Saturday, March 24, 2007

A Reporter at Large: Betrayed: Reporting & Essays: The New Yorker

A Reporter at Large: Betrayed: Reporting & Essays: The New Yorker: "On a cold, wet night in January, I met two young Iraqi men in the lobby of the Palestine Hotel, in central Baghdad. A few Arabic television studios had rooms on the upper floors of the building, but the hotel was otherwise vacant. In the lobby, a bucket collected drips of rainwater; at the gift shop, which was closed, a shelf displayed film, batteries, and sheathed daggers covered in dust. A sign from another era read, “We have great pleasure in announcing the opening of the Internet café 24 hour a day. At the business center on the first floor. The management.” The management consisted of a desk clerk and a few men in black leather jackets slouched in armchairs and holding two-way radios. "....


[bth: this is a long and excellent article worth reading in full.]

IraqSlogger: US Touts Three Iraq Busts

IraqSlogger: US Touts Three Iraq Busts: "The US has claimed three successes in its efforts to quell Iraq's militant activities.

The recent arrest of Qais Khazali, a former aide to Muqtada al-Sadr, and of his brother Laith Khazali, and several of their associates has yielded proof of their involvement in an attack on a government installation in Karbala in January, ABC news reports. "

"Senior US military sources" have said that hard evidence was recovered from the site of the Khazalis' arrests, including ID cards of some of the killed US soldiers, according to the news agency.

US officials also say that Coalition forces found evidence linking the men to Iran, and to a weapons smuggling operation that included the transport of armor-piercing EFPs into Iraq.

The January attack in Karbala was noteworthy for its brazenness, as assailants disguised as US soldiers siezed and later killed five US soldiers.

The Khazalis' alleged links both to Iran on the one hand, and to the Karbala raids on the other, will heighten earlier speculation that there was an Iranian connection to the January attack, as its timing came shortly after the US siezed Iranian officials in Irbil in December. ABC's report suggests that perhaps the original plan was to capture five US soldiers to offer in exchange for the six Iranian officials, a plan which would have been botched by the pursuit of Iraqi security forces and the execution of the five captive US soldiers.

The US has also highlighted the recent arrest in Mosul of a "Saddam Fedayeen leader involved in setting up training camps in Syria for Iraqi and foreign fighters," ABC reports.

The US has repeatedly alleged that Syria was not acting aggressively to thwart the infiltration of foreign fighters into Iraq. However, the Mosul arrest is the first official allegation that training camps for fighters are operating on Syrian soil.

No other details are available at this time about the Mosul arrest.

The Syrian regime has repeatedly denied any connection, active or passive, to the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq.

Thirdly, the US military also announced the arrest of leaders and mmbers of a car bombing network in the Rusafa area of Baghdad, saying that those arrested had been responsible for "some of the horrific bombings in eastern Baghdad in recent weeks," according to ABC's report.

Standoff In The Persian Gulf, 15 Soldiers Seized As Britons Inspected A Merchant Ship, Officials Say

Standoff In The Persian Gulf, 15 Soldiers Seized As Britons Inspected A Merchant Ship, Officials Say - CBS News: "CBS/AP) This week, two Iraqi Shiite militia commanders told The Associated Press in Baghdad that hundreds of Iraqi Shiites have crossed into Iran for training by the elite Quds force, a branch of Iran's Revolutionary Guard thought to have trained Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon."

With tensions running high, the United States has bolstered its naval forces in the Gulf in a show of strength directed at Iran. Two American carriers, including the USS John C. Stennis — backed by a strike group with more than 6,500 sailors and Marines — arrived in the region in recent months.

U.S. officials had expressed concern that with so much military hardware concentrated in the Persian Gulf, just such a small incident could spiral out of control and trigger a major armed confrontation.

Earlier this week, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, warned that if Western countries want to "treat us with threats and enforcement of coercion and violence, undoubtedly they must know that the Iranian nation and authorities will use all their capacities to strike enemies that attack." ...

Analysis: U.S. doubts Saudi terror arrests

United Press International - Security & Terrorism - Analysis: U.S. doubts Saudi terror arrests: "WASHINGTON, March 22 (UPI) -- U.S. officials are questioning a series of arrests by Saudi authorities last month, disputing official statements that the men were involved in terrorist financing. "

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., a members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, dismissed what he called "the Saudi government claims" about the arrests.

"Based on the evidence I have seen, it appears more likely that these men were actually democracy activists," he told United Press International. Wyden, who recently received a briefing on Saudi terror finance issues from intelligence officials, added that he intended to follow the issue closely "and I continue to be disappointed by the Saudi government's efforts."

Several U.S. intelligence officials interviewed by UPI on condition of anonymity, agreed, saying at least some U.S. agencies have concluded that the arrests are -- in the words of one -- "not a good bust."

Ten men were arrested Feb. 2, two in Medina and the rest in Jeddah. According to the Saudi Interior Ministry, the arrests were part of an ongoing effort against "terrorism and its funding."

The ten were involved illegally collecting donations and "sending them to suspected parties," Mansour al-Turki, the Interior Ministry spokesman said, according to Arabic daily Asharq al-Awsat.

The money was used to "drag ... the sons of the nation to disturbed places," al-Turki said, in what was widely interpreted as a reference to Iraq.

Although Saudi donors are widely believed to provide significant funding to Iraqi insurgents, al-Qaida, and other terror groups, and although the government there has for some years loudly proclaimed a "zero tolerance" policy on fundraising for extremist causes, these were the first public arrests ever in the kingdom on such charges.

But it was only days before a lawyer representing some of the men told reporters in the Saudi capital Riyadh, that that they were not terror financiers, but democracy activists. Amnesty International noted that two of the men, including lawyer Sulieman al-Rushudi, had been arrested in March 2004 after they signed a petition calling for reform of the Saudi government.

But the line between self-styled democracy activists and Islamic extremists is not always clear in Saudi Arabia, Nail al-Jubeir, the spokesman for the Saudi Embassy in Washington told UPI.

"In the 1990's (al-Qaida leader Osama) bin Laden was called a 'dissident,'" he said.

Al-Jubeir pointed out that al-Rushudi was one of the founders of the London-based Committee for the Defense of Legitimate Rights in 1993. Another of the group's founders, Saad Al-Faqih, according to federal prosecutors, supplied a satellite phone to bin Laden in the 1990's. In 2004, al-Faqih was designated by the U.S. Treasury as a terrorist financier.

At least one other of those arrested, Islamic cleric Musa al-Qarni, also has at least historic associations with bin Laden, to whom he was a friend and mentor during the war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.

"Nobody knows these guys better than us," said al-Jubeir, defending the arrests.

But he was unable to provide any details of formal charges or any update on the men's situation or the progress of any investigation. "That is still being sorted out," he said.

Critics smelled a rat.

"The fact that the Saudis have provided no further information on the individuals, their activities, or the terrorist groups they are purported to have been affiliated with, suggests to many that such information may simply not exist," Matthew Levitt told UPI.

Levitt, who until earlier this year was deputy assistant secretary for intelligence and analysis at the Treasury Department, said individuals designated as terror financiers by the United States remain at large in the kingdom.

He cited the case of Abd al-Hamid Sulaiman al-Mujil, executive director of the International Islamic Relief Organization's branch in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. The Treasury Department designated him a terrorist financier in August 2006 for bankrolling al-Qaida activities in Southeast Asia.

At that time, the Saudi embassy said Al-Mujil was under investigation, and that his assets had been frozen pending any legal decisions.

Al-Jubeir said he was unable to provide any update on the case.

"The Saudi government has never imposed criminal punishment on any major terrorist fundraiser," said Wyden, "The Saudi government does not go after wealthy donors because in Saudi Arabia, the wealthy elites hold all the cards."

Al-Jubeir said that the Saudis had imposed "draconian" restrictions on charities and charitable giving in an effort to get their arms around the problem.

"Collecting cash donations is illegal ... for whatever cause," he said, "Even soliciting donations for individual hardship cases is not allowed. The only exceptions were government-run charitable appeals like the October 2006 drive to raise funds for the orphans of the Southeast Asian Tsunami.

"There is an absolute prohibition on transferring money from Saudi Arabia to charitable groups or non-profits (outside the kingdom)," he said. "I cannot even use my Saudi account to make donations to my alma mater ... The embassy sought an exemption for U.S. medical and educational charities and they turned us down."

Jesus Christ Superstar (1973) Superstar (20)

YouTube - Jesus Christ Superstar (1973) Superstar (20): ""
Posted by Picasa
Posted by Picasa

Report says British sailors held in Tehran

Report says British sailors held in Tehran International News Reuters.com: "TEHRAN (Reuters) - The 15 British navy personnel who were detained in the Gulf on Friday have been transferred to Tehran to explain their 'aggressive action', the semi-official Fars news agency said on Saturday.

Iranian officials were not immediately available to comment on the report, which did not give a source for the information."

Fars said the British navy personnel, who it said included some women, were transferred to the Iranian capital around noon local time on Saturday.

Iranian forces seized the British personnel on Friday in the mouth of the waterway that separates Iran and Iraq, triggering a diplomatic crisis at a time of heightened tension over Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

The foreign ministry in Tehran says they entered Iranian waters illegally, but Britain says they were detained in Iraqi waters and have demanded their release

Friday, March 23, 2007

Cargo plane is shot down in Somalia

Cargo plane is shot down in Somalia - Boston.com: "MOGADISHU, Somalia --A cargo plane that had delivered equipment for Ugandan peacekeepers in the Somali capital was shot down by a missile during takeoff Friday, the owner of the plane said. A witness said the aircraft crashed in flames after one of its wings fell into the Indian Ocean."

The fate of the 11-member crew was unknown.

Egi Azarian, the acting head of Belarus-based Transaviaexport, confirmed that the company's plane was shot down Friday. Transaviaexport, based in Minsk, Belarus, operates only Ilyushin-76s, one of the largest cargo planes in the world. The aircraft requires a crew of six, is 153 feet long and can carry nearly 50 tons of cargo.

Muse Sheik Osman, who lives in the north of the city, said he saw the burning plane come down and heard the sound of an anti-aircraft missile being fired shortly before the crash...

Report: Pentagon Investigation to Recommend 9 Be Held Accountable in Probe of Tillman's Death - Local News | News Articles | National News | US News

FOXNews.com - Report: Pentagon Investigation to Recommend 9 Be Held Accountable in Probe of Tillman's Death - Local News News Articles National News US News: "WASHINGTON — A Pentagon investigation will recommend that nine officers, including up to four generals, be held accountable for missteps in the aftermath of the friendly fire death of Army Ranger Pat Tillman in Afghanistan, senior defense officials said Friday."

The Defense Department inspector general will cite a range of errors and inappropriate conduct as the military probed the former football star's death on the battlefront in 2004, said one defense official.

The official, who like the others requested anonymity because the Army has not publicly released the information, said it appears senior military leaders may not have had all the facts or worked hard enough to get the facts of what happened on April 22, 2004, when Tillman, a corporal, was killed by members of his own platoon.

Dozens of soldiers — those immediately around Tillman at the scene of the shooting, his immediate superiors and high-ranking officers at a command post nearby — knew within minutes or hours that his death was fratricide.

Even so, the Army persisted in telling Tillman's family he was killed in a conventional ambush, including at his nationally televised memorial service 11 days later. It was five weeks before his family was told the truth, a delay the Army has blamed on procedural mistakes.

Tillman's father, Pat, said Friday he had no intention of commenting on the inspector general's report until he had heard the Army's entire briefing on Monday and had analyzed it.

Tillman's case drew worldwide attention in part because he had turned down a multimillion-dollar contract to play defensive back for the Arizona Cardinals in order to join the Army Rangers after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

To date, the Army has punished seven people, but no one was court-martialed. Four soldiers received relatively minor punishments under military law, ranging from written reprimands to expulsion from the Rangers. One had his pay reduced and was effectively forced out of the Army.

The latest investigation has focused on how high up the chain of command that knowledge went.

Officers from the rank of colonel and up will be blamed in the report, according to one officer who has been informed of the findings.

According to the officials, the report will not make charges or suggest punishments, but it will recommend the Army look at holding the nine officers accountable.

One defense official said it appears the inspector general will not conclude there was an orchestrated cover-up in the investigation.

The Army, which requested the inspector general review last year, said in a statement released Friday that it "plans to take appropriate actions after receiving the inspector general's report."

The commander of Tillman's 75th Ranger Regiment was Col. James C. Nixon. Last year he was named director of operations at the Center for Special Operations at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla.

Nixon knew within about two days that Tillman's death was fratricide, another officer involved in the investigations told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

The inspector general is expected to release its report Monday, and also speak to Tillman's family about the results of the investigation.

Also to be released Monday is a report by the Army Criminal Investigation Command, which will focus on whether a crime, such as negligent homicide, was committed when Tillman's own men shot him. One defense official said it appears the investigation did not find any criminal intent in the shooting.

Previous investigations of the case have focused on the facts of the incident and sought to answer questions of whether it was a fratricide.

The report's findings were first reported on Friday by CBS News.

Tillman died in Afghanistan's Paktia province, along the Pakistan border, after his platoon was ordered to split into two groups and one of the units began firing. Tillman and an Afghan with him were killed.

Since the incident, the Army has moved to improve the notification procedures and now requires an officer to review initial casualty information and verify that the families have been told the best, accurate information.

[bth: the Army has lost its credibility unless it is willing to hold officers accountable for their actions - not in killing Tillman, but in covering it up.]

Top general in Afghanistan expels Marines

Top general in Afghanistan expels Marines - Examiner.com: "WASHINGTON (Map, News) - The top American general in Afghanistan has expelled a U.S. Marine special operations company for the way the men responded to an ambush March 4, Marine sources said."

Maj. Cliff Gilmore, a spokesman for Marine Special Operations Command, confirmed to The Examiner that the company of 120 Marines is redeploying.

He said the decision followed an ambush on the company's convoy by a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device. A second Marine source said the Marines retaliated and some civilians were killed.

The action brought an abrupt end to what promised to be a historic deployment. The unit sailed in January from Camp Lejeune, N.C., as the first Marine Corps special operations company sent overseas.

The Corps joined U.S. Special Operations Command a year ago.

The company is now redeploying to Kuwait after just a few weeks in Afghanistan in what was supposed to be a six-month tour.

A Marine officer assigned to special operations said Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, the top U.S. commander, took the extraordinary step of expelling the unit after he consulted with Afghan Prime Minister Hamid Karzai.

A spokesman for Eikenberry could not be reached today.

Gilmore said, "The unit responded to the ambush and the local population perceptions of that response have damaged the relationship between the local population and the Marine special operations company."

"Father's Mission to Aid U.S. Troops" - Today Show Interview of Brian and Alma Hart March 23, 2007

Here is a link to an interview of Brian & Alma Hart on the Today Show which aired March 23, 2007 called, "Father's Mission to Aid U.S. Troops"

IraqSlogger: Unsecured Weapons Continue to Pose Threat

IraqSlogger: Unsecured Weapons Continue to Pose Threat: "It has been widely reported how Iraqis looted Republican Guard weapons depots in the early days of the war, but a damning new GAO report makes it sounds as if some munitions remain unsecured. As the report states, 'unsecured conventional munitions continue to pose a threat to U.S. forces and others.' "

"As of October 2006, the Multi-National Coalition-Iraq stated that some remote sites have not been revisited to verify if they pose any residual risk nor have they been physically secured. DOD has taken many actions in response to OIF lessons learned, however, DOD has given little focus to mitigating the risks to U.S. forces posed by an adversary's conventional munitions storage sites in future operations planning."

To mitigate the threat unsecured munitions pose to the US mission and troops in Iraq, the GAO recommends:


Secretary of Defense direct the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to (1) conduct a theater-wide survey and risk assessment on unsecured conventional munitions in Iraq, (2) report related risk mitigation strategies and results to Congress, and (3) incorporate conventional munitions storage site security as a strategic planning factor into all levels of planning policy and guidance.

The complete report can be read here, or see the short summary released by the GAO below.


Operation Iraqi Freedom: DOD Should Apply Lessons Learned Concerning the Need for Security over Conventional Munitions Storage Sites to Future Operations Planning

What GAO Found

The overwhelming size and number of conventional munitions storage sites in Iraq combined with certain prewar planning assumptions that proved to be invalid, resulted in U.S. forces not adequately securing these sites and widespread looting, according to field unit, lessons learned, and intelligence reports.

Pre-OIF estimates of Iraq’s conventional munitions varied significantly, with the higher estimate being 5 times greater than the lower estimate. Conventional munitions storage sites were looted after major combat operations and some remained vulnerable as of October 2006. According to lessons learned reports and senior-level DOD officials, the widespread looting occurred because DOD had insufficient troop levels to secure conventional munitions storage sites due to several OIF planning priorities and assumptions.

DOD’s OIF planning priorities included quickly taking Baghdad on a surprise basis rather than using an overwhelming force. The plan also assumed that the regular Iraqi army units would “capitulate and provide internal security.” According to an Army lessons learned study, this assumption was central to the decision to limit the amount of combat power deployed to Iraq.

GAO analysis showed that the war plan did not document risk mitigation strategies in case assumptions were proven wrong. Furthermore, DOD did not have a centrally managed program for the disposition of enemy munitions until August 2003, after widespread looting had already occurred. According to officials from Multi-National Coalition- Iraq, unsecured conventional munitions continue to pose a threat to U.S. forces and others.

Not securing these conventional munitions storage sites has been costly, as government reports indicated that looted munitions are being used to make improvised explosive devices (IED) that have killed or maimed many people, and will likely continue to support terrorist attacks in the region.

As of October 2006, the Multi-National Coalition-Iraq stated that some remote sites have not been revisited to verify if they pose any residual risk nor have they been physically secured. DOD has taken many actions in response to OIF lessons learned, however, DOD has given little focus to mitigating the risks to U.S. forces posed by an adversary’s conventional munitions storage sites in future operations planning.

DOD’s actions generally have emphasized countering the use of IEDs by resistance groups during post-hostility operations. GAO concludes that U.S. forces will face increased risk from this emerging asymmetric threat when an adversary uses unconventional means to counter U.S. military strengths.

For example, potential adversaries are estimated to have a significant amount of munitions that would require significant manpower to secure or destroy. GAO concludes that this situation shows both that Iraqi stockpiles of munitions may not be an anomaly and that information on the amount and location of an adversary’s munitions can represent a strategic planning consideration for future operations. However, without joint guidance, DOD cannot ensure that OIF lessons learned about the security of an adversary’s conventional munitions storage sites will be integrated into future operations planning and execution.

What GAO Recommends

The report GAO is releasing today recommends that the Secretary of Defense direct the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to (1) conduct a theater-wide survey and risk assessment on unsecured conventional munitions in Iraq, (2) report related risk mitigation strategies and results to Congress, and (3) incorporate conventional munitions storage site security as a strategic planning factor into all levels of planning policy and guidance.

DOD partially concurred with our recommendations.

Why GAO Did This Study

GAO is releasing a report today on lessons learned concerning the need for security over conventional munitions storage sites which provides the basis for this testimony.

Following the invasion of Iraq in March 2003—known as Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF)— concerns were raised about how the Department of Defense (DOD) secured Iraqi conventional munitions storage sites during and after major combat operations.

This testimony addresses (1) the security provided by U.S. forces over Iraqi conventional munitions storage sites and (2) DOD actions to mitigate risks associated with an adversary’s conventional munitions storage sites for future operations on the basis of OIF lessons learned.

To address these objectives, GAO reviewed OIF war plans, joint doctrine and policy, intelligence reports, and interviewed senior-level DOD officials.

The full GAO study can be found here http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d07639t.pdf

Deployments: The Real Numbers

Deployments: The Real Numbers: "Baghdad, March 22, 2007: There will soon be more American soldiers in Iraq than at any point in the war so far. The incoming surge of 21,500 troops is only part of that picture; in addition, the U.S. commander, Gen. David Petraeus, has asked for an additional Army aviation brigade, as well as a couple thousand military police. Other support troops will be coming in to Iraq as well, and they weren't all included in the original 21,500 estimate announced by President Bush last month. When all this is complete, sometime in July, the grand total of U.S. troops in Iraq will be 173,000, U.S. military officials here confirmed on background, apparently because of the sensitivity of these details. And it's likely that U.S. troop numbers will stay at that level for months more, perhaps even into 2008. That's only part of the picture, however; the total number of U.S. troops deployed into the war theater, that is, Iraq and neighboring countries, may be as much as 100,000 more than that. Last August, for instance, the Congressional Research Service, quoting the Department of Defense's Contingency Tracking System, put the total deployment at 260,000, while the number actually in Iraq was at 140,000 to 160,000. (Other estimates by government-oversight bodies have put the total deployed in the theater at 202,000 to 207,000.)"

Some things are getting smaller. The projected size of the Coalition of the willing has reached a historic low, but by July the number of soldiers from U.S. allies in Iraq will actually climb a tad, to 13,000, thanks to a commitment from the former Soviet republic of Georgia for a new brigade of 2,300 troops. More than half of that 13,000 are British, who are also in the process of withdrawing more of their troops by next year, and the remainder are small contingents from 23 other contributing countries, major powers ranging from Mongolia to Peru.

The total bill for the Iraq war will soon rival the estimated $600 billion cost of the Vietnam War "although, if the dollars were adjusted for inflation, it would probably already be more costly. So far, $351 billion has been spent or appropriated between 2003 and 2007, and the president's additional budget request of $68 billion in 2007 will bring that to $419 billion, if it passes, according to estimates by the Congressional Budget Office (these figures include U.S. military expenditures, expenditures for Iraqi security forces, and spending for foreign aid and diplomatic operations in Iraq). With another $113 billion predicted for the 2008 budget, the total direct cost of the war will by then top half a trillion dollars, $532 billion in all. That naturally does not even begin to take into account indirect costs, from veterans' care to oil-price rises.

It's not like there's nothing to show for all this. This month's quarterly Pentagon report to Congress on the progress of the war had some revealing statistics. Washington has managed in the process to "stand up" 328,700 Iraqi security forces, of whom 120,000 are in the Iraqi Army, and 192,300 are policemen of various sorts. These sound like impressive numbers, but the report goes on to note that "The actual number of present-for-duty soldiers is about one-half to two-thirds of the total due to scheduled leave, absence without leave, and attrition." The police have as high or even higher levels of desertion and loss.

Another detail from the Pentagon report: electricity generation has been averaging 10 hours a day nationwide, and only 6.6 hours a day in Baghdad, in the last quarter of 2006. Overall production of electricity was about where it was in 2004, although demand had greatly increased.

One slightly reassuring statistic: since the surge began, and the Baghdad Security Plan started pouring much larger numbers of troops onto the streets, the death toll among American soldiers has not risen significantly, averaging 2.8 deaths a day from Feb. 15 to March 21, about the same as the daily rate in January and February. On the other hand, it hasn't gone down, either. As with any statistic, it all depends on how you look at it.-->

Pakistan Officials Applaud Fighting in Tribal Region

Pakistan Officials Applaud Fighting in Tribal Region - washingtonpost.com: "ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, March 22 -- An intense clash between local tribesmen and foreign al-Qaeda fighters that has left approximately 130 people dead this week is prompting hope among Pakistani officials that resentment toward the outsiders is growing."

The battle, in the semiautonomous region of South Waziristan, has involved thousands of fighters. Local Pashtun tribe members -- including many Taliban supporters -- have squared off against Uzbek, Chechen and Arab militants, who since 2001 have massed near the border to plan attacks in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, officials say. Most of those killed have been foreigners. About 10 civilian bystanders have also been killed this week, and many more have fled.

Pakistani officials say the fighting validates their counterterrorism strategy: allowing tribal leaders to evict al-Qaeda on their own, without the direct help of the Pakistani army. But analysts say that the tribes have their own reasons for battling the foreign fighters and that this latest violence could further distance the region from central government authority.

Waziristan, which is remote and relatively lawless, has become a haven for al-Qaeda in recent years, and the United States has been pressing Pakistan to do more to oust the group. Pakistan's army has tried and largely failed to extricate the foreign fighters on its own.

"For the first time ever, the local tribesmen have taken up arms against the foreign militants in South Waziristan. This is a big breakthrough," Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao said in an interview.

Officials have recently begun to concede that the fighters are present in large numbers and that they are attacking targets on both sides of the border. Sherpao acknowledged that "the size of the Central Asian and Arab guerrilla force far outnumbered our estimate of foreigners hiding in this area."

Maj. Gen. Waheed Arshad, a military spokesman, said that the Pakistani army was not directly aiding the tribal forces but that those groups are responding to government calls for action. Pakistan's government has told tribal authorities that the presence of foreign fighters could prompt U.S. or Pakistani strikes against suspected hide-outs. It has also offered financial incentives for driving the al-Qaeda fighters out.

"We have asked the tribal governments to take responsibility for their areas and not shelter foreign militants," Arshad said. "That is what they are doing."

Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, hinted in an interview Monday that the country's approach in Waziristan was yielding results.

"We have launched a new strategy in the north and south, and there are breakthroughs. We are already hearing good news from there," Musharraf told Pakistan's Geo News TV channel.

Talat Masood, a military analyst and retired general, however, urged caution. He said the fighting could lead to new problems.

"This is movement in the right direction. But I hope it doesn't lead to a situation where the militants establish their own control and don't listen to what the government has to say," Masood said.

Masood said the tribal leaders, who already possess considerable autonomy, are fighting not because they support the government. Instead, he said, they are battling the foreigners to show their own people they are still capable of providing security.

Tension between the tribal members and the foreign fighters has been simmering for months. Tribesmen had accused the foreigners of violating local customs, and the foreigners had begun to accuse locals of spying for the Pakistani and U.S. governments, according to a local official.

Uzbek militants had already beheaded a number of local people, according to Maulana Mairajuddin, a member of a far-right religious party who represents South Waziristan in Parliament.

Mairajuddin -- who spoke by satellite phone from Wana, a town where much of the violence has taken place -- said the fighting this week started with the abduction of four local women by the Uzbeks.

Mairajuddin said he wished locals and the foreigners would stop fighting each other and return to battling U.S. and allied troops in Afghanistan.

"This is the worst news for those who hate the occupation of foreign forces in neighboring Afghanistan," he said.

Khan reported from Karachi.

New to Job, Gates Argued for Closing Guantánamo

New to Job, Gates Argued for Closing Guantánamo - New York Times: "WASHINGTON, March 22 — In his first weeks as defense secretary, Robert M. Gates repeatedly argued that the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, had become so tainted abroad that legal proceedings at Guantánamo would be viewed as illegitimate, according to senior administration officials. He told President Bush and others that it should be shut down as quickly as possible."

Mr. Gates’s appeal was an effort to turn Mr. Bush’s publicly stated desire to close Guantánamo into a specific plan for action, the officials said. In particular, Mr. Gates urged that trials of terrorism suspects be moved to the United States, both to make them more credible and because Guantánamo’s continued existence hampered the broader war effort, administration officials said.

Mr. Gates’s arguments were rejected after Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and some other government lawyers expressed strong objections to moving detainees to the United States, a stance that was backed by the office of Vice President Dick Cheney, administration officials said.

As Mr. Gates was making his case, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice joined him in urging that the detention facility be shut down, administration officials said. But the high-level discussions about closing Guantánamo came to a halt after Mr. Bush rejected the approach, although officials at the National Security Council, the Pentagon and the State Department continue to analyze options for the detention of terrorism suspects.

The base at Guantánamo holds about 385 prisoners, among them 14 senior leaders of Al Qaeda, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who were transferred to it last year from secret prisons run by the Central Intelligence Agency. Under the Pentagon’s current plans, some prisoners, including Mr. Mohammed, will face war crimes charges under military trials that could begin later this year.

“The policy remains unchanged,” said Gordon D. Johndroe, a spokesman for the National Security Council.

Even so, one senior administration official who favors the closing of the facility said the battle might be renewed.

“Let’s see what happens to Gonzales,” that official said, referring to speculation that Mr. Gonzales will be forced to step down, or at least is significantly weakened, because of the political uproar over the dismissal of United States attorneys. “I suspect this one isn’t over yet.”...

Chlorine cache found in Iraq 

Chlorine cache found in Iraq - World - The Washington Times, America's Newspaper: "BAGHDAD -- U.S. troops sweeping Baghdad have found containers of nitric acid and chlorine, raising concerns that insurgents are expanding their use of chemicals in the war for power in Iraq, military officials said yesterday. "

The containers were found as part of a larger cache of weapons discovered as U.S. and Iraqi troops cleared house after house in the Sunni-majority Ghazaliyah neighborhood in western Baghdad.

In a new twist in the Iraqi conflict, chlorine gas set off by suicide bombers in villages west of Baghdad killed at least eight and sickened hundreds last week. It was the first time the chemical was found in the capital.

Although both nitric acid and chlorine have a variety of industrial uses, finding them alongside weapons stashes in known terrorist havens signified a change of tactic for the fighters, said a U.S. military official who asked not to be named.

"We've seen them use caustic acid with improvised explosive devices to burn the skin," said the official, adding that although the acid does not increase the lethality of a bomb, it does make it "nastier."

About 1,600 Iraqi and U.S. forces have been taking part in the operations aimed at ridding Baghdad's Mansour area of both al Qaeda terrorists and illegal militias.

In one house in nearby Amariyah raided by Iraqi troops and the U.S. Army's Striker Brigade yesterday, soldiers found mortar shells stored in a bag in the front yard, along with a meat cleaver and a bomb fashioned from a propane tank.

Inside the house, clothing, photographs and children's toys were piled high in filthy corners. Black and white banners declared the rule of the Islamic Army, a Sunni extremist group.

Iraqi army soldiers spread out the munitions plus an array of license plates on the sidewalk before U.S. explosives specialists came to detonate the propane tank. The explosion shook houses in the area.

Frightened neighbors nervously acknowledged to U.S. soldiers that a group of young men had been squatting in the house during the day, but would not offer any more information, and clammed up the moment Iraqi army soldiers entered the house.

"When you leave, the Iraqi army comes in here and asks us what we told you," said the man, smoking cigarette after cigarette.

Earlier in the week, soldiers found an Iraqi policeman in uniform tied to a post, blindfolded, shot in the abdomen and left to die, a clear intimidation tactic as troops try to secure Baghdad's volatile neighborhoods.

Iraqi and U.S. forces have detained dozens of people during their raids, holding them for further questions.

In other developments yesterday, the U.S. military said it captured two brothers who were "directly connected" to the Jan. 20 sneak attack that killed five U.S. soldiers guarding the provincial headquarters in Karbala, a city 50 miles south of Baghdad, the Associated Press reported.

Qais al-Khazaali, his brother Laith al-Khazaali and several other members of their network were rounded up over the past three days.

The military also said it released an aide to Sheik Muqtada al-Sadr, Ahmed al-Shibani, at the request of Iraq's prime minister.

The U.S. military announced that three Americans died in combat Wednesday. At least 44 Iraqis were killed or found dead yesterday, including 25 bodies dumped in the capital, police said.

US struggling to prevent 'disastrous' Turkish invasion of Northern Iraq

The Raw Story US struggling to prevent 'disastrous' Turkish invasion of Northern Iraq: "Turkey says that 3,800 Kurdistan Workers' party (PKK) guerrillas are preparing for attacks in south-east Turkey, and that it is 'ready to hit back if the Americans fail to act,' reports the Guardian Unlimited"

Senior Bush administration officials, meanwhile, have assured Turkey that the US will step up efforts in Northern Iraq to root out PKK fighters.

Faruk Logoglu, a former Turkish ambassador to Washington, warned that military intervention by Turkey in the region could be "disastrous" in terms of destabilizing the region.

Speaking about US support for Iranian Kurds opposed to Tehran he added, "Once you begin to differentiate between 'good' and 'bad' terrorist organisations, then you lose the war on terror."

"Plans by the US Congress to vote on a resolution blaming Turkey for genocide against the Armenians in 1915" have further strained relations with Turkey, writes the Guardian.
Excerpts from the article follow:

#

The US is already fighting Sunni insurgents and Shia militias. Analysts say a surge in violence in northern Iraq, previously the most stable region, could capsize the entire US plan. But pressure on the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is also growing as a result of forthcoming elections. Military intervention was narrowly avoided last summer when he said that "patience was at an end" over US prevarication. Now conservatives and nationalists are again accusing him of not standing up to Washington.

"If they are killing our soldiers ... and if public pressure on the government increases, of course we will have to intervene," said Ali Riza Alaboyun, an MP for Mr Erdogan's Justice and Development party. "It is the legal right of any country to protect its people and its borders."
....

Milliyet journalist, Kadri Gursel, said: "The US attitude has really pissed off the government and the army. The US really doesn't understand how exhausted and fed up they are."
#
READ THE FULL GUARDIAN REPORT HERE

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Stars & Stripes: Iraqi forces unable to reduce levels of violence across Iraq, GAO says

Stars & Stripes: Iraqi forces unable to reduce levels of violence across Iraq, GAO says: "The development of capable Iraqi security forces has been hampered by “ghost soldiers” who don’t report for duty, sectarian and militia influences, and a lack of logistical capabilities, a U.S. government report has found. "

According to the Government Accountability Office report, issued March 13, more than $15 billion has been spent in three years on training the Iraqi security forces.

But, the report found, “while the Iraqi security forces are increasingly leading counterinsurgency operations in Iraq, they and the coalition have been unable to reduce the levels of violence throughout Iraq.”

The GAO also lamented the Pentagon’s tight hold on information about the actual training and readiness of Iraqi forces, which include the army, police, border guards and other armed forces.

“While DOD captures this information in its Transition Readiness Assessments, it does not provide this critical information to Congress,” the report read. “These data provide information on capabilities and gaps in Iraqi units’ manpower, equipment and training levels. … Congress needs this information to make informed appropriations decisions and engage in meaningful oversight. Despite repeated attempts over many months, we have yet to be provided the TRA information we are seeking.”

As of February 2007, the Pentagon said it had trained and equipped more than 327,000 Iraqi forces, more than doubling the total from March 2005.

One problem, though, is that accurate records are not kept.

“The Ministry of Interior does not maintain standardized reports on personnel strength,” the report found. “As a result, DOD does not know how many coalition-trained police the ministry still employs or what percentage of the 180,000 police thought to be on the payroll are coalition trained and equipped.”

Additionally, at any one time, one-third of Iraqi soldiers are on leave to bring their salaries back home.
Perhaps more importantly, the report found, “Iraqi units remain dependent upon the coalition for their logistical, command and control and intelligence capabilities.”

“The coalition,” the report reads, is providing “fuel, uniforms, building supplies, ammunition, vehicle maintenance and spare parts, and medical supplies.”

The report comes at a crucial time for U.S. troops and their Iraqi counterparts. The new Baghdad security plan hinges on putting more American and Iraqi troops in the middle of the capital.

While the report does not take into account the “surge,” it concludes that “the increasing number of Iraqi
army battalion leading counterinsurgency operations has not resulted in lower levels of violence in Iraq.”

The GAO is often called “the investigative arm” of Congress and produces reports on how the federal government spends taxpayer dollars. For a full copy of the Iraqi security forces report, go to: http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d07612t.pdf.

[bth: I'm told by police trainers in Iraq that you take the stated number and divide by six and that's how many you can expect to reliably show up - not by 3.]

30 die as Iraq jail is stormed

Gulf Daily News: "BAGHDAD: Hundreds of militants stormed a jail in a pre-dawn raid to free inmates yesterday in the Sunni heartland north of Baghdad, triggering the deadliest firefight this year, which left 20 police and 10 insurgents dead.Authorities said all 33 prisoners in the lockup were freed."

Meanwhile, US President George W Bush predicted more tough fighting ahead in Iraq, but said he was convinced the country has avoided civil war.

He refused to say whether American troops would be completely out of Iraq by 2009, when he winds up his tenure in the White House.

The day after Iraq marked the third anniversary of the US-led invasion, army and police commandos were rushed to the town of Muqdadiya northeast of Baghdad to hunt down the large rebel force and recapture the prisoners they freed.

Mayor Alewi Farhan described a sophisticated operation lasting an hour and a half that involved 200 insurgents using an array of weapons.

"The insurgents pulled off a very well-planned attack," he said, describing how a car bomb sealed the eastern road to the site and a roadside bomb blocked the southern road, impeding reinforcements.

When reinforcements were rushed to the town, one commando was killed and another wounded. US forces responding to the attack also reported being ambushed but sustained no casualties.

Officials said at least 18 policemen and guards were killed, along with 10 rebels, in the raid on a compound housing the town's main police station, courthouse and municipal offices.

Insurgents battled Iraqi and US reinforcements, set fire to the police station, courthouse and 20 police vehicles before making their escape.

The freed detainees were being held on a number of criminal charges, including insurgent activity.

[bth: This is a a very substantial engagement. How were the insurgents able to concentrate 200 troops when we have total air superiority?]

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Gulfnews: Top Interpol official warns of bioterror attacks

Gulfnews: Top Interpol official warns of bioterror attacks: "Muscat: A top Interpol officer yesterday said that law enforcement agencies around the world should be prepared for a bioterrorist attack.Muscat: A top Interpol officer yesterday said that law enforcement agencies around the world should be prepared for a bioterrorist attack."

"Al Qaida could use chemical or biological weapons to perpetrate its terrorist actions," said Ronald K. Noble, Interpol Secretary General, to Gulf News on the sidelines of the Interpol Workshop on Preventing Bioterrorism, at a hotel here.

He said that the training material recovered from Al Qaida and information gathered from some of their captured operatives have convinced the world law enforcement community that the terrorist outfit has had plans to use chemical and biological weapons in their actions.

Matter of time

"Nobody really knows when Al Qaida will strike with chemical or biological weapons but it is just a matter of time before the terrorists believe they are ready," he said, adding that the only restraints the terrorists were facing was the technical complexity of operating them properly and effectively.

Justifying the fears of bioterrorism, Noble said: "In Iraq there have been no fewer than three chlorine bomb attacks, targeting innocent civilians, in the recent past. It is not difficult to imagine these attacks being extended from chemical to biological."

Up to 30 killed as Pakistani tribesmen and militants clash

Up to 30 killed as Pakistani tribesmen and militants clash - South Asia: "Islamabad - Up to 30 people were killed in Pakistan's north-western tribal region during escalating clashes between suspected militants and local tribesmen, chief military spokesman Major General Waheed Arshad said Tuesday."

Both sides exchanged heavy small-arms fire in the town of Kalusha in the restive South Waziristan area bordering Afghanistan. It was not clear what sparked the skirmishes Monday evening.

Waziristan is mainly inhabited by ethnic Pashtun tribes and according to the US military is the site of numerous command centres and training facilities run by Taliban and other insurgents ranged against foreign and government troops in Afghanistan.

More than 15 people including 12 suspected Uzbek militants were killed earlier this month in firefights with tribes in the Azam Warsak area in the same region.

39 'terrorists' killed in Iraq

39 'terrorists' killed in Iraq: World: Iraqi Dossier: News24: "Baghdad - Iraqi security forces killed 39 'terrorists' in a fierce battle in the western Sunni province of Al-Anbar on Tuesday, said a top Iraqi official.

Brigadier general Abdel Karim Khalaf, director of the operations centre in the interior ministry, said seven other militants were arrested, including some Arab nationals. "

The clashes broke out early on Tuesday in Ameriyah, southwest of the former rebel town of Fallujah and the site of a recent chlorine gas attack.

Khalaf said security forces supported by paramilitary units formed by Sunni tribes fought the militants in a battle that lasted several hours.

Two top militants, Shakir Hadi Jassim and Mohammed Khamis, were among the dead.

About 25 Sunni tribes from Anbar have formed an coalition - Anbar Awakening - to take on the militants, largely from the Al-Qaeda network, who are operating in the western province.

These tribes have been sending thousands of young men to join the government security forces or their paramilitary units to co-operate with US and Iraqi commanders to fight insurgents.

In response, the insurgents have launched attacks on them and modified their tactics to add gas bombs to their arsenal.

On Friday, bombers detonated three dirty bombs in Anbar province poisoning 350 civilians, six American soldiers and killing two policemen.

[bth: very interesting development if al-Qaeda can be split from Iraqi sunni tribesmen.]

Veterans boost Democrats' Iraq war exit efforts

Veterans boost Democrats' Iraq war exit efforts - Los Angeles Times: " When Rep. Patrick Murphy stood up at the House Democratic Caucus meeting Tuesday to urge support for a bill mandating a timeline to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq, the boyish Pennsylvania lawmaker urged his colleagues to vote their conscience."

But as several lawmakers wiped away tears, he concluded with a more emotional appeal "for those 19 guys I served with who died."Murphy, a former paratrooper who went to Iraq shortly after the 2003 invasion, is in his third month on Capitol Hill. But as the only Iraq war veteran in Congress, the 33-year-old freshman has become one of the central players in the most intense lobbying effort since Democrats assumed the majority in January.As House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and her top lieutenants work to rally Democrats behind a bill that would force President Bush to begin bringing troops home no later than next March, they are relying on lawmakers like Murphy who have served in the military.

Minnesota Rep. Timothy J. Walz, another freshman Democrat, whose Army National Guard battalion was deployed to Europe as part of the war in Afghanistan, on Tuesday joined a group of retired generals who came to Capitol Hill to urge passage of the bill.

And over the weekend, Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.), a retired Navy admiral who commanded an aircraft carrier battle group during the invasion of Afghanistan, appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press" to counter Republican accusations that Democrats were trying to micromanage the war.

"These guys have been invaluable," said Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), who chairs the House Democratic Caucus.Republican leaders, although respectful of Murphy and other veterans opposed to the war, dismiss their arguments."Iraq veterans legitimately have the right to be listened to, but not necessarily to have their ideas accepted carte blanche," said Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-El Cajon), a former Marine who served in Vietnam and whose son fought with the Marines in Iraq's violent Al Anbar province.

Last week, Hunter and five other GOP lawmakers who served in Vietnam wrote a letter to Pelosi opposing the withdrawal plan.

"Our service as soldiers, airmen, and Marines in Vietnam made us witness to the demoralizing effects of interference by those in Washington," they wrote.

But the charges that Democrats are meddling with and undermining the military — long a staple of GOP attacks — now confront the impassioned rebuttals of men like Murphy.

Murphy made no secret of his plan to take on the Bush administration over the war long before he settled into his office on Capitol Hill.In a bruising campaign to unseat Republican Michael G. Fitzpatrick last fall, Murphy relentlessly linked the GOP congressman to the president's war strategy, pledging to make a change.

"Start bringing our troops home," Murphy intoned earnestly in one campaign ad, in which he stood in front of grainy, menacing videos of car bombings and American troops patrolling the streets of Iraq.Murphy — the tall, clean-cut son of a Philadelphia police officer and Navy veteran — went to Iraq in 2003 as a captain in the 82nd Airborne Division soon after the fall of Saddam Hussein.He had served a tour in Bosnia the year before.

But Murphy, who often becomes emotional while discussing his service in Iraq, said he began having doubts about the Iraqi mission soon after he arrived in Baghdad

."I remember leading a convoy up 'ambush alley.'

And the private ... next to me said, 'What the hell are we doing here, sir?' " Murphy recalled. He didn't have an answer.

Three years later, Murphy has joined with Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Rep. Mike Thompson (D-St. Helena), who fought in Vietnam, to sponsor legislation mandating that the withdrawal from Iraq begin in May.

And when Democrats last month brought up a nonbinding resolution opposing the president's plan to deploy additional troops to Iraq, Murphy helped lead the charge.

"I speak with a heavy heart for my fellow paratrooper Spc. Chad Keith, Spc. James Lambert and 17 other brave men who I served with who never made it home," Murphy said in a Feb. 13 speech on the House floor. "Walking in my own combat boots, I saw firsthand this administration's failed policy in Iraq."T

hat vote was easy for House Democrats, who overwhelmingly passed the resolution with the backing of 17 GOP lawmakers.

Today, the obstacles are greater as senior Democrats push binding legislation to force the president to start bringing troops home from Iraq.

Pelosi and others are laboring to win over liberal lawmakers who are calling for a more rapid timeline for pulling out U.S. combat forces.

That effort seemed to pick up momentum Tuesday as Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), a leading member of the Out of Iraq Caucus, lined up behind the leadership plan.It has fallen to others, including Murphy, to persuade centrist Democrats, many of whom have been troubled by charges that Democrats would be tying the hands of the military by setting a timeline for withdrawalOver the last several weeks, Murphy said he has had more than 100 meetings with members of Congress to make the case for the timelines.

"I've been drinking a lot of coffee," Murphy joked.But Murphy wasn't joking when he recalled running into some Iraq veterans at a St. Patrick's Day parade in his suburban Philadelphia district last weekend."They said to me: 'Just bring them home, Patrick. Just bring them home.'

"noam.levey@latimes.comTimes staff writer Janet Hook contributed to this report.

Democrats 0 for 6 in Congress; agenda sidetracked by Iraq war 

Democrats 0 for 6 in Congress; agenda sidetracked by Iraq war - Nation/Politics - The Washington Times, America's Newspaper: "None of the elements of the newly minted Democrats' congressional agenda have made it to President Bush's desk, and the prospects of signature bills such as federal funding for stem-cell research or homeland-security improvements becoming law any time soon are doubtful."

Much of the Democratic agenda -- dubbed "Six for '06" -- sailed out of the House with bipartisan support, but all of it has stalled in the Senate as leaders scramble to deal with the Iraq war. "I don't think they've gotten anything done," House Minority Leader John A. Boehner of Ohio said of the Democrats. "How many bills have they sent to the president? None? Somewhere around there." A minimum-wage increase, which seems the most likely of the Democratic plans to get Mr. Bush's signature, has not yet been sent to the president because House and Senate leaders are still bickering over its specifics. ....

[bth: its the war stupid.]

ABC News: Russia Reportedly Exits Iran Nuke Site

ABC News: Russia Reportedly Exits Iran Nuke Site: "VIENNA, Austria Mar 20, 2007 (AP)— Russia is pulling out its experts from the Iranian nuclear reactor site they were helping build, U.S. and European officials said Tuesday. The move reflected a growing rift between Iran and Russia that could lead to harsher U.N. sanctions on the Islamic republic for its refusal to stop uranium enrichment. "

The representatives a European diplomat and a U.S. official said a large number of Russian technicians, engineers and other specialists have returned to Moscow in the past week, at about the same time senior Russian and Iranian officials tried unsuccessfully to resolve financial differences over the Bushehr nuclear reactor. They spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because their information was confidential.

"A good number of them have left recently," said the U.S. official, of the approximately 2,000 Russian workers on site of the nearly completed reactor outside the southern city of Bushehr. The European diplomat, who is accredited to the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, said a large number had left as recently as last week.

Sergei Novikov, a spokesman for Rosatom, Russia's Federal Nuclear Power Agency, confirmed that the number of Russian workers at the Bushehr plant had dwindled because of what he said were Iranian payment delays. He would not say how many had left.

In a commentary, Iranian state television criticized Russia for what it described as a policy of procrastination in constructing Bushehr.

"Double standard stances by Russian officials regarding Iran's nuclear issue shows that Russians are not a reliable partner in the field of nuclear cooperation," the commentary said.

The nuclear reactor outside the southern city of Bushehr is not part of Iran's dispute with the U.N. Security Council and the reactor itself has no potential military use.

The Russian departures are formally linked to a financial dispute with Iran but have a strong political component, linked to international efforts to persuade the Islamic republic to freeze activities linked to uranium enrichment, which can produce both nuclear fuel and the fissile material for nuclear warheads.

The representatives a European diplomat and a U.S. official said a large number of Russian technicians, engineers and other specialists have returned to Moscow in the past week, at about the same time senior Russian and Iranian officials tried unsuccessfully to resolve financial differences over the Bushehr nuclear reactor. They spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because their information was confidential.

"A good number of them have left recently," said the U.S. official, of the approximately 2,000 Russian workers on site of the nearly completed reactor outside the southern city of Bushehr. The European diplomat, who is accredited to the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, said a large number had left as recently as last week.

Sergei Novikov, a spokesman for Rosatom, Russia's Federal Nuclear Power Agency, confirmed that the number of Russian workers at the Bushehr plant had dwindled because of what he said were Iranian payment delays. He would not say how many had left.

In a commentary, Iranian state television criticized Russia for what it described as a policy of procrastination in constructing Bushehr.

"Double standard stances by Russian officials regarding Iran's nuclear issue shows that Russians are not a reliable partner in the field of nuclear cooperation," the commentary said.

The nuclear reactor outside the southern city of Bushehr is not part of Iran's dispute with the U.N. Security Council and the reactor itself has no potential military use.

The Russian departures are formally linked to a financial dispute with Iran but have a strong political component, linked to international efforts to persuade the Islamic republic to freeze activities linked to uranium enrichment, which can produce both nuclear fuel and the fissile material for nuclear warheads.

[bth: Russia wants to get paid before the Americans or the Israelis destroy the nuke plant. The Iranians knowing this are holding up final payment. The Americans and Israelis are waiting for Russia to get paid before destroying the plant because they need Russian help on the UN Security Council.]

Congress Job Approval Back Down Again This Month

Congress Job Approval Back Down Again This Month: "PRINCETON, NJ -- The modest uptick in approval of the job being done by Congress has dissipated for the most part after only two months. Congress job approval had risen over the last two months after the Democrats took over control of Congress in early January -- fueled in large part by a jump in approval among rank and file Democrats. This month, however, Congress job approval is back down to levels quite similar to where it was in 2006. Democrats have lost a good deal of the positivity exhibited in the first two months of the year after their party took over. "

According to Gallup's monthly update on job approval of Congress -- in a March 11-14, 2007, national poll -- 28% of Americans approve of the job being done by Congress and 64% disapprove. This marks a substantial change from January and February, with approval down nine points and disapproval up nine points.

The current reading suggests that Americans are reverting back to their pessimistic attitudes of last year, when Congress approval ratings were in the 20s for much of the year.

The explanation for the increase in job approval ratings for Congress in January and February lies in the fact that Democrats, and to a degree independents, became much more positive. This more than offset a drop in approval among Republicans.

This month, however, Congress job approval among Democrats has fallen back, and to a lesser degree among independents. Republicans -- already much less positive in January and February after their party lost control of Congress -- became only slightly more negative this month.

Bottom Line

It is difficult to pinpoint precisely what is behind the drop off in optimism about Congress among Democrats. One possibility is that Democrats are disappointed that their party has been unable to do anything substantive about the Iraq war -- the dominant issue in last November's midterm elections. The increase in the price of gas and/or other economic concerns may also be a factor. Overall satisfaction with the way things are going in the United States and ratings of economic optimism are both down in the March Gallup Poll. ...

[bth: its the war stupid. People expected Congress to do something and when the dust settled over the last 3 months debates, nothing really changed.]

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

IraqSlogger: CRS Assesses Costs for Iraq, Afghanistan

IraqSlogger: CRS Assesses Costs for Iraq, Afghanistan: "Today's fourth anniversary of the war in Iraq occurs just as the Congressional Research Service (CRS) has released its report on the cost of operations there, in Afghanistan, and elsewhere. "

Thus far, CRS reports, Congress has appropriated $510 billion for DoD and other costs in Iraq, Afghanistan, and “Operation Noble Eagle” for enhanced base security internationally and some domestic US costs.
--“about” $378 billon (74%) has been for Iraq
.--$99 billion (19%) has been for Afghanistan.--$28 billion (5%) has been for other operations.If one includes the additional money President Bush has requested to complete the current fiscal year ($94.4 billion to complement the $70 billion already appropriated for FY 2007) and the $141.7 billion requested for FY 2008, total costs would be $752 billion, including
--$564 billion for Iraq.
--$155 billion for Afghanistan.
--$28 billion for Operation Noble Eagle.Of these totals, $5 billion is unallocated--just one of the many problems CRS, Government Accountability Office, and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) found with the completeness and accuracy of DoD’s data on the costs of the wars.

For more on this, see pp. 26-28 and pp. 31-36 of the report, posted below. It is also apparent that the costs of both the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are accelerating.

Just as one example, per soldier/Marine costs have increased from $320,000 to $390,000 per deployed troop per year. DoD has explained some of these increases, but not all.

See pp. 12-25. The total costs of the wars could range from $980 billion to $1.4 trillion under two scenarios estimated by CBO. These future predictions should be treated carefully, however.

Up to now, there has been no downturn of costs, which CBO postulates in both of the scenarios it assessed. See here for the complete CRS report: CRS_on_Cost_of_Iraq_Afghanistan_andOther_RL33110.pdf

Lawmakers Warn FBI Over Spy Power Abuse

Lawmakers Warn FBI Over Spy Power Abuse The Huffington Post: "WASHINGTON — Republicans and Democrats alike sternly warned the FBI on Tuesday that it risks losing its broad power to collect telephone, e-mail and financial records to hunt terrorists because of rampant abuses of the authority."...

Overwhelming vote on U.S. attorneys

United Press International - NewsTrack - Overwhelming vote on U.S. attorneys: "WASHINGTON, March 20 (UPI) -- The U.S. Senate voted 94-2 Tuesday to strip U.S. President George Bush of the power to bypass the confirmation process for U.S. attorneys.

Only two Republicans, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Christopher Bond of Missouri, opposed the measure, The New York Times reported. The overwhelming bipartisan support in the Senate suggests that the bill is likely to pass the U.S. House of Representatives by a veto-proof margin."...

Soldier's dad tells Bush, `This war is wrong'

Chicago Tribune Eric Zorn: "The two-page letter is signed from the “proud father of a fallen soldier.”
A little more than six weeks ago, his soul a cauldron of grief and rage, Richard Landeck, 56, of Wheaton addressed and mailed it to President Bush."

And since he’s yet to receive an acknowledgment or reply, he asked me if I’d help get his message out.
“My voice, and that of many other frustrated Americans is not being heard,” he said.
It’s the least I can do, I replied.

“My son was killed in Iraq on February 2, 2007,” says the letter. “His name is Captain Kevin Landeck….
“He was killed while riding in a Humvee by a roadside bomb just south of Baghdad. He has a loving mother, a loving father and loving sister. You took him away from us.”

The letter adds that Kevin Landeck (pictured here in a recent family photo), 26, a Wheaton Warrenville South High School and Purdue University graduate, had been married for 17 months and was very proud to be serving his country.


But “the message he continued to send to me was that of incompetence,” Landeck’s letter says. “Incompetence by you, (Vice President Richard) Cheney and (former defense secretary Donald) Rumsfeld. Incompetence by some of his commanders as well as the overall strategy of your decisions.
“When I asked him about what he thought about your decision to `surge’ more troops to Baghdad, he told me, `until the Iraqis pick up the ball we are going to get cut to shreds. It doesn’t matter how many troops Bush sends, nothing has been addressed to solve the problem he started,’” says Landeck’s letter (full text below) .

This is a reasonably close paraphrase of an e-mail Kevin Landeck sent to his parents on Jan. 19, a short note signed “live from the (excrement) show” that referred to the war strategy as “senseless.””Answer me this,” Richard Landeck’s letter demands of Bush. “How in the world can you justify invading Iraq when the problem began and continues to lie in Afghanistan? I don’t want your idiotic standard answer about keeping America safe. What did Sadaam Hussein have to do with 9/11?”The letter says, “You have succeeded in taking down over 3,100 of our best young men, my son being one of them. Kevin told me many times we are not fighting terrorism in Iraq and they could not do their jobs as soldiers. He said they are trained to be on the offensive and to fight, but all they are doing is acting like policemen….

“He asked permission to take some of his men out at night with their night-vision glasses -- because as he said `we own the night’ -- and watch for the people who are setting roadside bombs and `take them out.’ He said, `I want them to be the ones that are scared.’ He was denied permission. Why?”Richard Landeck and his wife Vicki have never been active in politics, they told me as I sat with them around their kitchen table Sunday night in the Stonehedge subdivision in the heart of DuPage County. He’s a sales rep. She’s a dental hygienist. Their other child, Jennifer, 23, is an actress (pictured below with her late brother) who also works part-time at the nearby golf course.

As the war in Iraq enters its 5th year, look for families like the Landecks to become the face of the anti-war movement: Archtypal middle Americans who can no longer respond with platitudinous faith in our leaders to the persistent waste –-- a word Richard Landeck does not shy from –- of the lives of our young men and women in Iraq.Saturday, they went to nearby Bloomingdale to join in a peace rally, their first.“This war is wrong,” says the last paragraph of Landeck’s letter to the president. “Because of your ineptness … I have lost my son, my pride and joy, my hero! (You) will never understand what the families of soldiers are going through and don’t try to tell me you do. My wife, my daughter and I cannot believe we have lost our only son and brother to a ridiculous political war.”
----
Kevin C. Landeck's guest book at Legacy.com

Here is the complete text of Richard Landeck's letter to President Bush:

Feb 4, 2007

Dear Mr. Bush:

This will be the only time I will refer to you with any type of respect.

My son was killed in Iraq on February 2, 2007. His name is Captain Kevin Landeck.

He served with the Tenth Mountain Division. He was killed while riding in a Humvee by a roadside bomb just south of Baghdad. He has a loving mother, a loving father and loving sister.

You took him away from us. He celebrated his 26th birthday January 30th and was married for 17 months. He graduated from Purdue University and went through the ROTC program. That is where he met his future wife. He was proud to be a part of the military and took exceptional pride in becoming a leader of men. He accepted his role as a platoon leader with exceptional enthusiasm and was proud to serve his country.

I had many conversations with Kevin before he left to serve as well as during his deployment. The message he continued to send to me was that of incompetence. Incompetence by you, (Vice President Richard) Cheney and (former Secretary of Defense Donald) Rumsfeld. Incompetence by some of his commanders as well as the overall strategy of your decisions.

When I asked him about what he thought about your decision to “surge” more troops to Baghdad, he told me, “until the Iraqis pick up the ball, we are going to get cut to shreds. It doesn’t matter how many troops Bush sends, nothing has been addressed to solve the problem he started.”

Answer me this: How in the world can you justify invading Iraq when the problem began and continues to lie in Afghanistan? I don’t want your idiotic standard answer about keeping America safe. What did Sadaam Hussein have to do with 9/11? We all know it had to do with the first Iraq war where your father failed to take Sadaam down.

Well George, you have succeeded in taking down over 3,100 of our best young men, my son being one of them. Kevin told me many times we are not fighting terrorism in Iraq and they could not do their jobs as soldiers. He said they are trained to be on the offensive and to fight but all they are doing is acting like policemen.

Well George, you or some “genius” like you who have never fought in a war but enjoy all the perks your positions afford you are making life and death decisions. In the case of my son, you made a death decision.

Let me explain a few other points he and I discussed. He said when he and his men were riding down the road in their Humvees, roadside bombs would explode and they would hear bullets bouncing off their vehicle. He said they were scared. He thought “why should we be the ones who are scared?” He asked permission to take some of his men out at night with their night vision glasses because as he said “we own the night” and watch for the people who are setting roadside bombs and “take them out.” He said, “I want them to be the ones that are scared.” He was denied permission. Why? It made perfect sense to me and other people who I told about this.

When he was at a checkpoint he was told that if a vehicle was coming at them even at a high rate of speed he could not arbitrarily use his weapon. He had to wave his arms and, if the vehicle did not stop, he could fire a warning shot over the vehicle. If the vehicle did not stop then, he could shoot at the tires. If the vehicle did not yet stop he could take a shot at the driver. Who in their right mind made that kind of decision?

How would you like to be at a check point with a vehicle coming at you that won’t stop and go through all those motions? You will never know!

You or Cheney or Rumsfeld will never know the anguish, the worry, the sleepless nights, the waiting for the loved one who may never return. If the soldiers were able to do their jobs and the ego’s of politicians like you, your “cronies” and some commanders had their heads on straight, we would be out of this mess which we should not be involved with in the first place.

My family and I deserve and explanation directly from you……not some assistant who will likely read this and toss it. This war is wrong.

I want you to look me and my wife and daughter directly in the eye and tell me why my son died. We should not be there, but because of your ineptness and lack of correct information I have lost my son, my pride and joy, my hero!

Again, you, Cheney and Rumsfeld will never understand what the families of soldiers are going through and don’t try to tell me you do. My wife, my daughter and I cannot believe we have lost our only son and brother to a ridiculous political war that you seem to want to maintain. I hope you and Cheney and Rumsfeld and all the other people on your band wagon sleep well at night….we certainly don’t.
Richard Landeck

Proud father of a fallen soldier
Posted by Picasa

Hostage Trade: Taliban Officials Released in Exchange for Italian Journalist

The Blotter: "At least two captured Taliban officials have been released in exchange for the release of a kidnapped Italian journalist, Afghan intelligence officials tell ABC News"

Italian journalist Daniel Mastrogiacomo and his translator were kidnapped by Taliban fighters two weeks ago in southern Afghanistan.

Following their capture, a top Taliban commander threatened to kill the men if spokesmen for their movement were not released within seven days. The commander also said they had killed the Afghan driver that was traveling with Mastrogiacomo.

Mastrogiacomo was released today following the release of the Taliban officials who were in the custody of the Afghan federal government. The exchange was handled by the Afghan intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security.

Both of the released Taliban fighters had been captured in Pakistan and turned over to the Afghan government. One of the men, Abdul Latif Hakimi, had been a spokesperson for the Taliban.

Mastrogiacomo's release was confirmed today by the Italian embassy in Afghanistan, and he is now in a hospital run by an Italian NGO in Lashkar Gah.

ABC News consultant Jack Cloonan, a former FBI agent now with Clayton Consultants, a crisis management firm, has dealt with kidnap-for-ransom situations in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

He says that while hostage trades are made all the time, they are usually for cash, not the release of captured fighters.

"This suggests to me that the Italian government got involved," said Cloonan. "Once that happens, everything is on the table."

Cloonan said the trade is also a clear reflection of the unstable security situation there and the weakness Hamid Karzai's government.

"It shows you that things haven't changed," said Cloonan. "The security situation there is so bad that they're going back to the Taliban culture. They trade."

Photo of Daniel Mastrogiacomo Courtesy of La Repubblica
Posted by Picasa
Posted by Picasa

Third 'think Iraq war was right' - UK

BBC NEWS UK Third 'think Iraq war was right': "A third of people in the UK still think the war in Iraq was justified but six in 10 believe it was a mistake, a BBC survey suggests"

While 29% said taking military action against Iraq in 2003 was the right thing to do, only 5% of those questioned felt safer now.

Four years after the start of the war, half said the issue was very or fairly important in their voting decisions.

More than 1,000 people across the UK took part in the BBC/ICM poll.

The survey also found that more than half of people questioned said they would distrust the British government if it said military action were needed elsewhere because a country posed a threat to national security.

While 51% said they would not trust the government in such circumstances, 32% said they would.

However, most people interviewed said they would support the use of British troops in further overseas missions such as disaster relief or stopping genocide.

Some 57% were in support of this kind of action even if the countries involved did not pose a direct threat to Britain's national security, while 24% opposed it.

And while 5% thought Britain was a safer place since the Iraq war, 55% said they felt the country was less safe. ...

Iraq's fault lines easily traced in opinions on its plight, fate

Iraq's fault lines easily traced in opinions on its plight, fate - USATODAY.com: "The idea of dividing Iraq into more independent regions or even separate states — one dominated by Shiite Arabs, another by Sunni Arabs and a third by Kurds — has been debated by policymakers and rejected by the White House."

In terms of public opinion in Iraq, however, that partition already is a reality. A survey taken four years after the U.S.-led invasion finds that Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds hold dramatically different views on what has happened so far and what should happen next.

Asked what political system would be best for Iraq now, 66% of Kurds chose democracy and 58% of Sunni Arabs preferred a strongman who would rule for life. Shiite Arabs split, 41%-40%, between democracy and an Islamic state governed by religious principles....

The groups also have differing views on where Iraq is headed. Seventy-five percent of Sunni Arabs predict that five years from now, Iraq will be unified under a central government in Baghdad. A 48% plurality of Shiites say it is likely to be a group of regional governments joined in a federation. And a 41% plurality of Kurds say it will have split into independent states.

The lack of consensus on such fundamental questions helps explain why political progress has been so difficult to achieve. It also reflects some disillusionment about democracy 16 months after landmark legislative elections failed to improve the quality of life for many Iraqis.

"One could see a way of bridging these differences if the will was there to do it," says James Dobbins, a former State Department official who worked on nation-building in Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo. "What makes it particularly difficult is the huge buildup of resentment and grievances on all sides as a result of the escalating violence."

"The whole question of Iraq's future politics is open," says Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution, author of Defense Strategy for the Post-Saddam Era. He says the idea of a "soft partition" — dividing Iraq into three regional governments that share oil revenue — seems increasingly feasible....

In the survey, the Iraqi government doesn't get high marks: 53% say the national government has done "a bad job" in carrying out its responsibilities, and 58% say legislators in the National Assembly aren't willing to make the compromises necessary for peace and stability. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki gets a job-approval rating of 43%

Only one-third of Iraqis say the Iraqi government is in control of events in the nation, though. Nearly six in 10 identify the United States as being in charge.

U.S. forces "might have had some missions to do here, but they failed and made many mistakes, and it's very difficult for them to change the situation," says Jasim Mahmood Rajab, 60, a Shiite businessman. USA TODAY interviewed him and other Baghdad residents to supplement the poll findings. "Now I believe they don't do anything but protect themselves."

Asked who was to blame for most of the violence, four in 10 cite coalition forces or President Bush, 18% name al-Qaeda or other foreign fighters, 8% say the Iraqi government, and 7% say Iran.

Only the Kurds give positive marks to U.S. and British forces. In contrast, 79% of Shiites and 97% of Sunni Arabs say coalition troops have done a bad job
.

Even so, attitudes toward the American deployment are complicated and sometimes contradictory. Consider: 100% of Shiites in Baghdad say the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq makes the security situation worse. But 55% predict that moving more U.S. forces into the capital will improve security, and only 23% say coalition forces should leave Iraq immediately....

Most Iraqis accuse other countries in the region of meddling in their affairs and fomenting violence. Among those surveyed, 71% say Iran is actively encouraging sectarian violence in Iraq, 66% say Syria encourages violence, and 56% say the same of Saudi Arabia.

Given Iraq's history, some of the divisions among Iraqis are understandable. Shiites, who make up about 60% of the population, suffered discrimination and brutality under Saddam Hussein's rule. So did Kurds, who make up 15% to 20% of the population. Sunni Arabs, another 15% to 20% of the population, held power during Saddam's rule.

It's hardly surprising, then, that 100% of the 184 Sunni Arabs surveyed in Baghdad say the U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam was wrong, or that 100% of the 245 Baghdad Shiites surveyed say it was right.

There was the same stark divide when respondents were asked to compare things now with how they were before the war. Not a single Sunni Arab in Baghdad said life was better than before. Not a single Baghdad Shiite said it was worse. Among all Iraqis, 43% said life was better, and 36% said it was worse.

Overall, 58% support a unified Iraq with a central government in Baghdad, but they express little confidence that it will endure. A similar majority predict that within five years Iraq will have divided into more independent regional governments or even separate states.

The execution of Saddam

There was some recognition of Sunni sensitivities in views toward the execution of Saddam, who was taunted by Shiite observers as a noose was put around his neck. Overall, Iraqis split 50%-49% on whether the hanging was carried out in an appropriate manner.

A plurality of Kurds and one in four Shiites — and 96% of Sunni Arabs — say Saddam's execution has made reconciliation more difficult. ...


[bth: the president of Iraq has a higher approval rating than Bush.]

Democracy's support sinks - USATODAY.com

Democracy's support sinks - USATODAY.com: "...While 58% support a unified Iraq, an equal majority predict that within five years Iraq will divide into regional governments or even separate states."

A 43% plurality say democracy would be the best political system for Iraq, a marked decline in 16 months. In an ABC News survey before elections in 2005, 57% chose democracy.

The USA TODAY/ABC News survey was taken door-to-door in all 18 provinces of Iraq from Feb. 25 to March 5.

It found sharp and sometimes contradictory attitudes toward U.S. troops:

A 51% majority, including one-third of Shiites and 94% of Sunni Arabs, say attacks on U.S. forces are acceptable political acts. Only 7% of Kurds agree.

In all, 83% of Shiites and 97% of Sunni Arabs oppose the presence of coalition forces in Iraq; 75% of Kurds support them. By more than 3 to 1, Iraqis say the presence of U.S. forces is making the security situation worse.

Even so, only 35% of Iraqis want U.S. forces to leave immediately. Two-thirds say they should remain until security is restored, the Iraqi government is stronger or Iraqi security forces are better able to operate independently.

Rep. John Murtha: Four Costly Years at War | The Huffington Post

The Blog Rep. John Murtha: Four Costly Years at War The Huffington Post: "Our Military men and women deserve the utmost praise and gratitude for their commitment and valor. I am inspired by their dedication and sacrifice. But the burden of a war that has been so costly in terms of dollars and lives cannot and should not continue to fall solely on them. We must honor our military by providing them with missions they can accomplish and with the equipment and training they need to fight and to protect their lives. We must insist that before we send our battle weary warriors back into intense combat, we give them the time they need to rest and reconstitute and the time they deserve to spend with family and loved ones. "

During this year, the Bush Administration has requested $1 trillion for the Department of Defense. $9 billion a month is being expended for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, including a $2 billion a month logistic trail for transporting equipment and personnel into Iraq.

Over 3,200 of our sons and daughters have lost their lives in Iraq and close to 25,000 have been wounded, to include thousands of traumatic brain injuries and hundreds of limb amputations. The cost of disability benefits as a result of this protracted and intense war will be staggering. A recent report by the Harvard University School of Government put the total cost of providing medical care and disability benefits to veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan at $350 to $700 billion.

While the U.S. continues to deplete its resources in Iraq, our ground forces in the United States are short on training, equipment and personnel. At the beginning of the Iraq war, 80% of all Army units and almost 100% of active combat units were rated at the highest levels of readiness. Just the opposite exists today. General Peter Schoomaker, Army Chief of Staff, said last week during a hearing on the Hill, "We have a strategy right now that is outstripping the means to execute it." General Cody, the Vice Chief, said that the Army's readiness level is "stark."

Meanwhile in Iraq the situation remains dire. Benchmarks established by this Administration are elusive and routinely ignored. Official reports sent to Congress indicate that oil production and electricity remain below prewar levels and less than half of the Iraqi population is employed. Attacks on U.S. forces have increased by 10 more percentage points over the last four months and the Iraqi Security Forces are not taking over the fight as promised. Two million Iraqis, many of who made up the brain trust in Iraq, have fled to neighboring countries. A new BBC poll shows that only 18% of Iraqis have confidence in U.S.-led forces and 53% of Iraqis believe security will improve when the U.S. withdraws from Iraq. The Pentagon is finally coming around to the fact that Iraq is engulfed in its own civil war. In its most recent report to Congress, Pentagon analysts reported "some elements of the situation in Iraq are properly descriptive of a "civil war," including the hardening of ethno-sectarian identities and mobilization, the changing character of the violence, and population displacements."

After four years of incompetence and mismanagement, this Administration must come to the realization that Iraq's civil war can only be solved by the Iraqi people and that stability in Iraq can only be accomplished when U.S. and coalition forces end the occupation and redeploy.