Saturday, August 25, 2007

Comedy Central - Rob's Trip in Iraq

Armchair Generalist

Iraq fraud whistleblowers vilified

Iraq fraud whistleblowers vilified - Conflict in Iraq - MSNBC.com: "One after another, the men and women who have stepped forward to report corruption in the massive effort to rebuild Iraq have been vilified, fired and demoted."

Or worse.

For daring to report illegal arms sales, Navy veteran Donald Vance says he was imprisoned by the American military in a security compound outside Baghdad and subjected to harsh interrogation methods.

There were times, huddled on the floor in solitary confinement with that head-banging music blaring dawn to dusk and interrogators yelling the same questions over and over, that Vance began to wish he had just kept his mouth shut.

He had thought he was doing a good and noble thing when he started telling the FBI about the guns and the land mines and the rocket-launchers — all of them being sold for cash, no receipts necessary, he said. He told a federal agent the buyers were Iraqi insurgents, American soldiers, State Department workers, and Iraqi embassy and ministry employees.

The seller, he claimed, was the Iraqi-owned company he worked for, Shield Group Security Co.

“It was a Wal-Mart for guns,” he says. “It was all illegal and everyone knew it.”

So Vance says he blew the whistle, supplying photos and documents and other intelligence to an FBI agent in his hometown of Chicago because he didn’t know whom to trust in Iraq.

For his trouble, he says, he got 97 days in Camp Cropper, an American military prison outside Baghdad that once held Saddam Hussein, and he was classified a security detainee.

Also held was colleague Nathan Ertel, who helped Vance gather evidence documenting the sales, according to a federal lawsuit both have filed in Chicago, alleging they were illegally imprisoned and subjected to physical and mental interrogation tactics “reserved for terrorists and so-called enemy combatants.”

No noble outcomes
Corruption has long plagued Iraq reconstruction. Hundreds of projects may never be finished, including repairs to the country’s oil pipelines and electricity system. Congress gave more than $30 billion to rebuild Iraq, and at least $8.8 billion of it has disappeared, according to a government reconstruction audit.

Despite this staggering mess, there are no noble outcomes for those who have blown the whistle, according to a review of such cases by The Associated Press.

“If you do it, you will be destroyed,” said William Weaver, professor of political science at the University of Texas-El Paso and senior advisor to the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition.

“Reconstruction is so rife with corruption. Sometimes people ask me, ‘Should I do this?’ And my answer is no. If they’re married, they’ll lose their family. They will lose their jobs. They will lose everything,” Weaver said.

They have been fired or demoted, shunned by colleagues, and denied government support in whistleblower lawsuits filed against contracting firms....

[bth: this article is worth reading in full and then vomiting. One wonders where someone like Allawi can get money to pay lobbyists, well look at the numbers $8.8 BILLION of $30 billion in reconstruction money is unaccounted for. The whistleblowers discussed in some detail in the article were all vilified, imprisoned or bankrupted. What kind of third world operation have we become?]
 
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GIs' morale dips as Iraq war drags on

GIs' morale dips as Iraq war drags on - Los Angeles Times: "YOUSIFIYA, IRAQ -- In the dining hall of a U.S. Army post south of Baghdad, President Bush was on the wide-screen TV, giving a speech about the war in Iraq. The soldiers didn't look up from their chicken and mashed potatoes."

As military and political leaders prepare to deliver a progress report on the conflict to Congress next month, many soldiers are increasingly disdainful of the happy talk that they say commanders on the ground and White House officials are using in their discussions about the war.

And they're becoming vocal about their frustration over longer deployments and a taxing mission that keeps many living in dangerous and uncomfortably austere conditions. Some say two wars are being fought here: the one the enlisted men see, and the one that senior officers and politicians want the world to see.

"I don't see any progress. Just us getting killed," said Spc. Yvenson Tertulien, one of those in the dining hall in Yousifiya, 10 miles south of Baghdad, as Bush's speech aired last month. "I don't want to be here anymore."

Morale problems come as the Bush administration faces increasing pressure to begin a drawdown of troops.

The Times reported Friday that Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was expected to advise Bush to reduce U.S. force levels next year by almost half because of the strain on the military.

But Pace on Friday said, "The story is wrong, it is speculative. I have not made or decided on any recommendations yet."

Plenty of troops remain upbeat about their mission in Iraq. At Patrol Base Shanghai, flanking the town of Rushdi Mullah south of Baghdad, Army Capt. Matt Dawson said residents used to shoot at troops but now visit them and offer ideas on improving security.

"For the 20-year-old kids here who have been shot at for 10 months in a row, the change is a tremendous feeling," Dawson said last week.

The Army cites reenlistment numbers as proof that morale remains high and says it expects to reach its retention goal of 62,200 for the fiscal year.

"On the 4th of July, we reenlisted 588 service members . . . in Baghdad. That has to be an indicator," said Sgt. Maj. Marvin Hill, who visits bases to gauge morale on behalf of Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commander of U.S. troops in Iraq.

Based on his encounters, Hill said, he would rank morale at 8 on a scale of 1 to 10.

"Units that are having real success are units where troop morale is extremely high," Hill said. "Units that are sustaining losses, whether it be personnel losses, injuries or casualties -- those are organizations where morale might dip a bit."

The signs of frustration and of flagging morale are unmistakable, including blunt comments, online rants and the findings of surveys on military morale and suicides.

Sometimes the signs are to be found even in latrines. In the stalls at Baghdad's Camp Liberty, someone had posted Army help cards listing "nine signs of suicide." On one card, seven of the boxes had been checked.

"This occupation, this money pit, this smorgasbord of superfluous aggression is getting more hopeless and dismal by the second," a soldier in Diyala province, north of Baghdad, wrote in an Aug. 7 post on his blog, www.armyofdude.blogspot.com.

"The only person I know who believed Iraq was improving was killed by a sniper in May
," the blogger, identified only as Alex from Frisco, Texas, said in a separate e-mail.

The Army's suicide rate is at its highest in 23 years: 17.3 per 100,000 troops, compared with 12.4 per 100,000 in 2003, the first year of the war. Of the 99 suicides last year, 27 occurred in Iraq.

The latest in a series of mental health surveys of troops in Iraq, released in May, says 45% of the 1,320 soldiers interviewed ranked morale in their unit as low or very low. Seven percent ranked it high or very high.

Mental health trends have worsened in the last two years, said Cindy Williams, an expert in military personnel at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "These long and repeated deployments are causing acute mental stress," she said
.

Most troops in Iraq expected 12-month deployments. Those were extended in May by three months for the troop buildup. Thousands already were on their second or third deployments.

The result is a fighting force that includes many soldiers who are worn down, just as Petraeus, who took command of the war six months ago, is asking them to adopt intense counterinsurgency tactics. Those strategies emphasize living "outside the wire," in military-speak, in outposts that put troops close to Iraqis. The theory is that people will come to trust the soldiers and share information needed to quell the violence.

But these posts often lack basic amenities such as running water, flush toilets, telephones and Internet access, which troops at the forward operating bases enjoy, along with food courts and athletic facilities. Being on the front lines, troops in outposts also face greater danger than those at bases.

Since the war began, there have been eight months in which U.S. troop deaths topped 100, including three months since the buildup began in February.

In Yousifiya, troops occupy the sun-scorched grounds of a former potato-processing plant. They use pit latrines and get showers only when there is enough water. They jog around a shade-less concrete lot that serves as a helipad and mortar-launching site. Other troops in this area have far less comfortable surroundings.

Army Maj. Rob Griggs believes rough conditions are good for the mission. Without comforting distractions, troops are more driven to complete their jobs, said Griggs, who is on his fifth deployment, including two in Iraq, since enlisting 17 years ago.

"It allows them to focus on why they are here," said Griggs, who sleeps and lives in half of a 20-foot metal shipping container on the Yousifiya base. Having troops live in the same spare conditions as many Iraqis do also helps convince people that the Americans are genuine about wanting to make things better, he said.

But the disparities in living and working conditions among soldiers heighten resentments, chipping away at morale. So does the feeling that the mission is futile, a belief fueled by the Iraqi political stalemate and the unreliability of Iraqi forces.

"There are two different wars," said Staff Sgt. Donald Richard Harris, comparing his soldiers' views with those of commanders in distant bases. "It's a dead-end process, it seems like."

Asked to rank morale in his unit, Harris gave it a 4 on a 10-point scale. "Look at these guys. This is their downtime," he said, as young soldiers around him silently cleaned dust from their rifles at a battle position south of the capital. A fiery wind blasted through the small base, an abandoned home surrounded by sandbags and razor wire.

"It sounds selfish, but if we just had phones and Internet service," said Staff Sgt. Clark Merlin, his voice trailing off.

Their unit was supposed to go home this month but its tour was extended until November. That means three more months of using plastic sacks for toilets, burning their waste and hoping for packages from home.

"I think the extension has been 99% of the reason morale is low," said Merlin, rating it 4 or 5.

Counterinsurgency expert Stephen Biddle of the Council on Foreign Relations said the "two wars" issue is common in conflict zones as front-line soldiers grow to resent troops at the bases and come to believe their commanders are out of touch with the realities in the field.

"But this kind of war really highlights it," Biddle, who has advised Petraeus, said of Iraq. Soldiers' discomfort is compounded by the task of forging relations with people whom few trust, and who often make clear their dislike of the U.S. presence.

"All war is political, but usually privates and specialists don't have to think much about that part of it. In this conflict they do, to a much greater degree," Biddle said, referring to the community activities that troops have been drawn into. These include negotiating with tribal leaders who once harbored insurgents, striking deals with former insurgents to bring them into the Iraqi security forces, and listening to residents' complaints about lack of services.

"You have to help people despite the strong suspicion that lots of them mean you ill," Biddle said. "We're asking an awful lot of very, very young people."

It is especially difficult for soldiers trained to fight a uniformed enemy but in Iraq face an array of unconventional forces. Most thought their job was finished after Saddam Hussein was ousted. Instead, they found themselves directing traffic in Baghdad's chaotic streets. Four years later, they still are policing and doing community work they did not anticipate.

"You couple that with getting blown up and shot at, and it definitely makes it harder to deliver service with a smile," said Staff Sgt. Kevin Littrell, whose plan to leave the Army in May was thwarted when his unit's tour was extended.

At another patrol base, Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, commander of U.S. forces in southern Iraq, was introduced to 1st Lt. Jeff Bess. The young man had just arrived for his first assignment. Asked how he liked the Army so far, Bess made an attempt to be polite. "It's a learning experience, sir," he replied.

Lynch told him: "You're making history here while those back home are watching it on TV."

tina.susman@latimes.com

Times staff writers Julian E. Barnes in Washington and Garrett Therolf, Carol J. Williams and Alexandra Zavis in Iraq contributed to this report.

[bth: "Happy Talk" pretty much says it all.]
 
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ISAF: powerful EFP bombs found in Afghanistan

Xinhua - English: ..."Kelly said the suicide bombers mainly are 'single males between the ages of 15 to 24 years old,' and 'are typically clean-shaven and wear traditional clothing and using small sedans like Toyota Corollas or Hyundais.'

Over the past two years, Afghanistan has suffered much more suicide bombings as militants in this country are copying the tactics from Iraq.

About 140 suicide bombings occurred in Afghanistan in 2006, compared to 21 in 2005 and only six in 2004.

Afghanistan has also witnessed a spate of suicide bombings this year. "...
 
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Superbombs Spreading In Afghanistan

Danger Room - Wired Blogs: "EFPs, the Explosively-Formed Penetrator weapons used by Iraqi insurgents, are now spreading in Afghanistan as well. After one was used in Kabul in June, recent reports indicate that four more have since been captured. However, there is not necessarily any direct connection between them. "

According to Col. Tom Kelly, 'deputy chief of ISAF Counter-Explosives Operations':

"We don't see Afghanistan and Iraq are associated on the improvised explosive devices (IEDs). We think Afghanistan and IEDs seen in Afghanistan really have their own unique signature."

The EFPs were captured in both Western Herat and in Kabul, implying at least two different finds rather than in a single cache. Kelly says that most Afghan groups lack the sophistication to build EFPs and tend to rely on much cruder types of IED, but he was dubious about an Iranian origin for the weapons.

"Some EFP components may be made in Iran, but it doesn't necessarily mean the Iranian government is behind it," says Kelly. He adds that components may be smuggled into Afghanistan by "criminal elements" rather than foreign governments
.

Five EFPs are not a crisis. But this is a far more advanced weapon than the region has seen before, and if the experience in Iraq is anything to go by, potentially a significant threat. As we saw in Iraq, once the technology is introduced it is likely to spread and be copied beyond the original users, leading to a creeping increase in Allied casualties. Locating the real source of the Afghan EFPs - and shutting it down - has to be a priority task.
 
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CIA said to step up operations against Iran as hawks seek to tie Iraq bombs to Tehran

The Raw Story | CIA said to step up operations against Iran as hawks seek to tie Iraq bombs to Tehran: "‘They still need a trigger,’ former official says"

In an effort to build congressional and Pentagon support for military options against Iran, the Bush administration has shifted from its earlier strategy of building a case based on an alleged Iranian nuclear weapons program to one invoking improvised explosive devices (IEDs) purportedly manufactured in Iran that are killing US soldiers in Iraq.

According to officials – including two former Central Intelligence Agency case officers with experience in the Middle East – the administration believes that by focusing on the alleged ties between IEDs and Iran, they can link the Iranian government directly to attacks on US forces in Iraq.

The US military has provided credible evidence that the specialized IEDs known as explosively formed penetrators (EFPs), which have been killing US troops in Iraq, appear to have been manufactured in Iran. Intelligence and military officials caution, however, that there is nothing tying the weapons directly to the Iranian government, nor is there a direct evidentiary chain of custody linking the IEDs to Iran.

“There is clear evidence that someone in Iran is manufacturing the EFPs,” said a source currently working with military and intelligence joint operations in the Middle East, who wished to remain anonymous due to the sensitive nature of the topic. “They have a distinctive signature. These devices are being used against US troops, Sunnis, and even some Shi'as.”

“This is viewed by some in the Bush Administration as sufficient justification for taking military action against Iran,” the source concluded.

Nearly half of all fatalities and serious injuries among US forces in Iraq are caused by IED attacks, including 43% of US casualties in Iraq this month.

CIA reported to step up operations

A senior intelligence official told RAW STORY Tuesday that the CIA had stepped up operations in the region, shifting their Iran focus to ”other” approaches in preference to the “black propaganda” that Raw Story “has already reported on.”

The source would not elaborate on what these “other” approaches are. A recent Washington Post report indicated that the US plans to label Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist group, the first such designation for a foreign nation's military.

CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano would neither confirm nor deny that “other” operations were taking place.

“The CIA does not, as a matter of course, comment on allegations involving clandestine operations, despite the large amount of misinformation that circulates publicly on the subject," responded Gimigliano in a late Thursday email.

RAW STORY revealed in June that, according to sources, Iran was being targeted by CIA activities promoting a “pro-democracy” message and that the agency was supporting overt “pro-democracy” groups.

Two former CIA case officers interviewed said that the administration has zeroed in on the EFPs as proof positive of Iran's involvement in Iraq, despite lacking any direct trail to Tehran.

One former CIA case officer who served in the Middle East even suggested that politically framing the Iranians for its own failures in Iraq would allow the Bush administration to avoid accountability, as well as providing a casus belli for an attack.

The Bush Administration “can say it’s [the Iranians'] fault we are losing the war in Iraq and that would be a convenient out for their failed policy,” the officer said Monday.

The Iranians “have declared war against the US by sabotaging the war on terror is how they might sell it. I would not be surprised to next hear of Al Qaeda-Iranian connections because these people don't know the difference between a Sunni and a Shi'a.”

Some continue to press for 'surgical strikes'

Another former CIA case officer with experience in the Middle East said that some in the administration have continued to make a case for limited or surgical strikes inside Iran, and that preparations are well underway for such an operation to occur before next year’s presidential election.

If you were to report that a US surgical strike against key targets in Iran were to happen sooner rather than later, you would not be wrong,” said this source, who wished to remain unnamed due to the sensitivity of the topic.

None of the sources interviewed for this article referenced President George W. Bush or alluded to the end of the Bush presidency as the deadline for an Iranian offensive. Each, instead, mentioned either the Office of Vice President Dick Cheney or Cheney himself.

Intelligence expert Steven Aftergood, Research Director for the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, said he doesn’t believe a surgical strike would be wise.

“A surgical strike simply refers to a precisely targeted attack on a particular installation, conducted so as to minimize collateral damage. Israel's 1981 attack on Iraq's Osirak reactor would be an example,” Aftergood remarked.

“I don't believe there is a consensus that a surgical strike could be used effectively to disable Iran's nuclear program, or that it would be wise to attempt such a strike.”

Iranian's Revolutionary Guard

In addition to shifting from a strategy that uses an alleged immediate threat posed by a nuclear-armed Iran to one featuring IEDs as the tool by which Iran is allegedly trying to sabotage the efforts of US forces in Iraq, the administration has also moved toward directly implicating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps – sometimes referred to as the Islamic Revolutionary Guard – by labeling the group a "specially designated global terrorist" organizations.

According to an August 15, Washington Post article, the Guard will be designated a global terrorist organization under Executive Order 13224, which was issued shortly after the attacks of September 11, 2001 to target and block funding to terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda.

The Iranian Revolutionary Guard is the largest branch of Iran's military, boasting well over 100,000 elite active duty soldiers and roughly 300,000 reservists. The designation of the Guard as a "specially designated global terrorist” would be the first time a foreign military has been declared a terrorist organization.

Some officials speculate that the administration is trying to provoke the Iranians into an incident that will justify an airstrike in response, suggesting that the combined effect of circumstantial evidence tying Iran to the IEDs and an event or incident involving the Iranian Revolutionary Guard might “just be enough” to justify military action against Iran.

Experts and officials in the US military and intelligence communities read the administration's move to declare the Guard a terrorist organization as an indication that something ominous is looming over the horizon.

One of the former CIA case officers interviewed for this article explained that the Office of the Vice President is making this drastic move in order to lay the groundwork for a possible incident.

“They still need a trigger and I would not be surprised if we will see some event in Iraq which implicates the Iranians,” said this source. “They need a pretext.”

The motivations for an Iran strike were laid out as far back as 1992. In classified defense planning guidance – written for then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney by then-Pentagon staffers I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Paul Wolfowitz, and current UN Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad – Cheney's aides called for the United States to assume the position of lone superpower and act preemptively to prevent the emergence of even regional competitors. The draft document was leaked at the time to the New York Times and the Washington Post and caused an uproar among Democrats and many in George H. W. Bush's Administration.

Previous attempts at “fixing the facts” around the policy of a military strike against Iran have failed on several occasions, including ramped up allegations of an Iranian WMD program being close to completion that culminated in a near-offensive in March of 2006 and attempts at provocation by positioning US aircraft carriers in the region during the summer of 2006.

Larisa Alexandrovna is managing editor of investigative news for Raw Story and regularly reports on intelligence and national security stories. Contact: larisa@rawstory.com

Muriel Kane contributed to the research for this article.

[bth: Libby, Wolfowitz, Khalilzad and Cheney going back to 1992 called for the US to preemptively act to prevent the emergence of even regional competitors. A nightmare. I want my country back.]
 
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US helps Saudis train oil security force: report

The Raw Story | US helps Saudis train oil security force: report: "US defence giant Lockheed Martin is reportedly training thousands of recruits for a special force designed to protect Saudi Arabia's oil facilities from attack."

Saudi authorities have recruited around 5,000 members of the Facilities Security Force and plan to raise the number to 8,000-10,000 over the next two years as an interim target, the Nicosia-based Middle East Economic Survey said.

The plan to set up a 35,000-strong force to guard oil and other vital installations was announced in July by Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz as the oil powerhouse continues to battle suspected Al-Qaeda militants.

In February 2006, militants carried out an abortive attack on a massive oil processing plant in the Eastern Province.

Nayef said that Saudi Arabia had foiled 180 "terrorist" operations by Al-Qaeda since 2003, when the Islamist militants launched a spate of bombings and shootings in the vast Gulf country.

In April, the interior ministry said 172 terror suspects had been rounded up, along with weapons and cash, in a series of swoops.

Some of the militants were allegedly plotting airborne attacks on oil facilities and army bases.

Although Saudi Arabia, the OPEC kingpin and the world's top oil producer, has been reluctant to spell out the cost of the security project, the bill is expected to run into billions of dollars, MEES said.

The decision to recruit from outside the ranks of the existing armed forces and security services has necessarily slowed the process, and several years are likely to elapse until the new force is fully capable, it said.

"The force is being equipped and trained by Lockheed in the use of state-of-the art defence technology including laser security and satellite imaging to help protect installations and the kingdom's extensive oil and gas pipeline network," the newsletter said.

Saudi Arabia already maintains a 75,000-strong army, an air force of 18,000, a navy of 15,500 and an air defence force of 16,000, according to MEES.

These formal armed forces are on top of the 75,000-man National Guard, a tribal force loyal to the Al Saud ruling family.

MEES noted that Saudi-US cooperation in building the new force suggests that the relationship between the two allies is as strong as ever on strategic issues.

The United States recently announced it has put together an arms package worth at least 20 billion dollars over 10 years for Saudi Arabia.

Washington has said the sale is meant to defend the kingdom against Iran, which Washington believes is working to acquire nuclear weapons -- a charge denied by Tehran


[bth: There is certainly profit in chaos and Locheed Martin has capitalized on it here.

So one asks, who exactly is the Al Saud ruling family afraid of? If one looks back over the last decade one notices that not a single oil well, not a foot of over 10,000 miles of oil and gas pipelines, and not a single refinery has been touched by Al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden. Sure a couple of years ago two suicide bombers blew up two guard shacks outside a major refinery but I view this as part of the negotiation process al-Qaeda used against the Al Saud family to obtain more bribe or protection money. Do you think Osama Bin Laden gets free protection in impoverished Pakistan? Who do you think funds the Sunni rebellion in Iraq, pays for the plane tickets for young disgruntled Saudi youth to fly to Syria and bribe their way across the borders into Iraq? That not a single foot of pipe has been destroyed while Iraq's oil and gas infrastructure has been decimated tells much.

So who is this large and very expensive oil defense force planning to deter? My guess it is the Shea population in Saudi Arabia. If the US attacks Iran, its stands to follow that the Shea in Saudi Arabia - particularly on its eastern shores - will be given the go signal and the financial support from Iran to really muck Saudi Arabia up. You see, the Saudis and the Israelis know that when we go after the Iranian Revolutionary Guard at the goading of these two would be allies - like the dumb big brother that we are - the pay back is going to be a decade of terror attacks against Saudi Arabia, the Israelis and the US. So while it looks great to attack Iran and the so called surgical strikes - payback is a bitch, but then Bush will be out of office, the US will be committed to yet another financial disaster, Halliburton will be in the UAE and Lockheed will have its contract with the House of Saud. ....

But where does that leave the average middle class family in America that sends their sons to war and pays their taxes? Screwed that's what - totally screwed.]
 
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With Troop Rise, Iraqi Detainees Soar in Number

With Troop Rise, Iraqi Detainees Soar in Number - New York Times: "WASHINGTON, Aug. 24 — The number of detainees held by the American-led military forces in Iraq has swelled by 50 percent under the troop increase ordered by President Bush, with the inmate population growing to 24,500 today from 16,000 in February, according to American military officers in Iraq"

The detainee increase comes, they said, because American forces are operating in areas where they had not been present for some time, and because more units are able to maintain a round-the-clock presence in some areas. They also said more Iraqis were cooperating with military forces.

Nearly 85 percent of the detainees in custody are Sunni Arabs, the minority faction in Iraq that ruled the country under the government of Saddam Hussein; the other detainees are Shiites, the officers say.

Military officers said that of the Sunni detainees, about 1,800 claim allegiance to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a homegrown extremist group that American intelligence agencies have concluded is foreign-led. About 6,000 more identify themselves as takfiris, or Muslims who believe some other Muslims are not true believers. Such believers view Shiite Muslims as heretics.

Those statistics would seem to indicate that the main inspiration of the hard-core Sunni insurgency is no longer a desire to restore the old order — a movement that drew from former Baath Party members and security officials who had served under Mr. Hussein — and has become religious and ideological.

But the officers say an equally large number of Iraqi detainees say money is a significant reason they planted roadside bombs or shot at Iraqi and American-led forces.

“Interestingly, we’ve found that the vast majority are not inspired by jihad or hate for the coalition or Iraqi government — the vast majority are inspired by money,” said Capt. John Fleming of the Navy, a spokesman for the multinational forces’ detainee operations. The men are paid by insurgent leaders. “The primary motivator is economic — they’re angry men because they don’t have jobs,” he said. “The detainee population is overwhelmingly illiterate and unemployed. Extremists have been very successful at spreading their ideology to economically strapped Iraqis with little to no formal education
.”

But the detention system itself often serves as a breeding ground for the insurgency and a training opportunity for those who, after they are released, may attack Iraqi or American-led forces, military officers say.

According to statistics supplied by the headquarters of Task Force 134, the American military unit in charge of detention operations in Iraq, there are about 280 detainees from countries other than Iraq. Of those, 55 are identified as Egyptian, 53 as Syrian, 37 as Saudi, 28 as Jordanian and 24 as Sudanese.

Some foreign fighters are difficult to identify with certainty, the officers said, because they tried to conceal their identities with forged documents and aliases.

About 800 juveniles are held in the American internment facilities. The officers said insurgent groups had used them to plant roadside bombs and to serve as lookouts, assuming that American and Iraqi forces and their allies would not see them as suspicious. Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary, returned this week from a seven-day visit to Iraq that included tours of the detention facilities, and he said Friday that a six-room schoolhouse is operating for the education of the juveniles.

For the adults in detention, he said, the goal was to separate “the worst of the worst” from the other detainees, so hard-core insurgents and suspects have less chance to influence other detainees. A current goal is to set up a brick factory and a textile mill where adult detainees would work, he said.

Over all, the average length of detention is about a year, the officers said. So far this year, 3,334 detainees have been released, they said. Military officers in Iraq said the growing detainee population had not strained the internment system, nor had it hindered combat operations....

Few reliable numbers exist for those detained by the Iraqi government, according to John Sifton, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, an advocacy organization. The American military in Iraq will not provide numbers for detainees held by the government of Iraq....

[bth: I read this to suggest that 1/2 or more of the insurgency would end with a jobs program and perhaps a financial incentive to go back to school. Considering that we are paying 12 billion per month to occupy Iraq and the Iraqi economy is about $35 billion annually, one can see that a few well placed billions of dollars in jobs programs would have an immediate benefit to political stability and indeed a financial return compared where we are today. How come we can't do this?

Is the military doctrine so ingrained to fighting a conventional war against the Soviet Union that we can't organize a jobs program to rebuild a nation and jump start a destroyed economy?

Idle hands will dig a water pipe trench or plant an IED. Which is it going to be? Assuming about 5,000 IED attacks a month and about $150 per IED according to some estimates the IED attacks are being funded with less than $1 million per month. Think about this! Think about this - $12 billion to $1 million.

Rather than hiring fucking Halliburton that is running off to the UAE where they can't be extradited back to the US for bribery and corruption, we could be hiring local Iraqis to reclaim their own damned country.]
 
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Iraqi Factions’ Self-Interest Blocks Political Progress - New York Times

Iraqi Factions’ Self-Interest Blocks Political Progress - New York Times: "BAGHDAD, Aug. 24 — The National Intelligence Estimate released Thursday illustrated convincingly that, despite the troop buildup, Iraq has failed to forge the political reconciliation that could lead to long-term security and economic growth. "

What it did not explain, though, is why reconciliation has been so hard to attain.

In part, of course, Iraq remains a place pocked by violence and fear, which makes compromise difficult. But more important, say Iraqi political commentators and officials, Iraq has become a cellular nation, dividing and redividing into competing constituencies that have a greater stake in continued chaos than in compromise.

In most areas, for most Iraqis, the central government today is either irrelevant or invisible. Provinces and even neighborhoods have become the stages where power struggles play out. As a result, Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds — or elements of each faction — have come to feel that they can do a better job on their own.

“No one can rely on the political participants who lack a common view of the public interest,” said Nabeel Mahmoud, an international relations professor at Baghdad University. “Such a concept is completely absent from the thinking of the political powers in Iraq’s government, so each side works to get their own quota of positions or resources.”

Because of their autonomy, the Kurds are perhaps best positioned to benefit from the government’s failures. American protection in the final years of the Hussein government helped disconnect the Kurdistan region from the rest of Iraq, bringing glass office towers and foreign workers to cities like Erbil.

Earlier this month the Kurds took another step in that distancing process, passing a regional oil law that will reach its full potential only if a national oil law is never implemented.

Shiites and Sunnis, however, are still the factions with the greatest responsibility for Iraq’s political stalemate, and the ones most able to gain from the dysfunctional status quo.

Shiites in particular, as the majority, have managed to take advantage of the weak central government in a number of ways.

Religious parties in majority-Shiite areas like Basra now openly fight for positions of power. Killings of Shiite officials by Shiite gunmen in the south have grown more common, and with huge oil wealth located in the region, interference from Baghdad remains entirely unwelcome.

In the capital, offices run by the militia and civilian organization of the populist cleric Moktada al-Sadr have opened like franchises across the city. His militia, the Mahdi Army, known as Jaish al-Mahdi, now controls businesses ranging from real estate and ice to guns and gas. One Mahdi commander from eastern Baghdad recently estimated that the militia controlled 70 percent of the city’s gas stations, a figure that is hard to verify but which falls in line with what American officials describe as a sophisticated network that combines brutality with business.

Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker, for example, recently called the organization “Jaish al-Mahdi Incorporated.”

Mr. Sadr does play a role in the government. His party — encouraged by the Americans to join Iraq’s government — controls several ministries rich in resources, including the Health Ministry. Without Mr. Sadr’s support, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, a fellow Shiite, would not have become prime minister.

Like many others here, Mr. Sadr and his followers have recently turned on Mr. Maliki, repeatedly pulling out of the government to register discontent. And yet, Mr. Sadr has not called for a replacement.

Many here say that is because he knows that a strong government would be likely to crack down on what his organization has built.

“The people outside the law, the militia, the terrorists, the tribal leaders — all these people benefit,” said Qasim Dawood, a Shiite member of Parliament. “There are people living on the crisis, gaining their power through the crisis.”

New sources of power have also formed in the Sunni community. Millions of dollars in American reconstruction contracts have gone to Sunni tribal groups in Anbar who now work alongside the Americans to fight homegrown groups like Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia.

Similar bands of Sunni “guardians,” as the American military often calls them, have formed in Diyala Province and in Sunni areas in and around Baghdad.

Leaders from the groups have said they would like to join the government, but according to some American officers working with the groups, their most common demand has consisted of three things: money, guns and freedom of movement. It is unclear what they will do if they are not given what they consider a fair share of power.

The National Intelligence Estimate points out that if the Iraqi government does not move quickly to co-opt the tribes, American support for them could “shift greater power to the regions, undermine efforts to impose central authority and reinvigorate armed opposition to the Baghdad government.”

In short, the American strategy for Sunni Arab areas — widely described as promising — may ultimately encourage sectarianism and undermine the democracy that American troops are meant to support.

Sunni Arab leaders, nearly all of whom have pulled out of Iraq’s government, say they have no choice but to remain in opposition. Their communities view Shiite power as illegitimate, so signing on to legislation like a new oil law is anathema.

Indeed, for many Iraqis, seeing the government actually work together — at a time when so many are invested in keeping it weak — would be cause for alarm, not celebration.

As Saleh al-Mutlak, one senior Sunni leader, put it: “We have to satisfy people’s frustrations.”

Wisam A Habeeb contributed reporting.

[bth: if you step back and look at this thing you see that no one is fighting for a strong central government except the US. That to me is the greatest case for letting Iraq break up. If the Shiite government has no intention of incorporating the Sunnis and the Sunnis think the Shia are slaves in rebellion, then that government won't function. It will have to break up.

What works locally is the start of something at least. The missing element is cash flow - that's why Sadrs mafia incorporated goes for gas stations and is pressing toward Basra, how to distribute oil wealth is important, how to get oil to the world markets to fund government activities is critical, how to get jobs and electricity going again. Even Stalin a century ago, when he was a rebel leader in Georgia extorted money from oil companies trying to get oil to market. Its about the money.

In a related article I note that 1/2 those captured placing IEDs did it for cash. There has been a direct correlatoin between IED activity and the decline in school attendance in Iraq. This tells me that jobs programs will reduce IED attacks and indeed there was a direct correlation between joblessness and IED activity over the last 3 years. In Sadr City orphans are paid $3 a day to build IEDs according to recent articles. Think about it. Isn't there a better way for us to manage this problem? How about paying day workers to clean the shit out of the streets, to burn the trash, to repair water pipes - forget central water and electricity, focus on neighborhoods. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that more jobs means less bombs.

We're going to lose Baghdad to Sadr's thugs. We are building a billion dollar embassy in a neighborhood we will eventually have to evacuate. The Shiite militias have won Baghdad, we need to be thinking about what happens in Mosul, in Basra and in Kirkuk. Our friends need to control these locations. Baghdad doesn't produce cash flow, it consumes it and cash flow is the key to a sustainable government in Iraq regardless of its form. Think about it. We can't control everywhere in Iraq - we don't have enough troops - so we'd better concentrate on critical areas.]
 
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Generals Differ on the Timing of Troop Cuts - New York Times

Generals Differ on the Timing of Troop Cuts - New York Times: "WASHINGTON, Aug. 24 — As the Bush administration mulls options for withdrawing forces in Iraq, fault lines are beginning to emerge in a debate between commanders in the field who favor slow reductions and senior generals at the Pentagon who favor cutting the number of combat troops more deeply."

Among others, Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the Army chief of staff, are said to be leaning toward a recommendation that steep reductions by the end of 2008, perhaps to half of the 20 combat brigades now in Iraq, should be the administration’s goal.

Such a drawdown would be deeper and faster than Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq, is expected to recommend next month, administration officials said.

“If you’re out in Baghdad you might have a different priority for where you want the troops,” an administration official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the White House has not authorized public remarks on the options being considered.

It has been known since the spring that the White House was considering options for reducing combat forces in Iraq by almost half in 2008, which could bring overall troop levels below 100,000. But the shape of the debate is only beginning to emerge.

President Bush will have to weigh whether such steep reductions in 2008, even if cast only as a goal, would risk eroding what a new National Intelligence Estimate has described as measurable but fragile security gains achieved in Iraq in recent months.

A Pentagon official who supports a sharp drawdown described the steep troop reductions as “what we’re shooting for, our initial goal.” The official said a drawdown to roughly 10 brigades would enable the Army to give many soldiers at least a year at home for every year they are deployed, an objective of Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates. Most soldiers are now serving 15 months in Iraq and get a year or less at home.

A combat brigade generally has around 3,500 soldiers, though some of the units in Iraq have as many as 1,000 additional troops.

With more than 160,000 troops now in Iraq, General Casey warned recently, “We’re consumed with meeting the current demands and we’re unable to provide ready forces as rapidly as we would like for other contingencies. He added, “This is a temporary state and one we must pass through quickly if we’re going to preserve and sustain our all-volunteer force and restore strategic depth.”

But the assessment that General Petraeus is preparing to deliver next month is likely to call for at most modest reductions in troop levels by next spring. At that point the five more brigades added this year under the president’s troop increase are likely to be withdrawn gradually.

Administration officials said Mr. Bush was acutely aware that some reduction next year would be required, and they said he planned to use next month’s debate to outline a plan for gradual troop reductions. He has not decided on a timetable or whether to go beyond pulling out the five additional brigades, officials said.

“At this point the only question is when the drawdown begins and how fast it proceeds,” said one senior administration official who has been deeply involved in the internal debate. “But to get there, something has to give.”

White House officials said Mr. Bush had yet to receive a formal proposal from General Pace or other officials about how large a troop withdrawal to make.

“The president has received no recommendation regarding our future force posture in Iraq,” Gordon D. Johndroe, a White House spokesman, told reporters in a briefing at Crawford, Tex. He was responding to a report in The Los Angeles Times that General Pace plans to advise Mr. Bush to reduce forces in Iraq by almost half by the end of next year....

[bth: of course more reservists could be called up but that isn't done in an election year which 2008 is; or the term of service in Iraq could increase to 18 months which is pretty bad; or we could vastly increase the number of jobs given over to private contractors such as guard duty, convoy escort, prison guards, etc. I think this is a virtual certainty. Another option is a draft, but they president just doesn't think its worth the political cost, so he'd be more happy to screw over the enlisted personnel and their families. God help us if the Chinese decide to pressure us on Taiwan or we lose control of Pakistan-Afghanistan.]
 
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Controlled Iraqi National Intelligence Service

TPMmuckraker August 24, 2007 2:23 PM#more: "Alleged billion dollar thief Hazem Shaalan isn't Ayad Allawi's only infamous friend. Allawi is also a close ally of the head of Iraq's largest intelligence service -- a man who takes his billions from Washington, not Baghdad."

On the ground in Baghdad is a sprawling intelligence operation called the Iraqi National Intelligence Service, or INIS. Only INIS isn't really "National" at all. To the great chagrin of the Maliki government, it's financed and controlled by the CIA. And its boss is a longtime Allawi friend and CIA asset, Muhammed Shahwani.

Who's Muhammed Shahwani? He's a former Iraqi military officer who, along with Allawi, helped plot a botched coup against Saddam Hussein in 1996. Despite the failure, the CIA considered him a valuable asset, largely on the strength of his considerable knowledge of Saddam's military apparatus. In his memoir, ex-CIA Director George Tenet writes that when Shahwani returned to Iraq as part of "the Agency-sponsored Iraqi paramilitary group known as 'the Scorpions'" he became "key to developing a strong network inside Iraq for the Agency."

As a result, Shahwani, a member of Allawi's Iraqi National Accord party, was an obvious choice to lead the CIA-created INIS. Throughout the Coalition Provisional Authority era and the Allawi regime that followed it, Shahwani was a reliable fixture -- so much so that when the 2005 election saw Allawi's government replaced by a Shiite coalition known as the United Iraqi Alliance, the agency decided that INIS was too valuable to hand over to the less-reliable UIA. (Concerns about sovereignty have their exceptions.) INIS had control over extensive files on Iraqis tied to the insurgency -- and many others not suspected of crimes -- and the UIA bristled when unable to get access to what it considered the rightful spoils of its electoral victory. "I prefer to call it the American Intelligence of Iraq, not the Iraqi Intelligence Service," a Shiite parliamentarian and militia commander told reporters Hannah Allam and Warren Strobel.

INIS's estrangement from the Shiite-led government deepened under Nouri al-Maliki's administration. Maliki's attempts to control INIS led Shahwani to tell the CIA that Maliki was way too close to the Iranians, which lead the agency to increase its investment in its longtime ally. Ned Parker of The Los Angeles Times quoted an anonymous U.S. military official who said "U.S. funding for the INIS amounts to $3 billion over a three-year period that started in 2004." With money independent from Baghdad, Maliki has no power to remove Shahwani, so he did the next best thing: he started an alternative, primarily Shiite intelligence service, run by a functionary named Sherwan al-Waili. As a result, Iraq now has two competing intelligence services, with INIS intimating that al-Waili's outfit is a hive of Iranian infiltration.

It's unknown how large the INIS is, or what its capabilities truly are. But INIS provides Shahwani with an enviable platform, and he apparently remains dominant over Waili in the fractious Iraqi national-security apparatus. Just this week, he was part of an official delegation that visited Amman to discuss deepening Iraqi-Jordanian counterterrorism ties.

Shahwani's U.S.-funded independence from the Iraqi government helps contextualize the recent push for Allawi. Unlike most alternatives to Maliki, Allawi has at least something resembling a security apparatus that he can call upon. Of course, whether it can actually take control of fractious, chaotic Iraq is a dubious proposition -- and Allawi has never called for an outright coup. But when Maliki opens his newspaper and reads about Allawi's push in Washington to become premier again, he has reason to look to INIS and see a threat to his administration.

[bth: $3 billion in 3 years - wow. A billion looter friend and an intelligence agency run by the CIA. Who who needs votes when he's got money, an intelligence agency and Washington lobbyists that can get access to politicians and the Washington Post.]
 
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Warner's Iraq Proposal Roils White House - The Huffington Post

Warner's Iraq Proposal Roils White House - The Huffington Post: "WASHINGTON — Sen. John Warner's suggestion that some troops leave Iraq by the end of the year has roiled the White House, with administration officials saying they've asked the influential Republican to clarify that he has not broken politically with President Bush."

But Warner said Friday that he stands by his remarks and that he did not object to how his views have been characterized.

"I'm not going to issue any clarification," Warner, R-Va., said in an interview with The Associated Press. "I don't think any clarification is needed."

The political wrangling comes as the White House and Congress are headed toward a showdown on the Iraq war. Next month,...

Warner, former chairman of the Armed Services Committee and Navy secretary during the Vietnam War, is seen as someone who could tip the debate in a Senate narrowly split on the issue.

Following his trip to Iraq this month, which included a two-hour meeting with Petraeus, Warner said time has run out on the Baghdad government and Bush should make good on his word that the U.S. commitment was not open-ended by announcing a pullout of troops this fall.

The symbolic gesture, he said, could amount to as few as 5,000 of the 160,000 troops in Iraq being brought home by Christmas. The goal would be to pressure Iraqi leaders to make the political compromises necessary to tamp down sectarian violence.

Warner's remarks were significant. While he said he would still oppose Democratic legislation ordering troop withdrawals, it was the first time he had embraced pulling troops out by a certain date. It also put him at odds with the president by rejecting Bush's long-held assertion that only security conditions on the ground should dictate deployments and that any announced redeployments would be an unhelpful broadcast of war plans to the enemy....

Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., issued a statement saying that efforts to pre-empt Petraeus' September review were "premature and irresponsible." Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said, "It's a little curious to me that people are proposing a change in strategy when in fact the current strategy appears now to be working."

Likewise, the U.S. military commander in one of the more troubled areas of Iraq said Friday that embracing Warner's call to begin withdrawing troops before the end of the year would be "a giant step backward." Army Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, commander of troops south of Baghdad, said that under such a scenario, militants pushed from his sector in recent operations would quickly return...

Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on Friday denied a Los Angeles Times report that he will advise Bush in September to reduce the U.S. force in Iraq by almost half, to below 100,000.

Initially Pace's office issued a statement calling the report "purely speculative," but later more directly denied it.

"The story is wrong. I have not decided on, nor made, any recommendations yet," Pace said.

[bth: So let's look at today's news headlines. The Pentagon has set up a 24 hour news management room. They have this idea that they can manipulate the news and the military should now be in the political business of spin.

Then we have Pace who if you read his statement carefully denies that he HAS issued his statement not that he won't issue his recommendation to the President. Pace knows darn well we don't have enough troops and can't sustain the current level. Note the quick counter from Lynch whose area was starved for troops for years but did you hear generals saying anything other than that they had all the troops they needed for the last 4 freaking years? Of course you didn't, they were Rumsfelds good little boys and all the while the insurgents looted armories and warehouses full to the brim in ammunition and weaponary. We likely have lost this war to an insurgency with infinite arms at their disposal because we didn't have enough troops to guard those caches. Think about it! And no general said that he needed more troops until this year.

Now Warner's statement - and he is no bleeding heart - and his refusal to issue a clarification are major pieces of news as it signifies the Republican components of the Senate that are still sentient are breaking ranks. So we have Ari Fleicher organizing a $15 million campaign hit team to target moderate Republicans and we have Inhofe and Cornyn, the President's ever willing butt boys out there criticizing Republicans that think for themselves.

It's doubtful that the White House ever thought Petraeus would issue an independent report and Congress probably didn't think so either, but the American people certainly hoped so and when they don't get it, when they realize they can't trust this military to issue an unpoliticized report - the final credibility the pentagon has will vanish. What a tragic and senseless loss of public trust..... One wonders what Gen. George Marshall would have done?]
 
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Friday, August 24, 2007

The Blotter- Iraqi With CIA Ties Hires D.C. Lobby Firm

The Blotter: "A political rival of the current Iraqi prime minister has hired a well-known Republican lobbying firm to promote his candidacy among the Washington elite. "

On the same day U.S. intelligence officials briefed reporters on their lack of confidence in Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to solve the problems facing his country, the U.S. Justice Department released documents showing that Dr. Ayad Allawi, a Maliki rival with close ties to the CIA, was paying the GOP firm Barbour Griffith & Rogers (BGR) more than a quarter-million dollars to lobby on his behalf.

The story was first reported on the Web site Iraqslogger.com, which obtained the documents.

It has been widely reported that Ayad Allawi and his political group, the Iraqi National Accord, received CIA funding from the early 1990s until as late as 2004 and consulted with CIA officials about setting up a domestic intelligence service for the Iraqi government. In 2004, Allawi was made the interim prime minister until elections could be held. Experts also believe he is supported by Gulf states wary of Iran's influence in the Iraqi government.

In January 2005, elections pushed Allawi and other members of his party out of power. He has made no secret of desiring a return to the prime minister's seat.

A spokeswoman for BGR declined to answer questions Thursday, saying only that her firm would "be providing strategic counsel and representation" to Allawi "before the U.S. Government, Congress, the media and opinion leaders."

A representative for Allawi reached Friday declined to answer questions for the record concerning the lobbying contract or Allawi's ties to the CIA. Allawi was not available for comment, he said.

The Bush administration and BGR have close ties; two of its principals have played important roles in the president's election campaigns. But the White House said yesterday the firm's work had "no connection whatsoever" to White House policy.

"Maliki is a good man with a tough job and the president supports him," Bush spokesman Scott Stanzel told the Blotter on ABCNews.com Thursday, two days after Bush made comments many interpreted as a shift away from supporting the prime minister.

Two issues remain unclear: exactly what the firm is doing for Allawi, and how Allawi can afford such representation.

Beyond a handful of pro-Allawi e-mails that have hit Capitol Hill offices from a BGR-controlled address, there have been few outer signs of activity.

On Saturday, the Washington Post published an opinion article featuring Allawi's byline which slammed Maliki's leadership of Iraq. On Sunday, Allawi met with Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and John Warner, R-Va., the chair and ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, in Jordan. That day, the two men released a pessimistic statement about Iraq's political future.

A Levin spokesman said the BGR firm played no role in arranging the meeting; a Warner spokesman referred questions about the meeting to Levin's office.

Experts said Allawi does not have the resources to pay $50,000 a month plus expenses for Washington representation.

"He doesn't have that kind of money," said Bruce Reidel, who spent 25 years with the CIA and the National Security Council, covering the Middle East. "Somebody's paying for it, and it's not him."

A former U.S. intelligence community Middle East expert who left the government in 2005 said that while the agency backed Allawi financially for many years, he doubted BGR's bills would be paid with agency money.

"Obviously, if there were any trace of [CIA] funds into this sort of thing it would be illegal," said Paul Pillar, the national intelligence officer for Near East and South Asia from 2002 until his retirement in 2005. "But I'd be extremely surprised if that had happened."

A CIA spokesman told ABCNews.com, "If you have any questions about where Mr. Allawi gets his money, I would refer you to Mr. Allawi."

In the past, Allawi has funded his Washington efforts through the generosity of wealthy expatriates. In 2003 and 2004, an Iraqi doctor living in London paid $340,000 to the lobbying firm Preston Gates Ellis and others to promote Allawi in the nation's capital.

[bth: Allawi is certainly a neo-con favorite - a thug we can deal with. Why wouldn't Israel or Exxon use a shell corp. or offshore cut-out, or a friendly Ukrainian mob boss to fund this lobbying bill? If Allawi gets into power then it will be the best investment ever made.

It was obvious when the WaPo editorial came out from Allawi that someone was pulling strings and paying for that kind of access to the media and to the Washington power elite.

So much for fighting for democracy. Our country and its leaders had better figure out what the heck we're fighting for because a lot of families like ours have paid in blood for it and our kids are going to pay for it in debts they will inherent once Bush leaves office.

If I were a Shiite and the election were nullified and Allawi shoved into power, I'd revolt. No ifs ands or buts. ... By the way while Allawi was in power didn't close to $600 million in defense aid get looted from the Iraqi government in one year? My guess is that Allawi has a piece of that action. We need to be careful here, really careful.]
 
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More Iraqis Are Said to Flee Since Troop Increase

More Iraqis Are Said to Flee Since Troop Increase - New York Times: "BAGHDAD, Aug. 23 — The number of Iraqis fleeing their homes has soared since the American troop increase began in February, according to data from two humanitarian groups, accelerating the partition of the country into sectarian enclaves."

Despite some evidence that the troop buildup has improved security in certain areas, sectarian violence continues and American-led operations have brought new fighting, driving fearful Iraqis from their homes at much higher rates than before the tens of thousands of additional troops arrived, the studies show.

The data track what are known as internally displaced Iraqis: those who have been driven from their neighborhoods and seek refuge elsewhere in the country rather than fleeing across the border. The effect of this vast migration is to drain religiously mixed areas in the center of Iraq, sending Shiite refugees toward the overwhelmingly Shiite areas to the south and Sunnis toward majority Sunni regions to the west and north.

Though most displaced Iraqis say they would like to return, there is little prospect of their doing so. One Sunni Arab who had been driven out of the Baghdad neighborhood of southern Dora by Shiite snipers said she doubted that her family would ever return, buildup or no buildup.

There is no way we would go back,” said the woman, 26, who gave her name only as Aswaidi. “It is a city of ghosts. The only people left there are terrorists.”

Statistics collected by one of the two humanitarian groups, the Iraqi Red Crescent Organization, indicate that the total number of internally displaced Iraqis has more than doubled, to 1.1 million from 499,000, since the buildup started in February.

Those figures are broadly consistent with data compiled independently by an office in the United Nations that specializes in tracking wide-scale dislocations. That office, the International Organization for Migration, found that in recent months the rate of displacement in Baghdad, where the buildup is focused, had increased by as much as a factor of 20, although part of that rise could have stemmed from improved monitoring of displaced Iraqis by the government in Baghdad, the capital.

The new findings suggest that while sectarian attacks have declined in some neighborhoods, the influx of troops and the intense fighting they have brought are at least partly responsible for what a report by the United Nations migration office calls the worst human displacement in Iraq’s modern history.

The findings also indicate that the sectarian tension the troops were meant to defuse is still intense in many places in Iraq. Sixty-three percent of the Iraqis surveyed by the United Nations said they had fled their neighborhoods because of direct threats to their lives, and more than 25 percent because they had been forcibly removed from their homes.

The demographic shifts could favor those who would like to see Iraq partitioned into three semi-autonomous regions: a Shiite south and a Kurdish north sandwiching a Sunni territory.

Over all, the scale of this migration has put so much strain on Iraqi governmental and relief offices that some provinces have refused to register any more displaced people, or will accept only those whose families are originally from the area. But Rafiq Tschannen, chief of the Iraq mission for the migration office, said that in many cases, the ability of extended families to absorb displaced relatives was also stretched to the breaking point.

“It’s a bleak picture,” Mr. Tschannen said. “It is just steadily continuing in a bad direction, from bad to worse.”

He also cautioned that reports of people going back to their homes were overstated. As the buildup began, the Iraqi government said that it would take measures to evict squatters from houses that were not theirs and make special efforts to bring the rightful owners back.

They were reporting that people went back, but they didn’t report that people left again,” Mr. Tschannen said. He added that Iraqis “hear things are better, go back to collect remuneration and pick up an additional suitcase and leave again. It is not a permanent return in most cases.”

American officials in Baghdad did not respond to a request for comment, but the national intelligence estimate released Thursday confirmed that Iraq continues to become more segregated through internal migration. “Population displacement resulting from sectarian violence continues,” it found, “imposing burdens on provincial governments and some neighboring states.”

Dr. Said Hakki, director of the Iraqi Red Crescent Organization, said that he had been surprised when his figures revealed that roughly 100,000 people a month were fleeing their homes during the buildup. Dr. Hakki said that he did not know why the rates were so high but added that some factors were obvious.

“It’s fear,” he said. “Lack of services. You see, if you have a security problem, you don’t need a lot to frighten people.”

It is clear that military operations, both by American troops and the Iraqi forces working with them as part of the buildup, have something to do with the rise in displacement, said Dana Graber Ladek, Iraq displacement specialist for the migration organization’s Iraq office.

“If a surge means that soldiers are on the streets patrolling to make sure there is no violence, that is one thing,” Ms. Ladek said. “If a surge means military operations where there are attacks and bombings, then obviously that is going to create displacement.”

But Ms. Ladek added that, in contrast to the first years of the conflict, when major American offensives were a main cause of displacement, the primary driving force had changed.

“Sectarian violence is the biggest driving factor — militias coming into a neighborhood and kicking all the Sunnis out, or insurgents driving all the Shias away,” Ms. Ladek said.

Her conclusions mirrored the experiences of Iraqis who had fled their homes.

Aswaidi and her family were driven out of the Dora section of Baghdad five months ago when Shiite snipers opened fire on their Sunni neighborhood from nearby tower blocks, shooting through their windows “at all hours of day and night.”

Returning covertly to check on the property in mid-August, she found Sunni insurgents occupying the building and neighboring homes, walking unchallenged through the deserted streets. Nearby, she claims, the same insurgents captured one of the Shiite snipers who drove the residents away, and claimed that he was a 16-year-old Iranian.

She now fears that her entire neighborhood will be taken over by Shiite militias like the Mahdi Army, which is loyal to the radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr.

“I don’t want them to take my town, but I think they will,” Aswaidi said. “It will change from Sunni to Shia. The Americans can’t stop it.”

Shiites face similarly overwhelming odds. In Shualah, on the northern outskirts of Baghdad, 400 Shiite families now live in a makeshift refugee camp on wasteland commandeered by Mr. Sadr’s followers.

In a sprawl of cinder block hovels and tin and bamboo-roofed shacks, families have stories of being expelled from their homes by Sunni insurgents.

Ali Edan fled Yusifiya, a Sunni insurgent haven south of Baghdad, when his uncle was killed. He has no intention of returning, even though American commanders claim Sunni sheiks there have begun cooperating with them. “It is still an unsafe area,” said Mr. Edan.

Both humanitarian groups based their conclusions on information collected from the displaced Iraqis inside the country. The Red Crescent counted only displaced Iraqis who receive relief supplies, and the United Nations relied on data from an Iraqi ministry that closely tracks Iraqis who leave their homes and register for government services elsewhere.

Before the troop buildup, by far the most significant event causing the displacement of Iraqis was the bombing of a revered Shiite mosque in Samarra in February 2006. The bombing set off a spasm of sectarian killing, but the rate at which Iraqis left their homes leveled off toward the end of that year before accelerating again as the buildup began, the Red Crescent figures show.

The United Nations figures also include a little over a million people it says were displaced in the decades before the Samarra bombing, including the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. The Red Crescent data does not include them.

In Baghdad, the latest migration involves an enormously complex landscape in which some people flee one district even as others return to it.

In Ghazaliya, a mixed but Sunni-majority district of north Baghdad, one 30-year-old Shiite said his family was driven out by Sunni insurgents a year ago with just two hours notice to leave their home.

Five months ago, the troop buildup brought American soldiers and the Shiite-dominated Iraqi Army onto his street and his family returned. But even as it did, Sunni neighbors fled, knowing that the army had been infiltrated by Shiite militias.

“They are afraid, because the army has good relations with the Mahdi Army,” said the 30-year-old man, who said he was too afraid to give his name. “My area used to have a lot of Sunni. Now most are Shia, because Shias expelled from other places have moved into the empty Sunni homes.”

[bth: I read several years ago that displacement is a -and perhaps the - absolute indicator of civil war or genocide on the horizon. Why? Because when people leave their homes in a state of fear and violence, it means that they've given up on the neighborhood and any future they have with it. It also means that someone else is going to be displaced when that family finds a home - usually with the help of a rifle.

Iraqi politicians may talk, American generals may take well protected strolls through the markets, but if the number of displaced doubled since the surge, then it means that the country is breaking up. Perhaps it is a slow motion break up of Iraq. In that regard, it may be preventing a catastrophic forced migration if we had just pulled out and let events play out at an accelerated rate. Its hard to tell. This though more than any chatter from Washington or the Green Zone tells it like it is - people are segregating out of fear and hopelessness. ... Iraq is splitting up.

Finally note that the humanitarian agencies strongly imply that the US is misstating the return of refugees to their neighborhood. They're returning and leaving again with only one direction being counted by military authorities.]
 
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Army Drops More Charges in Officer's Abu Ghraib Case

Army Drops More Charges in Officer's Abu Ghraib Case - washingtonpost.com: "Military prosecutors dropped two charges against Army Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan yesterday, hours before his court-martial for allegedly abusing detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq was set to begin at Fort Meade."

The dismissal of allegations that Jordan lied to investigators in the 2004 probe of the notorious abuses was a last-minute surprise in the military courtroom at the Maryland Army base. Based on new evidence that surfaced over the weekend, prosecutors determined that Jordan had not been read his rights before giving detailed statements to Maj. Gen. George R. Fay, who led the seminal investigation into the Abu Ghraib scandal. Those statements are therefore inadmissible in the proceedings.

Fay's failure to read Jordan his rights appears to be a major oversight in the probe, and prosecutors did not explain the discrepancy. The move reduces Jordan's potential sentence almost by half, to a maximum of 8 1/2 years.

It was the latest in a series of odd twists in Jordan's case. Prosecutors have recommended for years that Jordan face administrative punishment rather than trial. An investigative officer once advocated a reprimand to avoid a public rehashing of the Abu Ghraib abuses. And emerging evidence has now led to the dismissal of eight out of 12 original charges against the Army officer. Jordan said in a recent interview with The Washington Post that he believes he is a scapegoat because authorities want an officer to go to trial as a final chapter in the Abu Ghraib scandal, even though a more senior officer who admitted approving the use of dogs, Col. Thomas M. Pappas, received only a reprimand and a fine.

Jordan, 51, is the last soldier to face charges related to the Abu Ghraib abuses and the only officer to go to court-martial for alleged crimes there. A jury panel of nine Army colonels and one brigadier general is expected to hear opening statements in the case today, and yesterday each member told the court -- under questioning by Capt. Samuel Spitzberg, one of Jordan's defense attorneys -- that they would not use Jordan's trial as "a referendum on Abu Ghraib."

Maj. Kris Poppe, another one of Jordan's attorneys, entered pleas of not guilty for him in court yesterday.

Initial probes -- including the Fay investigation -- appeared to single out Jordan as the officer most responsible for the abuses seen in numerous infamous photographs, but his attorneys have argued that Jordan played no role in interrogations and was not a commander for the military police soldiers who have been held criminally responsible.

Eleven low-ranking soldiers have been convicted as a result, and two commanders, both senior to Jordan, have received administrative punishments. Jordan, of Fredericksburg, is the only criminally charged soldier connected to the Abu Ghraib case who does not appear in the abuse photographs and who has admitted no wrongdoing.

In March, Fay testified under oath that he had read Jordan his rights before questioning him in 2004 about the Abu Ghraib abuses. Jordan, at the same hearing, testified that he never was read his rights.

Lt. Col. John P. Tracy, the lead prosecutor, said yesterday morning that Fay contacted authorities over the weekend to say that while going through papers in preparation for trial he realized he had never read Jordan his rights during interviews. A military judge ruled yesterday that Jordan's statements to Fay now cannot be used in the case.

Tracy said Fay "misspoke" at the earlier court hearing and wanted to change his testimony for the record. The judge, Army Col. Stephen R. Henley, promptly agreed to prevent a jury from hearing Jordan's statements and dismissed the two charges related to them.

The development was a significant victory for Jordan's defense attorneys, who had been arguing for suppression of the statements. Jordan gave extensive statements to Fay outlining his role at Abu Ghraib and explaining specific incidents for which he has been criminally charged. In May, Henley also tossed out statements Jordan gave to Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, because Taguba also did not properly advise him of his rights. Now, none of Jordan's statements can be used against him.

"It was something that we had asked the court to do a long time ago," Poppe said yesterday. "We believe it was the appropriate result."

Still remaining are charges that Jordan was derelict in his duty to train his soldiers in the use of controversial interrogation policies developed and approved in late 2003, such as employing military working dogs; that Jordan subjected Iraqi detainees to nudity and intimidation by dogs, resulting in cruelty and maltreatment; and that Jordan failed to obey Fay's order not to discuss the official investigation with anyone else. The charge of disobeying an order carries the longest possible sentence, five years in prison, while the dereliction of duty charges carry a maximum of 2 1/2 years and the cruelty charge one year.

The charges against Jordan largely relate to a single incident on Nov. 24, 2003, when military intelligence soldiers sought information about Iraqi police officers who provided a gun to a Syrian detainee at the prison. The detainee had used the gun to shoot at U.S. troops, including Jordan.

Prosecutors yesterday narrowed the scope of the cruelty and maltreatment charge against Jordan to Nov. 24, limiting the actual abuse of which he is accused to that one incident. According to investigative documents, soldiers strip-searched a group of Iraqi police officers that night and questioned some of them while military dogs were used to search for explosives.

Military intelligence interrogators at Abu Ghraib have said that Jordan, a civil affairs reservist who was assigned to conduct military intelligence work at the prison, had nothing to do with interrogations and acted more as a "mayor" for the outpost west of Baghdad.

[bth: this is all just being choreographed now including the news report being released on a Friday in August when Congress is in recess. A particular contraditoin to note is that his attorney says that they have been asking to court to drop the charges based on the failure to read rights for 'sometime now' and the prosecutor says he just discovered it and the major general that was supervising the investigation just changed his statement. I suspect that he didn't read him his rights on purpose awhile back in order to allow these charges to be dropped.]
 
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Senator Calls for Maliki's Ouster

Senator Calls for Maliki's Ouster - washingtonpost.com: "Declaring the government of Iraq 'non-functional,' the influential chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said yesterday that Iraq's parliament should oust Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his cabinet if they are unable to forge a political compromise with rival factions in a matter of days."

"I hope the parliament will vote the Maliki government out of office and will have the wisdom to replace it with a less sectarian and more unifying prime minister and government," Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) said after a three-day trip to Iraq and Jordan.

Levin's statement, the most forceful call for leadership change in Iraq from a U.S. elected official, comes as about two dozen lawmakers are traveling to Iraq during Congress's August break to glean firsthand assessments before receiving a progress report next month from Gen. David H. Petraeus, the U.S. commander there, and Ryan C. Crocker, the U.S. ambassador.

Not every Democrat has come back from Iraq supporting a drawdown of U.S. forces in the coming months, as party leaders have advocated. Staking out positions that could complicate efforts to achieve party unity in September, a few Democratic lawmakers have returned expressing support for a continued troop presence. One of them, Rep. Brian Baird (Wash.), said yesterday that he will no longer vote for binding troop withdrawal timelines.

Levin's comments to reporters followed the release of a joint statement with the second-ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee, Sen. John W. Warner (Va.), which was pessimistic about Iraq's political future. The statement referred to a round of recent meetings between Maliki, who is backed by President Bush, and Iraqi political leaders as "the last chance for this government to solve the Iraqi political crisis."

Maliki, a Shiite, has been trying to hold a summit with rival Sunni political leaders and ethnic Kurdish officials to reach a compromise on several contentious issues, including a formula to distribute the country's oil revenue and a law aimed at allowing some former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party to hold government jobs. The meeting, which was scheduled to start last week, has been repeatedly delayed.

Should those talks fail in the next few days, Warner and Levin said, "the Iraqi Council of Representatives and the Iraqi people need to judge the Government of Iraq's record and determine what actions should be taken -- consistent with the Iraqi Constitution -- to form a true unity government to meet those responsibilities."

Warner, a war supporter who has grown skeptical of U.S. involvement, was traveling yesterday and unable to comment on the joint statement.

The two senators' assessment is only the most recent move in a series of efforts by both political parties to gain momentum before the next political showdown over the war....

[bth: I have a great deal of respect for Sen. Levin and Sen. Warner. When they say stuff like this, people should be listening. Note that their statement has a clause inserted "consistent with the Iraqi Constitution" which I think must have been wedged in to discourage encouraging an overthrow.]
 
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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Hizballah's 'Big Surprise' and the Litani Line

: "On August 14, the anniversary of the end of last summer's Lebanon war, Hizballah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah warned Israel of a 'big surprise' if it initiated a new conflict in the South. Analysts immediately began speculating over the nature of the promised surprise. But what is most important to note is that Hizballah, a year after its last war, is making serious preparations for the next one. "

The Litani Line

The most significant development in southern Lebanon since the end of the 2006 war is Hizballah's construction of a defensive line north of the Litani River. Whereas all territory south of the Litani falls under the jurisdiction of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), territory north of the river is off-limits to UNIFIL.

As soon as the war with Israel ended, wealthy Hizballah sympathizers began buying up land north of the Litani -- in historically Christian and Druze areas -- at prices well above the market rate. Much of the Christian village of Chbail, for example, has been bought by the Shiite businessman Ali Tajeddine and repopulated with poor Shiites from the south. Another village just south of the Litani has been built entirely from scratch. Such developments have alarmed other Lebanese communities for purely sectarian reasons. But the construction and repopulation of these villages is almost certainly intended to link the traditionally Shiite villages of the western Bekaa Valley with those of southern Lebanon.

Most of this construction is along a new, Iranian-funded road being built along the Litani's northern edge. Constructed by the "Iranian Organization for Sharing in the Building of Lebanon," the road is as large as any in southern Lebanon and features signs every few hundred meters with slogans such as "In the service of the people of Lebanon."

To be sure, there is nothing implicitly wrong with either the resettlement of impoverished Shiites or the development of large public works projects. But these moves mask a static defensive line that Hizballah intends to use in what it sees as the inevitable sequel to last summer's fight against Israel. Using friendly Shiite-dominated villages as fighting bases was key to Hizballah's successes last summer. The Litani River valley offers Hizballah an opportunity to link these villages with other Shiite villages in the Bekaa Valley.

Why the Litani?

From the perspective of a Hizballah military planner, it is difficult to surmise what strategic objectives Israel might seek to accomplish in the event of another war. Hizballah is left in the awkward position of trying to answer the question of how Israel might fight without knowing why it would fight.

At the moment, the group seems to think that despite Israel's heavy reliance on airpower in the last war -- with ground forces deployed in only a limited fashion -- the next war would begin with a much larger Israeli ground assault. Any attempt to defend the area south of the Litani would therefore be suicidal. Moreover, the deployment of 12,000 UN peacekeepers and several thousand Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) personnel has made the construction of static defensive lines in southern Lebanon much more difficult than it was before summer 2006. Accordingly, even as Hizballah continues to train village units south of the Litani in the hope that they could slow an Israeli ground invasion, the group has constructed its main defensive positions to the north, where the terrain favors the defender and where Hizballah could deny Israeli armor columns easy access to the Bekaa Valley.

Although Hizballah had ample time to prepare for the last war -- which the group initiated with its decision to kidnap two Israeli soldiers on July 12, 2006 -- the next clash could result from either a wider regional conflict or an Israeli decision to finish the job begun in 2006. Whether or not there is a real danger of a war initiated by either Israel or Syria matters little for the purpose of understanding Hizballah's strategy -- at the moment, the group seems convinced that another war is likely.

Another good reason for Hizballah to build positions north of the Litani is that this approach allows for entrenched positions that can house medium- and long-range missiles. Hizballah successfully launched large numbers of short-range and largely ineffective katyusha rockets into Israel in 2006, but the Israeli air force had knocked out its longer-range and more potent arsenal just a few days into the fighting.

Israeli planners, for their part, have never understood why Hizballah felt the need to launch rockets from such advanced positions in the first place. Launching them from the other side of the Litani -- over the heads of UNIFIL and the LAF -- has the advantage of leaving Hizballah positions unharassed by the initial stages of an Israeli ground invasion. From positions north of the Litani, Hizballah katyushas could comfortably reach major Israeli population centers vulnerable from firing positions along the border (e.g., the 16,000 people in the town of Kiryat Shimona), while its longer-range missiles could reach more distant potential targets such as Haifa and even Tel Aviv.

All along the Iranian-built route north of the Litani, new roads and trails are springing up where once there were only trees and rocks. Where do these roads go, and what is taking place there? It is difficult to tell because many of them have been designated closed "military areas," patrolled by Hizballah gunmen. To longtime Lebanon observers, these areas evoke memories of border zones similarly off-limits between 2000 and 2006, used to great effect by Hizballah as reinforced fighting positions during the summer war.

Nasrallah's Surprise?

Although Hizballah positions north of the Litani might be the "big surprise" Hassan Nasrallah referred to in his August 14 speech, that hardly seems likely. Observers have been taken aback by how overt much of the construction has been -- very unlike Hizballah, an organization famous for its secrecy. Perhaps these positions are being constructed as decoys in the same way that others were constructed for this purpose between 2000 and 2006. Or, as some have argued, maybe these construction projects are just a way to keep Hizballah's gunmen busy while the real fight -- the political one -- takes place to the north, in Beirut. Most likely, though, Hizballah -- which remains a disciplined fighting force -- is motivated by a genuine sense of urgency, unsure when the next round of fighting will begin and concerned that its pre-2006 defenses would be insufficient against a massed Israeli ground invasion (and too difficult to reconstruct with UNIFIL in the way).

There is speculation that Nasrallah's "surprise" would be the inclusion of antiaircraft capabilities in the next round of fighting, a move Hizballah hopes would break Israel's air superiority and enable it to fight on a more fluid battlefield. For U.S. observers, however, the source of continued fascination remains Hizballah's transformation from the world's finest guerrilla army into a force that, in 2006 and today, seems quite comfortable in conventional fighting as well.

Andrew Exum, a Washington Institute Soref fellow, recently returned from a trip to southern Lebanon.

[bth: what if the outbreak of regional conflict in the Middle East is actually initiated by us? Israel to Lebannon. Military coup in Iraq. US strike against Iran. ... I note that Saudi Arabia and Turkey have gotten very quiet this month.]