Saturday, December 30, 2006


This victim, shot and dumped in a trash heap, deserves sympathy and pity, not Saddam. Posted by Picasa

An assassin, a mass murderer, a terrorist, an instigator of wars and genocide. Why shouldn't his victims seek retribution in justice? It's more than he gave his hundreds of thousands of victims. Posted by Picasa

A milestone - perhaps a milestone on the road to nowhere - but a milestone nonetheless. Posted by Picasa

Exclusive: Videographer of Saddam Execution - Newsweek: World News - MSNBC.com

Exclusive: Videographer of Saddam Execution - Newsweek: World News - MSNBC.com: "Dec. 30, 2006 - Ali Al Massedy was 3 feet away from Saddam Hussein when he died. The 38 year old, normally Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's official videographer, was the man responsible for filming the late dictator's execution at dawn on Saturday. 'I saw fear, he was afraid,' Ali told NEWSWEEK minutes after returning from the execution. Wearing a rumpled green suit and holding a Sony HDTV video camera in his right hand, Ali recalled the dictator's last moments. 'He was saying things about injustice, about resistance, about how these guys are terrorists,' he says. On the way to the gallows, according to Ali, 'Saddam said, ‘Iraq without me is nothing.’'"

Ali says he followed Saddam up the gallows steps, escorted by two guards. He stood over the hole and filmed from close quarters as Saddam dropped through—from "me to you," he said, crouching down to show how he shot the scene. The distance, he said, was "about one meter," he said. "He died absolutely, he died instantly." Ali said Saddam's body twitched, "shaking, very shaking," but "no blood," he said, and "no spit." (Ali said he was not authorized to disclose the location, and did not give other details of the room.)

Ali said the videotape lasts about 15 minutes. When NEWSWEEK asked to see a copy, Ali said he had already handed the tape over to Maliki's chief of staff. "It is top secret," he said. He would not give the names of officials in attendance, though he estimates there were around 20 observers. One of them, Iraqi National Security Adviser Mouwaffak al-Rubaie, told CNN that Saddam clasped a Koran as the noose was tied around his neck, and refused to wear a hood. He also said that government officials had not decided whether or not to release the videotape. The execution reportedly took place at 6:05 a.m. local time. Prime Minister Maliki did not attend.

Ali was greeted as a hero when he returned from the execution a little after 7 a.m., flying in with other officials and landing in two helicopters in the Green Zone. A convoy of 20 or so GMCs and Toyota Land Cruisers waited outside to drive some of the Iraqi officials home.

The Iraqi bodyguards, mostly Shiites they said, had passed the time smoking and praying—some prayed on cardboard mats on the street.

It was a cold morning in Baghdad, a few degrees above freezing, and in the post dawn light the guards' breaths could be seen in the air. When the thudding of helicopters began, the body guards rushed towards the entrance to the landing zone. They swarmed around Ali, snapping digital pictures on camera phones and cheering. "Saddam finished, Saddam finished," a guard who gave his name as Mohammed told NEWSWEEK. Ali looked somewhat stunned as he exited, carrying the camera.

"All Iraqis will be happy," he says. "This is the most important day for me [as a cameraman,]" he said. "This page [in history] is over, this page is over. All Iraqis will be happy from the north to the south to the east to the west." One of the judges who presided over the execution then came out to the street; Ali jumped in a car with him. The convoy of SUVs drove off, one after the other, with the occasional honk of the horn.

Edward M. Kennedy - We Can't Ignore Iraq's Refugees - washingtonpost.com

Edward M. Kennedy - We Can't Ignore Iraq's Refugees - washingtonpost.com: "With the nation still at war in Iraq, each of us is deeply grateful to the brave men and women in our armed forces who celebrated the holidays this year with half their hearts at home and half in Iraq. But this year especially it is essential that we also reflect on another human cost of the war -- the hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi men, women and children who have fled their homes and often their country to escape the violence of a nation increasingly at war with itself."

The refugees are witnesses to the cruelty that stains our age, and they cannot be overlooked. America bears heavy responsibility for their plight. We have a clear obligation to stop ignoring it and help chart a sensible course to ease the refugee crisis. Time is not on our side. We must act quickly and effectively.

Today, within Iraq, 1.6 million people have already fled or been expelled from their homes. An additional 1.8 million, fleeing sectarian violence, kidnappings, extortion, death threats and carnage, have sought refuge in neighboring countries. At least 700,000 are in Jordan, 600,000 in Syria, 100,000 in Egypt, 54,000 in Iran and 20,000 in Lebanon. Typically they are not living in refugee camps but have relocated in urban areas, where they must draw on their own meager resources to pay for food and shelter, and must depend on the good graces of the host governments.

The neighboring countries, in turn, are under enormous financial stress from the rapidly increasing needs of the refugees. In Jordan, they now make up more than 10 percent of the population -- the equivalent of 30 million people flooding America's shores. These countries are increasingly unable to meet the refugees' basic needs.

Borders are being closed to more and more of these men, women and children, with the result that many who are most in need or in danger are trapped in the Iraqi caldron of violence. As it continues to boil, the humanitarian crisis will only worsen.

The recent report of the Iraq Study Group rightly concluded that if this refugee situation "is not addressed, Iraq and the region could be further destabilized, and the humanitarian suffering could be severe." Sadly, as with so many other aspects of the Iraq war -- from the growing threat of the insurgency to the need to provide adequate armor for our troops -- the administration has failed to recognize the breadth of the crisis and to adjust our policy to address the plain facts on the ground.

There is an overwhelming need for temporary relief and permanent resettlement. Last year, however, America accepted only 202 Iraqi refugees, and next year we plan to accept approximately the same number. We and other nations of the world need to do far better.

Thousands of these refugees are fleeing because they have been affiliated in some way with the United States. Cooks, drivers and translators have been called traitors for cooperating with the United States.

They know all too well that the fate of those who work with U.S. civilians or military forces can be sudden death. Yet, beyond a congressionally mandated program that accepts 50 Iraqi translators from Iraq and Afghanistan each year, the administration has done nothing to resettle brave Iraqis who provided assistance in some way to our military. This lack of conscience is fundamentally unfair. We need to do much more to help Iraqi refugees, especially those who have helped our troops.

Our nation is spending $8 billion a month to wage the war in Iraq. Yet to meet the urgent humanitarian needs of the refugees who have fled the war, the State Department plans to spend only $20 million in the current fiscal year.

America needs to lead, but we cannot adequately respond to this overwhelming crisis alone. Because of the magnitude of the problem, we also need action by Iraq's neighbors and the rest of the world. An essential first step could be to hold an international conference on the issue -- ideally sponsored by the countries in the region and the United Nations -- to begin to deal with the growing number and needs of Iraqi refugees and internally displaced persons. The United States should participate in the conference and provide substantial support for the refugees. Doing so would encourage other nations to address the crisis, help the refugees and displaced persons, and assist the countries shouldering the greatest burden.

Working with Iraq's neighbors and the United Nations, we can encourage rapid action to relieve suffering and save lives. And a productive conference could lead in turn to broader discussions and greater progress on the future of Iraq.

Clearly, in the long term we need to work together to find a way to end the violence and stop the hemorrhaging of lives. In the short term, America needs to respond far more effectively to the needs of the millions of refugees and displaced persons who are suffering so much from the war. Failure to act quickly and cooperatively with other nations will only result in more carnage, chaos and instability in the region.

The writer is a Democratic senator from Massachusetts and incoming chairman of the Senate immigration, border security and refugee subcommittee.

IraqSlogger: Army Times Poll: Unhappy Troops

IraqSlogger: Army Times Poll: Unhappy Troops: "The American military, staunch supporters of President Bush and the Iraq war -- has grown increasingly pessimistic about chances for victory, according to the 2006 Military Times Poll, with results published in Army Times. Excerpts from the article are below.

The survey, which polled 6,000 active duty people at random, found that despite growing disaffection with the war in Iraq, members of the U.S. armed forces are content with their jobs. The mail survey, conducted Nov. 13 through Dec. 22, is the fourth annual survey of active-duty military subscribers to the Military Times newspapers."

The poll found that for the first time, more troops disapprove of the president's handling of the war than approve. The president's rating is low -- barely one-third of service members approve of the way of his handling the war.

Professor David Segal, director of the Center for Research on Military Organization at the University of Maryland, says perhaps this is because the military is seeing more casualties and fatalies and less progress.

In 2004, when the military was feeling most optimistic about the war, 83 percent of poll respondents thought success in Iraq was likely. This year, that number was only 50 percent.

Only 35 percent of the military members polled this year said they approve of the way President Bush is handling the war, while 42 percent said they disapproved. The president's approval rating among the military is only slightly higher than for the population as a whole.

In this year's poll only 41 percent of the military said the U.S. should have gone to war in Iraq in the first place, down from 65 percent in 2003.

Almost half of those responding think we need more troops in Iraq than we have there now. A surprising 13 percent said we should have no troops there.

Among the respondents, 66 percent have deployed at least once to Iraq or Afghanistan. In the overall active-duty force, according to the Department of Defense, that number is 72 percent.

While approval of Bush's handling of the war has declined, approval for his overall performance as president remains high at 52 percent. While that is down from his high of 71 percent in 2004, it is still far above the approval ratings of the general population, where that number has fallen into the 30s.

The Republican party did not fare well. In the three previous polls, nearly 60 percent of the respondents identified themselves as Republicans. But in this year's poll, only 46 percent of the military respondents said they were Republicans.

Respondents were asked to describe their political views on a scale from very conservative to very liberal. There was a slight shift from the conservative end of the spectrum to the middle or moderate range. Liberals within the military are still rare, with less than 10 percent of respondents describing themselves that way.

Park Service Can't Give Official Age Of Grand Canyon For Fear Of Offending Creationists... | The Huffington Post

Park Service Can't Give Official Age Of Grand Canyon For Fear Of Offending Creationists... The Huffington Post: "Due to pressure from Bush Administration officials, the National Park Service is not permitted to give an official age for the Grand Canyon. Additionally, a book claiming the Grand Canyon was created by Noah's flood is for sale at the National Park's bookstore.

The sale of Grand Canyon: A Different View was scheduled for review over three years ago, but no such review has been schedule or even requested. The creationist book was the only item approved for sale in 2003 (22 other items were rejected). "

[bth: nuts]

Friday, December 29, 2006

Olivier Guitta: Plan B: Syria’s forgotten — but dangerous — nuclear program

Olivier Guitta: Plan B: Syria’s forgotten — but dangerous — nuclear program - Examiner.com: "WASHINGTON - The Iraq Survey Group is calling for open negotiations with Syria, but new reports show that Damascus is up to no good. Indeed, while world attention is rightly focused on the nuclear capabilities of Iran and North Korea, Syria has been quietly — but quickly — advancing its own secret nuclear program."

The first signs appeared in 2003 when the Russian Foreign Ministry inadvertently revealed that a Russian-Syrian agreement for the delivery of a nuclear power plant in an undisclosed Syrian location had been signed.

In 2004, Syrian President Bashar Assad made a point to say that Syria would not dispose of its WMD program until Israel did the same. “Since some of my country is occupied,” Assad added, “Syria can legitimately use all the necessary means to liberate its territories.”

German magazine Der Spiegel revealed in March 2004 that Swedish authorities and the CIA were investigating a very likely Syrian nuclear program secretly developed in Homs in the northern part of the country. That July, investigators looking into the Pakistani nuclear network of A.Q. Khan pointed out that Syria may have procured centrifuges capable of enriching uranium to produce a bomb.

This fact was confirmed in May 2006 in a declassified report to the U.S. Congress on the acquisition of technology relating to weapons of mass destruction. Before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Syria also got help from Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Keep in mind that Syria’s economy was very dependent on Iraq’s trade, especially oil-smuggling revenues. Sunday Telegraph journalist Con Coughlin affirmed in a September 2004 article that 12 Iraqi nuclear scientists — who were transferred to Syria and given new identities before the war — were on their way to Iran to assist their counterparts there in building a nuclear weapon. “The results of the research would then be shared with Syria,” Coughlin added.

But what really broke the camel’s back was a recent report from the well-informed Kuwaiti daily newspaper Al Seyassah. It quoted European intelligence sources as saying that “Syria has an advanced nuclear program” in a secret site located in the province of Al Hassaka, close to the Turkish and Iraqi borders. British sources quoted by the paper believe that “it is President Assad’s brother, Colonel Maher Assad and his cousin Rami Makhlouf, who supervise the program.”

This nuclear weapons program is based on material that Saddam Hussein’s two sons shipped to Syria before — and during — the U.S. war against Iraq. According to the Kuwaiti newspaper, this explains why international investigative teams found no proof of Hussein’s nuclear program.

Furthermore, British sources in Brussels affirm that “Iranian nuclear experts contribute to the Syrian program along with 60 Iraqi experts who had taken refuge in Syria since 2003 and experts from the ex-Soviet republics.” British intelligence says this information is validated by their German counterparts, who were well established in the countries close to the ex- Communist block, including Syria.

Europeans fear that a focus solely on the Iranian nuclear program might facilitate a much quieter joint Iranian-Syrian program of uranium enrichment in Hassaka. The geographical choice for the Syrian nuclear site is very meaningful. Because it is located in an area with a Kurdish majority, the program evades Western suspicions. And striking against these installations would initially hurt the Kurds — who historically have sided with the West against the Baathist regimes in both Baghdad and Damascus.

In light of all these facts, it is not surprising that Syria might actually turn out to be “Plan B” for the mullahs’ regime in Tehran. This is, in fact, quite a smart strategy: While the world community focuses on Iran, Syria can continue its own nuclear program without unwelcome attention.

But because of the close links between Tehran and Damascus, sealed by an important defense agreement signed over the summer and the fact that Syria would do anything to please its benefactor, Syria getting the bomb would be exactly like Iran getting it. For proof, Al Seyassah reported on Dec. 13 that top Syrian leaders had transferred $3 billion to the Iranian central bank.

Need we say more?

Olivier Guitta is a foreign affairs and counterterrorism consultant in Washington, D.C.

[bth: proof please. assertions aren't enough.]

Olivier Guitta: Plan B: Syria’s forgotten — but dangerous — nuclear program

Olivier Guitta: Plan B: Syria’s forgotten — but dangerous — nuclear program - Examiner.com: "WASHINGTON - The Iraq Survey Group is calling for open negotiations with Syria, but new reports show that Damascus is up to no good. Indeed, while world attention is rightly focused on the nuclear capabilities of Iran and North Korea, Syria has been quietly — but quickly — advancing its own secret nuclear program."

The first signs appeared in 2003 when the Russian Foreign Ministry inadvertently revealed that a Russian-Syrian agreement for the delivery of a nuclear power plant in an undisclosed Syrian location had been signed.

In 2004, Syrian President Bashar Assad made a point to say that Syria would not dispose of its WMD program until Israel did the same. “Since some of my country is occupied,” Assad added, “Syria can legitimately use all the necessary means to liberate its territories.”

German magazine Der Spiegel revealed in March 2004 that Swedish authorities and the CIA were investigating a very likely Syrian nuclear program secretly developed in Homs in the northern part of the country. That July, investigators looking into the Pakistani nuclear network of A.Q. Khan pointed out that Syria may have procured centrifuges capable of enriching uranium to produce a bomb.

This fact was confirmed in May 2006 in a declassified report to the U.S. Congress on the acquisition of technology relating to weapons of mass destruction. Before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Syria also got help from Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Keep in mind that Syria’s economy was very dependent on Iraq’s trade, especially oil-smuggling revenues. Sunday Telegraph journalist Con Coughlin affirmed in a September 2004 article that 12 Iraqi nuclear scientists — who were transferred to Syria and given new identities before the war — were on their way to Iran to assist their counterparts there in building a nuclear weapon. “The results of the research would then be shared with Syria,” Coughlin added.

But what really broke the camel’s back was a recent report from the well-informed Kuwaiti daily newspaper Al Seyassah. It quoted European intelligence sources as saying that “Syria has an advanced nuclear program” in a secret site located in the province of Al Hassaka, close to the Turkish and Iraqi borders. British sources quoted by the paper believe that “it is President Assad’s brother, Colonel Maher Assad and his cousin Rami Makhlouf, who supervise the program.”

This nuclear weapons program is based on material that Saddam Hussein’s two sons shipped to Syria before — and during — the U.S. war against Iraq. According to the Kuwaiti newspaper, this explains why international investigative teams found no proof of Hussein’s nuclear program.

Furthermore, British sources in Brussels affirm that “Iranian nuclear experts contribute to the Syrian program along with 60 Iraqi experts who had taken refuge in Syria since 2003 and experts from the ex-Soviet republics.” British intelligence says this information is validated by their German counterparts, who were well established in the countries close to the ex- Communist block, including Syria.

Europeans fear that a focus solely on the Iranian nuclear program might facilitate a much quieter joint Iranian-Syrian program of uranium enrichment in Hassaka. The geographical choice for the Syrian nuclear site is very meaningful. Because it is located in an area with a Kurdish majority, the program evades Western suspicions. And striking against these installations would initially hurt the Kurds — who historically have sided with the West against the Baathist regimes in both Baghdad and Damascus.

In light of all these facts, it is not surprising that Syria might actually turn out to be “Plan B” for the mullahs’ regime in Tehran. This is, in fact, quite a smart strategy: While the world community focuses on Iran, Syria can continue its own nuclear program without unwelcome attention.

But because of the close links between Tehran and Damascus, sealed by an important defense agreement signed over the summer and the fact that Syria would do anything to please its benefactor, Syria getting the bomb would be exactly like Iran getting it. For proof, Al Seyassah reported on Dec. 13 that top Syrian leaders had transferred $3 billion to the Iranian central bank.

Need we say more?

Olivier Guitta is a foreign affairs and counterterrorism consultant in Washington, D.C.

[bth: proof please. assertions aren't enough.]

Crisis in Housing Adds to Miseries of Iraq Mayhem

Crisis in Housing Adds to Miseries of Iraq Mayhem - New York Times: "BAGHDAD — Along with its many other desperate problems, Iraq is in the midst of a housing crisis that is worsening by the day. "

It began right after the toppling of Saddam Hussein, when many landlords took advantage of the removal of his economic controls and raised rents substantially, forcing out thousands of families who took shelter in abandoned government buildings and military bases. As the chaos in Iraq grew and the ranks of the jobless swelled, even more Iraqis migrated to squalid squatter encampments. Still others constructed crude shantytowns on empty plots where conditions were even worse.

Now, after more than 10 months of brutal sectarian reprisals, many more Iraqis have fled their neighborhoods, only to wind up often in places that are just as wretched in other ways. While 1.8 million Iraqis are living outside the country, 1.6 million more have been displaced within Iraq since the war began. Since February, about 50,000 per month have moved within the country.

Shelter is their most pressing need, aid organizations say. Some have been able to occupy homes left by members of the opposing sect or group; others have not been so fortunate. The longer the violence persists, the more Iraqis are running out of money and options.....

[bth:I find it hard to believe that a jobs program run by the US military or the Iraqi government would not have an immediate positive impact regardless of the civil security. If nothing else, building temporary housing would be a huge step forward. The UN built tents for 1/4 million that they thought would flee to Jordan when the US invaded. They did not show up. Why can't those resources be focused on these internal refugees? Oh right, the UN was blasted out of Baghdad and never returned. Where are the Saudis? Where are the Turks or the Iranians?

When refugees abandon their homes, you know the situation has become untenable.

Civil War? Ethnic cleansing? We debate the semantics of war while the walls of civilization collapse around us.]

Reporter returns to Baghdad to find it far different - and worse off

McClatchy Washington Bureau 12/28/2006 Reporter returns to Baghdad to find it far different - and worse off: "BAGHDAD, Iraq — The tiny, dusty shops of Kadhemiya are treasure chests filled with agate, turquoise, coral and amber. I used to spend hours in this colorful Baghdad market district, haggling over prices for semi-precious stones etched with prayers in Arabic calligraphy. "

That was just before I left Iraq in 2005, when rings from Kadhemiya were simply sentimental reminders of a two-year assignment here. When I returned to Baghdad last month, however, I found a city so dramatically polarized that sectarian identity now extends to your fingers. Slipping on a turquoise ring is no longer an afterthought, but a carefully deliberated security precaution.

A certain color of stone worn a certain way is just one of the dozens of superficial clues - like dialect, style of beard, how you pin a veil - that indicate whether you're Sunni or Shiite. These little signs increasingly mean the difference between life and death at the terrifying illegal checkpoints that surround the districts of Baghdad. In a surprise reversal, Shiite militiamen have usurped Sunni insurgents as the most feared force on the streets.

When I was last here in 2005, it took guts and guards, but you could still travel to most anywhere in the capital. Now, there are few true neighborhoods left. They're mostly just cordoned-off enclaves in various stages of deadly sectarian cleansing. Moving trucks piled high with furniture weave through traffic, evidence of an unfolding humanitarian crisis involving hundreds of thousands of forcibly displaced Iraqis.

The Sunni-Shiite segregation is the starkest change of all, but nowadays it seems like everything in Baghdad hinges on separation. There's the Green Zone to guard the unpopular government from its suffering people, U.S. military bases where Iraqis aren't allowed to work, armored sedans to shield VIPs from the explosions that kill workaday civilians, different TV channels and newspapers for each political party, an unwritten citywide dress code to keep women from the eyes of men.

Attempts to bring people together have failed miserably. I attended a symposium called "How to Solve Iraq's Militia Problem," but the main militia representatives never showed up and those of us who did were stuck inside for hours while a robot disabled a car bomb in the parking lot.

Then there was the Iraqi government's two-day national reconciliation conference, which offered little more than the grandstanding of politicians whose interests are best served by the fragmenting of their country. The message was: The south is for the Shiites, the north is for the Kurds, the west is for the Sunnis, and the east is open for Iran. Baghdad, the besieged anchor in the center, is a free-for-all.

On one of my first days back, I took a little tour with my Iraqi colleagues to get reacquainted with the capital. We decided to stay on the eastern Shiite side of the Tigris River rather than play Russian roulette in the Sunni west.

Even on the relatively "safe" side of the river, a dizzying assortment of armed men roamed freely. In the space of an hour, we encountered the Badr Organization militia, the Mahdi Army militia, the Kurdish peshmerga militia, the Iraqi police, interior ministry commandos, the Iraqi military, American troops, the Oil Protection Force, the motorcade of a Communist Party official and Central Bank guards escorting an armored van.

We drove through one of my favorite districts in hopes of visiting shopkeepers I knew. But they had fled, leaving behind padlocked doors and faded signs for shops whose names now seem ironic rather than catchy: "Nuts," "Ghost Music," "Once Upon a Time."

I asked my colleagues to arrange meetings with old Iraqi sources - politicians, professors, activists and clerics - only to be told they'd been assassinated, abducted or exiled.

Even Mr. Milk is dead. The grocer we called by the name of his landmark shop in the upscale Mansour district was kidnapped and killed, along with his son, my colleagues said. The owner of a DVD shop where I once purchased a copy of "Napoleon Dynamite" also had been executed.

So many blindfolded, tortured corpses turn up that an Iraqi co-worker recently told me it was "a slow day" when 17 bodies were found. Typically, the figure is 40 or more. When the overflowing morgue at Yarmouk Hospital was bombed last month, one of our drivers wearily muttered, "How many times can they kill us?"

Even the toughest of my Iraqi colleagues hit their breaking points after experiencing the indignity of being forced from their homes, the trauma of a bomb outside a doorstep, the grief for a cousin killed by a mortar, the shame of staying silent while a neighbor's house was torched.

My colleagues were fearful of the future when I left, but at least they went home every night to home-cooked meals and the bustle of domestic life. A few had even purchased land in the optimistic belief that 2006 would bring a measure of calm. Now, half the staff has sent their families to safer countries, and others plan to do the same. For them, there is no ivory-tower debate over whether they're living in a civil war.

On any given night, we have three or four Iraqi staff members camping out at the office. I find them surfing the Internet for visa applications to European countries, information on the U.S. green-card lottery, fellowship programs, political asylum eligibility. At night, they burn through phone cards to baby talk with their children in Syria or blow kisses to them from a Web cam.

I covered a day of the Saddam Hussein trial because I was curious to see the dictator in person. When I returned to the office, none of my Iraqi co-workers asked about their former president. They despise him, to be sure, but they shrugged and declared him yesterday's news, as irrelevant to their lives as the current crop of leaders cloistered in the Green Zone with no control over the anarchic landscape outside.

Survival is their chief concern, and it's reflected even in greetings. Local custom calls for a string of flowery salutations, but these days the response to "Shlonak?" - How are you? - is shortened to one word: "Alive."

Electricity is on for just a couple of hours a day in most districts. Gas lines stretch for block after block.

Food prices are higher than ever, especially for fresh produce, which requires rural farmers to make the treacherous drive to Baghdad markets. The water is contaminated. Gunmen in police uniforms stage brazen mass abductions, evaporating faith in the Iraqi security forces.

Universities are in bad shape. Instructors have fled, mortars interrupt classes, and people have been kidnapped at the gate. With violence emptying campuses, the Iraqi prime minister issued an order this month that threatens expulsion or dismissal for students and teachers who don't come back to class.

On the drive back to our hotel from the Green Zone last week, I saw a group of adorable little girls in pinafores, knee socks and ponytails. They were walking home from a nearby elementary school, stepping over trash and yanking their skirts from barbed wire. I had my camera with me and asked the driver to stop so I could take a picture.

A year ago, I would have snapped away. This time, I hesitated.

Perhaps a guard somewhere would think I was a kidnapper and shoot at me. Perhaps a parent would come screaming and cause a ruckus over a suspicious foreigner in the neighborhood. But more than anything, I was stopped by the thought of the terrified looks on the girls' faces if a stranger holding a camera approached them.

In a country where there is so much fear, why add even a little bit more?

Hannah Allam covers the Middle East and Islamic world as bureau chief in Cairo, Egypt. She recently returned to Baghdad on assignment, where she previously spent more than two years reporting on the war in Iraq as Baghdad bureau chief. She was named "Journalist of the Year 2004" by the National Association of Black Journalists. Knight Ridder recognized her war coverage with a Journalism Excellence Award in 2004 and the John S. Knight Gold Medal in 2005. The Overseas Press Club awarded Allam and two colleagues from the Baghdad bureau its Hal Boyle Award for best newspaper reporting from abroad in 2005. She joined the McClatchy Washington bureau's foreign staff in 2003.

Analysis: Iraq oil in '07, bleak as '06

United Press International - Energy - Analysis: Iraq oil in '07, bleak as '06: "WASHINGTON, Dec. 28 (UPI) -- Iraq has a lot of oil, more than any other country in the world except two.

But its oil sector suffered decades of misuse by Saddam Hussein, leaving it badly in need of repair.

U.N. sanctions after Saddam invaded Kuwait in 1990 further hampered development. "

Then came the U.S.-led invasion and occupation, going on four years next March, and the reverberations of militia and insurgent attacks.

Various factions are fighting over control of the country, as well as its oil, and there's a struggle between the central and regional governments over which side will oversee future development of Iraq's 115 billion barrels of crude reserves.

The security situation in the country is bad and getting worse, keeping investors from putting any people or resources on the ground that may not survive.

And even if oil companies or investors in Iraq's oil sector did decide to move in, there is no law telling what they can and cannot do, and what benefit they will or will not receive.

This is the state of Iraq's oil and, with 96 percent of its budget funded by oil revenues, Iraq itself.

Behind closed doors, Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni political leaders -- among others, including officials of McLean, Va.-based BearingPoint, contracted by the United States -- are negotiating a federal oil law.

Beyond those doors, beyond the walls of what is known as the Green Zone, a protected area in Baghdad and the only safe location aside from the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region in the north, about 1.9 million barrels of Iraqi oil is pumped daily.

This is below the 2.6 million barrels before the war; it's a tally only steady in that it can never be gauged or predicted.

"We're where we were two years ago as far as production goes," said Erik Kreil, an analyst with the Energy Information Administration, the data arm of the U.S. Energy Department.

"Oil production really went up negligibly" in 2006, he said. "A whole year has gone by and production went up approximately on average 100,000 barrels a day."

Iraq is pumping oil basically at capacity and mostly from the Shiite-controlled fields in the south since attacks have rendered the north mostly useless.

There are no meters at the pumps so you "really never now for sure what's produced," Kreil said.

Iraq exports about 1.6 million barrels a day, and an estimated smuggling ring is so entrenched the Iraq Oil Ministry says $700 million a month is taken from its rightful coffers.

Attacks and a spotty if not non-existent electricity supply have created a bottleneck in Iraq's refining capacity and forced it to import petroleum products like gasoline. (Smugglers are also getting their hands on whatever gas supply there is and basically starving Baghdad.)

Iraq's Oil Ministry said it lost $11 billion and 651 days of oil exports from the start of 2004 to mid 2006 because of attacks on its oil pipeline from Kirkuk in the north to Ceyhan, Turkey. It was once a major avenue for Iraq's sales.

From Jan. 1 to Nov. 29 of this year alone, Iraq Pipeline Watch, a joint project between the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security and Threat Resolution Ltd., counted 94 attacks on "pipelines, oil installations, and oil personnel."

Security is so bad that passing an oil law may not have much of an impact, at least not at first.

"They're not there yet," said Alex Turkeltaub, a managing director of the Frontier Strategy Group, a consultant focused on the energy industry.

He said 90 percent of his clients "think it's going to get a lot worse before it gets a lot better."

"I do not see a source for substantial production increases in the coming year," he said.

Yet, an oil deal that the three main factions in Iraq agree on could set the stage for reducing ethnic tensions, rebuilding Iraq's oil infrastructure and increasing the country's wealth.

But the oil deal is virtually stuck now. The Kurds want regional control over all future oil contracts, which they claim is allowed by the Iraqi constitution, passed in 2005.

Sunnis, with no oil reserves, want central control so revenues won't stay in the regions.

Most Shiites back the Sunni plan, eyeing a controlling stake in a strong central government.

"All of the markers are negative" in 2006 said Robert Ebel, chairman of the energy program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Next year isn't shaping up to be much better.

"I don't see much hope unless President Bush and his new secretary of defense come up with a brand new idea that Iraqis will like," Ebel said.

But on the ground, he said it will take both an acceptable oil law and change in security conditions, basically those supporting violence in Iraq to decide to work together for the betterment of the country.

If not, "it'll be the same all over again."

[bth: all the insurgents have to do is (1) continue to disrupt electric supplies thus causing economic and political mayhem, (2) attack oil infrastructure or exporting capabilities every 3 days to starve the government for cash and (3) steal, smuggle and extort oil or gasoline to internally fund the insurgency. Will 20,000 more American troops in Baghdad stop any of these actions? No. We're not even addressing them.]

Thursday, December 28, 2006

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IA CAPTURES AL QAEDA TERRORIST CELL LEADER

Press Releases - IA CAPTURES AL QAEDA TERRORIST CELL LEADER: "12/28/2006

Release Number:06-01-02PE

Description: BAGHDAD - Special Iraqi Army Forces, with coalition advisors, captured an Al Qaeda in Iraqi terror cell leader during operations Dec. 26 in Al Yousifiyah, south of Baghdad.

The terrorist is believed responsible for kidnapping two US Soldiers from a checkpoint in Yousifiyah in June, 2006. The Soldiers were later found tortured and murdered.

Recently, the terrorist was commenting on the kidnapping during the showing of a video CD at a Yousifiyah mosque. The CD reportedly showed the kidnapping of the US Soldiers. The terrorist is also suspected of perpetrating numerous kidnappings, murders and other violent crimes within the Yousifiyah area.

Iraqi forces conducted an air-assault operation and quickly captured the terrorist without incident. One other person detained was later released.

There was minimal damage done to the objective. There were no Iraqi civilian, Iraqi forces or Coalition Forces casualties"

Government troops take Somalian capital

Government troops take Somalian capital - Los Angeles Times: "MOGADISHU, Somalia -- Somalia's beleaguered capital fell early today to Ethiopian and Somali government troops who marched quietly into the city before dawn and took control without firing a shot.

An Islamic alliance that had controlled Mogadishu and much of the country evaporated Thursday after a string of military losses, and in the security vacuum, violent looting broke out in the capital. Residents awoke this morning to find the Ethiopians and troops of Somalia's U.N.-backed transitional government taking positions."

The transitional government was formed in 2004 to give the Horn of Africa country its first effective, nationwide administration since 1991, but today was the first time its troops were actually able to enter Mogadishu."The fighting is over," Ali Mohammed Gedi, prime minister of the transitional government, declared late Thursday, shortly before hundreds of troops began pouring into the city.

Officials of the government spent most of Thursday meeting with clan leaders to ensure there would be no remnants of the Islamic forces hiding in Mogadishu when they entered, and that the local population would welcome their soldiers.

Mogadishu temporarily reverted to its familiar clan-based chaos as the Islamic Courts Union disintegrated and former warlords attempted to resume their former positions of power.

Angry youths rampated in the streets, stealing mobile phones, looting homes and setting up checkpoints. Clan militias reclaimed their old neighborhoods. Offices and homes of the leaders of the former Islamic alliance bore the brunt of the looting.

It was unclear whether the weak transitional government and its small military force could impose order on Mogadishu, much less the rest of Somalia. Officials of neighboring Ethiopia, who provided most of the firepower to oust the Islamic alliance, said they would help, but that they would not remain in Somalia for a long period.

Mogadishu residents said the looting Thursday made them fearful of another long period of instability."We are going back to the former chaos and violence," said Ilyas Ahmed, whose brother was killed Thursday during a cell-phone robbery.

"The courts were not good, but at least we had security."Gedi called for the looting and violence to end.

"Anybody found disturbing the security will be met with swift punishment," he said.U.S. and Ethiopian officials accused the Islamists of plotting to establish a Taliban-style regime and use Somalia as a base to launch terrorist attacks. Islamists said they were merely trying to restore peace and stability to Somalia.

Over the past six months they had seized Mogadishu and most of southern Somalia.

On Thursday, after days of military losses that left it bottled up in Mogadishu, the Islamic Courts Union officially disbanded. As he left Mogadishu, Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, the chairman of the courts, said Islamists were leaving to avoid a battle that might have killed civilians. Former fighters, many of whom ditched their uniforms and shaved their beards, expressed disappointment.

"I joined them because I thought they wanted to install an Islamic government in Somalia,"' said Mursal Mohammed, 27. "But they had different ambitions. They wanted to fight against Ethiopia and get back Somali territory. They misled me.

"Some extremist elements of the courts union were reportedly refusing to give up and were seen heading south toward the port city of Kismayo, where they may attempt to regroup or escape. As many as 4,000 fighters, including the fundamentalist Shabab faction that is accused of killing an Italian nun in September, have refused to give up, officials said.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said Thursday his soldiers were in hot pursuit of the fighters, which he said included Eritreans and other foreigners.

Meles said his troops would assist the transitional government restore peace in Mogadishu."We will not let Mogadishu burn," he said.

But he added that the international community must finish the job of putting Somalia back on its feet. He said Ethiopia would not become bogged down in an Iraq-style occupation."We don't believe is it our mission to reconstruct Somalia, militarily, politically or otherwise," Meles said. "What Somalia needs is beyond our capacity now. What Somalia needs now is massive humanitarian assistance. We cannot provide that."He predicted that Ethiopian troops would remain in Somali for a matter of days or weeks.

"We are certainly not planning to stay there for months," he said.Ethiopia formally entered Somalia's worsening civil war a week ago, siding with the transitional government against the alliance of religious leaders.

Amid reports that former Mogadishu clan leaders were reassuming positions of power, Meles warned against allowing the city to fracture into the tribal fiefdoms that have existed for years."The transitional government should not allow warlordism to crop up again in Mogadishu," he said.Ethiopian leaders say the decision to take military action in Somalia was an effort to prevent the spread of religious extremism.

But some worry that Ethiopia will now become a target for Islamic extremists.

Ethiopia's population is about evenly split between Christians and Muslims, and the war has been unpopular with some of the country's Muslims.Ethiopian-led troops began their assault near the border and reached the capital Wednesday.Up to 3,000 Islamist fighters were killed and up to 5,000 wounded, Meles said.

Ethiopian casualties totaled between 100 and 500, he said.Thousands have fled the fighting, worsening Somalia's already dire conditions.

At least 17 people were killed and 140 were missing after Yemeni security forces opened fire on two boats packed with people fleeing Somalia, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.Times staff writer Sanders reported from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and special correspondent Albadri from Mogadishu.

[bth: very impressive performance by the Ethiopians.]
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Eye on Iraq: Facing Shiite Baghdad

United Press International - Security & Terrorism - Eye on Iraq: Facing Shiite Baghdad: "WASHINGTON, Dec. 27 (UPI) -- It will take a lot more than a 'surge' of 30,000 or 40,000 American troops to 'bring peace' to Baghdad: 10 times that many probably could not do it. "

An important article by Sabrina Tavernise published in The New York Times Saturday explains why, although U.S. policymakers appear blind to its obvious lessons. The article's title tells all -- "District by District, Shiites Make Baghdad Their Own."

Tavernise's article documents devlopments we have warned about and predicted in this column repeatedly over the past 10 months. It describes how the Iraqi capital of 7 million people is falling ever more tightly under the control of a web of violent Shiite militias dominating its major neighborhoods while the Shiite-dominated national government is simultaneously powerless to stop it and passively complicit in the process.

Currently, the op-ed pages of American newspapers and talk show hosts around the United States are talking glibly about "unleashing" the U.S. armed forces to bring security to Baghdad.

However, neither the U.S. armed forces nor the ramshackle Iraqi parliamentary-democratic system that U.S. authorities have imposed on Iraq have brought peace, prosperity, security or basic guaranteed daily services of life to the Iraqi capital. For these, the people of Baghdad, especially the ever-growing Shiite majority, have come to rely on their neighborhood militias. They have become the real government of the Iraqi capital.

As we have repeatedly emphasized in these columns over the past nine months, "Beirut Rules" or "Belfast Rules" now operate in the city of Baghdad.

In Belfast from 1969 through 1994 and in Beirut from 1975 through 1991, the professional armies of major states never made the mistake of thinking they could totally annihilate the guerrilla/paramilitary forces operating in the country.

Belfast had always been a British city so the British Army was never an army of military occupation there. The guerrilla insurgency of the Irish Republican Army came only from a small minority of the Catholic community of Northern Ireland which itself was only one third of the total population. But the British Army managed to tame the IRA by waging relatively limited military operations against it and putting its main emphasis on intelligence and diplomatic/political dialogue with the political wing of the group, Sinn Fein.

The great Israeli historian Martin Van Crefeld has argued that the success of the British Army in containing and reducing the levels of guerrilla violence and sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland came precisely because they used only a little firepower instead of a lot, and because their forces took more casualties than they inflicted.

The Syrian Army in Beirut was far more of an outside, foreign presence than the British Army in Northern Ireland ever was. Yet for all their famed ruthlessness, after their initial entry into Lebanon in the mid-1970s, the Syrians never made the mistake of trying to wage a direct war of annihilation against any of the most powerful sectarian militias they had to deal with.

The reason for this was that in both cases, the militia forces were deeply rooted in their own local community strongholds and were seen by a significant plurality and often a majority of their inhabitants as the community's defenders. War against them was therefore seen as war against the entire community. The more force that was used by outsiders against militia forces and the more civilian casualties it caused, the more the remaining civilians, especially the families and friends of the dead and injured, would be motivated to rally to the militias' cause.

That is the nightmare scenario that the U.S. armed forces could face if they were forced to fight a campaign of annihilation or repression against the dominant Shiite militias that increasingly control the city of Baghdad. The idea would be for the U.S. armed forces to be acting in a supportive role in alliance and partnership with the Iraqi police and army, who would be operating on behalf of the democratically elected Iraqi government.

But the reality would be far different. The Iraqi armed forces and police remain highly unreliable with a senior U.S. officer recently publicly admitting that as many as 25 percent of the senior commanders of the Iraqi police had significant ties to the Shiite militias.

The more U.S. firepower and military force would be used against the militias, and the more civilian casualties that would be inflicted as a by-product of military operations the more the Shiite population of Baghdad would become bitterly opposed to the U.S. presence. As the conflict escalated, U.S military forces would become embattled and beseiged. The Iraqi government that is a government in little more than name in the Iraqi capital at best would try to help ineffectually and at worst could easily become a conduit for intelligence and sabotage on behalf of the Shiite militias.

The U.S. Army historically has had little experience of the complexities, viciousness and enormous casualties that full-scale street-fighting in urban enivronments cause. Horne's great book is no guide to that kind of experience, nor does it pretend to be. Vicious and horrific as the Algerian War of Independence and its Battle for Algiers were, they were not remotely on that scale. The problems of taking the casbah in Algiers in 1958 pales compared with securing the Shiite stronghold of Sadr City with its 2 million people -- four times the population of the entire city of Algiers in 1956.

Tavernise identified a new, hard Iraqi reality -- the control of Baghdad by the Shiite militias. There are realistic and effective ways to respond to that problem. But imagining that a "surge" of just 30,000 or 40,000 American troops can permanently pacify a foreign city of 7 million people are not among them.
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Mogadishu falls to Ethiopian-backed government troops

Mogadishu falls to Ethiopian-backed government troops - CNN.com: "MOGADISHU, Somalia (Reuters) -- Triumphant Somali government forces marched into Mogadishu on Thursday after Islamist rivals abandoned the war-scarred city they held for six months before an Ethiopian-backed advance.

The flight of the Islamists was a dramatic turnaround in the volatile Horn of Africa nation after they took Mogadishu in June and spread across the south imposing sharia rule."...

Taliban commander killed in Afghanistan -DAWN - International; December 28, 2006

Taliban commander killed in Afghanistan -DAWN - International; December 28, 2006: "KABUL, Dec 27: NATO-led forces killed a mid-level Taliban commander and another militant in Afghanistan while a civilian driver died in a rebel attack on a convoy of oil tankers, officials said ON Wednesday.

Abdullah Jan Pashtoon, a mid-level insurgent leader and an another rebel were killed in a Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) airstrike in eastern Laghman province on Friday, the force said in a statement.

“Several sources of intelligence, assessed collectively, indicate that ISAF forces did indeed kill Jan Pashtoon,” spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Paul Fitzpatrick said in a statement.

The statement said Pashtoon was known to have ordered roadside bombings and to have directed suicide bombings and armed attacks against Afghan and ISAF forces.

US-led forces said on Saturday they killed Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Osmani, a key Taliban leader and close associate of Osama bin Laden in southern Helmand province on Dec 19.

A spokesman for the Taliban militia denied that Osmani was killed and said that a low-ranking commander and three other militants were killed in that attack.

Separately, insurgents fired at oil tankers carrying fuel for a US military base in southern Afghanistan late on Tuesday, killing a driver and wounding three others, district governor Habibullah Khan said.

Four fuel tankers came under automatic weapons fire in the Takhtapul district of Taliban-infested Kandahar province on the highway linking Kandahar city with the Pakistani border, Mr Khan said.

“One driver of a fuel tanker truck was killed and three others were wounded in the Taliban attack,” Mr Khan said, adding the tankers did not catch fire.

Mr Khan blamed the attack on remnants of the Taliban"

US, Philippine military check on death of Abu Sayyaf leader

US, Philippine military check on death of Abu Sayyaf leader - Yahoo! News: "ZAMBOANGA, Philippines (AFP) - The United States is helping the Philippine government identify the remains of a man said to be the elusive leader of the Al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf terror group, the Philippine military chief has said. "
General Hermogenes Esperon said US and Filipino forensics experts were now working on DNA samples to establish whether the body was that of Khadaffy Janjalani.

He told reporters in Manila the DNA would be checked against that of Khadaffy's older brother Hector Janjalani, now in jail in Manila.

The decomposing body was recovered from a shallow grave outside Patikul town on the southern island of Jolo Wednesday, Marine spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Ariel Caculitan said.

"Our counterparts, the American forces that are there have also taken a sample (tissue) so that they could make their own DNA tests," Esperon told reporters in Manila.

Janjalani's death would be a severe blow to the Abu Sayyaf, a small gang of self-styled Islamic militants that once received funding from
Osama bin Laden' , he said.

Janjalani has been reported killed several times in the past, only to embarrass the government by launching deadly terror attacks.

Caculitan said reports that Janjalani had been killed surfaced in September as troops launched a massive manhunt on Jolo involving more than 5,000 soldiers.

He would not say why the body was only recovered Wednesday.

Troops meanwhile are continuing to hunt down Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) militants Umar Patek and Dulmatin, whom Abu Sayyaf militants are believed to be protecting on the island.

Both men are wanted for the October 2002 night club bombings in Bali, Indonesia, in which 202 mostly foreign tourists were killed.

JI and Abu Sayyaf are both on the US government's list of foreign terrorist organizations. Under Janjalani, the Abu Sayyaf launched kidnapping raids targetting American, European and Asian tourists earlier in the decade.

Two of three American hostages kidnapped in 2001 were killed in captivity.

The US government has offered a five million dollar reward for any information leading to the killing or arrest of Janjalani.

Khadaffy Janjalani took over command of the Abu Sayyaf when his brother, Afghan-trained Islamic firebrand Abubakar Abdurajak Janjalani, who founded the group, was killed in a gunfight with police in 1998.

strs-jvg/kw/cc

Sectarian Ties Weaken Duty’s Call for Iraq Forces - New York Times

BAGHDAD, Dec. 27 — The car parked outside was almost certainly a tool of the Sunni insurgency. It was pocked with bullet holes and bore fake license plates. The trunk had cases of unused sniper bullets and a notice to a Shiite family telling them to abandon their home.

“Otherwise, your rotten heads will be cut off,” the note read.

The soldiers who came upon the car in a Sunni neighborhood in Baghdad were part of a joint American and Iraqi patrol, and the Americans were ready to take action. The Iraqi commander, however, taking orders by cellphone from the office of a top Sunni politician, said to back off: the car’s owner was known and protected at a high level.

For Maj. William Voorhies, the American commander of the military training unit at the scene, the moment encapsulated his increasingly frustrating task — trying to build up Iraqi security forces who themselves are being used as proxies in a spreading sectarian war. This time, it was a Sunni politician — Vice Prime Minister Salam al-Zubaie — but the more powerful Shiites interfered even more often.
I have come to the conclusion that this is no longer America’s war in Iraq, but the Iraqi civil war where America is fighting,” Major Voorhies said.

A two-day reporting trip accompanying Major Voorhies’s unit and combat troops seemed to back his statement, as did other commanding officers expressing similar frustration.

“I have personally witnessed about a half-dozen of these incidents of what I would call political pressure, where a minister or someone from a minister’s office contacts one of these Iraqi commanders,” said Lt. Col. Steven Miska, the deputy commander for the Dagger Brigade Combat Team, First Infantry Division, who oversees combat operations in a wide swath of western Baghdad.

“These politicians are connected with either the militias or Sunni insurgents.”

Whatever plan the Bush administration unveils — a large force increase, a withdrawal or something in between — this country’s security is going to be left in the hands of Iraqi forces. Those forces, already struggling with corruption and infiltration, have shown little willingness to stand up to political pressure, especially when the Americans are not there to support them. That suggests, the commanders say, that if the Americans leave soon, violence will redouble. And that makes their mission, Major Voorhies and Colonel Miska say, more important than ever.

They added that while political pressure on the Iraqi Army is great, the influence exerted on the police force, which is much more heavily infiltrated by Shiite militia groups, is even greater.

Shiites, led by militia forces and often aided by the local police, are clearly ascendant, Colonel Miska said.

“It seems very controlled and deliberate and concentrated on expanding the area they control,” he said.

The Sunni forces are being bolstered by support from insurgent strongholds in the West. The Shiite militias are using neighborhoods in the north, specifically Shuala and Sadr City, as bases of operation.

There is also increasing evidence that militia members from southern cities like Basra are coming to Baghdad to join the fight.

“I believe everyone, to some extent, is influenced by the militias,” Colonel Miska said. “While some Iraqi security forces may be complicit with the militias, others fear for their families when confronting the militia, and that is the more pervasive threat.”

Looking at a map he had his intelligence officers create, which highlights current battle zones and details the changing religious makeup of neighborhoods, Colonel Miska noted just how many different forces, each answering to different bosses, currently occupied the battlefield.

“Who would design this mess?” he said. “It is like an orchestra where everyone is playing a different song.”

His main focus, he said, is trying to establish some kind of unity of command.

As it stands, the police and military answer to different ministries, and within the police force the bureaucracy is divided even further between the regular police and the national police. On top of that are about 145,000 armed men who work as protection detail for the Facilities Protection Services, with minimal oversight, according to United States military officials.

There are also thousands of Shiite militia members and Sunni insurgents posing as security forces.

Colonel Miska tried to define where American forces fit in the tangle of competing interests, which is only further complicated by the complicity and direct participation of top government officials.

“When they are conducting armed aggression against the population, that is where we try and step in and stop it,” he said, adding that when the groups fight one another, “We sit back and watch because that can only benefit us.”

Some days, the line between militia and insurgent clashes and attacks on the population is a blurry one.
Nowhere can the current battle be seen more starkly than on the border between the Shiite district of Shuala and the Sunni controlled Ghazaliya.

Major Voorhies briefed his men before dawn last Thursday morning about the day’s mission, code-named Operation Thunderball. They were to join with Lt. Col. Sabah Kadam Fadily and his command unit and direct a joint search of houses in Ghazaliya. There were 300 American troops and 200 Iraqis involved in the operation.

The sun was just rising as the team set out, and daylight revealed an apocalyptic landscape, trash everywhere, open sewers emitting a revolting smell and scores of buildings damaged in recent clashes. A mosque on the side of the road had a massive hole blown in its once ornate blue dome.

Major Voorhies got a call on his radio. The Iraqi soldiers had spotted a body.

It was a man, dead, tossed on the side of the road, piled with the garbage. His hands were bound behind his back and his shoes were off. His head was turned to the right, revealing a single bullet hole covered in blood that still appeared wet.

As the Iraqi soldiers called the police, who pick up dozens of similarly abused bodies around the city daily, an American soldier spotted a pair of legs. Major Voorhies walked over and, with a stick, flipped a piece of plastic foam off the body.

It was another man, his neck slit, his head almost completely severed. He was lying on his back, eyes open looking vacantly to nowhere, arms bound behind him and torn from their sockets.

Major Voorhies asked Colonel Sabah if he could tell if the man was Shiite or Sunni, but the answer was obvious to the colonel.

“He is Shiite,” Colonel Sabah said absently.

“How do you know?” asked the American major.

“Because this is the Sunni sector,” Colonel Sabah said.

There would be little investigation and no chance that anyone would ever be arrested for the murders, Major Voorhies said. In fact, he said, Colonel Sabah’s assessment might not even be right since the Sunnis and the Mahdi militia, called JAM for Jaish al-Mahdi by American troops, had been fighting for control of this forlorn ground.

“This is either a warning from the Sunni here” to the Shiites to get out, he said. “Or a message sent by JAM that we are winning.”

For the American soldiers, it was just another morning in Baghdad, where Americans are trying to protect people on both sides while being attacked by people on both sides, trying not to take a side themselves.

Major Voorhies thought about what he had just seen and the cycle of killing it would inspire.

“I don’t know what the answer is,” he said, almost to himself.

But he said he would push forward with his mission regardless.

Last week, a search of a house led to the discovery of 23 men being held captive, likely to be killed. He could take pride in helping save their lives, even if some of them might be shooting at him tomorrow.

Colonel Sabah, in glaring contrast to his efficient and focused American partners, did not seem to display a sense of urgency. He paid a visit to a house that belonged to a former Army colleague, a general, who had to flee the area. There he drank tea.

Then he went to see another past colleague, an admiral, and drank more tea. The two discussed what fun they had getting drunk and going to brothels.

Major Voorhies struggled to keep his patience.

“Sometimes I feel like I work for the Iraqi government,” he said.

Outside, neighbors gathered, telling strikingly similar accounts of having their lives threatened by Shiite militiamen, who forced them from their homes. They were angry about the searches.

“Anyone leaving Ghazaliya will get killed because they know you are Sunni,” said Fadhel A. Zaidan, who had lived in nearby Huriya for 50 years. “Now the Americans are taking our weapons, and when they leave, the Mahdi militia will attack.”

American commanders say they are aware of this danger. In part, that is why residents are allowed one AK-47 and two cartridges.

Among Sunnis, there is absolutely no faith in the ability, or desire, of the Iraqi Army or police to provide protection. Colonel Sabah, who is Shiite but who had to leave his own home because of threats by the militia, is viewed as a collaborator.

Major Voorhies acknowledged that it was easier to persuade Colonel Sabah to search Sunni neighborhoods. Still, he said the colonel was one of Iraq’s better army officers.

“When we have his back, he will fight anyone,” said Major Voorhies. “When we don’t, he will cut deals.”

American soldiers seemed to appreciate the difficult position of officers like Colonel Sabah. His brother was murdered on Sept. 12, and just working in the Iraqi Army puts his life in danger.

Facing such stark challenges already, it makes the actions of Iraqi political leaders who try to manipulate the security forces that much more galling, Major Voorhies said.

“Colonel Sabah gets in a very political predicament sometimes,” Major Voorhies said. “He will detain someone and then gets a call and is told not to take them away, so he has no choice.”

The heroin price collapse | The Huffington Post

The Blog Mark Kleiman: The heroin price collapse The Huffington Post: "According to the DEA, Afghani heroin is now selling in Los Angeles at $90 for a highly pure gram. That works out to about a dime per pure milligram (compared to $2.50 in 1975, equivalent to about $10 in today's money).
Five milligrams is a hefty dose for a naive user."

Five milligrams is a hefty dose for a naive user.

So a first heroin experience is now available for less than the price of a candybar. At those prices, users can afford to snort or even swallow the stuff rather than injecting it.

Heroin prices have been falling for a long time without creating a big upsurge in the number of new users.

Maybe we'll keep being lucky that way. But we can't count on Lady Luck's being our friend forever.

Unfortunately, we don't really know how to raise drug prices for drugs with established mass markets.

The prices of heroin and cocaine have both been falling even as enforcement has been rising.

Ford Disagreed With Bush About Invading Iraq - washingtonpost.com

Ford Disagreed With Bush About Invading Iraq - washingtonpost.com: "'...Rumsfeld and Cheney and the president made a big mistake in justifying going into the war in Iraq. They put the emphasis on weapons of mass destruction,' Ford said. 'And now, I've never publicly said I thought they made a mistake, but I felt very strongly it was an error in how they should justify what they were going to do.'"...

"Well, I can understand the theory of wanting to free people," Ford said, referring to Bush's assertion that the United States has a "duty to free people." But the former president said he was skeptical "whether you can detach that from the obligation number one, of what's in our national interest." He added: "And I just don't think we should go hellfire damnation around the globe freeing people, unless it is directly related to our own national security."...

"He was an excellent chief of staff. First class," Ford said. "But I think Cheney has become much more pugnacious" as vice president. He said he agreed with former secretary of state Colin L. Powell's assertion that Cheney developed a "fever" about the threat of terrorism and Iraq. "I think that's probably true."

Describing his own preferred policy toward Saddam Hussein's Iraq, Ford said he would not have gone to war, based on the publicly available information at the time, and would have worked harder to find an alternative. "I don't think, if I had been president, on the basis of the facts as I saw them publicly," he said, "I don't think I would have ordered the Iraq war. I would have maximized our effort through sanctions, through restrictions, whatever, to find another answer."

Ford had faced his own military crisis -- not a war he started like Bush, but one he had to figure out how to end. In many ways those decisions framed his short presidency -- in the difficult calculations about how to pull out of Vietnam and the challenging players who shaped policy on the war. Most challenging of all, as Ford recalled, was Henry A. Kissinger, who was both secretary of state and national security adviser and had what Ford said was "the thinnest skin of any public figure I ever knew."

"I think he was a super secretary of state," Ford said, "but Henry in his mind never made a mistake, so whatever policies there were that he implemented, in retrospect he would defend."...

[bth: Ford's was an honest man. This country needs that kind of honest candid perspective.]

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The New Road Warriors - Armored Trucks

The New Road Warriors - Armored Trucks: "Recent wars, particularly the war in Iraq and the continued hostilities in South Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank raised the army's concerns about the vulnerability of utility and wheeled combat vehicles. While sufficient bulletproof protection is available with most up-armored vehicles, counter-mine and particularly counter-IED remain an issue, as both solutions require significant weight increase, which cannot be met with common light platforms."

RPG protection is even more problematic, as, lacking the availability of proven active protection systems, current countermeasures require the use of explosive reactive armor (ERA), which is not suitable for "thin skin" armored vehicles. The latest models of ERA, comprising low-burning or insensitive explosives are more suitable for lightweight platforms such as armored trucks and, in fact, preliminary designs are already in development for armored trucks, to be used as heavy troop carriers or armored infantry carriers, optimized for urban warfare.

Several types of mine-protected armored trucks are in service. Some of these designs are based on commercial chassis, including those manufactured by Ford International and Unimog, trading most of their payload with an armored hull, leaving enough capacity to accommodate the crew, troops and mission payload (usually, around two tons). Most vehicles are utilizing a monocoque V shaped armored hull to with blast mitigating single or double floor, protecting against mine blast and bottom or roadside IEDs.

Typical examples include Force Protection Cougar, BAE Systems RG-31, Australian Bushmaster – all three are currently are in service with coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Similar designs are used in the South African Casspir, Indian OFB Trojan and the Israeli Zeev (Wolf), which recently entered operational service with the 900th Infantry Brigade (urban warfare specialist). New vehicles currently undergoing various phases of development include the Sand-Cat, from Plasan Sasa, Golan from RAFAEL and PVI, the RG-33L from BAE Systems, and the WildCat, currently under development at IMI. Another design is the Oryx, from International Trucks and Engines.

Improved protection is required for utility and logistical vehicles, supply trucks and prime movers. When heavier trucks are concerned, armor protection is simpler and is usually more straightforward than the work associated with lighter vehicles such as the HMMWV, since trucks can trade off some of their cargo capacity for the additional protection; especially as such protection is usually limited for the cab.

Protected cabins are tailored for new trucks, or offered as replacement cabs. An example is the HEMTT replacement cab, designed by Armor Holdings. Utilizing the modular systems and bulkhead connections of the original HEMTT cab, the armored cab can be installed in the field, on the HEMTT vehicles within hours, improving the heavy tactical fleet crew survivability.

The new cab provides small-arms protection, defeating IED and AT mine attacks and offers overhead protection against fragmentation. Further protection to the exposed gunner's position is provided with an optional gunner's protection kit. Extensive protection, both external and covert, is provided for trucks and prime movers used by the German Army in Kosovo and for coalition trucks operating in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2004 Armor Holdings introduced an armored version of the Oshkosh Trucks MTVR family of tactical trucks. For missions requiring wheeled Armored Personnel Carrierss (APC), combat support and tactical logistics applications, Oshkosh is offering the Australiann Bushmaster, ecently combat tested in Afghanistan.

Protected cabs are also provided for various trucks including M997 (HEMTT), M1070 (HETS), M915 trucks and M1074/1075 Palletized Load Systems (PLS) at an additional weight of 1.3 - 1.9 tons. For medium trucks, the "low signature armored cab" is in development for the 2.5 and 5 ton FMTV Tactical vehicle System (TVS) retaining air mobility of the truck. The FMTV is produced by Stewart Stevenson Services which, in 2005 acquired Automotive Technik Holdings Limited (ATL) of the UK, producer of the Pinzgauer all-terrain vehicle are themselves being acquired by Armor Holdings, which are producing the armoring kits for these trucks. Several NATO Armies are employing protected containers such as the TransProtec to safely transport troops to and from forward bases in the combat zone. The US Army is evaluating the MTTCS, based on a composition of modular armor elements link to shelter-sized transportable module.

[bth: go to original link for a comparison table.]
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US soldier shoots Sadr supporter

US soldier shoots Sadr supporter NEWS.com.au: "TENSION was mounting in the Iraqi city of Najaf today after an American soldier killed a senior ally of radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr during a raid on his house.

Sadr supporters and local police said US and Iraqi soldiers had stormed the family home of Sahib al-Ameri, the president of a pro-Sadr political foundation in the holy city of Najaf, and shot him dead. "

The US military confirmed one of its troops had shot Mr Ameri in an overnight raid by Iraqi forces, backed up by coalition military advisers.

A statement said Mr Ameri was implicated in recent bomb attacks on US and Iraqi forces, and was shot by an adviser after he fled to the roof of his house and aimed an assault rifle at an Iraqi soldier.

"The coalition soldier observed the man's hostile intent against the Iraqi soldier and shot the man, neutralising the threat and resulting in his death,'' US headquarters said in the statement.

Hundreds of mourners marched from Sadr's office in Najaf to the revered shrine of Imam Ali chanting anti-American slogans and denouncing Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki as a traitor for working with US officials.

Sadr is nominally a supporter of Mr Maliki's US-backed coalition - although his party's MPs and ministers are boycotting government business - but he is bitterly opposed to the American troop presence.

His supporters have demanded a timetable for the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq as the price for their continued support for the unity government.

US commanders have described Sadr's Mahdi Army militia as the most dangerous faction involved in Iraq's sectarian war, accusing his Shi'ite fighters of involvement in the massacre of Sunni civilians.
Today's raid served only to increase the political temperature.

Sheikh Abdul-Razzaq al-Nadawi, a member of Sadr's office in Najaf held a press conference at the cleric's house in Najaf and accused the Americans of seeking to provoke a confrontation in a hitherto largely peaceful city.

"We condemn this heinous crime,'' he said. "Security in the city is back to square one. Targeting Al-Ameri means targeting the whole Sadr trend.

US spokesman General William Caldwell said Mr Ameri's house had been raided "because of his illegal activities, not because of his political affiliation.''

At an optimistic ceremony last week, the US military handed control of security in Najaf - a pilgrimage city and home to the holiest shrine in Shi'ite Islam, the mausoleum of Imam Ali - to local Iraqi police and military units.

The region is almost entirely Shi'ite and has been spared the worst of the violence gripping other areas of Iraq since August 2004, when Sadr's Mahdi Army fought a three-week battle with US forces for control of the city.

[bth: note this story is not from a US paper from from Australia. The US papers are all about the handover of Najaf to Iraqi control. See Lang's webblog (Tuesday's posting) for confirmation.]
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U.S. Says Captured Iranians Can Be Linked to Attacks - New York Times

U.S. Says Captured Iranians Can Be Linked to Attacks - New York Times: "BAGHDAD, Dec. 26 — The American military said Tuesday that it had credible evidence linking Iranians and their Iraqi associates, detained here in raids last week, to criminal activities, including attacks against American forces.

Evidence also emerged that some detainees had been involved in shipments of weapons to illegal armed groups in Iraq.

In its first official confirmation of last week’s raids, the military said it had confiscated maps, videos, photographs and documents in one of the raids on a site in Baghdad. The military confirmed the arrests of five Iranians, and said three of them had been released.

The Bush administration has described the two Iranians still being held Tuesday night as senior military officials. Maj. Gen. William Caldwell IV, the chief spokesman for the American command, said the military, in the raid, had “gathered specific intelligence from highly credible sources that linked individuals and locations with criminal activities against Iraqi civilians, security forces and coalition force personnel.”

General Caldwell made his remarks by e-mail in response to a query about the raids, first reported Monday in The New York Times. “Some of that specific intelligence,” he said via e-mail, “dealt explicitly with force-protection issues, including attacks on MNF-I forces.”

MNF-I stands for Multinational Force-Iraq, the official name of the American-led foreign forces there.

American officials have long said that the Iranian government interferes in Iraq, but the arrests, in the compound of one of Iraq’s most powerful Shiite political leaders, were the first since the American invasion in which officials were offering evidence of the link.

The raids threaten to upset the delicate balance of the three-way relationship among the United States, Iran and Iraq. The Iraqi government has made extensive efforts to engage Iran in security matters in recent months, and the arrests of the Iranians could scuttle those efforts.

Some Iraqis questioned the timing of the arrests, suggesting that the Bush administration had political motives. The arrests were made just days before the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution imposing sanctions on Iran for its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment.

The Bush administration has rejected pressure to open talks with Iran on Iraq.

The Iraqi government has kept silent on the arrests, but Tuesday night officials spoke of intense behind-the-scenes negotiations by Iraq’s government and its fractured political elite over how to handle the situation.

Iraq’s president, Jalal Talabani, had invited the two Iranians during his visit to Tehran, his spokesman said Sunday, but by Tuesday, some Iraqi officials began to question if Mr. Talabani had in fact made the invitation. His office was unavailable for comment Tuesday night.

“We know when they caught them they were doing something,” said one Iraqi official, who added that the Iranians did not appear to have formally registered with the government.

Some political leaders speculated that the arrests had been intended to derail efforts by Iraqis to deal with Iran on their own by making Iraqis look weak.

But the military seemed sure of what and whom it had found.

At about 7 p.m. on Wednesday, the military stopped a car in Baghdad and detained four people — three Iranians and an Iraqi. The military released two of them on Friday and the other two on Sunday night, General Caldwell said. The Iranian Embassy confirmed the releases.

But the more significant raid occurred before dawn the next morning, when American forces raided a second location, the general said. The military described it as “a site in Baghdad,” but declined to release further details about the location.

Iraqi leaders said last week that the site was the compound of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, one of Iraq’s most powerful Shiite political leaders, who met with President Bush in Washington three weeks ago. A spokesman for Mr. Hakim said he had not heard of a raid on the compound.

A careful reading of General Caldwell’s statement makes it clear, however, that the location itself was of central importance. The military gathered “specific intelligence from highly credible sources that linked individuals and locations with criminal activities,” it said. The crimes were against Iraqi civilians, security forces and Americans.

In that raid, American forces detained 10 men, 2 of them Iranians. They seized documents, maps, photographs and videos at the location, the military said. The military declined to say precisely what the items showed, nor did it specify if the Iranians themselves were suspected of attacking Americans, or if the Iraqis arrested with them were suspected, or both.

Some Iraqis questioned the American motives, saying the operation seemed aimed at embarrassing Mr. Hakim, the driving force behind a new political grouping backed by the United States to distance militants from the political process.

One Iraqi politician suggested that the tip for the raid had come from a source within Mr. Hakim’s own party, known by the acronym Sciri, in an effort to weaken or unseat him.

However it had been led there, the military said it had found evidence of wrongdoing. By questioning the detainees and investigating the materials, the military found evidence that connected some of those detained “to weapons shipments to armed groups in Iraq,” General Caldwell said.

The military did not specify the types of weapons.

The allegation, if true, would make this the first incident since the American invasion in which Iranian military officials were discovered in the act of planning military action inside Iraq. American officials have long accused them of supplying arms and money from Iran, but never of traveling to Iraq and taking part in plotting violent acts here.

American officials accused Iran of designing and shipping new powerful, armor-piercing bombs to Iraq as early as summer 2005.

American officials have on occasion offered evidence of Iranian involvement: A weapons shipment bearing serial numbers believed to belong to an official Iranian manufacturer was intercepted last year.

The most recent allegations, if true, would appear to draw a line back to Tehran more directly than ever.

General Caldwell said that the detainees were still in American custody and that the military was “engaged in ongoing discussions with the government,” about their status. An official in the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad said its diplomats had tried to see the detainees but were not allowed to, a refusal that violated international rules, the official said.

James Glanz contributed reporting from Baghdad, and Michael R. Gordon from Washington.

[bth: the timing is hugely suspect. The selective leak of vague tips from the military to the NYT is vintage Judith Miller. The fact that the 4 original Iranians were all released is barely mentioned and a disclosure that there was a second raid is suspicious. That the Iranian diplomats would have documents and videos is not in itself incriminating especially they were evidently guests of Hakim. Note that the military does not say what the videos or documents were about. The timing is the key. Just before the UN Security Council vote this raid occurs and a judge in Washington allows Iran to be sued over the Saudi bombing. The timing is just too select and the facts too parsed.]
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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

U.S. officials send minister out of Iraq – sources

SignOnSanDiego.com > In Iraq -- U.S. officials send minister out of Iraq – sources: "AMMAN – A fugitive former Iraqi minister, with dual U.S. citizenship, flew to Jordan in an American plane after escaping from a Baghdad jail earlier this month, Jordanian Prime Minister Marouf Bakheet said on Tuesday. "

'He came to Jordan as an American and on an American plane,' Bakheet told reporters.

He did not elaborate or say whether Ayham al-Samarraie, an electricity minister in the former Iraqi transitional government of Prime Minister Iyad al-Allawi, was still in Amman.

Samarraie, who spent years in exile in the United States, was being held in Iraq on various corruption charges and was reportedly freed by armed, plain-clothes Americans.

He said he was being victimised because of his opposition to Iranian influence in Iraq and Shi'ite militias, who are accused of killing thousands of members of his minority Sunni Arab sect.

A Western diplomatic source familiar with the case and who requested anonymity said: 'American secret service officials put him on board a U.S. military plane from Baghdad airport on Friday and brought him to Jordan'.

U.S. embassy spokesman Lou Fintor in Baghdad said Washington was not involved in the disappearance of Samarraie, facing trial in up to 12 corruption cases.

'There is absolutely no truth to the reports whatsoever. ... We deny any involvement in Mr. Samarraie's disappearance from an Iraqi facility,' he said.

Another Jordanian intelligence source said American security officials were involved in the operation to whisk Samarraie out of Iraq.

U.S. officials have said they were cooperating with Iraq in investigating how Samarraie escaped.

Samarraie had been detained at a police station on the outskirts of the Green Zone, the heavily fortified compound that houses the Iraqi government and the U.S. and British embassies.

He was convicted in October and sentenced to two years in jail for misuse of public funds. The conviction was overturned on appeal but he was being held pending the other corruption cases.
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