Saturday, September 29, 2007

'Shiite Taliban' rises as British depart Basra

'Shiite Taliban' rises as British depart Basra | "Basra, Iraq - The billboard in Umm al-Broom Square was meant to advertise a cellphone service. Instead, it has become a message to those who dare to resist the rising tide of fundamentalist Islam in Iraq's second largest city. "

The female model's face is now covered with black paint. Graffiti scrawled below reads, "No! No to unveiled women."

That message joins the chorus of ultraconservative voices and radical militias that are transforming this once liberal port city that boasted some of Iraq's most lively nightclubs into a bastion for hard-line Shiite Islamists since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Now, as the British prepare to exit Basra Province altogether after pulling out from this provincial capital last week, they leave behind what has been described by many here as an emerging "Shiite Taliban state," a reference to Sunni extremists in Afghanistan.

And with the British gone, many say, they leave open the possibility that Iran could extend its influence within the mosques, religious schools, and militant party headquarters. Over the past four years, Basra has undergone its own Islamic revolution of sorts.

Posters of the leader of Iran's 1979 social and religious revolt, Ayatollah Khomeini, who at the time imposed similar limits on his society, are plastered everywhere in Basra.

"There is pressure from parties backed by Iran to sideline liberal, secular, and leftist forces," says a labor union leader and a former communist, who, like most people interviewed for this story, did not want to be named for fear of retaliation. "Personal freedoms are being squashed … the fabric of Iraqi society has been ruined."

Public parties are banned. Selling musical CDs is forbidden in shops. Those who sell or consume alcohol face recrimination, even death. Artists and performers are severely restricted and even labeled as heretics. A famous city landmark, a replica of the Lion of Babylon statue that stood here for decades was blown up by militants in July. It was considered idolatrous, according to the strict interpretation of Islam.

Signs ordering women to cover up appear throughout the city. One woman, an Iraqi female activist from Basra, says the notices even threaten death. One banner, she says, said unveiled women could be murdered and no one could remove their bodies from the street.

Religious conservatism grows throughout Iraq

Although Basra is mostly Shiite, it has long prided itself on being home to a vibrant mix of Sunnis, Christians of all sects, and ancient communities like the Sabean Mandaeans.

But after Mr. Hussein's regime fell, the sway of radical Islamic militias, such as Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army, began growing in the city, as happened in the rest of the country.

"Ultimately, what we will see in Iraq is a conservative society, whether in the Shiite or Sunni areas. Sunnis, too, are going through a very difficult process that will result in the rise of conservatism and fundamentalism," says Ahmed Moussalli, a lecturer and expert on Islamic movements at the American University in Beirut. From the perspective of many, he says, "Iraq and other places [in the Arab world] are under attack ... by the West and there is a lot of return to religion in order to empower themselves to fight the 'infidels.' "

This perceived onslaught on Islamic lands and values by the West, which is for many reminiscent of the Crusades more than 1,000 years ago, combined with the Islamic Revolution in Iran has turned the typically quietist and introverted Shiite religious tradition heads over heels, explains Mr. Moussalli.

Most Shiites in Iraq do not particularly espouse the Iranian model under which the clerical establishment rules on behalf of Imam Mahdi, who is believed to be in a state of occultation, and that paves the way for the return of this Messiah-like figure as a savior.

The idea of a clerical state is still very controversial among Shiites. But Iran has been able to forge ties with Shiite forces across the Iraqi spectrum by tapping into a range of aspirations and sentiments. With powerful allies, such as the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, once based in Iran, it is bolstering Islamist Shiite control in Iraq, while elements of the Mahdi Army are fighting the so-called Western intruders and "enemies of the faith."

A leader in Mr. Sadr's movement in Basra, who gave his name as Abu Zahra, says that he and many of his partisans firmly believe that the US and its allies invaded Iraq to fight Imam Mahdi and prevent his reemergence.

He says the Mahdi Army is against violence in propagating what they consider Islamic behavior, but that it's difficult to rein in all members. "Some are overzealous sometimes and come up with their own interpretations, but Sayyed Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr was clear: Unveiled women must be shunned," he says, referring to Sadr's late father and the movement's spiritual leader. "We are a Muslim majority and we want to apply Islamic law."

Aside from Sadrists, many people argue that this is what an increasingly religious population wants, adding that the trend began in the south long before Hussein was toppled. "Until about a year ago, we had music, but we stopped after more and more customers told us to turn it off," says a manager at one restaurant, an AK-47 by his side. "Society has become more conservative."

"There is a certain desire for sanctity on the street that we can't touch," says Mahdi al-Tamimi, a local official with the Ministry of Human Rights.

But several people explain that the Islamist parties that dominate the provincial council, many of which maintain close ties to Shiite Iran, are doing little to stop the tide of hard-line Islamic values because it suits their own long-term agendas of establishing an Islamic state in Iraq.

"There are those trying to apply Khomeini's experiment in Iraq although his fatwas [edicts] on music failed in Iran," says Ahmed Mukhtar, a renowned oud player and a professor of music at the University of London who hailed originally from southern Iraq. He says there is nothing in Islam that bans music, for instance, and that Shiites are even more tolerant in this respect than their Sunni counterparts.

An official with a party close to Iran says his party is simply trying to spread Islamic values through education and reason. "We reject violence. We just educate people, and it's ultimately up to them to decide if they want to declare an Islamic state," says Qassim Muhammad who is with the Sayyed al-Shuhada Movement.

Social freedoms are eroding

But the pressure on women to cover up, even if they are not Muslim, is tremendous, says the female Iraqi activist. Both men and women must dress conservatively, and males are segregated from families in restaurants, similar to the public segregation in conservative countries such as Saudi Arabia.

"There is nothing to stop these people; they are getting stronger in preventing women from fulfilling their role in society," says the activist.

Now, all women holding public-sector jobs must be veiled, and female students at universities regularly receive written notices warning them to cover up and dress modestly, she says. Off-campus picnics and gatherings by Basra University students have been banned since March 2005, when militiamen viciously beat up a group of mixed-gender picnickers.

A student at the College of Fine Arts recounted how militiamen led by a turbaned cleric recently descended on their campus threatening to "finish off the dean with two bullets in the head" if the department was not shut down. "They called us immoral gypsies," he says

Journalists and writers, too, say they have to think twice before publishing anything critical. "You have to write in codes and anything about the militias and the links of Islamist parties to Iran are red lines that must not be crossed," says one newspaper editor.

Three journalists were killed here in 2005: US journalist Steven Vincent, who reported from Basra for the Monitor; Iraqi reporter for the New York Times, Fakher Haidar; and the Basra correspondent for US-funded Al-Hurra Television, Abdul-Hussein Khazaal.

Many people, including the newspaper editor, accuse the Mahdi Army of being the No. 1 and most-brutal enforcer of what they deem Islamic moral practices.

"We have a stereo and speakers but we can't play music – orders of the Mahdi Army," says a waiter at a restaurant in the middle-class Jazayer neighborhood. The same rules apply at several nearby establishments.

A sectarian undercurrent

Christians here still practice their faith in their churches in Basra, and those spoken to for this article have not been subjected to direct threats, as have those in Baghdad and the northern city of Mosul. But many have opted to voluntarily leave an increasingly hostile environment.

One Christian woman in Basra says that she has witnessed an exodus of families from traditionally Christian areas like Braiha, Maaqal, and Jumhouriyah over the past two years.

Sunnis in Basra have not been as fortunate. Many have been killed or forcefully pushed out from inside the city as part of the sectarian war that has swept the whole country. Most are now concentrated in areas south of Basra.

A warning given to Sunnis in the city reads, "You have 10 days to leave our blessed land in southern Iraq and you have been forewarned."

Given the absence of an effective and trusted police force, most people now rely on their tribes and clans to protect them.

"Many of my colleagues have tacked their tribal affiliation at the end of their name. This is how low we have sunk. Educated people have to rely on their family and clan to protect them," says a doctor bitterly.

Amid this crackdown, however, there is some dissent. The London-based Mr. Mukhtar is helping a renowned local band of traditional musicians to hold concerts outside Iraq. "They practice secretly at a depot in an industrial area in Basra, and their female vocalist must travel separately and incognito when they go out," he says.

He is also supporting a Basra-based maker of ouds, a traditional Arab string instrument, who is considered to be the best in the world. "We smuggle them to Dubai and then we ship them to London," he says.

And in June, Abdul-Aziz al-Dahr, a local painter, opened the city's only art gallery. "We can't just sit in the dark; we must light a candle," he says.

U.S. general: Security contractors use 'over-the-top' tactics in Iraq -

U.S. general: Security contractors use 'over-the-top' tactics in Iraq - ..."Under an order laid down by the U.S.-led occupation government in 2004, security contractors are not subject to Iraqi law for actions taken within their contracts, a condition that irritates Iraqi officials."

About 137,000 civilians are working for the U.S. military in Iraq, Gates said Wednesday. That number includes at least 7,300 of the estimated 25,000 private security contractors working in Iraq, he said.

After the Blackwater shootings, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England issued a memo to commanders in Iraq outlining their responsibility for holding contractors accountable, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said.

Anderson said the assessment team sent by Gates is getting a feel for how the military employs contractors, to what scale, what functions they're providing and what differentiates between Department of Defense and Department of State contractors in the security role.

The State Department also is investigating the role of private security contractors. Ambassador Patrick Kennedy, a management and policy expert, will lead the effort, along with a high-level panel of outside experts, including retired Gen. George Joulwan, former commander of NATO forces in Europe; Stapleton Roy, former U.S. ambassador to China; and Eric Boswell, a former assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice wants an interim report by next Friday

[bth: Condi's report by Friday offers no chance of a meaningful response. She just doesn't have it in her DNA to actually hold people accountable, especially those protecting her staff. On the other hand, holding contractors accountable to their contracts and associated conduct may be the only suitable alternative as turning them over to Iraqi justice is a nonstarter and functioning without them in Iraq with our current Pentagon is impossible. Private contractors are going to be the Achilles heal of our position in Iraq. Look for our supply lines to be cut next year after full control of them is turned over to private escort services - so to speak.]

The Blotter - Exclusive: First Images of Controversial Blackwater Incident

The Blotter: "ABC News has obtained the first images of the controversial September 16 shooting incident involving Blackwater security forces"

The still images, taken at 11:50 that morning, show the car bomb explosion near a financial compound in western Baghdad that precipitated the incident. A State Department official was visiting the compound when the bomb went off about 25 yards from the entrance. Immediately after the explosion, Blackwater is said to have called for reinforcements. In later images, two convoys of Blackwater security forces are seen arriving at the compound ten minutes later to escort the official.

As the two convoys escorting a State Department motorcade leave at 12:05, the third vehicle in the second convoy was attacked, according to Blackwater's version of events included in a sensitive but unclassified State Department report obtained by ABC News: "A white LN sedan had approached the motorcade at a high rate of speed from the south. The gunners [Blackwater forces] used hand and arm signals to stop the vehicle, then threw water bottles to get the driver’s attention. Local pedestrians also attempted to wave down the vehicle, but the vehicle continued at a high rate of speed. The gunners then engaged the vehicle with M4s [rifle] and later M240B [machine gun]."

The Blackwater account of the incident also describes the activities of Iraqi policemen (IPs) in the incident. "An IP then ran to the vehicle, peered inside, then began to push the vehicle towards the motorcade. The gunners then engaged the vehicle again, and the IP ran away."

According to the account, Iraqi policemen started shooting from a shack and a tree line south of the convoys and an insurgent in civilian clothes started firing on the convoy from a dirt mound.

In sworn statements given to State Department investigators and obtained by ABC News, Blackwater guards provide detailed accounts of the incident. At least four of them reported firing their weapons at the white sedan which approached the convoy. "I turned and engaged the car with approximately 20 to 30 rounds from my M4 rifle. After I no longer felt the threat to my life, I turned back to cover my sector," wrote one guard.

Blackwater guards also reported coming under fire from gunmen dressed in civilian clothes and Iraqi police. When one of the men in civilian clothes fired in a guard's direction, he reported, "I fired one shot from my SR25 at the closest threat. He went down and did not fire anymore."

One guard reported observing the driver of another white sedan pulling his vehicle into the convoy, prompting the guard to fire his weapon at the roof of the car. "The driver exited the vehicle and produced a small device in his hand and held it out in the direction of his vehicle. I perceived this device to be a trigger for an explosive device. Fearing for my life and the lives of my team members, I fired several well aimed rounds center mass at the threat."

As the Blackwater vehicle injured in the attack was being towed away, one guard reported coming under fire from a red bus, returning fire and warning civilians to take cover. "As we were going over the curb, I noticed several civilians and I was motioning, and screaming that they get down and find cover."

Other photos obtained by ABC News depict the level of damage caused by the vehicle explosion.

Included in the State Department report is a photo depicting the alleged damage to the Blackwater vehicle. "During the encounter numerous small arms rounds impacted the Command vehicle, including at least one round that ricocheted off of the ground and into the radiator, rendering the vehicle immobilized," according to the report.

Blackwater's account of the incident is very different from the description provided by the Iraqi Interior Ministry. According to the Iraqi account, Blackwater guards halted traffic and fired on a white sedan that failed to slow down as it approached their convoy. That car erupted in flames, killing the driver and a woman and Blackwater guards continued to fire their weapons as people fled the scene. According to the ministry, Blackwater guards killed a total of eleven people and wounded twelve.

Blackwater has been involved in a series of other incidents over the year and the Iraqi government has asked for the company to be banned in the country. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice has asked for a "full and complete" review of the incident, along with four other incidents involving Blackwater guards killing civilians.

A Blackwater spokeswoman said, "We can’t provide a comment except to say this is an ongoing investigation."

A State Department spokesman told ABC News: "Look, you know, I am sure that at a certain point, once the investigation is concluded, we can deal with all those questions. But I'm not trying to rule anything in. I'm not trying to rule anything out. I'm telling you that we have an investigation that is ongoing."

This post has been updated.

Watch the full report on WN tonight.

Marcus Baram contributed to this report

[bth: this obviously puts a different light on the situation. For example there was evidently an IED which Iraqi Interior Ministry officials initially denied. Curious...Not to mention the shooting policemen.... What is most interesting is how this situation is being selectively leaked by Blackwater and State Dept. sources on the one hand against Iraqi Ministry of Interior sources on the other. Since there is evidently no court to judge their conduct other than the court of public opinion that is where the facts of the case are being selectively leaked - aired. I've received several emails and comments regarding earlier posts I made critical of Blackwater on this incident. Those comments strongly suggest that an attempt is being made by someone affiliated with the company to put its story forward via email and blog postings related to the event. Put simply there is a damage control effort underway by the company across the internet. This Blotter story, which relies on still images and documents supposedly provided by the company to the state department and all anonymously sourced is telling. So without other jurisdiction, the court of public opinion may be the final and only verdict in this case.]

Friday, September 28, 2007

Senior Al Qaeda in Iraq Leader Killed by U.S. Forces - International News | News of the World | Middle East News | Europe News - Senior Al Qaeda in Iraq Leader Killed by U.S. Forces - International News | News of the World | Middle East News | Europe News: "WASHINGTON — U.S.-led forces have killed one of the most important leaders of Al Qaeda in Iraq, a Tunisian believed connected to the kidnapping and killings last summer of American soldiers, a top commander said Friday."...

Anderson laid out a series of operations over the last two weeks that led up to the air strike that killed al-Tunisi in the town of Musayib.

He said an associate of al-Tunisi's was captured in one mission on Sept. 12 in Baghdad and another with links to him was captured Sept. 14 in Mahmudiyah when coalition forces targeted the network that facilitates the flow of foreign fighters in the southern belts around Baghdad.

More associates were captured over the next few days. On Sept. 25, commanders received information that a meeting was taking place near Musayib with al-Tunisi and other Al Qaeda in Iraq members. A U.S. Air Force F-16 aircraft attacked the target.

Al-Tunisi's presence was confirmed by a detainee who had just fled the area before the attack and was captured minutes later, Anderson said.

[bth: what's interesting about this is that the strike occurred on the 25th and was announced as part of the Friday afternoon feel good story for the weekend and the end of the quarter. Usually a story like this would be held for some weeks or months until bad news was coming or a congressional hearing was imminent - but in this case the story was timely and presented on the last day of the fiscal year.]
Posted by Picasa

Chaos and unity in a fragmented Iraq - The Boston Globe

Chaos and unity in a fragmented Iraq - The Boston Globe: "WHAT GENERAL PETREAUS and his master, President Bush, would like us to believe is that recent American policy in Iraq can be seen as a military success but a political failure judged in terms of the inability of the country's sectarian leaders to unite. What they cannot see is that the two are much more closely related than they are willing to admit."

One factor is that by arming and financing the Sunni tribes in Anbar Province as local militias, the American military is both recognizing the lack of central government control and helping to undermine it still further. But there is much more to it than that.

The major reasons why sectarian leaders cannot come together to create a united leadership for a united Iraq is that, rather than being able to control their followers outside the Green Zone, they are now, to a larger extent, controlled by them.

How and why this came about can be summed up under two related reasons. One concerns the long history of the devolution of local power by British and American authorities, first to the Kurds, then to those Iraqi sectarian parties that won a majority in the provincial elections in 2005.

In the case of the British in particular, control over the local administration and the police was simply handed to whichever Shi'ite party, or coalition of parties, gained the most electoral support. The same happened in the northern provinces, for example in the Mosul region, a process that greatly added to sectarian fighting in and around the city itself as a result of the fact that the Sunnis, by boycotting the election, had excluded themselves from the official political process.

The second, increasingly important reason is the fact that, as in the case of Lebanon during its own civil war, there were enough economic resources scattered around the country for local warlords who controlled them to maintain their own loyal militias and civilian constituencies without having to reply on the leadership's financial support.

These included such tangible assets as police stations and armories, as well as economic assets like oil pipelines or refineries, electricity substations able to route local supplies, ports, and vital roads where traffic coming in and out of Kuwait in the south and Jordan and Syria in the east could readily be taxed, used for the smuggling of drugs and weapons or both.

Circumstances of this type provided an impetus to the fragmentation of sectarian cohesion as well. The intensity of the struggle to control local resources often pitted one Shi'ite group against another, a process sometimes further encouraged by politicians at the center as the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki sought to use the provincial police forces controlled by its Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council allies against the Mahdi army militia of Moqtada al-Sadr and against those of the Fadhila movement.

A system based increasingly on a struggle for local resources provided huge encouragement for all kinds of criminal mafias to muscle in, further undermining sectarian cohesion in the interests of sheer opportunism and extortion. In many case, these groups, with the identical cross-border connections, had been active in much the same way during the last years of the Saddam Hussein regime.

To make matters worse, it was relatively easy to draw American and British troops into the fight in support of one group against another, the more so if it could be alleged that the later was Al Qaeda or Iranian controlled.

Meanwhile, initial loyalties based on the promise of rewards for electoral support are becoming more tenuous as the likelihood of further elections became less sure. The result: a patchwork of local groups and alliance no longer neatly split, if they ever really were, into different sectarian parties, management of which has mutated far beyond the capacity of the Maliki government, the occupying forces or even the Iranians to understand, let alone direct or control.

The implications are that Anglo-American policy aimed at building a central government consisting of a working arrangement among the leaders of all the larger sectarian parties has failed. Without the power over their constituents that comes from their ability to provide them with resources, these leaders have become largely captive to the more bellicose and outspoken among their followers.

Indeed, this inconvenient fact is often recognized on the ground as, given the chaos in Baghdad itself, American reconstruction teams become forced to hand over new projects to whichever of the factions can be trusted to operate them on a local basis. Such tendencies can only increase in strength once there be appears anything like a reasonable timetable for American military redeployment or withdrawal.

Even more alarming, without any central mechanism for guiding policy and arbitrating disputes, let alone controlling the putative national army, the temptation for one of the sectarian parties to use its military power to try to subdue the others becomes daily more attractive, particularly if this could be done in concert with the US Army or perhaps even the Iranians if they would agree to enter the country in strength.

Given the present tendency for members of one party or militia to assassinate the leaders of another, it may come to seem the only rational means of self-preservation.

If this analysis is correct, then the president is right to believe that the presence of a large American military force is all that now holds the country together. But, by the same token, it cannot succeed in uniting Iraq behind a strong central government because the forces of disintegration unleashed by the occupation are now far too strong.

As a result Iraq faces a situation roughly analogous to Lebanon during its civil war in the late 1970s and 1980s or Afghanistan after the withdrawal of the Russian Army in the 1990s; a situation in which warlord militias will increasingly rule the roost until one or other of them, or perhaps a combination, can obtain enough strength to create the beginnings of a new order.

Roger Owen is a professor Middle East history at Harvard University

[bth: perhaps I'm overlooking it but this author seems to have forgotten Syrias engagement in Lebanon as the way that country came to 'peace' much the same way Iran may engage in Iraq. That Iraq is busting up, may be unfortunate, but why not let it bust up? So Turkey and Saudi Arabia will be unhappy. So what? It seems to be a better alternative than a corrupt, religious and ineffective government that now exists at the national level in Iraq.]
Posted by Picasa

Attack on a Gold Star Father on the Washington Mall

Posted by Picasa

Saudis Rethink Taboo on Women Behind the Wheel

Saudis Rethink Taboo on Women Behind the Wheel - New York Times: ..."DUBAI Saudi newspapers have begun writing about the implications and acceptability of having women drive. The Saudi National Human Rights Association has begun researching the effect of women’s driving on families and Saudi society, activists said.

A group of Saudi women have led a petition drive asking the king to repeal the ban on driving by women, placing the issue at the heart of a discussion about modernity and Saudi Arabia’s place in the world. And the government, which was hostile toward the last such petition in 1990, now seems mildly receptive.

“You get the feeling that they are preparing the population for this issue,” said Wajeha al- Huwaider, 45, one of the organizers. “It is just like the decision to allow women education. They resisted it, but now it’s a reality.”

On Sunday, Ms. Huwaider and some 1,100 other women sent the petition to King Abdullah.

Some Saudi officials and religious men agree with the women that Islam does not forbid women to drive. In the past, Saudi women were able to move freely on camel and horseback, and Bedouin women in the desert openly drive pickup trucks far from the public eye.

Clerics and religious conservatives maintain that allowing women to drive would open Saudi society to untold corruption. Women alone in a car, they say, would be more open to abuse, to going wayward, and to getting into trouble if they had an accident or were stopped by the police. The net result would be an erosion of social mores, they say....

[bth: it is hard to believe that in the modern world in the 21st century this debate is occurring. It goes to show you just how backward the world can be if theologians are allowed to control society. There is no social progress at all when absolute knowledge is assumed by those who seek absolute power in the name of God.]

Official Calls Kurd Oil Deal at Odds With Baghdad

Official Calls Kurd Oil Deal at Odds With Baghdad - New York Times: "BAGHDAD Sept. 27 — A senior State Department official in Baghdad acknowledged Thursday that the first American oil contract in Iraq, that of the Hunt Oil Company of Dallas with the Kurdistan Regional Government, was at cross purposes with the stated United States foreign policy of strengthening the country’s central government.

“We believe these contracts have needlessly elevated tensions between the K.R.G. and the national government of Iraq,” the official said, referring to the Kurdistan Regional Government. The official was not authorized to speak for attribution on the oil contract.

The tensions between Kurdistan and the central government go well beyond the oil law. Already a semiautonomous region for more than 15 years, Kurdistan in many respects functions as independent state and wants as much latitude as possible to run its region. Recently, the Kurdistan government has pushed to extend its borders to include nearby areas that have sizable Kurdish populations.

Hunt Oil, a closely held company, signed a production-sharing agreement with the Kurdistan Regional Government this month. The company’s chief executive and president, Ray L. Hunt, is a close political ally of President Bush and serves on the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.

Hunt Oil and the Kurds signed the contract after the Kurdish government passed a regional oil law in August. But it is unclear how the regional law will interact with a national oil law under discussion in the Iraqi Parliament...

[bth: this is going to be an important one to watch. The Hunts are well connected with the Republican party and the Bush administration. Further, they historically had very close ties with Libya and Kadaffi and undoubtedly were big advocates of reproachment with Libya. When these guys are bribing dictators they are trying to corner the silver market. This move into Kurdistan is a trial run I'm guessing to see what happens while Bush is in office. If it works then there is a bonanza for the Kurds and the Hunts. ... Make no doubt about it, for the Hunts, its about the oil. I wouldn't be surprised one bit if when Bush retires to his sizable north Dallas estate he doesn't join the board of directors and you can bet there is large donation coming to the Bush library down the street at SMU.]

Gates Favors Faster Expansion of the Army - New York Times

Gates Favors Faster Expansion of the Army - New York Times: "WASHINGTON, Sept. 27 — Hoping to ease the strain of two wars, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Thursday that he was likely to approve a $3 billion plan by the Army to accelerate by a full year the expansion of its active-duty force that President Bush approved in January."

Under the proposal, the Army would expand to 547,000 troops by 2011, one year sooner than under Mr. Bush’s plan. Army Secretary Pete Geren told reporters on Thursday that he favored the faster expansion to relieve the strains of providing troops for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I’m inclined to approve it,” Mr. Gates said of the Army proposal at a Pentagon news conference on Thursday. “My questions have focused principally on whether they can do it in terms of recruitment and whether they can do so without lowering standards.” Mr. Gates said that he would not allow the Army to reduce recruiting standards to get the higher force numbers. The Army has had intermittent problems this year reaching the higher recruiting targets needed to expand the overall force. ...

[bth: we are six years into war. that we would be having this conversation at all just describes how screwed up the Pentagon is given the 3 and 4 rotations soldiers are being subjected to and the extended rotations. What a crime against the average enlisted person in the army. what abuse of the willing.]

State Dept. Tallies 56 Shootings Involving Blackwater on Diplomatic Guard Duty - New York Times

State Dept. Tallies 56 Shootings Involving Blackwater on Diplomatic Guard Duty - New York Times: "WASHINGTON, Sept. 27 — The State Department said Thursday that Blackwater USA security personnel had been involved in 56 shootings while guarding American diplomats in Iraq so far this year. It was the first time the Bush administration had made such data public"

Blackwater, a large, privately held security contractor based in North Carolina, provided security to diplomats on 1,873 convoy runs in Iraq so far this year, and its personnel fired weapons 56 times, according to a written statement by Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte.

The State Department did not release comparable 2007 numbers for other security companies, but the new Blackwater numbers show a far higher rate of shootings per convoy mission than were experienced in 2006 by one of the company’s primary competitors, DynCorp International. DynCorp reported 10 cases in about 1,500 convoy runs last year.

The New York Times reported Thursday that Blackwater’s rate of shootings was at least twice as high as the rates for other companies providing similar services to the State Department in Iraq....

[bth: Army corp of engineers reported 14.7% of civilian convoys are being ambushed by ieds or small arms fire, etc. that Blackwater would be shooting back 3% of the time is an indication of restraint, that the state dept. isn't going far outside the wire (perhaps to the airport) or lack of targets when the ieds go off. I think we need to keep this event in perspective.]

Media Matters - Limbaugh: Service members who support U.S. withdrawal are "phony soldiers"

Media Matters - Limbaugh: Service members who support U.S. withdrawal are "phony soldiers": "During During "the September 26 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio show, Rush Limbaugh called service members who advocate U.S. withdrawal from Iraq "phony soldiers." He made the comment while discussing with a caller a conversation he had with a previous caller, "Mike from Chicago," who said he "used to be military," and "believe[s] that we should pull out of Iraq." Limbaugh told the second caller, whom he identified as "Mike, this one from Olympia, Washington," that "[t]here's a lot" that people who favor U.S. withdrawal "don't understand" and that when asked why the United States should pull out, their only answer is, " 'Well, we just gotta bring the troops home.' ... 'Save the -- keeps the troops safe' or whatever," adding, "[I]t's not possible, intellectually, to follow these people." "Mike" from Olympia replied, "No, it's not, and what's really funny is, they never talk to real soldiers. They like to pull these soldiers that come up out of the blue and talk to the media." Limbaugh interjected, "The phony soldiers." The caller, who had earlier said, "I am a serving American military, in the Army," agreed, replying, "The phony soldiers."....

{bth: bite me Limbaugh]

Draft report: Iraq government 'not capable' of fighting corruption

Draft report: Iraq government 'not capable' of fighting corruption - "BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- A U.S. Embassy in Baghdad document studying how Iraq fights corruption says the Iraqi government 'is not capable of even rudimentary enforcement of anti-corruption laws' and the prime minister's office is openly hostile to the idea of an independent anti-corruption agency."....

[bth: corruption and the inability to have any effective means of correcting it, as described further in this article, is the opposite of good government, democratic or otherwise. To support or appear to support this situation cannot yield for the United States or the Iraqi people anything good.]
Posted by Picasa

Taliban attacks increase, approach Afghan capital - The Boston Globe

Taliban attacks increase, approach Afghan capital - The Boston Globe: "KABUL, Afghanistan - Preying on a weak government and rising public concerns about security, the Taliban are enjoying a military resurgence in Afghanistan and are now staging attacks just outside the capital, according to Western diplomats, private security analysts, and aid workers."

Of particular concern, private security and intelligence analysts said, is the new reach of the Taliban to the provinces ringing Kabul, headquarters for thousands of international security troops. Those troops are seeking to shore up the government of President Hamid Karzai, help stabilize the country, find Osama bin Laden, and rebuild a nation deeply scarred by almost three decades of warfare. So far, they have had only mixed success.

"The Taliban ability to sustain fighting cells north and south of Kabul is an ominous development and a significant lapse in security," said a recent analysis by NightWatch, an intelligence review written by John McCreary, a former top analyst at the US Defense Intelligence Agency.

While the number of attacks around the capital has been small compared with the number of attacks in other areas of the country, McCreary wrote, the data showed that the Taliban this summer "held the psychological initiative. They still lack the ability to threaten the government, but moved closer to achieving it than they have in six years."

Analyses by the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office, a project funded by the European Commission to advise private aid groups about security conditions across the country, found "a significant monthly escalation in conflict" in the first half of the year. Attacks by armed opposition groups increased from 139 in January to 405 in July, according to the project's director, Nic Lee.

"Every month there's a 20 to 25 percent increase in offensive activity," he said, adding that attacks in June and July were 80 percent to 90 percent higher than in the same period last year, showing a general escalation in the conflict, rather than seasonal fluctuations.

"Attacks have spread across the entire southeast border area, with a rapid escalation in the east, and in the last four months in the center" around Kabul as well, Lee said. "These guys have the strategic intent to take back the country

NATO and US officials have not released their own statistics about attack trends, but they dispute the notion that the Taliban are significantly expanding operations from their traditional base in the south or that Afghanistan is sliding backward.

US Army General Dan K. McNeill, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, said much of the activity attributed to the Taliban and other militant groups probably was not part of the antigovernment insurgency, but probably was related to criminal activity, narcotics trafficking, and tribal disputes. And in some cases, he said, levels of conflict are up because more NATO, US, and Afghan forces are pushing into areas of the country where they had never operated. There are an estimated 50,000 international troops Afghanistan, about half of them American.

"Logic tells you the number of incidents you report are going to be increased," he said.

The Taliban's use of guerrilla warfare tactics - particularly suicide attacks and roadside bombings - is on the rise, largely because the insurgents cannot challenge foreign security forces through conventional means, McNeill said. About 60 percent of Afghanistan - a country slightly smaller than Texas and with 32 million people - experiences on average less than one significant security event a week, he said, although "the south and the east are clearly exceptions."

The rise in attacks reflects "acts of desperation," said Humayun Hamidzada, the spokesman for Karzai. "If you go and blow up 20 civilians, what does it show? Does it show strength? It shows their weakness. It's no resurgence. It's just showing who they really are."

The Taliban ruled most of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 and promulgated a harsh and often unorthodox brand of Islamic law. The group intimidated and brutalized citizens, particularly women, destroyed Afghan culture, isolated the country internationally, and allowed it to become a base for bin Laden and Al Qaeda, which planned out the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, in part, from camps in Afghanistan.

Following the attacks, US-led forces invaded Afghanistan, toppled the Taliban, and began an intense manhunt for bin Laden, who remains at large.

In the aftermath of the invasion, senior American, Afghan, and Pakistani officials described the Taliban as a spent force. Today, that assessment is widely doubted.

"The question is, were they ever defeated, and I don't think they ever were," McNeill said.

Many analysts say they believe the Taliban continue to draw support from elements in Pakistan, an assertion hotly disputed by the government in Islamabad. The consensus among independent intelligence analysts is that the Taliban leadership is headquartered in Quetta, Pakistan.

[bth: 80 to 90% increase year over year! That is a very very bad sign.]

Thursday, September 27, 2007

GALLUP: Trust in Federal Government, On Nearly All Issues, Hits New Low -- Even Less Than in Watergate Era

GALLUP: Trust in Federal Government, On Nearly All Issues, Hits New Low -- Even Less Than in Watergate Era: "NEW YORK A new Gallup poll reveals that, as the organization puts it, Americans now 'express less trust in the federal government than at any point in the past decade, and trust in many federal government institutions is now lower than it was during the Watergate era, generally recognized as the low point in American history for trust in government.' "

Among the findings: Barely half trust the government to handle international problems, the lowest number ever. And less than half express faith in the government handling domestic issues, the lowest findings since 1976.

Faith in the executive branch has fallen to 43% -- only 3% higher than it was just before President Nixon's resignation in 1974. At the same time, trust in Congress, at 50%, is its lowest ever.

Gallup has asked about trust in government since 1972. It conducted this year's poll Sept. 14-16 and found the following:

-- Barely half of Americans, 51%, say they have a "great deal" or "fair amount" of trust in the federal government to handle international problems.

-- Less than half of Americans, 47%, now have at least a fair amount of trust in the federal government to handle domestic problems.

Gallup adds: "The candidates running for president in 2008 will be trying to win over a skeptical public. Just 55% of Americans express trust in the 'men and women in political life in this country who either hold or are running for public office.' That matches the low Gallup found in 2001."

Americans are even losing faith -- in themselves. Currently, 70% of Americans trust the public's ability to perform its role in a democratic government, which is down from 78% two years ago when it was last asked, and significantly lower than any other reading Gallup has taken.

"The poll indicates that the lack of trust seems to be directed primarily at the federal government," Gallup concludes. "There has been no observable decline of public trust in state and local governments. Sixty-seven percent of Americans now express trust in their state government, matching the levels of 2004 and 2005. Sixty-nine percent also trust their local government, similar to what Gallup has found since 2001."

[bth: regrettably the lack of faith in federal government is not only in the moral character of the leaders in Washington but more to the point, the actual incompetence of the federal government in handling international and domestic issues - Iraq, OBL and Katrina to name three. Trust will only reaffirm itself when people believe they are being told the truth. Trust in competence will only come about from visible accountability.]

Iran shelling targets deeper inside northern Iraq: mayor

Iran shelling targets deeper inside northern Iraq: mayor: "Iranian forces have shelled deeper into northern Iraq than previously, hitting targets in an area northeast of the city of Arbil, a local official said Thursday.

"The Iranian forces began their bombardments again on Wednesday evening targeting far away from the border," said Abdul Wahid Koani, mayor of the Kurdish Iraqi border town of Joman.

"This time the Iranian bombardment was different as it targeted a town deep inside Iraqi territory," Koani told AFP.

Iranian artillery shells landed in the Haj Umran area, hitting targets on two mountains and villages abandoned from earlier attacks, he said, adding that they reached as far as 17 kilometres (10.5 miles) into Iraqi territory.

Iran confirmed for the first time on Sunday that it had been shelling camps of Kurdish militants inside northern Iraq, saying the local authorities had not listened to its warnings.

The militant Kurdish separatist group PJAK -- linked to Turkey's outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) -- has been behind a string of deadly attacks on security forces in northwestern Iran in recent months.

Iraqi Kurdish officials said last month that hundreds of Iraqi Kurds had fled remote mountain villages near the country's eastern frontier after Iranian gunners targeted separatist guerrilla bases.

[bth: one has to ask, why now? Why is Iran confirming this information now?]

Report: Blackwater 'impeded' probe into contractor deaths -

Report: Blackwater 'impeded' probe into contractor deaths - "WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Private military contractor Blackwater USA 'delayed and impeded' a congressional probe into the 2004 killings of four of its employees in Falluja, Iraq, according to the House oversight committee said Thursday in a report."

Blackwater contractors Jerry Zovko, Scott Helvenston, Mike Teague and Wesley Batalona were ambushed, dragged from their vehicles and killed on March 31, 2004.

The burned and mutilated remains of two of the men were hung from a bridge over the Euphrates River, an image that fueled American outrage and triggered the first of two attempts to retake the city from Sunni Arab insurgents.

The company stalled the committee's investigation into the incident by "erroneously claiming" documents related to the incident were classified, trying to get the Defense Department to make previously unclassified documents classified and "asserting questionable legal privileges," according to a report from the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee's Democratic staff.

According to Blackwater's reports on the killings, the men killed in Falluja had been sent into the area without proper crew, equipment or even maps.

One company document found a "complete lack of support" for its Baghdad office from executives at the company's headquarters in North Carolina, the committee report states.

"According to these documents, Blackwater took on the Falluja mission before its contract officially began, and after being warned by its predecessor that it was too dangerous. It sent its team on the mission without properly armored vehicles and machine guns. And it cut the standard mission team by two members, thus depriving them of rear gunners," the report states.

In a written response to the report, Blackwater called it "a one-sided version of this tragic incident."

"What the report fails to acknowledge is that the terrorists determined what happened that fateful day in 2004," the company said. "The terrorists were intent on killing Americans and desecrating their bodies. Documents that the committee has in its possession point out that the Blackwater team was betrayed and directed into a well-planned ambush."

The report notes that members of the now-defunct Iraqi Civil Defense Corps "led the team into the ambush, facilitated blocking positions to prevent the team's escape, and then disappeared."

Blackwater did not discuss details of the report's findings, noting the incident is still the subject of a lawsuit by the slain contractors' families.

The committee's chairman, California Democrat Henry Waxman, has scheduled a hearing Tuesday on Blackwater's operations in Iraq. The company's chairman, Erik Prince, is scheduled to testify at that hearing.

The committee previously disclosed that the day before the fatal mission, the manager of Blackwater's Baghdad office warned his bosses he lacked armored vehicles, radio gear and ammunition.

During February's hearing and in a subsequent written response, Blackwater general counsel Andrew Howell told the committee that documents on the attack had been classified by the U.S. government. But the Pentagon later told the committee the documents had not been classified.

In addition, Blackwater made "multiple attempts" to get the Defense Department to declare company and Coalition Provisional Authority reports on the incident classified, the report states. The Pentagon refused.

The families of the slain men have sued Blackwater Security Consulting, one of the most familiar of hundreds of private military contractors operating in Iraq. The families allege the company failed to provide their relatives with adequate gear and weaponry. Blackwater has denied the allegations and argued the men agreed to assume the risks of working in a war zone.

Thursday's report adds to the intense scrutiny the company has faced since it was involved in shootings September 16 in western Baghdad. Iraqi authorities said Blackwater guards protecting a U.S. Embassy convoy opened fire indiscriminately, killing as many as 20 civilians.

Blackwater said its employees responded properly to an insurgent attack on the convoy.

Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte on Thursday told a Senate committee that "something went tragically wrong" in the Baghdad incident, and that the State Department and Iraqi authorities are conducting a thorough investigation. He said Blackwater guards had fired their weapons on 56 of the 1,873 escort missions they have conducted in Iraq in 2007, "And each such incident is reviewed by management officials to ensure that procedures were followed."

"I personally was grateful for the presence of my Blackwater security detail, largely comprised of ex-Special Forces and other military, when I served as ambassador to Iraq," Negroponte told the Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday in response to questions. "Their alert and controlled posture kept me safe -- to get my job done

Bin Laden may have just escaped U.S. forces

Bin Laden may have just escaped U.S. forces - Nightly News with Brian Williams - "A little more than a month ago, with the anniversary of Sept. 11 approaching and fears of a new al Qaeda attack rising, some U.S. intelligence and military analysts thought they had found one of the world’s two most wanted men just where they last saw them six years ago."

For three days and nights — between Aug. 14 and 16 — U.S. and Afghanistan forces pounded the mountain caves in Tora Bora, the same caves where Osama Bin Laden had hidden out and then fled in late 2001 after U.S. forces drove al Qaeda out of Afghanistan cities. Ultimately, however, U.S. forces failed to find Bin Laden or his deputy, Ayman al Zawahiri, even though their attacks left dozens of al Qaeda and Taliban dead.

One of the officials interviewed by NBC News, a general officer, admitted Tuesday that it was “possible” Bin Laden was at Tora Bora, saying, in fact, "I still don’t know if he was there."

Still, some in the special operations and intelligence community are telling NBC News that there was a lack of coordination particularly in the choice of support troops. But with intelligence limited on who was there, no one is willing to say that the lack of key units permitted Bin Laden or Zawahiri to escape.

When the operation began in early August there was no expectation that Bin Laden or Zawahiri would be there, say U.S. military and intelligence officials. Instead, there was intelligence of a pre-Ramadan gathering of al Qaeda including "leadership" in Tora Bora. Senior officials in the U.S. and Pakistan tell NBC News that planning for the attacks intensified around Aug. 10 once analysts suggested that either Bin Laden or Zawahiri may have be drawn to the conference at Tora Bora. (When U.S. forces attacked al Qaeda camps in August 1998, following the East Africa embassy bombings, Bin Laden was attending a pre-Ramadan conference of al Qaeda in the same general area of eastern Afghanistan).

While the intelligence did not provide “positively identification” that Bin Laden or Zawahiri were at the scene, there was enough other intelligence to suggest that one of the two men was there. Bin Laden and Zawahiri are not believed to have traveled together since mid-2003 for security reasons.

Another official said that intelligence analysts believed strongly that there was a high probability that “either HVT-1 or HVT-2 was there,” using U.S. intelligence descriptions — high value targets — for Bin Laden and Zawahiri. He added that while opinion inside the agency was divided, many believed it was Bin Laden rather than Zawahiri who was present. The reason: “They thought they spotted his security detail,” said the official, a large al Qaeda security detail — the kind of protection that would normally surround only Bin Laden, or Zawahiri.

Also, locals reported the presence of groups known to be part of Bin Laden’s security detail —Chechens, Uzbeks and other Arabs, men willing to die rather than surrender top al Qaeda officials.

The military operation included "several hundred" U.S. and Afghan ground forces, say officials. Elements from the 82nd Airborne blocked off escape routes through the mountains on the Afghanistan side of the border, while helicopters inserted U.S. Navy Seals at night. The Seals pinpointed enemy positions and called in air strikes; the 82nd came in and "mopped up."

On the other side of the border, a senior Pakistani official says the U.S. military helped thousands of Pakistani forces — including their elite commando units — set up a blockade to sweep up any al Qaeda fleeing Afghanistan.

Any operation to take down Bin Laden or Zawahiri would have been formidable.

“He's surrounded by the true believers,” reported Rick Francona, who worked with CIA and special ops teams in Iraq in the 1990s. “And they will fight to the death to protect him, they will probably even kill him before they allow him to be captured. So if you're going to go in that area, you have to go in there with enough force that you think you can accomplish this mission successfully and not lose all of your guys in the process.”

One senior military official said Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Peter Pace personally briefed the president on the specifics of the ongoing operation.

The operation closely parallels the killing of Abu Musab al Zarqawi last year. NBC News reported at the time that the U.S. military did not positively determine that Zarqawi was in the house that was bombed. Instead, they had surveillance on Zarqawi's spiritual adviser who led them to the house, and the decision was made to take the shot because they didn’t want to miss the chance to get Zarqawi. One general predicts, "That's the way we'll get Bin Laden." They may not have that positive ID, but there'll be enough intelligence to prompt an air strike and they'll find Bin Laden in the rubble.

What happened this time? Military officials admit there were unidentified "planning and coordination problems" even before it got to execution, “primarily between the operators and the generals who give the go-orders” added an intelligence official. A company of the 82nd Airborne was brought in since a Ranger team trained in special operations was not available. But the combination of the “dark side” — the SEALs — and the conventional — the 82nd Airborne — didn't work. "They didn't gel," said the military official. There was "a lack of responsiveness to the intelligence and a lack of aggressiveness."

Michael Sheehan, a former Army Special Operations colonel and counter terrorism ambassador, says he is not surprised.

“Our response is normally too big, too slow, too cumbersome and too risk adverse and those factors normally come from Washington,” said Sheehan.
“The operators normally want to go in much smaller, much more low profile in order to be able to get to the target without being identified and as those plans go up the chain of command they normally get much bigger and much more cumbersome.”

But the bigger part of the picture is the question of allocation of resources from Afghanistan to Iraq. All Delta Force and “dark side” Rangers were moved to Iraq, said a special operations officer involved in the Afghanistan operation. Left behind in Afghanistan were SEAL Team Six and some Rangers. But apparently in this case, not enough “dark side” were available. The 82nd, said a second special operations officer, “is a poor substitute … [it is] a blunder to use them on an op with dark side operators.”

Justin Balding is a Producer for Dateline NBC. Adam Ciralsky is a producer with the NBC News investigative unit. Robert Windrem is an investigative producer for NBC News special projects.

© 2007 MSNBC Interactive

[bth; its a crying shame that we let this bureaucratic bungling continue, resources spread too thin to be effective, coordination between groups within our own forces allow an enemy to slip through our fingers once again. How many Americans will have to die waiting for our own force structure to organize to address the threat at hand? We need and deserve better than this.]

19,000 insurgents killed in Iraq since '03

19,000 insurgents killed in Iraq since '03 - "More than 19,000 militants have been killed in fighting with coalition forces since the insurgency began more than four years ago, according to military statistics released for the first time."

The statistics show that 4,882 militants were killed in clashes with coalition forces this year, a 25% increase over all of last year.

The increase in enemy deaths this year reflects more aggressive tactics adopted by American forces and an additional 30,000 U.S. troops ordered by the White House this year

U.S. and Iraqi forces launched several large offensives aimed at crippling al-Qaeda since the arrival of more troops starting in February. The U.S. military says, however, there has been an increase in suicide attacks in recent days.

The size of the insurgency in Iraq has been difficult to measure and is fluid, making it hard to determine what impact the deaths have had on the insurgency in Iraq.

Last year, Gen. John Abizaid, then commander of military forces in the region, estimated the Sunni insurgency to be 10,000 to 20,000 fighters. He said the Shiite militia members were in the "low thousands." The U.S. military hasn't publicly provided any recent estimates.

There are 25,000 detainees in U.S. military custody in Iraq, according to the military. The numbers of enemy killed and detained would exceed the estimate given last year of the size of the insurgency.

Since the insurgency began after Baghdad fell in spring 2003, 19,429 militants have been killed in clashes with coalition forces, statistics show. The numbers do not include enemy killed during the invasion.

The statistics, provided at USA TODAY's request, were retrieved from a coalition database that tracks "significant acts." Militants are identified in the database because they are linked to "hostile action," said Capt. Michael Greenberger, a Freedom of Information Act officer in Baghdad. There is no way to independently verify the data.

"The information in the database is only as good as the information entered into it by operators on the ground at the time," Greenberger said. "Follow-up information to make corrections is done whenever possible."

The U.S. military rarely discusses the numbers of enemy dead, fearful of raising parallels with the Vietnam War when the U.S. military's reliance on "body counts" led to allegations of inflated figures because of political pressure to show results.

VIDEO: Anti-war protesters interrupt Senate hearing

Today, U.S. commanders consider the number of enemy deaths a poor measure of progress in an insurgency and say there is no pressure to exaggerate. "The big difference is the command climate in Vietnam encouraged inflation," said T.X. Hammes, a retired Marine colonel and insurgency expert. "The general command climate (in Iraq) is: 'Don't exaggerate.' "

The military's new counterinsurgency manual emphasizes political and economic solutions to eliminate the conditions that breed militants. Those actions are considered more decisive than combat.

"You can't kill them all," Maj. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, commander of the American division responsible for northern Iraq, said in a recent interview.

The insurgency has been a mixture of Sunni groups, such as al-Qaeda, and Shiite militia extremists.

The enemy casualty numbers also reinforce the one-sided nature of battles on occasions when militants attempted to directly confront American forces.

The deadliest month for militants was August 2004 when thousands of militia fighters loyal to Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr clashed with American forces in Najaf in southern Iraq. That month, 1,623 militants were killed. The U.S. military lost 53 troops in fighting during the same time.

[bth: an alternate cause for the rise in numbers this year is that the insurgency is broadening and strenghening. That the number of prisoners doesn't seem to correlate with the yearly killed also raises concerns. My guess is that while we've become more aggressive, so have the insurgents. A graph of hostile attacks against our forces year over year, I seem to recall has doubled. That isn't from a more aggressive posture on our part - that's from the enemy. Both sides get a vote on this kind of statistic. An understanding of whether the killed were Shia or Sunni would tell us much as well.]

Spies Prep Reporters on Protecting Secrets

Spies Prep Reporters on Protecting Secrets - September 27, 2007 - The New York Sun: "Frustrated by press leaks about its most sensitive electronic surveillance work, the secretive National Security Agency convened an unprecedented series of off-the-record "seminars" in recent years to teach reporters about the damage caused by such leaks and to discourage reporting that could interfere with the agency's mission to spy on America's enemies.

The half-day classes featured high-ranking NSA officials highlighting objectionable passages in published stories and offering "an innocuous rewrite" that officials said maintained the "overall thrust" of the articles but omitted details that could disclose the agency's techniques, according to course outlines obtained by The New York Sun.

Dubbed "SIGINT 101," using the NSA's shorthand for signals intelligence, the seminar was presented "a handful of times" between approximately 2002 and 2004, an agency spokeswoman, Marci Green, confirmed yesterday. Officials were pleased with the program, she said.

"They believe they were very successful in being able to talk to journalists regarding our mission and the sensitivities of our mission in an unclassified way," Ms. Green said.

The syllabi make clear that the sessions, which took place at NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, Md., were conceived of not merely as familiarization tours, but as part of a campaign to limit the damage caused by leaks of sensitive intelligence....

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Landmine detonation between humvees on patrol

Senate Overwhelmingly Backs Biden Iraq Plan

Senate Overwhelmingly Backs Biden Iraq Plan - Politics on The Huffington Post: "The Senate passed a resolution Wednesday suggesting Baghdad limit the power of its federal government and give more control to Iraq's ethnically divided regions."

The 75-23 vote marked the first agreement on Iraq among lawmakers in months, although it would have little practical effect. Republicans agreed to swing behind the nonbinding measure after it was amended to make clear that Bush should press for a new federalized system only if the Iraqis want it.

Still, the resolution underscores a bipartisan longing in Congress for a fresh diplomatic approach in Iraq. It also was a victory for presidential hopeful Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., a primary sponsor of the resolution along with Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan.

[bth: if you get 75 senators to agree on anything, its worth taking notice.] » Anti-War Room Week of Sept 24, 2007 »

Pentagon seeks 190 billion dollars for Iraq, Afghanistan

Pentagon seeks 190 billion dollars for Iraq, Afghanistan - Yahoo! News: "WASHINGTON (AFP) - US Defense Secretary Robert Gates is seeking nearly 190 billion dollars to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2008, the largest war funding request ever in the six-year-old 'war on terror,' the Pentagon said Wednesday. "

Gates was scheduled to testify later before a Senate committee on the request, which was 42.3 billion dollars greater than the administration's estimate when it presented its 2008 budget request in February.

"This additional 42.3 billion dollars puts us at just under 190 billion dollars for the global war on terror supplemental request for 2008 -- 189.3 billion dollars," said Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary.

The increase was needed in part to cover the cost of maintaining the so-called surge in US forces at least through July 2008, as well as to buy mine-resistant armored vehicles known as MRAPs.

Currently there are 165,000 US troops in Iraq, organized around 20 combat brigades or their equivalent.

General David Petraeus, the US commander in Iraq, earlier this month announced plans to reduce the size of the force by five brigades by mid July, which would bring force levels down to around 130,000 troops.

Gates has expressed hopes that the forces can be drawn down to 10 brigades by the end of the year, or about 100,000 troops. But the war funding being sought now does not anticipate force reductions beyond July, Morrell said.

"I think it reflects General Petraeus's plan to be down to 15 (brigades) if things continue to go well by July, or into July," Morrell said.

The cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are funded separately from the base defense budget. The administration's 2008 budget request for 481.4 billion dollars is still moving through the Congress.

[bth: 3.65 billion dollars per week. Think about that. We're arguing over a couple of billion to repair our roads and bridges. I think there are only two ways to bring this war to a conclusion - one is a tax increase and the other is the draft. We need to start sticking it to the man on taxes instead of sticking it to the kids.]

"Is it right?" - Martin Luther King

"Cowardice asks the question, 'Is it safe?'
Expediency asks the question, 'Is it politic?'-
Vanity asks the question, 'Is it popular?'-

But, conscience asks the question, 'Is it right?'

And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but one must take it because one's conscience tells one that it is right."

Martin Luther King, Jr

Internal Iraq oil pipeline cut by bomb: police

Internal Iraq oil pipeline cut by bomb: police | Reuters: "BAGHDAD (Reuters) - An internal pipeline carrying crude oil to a Baghdad refinery was ruptured in a bomb attack by insurgents, police said on Sunday, the second attack on a pipeline in Iraq in five days."

Police said the pipeline connecting Baiji, 180 km (110 miles) north of Baghdad, to the Doura refinery in the capital was hit by a suspected improvised explosive device. Rescue teams had so far been unable to reach the area.

Baiji residents reported seeing flames spewing from the ruptured line. It was not clear if work at the refinery had stopped.

On Tuesday, Iraq's northern oil export pipeline to Turkey was damaged by a bomb attack that caused oil to spill into the Tigris River.

The same attack also blew up another pipeline that transports crude to the Baiji refinery.

(Reporting by Ahmed Rasheed, Baghdad newsroom; editing by Braden Reddall))

[bth: persistent and low cost disruption of oil pipelines and electrical systems have the combined effect of bankrupting the government and destroying the local economy of Iraq. As far as economy of effort goes, this is a no brainer for insurgents.]

Sunni Insurgents in New Campaign to Kill Officials

Sunni Insurgents in New Campaign to Kill Officials - New York Times: "BAGHDAD, Sept. 25 — Sunni Arab extremists have begun a systematic campaign to assassinate police chiefs, police officers, other Interior Ministry officials and tribal leaders throughout Iraq, staging at least 10 attacks in 48 hours. BAGHDAD, Sept. 25 — Sunni Arab extremists have begun a systematic campaign to assassinate police chiefs, police officers, other Interior Ministry officials and tribal leaders throughout Iraq, staging at least 10 attacks in 48 hours. "

Eight policemen have been killed, among them the police chief of Baquba, the largest city in Diyala Province. Two other police chiefs survived attacks, though one was left in critical condition, and about 30 police officers were wounded, according to reports from local security officers.

“We warned the government just a few days ago that there is a new plan by terrorist groups to target senior governmental officials, and particularly Interior Ministry officials,” said Maj. Gen. Hussein Kamal, the deputy interior minister for information and national investigations. The Interior Ministry is dominated by Shiites.

One group, the Islamic State of Iraq, took responsibility on Tuesday for the attack in Diyala, which killed at least 18 people on Monday. The group has ties to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a homegrown extremist group whose leadership has foreign ties, according to American intelligence officials.

The latest outbreak of violence closely follows the concerted efforts of President Bush and Gen. David H. Petraeus to portray the American troop “surge” as having succeeded in bringing more stability to Iraq. Iraqi officials said Tuesday that the attacks might well have been intended to blunt that message.

“The main reason behind all these attacks are the signs of improvement of the security situation mentioned in the Crocker-Petraeus report,” said Tahseen al-Sheikhly, the Iraqi spokesman for the security plan, in a reference to the recent Congressional testimony of General Petraeus and the American ambassador to Iraq, Ryan C. Crocker. “The terrorist groups are just trying to say to the world that the report did not reflect the reality of the security situation in Iraq.”

Mr. Sheikhly played down the recent violence, though, saying the groups were seeking publicity to compensate for their inability to conduct major offensive operations, which have been sharply curtailed by the surge.

Indeed, the enormous car and truck bombs that plagued Baghdad for so long have been absent in recent weeks. But the string of attacks this week served as a reminder of the insurgency’s persistence, particularly in areas outside of Baghdad and its environs.

In addition to the attack on Monday in Diyala, insurgents struck in Basra, Mosul, Kirkuk, Falluja, Kut and Samarra. The strikes occurred primarily in mixed areas of Shiites and Sunni Arabs or in exclusively Sunni Arab areas where there is fighting between Sunni Arab tribes and extremist groups like Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. Each attack on its own would hardly be notable, since almost every day in Iraq brings a few roadside bombings and shootings, but so many attacks singling out similar victims suggest a more concerted campaign.

The new assassination campaign was announced on an Islamist Web site on Sept. 15, just two days after the killing of Abdul Sattar Buzaigh al-Rishawi, also known as Abu Risha, the Sunni Arab leader of the tribal Awakening Council in Anbar Province, which was leading the fight there against Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia.

In an audiotape, the militants announced that they would begin a new series of attacks to mark the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, and that they would focus their efforts on rival tribal figures and collaborators. Sunni Arab militant groups have a history of using such high-profile killings to sow fear in the public and to discourage people from working with the government....

[bth: so the insurgents have shifted to assassination as the primary strategy. The probably makes sense in terms of maintaining good relations with the locals as opposed to bombing markets at random. This will certainly be a difficult strategy to counteract.]

165 Insurgents Killed in Afghanistan

165 Insurgents Killed in Afghanistan: "Two battles killed more than 165 Taliban fighters and a U.S.-led coalition soldier in southern Afghanistan on Wednesday as President Hamid Karzai prepared to discuss the escalating violence with President Bush in New York."

One of the clashes began Tuesday when several dozen insurgents attacked a joint coalition-Afghan patrol with machine guns, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades near the Taliban-controlled town of Musa Qala in Helmand province, with Taliban reinforcements flowing in all day, a coalition statement said.

The coalition said it returned artillery fire and called in fighter aircraft, killing more than 100 of the Taliban fighters. One coalition soldier was killed and four wounded.

The coalition said there were no immediate reports of civilian deaths or injuries.

Taliban militants overran Musa Qala in February, four months after British troops left the town following a contentious peace agreement that handed over security responsibilities to Afghan elders. Musa Qala has been in control of Taliban fighters ever since.

Situated in northern Helmand province, Musa Qala and the region around it have seen the heaviest fighting in Afghanistan this year. It is also in the middle of the country's poppy-growing belt.

In neighboring Uruzgan province, more than 80 Taliban fighters attacked a joint Afghan and coalition patrol from bunkers near the village of Kakrak in a six-hour battle Tuesday night, the coalition said.

Coalition artillery and air support bombarded Taliban positions, killing more than 65 insurgents, it said.

Three civilians were wounded in the crossfire, it said. No Afghan or coalition forces were hurt.

The battle took place near an area where more than three dozen insurgents were killed as they prepared an ambush six days ago, the coalition said.

The huge clashes come as Karzai prepared to meet with Bush in New York on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York. Bush is seeking assurances that Karzai is dealing with Afghanistan's soaring drug trade and security problems.

Afghan opium poppy cultivation hit a record high this year, fueled by Taliban militants and corrupt government officials, a U.N. report found last month. The country produces nearly all the world's opium, and Taliban insurgents are profiting.

More than 4,500 people have died in insurgency-related violence this year, according to an Associated Press count based on figures from Afghan and Western officials. Most were militant but at least 600 civilians were among those killed.

On Tuesday, about 400 villagers blocked a major highway during a protest after two civilians — a father and son — were killed by international forces who were conducting a search operation in the Zhari district of Kandahar province, villagers said.

Spokesmen from both NATO and the coalition said they had no reports of any search operations or civilian deaths in Zhari.

Habibullah Jan, a lawmaker from Sanzari village, said NATO forces surrounded the village and killed the father and son. He warned that if international forces continued to target civilians, villagers would turn against them.

In the past week, international forces "arrested innocent villagers from three homes, calling them Taliban. Everyone knows that we don't let the Taliban into our area," said Karim Khan, one of the protesters.

The Raw Story | State Department protecting Maliki from revelations of alleged corruption, lawmaker charges

The Raw Story | State Department protecting Maliki from revelations of alleged corruption, lawmaker charges: "State also instructing Blackwater to withhold information, Waxman alleges"

The US State Department is preventing a House committee from disclosing information that could "embarrass" Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki regarding an investigation of alleged corruption within his government, a lawmaker alleges in a letter to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.

State also is meddling in a related investigation of private security firm Blackwater, which has come under fire this month after a Sept. 16 shooting involving armed guards employed by the firm in which 11 Iraqis were killed, the House Oversight Committee Chairman Henry Waxman says.

Blackwater asked committee members to avoid "asking questions ... that might reveal sensitive operational and technical information," such as how many guards were involved in the alleged massacre, the number of weapons they used and the types of munitions they had available.

Waxman also says investigators on his committee cannot question State Department officials on matters "that could embarrass the Maliki government unless the Committee agrees to refrain from any public discussion of their answers.

"State Department officials explained that any information about corruption within the Maliki government must be treated as classified," Waxman continued in a letter to Rice released Tuesday, "because public discussions could undermine U.S. relations with the Maliki government."...

[bth: amazing that a discussion of corruption would have to be classified. What does that tell you about the extent of the problem and the reasons it won't be corrected with this approach?]

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

George W Bush - Draft Dodger

The Existentialist Cowboy

The AWOL President

The Existentialist Cowboy

Marines Barred From Filming Commercial on Streets of San Francisco - Local News | News Articles | National News | US News - Marines Barred From Filming Commercial on Streets of San Francisco - Local News | News Articles | National News | US News: "They're the strong and the proud, but the Marines aren't free to stand on the streets of San Francisco."

The Silent Drill Platoon of the U.S. Marine Corps wasn't allowed to be filmed Sept. 11 on California Street in San Francisco for a segment of its new advertising campaign, a Marine spokesman told

Instead, the elite group took its austere display to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area for the final segment of its "America's Marines" TV commercial. The group is on a two-month nationwide tour as part of the campaign.

Stefanie Coyote, the executive director of the San Francisco Film Commission, the group that denied the permit, was unavailable for comment Tuesday. Her office referred calls to San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom's press office, which did not immediately return a request for comment....

[bth: what a revolting development.]

Iran Does Far Worse Than Ignore Gays, Critics Say - International News | News of the World | Middle East News | Europe News - Iran Does Far Worse Than Ignore Gays, Critics Say - International News | News of the World | Middle East News | Europe News: "Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s seemingly ridiculous claim that 'we don’t have homosexuals, like in your country' masks the cruel reality that his government does far worse than ignore gays, human rights groups charge."

"There are criminal laws on the books in Iran that allows for people to be killed for being homosexual," said Paula Ettelbrick, executive director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.

Just how many gays may have been killed — some say the figure is more than 400 — is impossible to determine. But Ahmadinejad’s flip follow-up answer to the question posed to him Monday at Columbia University — "We do not have this phenomenon. I don’t know who has told you that we have" — suggests he won’t take the issue seriously.

Human rights groups have long railed against the Iranian government’s persecution of gays, which Ettelbrick calls "a campaign by the government to draw attention to the risks of people expressing their sexuality." Some believe that repression has only worsened since Ahmadinejad became president....

[bth: the interesting thing about free and open public discourse is how fast truth and lies emerge. Bullshit just sits there on stage like a big steaming pile for the whole world to take in. The US should utilize the sanitizing characteristics of sunlight and the fresh breeze free speech brings with it much more often. I doubt Hitler, Columbia's dream speaker, would ever have done a Q&A.]

Redstateupdate on Ahmadinejad Hearts NY

Welcome To Red State Update with Jackie Broyles and Dunlap

tehran times : Iran has become an extra-regional power: general

tehran times : Iran has become an extra-regional power: general: "TEHRAN - The United States must acknowledge that Iran is a powerful state, Major General Yahya Rahim Safavi said here on Sunday. TEHRAN - The United States must acknowledge that Iran is a powerful state, Major General Yahya Rahim Safavi said here on Sunday. "

On the 27th anniversary of the Iraqi invasion of Iran, the Mehr News Agency conducted an interview with Safavi, who is currently the Supreme Leader’s senior advisor on military affairs, in which he elaborated on the roots of the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war, the threats that Iran is currently facing, the missile capabilities of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), and the recent restructuring of the country’s defense system.

Following are excerpts of the interview:

“White House officials should know that the Islamic Republic of Iran will not yield to political and economic pressure.

“If they think wisely and think about their interests, and if they want energy, political, and economic cooperation with Iran, they must recognize Iran as a power.”

Roots of the Iran-Iraq war

The victory of the Islamic Revolution created a new situation for the U.S., and it soon cut ties with the Islamic Republic, said Safavi, who was the commander of the IRGC for ten years.

With the Islamic Revolution, Iran’s geopolitical situation changed since the U.S. lost its main ally in the region, which caused a change in the bipolar world system in favor of the Soviet Union.

He cited former Iranian prime minister Mehdi Bazargan’s efforts in the provisional government to reestablish ties with the U.S. and the problems created by former president Abolhassan Banisadr and his connection with the terrorist Mojahedin Khalq Organization (MKO) as some of the reasons which prepared the ground for the invasion of Iran by Saddam Hussein’s Baath regime.

The Western powers, which were worried about the influence of the Islamic Revolution on regional Arab countries, encouraged Saddam to attack Iran, he added.

Saddam, who wanted to replace the shah as the regional power after the Islamic Revolution, attacked Iran under the pretext that the 1975 Algiers Agreement was imposed on Iraq.

The former IRGC commander said the Baathists began to modernize the Iraqi army in 1975, five years before Iraq attacked Iran.

Between 1975 and 1980, they spent billions of dollars buying arms so that Iraq eventually had the most powerful army in the region, he added.

He described the current regional situation as very critical.

“This does not mean that the United States wants to begin a new war. They already have over 200,000 troops in the region, but despite this, they face three challenging problems,” he noted.

“First, they do not exactly know how Iran will deal with them. I mean they are incapable of calculating the depth and extent of Iran’s (potential) response to their threatening actions… Their second concern is about the security of Israel, and thirdly, they are extremely worried about the oil and energy problems ahead, both in Iraq and the region. One reason for this could be the dramatic increase in the oil price, which recently hit about 81 U.S. dollars per barrel, and even the price of a barrel of oil for OPEC countries, including Iran, has risen to more than 71 U.S. dollars.

“If there is a little spark in the Persian Gulf area, which contains 65 percent of all the world’s oil reserves, the oil price could easily rise to 100 dollars per barrel.

“I think that the rational people in the U.S. Congress and the Democratic Party will not allow the current U.S. administration to declare a new war.”

In Iraq, the United States’ political and military situation has greatly diminished, he stated.

“Despite all this, the Iranian armed forces will carefully monitor the upgrading of the U.S. military and the enemy’s provocative moves in the entire region.”

Iran’s role in regional peace and security

The Islamic Republic of Iran believes that the Persian Gulf and the Middle East region should enjoy lasting peace and security, but unfortunately, U.S. forces came from the other side of the globe and disrupted the region’s security through military occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, he noted.

Iran desires peace in the region and this can be realized by signing defense treaties with the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, he added.

The United States destroyed two major enemies of Iran, namely the Taleban in the east and Saddam Hussein in the west, and this benefited Iran, he said, adding that recent developments have increased Iran’s political influence in the region.

Pointing out that U.S. officials once thought that they could surround Iran by occupying Afghanistan and Iraq, he said, “Now, the Americans should realize that the 200,000 troops they have deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan are in Iran’s firing range.”

The future of Iraq and Afghanistan

The future of Iraq and Afghanistan is unpredictable, he stated, adding that as a public relations move, the U.S. might reduce troop levels in Iraq, although it actually intends to maintain its military bases in Iraq and the Persian Gulf for years.

Although the U.S. has received millions of dollars from the Iraqi government to equip the Iraqi police and armed forces, the objective has still not been realized, he observed.

The weapons Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups are currently using are far more advanced than the weapons the Iraqi armed forces possess, and U.S. troops will slowly leave Iraq, so Iraqis, and not U.S. forces, will suffer casualties in terrorist attacks, he added.

IRGC ballistic missiles

“Today, one of our means to confront an invasion is the deterrent power of the ballistic missiles of the IRGC Air Force. They are domestically designed and are being mass-produced by the Defense Ministry,” he stated.

“Currently, we enjoy a good situation in the missile industry. Our missile capabilities are not what the U.S. thinks,” he said, adding that Iran has made the necessary preparations to protect its missile sites from the enemy.

Iran has such great missile capabilities that even if a certain percentage of its arsenal were to be destroyed, the remaining missiles would be devastating for the enemy, he observed.

IRGC’s asymmetrical warfare strategy

“Currently, at a time when we feel the threats of extra-regional powers such as the U.S. against the Islamic Republic of Iran, we have revised the structure of Iran’s armed forces. The training methods, war strategy, and military doctrine of the armed forces, and especially of the three branches of the IRGC, have been revised. We have designed arms and equipment suitable for extra-regional warfare. We have named this strategy comprehensive defense, Alavi battle, and asymmetrical warfare,” Safavi explained.

This strategy means that we identify the enemy’s weak and strong points so that we can confront the enemy with the utmost efficiency, he said.

“It is true that the enemy has superior weaponry, but we have never put our trust in weapons. Rather, we have adopted a human-centered approach and have courageous, faithful, and wise human forces as well as self-contained, dynamic, fast, and effective units,” he added.

[bth: interesting assessment of the situation from an Iranian general's perspective.]

Sic Semper Tyrannis 2007: What Ahmadinajad said at Columbia

Sic Semper Tyrannis 2007: What Ahmadinajad said at Columbia: " I [Col. Patrick Lang] listened to it all. His remarks were 'bracketed' for me by those of Bollinger (the Columbia president) who sought to distance himself from any possible accusation of hospitality and Nora O'Donnell (MSNBC anchor) who sought to distance herself from any possible accusation of neutrality. Ahmadinajad said:"

- Scholars should seek the truth.

- That he does not dispute the facts of the Holocaust, but that he thinks that scholarship should continue on the details and on the effect on his part of the world. He particularly stressed the innocence of the Palestinian people in the matter of the Holocaust. Since scholarship continues on the matter of this subject (the Holocaust) under the sponsorship of the US Holocaust Museum, this was an interesting point.

- He said that the nature of Palestine/Israel should be determined by referendum among "Jewish Palestinians, Muslim Palestinians and Christian Palestinians." This is a variation on the long standing Arab desire for either a bi-national state or a state that is not specifically a Jewish state. He did not specify whether his referendum would include Palestinians of the diaspora. That, of course, would make a difference in the outcome.

- He said that the Iranian nuclear enrichment program was forced on them by foreign defaults on agreements for nuclear electric assistance. He said that the Iranian sites are all under IAEA inspection and will remain that way. He also said that the concentration level of their enrichment did not meet the requirement for weapons production.

- He abjured the idea of nuclear weapons and said they do not want any. Presumably the IAEA inspection regime applies.

- When challenged on Iranian government support of international terrorist groups, he said that Iran herself is the victim of extensive terrorist attack sponsored by foreign governments. He clearly had in mind the MEK. He said that all parties should stop this kind of activity. There may have been an implied offer in that. THe Persians are subtle people. Perhaps they are too subtle for his audience

- He accepted the idea of wide negotiations with the US to resolve all differences..

- In response to a challenge by Bollinger, he invited Columbia to send delegations of faculty and students to any or all of Iran's 400 universities.

- He insisted that Iranian women are free.

- He made a lame joke out of Iranian capital punishments for homosexual behavior. The esoteric gist was, "we don't care what you think about it."

- He made some goofy reference to "the real story on 9/11." This was at the end and I guess he just couldn't "hold it together" any longer.

It was quite a performance. If this were a presidential debate, I would judge him the winner based on rhetorical skill and coolness under fire. The student audience got quieter and quieter as he spoke. There was no booing at the end.

On the whole I think this event was meaningless. I think that the die is cast and that this will have no effect on the international game. pl

[bth: interesting comments all around. One wonders what impact this speech had on the Iranian President. He is an astute politician. I wonder if he learned anything about the American audience by giving this speech?]