Saturday, January 13, 2007

Turk PM asserts right to intervene in Iraq, raps US

Reuters AlertNet - Turk PM asserts right to intervene in Iraq, raps US: " ANKARA, Jan 12 (Reuters) - Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan on Friday reaffirmed Turkey's right to send troops into Iraq to crush Kurdish rebels there and chided U.S. officials for questioning it."

"The Turkish Republic will do whatever is necessary to combat the terrorists when the time comes, but it will not announce its plans in advance," Erdogan told a news conference after a meeting of his ruling AK Party.

"We say we are ready to take concrete steps with the Iraqi government and we also say these steps must be taken now."

In sharp language underscoring Turkish anxiety about the chaos in Iraq, Erdogan said it was wrong for Washington -- "our supposed strategic ally" -- to tell Turkey, with its historic and cultural ties in the region, to stay out of Iraq.

"We have a 350 km border with Iraq. We have historic relations ... the United States is 10,000 km away from Iraq, and yet is it not intervening in Iraq's internal affairs?" he said.

Turkish media say Erdogan has been irked by comments attributed to Washington's envoy to Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad, warning third countries not to interfere in Iraqi affairs.

Ankara has long complained that the United States and Iraqi government have failed to crack down on Kurdish rebels, and periodically asserts its right under international law to conduct cross-border operations against the guerrillas.

With both presidential and parliamentary elections looming in 2007, analysts say Erdogan is under increased pressure to show he is tough on security issues.

More than 30,000 people have been killed since the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), branded a "terrorist organisation" by the EU and the U.S. as well as Ankara, launched an armed struggle for an ethnic homeland in southeast Turkey in 1984.

The PKK began a unilateral ceasefire on Oct. 1 at the request of its jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan, but Turkey dismissed the move as a public relations ploy and clashes have continued, though at a lower intensity than before.

Up to 5,000 militants are believed to be hiding in the mountains of northern Iraq from where they have staged attacks on military and civilian targets inside Turkey.

Washington has appointed a special envoy to coordinate measures with Turkey aimed at tackling the PKK, but analysts say it will not apply military force against the group, given the scale of the problems it faces in the rest of Iraq.

"We don't want to waste time with abstract statements, we want concrete results," said Erdogan, who has said the Iraq situation is now a bigger foreign policy priority for Turkey even than its bid to join the European Union.

Ankara's biggest nightmare is a violent breakup of Iraq and the emergence of a Kurdish state in the north that could in turn foment separatism among Turkey's own Kurds.

Battling With Sadr for Iraqi Soldiers' Hearts

Battling With Sadr for Iraqi Soldiers' Hearts - washingtonpost.com: "BAGHDAD -- The Iraqi soldiers broke into chants to commemorate the 86th anniversary of the creation of their army.

'Muhammad, Haider, Fatima, Hasan and Husayn!' shouted a group of dancing soldiers, bellowing the names of the prophet and other long-dead Islamic icons revered by Shiite Muslims.

A second later, the name of a living Shiite figure came out of the din.

"Moqtada! Moqtada!" one soldier exclaimed, invoking the name of Moqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric and leader of the Mahdi Army militia that American officials blame for many of the worst acts of violence in Baghdad.

Standing quietly in the crowd were four U.S. Army officers, there to represent the team of American soldiers advising the Iraqis. "Sounds like the Mahdi militia is in the tent," said their interpreter, Mohammed Noshi.

Moments before the chanting began, at a rally last Saturday morning at the soldiers' shared base in eastern Baghdad, a brigade commander in the Iraqi army's 6th Division had called the troops the "hope of this country."

"Some people are trying to create sectarian violence to divide this country," said the colonel, who asked that his name not be published out of fear for his life. "It is our job to keep this country in one piece."

At best, said several U.S. soldiers interviewed at the base this month, some of the Iraqi troops they advise are sympathetic to Sadr and his army. At worst, they said, some are members of the militia, also known as Jaish al-Mahdi.

Despite the uneasiness of the alliance, 100 U.S. troops and 500 Iraqi soldiers have conducted joint raids and shared a base on the eastern side of the Tigris River, once a mixed area that is becoming predominantly Shiite.

Training Iraq's police and army to the point where they can operate on their own is key to any reduction of U.S. forces, American commanders have said. Five thousand U.S. troops are already embedded with Iraqi units as advisers.

U.S. military officers say that the Iraqi police force is deeply infiltrated by militiamen and predict that the army will be quicker to operate independently. But a four-day visit to the base known as Old MOD, for the former Ministry of Defense complex, showed that the army is not immune to the militias' influence.

According to the Americans, most of the Iraqi soldiers are Shiites, and some come from Sadr City, a sprawling Baghdad slum that is a Mahdi Army stronghold. Some carry pictures of Sadr.

"Does it mean that they're Jaish al-Mahdi? No," said Lt. Col. Edward Taylor, head of the U.S. military transition team, which is attached to the 2nd Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade, based at Fort Carson, Colo.

The U.S. military would not let a reporter interview the Iraqi soldiers. But during a meeting with Taylor, the Iraqi brigade commander responded to a question about the presence of militias in his unit. "It's just rumor," he said.

Taylor said that despite sectarianism in the army, many of the soldiers are making progress. They no longer show up in mismatched uniforms or turn to the Americans to make every decision, he said. Now they plan their own missions.

"I think we're definitely pushing these guys in the right direction to get to the point where they'll take over," said Capt. Peter Mahmood, 36, of Colorado Springs, who is on his third tour in Iraq.

During a recent house-to-house search in the mostly Sunni Arab neighborhood of Adhamiyah, Taylor and his crew followed Iraqi soldiers as they banged on doors and hunted for weapons caches. At times, the Iraqis appeared disorganized, gathering in large numbers in one spot on a street known to have snipers or taking breaks to buy bread. But they survived two gunfights with no casualties, rescued three kidnapping victims, found a large weapons cache and detained possible foreign fighters.

"They know what they want to do. They have a vision. They have a plan," Taylor said.

There are also signs that Iraqi commanders are willing to attack Shiites as well as Sunnis. At a staff meeting last Saturday morning, the Iraqi colonel suggested to his deputies that they consider conducting operations in Sadr City.

On the base, the two armies have separate living quarters and dining facilities, for security reasons. The Americans scrutinize the Iraqis' missions to make sure they are not targeting Sunnis more than Shiites. In addition, the Americans say, they suspect that some members of the Iraqi army have leaked information about raids.

"I have to operate under the assumption that within this unit there are people loyal to Jaish al-Mahdi and actively working for Jaish al-Mahdi," Taylor said. "I have to make that assumption so I have the proper security measures in place to protect my soldiers."

Sitting in his room on the base, Capt. James Ojeda, 32, of Logan, W.Va., a newlywed who hopes to quit the Army soon, gestured out his door toward the building where the Iraqi soldiers live. "You never know who's a bad guy over there," he said.

That sentiment is a window onto the complexity of the conflict: Taylor's soldiers said it is often unclear who the enemy is.

"One minute your neighbor is waving at you. The next minute he's got a mask on and telling you to get in a car," said Pfc. Kyle Buckingham, 20, of Marion, Ohio, describing the kidnappings that have become common in Baghdad.

No figure seems more of an enigma to these soldiers than Sadr. His militia battled U.S. forces in the spring and summer of 2004 in the southern holy city of Najaf, then he reinvented himself as a political leader whose loyalists won 30 seats in parliament. In a sign of Sadr's political influence, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who relies on the Shiite cleric for support, has banned most U.S. forces from conducting operations in Sadr City, home to 2.5 million people.

During a visit last week to another Shiite area in eastern Baghdad, known as Fadhil, about a dozen American soldiers walked through an empty square ringed with bullet-riddled buildings. On the wall of a bank was a picture of Sadr walking on an American flag.

"I see pictures of him walking on the American flag. Is that irritating?" Taylor said. "It's irritating, but Sadr is not my enemy. He is not considered a terrorist." Sadr, he added, is "a guy who can be part of the government or considered to be someone you want to negotiate with, and at the same time he has his hands in things you want to stamp out."

Ojeda put it more bluntly: "He's just another terrorist leader. He's just another bad guy."

Sgt. 1st Class Eric Radecki, 36, of Sacramento, a father of two who fought in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, said he believes that U.S. leaders have to engage in talks with Sadr.

"He's not some sort of Osama bin Laden sitting in a cave in Afghanistan," Radecki said. "He goes to parliament."

Some of the soldiers said they were frustrated that Sadr City, which is about 1 1/2 miles from their base, is off-limits.

"Personally, I feel we should be there," Buckingham said. "That's the root of where everything is coming from. That's the bad of Baghdad."

As the war approaches its fifth year and the death toll mounts, some of the troops said they wonder whether it was a good idea for the United States to overthrow Iraq's government.

"I don't really know all the thought processes behind invading the country," said Capt. Sean Powell, 30, of Fort Carson. "I knew it was going to be longer than what they said, though. I knew it was going to take long because you don't topple a government and the country rebounds within two weeks."

Sgt. 1st class Matt MacClellan, 37, a father of two who trains another division of Iraqis but lives on Old MOD, said he is not in Iraq to fight the war on terrorism. If anything, he said, the United States spread terrorism by invading Iraq. "Now that we are here, though, it definitely has morphed into the war on terror," he said. "We took over a country that had structure and took that structure away."

The soldiers say they want to leave a stable country but also want to get out alive. "I don't think you can use the word 'winnable,' " MacClellan said. "Really, I've scrubbed that from the vocabulary of my thinking. 'Subdued' would be about the best."

'The jihad now is against the Shias, not the Americans'

'The jihad now is against the Shias, not the Americans' Iraq Guardian Unlimited: "As 20,000 more US troops head for Iraq, Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, the only correspondent reporting regularly from behind the country's sectarian battle lines, reveals how the Sunni insurgency has changed "

One morning a few weeks ago I sat in a car talking to Rami, a thick-necked former Republican Guard commando who now procures arms for his fellow Sunni insurgents.

Rami was explaining how the insurgency had changed since the first heady days after the US invasion. "I used to attack the Americans when that was the jihad. Now there is no jihad. Go around and see in Adhamiya [the notorious Sunni insurgent area] - all the commanders are sitting sipping coffee; it's only the young kids that are fighting now, and they are not fighting Americans any more, they are just killing Shia. There are kids carrying two guns each and they roam the streets looking for their prey. They will kill for anything, for a gun, for a car and all can be dressed up as jihad."

Rami was no longer involved in fighting, he said, but made a tidy profit selling weapons and ammunition to men in his north Baghdad neighbourhood. Until the last few months, the insurgency got by with weapons and ammunition looted from former Iraqi army depots. But now that Sunnis were besieged in their neighbourhoods and fighting daily clashes with the better-equipped Shia ministry of interior forces, they needed new sources of weapons and money.

He told me that one of his main suppliers had been an interpreter working for the US army in Baghdad.

"He had a deal with an American officer. We bought brand new AKs and ammunition from them." He claimed the American officer, whom he had never met but he believed was a captain serving at Baghdad airport, had even helped to divert a truckload of weapons as soon as it was driven over the border from Jordan.

These days Rami gets most of his supplies from the new American-equipped Iraqi army. "We buy ammunition from officers in charge of warehouses, a small box of AK-47 bullets is $450 (£230). If the guy sells a thousand boxes he can become rich and leave the country." But as the security situation deteriorates, Rami finds it increasingly difficult to travel across Baghdad. "Now I have to pay a Shia taxi driver to bring the ammo to me. He gets $50 for each shipment."

The box of 700 bullets that Rami buys for $450 today would have cost between $150 and $175 a year ago. The price of a Kalashnikov has risen from $300 to $400 in the same period. The inflation in arms prices reflects Iraq's plunge toward civil war but, largely unnoticed by the outside world, the Sunni insurgency has also changed. The conflict into which 20,000 more American troops will be catapulted over the next few weeks is very different to the one their comrades experienced even a year ago.

In Baghdad in late October I called a Sunni insurgent I had known for more than a year. He was the mid-level commander of a small cell, active against the Americans in Sunni villages north of Baghdad.

Sectarian frontlines had been hardening in the city for months - it took us 45 minutes of haggling to agree on a meeting place which we could both get to safely. We met in a rundown workers' cafe.

Kidnapped

"Its not a good time to be a Sunni in Baghdad," Abu Omar told me in a low voice. He had been on the Americans' wanted list for three years but I had never seen him so anxious; he had trimmed his beard in the close-cropped Shia style and kept looking towards the door. His brother had been kidnapped a few days before, he told me, and he believed he was next on a Shia militia's list. He had fled his home in the north of the city and was staying with relatives in a Sunni stronghold in west Baghdad.

He was more despondent than angry. "We Sunni are to blame," he said. "In my area some ignorant al-Qaida guys have been kidnapping poor Shia farmers, killing them and throwing their bodies in the river. I told them: 'This is not jihad. You can't kill all the Shia! This is wrong! The Shia militias are like rabid dogs - why provoke them?' "

Then he said: "I am trying to talk to the Americans. I want to give them assurances that no one will attack them in our area if they stop the Shia militias from coming."

This man who had spent the last three years fighting the Americans was now willing to talk to them, not because he wanted to make peace but because he saw the Americans as the lesser of two evils. He was wrestling with the same dilemma as many Sunni insurgent leaders, beginning to doubt the wisdom of their alliance with al-Qaida extremists.

Another insurgent commander told me: "At the beginning al-Qaida had the money and the organisation, and we had nothing." But this alliance soon dragged the insurgents and then the whole Sunni community into confrontation with the Shia militias as al-Qaida and other extremists massacred thousands of Shia civilians. Insurgent commanders such as Abu Omar soon found themselves outnumbered and outgunned, fighting organised militias backed by the Shia-dominated security forces.

A week after our conversation, Abu Omar invited me to a meeting with insurgent commanders. I was asked to wait in the reception room of a certain Sunni political party. A taxi driver took me to a house in a Sunni neighbourhood that had recently been abandoned by a Shia family. The driver came in with me - he was also a commander.

The house had been abandoned in a hurry, cardboard boxes were stacked by the door, some of the furniture was covered with white cloths and a few cheap paintings were piled against a wall. The property had been expropriated by the local Sunni mujahideen and we sat on sofas in a dusty reception room.

Abu Omar had been meeting commanders of groups with names like the Fury Brigade, the Battalions of the 1920 Revolution, the Islamic Army and the Mujahideen Army, to discuss options they had for fighting both an insurgency against the Americans and an escalating civil war with the Shia.

Abu Omar had proposed encouraging young Sunni men to enlist in the army and the police to redress the sectarian balance. He suggested giving the Americans a ceasefire, in an attempt to stop ministry of interior commandos' raids on his area. Al-Qaida had said no to all these measures; now he wanted other Iraqi insurgent commanders to support him.

'Do politics'

A heated discussion was raging. One of the men, with a very thin moustache, a huge belly and a red kuffiya wrapped around his shoulder, held a copy of the Qur'an in one hand and a mobile phone in the other. I asked him what his objectives were. "We are fighting to liberate our country from the occupations of the Americans and their Iranian-Shia stooges."

"My brother, I disagree," said Abu Omar. "Look, the Americans are trying to talk to us Sunnis and we need to show them that we can do politics. We need to use the Americans to fight the Shia."

He looked nervously at them: suggestions of talking to the Americans could easily have him labelled as traitor. "Where is the jihad and the mujahideen?" he continued. "Baghdad has become a Shia town. Our brothers are being slaughtered every day! Where are these al-Qaida heroes? One neighbourhood after another will be lost if we don't work on a strategy."

The taxi driver commander, who sat cross-legged on a sofa, joined in: "If the Americans leave we will be slaughtered." A big-bellied man waved his hands dismissively: "We will massacre the Shia and show them who are the Sunnis! They couldn't have done anything without the Americans' support."

When the meeting was over the taxi driver went out to check the road, then the rest followed. "Don't look up, we could be monitored, Shia spies are everywhere," said the big man. The next day the taxi driver was arrested.

By December Abu Omar's worst fears were being realised. The Sunnis had become squeezed into a corner fighting two sides at the same time. But by then he had disappeared; his body was never found.

Baghdad was now divided: frontlines partitioned neighbourhoods into Shia and Sunni, thousands of families had been forced out of their homes. After each large-scale bomb attack on Shia civilians, scores of mutilated bodies of Sunnis were found in the streets. Patrolling militias and checkpoints meant that men with Sunni names dared not venture far outside their neighbourhoods, while certain Sunni areas came under the complete control of insurgent groups the Shura Council of the Mujahideen and the Islamic Army. The Sunni vigilante self-defence groups took shape as reserve units under the control of these insurgent groups.

Like Abu Omar before him, Abu Aisha, a mid-level Sunni commander, had come to understand that the threat from the Shia was perhaps greater than his need to fight the occupying Americans. Abu Aisha fought in Baghdad's western Sunni suburbs, he was a former NCO in the Iraqi army and followed an extreme form of Islam known as Salafism.

Jamming

Deep lines criss-crossed his narrow forehead and his eyes half closed when he tried to answer a question He seemed to evaluate every answer before he spoke. He claimed involvement in dozens of attacks on US and Iraqi troops, mostly IEDs (bombs) but also ambushes and execution of alleged Shia spies. "We have stopped using remote controls to detonate IEDs," he volunteered halfway through our conversation. "Only wires work now because the Americans are jamming the signals."

On his mobile phone he proudly showed me grainy images of dead bodies lying in the street, their hands tied behind their backs . He claimed they were Shia agents and that he had killed them. "There is a new jihad now," he said, echoing Abu Omar's warning. "The jihad now is against the Shia, not the Americans."

In Ramadi there was still jihad against the Americans because there were no Shia to fight, but in Baghdad his group only attacked the Americans if they were with Shia army forces or were coming to arrest someone.

"We have been deceived by the jihadi Arabs," he admitted, in reference to al-Qaida and foreign fighters. "They had an international agenda and we implemented it. But now all the leadership of the jihad in Iraq are Iraqis."

Abu Aisha went on to describe how the Sunnis were reorganising. After Sunni families had been expelled from mixed areas throughout Baghdad, his area in the western suburbs was prepared to defend itself against any militia attack.

"Ameriya, Jihad, Ghazaliyah," he listed, "all these areas are becoming part of the new Islamic state of Iraq, each with an emir in charge." Increasingly the Iraqi insurgency is moving away from its cellular structure and becoming organised according to neighbourhood. Local defence committees have intertwined into the insurgent movement.

"Each group is in charge of a specific street," Abu Aisha said. "We have defence lines, trenches and booby traps. When the Americans arrive we let them go through, but if they show up with Iraqi troops, then it's a fight."

A few days later Rami was telling me about the Sunni insurgents in his north Baghdad area. A network of barricades and small berms blocked the streets around the car in which we sat talking. A convoy of two cars with four men inside whizzed past. "Ah, they are brothers on a mission," Rami said.

Like every man of fighting age, Rami was required to take part in his local vigilante group, guarding the neighbourhood at night or conducting raids or mortar attacks on neighbouring Shia areas.
But he paid $30 a week to a local commander and was exempted.

According to Rami and other commanders, funding for the insurgents comes from three sources. Each family in the street pays a levy, around $8, to the local group. "And when they go through lots of ammunition because of clashes," Rami said, "they pay an extra $5." Then there are donations from rich Sunni businessmen, financiers and wealthier insurgent groups. A third source of funding was "ghaniama", loot which is rapidly becoming the main fuel of the sectarian war

'A business'

"Every time they arrest a Shia, we take their car, we sell it and use the money to fund the fighters, and jihad," said Abu Aisha. The mosque sheik or the local commander collects the money and it is distributed among the fighters; some get fixed salaries, others are paid by "operations", and the money left is used for ammunition.

"It has become a business, they give you money to kill Shia, we take their houses and sell their cars," said Rami. "The Shia are doing the same.

"Last week on the main highway in our area, they killed a Shia army officer. He had a brand new Toyota sedan. The idiots burned the car. I offered them $40,000 for it, they said no. Imagine how many jihads they could have done with 40k."

· Names have been changed in this report.

[bth: interesting that the organizational structure has shifted to a territorial/defensive "neighborhood watch" type structure on steroids. Further note that it is self funded now with booty. Last note the use of trip wires to attack Americans as the means of defeating jammers.]

Pentagon Sees Move in Somalia as Blueprint

Pentagon Sees Move in Somalia as Blueprint - New York Times: "WASHINGTON, Jan. 12 — Military operations in Somalia by American commandos, and the use of the Ethiopian Army as a surrogate force to root out operatives for Al Qaeda in the country, are a blueprint that Pentagon strategists say they hope to use more frequently in counterterrorism missions around the globe. "

Military officials said the strike by an American gunship on terrorism suspects in southern Somalia on Sunday showed that even with the departure of Donald H. Rumsfeld from the Pentagon, Special Operations troops intended to take advantage of the directive given to them by Mr. Rumsfeld in the weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks.

American officials said the recent military operations have been carried by the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command, which directs the military’s most secretive and elite units, like the Army’s Delta Force.

The Pentagon established a desolate outpost in the Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti in 2002 in part to serve as a hub for Special Operations missions to capture or kill senior Qaeda leaders in the region.

Few such “high value” targets have materialized, and the Pentagon has gradually relocated members of the covert Special Operations units to more urgent missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But officials in Washington said this week that the joint command had quietly been returning troops and weaponry to the region in recent weeks in anticipation of a mission against members of a Qaeda cell believed to be hiding in Somalia.

Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told members of Congress on Friday that the strike in Somalia was executed under the Pentagon’s authority to hunt and kill terrorism suspects around the globe, a power the White House gave it shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks.

It was this authority that Mr. Rumsfeld used to order commanders to develop plans for using American Special Operations troops for missions within countries that had not been declared war zones.

But since the retreat of the Taliban in 2001, when American Special Forces worked with Afghan militias, Mr. Rumsfeld’s ambitious agenda for Special Operations troops has been slow to materialize.

The problem has partly been a shortage of valuable intelligence on the whereabouts of top terrorism suspects. Mr. Rumsfeld also dispatched teams of Special Operations forces to work in American embassies to collect intelligence and to develop war plans for future operations.

Pentagon officials said it is still not known whether any senior Qaeda suspects or their allies were killed in the airstrike on Sunday, carried out by an AC-130 gunship. A small team of American Special Operations troops has been to the scene of the airstrike, in a remote stretch near the Kenya border, to collect forensic evidence in the effort to identify the victims.

Some critics of the Pentagon’s aggressive use of Special Operations troops, including some Democratic members of Congress, have argued that using American forces outside of declared combat zones gives the Pentagon too much authority in sovereign nations and blurs the lines between soldiers and spies.

The State Department and Pentagon took control of Somalia policy in the summer, after a failed effort by the Central Intelligence Agency to use Somali warlords as proxies to hunt down the Qaeda suspects.

The trail of the terrorism suspects in Somalia, blamed for the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, had long gone cold. But American military and intelligence officials said that the Ethiopian offensive against the Islamist forces who ruled Mogadishu and much of Somalia until last month flushed the Qaeda suspects from their hide-outs and gave American intelligence operatives fresh information about their whereabouts.

The Bush administration has all but officially endorsed the Ethiopian offensive, and Washington officials have said that Ethiopia’s move into Somalia was a response to “aggression” by the Islamists in Mogadishu.

In the weeks before the military campaign began, State Department and Pentagon officials said that they had some concerns about the impending Ethiopian government’s offensive in Somalia.

But as the Ethiopian’s march toward war looked more likely, Americans began providing Ethiopian troops with up-to-date intelligence on the military positions of the Islamist fighters in Somalia, Pentagon and counterterrorism officials said.

According to a Pentagon consultant with knowledge about Special Operations, small teams of American advisers crossed the border into Somalia with the advancing Ethiopian army.

“You’re not talking lots of guys,” the Pentagon consultant said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“You’re talking onesies and twosies.”

[bth: this seems like a good plan that works. Could the Shiites and the Kurds have been liberated by similar means?]

Terrorists 'use Google maps to hit UK troops'

Telegraph News Terrorists 'use Google maps to hit UK troops': "Terrorists attacking British bases in Basra are using aerial footage displayed by the Google Earth internet tool to pinpoint their attacks, say Army intelligence sources.

Documents seized during raids on the homes of insurgents last week uncovered print-outs from photographs taken from Google.

The satellite photographs show in detail the buildings inside the bases and vulnerable areas such as tented accommodation, lavatory blocks and where lightly armoured Land Rovers are parked.
Written on the back of one set of photographs taken of the Shatt al Arab Hotel, headquarters for the 1,000 men of the Staffordshire Regiment battle group, officers found the camp's precise longitude and latitude."...

[bth: I've yet to find a Google Earth map for Iraq that gave timely or detailed information. I'm sure longitude and latitude is available if you know exactly where you want to look, but any GPS handheld could give you that and most paper maps as well.]

Official Attacks Top Law Firms Over Detainees

Official Attacks Top Law Firms Over Detainees - New York Times: "WASHINGTON, Jan. 12 — The senior Pentagon official in charge of military detainees suspected of terrorism said in an interview this week that he was dismayed that lawyers at many of the nation’s top firms were representing prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and that the firms’ corporate clients should consider ending their business ties.

The comments by Charles D. Stimson, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs, produced an instant torrent of anger from lawyers, legal ethics specialists and bar association officials, who said Friday that his comments were repellent and displayed an ignorance of the duties of lawyers to represent people in legal trouble.

“This is prejudicial to the administration of justice,” said Stephen Gillers, a law professor at New York University and an authority on legal ethics. “It’s possible that lawyers willing to undertake what has been long viewed as an admirable chore will decline to do so for fear of antagonizing important clients.

“We have a senior government official suggesting that representing these people somehow compromises American interests, and he even names the firms, giving a target to corporate America.”...

[bth: I'd like to read his high school essay on "To Kill A Mockingbird".]

Friday, January 12, 2007

Zbigniew Brzezinski - Five Flaws in the President's Plan

Zbigniew Brzezinski - Five Flaws in the President's Plan - washingtonpost.com: "The president's speech gives rise to five broad observations:"

· It provided a more realistic analysis of the situation in Iraq than any previous presidential statement. It acknowledged failure, though it dodged accountability for that failure by the standard device of assuming personal responsibility. Its language was less Islamophobic than has been customary with President Bush's rhetoric since Sept. 11, though the president still could not resist the temptation to engage in a demagogic oversimplification of the challenge the United States faces in Iraq, calling it a struggle to safeguard "a young democracy" against extremists and an effort to protect American society from terrorists. Both propositions are more than dubious.

· The commitment of 21,500 more troops is a political gimmick of limited tactical significance and of no strategic benefit. It is insufficient to win the war militarily. It will engage U.S. forces in bloody street fighting that will not resolve with finality the ongoing turmoil and the sectarian and ethnic strife, not to mention the anti-American insurgency.

· The decision to escalate the level of the U.S. military involvement while imposing "benchmarks" on the "sovereign" Iraqi regime, and to emphasize the external threat posed by Syria and Iran, leaves the administration with two options once it becomes clear -- as it almost certainly will -- that the benchmarks are not being met. One option is to adopt the policy of "blame and run": i.e., to withdraw because the Iraqi government failed to deliver. That would not provide a remedy for the dubious "falling dominoes" scenario, which the president so often has outlined as the inevitable, horrific consequence of U.S. withdrawal. The other alternative, perhaps already lurking in the back of Bush's mind, is to widen the conflict by taking military action against Syria or Iran. It is a safe bet that some of the neocons around the president and outside the White House will be pushing for that. Others, such as Sen. Joseph Lieberman, may also favor it.

· The speech did not explore even the possibility of developing a framework for an eventual political solution. The search for a political solution would require a serious dialogue about a joint American-Iraqi decision regarding the eventual date of a U.S. withdrawal with all genuine Iraqi political leaders who command respect and wield physical power. The majority of the Iraqi people, opinion polls show, favor such a withdrawal within a relatively short period. A jointly set date would facilitate an effort to engage all of Iraq's neighbors in a serious discussion about regional security and stability. The U.S. refusal to explore the possibility of talks with Iran and Syria is a policy of self-ostracism that fits well into the administration's diplomatic style of relying on sloganeering as a substitute for strategizing.

· The speech reflects a profound misunderstanding of our era. America is acting like a colonial power in Iraq. But the age of colonialism is over. Waging a colonial war in the post-colonial age is self-defeating. That is the fatal flaw of Bush's policy.

The writer, who was national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter, is the author of the forthcoming book "Second Chance: Three Presidents and the Crisis of American Superpower."

[bth: the deployment of Patriot missile batteries to the middle east is a key indicator of things to come - Iran.]

At Fort Benning, a Quiet Response to a Presidential Visit

At Fort Benning, a Quiet Response to a Presidential Visit - washingtonpost.com: "FORT BENNING, Ga., Jan. 11 -- The pictures were just what the White House wanted: A teary-eyed President Bush presenting the Medal of Honor posthumously to a slain war hero in the East Room, then flying here to join the chow line with camouflage-clad soldiers as some of them prepare to return to Iraq.

There are few places the president could go for an unreservedly enthusiastic reception the day after unveiling his decision to order 21,500 more troops to Iraq. A military base has usually been a reliable backdrop for the White House, and so Bush aides chose this venerable Army installation in western Georgia to promote his revised strategy to the nation while his Cabinet secretaries tried to sell it on Capitol Hill."

To ensure that there would be no discordant notes here, Maj. Gen. Walter Wojdakowski, the base commander, prohibited the 300 soldiers who had lunch with the president from talking with reporters. If any of them harbored doubts about heading back to Iraq, many for the third time, they were kept silent....

Soldiers being soldiers, those who met the commander in chief Thursday saluted smartly and applauded politely. But it was hardly the boisterous, rock-star reception Bush typically gets at military bases.

During his lunchtime speech, the soldiers were attentive but quiet. Not counting the introduction of dignitaries, Bush was interrupted by applause just three times in 30 minutes -- once when he talked about a previous Medal of Honor winner from Fort Benning, again when he pledged to win in Iraq and finally when he repeated his intention to expand the Army.

Bush's speech essentially repeated his address to the nation the night before, and he appeared a little listless as he talked. Aides said he was deliberately low-key to reflect the serious situation. Whether the audience was sobered by the new mission or responding to Bush's subdued tone was unclear, because reporters were ushered out as soon as his talk ended.

White House officials had promised reporters they could talk with soldiers. But that was not good enough for Wojdakowski. "The commanding general said he does not want media talking to soldiers today," spokeswoman Tracy Bailey said. "He wants the focus to be on the president's speech." Only hours later, after reporters complained, did the base offer to make selected soldiers available, but the White House plane was nearing departure....

[bth: this just says it all.]

GOP: Bush would veto Medicare reforms

GOP: Bush would veto Medicare reforms - Yahoo! News: "WASHINGTON - President Bush promised on Thursday to veto Democratic-drafted legislation requiring the government to negotiate with drug companies for lower prices under Medicare. "

The House is to debate and vote Friday on the bill, which is one of a handful of priority items for Democrats who gained control of Congress in last fall's elections.

"Government interference impedes competition, limits access to lifesaving drugs, reduces convenience for beneficiaries and ultimately increases costs to taxpayers, beneficiaries and all American citizens alike," the administration said in a written statement.

Further, it said, competition already "is reducing prices to seniors, providing a wide range of choices and leading to a more productive environment for the development of new drugs."

Bush had already threatened to veto another of the top six bills Democrats are pushing across the House floor in the first two weeks of the new Congress. That's the measure, approved Thursday, to expand the extent to which federal funds could be used for embryonic stem cell research....

[bth: unbelievable.]

Pentagon abandons active-duty time limit

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Pentagon has abandoned its limit on the time a citizen-soldier can be required to serve on active duty, officials said Thursday, a major change that reflects an Army stretched thin by longer-than-expected combat in Iraq.

The day after President Bush announced his plan for a deeper U.S. military commitment in Iraq, Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters the change in reserve policy would have been made anyway because active-duty troops already were getting too little time between their combat tours.

The Pentagon also announced it is proposing to Congress that the size of the Army be increased by 65,000, to 547,000 and that the Marine Corps, the smallest of the services, grow by 27,000, to 202,000, over the next five years. No cost estimate was provided, but officials said it would be at least several billion dollars.

Until now, the Pentagon's policy on the Guard or Reserve was that members' cumulative time on active duty for the Iraq or Afghan wars could not exceed 24 months. That cumulative limit is now lifted; the remaining limit is on the length of any single mobilization, which may not exceed 24 consecutive months, Pace said.

In other words, a citizen-soldier could be mobilized for a 24-month stretch in Iraq or Afghanistan, then demobilized and allowed to return to civilian life, only to be mobilized a second time for as much as an additional 24 months. In practice, Pace said, the Pentagon intends to limit all future mobilizations to 12 months.

Members of the Guard combat brigades that have served in Iraq in recent years spent 18 months on active duty - about six months in pre-deployment training in the United States, followed by about 12 months in Iraq. Under the old policy, they could not be sent back to Iraq because their cumulative time on active duty would exceed 24 months. Now that cumulative limit has been lifted, giving the Pentagon more flexibility.

The new approach, Pace said, is to squeeze the training, deployment and demobilization into a maximum of 12 months. He called that a "significant planning factor" for Guard and Reserve members and their families.

David Chu, the Pentagon's chief of personnel, said in an interview that he thinks Guard and Reserve members will be cheered by the decision to limit future mobilizations to 12 months. The fact that some with previous Iraq experience will end up spending more than 24 months on active duty is "no big deal," Chu said, because it has been "implicitly understood" by most that they eventually would go beyond 24 months.

A senior U.S. military official who briefed reporters Thursday on Iraq-related developments said that by next January, the Pentagon "probably will be calling again" on National Guard combat brigades that previously served yearlong tours in Iraq. Under Pentagon ground rules, the official could not be further identified.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, appearing with Pace, announced several other changes in Guard and Reserve policy:

-Although the Pentagon's goal is to mobilize Guard and Reserve units no more frequently than one year out of six, the demands of wartime will require calling up some units more often than that. They provided no details on how many units would be remobilized at the faster pace or when that would begin to happen.

Army officials had been saying for some time that more frequent mobilizations were necessary because the active-duty force is being stretched too thin. Gates' announcement is the first confirmation of the change.

-To allow for more cohesion among Guard and Reserve units sent into combat, they will be deployed as whole units, rather than as partial units or as individuals plugged into a unit they do not normally train with.

-Extra pay will be provided for Guard and Reserve troops who are required to mobilize more than once in six years; active-duty troops who get less than two years between overseas deployments also will get extra pay. Details were not provided.

-Military commanders will review their administration of a hardship waiver program "to ensure that they have properly taken into account exceptional circumstances facing military families of deployed service members."

As part of Bush's plan for boosting U.S. troop strength in Iraq, a brigade of National Guard soldiers from Minnesota will have its yearlong tour in Iraq extended by 125 days, to the end of July, and a Patriot missile battalion will be sent to the Persian Gulf next month, the Army said Thursday.

Maj. Randy Taylor, a spokesman for the 3rd Battalion, 43rd Air Defense Artillery Regiment, at Fort Bliss, Texas, said the Patriot unit was aware of the announced deployment. He said no formal order had been received Thursday.

The dispatching of a Patriot missile battery, capable of defending against shorter-range ballistic missile attacks, appeared linked to Bush's announcement Wednesday that he ordered an aircraft carrier strike group to the Middle East, which would be in easy reach of Iran, whose nuclear program is a U.S. concern.

Navy officials said the carrier heading to the Gulf region is the USS John C. Stennis, which previously had been in line to deploy to the Pacific. It was not clear Thursday how the Pentagon intended to compensate in the Pacific for the absence of the Stennis in that region, where a chief worry is North Korea.

The Marines announced that two infantry units - the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, and the 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment - will stay in Iraq 60 to 90 days longer than scheduled. That will enable the Marines to have a total of eight infantry battalions in western Anbar province, instead of the current six, by February. Once the 60- to 90-day extension is over, an additional two battalions will be sent in early from their U.S. bases.

Also, the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which combines infantry with a helicopter squadron and a logistics battalion, totaling about 2,200 Marines, will stay in Anbar for 45 more days.

Those extensions conform with Bush's announcement that he was ordering 4,000 more Marines to Anbar.

The military tries to avoid extending combat tours and sending forces earlier than planned because it disrupts the lives of troops and their families and makes it harder for the services to get all troops through the education and training programs they need for promotions. But in this case it was deemed unavoidable.

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[bth: over 5 years the army could grow 30,000 with improved recruiting according to my sources. The growth to 65,000 must then occur by holding soldier up from leaving. Its called a draft, only it targets those already in the service and just doesn't let them out. Meanwhile the rest of the country gets a free ride - not even a tax bump.]

Thursday, January 11, 2007

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Brian T. Hart graveside with his son PFC John D. Hart killed Taza, Iraq Oct. 18, 2003. Arlington National Cemetery, Section 60. Photo dated January 4, 2007 after visiting the Capitol for the swearing in of the Democratic Congress.

GAO to review Pentagon’s ‘IED defeat’ office

GAO to review Pentagon’s ‘IED defeat’ office - Navy News, Special Reports, Frontline Photos, This Week's Navy Times - Navy Times: "A government watchdog agency is reviewing the military agency working to defeat the No. 1 killer of U.S. troops in Iraq.

Buried inside a 113-page Government Accountability Office report is a paragraph that indicates the GAO is looking at the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, a $3 billion-a-year office near the Pentagon charged with finding ways to eliminate the roadside bomb threat in Iraq and elsewhere."

Officials with the secretive organization say they are working hard to achieve their goals but maintain their successes must largely remain a secret, for fear that releasing any information could put troops in jeopardy by revealing potential countermeasures. But their silence has raised eyebrows, at least on Capitol Hill. In response to a separate report from the Senate, the GAO said it will launch a review of the organization.

The objectives of our ongoing review are to determine whether JIEDDO’s overall management and organizational structure, including funding, personnel, and strategic planning processes, effectively support its mission,” the GAO report said. The agency will also look at the office’s ability to “quickly and effectively identify, develop, test and support technology and training solutions.”

Finally, the GAO will look at how well the roadside bomb defeat agency coordinates with other defense and nondefense agencies to “leverage existing capabilities and prevent duplication of efforts.”

It was not made clear when the agency would begin the investigation or when it would be concluded.

The GAO’s intention to examine the office comes as part of a larger report the agency compiled on the status of the situation in Iraq, issued publicly Tuesday. The report says there are “significant problems” in Iraq that continue to haunt the U.S. as it works to achieve victory there. The report also said military readiness is at risk as a result of operations since September 2001.

“Although [the Defense Department] has overcome difficult challenges in maintaining a high pace of operations over the past five years, extended operations in Iraq and elsewhere have had significant consequences for the U.S. military,” the report said.

The GAO report also took issue with the strategy President Bush articulated in November 2005 called the “National Strategy for Victory in Iraq.”

“Security, political and economic factors continue to hamper U.S. efforts to stabilize Iraq and achieve key U.S. goals,” the report said.

[bth: best I can tell, the large defense contractors - the future combat crowd- has gotten their hooks into this group which started off with such potential and started diverting funds to pet projects unrelated to the war at hand.]

Arlington National Cemetery, January 4, 2007. Gold Star Families converged on section 60 in good weather. Photo taken by Brian T. Hart Posted by Picasa

Surge: Troops will be extended or sent early

Surge: Troops will be extended or sent early - Navy News, Special Reports, Frontline Photos, This Week's Navy Times - Navy Times: "More than 20,000 troops are now being notified that they will be extended or sent to Iraq early as part of the much-anticipated “surge” of troops President Bush announced tonight.

Democrats quickly criticized the plan, saying it was short on forcing the Iraqis to do for themselves, and that it doesn’t hold them accountable if they fail to solve their own political, economic and military problems.

In a 20-minute speech from the White House library, Bush argued that the best way ahead is to send more troops to Iraq. On Thursday, Pentagon officials will name the five brigades that will comprise the 20,000-troop increased force-strength in Iraq, as well as the combat support and combat service support units required to support them.

Almost all of the troops affected will either be extended in Iraq or sent there early, defense officials say.
Of the more than 20,000 service members affected, about two-thirds will be deployed early and another third will be extended, the defense official said
. One unit will leave for Iraq about two weeks prior to what its expected departure date was, the official said. Others, however, will be longer."...

Arlington National Cemetery, Section 60, January 4, 2007. Oscar came with this friend's family. Oscar lost his leg to a suicide car bomber in Ramadi. His friend lost his life. Oscar came from California to be here. He spent 15 months at Walter Reed. This is the world I saw. Brian Hart. Posted by Picasa

Soldier Charged With Iraq Atrocity Had Been Labeled 'Homicidal' Earlier

AP Probe: Soldier Charged With Iraq Atrocity Had Been Labeled 'Homicidal' Earlier: "FORT CAMPBELL. KY. An Army private charged with the slaughter of an Iraqi family was diagnosed as a homicidal threat by a military mental health team three months before the attack."

Pfc. Steven D. Green was found to have "homicidal ideations" after seeking help from an Army Combat Stress Team in Iraq on Dec. 21, 2005. Green said he was angry about the war, desperate to avenge the death of comrades and driven to kill Iraqi citizens, according to an investigation by The Associated Press.

The treatment was several small doses of Seroquel - a drug to regulate his mood - and a directive to get some sleep, according to medical records obtained by the AP.

The next day, he returned to duty in the particularly violent stretch of desert in the southern Baghdad suburbs known as the "Triangle of Death."

On March 12, 2006, Iraqi police reported a break-in at the home of a family in Mahmoudiya, about 20 miles from Baghdad. The intruders shot and killed the father, mother and two young daughters.

The older girl, 14-year-old Abeer Qassim al-Janabi, was raped and her body set afire.

The carnage first was assumed to be the work of insurgents. That changed in late June when two members of Green's unit told their superiors of suspicions that soldiers were involved in the killings. Now the Army believes Green and four other soldiers are responsible. One of them has confessed and provided information to prosecutors; in testimony at his court-martial, the soldier identified Green as the ringleader.

If the charges are true, the attack would be among the most horrific instances of criminal behavior by American troops in the nearly four-year-old war. It also would represent a worst-case scenario for the military's much-criticized practice of keeping mentally and emotionally unfit personnel in the killing fields of Iraq.Col. Elspeth Cameron Ritchie, psychiatry counsel to the Army Surgeon General, would not specifically discuss Green when contacted by The AP.

She defended the military's policies regarding the treatment of emotionally or psychologically distressed soldiers.

"If unresponsive to treatment and/or a persistent danger to self or others, they will be evacuated," Ritchie told The AP in an e-mail.

The 101st Airborne Division also declined to comment, noting it is an open federal case.

The Army and the Marines, who have the most personnel on the ground in Iraq, have been faulted for the manner in which troops with mental and emotional difficulties are being treated.

Sending troops already in Iraq who have been diagnosed with mental illness back to combat duty - often under medication that has not been prescribed long enough to have provided relief - has been a particular criticism.

Green has been charged with the murders and rape and pleaded not guilty in federal court in Kentucky. He is being tried in federal court because his arrest came after he had been discharged from the Army. Three others face the same charges and will be court-martialed.

From interviews with people who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized by the military to discuss the case, and from viewing the Army's medical and investigative records, the AP also has learned:

_ Three months passed without Army doctors and clinicians from the Combat Stress Team having any contact with Green. He was summoned for a second examination on March 20, 2006

- eight days after the killing of the family. Green was diagnosed as having an anti-social personality disorder and declared unfit for service. The process of discharging him began a week later and he was sent home.

_ The Army's own investigation of Green's initial treatment, prompted by concerns he and others would use mental health problems as a defense in trial, is highly critical.

Among the most salient findings from a July review of Green's treatment: "Although a safety assessment was conducted, there is no safety plan addressing how Soldier (Green) will keep from acting on his homicidal thoughts."

_ Lt. Col. Elizabeth Bowler, a psychiatrist and Army reservist from California who took over the Combat Stress Team with Green's unit in January, recommended his discharge after the second examination in March. Yet she wrote a final evaluation that said Green exhibited no traits that would indicate dangerously erratic or homicidal moods, according to documents viewed by The AP.

Green deployed to Iraq in September 2005 from Fort Campbell with a battalion from the 101st Airborne Division's 502nd Infantry Regiment. The unit was charged with security operations and assisting Iraqi army units in the "Triangle of Death."

Eleven days before Green's first visit with the stress team in December 2005, he and five others were manning a checkpoint when an Iraqi civilian approached, according to testimony in military hearings. The civilian was familiar because of his status as a sometimes informant. He greeted the soldiers warmly before pulling a pistol from his belt and shooting two of them at point-blank range.

Green's behavior worsened after that, according to commanders. He was directed to visit doctors a second time. Eight days later, Bowler told commanders that Green was unfit for service, according to documents. The discharge process for Green concluded in May 2006.

The Pentagon issued new guidelines in November that prevent personnel with certain pre-existing mental problems from deploying to Iraq or Afghanistan. Clinicians evaluating whether a soldier in Iraq or Afghanistan is fit for service are now required to review all medical records. Mental illnesses that are not expected to be resolved in one year will be cause for discharge.

The Army's hearings on the family's murder concluded in August. Those who testified put forth this outline of the crime:The plot to rape and kill was hatched as the soldiers hit golf balls at a checkpoint.

They had seen the older daughter on patrols in the area. After drinking whiskey bought from Iraqi policemen, they masked their faces and crept through backyards in afternoon daylight to get to the family's home.They knew the family kept a gun in one bedroom for protection.

Once in the house, Green herded the father, mother and 5-year-old daughter to another room, closed the door and shot them dead. Green had blood on his clothes and boots when he returned.

Green and at least two others took turns raping the other daughter before killing her with the family's AK-47. They set her body on fire with kerosene dumped from a lamp in the kitchen in an effort to hide evidence.

Steven Green is in custody at an undisclosed location in Kentucky, according to federal law-enforcement officials. Prosecutors have not said if they will seek the death penalty.

Pfc. Jesse V. Spielman, 22, of Chambersburg, Pa.; Sgt. Paul E. Cortez, 24, of Barstow, Calif.; and Pfc. Bryan L. Howard, 23, of Huffman, Texas, have been charged with rape and murder and await courts-martial. They are in custody at Fort Campbell.

Spc. James P. Barker, 24, of Fresno, Calif., pleaded guilty in November as part of an agreement to testify against the others.

[bth: so we let this psycho go untreated. we don't get him a second appointment for 3 months or 8 days after he murders and rapes a family, then the army quickly discharge him and lets him loose on the public in the states. Then the insurgents - more likely the clan- kidnap 2 soldiers from his unit torture, mutilate and kill them in revenge. A hell of a way to run a war.]

PFC John D. Hart and his parents Alma and Brian T. Hart, Jan. 4, 2007. Arlington National Cemetery Posted by Picasa

US forces storm Iranian consulate

BBC NEWS Middle East US forces storm Iranian consulate: "US forces have stormed an Iranian consulate in the northern Iraqi town of Irbil and seized five members of staff.

The troops raided the building at about 0300 (0001GMT), taking away computers and papers, according to Kurdish media and senior local officials"

The US military had no immediate comment on the raid, which comes amid high tension between Iran and the US.

The Bush administration accuses Iran of helping fuel violence in Iraq, as well as trying to develop nuclear weapons.

Iran strenuously denies both charges, countering that US military involvement in the Middle East endangers the whole region.

A local TV station said Kurdish security forces had taken over the building after the Americans had left.
Irbil lies in Iraq's Kurdish-controlled north, about 350 kilometres (220 miles) from the capital Baghdad.
Reports say the Iranian consulate there was set up last year under an agreement with the Kurdish regional government to facilitate cross-border visits.

Pressure
Iranian media said the country's embassy in Baghdad had sent a letter of protest about the raid to the Iraqi foreign ministry.

One Iranian news agency with a correspondent in Irbil says five US helicopters were used to land troops on the roof of the Iranian consulate.

It reports that a number of vehicles cordoned off the streets around the building, while US soldiers warned the occupants in three different languages that they should surrender or be killed. ...

[bth: the heavy use of helicopters suggests it was not a locally planned operation.]

Kennedy Resolution Jan. 9, 2007

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Reaction to Bush's Speech: Will This Change Anything? Is This is a Kissingerian Ploy?

MotherJones.com MoJo Blog - Social Issues and Political Commentary: Reaction to Bush's Speech: Will This Change Anything? Is This is a Kissingerian Ploy?: "Everyone knew what Bush was going to say before he made his address tonight. And the 'surge' which Democrats hoped to block had already begun with advance elements of the 82nd Airborne already in Baghdad to arrange for arrivals of 17,500 more troops. 'If we increase our support at this crucial moment, and help the Iraqis break the current cycle of violence, we can hasten the day our troops begin coming home,' Bush said. But the Iraqis are responsible for running their own government, and if they don't shape up, that's it for them."

Bush made clear he is embarking on a straightforward pacification program in Baghdad, made possible by an occupation run by American troops. This is to be an American military occupation. Maybe with a façade of Iraqis, but run by Americans, just as yesterday, American GIs ended up running the show in Haifa Street fighting.

As Bush has said in the past, Americans know what the word victory means, So, whatever happens, no matter what anyone says, we have to win the war. "Failure in Iraq would be a disaster for the United States," Bush said.

Observers grasp wildly for explanations as to why Bush does what he does. No matter what one thinks of the President, when push comes to shove, it's hard to believe he really wants to drag out the war so it can be handed over to a successor in 2008; or that he is such a psycho that he can't stop calling defeat victory. The Bushes doubtless don't consider their family legacy to be made of such stuff.

There may well be a much more sinister game at play here. That centers around the emergence of Henry Kissinger over the last year as an outside advisor to Bush and other top officials in Washington.

Gareth Porter, the historian who ran the Indochina Resource Center in the early 70s, points out in a January 11 article on Asia Online that "although he knows very little about how to deal with Sunnis and Shi'ites, Kissinger does know how to convey to the public the illusion of victory, even though the US position in the war is actually weak and unstable."

Porter continues, "One of Kissinger's accomplishments was to sell the news media on the Nixon administration' s propaganda line that the Christmas 1972 bombing of Hanoi had so unnerved the North Vietnamese that it had allowed president Richard Nixon and Kissinger to achieve a diplomatic victory over the communists in the Paris Agreement. That line was a gross distortion of what actually happened before and after the bombing." Moreover, it was Kissinger who figured out how Ford could claim a Vietnam victory and blame the whole mess on the Democrats.

So, it's quite possible that Bush will plunge into a counterinsurgency operation in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq, and then amidst mass civilian carnage, declare victory and announce negotiations. Sooner or later there will have to be negotiations, and this may be his ploy.

But things aren't going to be so easy for Bush because American troops yesterday in the Haifa Street firefight in Baghdad appear to have fallen into an ongoing ethnic cleansing operation by Shia militia.
GIs call Haifa Street "grenade alley." As Juan Cole points out, Haifa Street has become a fixture of the civil war, twisting and turning in one pacification effort after another. In July 2004 there was Operation Haifa Street involving 3,000 American troops. A police station got blown up in a big bombing there. In March 2005 reports had things calming down a bit. Some said the tide had turned. Today it is once again called a terrorist stronghold and there is a fresh pacification effort. Now things are ever more complicated since at least one report in Arabic claims Shia invaded the area Sunday, killed residents, and threw their bodies into the street. "In this context, some Sunni Arabs see the US as having been duped by the Shiites to join in the ethnic cleansing of the Karkh district," says Cole.

And now there are reports the Shia are worming their way into the Green Zone, a feat long attempted unsuccessfully by the Sunnis.
-- James Ridgeway

Arlington National Cemetery Section 60. Jan. 4, 2007. The lady in the distance is a nurse from Walter Reed. She had come to put flowers on two of her patients buried there. Posted by Picasa

Past troop surges in Iraq produced mixed results

Past troop surges in Iraq produced mixed results - Nation/Politics - The Washington Times, America's Newspaper: "Troop surges like the one announced by President Bush last night have been tried before in Iraq to stabilize the country for elections or dampen an upswing in violence -- with mixed results.

The real test for the president's new strategy is how this surge will differ from the past. For example, Mr. Bush ordered more forces into Iraq in July to stop sectarian violence in greater Baghdad. More than 15,000 U.S. soldiers joined 40,000 Iraqi forces in block-by-block sweeps"

But the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki never cracked down on Shi'ite militias, some loyal to a key political supporter, Sheik Muqtada al-Sadr. In the end, the Baghdad command acknowledged the offensive did not meet its objectives.

This time, Mr. Bush pledged that events will be different. The Iraqi army will go after Shi'ites, not just Sunnis. And the buildup will not have a time limit.

Baghdad will be divided into nine military sectors. Mr. al-Maliki will appoint a Baghdad military commander. From the 17,000 U.S. soldiers going to the capital, battalions will be joined with each Iraqi brigade, creating training and operations all in one, said a military source.

On Iran, part of the plan is already in place: a buildup of naval forces in the Persian Gulf. Plus, the source said, the U.S. will capture and hold Iranians helping the insurgents in the hope that this will provide some leverage against Iran's aid to the insurgency.

"The surge will work as long as the Iraqis do their part, and our hands are untied to be tough where required," said retired Army Lt. Col. Robert Maginnis, a military analyst. "Maliki must decide between working with the U.S. and his misplaced loyalties to al-Sadr. I believe the militia issue is the real center of gravity, not necessarily Baghdad. It happens that militia problems are worse in Baghdad."

Mr. Bush has ordered surges before with mixed results. In May 2004, forces were declining to 115,000. But violence in Sunni-dominated Fallujah, and in Shi'ite towns around Najaf, forced the Pentagon to halt the drawdown and rebuild back to 138,000.

The results: A Marine-led force ultimately retook Fallujah that November. Army brigades clashed with Sheik al-Sadr's Mahdi Army in a series of battles, reducing the militia to a few hundred.

But Sheik al-Sadr escaped death or arrest. He methodically rebuilt his army, with the help of Iran. Today, he controls thousands of fighters, some of whom break off into death squads and hunt down, torture and kill Sunnis. Hundreds of the bodies have been found strewn around Baghdad.

The Pentagon also surged troops three times for elections: a transition assembly; a constitution and a permanent parliament in December 2005. In each case, the surge was targeted to improve security in the run-up to balloting and then to create a safe atmosphere for voters. The strategy worked. All three elections were deemed successful by international observers. But they had limited impact on long-term violence.

The last buildup came this past summer. Mr. Bush again ordered an increase, from 127,000 to 150,000 to quell sectarian violence in Baghdad. The offensive did not work, and Republicans lost control of Congress in part because of larger number of voters turning against the war.

The president then began a far-reaching review, which ended last night with his announced decision to try a troop surge for the sixth time with new tactics.

[bth: this so called surge will merely raise us up to troops levels of about Nov. 2005. Its a bullshit PR stunt that will leave soldiers in an impossible urban warfare situation. Maliki has no incentive to go after Sadr that I can see. The Iraqis do NOT want us there. Don't we get it? Liberators were supposed to leave, not stay. When liberators stay they become occupiers with an occupation army. What the hell is Bush thinking or is he thinking at all?]

Arlington National Cemtery. Jan. 4, 2007. The Adam Leigh Cann Family up from Florida for the 1 year anniversary of his death. Section 60. The soldier in the rear of the photo was preparing for another burial about to arrive. We had a wonderful conversation with the Canns and they had a wonderful son. Posted by Picasa

Promising Troops Where They Aren’t Really Wanted

Promising Troops Where They Aren’t Really Wanted - New York Times: "BAGHDAD, Jan. 10 — As President Bush challenges public opinion at home by committing more American troops, he is confronted by a paradox: an Iraqi government that does not really want them."

The Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has not publicly opposed the American troop increase, but aides to Mr. Maliki have been saying for weeks that the government is wary of the proposal. They fear that an increased American troop presence, particularly in Baghdad, will be accompanied by a more assertive American role that will conflict with the Shiite government’s haste to cut back on American authority and run the war the way it wants. American troops, Shiite leaders say, should stay out of Shiite neighborhoods and focus on fighting Sunni insurgents.

The government believes there is no need for extra troops from the American side,” Haidar al-Abadi, a Parliament member and close associate of Mr. Maliki, said Wednesday. “The existing troops can do the job.”

It is an opinion that is broadly held among a Shiite political elite that is increasingly impatient, after nearly two years heading the government here, to exercise power without the constraining supervision of the United States. As a long-oppressed majority, the Shiites have a deep-seated fear that the power they won at the polls, after centuries of subjugation by the Sunni minority, will be progressively whittled away as the Americans seek deals with the Sunnis that will help bring American troops home.

These misgivings are broadly shared by Shiite leaders in the government, including some whom Mr. Bush has courted recently in a United States effort to form a bloc of politicians from the Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish communities that can break Mr. Maliki’s political dependence on the radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr. He leads the Mahdi Army, the most powerful of the Shiite militias that are at the heart of sectarian violence in Iraq.

Hadi al-Ameri, the leader of the security committee in Parliament and a close associate of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim — a prominent Shiite leader who met with Mr. Bush last month in Washington, and who has quietly supported the American push to reshape the political landscape in Baghdad — was unequivocal in his opposition to a troop increase. “I’m against any increase in troops,” he said.

Redha Jawad Tahi, another Shiite member of Parliament from Mr. Hakim’s party, took a similar view. “You can’t solve the problem by adding more troops,” he said. “The security should be in the hands of the Iraqis. The U.S. should be in a supporting role.”

The plan sketched out by Mr. Bush went at least part way to meeting these Shiite concerns by ceding greater operational authority over the war in Baghdad to the government. The plan envisages an Iraqi commander with overall control of the new security crackdown in Baghdad, and Iraqi officers working under him who would be in charge of military operations in nine newly demarcated districts in the capital.

The commanders would report to a new office of commander in chief directly under the authority of Mr. Maliki. The arrangement appeared to have the advantage, for Mr. Maliki, of giving him a means to circumvent the Ministry of Defense, which operates under close American supervision. “The U.S. agrees that the government must take command,” Mr. Abadi said.

The arrangements appeared to suggest that Mr. Maliki would have the power to halt any push into Sadr City, the Mahdi Army stronghold that American commanders have been saying for months will have to be swept of extremist militia elements if there is to be any lasting turn toward stability in Baghdad. But along with more authority for Mr. Maliki, the American plan appeared to have countervailing safeguards to prevent sectarian agendas from gaining the upper hand. Bush administration officials said that Americans would be present in the commander in chief’s office and that an American Army battalion — 400 to 600 soldiers — would be stationed in each of the nine Baghdad military districts.

Shiite suspicions of the American troop increase reflect a tectonic shift in the political realities here.

Shiites, the principal victims of Saddam Hussein’s repression, had joined with Iraqi Kurds in hailing the American-led invasion in 2003, seeing it as opening their way to power. But once they consolidated their control through two elections in 2005, they began distancing themselves from the Americans, seeing their liberators increasingly as an impediment to the full control they craved.

By contrast, moderate Sunnis, who were deeply alienated by the American occupation at an earlier stage of the war, are now looking to Americans for protection, as Shiite militias have moved into Sunni neighborhoods in a deadly cycle of revenge. On Wednesday, moderate Sunni politicians hailed the idea of more American troops. ...

Arlington National Cemetery Jan. 4, 2007. One family grieves at the first anniversaray, the Cann family in foreground while another buries their son. What struck me about the burial was that virtually no one was there. The saluting rifle squad can be seen in background. The fresh graves without marker can be seen along the walk way to the grave of the soldier being buried. Posted by Picasa

The National Interest - A Concert of the Greater Middle East

The National Interest: "As the Iraq Study Group’s recommendations for a regional conference gather dust, the states, factions and sects of the “Greater Middle East” tremble on the edge of a chasm of massive military conflict—with potentially staggering implications not only for the people of the region but also of the West. And while the banter about negotiating with the major regional players has gained some momentum, there has been less appreciation of what the dimensions of such a discussion might be, where the trade-offs might lie, and what grand bargains America and others might have to strike. There has also been little recognition of a potential source leading the way forward: history."

The circumstances in the “Islamic Culture Continent”—extending from Morocco to Indonesia and from Central Asia to the Indian Ocean—do not differ so much from Europe’s predicament in the aftermath of the Napoleonic War. Decades of what Clausewitz thought to be “total war” had ruined the economies and “status quo ante” social systems of the many European states. To overcome the instability of the continent and the likelihood that this would lead to further disastrous warfare, the great powers of the time met at Vienna after 1815 to create a system of balanced agreements that would bring into equilibrium the interests of all possible adversaries in Europe. This system preserved European peace for many years, until it came to pieces in August 1914. The system has been known as the Concert of Europe. What is now needed is a Concert of the Greater Middle East.

The difficulties of the Greater Middle East are preponderant. Iraq is beset by Sunni insurgencies, both secular and jihadi. It is “governed” by a controlling Shi’a majority, which itself is riven by competing Shi’a militia armies. Iran pursues a dangerous nuclear program—which threatens all its neighbors (including Israel) with the possibility of war and hegemonic domination—while meddling deeply in Iraq and abetting its political destruction. The Kurdish “nation” now possesses a homeland in northern Iraq, which is threatened in the long run by Turkish animosity and suspicion. Syria exists in a precarious state, balanced between American hostility and the policy pressures of its Iranian senior ally. The long-term stability of its government is threatened by sanctions and political covert action. Lebanon is transitioning toward a political expression of its Lebanese Shi’a majority, which could lead to civil war. Lebanese Christian allies of the United States and Israel do not want to give up the unwarranted power in the country that their small numbers no longer justify.

These and many other factors threaten war in the region both inside and among these countries—war that could easily spread to their sponsors in the world community. This situation is so dire that a regional conference of all the actors is justified—indeed, imperative. This conference should be designed to bring into equilibrium the interests of state and non-state “players” whose real or imagined grievances and needs threaten the peace of mankind. Just as the great powers of 1815 sponsored the Congress of Vienna to forge an understanding of what had to be done to achieve a lasting peace among those who hesitated on the brink of war, the present great powers—the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain—must call for a definitive international round of negotiations to settle all outstanding disputes among the peoples of the Greater Middle East.

Given the present structure of international law, the series of conferences would have to meet under the auspices of the United Nations, but the attitudes and direct and continuous participation of the great powers will be a prerequisite for success. What might the set of agreements and policies of a Concert of the Greater Middle East look like? From an American perspective, it may look like this: a grand bargain with Iran, under which the Iranian and Shi’a aspiration to be treated for the first time in history as equal in importance in the Islamic world with the Sunnis—and as a major power in the Greater Middle East—is accepted by the United States. In return, the United States should demand of Iran that it place its nuclear and missile programs under full international controls and that it both restrain the Shi’a government of Iraq from destabilizing excesses and desist from supporting international jihadi terrorism, for which it is well known.

A bargain among allies could also be struck between the United States and Turkey with regard to a Kurdish homeland, in what is now northern Iraq. The terms would be: Kurdistan will make all its oil export and refining deals with the Turks, abandon irredentist claims in the Turkish republic and take an active role in the suppression of armed PKK activity in Turkey. In addition, Kurdistan will support the rights and position of the Turkoman minority in areas accessible to it and, in particular, in Kirkuk. The
United States would maintain an air base and substantial ground garrison in Kurdistan to enforce all of the above—which would be necessary in any case to provide a military “reserve” to secure a U.S. diplomatic presence in Iraq.


The bargain would also entail bringing Lebanon and Syria to a mutual and legal recognition of their distinct national identities, in which Syria undertakes to refrain from political activities of any kind in Lebanon. Syria would have to accept that a violation of that bargain would open it legally to armed international intervention in its internal affairs. In return, the regime in Damascus would be absolved from the unending American hostility to its existence. In addition, Israel must be a full participant in all conferences and meetings involved in this process. In return, Israel will undertake to make Palestine (the state) a vital and thriving economy

Finally, on a more strategic front, in the Sunni-Arab areas of Iraq, the United States should learn to differentiate among: those who fight against Shi’a domination; nationalists and Ba’athi who fight for their condemned leader; Sunni Bedouin tribesmen who fight under tribal sheiks; “Alawi”-style nationalist Shi’a; and local or international jihadi types. The United States and the international community must learn to “divide and conquer” in Iraq. The variety of people in the Middle East is no different than anywhere else. The need to “neuter” Islamic jihadis is overwhelming. Muslims and Arabs hate the idea that outsiders can see the “daylight” between them and make use of it, but the fact is that there are enough mutually hostile factions in the “Sunni Triangle” that some factions can be made allies in the fight against jihadism. In this regard, the needs of mankind outweigh the psychology of anti-colonialism. It is likely that the Bedouin tribes would become allies against the fanatics. A choice should be made among present adversaries and allies found to rally against the true enemy.

In addition, U.S. forces in Iraq (outside Kurdistan) should be scaled back in their activities to a mission that concentrates on training the forces of governments friendly to the United States and securing our citizens and embassy.

Is there a practical alternative to a gathering in the spirit of the Congress of Vienna? Yes: war and chaos.
W. Patrick Lang is president of Global Resources Group, Inc., a consulting firm, and former head of Middle East Intelligence at the Defense Intelligence Agency.

January 4, 2007. Arlington National Cemetery. A soldier is buried with few attendees. I don't know his name. We had come to our son's grave, John D. Hart, and along with about 5 other gold star families, were there at that moment to witness the additional of another brave American in Section 60. Posted by Picasa

Democrats Aim to Block Funds for Plan

Democrats Aim to Block Funds for Plan - washingtonpost.com: "Senior House Democrats said yesterday that they will attempt to derail funding for President Bush's proposal to send an additional 21,500 troops to Iraq, setting up what could become the most significant confrontation between the White House and Congress over military policy since the Vietnam War.

Senate Democrats at the same time will seek bipartisan support for a nonbinding resolution opposing the president's plan, possibly as early as next week, in what some party officials see as the first step in a strategy aimed at isolating Bush politically and forcing the beginning of a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops from the conflict."

The bold plans reflect the Democrats' belief that the public has abandoned Bush on the war and that the American people will have little patience for an escalation of the U.S. military presence in Iraq. But the moves carry clear risks for a party that suffered politically for pushing to end an unpopular war in Vietnam three decades ago, and Democratic leaders hope to avoid a similar fate over the conflict in Iraq.

The striking new approach took shape yesterday morning during a closed-door meeting of the House Democratic Caucus, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), invoked Martin Luther King Jr. as she urged her members against timidity, members who were there said. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), a quiet, hawkish supporter of the war, stunned many of his colleagues when he came out strenuously against Bush's proposal and suggested the war is no longer militarily winnable.

Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on defense and the party's leading voice for withdrawing troops, is to report back to Appropriations Committee members today on hearings and legislative language that could stop an escalation of troops, said Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), a member of Murtha's subcommittee.

Those plans could attach so many conditions and benchmarks to the funds that it would be all but impossible to spend the money without running afoul of the Congress. "Twenty-one thousand five hundred troops ought to have 21,500 strings attached to them," said House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.).

Brendan Daly, a spokesman for Pelosi, said Democratic leaders have made no decision to hold back funds, but he added: "We are not going to give the president a blank check. We will subject any proposal to escalate the war to harsh scrutiny, and we will set benchmarks he has to attain to get that money."

Although Democratic leaders offered a united front last night in their response to Bush's speech, they have long struggled to forge consensus on the details of an alternative policy. Democrats have widely divergent views of the timing of any future withdrawal of U.S. forces and differ on whether there should be a timetable for bringing all troops home. Now in the majority, they will be challenged in the months ahead to outline a policy that will achieve the twin goals of ending U.S. involvement in Iraq without leaving that country in greater chaos.

Democratic reaction to Bush's prime-time speech last night was overwhelmingly negative, setting the stage for a series of legislative moves that will play out over the next few months.

"By calling for the rapid escalation of American troops in Iraq, the president rebuffed his commanders, thumbed his nose at the Baker-Hamilton commission and, worst of all, ignored the will of the American people," Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said after the speech.

Bush had hoped to persuade congressional leaders to withhold judgment until last night's speech, meeting with more than 125 lawmakers in the run-up to the speech, including House leaders yesterday. But rank-and-file Democrats were unwilling to wait before laying the groundwork to thwart what they call an escalation.

House Democratic leaders have said they will not use the power of the purse in any way that would harm troops in the field, a position that had run afoul of the party's liberal activists. Rep. Ellen O. Tauscher (D-Calif.), a member of the Armed Services Committee, said that pledge is being calibrated to apply only to troops in the field now.

Tauscher said Democratic policy must "satisfy the American people that we're putting a speed bump in front of the president that will actually hold," adding: "The White House is used to doing business on their own, but they're realizing things have changed. This is vastly different."

House Democrats also expect to introduce soon a resolution of disapproval for Bush's new policy but have moved farther than Senate Democrats toward an outright funding confrontation with the White House

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) called Tuesday for the administration to ask for renewed authorization from Congress before sending additional troops to Iraq. "I don't believe there's a single member of the U.S. Senate that would have voted for the authorization bill in October 2002 if they thought the authorization was going to commit American forces to be involved in a civil war," he said yesterday.

But Democratic strategists said that, at this point, there is limited support for the Kennedy proposal.
Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), who with Pelosi co-signed a letter to the president last week urging him not to send more troops to Iraq, has begun meetings with other senior senators, including Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) and Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) to develop specific responses to Bush's new policy.

Antiwar activists continued to press congressional Democrats to block Bush's plans. "The bottom line is that when voters elected the Democrats, they did that on the promise that the Democrats would lead the country out of the war," said Eli Pariser, director of the MoveOn political action committee. "Democrats need to fulfill on that promise, and they're going to."

Staff writer Shailagh Murray contributed to this report