Saturday, February 10, 2007

A soldier's wish

SignOnSanDiego.com > News > Military -- A soldier's wish: "Army Spc. Alroy Billiman stood tall and stiff as the general pinned a Purple Heart to the breast of his camouflage uniform. "

Flexing his shoulders, Billiman lifted the stump of his upper arm. A strap hidden under his uniform helped him flex his mechanical elbow. He struggled to raise the pincers that now replace his right hand up toward his brow.

Constrained by the uniform, which he had rarely worn since his injury, he couldn't get the pincers much higher than his chest. Still, the gesture was unmistakable: a salute.

Enlisted troops like Billiman render it dozens of times a day. It is as automatic as a handshake, as engrained in the military culture as rifles and marching.

“That means a lot to me, to be able to salute,” said Billiman, 27, a rehabilitation patient at the San Diego Naval Medical Center who received his award yesterday along with three other soldiers during a ceremony in Long Beach.

“It was more like a wave, really. I kind of waved at everybody,” he said. “But I'm happy. I did good.”

A week ago, even such a modest salute would have been impossible for Billiman because he had not received his new limb. And four months ago, when he sat screaming in the roadside dust of western Iraq while a buddy twisted a tourniquet around his arm's jagged nub, it would have been unthinkable.

When the medical team that takes care of Billiman learned that he wanted to salute at his Purple Heart ceremony, they shook up the military bureaucracy to get him a prosthesis in time.
The group fitted him with a mechanical arm Saturday. Billiman has spent hours since then learning basic tasks such as tossing a ball, putting on his pants – and rendering a salute.

“The patient has to want to wear a prosthesis,” said Peter Harsch, 35, the naval medical center's prosthetics specialist. “Billiman has done very, very well. He's motivated.”

Billiman said motivation isn't always easy to muster in his hometown of Window Rock, Ariz., a village of 3,000 people on the massive Navajo reservation that straddles the Arizona-New Mexico border.

He loves the wide-open spaces, the mountains and hunting grounds that are so meaningful to the people of his tribe. But there is also poverty and alcoholism and drug abuse, some of it in his own extended family.

Billiman found examples to push him toward better things – such as his uncle, a World War II Marine who served as a Navajo “code talker”; or his father, a Vietnam-era Army veteran who served in distant Europe; or his mother, who urged him to get his high school diploma as she lay dying of cancer.
Looking at things in Window Rock, he knew his options were few.

“I had my mind made up to go into the military,” Billiman said. “I wanted to see the world.”

After graduating from high school in 2000, Billiman made good on his enlistment idea. He told the Army recruiter he didn't care what job he got as long as he could learn about weapons and serve in Germany – the same as his father.

Billiman loved his three years as an infantry grunt with the Army's 1st Infantry Division, including a six-month peacekeeping tour in Kosovo. But, homesick, he left the service in early 2003, just days before his unit got orders to deploy to Iraq.

“I thought I was out for good – a clean slate,” he said.

His civilian life eventually fell into place: a promising job in the oil-rigging industry, a steady girlfriend and a baby on the way.

Then came the letter from the Army in June 2005. Billiman was being called back to active duty under a program that allows the Pentagon to recall discharged troops even years after they served.

“I read it. I said, 'You've got to be (kidding) me!' ” Billiman recalled. He joined the 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry Regiment, a unit of National Guardsmen from Iowa.

A few days before Billiman was able to leave his training base in Georgia and go home for Christmas break, his girlfriend gave birth to their daughter, Altaevyah. The couple married on New Year's Eve.

Just before the 133rd Infantry Regiment deployed to Iraq last May, Billiman's father, Leroy, came for the unit's graduation from training. While there, Leroy conducted an American Indian “protection way” ceremony for Alroy and some of his friends, to grant them safety in war. He gave Alroy a protective charm: It was a green bag filled with soil from each of the four sacred mountains in Navajo country.

The unit's members needed it. They landed in Ramadi, an insurgent-filled town in western Iraq. Their job was to escort trucks carrying goods to Al Asad Air Base from Jordan. During the next seven months, the vehicle of every member of Billiman's platoon got hit by bombs – except his.

“Everybody started believing,” Billiman said. “They wanted to ride with me.”

By Nov. 9, Billiman had only a month left in his 18-month call-up. For the first time, he traveled without his green bag. Lost or stolen, it had disappeared two days earlier.

That afternoon, Billiman was driving an armored Humvee when he saw a bump in the road. His left hand gripped the steering wheel, his right held the stick shift.

The explosion lifted his vehicle off the ground. Billiman felt a searing pain in his upper right arm.
“The shrapnel just came up through the floor and cut my arm off,” he said.

Billiman then scrambled to get out of the driver's side door, which had jammed. The 45-minute wait for the medevac helicopter seemed to take forever. At one point he asked Spc. Clint “Rabbit” Eshleman if his arm could be saved.

“Your arm's gone, bro,” the soldier told him.

Knowing he would be taken from the battlefield and eventually go back to the United States for long-term treatment, Billiman said goodbye to his combat buddies and wished them well for the rest of their tour.

After a series of surgeries at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, D.C., he arrived in San Diego the day before Thanksgiving. His wife, Katara, and Altaevyah are living with him in Navy housing at Murphy Canyon.

Billiman got out of the hospital just before Christmas. During his stay there, he started thinking about the things he couldn't do anymore – including saluting.

He works out daily, but the lack of that simple skill spurred him and his doctors to get his mechanical arm in time for yesterday's ceremony. Nine members of Billiman's family attended the event held at the Long Beach Veterans Affairs hospital for Billiman and the three soldiers, who are receiving treatment at the facility.

The Purple Heart pleased Billiman, but it's the new arm that is changing his life. He expects to spend six to nine more months in San Diego before he goes home to Arizona.

“This week, I've been doing stuff I didn't think I'd ever do again,” Billiman said. “I don't feel like I'm limited. I feel like I'm whole again.”

Matt Krasnowski of Copley News Service contributed to this report.
Steve Liewer: (619) 498-6632; steve.liewer@uniontrib.com

Report: Deadliest bomb in Iraq is Iranian

United Press International - News. Analysis. Insight. - NewsTrack - Top News: "WASHINGTON, Feb. 10 (UPI) -- The New York Times said Saturday the deadliest weapon used against U.S. forces in Iraq is a bomb that sources told the newspaper is being supplied by Iran."

The bomb, an "explosively formed penetrator," is powerful enough to rip through an armored Humvee, the report said. Its use by Shiite militias has doubled in the past year.

Intelligence information that the Bush administration was expected to make public included information obtained from Iranians and Iraqis captured in raids in Baghdad and Erbil, the Times said.

Adm. William Fallon, President George Bush's pick to head the U.S. military Central Command, spoke of the bomb's power in his testimony to Congress last month.

"Equipment that was, we thought, pretty effective in protecting our troops just a matter of months ago is now being challenged by some of the techniques and devices over there," Fallon said. "So I'm learning as we go in that this is a fast-moving ballgame."

[bth: EFP are relatively old technologies. They are not widely used - perhaps 150 incidents before the information classified verus 2500 ied attacks per month. This is a hyped story advanced by unnamed sources. Note that this UPI article quotes NYT which quotes unnamed sources.]

War and Piece:Just out: "The Politics of Iran Intelligence," at National Journal.

War and Piece:: "Just out: 'The Politics of Iran Intelligence,' at National Journal. Unfortunately, it's subscription only, but here's a brief excerpt:

Amid the continued political fallout over the faulty intelligence case for going to war in Iraq, the Bush administration is newly cautious about the specific intelligence it plans to present to the public to back up its claims that Iran is fighting a kind of proxy war with the United States in Iraq.

At least twice in the past month, the White House has delayed a PowerPoint presentation initially prepared by the military to detail evidence of suspected Iranian materiel and financial support for militants in Iraq. The presentation was to have been made at a press conference in Baghdad in the first week of February. Officials have set no new date, but they say it could be any day."

Even as U.S. officials in Baghdad were ready to make the case, administration principals in Washington who were charged with vetting the PowerPoint dossier bowed to pressure from the intelligence community and ordered that it be scrubbed again. The officials understand that the press will scrutinize the information intensely, that the intelligence "dots" that the administration has assembled about Iran in Iraq can be connected multiple ways, and that the public is wary of any possible intervention in Iran.

"The truth is, quite frankly, we thought the briefing overstated, and we sent it back to get it narrowed and focused on the facts," National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley was quoted as saying by the Los Angeles Times on February 2.

A White House official who declined to be named told National Journal that the presentation was sent "back into the interagency process ... with all the usual agencies involved, both in Washington and Baghdad." Asked if it was the intelligence community that was most cautious about how to interpret the facts in the Iran dossier, the White House official said only, "It's, frankly, their job to be sure of the facts and to make sure the information is accurate, and to give their best advice about how to interpret it."

The delay in the briefing demonstrates the crosscurrents running through the administration, the intelligence agencies, and Congress over Iran. ... The debate is still simmering over who was at fault in the prewar intelligence failures: the policy makers or the intelligence community.

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, for example, is moving aggressively to vet the intelligence community's analytical products on Iran. [...]

"Even if this PowerPoint presentation eventually gets made public ... what does this show us as to where Iran is really coming from?" [former National Intelligence Council Middle East analyst Paul] Pillar asked.

"What is the larger significance?

Even if Iranian assistance to an Iraqi group is proven to everyone's satisfaction, the [administration's] policy never rested on that. The policy [is being driven by a] much larger sense of Iran as the prime bete noire in the region, and that is why the administration is trying to put together these coalitions with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, the Sunni states, that we've been reading about. None of this hinges [on the Iran dossier]. We are not going to call this off if we can't prove that Iran is furnishing munitions to Iraqi groups. ..."From the February 10, 2007 issue.

[bth: Stepping back and looking at the articles posted in the last few days, Sen. Kennedy's questions posted yesterday to constititional law experts seemed to suggest that an attack on Iran would require a vote of congress unless it was directly linked to a current conflict already approved such as Iraq. Further it seems that Saudia Arabia is involved in the policy planning via Cheney and that we are going to completely ignore the Saudi's funding and recruitment of insurgents and suicide bombers which murder thousands every month in Iraq. One would almost think that the World Trade Centers were leveled by Iranians instead of Saudis.]

Police defuse 10 bombs in Pakistan

Khaleej Times Online - Police defuse 10 bombs in Pakistan: "ISLAMABAD - Pakistani security agencies on Friday defused 10 improvised explosive devices left close to a central bus terminal in the north-west town of Tank, a police spokesman said.

‘The shape of some explosives suggested that they could have been designed to be wrapped around the body to carry out suicide attacks,’ spokesman Malik Ramzan told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa."

The bombs were abandoned in a sack on the main road linking Tank with the Dera Ismail Khan district in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province, which was the scene of recent bombing violence.

Two Pakistani soldiers were killed on the same road last Saturday after a suicide bomber rammed his explosive-laden car into an army convoy.

Dera Ismail Khan also suffered a suicide attack in late January in which the bomber killed two persons, including a policeman, when he was stopped for body search.

A Taleban commander in the nearby South Waziristan tribal region reportedly sent a cell of bombers to avenge a government air strike that killed at least ten militants including foreign fighters.

Meanwhile, security agencies in the capital Islamabad found two mortar shells without fuses near the city’s convention centre, the Geo news channel reported.

Iran says using new stealth drone

Khaleej Times Online - Iran says using new stealth drone: "TEHERAN - Iran said on Saturday it has started mass producing and using a stealth drone with a range of 700 kilometres (420 miles) that it claims is undetectable to radars.

“We have built a drone with a more than 700-kilometre range which can collect information and shoot films,” the head of the elite Revolutionary Guards, General Yahya Rahim Safavi, told Iran’s Arabic-language satellite news channel Al Alam.

“The material and the shape of this drone make it undetectable for radars, so it can not be targeted,” he added.

“The drone has passed its experimental phase and it is being mass produced, and we are currently using it in our operations,” Rahim Safavi, said without giving more details.

His announcement comes a few days after troops under his command successfully tested a land-to-sea missile with a range of about 350 kilometres (210 miles) and a new Russian-made air defence missile system.

Iranian leaders have repeatedly said the Islamic republic’s armed forces are ready for any eventuality in the current standoff with the West over its nuclear programme.

Although the United States has said it wants the standoff resolved through diplomacy, Washington has never ruled out military action to thwart Iran’s atomic drive.

The United States accuses Iran of seeking a nuclear weapon. Teheran vehemently denies the charges, insisting its atomic programme is peaceful in nature."

Khaleej Times Online - Blast at ICRC Pakistan office damages vehicles

Khaleej Times Online - Blast at ICRC Pakistan office damages vehicles: "ISLAMABAD - An explosive device thrown into a compound damaged four vehicles belonging to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in northwest Pakistan on Saturday, but there were no casualties.

“Early in the morning something was thrown inside the ICRC compound in Peshawar and damaged four vehicles and some property, but caused no injuries or fatalities,” ICRC spokesman Raza Hamdani told Reuters.

The ICRC has suspended field operations in Peshawar pending a security review while police investigate.
This is the second attack on a foreign aid agency in North West Frontier Province this week.

On Monday, a grenade was thrown at a compound of the US Save the Children aid group in Battagram, wounding two Pakistani employees.

Foreign aid groups, helping communities recovering from a devastating earthquake in late 2005, say they have been threatened by hardline Islamist groups opposed to their work with women."

Army sticks to original date for new body armor

Stars & Stripes: "ARLINGTON, Va. — Soldiers waiting for new body armor will have to keep waiting.
The Army will not issue new body armor to soldiers earlier than previously planned, Army officials said."

The Army plans to issue the next generation of body armor as part of the Future Force Warrior system in fiscal 2010 or 2012. That timetable has not changed, said Maj. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sorenson, who handles Army acquisition, technology and logistics issues.

The Marine Corps has no firm timeline to begin issuing the next generation of body armor, but it hopes to do so over the next two to three years, said Capt. Jeff Landis, a spokesman for Marine Corps Systems Command. The driving factor will be when the industry can develop material that is lighter and more flexible than what Marines wear now.

In October, an official with the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Center in Massachusetts said the Army may try to get the new body armor to soldiers earlier than 2010, by issuing it along with the new Land Warrior System, a series of sensors that soldiers can wear. But on Wednesday, Sorenson told reporters the Army has decided to limit the Land Warrior program to just one brigade for now.

“We have not planned at this point in time any follow-on procurements, as I mentioned before, that is a ‘maybe to happen later’ depending upon what the results of — how it functions in theater and what the soldiers’ demand is for additional systems,” he said.

Asked if the Army planned to issue new body armor to soldiers before fiscal 2010 or 2012, Sorenson said, “not at this point in time.”

“We are not doing anything other than the IBA (Individual Body Armor) that we have fielded, we’re not changing that,” Sorenson said. The new body armor is still in development, but he noted that soldiers’ current body armor is “unequivocally the best that is available today.”

The Army’s new body armor will have six ceramic ballistic plates, as opposed to the four plates used in current body armor. The plates would be 12 percent larger than current Small Arms Protective Inserts and would be shaped to provide more protection along the spine and for the front, back and sides.

The new body armor is slated to undergo formal tests in fiscal 2008. Before the body armor can be fielded, researchers must prove that the shaped ballistic plates provide just as much protection as current SAPI plates.

“The future body armor has not gone through all its qualification tests, has not been certified, has not been fully validated in tests, so at this point in time it’s not ready for fielding,” Sorenson said. “As soon as it is ready for fielding, we will begin to field it, but at this point in time it is not.”

[bth: Sorenson isn't telling the truth. Dragon Skin is far superior right now to current armor and probably exceeds any specs set for 2010. Sorenson also lied in 2006 about air force testing results of Dragon Skin saying it failed tests when in fact it did not. It is a shame that soldiers and marines have to die over this kind of dishonest crap by a general that will never be held to account.]

Target Iran: US able to strike in the spring

Target Iran: US able to strike in the spring Iran Guardian Unlimited: "US preparations for an air strike against Iran are at an advanced stage, in spite of repeated public denials by the Bush administration, according to informed sources in Washington.

The present military build-up in the Gulf would allow the US to mount an attack by the spring. But the sources said that if there was an attack, it was more likely next year, just before Mr Bush leaves office."

Neo-conservatives, particularly at the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute, are urging Mr Bush to open a new front against Iran. So too is the vice-president, Dick Cheney. The state department and the Pentagon are opposed, as are Democratic congressmen and the overwhelming majority of Republicans. The sources said Mr Bush had not yet made a decision. The Bush administration insists the military build-up is not offensive but aimed at containing Iran and forcing it to make diplomatic concessions. The aim is to persuade Tehran to curb its suspect nuclear weapons programme and abandon ambitions for regional expansion.

Robert Gates, the new US defence secretary, said yesterday: "I don't know how many times the president, secretary [of state Condoleezza] Rice and I have had to repeat that we have no intention of attacking Iran."

But Vincent Cannistraro, a Washington-based intelligence analyst, shared the sources' assessment that Pentagon planning was well under way. "Planning is going on, in spite of public disavowals by Gates. Targets have been selected. For a bombing campaign against nuclear sites, it is quite advanced. The military assets to carry this out are being put in place."

He added: "We are planning for war. It is incredibly dangerous."

Deployment

Mr Cannistraro, who worked for the CIA and the National Security Council, stressed that no decision had been made.

Last month Mr Bush ordered a second battle group led by the aircraft carrier USS John Stennis to the Gulf in support of the USS Eisenhower. The USS Stennis is due to arrive within the next 10 days. Extra US Patriot missiles have been sent to the region, as well as more minesweepers, in anticipation of Iranian retaliatory action.

In another sign that preparations are under way, Mr Bush has ordered oil reserves to be stockpiled.
The danger is that the build-up could spark an accidental war. Iranian officials said on Thursday that they had tested missiles capable of hitting warships in the Gulf.

Colonel Sam Gardiner, a former air force officer who has carried out war games with Iran as the target, supported the view that planning for an air strike was under way: "Gates said there is no planning for war. We know this is not true. He possibly meant there is no plan for an immediate strike. It was sloppy wording.

"All the moves being made over the last few weeks are consistent with what you would do if you were going to do an air strike. We have to throw away the notion the US could not do it because it is too tied up in Iraq. It is an air operation."

One of the main driving forces behind war, apart from the vice-president's office, is the AEI, headquarters of the neo-conservatives. A member of the AEI coined the slogan "axis of evil" that originally lumped Iran in with Iraq and North Korea. Its influence on the White House appeared to be in decline last year amid endless bad news from Iraq, for which it had been a cheerleader. But in the face of opposition from Congress, the Pentagon and state department, Mr Bush opted last month for an AEI plan to send more troops to Iraq. Will he support calls from within the AEI for a strike on Iran?

Josh Muravchik, a Middle East specialist at the AEI, is among its most vocal supporters of such a strike.

"I do not think anyone in the US is talking about invasion. We have been chastened by the experience of Iraq, even a hawk like myself." But an air strike was another matter. The danger of Iran having a nuclear weapon "is not just that it might use it out of the blue but as a shield to do all sorts of mischief. I do not believe there will be any way to stop this happening other than physical force."

Mr Bush is part of the American generation that refuses to forgive Iran for the 1979-81 hostage crisis. He leaves office in January 2009 and has said repeatedly that he does not want a legacy in which Iran has achieved superpower status in the region and come close to acquiring a nuclear weapon capability. The logic of this is that if diplomatic efforts fail to persuade Iran to stop uranium enrichment then the only alternative left is to turn to the military.

Mr Muravchik is intent on holding Mr Bush to his word: "The Bush administration have said they would not allow Iran nuclear weapons. That is either bullshit or they mean it as a clear code: we will do it if we have to. I would rather believe it is not hot air."

Other neo-cons elsewhere in Washington are opposed to an air strike but advocate a different form of military action, supporting Iranian armed groups, in particular the Mujahideen-e Khalq (MEK), even though the state department has branded it a terrorist organisation.

Raymond Tanter, founder of the Iran Policy Committee, which includes former officials from the White House, state department and intelligence services, is a leading advocate of support for the MEK. If it comes to an air strike, he favours bunker-busting bombs. "I believe the only way to get at the deeply buried sites at Natanz and Arak is probably to use bunker-buster bombs, some of which are nuclear tipped. I do not believe the US would do that but it has sold them to Israel."

Opposition support

Another neo-conservative, Meyrav Wurmser, director of the centre for Middle East policy at the Hudson Institute, also favours supporting Iranian opposition groups. She is disappointed with the response of the Bush administration so far to Iran and said that if the aim of US policy after 9/11 was to make the Middle East safer for the US, it was not working because the administration had stopped at Iraq. "There is not enough political will for a strike. There seems to be various notions of what the policy should be."

In spite of the president's veto on negotiation with Tehran, the state department has been involved since 2003 in back-channel approaches and meetings involving Iranian officials and members of the Bush administration or individuals close to it. But when last year the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, sent a letter as an overture, the state department dismissed it within hours of its arrival.

Support for negotiations comes from centrist and liberal thinktanks. Afshin Molavi, a fellow of the New America Foundation, said: "To argue diplomacy has not worked is false because it has not been tried. Post-90s and through to today, when Iran has been ready to dance, the US refused, and when the US has been ready to dance, Iran has refused. We are at a stage where Iran is ready to walk across the dance floor and the US is looking away."

He is worried about "a miscalculation that leads to an accidental war".

The catalyst could be Iraq. The Pentagon said yesterday that it had evidence - serial numbers of projectiles as well as explosives - of Iraqi militants' weapons that had come from Iran. In a further sign of the increased tension, Iran's main nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, cancelled a visit to Munich for what would have been the first formal meeting with his western counterparts since last year.

If it does come to war, Mr Muravchik said Iran would retaliate, but that on balance it would be worth it to stop a country that he said had "Death to America" as its official slogan.

"We have to gird our loins and prepare to absorb the counter-shock," he said.
War of words

"If Iran escalates its military action in Iraq to the detriment of our troops and/or innocent Iraqi people, we will respond firmly"George Bush, in an interview with National Public Radio

"The Iranians clearly believe that we are tied down in Iraq, that they have the initiative, that they are in position to press us in many ways. They are doing nothing to be constructive in Iraq at this point"Robert Gates

"I think it's been pretty well-known that Iran is fishing in troubled waters"Dick Cheney
"It is absolutely parallel. They're using the same dance steps - demonise the bad guys, the pretext of diplomacy, keep out of negotiations, use proxies. It is Iraq redux"Philip Giraldi, a former CIA counter- terrorism specialist, in Vanity Fair, on echoes of the run-up to the war in Iraq

"US policymakers and analysts know that the Iranian nation would not let an invasion go without a response. Enemies of the Islamic system fabricated various rumours about death and health to demoralise the Iranian nation, but they did not know that they are not dealing with only one person in Iran. They are facing a nation"Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

Al-Qaeda Suspects Color White House Debate Over Iran

Al-Qaeda Suspects Color White House Debate Over Iran - washingtonpost.com: "Last week, the CIA sent an urgent report to President Bush's National Security Council: Iranian authorities had arrested two al-Qaeda operatives traveling through Iran on their way from Pakistan to Iraq. The suspects were caught along a well-worn, if little-noticed, route for militants determined to fight U.S. troops on Iraqi soil, according to a senior intelligence official.Last week, the CIA sent an urgent report to President Bush's National Security Council: Iranian authorities had arrested two al-Qaeda operatives traveling through Iran on their way from Pakistan to Iraq. The suspects were caught along a well-worn, if little-noticed, route for militants determined to fight U.S. troops on Iraqi soil, according to a senior intelligence official."

The arrests were presented to Bush's senior policy advisers as evidence that Iran appears committed to stopping al-Qaeda foot traffic across its borders, the intelligence official said. That assessment comes at a time when the Bush administration, in an effort to push for further U.N. sanctions on the Islamic republic, is preparing to publicly accuse Tehran of cooperating with and harboring al-Qaeda suspects.

The strategy has sparked a growing debate within the administration and the intelligence community, according to U.S. intelligence and government officials. One faction is pressing for more economic embargoes against Iran, including asset freezes and travel bans for the country's top leaders. But several senior intelligence and counterterrorism officials worry that a public push regarding the al-Qaeda suspects held in Iran could jeopardize U.S. intelligence-gathering and prompt the Iranians to free some of the most wanted individuals.

"There was real debate about all this," said one counterterrorism official. "If we go public, the Iranians could turn them loose." The official added: "At this point, we know where these guys are and at least they are off the streets. We could lose them for years if we go down this path."

The administration's planned diplomatic offensive is part of an effort to pressure Tehran from multiple directions. Bush has given the U.S. military the authority to kill or capture Iranian government agents working with Shiite militias inside Iraq. Yesterday, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said serial numbers and markings on some explosives used in Iraq indicate that the material came from Iran, but he offered no evidence.

With the aim of shaking Tehran's commitment to its nuclear program, Bush also approved last fall secret operations to target Iranian influence in southern Lebanon, in western Afghanistan, in the Palestinian territories and inside Iran. The new strategy, a senior administration official said, aims to portray Iran as a "terror-producing country, instead of an oil-producing country," with links to al-Qaeda, Hezbollah and death squads in Iraq.

U.S. officials have asserted for years that several dozen al-Qaeda fighters, including Osama bin Laden's son, slipped across the Afghan border into Iran as U.S. troops hunted for the perpetrators of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. U.S. and allied intelligence services, which have monitored the men's presence inside Iran, reported that Tehran was holding them under house arrest as bargaining chips for potential deals with Washington.

Last fall, Bush administration officials asked the CIA to compile a list of those suspects so the White House could publicize their presence. For years, the administration has not revealed their names, in part because it sought to protect its intelligence sources but also because at the time the U.S. government was concealing the identities of suspects it was holding in secret CIA custody.

But the names of some of the men in Iran have become public, including "high-value" targets such as al-Qaeda spokesman Sulaiman Abu Ghaith of Kuwait and Saif al-Adel of Egypt. U.S. intelligence officials said they are members of the "al-Qaeda operational management committee." U.S. intelligence officials said there are suspicions, but no proof, that one of them may have been involved from afar in planning an attack in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in May 2003. Intelligence officials said bin Laden's son Saad is also being held with the other men in Iran.

Five administration officials were made available for interviews for this story on the condition that they not be identified. Other officials who spoke without permission -- including senior officials, career analysts and policymakers -- said their standing with the White House would be at risk if they were quoted by name.

The State Department, Pentagon and CIA referred all questions about the story to the National Security Council. In a written response to questions, NSC spokesman Gordon Johndroe said: "Iran's sponsorship of terrorism is one of the reasons for the sanctions now against it. We note that U.N. Security Council resolutions already oblige all states to ensure that members of terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda, are brought to justice."

Since al-Qaeda fighters began streaming into Iran from Afghanistan in the winter of 2001, Tehran had turned over hundreds of people to U.S. allies and provided U.S. intelligence with the names, photographs and fingerprints of those it held in custody, according to senior U.S. intelligence and administration officials. In early 2003, it offered to hand over the remaining high-value targets directly to the United States if Washington would turn over a group of exiled Iranian militants hiding in Iraq.

Some of Bush's top advisers pushed for the trade, arguing that taking custody of bin Laden's son and the others would produce new leads on al-Qaeda. They were also willing to trade away the exiles -- members of a group on the State Department's terrorist list -- who had aligned with Saddam Hussein in an effort to overthrow the Iranian government.

Officials have said Bush ultimately rejected the exchange on the advice of Vice President Cheney and then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who argued that any engagement would legitimize Iran and other state sponsors of terrorism. Bush's National Security Council agreed to accept information from Iran on al-Qaeda but offer nothing in return, officials said.

But no information has been forthcoming, intelligence officials said. One official said the CIA and the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency have disagreed over how effectively the Iranians are controlling al-Qaeda members and whether the Tehran government is aware of the extent of al-Qaeda movements through the country.

Nevertheless, administration officials said they are determined to press Iran on the matter.
"We are not convinced that the Iranians have been honest or open about the level or degree of al-Qaeda presence in their midst," said one Bush adviser who was instrumental in coming up with a more confrontational U.S. approach to Iran. "They have not made proper accounting with respect to U.N. resolutions, have not been clear about who is in detention and have not been clear as to what is happening to individuals who might be in custody."

Bush administration officials pointed to U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1267 and 1373, which state that harboring al-Qaeda members constitutes a threat to international peace and security, and authorize force to combat that threat. The resolutions compel nations to share any information on al-Qaeda suspects and give the United Nations authority to freeze the assets of suspects and those who provide them with safe haven.

Two U.S. officials said the administration plans to argue that Iran is violating those resolutions. A team of senior U.S. officials has been holding briefings for visiting European diplomats on the issue while administration lawyers prepare options for holding Iran in violation of U.N. resolutions.

"We've started a more aggressive and major attempt to try to convince other countries to use their influence on this issue," a senior U.S. diplomat said. "Until now, the Europeans have been focused on the nuclear issue and we want this high up on the agenda."

But another government official predicted that no European country would support a call on Iran to turn the al-Qaeda group over to U.S. military detention at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a facility widely condemned by Washington's closest allies. In the past year, U.S. officials said they successfully pushed Egypt, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to seek extradition of their citizens held in Iran, but Tehran rebuffed the requests. Administration officials said they interpreted the refusal as evidence of cooperation between the Iranian government and the group.

"We'd be happy to see them face trial anywhere," a senior administration official said.

Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report

'NYT' Reporter Who Got Iraqi WMDs Wrong, Now Covers Iran Claims

'NYT' Reporter Who Got Iraqi WMDs Wrong, Now Covers Iran Claims: "NEW YORK Saturday’s New York Times features an article, posted at the top of its Web site late Friday, that suggests very strongly that Iran is supplying the “deadliest weapon aimed at American troops” in Iraq. The author notes, “Any assertion of an Iranian contribution to attacks on Americans in Iraq is both politically and diplomatically volatile.”

What is the source of this volatile information? Nothing less than “civilian and military officials from a broad range of government agencies.”

Sound pretty convincing? It may be worth noting that the author is Michael R. Gordon, the same Times reporter who, on his own, or with Judith Miller, wrote some of the key, and badly misleading or downright inaccurate, articles about Iraqi WMDs in the run-up to the 2003 invasion. "

In fact, he wrote with Miller the most widely criticized one of all, even by the Times itself, the Sept. 8, 2002, “aluminum tubes” story that proved so influential, especially since the administration trumpeted it on TV talk shows. When the Times eventually carried an editors’ note that admitted some of its Iraq coverage was wrong and/or overblown, it noted that the Sept. 8, 2002, article on page one of the newspaper "gave the first detailed account of the aluminum tubes. The article cited unidentified senior administration officials who insisted that the dimensions, specifications and numbers of tubes sought showed that they were intended for a nuclear weapons program." This, of course, proved bogus....

[bth: This is occuring because the news is being planted. What is amazing is that the NYTs is letting it happen. ]

Tom Vilsack - Congress Must Act On Iraq - washingtonpost.com

Tom Vilsack - Congress Must Act On Iraq - washingtonpost.com: "Think of the last time you were in a public place with 1,000 people -- a sports event, a Fourth of July parade, a concert.
Now imagine all 1,000 of those people dead.

If the number of American military deaths in Iraq in recent years is any guide, that's how many Americans will die in that country in the next year if Congress doesn't act immediately to take our troops out of harm's way in Iraq's civil war.Think of the last time you were in a public place with 1,000 people -- a sports event, a Fourth of July parade, a concert.

Now imagine all 1,000 of those people dead.

If the number of American military deaths in Iraq in recent years is any guide, that's how many Americans will die in that country in the next year if Congress doesn't act immediately to take our troops out of harm's way in Iraq's civil war."

Now imagine the 5,000 more Americans likely to be wounded and maimed if Congress doesn't fulfill its duty to get our young men and women out of Iraq's war zone.

In each of the past three years, more than 820 American soldiers have been killed in the war. Given the increased violence this year, America is on pace to lose more than 1,000 soldiers in Iraq. Over 23,000 American soldiers have been wounded since the war began, nearly 6,000 each year. It is time for us to clearly say that our troops must be brought home now.

Military commanders in Iraq, the Iraq Study Group and the American people have all said the status quo is wrong. Further, the president's closest intelligence and military advisers state in the latest National Intelligence Estimate that Iraq is in the throes of a civil war and that the capacity of U.S. troops to influence the outcome is severely limited. This war will end only with a political solution -- not a military one.

Members of Congress have a constitutional and moral obligation to exercise their authority to stop funding President Bush's failed policy in Iraq. Not eventually, but immediately.

The war in Iraq and the president's mismanagement of our military resources have recklessly endangered our national security and depleted our military and National Guard units across America. By nearly every standard, the homeland security of our country has been weakened and compromised by the president's policies and a lack of congressional oversight.

It has been said that all our options in Iraq are bad, but some options are worse than others. Leaving American troops in harm's way while acknowledging that they have little to accomplish is the worst-case scenario. Congress has the ability to pull our combat brigades out of the most violent areas, maintain a strategic military presence in northern Iraq and bring the rest of our troops home now.

Nearly a year ago, I went to Iraq to hear firsthand from U.S. troops, military leaders and Iraqis.

This is what I heard from our military commanders: If the Iraqi government can't provide better security for its people in six months, U.S. troops in central and southern Iraq should leave. That time has now come and gone -- and so should our servicemen and women who are needlessly in danger.

Unfortunately, this administration refuses to listen to our military leaders or our citizens. So the question is: What will Congress do?

Congress has the constitutional ability and the moral responsibility to pass legislation cutting off funding for the status quo.

Not one soldier will or should be deprived of ammunition or armor.

A modest number of peacekeeping troops would temporarily remain in northern Iraq, protect civilians against sectarian violence, discourage Iran from border incursions and help maintain regional stability -- without recklessly endangering American lives.

As governor, I called 43 Iowa families after their loved ones had been killed in Iraq or Afghanistan. These soldiers and their families made a tremendous sacrifice to protect our freedom and help keep America safe. Make no mistake, our soldiers have done the job they were asked to do, and they have done it well.

But too many of these patriots have made the ultimate sacrifice.

Supporting a cap on troops is really just support for staying the course with a failed policy. A toothless congressional resolution is meaningless. And a delay in congressional action will guarantee that more American soldiers will die.

Those who voted for the war, those who voted to continue to support the war and those who voted to continue funding the war can all surely vote to stop the war and do what's right for our military personnel and nation.

Not in 2008 or 2009, but now.

The writer, a former governor of Iowa, is a Democratic candidate for president.

IraqSlogger: The Finger Points at Iran But Not Saudi Arabia

IraqSlogger: The Finger Points at Iran But Not Saudi Arabia: "This weekend the U.S. will reveal a laundry list of evidence that Iran is involved in Iraq's violence. "

Highlights will include proof that Iran is supplying support to Shia groups. The much awaited evidence seems to support much of an orchestrated campaign and steady build up to a confrontation with Iran.

The evidence was supposed to be released last week but official decided to make sure there were no errors. The evidence comes from interrogations, serial numbers, captured documents, weapons and personnel. In all there is supposed to be a pile of documents two inches thick that supports the administrations claims.

Among the hard evidence there will be proof of Iran supplying:

- Money - Weapons Components - Explosively Formed Projectiles - Bomb Components - Surface to Air Missiles - Weapons - Explosives - Training and Personnel

The U.S. will also assert the elements of the Revolutionary Guard are operational inside Iraq. The Iranians deny that they are involved or have people inside Iraq. There is no mention of support of other groups by other outside sources like the Sunnis in Al Anbar province. The information will not explain how the recent rash of helicopter crashes happened in Sunni neighborhoods. The Iraq Study Group pointed (on page 29) that "Funding for the Sunni insurgency comes from private individuals within Saudi Arabia".

Syria, Israel, Kurdish Diaspora, weathly Gulf Patrons, Shias and many others have also been accused of meddling (or helping) in Iraq's internal affairs.

Friday, February 09, 2007

FindLaw's Writ - Dean: Leading Experts Say Congress Must Stop An Attack on Iran Is That Constitutionally Possible?

FindLaw's Writ - Dean: Leading Experts Say Congress Must Stop An Attack on Iran Is That Constitutionally Possible?: "...In condensed form, with a few annotations, here is the text of the exchanges that occurred. They require no commentary:

SEN. KENNEDY: 'Question just quickly through the panel. Is the President required to seek authorization from Congress before using the military force against Iran?' "

DR. FISHER: "I think if there's some action that's a threat to U.S. soldiers I think a president has the power to repel sudden attacks, protect U.S. troops. Otherwise, if it goes beyond isolated incidents like that I think you're running into the preface of the Iraq Resolution, which …Congress amended … to make sure it applied only to Iraq. So I think by statute, by legislative policy, you can confine the President to Iraq." (Emphasis added.)

SEN. KENNEDY: "I'm interested in … what actions can Congress take now to ensure the President doesn't take us into war in Iran without congressional authorization."

PROF. BARRON: "The question of whether the President could right now initiate any actions against the Iran -- I think the proper way to think about it is what authority does he have under the current Iraq Authorization Statute, which would require some close consideration. . . . William Rehnquist [as an assistant attorney general] … thought that a statutory limitation on the exercise of such authority would be constitutionally valid. So I think the legal question then comes to . . . no doubt Congress could restrict him from going and widening the war, not just in terms of the amount of troops used, but in the geographic area covered, and the only issue is whether Congress has in effect already done so by virtue of the limitations and bounds of the Authorization to Use Military Force in Iraq that's already enacted." (Emphasis added.)

SEN. KENNEDY: "Yes, Professor Turner."

PROF. TURNER: "Senator, let me just make nuanced point on this. John Hart Ely in his War and Responsibility made the point that after Congress declared war against Germany, FDR did not need a new declaration of war to go into North Africa after the German forces. Going into Cambodia I think was perfectly legal because the North Vietnamese had taken over the whole side of Cambodia. . . . I could see a situation in which Iran became involved in the Iraq War where the President would be able to use force. . . . I think in terms of launching a major war against Iran he should get and would need an official [Congressional approval] for Iran. But there's some area in there where I think he could act." (Emphasis added.)

SEN. KENNEDY: "If Congress passed legislation requiring the President to seek authorization from Congress before using military force against Iran would the President be obliged to seek such authorization before launching military action?"

MR. BERENSON: "Senator Kennedy, I think the questions that you're posing falls into the sphere . . . of shared powers, and it's important to recognize that for very important institutional reasons the President is the first mover and the prime mover in this area of shared powers. That has to do with the fact that unlike Congress which needs to go through an often time consuming and difficult legislative process, a process that can sometimes be stymied, the President has the ability to receive information in real time to act to protect the national security. So the President through the [clause vesting him with executive power], through his executive authority in the absence of legislation to the contrary by the Congress, I think unquestionably would have authority to engage Iran in hostilities, whether in defense of our forces inside the borders of Iraq or if he decided that we needed to do something to address Iran's nuclear facilities. I do not think he would be acting outside the scope of his constitutional authority. That said, for major military actions most presidents have recognized the importance of coming to Congress as a political and practical matter. It is certainly unwise, if not unconstitutional, to try to engage in large scale hostilities or engage a new enemy in warfare without public support. And the best way to ensure that at the outset is, of course, to come to Congress." (Emphasis added.)
SEN. KENNEDY: "My time, Mr. Chairman, is up. Mr. Dellinger -"

PROF. DELLINGER: "Briefly, I agree with Mr. Berenson's statement. I believe that the President does have the authority to introduce U.S. troops into situations of hostilities, including in Iran, in the absence of congressional limitation as long as the anticipated scope and duration does not amount to a war. I don't believe he has the authority to send 500,000 troops into Iran, but he does have the authority to deploy U.S. forces in hostilities…. That said, it is also clear that Congress can impose limits either before or after the fact on the size, scope, and duration of that. But I do believe there's a consensus in the Executive Branch position that the President has the authority to deploy U.S. forces into hostilities when Congress has not spoken to the question." (Emphasis added.)

* * *

In sum, as I read both the general statements of these experts, and their specific answers to Senator Kennedy's question about Iran, everyone agrees that Congress has the power to prevent a president from going to war.

The only question that is doubtful, then, is whether the members of Congress actually have the will to do so. This, I suspect, is what James Fallows concluded, when he said that, at best, they might draw a line.
Of course, George W. Bush and Richard B. Cheney know this too, so they will do whatever they wish to do - and Congress may or may not catch up. But there is no real question as to whether Congress could legally stop Bush and Cheney from going to war in Iran without coming to Congress to fully explain what they are doing and why. Congress has that power; the only question is whether it will dare to use it.

[bth: interesting and informative.]
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Corruption, incompetence plague Iraqi forces, reporter finds

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Many of the Iraqi forces whom the U.S. is counting on to defeat Sunni Muslim insurgents, disarm Shiite Muslim gunmen and assume responsibility for keeping the peace have been infiltrated by sectarian militias and are plagued by incompetence and corruption.

Two weeks with American units that patrolled with Iraqi forces in west and east Baghdad found that Iraqi officers sold new uniforms meant for their troops, and that their soldiers wore plastic shower sandals while manning checkpoints, abused prisoners and solicited bribes to free suspects they'd captured.

During a patrol last week in a violent west Baghdad neighborhood that's the scene of regular sniper fire at U.S. and Iraqi troops, Staff Sgt. Jeremie Oliver saw Iraqi soldiers gathered in the middle of the road, near a streetlight, making them an easy target for gunmen on the surrounding rooftops.

Thinking that something might be wrong, Oliver, 30, of Farmington, Maine, jogged over. The Iraqis were looking at pornography on a cell phone.

The shortcomings that Oliver and other U.S. soldiers observed in the Iraqi troops are at the heart of America's dilemma in Iraq. If the country's police officers and soldiers aren't able to secure the capital, a U.S. withdrawal almost certainly would mean even more widespread carnage. Continuing to prop up the Iraqi forces, however, almost certainly would lead to more American casualties, but not necessarily to victory.

Iraqi troops are "immeasurably" better than they were, and they continue "to gain in both confidence and in capability," U.S. Army Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said Monday.

Although the U.S. has spent $15.4 billion since 2003 to train and equip Iraqi forces, Caldwell conceded that the country's military and security forces still have "deficiencies in both leadership and logistics, and have yet to win the trust of Iraq's ethnic and sectarian communities."

"If we don't give them some kind of lead in this, we will be here forever," said U.S. Staff Sgt. Erik Helton, who patrols in east Baghdad with the 1st Infantry Division. "But half the Iraqi army is either sympathetic to (sectarian militias) or are actual members."

American forces usually keep the Iraqis in the dark about upcoming operations, said Helton, 27, of Richlands, Va. "We're careful not to give them information before a raid. Who knows who they're affiliated with or who they're going to call?" he said.

The declassified version of a report last month by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said sectarian divisions "erode the dependability of many units, many are hampered by personnel and equipment shortfalls, and a number of Iraqi units have refused to serve outside of the areas where they were recruited."

Despite improvements, the report concluded, Iraqi forces "will be hard pressed in the next 12-18 months to execute significantly increased security responsibilities, and particularly to operate independently against Shia militias with success."

At a news briefing, Navy Rear Adm. Mark Fox said American commanders "understand that there are a lot of issues in terms of loyalty and previous alliances, so it's not something that we can snap our fingers and turn on a dime."
"But I think it's recognized at all levels that this is something that we've got to work very hard and we're committed to it," said Fox, a top U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad. "I think that the months to come will tell, quite frankly."

Interviews with U.S. soldiers, and reporting from accompanying them on patrols, made it clear that there are profound problems with the Iraqi troops, ranging from worries that they're operating on behalf of Shiite death squads to aggravation with their refusal to carry out basic tasks such as wearing flak vests.

In a west Baghdad neighborhood where bodies often turn up beside the road, facedown on the pavement with bullets in their heads, U.S. Army 1st Lt. Brendan Griswold looked on last week as Iraqi soldiers patted down three men at a checkpoint and thumbed through their documents. The Iraqi soldiers found a fake Iraqi passport on one of the men, whom they suspected was Jordanian and possibly an insurgent.

Griswold didn't stir, determined to let the Iraqis conduct the search on their own.

"I like going out with some of them. But some of the others are hard to control; they run away when things happen," said the 24-year-old 1st Cavalry Division platoon commander from Leavenworth, Kan.
An Iraqi soldier approached him. "Where do we put them?" he asked.

Griswold pointed to the Iraqi army Humvees in front of him. Iraqi soldiers grabbed the three men, opened the back trunks of their Humvees and started to stuff them inside.

"No, not in there," Griswold yelled, as he cussed under his breath and walked over to supervise.

After he made sure the detainees were seated in the Humvees, the convoy drove to an Iraqi army intelligence office. The Iraqi troops led the three men into what looked like a darkened closet. Griswold asked the Iraqis not to abuse the detainees, then shook hands and said goodbye. As he left the intelligence building, he asked his interpreter what the Iraqi troops would do to the detainees.

"They were asking them how much they would pay to be released," the interpreter replied with a grin.

Staff Sgt. Isaac Hernandez, 30, of Brownsville, Texas, said that a group of Iraqi soldiers at a west Baghdad checkpoint recently found mortars in a car. "They beat the hell out of those guys," said Hernandez, a 1st Cavalry Division trooper. "But before you talk about Iraqi army brutality, you should spend time at these IA (Iraqi army) checkpoints: They get snipers, small arms fire and car bombs."

On a patrol in east Baghdad, Capt. Dave Eastburn, a company commander in the 2nd Infantry Division, came upon a civilian car stopped in the road with a cluster of Iraqi police trucks nearby. Two dead men were in the middle of the street. "When we rolled up, the guy had been dead for 15 minutes; the police said they didn't know what had happened," said Eastburn, 30, of Columbus, Ohio. "But we found (police-issued) 9 mm shells on the ground."

The shortcomings of Iraqi units make it difficult at times for U.S. soldiers to know what, exactly, is going on.

On a patrol in west Baghdad with Iraqi soldiers last week, 1st Lt. Schuyler Williamson told his driver to stop as Iraqi soldiers pulled a car over. Williamson got out of his Humvee and asked why they'd stopped the car. The Iraqi lieutenant, who gave his first name as Zuhair, didn't respond.

Williamson stood and watched for a few minutes. The Iraqis looked as if they were going to detain the two men in the car, whom they were starting to shove around.

When a reporter walked up, Zuhair said in broken English, "No come back here!" He dragged one of the men to the back seat of a Humvee.

Williamson asked again: "Why are you detaining them?"


Zuhair didn't respond.
Williamson, 24, of Pensacola, Fla., turned to his interpreter and asked, "Why are they detaining them?" The interpreter asked Zuhair, who still didn't respond.

"Why the hell are we detaining them?" Williamson asked.

Still no answer.

Williamson walked back to his Humvee and screamed a string of obscenities.

The Iraqis took the two men back to the intelligence section at their base. One of the men had an identification card naming him as a lieutenant in the Interior Ministry. The card, which appeared to be of high quality, was a fake, Zuhair said.

The two men, said Zuhair - who's a Shiite - were Sunnis who'd been trolling the streets for Shiites to kidnap and kill.

A group of Iraqi soldiers took one of the men into a back room. There was yelling and what sounded like someone being punched, followed by a pounding noise. More yelling followed.

Williamson left a few minutes later, not knowing whether the two men were innocents detained by vengeful soldiers or members of a death squad picked up because of vigilant soldiers.

Asked which he thought it was, Williamson said: "I wouldn't be surprised either way."

[bth: consistent excellent reporting by Tom Lasseter.]
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Gitmos latest addition
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Sunni insurgents offer to negotiate U.S. exit

Sunni insurgents offer to negotiate U.S. exit News This is London: "Iraqi Sunni insurgents have offered a ceasefire in return for US concessions. But the terms laid out by the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Resistance Movement, are so extreme that the US seems unlikely to agree. "

It is the first time a resistance organisation has suggested the possibility of negotiations with the occupying forces.

The "20th Revolution Brigades", part of the movement led by Abu Salih Al-Jeelani, say they will negotiate specific demands in return for "allowing" the US to pull out of Iraq.

These include an end to the Iraqi constitution and guaranteed security during negotiations, which they want the UN, the Arab League or the Islamic Conference to conduct. Their demands also include:

* The release of 5,000 detainees held in Iraqi prisons as "proof of goodwill".

* Recognition "of the legitimacy of the resistance and the acknowledgement it represents the will of the Iraqi people.

* The negotiations to take place in public.

* The resistance "must be represented by a committee comprising the representatives of all the jihadist brigades".

* America to be represented by its ambassador in Iraq and the most senior commander.

The terms also include the legalisation of the old Iraqi army and an "Anglo-American commitment to rebuild Iraq and reconstruct all war damage".

Its statement said: "Discussions and negotiations are a principle we believe in to overcome the situation in which Iraqi bloodletting continues. Should the Americans wish to negotiate their withdrawal from our country and leave our people to live in peace, then we will negotiate subject to specific conditions and circumstances."

Al-Jeelani said: "The resistance groups are not committing crimes to be granted a pardon by America, we are not looking for pretexts to cease our jihad... we fight for a divine aim and one of our rights is the liberation and independence of Iraq."

However, the group says it will not negotiate with the current Iraqi government because it considers the authority "complicit in the slaughter of Iraqis by militias, the security apparatus and death squads".

• Three American soldiers were killed yesterday in Iraq's western Anbar province. The soldiers, who were assigned to Multi-National Force - West, died while conducting combat operations in the insurgent stronghold west of Baghdad.

[bth: this aptly illustrates why there will be no comprehensive negotiated resolution with the Sunnis in Iraq. We need to step back and put a little geographic distance between us and them. We won't be friends - just out of range.]
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House Democrats Set Framework for Iraq Vote

House Democrats Set Framework for Iraq Vote - New York Times: "WASHINGTON, Feb. 8 — House Democratic leaders said today that the Iraq war resolution scheduled to be debated next week would be limited to President Bush’s plan to dispatch more troops to Baghdad, leaving any controversial decisions over war spending for a later discussion."

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, and other party leaders met with members of the Democratic caucus for more than an hour today to discuss the framework of the first major debate over Iraq since Democrats took control of Congress last month. The three-day debate is set to begin next Tuesday.

The leaders reassured Democrats that the nonbinding, symbolic vote against the troop buildup plan would be the first — not the final — expression of opposition to the war. A letter signed by 71 House Democrats urged the party’s leaders to take a stronger stance, including outlining a six-month troop withdrawal plan.

“There’s no doubt that everybody in the caucus understands that this is a first step — an important step for Congress to express their view of support or opposition to the escalation and the increase of troop levels,” said Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the majority leader.

The Iraq resolution will allow lawmakers to voice their support for the troops, Mr. Hoyer said, even as they state their opposition to the Bush administration’s Iraq policy....

[bth: the American public is so far beyond these simpletons and their so called debate that the House resolution isn't even relevant - just part of a cowardly, too little too late leadership initiative]
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An unrealistic budget

An unrealistic budget ScrippsNews: "President Bush's spending blueprint for the rest of his term is what his father used to call 'voodoo economics' _ cut taxes, increase spending on the military and balance the budget _ with a lot of devils in the details. "

Nobody is going to spend much time on the president's massive $2.9 trillion budget proposal as written. With Democrats controlling, barely, the House and Senate, it's proverbially dead on arrival. But it is important to look at the budget because this once-a-year exercise tells us where Bush wants to take us for the next two years.

The thinking in the White House is that if unrealistic budgeting was good enough for Ronald Reagan, it's good enough for his wannabe clone. But Reagan's sleight-of-hand figuring gave the country enormous deficits. Also, George W. Bush is not Ronald W. Reagan. This president has already spent his political capital on Iraq.

This White House is to be congratulated for finally including the cost of the war in Iraq in its budget _ instead of sending up off-budget spending resolutions, as it has been doing. (We will have spent more for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan than we did in Vietnam, even adjusted for inflation.) But the buck stops there.

The meat of the budget calls for making the president's tax cuts permanent (although that involves some untruthfulness, because the evil alternative minimum tax that will wallop the middle class upside the head harder each year is not dealt with in the budget). Nobody wants a tax increase, but the truth is that Bush's tax cuts are aimed at the wealthy, not the middle class.

White House insistence that this budget will balance the books in five years is preposterous. The idea is to end deficit spending by making deep, deep cuts in Medicare and Medicaid, which is not politically possible, and just about every other program to help the poor, the elderly and the lower middle class, veterans, the environment and little kids.

At the same time, billions more are to be spent _ not on armor and replacement equipment and training for the troops, but on pie-in-the sky military projects that are still in the drawing stage (the word "pork" comes to mind). And, oh yes, the president proposes to neatly end the war in Iraq by 2009. The budget calls for not a dime of spending in Iraq or Afghanistan after that. (What happens to al Qaeda and the "war on terror" is also a mystery.)

With our energy dependence on the Middle East a major worry, Bush proposes to spend more on ethanol, even though creating ethanol out of U.S. agricultural products takes a lot of energy in and of itself. But that inconvenience aside, industry officials are now saying the president's plan is rhetoric and little more. It is not, say the experts, the kind of massive new energy-independence program the president promised.

Bush's budget also shattered the dying myth that bipartisanship was going anywhere this year.

Democrats are calling the budget cynical and manipulative and dishonest and aimed at poking a stick in their eye. It's almost as though the election last November never happened, and the White House decided not to be realistic but to instead send up a dream book of what his brand of conservatism would like to have in a fantasy world. (You haven't heard the term "compassionate conservatism" from Bush in quite a while. This budget officially killed it.)

According to Rob Portman, a former Ohio congressman and the president's latest budget guru, one way to balance the budget is to improve tax collection and get more of those billions of dollars that having been eluding the IRS. No more tax fraud! (The idea is to give the IRS bureaucrats more to do their job. If only previous presidents had thought of that!)

Bush says his plan spends more on health coverage for uninsured children. He wants $5 billion to be spent by the federal government and the states. But experts say a minimum of $15 billion is needed just to keep children covered at the same level they are now. (Those kids might get their vaccinations, but they wouldn't be going to college. The budget proposes deep cuts in federal subsidies for student loans.)

Most improbably, the budget has virtually no room for emergencies. Another 9/11 or another Hurricane Katrina would bust the budget. There is no money for a rainy-day fund. But at the same time, the budget is in deficit for about $239 billion a year for the remaining time Bush is in office.

This is not a serious budget. It will not be treated seriously on Capitol Hill. It's almost as if the president doesn't really care anymore.

(Scripps Howard columnist Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986. E-mail amcfeatters(at)aol.com

[bth: its a budget sham. We slap the school lunches right out of the mouths of first graders and while giving tax credits to Exxon.]
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Iraq’s No. 2 Health Official Is Held and Accused of Financing Shiite Militants

Iraq’s No. 2 Health Official Is Held and Accused of Financing Shiite Militants - New York Times: "BAGHDAD, Feb. 8 — Iraqi and American troops arrested the second highest official in the Iraqi Health Ministry on Thursday, charging that he funneled millions of dollars to rogue Shiite militants who kidnapped and killed Iraqi civilians. "...

Pentagon Group Criticized for Prewar Intelligence Analysis

Pentagon Group Criticized for Prewar Intelligence Analysis - New York Times: "WASHINGTON, Feb. 8 — A Pentagon investigation into the handling of prewar intelligence has criticized civilian Pentagon officials for conducting their own intelligence analysis to find links between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda, but said the officials did not violate any laws or mislead Congress, according to Congressional officials who have read the report. "

The long-awaited report by the Pentagon’s acting inspector general, Thomas F. Gimble, was sent to Congress on Thursday. It is the first major review to rebuke senior officials working for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld for the way intelligence was used before the invasion of Iraq early in 2003.

Working under Douglas J. Feith, who at the time was under secretary of defense for policy, the group “developed, produced and then disseminated alternative intelligence assessments on the Iraq and Al Qaeda relationship, which included some conclusions that were inconsistent with the consensus of the Intelligence Community, to senior decision-makers,” the report concluded. Excerpts were quoted by Senator Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat who has long been critical of Mr. Feith and other Pentagon officials.

The report, and the dueling over its conclusions, shows that bitter divisions over the handling of prewar intelligence remain even after many of the substantive questions have been laid to rest and the principal actors have left the government.

In a rebuttal to an earlier draft of Mr. Gimble’s report, Eric S. Edelman, the under secretary of defense, said the group’s activities were authorized by Mr. Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul D. Wolfowitz. They did not produce formal intelligence assessments, and they were properly shared, the rebuttal said.
In a statement issued Thursday, Mr. Feith, who left the Pentagon in 2005, made similar points. Mr. Rumsfeld did not respond to telephone messages seeking comment.

According to Congressional officials, Mr. Feith’s statement and the policy office’s rebuttal, the report concluded that none of the Pentagon’s activities were illegal and that they did not violate Defense Department directives. ...

[bth: no one is held to account for fraudulently sending our country to war. Feith and Wolfowitz lost their security clearances because they were Israeli operatives, but that was whitewashed too. There is no accountability but there is a word to describe what they did - treason. But no one is held to account.]

Thursday, February 08, 2007

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PAKISTAN: INVESTIGATORS MAKE HEADWAY IN AIRPORT ATTACK PROBE

PAKISTAN: INVESTIGATORS MAKE HEADWAY IN AIRPORT ATTACK PROBE: "Islamabad, 8 Feb. (AKI/DAWN) - Pakistan's security agencies, investigating Tuesday's armed attack at Islamabad airport believe it was directly linked to some of the recent suicide attacks in the capital and in the North-West Frontier Province. Preliminary investigations and interrogation of one of those arrested has led to detention of four more militant suspects from the NWFP. A top security official said that based on intelligence collected so far, the government had been warned of the possibility of more such attacks by religious militants, possibly linked to the local Taliban based in the Waziristan region."

The exact identity of the person involved in the airport attack was yet to be established, but investigators said some clues suggested that he might have been from the Punjab. Atleast one person was killed and three injured in the explosion at the airport car park after a group of armed men was challenged by security guards. Three of the attackers were injured in an exchange of fire. One tried to throw a grenade, but died when it exploded.

The investigation team has also obtained footage of the armed attack captured by close circuit cameras of the airport and it is believed that they would help trace the identity of the terrorist.Senior officials told Pakistani daily Dawn that the government had received high security threats in Islamabad after which security had been beefed up in and around all important buildings, including Parliament House, Presidency, Prime Minister House and federal ministries, a senior security official told Dawn on Wednesday.

The latest attempt to target the Islamabad airport was foiled due to enhanced security by the Airport Security Force. So far most of the victims had been security personnel, both official and private, but had any, one of the bombers succeeded the consequences would have been disastrous.

One official said an intelligence agency had reported to the government that six suicide bombers had reached Islamabad to hit high-profile targets.

“The report seems to be based on facts because six out of two terrorists have already carried out attacks including the one at Marriott Hotel and the other who died during a fire-fight at the Islamabad Airport,” the official said.It is feared that the other four bombers can strike anywhere in the capital and most probably some VIPs or important buildings.


The official, however, said there was a possibility that the remaining terrorists had left the capital after finding it difficult to strike due to extraordinary security measures.Meanwhile, high security alert has been declared in Islamabad and strict checking of visitors is being conducted at the entrance of all important buildings. The employees of all government offices and federal ministries have been directed to display their official identity cards otherwise they would not be allowed to enter into their offices. C

hief Islamabad Police Commission Khalid Pervez said the assistance of private security agencies had also been sought and the staff of some restaurants and hotels had been imparted security training to enable them to take their own security steps these days. Pervez said the National Database Registration Authority (Nadra) had obtained fingerprints of the armed attacker who was killed in Islamabad Airport to know if they matched with the fingerprints of all Computerised National Identity Cards (CINCs) holders.

IRAQ: AL-QAEDA ANNOUNCES 'U.S. HELICOPTER CEMETERY'

IRAQ: AL-QAEDA ANNOUNCES 'U.S. HELICOPTER CEMETERY': "Fallujah, 8 Feb. (AKI) - Islamist insurgents are now able to kill United States soldiers in the air as well as on the ground, al-Qaeda's putative leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Falluji, has claimed in an interview with the Islamist website 'Islammemo'. 'In the next month, you will see a real US military helicopter graveyard,' al-Falluji said. He claimed insurgents have downed 15 helicopters while the US military says it has lost six aircraft in less than three weeks."

"We inform Muslims that the coming days will be more difficult for the invaders," al-Falluji warned, inviting soliders from the Iraqi army to surrender. "Sunni mosques are open to those who want to turn themselves in and join the resistence," he added.

"We have at our disposal new technology that enables us to bring down aircraft but cannot give any further information for security reasons," al-Falluji concluded. He is the head of a formation calling itself the Islamic Iraqi State, which al-Qaeda in Iraq is part of.

An unnamed Iraqi military expert told the pan-Arab daily al-Hayat that the US military helicopters have mostly been shot down by high-tech rockets launched obtained recently by Sunni guerrillas.

"They are able to hit aircraft that are carrying out surveillance flights because they have acquired state of the art ground to air missile technology," the expert said.Many armed groups in Iraq have acquired these locally, according to unnamed security sources quoted by a-Hayat.

Three Chinook and two Black Hawk US military helicopters have been shot down since 20 January, as well as civilian aircraft belonging to a US company.

Guerrillas also appear to be using other types of weapon such as several new, more powerful kinds of explosive device.

Some of these, such as the latest generation Katiusha rocket have made and altered in Iraq have been made and modified in Iraq, according to the security sources.

Shooting erupts on Israel-Lebanon border - Yahoo! News

Shooting erupts on Israel-Lebanon border - Yahoo! News: "BEIRUT, Lebanon - Lebanese troops deployed along the border with Israel opened fire late Wednesday as Israeli troops searched for Hezbollah bombs, drawing retaliatory fire, officials from both sides said.

It was the first time that shooting erupted across the border since shortly after an Aug. 14 cease-fire that ended a 34-day war between Israeli forces and the Lebanese Hezbollah militants.

Lebanese troops opened fire on a bulldozer after it crossed the so-called Blue Line — the U.N.-demarcated boundary — and entered about 20 yards into Lebanon, Lebanese officials said.

Israeli troops responded with tanks and light weapons, Israeli security officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

The exchange occurred near the Lebanese village of Maroun el-Rass, which was the scene of heavy fighting in the summer war, in the central sector of the border.

The Lebanese military officials, speaking on condition of anonymity pending the release of a formal statement from the army command, said the Lebanese army fired volleys of machine guns toward the bulldozer."...

David Ignatius - Expect The Worst In Iraq - washingtonpost.com

David Ignatius - Expect The Worst In Iraq - washingtonpost.com: "Somehow, after four years, the debate on Iraq is still animated by wishful thinking. The White House talks as if a surge of 20,000 troops is going to stop a civil war. Democrats argue that when America withdraws its troops, Iraqis will finally take responsibility for their own security. But we all need to face the likelihood that this story isn't going to have a happy ending."

That was the underlying message of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, released last week. It warned the administration that if the sectarian conflict continues, as it almost certainly will, "we assess that the overall security situation will continue to deteriorate." The current conflict isn't just a civil war, the analysts noted; it's worse -- with criminal gangs, al-Qaeda terrorists and Shiite internal feuding adding to the anarchic state of the country.

And for critics of the war who favor a quick American withdrawal, the analysts had this stark warning: "If Coalition forces were withdrawn rapidly during [the next 12 to 18 months] . . . we judge that this almost certainly would lead to a significant increase in the scale and scope of sectarian conflict in Iraq."

With U.S. troops gone, the analysts forecast, the Iraqi army would collapse and al-Qaeda attacks inside and outside Iraq would surge. "Massive civilian casualties and forced population displacement would be probable."

In this bleak situation -- where, as everyone keeps repeating, "there are no good options" -- what's the right course for U.S. policy? A useful approach may be to start planning, not for the best but for the worst. Congress and the administration should begin thinking about potential catastrophes in Iraq -- and about how to protect the core national interests of the United States and its allies.

In thinking about catastrophic outcomes, I have been guided by a paper that was privately circulated last week by Robert Jervis, a professor of political science at Columbia University. He begins with this assessment: "The U.S. will withdraw its troops from Iraq at some point, and when it does, if not earlier, the situation is likely to deteriorate badly. This could be a truly dreadful time -- it could be a tsunami sweeping over the entire region."

So how to protect vital American interests amid this tsunami of violence? I would offer several basic precepts, drawn from conversations with experts in and out of government:

· Contain the sectarian violence. The United States can't stop the Iraqi civil war between Sunnis and Shiites, but it can try to keep this conflict within Iraq's borders. Here lies the great danger of the new strategy of "realignment" that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice outlined in an interview with me last month. In seeking to rally Sunni Arab moderates to combat Iran and its proxies, the United States risks expanding the Sunni-Shiite fault line from Iraq to the region as a whole.

This is a dangerous course. The risks were summed up by Amr Moussa, the head of the Arab League.

The war in Iraq "opened the gates of Hell," he told me, and if the conflict expands to Iranian-backed Shiites and Sunni Arabs, "we will enter Hell itself." America should not encourage this descent into the inferno.

· Protect the oil. The United States should be planning with its allies how to secure the region's oil supplies. We have done it before: Persian Gulf oil exports continued through eight bloody years of the Iran-Iraq war, thanks in part to U.S. naval escorts and reflagging of tankers. America should help prepare a similar international effort now, including new pipelines that avoid the Gulf altogether.

· Shield the Iraqi population. America hasn't been able to stop the civil war, but U.S. troops can reduce the slaughter and help provide humanitarian relief for what's likely to be a growing tide of refugees fleeing the battle zones.

· Talk with the neighbors. Facing the prospect of a catastrophic outcome in Iraq, the United States must engage in dialogue with all the regional states, including Syria and Iran. America shouldn't initially offer any deals, much less "grand bargains," but it should talk about mutual security interests and explore where they converge.

· Push for Arab-Israeli peace. The one thing everyone in the region seems to agree on -- from Israel to Saudi Arabia -- is the need for a Palestinian state. The Palestinians themselves can't offer Israel a meaningful peace agreement now -- they're too weak, angry and disorganized. But the Arabs, led by Saudi King Abdullah, can. That's the breakthrough Rice should pursue.

These crisis management steps won't stop the catastrophe that is unfolding in Iraq, but they could mitigate its effects, which may be all we can hope for. And the benefit of worst-case thinking is that things occasionally work out better than expected.

The writer co-hosts, with Newsweek's Fareed Zakaria, PostGlobal, an online discussion of international issues athttp://blog.washingtonpost.com/postglobal. His e-mail address isdavidignatius@washpost.com.

Robert D. Novak - Who Won In the Senate? - washingtonpost.com

Robert D. Novak - Who Won In the Senate? - washingtonpost.com: "Listening to Minority Leader Mitch McConnell boast last weekend that he had the votes to prevent closing off Senate debate on Iraq, Republicans opposing President Bush's troop surge feared the worst. The new Republican leader sounded as though he wanted to prevent passage of an anti-surge resolution at the cost of making his party look obstructionist. That's exactly what happened."

The result of McConnell's tactics is that no resolution will be passed by the Senate anytime soon. The White House was overjoyed. But Tuesday's headlines indicated a public relations fiasco for Republicans: " GOP Stalls Debate on Troop Increase" (The Post), " In Senate, GOP Blocks a Debate Over Iraq Policy" (New York Times), " Vote on Iraq is blocked by GOP" (USA Today). Considering that outcome after a tactical victory, the Republicans might have been better off with a strategic defeat. It is unclear who won in the Senate this week....

[bth: interesting article worth reading in full. But to answer Novak's question, the American public lost. The Senate did this country a great disservice. People will remember this fact well after the clever parliamentarian tricks are forgotten.]

IraqSlogger: Story Of Rape By An Iraqi Soldier

IraqSlogger: Story Of Rape By An Iraqi Soldier: "From IRIN, the news service out of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the story of Luana, a woman raped by an Iraqi soldier:"

“I’m a 22-year-old Christian student in Iraq. Two months ago I was raped by an Iraqi soldier following a raid at my home.

“I thought very hard before agreeing to tell my story. But I cannot allow other girls to suffer the same violence I suffered. in addition to being discriminated against and lacking support.

“With the exception of my older brother, Khalil, all my family had left for Amman, Jordan and then for Sweden. I was waiting to finish my last year at university before joining them. Only I and Khalil stayed behind. One day, while he was at university, a group of Iraqi soldiers raided our home saying that they had information that there were insurgents in the area.

“When they were inside my home I saw them giving me strange looks. They asked me questions for about 15 minutes and then they left.

“Two days later, on the afternoon of 27 November last year, I was alone again in the house and I heard a sound coming from the living room. First, I thought Khalil had come home earlier and then I realised it was one of the Iraqi soldiers who had raided our home two days previously.

Maybe by knowing what happened to me, the world will be aware of what is happening to women in Iraq.
“I was surprised and was about to ask him if he was conducting another raid when he put his hand directly over my mouth and told me that if I made any sound, he would wait for my brother and kill him.
“He knew I was alone because of the answers I had given on the day of the raid.

“I tried to free myself from his arms and run but he was much stronger than me. He forced me into a bedroom and made me do what I had never done before in my life. He raped me while I cried and tried to bite his hand but each time I did this he hit my face with his other hand.

“When he finished he told me that if I told the police about it he would return and do it again with me and kill my brother so the house would be just for me and him.

“When my brother came home I told him everything. He got so upset that he forced me to go to the police with him. There we met a sergeant who asked for proof that it was an Iraqi soldier who raped me, saying that maybe it was not a soldier but only someone dressed like one.

He raped me while I cried and tried to bite his hand but each time I did this he hit my face with his other hand. “After two hours of humiliation, being looked at by the police officers as the latest girl who lost her virginity in Iraq, we went home. Khalil cried more than me because he couldn’t believe that his sister had suffered such abuse while he was away and the rapist would not be charged.

“We called our family in Sweden the same day and told them what had happened. Since then, they have been trying to get us visas to join them.

“Two weeks ago, I discovered that I was made pregnant by the rapist. Khalil took me to a doctor who did an abortion and since then my neighbour has been taking care of me.

“I hope my story will help girls who are raped in Iraq to decide to tell their story even though it is hard in a traditional Muslim country such as Iraq. But if we remain silent, there will be more girl victims and more girls will lose that so precious thing that God gave them, their virginity.”

IRIN is a news service of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations.