Saturday, October 20, 2007

David Ignatius - Next Challenge in Iraq -

David Ignatius - Next Challenge in Iraq - "Let's assume that the numbers from Iraq are right and that there has been a significant reduction in violence there. Let's even agree that the Bush administration's strategy is finally showing some success. Isn't that an argument for accelerating the transfer of security to the Iraqis -- and speeding up the withdrawal of some U.S. support troops?

U.S. military commanders are now discussing precisely these issues. Some argue that the Bush administration should seize the moment -- and take advantage of its recent gains -- by handing off more responsibility to Iraqis. That's the definition of success in this mission, after all -- to create enough security that we can bring most U.S. troops home.

Adm. William Fallon, head of the U.S. Central Command, discussed the security improvements in a conversation last week. He said he focuses on two metrics every day: the number of U.S. combat deaths and the number of violent incidents in the country. As we talked on Tuesday, the total of U.S. combat deaths for October stood at just 15, the lowest in many months. The number of violent incidents was averaging in the low 60s per day, compared with 150 early this year when he assumed command of U.S. forces in the Middle East.

"I look at the numbers, and I say the success that General [David] Petraeus and the guys have made is amazing," Fallon said. "But how do we leverage that to get the Iraqi government to take decisions that will provide enduring security? How do we help them take advantage of this?"

Fallon cautioned that the schedule "is where it ought to be" for a gradual reduction by next summer of the U.S. combat forces that do the fighting. But he said he is exploring with Petraeus and his other commanders "whether there is a way to take more of the support force out" on a quicker timetable.

In this new discussion of Iraq options, the commanders are weighing a classic question of military strategy: What's the best way to exploit gains on the battlefield? Should you move cautiously to protect and consolidate those gains? Or should you move more aggressively to seize the new opportunities that success has provided? Not surprisingly, the commanders on the ground are wary of risking the progress they've made, while senior officials at Centcom and the Pentagon are probing for new initiatives.

Southern Iraq will be a good test of whether the transition to Iraqi control can be accelerated. Britain announced this month that it is withdrawing half its troops from Basra and that the remaining 2,500 may be gone by the end of 2008. Rather than moving U.S. troops south to fill the vacuum, Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno plans to let the Iraqi military and various militias sort out who controls what. About 400 U.S. troops will be embedded with Iraqi special forces to help in a crisis, and thousands more can be flown in quickly. As other areas of the country become more secure, this hands-off approach can be extended.

The biggest argument against accelerating the handover is that violence is down now only because of the surge of U.S. firepower. But in coming weeks, commanders will be exploring whether it's possible to maintain the same combat "tooth" with less of a "tail" of logistical support.

Politically, the Iraq debate has a markedly different tone than it did a few months ago. At the White House, the sense of political free fall is over. Officials feel they are on a stable glide path toward a reduced but still substantial troop presence when President Bush leaves office. It's not exactly a military victory, with marching bands and flying flags, but it's not a defeat either.

The mood has changed on Capitol Hill as well. Congressional pressure for a quick pullout has eased, in part because Democratic leaders know they don't have the votes. Meanwhile, the top two Democratic candidates, Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, have both said they expect that U.S. troops will still be in Iraq when the next president takes office, and they have discussed what role this residual U.S. force should play.

The one certainty about Iraq is that a large U.S. troop presence isn't acceptable over the long run, for Iraqis or Americans
. So U.S. military commanders are wise to examine how to use the remarkable success of recent months to create alternatives that rely less on U.S. firepower. That's really the challenge now in Iraq -- how to seize the moment, rather than maintain the status quo.

The writer is co-host ofPostGlobal, an online discussion of international issues. His e-mail address

Frustration growing over violence in Iraq

Frustration growing over violence in Iraq: "By David Wood | Sun reporter
October 19, 2007

WASHINGTON - Despite hopes that the U.S. military "surge" in Iraq would encourage economic and political headway and sap the strength of the insurgency, very little lasting progress has been achieved, according to a new U.S. report.

The study, based on the assessments of dozens of U.S. military and civilian officials working at local levels across Iraq, runs counter to the optimistic forecasts by the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, and Ambassador Ryan Crocker. It said that with the exception of Anbar province, there has been "little progress" toward political reconciliation, a key U.S. goal in Iraq.

Withdrawal of U.S. troops would produce "open battlegrounds of ethnic cleansing" in some Baghdad neighborhoods and elsewhere in Iraq, the report said.

In high-profile congressional hearings last month, Petraeus and Crocker testified that the addition of 28,000 American troops in Iraq, ordered last winter by President Bush, was reducing violence and providing opportunity for economic projects, government reform and political reconciliation.

The troop "surge" is temporary, with the first of the reinforcement units scheduled to leave Iraq before Christmas.

But instead of charting progress, the new report, by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, warns that Iraq "will require years of steady engagement" before there is significant progress in providing Iraqis with power and clean water, jobs, health resources and government that works.

"Iraq's complex and overlapping sectarian, political, and ethnic conflicts, as well as the difficult security situation, continue to hinder progress in promoting economic development, rule of law, and political reconciliation," the report cautioned.

With a $44 billion investment by American taxpayers in rebuilding Iraq, there are some visible improvements, the report said. But it warned that local and provincial governments "have little ability to manage and maintain" new health clinics, water treatment plants, power-generating facilities and other projects.

One U.S. official in Iraq, quoted anonymously in the report, said he foresaw a "train wreck" ahead as costly U.S. projects in Iraq grind to a halt for lack of manpower or maintenance.

The report's grim conclusions parallel previous U.S. assessments, including a major national intelligence estimate in August that said there had been little economic improvement. That report forecast that sectarian violence would continue displacing Iraqis from their own neighborhoods and that Iraq's government would "become more precarious" over the next six to 12 months.

Nevertheless, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates dismissed the report's conclusion, which he said "doesn't square" with what he is hearing from senior U.S. military officers in Iraq.

The office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, created by Congress three years ago to probe U.S. spending in Iraq, is headed by Stuart W. Bowen, a lawyer who previously worked for then-Gov. Bush in Texas and served on Bush's White House staff in Washington.

His report, released yesterday, is based on assessments from 32 provincial reconstruction teams made up of U.S. military and civilian experts in local government.

Despite the arduous and often dangerous conditions these teams work under, they have achieved some "incremental" success, the report said. But it went on to document continuing problems that run deep and wide through Iraq.

The judicial system is not functioning because of police corruption and judges who are subject to intimidation by sectarian violence. To boost employment, U.S. military commanders are spending millions of dollars on short-term reconstruction projects that employ Iraqis, but these projects often are not coordinated with local governments and rarely provide long-term job opportunities, the report said.

The report documented "a growing public frustration" of Iraqis with their government. As a result, there has been "little progress" toward political reconciliation, which it said was being undermined by jockeying for power among rival Shiite groups and a "sense of alienation" on the part of the minority Sunnis.

Asked yesterday about the report, Gates said he had not read it and does not believe its assessment.

"The information that we're getting from the commanders and from the ambassador doesn't square with that," Gates said at a Pentagon news briefing. "Our sense is that, in fact, there is progress in these areas - more than we would have expected."

Adm. Mike Mullen, the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also said the report's assessments differ from what he saw on a recent trip to Iraq.

As evidence of a growing economy, Mullen cited a butcher at a local market just outside Baghdad who until recently was selling a sheep every week. Now, the butcher is selling a sheep every day, Mullen said.

"I don't want to overly state it ... but it's starting to happen," he said.

Kurds demand U.S. defense 

Kurds demand U.S. defense - - The Washington Times, America's Newspaper: "Kurdish leaders said yesterday the United States is obliged by a U.N. resolution to defend them in the event that Turkish forces invade northern Iraq in pursuit of members of a Kurdish rebel movement.

They also said they will continue to sign oil contracts with international companies while awaiting passage of an Iraqi oil law, despite objections from Baghdad and the State Department.

"The U.S. forces are mandated by the United Nations to protect Iraq's sovereignty and defend Iraq's people," said Qubad Talabani, the Kurdistan Regional Government's representative in Washington.

But Mr. Talabani, who was accompanied by the head of the Kurdistan government's foreign relations department, said he is worried the United States might not fulfill that commitment.

"We would like stronger reassurances by the United States that they would defend the Iraqi people, be it in the south, north or center, if they were threatened in any way," Mr. Talabani told editors and reporters at The Washington Times.

The officials likely referenced Security Council Resolution 1546, which gives multinational forces in Iraq the authority "to take all necessary measures to contribute to the maintenance of security and stability in Iraq."

In an accompanying letter, then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said the international force will "undertake a broad range of tasks to contribute to the maintenance of security" in Iraq

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said at a later press conference that the United States wants to help end a wave of attacks inside Turkey, but there is a lack of solid information as to where the Kurdish rebels operate from....

Shiite Refugees Feel Forsaken in Their Holy City - New York Times

Shiite Refugees Feel Forsaken in Their Holy City - New York Times: "NAJAF," Iraq — The men gather somberly at midday on soiled straw mats under a makeshift canvas canopy in a valiant effort to simulate the traditional Arab formal reception room, but here they have no fans to keep the flies from landing, no sweets or tea to offer strangers.

They hoped that this city, holy to their Shiite sect, would welcome them and begin to heal their grief. But instead they have found themselves in a refugee camp outside the city, far from jobs and shops, squeezed five to a tent, sleeping on squalid blankets smelling of sweat, and drinking cloudy brown water hauled from a nearby ditch.

Most galling for these Shiite refugees is that they feel abandoned by the government, which is run by fellow Shiites. “When Maliki came to Najaf he didn’t even come to see the camp; he didn’t even visit his own people,” said Issa Mohammed, 47, a dignified man wearing the black checked scarf favored by tribal sheiks, referring to Iraq’s prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.

The scope of sectarian killings in Iraq and the relocation they have caused have yet to be publicly acknowledged by the Iraqi government. But a visit to Najaf, whose refugee population is typical of the southern provinces, lays bare the vast needs of displaced Iraqis and the rough road ahead for the project of national reconciliation.

In Najaf, estimates of the number of the displaced range from 60,000 to more than 400,000. The official number of displaced is 10,000 families, or 60,000 people, since there are six people on average in an Iraqi family, according to the International Organization for Migration, which works with governments worldwide on refugee issues.

However, numbers are hard to track because some displaced families stay only a few months in one place and then move on. The majority live in squatter villages in the country far from services; there are about 1,700 in the refugee camp.

Because registering with the Iraqi Ministry of Displacement and Migration is a difficult process that requires going to Baghdad and presenting several documents that prove former address and family size, only a fraction of those displaced register, according to officials at humanitarian agencies.

In addition, said Kammal Abdul Zahra, the head of the Iraqi Red Crescent Organization’s Najaf office, many rural, less-educated people are afraid of being on any official lists, so they do not register with the provincial government, or with any charitable agencies. His guess is that the real figure is closer to 400,000.

That would be a huge increase in Najaf’s population since the bombing of the Shiite shrine in Samarra in February 2006, which marked the beginning of the mass migrations. Prior to the bombing, Najaf’s population was estimated at about 700,000.

More than 1.1 million Iraqis have been internally displaced, most of them since the time of the bombing, when sectarian violence intensified, according to numbers gathered by the Iraqi Red Crescent and the International Organization for Migration. In addition, at least two million Iraqis have fled the country, with the majority heading to Syria and Jordan.

Najaf is a low-lying city of sand-colored houses that sprawls across the northern tip of the Arabian desert. The golden-domed shrine to Imam Ali, the martyred son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad, stands at the center of the old city, a place of narrow alleys lined with religious booksellers and the offices of ayatollahs.

The size of the jump in Najaf’s population would present huge problems for cities in a developed country, let alone a less developed country still recovering from decades of war.

Daunted by those demands and worried about the effect of the influx on Najaf’s image as a center of Shiite culture, the Najaf Provincial Council decided in the summer of 2006 to stop the refugee flow. They instituted rules requiring newcomers to have at least two members of the Najaf government vouch for them or be turned away.

The effect has been to limit immigrants to those who already have relatives in Najaf.

“The trouble is that we are trying to bring back the identity of Najaf because its society has been disrupted for 30 years,” said Abdul Hussain Abtam, the deputy head of the Provincial Council, referring to suppression of much of the city’s Shiite identity under Iraq’s former president, Saddam Hussein. “We are trying to make people from Najaf more educated, more organized, but these other people, these displaced people, are making this difficult.”

In fact, Najaf has a more affluent refugee population than most other areas in the south because of its status as a center of Shiite culture. While a vast majority of refugees are poor, many of them because they had to leave behind everything they own, an estimated 20 percent are part of the middle class and 5 percent are wealthy, according to Red Crescent officials. ...

Taliban militants kill tribal elders

Taliban militants kill tribal elders | Herald Sun: "PRO"TALIBAN militants shot dead two government-backed tribal elders today after a peace meeting in Pakistan's troubled northwest, officials said.

The two were gunned down near Khar, the main town in Bajaur tribal district, a known hot-bed of Islamic extremists bordering Afghanistan, officials said.

“The victims were returning after attending a jirga (grand council) to negotiate peace in the area with (other) tribal elders when they were gunned down by extremists,” a local official said.

Bajaur, bordering Afghanistan's Kunar province, is a known al-Qaeda and Taliban hideout.

Tribesmen openly sympathise with militants across the border in Afghanistan and are pushing for a Taliban-style system of governance in the rugged region.

Militants blew up a girls' school overnight in Bajaur because they consider female education un-Islamic.

Violence in the tribal region straddling Afghanistan has spiked since an army raid at a pro-Taliban mosque in the capital Islamabad in July which killed more than 100 people.

Dodd Stands up to Lack of Leadership from Reid


ASSAD VISIT SIGNALS DEEPENING RAPPROCHEMENT BETWEEN TURKEY AND SYRIA - Eurasia Daily Monitor: "Syrian President Bashar al-Assad arrived in Turkey yesterday (October 16) at the beginning of a four-day visit, in another sign of a deepening rapprochement between the two countries less than a decade after they almost went to war over Damascus’s support for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).Assad last came to Turkey in January 2004 when he became the first serving Syrian head of state ever to pay an official visit to the country.

In fall 1998 Turkey threatened to invade Syria, and massed troops and armor on the two countries’ border, unless Damascus expelled PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, who had spent most of the previous 20 years either in Damascus or the Syrian-controlled Bekaa Valley in Lebanon. After initially prevaricating, Syria agreed and subsequently also dismantled PKK camps in the country.

Turkish intelligence reports suggest that today the organization has only a token presence in Syria, although it continues to use the country as a conduit for supplies and personnel going to the main PKK camps in northern Iraq.Although bilateral ties had already improved considerably before the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in Turkey in November 2003, there is little doubt that the party has been particularly assiduous in cultivating a better relationship with Damascus, not only on a political level but also in the economic sphere. In the last two years the Syrian authorities have approved more than 30 Turkish investment projects in the country with a total value of over $150 million (Zaman, October 17).

Bilateral trade is expected to be around $1.5 billion in 2007, more than triple the figure when the AKP came to power.When Israel launched an air strike against Syria on September 6, Turkey was not only vigorous in its condemnation of the raid but -- amid speculation in the international press that the Israeli planes had used Turkish airspace -- publicly reassured Syria that it would never allow its territory to be used for an attack against the country.

The rapprochement with Syria forms part of a strategy of what Professor Ahmet Davutoglu, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s chief foreign policy advisor, describes as “strategic depth” (Ahmet Davutoglu, “Stratejik Derinlik,” Küre Yayınları, 2004). Davutoglu maintains that the emphasis of previous governments on relations with Europe and the US has created an imbalance in Turkey’s foreign policy, which needs to be redressed by a more active engagement with the region.

However, there is little doubt that the concept also has considerable emotional appeal for the AKP and its supporters, not only because countries such as Syria are predominantly Muslim but also because the idea of Turkey playing a more active role in the Middle East plays into the AKP’s strong Ottoman nostalgia and its vision of Turkey emerging as a neo-Ottoman regional power.In this context, it is not surprising that in their background briefings to Turkish journalists, AKP officials have been playing up the possibility of Assad’s visit forming part of a Turkish attempt to broker an agreement between Syria and Israel or at least lower tensions between the two countries (NTV, CNNTurk, October 17).

Last week the official Syrian news agency, SANA, reported that Assad had confirmed in interviews with two Tunisian newspapers that Turkey was trying to mediate between Syria and Israel.During his time in Turkey, Assad is also expected to discuss Turkey’s threat to launch a cross-border military operation against PKK camps in northern Iraq (see EDM, October 11) and plans for a ministerial meeting of Iraq’s neighbors in Istanbul at the beginning of November; although it is difficult to see how the meeting will be productive if Turkey defies the Iraqi government in Baghdad and launches a military strike against the PKK presence in northern Iraq.In addition to meeting in Ankara with Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul, Assad is also expected to spend two days in Istanbul, where he will visit a shipyard and meet with members of Turkey’s business community.It is a sign of the dramatic change in the bilateral relationship that Assad’s visit has so far received very little coverage in the Turkish press. In the late 1990s, it was Syria that was vilified for its alleged complicity in the killings conducted by the PKK. In recent weeks, it has been the United States for opposing Turkey’s plans to launch a military strike against the organization’s camps in northern Iraq.

Anti-Americanism has risen still higher since the October 10 approval by the House Foreign Affairs Committee of a resolution characterizing the massacres and deportations of Armenians by the Ottoman authorities during World War I as a genocide.During an October 7 visit to Damascus, several days before the resolution was passed, Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan described ties between Turkey and Syria as being “at their highest possible level” (CNNTurk, NTV, October 7). Such enthusiasm is in marked contrast to the distrust and distaste with which many in Turkey currently view the United States.

Iraq says Syria 'crossed red line' over Kurds

IC Publications: "Iraqi "President Jalal Talabani slammed his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad's support for a possible Turkish incursion into northern Iraq to tackle Kurdish rebels, a newspaper said on Saturday.

"President Assad's remarks are dangerous and run contrary to the spirit of Arab solidarity," Talabani, himself a Kurd, was quoted as saying in an interview with the Saudi daily Asharq Al-Awsat.

"Usually I would refrain from commenting on Syrian positions in order to preserve our historic ties, but this time I am unable to support this dangerous crossing of red lines."

On Wednesday Assad said he would support a Turkish incursion into northern Iraq against Turkish Kurdish rebels, calling such action Ankara's "legitimate right."

Syria and Turkey both oppose any Iraqi Kurdish attempt to break away from the central government in Baghdad, fearing that this could fuel separatist ambitions among their own Kurds.

"How can the president of an Arab state support military intervention against the Iraqi republic?"
Talabani was quoted as asking. "This is a serious matter and damaging to relations between the two countries.

"The Syrian president should have commented as the Americans and Europeans did, saying they preferred a diplomatic solution, even if he understands the Turkish position."

On Wednesday the Turkish parliament authorised military strikes in Kurdish-held northern Iraq within a year against bases of the separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which uses the region as a springboard for attacks on Turkish targets across the border.

"I have personally visited Syria, and our two countries have joint commissions working on current projects. I am really astounded at this unfriendly stance taken by Syria," Talabani told the daily.

Assad is the first Arab leader to come out in favour of Turkish action against PKK bases in Iraq.

The PKK, which has waged a 23-year armed campaign for Kurdish self-rule in southeast Turkey, is listed as a terrorist group by Ankara and much of the international community.

Assad later finetuned his position, calling on Ankara to give Baghdad a chance to tackle the rebels.

"The problem cannot be resolved by being considered only as a military and security problem. Results cannot be obtained without the backing of political efforts," the Turkish newspaper Radikal quoted him as saying on Friday.

In January, when Talabani made the first visit to Syria by an Iraqi president for nearly 30 years, Assad pledged that Damascus would work with the Iraqi authorities to "eradicate terrorism."

Iraq Kurds vow to fight if region attacked

IC Publications: "Iraq's Kurds vowed on Friday to fight off any attack on their region as pressure mounted on Baghdad and Washington to act against Kurdish rebels and stave off a threatened Turkish incursion.

Kurdish regional president Massoud Barzani issued a strongly worded statement hours after US Defence Secretary Robert Gates hinted that US and Iraqi forces were prepared to act against Turkish Kurd rebels in northern Iraq.

"We frankly say to all parties: if they attack the region or Kurdistan experiment under whatever pretext, we will be completely ready to defend our democratic experiment and the dignity of our people and the sanctity of our homeland," Barzani said.

He said Iraqi Kurds were not to blame for the trouble between Turkey and the rebels from the
Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and reiterated a call for Ankara to hold negotiations with his autonomous Kurdish government based in Arbil.

A senior Turkish official, however, rejected direct talks with the regional authorities to defuse the crisis and said the Turks would deal only with the central government in Baghdad.

"We don't talk to Iraqi Kurdish groups. Our interlocutor is the Iraqi government in Baghdad, and we discuss whatever we want to discuss with its representatives," said Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek.

The Turkish parliament gave permission to the military on Wednesday to launch an incursion into northern Iraq to pursue the PKK although Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoyan indicated that no such action was imminent.

Turkey says the rebels enjoy free movement in Iraq's Kurdish north and are tolerated or even actively supported by the regional political leaders, something they have repeatedly denied.

"The Kurdish region strongly rejects the charges of helping the PKK," Barzani said again in his statement.

"We are astonished by this tension during the past few days and the Turkish stance in crossing Kurdistan's borders under the pretext of striking at the PKK."

Gates said the United States was determined to work with the Turks to reduce the PKK threat and said Washington and Baghdad were prepared to do the "appropriate thing" if necessary. He did not specify what that implied.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has vowed that he will bring an end to the presence inside Iraq of the PKK, who he has labelled "terrorists" several times in recent days.

But the situation on the ground means his options are limited. The Iraqi army is not deployed on the Turkish border or anywhere else in the region, where security is under the control of Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga militiamen.

Observers say any moves to rein in the PKK must come from the Kurdish administration which controls the peshmerga and has more influence with the rebel group than the central government in Baghdad.

An umbrella group of parties in Iraqi Kurdistan issued a statement calling on the Turkish rebels to reflect on the present tension.

"We demand the PKK take into consideration the situation in the province of Kurdistan and sees that it does not cause problems," said the statement from the Supreme Council of Kurdistan.

The Council, which includes the main Kurdish political parties as well as Islamic groups and representatives of the region's Turkmen and Christian minorities, also called on Turkey to enter dialogue.

But Turkish officials were adamant they would deal with Baghdad and not the Kurdish regional government which they accuse of past inaction.

"Those who do not stop the theft are friends of the thief," deputy prime minister Cicek told the English-language daily Today's Zaman in Ankara.

Cicek also lashed out at the European Union, accusing the bloc of "hypocrisy" for failing to act against PKK militants active in member countries despite listing the group as a terrorist organisation.

Turkey has long accused European countries of tolerating PKK activities and failing to close down organisations affiliated to the group.

Many Kurds were granted political asylum in European countries, notably in the 1990s, when Ankara's heavy-handed policies against its large Kurdish minority put its human rights record under the international spotlight.

[bth: Two observations:

- First the PKK wants to stir up trouble. They want Turkey to cross the border and attack because it will be the rallying point for Kurds in Turkey and other Kurds in Iraq.

- Second if the Turks attack the Kurds working for our contractors for those working within the Iraqi Army, our interpreters, our best allied officers, our police chiefs, they will have to resign or take leave and go to protect their homes. The Sunni Arabs will be happy to see this happen, so to will Sadr.

- The Iranians want this to happen to further isolate the Kurds whose are pushing the Iranian government in NW Iran.

... Too many people want a fight.]

Returning exile Benazir Bhutto has a long list of enemies who want to see her dead - Times Online

Returning exile Benazir Bhutto has a long list of enemies who want to see her dead - Times Online: "Benazir Bhutto has many enemies in Pakistan who wanted to stop her homecoming and political comeback.

By her own estimate yesterday, no fewer than four different groups wanted her dead within hours of her return.

“There was one suicide squad from the Taleban elements, one suicide squad from al-Qaeda, one suicide squad from Pakistani Taleban and a fourth – a group, I believe, from Karachi,” she said.

As police recovered the severed head of the suicide bomber from the scene of Thursday’s attack, Islamic militant groups in Pakistan emerged as the prime suspects. Not only is suicide bombing the preferred weapon of the militants, but two warlords had threatened to kill Ms Bhutto only days before her homecoming

Baitullah Mehsud, the most prominent militant commander in the lawless region of South Waziristan, is allied to al-Qaeda and the Taleban. His forces are engaged in a bloody rebellion against government troops and are holding 200 Pakistani soldiers hostage.
Yesterday he denied any involvement in the attack, in spite of threats that he made this month to greet Miss Bhutto’s return with suicide attacks.

The other suspect is Haji Omar, a Taleban commander in Waziristan. He spoke this week of Taleban plans to assassinate Ms Bhutto and President Musharraf.

“Those people who are doing this, they want to create terror, and election campaigns and rallies are for them targets,” Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao, the Pakistani Interior Minister, said.

The militants regard Ms Bhutto’s homecoming as part of an American-inspired plot to keep secular, pro-Western leaders in place in Pakistan as a key front in the War on Terror.

Under the plan, General Musharraf would be confirmed as President, with Ms Bhutto the favourite to become Prime Minister after elections scheduled for early next year. The partnership would be expected to continue the government offensive by 90,000 troops against Islamic militants in the tribal territories, where Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders are believed to be hiding.

The militants are not the only suspects in the bombing on Thursday.

Asif Ali Zardari, Ms Bhutto’s husband, accused the intelligence services of involvement in the attempt on her life.

Under this scenario, Pakistani security forces – in particular the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence – would have had an interest in preventing Ms Bhutto’s return from exile.

They stand to lose power and influence if military rule ends and the country reverts to civilian authority.

There is no love lost between the Bhutto family and the military Establishment. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Ms Bhutto’s father, was overthrown in a military coup in 1977 and hanged in prison two years later by General Zia ul-Haq, the former military dictator.

Suspicion also fell on Ms Bhutto’s political rivals, who will lose out with her return to Pakistan. In the past she has accused conservative figures in the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Q) of secretly supporting religious extremists against her.

Friday, October 19, 2007

John D. Hart Italy early summer 2003

The Real Iraq We Knew

The Real Iraq We Knew - "By 12 former Army captainsTuesday, October 16, 2007; 12:00 AM

Today marks five years since the authorization of military force in Iraq, setting Operation Iraqi Freedom in motion.

Five years on, the Iraq war is as undermanned and under-resourced as it was from the start.

And, five years on, Iraq is in shambles.

As Army captains who served in Baghdad and beyond, we've seen the corruption and the sectarian division. We understand what it's like to be stretched too thin. And we know when it's time to get out.

What does Iraq look like on the ground? It's certainly far from being a modern, self-sustaining country.

Many roads, bridges, schools and hospitals are in deplorable condition. Fewer people have access to drinking water or sewage systems than before the war. And Baghdad is averaging less than eight hours of electricity a day.

Iraq's institutional infrastructure, too, is sorely wanting. Even if the Iraqis wanted to work together and accept the national identity foisted upon them in 1920s, the ministries do not have enough trained administrators or technicians to coordinate themselves. At the local level, most communities are still controlled by the same autocratic sheiks that ruled under Saddam. There is no reliable postal system. No effective banking system. No registration system to monitor the population and its needs.

The inability to govern is exacerbated at all levels by widespread corruption. Transparency International ranks Iraq as one of the most corrupt countries in the world. And, indeed, many of us witnessed the exploitation of U.S. tax dollars by Iraqi officials and military officers. Sabotage and graft have had a particularly deleterious impact on Iraq's oil industry, which still fails to produce the revenue that Pentagon war planners hoped would pay for Iraq's reconstruction. Yet holding people accountable has proved difficult. The first commissioner of a panel charged with preventing and investigating corruption resigned last month, citing pressure from the government and threats on his life.

Against this backdrop, the U.S. military has been trying in vain to hold the country together. Even with "the surge," we simply do not have enough soldiers and marines to meet the professed goals of clearing areas from insurgent control, holding them securely and building sustainable institutions. Though temporary reinforcing operations in places like Fallujah, An Najaf, Tal Afar, and now Baghdad may brief well on PowerPoint presentations, in practice they just push insurgents to another spot on the map and often strengthen the insurgents' cause by harassing locals to a point of swayed allegiances. Millions of Iraqis correctly recognize these actions for what they are and vote with their feet -- moving within Iraq or leaving the country entirely. Still, our colonels and generals keep holding on to flawed concepts.

U.S. forces, responsible for too many objectives and too much "battle space," are vulnerable targets. The sad inevitability of a protracted draw-down is further escalation of attacks -- on U.S. troops, civilian leaders and advisory teams. They would also no doubt get caught in the crossfire of the imminent Iraqi civil war.

Iraqi security forces would not be able to salvage the situation. Even if all the Iraqi military and police were properly trained, equipped and truly committed, their 346,000 personnel would be too few. As it is, Iraqi soldiers quit at will. The police are effectively controlled by militias. And, again, corruption is debilitating. U.S. tax dollars enrich self-serving generals and support the very elements that will battle each other after we're gone.

This is Operation Iraqi Freedom and the reality we experienced. This is what we tried to communicate up the chain of command. This is either what did not get passed on to our civilian leadership or what our civilian leaders chose to ignore. While our generals pursue a strategy dependent on peace breaking out, the Iraqis prepare for their war -- and our servicemen and women, and their families, continue to suffer.

There is one way we might be able to succeed in Iraq. To continue an operation of this intensity and duration, we would have to abandon our volunteer military for compulsory service. Short of that, our best option is to leave Iraq immediately. A scaled withdrawal will not prevent a civil war, and it will spend more blood and treasure on a losing proposition.

America, it has been five years. It's time to make a choice.

This column was written by 12 former Army captains: Jason Blindauer served in Babil and Baghdad in 2003 and 2005. Elizabeth Bostwick served in Salah Ad Din and An Najaf in 2004. Jeffrey Bouldin served in Al Anbar, Baghdad and Ninevah in 2006. Jason Bugajski served in Diyala in 2004. Anton Kemps served in Babil and Baghdad in 2003 and 2005. Kristy (Luken) McCormick served in Ninevah in 2003.

Luis Carlos Montalván served in Anbar, Baghdad and Nineveh in 2003 and 2005. William Murphy served in Babil and Baghdad in 2003 and 2005. Josh Rizzo served in Baghdad in 2006. William "Jamie" Ruehl served in Nineveh in 2004. Gregg Tharp served in Babil and Baghdad in 2003 and 2005. Gary Williams served in Baghdad in 2003

[bth: compare this article with the one below regarding whether a general should consider putting his career on the line or not.]

Falling on your sword

INTEL DUMP - Falling on your sword: "Sometimes, it sucks to be a general."

Imagine that you're a 3- or 4-star general, and you've spent your entire adult life in uniform. You believe in this country, its defense establishment, its military, and most of all, the principles in the Constitution that you swore to support and defend against all enemies foreign and domestic.

You've seen your military ground down by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. You can hear the war drums beating louder and louder for a U.S. strike on Iran, but your gut tells you that such a move would be totally and completely insane.

Then the president orders a strike on Iran, to be followed by the commitment of ground troops.

What do you do?

Well, according to Fred Kaplan in Slate, you consider retiring quietly, or renouncing the strike and resigning publicly.Such acts of public immolation are rare for American public servants, both in and out of uniform, Kaplan writes.

Despite the tradition of a captain going down with his or her ship, it rarely happens in practice.

Too hard to fix blame; too easy to pass the buck; too difficult to give up your career; too tough to become a pariah — the reasons are many.

More often than not, career officials and political appointees who disagree with policy decisions resign quietly, citing such reasons as a desire to spend more time with family.

But the stakes are high, and a potential war with Iran might fundamentally alter the decision calculus for many active-duty generals and admirals. Kaplan writes:

These are the sorts of fine lines that senior officers are mulling and skirmishing over with great intensity right now.

If the run-up to Iraq were somehow replayed, it's a fair bet that one or two generals would resign—or retire, then speak out more promptly than they did. (Gen. Greg Newbold, who was the Joint Staff's director of operations at the start of the Bush administration, resigned shortly before the invasion but didn't speak out for three years—a lapse that, he later wrote, he regretted.)

If there is a run-up to an Iranian war, what would the generals do? This is not an easy question. But here is my proposal (an easy proposal, some would charge, correctly, since I'm not in the military):

If the top officers up and down the chain of command all agreed that an attack on Iran would be a disaster, on whatever grounds, they should do all they can to sway the president—and anyone who has influence over the president—against it.

They should arrange to be called before congressional committees and to be asked awkward questions, which would elicit their critical replies.

At the final hour, they should threaten to retire or resign en masse and, if that didn't work, they should follow through. (Even if they quietly retired, the fact that three or four or six or eight generals did so at once would have some impact.)

This is a dangerous business. It shouldn't be undertaken often (and even on this outing, it should be done only in coordination with, perhaps at the behest of, civilian officials who agree with their positions—say, the secretaries of defense and state).

But if the bombing led to disaster, as many of these officers now believe it would, they must realize—and, given the experience in Iraq, they probably do realize—that they would share the responsibility. The question is:

Will anticipation of this responsibility lead them to do something beforehand, if only as recompense for having done too little before the disaster of Iraq?

[bth: moral integrity has to mean something. If it doesn't mean something when the stakes are high such as going to war one can only imagine that it means much less in other matters. Who said these generals be tolerated when they don't the balls, no the moral courage, to do the right thing when it counts, when lives are on the line? Integrity has to mean more than not stealing. It has to mean that you serve the public and your soldiers and put them first, above yourself. George Washington served his country. Saddam Hussein had his country serve him. The public has a right and the generals have an obligation to this country, to their soldiers.]

Most fake bombs missed by screeners

Most fake bombs missed by screeners - "WASHINGTON — Security screeners at two of the nation's busiest airports failed to find fake bombs hidden on undercover agents posing as passengers in more than 60% of tests last year, according to a classified report obtained by USA TODAY.

Screeners at Los Angeles International Airport missed about 75% of simulated explosives and bomb parts that Transportation Security Administration testers hid under their clothes or in carry-on bags at checkpoints, the TSA report shows....

Blackwater likely to be out of Iraq

Blackwater likely to be out of Iraq: "WASHINGTON A State Department review of private security guards for diplomats in Iraq is unlikely to recommend firing Blackwater USA over the deaths of 17 Iraqis last month, but the company probably is on the way out of that job, U.S. officials said Wednesday.

It is likely that Blackwater does not compete to keep the job, one official said. Blackwater probably will not be fired outright or even "eased out," the official added, but there is a mutual feeling that the Sept. 16 shooting deaths mean the company cannot continue in its current role.

Department officials said no decisions have been made and that Rice has the final say.

President Bush did not directly answer a question Wednesday about whether he was satisfied with the performance of security contractors.

A panel that Rice appointed to review the contractors will report to her as soon as Friday, and Rice‘s announcement of what to do next probably will follow quickly, one department official said.

The company employs more people and has more equipment than its two competitors in Iraq. Any outside company that might replace Blackwater would have to provide trained U.S. citizens, with security clearances. That may mean that if Blackwater leaves, competitors hired some of its workers. ...

51% of Afghans feeling good about country's direction: poll

51% of Afghans feeling good about country's direction: poll: "A new poll of nearly 1,600 Afghans shows the majority feel safer than they did five years ago, and approve of the direction their country is taking, thanks to the presence of international security forces from countries such as Canada.

Results from the Environics Research poll, conducted in partnership with the CBC, show 60 per cent of Afghans surveyed believe the presence of foreign troops has been good for their country.

As well, 51 per cent said they feel their country is headed in the right direction, compared to 28 per cent who responded that it's headed in the wrong direction. The remaining interviewees saw no change or didn't know.

Most Afghans said they believe their lives are better than they were five years ago, citing increased security, as well as better roads and schools because of reconstruction efforts. Those who feel they are worse off say they don't feel safe in the face of continuing violence.

A new poll of nearly 1,600 Afghans shows the majority feel safer than they did five years ago, and approve of the direction their country is taking, thanks to the presence of international security forces from countries such as Canada.

Results from the Environics Research poll, conducted in partnership with the CBC, show 60 per cent of Afghans surveyed believe the presence of foreign troops has been good for their country.

As well, 51 per cent said they feel their country is headed in the right direction, compared to 28 per cent who responded that it's headed in the wrong direction. The remaining interviewees saw no change or didn't know.

Warrant Officer Sean Chase of the Provincial Reconstruction Team hands out "Izzy" dolls to 15 children from one family. They came with their father to the Village Medical Outreach at Forward Operating Base Martello.(Captain Dave Muralt/Department of National Defence)

Most Afghans said they believe their lives are better than they were five years ago, citing increased security, as well as better roads and schools because of reconstruction efforts. Those who feel they are worse off say they don't feel safe in the face of continuing violence.

"There's no consensus. It's not everyone [who] has a positive view," said Keith Neuman of Environics. "But more often than not, people feel that things are better than they were."

The Ottawa-based research company oversaw the Sept. 17-24 survey of 1,578 Afghans, whom pollsters from the Afghan Centre for Social and Opinion Research interviewed in their homes throughout the country's 34 provinces.

The results have a margin of error of 2.5 per cent, 19 times out of 20, except in Kandahar, where the smaller sample size leads to a 5.9 per cent margin of error.

Support for troops to stay

Among the poll's other results:

Forty-three per cent of all Afghans surveyed say that foreign troops should stay as long as it takes to get the job done. Only about 15 per cent of all Afghans surveyed want foreign troops to leave their country immediately, and the rest want time limits.

In the troubled southern province of Kandahar, where the former Taliban government has its roots and where the vast majority of Canadian troops are based, only 31 per cent of respondents want to see foreign troops stick around until stability is restored. In comparison, 32 per cent of those asked would like to see the troops gone within a year, and many had no opinion at all.

A full 60 per cent of those surveyed in Kandahar have a somewhat or very positive attitude toward Canada's soldiers. Those with a negative opinion cite civilian casualties and the fact that they see the soldiers as infidels.

Janice Stein is director of the Munk Centre for International Studies at the University of Toronto, another of the poll's sponsors. She sees grounds for optimism in the results.

"I think Afghans are asking for continued assistance," she said. "They are asking for a continued foreign presence in the short term. They are asking for help in order to avoid a return of the Taliban to Afghanistan. These are the fundamental messages that come out of this poll."

U.S. cited as chief source of troops

When asked who is responsible for fighting the Taliban, an overwhelming majority named the United States. Even in the south of the country, where Canadian forces have lost most of the 71 soldiers who have died in the country so far, 90 per cent of Afghans polled believe it is the United States that is trying to protect them.

On the bright side, when it comes to reconstruction, Afghans named Canada as one of the top countries trying to help rebuild Kandahar.

"Here are the Canadians in Afghanistan, seen as the people building civil society, helping reconstruction, helping to train, helping to build a democracy so that some day we can leave," says Michael Adams of Environics.

"It's interesting — even our military are seen in that role there, rather than in the role of fighting the Taliban."

Some NATO countries, such as the Netherlands and Germany, have been debating whether to pull their troops out of Afghanistan. But despite political opposition within Canada, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has made his position clear: He wants Canadian troops to stay in the country until at least 2011.
High marks for Karzai

On another front, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his government received approval ratings other world leaders can only dream of.

More than 70 per cent of Afghans surveyed said they think Karzai is doing a good job. In his home province of Kandahar, the positive reviews jump to 77 per cent.

That's significant because Karzai is often seen from the outside as a weak leader who, among other criticisms, hasn't managed to clean up corruption in his own governmental ranks.

"I think what people forget is there is a lot of challenges in this country," Arif Lalani, Canada's ambassador to Afghanistan, pointed out in an interview. "But there's a lot of progress [too], and the Afghans that I see, see the change and he's the face of the Afghan government. So it wouldn't surprise me that they still have faith in him."

Germany to Free Iranian Assassin Despite Israeli Protests

Germany to Free Iranian Assassin Despite Israeli Protests Germany Deutsche Welle 17.10.2007: "Despite Despite protests from Israel, German authorities are set to grant the early release of two men serving life sentences for the 1992 assassination of three Iranian-Kurdish dissident leaders in a Berlin restaurant.

The office of Germany's chief federal prosecutor, Monika Harms, said this week there was no legal reason to delay the release of Iranian Kazem Darabi. He is set to be freed in December, along with a Lebanese accomplice, Abbas Rhayel.

The two have spent 15 years in jail in Germany and will be deported to Iran upon their release.

Harms reiterated her support for the release of the two men despite reservations in Israel and calls that Darabi's imprisonment be used as leverage to get information in the case of a missing Israeli pilot.
Israel wants release in return for information

On Tuesday, Oct. 16, Harms met with the brother and daughter of Israeli pilot Ron Arad, who went missing after his fighter jet was shot down over Lebanon in 1986. Arad is a national hero in Israel....

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

John D. Hart

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Funeral of PFC John D. Hart Arlington National Cemetery

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Andrée de Jongh

Andrée de Jongh - Telegraph: "Countess Andrée de Jongh, who has died in Brussels aged 90, founded and organised the Comet Escape Line, the route from Belgium through France to Spain used by hundreds of Allied airmen to escape from Nazi-occupied Europe."

Known to all simply as "Dédée", Andrée de Jongh began her resistance work as soon as the Germans advanced into Belgium in May 1940. At the time she was a 24-year-old commercial artist and Belgian Red Cross volunteer, but she gave up her work in order to nurse wounded soldiers; once they were able to walk, she found them safe houses and recruited her friends to help.

As those soldiers and airmen evading capture were soon spread throughout Belgium, she had to find a means of returning them to Britain. With the help of her father, she set up a trail of safe houses along which she could move the men, from Brussels through Paris and on to the western Pyrenees, where loyal Basques gave her great support.

In August 1941 she took three soldiers along the route to Bilbao, where she approached the British consulate for future support. The vice-consul was sceptical, at first fearing a German plot. He could scarcely believe that so petite and attractive a young girl could have made the journey on foot across the mountains by a smugglers' trail after travelling across occupied France, and told her he would have to refer her plan to the British embassy in Madrid. She responded by saying that she would be back in a few weeks with more men.

In the meantime Airey Neave, who had earlier escaped from Colditz Castle and was now the co-ordinator of the London-based escape and evasion organisation at MI9, was alerted to the appearance of this intriguing girl. There was a flow of telegrams and reports as attempts were made to establish her authenticity.

In October 1941, when Dédée reappeared in Bilbao with a group of RAF aircrew, she met the MI9 representative who was based in the embassy in Madrid. The arrival of valuable aircrew dispelled any doubts about her and funding for the line was approved. Dédée de Jongh, however, insisted that the the Comet Line (as it became known) remained under Belgian control, and throughout the war it was organised by Belgian leaders at every stage of the journey from Brussels. She was given the codename "Postman", but Airey Neave always referred to her as Dédée.

The youngest daughter of a schoolmaster, Andrée de Jongh was born at Schaerbeek in German-occupied Belgium on November 30 1916. She trained as a nurse after being inspired by the work of Edith Cavell, the nurse who had been shot in 1915 for assisting British troops to escape. At the outbreak of the war she was working at Malmédy, but immediately moved to Brussels when the Germans invaded her country.

Once the Comet Line (so called because of the speed at which it operated) was established there was a constant stream of shot-down aircrew escorted to the "last house" in the French-Basque village of Urrugne.

Whichever route the evaders took through France, they always ended up at this house, where they were sheltered before meeting Basque guides organised and led by a giant of a man known as Florentino. He constantly drove the evaders to move quickly as he helped them across the rivers and mountains, with Dédée encouraging them from behind.

Dédée de Jongh made more than 30 double crossings and escorted 116 evaders, including more than 80 aircrew. But on the night of January 15 1943 she was sheltering at Urrugne with three RAF evaders when she was betrayed. The house was stormed and she was captured. When interrogated under torture by the Gestapo, in order to save others she admitted being the leader of Le Reseau Comète.
The Gestapo, however, refused to believe that such a young and innocent girl could be in charge of an underground movement whose compass stretched from from Belgium to Spain.

The escape line survived, and by the time the Allies invaded France in June 1944 more than 500 men had passed down the line to safety. The "helpers", both men and women, had paid a great price: many were executed, including Dédée's own father, Frédéric, who faced a firing squad in 1944.

Dédée de Jongh was sent to Mauthausen and Ravensbruck concentration camps. For two years she lived on a diet of dirty potato and turnip soup, practising her nursing skills and trying to avoid being singled out. Although she survived, she had become gravely ill and undernourished by the time she was released by the advancing Allied armies in April 1945. Many of her colleagues died in captivity; among them was Francia Usandizaga, who kept the last house at Urrugne.

After recovering her health Dédée de Jongh went to Buckingham Palace, in 1946, to receive the George Medal — the highest civilian award for bravery available to a foreigner. After the ceremony the RAF Escaping Society gave a dinner in her honour hosted by Air Chief Marshal Sir Basil Embry. The Americans awarded her the Medal of Freedom and the French appointed her a Chevalier of the Légion d'honneur. The Belgians appointed her a Chevalier of the Order of Leopold and awarded her the Croix de Guerre with palm. In 1985 she was created a countess by King Baudouin.

After the war she returned to nursing, spending many years as a sister at a leper colony in the Belgian Congo before moving to a hospital in Ethiopia where she was a matron. When her health and sight began to fail she returned to Brussels.

Airey Neave described Andrée de Jongh as "one of our greatest agents", and wrote a book about her exploits called Little Cyclone (1954). She was revered by members of the RAF Escaping Society, while many others commented on her inner strength and humanity.

Andrée de Jongh's philosophy was simple. In 2000 she recalled: "When war was declared I knew what needed to be done. There was no hesitation. We could not stop what we had to do although we knew the cost. Even if it was at the expense of our lives, we had to fight until the last breath."

In July this year a group of RAF personnel retraced the route of the Comet Line after going to see the frail Dédée at a nursing home in Brussels. She died on October 13, a few days before the memorial service and reunion held annually in Brussels for the survivors and relatives of those who served with the Comet Line. She was unmarried.

Gonzales Investigated Subordinates Who Were Likely To Testify Against Him

Gonzales Investigated Subordinates Who Were Likely To Testify Against Him - Politics on The Huffington Post: "Alberto Gonzales used a criminal leak probe to aggressively investigate the very same subordinates who were potential witnesses against him in separate Justice Department inquiries.

While Attorney General, Gonzales oversaw the probe into the disclosure of the Bush administration's warrantless surveillance program to the New York Times. However, many of those under scrutiny in that investigation were likely to be crucial witnesses about whether Gonzales himself had violated the law while promoting the program as White House counsel and testifying about it to Congress.

Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine is currently investigating whether Gonzales gave false or misleading testimony about the eavesdropping program while under oath....

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

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Sic Semper Tyrannis 2007: Prospects in Iraq

Sic Semper Tyrannis 2007: Prospects in Iraq: "The deployment of more U.S. and Iraqi forces into AQI strongholds in Anbar Province and the Baghdad area, as well as the recruitment of Sunni tribal fighters to combat AQI operatives in those locations, has helped to deprive the militants of a secure base of operations, U.S. military officials said. "They are less and less coordinated, more and more fragmented," LTG Raymond Odierno, the second-ranking U.S. commander in Iraq, said recently. Describing frayed support structures and supply lines, Odierno estimated that the group's capabilities have been "degraded" by 60 to 70 percent since the beginning of the year. " Ricks and De Young


As I said in my recent talk at the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia, it seems likely to me that the sun is setting on AQ in Iraq. There are three main reasons for that in this order of importance:

1- The Sunni Iraqi hostility to AQI which has emerged since Autumn, 2006. I have discussed the reasons for this operationalized hostility in the talk mentioned above as well as in this space. This development seems exportable to many parts of Sunni Iraq. An underground irregular warfare organization still depends on its support in the population of its potential adherents. Mao's dictum on this subject concerning the fish and the sea remains as true as ever. A modicum of accommodation on the part of the Shia run central government and the command of US forces should keep this phenomenon growing. This is a death threat for the takfiri jihadis in Iraq.

2- The increase in US forces known popularly as "the surge" is serving to clear space in the cities for subsequent assertion of government control by Iraqi forces. This is working rather well in the short term but long term success will be dependent on the ability of Iraqi forces to "take over' responsibility for cleared zones and permanently exert government authority.

3- Continuing operations of US and Iraqi Special Operations counter-terrorist commandos against AQI cadres. This activity is productive but, in and of itself, would never defeat AQI because the organization would simply continue to re-build itself from internal and external reinforcement if the political support of the Sunni Arab population did not come to an end.

If this tri-partite pattern of activity continues, then it is likely that the leadership of the international movement (in all its decentralised manifestations) will decide to "cut its losses," reduce commitments in Iraq and concentrate on other, seemingly more attractive fields of endeavor.

Will that "solve" the Question of Iraq? No. It will not. The mislabeled "political" problem of ethno-religious communal reconciliation will remain. It will wait for a willingness on the part of the communities to share power and resources among them. In addition, the inherent contest among the Shia factions will have to come to some end for true stability to emerge.

The Kurds? Well, they watch and wait for US and Turkish action or inaction on their fate.

Iran will continue to play a delicate game, playing off the different Shia groups against each other in order to increase its own leverage, while keeping communications and minimal support ties with the Sunni Arab resistance. Iran does not want to see a Sunni Arab resurgence in power but in the time honored Middle Eastern tradition of intrigue is quite willing to use Sunni fighters to keep pressure on both the Iraqi government and coalition forces. All the while Iran waits for the Americans to decide that their position in all this can be greatly improved by serious bargaining over roles and relationships in the region. pl

[bth: Col. Lang's assessment is as usual insightful. But where do we go from here?]

Putin offers veiled warning against US pipeline efforts | Jerusalem Post

Putin offers veiled warning against US pipeline efforts Jerusalem Post: "Leaders of Russia and Iran spoke out strongly Tuesday against outside interference into Caspian Sea affairs during a summit of the five nations bordering the inland sea that focused on ways to divide the region's substantial energy resources. "

Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose trip to Tehran is the first by a Kremlin leader since World War II, warned that projects of energy pipeline crossing the Caspian could only be implemented if all five littoral nations support them.

Putin did not name any specific country, but his statement underlined Moscow's strong opposition to US-backed efforts to build pipelines to deliver hydrocarbons to the West bypassing Russia.

"Projects that may inflict serious environmental damage to the region cannot be implemented without prior discussion by all five Caspian nations," he said.

Putin also emphasized the need for all Caspian nations to prohibit the use of their territory by any outside countries for use of military force against any nation in the region - a clear reference to long-standing rumors that the United States was planning to use the former Soviet republic as a staging ground for any possible military action against Iran.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also underlined the need to keep outsiders away from the Caspian.

"All Caspian nations agree on the main issue - that all aspects related to this sea must be settled exclusively by littoral nations," he said. "The Caspian Sea is an inland sea and it only belongs to the Caspian states, therefore only they are entitled to have their ships and military forces here."

Putin's visit took place despite warnings of a possible assassination plot and amid hopes that a round of personal diplomacy could help offer a solution to an international standoff on Iran's nuclear program.

Putin's trip was thrown into doubt when the Kremlin said Sunday that he had been informed by Russian special services that suicide attackers might try to kill him in Tehran, but he shrugged off the warning.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini dismissed reports about the purported assassination plot as disinformation spread by adversaries hoping to spoil good relations between Russia and Iran.

Putin has warned the United States and other nations against trying to coerce Iran into reining in its nuclear program and insists peaceful dialogue is the only way to deal with Tehran's defiance of a UN Security Council demand that it suspend uranium enrichment.

"Threatening someone, in this case the Iranian leadership and Iranian people, will lead nowhere," Putin said Monday during his trip to Germany. "They are not afraid, believe me."

Iran's rejection of the council's demand and its previous clandestine atomic work has fed suspicions in the U.S. and other countries that Tehran is working to enrich uranium to a purity usable in nuclear weapons.
Iran insists it is only wants lesser-enriched uranium to fuel nuclear reactors that would generate electricity.

Putin's visit to Tehran is being closely watched for any possible shifts in Russia's carefully hedged stance in the nuclear standoff.

The Russian president underlined his disagreements with Washington last week, saying he saw no "objective data" to prove Western claims that Iran is trying to construct nuclear weapons.

Putin emphasized Monday that he would negotiate in Tehran on behalf of the five permanent UN Security Council members - United States, Russia, China, Britain and France - and Germany, a group that has led efforts to resolve the stalemate with Tehran.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Tom Casey said the US government expected Putin to "convey the concerns shared by all of us about the failure of Iran to comply with the international community's requirements concerning its nuclear program."

Putin's schedule also called for meetings with Ahmadinejad and the Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

While the Kremlin has shielded Tehran from a US push for a third round of UN sanctions, Iran has voiced annoyance about Moscow's foot-dragging in building a nuclear power plant in the southern port of Bushehr under a $1 billion (€700,000) contract.

Russia warned early this year that the plant would not be launched this fall as planned because Iran was slow in making payments. Iranian officials have angrily denied any payment arrears and accused the Kremlin of caving in to Western pressure.

Moscow also has ignored Iranian demands to ship fuel for the plant, saying it would be delivered only six months before the Bushehr plant goes on line. The launch date has been delayed indefinitely amid the payment dispute.

Any sign by Putin that Russia could quickly complete the power plant would embolden Iran and further cloud Russia's relations with the West. But analysts said Putin's trip would be important for Iran even if it yielded no agreements

U.S. Plans Alternate Route for Iraq Supplies Amid Turkish Turmoil -

U.S. Plans Alternate Route for Iraq Supplies Amid Turkish Turmoil - "WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon is preparing plans to send supplies bound for Iraq through other countries if Turkey carries through on a threat to close its airspace to the U.S. But the likely short-term alternatives have limitations.

Relations between Washington and Ankara have been strained by Turkey's preparations to invade northern Iraq to rout out Kurdish rebels at the same time as U.S. lawmakers consider a resolution accusing Turkey of genocide against Armenians following World War I.

A full U.S. House vote on the genocide resolution is expected soon. Turkey, which acknowledges Armenians died in large numbers but denies genocide took place, has warned it might close its airspace to the U.S. military if the measure is approved.

The Turkish Parliament is set to vote as early as tomorrow to authorize a military incursion into Iraq.
The dispute is a source of concern within the Pentagon. The U.S. military brings enormous quantities of food, fuel, ammunition, spare parts and vehicles into Iraq every month through the Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey. Officials said 70% of the air cargo going into Iraq passes through Turkey.

If the U.S. lost access to Turkish airspace, it likely would try to bring supplies in from Jordan or Kuwait.

But neither country could step in as a viable replacement. The U.S. has no major bases in Jordan, and the highways linking Jordan and Iraq pass through several restive Sunni-dominated parts of Iraq. The U.S. ports and bases in Kuwait, meanwhile, are already stretched by supplies en route to Iraq.

Loss of Turkish cooperation could cause a slight increase to delivery time for supplies and may add an increased risk of insurgent attacks on deliveries," said a spokeswoman for Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

"We're continuously reviewing plans for interruptions in all our lines of communication and supply," a defense official said. "But we are definitely executing more detailed planning now that the likelihood has increased" of House passage of the genocide resolution, after the House Foreign Affairs Committee signed off on it last week.

Mr. Gates, other administration officials and high-ranking military personnel have lobbied against the resolution. Senior members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff last week warned lawmakers about the "possible implications and consequences" of passing the resolution, a military official said.

Officers warned lawmakers that approving the resolution would hinder the war effort in Iraq and damage broader U.S. interests in the region, said a congressional aide familiar with the conversations.

The Bush administration has been making a similar argument. Spokesman Tony Fratto said the White House would continue trying to persuade lawmakers to reject the resolution.

"There should be no question of the president's views on this issue and the damage that this resolution could do to U.S. foreign-policy interests," he said....

Top Air Force Official Dies in Apparent Suicide - New York Times

Top Air Force Official Dies in Apparent Suicide - New York Times: "The second"-highest-ranking member of the Air Force’s procurement office was found dead Sunday in an apparent suicide, Air Force and police officials said Monday.The civilian official, Charles D. Riechers, 47, came under scrutiny by the Senate Armed Services Committee this month after reports that the Air Force had arranged for him to be paid about $13,400 a month by a private contractor, Commonwealth Research Institute, while he awaited clearance from the White House for his selection as principal deputy assistant secretary for acquisition. He was appointed to the job, which does not require Senate confirmation, in January.

Kraig Troxell, a spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office in Loudoun County, Va., west of Washington, said friends found Mr. Riechers’s body at his home on Sunday night. Mr. Troxell said results from an autopsy would be made public on Tuesday, but two military officials said Mr. Riechers had apparently killed himself by running his car’s engine in his enclosed garage.

A retired Air Force officer, Mr. Riechers (pronounced REE-kers) had a record of accomplishment in aviation and electronic warfare and had received commendations for his role as a manager in Pentagon purchasing. The Air Force’s procurement programs have been handicapped for years by accusations of favoritism, inefficiency and technical shortfalls, and Mr. Riechers’s new role in the procurement office was supposed to have been repairing the damage.

Instead, his death appears likely only to call renewed attention to those problems....

[bth: I think we'll be hearing more about this.]

Monday, October 15, 2007

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Hezbollah assigns 50,000 militia-men for possible attack on government | Ya Libnan

Hezbollah assigns 50,000 militia-men for possible attack on government Ya Libnan Lebanon News Live from Beirut: "Beirut - Hezbollah has formed a 50.000-strong militia to 'fight an internal dispute' if the ongoing political crisis in Lebanon was not settled, the Kuwaiti newspaper as-Siyassah reported."

It also said Hizbullah has constructed 500 kilometers of roads linking its power bases in east, central and south Lebanon in preparation for such a confrontation with the March 14 forces and to enable the party confront an Israeli attack.

Hezbollah has constantly sought shelter under the "resistance" umbrella that will "never" draw a drop of Lebanese blood - this latest move appears in direct contradiction of their alleged allegiance to Lebanon...

Israel: Goldwasser, Regev not in Iran | Jerusalem Post

Israel: Goldwasser, Regev not in Iran Jerusalem Post: "Both Israeli and Iranian officials denied a report in the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper Sunday claiming that kidnapped IDF reservists Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev were transferred to Iran. "

According to Asharq Al-Awsat, the soldiers were moved last July in an operation directed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, a short time after the two were kidnapped by Hizbullah in a cross-border raid.

The paper further claimed that a deal was in the works involving Iran and Germany, whereby Germany would release Kazem Darabi, an Iranian sentenced to life imprisonment in Germany for murdering four Kurdish dissidents in Berlin in 1992, in return for the kidnapped soldiers.

German officials announced last Thursday their intention to release Darabi, a move that was protested by the family of missing airman Ron Arad, who said that Darabi was a valuable "bargaining chip" that could possibly be used to gain information about Arad.

Senior officials in the Prime Minister's Office categorically denied the report, labeling it "juicy nonsense" and Iranian "misinformation."

Israel Radio quoted an Iranian official close to the Teheran regime as also denying the report, saying it was a blatant attempt to implicate the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in the kidnapping to place the group on the US's list of terrorist organizations, something currently under consideration.

Asharq Al-Awsat journalist Ali Nourizadeh told Israel Radio, however, that the sources claiming Goldwasser and Regev had been transferred to Iran were "very reliable."

In an interview with the radio's Arabic newscast, Nourizadeh said that in the past, Israel had also denied claims that Arad was in Iranian hands, which turned out to be true.

Late July and again last week, publications in the Arab world have reported that Regev and Goldwasser were in fact dead. Al Hayat last week quoted European sources as the basis of this claim.

Goldwasser's wife, Karnit, told Israel Radio Sunday she did not believe the newspaper reports, and that the reservists' families put their faith in "official" sources only. Goldwasser also confirmed that negotiations led by a mediator from the UN have been going on continually. She refused to divulge the level of these talks or the stage of the negotiations.

Sunday was the Goldwassers' wedding anniversary, the second to pass with Ehud in captivity.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

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Counter Insurgency and Irregular Warfare Manual

This link will take you to an updated military pamphlet called "COIN [counter insurgency] and Irregular Warfare in a Tribal Society" which is designed to assist and instruct military personnel in irregular warfare and with a tribal society. It is well worth the read though it is 72 pages long.

Too little, too late General « Kings of War

Too little, too late General « Kings of War: "Yet another retired US general has come out against the Iraq War. This time it’s the former commander of coalition forces in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez. Speaking to a gathering of reporters on Friday, Sanchez placed the blame on the Bush administration for the disasterous US campaign in Iraq.

Sanchez must surely take his share of blame: under his “leadership” from 2004-06, there was a complete breakdown of communication between the US military command (Combined Joint Task Force-7) and the Coalition Provisional Authority under Paul Bremer. This, in itself, was a critical failing in US campaign - at a critical time, when all the really big mistakes were made: de-Baathification, disbanding of the Iraqi Army, and the widespread internment of Iraqi men in the coalition detention system (including Abu Ghraib). The first two errors are Bremer’s, but Sanchez owns the third one.

More to the point, why didn’t Sanchez pipe up when he was running the military show in Iraq? When asked this he told reporters that it is not the place of serving officers to challenge the lawful orders of civilian authorities. And here we get to the nub of the matter. For here Sanchez is not being disingenious . Rather he is expressing a norm deeply embedded in US military culture. He is derived from the Huntington notion of the professional soldier as being apolitical and unquestioning of civilian authority.

However, in an era when few political leaders have military experience, one has to seriously question the value of such a norm. Military leaders must be prepared to speak out when civilian leaders refuse to listen to their advice in private, and when such advice concerns a policy that poises a serious threat to national interests.

Only one general spoke out against the Bush-Rumsfeld plans for the Iraq War. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki told Congress that a post-war occupation force of several hundred thousand would be required to stabilise Iraq. Since Rumsfeld’s line on this was that 100,000 would be needed, Shinseki soon found himself pushed out of his post.

These days - especially with idiots in the White House - America needs its generals to speak out against dumb military ideas. In an important article on “A Failure in Generalship“, published last May in Armed Forces Journal, US Army Lt. Col. Paul Yingling calls for Congressional intervention to reward generals who speak out against bad policy. Time for Congress to pay attention before the next war comes along.

[So happens that British generals have been doing this in recent years, in response to the failure of the government (especially under Blair) to sufficiently resource the AFG war.]

Sic Semper Tyrannis 2007: The Turkish/US Crisis

Sic Semper Tyrannis 2007: The Turkish/US Crisis: "'Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday relations between Turkey and the United States are in danger over a resolution branding as genocide massacres of Armenians by Ottoman Turks during World War One.

Referring to ties with the United States and the Armenian bill, Erdogan, with a Turkish idiom used to describe relations, said: "Where the rope is worn thin, may it break off."

The crowd of supporters broke into applause.

Ankara is a crucial ally in the region for Washington, which relies on Turkey as a logistical base for the war in Iraq. But U.S. popularity has hit rock bottom in Turkey because of the war and perceptions that the United States is failing to stop Turkish Kurdish rebels using north Iraq as a base from which to attack Turkey.

"This is as much about domestic politics in Turkey as it is in the United States," Turkish commentator Semih Idiz said." Reuters


The present Republic of Turkey was founded in the '20s as a specific repudiation of the policies and practices of the Ottoman Empire. That empire was a multi-cultural, multi-national conglomeration welded together by the Ottoman Turks out of the wreckage of the previous multi-cultural and multi-national empire that had existed on the same ground. That was the Eastern Roman Empire usually known as the Byzantine Empire.

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, a former Ottoman officer created modern Turkey to form a "homeland" for the Turkish speakers of the Ottoman state. The victorious Allied powers seem to have intended to carve Anatolia and Thrace up into colonial enclaves just as they carved up the Mesopotamian and Levantine parts of the Ottoman state. Ataturk prevented that by raising a nationalist army and using it to drive Greek and other Allied forces out of what is now Turkey. The republic that he formed said that all its residents were Turks, and insisted on that identity. Most of the inhabitants of the new Turkey were ethnic Turks, but there were enough Greeks and Kurds (in the east) to cause a permanent problem. Most of the Greeks left under an exchange of populations agreement with Greek Prime minister Venizelos, but the Kurdish problem lingers on to bedevil the Turkish state. American sponsorship of near independence for the Iraqi Kurdish north has created an opportunity for anti-Turkish Kurdish guerrilla action against Turkey from bases in northern Iraq. The Turks are understandably unhappy about this and are likely to enter Iraqi Kurdistan to suppress the Kurdish PKK guerrillas. There is little that the US can do that will dissuade the Turks from this any more than the US could be dissuaded from entering Mexico if Mexican guerrillas were conducting analogous raids in the Southwestern US. Hmmm. That sounds familiar.

Now we have the ludicrous spectacle of the House of Representatives voting "symbolically" to declare that the genocide conducted under the rule of the Ottoman "Young Turk" government nearly a hundred years ago was what everyone knows it was (probably today's Turks most of all). For today's Turks this was a crime committed by a government that no longer exists, a government that their present republic itself specifically rejected in its foundation documents. The Turks are not of a mind to accept the responsibility for this crime. They believe, correctly I think, that if they accept the term "genocide" applied to this crime, then the Republic of Turkey will become a target of increasing demands including reparations. The Germans of today may want to do penance over the Holocaust but the Armenian Genocide is not something that Turkey accepts as its fault.

Practical effect? Most supply into Iraq goes in overland, but some portion goes in by air. The airbase at Incirlik, Turkey (Adana) and the use of Turkish airspace are important to that flow of traffic. There has also been some talk of late of using a land route through Turkey out of Iraq if necessary.

Perhaps the "all politics is local" crowd in Congress should think about unintended consequences before it votes on bills. pl

Israelis training Kurdish soldiers - BBC Sept 2006

Israelis training Kurdish soldiers - Google Video: " "

Main and Central: Assessing Failure

Main and Central: Assessing Failure: "Today’s "NY Times highlights an article about officers studying at Ft Leavenworth, Kansas and their debates about Iraq. Since the article was written by Elizabeth Bumiller, who has a pretty bad record for critical judgment of George Bu$h and his works, it’s not surprising that she gets many points wrong.

FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. — Here at the intellectual center of the United States Army, two elite officers were deep in debate at lunch on a recent day over who bore more responsibility for mistakes in Iraq — the former defense secretary, Donald H. Rumsfeld, or the generals who acquiesced to him.

“The secretary of defense is an easy target,” argued one of the officers, Maj. Kareem P. Montague, 34, a Harvard graduate and a commander in the Third Infantry Division, which was the first to reach Baghdad in the 2003 invasion. “It’s easy to pick on the political appointee.”

“But he’s the one that’s responsible,” retorted Maj. Michael J. Zinno, 40, a military planner who worked at the headquarters of the Coalition Provisional Authority, the former American civilian administration in Iraq.

No, Major Montague shot back, it was more complicated: the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the top commanders were part of the decision to send in a small invasion force and not enough troops for the occupation. Only Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, the Army chief of staff who was sidelined after he told Congress that it would take several hundred thousand troops in Iraq, spoke up in public.

“You didn’t hear any of them at the time, other than General Shinseki, screaming, saying that this was untenable,” Major Montague said.

The article examines the nuts and bolts of “how we got there” and “did we bring enough party favors?” without looking at the real question: should we have actually gone to the party at all?”

Ms Bumiller uncharacteristically assigns herself a place in the debate:

Discussions between a New York Times reporter and dozens of young majors in five Leavenworth classrooms over two days — all unusual for their frankness in an Army that has traditionally presented a facade of solidarity to the outside world — showed a divide in opinion. Officers were split over whether Mr. Rumsfeld, the military leaders or both deserved blame for what they said were the major errors in the war: sending in a small invasion force and failing to plan properly for the occupation.

Having opinions about Mr Rumsfeld and his admirable but poorly-timed theory of transformation are worthwhile for field grade officers. It trains them to think for the entire force should they ever attain the exalted rank of senior general. But these are not the central questions of our Iraq journey. There’s a good chance that history will judge a small force was sent in because a small force was all that was available for the adventure, and men with political agendas searched for justification for what they wanted to do and were beguiled and enabled by a man who invented the intelligence “proof” they wanted.

But the consensus was that not even after Vietnam was the Army’s internal criticism as harsh or the second-guessing so painful, and that airing the arguments on the record, as sanctioned by Leavenworth’s senior commanders, was part of a concerted effort to force change.

Not having been there I can’t judge whether Ms Bumiller has allowed her political prejudices to color her reporting, but the thrust of post-Viet Nam debate was not about force manpower utilized or the competence of generals. It was about the dissolution of an army through the misapplication of its strengths, and how to avoid such destruction in the future.

As Ms Bumiller presents the debate it is about how many trees are in the forest. It might be wise for our erstwhile generals to put down their calculators, use their surveyor’s transits to measure the forest and get on to the real question: how did we allow our army to be put in the forest?

“We have an obligation that if our civilian leaders give us an order, unless it is illegal, immoral or unethical, then we’re supposed to execute it, and to not do so would be considered insubordinate,” said Major Timothy Jacobsen, another student. “How do you define what is truly illegal, immoral or unethical? At what point do you cross that threshold where this is no longer right, I need to raise my hand or resign or go to the media?”

General Caldwell, who was the top military aide from 2002 to 2004 to the deputy defense secretary at the time, Paul D. Wolfowitz, an architect of the Iraq war, would not talk about the meetings he had with Mr. Wolfowitz about the battle plans at the time. “We did have those discussions, and he would engage me on different things, but I’d feel very uncomfortable talking,” General Caldwell said.

Offhand, I’d say LTG Caldwell missed some of the classes on moral leadership at West Point. If he had discomfort talking about some subjects it was his institutional responsibility to report this to his military superior.

Col. Gregory Fontenot, a Leavenworth instructor, said it was typical of young officers to feel that the senior commanders had not spoken up for their interests, and that he had felt the same way when he was their age. But Colonel Fontenot, who commanded a battalion in the Persian Gulf war and a brigade in Bosnia and has since retired, said he questioned whether Americans really wanted a four-star general to stand up publicly and say no to the president of a nation where civilians control the armed forces.

When the professional leadership of an army can see the amateur civilians are opening a barrel of worms it is their constitutional responsibility to stand up and say “no.” Anything less is a betrayal of their oaths of office. That’s what we paid you for, Colonel