Saturday, September 01, 2007

Taliban capture over 100 Pakistani soldiers in South Waziristan (The Fourth Rail)

Taliban capture over 100 Pakistani soldiers in South Waziristan (The Fourth Rail): "Company of Punjabi Pakistani troops captured in a sophisticated Taliban operation in South Waziristan. Pakistani government is negotiating with Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud to secure their release."

The Taliban insurgency in the Northwest Frontier Province intensifies as a large force of Taliban fighters captured a company of Pakistani soldiers in South Waziristan. The Taliban captured “over 100 security forces personnel after intercepting a military convoy in the Mehsud-dominated tribal area,” Dawn reported. The Taliban have claimed over 300 Pakistani soldiers were captured by a large Taliban force near Luddah, which is about 25 miles north of Wana, but the highest estimate given by Pakistani sources is 130. “The Taliban had also impounded 17 trucks which were carrying troops,” Pakistani sources told Dawn. “Nine of the hostages were reported to be officers including a colonel.”

Maj. Gen. Waheed Arshad, the Pakistani military spokesman, initially claimed the troops sought shelter in a valley during a storm, and contact was lost. "There is no suggestion of kidnapping or fighting," said Arshad at the initial reports of the capture of the Pakistani soldiers. Arshad later backtracked and told CBS News the soldiers have been freed by the Taliban and the "situation has almost been resolved."

But there is no indication the troops have been freed. “Intelligence officials in South Waziristan said the militants had taken the soldiers to different hideouts in the mountains,” Reuters reported. Both Dawn and Reuters have reported the Pakistani government has sent emissaries to negotiate with the Taliban to secure the conditions of the release.

A Pakistani security official told Dawn that “contacts had been established with the Mehsud jirga to approach militant commander Baituallah Mehsud at the earliest and help secure the safe release of the security personnel.” Baituallah Mehsud is one of the most the powerful Taliban commanders in South Waziristan; it is estimated he commands upwards of 30,000 well-trained fighters.

One issue that is not being discussed is both the skill and size of military units needed to force a company of Pakistani troops to surrender with no violence. A senior US intelligence official told The Fourth Rail that this Pakistani unit was an experienced regular army unit, not a paramilitary unit such as the Levies or Frontier Constables. “This was a Punjabi company, loyal to Musharraf, which conducts operations against the Taliban when needed,” the official stated.

Dawn provides some hints on how the troops were captured.

The incident occurred following a verbal argument between officers and some militants. “Not a single shot was fired.” The official account was confirmed by locals who said the militants had stopped the military convoy at four places before taking the drastic action. One security official said the militants had objected to the military’s attempt to establish pickets on the route of the convoy.

Based on this account, which was given to Dawn by both South Waziristan locals and Pakistani security officials, the Pakistani convoy was well aware of the rising tensions in the region. With the convoy having been stopped at four checkpoints and there being arguments with the Taliban, the Pakistani troops were not taken unawares.

The Taliban either prepared for the operation in advance, or quickly assembled and planned the operation. The Taliban had enough foot soldiers with sufficient heavy weapons placed in prepared fighting positions to impress upon the regular Pakistani army officers to surrender without firing a shot. Depending on the terrain and available armaments to the Taliban, perhaps 500 to 1,000 Taliban fighters were on hand to conduct the operation. As we have noted in the past, the Taliban are organizing into well-trained military formations.

The Pakistani troops also surrendered while knowing that 19 soldiers were currently in the custody of Baituallah Mehsud’s Taliban. One of those soldiers was brutally beheaded by a 12-year-old boy. This gruesome acted was videotaped and distributed to the media as a warning.

Despite the repeated attacks against Pakistani troops, the beheadings of captured personnel and the continual kidnappings, the Pakistani government is still interested in preserving the failed “peace accords” signed with the Taliban in 2005 and 2006. This is clear from a statement made by Dawn’s source. “[The military] have been told to establish immediate contact with the militant commander [Baitullah Mehsud.] On our part the Sara Rogha agreement [the South Waziristan Accord] is intact.”

Baitullah, who is wanted for his involvement with a suicide bombing campaign in the spring of 2007, has been behind many of the Taliban attacks against the military in South Waziristan and sends his Taliban into Afghanistan to attack NATO and Afghan forces and civilians. Baitullah has also sheltered al Qaeda operatives and has established al Qaeda training camps in South Waziristan. Yet the Pakistani government still seeks to negotiate with Mehsud and others committing violence against the state.

Friday, August 31, 2007

The Raw Story | Military spin machine targets Democrats visiting Iraq

The Raw Story | Military spin machine targets Democrats visiting Iraq: "Congressmembers taking advantage of their August recess to visit Iraq have been shocked to discover copies of their biographies--which include detailed information about the legislators’ position on the war--in the hands of soldiers throughout the Green Zone."

“The sheets of paper seemed to be everywhere the lawmakers went in the Green Zone, distributed to Iraqi officials, U.S. officials and uniformed military of no particular rank,” writes the Washington Post in a story by Jonathan Weisman. “So when Rep. James Moran asked a soldier last weekend just what he was holding, the congressman was taken aback to find out.”

What the soldier showed Moran was his own thumbnail biography, which informed military personnel and other officials in Baghdad exactly where Moran stood on the war.

“Moran on Iraq policy,” a section of the document read, listing as well some of Moran’s more controversial quotes, including “This has been the worse foreign policy fiasco in American history,” the Post reports.

California Rep. Ellen Tauscher says she received the same treatment--even though she initially backed the war.

“Our forces are caught in the middle of an escalating sectarian conflict in Iraq with no end in sight,” her bio reads. “This is beyond parsing,” Tauscher told the Post. This is being slimed in the Green Zone,” she said, going on to dub the military’s manipulation as the “Green Zone fog.”

The icy reception for legislators hasn’t been limited to loaded bios. The Post also described the congressional delegations as “brief, choreographed and carefully controlled,” often “show[ing] only what the Pentagon and the Bush administration have wanted the lawmakers to see.”

“At one point, “ the paper reports, “as Moran, Tauscher and Rep. Jon Porter (R-Nev.) were heading to lunch in the fortified Green Zone, an American urgently tried to get their attention, apparently to voice concerns about the war effort, the participants said. Security whisked the man away before he could make his point.”

"Spin City," Rep. Moran said of the incident. "The Iraqis and the Americans were all singing from the same song sheet, and it was deliberately manipulated."

Republican Jon Porter, now on his fourth trip to Iraq, was taken aback--especially by the bios. "I had never seen that in the past. That's new," he told the Post. "Now I want to see what they're saying about me."

Think Progress has obtained the following copies of the distributed bios of Reps. Moran and Tauscher. ...

[bth: so this gaming. how does it make the military look to congresspeople? It makes them look like frauds and worse it puts into question what every congressman or woman is told by the military or civilians on that tour to Iraq! The military shoots itself in the foot of credibility one more damned time of no good reason. Idiots. The leadership is so afraid of average Americans and Congressmen/woman actually thinking for themselves that they blow their credibility trying to spin.]

Think Progress » U.S. Military Censors ThinkProgress

Think Progress » U.S. Military Censors ThinkProgress: "ThinkProgress is now banned from the U.S. military network in Baghdad. "

Recently, an avid ThinkProgress reader — a U.S. soldier serving his second tour in Iraq — wrote to us and said that he can no longer access ...

The ban began sometime shortly after Aug. 22, when Ret. Maj. Gen. John Batiste was our guest blogger on ThinkProgress. He posted an op-ed that was strongly critical of the President’s policies and advocated a “responsible and deliberate redeployment from Iraq.” Previously, both the Wall Street Journal and Washington Times had rejected the piece. An excerpt:

It is disappointing that so many elected representatives of my [Republican] party continue to blindly support the administration rather than doing what is in the best interests of our country. Traditionally, my party has maintained a conservative view on questions regarding our Armed Forces. For example, we commit our military only when absolutely necessary. […]

The only way to stabilize Iraq and allow our military to rearm and refit for the long fight ahead is to begin a responsible and deliberate redeployment from Iraq and replace the troops with far less expensive and much more effective resources–those of diplomacy and the critical work of political reconciliation and economic recovery. In other words, when it comes to Iraq, it’s time for conservatives to once again be conservative.

Not surprisingly, both the National Review and Fox News are still accessible

Puppet video of Craig denial hits YouTube

Sic Semper Tyrannis 2007: Who is Moqtada al-Sadr?

Sic Semper Tyrannis 2007: Who is Moqtada al-Sadr?: "We ought not to let the comic opera aspects of Moqtada al-Sadr's theatricality deceive us into thinking he is not important in Iraq"

I have listened to much learned discussion of his immaturity, the "cloud" over his father's credentials, the splintered nature of his movement and forces. All true. He does often seem to be channeling" the Mad Mullah stereotype that so thickly populated old movies like "Drums," one of my favorites.

In spite of all that I think he is probably the man of the future in Shia Iraq. The coming departure of the British from the south of Iraq will signal the onset of all out struggle; political, paramilitary, and financial for ultimate authority in the Shia run parts of the country.

Shiism is a social construct (and faith) of the disinherited and hungry. He stands for the Shia poor and their ultimate dreams. The secular world thinks the idea of the return of the Mahdi/Occulted Imam is absurd, that this supposed belief must be a fraud on some level. The poor men who carry guns for Moqtada do not think it is a fraud. they believe that the Mahdi will return soon to restore justice to the earth and that Jesus will come with him.

Moqtada has had a difficult time disciplining his growing "forces." This was inevitable in a grass roots movement made up of human material focused on salvation and looking to him for leadership rather than command.

Whether or not one thinks that he was somehow responsible for the recent tragedy at Karbala, it is now clear that he is going to take the opportunity provided by that event to reform his movement and to seek command of those who say they follow him. We will see if he can do that.

Sadr, IMO, is not really focused on the coalition or the American forces. He is waiting for them to leave. When that happens he will seek to become the power behind the prime minister. pl,0,6258228.story

Sen. John Warner Will Not Seek Re-election in '08 - Politics | Republican Party | Democratic Party | Political Spectrum - Sen. John Warner Will Not Seek Re-election in '08 - Politics | Republican Party | Democratic Party | Political Spectrum: "CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Sen. John Warner, R-Va., announced Friday he will not seek re-election in 2008, concluding a long carreer that has hoisted him to one of the pre-eminent voices on U.S. foreign policy."

The announcement leaves open a seat that is likely to be hotly contested in the Republican-leaning state that has recenty had a tendency to elect Democrats to statewide offices.

[bth: While Sen. Warner isn't the brightest bulb, I felt he was essentially honest and had the interests of the country in mind. I regret his decision to leave. The country needs statesmen. The mediocre, the liars, the shills of this administration and the Pentagon win again. ... And the war rolls on.]

MRAP note the number in this picture

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Note how many are shown in this picture. What is odd is that we have less than 300 in Iraq yet they seem to be showing up constantly in the pictures being allowed out of Iraq. Considering that we have perhaps 35000-50,000 vehicles in Iraq, these same ones seem to be photographed quite a lot. Part of a PR campaign? Anyway, look at all the ones in this convoy.

MRAP engine blown from vehicle

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MRAP engine was blown 100 yards by large conventional IED

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The MRAP crew reportedly survived

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MRAP destroyed with conventional IED

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Pentagon wants to bulk up armored vehicles -

Pentagon wants to bulk up armored vehicles - "WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is rushing to develop added protection for its new Mine Resistant Armor Protected (MRAP) vehicles from the deadliest roadside bombs, military contract records show."

A Pentagon solicitation released Monday calls on contractors to detail their armor solutions "as soon as possible." The move to bulk up MRAPs comes as the Pentagon builds the vehicles as fast as possible, spending at least $700 million to fly them to Iraq.

Though MRAPs offer more protection than armored Humvees against improvised explosive devices, they are vulnerable to bombs called explosively formed penetrators or projectiles (EFPs). These weapons fire a high-speed slug of metal that can cripple even tanks. EFPs account for about 4% of roadside bomb attacks, but they are particularly lethal.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has made rushing MRAPs to Iraq a top Pentagon priority. The program is likely to cost $12 billion through 2008. To date, 280 MRAPs have been sent to Iraq.

The Marine Corps, which issued the solicitation Monday and manages the Pentagon's MRAP program, declined to comment Wednesday on the new request.

MRAPS are the best protection available but "are not fail-safe vehicles," Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said in a briefing Wednesday.

Military officials have known for more than two years that MRAPs need greater EFP protection.

In February 2005, Marines sent an urgent plea for MRAPs capable of accommodating additional armor to "defeat the primary kill mechanisms of explosively formed penetrators and shaped charges." Instead, the Marines sent more armored Humvees.

The Marines and the military's No. 2 commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, sent urgent pleas for more EFP protection for MRAPs in January.

Add-on armor called Frag Kit 6 can stop EFPs, but the kit is too heavy for the new armored vehicles, said Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Military researchers seek lightweight armor that can stop EFPs, records show. The Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is spending about $17 million this year on armor and new structural designs aimed at defeating EFPs, DARPA budget records show.

Military contractors, including Protected Vehicles and Force Protection, have developed anti-EFP armor that could be applied to MRAPs.

"We have a solution that is made up of standard and new materials in a configuration that will defeat a number of the EFP devices," said Jim Tuten, director of research development and armor programs at Protected Vehicles, which is based in North Charleston, S.C. "We have tested it against a number of them at several different government facilities successfully."

Force Protection, a major Pentagon MRAP contractor, has anti-EFP armor in a vehicle called the Mastiff, which it has sold the British military.

[bth: I have to say, nothing in this story is new news though it is reported as such.]

Main and Central: Latest On The Unrest in Karbala

Main and Central: Latest On The Unrest in Karbala: "Gorilla’s Guides has some great reportage and updates on the rioting and death in Karbala, and related fighting and rioting in other cities in the aftermath of the conflict following the attacks near the Imam Hussein shrine. "

The latest update (#5) is dated August 29th and here are some highlights at random:

The casualty toll according local hospitals being quoted by the independent Iraki newsagency Aswat Al Iraq (Voices of Iraq) is 42 dead (including 3 of the fighters who battled green zone forces) and 282 wounded. Update: the latest casualty count is 48 dead 384 wounded.
The city is still under curfew. Pilgrims are being prevented from entering. Although the doors to the shrines are opened. Many pilgrims from outside Karbala are returning to their homes. Maliki has accused the fighting of being caused by “criminal gangs” some of the local religious authorities have issued a statement blaming groups sponsored by Saudi Arabia Aswat AL Iraq’s report points out that Fatwas from Saudi clerics calling for Husseiniyahs and Mosques of the Shia to be destroyed have caused uproar and protests inside and outside Irak. [emph added]

Team members in Karbala say the smell of death and explosive and flames is everywhere in the city. Corpses are being taken from hotels most of the corpses in the little streets are taken now the corpses in the main streets were removed early. The atmosphere they say is very tense. The sound of sirens is everywhere. There are very heavy contingents of interior ministry police and army troops.
Najaf also is under curfew according to team members there.

There is some video available of early rioting on Monday, August 27th. The Guides

Since the Guides are basically picking up Arabic broadcasts as they become available and posting them in the updates, a concise report is very hard to do.

IraqSlogger has reported that Moqtada al-Sadr has given specific instructions that his Mahdi Army is to “stand down” and not join in any fighting.

In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, Sadr directed all his political offices to be closed for three days, and for his fighters to suspend operations until as late as February. Sadr's order specifically called for Sadrists to stop targeting offices of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim's Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), a number of which have been attacked and burned in recent days.
One of his senior aides, Sheikh Hazim al-Araji, read the statement on Iraqi television, saying on Sadr's behalf: “I direct the Mahdi Army to suspend all its activities," for a period "not to exceed six months" until it is restructured in a way that helps honour the principles for which it is formed."

Araji also said that the intent of the pause was to "rehabilitate" the organization, which has reportedly broken into factions.

A Sadr aide told AFP that the suspension of activities was to include a cessation of all armed attacks against "the occupiers or any other groups," explaining, "The aim is to reorganize the militia but not to dismantle it. It is also an effort to root out the rogue elements" in the militant group.

Does this imply that al-Sadr realizes his Mahdi Army (JAM) has been infiltrated by outsiders determined to provoke elements within the organization to commit violence as a means of discrediting it? If so, who?

Hmmm..... who would profit from such actions?

Unsurprisingly, LTG James M Dubik, Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq, told reporters that the whole thing is al-Sadr’s fault.

"The initial indications confirm that elements from Mahdi Army were behind the recent attacks in Karbala," Lt. Gen. James M. Dubik, commander of Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq, told reporters today in Baghdad.
The U.S. commander added "the Iraqi Defense Minister is now in Karbala to investigate the incidents []and who was behind it. The minister will take tough decision against security chiefs who failed to keep order in the city."

After the return of the Iraqi minister to Baghdad, Lt. Gen. Dubik pointed out, "we will have a detailed report on who was behind the attacks. A decision will be taken against them and the party behind them will be chased."

An impartial reader might wonder why the Iraqi Defense Minister must conduct an investigation when LTG Dubik has already determined that Sadrist forces were at fault. One can’t help but wonder whether this would have played out the same way if Saudi Arabia were backing al-Sadr.

Gorillas Guides note about the statement of LTG Dubik that:

While Interior ministry sources are saying that there are indications that the events in Karbala were not spontaneous but the result of outsiders plotting to provoke JAM elements to commit sedition by acting as a type of agent provocateur to provoke less disciplined elements of the Mahdi Army to act as they did in the hope of sparking a Shiite Shiite war.)

* Mark From Ireland asks us to note that the "CCTV" noted here is "Closed Circuit TV" and not "CCTV-9", the English language television channel produced in China, an excellent television source for Chinese history and culture that is available on many cable TV outlets, as well as on DirecTV.

[bth: If I'm reading this right they are saying that Saudi Arabia funded elements of Sadr's army to spark a Shiite on Shiite conflict.]

US Troop Deaths 2007 to 2006 by Month

Informed Comment: "Here are the US troop death via

8-2007 77 8-2006 65
7-2007 79 7-2006 43
6-2007 101 6-2006 61
5-2007 126 5-2006 69
4-2007 104 4-2006 76
3-2007 81 3-2006 31
2-2007 81 2-2006 55
1-2007 83 1-2006 62

[bth: is the surge working now? The Pentagon puts it if casualties go up then its working, if they go down then its working. What a crock.]

The Blotter - Top Taliban Leader Killed in Afghanistan

The Blotter: "Mullah Berader, a top Taliban commander, was killed early this morning in a U.S. air strike in volatile Helmand province, a senior Afghan general tells ABC News."

A convoy of British troops and Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers was traveling through Salwan Qala district when they came under attack by Taliban forces, said Gen. Ghulam Mohiauddin Ghoori, the commander of ANA ground troops for Helmand.

Amid an intense firefight, the British troops called in air support. American warplanes struck the Taliban positions, causing dozens of casualties, said Gen. Ghoori. Among the dead, his men on the ground confirmed, was Mullah Berader

In Kabul, the Defense Ministry also confirmed the report, saying Berader was killed in a pre-dawn raid.

Berader, also known colloquially as Mullah Brother, was close to Taliban leader Mullah Omar. His death will come as a major blow to the Taliban hierarchy and follows the deaths of senior commander Mullah Dadullah Lang in May and the arrest of Defense Minister Mullah Obaidullah in Quetta, Pakistan in March. Many believed Berader succeeded Obaidullah as defense minister, though his exact rank was in dispute.

[bth: I wonder how they can make confirmation so quickly?]

Pakistan troops ambushed by Taliban fighters

Pakistan troops ambushed by Taliban fighters - The Boston Globe: "ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - In an audacious display of force, Taliban fighters yesterday ambushed a convoy of military vehicles in a remote tribal area and took more than 100 Pakistani troops hostage, military and local officials said."...

[bth: wow]

Many Take Army's 'Quick Ship' Bonus -

Many Take Army's 'Quick Ship' Bonus - "More than 90 percent of the Army's new recruits since late July have accepted a $20,000 'quick ship' bonus to leave for basic combat training by the end of September, putting thousands of Americans into uniform almost immediately."...

[bth: personally I think this is a good thing. A new recruit makes about 17K the first year so this is big stuff. I'd rather see the money go to a private than to a private contractor.]

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Analysts: Sadr's militia move 'shrewd tactic'

Middle East Online: "By Bryan Pearson – BAGHDAD Cleric aims at positioning himself for wider political role while ridding himself of rogue elements.

By Bryan Pearson – BAGHDAD

The decision by Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr to order his militia to draw in their claws is a shrewd tactic aimed at positioning himself for a wider political role while ridding himself of rogue elements, analysts said on Thursday.

"He's a very, very shrewd and calculating politician," Adel Darwish, veteran Middle East commentator, said of the influential black-turbaned cleric.

"He'll stay quiet for six months or a year," Darwish said by telephone from London.

Sadr was likely to make his first move when British forces withdraw from Basra in southern Iraq, said Egyptian-born Darwish who has written two books on Iraq, including one on executed dictator Saddam Hussein.

Once the troops have left, "very quietly he'll move in," he predicted.

In the longer term, Sadr is biding his time until the inevitable pullout of all US-led forces from war-ravaged Iraq, said Darwish.

"He's just waiting for the American withdrawal -- once the coalition forces are out they can do whatever they like."

Sadr on Wednesday ordered his Mahdi Army to suspend all armed action for six months after his fighters were suspected of involvement in deadly gunbattles during a Shiite religious festival in the city of Karbala.

The anti-American firebrand denied any role in the violence but went on to order a freeze on the thousands-strong militia, once described by the Pentagon as the biggest threat to stability in the war-ravaged country.

The events at Karbala were an embarrassment to Sadr, according to Joost Hiltermann, the chief Iraq expert at the International Crisis Group think-tank.

"He doesn't want to be seen fighting Shiites right beside the shrines of Imam Hussein and Imam Abbas," said Hiltermann, referring to Shiite Islam's holiest sites in Karbala.

"There are too many loose elements (in the Mahdi Army) and he wants to regain control," he added. "This is purely an internal matter."

Sadr, he said, has no intention of ever disbanding his militia, which according to a December 2006 report by the Iraq Survey Group boasts about 60,000 fighters.

"He needs the Mahdi Army," said Hiltermann. "As long as he has access to violence, the other parties will let him in. He has always played a dual role."

Hiltermann said Sadr's longer term goal was to continue the mission his father, the revered Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr, had begun -- speaking up for Iraq's poorer voiceless classes of Shiites.

"His longer term goal is to confront the Shiite establishment to ensure that the lower or working classes get a fair share of the pie.

"This is essentially the beginning of a social revolution -- the lower classes against the merchant or middle classes. It was started by his father

Sadr organised his Mahdi Army shortly after the US-led invasion in 2003. Since then the militia has become the most active and feared armed Shiite group, blamed by Washington for death-squad killings of thousands of Sunnis.

More recently, however, it has been accused of launching attacks on fellow Shiites in a battle with the powerful Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council for control of towns and cities in the mainly Shiite south.

Analyst Nabil Mohammed Younis, professor of strategic studies at Baghdad University, agreed that the Karbala bloodbath was the catalyst for Sadr's move.

"I think after Karbala he was keen to calm down the activities (of the Mahdi Army) for a while so that no one finds him responsible for what is happening," said Younis.

"He no longer maintains authority over his followers... there are many, many leaders who are acting according to their own interests," he added. "They are not very disciplined and this is part of the problem."

The professor said he believed Sadr will make a move on the political front in the coming months.

"I think he is going to make a decision to go for a position either in the government or parliament, depending how things go in the next few months," he said.

"He will be watching the military situation regarding withdrawal of the American troops," said Younis. "He will take his time, he will watch the happenings on the ground. He will find a suitable time to make such a decision."

[bth: this makes a little more sense. Could it be that the 1920s and Sadr are also getting tired and overextended as well? It is interesting that Sadrs move this week in Karbala was essentially a dash for the cash in the shrines. As for the 1920s if they are taking a 50% protection racket cut from our reconstruction projects in their area not to mention direct pay from the US military - maybe their cash short too. Curious.]

INTEL DUMP - - Hot To Go II [From Iraq]

INTEL DUMP - -: "On Tuesday, the Center for American Progress published a study headed by Larry Korb on the question of how the U.S. might responsibly withdraw from Iraq. The report proceeds from the premise that failing to plan is planning to fail. According to the study's release:"

Those who argue that a withdrawal will have to take place over a number of years, perhaps as many as four, base their analysis on the time it takes to complete a meticulous extraction and dismantling of all U.S. equipment and facilities. As this report will demonstrate, we believe that such an extended timeline increases the danger to U.S. forces and is not cost-effective from a logistical standpoint even though such an approach would presumably result in a complete extraction of all U.S. equipment.

The essential logistical point of disagreement between these approaches centers on the value placed on the equipment that is to be withdrawn. We believe that all essential, sensitive, and costly equipment must be safely withdrawn, but taking out non-vital equipment and the meticulous dismantling of certain facilities with no military value should not be an obstacle to redeploying our troops out of harm’s way in Iraq and back into the fight against terrorism, which national security experts from across the political spectrum agree threatens the United States more than at any time since 9/11.

A phased military redeployment from Iraq over the next 10 to 12 months would begin extracting U.S. troops from Iraq’s internal conflicts immediately and would be completed by the end of 2008. During this timeframe, the military will not replace outgoing troops as they rotate home at the end of their tours and will draw down force and equipment levels gradually, at a pace similar to previous rotations conducted by our military over the past four years. According to a U.S. military official in Baghdad involved in planning, a withdrawal could take place safely in this time period.

Such troop and materiel movements are also not without precedent. As this report will detail, the Pentagon was able to organize the rotation of nearly 235,000 soldiers and their accompanying equipment in the spring of 2004 in and out of Iraq as the forces who led the invasion reached the end of their one-year deployments.
* * *
The obligation to begin organizing the withdrawal requires the Bush administration to begin meticulous planning for our departure from Iraq—and to do so with much more care than they did the invasion and occupation. Yet there is concern over whether the Bush administration has prevented the military from undertaking such planning. When Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) formally asked the Pentagon about U.S. contingency plans for withdrawal from Iraq, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Eric Edelman responded with a formal letter accusing Clinton of aiding enemy propaganda.

Rather than continuing the president’s failed strategy in Iraq and criticizing those who question it, the Pentagon should immediately begin planning a strategic redeployment from Iraq. The time for half-measures and experiments is over; it is now time for a logistically sound strategic redeployment.

Amateurs study tactics; professionals study logistics. The devil is in the details. Planning assumptions and details like how many C-130 turns it will take to move troops between Tikrit and Kuwait, for example, are absolutely critical. Planners must nug out the resources required for this mission, i.e. how much fuel it will take to drive a battalion from Mosul to Kuwait, and then plan for those resources. Air load planners must receive guidance from headquarters on how much stuff will be brought home, and then use that to estimate how many aircraft will be needed. And so on, ad infinitum. The business of planning a massive deployment or redeployment like this is essentially the business of logistics.

I consulted with CAP on this report, and think that it does an excellent job of examining many of the key details and assumptions which will shape any such plan. But the open qustions still loom: how fast should the U.S. pull out, when it eventually (and inevitably) decides to do so? How much stuff should we leave behind? Which Iraqis will we allow to come with us? Who drives and who flies home? Do we want to withdraw more rapidly, in order to minimize our exposure and casualties, or withdraw more slowly, and drag out the process? These are fundamental, strategic decisions which must be made at the highest levels of the U.S. government.

I don't believe that total chaos or genocide are inevitable outcomes in Iraq. Rather, I think we still have a chance to shape the outcome in Iraq, primarily by the way that we choose to leave. We owe it to our own troops, and to the Iraqis, to start figuring this stuff out.
Related Posts (on one page):

How to go II
How to go

Sadr militia to stop attacks on US-led forces in Iraq

The Raw Story | Sadr militia to stop attacks on US-led forces in Iraq: "The militia of Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr will stop attacks on US-led forces during the six-month suspension of its activities ordered on Wednesday, a Sadr aide told AFP."

"The suspension means that the Mahdi Army will stop all armed activities against the occupiers (US-led forces) or any other groups," said Sheikh Ahmed al-Shaibani, a Sadr spokesman in Najaf.

"The aim is to reorganise the militia but not to dismantle it. It is also an effort to root out the rogue elements" in the militant group.

[bth: so what's the deal here? His dash for the cash in the collection boxes of those shrines in Karbala failed so now he's all sweatness and light? .... I look at this statement from Sadr and the one from the 1920s posted below as half completed statements. What's the missing piece here that puts them in perspective? Something is missing and I can't put a finger on it. Is it Iran? Is it the collapse of the imminent Maliki government? Did Sistani have enough?]

New US ‘allies’ in hostages threat

New US ‘allies’ in hostages threat - Times Online: "“JUST walk down the street. Don’t turn back or look around,” said a huge man who was talking on a mobile phone as he approached. He neither paused nor turned his head, but carried on walking. "

Two cars cruised slowly down the road. Fifteen minutes later, the same man reappeared. “Turn left,” he said. Soon afterwards an Audi A6 with tinted windows drew up. In the car was an elegant man in his thirties wearing an Italian suit. “We are very sorry for these complications, but we have to follow security procedures,” he said.

Arranging an appointment with Ibrahim al-Shammari, a representative of the Islamic Army, a leading Sunni insurgent group, had been fraught with tension, even though the meeting was in an Arab capital far from Baghdad. What began as a proposed rendezvous at a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant turned into a James Bond adventure.

The journey took a further hour and a half in two cars. Every now and then, new directions would be issued by phone. At last the car stopped outside a villa. A side door opened and a tall, lithe man with a light grey beard appeared. It was Shammari.

The Islamic Army is one of Iraq’s best known resistance groups, made up largely of former members of Saddam Hussein’s army and security forces. In a turnaround that heartened proponents of the US troop surge, it has lately been firing its weapons at Al-Qaeda in Iraq instead of American soldiers. The US military has been discreetly putting out feelers to the Islamic Army in the hope of winning it over permanently.

But Shammari had an uncompromising message for the Americans. The Islamic Army and other armed factions would agree to talks only if they accepted that the “Islamic resistance” was the legitimate representative of the Iraqi people and agreed to set a clear timetable for withdrawal from Iraq.

The government of Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, was finished, he boasted. “The final countdown has started. It has lost the support of Iraqis and the American people.”

It was hard to disagree when Senator Hillary Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, had just joined a chorus of US politicians demanding Maliki’s removal. She said she hoped the Iraqi parliament would replace him with a “less divisive and more unifying figure”.

Ryan Crocker, the US ambassador in Baghdad, told Time magazine, “the fall of the Maliki government, when it happens, might be a good thing”.

Yet many opponents of the US troop build-up, including Clinton, are coming round to the view that the surge is partially working – at least to the west of Baghdad in Anbar province, where Sunni tribesmen have been aiding Iraqi security forces and the Americans.

According to Shammari, however, the gains in Anbar will be shortlived. He said the Islamic Army had signed a ceasefire with Al-Qaeda in Iraq. The country was to be carved into spheres of influence where the Islamic Army and Al-Qaeda in Iraq could operate independently of each other. It would represent an enormous setback for the surge.

Shammari admitted Al-Qaeda in Iraq was unpopular. “Local people consider them enemy number one. They tyrannised people and killed and assaulted tribal leaders. They lost their bases and supporters and provoked the clans into rising up against them,” he said.

But the Islamic Army resents the way the Americans have tried to turn the infighting in Anbar to their advantage. “We’ve had big problems with Al-Qaeda ever since they began targeting and killing our men,” he said. “Eventually we had to fight back, but we found American troops were exploiting the situation by spreading rumours that exacerbated the conflict.”

The Islamic Army has also noted President George Bush’s comments about the success of the surge. “Bush foolishly announced to the world that all the Sunnis in Iraq were fighting Al-Qaeda so he could claim to have achieved a great victory,” Shammari said. “It’s nonsense.”

The Islamic Army is considering resuming the kidnapping of foreigners as a sign of renewed militancy, Shammari said. In the past, it was responsible for murdering Enzo Baldoni, an Italian journalist, and a number of foreign workers. It also kidnapped two French journalists who were later released.

“Every foreigner in Iraq is a potential target for us no matter what his nationality or religion,” Shammari said. “If he is proven to be a spy, he will be punished and an Islamic court will determine his fate.”

The purpose of taking hostages would not be to kill them, he added. “We want western governments to listen to the Iraqi people and stop supporting the occupation by sending their citizens to Iraq.”

The Islamic Army’s defiance sharpens the dilemma for American forces. Could progress in Anbar quickly unravel? If the US draws down its forces, will the Sunnis take the fight, not to Al-Qaeda, but to the Shi’ite government in Baghdad? And if so, will the US military have helped to build up a brutal sectarian force?

In Baghdad, Colonel Rick Welch, head of reconciliation for the US military command, told The Washington Post earlier this month that Sunni groups had recently provided 5,000 fighters for policing efforts in the capital.

But he admitted that Maliki’s government was “worried that the Sunni tribes may be using mechanisms to build their strength and power and eventually to challenge this government. This is a risk for us all

The National Intelligence Estimate, drawn up by US intelligence agencies and published last week, spelt out similar dangers. “Sunni Arab resistance to Al-Qaeda in Iraq has expanded in the last six to nine months but has not yet translated into broad Sunni Arab support for the Iraqi government or widespread willingness to work with the Shia,” it noted.

Back in the villa, Shammari said Maliki’s government would soon be gone. “The daily contradictions in the statements by American leaders about Iraq prove that the Iraqi resistance is going in the right direction.”

He added: “The next president should take prompt action to withdraw all US troops from Iraq.” And Gordon Brown should follow suit, he said, though he could hardly fail to be aware that plans for British withdrawal in the coming months are already advanced.

“The new prime minister should save Britain from the humiliating stupidity of Tony Blair and Bush and start withdrawing troops from Iraq now,” he said.

[bth: one wonders why this 'spokesperson' gave such an interview and why now. If things are going so swimmingly for him and the US is arming his militia forces so that they can soon attack us, why talk to us? Is it that he wants us to recognize the 1920s are the sole spokesmen for the Sunni insurgency and the nucleaus of a Sunni regional government?]

Sic Semper Tyrannis 2007: "Considering a War With Iran" SOAS

Sic Semper Tyrannis 2007: "Considering a War With Iran" SOAS: "One of our readers asked me to look at this paper. Having done so my opinion is that the authors need to develop a healthy sense of skepticism when confronted with bureaucratic statements of intent with regard to desired capability."

The premise of the paper is that the US possesses the ability to attack 10,000 Iranian targets from a great distance on a nearly simultaneous basis. The authors believe this because the US Strategic Command (old SAC) has as its goal to achieve such a capability and a clutch of think tanks are holding meetings about it.

Just after the first Gulf War a senior civilian colleague approached me to express outrage that the "smart" weapons in use had Pk (probability of kill) rates lower in fact than those promised by the manufacturers. She was surprised when I told her that highly complex equipment (gadgets) never performed as advertised and that they usually broke down just when needed.

The point is that these two academic authors actually believe the "air power" baloney. They think that a renewed attempt to apply the principle of "shock and awe" will result in complete devastation of Iran, Iranian inability to respond and a very short war.

Douhet, Trenchard and Mitchell would be pleased with their gullibility.

In fact such a strike would be merely the opening battle in yet another long war fought against a major piece of the Islamic World.The current IO campaign against Iran makes it seem more and more plausible that such an onslaught will be attempted. pl

Report Finds Little Progress On Iraq Goals -

Report Finds Little Progress On Iraq Goals - "Iraq has failed to meet all but three of 18 congressionally mandated benchmarks for political and military progress, according to a draft of a Government Accountability Office report. The document questions whether some aspects of a more positive assessment by the White House last month adequately reflected the range of views the GAO found within the administration."

The strikingly negative GAO draft, which will be delivered to Congress in final form on Tuesday, comes as the White House prepares to deliver its own new benchmark report in the second week of September, along with congressional testimony from Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker. They are expected to describe significant security improvements and offer at least some promise for political reconciliation in Iraq.

The draft provides a stark assessment of the tactical effects of the current U.S.-led counteroffensive to secure Baghdad. "While the Baghdad security plan was intended to reduce sectarian violence, U.S. agencies differ on whether such violence has been reduced," it states. While there have been fewer attacks against U.S. forces, it notes, the number of attacks against Iraqi civilians remains unchanged. It also finds that "the capabilities of Iraqi security forces have not improved."

"Overall," the report concludes, "key legislation has not been passed, violence remains high, and it is unclear whether the Iraqi government will spend $10 billion in reconstruction funds," as promised. While it makes no policy recommendations, the draft suggests that future administration assessments "would be more useful" if they backed up their judgments with more details and "provided data on broader measures of violence from all relevant U.S. agencies."...

The person who provided the draft report to The Post said it was being conveyed from a government official who feared that its pessimistic conclusions would be watered down in the final version -- as some officials have said happened with security judgments in this month's National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq. Congress requested the GAO report, along with an assessment of the Iraqi security forces by an independent commission headed by retired Marine Gen. James L. Jones, to provide a basis for comparison with the administration's scorecard. The Jones report is also scheduled for delivery next week....

Informed Comment Global Affairs: Post Labor Day Product Rollout: War with Iran (Cross-posted at DailyKos)!

Informed Comment Global Affairs: Post Labor Day Product Rollout: War with Iran (Cross-posted at DailyKos)!: "...This year, on August 28, President Bush spoke to another veterans' group, the American Legion. He called Iran "the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism," whose "active pursuit of technology that could lead to nuclear weapons threatens to put a region already known for instability and violence under the shadow of a nuclear holocaust." He concluded:

Iran's actions threaten the security of nations everywhere. And that is why the United States is rallying friends and allies around the world to isolate the regime, to impose economic sanctions. We will confront this danger before it is too late.

But this apparently is just test marketing, like Cheney's 2002 speech. After all "from a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August." Today I received a message from a friend who has excellent connections in Washington and whose information has often been prescient. According to this report, as in 2002, the rollout will start after Labor Day, with a big kickoff on September 11. My friend had spoken to someone in one of the leading neo-conservative institutions. He summarized what he was told this way:

They [the source's institution] have "instructions" (yes, that was the word used) from the Office of the Vice-President to roll out a campaign for war with Iran in the week after Labor Day; it will be coordinated with the American Enterprise Institute, the Wall Street Journal, the Weekly Standard, Commentary, Fox, and the usual suspects. It will be heavy sustained assault on the airwaves, designed to knock public sentiment into a position from which a war can be maintained. Evidently they don't think they'll ever get majority support for this--they want something like 35-40 percent support, which in their book is "plenty."

Of course I cannot verify this report. But besides all the other pieces of information about this circulating, I heard last week from a former U.S. government contractor. According to this friend, someone in the Department of Defense called, asking for cost estimates for a model for reconstruction in Asia. The former contractor finally concluded that the model was intended for Iran. This anecdote is also inconclusive, but it is consistent with the depth of planning that went into the reconstruction effort in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I hesitated before posting this. I don't want to spread alarmist rumors. I don't want to lessen the pressure on the Ahmadinejad government in Tehran. But there are too many signs of another irresponsible military adventure from the Cheney-Bush administration for me just to dismiss these reports. I am putting them into the public sphere in the hope of helping to mobilize opposition to a policy that would further doom the efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq and burden our country and the people of the Middle East with yet another unstoppable fountain of bloodshed.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

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Bush Wants $50 Billion More for Iraq War -

Bush Wants $50 Billion More for Iraq War - "President Bush plans to ask Congress next month for up to $50 billion in additional funding for the war in Iraq, a White House official said yesterday, a move that appears to reflect increasing administration confidence that it can fend off congressional calls for a rapid drawdown of U.S. forces."

The request -- which would come on top of about $460 billion in the fiscal 2008 defense budget and $147 billion in a pending supplemental bill to fund the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq -- is expected to be announced after congressional hearings scheduled for mid-September featuring the two top U.S. officials in Iraq. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker will assess the state of the war and the effect of the new strategy the U.S. military has pursued this year....

Army of Dude: Stupid Shit of The Deployment Awards!

Army of Dude: Stupid Shit of The Deployment Awards!: "At the end of our fifteen month deployment, it seemed fitting to resurrect the Stupid Shit series started over a year ago under the gray Washington sky. I envisioned a weekly edition but quickly realized a deployment is a constant parade of ridiculous, asinine, over the top moments that are too numerous to keep track of, and much too difficult to explain in full."

These entries come to you in a fury of writing during the few precious days we have inside the wire. Ever since Baghdad we’ve left the comfort and safety of our huge bases to venture out into the city for as little as two or as much as eight days at a time. There is a direct correlation between the amount of operation activity and the amount of stupid shit that gets piled onto us. As the workload increases, so does the shit, eloquently described as stupid here on out.

Most of the candidates for Stupid Shit of The Deployment, then, come from our stay here in Baqubah. Our operation tempo went from back breaking in Baghdad to soul crushing in Diyala Province. Gone were the days of adequate rest for the trucks and ourselves. Often we’d spend five days out in an Iraqi’s house, sleeping on the roof with lice infested mats and pillows, only to come in for a scant few hours for fuel and a shower (if time permitted). For reasons unknown to anyone, we’d arrive as the chow hall was closing and everyone would make a mad dash for the scraps left over. Stupid, indeed.

So without further ado, the nominees for Stupid Shit of The Deployment:

Working with 1920s – A Sunni insurgent group we’ve been battling for months, responsible for the death of my friend and numerous attacks, agreed to fight Al Qaeda alongside us. Since then, they’ve grown into a much more organized, lethal force. They use this organization to steal cars and intimidate and torture the local population, or anyone they accuse of being linked to Al Qaeda. The Gestapo of the 21st century, sanctioned by the United States Army.

The Surge – The beefing up of ground forces in Iraq at the beginning of the year, started by the 82nd Airborne. Unit deployments were moved up several months to maintain a higher level of boots on the ground to quell the Baghdad situation. What most don’t realize is the amount of actual fighting troops in a brigade, something in the area of 2,000 soldiers in a brigade of 5,000 depending on what unit it is. So for every 2,000 fighters, there are 3,000 pencil pushers sucking up resources in every brigade that was surged. A logistical nightmare that, surprise, failed miserably. The increase of troops in Baghdad pushed the insurgents to rural areas (like Diyala), hence our move here in March. The surge was nothing more than a thorn in the side of nomadic fighters having to move thirty five miles while the generals watched Baghdad with stubborn eyes.

Two Companies Clearing Baqubah – Which brings us to the next nominee. Since Baghdad was the showcase of the war and Baqubah was brimming with super IEDs taking our Bradleys and Abrams tanks, it was decided that a unit needed to be sent there to assist the cavalry unit who averaged a death per week. But how many to send? Someone, somehow, somewhere decided that two companies of Strykers would be adequate to take down what Al Qaeda had deemed their headquarters in Iraq. What came about this oversight? Two hours into the first mission, my friend was killed in a massive IED blast that busted the hell out of the squad leader’s face, resulting in traumatic brain injury and facial reconstruction surgery. The vehicle commander tore his ACL from the concussion. Shrapnel being thrown around the inside of the truck caught one dude in the knee as a dude in the back hatch got rattled around, bruising his back as the other in the hatch was thrown completely out the vehicle. He’s been quiet since then, and was sent home soon after. Returning fire from us and the Bradleys killed an untold number of kids unlucky enough to be in the school next to our position. A wrecker sent out to pick up the destroyed Stryker was the next victim of an IED explosion, killing two men inside. Two more wreckers were sent out, one for the Stryker, one for the now totaled wrecker. As we pulled out that evening, local Iraqis, men, women and children, danced in celebration by the massive crater where the Stryker had been. At once we realized reinforcements were needed but we didn’t get any for two more months. Many more men were killed because we were stretched to our operational breaking point. But there was always more to do. Whoever made the decision to send less than an infantry battalion should be in jail right now.

The Extension – This wasn’t too much of a surprise to us, as we knew in the back of our minds that an extension was in our future. What was surprising was the fact that everyone in Iraq was extended to fifteen month deployments. It was meant to give every unit at least a year in between deployments, as some were coming back to Iraq after only ten months back in the states. Now at the end, it’s not hard to assess the achievements of our three extra months. It seems at a quick glance that we pacified the city, street by street. There was a lull in American deaths because, simply, we absorbed all the bomb blasts or found the IEDs before they could detonate on us. As deadly as they are, deep buried IEDs must take a lot of time to build and emplace. The ones used against us were meant for the cavalry unit, who didn’t have the manpower to patrol the streets like we have been. After we arrived, there were few bombs that haven’t been sitting in the ground for several months already. The enemy ran out of ways to kill us until the ingenious idea of putting bombs in houses took hold. Instead of blowing us up in armored vehicles, they thought about doing it inside an abandoned house. What kills you isn’t the bomb, but the foundation of the house that comes crashing down after the explosion. Wires and triggers are hidden behind doors or underneath rugs, so when we go out and clear blocks and blocks of houses, there’s a pressure plate waiting for you at the foot of the stairs. Only your eyes can save you at this point. That tactic has been born from our proclivity to redundantly clear neighborhoods, and the extension is guilty of claiming lives of men who are running on too little sleep, walking into house after house in the desert heat. When you’re worried about how much water you have left and the trucks are too far away to get more, you tend to miss the trip wire in the dark stairwell. Twelve month deployments are a burden on your body and mind. Asking men for three more months is not only unfair but deadly.

Seven Men Killed At The Same Time – Finally, one of the lowest, saddest points of the deployment came in May. One night, a helicopter spotted several men gathered in the road with a large object. Permission was asked to fire a Hellfire missile at them, as they were obvious IED emplacers. Permission was emphatically denied, but someone decided that a Stryker platoon should head out there anyway to check it out. In tow was a Russian reporter. On a road called Trash Alley, they hit a massive deep buried IED. Everyone in the truck except the driver, six Americans and one Russian, dead. And they didn’t need to be there at all. A helicopter could have killed the insurgents with breathtaking ease. Instead, those guys and the one with the detonator got away in the night. Justice was never done.

And now the moment you've been waiting for. The (dubious) winner of Stupid Shit of The Deployment is:

Two Companies Clearing Baqubah!

While each nominee was unique and shameful in its own way, this outshined them all in how much death and maiming occurred after the fact. Sure, the surge was the cataclysmic event that brought about everything, but the decision to go into the Al Qaeda mother ship with less than a battalion of men was one of the most reckless, foolhardy missteps of the Long War and should go down in the history books as such. In a few weeks we’ll be coming back to the states without our brothers because someone saw a chance for glory and decided to take it. I hope the full birds and the stars were worth our blood.

What has been bothering me this whole deployment is the brevity and formality in which the media handles the death of soldiers. It always goes, “PFC John Smith, Norman, Oklahoma, killed by enemy small arms fire in Baghdad. Assigned to 1/43 Engineers, Third Infantry Division.” What a crock to read that in a paper. It would be wholly appropriate to dedicate a full color photo and a real biography in every paper in America. The anonymity of dead soldiers would evaporate and the public would be forced to look at the faces of the fallen. Would it set in progress change? Perhaps. It certainly would go to show that we’re out here every day, dying for an ideal long forgotten. As for me, I started to sign these entries with my initials long ago to avoid detection by superiors. I could and still can get in trouble for what I’ve written. Lately this blog has been passed around to dudes of every rank, and those who would be punishing me have become readers. So it’s no longer necessary to be sneaky and secretive, another anonymous soldier. My name is Alex Horton, and I’m a 22 year old from Frisco, Texas. I can recite Pulp Fiction line by line and my favorite color is blue. I want to be a journalist when I grow up, and I want to see every part of the world. For the first time in my life I’m an avid reader. Fifteen months here has been fifteen months away from Lauren, the girl I’m crazy about. This wouldn’t be much of a blog without her, as she’s the inspiration for anything creative coming out of me, my beautiful muse.

In the future, I want my children to grow up with the belief that what I did here was wrong, in a society that doesn’t deem that idea unpatriotic.

Herbert Hoover said, "Older men declare war. But it is the youth who must fight and die." These are the young men we can’t afford to go without. Brian Chevalier and Jesse Williams, George Bush and Secretary Gates, we’re all flesh and blood. Every life is sacred. You probably don’t know the names of the first two. But you should.


[bth: It is interesting to note the stunningly heartfelt comments which followed this post from readers (see original source). Y

ou see this is where someone handling media in the military has got it right while the bulk of the PR shills have got it wrong. Someone let this blog get published while most are shut down.

This type of original commentary from a 22 year old enlisted soldier cuts through the crap of Fox or CNN or some PR shill and talks to Americans. Let me say that again - IT TALKS TO AMERICANS. Read the commentary on the original post - people get it.

So it isn't a managed message (at least I hope not). So it isn't pro war "all is well", it certainly isn't the cut and run blather the Pentagon and this President are so afraid of either. It speaks to the 70% of America that turned off the President and other professional liars months ago. The military had better open things up and let average soldiers use their blogs. There are I suspect 100 Hortons for every nutter. Americans don't believe a damn thing the Pentagon or the President say anymore, but they will believe their neighbor's kid who is over in Iraq.

If someone from the Pentagon or their PR contracting agencies reads this post let me put it straight - ITS ABOUT TRUST! This soldier has it. You don't. So stop whining about how OBL uses the internet from a freakin cave so effectively or how some Iraqi with 2 hours of electricity can be so effective in 4th generation warfare bullshit. Its the message stupid!

Give your 160,000 soldiers and marines the ability to speak freely via the internet to the American people. And yes, you folks at the Pentagon risk losing being able to manage the message or whatever it is you claim to do and sure as shit grass roots democracy sprouts and normal Americans can communicate with their neighbors kid stuck in some hot and shit filled place. But at least Americans will listen. Think! They will listen. Are they listening to the managed message anymore? -- Think!]

Army of Dude: Dude!

Army of Dude: Dude!: "I must say, this past week has been quite exciting. On the morning of August 25, half my company convoyed in filthy and battered Strykers from Baqubah to Taji, our final mission of the deployment. Taji was our second home in Iraq and our springboard into Baghdad during the winter months. Now it acts as a staging area to get equipment, vehicles and men home next month."

Every trivial action was exhilarating when you realize it’s the last time you’ll ever do it. Loading a magazine, chambering a round, catching a warm desert breeze in your face going down the road for the final time. The air of finality is intoxicating, and you can feel it in your bones and see it in the face of everyone around you. A great burden was lifted as soon as we pulled into the wire and safety of Taji. We flew from Kuwait to Mosul on July 21, 2006, 72 hours after my twenty-first birthday. We ended operations on August 25, 2007. For exactly 400 days we held onto our humanity the best we could, sometimes forgetting we had it. The day we got to Baqubah and a Stryker had already been destroyed by an IED, I was on a rooftop with a bird’s eye view of everything around. Rockets and tracers were going overhead and buildings were catching fire. I looked at the carnage happening below, with my heart in my throat, and repeated in my head, how are we going to get out of this? How are we going to get out of this? I didn’t even know my friend was dead yet.

But everything that has a beginning has an end. After 400 days, we’re done. Over with! For my French readers, Le Fin. In a few short weeks we’ll return home with happy, yet heavy, hearts. Thanks to the recent L.A. Times article that quoted me and likely brought you here, my readership has grown exponentially. And with it, come the doubters and naysayers who question the accuracy and integrity of my writing (a soldier who doesn’t spew administration talking points? Has the whole world gone bonkers?!). All this attention is new and strange to me, so I googled myself to see what is out there. I came across a message board thread on a military website titled: Army of Dude: Is Alex Horton a real person? Why, yes. Yes I am. I am not a figment of someone’s imagination and I’m not a fiction writer. I wish I was that creative. In light of Beauchamp’s recent adventures, some have sneered that I should write for The New Republic (a shot at my supposedly doubtful credibility). I’m not sure my word means anything on the internet, but if you’re really adamant about busting me, blogosphere, give it a try!

I’m glad to have a bigger forum than a week ago, regardless of the critical fallout. The intention of this blog from day one was to chronicle my experiences in a way for people to understand and interpret what was going on beyond what was being filtered, distilled and spat out of the mainstream media. When the deputy prime minister came to Baqubah for the first time a few weeks ago, an envoy of officers followed. Captains, lieutenant colonels and generals all took part in the tour of the local shops and visits with the residents. We were ordered to stay out of any pictures taken. Why? To falsely show that the Iraqi Army was in charge and we were on the sidelines.

In the last month of the deployment, on one of our few days off, we risked our lives so the Army, at some level, could throw a rose colored lens onto a news camera for the benefit of...I don’t know who.

Later on that day, a two star general got on our truck to be escorted back to the base. The captains and colonels around him talked about how Diyala was really shaping up and that Baqubah would be a shining example of the surge in no time, thanks in part by the 1920s! This was great for me to see and hear, because I finally got it. It took me fifteen months, but my epiphany was complete. Generals see Iraq in a unique way for two reasons. One, they take the word of anyone under them, which will almost always be positive no matter what. I doubt many have the guts to tell a general that things aren’t going exactly as planned. And two, they view Iraq in quick spurts with over-the-top security measures. I took a picture of the mob next to the deputy prime minister’s SUV, and there was an entourage of no less than fifteen American and Iraqi soldiers in a span of ten feet. Needless to say, the two star was well protected. We’ve walked the most dangerous streets on planet earth with less people. Surprise, some of us have a different perspective on the way this country is going.

I’m not a radical or an extremist, as you might think. My biggest fans are in my platoon. The most common thing I hear from them is, this is what I’ve been thinking the whole time. So my thoughts and ruminations aren’t entirely unique. I just simply have the attention of people to tell it to in the country we left behind fifteen months ago.

President Eisenhower warned of the growing military industrial complex in his farewell address. Since Dick Cheney can now afford solid gold oil derricks, it’s safe to say we failed Ike miserably. After losing two friends and over a dozen comrades, I have this to say:

Do not wage war unless it is absolutely, positively the last ditch effort for survival.

I was a struggling senior in high school when the invasion took place, and I supported it. I was mesmerized by the way we raced across the desert and took Baghdad in less than a month. War was a sleek, glossy commercial on TV, and we always won at the end. It’s easy to be for a war when you have absolutely no connection with it. Patriotism lead me to believe what we were doing was right and noble. What a difference a deployment can make.

The public can do something about this. It doesn’t have to be a hopeless cause forever. Write your Congressmen, go to a rally, read as much as you can about Iraq to see it for what it is: a place men go to lose their minds and their lives. And most importantly, love your children. Teach them that war is not honorable, it’s no plaything cast with an indifferent hand. It’s the most terrible thing man ever brought to the world. My generation didn’t learn from Vietnam, but the next one can learn from us. The memories and spirit of Chevy and Jesse compel you, America. Do not forget your fallen sons


[bth: a stunning commentary.]

The Raw Story | Study: US preparing 'massive' military attack against Iran

The Raw Story | Study: US preparing 'massive' military attack against Iran: "The United States has the capacity for and may be prepared to launch without warning a massive assault on Iranian uranium enrichment facilities, as well as government buildings and infrastructure, using long-range bombers and missiles, according to a new analysis.

The paper, "Considering a war with Iran: A discussion paper on WMD in the Middle East" – written by well-respected British scholar and arms expert Dr. Dan Plesch, Director of the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London, and Martin Butcher, a former Director of the British American Security Information Council (BASIC) and former adviser to the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament – was exclusively provided to RAW STORY late Friday under embargo.

"We wrote the report partly as we were surprised that this sort of quite elementary analysis had not been produced by the many well resourced Institutes in the United States," wrote Plesch in an email to Raw Story on Tuesday.

Plesch and Butcher examine "what the military option might involve if it were picked up off the table and put into action" and conclude that based on open source analysis and their own assessments, the US has prepared its military for a "massive" attack against Iran, requiring little contingency planning and without a ground invasion.

The study concludes that the US has made military preparations to destroy Iran’s WMD, nuclear energy, regime, armed forces, state apparatus and economic infrastructure within days if not hours of President George W. Bush giving the order. The US is not publicising the scale of these preparations to deter Iran, tending to make confrontation more likely. The US retains the option of avoiding war, but using its forces as part of an overall strategy of shaping Iran’s actions.

Any attack is likely to be on a massive multi-front scale but avoiding a ground invasion. Attacks focused on WMD facilities would leave Iran too many retaliatory options, leave President Bush open to the charge of using too little force and leave the regime intact.

US bombers and long range missiles are ready today to destroy 10,000 targets in Iran in a few hours.

US ground, air and marine forces already in the Gulf, Iraq, and Afghanistan can devastate Iranian forces, the regime and the state at short notice.

Some form of low level US and possibly UK military action as well as armed popular resistance appear underway inside the Iranian provinces or ethnic areas of the Azeri, Balujistan, Kurdistan and Khuzestan. Iran was unable to prevent sabotage of its offshore-to-shore crude oil pipelines in 2005.

Nuclear weapons are ready, but most unlikely, to be used by the US, the UK and Israel. The human, political and environmental effects would be devastating, while their military value is limited.

Israel is determined to prevent Iran acquiring nuclear weapons yet has the conventional military capability only to wound Iran’s WMD programmes.

The attitude of the UK is uncertain, with the Brown government and public opinion opposed psychologically to more war, yet, were Brown to support an attack he would probably carry a vote in Parliament. The UK is adamant that Iran must not acquire the bomb.

The US is not publicising the scale of these preparations to deter Iran, tending to make confrontation more likely. The US retains the option of avoiding war, but using its forces as part of an overall strategy of shaping Iran’s actions.
When asked why the paper seems to indicate a certainty of Iranian WMD, Plesch made clear that "our paper is not, repeat not, about what Iran actually has or not." Yet, he added that "Iran certainly has missiles and probably some chemical capability."

Most significantly, Plesch and Butcher dispute conventional wisdom that any US attack on Iran would be confined to its nuclear sites. Instead, they foresee a "full-spectrum approach," designed to either instigate an overthrow of the government or reduce Iran to the status of "a weak or failed state." Although they acknowledge potential risks and impediments that might deter the Bush administration from carrying out such a massive attack, they also emphasize that the administration's National Security Strategy includes as a major goal the elimination of Iran as a regional power. They suggest, therefore, that:

This wider form of air attack would be the most likely to delay the Iranian nuclear program for a sufficiently long period of time to meet the administration’s current counterproliferation goals. It would also be consistent with the possible goal of employing military action is to overthrow the current Iranian government, since it would severely degrade the capability of the Iranian military (in particular revolutionary guards units and other ultra-loyalists) to keep armed opposition and separatist movements under control. It would also achieve the US objective of neutralizing Iran as a power in the region for many years to come.

However, it is the option that contains the greatest risk of increased global tension and hatred of the United States. The US would have few, if any allies for such a mission beyond Israel (and possibly the UK). Once undertaken, the imperatives for success would be enormous.
Butcher says he does not believe the US would use nuclear weapons, with some exceptions.

"My opinion is that [nuclear weapons] wouldn't be used unless there was definite evidence that Iran has them too or is about to acquire them in a matter of days/weeks," notes Butcher. "However, the Natanz facility has been so hardened that to destroy it MAY require nuclear weapons, and once an attack had started it may simply be a matter of following military logic and doctrine to full extent, which would call for the use of nukes if all other means failed."

Military Strategy

The bulk of the paper is devoted to a detailed analysis of specific military strategies for such an attack, of ongoing attempts to destabilize Iran by inciting its ethnic minorities, and of the considerations surrounding the possible employment of nuclear weapons.

In particular, Plesch and Butcher examine what is known as Global Strike – the capability to project military power from the United States to anywhere in the world, which was announced by STRATCOM as having initial operational capability in December 2005. It is the that capacity that could provide strategic bombers and missiles to devastate Iran on just a few hours notice.

Iran has a weak air force and anti aircraft capability, almost all of it is 20-30 years old and it lacks modern integrated communications. Not only will these forces be rapidly destroyed by US air power, but Iranian ground and air forces will have to fight without protection from air attack.

British military sources stated on condition of anonymity, that "the US military switched its whole focus to Iran" from March 2003. It continued this focus even though it had infantry bogged down in fighting the insurgency in Iraq.

Global Strike could be combined with already-existing "regional operational plans for limited war with Iran, such as Oplan 1002-04, for an attack on the western province of Kuzhestan, or Oplan 1019 which deals with preventing Iran from closing the Straits of Hormuz, and therefore keeping open oil lanes vital to the US economy."

The Marines are not all tied down fighting in Iraq. Several Marine forces are assembling in the Gulf, each with its own aircraft carrier. These carrier forces can each conduct a version of the D-Day landings. They come with landing craft, tanks, jump-jets, thousands of troops and hundreds more cruise missiles. Their task is to destroy Iranian forces able to attack oil tankers and to secure oilfields and installations. They have trained for this mission since the Iranian revolution of 1979 as is indicated in this battle map of Hormuz illustrating an advert for combat training software.

Special Forces units – which are believed to already be operating within Iran – would be available to carry out search-and-destroy missions and incite internal uprisings, while US Army units in both Iraq and Afghanistan could mount air and missile attacks on Iranian forces, which are heavily concentrated along the Iran-Iraq border, as well as protecting their own supply lines within Iraq:

A key assessment in any war with Iran concerns Basra province and the Kuwait border. It is likely that Iran and its sympathizers could take control of population centres and interrupt oil supplies, if it was in their interest to do so. However it is unlikely that they could make any sustained effort against Kuwait or interrupt supply lines north from Kuwait to central Iraq. US firepower is simply too great for any Iranian conventional force.
Experts question the report's conclusions

Former CIA analyst and Deputy Director for Transportation Security, Antiterrorism Assistance Training, and Special Operations in the State Department's Office of Counterterrorism, Larry Johnson, does not agree with the report’s findings.

"The report seems to accept without question that US air force and navy bombers could effectively destroy Iran and they seem to ignore the fact that US use of air power in Iraq has failed to destroy all major military, political, economic and transport capabilities," said Johnson late Monday after the embargo on the study had been lifted.

"But at least in their conclusions they still acknowledge that Iran, if attacked, would be able to retaliate. Yet they are vague in terms of detailing the extent of the damage that the Iran is capable of inflicting on the US and fairly assessing what those risks are."

There is also the situation of US soldiers in Iraq and the supply routes that would have to be protected to ensure that US forces had what they needed. Plesch explains that “"firepower is an effective means of securing supply routes during conventional war and in conventional war a higher loss rate is expected."

"However as we say do not assume that the Iraqi Shiia will rally to Tehran – the quietist Shiia tradition favoured by Sistani may regard itself as justified if imploding Iranian power can be argued to reduce US problems in Iraq, not increase them."

John Pike, Director of Global Security, a Washington-based military, intelligence, and security clearinghouse, says that the question of Iraq is the one issue at the center of any questions regarding Iran.

"The situation in Iraq is a wild card, though it may be presumed that Iran would mount attacks on the US at some remove, rather than upsetting the apple-cart in its own front yard," wrote Pike in an email.

Political Considerations

Plesch and Butcher write with concern about the political context within the United States:

This debate is bleeding over into the 2008 Presidential election, with evidence mounting that despite the public unpopularity of the war in Iraq, Iran is emerging as an issue over which Presidential candidates in both major American parties can show their strong national security bona fides. ...

The debate on how to deal with Iran is thus occurring in a political context in the US that is hard for those in Europe or the Middle East to understand. A context that may seem to some to be divorced from reality, but with the US ability to project military power across the globe, the reality of Washington DC is one that matters perhaps above all else. ...

We should not underestimate the Bush administration's ability to convince itself that an "Iran of the regions" will emerge from a post-rubble Iran. So, do not be in the least surprised if the United States attacks Iran. Timing is an open question, but it is hard to find convincing arguments that war will be avoided, or at least ones that are convincing in Washington.

Plesch and Butcher are also interested in the attitudes of the current UK government, which has carefully avoided revealing what its position might be in the case of an attack. They point out, however, "One key caution is that regardless of the realities of Iran’s programme, the British public and elite may simply refuse to participate – almost out of bloody minded revenge for the Iraq deceit."

And they conclude that even "if the attack is 'successful' and the US reasserts its global military dominance and reduces Iran to the status of an oil-rich failed state, then the risks to humanity in general and to the states of the Middle East are grave indeed."

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

[bth: I can't tell if these guys are for real or full of shit. I mean really, of course we could drop missiles and launch aircraft at Iran and sure Iran has a crappy air force, etc. etc. Do these guys know something or are they writing about their own board game experiences?

One thing I know for sure, these guys don't mention what Iran can do in retaliation. For one thing the could cut our supply lines in Iraq and make life a living hell for our soldiers. For another they could attack Israel and Saudi Arabia directly or through surrogates. That Syria and Hezbollah have mutual defense arrangements seems to be forgotten. That Iran can and probably will launch massive worldwide terrorism attacks against the US both within our borders and outside of them also seems to be missed by every neocon and military report I've read that suggests air and sea power will solve our problems.

Last, I would just note that 85% of our prisoners in Iraq are Sunni - not Shea and I don't see records on Iranians at all.]

Bush vows to crack down on Iran in Iraq - On Deadline -

Bush vows to crack down on Iran in Iraq - On Deadline - "USA TODAY's David Jackson reports that President Bush vowed today to crack down on Iranian interference in the Iraq war, saying he told his military commanders "to confront Tehran's activities."

Bush challenged Iran in a speech to the American Legion in which he argued that a free Iraq will lead to a more peaceful Middle East and therefore enhance the security of the United States.

"For the sake of our security, we will pursue our enemies," Bush said. "We will persevere and we will prevail."

Bush said both Sunni and Shiite extremism threaten the Middle East, and singled out Iran as a particular threat. He claimed Iranian involvement in roadside bombs that have killed U.S. soldiers.

Speaking to the American Legion's annual convention in Reno, Nevada, Bush also called for new laws on flag protection and pledged to improve veterans' health care.

It was Bush's second terrorism speech in as many weeks, less than a month before a highly anticipated progress report in Iraq is due to be delivered to Congress....

Iraqi insurgents taking cut of U.S. rebuilding money

McClatchy Washington Bureau | 08/27/2007 | Iraqi insurgents taking cut of U.S. rebuilding money: "BAGHDAD — Iraq's deadly insurgent groups have financed their war against U.S. troops in part with hundreds of thousands of dollars in U.S. rebuilding funds that they've extorted from Iraqi contractors in Anbar province. "

The payments, in return for the insurgents' allowing supplies to move and construction work to begin, have taken place since the earliest projects in 2003, Iraqi contractors, politicians and interpreters involved with reconstruction efforts said.

A fresh round of rebuilding spurred by the U.S. military's recent alliance with some Anbar tribes — 200 new projects are scheduled — provides another opportunity for militant groups such as al Qaeda in Iraq to siphon off more U.S. money, contractors and politicians warn.

"Now we're back to the same old story in Anbar. The Americans are handing out contracts and jobs to terrorists, bandits and gangsters," said Sheik Ali Hatem Ali Suleiman, the deputy leader of the Dulaim, the largest and most powerful tribe in Anbar. He was involved in several U.S. rebuilding contracts in the early days of the war, but is now a harsh critic of the U.S. presence.

The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad declined to provide anyone to discuss the allegations. An embassy spokesman, Noah Miller, said in an e-mailed statement that, "in terms of contracting practices, we have checks and balances in our contract awarding system to prevent any irregularities from occurring. Each contracted company is responsible for providing security for the project."

Providing that security is the source of the extortion, Iraqi contractors say. A U.S. company with a reconstruction contract hires an Iraqi sub-contractor to haul supplies along insurgent-ridden roads. The Iraqi contractor sets his price at up to four times the going rate because he'll be forced to give 50 percent or more to gun-toting insurgents who demand cash payments in exchange for the supply convoys' safe passage.

One Iraqi official said the arrangement makes sense for insurgents. By granting safe passage to a truck loaded with $10,000 in goods, they receive a "protection fee" that can buy more weapons and vehicles. Sometimes the insurgents take the goods, too.

"The violence in Iraq has developed a political economy of its own that sustains it and keeps some of these terrorist groups afloat," said Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh, who recently asked the U.S.-led coalition to match the Iraqi government's pledge of $230 million for Anbar projects.

Despite several devastating U.S. military offensives to rout insurgents, the militants - or, in some cases, tribes with insurgent connections - still control the supply routes of the province, making reconstruction all but impossible without their protection.

One senior Iraqi politician with personal knowledge of the contracting system said the insurgents also use their cuts to pay border police in Syria "to look the other way" as they smuggle weapons and foot soldiers into Iraq.

"Every contractor in Anbar who works for the U.S. military and survives for more than a month is paying the insurgency," the politician said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. "The contracts are inflated, all of them. The insurgents get half."

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said he was aware of the "insurgent tax" that U.S.-allied contractors are forced to pay in Anbar, though he said it wasn't clear how much money was going to militant groups and how much to opportunistic tribesmen operating on their own.

"It's part of a taxation they put on trucks through all these territories, but it's very difficult to establish if it's going directly to insurgents," Zebari said.

As of July, the U.S. government had completed 3,300 projects in Anbar with a total value of $363 million, the U.S. embassy said. Another 250 projects with a total price tag of $353 million are under way.

Saleh, the deputy prime minister, said dealing with such huge amounts of money in such a volatile place means corruption is inevitable and that some projects cost far more than they should. But despite qualms, he believes the effort is worth it.

"I'm a realist," he said. "When I look at my options, will I have a 100 percent clean process? No. But will this force me to hold back? Absolutely not."

Suleiman, the Dulaimi sheikh and onetime U.S. ally, speaks more bitterly. Sitting in his Baghdad office, he displayed a stack of photos and status updates for projects that included two schools, a clinic and a water purification center. The photos showed crumbling, half-finished structures surrounded by overgrown weeds and patchworks of electrical wires. He blamed such failures on "the terrorists" who work under the noses of U.S. and Iraqi officials.

"Those responsible for these projects had to give money to al Qaida. Frankly, gunmen control contracting in Anbar," he said. "Even now, the thefts are unbelievable, and I have no idea where those millions are going."

None of the Iraqi contractors agreed to speak on the record - they risk losing future U.S. contracts and face retaliation from insurgent groups. Some of the Iraqis interviewed remain in Fallujah or Ramadi on the U.S. payroll; others had fled to Arab countries and Europe after they deemed the business too risky.

"I put it right in my contracts as a line item for 'logistics and security,'" said one Iraqi contractor who is still working for a major American company with several long-term projects in Anbar. "The Americans think you're hiring a security company, but how you execute it is something else entirely. This is how it's been working since Day 1."

One Iraqi contractor who is working on an American-funded rebuilding project in the provincial capital of Ramadi said he faced two choices when he wanted to bring in a crane, heavy machinery and workers from Baghdad: either hire a private security company to escort the supplies for up to $6,000 a truck, or pay off locals with insurgent connections.

He chose the latter, and got $120,000 for a U.S. contract he estimates to be worth no more than $20,000. The contractor asked that specific details of the project not be disclosed for fear he'll be identified and lose the job.

"The insurgents always remind us they're there," the contractor said. "Sometimes they hijack a truck or kidnap a driver and then we pay and, if we're lucky, we get our goods returned. It's just to make sure we know how it works.

"Insurgents control the roads," he added. "Americans don't control the roads - and everything from Syria and Jordan goes through there."

Another Iraqi contractor with several U.S. rebuilding contracts said he's been trying to avoid paying off insurgents by strengthening his relationship with reputable tribal leaders in Anbar.

In one contract for a major U.S. company, the contractor said, he gave cash payments to tribal leaders and trusted them to buy the goods in Anbar instead of having to pay insurgents to bring the goods in from Baghdad. He said the tribesmen took photos as proof that they used the money properly and had to hide the supplies in their homes for fear insurgents would find out they'd been left out of the deal.

The contractor said such scenarios are extremely rare and very dangerous. More typical, he said, was a recent order he took to haul gravel to U.S. bases in Anbar.

"If I do it in the Green Zone, it's just putting gravel in Hesco bags and it would be about $16,000," the contractor said. "But they needed it for Ramadi and Fallujah. I submitted an invoice for $120,000 and I'd say about $100,000 of that went to the mujahideen," as Iraqis sometimes call Sunni insurgents.

An Iraqi who used to work as an interpreter for Titan Corp., the U.S. company that supplies local interpreters to U.S. forces in Iraq, said he witnessed countless incidents of insurgents shaking down contractors during the two years he spent as a translator in the "Engineering Operations Room" on a U.S. military base in Anbar. The man, a Fallujah native who has since fled to the United Arab Emirates, spoke on condition of anonymity because he hasn't ruled out returning to Iraq now that Anbar construction is on the upswing.

He said he was stunned when, from early 2004 to his departure in summer 2006, a parade of sheikhs with known insurgent connections were awarded contracts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The interpreter said that on several occasions contractors pleaded with American officials for protection and told them that gunmen were shaking them down for large sums of cash.

In a project to rebuild Dam Street in Fallujah, the interpreter said, insurgents forced the local contractor to pay for protection on three or four separate occasions. Work would stop for a few days until the contractor paid up. In the end, the interpreter said, the contractor grew so terrified that he walked off the unfinished project and fled Iraq.

On another project for a water treatment plant in the insurgent stronghold of Zoba, the interpreter said, the local contractor was summoned to meet with militant leaders who threatened his life if he didn't give them at least half the contract's value.

Fawzi Hariri, a member of the Iraqi cabinet and head of the government's Anbar Reconstruction Committee, said some U.S. rebuilding funds "absolutely" have gone into insurgents' pockets. The exception is where construction sites were guarded around-the-clock by U.S. or Iraqi troops.

"If you're on your own, you certainly would have to pay somebody," Hariri said.

Hariri said the Iraqi government's Anbar committee checks contractors' permits and references, withholds payment until the work is reviewed and only hires workers who are familiar enough with Anbar's deep-rooted tribes to arrange for security. On the parallel U.S. reconstruction effort, however, American contracting officials rarely consult their Iraqi counterparts about how much they spent or who was paid on specific projects.

"The Americans are accountable only to themselves," Hariri said. "It's their money."

(Leila Fadel and McClatchy Newspapers special correspondent Mohammed al Dulaimy contributed.)

[bth: so if I read this right, several hundred million is going from us directly to insurgents via reconstruction projects. So if we packed up and pulled out of Anbar, would that be so bad?]