Saturday, July 28, 2007

Political vacation from Iraqi reality

The Anniston Star » Political vacation from Iraqi reality: "We’re hard upon the dog days of August"Members of the U.S. Congress and the Iraqi Parliament soon will slither away to the shade of cooler rocks, and President George W. Bush will no doubt head off to Crawford to take his frustrations out on some brush with a chainsaw.

Meanwhile, in Iraq, the 60,000 American combat troops who daily patrol the most dangerous streets and roads in the world will carry on fighting, dying and bleeding in the broiling sun where temperatures nudge the 130-degree mark and 40 pounds of body armor and Kevlar helmet plus weapon and ammunition weigh more with every step an infantryman takes.

The politicians in Washington and Baghdad will take their summer breaks, happy to postpone any further thought of Iraq at least until September, when the U.S. commander Gen. David Petraeus makes his progress report on the American troop surge to Congress, as though that may make some difference in how much longer this agony is going to continue.

Has anyone noticed that virtually every one of the players, political and military, have already begun chipping away at the September milestone? That, shock and horror, they begin to talk of the urgent need for American troops to remain in Iraq at the present level of 160,000 or maybe even more until 2009?

The Democrats in Congress — most of whom seem to be running for president — seem content to await further developments. The Republicans, especially those up for re-election in 2008, are wearing out the knees of their $4,000 suits praying for some miracle to remove Iraq and assorted other administration disasters from the voters’ minds. The president has gone back to talking about his impossible dream of “victory” in a war that can’t be won with the tools he’s applying in the place where he’s applying them.

The Iraqis bide their time and dream, as ever, sweet dreams of bloody revenge and communal slaughter and laugh at the to-do list of impossible American benchmarks. We talk of Iraqi “national” goals while the Iraqis talk of old, dark tribal and sectarian goals and we pass in the night like so many camel caravans.
The foreign jihadist suicide bombers flow in to take their turns at the wheel of a cargo of plastic explosives, old artillery shells and scrap iron to murder the innocents who’ve gone to market or the bus station or even to school. The shadowy militias of the Shia — whom we’ve empowered by visiting the blessings of democracy on a feudal society — kidnap and kill their Sunni neighbors and, for good measure, daily lob mortar shells into the American Green Zone in Baghdad.

Among them all, targets for all, American troops move in a desperate, hopeless attempt to quiet the slaughter and give peace a chance in a place where it has none. Day by day, the toll of those killed and wounded rises like the temperatures in August, and for what?

There aren’t enough American troops at their home bases, resting, refitting and re-training after their second or third combat tours, to replace those now in Iraq and Afghanistan come next spring. Not to worry. We can just extend their new 15-month-long tour of duty in hell to 18 months or maybe even 24 months. After all they’re volunteers — the half a percent of Americans who serve and sacrifice while the rest of us obey a president’s orders and go shopping and lay about the splendid beaches in August.

It’s their blood that stains the hands of politicians who are vacationing when they should be working to bring this insane war to an end, to bring those American troops home from Iraq and redirect their energies toward Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan where the real enemy, the real al-Qaida, plots real attacks on Americans at home and abroad.

There’s no vacation break for our troops this August. Only another day, another week, another month on another patrol on an impossible mission in a war that their commander in chief and his men expected to be over, and indeed declared over, four years and four months ago.

“Mission Accomplished,” that banner draped across an aircraft carrier crowed. A “cakewalk,” one of them predicted.

Have a nice vacation all you politicians, and by the way keep those bloody hands hidden. You wouldn’t want to frighten the children on the beach.

Joseph L. Galloway is former senior military correspondent for Knight Ridder Newspapers and co-author of the national best-seller “We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young.” E-mail:

US fears that Brown wants Iraq pull-out

US fears that Brown wants Iraq pull-out - Times Online: "A SENIOR Downing Street aide has sounded out Washington on the possibility of an early British military withdrawal from Iraq. "

Simon McDonald, the prime minister’s chief foreign policy adviser, left the impression that he was “doing the groundwork” for Gordon Brown, according to one of those he consulted.

Brown, who arrives at Camp David in Maryland today to meet President George W Bush, said yesterday that “the relationship with the United States is our single most important bilateral relationship”.

Downing Street remains emphatic that he will not unveil a plan to withdraw British troops, who are due to remain in southern Iraq until the Iraqi army is deemed capable of maintaining security. A spokesman said there had been no change in the government's position.

Behind the scenes, however, American officials are picking up what they believe are signals that a change of British policy on Iraq is imminent.

McDonald, a senior diplomat who formerly ran the Iraq desk at the Foreign Office, was in Washington this month to prepare for the summit. He asked a select group of US foreign policy experts what they believed the effect would be of a British pull-out from Iraq.

“The general feeling was that he was doing the groundwork for a Brown conversation,” said a source.

Most of the experts felt it was a question of when, not if, Britain would leave.

“The view is Britain feels it can’t fight two wars, and Afghanistan is more worth fighting for,” added the source. Yesterday a British soldier was killed during a rocket attack in Afghanistan, bringing to 67 the number of British fatalities there.

McDonald’s questions, coming in the wake of remarks by Douglas Alexander, the international development secretary, about the use of American power, and the appointment of Lord Malloch-Brown, a critic of US policy, as a Foreign Office minister, were seen by some in Washington as another signal that Brown is distancing himself from Iraq.

Malloch-Brown, in particular, arouses strong emotions. Critics within the Bush administration have long viewed the former UN deputy secretary-general with suspicion and were annoyed when he said last month Britain and America would no longer be “joined at the hip”.

A former UN official, Artjon Shkurtaj, has now accused him of turning a blind eye to corruption and mismanagement at the United Nations programme he ran for six years.

Shkurtaj lost his job after claiming that rules designed to prevent corruption were being breached in the North Korean offices of the UN Development Programme. Some UN insiders have, however, accused Shkurtaj of being an American “stooge”, manipulated by Washington to embarrass Malloch-Brown.

Henry Kissinger, the former US secretary of state, has warned British ministers to beware of distancing themselves from America.

“Ostentatious dissociation from the US just sets up a quarrel,” he said in an interview with The Sunday Times.

He added that Brown had qualities that could be “very helpful” to the president in resolving the Iraq problem. “Gordon Brown is an extremely thoughtful person with a more intellectual approach than Tony Blair,” said Kissinger. “President Bush has not invited him to Camp David to lecture him on how Britain can fit in with America’s wishes. He will listen to him with an open mind.”

Brown visited Iraq last month to discuss the situation there with Lieutenant-General Graeme Lamb, the coalition deputy commander and overall UK commander, and Major-General Jonathan Shaw, the commander in the south.

Army chiefs make no secret of their desire to withdraw. British troops are under virtual siege in Basra with four servicemen killed in the past two weeks by mortar or rocket attacks on their two bases. Most are in tents with no overhead protection.

Shaw has drawn up a proposal - backed by Lamb - under which the bulk of the British troops could be withdrawn by the end of the year or early next year, leaving only small training teams. They are due to withdraw to a single base at Basra airport by the end of this month.

Bob Ainsworth, the armed forces minister, told MPs last week that the local Iraqi military commander believed his force was “approaching the point” where it could take over responsibility.

“There is hope among our people out there at every level that we are approaching the situation where that can be done. But we have got to talk to our allies and to the Iraqi government about that. That cannot be a unilateral decision on our part,” he said.

In contrast with the famous “Colgate summit” - at which Bush told the press he and Blair shared the same brand of toothpaste - no walkabouts or matey photo-opportunities are expected when the president meets the new prime minister.

“President Bush and prime minister Brown don’t need a photo-opportunity of the two of them heading off into the sunset holding hands to prove that the US-UK relationship is as strong as ever,” a British official said.

Brown will have a one-to-one dinner with Bush tonight and they will meet again without aides for breakfast tomorrow.

A Whitehall source said: “It will be more businesslike now, with less emphasis on the meeting of personal visions you had with Bush and Blair.”

[bth: my guess is that they are leaving. Their generals have said that they don't have enough critical mass in Iraq. They don't see a useful mission. Also the Maliki government has said that they will replace the Brits by the end of September. ... Our allies are leaving.]
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Air Force quietly building Iraq presence

Air Force quietly building Iraq presence - Yahoo! News: "BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq - Away from the headlines and debate over the 'surge' in U.S. ground troops, the Air Force has quietly built up its hardware inside Iraq, sharply stepped up bombing and laid a foundation for a sustained air campaign in support of American and Iraqi forces. "

Squadrons of attack planes have been added to the in-country fleet. The air reconnaissance arm has almost doubled since last year. The powerful B1-B bomber has been recalled to action over Iraq.

The escalation worries some about an increase in "collateral damage," casualties among Iraqi civilians. Air Force generals worry about wear and tear on aging aircraft. But ground commanders clearly like what they see.

"Night before last we had 14 strikes from B-1 bombers. Last night we had 18 strikes by B-1 bombers," Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch said approvingly of air support his 3rd Infantry Division received in a recent offensive south of Baghdad.

Statistics tell the story: Air Force and Navy aircraft dropped 437 bombs and missiles in Iraq in the first six months of 2007, a fivefold increase over the 86 used in the first half of 2006, and three times more than in the second half of 2006, according to Air Force data. In June, bombs dropped at a rate of more than five a day.
Inside spacious, air-conditioned "Kingpin," a new air traffic control center at this huge Air Force hub 50 miles north of Baghdad, the expanded commitment can be seen on the central display screen: Small points of light represent more than 100 aircraft crisscrossing Iraqi air space at any one time.

The increased air activity has paralleled the reinforcement of U.S. ground troops, beginning in February, to try to suppress the insurgency and sectarian violence in the Baghdad region. Simply keeping those 30,000 additional troops supplied has added to demands on the Air Force.

"We're the busiest aerial port in DOD (Department of Defense)," said Col. Dave Reynolds, a mission support commander here. Working 12-hour shifts, his cargo handlers are expected to move 140,000 tons of cargo this year, one-third more than in 2006, he said.

The greatest impact of the "air surge" has come in close air support for Army and Marine operations.

Early this year, with little fanfare, the Air Force sent a squadron of A-10 "Warthog" attack planes — a dozen or more aircraft — to be based at Al-Asad Air Base in western Iraq. At the same time it added a squadron of F-16C Fighting Falcons here at Balad. Although some had flown missions over Iraq from elsewhere in the region, the additions doubled to 50 or more the number of workhorse fighter-bomber jets available at bases inside the country, closer to the action.

The reinforcement involved more than numbers. The new F-16Cs were the first of the advanced "Block 50" version to fly in Iraq, an aircraft whose technology includes a cockpit helmet that enables the pilot to aim his weapons at a target simply by turning his head and looking at it.

The Navy has contributed by stationing a second aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf, and the reintroduction of B1-Bs has added a close-at-hand "platform" capable of carrying 24 tons of bombs.

Those big bombers were moved last year from distant Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean to an undisclosed base in the Persian Gulf. Since February, with the ground offensive, they have gone on Iraq bombing runs for the first time since the 2003 invasion.

As chronicled in the Air Force's daily summaries, more and more pilots are getting the "cleared hot" clearance for bombing runs, usually with 500-pound bombs. In recent Army operations north of Baghdad, for example, Air Force planes have struck "factories" for makeshift bombs, weapons caches uncovered by ground troops and, in one instance, "several houses insurgents were using as fire positions."

Iraq Body Count, a London-based, anti-war research group that monitors Iraqi war deaths, says the step-up in air attacks appears to have been accompanied by an increase in Iraqi civilian casualties from air strikes. Based on media reports, it counts a recent average of 50 such deaths per month.
The Air Force itself does not maintain such data.

The demand for air support is heavy. On one recent day, at a briefing attended by a reporter, it was noted that 48 requests for air support were filled, but 16 went unmet.

"There are times when the Army wishes we had more jets," said F-16C pilot Lt. Col. Steve Williams, commander of the 13th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, a component of Balad's 379th Air Expeditionary Wing.

In addition, the Air Force is performing more "ISR" work in Iraq — intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. "We have probably come close to doubling our ISR platforms the past 12 months," said Col. Gary Crowder, a deputy air operations chief for the Central Command.

Those proliferating reconnaissance platforms include Predator drones, high-flying U2s and AWACS, the technology-packed airborne warning and control aircraft, three of which returned to the Persian Gulf in April after three years' absence.

The F-16Cs and other attack planes also do surveillance work with their targeting cameras, keeping watch on convoy routes, for example. By Oct. 1, Crowder said, all squadrons will have "ROVER" capability, able to download real-time aerial video to the laptop computers of troops on the ground — showing them, in effect, what's around the next corner.

"They love it. It's like having a security camera wherever you want it," said Col. Joe Guastella, the Air Force's regional operations chief.

Air Force engineers, meanwhile, are improving this centrally located home base, which supports some 10,000 air operations per week.

The weaker of Balad's two 11,000-foot runways was reinforced — for five to seven years' more hard use.
The engineers next will build concrete "overruns" at the runways' ends. Balad's strategic ramp, the concrete parking lot for its biggest planes, was expanded last fall. The air traffic control system is to be upgraded again with the latest technology.

"We'd like to get it to be a field like Langley, if you will," said mission support chief Reynolds, referring to the Air Force showcase base in Virginia.

The Air Force has flown over Iraq for many years, having enforced "no-fly zones" with the Navy in 1991-2003, banning Iraqi aircraft from northern and southern areas of this country. Today, too, it takes a long view: Many expect the Army to draw down its Iraq forces by 2009, but the Air Force is planning for a continued conflict in which it supports Iraqi troops.

"Until we can determine that the Iraqis have got their air force to sufficient capability, I think the coalition will be here to support that effort," Lt. Gen. Gary North, overall regional air commander, said in an interview. The new Iraqi air force thus far fields only a handful of transports and reconnaissance aircraft — no attack planes.

North also echoed a common theme in today's Air Force: Some of the U.S. planes are too old. Some of his KC-135 air-refueling tankers date from 1956. Heavy use in Iraq and Afghanistan is cracking the wings of some A-10s, the Air Force says.

"We are burning these airplanes out," North said. "Our A-10s and our F-16s are rapidly becoming legacy systems."

If the equipment is under strain, it doesn't appear the personnel are.

The Air Force's four-month Iraq tours and extensive use of volunteer pilots from the Reserve and National Guard contrast sharply with an Army whose 15-month tours are sapping energy and morale.

In the Air Force, Iraq duty can even be cut to two months. Lt. Col. Bob Mortensen's 457th Fighter Squadron — F-16Cs from Fort Worth, Texas — managed it by working a deal with another Reserve unit to share one four-month rotation.

How much longer can these flyers answer the call?

"As many times as we're asked," Mortensen said.

[bth: this seems to fully confirm Seymour Hersh's predictions from last year about the massive step up in air power in Iraq.]

ISI/Al Furqan: ING Humvee Destruction - ISI/Al Furqan: ING Humvee Destruction: ""

Aide: Iraq PM relations with Petraeus poor

Aide: Iraq PM relations with Petraeus poor - Military News, Army News, opinions, editorials, news from Iraq, photos, reports - Army Times: "BAGHDAD — A key aide says Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s relations with U.S. commander Gen. David Petraeus are so poor the Iraqi leader may ask Washington the withdraw the well-regarded U.S. military leader from duty here.

The Iraqi foreign minister calls the relationship “difficult.”

Petraeus says his ties with al-Maliki are “very good” but acknowledges expressing “the full range of emotions” on “a couple of occasions.”

U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker, who meets together with al-Maliki and Petraeus at least weekly, concedes “sometimes there are sporty exchanges.”

Al-Maliki has spoken sharply — not of Petraeus or Crocker personally — but about their tactic of welcoming Sunni militants into the fight against al-Qaida forces in Anbar and Diyalah provinces.

But the reality of how the three men get along likely lies somewhere between the worst and best reports about their relationship — perhaps one of the most important in the world and unquestionably central to the future of Iraq, the larger Middle East and scores, if not hundreds, of political, diplomatic and military careers in the United States.

A tangle of issues confront the three men, and none of them present clear or easy solutions:
— Al-Maliki, a Shiite who spent years in exile under Saddam Hussein, hotly objects to U.S. tactic of recruiting men with ties to the Sunni insurgency into the ongoing fight against al-Qaida. He has complained loudly but with little effect except a U.S. pledge to let al-Maliki’s security apparatus vet the recruits before they join the force. He also has spoken bitterly, aides say, about delivery delays of promised U.S. weapons and equipment for his forces.

— Petraeus is confronted with an Iraqi military and police force, nominally under al-Maliki’s control, that has in many cases acted on sectarian — namely Shiite — not national Iraqi interests. He has faced a significant challenge in persuading al-Maliki to shed his ties to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who runs the Mahdi Army militia.

— Crocker’s problems with the Iraqi leader are the appearance of foot-dragging or ineffectiveness on the political front — the need to shepherd critical benchmark legislation through parliament. U.S. opponents of the war will undoubtedly demand from Crocker, when he reports to congress in September, an explanation of why U.S. troops are fighting and dying to give al-Maliki political breathing space that the Iraqi leader will not or cannot capitalize on.

First word of strained relations began leaking out with consistency earlier this month.

Sami al-Askari, an key aide to al-Maliki and a member of the prime minister’s Dawa Party, said the policy of including one-time Sunni insurgents in the security forces shows Petraeus has a “real bias and it bothers the Shiites. It is possible that we may demand his removal.”

Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said in an interview with Newsweek, that the Petraeus-al-Maliki relationship was “difficult.”

“The prime minister cannot just pick up the phone and have Iraqi army units do what he says. Maliki needs more leverage.”

A lawmaker from the al-Sadr bloc, who refused use of his name fearing the party would expel him over his continued close ties to al-Maliki, said the prime minister has complained to U.S. President George W. Bush about the policy of arming Sunnis.

“He told Bush that if Petraeus continues doing that he would arm Shiite Militias. Bush told al-Maliki to calm down,” according to the lawmaker who said he was told of the exchange by al-Maliki.

The lawmaker said al-Maliki once told Petraeus: “I can’t deal with you any more. I will ask for someone else to replace you.”

In an angry outburst earlier this month, al-Maliki said American forces should leave and turn over security to Iraqi troops. He quickly backpedaled, but the damage was done.

“There is no leader in the world that is under more pressure than Nouri al-Maliki, without question. Sometimes he reflects that frustration. I don’t blame him. I probably would too,” Crocker said.

The ambassador, one of the State Department’s most seasoned Middle East diplomats, appeared to be genuinely fond of al-Maliki and profoundly understanding of the Iraqi leader’s troubles.

“We are dealing with existential issues. There are no second tier problems ... so there is a lot of pressure. And we all feel very deeply about we’re trying to get done. So yeah, sometimes there are sporty exchanges,” he said.

“And believe me I’ve had my share of them. That in no way means, in my view, strained relations. I have great admiration for Prime Minister Maliki, and I know General Petraeus does as well. And I like to think it is reciprocal. Wrestling with the things we’re all wrestling with here, it would almost be strange if you didn’t get a little passionate from time to time.”

Petraeus, a wily, rising star at the Pentagon who is known for holding his cards close to his chest, called his relations with al-Maliki “very good...and that’s the truth,” but acknowledged, “we have not pulled punches with each other.”

Here’s why, he said:

“We have made an enormous investment here — 3,600-plus soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines have given their lives. And where we see something that could unhinge the progress that our soldiers and their soldiers are fighting to make ... or jeopardize some of the very hard-fought gains that we have made, I’m going to speak up. And I have on occasion. And on a couple of occasions have demonstrated the full range of emotions.”

All sides spoke with the critical September reports by Crocker and Petraeus to Congress clearly at the front of their minds — the need to make it clear to an increasingly hostile U.S. legislative branch that progress is being made and it would be wrong to start pulling out troops and cutting support now.

It will be a tough sell, but not for lack of getting their views before the public in advance of walking into Congressional committee rooms about seven weeks from now.

Associated Press military writer Robert Burns contributed to this report.

[bth: read this article on context with the ones below about arming sunni brigades that will report to the Americans and placing them in Western Baghdad and also the one from al-Douri talking about the need to continue to fight the occupation and the Maliki government. Maliki likely feels we are arming forces bent on killing him. He might be right.]

Insurgents getting targetted after digging in an IED - Insurgents getting targetted after digging in an IED: ""

US accuses Saudis of telling lies about Iraq

US accuses Saudis of telling lies about Iraq Iraq Guardian Unlimited: "The extent of the deterioration in US-Saudi relations was exposed for the first time yesterday when Washington accused Riyadh of working to undermine the Iraqi government."

The Bush administration warned Saudi Arabia, until this year one of its closest allies, to stop undermining the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki.

The US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, and the defence secretary, Robert Gates, are scheduled to visit Jeddah next week.

Reflecting the deteriorating relationship, the US made public claims that the Saudis have been distributing fake documents lying about Mr Maliki.

The Bush administration, as well as the British government, is telling the Saudis, so far without success, that establishing a stable government in Iraq is in their interest and that they stand to suffer if it collapses.

Relations have been strained since King Abdullah unexpectedly criticised the US, describing the Iraq invasion as "an illegal foreign occupation".

That was the first sign of a rift between the two, who have enjoyed a solid relationship for decades, based on Saudi's vast oil reserves.

At a briefing, the state department spokesman, Sean McCormack, did not refer directly to US frustration with Saudi, beyond saying that Ms Rice and Mr Gates, on their trip to the region, "will be wanting more active, positive support for Iraq and the Iraqi people".

The British government, which retains a close relationship with the Saudis, shares many of the US's concerns about Riyadh's role in Iraq but, unlike Washington, is unwilling to go public.

A Foreign Office spokesman said yesterday: "We have always encouraged the Saudis to participate in the political process in Iraq. Saudi Arabia has a crucial role to play and the Saudis recognise the success of the whole project for the region's stability."

The US claims the Saudi royal family is offering financial support to coreligionist Sunni groups in Iraq opposed to Mr Maliki's Shia-led government.

In a graphic example of the tension, Zalmay Khalilzad, until recently the US ambassador to Baghdad, protested to the Saudis over fake documents distributed in Baghdad which claimed Mr Maliki was an Iranian agent and had tipped off the radical Shia cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr, about a US crackdown on his Madhi army militia.

Mr Khalilzad, who is now US ambassador to the UN, wrote in the New York Times last week: "Several of Iraq's neighbours - not only Syria and Iran but also some friends of the United States - are pursuing destabilising policies."

The Bush administration is also expressing its unhappiness with the Saudis for failing to stem the flow of Saudi jihadists across its border to fight in Iraq, often as suicide bombers. The US estimates that about 40% of the 60 to 80 foreign fighters entering Iraq each month are from Saudi Arabia.

The administration, like Britain, is still dependent on oil from Saudi and until now has been reluctant to go public about the increasing differences with the kingdom. Other causes of tension include Saudi support for Hamas in Gaza and lack of support for a US Israel-Palestinian peace plan.

[bth: so the Saudi's must be really baffled. We accepted fake documents from the Italians to get us into war with Saddam regarding yellow cake. We have been sexing up reports regarding Iran and EFPs for over a year. We've hyped their nuclear program with the help of the Israelis. Then they hand us some fake documents and we openly criticize them on the eve of getting $20 billion in arms sales which the Israelis don't like. They've got to be really confused. Just when they thought they had bought off American politicians they found out that they only rented them.]
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missing links: Straight talk

missing links: Straight talk: "Ibrahim Izzat al-Douri, leader of the part of the Iraqi Baath party, says he is planning to call together Baathists and Iraqi islamist groups to consider forming a united front to "escalate the military resistance" to the occupation, on a common program of defeating not only the occupation itself, but everything that has been derived from it, including the government and the constitution, in order to make a clean start under occupation-free conditions.

This was conveyed to Al-Quds al-Arabi by unnamed sources, who added that a rival Baath figure Ahmed al-Yunis, isn't being invited, but that another big Baathist name is expected to attend, namely Fawzi al-Rawi, leader of a wing that is said to be close to the Syrian Baath party.

It is hard to know what to make of the internal Baath comings and goings, and similarly it is hard to know what to make of the list of a half-dozen Iraqi islamist groups, none of which are familiar names.

Overall, as Marc Lynch noted in his thumbnail tag on this item, it appears al-Douri is responding to the fact that he and the Baath party were left out of the group whose existence was announced yesterday in the Guardian piece.

The program is identical: Defeat of the occupation and all that it brought with it, while at the same time being prepared to negotiate the withdrawal process.

Awni Qalamji, a resistance figure who writes regularly in Al-Quds al-Arabi, notes in his op-ed piece today (pdf, bottom of the page) that there has been a recent wave of meetings and conferences and common fronts, although he doesn't specifically mention these latest two (the column may well have been already written when these last two common-front ideas were announced, but it applies just the same).

He does mention a recent series of meetings held in various foreign capitals, for instance one Nuri al-Marsumi, organized a series of meetings with "[Iraqi] figures preaching nationalism and leftism, coming from London and other places", and he refers in a similarly dismissive way to a recent series of meetings by the better-known Iyad Allawi, including a meeting in Cairo with the participation of a Kurdish figure opposed to Talabani, and with people from the Saudi, Egyptian and Jordanian Mukhabarat.

This whole meetings fad is based on expectations of an American withdrawal, Qalamji points out. This isn't the first time rumors of an American withdrawal led to a flurry of this type of meetings, and he refers specifically to mid 2005 and a meeting in Beirut (which if I knew something about it I would insert it here). Qalamji's point is that there isn't going to be an American withdrawal, so this whole conference fad is based on a mistake.

It is true, he writes, that Bush is under a lot of pressure, not only from Democrats, but from his own generals, who have often indicated skepticism about whether they are having anything you could call success.

That is all quite true, he says, but it is even more true that what is being proposed by the Democrats, under the heading of a plan to withdraw US troops by the end of 2008, is nothing but a scam to convince American public opinion, which is pressing for the return of their boys to their country safe and sound, and not in the black bags, in order to obtain votes in the coming presidential election....

These are points Qalamji has made before, but he thinks this is the time to re-emphasize them: What the Democrats are out to defeat is the Republicans, not the project for control of Iraq.

The expression "withdrawal" is merely a cover for re-assigning troops so that the troops themselves are safer; Iraq will still be occupied.

It is difficult for some to face this situation, and there is a temptation to cling to fantasies about an easy victory, an early withdrawal, or at least the idea that what Bush and the Democrats are focused on is finding a way to make an honorable withdrawal. Consequently, says Qalamji, the times require us to re-emphasize the point that the role of the resistance is to fight the occupation and not to dick around with negotiations based on idle dreams, something that (as the heading to this op-ed piece puts it) risks "distorting the image of the resistance".

And not only the image. The resistance should aim toward the formation of a unified fighting organization, with joint leadership, and similarly on the political level the establishment of good relations with all of the bona fide nationalist organizations and movements, so as to arrive at a common political program that has the genuine support of the broadest possible popular base.

This can't be done from outside the country, neither on the military side nor on the political side.

Secondly, negotiations, if they are to come about, are themselves part of the struggle between the occupation and the resistance, and they can only begin when the occupation is no longer capable of defending itself and has to sue for an honorable exit, which would be on the terms of the resistance, not on their own terms.

This implies things like negotiating damages at the same time, negotiating from a position of full sovereignty, and so on. And it implies the continuation of military operations right up until final agreement.

The thing everyone should keep in mind at this point is that when the Americans talk about an honorable withdrawal, their idea is to convince the resistance to lay down their arms, and by joining the political process and joining in the governing authority, actually help ratify the occupation [by the Americans] who, when they first came, came to stay, and not to leave voluntarily.

If we put these discussions [about negotiating and joining the political process] to one side, and take up instead the language of reality, then what we hear from the American politicians with respect to Iraq is the exact opposite of what is actually happening, because the American forces, on the one hand, while continuing to talk about withdrawal, are in fact launching ever more violent attacks against Iraqi cities, using the worst weapons of killing and destruction, including banned weapons, while on the other hand you have Bush explaining that among the American options there is not the option called "failure", and that he is determined to break the back of the Iraqi resistance.

Qalamji, as I mentioned, doesn't talk about the latest two common-front-resistance announcements, that of the seven groups mentioned in the Guardian yesterday, or that of al-Douri and others mentioned in Al-Quds al-Arabi today, but I think his point would apply, and it is a cautionary one: Beware Americans talking about an honorable withdrawal.

[bth: It is interesting to read this commentary from our enemies. This points out a need for the US to have strong 'friends' inside Iraq because it is evident that the former Baathists have no intention of resolving matters on anything we or our Shea or Kurd allies could consider reasonable. It further explains the strong reaction Maliki is having to the US arming Sunni brigades for Baghdad. ... I think the US needs to realize that we cannot shape Iraq in a vacuum - we must pick our friends and enemies carefully, but most assuredly al-Douri is an enemy.]
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Full circle

missing links: Full circle: "Iraqi news-site reports: "

Our correspondent in Baghdad learned from an official in the Interior Ministry that that ministry has obtained information on the existence of an American plan to send recruits from Sunni tribes to certain Baghdad areas.

Our correspondent said there are four brigades being trained and equipped in preparation for assignment to Baghdad.

He added that these bridages will be under the direct supervision and leadership of the American army, and they will be participating in military operations together with the American forces.

And there is information to the effect the initial assignments will be to [the district of] Palestine Street, Waziriya, and two other districts not yet known. Iraqslogger correctly notes that this would represent an escalation in tensions between the Iraqi government and the Americans, on the question of who controls military/security operations.

The implicit point is that this would represent US alliance with Sunni forces in areas where the main issues tend to be Sunni versus Shiia (and not Sunni versus AlQaeda).

And in that way the coming full circle of what Iraqi nationalists have always said is essence of the American strategy: First, alliance with Shiite militias to persecute Sunnis (and Baathists in particular) in the post 2003 period; and now switching to alliance with Sunni fighters to persecute Shiites (and Sadrists in particular) to finish the job of reducing Iraq to a collection of walled-off cantons.

Afghanistan label on Syria?
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Tomgram: How Withdrawal Came in from the Cold

Tomgram: How Withdrawal Came in from the Cold: "

The Withdrawal Follies

The Bush Administration Plants Its Flag in the Future

By Tom Engelhardt "

Withdrawal is now so mainstream. Last week, debate about it led to a sleep-in protest in the Senate and, this week, it's hit the cover of TIME Magazine, of which there's no mainer-stream around. The TIME cover couldn't be more graphic. The word "IRAQ" is in giant type, the "I," "R," and "Q" all black, and a helicopter is carting off a stars-and-stripes "A" to reveal the phrase, "What will happen when we leave." (Mind you, some military blogs now claim that the helicopter in silhouette is actually an old Soviet Mi-24 Hind; if so, maybe the designer had the embattled Russian withdrawal from Afghanistan in mind.)

Still, is there anyplace in the news where you can't find the word "withdrawal," or its pals "exit," "pull out," and "leaving" right now? Here are just a few recent headlines featuring the word that has come in from the cold: "Most Americans want Congress to make withdrawal decision, according to poll"; "The Logistics of Exiting Iraq"; "U.S. withdrawal from Iraq would be a massive undertaking"; "Americans Want Withdrawal, Deadline in Iraq"; "Washington's House Democrats join in calling for Iraq troop withdrawal"; "Withdrawal fallout could lead to chaos"; "Exit strategies"; "Iraq warns against early US withdrawal"; and so on ad infinitum.

Think of that as "progress" -- as in our Baghdad commander General David Petraeus' upcoming mid-September "Progress Report" to Congress. After all, it wasn't so long ago that no one (except obscure sites on the Internet) was talking about withdrawing American forces from Iraq.

Here's the odd thing, though: "Withdrawal," as an idea, has been undergoing a transformation in full public view. In the world of the Washington Consensus and in the mainstream press, it has been edging ever closer to what normally might be thought of as "non-withdrawal" (just as happened in the Vietnam era). In fact, you can search far and wide for reports on "withdrawal" plans that suggest a full-scale American withdrawal from Iraq and, most of the time, find nothing amid the pelting rain of withdrawal words.

As imagined these last months, withdrawal turns out to be a very partial affair that will leave sizeable numbers of American occupation forces in Iraq for a long period. If anything, the latest versions of "withdrawal" have been used as cudgels to beat upon real withdrawal types.

The President, Vice President, top administration officials and spokespeople, and the increasingly gung-ho team of commanders in Iraq -- most of whom haven't, in recent years, been able to deliver on a single prediction, or even pressure the Iraqis into achieving one major administration-set "benchmark" -- have nonetheless managed to take possession of the future. They now claim to know what it holds better than the rest of us and are turning that "knowledge" against any suggestion of genuine withdrawal.

Worst of all, we've already been through this in the Vietnam era, but since no one seems to remember, no lessons are drawn.

Fast-Forward to the Future

In recent months, General David Petraeus, our "surge" commander in Iraq, has popularized a double or triple clock image: ""We're racing against the clock, certainly. We're racing against the Washington clock, the London clock, a variety of other timepieces up there, and we've got to figure out how to speed up the Baghdad clock." In fact, he and his commanders have done just that, resetting the "Baghdad clock" for future time.

There's a history of the future to consider here. In the late 1950s, when nuclear weapons made war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union inconceivable, the Pentagon and associated think-tanks found themselves forced to enter the realm of the future -- and so of fiction -– to "fight" their wars. They began, in strategist Herman Kahn's famous phrase, to "think the unthinkable" and so entered the realm of science fiction, the fantasy scenario, and the war game.

In those decades, possessing the future was of genuine significance to the Pentagon. It led to a culture in which weapons systems were planned out long years, sometimes decades, in advance and so the wars they were to fight had to be imagined as well. Today, Baghdad 2025 is becoming ever more real for the Pentagon as Baghdad 2007 descends into ever greater chaos.

As a corollary, the more the present seems out of control, the stronger the urge to plant a flag in the future. In the case of Iraq, where control is almost completely lacking, we see this in a major way. When General Petraeus first arrived to oversee the surge, he and his commanders spoke cautiously about the future, but as their desperation has grown, their comments have become increasingly bold and their claims to predictive powers have expanded accordingly.

Just the other day, General Walter Gaskins, in charge of U.S. forces in al-Anbar Province, even appropriated a predictive phrase whose dangers are well known. He said: "There's still a lot of work left to do in Al Anbar [Province]. Al Qaeda in Iraq is still trying to make its presence felt, but I believe we have turned the corner." He added that "another couple of years" would nonetheless be needed to get the local Iraqi forces up to speed. "Although we are making progress, I will always caution and always say that you cannot buy, nor can you fast forward experience."

When it comes to withdrawal, however, the military commanders have been doing just that -- "fast-forwarding experience" -- and reporting back to the rest of us on the results. Recently, for instance, Karen DeYoung and Thomas Ricks of the Washington Post reviewed a host of elaborate Iraq war games conducted for the Pentagon, including one which found that "if US combat forces are withdrawn" -- note that those are only the "combat brigades," not all U.S. forces -- Iraq would be partitioned, Sunnis driven from ethnically mixed areas in and around Baghdad into al-Anbar Province, and "Southern Iraq would erupt in civil war between Shiite groups."

These days, along with such grim military predictions go hair-raising suggestions about what even a partial U.S. withdrawal under pressure might entail. Here's a typical comment attributed by DeYoung and Ricks to an "officer who has served in Iraq": "[T]here is going to be an outbreak of violence when we leave that makes the [current] instability look like a church picnic."

This is already coin of the realm for an administration which, until well into 2006, refused to admit that major sectarian violence existed in Iraq, no less that the country was headed for civil-war levels of it. That changed in a major way this year. Now, the administration has embraced sectarian violence as the future American critics are hustling it toward and is flogging that future for all it's worth.

Early in July, U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker began to issue grim warnings about just such a future, should the U.S. withdraw. As the New York Times reported, "[T]he U.S. ambassador and the Iraqi foreign minister are warning that the departure of American troops could lead to sharply increased violence, the deaths of thousands of people and a regional conflict that could draw in Iraq's neighbors."

Ever since, such predictions have only ramped up. In his July 12 press conference, President Bush quickly picked up on the ambassador's predictions, heightened them further, and wove together many of the themes that would thereafter come out of Iraq as the "advice" of his commanders. He said:

"I know some in Washington would like us to start leaving Iraq now. To begin withdrawing before our commanders tell us we are ready would be dangerous for Iraq, for the region, and for the United States. It would mean surrendering the future of Iraq to al Qaeda. It would mean that we'd be risking mass killings on a horrific scale. It would mean we'd allow the terrorists to establish a safe haven in Iraq to replace the one they lost in Afghanistan. It would mean increasing the probability that American troops would have to return at some later date to confront an enemy that is even more dangerous."

A version of this (lacking the al-Qaeda twist) quickly became part of what passes for common wisdom among experts and pundits in this country -- as in the Michael Duffy story that went with the TIME withdrawal cover. Should we draw-down, no less withdraw, precipitously, the result, suggested Duffy, is likely to be violence at levels impossible to calculate but conceivably just short of genocidal. As Marine Corps commander James Conway put it recently in words similar to the President's, "My concern is if we prematurely move, we're going to be going back."
This mood was caught perfectly in a question nationally syndicated right-wing radio host Hugh Hewitt posed to General Petraeus: "Some have warned that a genocide of sorts, or absolute terms, would follow a precipitous withdrawal of coalition forces. Do you agree that that is a possibility.... and a significant one?" To which Petraeus responded, "[O]ne would certainly expect that sectarian violence would resume at a very high level.... That's not to say there's not still some going on right now…"

The Future in Slo-mo

In the meantime, the Bush administration, its ambassador in Baghdad, and its commanders were hard at work trying to push any full-scale assessment of the President's "surge" plan -- promised for September -- and the plan itself ever further into the future. This was part of a larger campaign for "more time." In press conferences, teleconferences to Washington, briefings for Congress, leaks to the press, and media appearances of all sorts, they appealed for time, time, time. (Nowhere in the media, by the way, have the reporters who benefit from this flood of official and semi-official commentary suggested that it might be part of a concerted propaganda campaign.)

Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, who oversees day-to-day operations in Iraq, typically claimed that the September deadline was "too early" for any real assessment of "progress" and suggested November as the date of choice. Under pressure, he half-retracted his comments the next day, assuring Congress that there would indeed be a September Progress Report. He added: "My reference to November was simply suggesting that as we go forward beyond September, we will gain more understanding of trends."

General Petraeus took a similar tack in that Hugh Hewitt interview: "Well, I have always said that we will have a sense by [September] of basically, of how things are going, have we been able to achieve progress on the ground, where have their been shortfalls.... But that's all it is going to be." In essence, the once-definitive September report was already being downgraded to a "snapshot" of an ongoing operation.

While Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Peter Pace even hinted that U.S. troop numbers in Iraq might rise in the near future, the horizon for the surge plan to end began to be pushed toward summer 2008. Yochi Dreazen and Greg Jaffe reported in the Wall Street Journal ("Gap Widens over Iraq Approach"): "Despite growing calls from lawmakers for drastic change in Iraq, senior U.S. military officials on the ground say they believe the current [surge] strategy should be maintained into next year -- and already have mapped out additional phases for doing so through January." They indicated that this was part of a Bush administration "gamble" -- think campaign -- "that Congress will be unable or unwilling to force a drawdown and that the military will have a free hand to keep the added troops in place well into next year."

There was a drumbeat of commentary by various commanders pushing the plan deeper into the future. Maj. Gen. Richard Lynch, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division, typically said: "It's going to take through [this] summer, into the fall, to defeat the extremists in my battle space [south of Baghdad], and it's going to take me into next spring and summer to generate this sustained security presence."

Leaks of plans that took the American presence into the increasingly distant future also began to occur. The most striking came on July 24th in a New York Times front-page piece by Michael R. Gordon. Its headline said it all: "U.S. seen in Iraq until at least '09." Gordon reported that a "detailed document," known as the Joint Campaign Plan and developed by General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker, "foresees a significant American role for the next two years." The article revealed plans to be in Iraq in force at least through the summer of 2009 -- in other words, well into the tenure of the next administration. Gordon identified the source of this leak as "American officials familiar with the document." As is often the case with reporter Gordon, the sourcing was indecipherable but undoubtedly administration-friendly, part of the President's rolling, roiling campaign to secure the future (having lost the past and present).

As it happened, the future was also being wielded in another way. The President's commanders now embraced their own version of withdrawal and began to turn it into another version of prolonged occupation. Their general attitude went something like this: If you think it took a long time to get into this mess, you have no idea how long it will take to get out.

As an example, General Pace recently claimed that a month would be needed to withdraw each of our 20 combat brigades in Iraq non-precipitously; in other words, once we started, it would take almost two years not to get all our troops out of that country. Maj. Gen. Benjamin R. Mixon, U.S. commander in northern Iraq, then topped Pace by claiming that 18 months would be needed just to cut the brigades in his region in half.

Think of this as the future in slo-mo -- or, as the Wall Street Journal's Dreazen and Jaffe put it, "a complete withdrawal from Iraq could take as long as two years if conducted in an orderly fashion." Not only that, but the military -- and so the American media -- suddenly discovered the vast amount of stuff that had been flown, or convoyed, into Iraq (mostly in better times) and now somehow had to be returned to sender. As TIME's Duffy put it, included would be "a good portion of the entire U.S. inventory of tanks, helicopters, armored personnel carriers, trucks and humvees… They are spread across 15 bases, 38 supply depots, 18 fuel-supply centers and 10 ammo dumps," not to speak of "dining halls, office buildings, vending machines, furniture, mobile latrines, computers, paper clips and acres of living quarters."

Associated Press reporter Charles Hanley caught the enormity of withdrawal this way: "In addition to 160,000 troops…, the U.S. presence in Iraq has ballooned over four years to include more than 180,000 civilians employed under U.S. government contracts -- at least 21,000 Americans, 43,000 other foreigners and 118,000 Iraqis -- and has spread to small ‘cities' on fortified bases across Iraq." In fact, such lists turn out never to end -- as a series of anxious news reports have indicated -- right down to the enormous numbers of port-a-potties that must be disposed of. In such accounts of the overwhelming nature of any withdrawal from a country the Bush administration thought it could make its own, cautionary historical examples are cited by the Humvee-load. (After the First Gulf War, withdrawal from Kuwait took a year under the friendliest of conditions; Afghanistan was hell for the Russians; Vietnam, despite the final scramble, took forever and a day to plan and carry out.) And don't forget about the need to get rid of the "toxic waste" the Americans have accumulated -- that alone is now estimated to take 20 months -- or, according to reports, the shortage of aircraft for transport, the cratered, bomb-laden roads on which to convoy everything out, and the possibility that our allies, knowing we're leaving, may turn on us in a Mad-Max-style future Iraq. Finally, don't forget something that, until just about yesterday, no one outside of a few arcane military types even knew about -- the agricultural inspectors who must certify that everything entering the U.S. is free of "microscopic disease." And so it goes. Withdrawal, it turns out, is forever.

Of course, much of this is undoubtedly foolishness, though with a serious purpose. It's meant to turn an unpredictable future into what former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld once termed a "known known" that can be wielded against those who want to change course in the disastrous present. You want withdrawal? You have an ironclad guarantee that, no matter how bad things might be, it will be so much worse.

Withdrawal, in other words, is fear itself. Sanity is a future that's essentially the same as the present (with somewhat fewer U.S. troops) and, though no one mentions it, a significantly ramped up ability to bring air power to bear. (On this, the AP's Hanley has just done two superb, if chilling, reports from the field, the only ones of significance on air power in Iraq since the invasion of 2003. He has revealed that the "surge" of U.S. air strength there may prove far more devastating and long-lasting than the one on the ground.)

Vietnam Redux

In the Vietnam years, the ongoing bloodbath of Vietnam was regularly supplanted in the United States by a predicted "bloodbath" the Vietnamese enemy was certain to commit in South Vietnam the moment the United States withdrew (just as a near-genocidal civil war is now meant to supplant the blood-drenched Iraqi present for which we are so responsible). This future bloodbath of the imagination appeared in innumerable official speeches and accounts as an explanation for why the United States could not leave Vietnam, just as the sectarian bloodbath-to-come in Iraq explains why we must not take steps to withdraw our troops (advisors, mercenaries, crony corporations, and port-a-potties) from that country.

In public discourse in the Vietnam era, this not-yet-atrocity sometimes became the only real bloodbath around and an obsessive focus for some of the war's opponents within mainstream politics. Antiwar activist Todd Gitlin recalled "the contempt with which [activist Tom] Hayden had told me of a meeting he and Staughton Lynd had with Bobby Kennedy, early in 1967. Kennedy, he said then, had been fixated on the dangers of a ‘bloodbath' in South Vietnam if the Communists succeeded in taking over."

But it wasn't only in the mainstream. Antiwar activists, too, often had to grapple with the expected, predicted horror that always threatened to dwarf the present one -- the horror for which, it was implied, they would someday be responsible.

As for the President and his men: In his memoirs, Richard Nixon related how White House Chief of Staff Alexander Haig informed him of intelligence information indicating that the North Vietnamese and the National Liberation Front had "instructed their cadres the moment a cease fire is announced to kill all of the opponents in the area that they control. This would be a murderous bloodbath."

As the war's supporters were frustrated whenever they tried to make the enemy's actual atrocities carry the weight of American ones, the thought of this future sea of blood weighed heavily in their favor. Similarly, an Iraqi near-genocidal civil war -- the vision of seas of sectarian blood and even a regional conflict in the oil heartlands of the planet -- weighs heavily in favor of "staying the course" in Iraq, a course already literally awash in a sea of blood.
Put another way, if the future was ever to be their opponents', this was the future the administration -- Nixon's or Bush's -- wished on them. Such a bloodbath-to-come would, in their minds, effectively wash clean the bloodbath still in progress (as the bloodbath that happened -- unexpected to all -- in Pol Pot's Cambodia indeed did). In the meantime, the expected Vietnamese bloodbath that never came about, like the expected Iraqi civil war of unprecedented proportions, deflected attention from the nature of the struggle at hand, and from the growing piles of dead in the present, allowing American leaders to withdraw, but only so far, from the consequences of their war.

Similarly, in the Vietnam years, the nonwithdrawal withdrawal was an endlessly played upon theme. The idea of "withdrawing" from Vietnam arose almost with the war itself, though never as an actual plan to withdraw. All real options for ending the war were invariably linked to phrases -- some of which still ring bells -- like "cutting and running," or "dishonor," or "surrender," or "humiliation," and so were dismissed within the councils of government more or less before being raised (just as they are dismissed out of hand today by the Washington Consensus and in articles like that of TIME's Duffy). If anything, in the later years, "withdrawal" became -- as it is now threatening to become in Iraq -- a way to maintain, or even intensify, the war while pacifying the American public.

"Withdrawal" then involved not departure, but all sorts of departure-like maneuvers and promises -- from bombing pauses that led to fiercer bombing campaigns to negotiation offers never meant to be taken up to a "Vietnamization" plan in which most (but hardly all) American ground troops would finally be pulled out but only as the air war was intensified -- a distinct, if grim, possibility for Iraq's American future. Each gesture of withdrawal allowed the war planners to fight a little longer. And yet, with every failed withdrawal gesture and every failed battle strategy (as may be the case in Iraq as well), a sense of "nightmare" seemed to draw ever closer.

Opting for the Present

We have now entered a period in the Iraq War in which stark alternatives are being presented to Americans that hardly wear out the possibilities the future offers. At the same time, Americans are being told of withdrawal "plans" that hold little hope of fully withdrawing American troops from Iraq. As Duffy frames the matter: After a reasonable withdrawal, we might have 50,000-100,000 troops still dug in "to protect America's most vital interests" for an undefined "longer stay." This would be not so much "to referee a civil war, as U.S. forces are doing now, but to try to keep it from expanding." AP's Hanley, however, suggests that, after a future drawdown, the numbers are likely to remain just what they were for administration planners "since before 2003" -- 30,000 American troops.

In what passes for a "debate" about withdrawal in the mainstream, two positions are essentially offered: American troops in some numbers will remain for an undefined period of years to preserve some kind of "stability" and "security" for the Iraqi populace and some cover for the Iraqi government, or those troops will be withdrawn precipitously and a whole series of horrors, ranging from a bloodbath of unknown proportions to the establishment of the beginnings of Osama bin Laden's "caliphate" are likely to occur.

In this vision of the future, at least one major alternative possibility (of which there are undoubtedly many, some not yet imagined by any of us) is completely ignored: American troops remain for the long-term (however drawn-down and dug in) and, as has been the case over the last four-plus years, the situation continues to deteriorate. The military solution that General Petraeus and his commanders are relying on has yet to create anything other than instability, mayhem, and death. So, what if it turned out that the long-term maintenance of some form of American occupation was, in fact, not protection from, but the very path to an unimaginable sectarian bloodbath (as has been the case so far)?

The history of the last four years should tell us that this scenario is far more plausible than either of the alternatives now being presented. In fact, these years seem to offer a simple, if ignored, lesson: The Iraqis would have been better off had we never invaded; or if, after toppling Saddam, we had departed almost immediately; or if we had left in the fall of 2003 -- and so on for all these dismal, ever more disastrous years.

The fact is that we humans are generally lousy seers (and, when it comes to prediction, the President, the top officials of his administration, and his commanders have proven themselves especially poor at predicting the future). It's time to set the future -- and so fiction, fantasy, and speculation -- aside. At the heart of the withdrawal debate in America should lie an obvious set of truths. As a start, no matter how continually we war game the future, it will never be ours. We will always be surprised.

While bad things did happen in Vietnam after our departure, none of them could have been called a "bloodbath," while the bloodbath that was our presence there did indeed end. Vietnam is now, of course, a peaceful American ally in the region.

In Iraq, with our departure, there could indeed be a near-genocidal civil war, a partition of the country into three or thirty-three parts, and even a brutal regional war -- or there could not. In fact, any of these things -- as the present threatened Turkish invasion of Iraqi Kurdistan reminds us -- could happen while our troops remain in residence. All this aside, deaths in Iraq are already approaching staggering levels without our departure. After all, if the Lancet study's estimate of 655,000 "excess deaths" by mid-2006 is accurate, then imagine what that number must be an even bloodier year later.

We don't know what the future holds. We do know what the present holds and that we could do something about.

The full-scale withdrawal of American troops from Iraq is an option that should, at least, be accorded serious attention, rather than automatic dismissal in the mainstream. Of course, a lot of this depends on whether you believe, in the end, that the United States is part of the problem or part of the solution in Iraq.

In the imperial mindscape of Washington, it is impossible to conceive of the U.S. as not part of the solution to almost any problem on the planet. But what if, in Iraq, that can't be so as long as we remain in occupation of the country? Then, perhaps it would be worth opting for the present and taking a gamble on the unknown, rather than banking on Rumsfeld's endless "known knowns." Perhaps it's time to bring not only the word, but the idea of withdrawal in from the cold.

Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch Interviews with American Iconoclasts and Dissenters (Nation Books).

Copyright 2007 Tom Engelhardt

[bth: I find this whole article and analysis stunningly insightful.

That this summer's debate in Washington has become the latest propaganda campaign and that the fight is really about power in Washington and not about an outcome in Iraq.

That to be afraid - very afraid - this time of 'the bloodbath' of withdrawal is just the latest in a series of 'be afraid - very afraid' storylines.

How the ability to predict the future with clarity increases with our inability to control the present.

That Michael Gordon, that bellweather of neocon news manipulation is at it again with his unnamed sources as if his manipulation of news before the war wasn't enough to get him fired or hung (by the way isn't he in Iraq right now?)

That it would require us two years to get out of Iraq when we routinely rotate troops out on a 12 month schedule.

That basically this whole 'be afraid' stuff is about withdrawing the military and civilian leadership of this country from the responsibility of and the consequences of their war and current mistakes by projecting scenarios in the unknowable future?

That it is about pacifying the public and reminding us that we need 'them' the Washington leadership to control our lives, to protect us from ourselves and unseen enemies foreign and domestic. Do we really need these guys?

Can't we focus on a few important elements like (a) we will support those in Iraq and the region friendly to us, (b) that we will support good government whereever we find it that won't steal and can keep the electricity on, that (c) we support human rights in its basic forms regardless of the type of government being promoted, that (d) if a national government in Iraq won't work then 3 regional ones that will is a viable alternative, that (e) our presence as an occupying army is part of the problem whereas fundamentally liberators leave and when they stay they become occupyiers; (f) that we will not turn our backs on the Kurds or the Shea who we betrayed to Saddam in the 1990s, that (g) we will not fight religious wars by proxy or otherwise, that (h) a petroleum law in Iraq is about getting investment into their infrastructure, not about taking control of oil away from the people of Iraq, that our strategy - withdrawal, partial withdrawal, timing, etc. are dictated by our objectives and not objectives in and of themselves?

We must overcome the politics of fear. Trust in ourselves.]
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As U.S. Rebuilds, Iraq Won’t Act on Finished Work - New York Times

As U.S. Rebuilds, Iraq Won’t Act on Finished Work - New York Times: "Iraq’s national government is refusing to take possession of thousands of American-financed reconstruction projects, forcing the United States either to hand them over to local Iraqis, who often lack the proper training and resources to keep the projects running, or commit new money to an effort that has already consumed billions of taxpayer dollars."

The conclusions, detailed in a report released Friday by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, a federal oversight agency, include the finding that of 2,797 completed projects costing $5.8 billion, Iraq’s national government had, by the spring of this year, accepted only 435 projects valued at $501 million. Few transfers to Iraqi national government control have taken place since the current Iraqi government, which is frequently criticized for inaction on matters relating to the American intervention, took office in 2006.

The United States often promotes the number of rebuilding projects, like power plants and hospitals, that have been completed in Iraq, citing them as signs of progress in a nation otherwise fraught with violence and political stalemate. But closer examination by the inspector general’s office, headed by Stuart W. Bowen Jr., has found that a number of individual projects are crumbling, abandoned or otherwise inoperative only months after the United States declared that they had been successfully completed. The United States always intended to hand over projects to the Iraqi government when they were completed.

Although Mr. Bowen’s latest report is primarily a financial overview, he said in an interview that it raised serious questions on whether the problems his inspectors had found were much more widespread in the reconstruction program.

The process of transferring projects to Iraq “worked for a while,” Mr. Bowen said. But then the new government took over and installed its finance minister, Bayan Jabr, who has been a continuing center of controversy in his various government posts and is formally in charge of the transfers.

“After Mr. Jabr took over, that process ceased to function,” Mr. Bowen said.

In fact, in the first two quarters of 2007, Mr. Bowen said, his inspectors found significant problems in all but 2 of the 12 projects they examined after the United States declared those projects completed....

[bth: what can you say?]
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The Blotter: U.S. Kills Plans to Build Embassy in Hezbollah Area of Beirut

The Blotter: U.S. Kills Plans to Build Embassy in Hezbollah Area of Beirut: "The Blotter has learned that plans for a controversial new U.S. Embassy in Beirut have been put on hold indefinitely, and effectively killed, according to a U.S. State Department spokesperson. "

The news came just hours after we reported the State Department had been pushing ahead with plans to build the new embassy in a part of Beirut controlled by the militant anti-American group Hezbollah, despite strong protests from the U.S. ambassador in Lebanon.

A U.S. official tells the Blotter on that Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman, in a May 31, 2007 classified cable to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, registered his strong objections, saying his staff "unanimously opposes construction" of the embassy on the proposed site. ...

[bth: the only way to get common sense back into the system was to expose it to ABC for airing. What a screwed up government.]
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rangeragainstwar: It's a Wrap

rangeragainstwar: It's a Wrap: "....
...What protects troops from roadside bombs are:

[1] Randomness (conducting operations in an unpredictable manner)

[2] Avoiding the same routes

[3] Varying times of convoys"

...The solution is obvious. No extended occupations of invaded countries is acceptable. Sometimes the only way out is out.

We're Them

You'll dress only in attire specially sanctioned by MiB special
Services. You'll conform to the identity we give you,
eat where we tell you, live where we tell you.
From now on you'll have no identifying marks
of any kind. You'll not stand out in any way.

Your entire image is crafted to leave no lasting memory
with anyone you encounter. You're a rumor, recognizable
only as deja vu and dismissed just as quickly. You don't exist;
you were never even born. Anonymity is your name.
Silence your native tongue. You're no longer part of the System.
You're above the System. Over it. Beyond it.
We're "them." We're "they." We are the Men in Black.

--Men in Black (1997)

U.S. Set to Offer Huge Arms Deal to Saudi Arabia - New York Times

U.S. Set to Offer Huge Arms Deal to Saudi Arabia - New York Times: "WASHINGTON" July 27 — The Bush administration is preparing to ask Congress to approve an arms sale package for Saudi Arabia and its neighbors that is expected to eventually total $20 billion at a time when some United States officials contend that the Saudis are playing a counterproductive role in Iraq.

The proposed package of advanced weaponry for Saudi Arabia, which includes advanced satellite-guided bombs, upgrades to its fighters and new naval vessels, has made Israel and some of its supporters in Congress nervous. Senior officials who described the package on Friday said they believed that the administration had resolved those concerns, in part by promising Israel $30.4 billion in military aid over the next decade, a significant increase over what Israel has received in the past 10 years.

But administration officials remained concerned that the size of the package and the advanced weaponry it contains, as well as broader concerns about Saudi Arabia’s role in Iraq, could prompt Saudi critics in Congress to oppose the package when Congress is formally notified about the deal this fall.

In talks about the package, the administration has not sought specific assurances from Saudi Arabia that it would be more supportive of the American effort in Iraq as a condition of receiving the arms package, the officials said....
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Friday, July 27, 2007

US admits delay to Iraqi weapons

BBC NEWS Middle East US admits delay to Iraqi weapons: "The US-led coalition in Iraq has failed to deliver nearly two-thirds of the equipment it promised to Iraq's army, the US Defence Department has said. "

The Pentagon said only 14.5m of the nearly 40m items of equipment ordered by the Iraqi army had been provided.

The US military commander in charge of training in Iraq has asked for help in speeding up the transfer of equipment.

On Wednesday, Iraq's ambassador to the US said the delays were hindering the fighting capacity of its armed forces.

Samir Sumaidaie said Iraqi troops were often "cannon fodder" for militants.

"There is general frustration in the Iraqi government at the rate at which Iraqi armed forces are being equipped and armed," he said.

"This is a collaborative effort between the Iraqi government and the government of the United States, and the process is not moving quickly enough to improve the fighting capacity of Iraqi armed forces."

"A way must be found to improve this process."


The Pentagon said it was doing all it could to send out the items, with priority given to equipment that can be used for counter-insurgency.

It said some deliveries had been delayed by the export licensing process, while others had been affected by changes in orders.

"We share a common goal with the Iraqis that their forces should be equipped with the type of things that they need to include force protection equipment, mobility equipment, communications equipment," Bryan Whitman, a spokesman for the Pentagon, said.

"But it's a challenge. You can't do it overnight."

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen Peter Pace, has promised to work on delivering the equipment to the Iraqi forces more quickly.

Last week, Gen Pace was asked by Lt Gen James Dubik, who oversees the training of Iraqi forces, for help in improving the system.

Meanwhile, the latest BBC survey of casualties in Iraq has shown that 416 people were killed in the week ending on Wednesday.

The figure is down considerably on the previous week.

A US military commander in Iraq, Lt Gen Ray Odierno expressed cautious optimism at a slowing in US casualties, but said attacks on the heavily-fortified Green Zone in Baghdad seemed to be getting more accurate.

The survey is intended to assess the effects of the surge of American troops in Iraq. It is based on figures provided by the US and Iraqi authorities.

[bth: you wonder which side our bureaucacy is on. "You can't do it overnight." How many years? Note we're not having trouble selling $20 billion in arms to the Saudis. From the Maliki perspective wouldn't they conclude that we are deliberately keeping the Iraqi government weak?]

U.S. drops Baghdad electricity reports - Los Angeles Times

U.S. drops Baghdad electricity reports - Los Angeles Times: "WASHINGTON -- As the Bush administration struggles to convince lawmakers that its Iraq war strategy is working, it has stopped reporting to Congress a key quality-of-life indicator in Baghdad: how long the power stays on."

Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week that Baghdad residents could count on only "an hour or two a day" of electricity. That's down from an average of five to six hours a day earlier this year.

But that piece of data has not been sent to lawmakers for months because the State Department, which prepares a weekly "status report" for Congress on conditions in Iraq, stopped estimating in May how many hours of electricity Baghdad residents typically receive each day.

Instead, the department now reports on the electricity generated nationwide, a measurement that does not indicate how much power Iraqis in Baghdad or elsewhere actually receive.

The change, a State Department spokesman said, reflects a technical decision by reconstruction officials in Baghdad who are scaling back efforts to estimate electricity consumption as they wind down U.S. involvement in rebuilding Iraq's power grid.

Department officials said the new approach was more accurate than the previous estimates, which they said had been very rough and had failed to reflect wide variations across Baghdad and the country.

"Nothing is being hidden. There is no ulterior motive," said David Foley, the department's Middle East spokesman. "We are continuing to provide detailed information and have been completely transparent."

The State Department's new method shows that the national electricity supply is 4% lower than a year ago, according to the July 11 report.

The reporting change has triggered criticism that the administration is disclosing less information at the same time President Bush is facing off against Congress over how much progress is being made in Iraq. Bush has been working for months to show that the troop buildup he announced in January is stabilizing the country.

"It's unfortunate," said Jason H. Campbell, a senior research assistant at the Brookings Institution who has been tracking quality-of-life measurements in Iraq since 2003. "What makes this metric even worth tracking is you want to see what's happening to the average Iraqi."

Campbell said the new reporting method made it impossible to know what the power situation was in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq.

Col. Mike Moon, who oversees the Army Corps of Engineers' electricity reconstruction efforts in Iraq, said he thought the change was a mistake. The total amount of electricity being generated in Iraq makes no difference to the individual who has no electricity for his air conditioner, Moon said.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who sharply questioned Crocker about electricity during a recent Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, sent a letter to the State Department last week complaining about the new measurement. She said she was concerned the White House was trying to obscure the deteriorating situation in Baghdad, the focus of Bush's "surge" of 30,000 additional troops.

"The president continues to keep information away from the American people and the Congress," said Boxer, who advocates withdrawing troops. "It's obvious that he wants to paint a rosy picture."

State Department officials in Baghdad and Washington said the new method was not an attempt to hide information. They noted that Crocker was candid about the electricity situation when he testified to lawmakers last week.

Iraq's electricity supply has received less attention than other national indicators as debate over the president's surge has intensified in Washington.

The administration's July progress report focused on 18 benchmarks of Iraqi government progress toward political reconciliation among ethnic and religious communities.

However, the reliability of the electricity supply has long been seen by Iraqis as a key indicator of the success of the U.S. enterprise.

Crocker told CBS News this month that electricity was "more important to the average Iraqi than all 18 benchmarks rolled up into one."

In the spring, the State Department reported that Baghdad residents were typically receiving up to six hours of electricity a day. In the rest of the country, Iraqis could count on 10 or 11 hours.

But the situation has deteriorated substantially as stifling heat has set in. Temperatures in Baghdad are now reaching above 110.

U.S. officials say that they have made progress and that the persistent electricity shortages partly reflect growing demand as Iraqis buy more air conditioners, refrigerators and other appliances.

Continuing instability is also a factor, U.S. officials acknowledge.

"The main reasons have to do with continued attacks by insurgents against electrical transmission lines and against fuel pipelines that provide the energy source that you need to generate electricity," Crocker told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Those problems have been compounded by the slow pace of rebuilding a power system that had been deteriorating for years before the U.S. invasion, said Moon of the Army Corps of Engineers.

For many on Capitol Hill, the pace of progress is increasingly frustrating. "Here we are in the fifth year, and we simply have not greatly improved the quality of life," said Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), who has called on the president to draw up a plan for a withdrawal. "It's very troubling."

[bth: so we're to believe that the electrical shortage is due to more people buying electric refrigerators and air conditioners when they only get 2 hours of electricity a day?]

Poor marks for terror war : - Poor marks for terror war: "I t was report card time this week, never one of George W. Bush's happier moments, and the news was anything but good. "

Never mind the usual grades on English and math or coloring inside the lines, or those teacher notes on the bottom about "plays well with others." It was that big fat "D" in the column "War on Terror" that had them sweating at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Remember how President Bush had al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden "on the run" and how it was only a matter of time until we found and brought to justice that elusive 6-foot-7-inch Saudi Arabian terror mastermind who attacked the United States and killed 3,000 of our people?

Well, six years and hundreds of billions of dollars later, Osama's back and he's bigger and badder than ever, according to a new National Intelligence Estimate released this week — the first in years that sounded as though it was written by someone other than Karl Rove and Dick Cheney.

The intelligence community's assessment is that, far from making the United States a safer place, the Bush administration has actually lost ground in the fight against an al-Qaida that has grown significantly stronger in recent years.

Despite much-ballyhooed announcements about the killing or capture of this or that right-hand man, the assessment said that Osama has rebuilt a stronger, more dangerous network that remains focused on attacking the United States and its people.

And where has this taken place? In Iraq, where we have 150,000 troops and an additional 185,000 private contractors bogged down in the middle of a civil war at a cost of $12 billion and more than 100 dead Americans a month? The same Iraq that the president has repeatedly identified as the central focus, the cockpit actually, of his global war on terror?

No. Not really. It has all taken place in Pakistan, where our great and good ally in that war, President/Gen. Pervez Musharraf, has let things literally go to hell along his border with neighboring Afghanistan, and let Osama and his boys rebuild in a sanctuary beyond reach of American forces.

This while we have poured a couple of billion dollars in aid into Musharraf's coffers, and are now preparing to scrape up an additional $350 million to better arm and train his army and police, who sit fearfully inside their forts along the frontier.

"It hasn't worked for Pakistan," says Frances Fragos Townsend of the Homeland Security Council at the White House, and "it hasn't worked for the United States."

But it sure has worked for al-Qaida and Osama.

The new intelligence estimate also poured cold water on Bush's latest rhetoric, attempting to confuse Osama's real al-Qaida in Pakistan with the much smaller, much newer al-Qaida in Iraq.

While the president would have us believe that the real threat to America is in the Iraqi branch office and that it is those pesky Iraqi al-Qaidas who attacked us on 9/11, the intelligence experts said those particular terrorists are and have been totally focused on attacks inside Iraq and nowhere else. Period. And, by the way, al-Qaida in Iraq only came into being late in 2003 in response to our occupation of Iraq long after 9/11. Sorry, Mr. President.

In short, while our near-total attention, money and military action has been aimed at Iraq for 4½ years, attacking the main enemy where he is not, Osama and his top lieutenants have rebuilt, reinforced and repaired their networks and we now face "a persistent and evolving terrorist threat over the next three years."

Osama and al-Qaida and Afghanistan were always Job One, the job that had to be done if we wanted to prevent another 9/11 and make America safer. It never got done, and we aren't one bit safer today, six years later.

The president chose instead to divert all our resources to a poorly thought-out scheme to topple a hated dictator and plant a free, democratic nation in the heart of the troubled Middle East. Meanwhile, our main enemy rebuilt and rejoiced in a sanctuary provided by another one of our good friends and allies.

Not even grading on a curve will help George W. Bush this time around.

Joseph L. Galloway is co-author of the national best-seller "We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young."

U.S. Tracks Saudi Bank Favored by Extremists -

U.S. Tracks Saudi Bank Favored by Extremists - ..."Following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the bank also set off an intense debate within the U.S. government over whether to take strong action against its alleged role in extremist finance. Confidential reports by the Central Intelligence Agency and other U.S. agencies, reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, detail for the first time how much the U.S. learned about the use of Al Rajhi Bank by alleged extremists, and how U.S. officials agonized over what to do about it."

After 9/11, the Saudi monarchy pledged its full support in the fight against global terrorism. And following violent attacks inside the kingdom in the next two years, the Saudis did launch major strikes against militants operating on their soil. But the Saudi government has been far been less willing to tackle the financial infrastructure essential to terrorism. U.S. intelligence reports state that Islamic banks, while mostly doing ordinary commerce, also are institutions that extremism relies upon in its global spread.

As a result, the Bush administration repeatedly debated proposals for taking strong action itself against Al Rajhi Bank, in particular, according to former U.S. officials and previously undisclosed government documents. Ultimately, the U.S. always chose instead to lobby Saudi officialdom quietly about its concerns.

The U.S. intelligence reports, heretofore secret, describe how Al Rajhi Bank has maintained accounts and accepted donations for Saudi charities that the U.S. and other nations have formally designated as fronts for al Qaeda or other terrorist groups.

In addition, Mr. Al Rajhi and family members have been major donors to Islamic charities that are suspected by Western intelligence agencies of funding terrorism, according to CIA reports and federal-court filings by the Justice Department.

A 2003 CIA report claims that a year after Sept. 11, with a spotlight on Islamic charities, Mr. Al Rajhi ordered Al Rajhi Bank's board "to explore financial instruments that would allow the bank's charitable contributions to avoid official Saudi scrutiny."

A few weeks earlier, the report says, Mr. Al Rajhi "transferred $1.1 billion to offshore accounts -- using commodity swaps and two Lebanese banks -- citing a concern that U.S. and Saudi authorities might freeze his assets." The report was titled "Al Rajhi Bank: Conduit for Extremist Finance."

Al Rajhi Bank and the Al Rajhi family deny any role in financing extremists. They have denounced terrorist acts as un-Islamic. The bank declined to address specific allegations made in American intelligence and law-enforcement records, citing client confidentiality....

[bth: an interesting article worth reading in full. One wonders if we are really trying to destroy al Qaeda. We certainly aren't doing all we can do disrupt its financial structure. One wonders if we'd be trying harder if it were Bush's daughters in camo and in Iraq.]