Saturday, March 31, 2007

Tal Afar bomb killed 152, the deadliest of war

Tal Afar bomb killed 152, the deadliest of war - Yahoo! News: "BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The Iraqi government on Saturday raised the death toll from a truck bomb in the town of Tal Afar to 152, making it the deadliest single bombing of the war. "

Interior Ministry spokesman Brigadier Abdul Kareem Khalaf said 347 people were wounded in Tuesday's attack on a Shi'ite area. There was another truck bomb in the mixed northwestern town on Tuesday, but it was small.

Khalaf said 100 homes had been destroyed in the main blast, which officials have blamed on al Qaeda. The explosion left a 23-meter (75-ft)-wide crater.

"It took us a while to recover all the bodies from underneath the rubble of the homes ... what did they achieve by using 2 tonnes of explosive to kill and wound 500 in a residential area?" Khalaf told a news conference.

The past week has been the bloodiest in Iraq since the government launched a security crackdown in Baghdad in February aimed at halting the country's slide toward civil war.

Bombings blamed on Sunni Islamist al Qaeda have killed 400 people in Shi'ite areas across the country in the past week....

U.S. Says Al-Qaeda Using Chlorine Gas Against Civilians In Iraq | March 31, 2007

AHN | U.S. Says Al-Qaeda Using Chlorine Gas Against Civilians In Iraq | March 31, 2007: "March 30, 2007 6:58 p.m. EST

Matthew Borghese - All Headline News Staff Writer"

Baghdad, Iraq (AHN) - The U.S. Department of Defense says local police intercepted a truck carrying 5,000 gallons of chlorine and 2 tons of explosives in Ramadi which would have been used against innocent civilians in Iraq.

U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Michael D. Barbero, Joint Staff deputy director for operations says that while the people of Iraq were lucky enough to stop that bombing, only days later two trucks carrying chlorine exploded in Fallujah, injuring 14 U.S. troops and 57 Iraqis.

The weapons were built by terrorists with al-Qaeda in Iraq and have been used as the latest tool to sabotage the efforts of the majority of Iraqis who are looking to find an end to the sectarian violence, says the Pentagon.

General Barbero explains, "I strongly believe that this use of chlorine should not be dismissed simply as a new tactic or an emerging trend."

"Chlorine is a poison gas being used on the Iraqi people. Before these attacks, the last time poison gas was used on the Iraqi people was by Saddam Hussein."

Furthermore, the U.S. says children are still being used as suicide bombers among other things; an act deplored by any civilized nation.

General Barbero says an Iraqi police officer was killed after his vehicle "drove past a 12-to 14-year-old boy riding a bicycle. A bomb in the boy's backpack detonated, killing him instantly."

"These acts - the use of poison gas and the use of children as weapons - are unacceptable in any civilized society and demonstrate the truly dishonorable nature of this enemy."

Russian media reports imminent US strike on Iran

The Daily Star - Politics - Russian media reports imminent US strike on Iran: "Russia told the United States on Thursday it must take care not to aggravate tensions over Iran with its naval presence in the Gulf, amid Russian press reports of an imminent US strike on Iranian nuclear facilities. The US Navy has this week been conducting its biggest exercises in Gulf waters for four years. The Pentagon said the war games were brought forward because of mounting tensions between Iran and Western states."

"The Persian Gulf is today in such an agitated state that any action in this region, especially one that involves the navy or other military forces, must take into account the need not to aggravate the situation even further," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters.

Al-Arabiyya reported on its Web site on Thursday that the Bush administration is preparing to launch a military operation, dubbed "The Sting," to strike 20 Iranian nuclear plants, disabling Iran's atomic program for at least five to seven years.

"The Unites States will launch a military operation ... on Iran starting 4 a.m. of April 6 till 4 p.m.," Al-Arabiyya said, quoting Russia's RIA-Novosti news agency.

The report said the operation will target "the hidden part of the nuclear program," launching missile strikes from warplanes and gunships, RIA-Novosti said, adding that the operation will not attack the Bushehr nuclear plant being built by Russia.

RIA-Novosti quoted an unidentified "high-ranking security official" as saying the military games could be more than flexing muscles.

"The latest military intelligence data points to heightened US military preparations for both an air and ground operation against Iran," the official said. - Reuters, The Daily Star

Think Progress » Bush Caught Hyping False Iraq Spending Deadline

Think Progress » Bush Caught Hyping False Iraq Spending Deadline: "The Bush administration has been trying to force Congress to abandon its support for an Iraq withdrawal time line by claiming that a “clean” Iraq spending bill must be signed by mid-April or U.S. troops will suffer. The Hill reported, the Pentagon and the White House have been “sounding alarms and sketching worst-case scenarios if Congress does not pass the 2007 supplemental by April 15.”"

Renewing his veto threat on Wednesday, President Bush told Congress “the clock is ticking for our troops in the field“:

BUSH: Congress continues to pursue these [withdrawal] bills, and as they do, the clock is ticking for our troops in the field. Funding for our forces in Iraq will begin to run out in mid-April. Members of Congress need to stop making political statements, and start providing vital funds for our troops.

Meanwhile, Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) and others have been arguing that Bush is wrong, and that funds won’t dry up until June, giving plenty of time for negotiations:

Murtha says he believes the April 15 date for funds running out is incorrect. Based on the inquiries he’s made, he said, the Pentagon will start running out of money at the beginning of June.

“We’ve never had a year where they didn’t give us bad information,” said Murtha, who’s known for his contacts inside the military. “We’ve been asking people and we think it’ll be the end of May.”

Now we know who’s right. A new report from the Congressional Research Service makes clear that Bush’s deadline is completely fabricated:

In a memo to the Senate Budget Committee dated Wednesday, the congressional analysts said the Army has enough money in its existing budget to fund operations and maintenance through the end of May — about $52.6 billion. If additional transfer authority is tapped, subject to Congress approving a reprogramming request, the Army would have enough funds to make it through nearly two additional months, or toward the end of July. Using all of its transfer authority, the Army could have as much as $60.1 billion available.

See the full CRS report HERE.

Commenting on the report, Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) said, “This study confirms that the President is once again attempting to mislead the public and create an artificial atmosphere of anxiety. He is using scare tactics to defeat bipartisan legislation that would change course in Iraq.”

Friday, March 30, 2007

Memo Shows General Sought to Warn Bush Not to Say Pat Tillman Died From Friendly Fire - Local News | News Articles | National News | US News - Memo Shows General Sought to Warn Bush Not to Say Pat Tillman Died From Friendly Fire - Local News | News Articles | National News | US News: "SAN JOSE, Calif. — Just seven days after Pat Tillman's death, a top general warned there were strong indications that it was friendly fire and President Bush might embarrass himself if he said the NFL star-turned-soldier died in an ambush, according to a memo obtained by The Associated Press."

It was not until a month afterward that the Pentagon told the public and grieving family members the truth — that Tillman was mistakenly killed in Afghanistan by his comrades.

The memo reinforces suspicions that the Pentagon was more concerned with sparing officials from embarrassment than with leveling with Tillman's family.

In a memo sent to a four-star general a week after Tillman's April 22, 2004, death, then-Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal warned that it was "highly possible" the Army Ranger was killed by friendly fire. McChrystal made it clear his warning should be conveyed to the president.

"I felt that it was essential that you received this information as soon as we detected it in order to preclude any unknowing statements by our country's leaders which might cause public embarrassment if the circumstances of Cpl. Tillman's death become public," McChrystal wrote on April 29, 2004, to Gen. John Abizaid, head of Central Command.

White spokesman Blain Rethmeier said Friday that a review of records turned up no indication that the president had received McChrystal's warning. Bush made no reference to the way Tillman died in a speech delivered two days after the memo was written. But Rethmeier emphasized that the president often pays tribute to fallen soldiers without mentioning the exact circumstances of their deaths.

The family was not told until May 29, 2004, what really happened. In the intervening weeks, the military continued to say Tillman died under enemy fire, and even awarded him the Silver Star, which is given for heroic battlefield action.

The Tillman family has charged that the military and the Bush administration deliberately deceived his relatives and the nation to avoid turning public opinion against the war.

Tillman's mother, Mary, had no immediate comment Friday on the newly disclosed memo

The memo was provided to the AP by a government official who requested anonymity because the document was not released as part of the Pentagon's official report into the way the Army brass withheld the truth. McChrystal was the highest-ranking officer accused of wrongdoing in the report, issued earlier this week.

In the memo, McChrystal expressed concern that Bush and acting Army Secretary Les Brownlee might give speeches in which they misstated the facts about Tillman's death.

A former spokesman for Abizaid did not immediately return phone and e-mail messages.

As for Brownlee, he told investigators he did not recall learning Tillman was killed by his fellow Rangers until several weeks after the fact. He did not discuss the matter with the White House, he told investigators.

A spokesman for McChrystal said he had no comment.

McChrystal was, and still is, commander of the Joint Special Operations Command, head of "black ops" forces. He has since been promoted to lieutenant general. Abizaid was in charge of American forces in the Middle East and Central Asia.

In his memo, McChrystal said he had heard Bush and Brownlee "might include comments about Cpl. Tillman's heroism and his approved Silver Star medal in speeches currently being prepared, not knowing the specifics surrounding his death."

McChrystal said he expected an investigation under way "will find that it is highly possible Cpl. Tillman was killed by friendly fire."

At the same time, McChrystal said: "The potential that he might have been killed by friendly fire in no way detracts from his witnessed heroism or the recommended personal decoration for valor in the face of the enemy."

On Monday, the Pentagon released the findings of an investigation into the circumstances of Tillman's death, and into whether the military covered them up.

The investigators recommended that nine Army officers, including McChrystal, be held accountable for errors in reporting the friendly fire death to their superiors and to Tillman's family. McChrystal was found "accountable for the inaccurate and misleading assertions" contained in papers recommending Tillman get the Silver Star.

Some of the officers involved said they wanted to wait until the investigations were complete before informing the Tillman family.

The latest document obtained by the AP suggests that officials at least as high as Abizaid knew the truth weeks before the family.

Tillman was killed after his Army Ranger comrades were ambushed in eastern Afghanistan. Rangers in a convoy trailing Tillman's group had just emerged from a canyon where they had been fired upon. They saw Tillman and mistaken fired on him.

The White House has been careful not to wade into the circumstances of Tillman's death. The day after Tillman died, a spokesman said Tillman "was an inspiration on and off the football field," but made no reference to the specifics of the episode.

In a speech given two days after McChrystal's memo, Bush made no mention of how Tillman died.

"The loss of Army Cpl. Pat Tillman last week in Afghanistan brought home the sorrow that comes with every loss, and reminds us of the character of the men and women who serve on our behalf," Bush said at the White House Correspondents' Dinner.

Pentagon war funds need not urgent -Congress memo

Pentagon war funds need not urgent -Congress memo | News | Bonds News | Reuters: "WASHINGTON, March 30 (Reuters) - The U.S. Army has enough money on hand to finance the Iraq war through most of July, according to a congressional study that challenges President George W. Bush's assertions that an infusion of funds is needed more urgently."

According to a Congressional Research Service memo dated March 28 and sent to the Senate Budget Committee, "The Army could finance the O&M (operations and maintenance) of both its baseline and war program ... through most of July 2007" by shifting around money in existing accounts.

The memo said it based its projections "using Army and other data."

That assessment was at odds with Bush and some of his war managers, who have said that Congress could undermine U.S. troops and the war in Iraq if it did not approve approximately $100 billion within weeks.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said he had not seen the report, but that the Defense Department "stands by its comments with respect to the urgent need for the supplemental funding."

Bush requested the emergency funds in early February and Congress is in the process of writing bills providing more money for the war than the president requested.

But Democrats have added conditions to the money, including setting timetables for withdrawing all combat troops from Iraq. Bush wants the money without the conditions and has threatened to veto either bill passed by the Senate or the House of Representatives.

Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a House panel on Thursday that after April 15, without emergency funding, the Army would have to begin curtailing some troop training, which "could over time delay their ability to go back into combat."

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said that if the funds were not approved by May 15, the Army might have to extend some soldiers' tours, because other units would not ready, and reduce equipment repair work, among other things.


If Congress sends Bush a bill that he vetoes, lawmakers would then have to go through a potentially time-consuming process of rewriting and passing a new war-funding bill.

The administration tried to turn up the pressure on Congress on Friday, when White House spokeswoman Dana Perino criticized lawmakers for taking a spring vacation without making adequate progress on the emergency war funds.

"Every day that the Congress fails to act on this request causes our military hardship and impacts readiness," Perino said.

But according to the congressional memo, "the Army could finance its O&M expenses through the end of May by tapping $52.6 billion in O&M funding already provided by Congress." Furthermore, with congressional approval, the Pentagon could temporarily transfer money out of other accounts, giving the Army "almost two additional months" to conduct its regular operations and the war.

Since invading Iraq in March 2003 to depose then President Saddam Hussein, the Bush administration has refused to include in annual budgets the full estimated cost of the war each year. Instead, it has submitted "emergency" requests that many lawmakers complained have made it difficult to do proper oversight of the war. (Additional reporting by Kristin Roberts)

Helicopter shot down; fighting vicious in Mogadishu

Helicopter shot down; fighting vicious in Mogadishu - "MOGADISHU, Somalia (Reuters) -- Shells rained down on Mogadishu and a helicopter was hit in a second day of battles on Friday as Ethiopian and Somali troops sought to flush out militant Islamist insurgents in the worst fighting for months."...

Thursday, March 29, 2007

President Bush's Iran Policy Undermines Israeli Security

Karl Rove Does Rap

Karl Rove Does Rap.

Skiing Down An Escalator - Funny video clips are a click away

British Forces Surround Iranian Consulate in Iraq

British Forces Surround Iranian Consulate in Iraq - News Briefs - Arutz Sheva: " British forces have surrounded the Iranian consular offices in southern Iraq in an effort to force Tehran to free 15 British sailors and marines siezed last week. They allegedly entered Iranian waters, a charge Britain denies. "...

First Afghan action kills 122-

First Afghan action kills 122-News-World-Middle East-TimesOnline: "KABUL A six-day Afghan military operation in the southern province of Helmand left at least 122 militants and 12 police dead, the Defence Ministry said. "

Another 27 militants and 20 police were wounded in the action, launched a day after the Afghan New Year’s Day on March 21.

It cut an important Taliban supply route and destroyed militant strongholds, General Mohammad Zahir Azimi, a ministry spokesman said. The operation, called Norozi (New Year), was the first of its kind by the fledgeling Afghan forces with Nato air support, but not ground troops.

General Azimi added: “The importance for the operation is that it was the first independent operation by Afghan forces.” Taleban strongholds near Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand, were destroyed. Areas near Lashkar Gah have been in the control of the Taleban and drugs traffickers. (AFP)

For Sadr, a Fracturing Militia

For Sadr, a Fracturing Militia - "Iraq's most powerful Shiite militia is increasingly splintering as radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr -- now believed to be in Iran -- faces fresh challenges to his leadership, according to senior Pentagon and administration officials."

Yet the group's fracturing in the long run could make it harder to defeat militarily and could also complicate political reconciliation, they said.

"It's much more difficult to go after small, violent splinter groups than if you can get one organization to come in from the cold and reconcile," said a senior Pentagon official. "You have to fight with more people and kill more people, and it's much harder to bring them over to our side. The bright side is that, at least for the near term, they are keeping kind of quiet."

At least two Shiite rivals, with some internal support, have been jockeying to take over parts of Sadr's powerful Mahdi Army since he left for Iran earlier this year, officials say. Sadr has had trouble both leading and controlling his movement from afar, they said, as his absence has encouraged subordinates and earlier rivals to move in on his turf....

[bth: what's missing from this discussion is how the Mahdi Army gets paid - or doesn't.]

Base Tests Latest Army Concept Vehicles

Base Tests Latest Army Concept Vehicles - "SEATTLE -- Taking a page from auto manufacturers, the Army has rolled out several concept vehicles it hopes will help spawn new technologies for the next generation.

The two utility trucks and two maneuver sustainment vehicles are part of a $60 million Army program to modernize military tactical vehicles like the Humvee and the Hemmet, the Army's large transport truck. They are to be used strictly for demonstration and aren't likely to go into production, Army officials said."

The trucks, which arrived at Fort Lewis earlier this month, were tested Wednesday by soldiers with the 14th Battalion and the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.

"We've given them to the soldiers to play with them and try to break 'em," said Tim Connor, a Defense Department contractor based at Fort Lewis who is overseeing the project.

All four trucks are equipped with remote weapons systems, night-vision capabilities and diesel-electric hybrid engines. They also include ballistics glass, video cameras and touch-screen controls.

The Army wants to explore such technology for future use on aging vehicles like the Humvee, which doesn't have enough power or protection to carry out today's military missions.

"What we're running with now has become antiquated," Connor said.

The quieter hybrid system would be especially useful during combat missions, Connor said.

"If you want to sneak up on someone, you turn on the electric ... which also boosts the horsepower," he said....

Kennedy: Justice firings are keyed to '08 vote

Kennedy: Justice firings are keyed to '08 vote - The Boston Globe: "WASHINGTON -- Senator Edward M. Kennedy yesterday accused President Bush of using the Department of Justice to further his administration's 'right-wing ideology,' saying that veteran prosecutors were replaced by political operatives in key states to ensure that 'reliable partisans' are in place in time for the 2008 presidential election."...

Pakistani Intel Officers Killed While Searching for AQ Leader, Sources Say

The Blotter: "Four Pakistani intelligence officers were ambushed and killed today while traveling to meet with tribal leaders they hoped would help them find and capture al Qaeda's No. 2 Ayman al Zawahri and one of his deputies."

Pakistani military officials tell ABC News they believe "elements close to al Qaeda" carried out the hit on the four officers, all members of the country's Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI), in an apparent attempt to foil cooperation between Pakistani intelligence and tribal leaders thought to have knowledge helpful to learning the al Qaeda leaders' whereabouts.

Two of the ISI officials killed belonged to an anti-terrorism unit fighting al Qaeda in Pakistan.

Pakistani officials conceded the attackers knew closely-held details of the men's journey, including the timing of the men's trip, their route and their purpose. That is sure to raise fresh questions about al Qaeda's penetration of the Pakistani intelligence service.

The officials denied the attack was an "inside job" aided or carried out by rogue ISI officials sympathetic to al Qaeda

Wearing civilian clothes and driving a rented car, the four ISI men were traveling from their office in Peshawar to Khar, the main town of the Bajaur tribal agency, to meet with tribal leaders, when they were ambushed by masked attackers on motorbikes, who fired guns and lobbed grenades at the car.

The officials were hoping to locate al Zawahri and his son-in-law, Abu Obeidah al Misri, who is believed to be the new operational commander of al Qaeda.

Alexis Debat is an ABC News consultant.

[bth: the one piece of encouraging news from this article is that someone in ISI is actually looking for Zawahri. Bad news, they might have just been killed.]

Taliban Kill Senior Pakistani Intelligence Official; Taliban-ISI Rift?

Taliban Kill Senior Pakistani Intelligence Official; Taliban-ISI Rift? | India Defence: "A senior officer of Pakistan's top intelligence unit and his subordinate were killed in the continuing violence in the country's autonomous North West Frontier Province"

Pakistan's ISI is said to have extremely close links with the Taliban and much of the laters recent resurgence has been credited to the pro-Jehad elements present in the ISI.

Maj Hamza of the Inter-Services Intelligence and his assistant Subedar Saeed were killed when their car came under
attack in Rashakai area by suspected pro-Taliban militants.

The driver of the car, Momin, and another passenger suffered bullet injuries, media reports in Islamabad said.

Two persons was killed and several others injured in overnight fierce firing by militants in Tank town of North West Frontier Province.

Militants fired mortars and rockets on government and private buildings in Tank town in South Waziristan tribal
area in which a soldier of the paramilitary force Frontier Constabulary and a disabled civilian were killed, officials

A police officer said that militants also looted and burnt down six banks. The government has closed down all
educational institutions in the area.

In an earlier incident, over a dozen armed men forcibly entered the home of Farid Mehsud, principal of Oxford
Public School, in Sheikh Shahnawaz Bhatta area and abducted him and his brother.

Two suspected militants and a police official had been killed on Monday when six armed men had been involved in an
encounter with the police at the school.

The situation has been tense since the killing of a local militant leader, Ehsan Burki, on Monday in a shootout with the police.

ABC News: Militants attack Iraqi, U.S. forces with chlorine bombs

ABC News: Militants attack Iraqi, U.S. forces with chlorine bombs: "Mar 28, 2007 — FALLUJA, Iraq (Reuters) - Insurgents with two chlorine truck bombs attacked a local government building in Falluja in western Iraq on Wednesday, the latest in a string of attacks using the poisonous gas, the U.S. military said."

It said 15 Iraqi and U.S. soldiers were wounded in the blasts and many more suffered chlorine poisoning.

"Numerous Iraqi soldiers and policemen are being treated for symptoms such as labored breathing, nausea, skin irritation and vomiting that are synonymous with chlorine inhalation," a U.S. statement said.

It said no Iraqi or U.S. forces were killed in what it called a "complex attack" using mortars and small arms as well as the truck bombs.

Chlorine gas was widely used in World War One but its use in insurgent attacks in Iraq has particular resonance there. Saddam Hussein attacked Kurdish areas with chemical weapons in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq war.

Earlier Iraqi police said two car bombs exploded near an Iraqi checkpoint outside a U.S. military base in Falluja, killing eight Iraqi soldiers.

U.S. spokesman Lieutenant Shawn Mercer said the U.S. statement referred to the same incident but he could not confirm the deaths of the Iraqi policemen.

"Iraqi police identified the first suicide attacker and fired on the truck, causing it to detonate before reaching the compound," the U.S. statement said.

"Iraqi Army soldiers spotted the second suicide truck approaching the gate and engaged it with small arms fire, causing it to also detonate near the entrance of the compound."

U.S. commanders and the Iraqi government have blamed al Qaeda militants for several recent attacks using chlorine gas in Anbar, a restive mainly Sunni Arab province in western Iraq.

"The extent of the injuries from the inhalation is varied. It was very light to more severe. As far as we know none life-threatening at this point," Mercer said.

On March 17, insurgents deployed three chlorine car bombs on one day near Falluja and Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province.

Chlorine, which is turned from solid or liquid form to a gas by the blast, causes severe burns when inhaled and can cause death.

The U.S. military said it discovered an al Qaeda car bomb factory last month near Falluja with chlorine tanks..

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

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Thousands mourn soldier killed in Iraq

Thousands mourn soldier killed in Iraq - The Boston Globe: "WILMINGTON -- A white, horse-drawn hearse carried the silver casket of Private John Landry Jr. along residential streets lined with more than 2,000 mourners yesterday."

Some of the mourners saluted as the procession passed; others held American flags.

At his funeral Mass at St. Thomas of Villanova Catholic Church, Landry, who died in combat March 17, was hailed as a hero. He was the first Lowell serviceman to be killed in the war in Iraq.

Friends and family recalled that joining the Army was Landry's goal since his freshman year of high school and that he had just returned to duty in Iraq as a rifleman after two weeks of leave in Florida with his parents.

Landry's parents were thrilled when their son was born on Christmas Day 1986, three weeks earlier than expected, because they were given "extra time with him," Margaret McKenna, a family friend, said during the eulogy.

An honors student, Landry attended Lowell Catholic High School, where he graduated cum laude in 2005 and served on the student council and in a campus ministry.

"He was really smart," said a tearful Kelsey Wright, 20, a former classmate. Grinning, Wright added, "I copied off of him a couple times."

Standing 5 feet 10 inches tall, with a 240-pound frame, Landry was a "gentle giant" who struck fear in his opponents as a lineman on the football field, but revealed a softer side to family and friends, McKenna said.

Although Landry had received a college scholarship, he opted to follow his father, John F. Landry, who served in the Marines, and grandfather, who was a member of the 82d Airborne Division, by joining the military. Since Oct. 31, Landry had served with the Second Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment of the First Cavalry Division.

"It was like the military was made for John," said 20-year-old Lance Chamberlain, a former classmate. "He knew he was going to be in the Army since he was a freshman. There was no stopping him."

A crowd, many holding small American flags, gathered outside Nichols Funeral Home on Middlesex Avenue, where the immediate family packed a black limousine that followed Landry's hearse.

The procession included dozens of police officers riding motorcycles and students from Lowell Catholic wearing their green uniform sweaters.

It continued beneath an enormous US flag suspended between the ladders of two fire trucks, and past Wilmington High School and other schools where students solemnly watched.

Once mourners packed the pews at St. Thomas of Villanova, ushers closed the doors. Inside, three priests encouraged the group to remember the way Landry lived and to take solace in Catholic traditions.

"The grief passes; the honor remains," said the Rev. Marc J. Bishop. "We know that those who act in a godly way will be cared for by God himself."

The Landry family quietly sobbed. Sitting adjacent to Landry's casket, they filled at least the first four pews of the church.

"In peace, let us take John to his place of rest," the Rev. Paul Flammia said before Landry's casket was transported to Wildwood Cemetery.

There, hundreds gathered and presented Landry's parents with a bronze medal, a medal for conduct, and the American flag that had draped his coffin.

April Simpson can be reached at

[bth: our very best to our neighbors up the road, the Landry family. It was an honor meeting you and we mourn the honorable death of your son PFC John F. Landry, Jr., in the service of our country.]

Russian intelligence sees U.S. military buildup on Iran border

RIA Novosti - Russia - Russian intelligence sees U.S. military buildup on Iran border: "MOSCOW, March 27 (RIA Novosti) - Russian military intelligence services are reporting a flurry of activity by U.S. Armed Forces near Iran's borders, a high-ranking security source said Tuesday. "

"The latest military intelligence data point to heightened U.S. military preparations for both an air and ground operation against Iran," the official said, adding that the Pentagon has probably not yet made a final decision as to when an attack will be launched.

He said the Pentagon is looking for a way to deliver a strike against Iran "that would enable the Americans to bring the country to its knees at minimal cost."

He also said the U.S. Naval presence in the Persian Gulf has for the first time in the past four years reached the level that existed shortly before the invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

Col.-Gen. Leonid Ivashov, vice president of the Academy of Geopolitical Sciences, said last week that the Pentagon is planning to deliver a massive air strike on Iran's military infrastructure in the near future.

A new U.S. carrier battle group has been dispatched to the Gulf.

The USS John C. Stennis, with a crew of 3,200 and around 80 fixed-wing aircraft, including F/A-18 Hornet and Superhornet fighter-bombers, eight support ships and four nuclear submarines are heading for the Gulf, where a similar group led by the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower has been deployed since December 2006.

The U.S. is also sending Patriot anti-missile systems to the region.
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Tillman's mom to ESPN: 'They were lying to us' -

Tillman's mom to ESPN: 'They were lying to us' - "(CNN) -- The mother of Cpl. Pat Tillman, the former NFL player killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan in April 2004, on Tuesday rejected the latest explanation from the U.S. military about her son's death."

"It became very obvious early on that they were lying to us," Mary Tillman said on ESPN Radio's "Dan Patrick Show." "They were only telling one side of the story. They weren't telling the other side."

The military reported Monday that nine military officers, including four generals, will face "corrective action" for making critical mistakes in the aftermath of the Army Ranger's death.

An investigation by the Army's inspector general and Criminal Investigation Command concluded officers in Tillman's chain of command knew almost immediately after his death that he had been killed by fire from his own platoon, but that information was withheld from his family for more than a month, in violation of Army regulations.

The investigation also concluded that inadequate initial investigations "contributed to the inaccuracies, misunderstandings and perceptions of concealment."

Tillman's mother was not convinced.

Everyone involved in the shooting knew almost immediately that her son had been shot three times in the head by his own troops, she said.

Yet, at the memorial service for her son in May 2004, the military said Pat Tillman had been killed by enemy fire, she said.

"That was not a misstep, that was not an error," she said. "This was an attempt to dupe the public and to promote this war and to get recruitments up, and that is immoral."

Mary Tillman called for a congressional hearing "to have it all aired out."

She added, "I really don't know what happened. We've been told so many different things."

Shot intentionally?
Mary Tillman said she was not excluding the possibility that her son was shot intentionally.

"Pat was used," she said. "Once he was killed, I think they saw this as an opportunity." She noted that April 2004 was the worst month up to that time in the year-old Iraq war, and the shooting occurred right after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke.

The latest investigation "only presented the points of view of the soldiers in the vehicle" who fatally shot her son and an Afghan soldier and wounded two others, she said.

"They never brought into play what the other witnesses said," Mary Tillman said.

She described as "shocking" the military's claim that no rules of engagement were broken.

The platoon members "fired at soldiers who weren't firing at them in areas where hands were waving and at a building," she said. "All of those things are breaking rules of engagement."

The soldier believed to have shot her son three times in the head was asked whether he had made a positive identification of the target before firing, she said. "This soldier said, 'No, I wanted to be in a firefight,' " she said. "That was a definite breaking of the rules of engagement."

She said the military is still spinning the story for its own gain.

"The first investigative officer, in his statement to the third investigative officer, said in his opinion, there was evidence of criminal intent, and he also used the term 'criminal negligence,' " Tillman said.

"Yet his report has been devalued because it doesn't go along with what they want out in the public eye."

In 2002, Pat Tillman, a safety with the Arizona Cardinals, turned down a multimillion-dollar contract offer and instead joined the Army, a decision he said was a response to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

He was shot April 22, 2004, in a remote area near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

Enraged Policemen Go on Revenge Killing Spree in Northern Iraqi Town - International News | News of the World | Middle East News | Europe News - Enraged Policemen Go on Revenge Killing Spree in Northern Iraqi Town - International News | News of the World | Middle East News | Europe News: "BAGHDAD — Off-duty Shiite policemen enraged by massive bombings in the northern town of Tal Afar went on a revenge spree against Sunni residents there on Wednesday, killing at least 45 men, police and hospital officials said."

The policemen began roaming the town's Sunni neighborhoods on foot early in the morning, shooting at Sunni residents and homes.

A senior hospital official in Tal Afar said at least 45 men ages 15 to 60 were killed and four others were wounded.

Police said dozens of Sunnis were killed or wounded, but they had no precise figures. The shooting continued for more than two hours, the officials said.

Army troops later moved into the Sunni areas to stop the violence and a curfew was slapped on the entire town, according to Wathiq al-Hamdani, the provincial police chief and his head of operations, Brig. Abdul-Karim al-Jibouri.

Tal Afar, located 260 miles northwest of Baghdad, is in the province of Ninevah, of which Mosul is the capital.

"The situation is under control now," said al-Hamdani. "The local Tal Afar police have been confined to their bases and policemen from Mosul are moving there to replace them."

Al-Jibouri said he was heading to Tal Afar to take charge of the situation.

Two truck bombs hit markets in Tal Afar Tuesday, killing at least 63 and wounding 150.

[bth: compare this story with the one written earlier and shown below where ambulances were blocked attempting to assist the wounded from the two bombings. If I recall, the police moved into Tal Afar were Kurdish.]

50 Dead in Talafar Blasts

IraqSlogger: 50 Dead in Talafar Blasts: "Mosul, March 27, (VOI) - At least 50 people were killed and 120 others were wounded on Tuesday in three bombing attacks in the northern city of Talafar, the city's mayor said."

Following the blasts, unidentified gunmen blocked the way of vehicles carrying medical assistance from Mosul to Talafar, to aid victims, an official in Ninawa province said on Tuesday.
"A group of unidentified armed men blocked the way that links Mosul with Talafar to prevent ambulances and other vehicles from entering the city," the Head of Security and Defense Committee in Ninawa provincial council Hesham al-Hamadani told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI) over the phone.

Talafar mayor Brigadier Najem Abdullah al-Juburi told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI), "Three car bombs went off today afternoon in the Talafar district killing 50 people and wounding 120 others,"

Al-Juburi also said that "the blasts damaged more than 50 houses and set on fire a large number of vehicles."

US Soldiers Repel Insurgent Attack

IraqSlogger: US Soldiers Repel Insurgent Attack: "US soldiers repelled an offensive by thirty gunmen and two suicide truck bombers at an outpost near Fallujah on Monday.

According to a statement by the US military, "Approximately 30 terrorist fighters engaged the compound with small-arms fire, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars. The soldiers returned fire with small arms, mortars and artillery."

American firepower also detonated two bomb-laden trucks as they attempted to crash through the gates to get inside the compound at Garma, west of Fallujah.

Nine US soldiers were injured in the attack, and the military estimates they killed 15 insurgent gunmen.

[bth: note how the attacks are becoming more coordinated with multiple truck bombs in motion together along with small arms fire support. This seems to be a growing trend and would suggest greater organization within the sunni insurgents.]
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US tells Syria to stop bombers crossing into Iraq

Reuters AlertNet - US tells Syria to stop bombers crossing into Iraq: ..."He estimated 90 percent of suicide bombers in Iraq were foreigners and while the mix of nationalities changed, some 85 to 90 percent of them crossed over from Syria."...

IraqSlogger: US Army Nabs VBIED Cell in Baghdad

IraqSlogger: US Army Nabs VBIED Cell in Baghdad: "Two leaders of an insurgent cell specializing in VBIEDs were captured in Baghdad last week, according to statements by the US military."

Haytham Kazim Abdallah Al-Shimari, the cell's alleged leader, was picked up in a separate incident on the same day--March 21--as his deputy, Haydar Rashid Nasir Al-Shammari Al-Jafar and two other associates.

The men are allegedly part of a cell based in the Adhamiya district of Baghdad, whose car bombs have reportedly claimed the lives of 900 Iraqis and injured closed to 2000 since November.
On the moring of March 21, elements of the 82nd Airborne apparently engaged Shimari and his driver with small arms fire after their vehicle was noticed weaving in and out of traffic. Shimari and his driver were identified and taken into custody after being stopped.

Later that same day, according to the US military statement, "Elements of A Co., 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division were conducting combat operations in Adhamiyah when they received actionable intelligence prompting them to stop a passing vehicle."

They detained the car's occupants after identifying them as Jafar and associates Ahamed Hassan Niami and Hamid Selman Alawi.
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Why Iran Seized British Marines

The Blotter: "seizure of the 15 British sailors was a carefully planned retaliation for the arrest of five Revolutionary Guard--Quds Force officers from the Iranian consulate in Irbil, Iraq, by U.S. forces on Jan. 11, according to Western intelligence sources. "

The sources tell ABC News the decision to abduct the British marines in that location was apparently calculated to exploit the nebulous and often disputed international border between Iran and Iraq that runs through the Shat al Arab.

Iran has claimed that the sailors had ventured into Iranian waters, a claim that British officials deny. A local fisherman, who witnessed the officers on the Revolutionary Guard patrol boats detain the British sailors, supports the British claim that the sailors were in Iraqi waters

The London-based daily Asharq al-Awsat reported that the decision to detain the British sailors was taken on by the regime's Higher Defense Council in light of reports that the detention of the five officers as well as the disappearance of three other senior Iranian officers could seriously compromise ongoing operations of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard-Quds Force. ...

[bth: but why now and not a month ago or a month from now? The event came on the eve of an aborted trip to NYC and the UN by their president]
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FBI agent told to keep quiet over attorney firings 

FBI agent told to keep quiet over attorney firings | Top News | "WASHINGTON (Reuters) - An FBI agent was warned to keep quiet about the dismissal of a U.S. attorney after he told a newspaper her firing would hurt the agency's ongoing investigations and speculated politics was involved, a U.S. Senate panel heard on Tuesday."

FBI Director Robert Mueller defended the handling of the incident, saying: "I do not believe it's appropriate for our special agents in charge to comment to the media on personnel decisions that are made by the Department of Justice."

"I profoundly disagree," replied Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, who told the panel of the warning to the agent. "He (the agent) was simply saying that it would affect cases that were ongoing. And I think he's entitled to his opinion." ...

Mueller Defends Need for Expanded Powers

Mueller Defends Need for Expanded Powers | The Huffington Post: "WASHINGTON — FBI Director Robert Mueller struggled Tuesday to convince skeptical senators that _ despite recent abuses _ the FBI should retain Patriot Act authority to gather telephone, e-mail and financial records without a judge's approval."

The statute did not cause the errors. The FBI's implementation did," the FBI chief told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

But Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., served notice: "We're going to be re-examining the broad authorities we granted the FBI in the Patriot Act." House Judiciary committee members delivered a similar message last week....

A Death Embellished - New York Times

A Death Embellished - New York Times: "The Pentagon’s investigation of the “friendly fire” death of Pat Tillman, the Army Ranger who became an administration icon for its war on terror, has left the corporal’s family doubtful that the truth has really come out. Even as the Army reaffirmed its belief that Corporal Tillman deserved a Silver Star for valor, the family denounced the award as “part of a cynical design to conceal the real events from the family and the public, while exploiting the death of our beloved Pat as a recruitment poster.” "

The circumstances of this byzantine case cry out for Congressional hearings to get an independent evaluation of just who pulled the strings to sugar-coat a terrible battlefield accident as an instance of heroism under hostile fire.

Corporal Tillman, a clean-cut, strapping young man, walked away from a multimillion-dollar professional football contract to enlist in the Army after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. He was killed in Afghanistan on April 22, 2004, in a hail of fire from fellow Rangers who mistakenly thought his small group was an enemy force.

Military officers suspected the very next day that he was probably killed by friendly fire, but incredibly, his company commander started work on a recommendation that he receive a Bronze Star for valor. That morphed into a Silver Star as it proceeded up the chain of command.

Corporal Tillman ultimately received a posthumous Silver Star based on a citation that implied he died from enemy fire and two witness statements that were attributed to platoon members but were actually drafted by others and contained inaccuracies. Even so, the Army is letting the award stand because, officials say, Corporal Tillman died heroically trying to help the unit that shot him.

The question not yet satisfactorily answered is just who is most responsible for changing the story line from a “friendly fire” tragedy to a tale of heroism. The Pentagon’s investigators recommended that nine officers, including four generals, be disciplined for failing to follow various regulations and failing to notify the family until a well-publicized memorial service was safely past. The investigators found no evidence of an orchestrated cover-up. But the family believes the Pentagon public relations machine is behind the distortions and wants a Congressional inquiry. Congress should provide it.

Veterans Director in Arizona Steps Down After Violations - New York Times

Veterans Director in Arizona Steps Down After Violations - New York Times: "PHOENIX, March 27 — The director of the Arizona Department of Veterans Services resigned Tuesday, days after the public disclosure of health and safety violations at a nursing home for veterans."

The violations included patients left in soiled undergarments and covered in bodily fluids leaking from medical devices.

The list of violations was in a report dated March 16 and released last week by state health investigators who, acting on an anonymous complaint, examined the Arizona State Veteran Home in central Phoenix over an eight-day period last month. The report was obtained last week by The Arizona Republic and has been widely publicized around the state.

The home, which has 200 beds serving primarily veterans of World War II and the Korean War, was fined $10,000 by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services as a result of the report.

Gov. Janet Napolitano relieved the director of the department, Patrick Chorpenning, of his duties associated with the home on Monday, and he resigned on Tuesday, saying that “in light of what has taken place in the press, I feel it is in your best interest that I resign.”

“I am certain that after the investigation into the Arizona State Veteran Home is complete,” he added in a two-paragraph letter to the governor, “there will be a complete exoneration of the charges.”

Mr. Chorpenning, a former marine who was seriously wounded in Vietnam, had also been criticized in the report for hiring his wife and cousin at the home, findings that Ms. Napolitano referred to the state attorney general for further inquiry.

A spokeswoman for Ms. Napolitano, Jeanine Lecuyer, declined to elaborate on the circumstances of the resignation.

The revelations came amid a fresh round of scrutiny over the care of veterans prompted by the war in Iraq and revelations of poor treatment of outpatients and shoddy upkeep at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, the Defense Department’s premiere hospital.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota ordered the state health department this month to monitor day-to-day operations at the Minneapolis Veterans Home after state inspectors found that three men had died there in the previous month because of neglect or medical errors.

Veterans groups and family members have also raised concerns in Tennessee after state inspections there in the past year found health and safety violations at two homes.

There are 119 state veterans homes in 47 states and Puerto Rico that provide long-term care for elderly veterans, financed jointly by the states and the United States Department of Veterans Affairs....

Tuesday, March 27, 2007 - Family Wants Government Probe Into Tillman's Death - Family Wants Government Probe Into Tillman's Death: "CBS News) Pat Tillman's family firmly rejected the Defense Department's findings into the former NFL star's friendly-fire death in Afghanistan, calling for congressional investigations into what they see as broad malfeasance and a coverup. "

"Perhaps subpoenas are necessary to elicit candor and accuracy from the military," his family said in a statement Monday night, after hearing the results of the latest probes.

The men who shot Tillman have always claimed the April 22, 2004, incident was a terrible mistake in the fog of war, and the Army officially agreed Monday, declining to press charges.

But possible punishments still hang over several high-ranking officers who allegedly botched the investigations and key administrative tasks.

Nine Army officers, including four generals, made errors in reporting the friendly fire death to their superiors and to the Tillman family, the Pentagon said. Defense officials said one or more of those officers who provided misleading information as the military investigated could be charged with a crime.

A central issue in the case is why the Army waited about five weeks from the time it suspected Tillman's death was friendly fire until it told his family. Several officers have testified they wanted to wait until the early investigations were complete, but regulations required the Army to notify family members if friendly fire was even suspected.

Calling the government's findings "unsatisfactory," the family said in a statement: "The characterization of criminal negligence, professional misconduct, battlefield incompetence, concealment and destruction of evidence, deliberate deception, and conspiracy to deceive are not 'missteps.' These actions are malfeasance."

The latest investigation reserves its strongest criticism for Lt. Gen. Philip Kensinger, the now-retired three-star general who was in charge of Army special operations.

"We found compelling evidence that Kensinger learned of suspected fratricide well before the memorial service and provided misleading testimony" on that issue, the report said. That misrepresentation, the report said, could constitute a "false official statement," a violation of the Military Code of Justice.

Because Kensinger is out of the military, it would be difficult to charge him criminally, however.

Referring to Kensinger, Tillman's family said, "While he is not blameless, we believe he is the pawn being sacrificed to protect the king, that king being secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld."

Acting Army Secretary Peter Geren asked Gen. William Wallace, who oversees training for the Army, to review the actions of the officers and to provide a progress report on possible punishments in 30 days.

"We as an Army failed in our duty to the Tillman family, the duty we owe to all the families of our fallen soldiers: Give them the truth, the best we know it, as fast as we can," Geren told reporters at the Pentagon. "Our failure in fulfilling this duty brought discredit to the Army and compounded the grief suffered by the Tillman family. For that, on behalf of the Army, I apologize to the Tillman family."

"The briefing we just received was shamefully unacceptable," the family said in a statement issued from their home in San Jose, where Pat Tillman grew up. "Our family is therefore compelled to continue our (pursuit of) the full truth about the circumstances of Pat Tillman's death and the so-called 'missteps' and 'deficiencies' of Pat's unit, the Army, the Department of Defense, and this administration."

In its rush to honor the high profile NFL hero, the Army failed miserably in telling Tillman's family the truth, reports CBS News national security correspondent David Martin. The Army waited 35 days to tell the family the truth, leaving Tillman's father in the dark at a nationally televised memorial service.

Though dozens of soldiers knew quickly that Tillman had been killed by his fellow troops, the Army said initially that he was killed by enemy gunfire when he led his team to help another group of ambushed soldiers.

"We thought there was never an attempt to cover up what we saw," Defense Department acting Inspector General Thomas F. Gimble said during a Pentagon briefing as the military released reports by the Army Criminal Investigation Command and by the inspector general.

Tillman's death received worldwide attention because he had walked away from a huge contract with the National Football League's Arizona Cardinals to enlist in the Army after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The highest current ranking officer blamed in the incident is Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of the Joint Special Operations Command. Investigators said he was "accountable for the inaccurate and misleading assertions" contained in papers recommending that Tillman get a Silver Star award.

The inspector general's report also faulted Brig. Gen. Gary Jones and now-Brig. Gen. James C. Nixon.

Jones, now retired from the Army, led one of the previous Army investigations of the matter. The report faulted him for failing to address several issues in his probe.

It criticized Nixon, who was Tillman's regimental commander, for failing to ensure that Tillman's family was told that friendly fire was suspected. Nixon is now director of operations at the Center for Special Operations at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida.

Of the nine officers the military said would be "held accountable," only the four generals — McChrystal, Kensinger, Nixon and Jones — are identified in the report. The names of the five others were blacked out because of the military's privacy policy, said Gimble.

According to a comparison of the report with documents the AP has examined previously, two of them are then-Capt. Richard Scott, appointed to conduct the first investigation, and then-Lt. Col. Ralph Kauzlarich, who conducted the second.

The report blames both men for failing to visit the scene of the shooting, secure evidence, take photos, obtain measurements and interview all witnesses.

Also, then-Lt. Col. Jeff Bailey, the battalion commander who oversaw Tillman's platoon, is held accountable for the "inaccurate award recommendation" that led to Tillman's Silver Star. Bailey recommended Tillman for the award, officials told the AP.

The inspector general investigation recommended that the Army review its award of the Silver Star to Tillman, but Geren said the award would stand after the notation was changed.

However, Tillman's family considers the award part of the coverup.

"No one who knew Pat ever doubted his physical or moral courage," the family wrote. "But the award of the Silver Star appears more than anything to be part of a cynical design to conceal the real events from the family and the public, while exploiting the death of our beloved Pat as a recruitment poster."
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Militants hailed by Pakistani government vow to fight on in Afghanistan

Militants hailed by Pakistani government vow to fight on in Afghanistan - International Herald Tribune: "WANA, Pakistan: Tribal militants praised by the government for a bloody assault on foreign fighters in northwestern Pakistan said on Monday that they will continue to go to Afghanistan and fight foreign forces there."

Fierce clashes between armed tribesmen and Central Asian militants last week in Pakistan's South Waziristan tribal region, bordering Afghanistan, reportedly left up to 160 people dead, including about 130 Uzbek and Chechen fighters allegedly linked to al-Qaida.

The government hailed the bloodletting as a sign that local tribes will evict foreign militants without the involvement of Pakistani security forces. A spokesman for the Pakistani military, which is under pressure from the United States to do more against Taliban and al-Qaida in the remote border zone, even described them as "patriots."

But members of the tribal militia that led last week's assault told reporters that they had not turned against the foreigners for the government's sake.

"We will continue our jihad (in Afghanistan) if that is against America, the Russians, British or India as long as we have souls in our bodies," Haji Sharif, an aide to a senior tribal leader in the region, told reporters in Wana, South Waziristan's main town.

Sharif is an aide to Maulvi Nazir, a militant leader formerly aligned with the Taliban militia fighting foreign troops in Afghanistan. Nazir's representatives escorted reporters to the area, where sympathies for the Taliban run high and which is generally off-limits to outside journalists.

Government officials have claimed that Nazir and other militant leaders are bound by a 2004 peace deal under which the Pakistani military halted bloody counter-terrorist operations in the border region in return for a halt to militancy. Tribal elders are supposed to enforce the pact while the Pakistani military has focused on trying to seal the mountainous border.

However, Sharif said the fighting with the Uzbeks, which began Monday and appeared to have died down by the weekend, was only a temporary setback.

"Our activities across the border have been affected by our crisis with the Uzbeks. We have enemies in our home," he said.

An Enclave of Normalcy in Fearful Baghdad -

An Enclave of Normalcy in Fearful Baghdad - "BAGHDAD -- In front of a blue metal gate, women in black abayas clutch food ration cards and exhibit a confidence rarely felt in the Iraqi capital. They will feed their families tonight. Several yards away, men sit behind wooden desks poring over hundreds of colorful folders, one each for Shiite families forced to flee their homes. Every family will be given a new life."

This busy office in the heart of the vast Shiite slum of Sadr City is not an arm of the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Nor is it a relief agency. It is the domain of the 33-year-old Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Here, Sadr doles out aid to his neediest followers, from cradle to grave, filling a void in a desperately uncertain country.

"We get no help from Maliki. Only Sayyid Moqtada helps us," said Saleh al-Ghathbawi, a tall, balding clerk in a blue tracksuit, using the honorific that signifies Sadr's descent from the prophet Muhammad.

As the United States and Iraq proceed with a six-week-old security offensive to pacify the capital, Sadr's black-clad fighters have melted away. His advisers have fled to evade arrest. His own whereabouts are contested. U.S. intelligence officials say elements of his Mahdi Army militia have splintered off beyond his control.

Yet nowhere is Sadr's power more visible than in the sprawling district in eastern Baghdad that bears his family's name. Through legacy, symbolism and money, he has built up his street credentials by helping and protecting Iraq's Shiite majority. His militiamen have made Sadr City into the safest, most homogenous enclave in a capital scarred by war and ruled by a fragile government. It often appears to operate like a separate nation, where Sadr's words carry the weight of law.

The cleric's influence is everywhere. His representatives run the hospitals, the Islamic courts, the police, the municipal offices and the mosques. He pays for funerals and school books. He builds houses and controls inflation. He punishes the corrupt and those whose activities taint Islam or his privileged name.

"He is our marja," said Adil Murad Ali Muhammad, a retired civil servant in a gray jacket, referring to a supreme authority on Shiite religion and law....

The War in the Words of the Dead - Newsweek National News -

The War in the Words of the Dead - Newsweek National News - "April 2, 2007 Issue - He was exhausted, but he wanted to talk to his daughter, and the only way to do that in Fallujah was to write a letter. 'This war is not like the big war—there are no big sweeping maneuvers with hundreds of tanks pouring over the border and so forth,' Army Maj. Michael Mundell told his 17-year-old, Erica (nicknamed 'Eddie'), on Friday, Oct. 27, 2006. 'It's a fight of 10 man squads in the dark, of ambushes and snipers and IEDs. When I go out to fight, it's usually with less than 20 men ... And I go out to fight almost every day.'"

The pace, he admitted, was punishing.

"We are weary, Eddie, so very weary. I can't tell you how bone tired I am. There are times when we get back in and ... it is all I can do to drag myself from the truck and stagger up here to take off all the junk I gotta wear ... " His tone briefly brightened as he thought of Erica's life back home, where she was a senior at Meade County High School in Brandenburg, Ky.: "Tell all of your friends and your teachers that I said hello from Fallujah. I am doing well and our battalion is considered the best in the brigade. We are fighting the enemy and hopefully winning, though that is difficult to measure." He signed off with a pledge: "Never forget that your daddy loves you more than anything and that I will be home soon." Mundell could not keep that last promise. At a quarter to 2 on the afternoon of Friday, Jan. 5, 2007, he was killed by an IED while on patrol in Fallujah; the casket was closed at his funeral in Kentucky.

Never forget that your daddy loves you: As a soldier, husband, father and casualty of war, Michael Mundell is one of at least 3,230 Americans who have died in the struggle for Iraq. He was 47 years old and left behind his wife, Audrey, and four children, all under 18. By itself, Mundell's story is sad but familiar, even predictable. Wars have always made women widows and children orphans. When Mundell was laid to rest in a hillside cemetery in Irvington, Ky., he joined the solemn company of America's fallen warriors—men and women who become objects of veneration, commemorated, in Lincoln's words, as the "honored dead" who "gave the last full measure of devotion." They are garlanded and buried beneath white marble, revered but silenced.

Yet they still have stories to tell, stories that bear hearing, and remembering. In letters and journals and e-mails, the war dead live on, their words—urgent, honest, unself-conscious—testament to the realities of combat. What do they have to say to us? This special issue of NEWSWEEK is an attempt to answer that question. We have collected the correspondence of American soldiers at war in Iraq, accounts written not for the public but for those they loved—wives, husbands, children, parents, siblings. Each of the warriors whose words are excerpted here died in the line of duty. Each of their families chose to share their stories with us, and with you. "It's become very important to me that these soldiers and Marines are viewed as individuals with lives, dreams, experiences and families," says Terri Clifton, whose son, Marine Lance Cpl. Chad Clifton, was killed by a mortar in Anbar province. "They aren't cardboard cutouts in shades of red, white and blue."...

Army deployed seriously injured troops

Army deployed seriously injured troops | Salon News: "Soldiers on crutches and canes were sent to a main desert camp used for Iraq training. Military experts say the Army was pumping up manpower statistics to show a brigade was battle ready.
By Mark Benjamin"

Last November, Army Spc. Edgar Hernandez, a communications specialist with a unit of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, had surgery on an ankle he had injured during physical training. After the surgery, doctors put his leg in a cast, and he was supposed to start physical therapy when that cast came off six weeks later.

But two days after his cast was removed, Army commanders decided it was more important to send him to a training site in a remote desert rather than let him stay at Fort Benning, Ga., to rehabilitate. In January, Hernandez was shipped to the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., where his unit, the 3,900-strong 3rd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division, was conducting a month of training in anticipation of leaving for Iraq in March.

Hernandez says he was in no shape to train for war so soon after his injury. "I could not walk," he told Salon in an interview....

Monday, March 26, 2007

Jacob Brownowski from Ascent of Man

ABSOLUTELY SUPERB clip from Jacob Brownowski's "The Ascent of Man"

Modern Tribalist: A Pakistani policeman and an Islamic militant leader have been killed in a shoot-out at a private school in the north-western town of Tank

Modern Tribalist: A Pakistani policeman and an Islamic militant leader have been killed in a shoot-out at a private school in the north-western town of Tank: "Another militant was said to have been arrested, while a third was wounded in the clash at the Oxford Public School. "

Police say firing broke out after the militant leader, Ehsan Barqi, threw a grenade at them when they tried to stop him addressing students at the college. Police say the militants were trying to recruit boys for jihad (holy war).

Officials say the militants who tried to enter the school were all members of the "local Taleban". "They wanted to go inside in a bid to convince the students to join them for jihad. Police knew their designs and stopped them," Tank administration chief Syed Mohsin Shah told the AFP news agency.

"In an exchange of fire the officer in charge of the local police station, Hasan Khan, was killed. One extremist was killed and another was wounded," he said.Police say the militants attacked a police van shortly afterwards with a hand grenade, wounding five passers-by.6 Dead in Gunbattle at Pakistani School
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The Tax Foundation - Who Pays America's Tax Burden, and Who Gets the Most Government Spending?

The Tax Foundation - Who Pays America's Tax Burden, and Who Gets the Most Government Spending?: "Executive Summary

While many studies answer the ques­tion of who pays taxes in America, the question of who gets the most government spending is often overlooked. Just as some Americans bear a larger portion of the nation's tax burden than others, some Americans also receive a larger share of the nation's government spending."

This report summarizes the key findings of a comprehensive 2007 Tax Foundation study of federal, state and local taxes and government spending. The results show that when we consider the distribution of government spending as well as taxes, it provides a dramatically altered view of how U.S. fiscal policy affects Americans at different income levels than is apparent from the distribution of tax burdens alone.

Overall, we find that America's lowest-earning one-fifth of households received roughly $8.21 in government spending for each dollar of taxes paid in 2004. Households with middle-incomes received $1.30 per tax dollar, and America's highest-earning households received $0.41. Government spending targeted at the lowest-earning 60 percent of U.S. households is larger than what they paid in federal, state and local taxes. In 2004, between $1.03 trillion and $1.53 trillion was redistributed downward from the two highest income quintiles to the three lowest income quintiles through government taxes and spending policy.

These findings suggest tax distributions alone do not tell Americans how much the nation's fiscal system is helping or hurting low-income households. To answer that, we must look beyond tax burdens to government spending as well. Lawmakers who ignore the distribution of govern­ment spending risk making policy judgments based on an incorrect set of facts about the United States fiscal system.

Attached Files
Special Report No. 151, PDF, 366.7 KBby Andrew Chamberlain, Gerald Prante and Scott A. Hodge
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Counterterrorism Blog: Major U.S. Military Operations Coming in Diyala

Counterterrorism Blog: Major U.S. Military Operations Coming in Diyala: "On Friday, CBN News ran a story that I helped develop about coming major U.S. military operations in Iraq's Diyala province. An excerpt from Erick Stakelbeck's report:"

The U.S. military has developed battle plans designed to clear al-Qaeda out of Iraq. High level military intelligence sources have told CBN News the offensive would target the Iraqi province of Diyala. The province is located just northeast of Baghdad, along the Iranian border. Many of al-Qaeda's forces in Baghdad moved there when the new troop surge was announced in January. Diyala is now a major launching pad for al-Qaeda suicide bombing attacks. "If you want to diminish the amount of car bombers and suicide bombers, you have to take the fight right to the source. And in this case, the source is Diyala," said CBN News consultant Daveed Gartenstein-Ross. Gartenstein-Ross says the Diyala offensive will be even bigger than the major U.S. operation in Fallujah back in 2004 -- which cleared out a city that had been a major insurgent stronghold. Military sources say the Fallujah operation directly led to the success of the 2005 Iraqi elections. Gartenstein-Ross said, "Here, the goal is going to be to drive these guys out of the country entirely." Sources say the initial plans involve three distinct strikes from three different directions. The goal is to destroy enemy training facilities and prevent al-Qaeda forces from escaping.

"The insurgents are left with two choices--either to stand and fight or to retreat into Iran--at which point, they're Iran's problem," said Gartenstein-Ross. Al-Qaeda's leader in Iraq, Abu Ayyub al-Masri, has been laying mines and positioning anti-aircraft batteries to counteract the coming offensive. One of the U.S. military's goals is to take out these anti-aircraft groups. That will likely involve heavy U.S. airpower.
A few more notes on the coming Diyala operations, from my discussions with U.S. military intelligence sources. First, when will it take place? General David Petraeus has requested another 2,500 to 3,000 troops as part of the surge. Once that request comes through, the Diyala operations will begin.

Second, the fact that the majority of al-Qaeda forces in Baghdad moved to Diyala when the surge was announced represents a significant shift in jihadist thinking. Earlier, jihadists had a kamikaze-type mentality of fighting to the death because of the glory and heavenly rewards that martyrdom entailed.

However, Abu Ayyub al-Masri, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, articulated a different view: that it was better not to martyr oneself when there was a different course that could help the Ummah (worldwide Muslim community) more. Al-Masri compared this to Prophet Muhammad's hijra: Muhammad didn't fight the Meccans right away, but instead retreated to a place (Yathrib/Medina) where he could gather strength until he was ready to fight. Al-Masri's articulation of this view opened al-Qaeda's forces in Iraq to a higher level of pragmatism.

Third, the choice to rebase to Diyala was strategic. The Anbar province is mainly Sunni, while in Diyala the Sunnis have real fear of Shia death squads. The reason al-Qaeda decided to rebase to Diyala rather than Anbar is because they thought they would receive at least soft support from the Sunnis: because of their concerns about the Shias, the Sunnis would be less likely to challenge al-Qaeda.

Fourth, there is concern about al-Qaeda's use of chemical weapons. Insurgents have been making use of chlorine gas bombs lately, and on Friday U.S. troops discovered a chlorine cache in Baghdad as part of a larger cache of weapons. While Zarqawi had been obsessed with high-end nerve agents, al-Masri makes use of whatever is available, and whatever may be cheaply obtained in large quantities. He may use insecticides or industrial phosphagen-based agents in the future. For the Diyala operations, there is concern that al-Qaeda forces will use chlorine and may also use higher-end chemical weapons. My sources wouldn't be surprised to see World War I agents such as mustard gas (which can be produced in a pharmaceutical facility by competent hands) used against U.S. forces.

Fifth, my sources say that the pace of major U.S. military operations in Iraq is critical. In the past, after major operations, the military hasn't kept the heat up. After a major operation in Fallujah in November 2004, there were no major operations until Operation Matador in May 2005. There was then another pause in major operations until Operation Sayyid in October 2005. There were no major operations in 2006. When the military doesn't undertake major operations, it gives insurgents time to regroup and reconstitute. One paradox of counterinsurgency is that it's most important to attack when the enemy is weakest. The military has not been doing so -- but I expect this to change under Gen. Petraeus.

[bth: instead of being pushed into Iran, it seems more likely that these sunni terrorists will simply displace to a sunni province that has insufficient US troops to fight them especially as we concentrate them in Baghdad.]

GSA Chief Is Accused of Playing Politics

GSA Chief Is Accused of Playing Politics - "Witnesses have told congressional investigators that the chief of the General Services Administration and a deputy in Karl Rove's political affairs office at the White House joined in a videoconference earlier this year with top GSA political appointees, who discussed ways to help Republican candidates."

With GSA Administrator Lurita Alexis Doan and up to 40 regional administrators on hand, J. Scott Jennings, the White House's deputy director of political affairs, gave a PowerPoint presentation on Jan. 26 of polling data about the 2006 elections

When Jennings concluded his presentation to the GSA political appointees, Doan allegedly asked them how they could "help 'our candidates' in the next elections," according to a March 6 letter to Doan from Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Waxman said in the letter that one method suggested was using "targeted public events, such as the opening of federal facilities around the country."

On Wednesday, Doan is scheduled to appear before Waxman's committee to answer questions about the videoconference and other issues. The committee is investigating whether remarks made during the videoconference violated the Hatch Act, a federal law that restricts executive-branch employees from using their positions for political purposes. Those found in violation of the act do not face criminal penalties but can be removed from their jobs.

Waxman said in the letter that the remarks made during the videoconference have been confirmed by "multiple sources." Congressional investigators have taken statements from GSA employees and others in recent weeks.

The planned hearing is part of an expanding examination by Waxman's committee of Doan's tumultuous 10-month tenure as administrator of the GSA. The government's leading procurement agency annually handles about $56 billion worth of federal contracts.

The committee is also expected to question Doan about her attempt to give a no-bid job to a friend and professional associate last summer. In addition, the committee plans to look at Waxman's charge that Doan "intervened" in a troubled technology contract with Sun Microsystems that could cost taxpayers millions more than necessary.

In the Senate, Doan is facing a similar line of questioning in letters from Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa). Also examining Doan are the GSA's Office of Inspector General and the independent federal Office of Special Counsel, which investigates allegations of Hatch Act violations.

In several recent statements, Doan has said she did nothing wrong. She said her troubles are the result of retaliation by the inspector general over her efforts to rein in spending and balance the GSA budget. Doan, a wealthy former government contractor who sold her company before taking over the GSA last May, has hired three law firms and two media relations companies at her own expense to handle inquiries from the federal investigators and the news media....

[bth: for those working with the GSA it can be no surprise that the contracts are often politically influenced. Its just rarely this blatant or deliberate]

Sic Semper Tyrannis 2007: Reading the Omens

Sic Semper Tyrannis 2007: Reading the Omens: "'The bomber bypassed tight security to get within 25 yards of the station by blending in with other trucks coming and going as part of a construction project, detonating his explosives after reaching the main gate. Police said half of those killed were policemen; 28 people were wounded."

"We did not suspect the suicide truck, and he easily reached the main gate where he detonated his truck.

Suddenly there was a big explosion and part of the building collapsed," said police Cpl. Hussam Ali, who saw the blast from a nearby guard post. "We were very cautious, but this time we were taken by surprise. The insurgents are inventing new methods to hurt us."

The thunderous explosion caused part of the two-story station to collapse and sent a plume of black smoke drifting across the Baghdad skyline.

U.S. and Iraqi force set up checkpoints at the scene and helped carry the wounded to hospitals, while military helicopters rumbled overhead.

In all, at least 74 people were killed or found dead in Iraq on Saturday, making it the seventh deadliest day since U.S. and Iraqi forces launched the security operation on Feb. 14, according to an Associated Press tally. That included at least 25 bullet-riddled bodies — 11 found in Baghdad, six pulled from the Tigris River south of the capital and eight in the Anbar city of Fallujah." Yahoo News


I will be asked tomorrow "The Week at War" (CNN-taped) if I thought it was possible as yet to judge if the Kagan/Keene plan that Petraeus is implementing to secure large parts of Baghdad is going to work.
This police station bombing, others like it and events such as; the well timed rocket attack on the Green Zone during the UN visit, and the attempt on the life of the Sunni deputy PM, are early indicators that the insurgents are regaining their "balance," and are trying to recapture the initiative from the Iraqi-American forces arrayed against them.

The coalition is now engaged in what can only be thought to be a "maximum effort" within the restraints of what is politically possible. This is our best shot. the Shia militia "armies" of the Sadrists, SCIRI and Da'wa are all standing back to watch and see what the outcome of that "maximum effort might be." They are waiting to see and to judge how close they are to a time in which they will have to make their own "maximum effort" to attempt to control what will be called Iraq in the future.

The early "portents" are unfavorable. There is every reason to think that the insurgents will try to expand their offensive activities to include the many little posts that we are building all over Baghdad.
Be very careful gentlemen, very careful
. pl

Blair: Iran must free naval prisoners in days

Blair: Iran must free naval prisoners in days International News News Telegraph: "Tony Blair warned Iran last night that it has only a few days to find a diplomatic solution to the escalating crisis over the 15 missing British sailors and Marines."

As the tension grew, the first direct high-level talks took place between Margaret Beckett, the Foreign Secretary, and Iran's foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, to press Britain's concerns.

The moves came as the Foreign Office admitted it had no idea what has happened to the 15 Navy personnel seized by the Iranian military on Friday. The Prime Minister, in his first public comments since the incident, appeared to signal a hardening of attitudes after more than 48 hours of low-level diplomacy.
Speaking in Berlin, Mr Blair said he still hoped that there could be a diplomatic solution.

"I hope that this is resolved in the next few days," he said. "The quicker it is resolved, the easier it will be for all of us.

"We have certainly sent the message back to them very clearly indeed. They should not be under any doubt at all about how seriously we regard this act, which is unjustified and wrong."...

Sunni Baghdad Becomes Land of Silent Ruins

Sunni Baghdad Becomes Land of Silent Ruins - New York Times: "BAGHDAD, March 25 — The cityscape of Iraq’s capital tells a stark story of the toll the past four years have taken on Iraq’s once powerful Sunni Arabs. "

Theirs is a world of ruined buildings, damaged mosques, streets pitted by mortar shells, uncollected trash and so little electricity that many people have abandoned using refrigerators altogether.

The contrast with Shiite neighborhoods is sharp. Markets there are in full swing, community projects are under way, and while electricity is scarce throughout the city, there is less trouble finding fuel for generators in those areas. When the government cannot provide services, civilian arms of the Shiite militias step in to try to fill the gap.

But in Adhamiya, a community with a Sunni majority, any semblance of normal life vanished more than a year ago. Its only hospital, Al Numan, is so short of basic items like gauze and cotton pads that when mortar attacks hit the community last fall, the doctors broadcast appeals for supplies over local mosque loudspeakers.

Here, as in so much of Baghdad, the sectarian divide makes itself felt in its own deadly and destructive ways. Far more than in Shiite areas, sectarian hatred has shredded whatever remained of community life and created a cycle of violence that pits Sunni against Sunni as well as Sunni against Shiite.

Anyone who works with the government, whether Shiite or Sunni, is an enemy in the eyes of the Sunni insurgents, who carry out attack after attack against people they view as collaborators. While that chiefly makes targets of the Shiite-dominated Iraqi Army and the police, the militants also kill fellow Sunnis from government ministries who come to repair water and electrical lines in Sunni neighborhoods.

One result of such attacks is that government workers of either sect refuse to deliver services to most Sunni areas. For ordinary Sunnis, all this deepens the sense of political impotence and estrangement. American military leaders and Western diplomats are unsure about whether the cycle can be stopped.

“The Sunnis outside the political process say, ‘What’s the point of coming in when those involved in the government can do nothing for their own community?’ ” said a Western diplomat who is not authorized to speak publicly.

Militant religious groups, known as takfiris, “have taken these Sunni neighborhoods as bases, which made these areas of military operation,” which stops the delivery of services, said Nasir al-Ani, a Sunni member of Parliament who works on a committee trying to win popular acceptance of the Baghdad security plan. “Now the ministries are trying to make services available, but the security situation prevents it. Part of the aim of the takfiris is to keep people disliking the government.”

It adds up to a bleak prognosis for Sunnis in Baghdad. Until the violence is under control, there is unlikely to be any progress. But it is hard to persuade Sunnis to take a stand against the violence when they seem to receive so little in return.

“We want to highlight that when the government is denying services to Sunnis, they are pushing them toward the Sunni extremists who attack the Shiite-dominated security forces,” said Maj. Guy Parmeter, an operations officer for the First Battalion, Fifth Cavalry, which operates in the Sunni areas on the west side of Baghdad. “And when that happens, it makes it harder to deliver services to those areas.”

Government leaders admit that there has been outright obstruction on the part of some Shiite ministries.

Ali al-Dabbagh, the government’s spokesman, said that the Health Ministry, dominated by Shiites loyal to the militant cleric Moktada al-Sadr, has failed to deliver needed services to Sunni areas, which had thrived under Saddam Hussein.

“This is part of the lack of efficiency in the ministry which didn’t improve this year,” Mr. Dabbagh said.
He added, however, that he did not see any remedy in the near term.

But officials also emphasize that many of the skilled Sunnis who used to keep the ministries going have fled, so the ministries are not delivering services to anyone. Again, security has to come first, they said. ...

G.O.P. Senators Lug Weight of War Toward ’08

G.O.P. Senators Lug Weight of War Toward ’08 - New York Times: "NORTH CONWAY, N.H., March 24 — Senator John E. Sununu knows that his political future could hinge on the war in Iraq, try as he might to change the subject."...

[bth: darn right its about Iraq. There is no money for anyone else]

Sunday, March 25, 2007