Friday, September 07, 2007

Political Radar: New OBL Tape: Iraq, Democratic Control

Political Radar: New OBL Tape: Iraq, Democratic Control: "...According to the transcript, bin Laden says there are two ways to end the war:

"The first is from our side, and it is to continue to escalate the killing and fighting against you."

The second is to do away with the American democratic system of government. "It has now become clear to you and the entire world the impotence of the democratic system and how it plays with the interests of the peoples and their blood by sacrificing soldiers and populations to achieve the interests of the major corporations."

The rambling transcript also mentions French President Nicolas Sarkozy, which suggests the tape was made after Sarkozy's election in May.

Bin Laden comes close to offering a date for the tape with this by saying, "... just a few days ago, the Japanese observed the 62nd anniversary of the annihilation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by your nuclear weapons." The anniversary was on August 6.

He goes on to call Noam Chomsky "among one of the most capable of those from your own side," and mentions global warming and "the Kyoto accord."

He also speaks to recent issues grabbing headlines in the United States, referring to "the reeling of many of you under the burden of interest-related debts, insane taxes and real estate mortgages; global warming and its woes..."

"To conclude," bin Laden says, "I invite you to embrace Islam." He goes on to say: "There are no taxes in Islam, but rather there is a limited Zakaat [alms] totaling 2.5 percent.”

[bth: Man you just love this mass killer of innocent and unsuspecting civilians. This beheader of women. If you contrast his supposed bravery as a Muslim warrior hiding in a cave with those of the firemen on 9-11, what community - including the Muslim community - would find comparison or virtue in him?... On the other hand his call for a 2.5% tax cap, indefinite war to enrich corporations and the end of democracy with a little 'd' as we know it could make him a viable republican candidate for president of these here united states. Then he throws in praise for Chumpsky and praises the french which just spoils the whole speech for the neocons.... Can't somebody either thaw him out or shoot him?]

YouTube - Hillary Clinton's a nutcracker!

YouTube - Hillary Clinton's a nutcracker!: ""

NPR : Statistics the Weapon of Choice in Surge Debate

NPR : Statistics the Weapon of Choice in Surge Debate: "Morning Edition, September 6, 2007 · As Congress prepares to hear testimony from Gen. Petraeus on the situation in Iraq, the White House and Pentagon have been pointing to several statistics that they say show progress as a result of the surge. Some military experts, however, say those numbers only tell part of the story.

Sometime around February 2004, a top military official in Iraq estimated that there were about 15,000 total insurgents. About a year later, U.S. military leaders in Iraq announced that 15,000 insurgents had been killed or captured in the previous year.

In private, a skeptical military adviser pointed out to commanders that the numbers didn't make sense. "If all the insurgents were killed," he asked, "why are they fighting harder than ever?"

The adviser, who couldn't speak on the record, recounted the story as an example of how statistics can easily become misleading.

Here's a few statistics that military officials have cited in the past few days.

From Gen. Richard Sherlock: "Overall violence in Iraq has continued to decline and is at the lowest level since June 2006."

From Gen. Kevin Bergner: "On a national level, sectarian deaths are about half of what they where in December of 2006."

And from Gen. Ray Odierno: "Total attacks are on a monthlong decline and are at their lowest levels since August of 2006."

And here's how those statistic translate into political rhetoric.

From South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham: "Well, the surge has worked; it's provided a level of security I haven't seen."

And from President Bush: "Anbar is a huge province. It was written off as lost. It is now one of the safest places in Iraq."

But other numbers tell a different story.

This year, Anbar is actually the second-deadliest place for U.S. troops in Iraq. Baghdad is the deadliest.

And while there's no doubt the numbers of troops killed in Anbar this year is lower than last year, troop casualties have spiked dramatically in other provinces.

Twenty American service members were killed in Diyala Province last year. So far this year, 100 U.S. service members have died in Diyala. Every month this year, more American troops have been killed as compared with the same month last year.

Pentagon officials argue that numbers like these are meaningless, that they don't give a sense of success. The problem, though, says former Army Col. Doug MacGregor, is that the Pentagon uses statistics selectively to bolster the case for success.

"People are making claims and assertions that don't stack up when they are viewed in the context of the last four years," MacGregor says.

Here's an example: The Pentagon says sectarian deaths in Iraq were sharply down in August. But the military's definition of what constitutes a sectarian murder is narrow.

Last month's massive bombing in northern Iraq that killed more than 500 ethnic Yezidis made August 2007 the second-deadliest for Iraqi civilians. Yet the Pentagon doesn't consider large bombings like that one an example of sectarian violence. The result is that it can show that sectarian murders are down.

"What we have right now is an illusion created by the White House, created unfortunately with the help of many people in the media," MacGregor says. "And the result is, people pick up on what is said [and] it becomes conventional wisdom
."

The military measures stability in Iraq by looking at total attacks daily — attacks on U.S. troops, Iraqi forces and Iraqi civilians. The Pentagon says total daily attacks are now at a one-year low. But last year was the deadliest for Iraqis since the invasion, so the comparison, says retired Army Col. Paul Hughes, is somewhat misleading.

"Even with the security that's improved in the Baghdad region," Hughes says, "they are still not getting the electricity and the water that city's citizens need."

Before the war, Baghdad had round-the-clock electricity. Today, more than four years since the invasion, the city averages about six hours of electricity a day.

And then there's the issue of Anbar province. Both the White House and the Pentagon have attributed the changes in Anbar to the surge strategy. But several military advisers who worked in Iraq until late last year have said that is simply not true. MacGregor says that the increasing cooperation between U.S. forces and Sunni tribes in Anbar started more than 18 months ago, long before the "surge."

"And they were done on the initiative of the Marines and the Navy who looked at Anbar and said, "There's gotta be a better way to do business here," he says.

So is the surge working? The short answer is that no one can know for certain because statistics only tell a small part of the story.


[bth: Odierno and Bergner have been manipulating statistics for quite some time. For instance look at Odierno's statement that August 2007 deaths are the lowest since August 2006. What he fails to mention is the seasonality of fighting which has historically made August low and misdirects the public into thinking that violence is down year over year when every national figure for Iraq I have seen says otherwise. The one exception is in Anbar but the violence has shifted geographically to adjacent provinces. Unfortunately the military has politicized its message and lost its credibility in the process. Bergner was sent over to be the political shill for the White House. Its really sickening as soldiers are dying while the military and political leaders betray the trust of the American people. One must ask, 'who is looking after our - the middle class Americans' - interests?']

Judith Miller Finally Lands in the ‘Right’ Place - New York Magazine's Daily Intelligencer

Judith Miller Finally Lands in the ‘Right’ Place - New York Magazine's Daily Intelligencer: "Judith Miller the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times correspondent that pushed all the Bush administration spin about the (so-far non-existent) existence of WMD in Iraq, has finally come home. She's taken a job with the friends of "greater economic choice and individual responsibility" at the Manhattan Institute. She’s written for their City Journal quarterly before, so look for more stories from her on the cop beat. “The Manhattan Institute is doing pioneering work in policing and counter-terrorism,” Miller said in a release today. “As an adjunct fellow, I hope to continue writing about how best to enhance national security and public safety without sacrificing our freedom and civil liberties.” Or sacrificing her journo ethics — Neo-Con propaganda goes down much better when it's properly labeled. —Geoffrey Gray
Manhattan Institute [Official Site]

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Study: Iraqi Security Forces Not Ready

Study: Iraqi Security Forces Not Ready - The Huffington Post: "WASHINGTON — Iraq's security forces will be unable to take control of the country in the next 18 months, and Baghdad's national police force is so rife with corruption it should be scrapped entirely, according to a new independent assessment."

The study, led by retired Marine Corps Gen. James Jones, is a sweeping and detailed look at Iraq's security forces that will factor heavily into Congress' upcoming debate on the war. Republicans see success by the Iraqi forces as critical to bringing U.S. troops home, while an increasing number of Democrats say the U.S. should stop training and equipping such units altogether.

The 20-member panel of mostly retired senior military and police officers concludes that Iraq's military, in particular its army, shows the most promise of becoming a viable, independent security force with time. But the group predicts an adequate logistics system to support these ground forces is at least another two years away.

The report also offers a scathing assessment of Iraq's Interior Ministry and recommends scrapping Iraq's national police force, which it describes as dysfunctional and infiltrated by militias....

[bth: the police are hopelessly sectarian and corrupt. In 2005 for the first half, US trained police were simply not accepted into the force while the ranks were padded with militia as a way of paying these sectarian fighters. Second point. This further suggests to me that the US military is more comfortable dealing with the Iraqi Army than its civil government and if it came down to it, would prefer a military coup over the current civilian government. This historically has been the US military's approach in Indonesia, Philippines, Korea, Vietnam and most of central America at one time or another.]

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

'New Al Qaeda plot to blow up planes on September 11' smashed | the Daily Mail

'New Al Qaeda plot to blow up planes on September 11' smashed | the Daily Mail: "Police have smashed a suspected al Qaeda terror cell nursing a 'profound hatred of US citizens' plotting to bomb civilian and military jets. "

The force of the planned explosions would have been worse than the train bombings in Madrid and the Tube and bus attacks in London on 7 July, 2005, according to German security sources. Those attacks killed 191 and 52 people respectively.

Three men aged 22, 28 and 29 have been arrested in Germany days before they planned to strike, and bomb-making equipment and explosives have been seized. ...

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

8 Arrested in Denmark; Terror Thwarted

The Associated Press: 8 Arrested in Denmark; Terror Thwarted: "COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Denmark's intelligence service early Tuesday arrested eight Islamic militants linked to leading al-Qaida figures, and said the suspects were plotting an attack involving explosives."

8 Arrested in Denmark; Terror Thwarted
By JAN M. OLSEN – 54 minutes ago

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Denmark's intelligence service early Tuesday arrested eight Islamic militants linked to leading al-Qaida figures, and said the suspects were plotting an attack involving explosives.

"With the arrests we have prevented a terror attack," said Jakob Scharf, head of the PET intelligence service.

He did not identify the target.

The suspects — six Danish citizens and two foreigners with residence permits — had been under surveillance for some time and were arrested after police gathered enough evidence against them, he said.

"They also have been producing an unstable explosive in a densely populated area," Scharf said.

He said Danish investigators had worked with "several foreign cooperation partners" in the probe before they rounded up the suspects, ages 19 to 29.

"Those arrested are militant Islamists with connections to leading al-Qaida persons," Scharf said without naming those people. "According to our assessment, there is a direct connection to al-Qaida."

The suspects — of Afghan, Pakistani, Somali and Turkish origin — were arrested without incident, Scharf told reporters. He declined to say whether more people were being sought. Eleven locations were raided in and around Copenhagen, including the Ishoej suburb and the Noerrebro district of the capital....

Iraq: Blood sellers find market niche in Baghdad | Economy Health & Nutrition Conflict | News Item

IRIN Middle East | Middle East | Iraq | IRAQ: Blood sellers find market niche in Baghdad | Economy Health & Nutrition Conflict | News Item: "BAGHDAD3 September 2007 (IRIN) - As the Iraqi National Centre for Blood Donation (INCBD) urges Iraqis to donate more blood to help meet increasing demand, individuals wishing to sell their blood congregate at hospitals in the hope of being able to make some money. Those offering rare blood types are best able to cash in.

“In many cases, desperate families look for blood sellers who can be found around the hospital and at the [Baghdad’s main] blood centre,” Abdallah Farhan Ahmed, a surgeon at Medical City Hospital, said. “The most expensive blood types are the rare ones and we cannot force people to give them for free.”

Ahmed said “agents” also stand in front of the INCBD offering blood. They charge US$20-30 for every 350 cu. cm of blood. In a country where, according to Iraq’s Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, unemployment stands at over 38 percent, the sale of blood is an attractive option for many.

I need to feed my family, and others need blood to save their loved ones and it is a fair exchange. I come here every month to sell my blood. I know I should do this less frequently but I’m unemployed and my family needs to eat,” said a blood seller who preferred anonymity.

The continuing violence in Baghdad has kept the demand for blood high: “The increase in violence in Iraq has prevented us from storing adequate blood supplies,” said Maruan Haydar, a senior official in the Ministry of Health.

“We are requesting donations of all types of blood… especially rare types like AB and O,” he said.

Ahmed told IRIN that at least one in five operations in the hospital require a blood transfusion and that on many occasions they had to postpone operations because the type of blood required was not available.

“We perform operations only in emergencies. Heart and brain operations are being postponed until the right blood is available - and that sometimes might take over two weeks,” Ahmed said.

Dangerous area

According to Haydar, since January 2006 the number of blood donors has been decreasing as the level of violence has increased in the Bab al-Muadham District of Baghdad where the INCBD has its premises.

“The centre is located in one of the most dangerous areas of the capital and people are scared to take the risk [of going there to donate blood] but we have to continue with our appeal,” Haydar said. “We have asked the Ministry of Interior to reinforce security in the district to allow people to donate blood in safety, but the presence of different militias has brought fear.”

The centre has issued many appeals for blood donations in the past three years but according to officials the problem is now critical.

Abu Muhammad Farez, 41, has been donating blood to the centre for the past eight years but he has told IRIN that this will be his last time as security has been deteriorating and he cannot take any more risks.

To reach the centre I was stopped at checkpoints manned by militias and local police… Because I have a long beard they accused me of being a supporter of the insurgents,” Farez said. “I know it is ridiculous but they didn’t believe that someone was in that area to help other Iraqis rather than kill them.”

“Unfortunately I will stop donating until I feel secure enough to return to the centre,” Farez added.

[bth: as disgusting as this whole scenario is, at least these unemployed aren't planting IEDs for cash. One has to observe that any effort to generate cash flow and reduce unemployment for the poor in Iraq would have an immediate impact on reduced violence. One wonders how much of the kidnapping and IED attacks are simply a matter of the bad guys having cash and the 1.2 million internally displaced being desperate for something to eat. How is it that we can spend 12 billion a month on a country with a $35 billion GDP and we can't create fucking jobs for these people?]

Iraq convoy was sent out despite threat - Los Angeles Times

Iraq convoy was sent out despite threat - Los Angeles Times: "Senior managers for defense contractor KBR overruled calls to halt supply operations in Iraq in the spring of 2004, ordering unarmored trucks into an active combat zone where six civilian drivers died in an ambush, according to newly available documents."

Company e-mails and other internal communications reveal that before KBR dispatched the convoy, a chorus of security advisors predicted an increase in roadside bombings and attacks on Iraq's highways. They recommended suspension of convoys.

"[I] think we will get people injured or killed tomorrow," warned KBR regional security chief George Seagle, citing "tons of intel." But in an e-mail sent a day before the convoy was dispatched, he also acknowledged: "Big politics and contract issues involved."

KBR was under intense pressure from the military to deliver on its multibillion-dollar contract to transport food, fuel and other vital supplies to U.S. soldiers. At Baghdad's airport, a shortage of jet fuel threatened to ground some units.

After consulting with military commanders, KBR's top managers decided to keep the convoys rolling. "If the [Army] pushes, then we push, too," wrote an aide to Craig Peterson, KBR's top official in Iraq.

The decision prompted a raging internal debate that is detailed in private KBR documents, some under court seal, that were reviewed by The Times.

One KBR management official threatened to resign when superiors ordered truckers to continue driving. "I cannot consciously sit back and allow unarmed civilians to get picked apart," wrote Keith Richard, chief of the trucking operation.

Six American truck drivers and two U.S. soldiers were killed when the convoy rumbled into a five-mile gauntlet of weapons fire on April 9, 2004, making an emergency delivery of jet fuel to the airport. One soldier and a seventh trucker remain missing.

Recriminations began the same day.

"Can anyone explain to me why we put civilians in the middle of known ambush sites?" demanded one security advisor in an e-mail. "Maybe we should put body bags on the packing list for our drivers."

Another wrote, "I cannot believe this has happened; the ones responsible should be held accountable for this."

The previously undisclosed documents raise new questions about the U.S. military's growing reliance on civilian contractors to help fight wars.

Selected e-mails, some of them excerpts, were cited in a May 22 letter to the Justice Department by lawyers suing the Houston-based giant on behalf of the dead drivers' families. The families and most of the survivors of the convoy seek a federal criminal probe of KBR's role in the episode.

To confirm the excerpts, The Times reviewed internal memos, e-mails and court-sealed depositions, obtained a copy of an Army investigative report on the incident and interviewed several KBR truck drivers and former military officials.

Attorneys for KBR reacted angrily to inquiries about the documents. In a letter urging The Times to "refrain from publishing" material under court seal, attorney Michael L. Rice also warned that the paper might be subject to unspecified legal sanctions.

KBR officials declined to be interviewed. In the past, they have said that the Army was responsible for selecting convoy routes and providing adequate protection.

Scott Allen, a lawyer for the families, confirmed that he had sent a letter to the Justice Department, but declined further comment and advised the families and surviving drivers to avoid interviews. A department spokesman acknowledged receiving the letter but also declined to comment.

The documentary record, though incomplete, provides the first behind-the-scenes look at a day when military goals clashed with corporate responsibilities, with soldiers and civilian truckers in the middle.

What follows is an account of the Good Friday convoy attack, based on the e-mails, court records and interviews.

Growing fearsInside a long row of white trailers that served as KBR's office at Camp Anaconda, the region's main logistics hub, there was growing unease in the early days of April.

Violence had surged throughout the region. The mutilated bodies of American contractors had just been removed from a bridge in Fallouja. The military was battling simultaneous Shiite and Sunni uprisings.

It would turn out to be one of the deadliest months of the war for American soldiers and contractors -- and KBR's truck drivers were caught in the crossfire. Trucking program chief Richard fired off e-mails to superiors in Houston and Kuwait describing the growing risks to his drivers.

"One of my convoys was hit with 14 mortars, 6 RPGs, 5 IEDs and small arms fire," Richard wrote April 7. Senior KBR management in Iraq suspended travel, with Richard telling one colleague in an e-mail that the roads were "too dangerous."

Several convoys were canceled that week. Delayed shipments contributed to spot shortages when many supplies were needed most.

KBR -- then part of Halliburton Co., the company once run by Vice President Dick Cheney -- delivered 80% to 90% of the military's fuel, according to one senior logistics officer.

That meant that if KBR didn't move, neither could the U.S. Army. Unlike soldiers, contractors don't have to follow orders.

"We had to get food to the soldiers. We had to get fuel to the soldiers," the officer said. "This was a war."

That was clear to KBR dispatchers on April 8, when the first convoys that had moved out onto the highways started reporting gunfire.

"Things started early this a.m. and it hasn't been good," one of the trucking project managers advised in an e-mail.

"Gentlemen . . . HOT!!! We have a convoy . . . that is in direct engagement at this time . . . and pleads for immediate assistance," reported a security advisor.

Vivid reports came in from the field. "We are taking on gun fire, mortared, rocket launch, small arms fire you name it, we got it, we are losing trucks one by one. . . my driver and I were lucky to get out alive."

By the end of Thursday, one KBR driver was dead and more than 70 had been attacked. Several were seriously injured. Because the next day was a Shiite holiday as well as Good Friday, security advisors worried that sectarian violence might add to the danger. They were of one voice calling for suspension of convoys.

"I say we halt them for a day at least and consider it a safety/security stand-down, and mental health day," security chief Seagle wrote on April 8. "There is tons of intel stating tomorrow will be another bad day."

Trucking chief Richard agreed. "Another day like today and we will lose most of our drivers."

Unable to actDespite their mounting fears, KBR security advisors had no authority to halt convoy deployment. They lost that on Monday, April 5, when that power was abruptly limited to Richard and his boss -- KBR General Manager Craig Peterson. It angered the security team.

"Yeah, well I have been authorized for a year now to stop convoys now all of a sudden Keith [Richard] . . . is the only one who can. . . . well partner believe me the ball is in his court," groused one.

The documents show that Peterson, a retired Army general then new to KBR, was determined to meet the company's contractual obligations with the military, which he repeatedly referred to as "the customer." Peterson was adamant that the civilian truckers had to move out when the military called for them.

After a meeting with military commanders, he noted in an e-mail that "it was reiterated that only the army leadership can stop convoys" and that it was necessary "to team our way into decisions. We cannot unilaterally decide these things on our own."

There was sharp disagreement inside the company. "We cannot allow the Army to push us to put our people in harms way," wrote Tom Crum, then the chief operating officer for KBR's logistics operations.

"We need to work with the Army without a doubt relative to stopping the convoys. But if we in management believe the Army is asking us to put our KBR employees in danger that we are not willing to accept, then we will refuse to go," Crum insisted.

Richard also argued that the truckers were not soldiers. "Our drivers did sign up with the understanding of some level of hostility, but they did not expect to be in the middle of a war," he said in an e-mail.

One of Peterson's aides sent a note scolding Richard. "[Peterson] says that if the client pushes, then we push," the message said. It also specified that convoys should stop only if security was not adequate and "doesn't pass the Common Sense Safety Test."

Richard was clearly rankled. "Who in the hell determines adequate security . . . ? This is a roll of the dice. None of this passes any of these tests if you ask me," said a Richard e-mail.

He threatened to resign.

"With this decision I cannot continue my employment with KBR. . . . I cannot consciously sit back and allow unarmed civilians to get picked apart," he wrote in e-mail messages. "Putting civilians in the middle of a war is not in any contract, policy or procedure. I will not allow this to happen."

But after a long day of armed attacks on his drivers and arguments with his boss, Richard issued a terse e-mail at 10:26 p.m., employing a familiar phrase:

"If the military pushes, we push," he wrote.

Supplies urgently neededAt Baghdad's airport, dwindling fuel supplies threatened to idle two military divisions, according to the Army report. Military commanders called for 200,000 gallons of jet fuel to be rushed from Camp Anaconda.

Notes taken during conversations surrounding that decision underscore the urgency of the situation.

"Has to happen . . . 1st light has to go . . . emergency push," read some of the notes as reproduced in the Army report.

Gen. James E. Chambers, the head of Army's 13th Corps Support Command (Coscom), issued explicit orders to his officers: "Not moving critical support is not an option," he wrote in an e-mail sent before dawn April 9. "We just have to figure out how to mitigate the risks."

The orders were passed down to military units that escort KBR convoys with an Anaconda commander's comment attached: "Note the statement about convoys. They move."

But there was dissent among military command staff, too. At a 6 a.m. intelligence briefing, Chambers was told that the road leading to Baghdad's airport was too dangerous for civilians, according to Col. Ray Josey, head of operations for Chambers.

"We should just stand down," Josey said he told Chambers.

Others argued it was safe enough. In the end, Chambers ordered the jet fuel cargo to move. But he also ordered a beefed-up military escort for the KBR convoy: more Humvees, double the ammunition and an armed soldier in every truck cab.

Chambers, now head of the Army's Transportation Center at Ft. Eustis, Va., declined comment through a spokesman, citing the pending litigation. Josey, who soon after was relieved of his post by Chambers, is now retired in Texas.

At KBR the decision to move was again in doubt as dawn arrived.

In a message time-stamped 6:44 a.m. April 9 -- nearly an hour after Chambers' order -- Richard sent a message to all drivers: "No convoys are to move" between Anaconda and the military bases south of Baghdad.

The stand-down lasted only 25 minutes.

At 7:14 a.m. another message moved over the KBR communications system. It read:

"Per Keith Richards, project manager, all traffic is to proceed as normal. All . . . traffic lanes are open in all directions."

It is not clear what caused the orders to shift back and forth. Richard, through his attorney, declined to be interviewed. He no longer works for KBR.

Company officials have said that KBR depended on the military for guidance about when and whether roads were safe to travel, indicating in court proceedings that the Army said the route was safe before departure.

The Army report found that on April 9 there was confusion among different military units about the status of the route to the airport. The military unit monitoring road safety listed the road as a no-go the entire day, but Coscom commanders did not consult the unit in dispatching the convoy.

At KBR there was no such confusion. Six KBR convoys already had been attacked around the airport that same morning. Also, Stephen Pulley, KBR's senior security advisor at Camp Anaconda, was in frequent contact with the road monitoring unit and received repeated assurances the routes were closed.

When 13th Coscom suddenly advised that the roads had opened, Pulley was skeptical.

"Something smells," he wrote.

'I'm hit, I'm hit'KBR drivers led by Thomas Hamill, a Mississippi dairy farmer, were assembled in the dusty staging area of Camp Anaconda ready to roll that Friday morning, unaware of the internal debates. Hamill was not one to second-guess orders -- whatever they were.

"When I went over there, I said: 'I won't refuse to go out on a mission as long as the U.S. Army is willing to escort me out,' " he said. "If they didn't want to go out, then I wouldn't go out."

A few minutes after 10 a.m., the 26-vehicle convoy rolled out -- 19 KBR trucks and seven military vehicles driven by soldiers from the 724th Army Reserve Transportation Company from Illinois. The convoy stretched nearly a mile and a half.

About the same time -- 9:54 a.m. -- Lt. Col. James Carroll, a reservist from Missouri working at 13th Coscom, confirmed orders sending the convoy on a route to Baghdad airport that took it right through a battle between the Mahdi Army and 1st Cavalry.

Three minutes later, Carroll reversed himself and sent out a second e-mail: "Sorry. It looks like [the route] is closed until further notice."

By mistake, however, Carroll sent the second message to himself, and no one else ever saw it, according to the Army report. In an interview, Carroll disputed that account, saying that he called military escorts to warn them not to proceed on the route.

"When I saw that I sent the e-mail to myself, I did everything I could" to reach them, Carroll said. "It was the worst day of my life. You can't believe how much I second-guessed myself . . . [but] I firmly believe that I did everything I could."

Hamill's convoy reached the airport area about noon. He saw the landscape already littered with burning trucks. His truck was hit and disabled by a roadside bomb, forcing Hamill to scramble for cover.

He later was taken captive by a band of gunmen.

The other truckers drove on through fire and smoke. As bullet rounds pierced their cargo tanks, fuel spilled to the ground, making the road slippery. Brakes failed. Trucks jackknifed and flipped over. More roadside bombs detonated.

The sounds of battle crackled over the drivers' radios.

"I'm burning!" screamed one driver.

"I'm hit, I'm hit," called another.

In an incident report, one of the escort soldiers wrote: "I started hearing bullets hit all over our trucks, around my head and door. They were zipping by. We pushed through the flames and kept rolling. It was just hell."

Eddie Sanchez, a driver from New Mexico, was rescued by U.S. soldiers. He recalled one who seemed angry, demanding: "Who are you guys? What are you guys doing out there? We have been fighting those guys for over 48 hours."

The final tally was grim. Six KBR drivers were dead. Most other drivers were wounded. Besides the kidnapped Hamill, another was missing. Tim Bell now is presumed dead. Two soldiers were killed. A third, Matt Maupin, was captured by insurgents and is still listed as missing. Hamill escaped after nearly three weeks and is back in the U.S.

Only six of the 19 KBR trucks reached the airport. Across Iraq, all 122 convoys sent out by KBR on April 9 were attacked, according to KBR.

Richard was devastated by the loss of his drivers, according to Pulley, who worked closely with him at Anaconda.

"I thought the man was going to break down and cry after he found out he sent all those people out there," Pulley said in a deposition. "He was very upset with himself."

Randy Ross, a driver whose truck limped into the airport on steel rims, his tanker and tires blasted with holes, said he blamed neither KBR nor the military. He blamed Iraq.

"It was a bad day," said Ross, who, like Hamill, is not part of the suit. "It was a very bad day."

After the attack, Peterson stopped the trucks. "No KBR convoys will move tomorrow, 10th April 04. I will inform the military chain of command," he said in an e-mail.

Peterson, now a senior vice president at IAP Worldwide Services, a Florida-based military contractor, declined through a spokesman to comment.

In an e-mail sent to an Army general shortly after the convoy disaster, Peterson asked: "Do you think there was any way we could have predicted the events of 8/9 April, the convoy hits? Do you think we had any real predictive intel or indicators or warnings that were sufficiently articulate enough to conclude that we should have halted movement?"

Pulley left no doubt about his feelings. "KBR security did their job," said security advisor in deposition testimony. "KBR security was overruled."

Communication blamedThe military conducted its own investigation of the April 9 attack. The 280-page report concluded that miscommunications in the military about the danger of the roads had contributed to the casualties.

The investigating officer noted that he was not allowed to inquire into the actions of military officials in the 13th Coscom, because the unit was outside his chain of command.

For the families and drivers of the Good Friday convoy, however, KBR provided few details. The company has never made public its own investigation. Its attorneys have fought to keep internal communications under seal, arguing that they contain national security secrets.

In 2005, the families filed their wrongful death suit against KBR in Texas.

Last September, U.S. Dist. Judge Gray H. Miller dismissed the lawsuit under a rule that bars courts from jurisdiction in cases related to the routine exercise of military orders.

"Is it wise to use civilian contractors in a war zone? Was it wise to send the convoy along the route [to Baghdad airport] on April 9, 2004?" Miller wrote. "Answering either question and the many questions in between would require the court to examine the policies of the executive branch during wartime, a step the court declines to take."

Lawyers for the families contend that KBR retained full authority over its civilian convoys and have appealed.

t.christian.miller@latimes.com

[bth: so right now roughly 15% of our civilian convoys are taking fire. It strikes me that when Sadr gets over his six month self imposed ceasefire we are in big trouble. We are going to see a repeat of the spring of 2004 on a much amplified scale. Our supply lines are very likely to be cut off especially if hundreds of EFPs are put to use against their escorts.]

Sour Americans hungry for change as election approaches

McClatchy Washington Bureau | 09/03/2007 | Sour Americans hungry for change as election approaches: "DES MOINES, Iowa — A year before they choose a new government for the post-Bush era, Americans are desperate to change the country's course."

According to opinion polls and interviews with political experts and voters, the U.S. population is more liberal than at any time in a generation, hungering to end the Iraq war, turn inward and use the federal government to solve problems at home.

Still, polling indicates, some want to turn farther right, demanding that the country fence off its Southern border, expel illegal immigrants and rein in a federal government grown fat under a Republican government they now dismiss as incompetent.

The surveys point to one thing almost all Americans tend to agree on: They're deeply unhappy with the way things are going in the United States and eager to move on. There's virtually no appetite to extend the Bush era, as there was at the end of Ronald Reagan's presidency in 1988 or Bill Clinton's in 2000.


Just 1 in 5 Americans think the country is going in the right direction, the worst outlook since the Reagan-Bush era ended in 1992.

Less than one-third of Americans like the way the current President Bush is handling his job, among the lowest ratings in half a century. The people had similarly dismal opinions just before they ended the Jimmy Carter era in 1980, the Kennedy-Johnson years in 1968 and the Roosevelt-Truman era in 1952.


The ranks of people who want the government to help the poor have risen sharply since the early 1990s — dramatically among independents, but even among Republicans.



The public mood is evident in Iowa, the heartland state that votes first for major-party presidential nominees and a pivotal swing state in the last two presidential elections.

"People are very unhappy, very unsettled,'' said Megan Phillips, a teacher from Centerville, a town of about 6,000 in southern Iowa. .....

Chinese military hacked into Pentagon

FT.com / World - Chinese military hacked into Pentagon: "The Chinese military hacked into a Pentagon computer network in June in the most successful cyber attack on the US defence department, say American ­officials."

The Pentagon acknowledged shutting down part of a computer system serving the office of Robert Gates, defence secretary, but declined to say who it believed was behind the attack.

Current and former officials have told the Financial Times an internal investigation has revealed that the incursion came from the People’s Liberation Army.

One senior US official said the Pentagon had pinpointed the exact origins of the attack. Another person familiar with the event said there was a “very high level of confidence...trending towards total certainty” that the PLA was responsible. The defence ministry in Beijing declined to comment on Monday.

Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, raised reports of Chinese infiltration of German government computers with Wen Jiabao, China’s premier, in a visit to Beijing, after which the Chinese foreign ministry said the government opposed and forbade “any criminal acts undermining computer systems, including hacking”.

“We have explicit laws and regulations in this regard,” said Jiang Yu, from the ministry. “Hacking is a global issue and China is frequently a victim.”

George W. Bush, US president, is due to meet Hu Jintao, China’s president, on Thursday in Australia prior to the Apec summit.

The PLA regularly probes US military networks – and the Pentagon is widely assumed to scan Chinese networks – but US officials said the penetration in June raised concerns to a new level because of fears that China had shown it could disrupt systems at critical times.

“The PLA has demonstrated the ability to conduct attacks that disable our system...and the ability in a conflict situation to re-enter and disrupt on a very large scale,” said a former official, who said the PLA had penetrated the networks of US defence companies and think-tanks.

Hackers from numerous locations in China spent several months probing the Pentagon system before overcoming its defences, according to people familiar with the matter.

The Pentagon took down the network for more than a week while the attacks continued, and is to conduct a comprehensive diagnosis. “These are multiple wake-up calls stirring us to levels of more aggressive vigilance,” said Richard Lawless, the Pentagon’s top Asia official at the time of the attacks.

The Pentagon is still investigating how much data was downloaded, but one person with knowledge of the attack said most of the information was probably “unclassified”. He said the event had forced officials to reconsider the kind of information they send over unsecured e-mail systems.

John Hamre, a Clinton-era deputy defence secretary involved with cyber security, said that while he had no knowledge of the June attack, criminal groups sometimes masked cyber attacks to make it appear they came from government computers in a particular country.

The National Security Council said the White House had created a team of experts to consider whether the administration needed to restrict the use of BlackBerries because of concerns about cyber espionage.

'Plain Dealer' Updates Friendly Fire Tragedy in Iraq

'Plain Dealer' Updates Friendly Fire Tragedy in Iraq: "By E&P Staff Published: September 02, 2007 9:30 PM ET "

NEW YORK Last December, E&P'S Greg Mitchell reported on recent revelations about a friendly fire case in Iraq and the ordeal the dead soldier's parents were enduring.

Today, the Plain Dealer of Cleveland updated the story, although, sadly, the parents seem to be no closer to the truth than they were last year, despite promises from President Bush and others.

The new story, by Kathleen Sullivan, can be found at www.cleveland.com. "Today, after four Army investigations, the military says it still cannot get to the bottom of who exactly killed the easy-going, musically minded, would-be cop in a hail of 'friendly' fire," that story concludes.

Mitchell's original piece follows.

*
Over and over, the press -- and parents and spouses -- have been lied to about how young Americans in the military have died. Now another case, this one involving Jesse Buryj, a soldier from Canton, Ohio, who (it turns out) died in a friendly fire incident – shot in the back – has gained some attention.

The U.S. military has tried to blame Polish soldiers for his death, but a soldier who served with Buryi told his parents an American G.I. was actually at fault. Buryj’s father was so shaken by the alleged cover-up that he came to question whether the body they buried was even their son’s.

The Associated Press had announced the death of the soldier back in March 2004, asserting that he had died "while heroically trying to stop an attack on an Army checkpoint." Of course, they are at the mercy of the military for any information.

“Jesse Buryj, 21, of Canton, fired more than 400 rounds at a dump truck trying to crash the checkpoint near Karbala," AP related. "He shot the driver of the truck, which then crashed into the Humvee in which he was riding, an Army sergeant told his mother, Peggy Buryj, on Wednesday morning."

The official U.S. casualty report said that Buryj had died of "a back injury" caused by "hostile enemy activity." Actually,
the dump truck was filled with dirt or sand, not explosives, and was driven by civilians who had no weapons.

Buryj had a new wife named Amber. On one of the “fallen heroes” message boards on the Web, she wrote: “I want to thank all of you for your lovely comments. I would also like to just tell you all Jesse was an absolutely amazing man, of which no one could ever compare. A wonderful husband, son, brother, soldier,and friend to so many! I love you forever and always Jesse."

But later his mother would write at the same site: "I am Peggy Buryj, the mother of Jesse. My son was promoted to Specialist the day he died. My son died as the result of friendly fire.” The death certificate now called it "homicide."

Yet even after his mother learned of the shot in the back, the lies continued.

Yesterday, Josh White in the Washington Post reported that U.S. Army officials destroyed critical evidence that could have determined who shot and killed Buryj, “one of several problems with the friendly-fire inquiry that may permanently shroud Buryj's death in mystery, according to an Army inspector general's review.”

The inquiry, which produced a 47-page document recently delivered to the dead man’s parents, “found that criminal investigators destroyed bullet fragments, agents failed to collect ballistic evidence from weapons at the checkpoint, medical personnel made incorrect notations on Buryj's records and military officials knew his death was a friendly-fire case months before they officially notified his family,” White writes.

“As a result, Buryj's family buried him believing he was killed when his vehicle was rammed by a dump truck. They did not learn that he was shot by friendly forces until nine months after his death, and a lack of physical evidence means it is nearly impossible to know what happened that night.”

Investigators ruled that the Poles “probably” fired the fatal shot, but the Poles strongly deny it. The final report notes that the original investigators were well aware of international sensitivities involving countries among the coalition of the willing. This could explain why they wanted to hide the friendly fire angle at the outset.

Back in January, Peggy Buryj told White: "If they can lie to Pat Tillman's family, what do you think they're going to do to Ma and Pop in Middle America here?"

Now she remains angry about the handling of the case, blasting the “incompetence.” She is resigned to the idea that she may never know what happened to her son, White reports. “I feel like I gave them my son and they've done nothing but dishonor him," she said.

On Nov. 17, 2006, the NOW program on PBS interviewed Peggy Buryj for a report. Here are excerpts from the transcript.

*
BURYJ: When your son's a soldier you know they could get killed. You know, you pray. But you know it—it's a reality. But what happened after Jesse died, and the journey to find out what happened to him has just—broken my heart worse.

HINOJOSA: Peggy Buryj wants the truth. Her son, private Jesse Buryj was killed in Iraq on may 5, 2004. Peggy was first told her son died when a truck hit his humvee, but she later found out—it wasn't true.

BURYJ: Some—maybe some mothers could- say well it didn't matter —oh, how he died. Well, it does. It's—it's important. It's a part of history. It's a part of my son's life, how he died. And they're not—going take that away from him&hellip..

HINOJOSA: After a funeral procession through his hometown streets, Peggy Buryj had her son Jesse buried with military honors. At the time, she had no reason to doubt the army's story.

BURYJ: You know, we were basically told that a truck ran a checkpoint, hit Jesse's Humvee and Jesse was thrown from the Humvee and sustained internal injuries and died. That's what we were told. That's what we thought when we buried him.

HINOJOSA: But almost 2 months after Jesse's funeral, his young widow sent Peggy documents she'd been given by the army.

BURYJ: And on the death certificate, it said, "Cause of death, penetrating gunshot wound to the back." I said, "He was shot?" I just couldn't believe that they would leave out that detail that Jesse was shot., I start making phone calls. I'm calling everybody I could possibly call that I could think of. I even called, like, the Red Cross. Could you help me here? Anybody, help me.

HINOJOSA: Peggy says she spent hours on the phone and on the internet trying to get more information. But she didn't get very far&hellip

BURYJ: If Jesse was killed here at home, I could go to the police station and say, "Could you please give me a copy of this?" The police report. I could go to the coroner and get a copy of the autopsy.

HINOJOSA: Peggy—along with her daughter Angela—found out that getting information from the military is a different story. Peggy was shocked to learn that to get the army reports relating to her son's death—she needed to file a freedom of information act request.

BURYJ: Everything went through the military. I have a son that's dead. That was shot. I don't know who shot him, how he was shot. I know nothing other than the fact that my son's dead.

HINOJOSA: Eight months after Jesse's death, her freedom of information request was answered. Peggy was in for an even bigger shock.

BURYJ: I finally get a copy of the autopsy. And the autopsy said: "Specialist Jesse Buryj died as a result of friendly fire."

HINOJOSA: What's going on for you when you see "friendly fire"?

BURYJ: It's like I'm blind sided. It's like I'm blind —I felt like —I literally felt blind sided. You know it too me all this time to even have them tell me that my son was shot.
BURYJ: This was the first formal, any time the military sat us down and tried to explain to us what happened to Jesse&hellip.

HINOJOSA: Army investigators called Jesse's death a "tragic accident" and was "most likely" a result of friendly fire from "polish forces". But it pointed out "most likely does not mean proved." Even so the report concluded that the "investigation of the incident is complete." But Peggy says... the report was far from complete...

BURYJ: I just, the more I read it, the more holes were in it. The more inconsistencies, the more this isn't right. In my gut, I knew this isn't right&hellip.

HINOJOSA: Peggy Buryj is still far from the truth. She had new reasons to question the army's account of Jesse's death by friendly fire from polish troops. A soldier from her son's unit turned up at her doorstep with a new version of events.

BURYJ: He came here and told me that the Polish had absolutely nothing to do with Jessie's death. He was there when the confession was made. As to who shot Jessie. He was there when statements were coerced, and the reports were falsified. And he said the Polish were a complete scapegoat. They had nothing to do with Jessie's death.

HINOJOSA: And you're getting this from another soldier?

BURYJ: Yeah. Sitting here in my living room. Telling me "If this was my parents, I would want them to know."

HINOJOSA: Peggy says the soldier told her Jesse had been accidentally shot by a member of his own unit. This new revelation sparked a second investigation into Jesse Buryj's death.

The army would not comment on the specifics of Jesse's case. After two years, Peggy is angry that it's taking the army so long to figure out how her son died.

BURYJ: I like to think they think it hurts too bad to tell families that their son was killed by friendly fire. But that's not the truth. What hurts is not knowing.

HINOJOSA: In an effort to address some of the problems families like Peggy Buryj are experiencing, the army has recently changed its notification procedures for families of soldiers who have been killed.

This past summer, the army also began a review of 810 casualty reports—that's about 40% of all army deaths. Their conclusion: only seven families had been misinformed about their loved ones deaths. But Peggy believes there are many more.

BURYJ: I find it hard to believe that there was only seven—problems. I know seven people here in Ohio that had problems with their notifications—were told one thing, and—found out—you know, maybe a day later, or maybe even that same day. But there were problems. I don't believe it.

HINOJOSA: And of those seven families, five had already been reported in the media. Including the families of Pat Tillman, Ken Ballard and Jesse Buryj. Peggy says, it's no coincidence that they ended up in the army's report,

BURYJ: The people that have come forward—and made the stink, and—and—made the stink, and—and questioned it, are the people that are getting the attention&hellip.I hope the military's accountable. I hope—for the truth. For the truth. That's all I ever wanted was the truth.


[bth: if there are just seven then I know them all. the families just want the truth. They know their son was killed. They know the army lied. They just want the truth. Truth that seems beyond the capability of this army's leadership to provide.]

Monday, September 03, 2007

 
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GENERAL PETRAEUS'S PR BLITZKRIEG

The Washington Monthly: "GENERAL PETRAEUS'S PR BLITZKRIEG"

....I've been thinking about the whole David Petraeus issue for the past couple of days, and what I've been thinking about is how badly the liberal blogosphere and the liberal establishment have been outplayed here. While we've spent the last six months snarking about Friedman Units and complaining aimlessly about spineless Democrats, Petraeus has been slowly and methodically carrying out an extremely disciplined military campaign with a very precise goal: gaining support for David Petraeus and the surge.

In retrospect, this is hardly a surprise. Petraeus is a four-star general, by all accounts a brilliant man, and a professional student of counterinsurgency. He's keenly aware of the value of both the media and public opinion, and he did what any counterinsurgency expert would have counseled in his circumstances: he unleashed a hearts-and-minds campaign aimed at opinion makers and politicians. For months the military transports to Baghdad have been stuffed with analysts and congress members, and every one of them has gotten a full court press of carefully planned and scripted presentations, tightly controlled visits to favored units, and assorted dollops of "classified" information designed to flatter his guests and substantiate his rosy assessments without the inconvenience of having to defend them in public.

And it's worked. Even though there's been no discernable political progress, minimal reconstruction progress, and apparently no genuine decrease in violence, he's managed to convince an awful lot of people that the first doesn't matter, the second is far more widespread than it really is, and the third is the opposite of reality. To get a sense of just how long and how carefully Petraeus has been preparing for his August blitz, consider the following three anecdotes. First up is Thursday's widely reported comment from Rep. Jon Porter about his meetings with Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker:

"To a person, they said there would be genocide, gas prices in the U.S. would rise to eight or nine dollars a gallon, al-Qaida would continue its expansion, and Iran would take over that portion of the world if we leave," Porter said Wednesday in a phone interview from Las Vegas.

Next is a Washington Post article providing a glimpse of Petraeus's meticulous and politically savvy planning:

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. So when Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.) asked a soldier last weekend just what he was holding, the congressman was taken aback to find out.

In the soldier's hand was a thumbnail biography, distributed before each of the congressmen's meetings in Baghdad, which let meeting participants such as that soldier know where each of the lawmakers stands on the war. [See examples here.]

....Just who assembled them is not clear. E-mails to U.S. Central Command's public affairs office in Baghdad this week went unanswered.

"I had never seen that in the past. That's new," said Porter, who was on his fourth trip to Iraq. "Now I want to see what they're saying about me," he added, when he learned of the contents of his travel companions' rap sheets.

For one, the quotations appeared to be selected to divide the visitors into those who are with the war effort and those who are against.

Finally there was this tidbit offered up by Andrea Mitchell five months ago when the surge was just getting started:

MITCHELL: Petraeus went to the Republican caucus and told them, I will have real progress to you by August....The Republicans were against the surge but they felt it was fait accompli, and that they were willing to give Petraeus until August. He told them there will be real progress by August.

Five months ago Petraeus was guaranteeing to wavering Republicans that they'd see progress in August, precisely the month when the PR campaign was scheduled to go into high gear. Today he's issuing dire warnings about al-Qaeda hegemony and nine-dollar gas if we leave, circulating bio pages that let his staff know whether they're dealing with friend or foe among visiting congress members, and insisting repeatedly that violence is down in classified briefings where he doesn't have to publicly defend his figures.

If these don't sound like the actions of an honest broker to you, they don't to me either. They sound like elements of a campaign with one overriding purpose: to convince politicians and opinion makers that we're making progress in Iraq regardless of whether we are or not. We're only seeing the results of Petraeus's PR blitzkrieg now, but it's obviously been in the works for months and it's been a smashing success. The general has profoundly outplayed the amateurs on their home turf.

Bravo, general. Well played.

UPDATE: I didn't know this when I wrote this post, but Andrea Mitchell partially retracted her comment about Gen. Petraeus a couple of days after she made it. Details here, along with a response from Petraeus's public affairs officer.


[bth: I've been thinking this over. The reason I think Petraeus has been willing to let the White House write his report and play on his good name is pretty evident. I suspect Petraeus plans to run for high public office in coming years. That's where 4 stars go as their is little more altitude possible within the military structure. .... The sad things though is that he is going to lose his good name to the Cheney's and the Bush's of the world that prey on it like vampires. He should be careful. Americans are prepared for generals to lie, but like politicians they cannot afford to lose the public trust.]

TPMmuckraker August 30, 2007 5:59 PM

TPMmuckraker August 30, 2007 5:59 PM: "The country is not a one-size-fits-all, a one-description-fits-all. It's much more a mosaic,' the U.S. official in charge of training Iraqi security forces, Lieutenant General James Dubik, told military analysts today on a conference call. And he's got a point. So maybe it's fitting that the Pentagon's last two quarterly reports show all sorts of unexplained shifts -- even on the exact same pieces of data. "

Brian Katulis, a senior fellow at the liberal Center for American Progress, told reporters at a National Security Network briefing today that the Pentagon reports can't keep their stories straight when it comes to the incidences of sectarian attacks and murders. Take two most recent reports, from March (pdf) and June (pdf).

On page 17 of both reports is a graph entitled "Sectarian Murders and Incidents" that tallies sectarian attacks by month. The March report lists that, for instance, December 2006 hosted over 900 sectarian "incidents" resulting in just under 1300 murders. But in the June report, the numbers shade up: December 2006 hosted over 1000 incidents yielding over 1600 murders.

Similarly, the March report listed a decline of about 150 sectarian murders from September to October 2006. But the June report changes that to an increase of nearly 400 murders during that same time period. Speaking generally, the June report makes 2006 look like a more deadly, sectarian year than did its March predecessor, but there are exceptions: April 2006 had 700 sectarian murders in the March report, but somehow, that figure drops to under 400 murders in the June report.....

[bth: curious progressive series of math and definitional problems. I like the way "death squad" seems to disappear from the lexicon of the reports as the author goes on to point out.]

South of Baghdad, U.S. troops find fatigue, frustration

McClatchy Washington Bureau | 08/30/2007 | South of Baghdad, U.S. troops find fatigue, frustration: "SOUTHEAST OF SALMAN PAK, Iraq — Standing in a small room in the Iraqi home they'd raided an hour earlier, a dozen soldiers from the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division were trading jokes when 1st Sgt. Troy Moore, Company A's senior enlisted man, shouted out."

"We're bringing democracy to Iraq," he called, with obvious sarcasm, as a reporter entered the room. Then Moore began loudly humming the "Battle Hymn of the Republic." Within seconds the rest of the troops had joined in, filling the small, barren home in the middle of Iraq with the patriotic chorus of a Civil War-era ballad.

U.S. officials say that security has improved since the Sledgehammer Brigade, as the 3rd Brigade is called, arrived five months ago as part of the 30,000-strong buildup of additional U.S. troops to Iraq and took control of an area 30 miles southeast of Baghdad. The brigade, with 3,800 soldiers, has eight times the number of troops that were in the area before.

Although the soldiers who since spring have walked and ridden through this volatile area mixed with Sunni and Shiite Muslims have seen some signs of progress, they still face the daily threat of roadside bombs, an unreliable Iraqi police force, the limitations of depending on Iraqis for tips and the ever-elusive enemy.

"Even though we've out-stayed our welcome, in the big picture of whether we've helped or not, I know we have," said Sgt. Christofer Kitto, a 23-year-old sniper from Altamont, N.Y. "But now it's just in a state of quagmire. The U.S. time here has come and gone."

On this night, the troops had been ferried by helicopter to a rural enclave abutting the Tigris River. Their mission: Uproot a suspected nest of Sunni insurgents.

But the soldiers found only a small cache of weapons outside one of the 13 houses they searched. They detained one man who identified himself with a name that didn't match his government-issued ID, earning him a noisy, expletive-laden interrogation that was easily overheard in the next room.

"Keep your head down! Keep your (expletive) head down!" the interrogator yelled in English as an interpreter translated. "Why are you speaking if you're lying? You better think about what you're saying before you talk to me, son. I've got a real short temper tonight!"

Another Iraqi man who lived in the house also was questioned, though he wasn't detained. What did he know about Sunni insurgents living in the area, asked Staff Sgt. Kenneth Braxton, who's from Philadelphia. Nothing, the man said. Braxton said he knew the man was lying because of the way he moved his eyes. The sergeant tore an American flag Velcro patch from his sleeve and told the Iraqi to hold it to his chest. Then another soldier used a digital camera to take a picture of the man.

"So we've got a picture of you holding an American flag now," Braxton said. He told the man that if he didn't cooperate, the photo would be posted around the neighborhood.

It the end, it didn't appear that the soldiers gleaned any helpful information from the man. The military didn't say what happened to the detainee. A few hours later, the soldiers returned to Command Outpost Cleary, weary and disappointed.

The 3rd Brigade, based at Fort Benning, Ga., arrived here in March and quickly pieced together four bare-essentials outposts, including Cleary, within striking distance of the region's towns and from which raids are launched.

The rest of their time is spent at Forward Operating Base Hammer, a sprawling military base 30 miles east of Baghdad where dust devils spin across the layered sand. The troops live in 12-person tents bordered by 3-foot-tall sandbag barriers.

Col. Wayne Grigsby, of Prince George's County, Md., the brigade's commander, ticks off his troops' accomplishments since June: 86 "knuckleheads" killed and 186 detained; 50 homemade bombs disarmed and 21 weapons caches discovered; 100 boats — used by Sunnis to transport weapons up the Tigris to Baghdad — destroyed.

"People ask me is the surge working, I say, 'How can it not work?' You've got eight companies sitting in a place where there was one company before," he said.

After months of interacting daily with municipal governments and providing economic relief, the military has begun to earn Iraqis' trust, he said. Now tips about suspected insurgents come in regularly from townspeople.

Grigsby keeps the entryway to his office decorated with red, white and blue balloons and a sign that reads: "Git 'R Done!" Beside his desk stands a metal rocket launcher that his troops recovered from an insurgent safe house last month. Insurgents used the launcher and others like it to fire a hail of rockets at FOB Hammer on July 11, killing one soldier. It's an odd piece of memorabilia, a constant reminder of how aggressive and resourceful the enemy can be.

Grigsby is optimistic about his troops' work, but he also knows that they're going home in less than nine months and that the effort will have been for naught if the Iraqis don't pick up the slack. So far, Iraqi police don't patrol any part of the region without the military's help.

In late June, the 3rd Brigade turned over control of an abandoned Pepsi factory in Salman Pak — the largest city in the region — to Iraqi police so they could use it as a checkpoint and patrol base. Three hours after U.S. forces left, insurgents swarmed the factory in broad daylight and took control.

"The surge isn't going on forever, so who's going to take our place?" Grigsby asked. "The key is the Iraqi security forces; that is the key. We've worked our butts off up here and lost some great soldiers. At some point, they've got to bring it so they can live in a peaceful nation."

Staff Sgt. Bobby Dorsey, who's based in Command Outpost Cleary and is from Norman Park, Ga., said Iraqi police increasingly were handling problems themselves instead of calling on U.S. troops for help. But he wonders how long it will take for them to become completely independent.

"It's a slow process when you're trying to help develop a police force and government that's self-sustaining," said Dorsey, 26. "It's going to take a little longer. I don't know how long (U.S. troops) will be here. It could be one week, it could be 10 years."

Meanwhile, Dorsey and other soldiers continue to put their lives at risk.

During a seven-Humvee convoy trip from FOB Hammer to Command Outpost Cleary, Spc. Christopher Shelly, from Austell, Ga., manned the seventh Humvee's gun. He kept a wary eye on his surroundings.

"You see those two light poles over there; there's a pile of dirt between them," he said over the Humvee's communications system. Every bump, mound or piece of debris could mean an explosively formed projectile, designed to pierce Humvees' armor.

Shelly decided that the pile of dirt wasn't a danger — "It's probably too far off from the road" — but his caution shows how wary troops are of the roadside bombs.

Maj. Joe Sowers, a public affairs officer from Richmond, Ind., said that during his first tour in 2004, "there was no such thing" as EFPs, which the U.S. military says that the Iranian military supplies.

"Us and the insurgents have grown together," Sowers said. "It's a deadly little dance we're doing, and they're improving."

It's not just the roadside bombs that kill.

Standing in FOB Hammer's conference room, Sowers pointed to a wall with framed photos of 19 soldiers from the 3rd Brigade who've been killed in action. He ticked off the way they died: "I was on this patrol. It was an EFP," Sowers said, pointing to one of the photos. "This one was small-arms fire. This one was a crush-wire IED (improvised explosive device). This one was a rocket. This one was a sniper."

A blog on the 3rd Infantry Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team is at http:\\footprintsinthesandsofiraq.blogspot.com

(Collins reports for The Fresno Bee.)

[bth: 8 times more troops. No wonder the insurgents picked up and moved elsewhere to raise hell. .... Fundamentally, liberators leave. They have to. The sergeants have it right. Its time to go.]

Lack of equipment hampers Iraqi army

Lack of equipment hampers Iraqi army - Los Angeles Times: "MOSUL, Iraq — Although Washington has made the readiness of Iraqi forces a key benchmark of progress, the Baghdad government is still failing to supply Iraqi commanders in this northern city with adequate equipment to go it alone, U.S. commanders say."

Equipment shortages are a major concern in Mosul and other areas as U.S. offensives in Anbar province in the west and belts of cities surrounding Baghdad drive Al Qaeda in Iraq fighters and other militants north.

"Bottom line, things are just not getting here," said Lt. Col. Stephen Twitty, commander of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division.

Twitty said Iraqi security forces in Mosul are among the most active and independent in the country, patrolling neighborhoods and coordinating their own raids and searches. They operate with the support of a single U.S. battalion, compared with 11 a year and a half ago and 27 in Baghdad, the military said.

But Twitty said Iraq's Defense and Interior ministries have failed to supply Iraqi commanders with much-needed equipment for their missions -- the armored trucks, attack helicopters and bomb-detecting robots that U.S. forces have trained them to use.

U.S. soldiers have been supplying Iraqi security forces with spare parts and helping them repair vehicles, Twitty said, but they can't provide them with the new vehicles, medical supplies, weapons and engineering technology they need.

Prime Minister Nouri Maliki and the ministries have promised to better equip the country's security forces by the time Twitty is scheduled to hand over his command in January, but he and other U.S. commanders said they have seen little change in recent months.

"Progress, in my opinion, remains too slow," Twitty said.

As U.S. forces try to reduce their presence in the region, they will have to leave more specialists behind to support the Iraqis unless the Iraqi government supplies security forces now, Twitty said.

U.S. officials have been pressuring the Iraqi government to better arm its troops amid signs of a deterioration in Iraqi readiness. Recent reports show fewer Iraqi security forces capable of fighting independently: about nine Iraqi army divisions, according to a White House assessment this month, compared with 10 in a May assessment by Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Walking through one of Mosul's downtown markets with Twitty and Iraqi police officers last month, near throngs of shoppers and merchants milling between stalls and ancient ruins, police Sgt. Maj. Whathiq Mohammed Abdulqadr Hamdani said he was trying to fight insurgents with inferior firepower. He pointed across the Tigris River, where he said Iraqi police and soldiers were conducting a security operation.

"We need to fight the insurgents with the bigger guns," he said, pointing again, this time across the street to a BKC machine gun atop one of his police trucks. He wants to replace the BKC with a bigger .50-caliber machine gun and add armor to the truck.

"If we got our equipment, we would get our independence -- not just to attack, but to build the country," he said.

Soon after, Twitty visited the Iraqi Army 2nd Brigade headquarters, where Staff Col. Taha Asker Mathlum also said he needed equipment, especially the technology to detect roadside bombs and jam radio signals. He requested new equipment from the central government 10 months ago, he said, but had not received a response.

As Iraqi forces have taken the lead in more offensives in the last three months, they have seen casualties rise to 232 in July from 91 in January, according to the website icasualties.org.

The risks of serving and the lack of sophisticated equipment for jobs such as detecting roadside bombs have made it difficult to maintain skilled soldiers, Mathlum said.

U.S. commanders in Baghdad are unlikely to pressure the Iraqi government to send new equipment to Mosul.

Rear Adm. Mark Fox said he'd heard about shortages in recent months, but that the focus of the military buildup was U.S. troop levels in Baghdad, not equipping Iraqis in the provinces.

Iraqi security forces have "the basics," he said: vehicles and weapons.

"They've got what they need," he said
.

But Twitty said Iraqi and U.S. leaders can't ignore equipment shortages that weaken Iraqi leaders' commands. To do so, he said, would slight commanders such as Mathlum and Hamdani, who stood their ground against insurgents while others fled, and developed a skilled security force.

"You've got to give them the equipment that they want," Twitty said.

[bth: after 4 years how hard can this be? Get them the GD equipment and a functioning supply train while we're at it. We gut their air force, we fail to support a logistics train for the Iraqis and then expect the process to work when we look elsewhere. Wouldn't it be nice to get them some EOD capability since we lost more EOD soldiers last year than any year save 1945?

The fact that Mosul hasn't ripped itself apart with the redeployment of US troops away from it is in and of itself a major positive statement. I'm assuming these forces are Kurdish, but whatever. If they're friendly then we need to help them.

I'm no counterinsurgency specialist, but it seems obvious that you help your friends and if they can be trusted you arm those friends to the teeth. Can't we jsut get this part right?]

M303 Special Operations Forces demolition kit

M303 Special Operations Forces demolition kit: "The Army's Special Operations Forces have performed demolition operations dating back to pre-World War II using bulk explosives and non-standard, improvised methods. Soldiers have used materials found in the field such as junk yard scrap, glass champagne bottle bottoms and steel plates and molded the explosive to them in an attempt to increase the efficiency of the charges for specialized missions. Since the advent of munitions incorporating explosively formed penetrators as warheads, the Special Operations Forces have learned to build demolition charges using this technology. Often times, through trial and error, they succeed in building EFP demolition charges that will destroy the intended targets. However, their improvised demolition EFPs are rarely optimized nor do they have consistent and reliable performance because of the variability in materials and building techniques they employed. "

In addition to fabricating the charges, the soldiers must improvise methods to attach the charges to a wide variety of targets, often for extended periods of time, in virtually all environmental conditions. The attachment methods also require the soldier's direct presence at the target. It could be a bridge's support columns, an electrical power substation, etc. Many of these missions do not permit a safe stand-off distance from the target during emplacement of the demolition charges. This exposes the soldiers to detection and eradication by the enemy forces.

To overcome these deficiencies, TACOM-ARDEC recently developed M303 Special Operations Forces Demolition Kit to provide the Special Operations Forces soldiers with state-of-the-art components and methods needed to accomplish their missions more safely, efficiently, and effectively while improving their survivability. The SOFDK allows soldiers to remotely acquire their targets at extended standoff distances using munitions that defeat targets using less explosives than conventional demolition operations. The SOFDK provides components and methods that greatly improve the soldiers' fighting ability by lightening the soldiers' load and reducing time-on-target.

The Kit is a collection of inert metal and plastic parts and commercially available items that give the SOF soldiers a wide selection of warheads and attachment devices which he can tailor to defeat a specific mission target. The various warheads include three sizes of conical shaped charges, four sizes of linear shaped charges, and a new capability with two sizes of explosively formed penetrators with more sizes to follow. The warheads are provided in a set configuration that contains all materials, less explosives, needed to pack the warheads with explosive, set them up and attach them on or near the target. It also gives the user a new capability in the form of an inert kit containing the components to tailor-make various explosive charges and securely employ or attach these charges to targets which is critical for mission success and user survivability.

The centerpieces of the M303 Kit are the new EFP warheads that provide a standoff capability, previously not available to the SOF soldier, to defeat hard targets. All materials in the Kit are inert and thus can be carried to the mission area using any available means of transport from military to commercial, air, sea or ground. In the last friendly area near the mission jump-off site, called the Isolation Facility, the user will study his target folder and select the proper warheads and hand pack the warheads with Composition C-4 moldable explosive. The warheads are then carried in the soldiers' rucksacks to the target site. The EFP warheads are set up on standard camera tripods included in the Kit and aimed with a built-in Omega sight or with one sight from the soldiers' standard set of four interchangeable carbine sights. Use of these sights provides the maximum accuracy at the greatest standoff distances attainable for numerous types of targets and mission scenarios. The warheads are primed with standard blasting caps or detonation cord and when initiated, form the EFP or "Canon Ball" that is explosively projected at high velocity to impact the target with devastating results. All warheads can be used in environments ranging from tropic to Arctic under limited visibility conditions. The EFP warheads can even be used in total darkness, when using the soldiers' standard visible laser or infra-red (night vision goggle-compatible) laser sight. The EFP warheads are effective in defeating a wide variety of targets ranging from eight-inch thick reinforced concrete block walls to three-inch thick armor plate.

The M303 was developed for and will be issued exclusively to the Army proponent within the Special Operations Command. Due to the strong User support from the Navy Seals for the EFP warheads and the medium and large linear shaped charges these items will also be procured for Navy use.

The Type Classification Standard action for the XM303 Special Operations Forces Demolition Kit was formally approved by Col. Thomas E. Dresen, Project Manager for Mines Countermine & Demolitions, the Milestone Decision Authority, Dec. 23, 1997.

TACOM-ARDEC developed the SOFDK to meet the requirements of the Special Operations Forces. Two significant items in the SOFDK are the lightweight explosively formed penetrators which were developed in-house using two and three dimensional computer analysis. The SOFDK program will now enter the full scale production phase. When fielded, the SOFDK will provide the users with enhanced capabilities for conducting demolition missions.

The SOFDK was Type Classified Standard in fiscal 1998 and is now in the production phase. It is logistically supported by an Operator's Manual and a Graphic Training Aid reference card. A product follow-on effort is underway to develop a larger EFP warhead for defeating a 24-inch reinforced concrete column. The program is managed by the Office of The Project Manager for Mines, Countermine and Demolitions. The Precision Munitions, Mines and Demolition Division, FSAC, manages the engineering effort for the program. Personnel from TACOM-ARDEC's Energetics and Warheads Division developed the EFP warheads.


[bth: these are going to be needed to defeat EFPs that can be located before detonation. The deployment of these items can be problematic.]

EFP In Iraq: Deadly Numbers

Danger Room - Wired Blogs#more#more: "The Iraq Index published by the Brookings Institution has some revealing metrics of the situation in Iraq. Subtitled Tracking Variables of Reconstruction & Security in Post-Saddam Iraq, this is a substantial survey giving a lot more detail than the usual drive-by media reporting. Drawing together figures from various sources it shows the month-by-month changes in of the number of civilian deaths per month (encouragingly down), numbers of kidnappings, prison population (up this year from 14,000 to 21,000) and the estimated strength of the insurgency (latest estimate is 20-30,000 including 1,000 Al Qaida and 800-2,000 foreign fighters).

There is also a mass of detail on oil and electricity, press freedom, displaced persons and economic activity, plus much more.

But from a military technology point of view, the numbers also give an indication of the real effectiveness of the insurgency's deadliest weapon. The EFP or explosively formed projectile, is a bomb which fires a high-velocity armor-piercing metal slug which can destroy an armored Hummer. They're small -- coffee-can sized -- and can be laid well off the road. And they're getting more common.

They first appeared in 2004. The number of EFP attacks rose from 62 in December 06 to 99 in July. That's a tiny fraction of the total number of bombs – Brookings quotes a military source that puts them at 2% of all IEDs, others suggest perhaps 4%-6% – but according to the New York Times the EFPs accounted for 23 of the 69 US dead in July. They also injured 89 of the 614 allied troops recorded as wounded in that month.

Going from 62 to 99 is an almost 60% increase in seven months. In February the number was described as an increase of 150% in the previous year, so we are looking at a continuing pattern. If the number of EFPs continues to rise, in theory the rate of US casualties could quadruple or worse, even if the total number of IEDs planted stays the same. In fact, even if the number of bombs planted starts to go down, we might still see a significant increase in casualties if the proportion of EFPs goes up.

Intelligence officials have long blamed Iran for supplying EFP parts, but this remains in doubt. In any case, as Janes reports, even if the original technology came from Iran,

... the knowledge required to manufacture and use EFPs may have become so widespread that Iranian assistance is no longer required.

According to London's Telegraph newspaper,

The Ministry of Defence has attempted to play down the effectiveness of the weapons, suggesting that they are "crude" or "improvised" explosive devices which have killed British troops more out of luck than judgement.

However, this newspaper understands that Government scientists have established that the mines are precision-made weapons which have been turned on a lathe by craftsmen trained in the manufacture of munitions.

At least two EFP factories have since been found in Iraq, facilities which produced the thin copper 'lenses' for EFPs. The picture suggests that one man with a lathe can turn out enough to keep the insurgency supplied at the current rate. Several lathes would mean a lot more EFPs; at the current rate each one of those stacks of five or six copper lenses represents one potential death.

One bright spot: EFPs produce much less collateral damage than other IEDs. So the number of Iraqi civilians killed as a 'by product' of attacks on military convoys may get smaller.

[bth: any mass use of these would decimate our supply convoys. That hundreds, if not thousands, of these aren't being used against us now is a greater tribute to Iranian restraint than anything else. If they wanted to eliminate our supply columns, a mass attack of these devices combined with the destruction of numerous bridges would cut our bases off. Within months we would be driven out. Think about it. Departing Iraq is not just our decision. The other parties in this region have a vote. They don't need to destroy our tanks, they just need to cut us off from foot, water and fuel like they did in for a few months in the spring of 2004 when the first Fallujah offensive ground to a halt.]

MRAP V Superbomb: Round 2

Danger Room - Wired Blogs: "The new Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles will not provide protection against explosively-formed projectiles (EFP), the roadside bombs that fire a high-velocity metal slug. So contractors are already working on MRAP II, which will provide a much higher level of protection against this sort of attack. But that doesn't necessarily mean it's 'game over' for EFPs."

Iraqi insurgents have shown themselves high adaptable. IED design has mutated rapidly, with a range of techniques being used to stay ahead of bomb jammers. If MRAP II is proof against existing EFPs, there are several routes the insurgents might take to upgrade their bombs.

1) Enhanced design. Basic EFPs form a dish-shaped liner into a crude metal slug. Sophisticated designs using supercomputer modelling can create a longer, more aerodynamic projectile with fins for greater range. Another alternative is a design which produces of a 'stretching rod' – the front is moving faster than the rear, so it stretches in flight. With a greater length-to-diameter ratio, these rods have shorter range but greater armor penetration.

Rating: Very unlikely without major outside assistance

2) Enhanced material. Existing EFPs are made of copper; US weapon designers also started with copper, but found that other, denser metals can produce improved performance. A common material for US weapons is the dense metal Tantalum, which will improve penetration by about 35% for the same diameter EFP.

Rating: Very unlikely. Tantulum is much harder to obtain and work than copper.

3) Enhanced targeting. All vehicles have specific weak points. For example, in Afghanistan Mujahideen learned to attack Soviet BMP armored vehicles from behind – the rear doors are hollow and contain fuel, so a hit on them can destroy the vehicle. Careful positioning of EFPs combined with more sophisticated triggering could take advantage of any vulnerability in MRAP II.

Rating: Possible, but difficult.

4) Bigger EFPs. Simply by making the EFP bigger its range and penetrating power can be increased. Existing insurgent weapons seem to have a diameter of around four inches and fire a slug weighing ounces. Larger EFPs can be fabricated; those pictured are made by Defence Industries of Iran and include one which fires a nine-pound slug capable of piercing fourteen inches of armor.

Rating: Likely. Fabricating and positioning larger EFPs is more challenging, but well within the capabilities of insurgents.

Such a move would then be a new challenge to the makers of amored vehicles - roll on MRAP III, or some EFP-defeating add-on. The arms race continues.

[bth: therea are two other ways (1) targeting two EFPs at the same point in space and (2) massively surging the number of EFPs from around 100-200 to 1000-2000 per month.]

Renzi stepping out?

Apologetic Craig resigns -- chicagotribune.com: "...In 2005 House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) was forced to resign while under investigation for his ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. And Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) pleaded guilty to a felony and is serving a 30-month sentence for his dealings with Abramoff. Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.) recently said he would not run for re-election, privately telling his staff that he expects to be indicted for his ties to Abramoff."...

[bth: War & Piece (the blog) makes a good case that Renzi was a career CIA operative before showing up in Arizona to sell insurance and run or Congress.]

More children are doing the bombings and killings in Iraq

http://www.kansascity.com/news/world/story/258369.html: "BAGHDAD, Iraq Child fighters, once a rare presence on Iraq’s battlefields, are playing a significant and growing role in kidnappings, killings and roadside bombings in the country, U.S. military officials say."

Boys, some as young as 11, now outnumber foreign fighters at U.S. detention camps in Iraq. Since March, their numbers have risen from 100 to 800, said Maj. Gen. Douglas Stone, the commander of detainee operations.

Stone attributes the rise in child fighters in the country, in part, to the pressure that the U.S. buildup of troops has placed on the influx of the foreign fighters. Fewer of them are making it into the country, he said, and the militant group al-Qaida in Iraq is having a difficult time recruiting adults locally. Thus, it has turned to children.

Stone said the children make effective fighters because they are easily influenced, don’t experience fear in the same way as adults and don’t draw as much scrutiny from U.S. forces.

Stone said some children have told interrogators that their parents encouraged them to do the militants’ dirty work because the extremists have deep pockets.

[bth: what this article doesn't say is who is using the children. Is it Sunnis, is it al-Qaida types buying them or is it former Baathists or Shea? We know Sadr hires orphans at $3 per day to build IEDs, but this article seems to be referring to local sunni boys being hired. What's missing from this article is as important as what's written.]

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Cerf predicts the end of TV as we know it « Futuresheet

Cerf predicts the end of TV as we know it « Futuresheet: "Vint Cerf - one of the handful of researchers who helped build the internet in the 1970s - said that the television industry would change rapidly as it approached its “iPod moment”. The 64-year-old told an audience of media moguls that TV was rapidly approaching the same kind of crunch moment that the music industry faced with the arrival of the MP3 player.

85% of all video we watch is pre-recorded, so you can set your system to download it all the time,” he said. “You’re still going to need live television for certain things - like news, sporting events and emergencies - but increasingly it is going to be almost like the iPod, where you download content to look at later.”

Dr Cerf also revealed that he has been working on future developments for the Internet, taking it beyond the confines of planet Earth. He has been helping develop systems for using the net to communicate and control space vehicles, including interplanetary landers sent to explore the surface of Mars.

Back to Iraq: 'Being Slimed in the Green Zone'

Back to Iraq: 'Being Slimed in the Green Zone': "It’s very difficult to get accurate information out of Iraq. Spin is the order of the day, and it’s even more difficult when the U.S. military does it in the Green Zone. I’ve seen my share of that. Once, I asked an American trainer about the makeup of the Iraqi Army unit he was working with. How many Shi’ites, Kurds, Sunnis? “Oh, we’re about half Shi’ite and half Sunni,” he said. “It’s a great example of the two sects working together.” I found this hard to believe, as this was a unit in Baghdad and it was about a year before the Sunni tribes had turned on Al Qaeda in Iraq and started joining the security forces. No Kurds? “Well, you know Kurds are mainly Sunnis,” he replied.

What rubbish. He knew the message of the day was Sunni and Shi’ite sittin’ in a tree, f-i-g-h-t-i-n-g al Qaeda together, and he was determined to get it out, even if he had to push Kurds’ Sunni-ness on me.

(Kurds are probably the most secular of all Iraqis, and their ethnic identity is what defines them to other Iraqis, not their religion.)

It’s apparently getting worse. The Washington Post today ran a story from Jonathan Weisman about the codels (“Congressional Delegations”) running around the Green Zone. In Weisman’s words, the codels are “brief, choreographed and carefully controlled,” and have often “showed only what the Pentagon and the Bush administration have wanted the lawmakers to see.” On recent codel, Rep. Ellen O. Tauscher, D-Calif., and Rep. James P. Moran Jr., D-Va., both witnessed their bios — complete with their harsh anti-war language highlighted — distributed to military officials they were meeting with. The bios seem to split the visiting Congress members into “for us” and “agin’ us” types, with Moran’s most inflammatory anti-war comments highlighted, and Tauscher’s voting record distorted to make it look like she voted against the troops.

“This is beyond parsing,” Tauscher said. “This is being slimed in the Green Zone.”

But that’s not the worst of it. At one point, An American who urgently wanted to get their attention, “apparently to voice concerns about the war effort,” was whisked away by security guards before he could talk to them.

“Spin City,” Moran grumbled. “The Iraqis and the Americans were all singing from the same song sheet, and it was deliberately manipulated.”

And speaking of spin, it seems Republicans just can’t bring themselves to criticize their Iraqi clients in the Green Zone even when it’s completely warranted. In a meeting with Iraq’s national security advisor Mowaffak al-Rubaie, the two representatives tried to turn off a big TV with a children’s cartoon on that was proving distracting. “But this is my favorite television show,” Rubaie protested.

Rep. Jon Porter, R-Nev., basically said it was weird and disrespectful — this was the national security advisor watching cartoons in the middle of the day and during a meeting with members of a foreign government — but at least they had electricity. “I don’t disagree it was an odd moment, but I did take a deep breath and say, ‘Wait a minute, at least they are using the latest technology, and they are monitoring the world,’ ” Porter said.

He did allow that it was “pretty annoying.”

By the way, al-Rubaie is a joke. He has no qualifications for being national security advisor and he regularly showed his contempt for reporters. Once, while working for TIME Magazine, I had an appointment with him. He kept me waiting on the street outside the Green Zone for half an hour. A potentially fatal delay. He finally called the guard shack near where I was waiting and told me he couldn’t see me because “I have an appointment with a reporter from TIME Magazine.” I replied that I was that reporter. “Oh,” he said. “I will call you back in 10 minutes.” A few minutes later, he called back and said he couldn’t see me and would I like another appointment. What a dick.

Porter again makes excuses for the dog and pony show that are codels to the Green Zone by saying that despite the spin, trip was worth it. (Presumably his two colleagues would disagree.) Yes, there are people spouting the company line, he said, “But I spent time with people who were not officers, four of them from Nevada, two who were very blunt” about their support for the war and their anger over partisan fighting in Washington. Really? Porter got straight talk from people who were “very blunt” about their support for the war and their anger over “partisan politics”? Wow, sounds like he got some enlisted men he already agreed with and used that as evidence of his keen investigatory powers.

I have a lot of respect for the guys fighting this war, but the PR campaign coming out of CPIC, the Pentagon, the Embassy and the White House is just sickening. The happy talk, spin and excuses for failure are growing really, really tiresome.

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[bth: National Security Advisor watching cartoons while supposedly briefing Congressmen? The use of spin at every level simply leaves the congressmen with the opinion that they are getting a snow job - because in fact they are. So at what part did the White House or the Pentagon expect to be taken seriously? Madness.]