Saturday, July 14, 2007

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Exposed: the Somalia arms boycott breaker

Exposed: the Somalia arms boycott breaker - Times Online: "A RUSSIAN businessman has offered to arrange for eight tons of ammunition to be parachuted to a militant organisation affiliated to Al-Qaeda in Somalia after being approached by a Sunday Times reporter posing as a middleman for the group. "

The offer to hire out an aircraft and provide parachutes for the mission to Somalia, which is under a United Nations arms embargo, demonstrates how easy it is to flout the efforts of western governments to stop illegal arms trafficking. ...

Bin Laden’s deputy behind the Red Mosque bloodbath

Bin Laden’s deputy behind the Red Mosque bloodbath - Times Online: "AL-QAEDA’S leadership secretly directed the Islamic militants whose armed revolt at the Red Mosque in Islamabad ended last week with more than 100 deaths after it was stormed by the Pakistan army."

According to senior intelligence officials, the troops who finally took control discovered letters from Osama Bin Laden’s deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri. They were written to Abdul Rashid Ghazi and Abdul Aziz, the brothers who ran the mosque and adjacent madrasah.

Government sources said up to 18 foreign fighters � including Uzbeks, Egyptians and several Afghans � had arrived weeks before the final shootout and set up firing ranges to teach students, including children, how to handle weapons.

Al-Qaeda has wanted to open a Pakistan front in its global jihad since President Pervez Musharraf sided with America after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Diplomats were surprised by the speed with which the fugitive Zawahiri condemned the raid and called on Pakistanis to rise up against Musharraf.

The response to his appeal was equally swift. Twenty-seven soldiers were killed when a suicide attacker struck a military convoy in northwest Pakistan near the Afghan border yesterday. At least 58 have been killed in bombings and shootings since the Red Mosque crisis began 12 days ago.

This weekend street protests were organised by religious parties as the government dispatched thousands more soldiers to its troubled North West Frontier province.

Some were sent to the Swat Valley, where a suicide car bomber killed three policemen last Thursday and a madrasah controlled by Maulana Fazlullah, a militant mullah, is expected to be the next flashpoint. Fazlullah has been using a radio station to rally support for Al-Qaeda and has urged followers to arm themselves in preparation for a siege.

Ministers blamed the presence of foreign fighters for the breakdown of negotiations at the Red Mosque just as they seemed about to reach a deal to end the standoff peacefully.

According to government sources and western diplomats, Al-Qaeda sought martyrdom instead. “They wanted a poster boy for Pakistan and Ghazi was the perfect guy,” said one western diplomat.

Ghazi was shot dead in the army’s final assault on the mosque a week after his older brother tried to escape disguised in a burqa.

Musharraf’s use of overwhelming force to defeat the militants was welcomed not only by international allies in the war on terror but by Pakistan’s urban middle classes. Advisers were weighing up whether his declaration of war on militants, could be turned to political advantage.

His presidential term expires in September and he must decide whether to seek reappointment by the current parliament or call early parliamentary elections with the aim of securing a fresh mandate.

Diplomats believe an initial surge of support may already be fading, however, as concern grows over the number of women and children killed in the Red Mosque....

As Teen Girl Awaits Death, Saudi Surge in Beheadings Could Set Record High - As Teen Girl Awaits Death, Saudi Surge in Beheadings Could Set Record High - International News | News of the World | Middle East News | Europe News: "RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Rizana Nafeek, a 19-year old housemaid from Sri Lanka, is on death row because the baby in her care died while she was bottle-feeding him. If her appeal is turned down, she will taken to a public square to be publicly beheaded."

The Sri Lankan government says it is working for a reprieve, and has until Monday to file the plea. A last-minute pardon by the infant's parents could also spare her. But if her execution goes ahead, it will be the latest in a surge of beheadings that could surpass the kingdom's record of 191 in 2005.

After dropping to 38 last year, the figure for 2007 is already at least 102, including three women, according to Amnesty International.

Beheading has always been the punishment meted out to murderers, rapists, drug traffickers and armed robbers in Saudi Arabia. Whether what Nafeek did amounts to murder has never been spelled out by courts or other officials, but Saudi authorities, facing sustained criticism from foreign human rights groups, insist they are simply enforcing God's law.

In February, four Sri Lankan workers were executed for armed robbery and their headless bodies left on public display in Riyadh, triggering harsh criticism from international rights groups.

Amnesty International says some defendants are convicted solely on the basis of confessions obtained under duress, torture or deception.

Speaking of the housemaid's sentence, Kate Allen of Amnesty International called it "an absolute scandal that Saudi Arabia is preparing to behead a teenage girl who didn't even have a lawyer at her trial."

"The Saudi authorities are flouting an international prohibition on the execution of child offenders by even imposing a death sentence on a defendant who was reportedly 17 at the time of the alleged crime," she said.

Nafeek arrived in the kingdom on May 4, 2005 to work as a housemaid. She was given the additional duty of looking after the baby boy, a job the Sri Lankan Embassy says she was not trained to do. The embassy says the infant died on May 22 while she was bottle-feeding him.

Nafeek allegedly confessed, according to the statement, but then recanted, saying her admission was obtained under duress.

The Asian Human Rights Commission, an independent Hong Kong-based body of jurists and human rights activists, said it was an accident. The child was choking, it said, and Nafeek "was desperately trying to help by way of soothing and stroking the chest, face and neck of the baby." However, it said, "due to misunderstandings this case was presented as the murder of a baby by strangulation."

An estimated 5.6 million foreign workers, many of them Asian, serve a Saudi population of 22 million. Of the 102 executed this year, half were foreigners, including 21 Pakistanis, according to Amnesty International.

"The workers commit big crimes against Saudis," charged Suhaila Hammad of Saudi Arabia's National Society for Human Rights. She said the number of executions has risen because crime has increased.

She said prisoners are treated humanely and that beheadings deter crime.

"Allah, our creator, knows best what's good for his people," Hammad told The Associated Press. "Should we just think of and preserve the rights of the murderer and not think of the rights of others?"

Beheadings are carried out with a sword, with police holding back spectators and making sure no one takes photos. Prisoners, usually sedated, are made to kneel, flanked by clerics and law enforcement officials and facing the victim's family.

"The prisoner now recites verses from the Quran while a government official reads the charges and the verdict," according to an account in Arab News, a Saudi daily. "Halfway through the reading the executioner suddenly nicks the back of the prisoner's neck with his sword, causing him to tense and raise his head involuntarily."

Then, in one swift move, the prisoner is decapitated.

Beheadings take place all over Saudi Arabia, usually in a square next to a mosque.

In a recent interview with Al-Yaum daily, Fahd al-Abdullah, an executioner in the Eastern Province, called his job "a very ordinary profession, just like any other profession."

Al-Abdallah, 27, comes from a long line of executioners. As a child he would watch his grandfather wield the sword, and later was trained for a year by his uncle.

He said that before a beheading, he urges the victim's family to pardon the prisoner.

Some families do, just minutes before the blade falls. Others do it before an execution date is set in exchange for money or in response to appeals from members of the royal family.

A famous case was that of Samira Murait. In 2000 she shot dead a male acquaintance who stalked her after she married. After vigorous mediation efforts and pleas from the public as well as from a Saudi prince, the family agreed to forgive her. She had spent seven years in prison.

But Nafeek's Saudi employers refused to pardon her, and a court in Ad Dawadimi, 250 miles west of Riyadh, sentenced her to death on June 16.


abu muqawama: America's Grady Little Moment

abu muqawama: America's Grady Little Moment:A month ago, "Petraeus was asked whether we could still win in Iraq. The general, who had recently attended two memorial services for soldiers lost under his command, replied that if he thought he could not succeed he would not be risking the life of a single soldier."

October 2003. Abu Muqawama is in Baghdad, wearing body armor and a Red Sox hat, watching Game 7 of the second greatest ALCS he has ever witnessed. Pedro Martinez -- for whom Abu Muqawama will always have a soft spot in his heart -- is on the mound. But as even we can tell, gathered as we are in the early morning Iraqi dawn, Pedro needs to be pulled. He's given all he -- perhaps the greatest pitcher in Red Sox history -- can give. Grady Little, the Red Sox manager walks out of the dugout with about 50,000 Yankees "fans" going ape****, approaches Pedro, and Pedro of course tells Little he still has a few outs left in him. (No, he ****ing doesn't, Grady! Pull him! Pull him! we shout at the television.) Little nods, gives Pedro the ball back, and the rest is history. (****ing Aaron Boone!)

Abu Muqawama has a soft spot in his heart for General Petraeus as well. And yes, he sees some signs the military's approach to the Iraq War is the right one. Abu Muqawama really wants to leave the ball in Petraeus's hands. And he knows that Petraeus believes -- as Pedro Martinez no doubt honestly believed -- that he can get a few more outs. But the political progress we need to happen in Iraq just hasn't happened. Petraeus is smart enough to know this is not a fight the military can win no matter how smart it is -- we need Iraq's politicians to want this more than we do.

So what is this? Have we reached a Grady Little moment? God, this is going to hurt, but it might be about time to walk out to the mound and make a call out to the bullpen for Plan B. The unfortunate thing is, David Petraeus is kind of like Grady Little and Pedro Martinez all rolled up into one. He has to be the one to judge whether or not this thing is going to work out because the president certainly doesn't have the power of judgment or intelligence or courage to do that. Let's all say a prayer Petraeus does.

Monty Python Argument Sketch

YouTube - Monty Python Argument Sketch: ""

Attacks rise on supply convoys - Civilian guards provide security "BAGHDAD — Attacks on supply convoys protected by private security companies in Iraq have more than tripled as the U.S. government depends more on armed civilian guards to secure reconstruction and other missions."

There were 869 such attacks from the beginning of June 2006 to the end of May this year. For the preceding 12 months, there were 281 attacks.

Deaths and injuries increased to 206 from 157 during that same time, according to the Army Corps of Engineers' Logistics Movement Control Center. Most of those convoys carry U.S.-funded reconstruction supplies for the Iraqi government.

Guarding convoys is one part of the work in Iraq done by private companies, jobs that were once done by the military. Private firms also protect diplomats and staff checkpoints at U.S. military facilities.

The Private Security Company Association of Iraq, a trade group, estimates there are about 30,000 security company employees, of which 3,000 to 5,000 are Westerners. About 15,000 are Iraqis, and the rest are other foreigners.

"We will never go to war in the future without civilian assistance," because the active military lacks the people for the job, said Jack Holly, logistics director for the Army Corps of Engineers' Gulf Region Division.

The increase in attacks partly reflects the growing number of convoys carrying equipment purchased for Iraqis and a greater effort by the U.S. military to track their movements.

There are 20 to 30 convoys daily, Holly said, compared with 10 to 15 a year ago. From August 2004 to the end of this May, he said, 138 private security workers have been killed on convoys. An additional 451 have been wounded.

Private contractors are allowed to fire their weapons in self-defense but cannot mount offensive operations.

The percentage of civilian convoys attacked has spiked this year. Since August 2004, an average of 9.3% of those convoys have been attacked. The rate peaked at 19.9% in January and dropped to 10.5% in May. Holly attributes the increase to more roadside bombs and car bombs.

Pentagon records show overall attacks on coalition forces rose sharply this year: from roughly 400 a week in February-May 2006 to more than 750 a week in the same period this year.

Since the U.S.-led security plan began in mid-February, U.S. forces suffered the deadliest three-month period of the war in April, May and June, according to Pentagon records.

The military is considering using private contractors to offer security for military supply convoys in Iraq, said Lt. Col. Reinhard Koenig, an operations officer for the Gulf Region Division. U.S. troops now do that job.

The U.S. military moves about 3,000 trucks per day in Iraq as part of its supply operations

[bth: to keep the surge up I believe we will contract out military convoy security.]

Silence is betrayal


"A Time has come when silence is betrayal

--Rev. Martin Luther King (4/67--anti-Vietnam War speech)"
"Mr. Bush’s highest priority is always to protect himself

--Frank Rich, A Profile in Cowardice"

Peace Pilgrim

This is the way of peace;

Overcome evil with good,
and falsehood with truth,
and hatred with love.

-- The Peace Pilgrm.

8th of November - 173rd Airborne

Manufacturers Can't Fill Bomb-Proof Vehicle Demand (Updated)

Danger Room - Wired Blogs#more#more#more#more#more: "The military-industrial complex isn't built for speed. "

Big orders -- especially for orders for heavy, million-dollar vehicles -- take time. Bureaucracies get tangled up; raw materials and suppliers can be hard to find. Even when there's billions to be made in delivering the things in a hurry. Even when the Defense Secretary has declared buying the bomb-resistant vehicles to be his "highest priority."

Just yesterday, according to Bloomberg News, the Marine Corps said it "received fewer blast-resistant vehicles than promised last month, as manufacturers struggled to meet production goals aimed at speeding shipments to Iraq and Afghanistan... The shortfall shows the difficulty manufacturers face boosting capacity and securing materials such as armor and impact-resistant glass to deliver trucks in as little as four months."

Three companies won orders in February that were expected to be completed in June, Carey said. The combined orders were valued at $160.2 million for 275 trucks, the Defense Department said at the time. Awardees included Force Protection, BAE Systems and Protected Vehicles.

The Marine Corps said July 2 that it would buy as many as 20,000 more of the vehicles, for about $20 billion through a competition to be decided in January.

Force Protection of Ladson, S.C., the largest maker of blast-resistant vehicles for the Marines, delivered more than 100 of its Cougar and Buffalo trucks last month, said Michael M. Aldrich, vice president for government relations.

Force Protection won a $67.4 million award in February for 125 Cougar trucks to be shipped by June. The company made up the deliveries this month, Aldrich said in an e-mail yesterday.

General Dynamics is building a blast-resistant truck, the RG-31, under an $11 million award in February for 20 trucks. Ken Yamashita, a company spokesman, said yesterday that the Falls Church company would deliver all its vehicles by the end of September.

Protected Vehicles in North Charleston, S.C., was to deliver 60 trucks by June under its $37.4 million award. Testing of its prototypes resulted in an "adjusted standard" to which all 60 trucks will now be built, spokesman Drew Felty said July 6. The trucks will be shipped by the end of August, he said.

Doug Coffey, a spokesman for London-based BAE, said he didn't have information available on vehicle deliveries. BAE's $55.4 million award in February covered 90 vehicles.

UPDATE: " Production rates for the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle are on pace to yield by this December less than half of what Marine Corps officials had expected," reports Inside Defense.

Six armored vehicle makers, three of which have the bulk of the 3,765 MRAP orders issued to date, will be producing approximately 500 vehicles a month by the end of the year, according to sources familiar with current MRAP production deliveries based on contracts awarded to date.

That number is 700 per month fewer than what Marine Corps leaders initially believed would be rolling off the assembly line by the end of the year, and points up challenges the Defense Department is facing in
quickly ramping up industrial operations to counter roadside bombs in Iraq.

[bth: there is no way 6 manufacturers are going to 500 per month each by December from producing 10 or so per month now. Procurement bottlenecks have continued to delay the process needlessly. Given 2500 successful ied attacks a month most against US forces and an average useful life now of 2.5 years for fielded armored humvees (down from 13 years), one can only conclude there will be a massive armored truck shortage in Iraq and Afghanistan by this fall of not already. I wouldn't be surprised if we aren't 8,000 vehicles short.]

Iraq Insurgent Media

Two-Thirds of Iraq Suspects Let Go; Only 600 Sent to Gov't

Danger Room - Wired Blogs: "'U.S. and Iraqi government officials have released approximately 44,000 of 65,000 suspected Iraqi insurgents or sectarian killers detained at the theater level since March 2003,' Inside the Pentagon is reporting. 'Over the same time period, fewer than 600 captives have been transferred to the Iraqi government for prosecution.' "

Though the official figures are rough estimates, they suggest that about two of every three suspected insurgents or sectarian killers captured by American troops have been released back into Iraqi communities over the past four years since U.S. military operations began. (Officials caution that the data reflect total in-processes through the system and do not reveal how many individuals have been incarcerated more than once.)

Commanders tell ITP the system for releases has improved over time, but coalition spokesmen said they were unable to provide year-by-year totals that might show how releases have tapered off. An article [by Owen West] in the June issue of Marine Corps Gazette suggests otherwise, saying 25,000 prisoners -- more than half the total -- have been released from theater-level incarceration over the past two years alone...

If prisoner releases at all levels of detainment were counted, the figures would be even higher...

The several-year-long revolving door for captured Iraqis has not gone unnoticed by U.S. troops, who have dubbed the phenomenon “catch and release.” ...U.S. forces say they have seen insurgents and militia members they have captured return time and again, weeks or months later, to create trouble in the cities and towns they patrol.

In a Jan. 8 Wall Street Journal op-ed, Bing West [Owen's dad] called the chronic capture and release of suspected killers “the single weakest link in the U.S. strategy.”

"A few enterprising American rifle companies have conducted their own independent censuses, employing rudimentary spreadsheets and personal digital cameras. But no central information system exists," Bing added in the Atlantic. "This is the greatest technical failure of the war. For all of our efforts, we have ignored one of the most fundamental axioms of counterinsurgency warfare: an insurgency cannot be defeated if the enemy cannot be identified."

It's nice that, as today's USA Today notes,"troops in Iraq are to receive 3,800 handheld [fingerprint] scanners, up from 200 now in use, to equip every squad in the country." Biometrically tracking bad guys, local commanders have found, is one of the most effective ways to stave off "catch-and-release"-type situations in their areas. Unfortunately, from the conversations I've had with folks of the ground, all the signs point towards continued one-off, local solutions -- not something country-wide. Which means all an insurgent has to do is move from one town to the next, in order to evade U.S. capture.

[bth: nuts]

Peace Love and Enduring Faith

Stephen Biddle - Iraq: Go Deep or Get Out -

Stephen Biddle - Iraq: Go Deep or Get Out - "The president's shaky political consensus for the surge in Iraq is in danger of collapsing after the recent defections of prominent Senate Republicans such as Richard Lugar (Ind.), Pete Domenici (N.M.) and George Voinovich (Ohio). But this growing opposition to the surge has not yet translated into support for outright withdrawal -- few lawmakers are comfortable with abandoning Iraq or admitting defeat. The result has been a search for some kind of politically moderate 'Plan B' that would split the difference between surge and withdrawal."

The problem is that these politics do not fit the military reality of Iraq. Many would like to reduce the U.S. commitment to something like half of today's troop presence there. But it is much harder to find a mission for the remaining 60,000 to 80,000 soldiers that makes any sense militarily.

Perhaps the most popular centrist option today is drawn from the Baker-Hamilton commission recommendations of last December. This would withdraw U.S. combat brigades, shift the American mission to one of training and supporting the Iraqi security forces, and cut total U.S. troop levels in the country by about half. This idea is at the heart of the proposed legislative effort that Domenici threw his support behind last week, and support is growing on both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill.

The politics make sense, but the compromise leaves us with an untenable military mission. Without a major U.S. combat effort to keep the violence down, the American training effort would face challenges even bigger than those our troops are confronting today. An ineffective training effort would leave tens of thousands of American trainers, advisers and supporting troops exposed to that violence in the meantime. The net result is likely to be continued U.S. casualties with little positive effect on Iraq's ongoing civil war.

The American combat presence in Iraq is insufficient to end the violence but does cap its intensity. If we draw down that combat presence, violence will rise accordingly. To be effective, embedded trainers and advisers must live and operate with the Iraqi soldiers they mentor -- they are not lecturers sequestered in some safe classroom. The greater the violence, the riskier their jobs and the heavier their losses.

That violence reduces their ability to succeed as trainers. There are many barriers to an effective Iraqi security force. But the toughest is sectarian factionalism. Iraq is in the midst of a civil war in which all Iraqis are increasingly forced to take sides for their own survival. Iraq's security forces are necessarily drawn from the same populations that are being pulled apart into factions. No military can be hermetically sealed off from its society -- the more severe the sectarian violence, the deeper the divisions in Iraqi society become and the harder it is for Americans to create the kind of disinterested nationalist security force that could stabilize Iraq. Under the best conditions, it is unrealistic to expect a satisfactory Iraqi security force anytime soon, and the more severe the violence, the worse the prospects.

The result is a vicious cycle. The more we shift out of combat missions and into training, the harder we make the trainers' job and the more exposed they become. It is unrealistic to expect that we can pull back to some safe yet productive mission of training but not fighting -- this would be neither safe nor productive.

If the surge is unacceptable, the better option is to cut our losses and withdraw altogether. In fact, the substantive case for either extreme -- surge or outright withdrawal -- is stronger than for any policy between. The surge is a long-shot gamble. But middle-ground options leave us with the worst of both worlds: continuing casualties but even less chance of stability in exchange. Moderation and centrism are normally the right instincts in American politics, and many lawmakers in both parties desperately want to find a workable middle ground on Iraq. But while the politics are right, the military logic is not.

The writer, who was in Iraq in March and April, is senior fellow for defense policy at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Support the troops

Old-School Army "Future"?

Danger Room - Wired Blogs: "So does it matter much, that the Army picked Azerbaijan as the country to mock-invade when modeling its sprawling, top-to-bottom, $200 billion modernization plan?"

Some war game veterans say no. Robot Economist begs to differ. He says the Army's Future Combat Systems is looking more and more like a new-jack way to fight yesterday's battles -- not one to fight tomorrow's counterinsurgency battles.

As RE told me in an e-mail, with FCS, "the Army [seems] far more concerned with how to put troops in a theater than [with] how they will leave after the shooting subsides. Isn't that the mentality that got us stuck in Iraq to begin with?" Take it away, Mr. Roboto...

In my view, Azerbaijan was picked because its size, terrain, and political environment fit the assumptions that shape FCS. They picked a relatively small country to accentuate the ability of a single FCS Brigade Combat Team to rapidly achieve "decisive maneuver" against a larger opposing force in 48-60 hours. Azerbaijan is also a relatively remote, mountainous area bordered by few U.S. allies. This reflects the Army's emphasis on performing combat operations on short notice and without pre-positioned equipment. Finally, there is the potential (however remote) that the Army may be called upon to one day liberate the Azeris from an encroaching neighbor. Remind anyone of an incredibly successful "left-hook" the Army pulled off a little more than 15 years ago?

My main concern with the Azerbaijan scenarios is that they highlight a fundamental flaw of FCS. This [two hundred] billion-dollar force recapitalization project is focused on refining existing capabilities at a time when the Army needs to develop entirely new capabilities. To me, being able to successfully conduct stability operations campaign the day after a 72 hour blitzkrieg is worth far more than shaving that blitzkrieg down to 48 hours. Does the Army honestly expect a brigade of 4000 troops trained and equipped for maneuver warfare against a modern opposing army to manage 8 million people spread over a country the size of Maine? We have multiple brigades in Baghdad (a city of 7 million) and they can't even keep the peace without support from the Iraqi military.

At the very least, one would hope that as soon as images of the National Carpet Museum in Baku being looted by anonymous brigands are splashed across CNN the hypothetical Secretary of Defense overseeing one of these imagined combat operations would have something more conciliatory to say than 'Stuff happens.'

I'm not saying the Army doesn't need to recapitalize the force and I'm not exactly opposed to the idea of network-centric warfare either. I'm just arguing that the Army's vision of the future force is shackled by a set of overly narrow assumptions about what kind of wars it will fight. As Colin Gray asked in a great monograph published by the Army War College back in 2005, if the Army is putting all of its development dollars into FCS, is FCS robust enough to counter the broadest set of future war scenarios? In terms of fighting a major urban counterinsurgency campaign (Iraq) or managing a fractured, poor state (Afghanistan), I think the evidence is pointing towards 'no.'

[bth: damned right on. "Does the Army honestly expect a brigade of 4000 troops trained and equipped for maneuver warfare against a modern opposing army to manage 8 million people spread over a country the size of Maine? We have multiple brigades in Baghdad (a city of 7 million) and they can't even keep the peace without support from the Iraqi military.]

Our Choice

Sunni Insurgent Leader Paints Iran as 'Real Enemy'

Sunni Insurgent Leader Paints Iran as 'Real Enemy' - "BAGHDAD -- He wore a pale yellow dress shirt and black-rimmed glasses that lost their tint when he entered the dark lobby of a Baghdad hotel. He drank orange soda and refused a cigarette. His face was tense, but he spoke in a calm, open way about the satisfaction of killing Shiites with his own hands."

Over the course of a 90-minute interview, a leader of an armed Sunni group in western Baghdad described his hatred for Iran and the current Iraqi government, while outlining the dimensions of an armed insurgency that extends well beyond al-Qaeda in Iraq, the organization that U.S. officials routinely identify as their central enemy.

Abu Sarhan, as the 37-year-old insurgent wished to be known, said Iraq's Sunnis are deep into an entrenched and irresolvable civil war against Iranian-backed Shiites. He said the premise of the U.S. military's counterinsurgency strategy -- deploying thousands of soldiers in small outposts in violent neighborhoods -- only inflames the insurgency and prompts attacks against the Americans.

If U.S. forces release Sunni detainees, remove the concrete blast barriers that now cordon off several neighborhoods and improve services in areas neglected by the Shiite-led government, "the attacks will be reduced 95 percent within days," he said. He added that the Americans' insistence on striking Sunni areas "is generating an increasing resistance."

A balding, wiry man who associates said had been an officer in the Fedayeen, the black-clad paramilitary force of the ousted government of Saddam Hussein, Abu Sarhan refused to give his real name. He said he was the "general coordinator" between al-Qaeda in Iraq and the Omar Brigade, an insurgent group founded in July 2005 by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq who was killed by U.S. forces in June 2006.

Zarqawi created the Omar Brigade to fight Shiite militias, particularly the Badr Organization, which is loyal to the country's largest Shiite political party, now known as the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council. In Amiriyah, the western Baghdad neighborhood where the Omar Brigade is active, the group is believed to have planted roadside bombs that have killed U.S. troops. Abu Sarhan said he had not personally taken part in those attacks. But he could not say the same for Shiite targets.

"Since the beginning of the occupation until now, I have participated in killing many of the militia members, I say it frankly," he said.

Asked how many, he looked down and paused for several seconds, his hands interlocked on the cafeteria table. "It's hard to count," he said.

An associate of Abu Sarhan's vouched for his leadership credentials. And a college student in Amiriyah, who said he is not an insurgent but that he had met Abu Sarhan briefly about two weeks earlier, said the Sunni insurgent is considered the leader of the Omar Brigade.

Abu Sarhan's views illustrate the deep animosity toward Shiites that fuels so much of the sectarian violence in Iraq. His comments also suggested a more restrained view of the United States, which he considers an occupier but one that should not leave immediately.

"I personally don't have a hatred of the American people, and I respect American civilization," he said. "They have participated in the progress of all the nations of the world. They invented computers. Such people should be respected. But people who are crying over someone who died 1,400 years ago" -- referring to Shiites and their veneration of a leader killed in the 7th century -- "these should be eliminated, to clear the society of them, because they are simply trash."

"The real enemy for the resistance is Iran and those working for Iran," he went on. "Because Iran has a feud which goes back thousands of years with the people of Iraq and the government of Iraq."

Abu Sarhan said that the leading Shiite parties in the government, including the Dawa party of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, along with the Supreme Council and prominent Shiite militias, are beholden to Iran. The Iranians appeared to be of such grave concern to him not just because of the bloody history of war between the two countries, but also because of Iran's perceived intolerance toward Sunnis in general. He said his long-term political goal was to recapture the prominence that Sunnis had enjoyed under Hussein's government.

"The problem is that the Americans have a relationship with the slaves: Dawa, Badr Organization, the Mahdi Army are slaves to Iran," he said.

Abu Sarhan described al-Qaeda in Iraq as an organized, predominantly Iraqi-run network with a strict hierarchy.

"There are multiple networks, and each network has its own command or leadership, but they're all under one command," he said. "Just like colleges and universities. Each university has several colleges, and each college has a dean, but the entire university has a president."

He did not condemn the actions of al-Qaeda in Iraq, but he said there were ideological differences among insurgent groups.

"Al-Qaeda is more strict than the others in their way of thinking, in terms of applying religious rituals and behavior, and also the way of working. Al-Qaeda, for example, kills every Shiite, while the other factions kill only the Iranian spies or those who are members of militias," he said.

U.S. military commanders have worked in recent weeks to exploit the divisions within the Sunni insurgency. The Americans have collaborated with members of such groups as the Islamic Army and the 1920 Revolution Brigades who have turned against al-Qaeda in Iraq because of its indiscriminate killing.

A movement that started in the western province of Anbar with alliances among Sunni tribal leaders to fight al-Qaeda in Iraq has begun to emerge among local Sunnis in the town of Abu Ghraib, west of the capital, in the city of Baqubah to the northeast and in Amiriyah, where Abu Sarhan's group operates.

In May, at least 14 U.S. soldiers working in Amiriyah were killed, a sharp increase over previous months. After those losses, U.S. commanders began working with Sunni residents, including some members of the Islamic Army, to help capture or kill those from al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Abu Sarhan, who lives in the nearby Khadra neighborhood, dismissed this cooperation with Americans, saying it represented temporary divisions rather than a widespread acceptance of U.S. forces.

"Right now I think that the Islamic Army has split into two factions. Some are cooperating with the Americans against the rest of the Sunnis, while some have remained as they are," he said.

The top U.S. military commander in Iraq, Gen. David H. Petraeus, recently described al-Qaeda in Iraq as "public enemy number one." And President Bush, during a speech July 4, cited the organization as the one group that attempts to "cause enough chaos and confusion so America would leave."

"We must defeat al-Qaeda in Iraq," Bush said.

But Abu Sarhan described al-Qaeda in Iraq as one of "hundreds" of insurgent groups, some aligned and others in some degree of conflict, ranging from cells of about 10 people to groups with scores or hundreds of members.

"The American president insisting on fighting al-Qaeda, or saying that al-Qaeda is the problem in Iraq, is just like someone who is insisting on taking diabetes medicine while he has a cardiac problem," he said, describing it as an "intentional" misdiagnosis. "Any person in the position of the American president, who has drawn himself a certain path, would be very embarrassed to change that track and confess that he has been wrong. Unless he loves his people more than he loves himself. Only then could he confess his wrongdoing for the sake of his people

Abu Sarhan estimated that about half the attacks against American forces come as reprisals for U.S. raids or arrests. He cited the U.S. offensive in Diyala province, Operation Arrowhead Ripper, as the type of effort that engenders more enemies than friends. "You can imagine how many families were hurt because of this military campaign," he said.

Still, he did not advocate an immediate U.S. withdrawal, but rather a gradual drawdown of troops to coincide with a reconciliation with Sunni insurgents.

"Lift the barriers. Move the checkpoints. Build a hospital. And release the detainees from the area. And you will witness very quickly a tangible difference. The hatred and the strikes against the Americans will be wiped out or greatly reduced," he said. "The solution is political, not military. And then the American soldiers will be able to walk down the streets without their protective vests."

But when the Americans do eventually leave, he said, "the future will be dim."

"There will be a fierce civil war, a grinding civil war, because Iran will always be there," he said. "But the Sunnis are ready for such a day."

Abu Sarhan stood up from the table. He shook hands with an iron grip, then put his right hand over his heart, a common gesture of friendship. He left the hotel, heading into the glare of a Baghdad summer day. His glasses darkened over his eyes as he walked away.

Special correspondents Salih Dehema and Saad al-Izzi in Baghdad and other Washington Post staff in Iraq contributed to this report.

[bth: read this article in conjunction with one that follows a few items down discussing the composition of the enemy. It would appear to me that the civil war will only intensify.]

Bring 'Em Home

We will remember you - crooks & liars

Panel Demands Records on Tillman's Death - The Huffington Post

Panel Demands Records on Tillman's Death - The Huffington Post: "SAN FRANCISCO — Two influential lawmakers investigating how and when the Bush administration learned the circumstances of Pat Tillman's friendly-fire death and how those details were disclosed accused the White House and Pentagon on Friday of withholding key documents and renewed their demand for the material."

The White House and Defense Department have turned over nearly 10,000 pages of papers _ mostly press clippings _ but the White House cited "executive branch confidentiality interests" in refusing to provide other documents.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Tom Davis, R-Va., the committee's top-ranking Republican, said Friday the documents were inadequate. They insisted that the Defense Department turn over the additional material by July 25 and asked that the White House do likewise.

Tillman, a San Jose native, turned down a lucrative contract with the NFL's Arizona Cardinals to join the Army following the Sept. 11 attacks. He was killed April 22, 2004, by friendly fire in Afghanistan.

Although Pentagon investigators determined quickly that he was killed by his own troops, five weeks passed before the circumstances of his death were made public. During that time, the Army claimed he was killed by enemy fire.

Tillman's family and others have said they believe the erroneous information peddled by the Pentagon was part of a deliberate cover-up that may have reached all the way to President Bush and then-Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld. The committee said Friday it had scheduled a second hearing on Tillman's death for Aug. 1, this time to probe what senior Pentagon officials knew and when.

Rumsfeld and Richard Myers, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were among those the committee invited Friday to appear.

The White House has turned over nearly 1,100 pages of documents and the Defense Department nearly 8,500 pages since the committee requested information from them in April, part of an inquiry into why Tillman's family and the public were misled.

"The document production from the White House sheds virtually no light on these matters," Waxman and Davis wrote to White House counsel Fred Fielding, part of a renewed request for additional papers.

The committee made public a letter last month in which Fielding said the White House was holding back certain papers "because they implicate executive branch confidentiality interests." He added the White House had blacked out portions of "purely internal e-mails between White House personnel."

The White House's argument for withholding some papers is the same one it used last month as it rejected congressional subpoenas for documents in the firings of eight U.S. attorneys. Executive "confidentiality" is a lesser claim than "executive privilege" _ more a polite way of declining than a firm refusal _ and thus still leaves room for negotiation, congressional staffers involved in the matter said.

Fielding added the White House had blacked out portions of "purely internal e-mails between White House personnel."

Waxman and Davis fired back that "these are not appropriate reasons for withholding the documents from the committee." And they charged that the White House had simply held other papers back.

In particular, they expressed doubt that the two documents they'd received on communications between the White House and Pentagon on Tillman's death were the only ones of their kind. One was simply a packet of newspaper clippings.

"Corporal Tillman's death was a major national story," they wrote. "It is not plausible that there were no communications between the Defense Department and the White House about Corporal Tillman's death."

"The committee was fully aware that certain documents were withheld as our letter to them made clear last month _ along with our offer to discuss possible accommodation that meets the committee's interests while respecting separation of powers principles," Blair Jones, a White House spokesman, said Friday evening. "We continue to offer an opportunity for the committee to move forward in a spirit of accommodation, rather than conflict."

Waxman and Davis complained to Defense Secretary Robert Gates of a "failure to provide a complete production to the committee." For instance, the committee received no documentation on how Rumsfeld learned of Tillman's death.

They said the Pentagon had not produced any papers from, among others, the offices of Gen. John Abizaid, then head of Central Command.

A week after Tillman died, a top general sent a memo to Abizaid warning that it was "highly possible" that Tillman was killed by friendly fire. The memo made clear that the information should be conveyed to the president. The White House said there is no indication that Bush received the warning.

Two days later, the president mentioned Tillman in a speech to the White House correspondents dinner, but he made no reference to how Tillman had died.

A White House spokeswoman did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday.

Separately, Waxman asked the Republican National Committee for copies of e-mail communications that involved Tillman and White House officials. That request was an outgrowth of the oversight committee's finding last month that 88 White House officials had e-mail accounts with the RNC, and that the administration may have committed extensive violations of a law requiring that certain records be preserved.

Kurds speak out against Iraqi oil law

Kurds speak out against Iraqi oil law - Conflict in Iraq - "SULAIMANIYAH, Iraq - Kurdish leaders spoke out Wednesday against a key oil law, raising further doubts over efforts to pass one of the political benchmarks sought by the United States at a time when the Bush administration is trying to fend off critics of its Iraq policy."...

[bth: this oil law gets bashed by the liberal elements in the US, but it is critical to any private investment in oil and gas in Iraq. This is critical to any attempt by the Iraqi government to be self sustaining.]

Bring 'Em on Home

Bush's optimism is impossible to square with the situation in Iraq

Bush's optimism is impossible to square with the situation in Iraq - Independent Online Edition > Americas: "Scrambling to shore up crumbling support for the war in Iraq, President George Bush released a report yesterday claiming sufficient political and military progress to justify the presence of 170,000 US troops in the country.

President Bush said he still believed victory in Iraq was possible."

"Those who believe that the battle in Iraq is lost will likely point to the unsatisfactory performance on some of the political benchmarks," he said.

"Those who believe the battle in Iraq can and must be won see the satisfactory performance on several of the security benchmarks as a cause of optimism." He added it was too early to say if his new strategy in Iraq was working.

But in Iraq as in the US there is a sense that Washington is playing its last cards. "I assume the US is going to start pulling out because 70 per cent of Americans and Congress want the troops to come home," Mahmoud Othman, a veteran Iraqi politician, said. "The Americans are defeated. They haven't achieved any of their aims."

The report itself admits to a sense in Iraq that the US, one way or another, is on the way out more than four years after its invasion in 2003.

It says that political reconciliation in Iraq is being hampered by "increasing concern among Iraqi political leaders that the United States may not have a long-term commitment to Iraq".

The White House yesterday sought to suggest possible change for the better in Iraq by saying that there had been satisfactory progress on eight of the 18 goals set by Congress. Unsatisfactory progress is reported on six, unsatisfactory but with some progress on two and "too early to assess" on a further two.

The picture it hopes to give - and this has been uncritically reported by the US media - is of a mixture of progress and frustration in Iraq.

The wholly misleading suggestion is that the war could go either way. In reality the six failures are on issues critical to the survival of Iraq while the eight successes are on largely trivial matters.

Thus unsatisfactory progress is reported on "the Iraqi security forces even handedly enforcing the law" and on the number of Iraqi units willing to fight independently of the Americans. This means that there is no Iraqi national army but one consisting of Kurds, Shia and Sunni who will never act against their own communities. Despite three years of training, the Iraqi security forces cannot defend the government.

Set against these vitally important failures are almost ludicrously trivial or meaningless successes. For instance, "the rights of minority political parties are being defended" but these groups have no political influence. The alliance of Shia religious and Kurdish nationalist parties that make up the government is not keen to share power with anybody. This is scarcely surprising since they triumphantly won the election in 2005.

There have been some real improvements over the past six months. Sectarian killings in Iraq have declined to 650 in June compared with 2,100 in January. So-called "high-profile" bombings, including suicide bomb attacks on Shia markets, fell to 90 in June compared with 180 in March. But it is doubtful if these are entirely or even mainly due to the US surge.

The fall in sectarian killings, mostly of Sunni by Shia, may be largely the result of the Mehdi Army militia of Muqtada al-Sadr being told by their leader to curb their murder campaign. It is also true that last year, after the attack on the Shia shrine in Samarra on 22 February 2006, there was a battle for Baghdad which the Shia won and the Sunni lost.

Baghdad is more and more Shia-dominated and the Sunni are pinned into the south-west of the city and a few other enclaves. As Sunni and Shia are killed or driven out of mixed areas, there are less of them to kill. Some 4.2 million people in Iraq are now refugees, of whom about half have fled the country.

The real and appalling situation on the ground in Iraq has been all too evident this week. Thirty bodies, the harvest of the death squads, were found in the streets of Baghdad on Wednesday. The figure for Tuesday was 26 and, in addition, 20 rockets and mortar bombs were fired into the Green Zone killing three people. This was significant because they were fired by the Mehdi Army, who had been upset by criticism made on them by the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nuri al-Maliki. By way of gentle reproof they shelled his offices in the Green Zone.

US and British claims of success in Iraq over the past four years have a grim record of being entirely sculpted to political needs at home. British ministers trumpeted the success of Operation Sinbad in Basra last year and early this one saying it would put the worst of the militia out of business. This year Basra is wholly ruled by these very same militias.

Overall the "surge" has already failed. It was never necessary to wait for yesterday's report or a further assessment in September. The reason for the failure is the same as that for American failures since 2003. They have very few allies in Iraq outside Kurdistan. The occupation is unpopular and always has been.

Economic and social conditions are becoming more and more desperate. There is in theory 5.6 hours of electricity in Baghdad every 24 hours but many districts get none at all. It is baking hot in the Mesopotamian plain, where temperatures even at night are above 40C. People used to sleep on the roof but this has become dangerous because of mortar bombardments.

Oil pipelines are sabotaged by insurgents and punctured by thieves. "In just one stretch of pipeline between Baghdad and Baiji, we found 1,488 holes," the Oil Minister, Hussein Shahristani, told the Iraqi parliament, speaking of a importantpipe that brings oil product to the capital from Baiji refinery. He added: "It doesn't function as a pipeline... it's more like a sieve."

Gasoline is brought to Baghdad by truck but these are not allowed on bridges because they might be packed with explosives. In a further sign of how life is lived in Baghdad, clerics have issued a fatwa against eating river fish - previously a favourite food - because the fish gorge on dead bodies floating in the Tigris river.

Astonishingly, the report suggests that one of the successes in Iraq has been the spending of $10bn "for reconstruction projects, including delivery of essential services, on an equitable basis".

The danger of the false optimism in the report is that it prevents other policies being devised. In January, President Bush decided to in effect ignore the most important recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton report, which were to talk to Iran and Syria and to disengage US troops. Instead Mr Bush sent reinforcements to Iraq, denounced Iran and Syria and added to the number of his enemies by threatening to clamp down on the Shia militias.

But talking to Iran has always been essential to any solution in Iraq.

"The Iranians can afford to compromise in Iraq but they cannot afford to lose," said one Iraqi observer. The more threatened they feel by the US over nuclear power or the possibility of air attack, the greater incentive they have to ensure that the US does not succeed in gaining control of Iraq. For most of the past four years they have not had to do much because the US has helpfully ensured its own failure by pursuing disastrous policies.

Paradoxically, Iran, unlike Saudi Arabia and the Sunni Arab states, actually supports the Iraqi government in Baghdad. It is run largely by their Shia co-religionists and political leaderswho were supported by Iran for years against Saddam Hussein. The problem here is that Washington has never been willing to accept that the great campaign it launched to overthrow Saddam Hussein has increased Iranian influence and put Shia clergy in black turbans in power in Baghdad as they have long held power in Tehran.

The "benchmarks" in President Bush's report are trivial and prove nothing. They appear to be an attempt to pretend that the war is still winnable in Iraq up to the Presidential election in the US next year.

These vain hopes of victory rule out compromises that the US still might make and are a pretence which many Americans and Iraqis will die unnecessarily trying to sustain.

Benchmarks for progress


* De-Baathification

* Equitable distribution of oil among Sunnis, Shias, Kurds and other Iraqis

* Providing Iraqi commanders with full authority

* Even-handed law enforcement

* Number of Iraqiunits capable of operating independently

* Ensuring that political authorities do not make false accusations against the Security Forces

Unsatisfactory, but some progress

* Reducing sectarian violence and eliminating militia control of local security

* Independent High Electoral Commission, provincial councils, and a date for provincial elections


* Constitutional Review

* Legislation on semi-autonomous regions

* Political, media and economic committees to support Baghdad Security Plan

* ThreeIraqi brigades to support Baghdad plan

* Ensuring the security plan will not provide a haven for outlaws

* Joint security stations across Baghdad

* Minority parties' rights in the legislature

* Allocating and spending $10bn for reconstruction

Too early to assess

* Enacting and implementing amnesty

* Militia disarmament

[bth: we are not losing this war to the enemy so much as to our own self-deception.]

Mission Accomplished - 4 years later

Armor Holdings Gets $518.5M Vehicle Deal

Armor Holdings Gets $518.5M Vehicle Deal - "WASHINGTON - The U.S. Marine Corps Friday awarded a $518.5 million contract to a division of Armor Holdings Inc. to build 1,170 armored vehicles for American soldiers in Iraq."

The pact, awarded to Stewart and Stevenson Tactical Vehicle Systems LP, is the sixth order to date for the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected, or MRAP, vehicles, used to prevent fatalities from roadside bombs.

The MRAPs, designed with a V-shaped hull to repel improvised explosive devices, will replace armored Humvees made by privately held AM General Corp.

Delivery of the MRAPs for this contract are expected by February 2008.

The military selected nine companies earlier this year, including the Armor Holdings (nyse: AH - news - people ) unit, to each build four test MRAPs.

The North American subsidiary of British defense conglomerate BAE Systems Plc (other-otc: BAESF.PK - news - people ) is seeking to buy the Jacksonville, Fla.-based company for $4.1 billion to tap into heavy demand from the American military for vehicles in Iraq and other combat zones.

A government panel that oversees foreign investment in the U.S. approved the deal last month. An antitrust review by the Justice Department is still pending.

Shares of Armor Holdings ended Friday's trading session unchanged at $87.38.

Force Protection May Rise to Record as Sales Double (Update2) Exclusive: "July 13 (Bloomberg) -- Force Protection Inc. has the largest share of orders for the Pentagon's top procurement priority for the war in Iraq: blast-resistant trucks. Analysts estimate the company's 2008 sales will double."

The stock is rated ``buy'' by all four analysts who follow it, according to Bloomberg data. None of that has shielded the Ladson, South Carolina-based company's shares from a 25 percent drop in the past six weeks.

The decline was sparked by concerns the company may struggle with deliveries and lose market share to larger rivals such as Navistar International Corp. Stock sales by senior executives exacerbated the fall. Still, three of the four analysts who follow the company say the shares will climb to a record as Force Protection wins its portion of a planned U.S. Marine Corps order of 20,000 trucks valued at about $20 billion.

``Force Protection does have some of the best vehicles and they are going to be rewarded with orders,'' said Joseph Maxa, an analyst at Dougherty & Co. in Minneapolis. ``When they get the orders, that is going to drive the stock.''

Maxa projects Force Protection shares will rise 40 percent to $32 in the next 12 months. He doesn't own any. Sales will double to $1.4 billion in 2008 from $697 million this year, according to four analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.

The trucks protect U.S. troops from homemade bombs, which are the leading cause of combat deaths in Iraq. The Marines say Mine-Resistant, Ambush-Protected vehicles, or MRAPs, with V- shaped hulls like Force Protection's Cougar and Buffalo trucks, are four times safer than flat-bottomed transports.

Second Contest

Force Protection is among six companies that won orders valued at $1.7 billion since January. Force Protection's $770 million is about 44 percent of the total. The second competition will be decided in January.

Three of the four analysts following Force Protection project the stock to rise above the company's record close of $30.27 on May 30 in the next 12 months. The shares rose 10 cents to $22.89 at 4 p.m. New York time in Nasdaq Stock Market composite trading. They have risen 31 percent so far this year.

James McIlree, an analyst at C.E. Unterberg Towbin in New York, projects the shares will rise to $32, while Chris Donaghey, an analyst at SunTrust Robinson Humphrey in Atlanta, predicts they'll hit $36. Neither owns the stock. Both SunTrust and C.E. Unterberg have done investment banking work for Force.

The fourth analyst, David Gremmels at Thomas Weisel Partners in New York, doesn't forecast a price or own any shares. Thomas Weisel buys and sells the shares for customers.

Mouths Shut

The company doesn't provide financial forecasts. Chief Executive Officer Gordon McGilton, 63, declined to answer most questions shareholders asked about competitive position and vehicle output during Force Protection's annual meeting on June 21.

``A refusal to interact doesn't mean we're hiding something,'' McGilton said in an interview after the meeting in Charleston, South Carolina. ``We have a history of keeping our mouths shut until there is something beneficial to say.''

Force Protection shares may rise because investors have overestimated the threat from rivals, and incorrectly assumed demand for the trucks will disappear if the U.S. exits Iraq, said Donaghey.

Troop Reduction

``The downside could be a lower-than-expected win rate, which doesn't seem likely, or that a troop reduction in Iraq would reduce the urgent need,'' Donaghey said. ``A troop withdrawal doesn't take this need away. This is the type of threat we are going to see in future.''

Force Protection was the first company to deliver the trucks in 2003.

The Marines started a competition in January to lift production. Since then, Navistar in Warrenville, Illinois, won a $623 million order on May 31. London-based BAE Systems Plc won a $212 million award on June 28.

To boost output, Force Protection last November teamed with Falls Church Virginia-based General Dynamics Corp., the largest producer of armored vehicles for the U.S. military.

Their joint venture, Force Dynamics, now splits Cougar production, and Force also signed up Jacksonville, Florida-based Armor Holdings Inc., the largest maker of armor for Humvees.

Missed Deliveries

The partnerships have initially strained Force Protection's supply chain, causing missed deliveries, said Michael Aldrich, vice president of government relations. Force deliveries were late by ``a few days'' in May and June as it shipped materials to new production lines, he said. The late vehicles were shipped this month.

Compounding fears about late deliveries and eroding market share were stock sales by Force Protection executives including former Chairman Frank Kavanaugh and CEO McGilton.

Between April 24 and May 31, Kavanaugh sold a total of 1.07 million shares at prices ranging between $23.13 and $30.78. On June 15, he announced he'd leave the company. In January, McGilton had also sold 1 million shares.

Force will continue to ``exceed expectations,'' Kavanaugh, 47, said in an interview one week after stepping down on June 21. His share sales were part of a prearranged plan for company executives, which can't be altered once put into place, he said.

Off the Table

That plan, which ends in August, had about 329,000 shares remaining as of June. Kavanaugh continues to hold another 840,000 shares, which he says he has no current plans to sell.

``I'm an investor, and I took some money off the table,'' Kavanaugh said. ``I still have a substantial amount of my net worth in this company.''

His holdings at the end of May made him the company's 12th largest shareholder, according to Bloomberg data.

Kavanaugh said his departure is actually a sign of the company's good health, because his specialty is corporate turn- arounds, rather than defense programs. As managing director of Fort Ashford Funds LLC in Irvine, California, he helped raise $250 million for the company's expansion from 2003 through 2006.

Kavanaugh became chairman in 2005 when he said Force Protection ``was in a mess.'' He presided over the revamping of the company's manufacturing processes. Before leaving, he oversaw the listing of the company's shares on the Nasdaq market in January. They previously traded over the counter.

Buying Opportunity

The company's shareholder base is now shifting from retail investors to institutions including FMR Corp.'s Fidelity Investments and Wellington Management Co. Both declined to comment on their holdings in Force Protection.

For some retail investors who have held the shares since they traded over the counter, the recent dip was nothing but a buying opportunity.

Kenneth Williams, 65, has put almost all his personal investments in Force Protection since he saw plywood prototypes of its trucks on a factory tour in 2004. The retired former Air Force technician from Columbus, Ohio, bought most of his holdings around $1 a share. He added to his stake, now more than 100,000 shares, when they fell under $22 last month, because he says they will rise to as much as $60 over the next few years.

``I'm surprised it headed lower,'' Williams said. ``If I could dig up more money, I would buy even more, but I'm pretty well committed.''

To contact the reporter on this story: Edmond Lococo in Boston at .

Last Updated: July 13, 2007 16:18 EDT

[bth: Edmond Lococo is a superb reporter in this field and highly accurate in his reporting. I rate him as one of the top 3 reporters in the defense field for insight and accuracy.]
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"Surge" Scorecard: 0 for 18?

Danger Room - Wired Blogs: "The Bush administration has released an interim scorecard on the Iraq 'surge,' saying that it's going... so-so, with 'satisfactory performance so far on 8 of the 18 benchmarks,' and mixed results in two others. Former Pentagon intelligence official Anthony Cordesman, one of the most respected Iraq-watchers out there, says that's spin, at best, "

"It is clear, however, that the Iraqi government has not really met the Bush administration’s benchmarks in any major area," he writes for the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "Seen from a more nuanced perspective, actual progress as has been more limited and had often had tenuous meaning unless it can eventually be shown that a faltering legislative start will be put into practice over the months and years to come in ways that Iraq’s major factions will accept."

1. Form a Constitutional Review Committee and complete the constitutional review

A committee was formed and “working”, but the Sunnis had withdrawn from the parliament, and there was little real progress in completing the review of more than 50 areas needing clarification. In any case, until the legislature approved the changes, and it was clear that the result was either approved in a referendum or accepted by the various factions of the Israel people, progress would not be a meaningful benchmark.

2. Enacting and implementing legislation on de-Ba’athification

Discussed and drafts existed. The details were not clear. No action by parliament. The main Sunni party was not participating in the government, and Sunnis continued to be pushed out of posts in the government and security forces, given positions without real power, or set aside.

3. Enacting and implementing legislation to ensure the equitable distribution of hydrocarbon resources of the people of Iraq without regard to the sect or ethnicity of recipients, and enacting and implementing legislation to ensure that the energy resources of Iraq benefit Sunni Arabs, Shi’a Arabs, Kurds, and other Iraqi citizens in an equitable manner

A partial draft existed, but not the full text or annexes that could give the law meaning. No action by the parliament to date and a parliamentary vote might well prove meaningless until the full law and annexes are issued, and the factions in Iraq see that the law is actually enforced. Once again, such an effort also involved a legal benchmark that seemed likely to have limited impact until the various key factions in Iraq actually saw that the practice met their demands, and the government demonstrated it could act effectively, without massive corruption, and in ways that helped rebuild and expand Iraqi oil production in ways that could actually support some form of conciliation or coexistence.

4. Enacting and implementing legislation on procedures to form semi-autonomous regions.

No clear progress. A referendum on Kirkuk was supposed to take place by the end of the year, but was in limbo and a vote could trigger a new major round of fighting. Much of the displacement and fighting in Iraq increasingly did not occur in ways that supported the creation of such areas using the provincial boundaries in the constitution. Not only was government action lagging, it was unclear that such action could produce results that reflected Iraq’s real world internal sectarian and ethnic divisions or deal with the problem that something approaching 105 of Iraq’s population – including many of its professionals and the most secular members of its middle class were now refugees outside Iraq, and had no prospects of returning to their previous homes and jobs.

5. Enacting and implementing legislation establishing an Independent High Electoral Commission, provincial elections law, provincial council authorities, and a date for provincial elections.

Drafts were supposed to exist, and there were vague promises of bringing a bill to the Parliament. No parliamentary action to date, and it was increasingly unclear such action would be meaningful if it did occur. Power had already devolved to unelected or quasi-elected authority in major provincial areas and major cities, often supported by local forces or militias, and with a clear sectarian or ethnic character.

6. Enacting and implementing legislation addressing amnesty.

Drafts were supposed to exist, and there were promises of bringing a bill to the Parliament. No parliamentary action to date, and broad distrust among Sunnis that any such legislation would actually be enforced on anything like an equitable basis

7. Enacting and implementing legislation establishing a strong militia disarmament program to ensure that such security forces are accountable only to the central government and loyal to the Constitution of Iraq.

No meaningful drafts seemed to exist, and no parliamentary action to date. The growing US reliance on local security forces in areas like Anbar, steady growth of the role of local Shi’ite security forces in the south and southeast, and ethnic character of security forces in the Kurdish areas also meant the growing sectarian and ethnic polarization of police and security activity throughout the country regardless of whether some of these forces took a formal oath or loyalty to the government or were formally enrolled in the police.

8. Establishing supporting political, media, economic and services committees in support of the Baghdad Security Plan.

Some progress, but so far largely at the token level. Sectarian displacement and “cleansing” continued in spite of the security effort. Central government improvements in aid and services have been token to non-existent. Creating committees will not become a meaningful benchmark unless they can play a role in halting and reversing sectarian and ethnic polarization on the ground in Baghdad, to ring and belt cities, other major cities, and the divided and conflict areas on a national level.

9. Provide three trained and ready Iraqi brigades to support operations in Baghdad.

The main elements of such Iraqi forces arrived more or less on schedule, but at manning levels were variously reported to be 50-75%. Some battalion elements had performed well but they seemed to total only one brigade equivalent and some have done little. Much of existing force was to rotate out.

10. Providing Iraqi commanders with all authorities to execute this plan and to make tactical and operational decisions, in consultation with U.S commanders, without political intervention, to include the authority to pursue all extremists, including Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias.

Progress largely cosmetic. The Iraqi government can and had exercised a veto, of some operations but most planning and command activity was still performed by the US. The Shi’ite militias had largely stood aside or dispersed, and action had only been taken against the most extreme elements of the Mahdi militia. In practice, US forces had turned to local security forces and tribal groups with only tenuous loyalty to the central government in areas like Anbar and Diyala, Kurdish leaders controlled operations in Kurdish areas, and local Shi’ite political factions controlled security in most of the areas in the south where responsibility had supposedly been transferred to Iraqi forces.

11. Ensuring that the Iraqi Security Forces are providing even handed enforcement of the law.

A failure in Baghdad and nationally. Some police posts were active, but most areas are under police or local security forces with strong sectarian, ethnic, and tribal ties. Police corruption and inactivity were common, and the US and government increasingly had to rely on local tribal forces. The so-called “year of the police in 2006 had given way to the “year of local forces” in 2007 in much of Iraq.

12. Ensuring that, according to President Bush, Prime Minister Maliki said ``the Baghdad security plan will not provide a safe haven for any outlaws, regardless of [their] sectarian or political affiliation.''

Major progress did occur in fighting the most extreme Sunni insurgent movements like Al Qa’ida and against some extreme elements of the Mahdi militia. In general, however, most of the Shi’ite militias simply stood down and remained a threat. Sectarian polarization continues, and there were no reports of broad success in dealing with extortion, intimidation and corruption, and organized crime.

13. Reducing the level of sectarian violence in Iraq and eliminating militia control of local security.

Violence had grown steadily worse at the national level, and the US and Iraqi government had become more and more dependent on local security forces like the tribes in Anbar, although some local forces did take an oath to the government and joined the police.

14. Establish joint security stations in neighborhoods across Baghdad.

Had been done with some success in roughly half of Baghdad, but many such stations did not have effective Iraqi forces. Many effectively tied down US forces in a relatively static role while making them more vulnerable. The creation of such stations had yet to demonstrate that they had lasting tactical value or brought security and stability to the areas where they were established.

15. Increase the number of Iraqi security forces units capable of operating independently.

Some increases in ISF capability, but “independently” did not yet mean they could conduct offensive operations on own, had the needed logistic capabilities, or could counter a major insurgent force without US reinforcements, artillery, armor, and air power.

16. Insure that the rights of minority political parties in the Iraqi legislature are protected.

No progress. Feuding between Shi’ite parties had increased. The key Sunni party had left government, Tensions remained high, as did the risk to members.

17. Allocate and spend $10 billion in Iraqi revenues for reconstruction projects, including delivery of essential services on an equitable basis.

Money was beginning to be spent, but it was unclear what it would buy and for whom. No improvement in essential services on a national basis.

18. Ensure that Iraq's political authorities are not "undermining or making false accusations against members of the Iraqi Security Forces."

Scarcely a productive benchmark. More of a danger in creating a strong man or coup. In any case, many Iraqi political figures were quite frank about the limits of the ISF.

From what I understand, Cordesman might be a little over-harsh here, especially about the cooling down of Anbar. So it's probably good to take his assessment and the official one together, when making up your own mind about how things are going.

(High five: Umansky, who's wondering when the "surge" got rebranded as the "new way forward.")

[bth: at this late date why would anyone believe Bush would tell the truth? I haven't seen Maliki or anyone in the Iraqi government interviewed on these benchmarks. Isn't it interesting that you also don't see any Iraqi reconstruction projects being trumpeted by the Iraqi government? Wouldn't you think that if you were the government that this would be near the top of the list if one intended to stay in power as a national government?]
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Al Qaeda in Iraq – Heroes, Boogeymen or Puppets? (SWJ Blog)

Al Qaeda in Iraq – Heroes, Boogeymen or Puppets? (SWJ Blog): "Four years on in Iraq, the White House still portrays the war as a life and death struggle between the forces of good, the US led Multi-national forces, and the forces of evil, Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI)."

With the advent of the new “surge” strategy, the media ledes have been triumphing the numerous coalition “anti-Al Qaeda” operations in Anbar province including the areas of Karmah, Baqubah and the Sunni neighborhoods of Baghdad. These operations have the intent to secure Baghdad and other major urban areas from insurgent terrorism. The strategy writ simple is to deny the insurgents an urban sanctuary and killing ground as well as to secure the Iraqi population from their sectarian attacks through a series of wide-area operations. But are we fighting the right enemy?

A better question is whom are we fighting? The response heard most often is that we are fighting Al Qaeda in Iraq. In May 2007 the President declared “Al Qaeda is public enemy number one in Iraq.” The consensus opinion, from the Pentagon to the PFC, is that America is waging a desperate fight against Al Qaeda both in and out of Iraq and it will directly determine the national security on the streets of Europe and America. Additionally, for four years Abu Mussab Zarqawi, AQI’s first leader, was portrayed as the commander of the insurgency. It was an easily consumable media narrative so effective that even the Iraqis believed it until his death.

There is no question that Al Qaeda is a real threat but are they the main threat? Has AQI has been catapulted to the top of the insurgency by virtue of the fact that they carry out the most dramatic and sectarian attacks or hard intelligence? In fact, listening to Washington one would think that the coalition forces are pretty much fighting “All AQI. All the Time.” As with most things in Mesopotamia, this is not nearly so clear cut. The answer may or may not surprise you.

When I completed my most recent book “The Terrorists of Iraq: Inside the Strategy and Tactics of the Iraq Insurgency” many of my warfighting peers, both in and out of Iraq, insisted AQI was commanding the insurgency. When asked what gave them this impression they insisted that AQI was by far the smartest, most capable of the insurgent groups due to their car bomb (SVBIED) attacks. They argued that AQI had fostered a virulent, militant form of Islam among the formerly secular Sunni Iraqis. Some also point out that the formation of the Islamic State (Emirate) of Iraq and attempts to enforce Islamic law (Shari’a) on the population was the strategic error that pushed the Iraqi tribes of Anbar province into the arms of the coalition. In short: AQI was bad. Very bad. Having survived an AQI suicide bombing, I knew this to be true but does stopping the spectacular nature of their tactical weapons selection override the strategic mission to secure Iraq from all insurgents. In some minds, it had.

On the other hand, many advocates of immediate withdrawal, weary of the bloodletting, bank on the hope that the other groups of the insurgency will dispose of AQI as soon as the US forces withdraw and leave the battlefield. AQI is often described by administration opponents as a convenient smokescreen and boogeyman for the White House to use to keep American troops in Iraq. Knowing the particulars of AQI’s strategy, who wants to take a chance on the insurgents doing our job once we leave?

Both sides of the argument have points but some of them are extreme and require a bit of myth-busting before any salient discussion of counterinsurgency strategy can occur.

We Really Don’t Know Our Enemy That Well - It is well documented that the Sunni insurgency is composed of three wings of insurgents. It is composed of the nationalist Former Regime Loyalists (FRLs) and their former military elements (FREs). This force may be upwards to 29,000 active combatants carrying out over 100 unconventional attacks per day using improvised explosive devices, rockets and automatic weapons ambushes. The FRL-originated Jaysh al-Mujahideen is composed of former Saddam Fedayeen, Special Republican Guard intelligence officers, former-Ba'athists, Sunni volunteers and their families. The second wing is the nationalist Iraqi Religious Extremists (IREs). These are forces including the Islamic Army of Iraq, Ansar al-Sunnah and other smaller groups, which may total approximately 5,000 fighters, sprinkled throughout western, central and northern Iraq. On occasion come into the conversation when one of their attacks is particularly daring or when the coalition claims it is negotiating their departure from the battlefront. Inevitably these “lesser” insurgent groups are portrayed as bit players on the sidelines of the epic.

Finally, the foreign fighters of the Al Qaeda in Iraq and its umbrella group the Islamic Emirate of Iraq (aka Islamic State of Iraq) may be as few as 1,500 fighters and supporters and may also have direct links to the two other tiers. Overwhelming evidence exists that that the FRLs have been waging the lion’s share of the insurgency. Until 2004 they were considered a separate part of the insurgency but recently they have been called ‘Al Qaeda-associated’ because AQI was operating in their area of operations … by 2007 it wasn’t hard for Washington to make a semantic and rhetorical leap to refer to all insurgency forces as “Al Qaeda.”

This is an error worth remembering. For over four years the FRLs (especially the paramilitary Saddam Fedayeen and Special Republican Guard) almost exclusively carries out IED, indirect fire (IDF), sniping, aircraft shoot downs and ambush attacks with conventional weapons with alarming regularity which account for the lion share of the US forces’ 3,500 KIAs. The smaller IREs did the same type of attacks but occasionally peppered their missions with Suicide bombings. AQI almost exclusively perform carries out suicide car bombings and suicide vest bombings (SVBIED/SPBIED). They occasionally perform IED, rocket, MANPAD and even a few impressive massed infantry attacks on Iraqi Police and government buildings (such as the symbolic assault on Abu Ghraieb prison in 2005). In fact, AQI’s impact on US forces is actually quite small in comparison to the FRLs and IREs.

When the first SVBIEDs of the post-war were launched against the Jordanian embassy, the UN’s Canal Road HQ and Sheik Hakim in Najaf the mindset of our commanders was to associate all insurgent related terrorism events to Zarqawi and Al Qaeda. This group-think about the foreign fighters went on right up until Zarqawi was killed in 2006. Faced with an increase in IED and SVBIED attacks after his death, and because some minor groups were joining forces in resistance councils it became convenient to call everyone Al Qaeda in Iraq.

AQI Does Not Command the Insurgency - In November 2005 at a speech at the US Naval Academy the President once accurately described AQI as “the smallest, but the most lethal” insurgent force. Many claim that their size, intelligence, and history put them at the top tier of the resistance. To claim AQI leads the insurgency would have to allow that AQI has a more politically savvy guerilla military and political operation on the ground than the entirety of the former regime and the present Government of Iraq. This is giving them too much credit.

AQI is a microscopic paramilitary terror force that selects very specific weapons for very specific targets to meet strategic goals of their cultish reading of Islam. However, AQI itself has been subject to a significant degradation since January 2005. I believe that since mid-2003 AQI coordinated their SVBIED campaigns in 2004 and 2005 with the support of the FRLs networks. It hard to believe that foreign fighters can enter the Iraqi Sunni community, anywhere, without first kissing the ring of the local FRL or Iraqi religious extremist insurgents.

The AQI SVBIED is used almost exclusively as the basis of Zarqawis’ anti-Shiite sectarian war strategy (to punish the Shiite community and encourage the Sunnis to fight together) and kills relatively few coalition soldiers compared to other weapons. Without question the number one killer in Iraq is the roadside IED, followed closely by automatic weapons fire - this is the tactical situation on the ground and it is an unambiguous indicator that a much larger force than AQI is performing these attacks. It is obvious that the FRL backed insurgent groups, with their massive all-Sunni pre-war intelligence and paramilitary apparatus remain intact in carrying out the traditional anti-coalition ambush operations they put into motion in 2003. Granted, in the dynamic and fluid terror-dome that is Iraq, our soldiers could be fighting AQI in the morning, FRLs in the evening and IREs all night but the most likely terror cells our soldiers will encounter in Iraq are the FRL’s IEDs on the roads.

Still some classify any Iraqi insurgent support of AQI objectives, active or passive, is often pointed to as a reason to classify all insurgent groups as Al Qaeda. This reading of the enemy does not take into account the diverse strategies, goals, personalities and political linkages of the other insurgents. It lumps them all into one pot and uses the same hammer to try to smash them. Hammering this particular insurgency is like smashing a ball of mercury with your palm. You may get a little of it under your control (and the toxins that come with it) but the rest will disperse, roll away and reform as they please.

AQI has reached its tactical goals in a very limited sense, as they are on the ground fighting the Americans –this makes great video propaganda but beyond the attacks, there is nothing there but air. On the other hand, AQI has never been within sight of their stated political goal - to establish a base and safehaven for the spread of their Salafist variant of Islam into the heart of the Middle East.

On occasion, AQI has made feeble attempts to operate in the political sphere through armed force. Sunni Iraqis are Moslems but even they don’t want to be told how to live their religious and social lives by foreign extremists. Each attempt, no matter how small, to radicalize and dictate to the Sunni community in Iraq failed miserably. Examples of these failures include the heavy losses in the Iraq-wide mini-Jihad of July 2004 where AQI forces rose up in several cities and tried to impose Islamic law in them; several attempts to impose Shari’a in Ramadi, sections of Mosul and Tel Afar, the 2005 Haifa street uprising in Baghdad and the multiple attempts to seize the Baqubah city government.

Their failures are why AQI manufactures its own reality. TV transmitted SVBIED attacks and Internet based AQI videos makes the insurgency appear wildly successful. This information operation has been far more successful than the attainment of any stated political goals. That is because they have managed to use their net-centric strategic information operation in such as way that they have credibility to their target audience. This has led to a thin but steady stream of manpower and money. Apart from that and the inspirational aspects of their news operation. AQI has not achieved any tangible support from the Iraqi people … except those that need them to take the heat of coalition operations off of them.

On the other hand, the FRLs have a history of cold, calculated manipulation of the Iraqi people and events using selective intelligence collection, assassination and intimidation and propaganda. It must be remembered that Zarqawi’s original AQ backed group Tawheed Wal Jihad came into Iraq just days before the invasion and set up in Fallujah under control of the Saddam Fedayeen. The Iraqi Baath party grew from a covert political organization and its current adherents still operate as “neo-Ba'athists” in Damascus and Latakia, Syria; Cairo, Egypt and even the UAE. The FRLs are operating as a covert intelligence and Fedayeen driven terrorist force, just as they were in the 1950 and 60s before they overthrew the government of Abd al-Karim Qasim and took power. Having had decades of experience researching the lives of the population, they are even more dangerous as their knowledge of the political and personal dynamics in Iraq runs deep. When necessary they have AQI, organized criminals and other forces to assist them.

AQI Did Not Bring the SVBIED, the SPBIED, the IED and Beheading to Iraq – Many supporters of the ‘All AQI. All the time.’ meme have limited knowledge of Iraq before the war. The former regime intelligence and paramilitary forces were active for years prior to the war perfecting numerous types of unconventional weapons, which are used extensively throughout the insurgency. In each instance, these systems were first developed and deploy by the FRLs in both the invasion and post-war insurgency. Take beheading for example. Largely attributed to AQI and Zarqawi there was in fact an extensive use of it in 2000 and 2001 by the Saddam Fedayeen. They were tasked to carryout an “anti-prostitution” campaign that targeted against political opponents. They publicly beheaded over 200 wives and women family members of Saddam’s enemies. Videos of the brutal beheadings could be found on the streets of Baghdad for less than .25 cents a full year before AQI carried out their first beheading.

The menu of post-war IEDs were found to have been developed by the regime‘s intelligence agencies under the title “The Ghafiqi project” and “Challenge project” months before the start of the war.

The first SVBIED and SPBIED attacks in Iraq were carried out during the invasion the war by an Army Sergeant and two women. Numerous other SVBIEDs greeted the 3rd Infantry Division during their Thunder Run into Baghdad. Not to mention that a large sophisticated Iraqi intelligence service-built VBIED was part of the plot to assassinate former President George H.W. Bush in Kuwait in 1993.

Is Iran Supporting AQI? – Iran has created real friction with its involvement with the Shiite militias. In fact, the rise of the Jaysh al Mahdi/Mahdi Militia could be a regional threat unto itself that could eclipse Al Qaeda in the next few years (I will address in another blog). Yet there is little to no evidence that Iran is playing both sides of the fence. Although some advanced weapons such as EFPs, RPGs and mortars have undoubtedly found their way into the hands of the Sunni insurgents through black market arms sales and seizures of Shiite militia arms caches, the Iranians have little to gain for a Sunni insurgency to flourish with AQI at its helm. They have but to watch and let the Sunni insurgency play the game for them. This theme has taken residence in the minds of many who want to see Iran brought into the conflict as a way to take pressure off of Iraq. It’s just not credible at this time.

The bottom line is that for US decision makers and commanders to win in Iraq they must to clarify exactly whom we are fighting and deal with them accordingly. There may be misgivings about switching gears from AQI to the FRLs at such a late date because that would openly require an acknowledgement that the strategy of “All AQI. All the time.” was flawed from the beginning. Additionally any ceasefire with the former regime insurgents would require a broad political framework involving a regional approach that would have to include Syria, Saudi Arabia and the FRLs themselves. Many in Washington find this politically abhorrent.

In the end, mistaking the FRLs for AQI or AQI for the IREs or a mix of one or the other means that the strategies needed to defeat one specific group will be lost to the singular mindset of ‘military destruction of AQI at all costs.’ This myopia has lead the effort in Iraq for nigh four years now. Many have become so entrenched that the American people believe they are fighting no one else.

Defeating, disarming or buying out key insurgent groups could yield greater results and a lessening of combat losses through targeted military operations, negotiation, reconstruction, civil affairs projects and cash. From down here at the deck plates level this seems like common sense but it has yet to filter up to the policy makers.

If General Petraeus and his excellent counterinsurgency advisor David Kilcullen are to succeed then the hard reality of enunciating to the American public requires that the terms we use to label the opposition have to be changed. If this is part of an aggressive information operation, as some have suggested, to turn the Iraqi people against the Iraqi Insurgents by giving them all a bad name (AQI), then it’s a desperate gambit as most Sunnis know who the real insurgents are in their neighborhood. This rhetoric has already had a negative operational effect by making our own soldiers believe that all of the Sunni insurgents and community supporters are Al Qaeda. This may have led to several instances of battlefield murder, torture and abuses of prisoners.

If the Petraeus strategy is to neutralize AQI first, he may eventually succeed, but he may also secure a rested, rearmed, refueled, retrained insurgency that are not AQI. The FRLs appear smart enough to let Petraeus do just this and may even cooperate a little all the while winking and supporting AQI suicide operations … only time will tell who is the more clever bargainer at the camel bazaar.

[bth: the only comment I would add is that the administration has deliberately distorted the enemy in order to manipulate the American people and has nothing at all to do with winning the war on the ground in Iraq and everything to do with cynical Washington politics. I would have hoped tha the generals were smart enough soldiers to distinguish between the manipulation of our public and the killing forces their troops encounter, but what I've concluded is that the generals are really politicians and as such were prepared to lie to the American public. Now the military hierarchy can't understand why they have lost the trust of the American public.]