABUL, Afghanistan -- A top Taliban military commander described as a close associate of Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Omar was killed in an airstrike this week close to the border with Pakistan, the U.S. military said Saturday.

Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Osmani was killed Tuesday by a U.S. airstrike while traveling by vehicle in a deserted area in the southern province of Helmand, the U.S. military said."

Osmani was the Taliban's chief military commander in southern Afghanistan and played a "central role in facilitating terrorist operations" including roadside bombs, suicide attacks and kidnappings, the U.S. said.

He was part of a group of "co-equals" at the top of the Taliban leadership chain just under Omar, U.S. military spokesman Col. Tom Collins said.

"This guy had been deeply involved in terrorist acts against the people of Afghanistan, NATO and the government," Collins said. "He was a top commander of Taliban operations in the south and now he's no more."

Osmani was also in charge of the Taliban's finances, Collins said....

[bth: this is the friday afternoon feel good story before the holidays. you knew it was coming. what is encouraging is that the event happened supposedly this week and not months ago which is more normally the case.]

Douglas Farah: The Rationale of Zawahiri Statements

Douglas Farah: The Rationale of Zawahiri Statements: "To many, the statements of al-Zawahiri and other radical Islamists on elections and jihad can be interpreted as the rantings of mad mullahs who hate freedom and the West. "

But a careful reading of Islamist texts, provided by such authors as Andrew Bostom and Mary Habek (Knowing the Enemy) show that these reponses are entirely rational within the jihadi world view. This theology and ideology were developed centuries before Israel came into being and long before Western liberal democracies gained currency in the world.

The rationale, taken from Wahhab, Qutb, al Banna and others is simple: Only the Quran, as interpreted by these groups, can guide the world, providing a religious, political and legal handbook that cannot be abridged. Anything that is contrary to these interpretations of Allah’s law-including the statements in the Quran itself that speak less harshly of Jews and Christians, deemed to have been made under specific historic conditions no longer applicable-are punishable by death.

What could democracy offer, even in Arab states or Palestine? Nothing, because it is not divinely ordained. In fact, in jihadi literature, few things receive more scorn than the ideal of democracy, viewed as the imposition of human will over that of Allah. The other thing scorned is the charging of interest on money that is lent, hence the Muslim Brotherhood’s long-standing and expensive efforts to set up a completely different, Islamist banking system that is divinely sanctioned.

What can be gained from powersharing in Somalia between Islamists and a moderate, secular government? Absolutely nothing. There is no room for compromise or negotiation except to gain a temporary advantage that leads to Islamist triumph.

What, then, to be gained from negotiating with the Mullahs in Iran? Again, nothing. They are divinely sanctioned to lie, mislead, obfuscate and do whatever necessary to achieve their goal-the implementation of their interpretation of divine law (different from the Sunni version, but just as absolutist.)

These principles of divine rule and sharia are not negotiable to Islamists. They are a matter of life and death, heaven and hell, rational in their own terms. Liberal democracies like to look for ways to find common ground and negotiate solutions. That formula has served well for several centuries. But it is, in the context of Islamists, and irrational response to what, to them, are rational actions.

There is nothing to negotiate with Islamists. They want what they believe will bring them eternal salvation. Unfortunately, that means our destruction. There is really little to talk about

Iran ordered to pay in Khobar Towers bombing

Scotsman.com News - Latest News - Iran ordered to pay in Khobar Towers bombing: "WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. federal judge on Friday ordered the Islamic Republic of Iran to pay $254 million (129 million pounds) to the family of 17 U.S. servicemen killed in the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers residence at a U.S. military base in Saudi Arabia.

The default judgement was entered against the Iranian government, its security ministry and the Revolutionary Guards after they failed to respond to the lawsuit, which was initiated more than four years ago."

In issuing the $254.4 million judgement in the case, U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth concluded that the Khobar Towers attack was carried out by people recruited by Gen. Ahmed Sharifi of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

The lorry bomb involved in the attack was assembled at a base in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley operated by Hezbollah and the Revolutionary Guards, and the attack was approved by Ayatollah Khameini, the supreme leader of Iran, the 209-page ruling found.

The decision relied heavily on an investigation of the attack by the FBI under director Louis Freeh. The FBI probe led to the grand jury indictment of 13 members of Hezbollah in June 21, 2001.

"The totality of the evidence at trial, combined with the findings and conclusions entered by this court ... firmly establishes that the Khobar Towers bombing was planned, funded and sponsored by senior leadership in the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran," Lamberth wrote.

"The sheer gravity and nature of the attack demonstrate the defendants' unlawful intent to inflict severe emotional distress upon the American servicemen as well as their close relatives," he added.

The bombing of Khobar Towers, a residence on a U.S. military base in Dhahran, killed a total of 19 servicemen.

(c) Reuters 2006. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of Reuters content, including by caching, framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Reuters.
Reuters and the Reuters sphere logo are registered trademarks and trademarks of the Reuters group of companies around the world.

This article: http://news.scotsman.com/latest.cfm?id=1906422006

Police hunt for 'English brothers' who spent year in al-Qaeda camp

Police hunt for 'English brothers' who spent year in al-Qaeda camp - Britain - Times Online: "Police are trying to trace a gang of British Muslims who are thought to have returned to plot terror attacks in Britain after being trained abroad for more than a year by al-Qaeda, Nine Britons, all said to be in their twenties, were among a group of 12 Western recruits groomed by al-Qaeda at a secret camp near the Afghan border to set up new terror cells in London and other Western capitals. "

Police do not know the real identities of this gang, who are known as the “English brothers” because of their shared language. As well as nine Britons, they include two Norwegians and an Australian who were smuggled into the Waziristan tribal region in Pakistan in October 2005.

They are believed to have been under the command of an al-Qaeda veteran suspected of training some of the Britons accused of the alleged plot to blow up passenger planes flying to the US from Heathrow airport in the summer.

The intensive manhunt for the “English brothers” was revealed to The Times as the alleged British mastermind of the Heathrow plot spoke for the first time as he appeared yesterday in a court in Pakistan on separate charges. Outside court, he vehemently denied any role in plans to bomb up to ten transatlantic flights.

Rashid Rauf, 25, from Birmingham, had not been seen in public since his arrest in August by Pakistani intelligence chiefs, who claimed that he was the key figure in the foiled operation.

Talking to The Times inside a crowded court in Rawalpindi, Mr Rauf, who was manacled hand and foot, said of the accusations: “The charges are all fabricated. It is an injustice, there is no evidence against me.”
A tall, lean figure with a long unruly beard and his head covered by an embroidered shawl, Mr Rauf smiled when asked if he fears being returned to Britain to stand trial. Senior officials in Pakistan have told The Times that diplomatic efforts are under way to transfer Mr Rauf to Britain, where detectives want to question him about the alleged Heathrow plot and possible links to the 7/7 London suicide bombers.

A security source in Islamabad said last night that the transfer could happen “in weeks” even though there is no formal extradition treaty between the two countries. Mr Rauf, who is facing charges in Pakistan of forgery and possessing fake documents, is due back in court on January 5.

Terrorist charges against him were dropped by a judge this month and his case was transferred to another court.

There are claims that British police wanted the authorities to hold on to Mr Rauf while they prepared a case. One official in Islamabad said: “British police could not complete investigations in the 28 days they had to detain a suspect.”

Mr Rauf’s capture in the summer was believed to have triggered arrests across Britain and forced ministers to go public on claims that British-born terrorists were about to detonate liquid explosives on aircraft leaving Heathrow for US cities.

Thousands of passengers were stranded at British airports and flights grounded. Eleven men, most of Pakistani origin, have been charged in Britain with conspiracy to murder and preparing an act of terrorism. Yesterday, Mr Rauf’s lawyer, Hashmat Habib, said that the Heathrow plot was “a fake and was used [to] boost up the political position of Tony Blair and George Bush”.

British police have already said they want to interview Mr Rauf about the murder of his uncle, Mohammad Saeed, 54, who was stabbed close to his home in Alum Rock, Birmingham, in 2002. Mr Rauf denies any involvement in the killing.

Police are keen to learn whether he met two of the 7/7 bombers, Mohammad Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer, who are known to have visited Pakistan shortly before they and two other British Muslims blew up three Underground trains and a bus, killing 52 people in London in July 2005.

The alert over the whereabouts of the “English brothers” came as Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, cautioned about “an unparalleled and growing threat of attack”. He said that the terrorist threat was “far graver” than any posed during the Second World War, the Cold War or IRA campaigns.

Sir Ian, speaking on the Today programme on BBC Radio 4, said that he had no specific intelligence about an imminent attack but the threat was “ever present”.

Security chiefs fear the orchestrators are likely to be British Muslims who have been given training abroad. The “English brothers”, regarded as “too valuable” to take part in suicide attacks, have slipped back to tutor homegrown recruits.

Intelligence sources in Pakistan said that the men are reported to have joined Taleban and al-Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan in attacks on Nato troops. The sources told The Times that the “brothers” were given religious indocrination as well as lessons on how to assemble suicide bomb vests and improvised explosive devices.

The sources are reported to have been escorted to the al-Qaeda camp by Adam Gadahn, a Californian indicted by the US authorities as an al-Qaeda terrorist, who introduced the “brothers” to their tutors

Sic Semper Tyrannis 2006: "Israel, Syria and Bush’s Veto"

Sic Semper Tyrannis 2006: "Israel, Syria and Bush’s Veto": "Israel’s worst-kept diplomatic secret became public knowledge this week when its prime minister, Ehud Olmert, told his Cabinet that he was against taking up a dramatic new Syrian offer for peace talks — because doing so would undermine President Bush.' Forward

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------"

Well, there you have it. The government of the United States is effectively impeding peace talks between Israel and Syria because President Bush says the Syrians are "evil doers" who should be punished, and not allowed to wiggle out of the traps he has laid for them in Lebanon and in the matter of the UN tribunal over the sainted Rafik's death.

At the same time rumor runs in Washington that Bandar bin Sultan and Elliot Abrams are busy constructing a web of alliance and money that will seek to undermine Iranian allies wherever they are found.

Weapons have been landed from Israeli ships on the Lebanese coast for the purpose of arming the enemies of Hizbullah.

Does this make Saudi Arabia a de facto ally of Israel?
Pat Lang

http://www.forward.com/articles/israel-syria-and-bush-s-veto/

"Israel, Syria and Bush’s Veto

"Israel, Syria and Bush’s Veto - Forward.com": "Israel’s worst-kept diplomatic secret became public knowledge this week when its prime minister, Ehud Olmert, told his Cabinet that he was against taking up a dramatic new Syrian offer for peace talks — because doing so would undermine President Bush."

Well, at least the cat is out of the bag. Olmert has been under intense domestic pressure for months to take up Syria’s repeated offers to negotiate peace. His reply has been a repeated “Nyet.” Syria, he’s said over and over, can’t be trusted as long as it’s allied to Iran and supports terrorists. So he’s said. But that’s not really what he meant.

Proponents of talks, including some of Olmert’s top Cabinet ministers, note that Israel faces a dangerous deadlock on nearly every front, with growing Palestinian extremism, an unbowed Hezbollah to the north and the terrifying Iranian threat to the east. If Syria can be induced, for an acceptable price, to switch sides and help reduce the tensions — as President Bashar al-Assad has repeatedly hinted — then the possibility should be explored. Israel needs fewer enemies, not more of them.

Olmert’s position is that Israel can’t talk to Syria until it stops playing host to Palestinian rejectionist groups and providing support to Hezbollah. Critics argue that those are precisely the behaviors Israel should be negotiating to have halted. “Israel is demanding, as a precondition, that Syria give all that it has to give — even before sitting down at the negotiating table,” celebrated Israeli writer Amos Oz wrote this week. “That is a ludicrous demand.”

It’s long been rumored that Olmert’s real motive is placating Bush. He’s consistently denied it — until now. This time, he put his cards on the table. What drove him to ’fess up was a new peace overture from Damascus, announced December 16 by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem. Speaking to a Lebanese newspaper, Moallem offered to open peace talks without any preconditions — dropping for the first time Syria’s longtime demand that Israel concede the Golan Heights in advance of talks. Moallem was following up on comments a day earlier by Assad, who urged Olmert to “take a chance” and “discover if we are bluffing or not.” Assad also offered to help America restore stability in Iraq.

Olmert replied, according to the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot, by questioning Assad’s motives in reaching out just “after the Baker report was published in Washington” — calling for talks with Syria — and “after Bush made a strong statement,” rejecting it. In effect, Olmert was asking, how dare Assad offer to patch things up when that’s what James Baker and growing numbers of Americans want? Where would that leave Bush?

In case his meaning wasn’t clear, Olmert spelled it out bluntly: “At a time when the president of the United States, Israel’s most important ally, with whom we have a network of strategic relations — when he is fighting in every arena, both at home in America, in Iraq and in other places in the world, against all the elements that want to weaken him — is this the time for us to say the opposite?”

Olmert’s aides hinted afterward that he hasn’t completely ruled out talks with Syria. After all, they’re not crazy. They know that any possibility of moving toward stability on the Palestinian front depends on bringing the radicals of Hamas to heel, and that nobody but Damascus is in a position to do that. They know that Lebanon remains a tinderbox, ready to ignite whenever Syria orders it. Many of them understand what Yitzhak Rabin proclaimed a dozen years ago: that the only way to isolate Iran is to complete a “circle of peace” around Israel by making deals with Syria, followed by Lebanon and the Palestinians.

Perhaps most important, they know what every freshman Israeli strategist knows: that for all the popular chatter, Syria usually keeps the deals it makes. It made a deal with Israel in 1975 for quiet on the Golan Heights, and it’s honored its word for 31 years. Yes, it’s sought every opportunity to make Israel’s life miserable by arming Hezbollah and hosting Hamas, but those weren’t written into the 1975 deal. It’s time to cut a better deal.

Olmert knows all that, too, but the way he sees it, there’s nothing he can do about it. Israel is utterly dependent, even in the best of times, on the good graces of the American presidency. When times are good, Israel breathes easy. Right now, times are not good. The president of the United States is trapped and wounded, circling nervously like a caged tiger. Nothing is more dangerous — especially to those who are closest.

Shiites Remake Baghdad in Their Image - New York Times

Shiites Remake Baghdad in Their Image - New York Times: "BAGHDAD, Dec. 22 — As the United States debates what to do in Iraq, this country’s Shiite majority has been moving toward its own solution: making the capital its own. "

Large portions of Baghdad have become Shiite in recent months, as militias press their fight against Sunni militants deeper into the heart of the capital, displacing thousands of Sunni residents. At least 10 neighborhoods that a year ago were mixed Sunni and Shiite are now almost entirely Shiite, according to residents, American and Iraqi military commanders and local officials.

For the first years of the war, Sunni militants were dominant, forcing Shiites out of neighborhoods and systematically killing bakers, barbers and trash collectors, who were often Shiites. But starting in February, after the bombing of a shrine in the city of Samarra, Shiite militias began to strike back, pushing west from their strongholds and redrawing the sectarian map of the capital, home to a quarter of Iraq’s population.

The Shiite-dominated government publicly condemns violence against Sunnis and says it is trying to stop the militias that carry it out. But the attacks have continued unabated, and Sunnis have grown suspicious.

Plans for a new bridge that would bypass a violent Sunni area in the east, and a proposal for land handouts in towns around Baghdad that would bring Shiites into what are now Sunni strongholds underscored these concerns.

Sunni political control in Baghdad is all but nonexistent: Of the 51 members of the Baghdad Provincial Council, which runs the city’s services, just one is Sunni.

In many ways, the changes are a natural development. Shiites, a majority of Iraq’s population, were locked out of the ruling elite under Saddam Hussein and now have power that matches their numbers.

The danger, voiced by Sunni Arabs, is that an emboldened militant fringe will conduct broader killings without being stopped by the government, or, some fear, with its help. That could, in turn, draw Sunni countries into the fight and lead to a protracted regional war, precisely the outcome that Americans most fear.

“They say they’re against this, but on the ground they do nothing,” said Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, the speaker of Parliament, a Sunni. He moved his family to the better-protected Green Zone in October.

The debate reaches to the heart of the American enterprise here. While President Bush is considering more troops, some in the Shiite-dominated government say the Americans should stay out of the sectarian fight in Baghdad and let the battle run its course. Getting involved would simply prolong the fight, they say.

At an army base in northern Baghdad, an Iraqi general moved his hand across a map of the capital. The city is dividing fast, he said, writing, “Sunni” and “Shiite” in graceful Arabic script across each neighborhood.

“Now we face a new style of splitting the neighborhoods,” said the general, a Shiite. “The politicians are doing this.”

Neighborhoods in the east — most vulnerable to Shiite militias from Sadr City, the largest eastern district and one of its poorest — have lost much of their minority Sunni populations since February. Even the solidly middle-class neighborhoods of Zayuna and Ghadier, very mixed as little as six months ago, are starting to lose Sunnis.

In Baladiyad, a once-mixed area of eastern Baghdad, workers smoothed mortar onto brick. A Shiite mosque was taking shape.

On the same block, a half-finished Sunni mosque stood deserted, its facade hung with peeling posters of last year’s leaders. Less than a mile away, another mosque has never been used.

“They can’t come here now,” a Shiite worker said. “They are Sunni.”

Further south, in the neighborhood of Naariya, a Shiite refugee family sat in a darkened living room in a house they recently occupied.

The house belonged to a Sunni family, but they had fled after a spate of killings, and the local office of Moktada al-Sadr, a Shiite cleric, had arranged for Shiites to move in.

The new family’s scant belongings hung on the wall: a portrait of the father, now dead, and a broken revolver. Somebody else’s clock chimed. Mattresses and couches of the previous owners packed the room.

“They told us it’s safe here, it’s a Shiite neighborhood,” said Mustafa, one of the sons. “The Mahdi Army is protecting the area,” he said, referring to Mr. Sadr’s militia. Family members declined to give their name for safety reasons.

The family has no sympathy for the Sunnis. They fled Baquba, a relentlessly violent town north of Baghdad, after Sunni militants killed their father, a man in his 70’s; kidnapped a brother; and shot another brother dead.

Around 400 Shiite families have fled from Baquba to Naariya and a nearby neighborhood, Baghdad Jedidah, over the past few months, said Mustafa, citing local officials in Mr. Sadr’s office.
“We are a ship that sank under the ocean,” said his mother, Aziza, 46.

Besides, Mustafa said, Shiite militias pursue only Sunnis with suspicious affiliations. The Sunni militias, on the other hand, “are killing anyone who is Shiite,” Aziza said. (A relative in a separate conversation said one of Aziza’s sons had killed more than 10 Sunnis since coming to Baghdad this fall. The family denied any involvement in militias.)

Aziza added, “My husband was an ordinary man.”

But a divided Iraq can destroy ordinary people.

A Sunni man named Bassim, his Shiite wife and their three small children said Shiite militiamen forced them to leave their home in Huriya, west of the Tigris, one chilly afternoon this month. Bassim left two jobs as a butcher and a hospital cleaner because they were in very Shiite neighborhoods.

“My husband is a Sunni, but he has nothing to do with insurgents,” said his wife, Zahra Kareem Alwan, holding her sobbing daughter on her hip in a school in Adel, a Sunni neighborhood in western Baghdad where families took temporary refuge. Boxes of water were stacked in a corner.

Last week, the family was moved to an empty house farther west. They did not know the owner.

Shiite leaders argue that the Iraqi Army would not allow massacres. They say Americans will be embedded with units as a safety check.

In Huriya, it was an Iraqi Army unit that helped Ms. Alwan and other families into trucks and brought them to Adel. An American colonel advising the Iraqi Army unit that controls the area said that Shiites occupied the houses within 48 hours. Americans counted about 180 families who had fled. The Iraqi general said it was 50.

Shiite political leaders were skeptical.

“These are lies,” said Hadi al-Amiri, head of the security committee in Parliament and of the Badr Organization, the armed wing of one of Iraq’s most powerful Shiite parties.

“It’s merely propaganda to create fears among Arabs,” he added, a reference to Sunni Arab countries.

The main problem, Mr. Amiri said, was Sunni insurgents and their suicide bombs.

They want to go back to the old equation, when they were the officers and the Shia were just soldiers and slaves,” Mr. Amiri said, with an intensity that spoke of deep scars inflicted by the past government, referring to the loyalists to Saddam Hussein. “This will never happen again. They should believe in the new equation.”

Using the unlikely analogy of Mr. Hussein draining the marshes in southern Iraq to destroy the marsh Arabs, Mr. Amiri talked about ways that Baghdad could be encircled to choke off the supply lines of Sunni militants, for instance, by fortifying a network of rivers, a dam, and several highways.

“He divided it, drained the water, and within two to three years it was a desert,” he said. “I believe Baghdad will be like this.”

Militias are already doing their part to defend Shiites. In a Shiite mosque in northern Baghdad, refugees from the embattled northern village of Sabaa al-Bour, many of them women in black abayas, gathered in October asking for food and shelter.

Killings of Shiites in the town had enraged leaders in Baghdad. But weeks had dragged on, and one morning in October, a volunteer walked through the refugees telling them to go back home.

The Mahdi Army was there now, she said. The town was now safe for Shiites.

Shiites are also making inroads on local and federal levels. Baghdad’s municipal government is taking bids for designs of a bridge that would connect Greyat with Kadhimiya, two major Shiite areas in northern Baghdad on opposite sides of the Tigris River. Adhamiya, a Sunni area where the bridge is now and where it has been closed, would be bypassed altogether.

“The former regime refused to make the connection because it would strengthen the Shia,” said Naem al-Kaabi, a deputy mayor of Baghdad.

In another plan that appears intended to repopulate heavily Sunni-controlled areas with Shiites, the Ministry of Public Works has proposed giving land to victims of violence inflicted by Mr. Hussein and by insurgents since 2003. The plots would be in six towns outside Baghdad — Abu Ghraib, Taji, Salman Pak, Husseiniya, Mahmudiya and Latifiya, according to a local official familiar with the plan.

Sunni militants now control the towns and have conducted brutal campaigns to eliminate Shiites. Mr. Hussein gave favors to Sunni tribes there to protect against Shiites from the south. Few Sunnis claim compensation as victims of violence, since the application requires visits to police stations and hospitals, places no longer safe for Sunnis.

It was not clear how soon the plan would be carried out. A previous proposal, made by the Iraqi cabinet last year, would give some land in heavily Sunni west Baghdad to about 3,000 families, but names are still being registered.

In another indication of the current mood, a popular cellphone ring in eastern Baghdad, now largely Shiite, is a tune with the words: “If you can’t beat me, don’t fight me.”

The Sunni houses in Naariya did not empty easily. A college student with a Sunni name said he hid in his house, as Shiite militiamen went into homes on his block in late September and marched people away. A few days later, his uncle, a 35-year-old refrigerator repairman, was taken. The body was found in Ur, a Shiite stronghold in north Baghdad.

But unlike a bomb blast, where everybody remembers how someone died, the Sunnis’ losses seems to melt away. The Mahdi Army-controlled police station had no record of them.

Terrified, the men of the family scattered, settling on couches and in a garage of friends and family.
The student, Omar, is keeping a diary.

“One day I’ll be a teacher,” he said. “I should teach children what we passed through.”

[bth: not a civil war? not ethnic cleansing? while the US debates the symantics of war, the war rages. Perhaps we should let it run its course. The sunnis ruled by terror and now the shiites do. The rule of law is virtually nonexistent in Iraq so the alternative is the gun. ... What this article is making plain, is that the Shiites are winning control of Baghdad slowly but surely. Perhaps the city will be partitianed, perhaps not, but it will be shiite controlled - that is the reality.]

In the Third Day of Fighting in Somalia, Worries of a Sharp Escalation by Ethiopian Forces - New York Times

In the Third Day of Fighting in Somalia, Worries of a Sharp Escalation by Ethiopian Forces - New York Times: "ZANZIBAR, Tanzania, Dec. 22 — Any hope of a quick peace in Somalia vanished in a burst of artillery shells on Friday, as fighting between rival forces raged for a third straight day."

Residents of Baidoa, the seat of the internationally recognized transitional government, said they saw columns of Ethiopian tanks chugging toward the front lines, heightening worries that Somalia’s internal problems could soon become regional ones. Meanwhile, residents in Mogadishu, the battle-scarred traditional capital and the base of Somalia’s powerful Islamist movement, said they saw sailboats packed with foreign mercenaries landing on the city’s beaches.

According to United Nations officials, the transitional government, with the help of thousands of Ethiopian troops, has inflicted heavy losses on the Islamists, who rely on teenage boys to do much of their fighting. On Friday, the fighting was concentrated in towns ringing Baidoa, where witnesses said bodies were piling up in the streets.

As the two sides continued to blast each other with machine guns and artillery, an exodus began, with thousands of residents from the battle zone squeezing into aged trucks with pots, pans and sacks of clothes and fleeing to safer areas.

Ethiopia has acknowledged that it has dispatched several hundred military advisers to help the transitional government repel the Islamists. But on Friday, Ethiopian officials continued to deny that their troops were engaged in combat.

“Tanks? What tanks?” said Zemedkun Tekle, spokesman for Ethiopia’s Information Ministry. “We have not sent any heavy arms into Somalia. Such talk is just propaganda to stir up the people.”

The realities of waging war in a desperately poor country are setting in. At a hospital in Burhakaba, a town near Baidoa, a doctor stood in a filthy waiting room crowded with wounded and listed all the things he did not have: “No X-ray machines, no operating tables, no nothing.”

Islamist leaders have tried to frame the escalating conflict as a nationalist struggle, one aimed at evicting Ethiopian troops, whom they call infidel invaders. While Somalia is almost purely Muslim, neighboring Ethiopia has a strong Christian identity, even though it is actually about half Muslim. The two countries are longtime rivals and have fought over contested border areas before.

All schools in the Islamist-controlled areas have been closed indefinitely so more young people can be funneled to the front. On Friday, recruitment centers were swarming with teenage boys begging for guns. In Mogadishu, mosques blared out a call for retired soldiers to lend their expertise to the new jihad.

Ethiopia’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement late on Friday warning the Islamists to end their “hostile anti-Ethiopian activities.”

“The situation in Somalia has turned from bad to worse,” the statement said. “Ethiopia has been patient so far. There is a limit to this.”

Ethiopia has the most powerful military in the region, and many analysts fear that Ethiopia may be only days away from unleashing its helicopter gunships and jet fighters.

Somalia has been mired in crisis since 1991, when the central government collapsed, setting off a long, nasty interclan war. While the United Nations and donor countries have struggled to get a new government on its feet, a grass-roots movement of Islamic courts has steadily gained power.

The Islamist movement defeated the last of Mogadishu’s warlords in June and immediately restored a sense of law and order unheard of in the capital for 15 years. Then the Islamists began pushing outward, eventually reaching the outskirts of Baidoa, which their troops are now attacking from two sides.

The transitional government, meanwhile, has never been popular and its leaders spend much of their time outside Somalia. American officials have said that if it were not for Ethiopian protection, the transitional government would have fallen months ago.

The fighting began near Baidoa on Wednesday, as European diplomats were meeting with leaders from both sides in an effort to strike a peace deal. The diplomats were initially upbeat. But as the fighting has intensified, the diplomats have become more pessimistic, saying that the rank-and-file Islamists seem bent on war even if their leaders are conciliatory.

Mohammed Ibrahim contributed reporting from Mogadishu, and Abukar Karyare from Baidoa.

In the Third Day of Fighting in Somalia, Worries of a Sharp Escalation by Ethiopian Forces

In the Third Day of Fighting in Somalia, Worries of a Sharp Escalation by Ethiopian Forces - New York Times: "ZANZIBAR, Tanzania, Dec. 22 — Any hope of a quick peace in Somalia vanished in a burst of artillery shells on Friday, as fighting between rival forces raged for a third straight day."

Residents of Baidoa, the seat of the internationally recognized transitional government, said they saw columns of Ethiopian tanks chugging toward the front lines, heightening worries that Somalia’s internal problems could soon become regional ones. Meanwhile, residents in Mogadishu, the battle-scarred traditional capital and the base of Somalia’s powerful Islamist movement, said they saw sailboats packed with foreign mercenaries landing on the city’s beaches.

According to United Nations officials, the transitional government, with the help of thousands of Ethiopian troops, has inflicted heavy losses on the Islamists, who rely on teenage boys to do much of their fighting. On Friday, the fighting was concentrated in towns ringing Baidoa, where witnesses said bodies were piling up in the streets.

As the two sides continued to blast each other with machine guns and artillery, an exodus began, with thousands of residents from the battle zone squeezing into aged trucks with pots, pans and sacks of clothes and fleeing to safer areas.

Ethiopia has acknowledged that it has dispatched several hundred military advisers to help the transitional government repel the Islamists. But on Friday, Ethiopian officials continued to deny that their troops were engaged in combat.

“Tanks? What tanks?” said Zemedkun Tekle, spokesman for Ethiopia’s Information Ministry. “We have not sent any heavy arms into Somalia. Such talk is just propaganda to stir up the people.”

The realities of waging war in a desperately poor country are setting in. At a hospital in Burhakaba, a town near Baidoa, a doctor stood in a filthy waiting room crowded with wounded and listed all the things he did not have: “No X-ray machines, no operating tables, no nothing.”

Islamist leaders have tried to frame the escalating conflict as a nationalist struggle, one aimed at evicting Ethiopian troops, whom they call infidel invaders. While Somalia is almost purely Muslim, neighboring Ethiopia has a strong Christian identity, even though it is actually about half Muslim. The two countries are longtime rivals and have fought over contested border areas before.

All schools in the Islamist-controlled areas have been closed indefinitely so more young people can be funneled to the front. On Friday, recruitment centers were swarming with teenage boys begging for guns. In Mogadishu, mosques blared out a call for retired soldiers to lend their expertise to the new jihad.

Ethiopia’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement late on Friday warning the Islamists to end their “hostile anti-Ethiopian activities.”

“The situation in Somalia has turned from bad to worse,” the statement said. “Ethiopia has been patient so far. There is a limit to this.”

Ethiopia has the most powerful military in the region, and many analysts fear that Ethiopia may be only days away from unleashing its helicopter gunships and jet fighters.

Somalia has been mired in crisis since 1991, when the central government collapsed, setting off a long, nasty interclan war. While the United Nations and donor countries have struggled to get a new government on its feet, a grass-roots movement of Islamic courts has steadily gained power.

The Islamist movement defeated the last of Mogadishu’s warlords in June and immediately restored a sense of law and order unheard of in the capital for 15 years. Then the Islamists began pushing outward, eventually reaching the outskirts of Baidoa, which their troops are now attacking from two sides.

The transitional government, meanwhile, has never been popular and its leaders spend much of their time outside Somalia. American officials have said that if it were not for Ethiopian protection, the transitional government would have fallen months ago.

The fighting began near Baidoa on Wednesday, as European diplomats were meeting with leaders from both sides in an effort to strike a peace deal. The diplomats were initially upbeat. But as the fighting has intensified, the diplomats have become more pessimistic, saying that the rank-and-file Islamists seem bent on war even if their leaders are conciliatory.

Mohammed Ibrahim contributed reporting from Mogadishu, and Abukar Karyare from Baidoa.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Radical Indonesian cleric cleared in Bali terror-bombing

Radical Indonesian cleric cleared in Bali terror-bombing csmonitor.com: "The Indonesian Supreme Court on Thursday overturned the conviction of radical Islamic cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, who had served two and a half years in prison on a conspiracy charge in the deaths of more than 200 people in the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings. The Associated Press reports that news of the reversal was greeted with dismay by Australian Prime Minister John Howard. Eighty-eight Australians were killed in the blast."....

[bth: where's the justice in this?]
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Iraq had to deal with Turkey during Kurd genocide

Iraq had to deal with Turkey during Kurd genocide - Region - Middle East Times: "BAGHDAD -- Iraqi forces were told to cooperate with their Turkish counterparts during a 1980s campaign against Kurdish civilians, according to evidence presented Thursday to a court trying Saddam Hussein.

Prosecutors seeking to prove that the ousted Iraqi dictator ordered the slaughter of 182,000 Kurdish civilians in the 1988 Anfal campaign produced a series of Iraqi military documents during the day's hearing. "

One was sent to the commanders of the 1st and 5th Corps of the Iraqi Army August 21, 1988 and ordered them to carry out "heavy special strikes before starting the project to create a condition of panic among the citizens." Prosecutors have previously said that the term "special strikes" in Iraqi documents refers to the use of chemical weapons such as mustard gas or sarin.

The document, signed by Iraqi chief of staff Nazar Abdel Kareem Faisal, insisted: "There must be full destruction of saboteurs in the northern area." And in a revelation likely to stir anger among Kurdish survivors, the memo orders the Iraqi officers "to cooperate with the Turkish side, according to the cooperation protocol with them to chase all the refugees."

No detail was given of the alleged agreement between Turkey and Iraq.

Ankara has long opposed the idea of an independent Kurdish homeland in northern Iraq, but it has never been proved that Turkey cooperated with Saddam's forces during Anfal, which prosecutors describe as a genocide.

While the document touching on Turkish links was read out, sound was cut off to trial reporters and no discussion of the memo could be heard, although the Arabic-language document could still be read on the court screens.

Saddam and six co-defendants are accused of killing 182,000 Kurds between 1987 and 1988, when government troops allegedly suppressed a Kurdish uprising by using artillery, airstrikes, death camps, and poison gas attacks. They insist that the so-called Anfal campaign was a legitimate counter-insurgency operation against Kurdish separatists at a time when Iraq was at war with Iran.

At one point, defendant Hussein Rashid Al Tikriti, Saddam's deputy chief of operations for the armed forces, angrily interrupted proceedings, dismissing the idea that he was responsible for the use of "special ammunition." "I was deputy commander. Deputy commander is not the one responsible in any army ... Did I sign this?" he said, referring to one memo given in evidence.

"Is my name on it? If my name is there, I will sign my execution warrant myself. I am only afraid of God. If God wants me to die, I will die." Judge Mohammed Al Oreibi sought to appease him. "You are an old man, we want you to calm down. If you deny something, just say it," he said.

But chief prosecutor Munqith Al Faroon remained unmoved.

"This is the first time in history that we see the army of a country using chemical weapons against its own population. He is deputy commander. Of course there is a supply directory, but who is in charge?" said Faroon. "It is not only about chemical weapons. This is also about mass graves, destroying villages, civilians, people," the prosecutor added.

Co-defendant Sultan Hashim Al Tai, the commander of the Anfal task force and once defense minister, took up the slack to deliver his own impassioned speech in the name of self-defense.

"I didn't use a special weapon," he insisted, asking the court to remember that the Anfal campaign took place during the Iran-Iraq war when the "enemy" occupied much of the country and were supported by so-called saboteurs.

"Put yourself in my shoes. I had this order and we were at war. What were my choices? Carry out orders? I am on trial here. Not carrying out orders would have meant being court-martialed. I am a dead man already," Hashim added.

But the prosecution ridiculed his claims that civilians were merely transferred out of fighting zones to homes in the northern city of Kirkuk.

"Where did the people in the mass graves come from?" the prosecutor demanded. "We have seen documents. We have seen videos. Do what you want to do? Believe the documents and the videos or believe him?"

The trial was adjourned until January 8.

Iraq's former strongman was sentenced to death a month ago for his role in the execution of 148 Shiites in revenge for an assassination attempt against him in the town of Dujail in 1982. A panel of appeal court judges is reviewing the verdict.
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Talk in Saudi Arabia turns to 'Iranian threat'

Talk in Saudi Arabia turns to 'Iranian threat' - Africa & Middle East - International Herald Tribune: "RIYADH: At a late-night reading earlier this week, a self-styled poet held up his hand for silence and began a riff on the events in neighboring Iraq, in the old style of Bedouin storytellers."

"Saddam Hussein was a real leader who deserved our support," he began, making up the lines as he went. "He kept Iraq stable and peaceful," he added, "And most of all he fought back the Iranians."

Across the kingdom, in both official and casual conversation, once quiet concern over the chaos in Iraq and Iran's growing regional influence has burst into the open.

Saudi newspapers now openly decry Iran's growing power. Religious leaders have begun talking about a "Persian onslaught" that threatens the existence of Islam itself. In the salons of Riyadh, the "Iranian threat" is raised almost as openly and as frequently as the stock market.

"Iran has become more dangerous than Israel itself," said Sheik Musa bin Abdulaziz, editor of Al Salafi magazine, a self-described moderate in the Salafi fundamentalist Muslim movement that seeks to return Islam to its roots. "The Iranian revolution has come to renew the Persian presence in the region. This is the real clash of civilizations."

Many here said they believed a showdown with Iran was inevitable. After several years of a thaw in relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia, analysts said the Saudis were growing extremely concerned that Iran may build a nuclear bomb and become the de facto superpower in the region.

In recent weeks, the Saudis, with other Gulf countries, have announced plans to develop peaceful nuclear power; officials have feted Harith al Dhari, head of Iraq's Muslim Scholars Committee, which has links to the Iraqi insurgency; and have motioned that they may begin to support Iraq's Sunnis. All were meant to send a message that Saudi Arabia intends to get serious about Iran's growing prowess in the region.

"You need to create a strategic challenge to Iran," said Steve Clemons, senior fellow and director of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation. "To some degree what the Saudis are doing is puffing up because they see nobody else in the region doing so."

Yet a growing debate here has centered on how Iran should be confronted: Head on, with Saudi Arabia throwing its lot in with the full force of the United States, as one argument goes, or diplomatically, having been offered a grand bargain it would find hard to refuse.

The split burst into the open last week when Prince Turki al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Washington, abruptly resigned after just 15 months in the job. The resignation set off rumors of a long-running battle over the kingdom's foreign policy.

On Tuesday, Prince Saud al-Faisal, the ailing foreign minister, confirmed Turki's resignation for personal reasons. Privately, Saudi royals and analysts with knowledge of the situation said Turki resigned because of deep differences with the national security minister, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, over the government's plan to deal with Iran.

Just days before President George W. Bush met with Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq, the outlines of a new plan were made public by Nawaf Obeid, a Saudi security consultant who wrote in an op-ed article in The Washington Post that the Saudis would intervene and back the Sunnis "to stop Iranian-backed Shiite militias from butchering Iraqi Sunnis."

Obeid was then fired from his job, but he is widely expected to return to the government in some capacity.

A member of the royal family with knowledge of the discussions, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the fight is between those like Bandar, who has sought to closely back the Bush administration as it seeks a toughened policy on Iran, and those like Turki who have sought to avoid taking clear sides in the sectarian conflict and believe the only solution to the problem is in negotiating with the Iranians.

"Neither King Abdullah nor the Faisals are American puppets," said the royal of the family that includes Turki and Saud. "Prince Turki's abrupt resignation was in fact to return to Saudi, to be face to face with Bandar and Abdullah."

"The possibility of having conflict is very high," said Abdlerahman Rashid, managing director of the Arab satellite news channel, Al Arabiya, and a respected Saudi columnist. "Who will face the Iranians tomorrow? Just the Israelis alone? I don't think that is possible."

Turki, Clemons and palace insiders said, lobbied Washington for a broader policy that eschewed a military confrontation in favor of a policy that will strike Iran's interests. In effect, Clemons said, Turki had sought a plan mirroring the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, led by James Baker, a former secretary of state, and Lee Hamilton, a former congressman, but with a harder edge.

"Turki is not playing nice guy at all," he said. "Essentially, the Saudis are engagers: They want to weave together a blurry ambiguity to what they want to do."

In November, the Saudi royal said, King Abdullah presented Vice President Dick Cheney with a plan to raise oil production — to effectively drop the price — in the hope of sparking economic turmoil for Iran and ostensibly to force it to slow the flow of funds to Hezbollah in Lebanon and to Shiite militias in Iraq without getting directly involved in a confrontation.

Shortly afterward, Obeid's op-ed was published, building on comments that Saudi Arabia intends to get serious about Iran and may back Sunnis in Iraq in the event of an abrupt U.S. pullout. The article publicly spelled out the oil strategy.

An adviser to Bandar said there were no divisions over policy and many officials have been at pains in recent days to prove there is no split.

Saudi Arabia's next ambassador to the United States will be Adel al-Jubeir, a young U.S.-educated diplomat who was drafted by the king in 2001 to repair the nation's image in America that had been shattered by the Sept. 11 attacks. He is a close associate of Bandar.

Many Saudis have also grown openly critical of the country's policy on Iraq, citing its adherence to a U.S.-centric policy at the cost of Saudi interests.

More pessimistic analysts here said the country has lost significant strength and stature in Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine, even as Iran, with its populist, anti- U.S. agenda, has reaped the benefits.

"The Saudis made a big mistake by following the Americans when they had no plan," said Khalid al-Dakhil of King Saud University. "If the Saudis had intervened earlier and helped the Sunnis they could have found a political solution to their differences instead of the bloodshed we are seeing today."

Last week, a group of prominent Wahhabi clerics and university professors called on the government to begin actively backing the Sunnis, noting that "what Iraq, as a country and a people, has gone through in terms of a Christian-Shiite conspiracy preceded by a Bathist rule is one chapter in the many chapters of the conspiracy and an indicator for the success of the plan of the octopus which is invading the region."

[bth: what constructive action has Saudi Arabia taken on the war on terror (home of al-Qaeda and fanaticism) and how have they helped us (chased us out of Saudi Arabia, funded al-Qaeda, provided suicide bombers to Iraq). With friends like these do we need enemies?]
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U.K. women use handbags to help catch fugitive

globeandmail.com: U.K. women use handbags to help catch fugitive: "LONDON — British police are looking for a trio of handbag heroes.

They want to congratulate the three women who, armed only with their handbags, helped trap a fleeing fugitive. But they don't know who they are.

The man, who was wanted on suspicion of possessing an offensive weapon and assaulting three police officers, was being chased by police across a bridge in Worcester, central England on Dec. 14.

Uniformed and plainclothes officers had been chasing the man for several minutes."

Closed-circuit TV captured one woman who blocked the sidewalk, forcing the fugitive to run into the road, while a second woman lambasted him with her handbag. The third woman then joined in, forcing the man to run into the arms of a nearby van driver, who held him until police arrived.

“There they were, all minding their own business, when they realized simultaneously that action needed to be taken,” West Mercia police spokesman Richard Bull told The Associated Press. “They didn't know one another, but they all thought the same thing.”

“They surprised the man, but also demoralized him — after all, the world and his wife were already after him,” Mr. Bull added.

He said police do not encourage citizens to apprehend suspects, who can turn nasty.

“But we admire greatly what they have done.”
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British troops seize Iraqi police chief in Basra

Middle East Online: "
BAGHDAD - More than 1,000 British troops backed up by tanks carried out a dawn raid on Friday to seize an Iraqi police chief accused of leading a death squad that slaughtered 17 police trainers."

Under cover of thick fog, the soldiers were able to approach several addresses in the port city of Basra undetected and seize seven suspects without a shot being fired, military spokesman Major Charlie Burbridge said.

"The purpose of this raid is not just to apprehend this individual, but it is a precursor to disbanding the Serious Crimes Unit of the Basra police," he said by telephone from the restive southern city.

Burbridge said that British forces, with the support of Iraqi leaders, had found evidence that the unit was involved in "death squad activities" and had decided to wind it up, starting with Friday's raid.

Some of the seven detainees may be released after questioning, he said, but enough evidence was found to make a case against the group's leader, long a thorn in the side of the British presence in southern Iraq.

On October 29, unidentified gunmen ambushed a bus carrying 17 employees of a British-run police training academy back to their homes in Basra.

The passengers were massacred and their bodies dumped around the Shuaiba area in what was seen as an attempt to intimidate local residents and as a direct challenge to the British mission to pacify the region.

Burbridge said that the prime suspect seized on Friday - whom he did not identify - was thought to have been involved in the attack and that evidence gathered at the scene of the raid was thought to be enough to hold him.

The British force in Basra has long had problems with the local police, to whom they one day hope to hand over security responsibility for the city, especially with the notorious Serious Crimes Unit.

Many Iraqi police forces are known to be infiltrated by Shiite militias, which use police uniforms and weapons to pursue private political battles, and carry out sectarian killings against the country's Sunni minority.
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Redacted Version of Op-Ed on Iran - New York Times

Redacted Version of Op-Ed on Iran - New York Times: "The Iraq Study Group has added its voice to a burgeoning chorus of commentators, politicians, and former officials calling for a limited, tactical dialogue with Iran regarding Iraq. The Bush administration has indicated a conditional willingness to pursue a similarly compartmented dialogue with Tehran over Iran’s nuclear activities. "

Unfortunately, advocates of limited engagement — either for short-term gains on specific issues or to “test” Iran regarding broader rapprochement — do not seem to understand the 20-year history of United States-Iranian cooperation on discrete issues or appreciate the impact of that history on Iran’s strategic outlook. In the current regional context, issue-specific engagement with Iran is bound to fail. The only diplomatic approach that might succeed is a comprehensive one aimed at a “grand bargain” between the United States and the Islamic Republic.

Since the 1980s, cooperation with Iran on specific issues has been tried by successive administrations, but United States policymakers have consistently allowed domestic politics or other foreign policy interests to torpedo such cooperation and any chance for a broader opening. The Reagan administration’s engagement with Iran to secure the release of American hostages in Lebanon came to grief in the Iran-contra scandal. The first Bush administration resumed contacts with Tehran to secure release of the last American hostages in Lebanon, but postponed pursuit of broader rapprochement until after the 1992 presidential election.

In 1994, the Clinton administration acquiesced to the shipment of Iranian arms to Bosnian Muslims, but the leak of this activity in 1996 and criticism from presumptive Republican presidential nominee Robert Dole shut down possibilities for further United States-Iranian cooperation for several years.

These episodes reinforced already considerable suspicion among Iranian leaders about United States intentions toward the Islamic Republic. But, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, senior Iranian diplomats told us that Tehran believed it had a historic opportunity to improve relations with Washington. Iranian leaders offered to help the United States in responding to the attacks without making that help contingent on changes in America’s Iran policy — a condition stipulated in the late 1990s when Tehran rejected the Clinton administration’s offer of dialogue — calculating that cooperation would ultimately prompt fundamental shifts in United States policy.

The argument that Iran helped America in Afghanistan because it was in Tehran’s interest to get rid of the Taliban is misplaced. Iran could have let America remove the Taliban without getting its own hands dirty, as it remained neutral during the 1991 gulf war. Tehran cooperated with United States efforts in Afghanistan primarily because it wanted a better relationship with Washington.

But Tehran was profoundly disappointed with the United States response. After the 9/11 attacks, xxx xxx xx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxx xxxxxxx xx set the stage for a November 2001 meeting between Secretary of State Colin Powell and the foreign ministers of Afghanistan’s six neighbors and Russia. xxxx xxxxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxx xxxx xx xxxxxx xxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxx xxx xxxxxx xxxxxx xxxxxx xxxx xxxxx xxxxx xx xxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxx xxxxx Iran went along, working with the United States to eliminate the Taliban and establish a post-Taliban political order in Afghanistan.

In December 2001, xxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxx x Tehran to keep Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the brutal pro-Al Qaeda warlord, from returning to Afghanistan to lead jihadist resistance there. xxxxx xxxxxxx so long as the Bush administration did not criticize it for harboring terrorists. But, in his January 2002 State of the Union address, President Bush did just that in labeling Iran part of the “axis of evil.” Unsurprisingly, Mr. Hekmatyar managed to leave Iran in short order after the speech. xxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxx xxxxxx xxxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxx xxxx xxxx xxx the Islamic Republic could not be seen to be harboring terrorists.

xxx xxxxxx xxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxx xxxxx xxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxx xxxx xxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxx xxxx xxx xxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxx xxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxxx xxxx xxxxxxxx xxxx xxxxxxxx xxxx xx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxx xxxxx xxxx xxxxx xxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxxx xx xxxxx xxx xx xxxxxxx This demonstrated to Afghan warlords that they could not play America and Iran off one another and prompted Tehran to deport hundreds of suspected Al Qaeda and Taliban operatives who had fled Afghanistan.

Those who argue that Iran did not cause Iraq’s problems and therefore can be of only limited help in dealing with Iraq’s current instability must also acknowledge that Iran did not “cause” Afghanistan’s deterioration into a terrorist-harboring failed state. But, when America and Iran worked together, Afghanistan was much more stable than it is today, Al Qaeda was on the run, the Islamic Republic’s Hezbollah protégé was comparatively restrained, and Tehran was not spinning centrifuges. Still, the Bush administration conveyed no interest in building on these positive trends.

xxx xxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxx xxxx xxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx x xxxxxx xxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxx xxxxxxxxx xxx xxxxxx xx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxx xxxxxx xxx xxxxxxxx x xx x x xxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xx xxxx xxxxx xxxxx xx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxxxx xxxxx xxxx xxx xxxxxxx xxxxx xx xxx xxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxx xxxxx xxxx xxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxx xxxxx xxxxxxxx xx

From an Iranian perspective, this record shows that Washington will take what it can get from talking to Iran on specific issues but is not prepared for real rapprochement. Yet American proponents of limited engagement anticipate that Tehran will play this fruitless game once more — even after numerous statements by senior administration figures targeting the Islamic Republic for prospective “regime change” and by President Bush himself that attacking Iran’s nuclear and national security infrastructure is “on the table.”

Our experience dealing with xxxx xxxx Iranian diplomats over Afghanistan and in more recent private conversations in Europe and elsewhere convince us that Iran will not go down such a dead-end road again. Iran will not help the United States in Iraq because it wants to avoid chaos there; Tehran is well positioned to defend its interests in Iraq unilaterally as America flounders. Similarly, Iran will not accept strategically meaningful limits on its nuclear capabilities for a package of economic and technological goodies.

Iran will only cooperate with the United States, whether in Iraq or on the nuclear issue, as part of a broader rapprochement addressing its core security concerns. This requires extension of a United States security guarantee — effectively, an American commitment not to use force to change the borders or form of government of the Islamic Republic — bolstered by the prospect of lifting United States unilateral sanctions and normalizing bilateral relations. This is something no United States administration has ever offered, and that the Bush administration has explicitly refused to consider.

Indeed, no administration would be able to provide a security guarantee unless United States concerns about Iran’s nuclear activities, regional role and support for terrorist organizations were definitively addressed. That is why, at this juncture, resolving any of the significant bilateral differences between the United States and Iran inevitably requires resolving all of them. Implementing the reciprocal commitments entailed in a “grand bargain” would almost certainly play out over time and in phases, but all of the commitments would be agreed up front as a package, so that both sides would know what they were getting.

Unfortunately, the window for pursuing a comprehensive settlement with Iran will not be open indefinitely. The Iranian leadership is more radicalized today, with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president, than it was three years ago, and could become more radicalized in the future, depending on who ultimately succeeds Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as supreme leader. If President Bush does not move decisively toward strategic engagement with Tehran during his remaining two years in office, his successor will not have the same opportunities that he will have so blithely squandered.
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Thursday, December 21, 2006

IRAQI POLICE FIND IEDS INSIDE GOVERNMENT...

Press Releases - IRAQI POLICE FIND IEDS INSIDE GOVERNMENT...: "CAMP RAMADI, Iraq - During a significant sweep of the northern part of downtown Ramadi Iraqi police discovered IEDs buried in door jambs, floor boards and under furniture in several government buildings.

A Coalition Force Explosive Ordnance Disposal team was immediately called and disabled the IEDs which prevented any injury to Iraqi or Coalition Forces.

Iraqi Police and Coalition Forces continue to uncover weapons caches and booby trapped buildings while conducting combined operations in the city.

The purpose of the operation is to build police stations from which Iraqi police and army units can begin to exercise daily control over the city.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT MULTINATIONAL FORCE – WEST, PUBLIC AFFAIRS OFFICER BY E-MAIL AT mnfwcepaowo@cemnf-wiraq.usmc.mil."

Mandatory university attendance in unstable Iraq angers many

McClatchy Washington Bureau 12/20/2006 Mandatory university attendance in unstable Iraq angers many: "BAGHDAD, Iraq - An odd thing has happened at Baghdad's universities: the professors have begun hiding their education by donning ratty clothes, pulling on traditional Arab head scarves and driving to campus in beat-up cars. "

It's all part of an effort to keep from getting fired.

With the threat of violence emptying university campuses, Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki took the rare step earlier this month of ordering students and professors back to class. Anyone who doesn't obey could face dismissal or expulsion.

Maliki's aides defend the order, saying that education is the lifeblood of Iraq and its collapse would threaten the government and the nation.

But those forced to obey the order complain that they're risking their lives as unwilling pawns of a government that can't guarantee their security.

"I heard about the prime minister's order, and it is ignorant about what is happening in Iraq. The government doesn't know what life is like, not only for professors and students, but for all people," said Khamis al Badri, a political science professor at al Mustansiriya University in Baghdad.

Iraq's universities have been a target for insurgents and militias alike almost since the war began in 2003. Professors tell of armed gangs taking over buildings and classrooms and even issuing threats about grades. Thousands of students have requested transfers to campuses where their sects - Sunni Muslim or Shiite Muslim - are in the majority. Thousands of professors and students, seeking to avoid violence and threats, have fled the nation to pursue their studies in neighboring countries.

Around Baghdad, many campuses are desolate. Many families refuse to let their children, particularly women, finish their education for fear of what will happen either en route to class or once they get there.

According to the Iraq Students and Youth League, a university advocacy group, at least 10 violent incidents racked Baghdad's two main universities in the first week of this month, when Maliki issued his order. Among them were attempted kidnappings in front of Iraqi police officers, who didn't try to stop the attacks.

At Baghdad University, only 6 percent of student and professors attended in early December, the group found. The highest attendance level was 59 percent at private universities.

Ali Adeeb, a top Maliki adviser, said he recommended to the prime minister that he issue the order after a Sunni insurgent group, Ansar al Sunna, posted fliers around campuses threatening to kill students and professors for coming to campus.

"We have to confront this psychological war," Adeeb said. "I know if the studies stop, the country will really be chaotic."

Badri, the professor, said it wasn't fair to expect academics to defy violence when no one else in Iraq was forced to. He pointed out that the nation's 275-member parliament often can't meet because too many members don't attend, sometimes because the roads leading to the heavily fortified Green Zone are too dangerous.

Even the Sunni minister of higher education's office complains that there isn't enough security at the campuses.

"We have asked the government to provide us with security, and they did that to certain degree. What is happening in the street is out of our control," ministry spokesman Basel al Khatib said.

Iraq's universities were among the Middle East's premier institutions, but their state now reflects the nation's turmoil. Rogue groups target professors and students for kidnapping and murder, either for money or because some perceive their educational pursuit as un-Islamic. Universities in the restive Anbar and Diyala provinces have shut down briefly or delayed resuming the school year several times in the last two years. Diyala University is scheduled to reopen this week, in part because of Maliki's order.

Al Mustansiriya University, which sits near the impoverished Sadr City neighborhood, is one of Iraq's liveliest campuses. Walls and walkways are covered with photos of rebel cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's father, Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Mohammed Sadeq al-Sadr, interspersed with fliers warning students that they'll fail if they don't show up for class. Hanging above that are pictures of young men who've been killed.

Only one police truck sits in front of the main entrance.

Left to their own devices for protection, many look to the university, not the government. At some campuses, university officials have suggested that those with obviously sectarian names change them to avoid being picked up at illegal checkpoints, where Shiite or Sunni partisans search for members of the rival sect.

Armo Heshan, an economics lecturer at al Mustansiriya and a Sunni, said he began to dress down in an effort to disguise his standing as a teacher. He said he didn't need an order to get back to work.

After the Persian Gulf War in 1991, he recalled, "the universities stopped for six months. It was like life itself stopped. But when schools and colleges opened back again, everything started up again. Life went back to normal. That is why I am here now."

Nawar Jaleel, a Shiite professor who was sitting next to Heshan, said he kept coming because he wasn't any safer at his nearby home.

"Education and knowledge are the most important elements of life," he said. "If they go, there is no life left."

McClatchy Newspapers special correspondent Zaineb Obeid in Baghdad contributed to this report.

[bth: Nancy A. Youssef is a superb reporter in Iraq.]

Report Says Berger Hid Archive Documents

My Way News - Report Says Berger Hid Archive Documents: "WASHINGTON (AP) - President Clinton's national security adviser removed classified documents from the National Archives, hid them under a construction trailer and later tried to find the trash collector to retrieve them, the agency's internal watchdog said Wednesday."

The report was issued more than a year after Sandy Berger pleaded guilty and received a criminal sentence for removing the documents.

Berger took the documents in the fall of 2003 while working to prepare himself and Clinton administration witnesses for testimony to the Sept. 11 commission. Berger was authorized as the Clinton administration's representative to make sure the commission got the correct classified materials.

Berger's lawyer, Lanny Breuer, said in a statement that the contents of all the documents exist today and were made available to the commission.

But Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., outgoing chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, said he's not convinced that the Archives can account for all the documents taken by Berger. Davis said working papers of National Security Council staff members are not inventoried by the Archives.

"There is absolutely no way to determine if Berger swiped any of these original documents.

Consequently, there is no way to ever know if the 9/11 Commission received all required materials," Davis said.

Berger pleaded guilty to unlawfully removing and retaining classified documents. He was fined $50,000, ordered to perform 100 hours of community service and was barred from access to classified material for three years.

Inspector General Paul Brachfeld reported that National Archives employees spotted Berger bending down and fiddling with something white around his ankles.

The employees did not feel at the time there was enough information to confront someone of Berger's stature, the report said.

Later, when Berger was confronted by Archives officials about the missing documents, he lied by saying he did not take them, the report said.

Brachfeld's report included an investigator's notes, taken during an interview with Berger. The notes dramatically described Berger's removal of documents during an Oct. 2, 2003, visit to the Archives.

Berger took a break to go outside without an escort while it was dark. He had taken four documents in his pockets.

"He headed toward a construction area. ... Mr. Berger looked up and down the street, up into the windows of the Archives and the DOJ (Department of Justice), and did not see anyone," the interview notes said.

He then slid the documents under a construction trailer, according to the inspector general. Berger acknowledged that he later retrieved the documents from the construction area and returned with them to his office.

"He was aware of the risk he was taking," the inspector general's notes said. Berger then returned to the Archives building without fearing the documents would slip out of his pockets or that staff would notice that his pockets were bulging.

The notes said Berger had not been aware that Archives staff had been tracking the documents he was provided because of earlier suspicions from previous visits that he was removing materials. Also, the employees had made copies of some documents.

In October 2003, the report said, an Archives official called Berger to discuss missing documents from his visit two days earlier. The investigator's notes said, "Mr. Berger panicked because he realized he was caught."

The notes said that Berger had "destroyed, cut into small pieces, three of the four documents. These were put in the trash."

After the trash had been picked up, Berger "tried to find the trash collector but had no luck," the notes said.

Significant portions of the inspector general's report were redacted to protect privacy or national security.

[bth: he needed to be thrown in jail. Further why was he granted access to security documents after 3 years? How about never? What was it that he was hiding?]

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

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U.S. forces seize a top al Qaeda leader

U.S. forces seize a top al Qaeda leader Top News Reuters.co.uk: "BAGHDAD (Reuters) - U.S. forces have captured a senior al Qaeda in Iraq leader accused of killing hundreds of Iraqi civilians, including women and children, the U.S. military said in a statement on Wednesday.

The military said the 'terrorist leader', whom they did not identify, was captured on December 14 in the northern city of Mosul in a raid which also netted five other suspects.

'The terrorist leader was captured when Coalition Forces raided a known terrorist meeting place. (He) was attempting to flee from the location when Coalition Forces chased him across a street and detained him,' it said in a statement."

"He was personally responsible for hundreds of civilian deaths, including women and children. He housed foreign fighters to be used in suicide bombing attacks against the Coalition and the Iraqi people."

The U.S. military says it has killed or captured hundreds of al Qaeda members since killing al Qaeda in Iraq leader Musab al -Zarqawi in an airstrike in June.

The military statement said the al Qaeda suspect had been in charge of the Sunni Islamist group's military operations in Mosul and the Iraqi capital, during which time he had coordinated carbomb attacks and kidnappings for ransom.

[bth: one always has to ask why the military released this news today. What are they trying to offset? Expect a further press release noting a 'successful operation against unnamed al Qaeda in Iraq' on Friday afternoon as part of the holiday feel good campaign.]
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More Iraqi Troops to Be Deployed to Baghdad

More Iraqi Troops to Be Deployed to Baghdad - New York Times: "The American general in charge of training Iraqi forces said today that a new deployment of Iraqi troops to Baghdad is planned, and that bonuses and better training may prevent a repeat of the refusal by some troops to be deployed to the capital last summer.

Lt. Gen. Martin E. Dempsey said that the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki is planning to send six additional battalions – about 1,800 troops -- to Baghdad over the next few months. American forces have been bearing the brunt of stepped-up efforts to reduce violence in the city since August.

The general said that he was hopeful that the new incentive programs could overcome the reluctance of many Iraqi troops to leave their home bases. “I think you’re going to see that they come when you train them to come, give them some incentive and give them some information,” General Dempsey said. “But we’ll see.”

General Dempsey’s remarks, delivered in a closed-circuit briefing from Baghdad for Pentagon correspondents, represented the first explanation for why the Iraqi Army had failed to provide the forces it had promised when plans were drawn up last summer for a crackdown in Baghdad. Two brigades were sent instead of four, a shortfall of about 6,000 troops.

The question of Iraqi troop levels in the capital has taken on a new urgency as violence there continues to rise and President Bush conducts a review of policy options meant to produce a new strategy next month.

Some members of his administration are arguing for a surge that would send as many as 20,000 additional American troops into Baghdad, while some commanders are said to believe that such an increase would slow down the process of pushing the Iraqi army into a position of primary responsibility for security.

Iraqi officials have also proposed that their forces move into the lead role in Baghdad in the months ahead, with American forces being withdrawn into a supporting role around the city.

In explaining the refusal of some troops to go to Baghdad this summer, General Dempsey cited a number of factors, including several that go back to a decision to merge soldiers who had enlisted in the Iraqi national guard into the Iraqi army. Troops who originally enrolled in the guard tended to think of themselves as provincial, not national, forces, he said.

“They didn’t feel like they’d been trained to do that,” he said of the plan to shift the troops to Baghdad, and no one in the central government had consulted with the local leaders where the troops were based.

Additionally, the length of the planned deployment was a problem, since the lack of a banking system means soldiers with families regularly have to leave their units to deliver their salaries in person, he said: “This is the same group of guys who have to go on leave every three weeks to pay their families.”

In preparation for the new deployment, he said, new training measures had been instituted, along with bonuses, promises of predictability in the time they will spend away from their bases and a requirement that senior Iraqi commanders consult with local officials.

Also today, the American military announced that a battalion commander in the Iraqi national police had been relieved of his command on Monday after giving permission to two Iraqi police officers to illegally arrest two Iraqi men near a security checkpoint in Baghdad.

In a statement, the military said that the commander had claimed to be under orders from the Ministry of the Interior, to arrest two brothers for unknown reasons. Reports indicate the brothers were placed in two separate cars which departed in different directions.

After it was discovered that the capture was not authorized, the deputy commander at the national police headquarters ordered the arrest of the battalion commander and the individuals manning the check point where the incident occurred.

During his briefing, General Dempsey said that two of the nine national police brigades had completed a retraining process that was made necessary by high rates of infiltration by militia members. He estimated militia members made up about 20 to 25 percent of the ranks of those brigades.

A longer-term problem, he said, was what he called passive support for militias by members of the police and armed forces – turning a blind eye to acts of violence or allowing militia members through checkpoints.

General Dempsey linked such behavior to the growth in mistrust between sects since the bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra in February touched off waves of killings and reprisals. While more work needs to be done in weeding out criminal elements from the security forces, “long term, the culture of mistrust is the bigger danger,” he said.

In Baghdad today, the Interior Ministry reported that gunmen dressed in Iraqi army uniforms robbed a bank of about $875,000 worth of dinars. The theft comes a week after a similar incident in which about $1 million was taken in the daylight holdup of a bank’s armored car.

[bth: so we've got ATM capabilities, why aren't we letting Iraqi soldiers transfer money to their families through an electronic banking system we could establish on their bases? Wouldn't this be safer than having the payrolls robbed when cash is delivered or having the soldiers kidnapped on payday off buses taking them home, robbed and shot?.... And why doesn't someone in the media look back into the fact that early in 2006 the Shiites refused to take US trained police recruits and stuffed instead their militia into the police forces to get them on a payroll? We in essence allowed the arming and contamination of Iraqi forces which undoubtedly set us back a full year as we now try to purge these thugs out of the police and guard units.]