Saturday, December 08, 2007

YouTube - Forrest Gump Piano Theme Soundtrack

YouTube - Forrest Gump Piano Theme Soundtrack: ""

U.S., Iraq at odds over Sunni groups

McClatchy Washington Bureau | 12/07/2007 | U.S., Iraq at odds over Sunni groups: "BAGHDAD — The Baghdad neighborhood of Saidiyah is becoming the focal point of a growing battle between the U.S. military and the U.S.-backed Iraqi government over the burgeoning number of U.S.-financed armed groups known as "concerned local citizens."

U.S. officers in the neighborhood said that the Shiite Muslim-led government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki is undermining American efforts to bolster the volunteers, who are predominantly Sunni Muslims. At the same time, U.S. soldiers acknowledged that some of the volunteers could be sympathizers of al Qaida in Iraq and other anti-government organizations.

Saidiyah, in southwest Baghdad, remains a battle zone between Sunni and Shiite forces in a capital where sectarian cleansing has turned most formerly mixed neighborhoods into either Sunni or Shiite enclaves.

"Saidiyah is that final frontier, which is why it has the attention of the prime minister," said Lt. Col. Johnnie Johnson, the commander for the 4th Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment of the 3rd Infantry Division from Fort Stewart, Ga. The 4-64 took over U.S. responsibilities in the neighborhood more than a month ago. "The government is still stoking the fires of sectarianism," he said.

"The thing that makes Saidiyah a hotbed is you still have friction zones between the Sunnis and the Shiites," added Capt. Sean Chase, the commander of Bravo Company of the 4-64 Armor who meets frequently with "concerned citizens" leaders. "Whereas you go to these other areas where the Sunnis have been pushed out and it's primarily Shiite, things are calmer."

U.S. officials credit the new citizens groups, whose members are each paid about $10 a day to participate, with the drop in violence throughout much of the country. But Maliki advisers fear that the U.S. is organizing a largely Sunni armed force that's capable of rivaling the mostly Shiite Iraqi security forces. They complain that the groups are expanding much faster than their members' loyalties can be reliably vetted.

U.S. officials have offered various numbers for how many "concerned citizens" are enrolled nationwide, evidence of how fast new members are being added. The current U.S. figure is 69,000, up nearly 10,000 from a week ago, though less than the previous figures of 72,000 and 77,000 that U.S. officials have cited in recent days....

[bth: doesn't this also tell you there is a screaming need for economic development. Ethnic cleansing that leads to a drop in violence is not necessarily the solutuion, but if 10 bucks a day to the head of the household buys progress then let's get on with some basics.]
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'Just World News' with Helena Cobban: Moqtada (and Petraeus) repositioning?

'Just World News' with Helena Cobban: Moqtada (and Petraeus) repositioning?: "A lot has been going on in Moqtada Sadr's movement in Iraq recently. The WaPo's Ann Scott Tyson is reporting from Baghdad in today's paper that Gen. Petraeus,


said Thursday he applauds Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr for helping, through a cease-fire, to reduce violent attacks in Iraq by 60 percent since June.

Also, Sadr spokesperson Salah al-Obeidi has just completed a tour of three Arab countries (Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Egypt), where he told his hosts that the Sadrist movement "has no objections to Arab states playing a role in stabilizing Iraq." That report is a Stratfor rendering of a Thursday Sharq al-Awsat article (which I can't find in the original Arabic. Help, anyone?)

Stratfor also reported that Obeidi,


accused Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, the Kurds, the American occupation, al Qaeda and pro-Iranian Shiite groups [of being responsible] for instability in Iraq.

And he told his hosts on the trip that Iraq's ethnic-Kurdish (and politically very Kurdish) Foreign Minister was not doing enough to take into consideration Iraq's relations with the other Arab states.

This AP report meanwhile tells us that, back in Najaf today, Obeidi criticized the Sadrists' Shiite rival, IISC head Abdel-Aziz Hakim, for his current visit to the US, calling it an "act of surrender."

It is hard to gauge and assess these developments from a distance-- except to note that the Sadrists seem to be treading a fine line between cooperating, de-facto and in some delimited spheres, with the Americans and not cooperating with them in others. It is also, certainly, significant that Obeidi-- whom we have no reason to doubt at this point is accurately representing Moqtada's views-- is trying to position the group as a firmly Arab Iraqi movement, in contrast to the Hakim/IISC (formerly known as SCIRI) crowd who have historically had much closer ties to Iran.

We should recall that, in the parliamentary election of December 2005, all of Iraq's Shiite parties collaborated, running on a joint list called the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA). Within the UIA, the Sadrists were probably the largest single bloc. But SCIRI (now the IISC) had by far the best links with the US occupation authorities and-- perhaps equally importantly-- with MSM journos in the US, who routinely came to describe SCIRI head Abdel-Aziz Hakim as "the leader of the UIA", "the leader of the Iraqi Shiites", etc etc.

(The occupation authorities maintained their close relationship with Hakim despite his longterm-- and continuing-- links with Tehran. Go figure.)

So in the jockeying for positions in the Iraqi "government" that followed thoseelections, the US and its allies did all they could to prevent the Sadrists from getting the leading posts, and to impose their own choice, Hakim, or one of his party henchmen. The result was a sort of stand-off. Eventually the weak non-entity Nouri al-Maliki, a member of another longtime pro-Iranian party called the Daawa Party, became Prime Minister... Of course, the "government" was still quite unable to deliver any actual services to the Iraqi people, especially public security, which is an absolutely essential element for the resumption of anything resembling normal life.

Then, fast forward to this year and the arrival of Petraeus. I have to say at this point that I think Petraeus is smarter than I earlier gave him credit for. Despite the many ethical flaws that I identified and still identify in, for example, the Counter-insurgency manual that he co-wrote, he does seem to have a strong grasp of the core fact that a smart politics of political inclusiveness is the best way to cobble together just enough social/political peace within Iraq that the US military can draw down its forces there significantly without that drawdown being an extremely destabilizing and humiliating rout.

I'm assuming that was the goal he was assigned when he took over as military commander in Iraq.

And, as is now clearer than before, he has been "reaching out" not only to Sunni former insurgents but also to strong elements within the Sadrist movement.

Tyson's piece in the WaPo gives these additional details about Petraeus and the Sadrists:


Among several factors leading to the reduced violence, Petraeus pointed to what he called the decision by "a majority . . . of the militia" associated with Sadr to honor a cease-fire.

In striking contrast to the U.S. military's previous wariness -- if not hostility -- toward the young firebrand cleric, Petraeus praised Sadr personally for "working to rid his movement of criminal elements" and making a "pledge of honor" to uphold the cease-fire announced in August. He said the United States is in indirect dialogue with "senior members" of Sadr's organization to maintain the cease-fire.

"The Sadr trend stands for service to the people," and the goal is for Sadr and his followers to become "constructive partners in the way ahead," Petraeus said in an interview with defense reporters traveling with Gates.

Earlier this year, U.S. military and defense officials said Sadr had been weakened and his organization fragmented since the cleric left for Iran before the start of the boost in U.S. troops, apparently out of fear of being targeted.

"I wouldn't say he has been marginalized," Petraeus said Thursday. "He very much maintains contacts with his leaders and continues to give direction. . . . And there is an effort ongoing to try to get a grip on some of the nefarious actors who are associated with his movement."

Meanwhile, Sadr's rhetoric remains as anti-American as ever. "I speak to the head of evil Bush, go out of our land, we don't need you or your armies, the armies of darkness, your aircrafts, tanks . . . your fake freedom," said a statement issued under Sadr's name two days ago.

The cease-fire has helped U.S. and Iraqi forces target Shiite extremist groups, many of them based in Baghdad's large Shiite enclave of Sadr City, that continue to launch attacks despite the Sadr order. U.S. commanders have long sought to expand the presence of security forces inside Sadr City, which is now effectively controlled by Sadr's militia, the Mahdi Army.


If you want to get more background on developments within the Sadrist movement, the longer Stratfor piece referred to above gives one view of these, though I don't agree with all the judgments made by their anonymous analyst there. One example: my view of Sadr is that he is much more authentically "Arab nationalist" in his beliefs and approach than Stratfor gives him credit for-- though yes, it is true that some proportion, perhaps not trivial, of his followers became caught up in the frenzy of sectarian (in this case, anti-Sunni) violence that swept over much of Iraq from February 2006 on. And indeed, it has probably been a hard job for him and the more politically savvy, nationalist-minded people around him to regain their discipline over the broader movement.

If Petraeus is to have any hope of executing an orderly or near-orderly drawdown of US forces from Iraq, he will need forces in both the Sunni and Shiite community who are prepared to (a) cooperate somewhat with each other, and (b) gain substantial control over most of the Arab-majority parts of the country, so that the US troop drawdown is not a rout-- and to prevent as much as possible the direct military intervention of Iraq's neighbors in the country as the drawdown occurs. Of course, if those newly emerging forces stick hard meanwhile to the sihgtly longer-term political goal of "an end to foreign military occupation", then the US may be forced to make the drawdown considerably more far-reaching-- or indeed total-- than Petraeus or his current political bosses may currently desire.

A total withdrawal of US forces from Iraq is certainly what I would like to see. That is why I welcome these most recent signs of greatly increased political coherence and sophistication among the Sadrists-- on a clearly "nationalist-minded" basis. And I welcome the signs of Petraeus's realism, as well.

Might these two end up being the Boumedienne and De Gaulle of Iraq's national liberation?

Petraeus, at least, would not have to face the prospect of an OAS-style revolt from within his own army, if and when he and his political masters take a decision for complete withdrawal....



[bth: interesting analysis]
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Embattled State Department inspector general resigns

McClatchy Washington Bureau | 12/07/2007 | Embattled State Department inspector general resigns: "WASHINGTON — Embattled State Department Inspector General Howard Krongard submitted his resignation Friday, forced out for allegedly impeding ongoing criminal investigations into the construction of a new, $740 million U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and security firm Blackwater Worldwide.

A State Department official said that Krongard had become a political liability, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, through aides, asked him this week to leave. The official insisted on anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak about personnel matters.

An abrasive attorney who once reportedly referred to himself as an "equal-opportunity abuser," Krongard came under fire from his own investigators and from a congressional panel for allegedly blocking probes into serious claims of wrongdoing in Iraq.

Those allegations include contract fraud and shoddy workmanship in the troubled Baghdad embassy and arms smuggling by North Carolina-based Blackwater.

Krongard initially vowed to fight the accusations against him. But his position collapsed at a House of Representatives hearing last month when he was asked whether his brother, former top CIA official Alvin "Buzzy" Krongard, had accepted a position on a Blackwater advisory board. Krongard first denounced what he said were "ugly rumors," then, after telephoning his brother, reversed himself.

Only then did he recuse himself from any further supervision of the growing Blackwater investigation. (His brother subsequently resigned from the Blackwater post.) Krongard had also been asked by the Justice Department to withdraw from the investigation into the embassy construction scandal....

[bth: don't let the door hit Krongard on the way out - the corrupting bastard.]

YouTube - Kenny Loggins / Danger Zone / Top Gun

YouTube - Kenny Loggins / Danger Zone / Top Gun: ""

John Batiste and Pete Hegseth - Getting Beyond Stalemate to Win a War - washingtonpost.com

John Batiste and Pete Hegseth - Getting Beyond Stalemate to Win a War - washingtonpost.com: ... "Overall , this will require learning from our strategic blunders, acknowledging successes achieved by our courageous military and forging a bold path. We believe America can and must rally around five fundamental tenets:

First, the United States must be successful in the fight against worldwide Islamic extremism. We have seen this ruthless enemy firsthand, and its global ambitions are undeniable. This struggle, the Long War, will probably take decades to prosecute. Failure is not an option.

Second, whether or not we like it, Iraq is central to that fight. We cannot walk away from our strategic interests in the region. Iraq cannot become a staging ground for Islamic extremism or be dominated by other powers in the region, such as Iran and Syria. A premature or precipitous withdrawal from Iraq, without the requisite stability and security, is likely to cause the violence there -- which has decreased substantially but is still present -- to cascade into an even larger humanitarian crisis.

Third, the counterinsurgency campaign led by Gen. David Petraeus is the correct approach in Iraq. It is showing promise of success and, if continued, will provide the Iraqi government the opportunities it desperately needs to stabilize its country. Ultimately, however, these military gains must be cemented with regional and global diplomacy, political reconciliation, and economic recovery -- tools yet sufficiently utilized. Today's tactical gains in Iraq -- while a necessary pre-condition for political reconciliation -- will crumble without a deliberate and comprehensive strategy.

Fourth, our strategy in fighting the Long War must address Iran. Much has been made this week of the intelligence judgments that Iran has stopped its weapons program. No matter what, Iran must not be permitted to become a nuclear power. All options should be exhausted before we use military force, but force, nonetheless, should never be off the table. Diplomatic efforts -- from a position of strength, both regionally and globally -- must be used to engage our friends and coerce our enemies to apply pressure on the Iranian regime.

Fifth, our military capabilities need to match our national strategy. Our military is stretched thin and will be hard-pressed to maintain its current cycle of deployments. At this critical juncture, we cannot afford to be weak. Numbers and capacity matter.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, America was not mobilized for the Long War. This was an opportunity lost, but it is not too late. Many Americans are frustrated by the war effort, the burden of which has been shouldered by less than one percent of our citizenry. Our country is accustomed to winning. We deserve a comprehensive strategy that is focused on victory and guided by decisive leadership. America must succeed in Iraq and Afghanistan, but we also cannot focus too narrowly on those conflicts. We need a regional and global strategy to defeat worldwide Islamic extremism to ensure a safer world today and for future generations.

The day after his famous Pearl Harbor speech, President Franklin D. Roosevelt again addressed the nation. "I was about to add that ahead there lies sacrifice for all of us," he said. "But it is not correct to use that word. The United States does not consider it a sacrifice to do all one can, to give one's best to our nation, when the nation is fighting for its existence and its future life." His words inspired the "Greatest Generation," and they should inspire us again today.

Americans must mobilize for the Long War -- bolster our strained military, galvanize industry to supply troops with what they need right now and fund the strategy with long-term solutions. We have no doubt that Americans will rally behind a call to arms.

America's veterans -- young and old -- are resolved to support and defend the Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic. This commitment, and nothing less, should compel us to stand together, in and out of uniform. Would that Congress finds the courage to bury its pride and do the same.

Maj. Gen. (Ret.) John Batiste commanded the 1st Infantry Division in Iraq from 2004 to early 2005. Lt. Pete Hegseth served in Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division from 2005 to 2006 and is executive director of Vets for Freedom.

[bth: I truncated their arguments because I wanted to highlight these two generals' conclusions and next steps. What these two generals are missing is the obvious - the administration and the pentagon brass have lost the public trust. That is the difference between Dec. 7 1941 they reference and today. 9-11 was the Dec 7 of our generation, but in our contemporary case, the faith with the American public was broken by those in Washington within the Pentagon and White House. Further our 'national interests' in Iraq are really about oil and our very existence is not threatened was it was in WWII. Lack of trust and hyperbole are why there will not be a huge public rally to war once again or a 'surge' from the public.]
 
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Stephen Biddle - Iraq: Can We Keep What We've Gained? - washingtonpost.com

Stephen Biddle - Iraq: Can We Keep What We've Gained? - washingtonpost.com: "Last month I returned from my second trip to Iraq this year. Like many observers, I was struck by the changes since the spring. Baghdad neighborhoods that were no-go zones in March are coming back to life. Parts of Diyala province that were too dangerous to visit then are now secure. Patrols in Fallujah that would have been ambushed a year ago are met by kids mugging for photos from Marines who carry lollipops along with their rifles. Iraq is still a war zone, but the trends are turning positive.

What does this mean? Is it an illusion born of an unsustainable spike in U.S. troop levels? Is it a window of opportunity that Iraqi dithering will soon waste? Or is it a fundamental change that can allow us to start bringing our troops home?

The reduction in violence may prove to be fundamental -- a new phase in the war with a better chance for stability than we have seen in many years. But it may not offer much chance for deep or rapid U.S. troop drawdowns. If we are not prepared to stay in large numbers for a long time, the gains of recent months could easily be reversed.

The Iraq conflict is a communal civil war. Classically, ending a civil war has two chief requirements: First, a cease-fire must be negotiated. This cease-fire must then be enforced by outside peacekeepers. The whole reason for civil warfare is that the locals do not trust each other.

Since last winter, a combination of good fortune, enemy mistakes, and a new U.S. strategy with more troops and a mission of direct population security has created a largely unanticipated situation. Across much of Iraq, former combatants have chosen to stand down. Many of these fighters have switched sides, agreeing not only to stop firing on U.S. or Iraqi government troops but also to turn their arms against common enemies such as al-Qaeda in Iraq and, increasingly, rogue elements of Shiite militias such as Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army. These voluntary cease-fires have led to many locals joining "Concerned Local Citizens" organizations (CLCs) with U.S.-paid salaries, uniforms and recognition as local security providers; in exchange, they are provided with biometric data to facilitate vetting and enforcement of the terms. There are more than 60,000 CLC members, up from essentially none last winter.

Important hurdles remain in extending this system of cease-fires to the holdouts, especially in the northern and southern provinces. But it is increasingly plausible that we might achieve something like a nationwide cease-fire via local negotiated settlements.

In civil wars, however, cease-fires are rarely self-enforcing. Much has been made of the danger that CLC deals could collapse: Many are the same fighters who had been killing U.S. and Iraqi troops; they retain their arms and sometimes even their leaders; some hope to seize power later if they can. It is true that we have not destroyed the enemy or driven him out of Iraq.

An outside peacekeeping role is thus critical to success, by punishing violators and building confidence that others can safely stand down. The troop counts normally sought for peacekeeping are not much lower than those for counterinsurgency war fighting, at least in the early years, and a meaningful outside presence can be needed for a generation. Many hope that the Iraqi cease-fires can be enforced via positive inducements such as government salaries for CLCs. But the record of such deals elsewhere suggests that more may be needed -- for years to come.

For now, the only plausible candidate for this peacekeeping role is the United States. No one else can be expected to step in until and unless the war is clearly over. Yet pressure for a deep drawdown in U.S. forces is growing. War opponents would cut our losses; many war supporters hope the declining violence translates into safe U.S. troop reductions. Some reduction is unavoidable: We cannot maintain today's operating tempo without breaking the military. But if we are to maintain the gains of the past year, we must retain enough troops to enforce a system of local cease-fires as peacekeepers.

A U.S. commitment to police an Iraqi cease-fire is also no guarantee of success. A cease-fire might collapse even if we did keep a large peacekeeping force, and the peacekeepers might ultimately be rejected as foreign occupiers. One could defend a choice to withdraw altogether given these uncertainties.

Sticking it out to stabilize Iraq and avert the potential consequences of failure, however, is more defensible now than it has been for a long time -- but only if we are willing to do what it takes to maximize the odds that Iraq does not return to bloodshed and chaos. A withdrawal that is too fast or too deep could create a self-fulfilling prophecy. The past year's decline in violence may yet signal a new phase in which the American presence shifts from war fighting to peacekeeping. But if we take it chiefly as an opportunity to come home, we could easily lose what has been gained.

The writer is a senior fellow for defense policy at the Council on Foreign Relations.

[bth: hard to say where this is leading but it seems to be in a good direction. Startling that we could have 60,000 CLC members almost over night. Its tells you that the resistance was being underestimated a year ago when the administration was talking about 20,000 or so insurgents and it also tells you that politically we were doing something wrong when we could obtain, even by purchase some peace and good will. Will it hold? Well maybe we ought not to keep a large troop presence in Anbar. May be we show Iraqis that if you cooperate with us and stabilize your area, we are prepared to reduce our local footprint. One obvious step would be to shift troop loads from Anbar to Diyala where they are needed.]
 
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My opinion Joseph L. Galloway: New intelligence doesn't mean Iran poses no threat | www.azstarnet.com ®

My opinion Joseph L. Galloway: New intelligence doesn't mean Iran poses no threat | www.azstarnet.com ®:... "But in the case at hand, Iran, the old joke that "just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get you" may well apply. Just because the Iranians appear to have halted their nuclear weapons research in 2003 doesn't mean they can't resume it. The centrifuges are still whirring away in deep underground facilities, enriching uranium that can be used to fuel nuclear power plants or be further enriched and used to make nuclear weapons.

Iran indeed bears watching, and the international effort to pressure Tehran into suspending enrichment and accepting IAEA inspection and oversight of its nuclear program should continue and be further energized.

It hasn't gone unnoticed that the Bush administration's invasion of Iraq and the ensuing five years of war and occupation there and in Afghanistan strengthened, not weakened, Iran's militant Shiite Muslim rulers.

That, in turn, has rattled the nerves of America's few Arab allies in that part of the world — Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan, the Persian Gulf emirates — as well as our principal ally, Israel.

It will be difficult, even for Bush, to claim that Iraq is a victory if it leaves the ayatollahs in the catbird seat in that oil-rich region, but Bush's and Cheney's crude threats to attack Iran are more likely to make things worse than they are to dislodge the mullahs from their perch. Those two should have learned by now that speaking softly comes before you use the big stick.

My opinion
Joseph L. Galloway

Friday, December 07, 2007

Islam’s Silent Moderates - New York Times

Islam’s Silent Moderates - New York Times: "The woman and the man guilty of adultery or fornication, flog each of them with 100 stripes: Let no compassion move you in their case, in a matter prescribed by Allah, if you believe in Allah and the Last Day. (Koran 24:2)


IN the last few weeks, in three widely publicized episodes, we have seen Islamic justice enacted in ways that should make Muslim moderates rise up in horror.

A 20-year-old woman from Qatif, Saudi Arabia, reported that she had been abducted by several men and repeatedly raped. But judges found the victim herself to be guilty. Her crime is called “mingling”: when she was abducted, she was in a car with a man not related to her by blood or marriage, and in Saudi Arabia, that is illegal. Last month, she was sentenced to six months in prison and 200 lashes with a bamboo cane.

Two hundred lashes are enough to kill a strong man. Women usually receive no more than 30 lashes at a time, which means that for seven weeks the “girl from Qatif,” as she’s usually described in news articles, will dread her next session with Islamic justice. When she is released, her life will certainly never return to normal: already there have been reports that her brother has tried to kill her because her “crime” has tarnished her family’s honor.

We also saw Islamic justice in action in Sudan, when a 54-year-old British teacher named Gillian Gibbons was sentenced to 15 days in jail before the government pardoned her this week; she could have faced 40 lashes. When she began a reading project with her class involving a teddy bear, Ms. Gibbons suggested the children choose a name for it. They chose Muhammad; she let them do it. This was deemed to be blasphemy.

Then there’s Taslima Nasreen, the 45-year-old Bangladeshi writer who bravely defends women’s rights in the Muslim world. Forced to flee Bangladesh, she has been living in India. But Muslim groups there want her expelled, and one has offered 500,000 rupees for her head. In August she was assaulted by Muslim militants in Hyderabad, and in recent weeks she has had to leave Calcutta and then Rajasthan. Taslima Nasreen’s visa expires next year, and she fears she will not be allowed to live in India again.

It is often said that Islam has been “hijacked” by a small extremist group of radical fundamentalists. The vast majority of Muslims are said to be moderates.

But where are the moderates? Where are the Muslim voices raised over the terrible injustice of incidents like these? How many Muslims are willing to stand up and say, in the case of the girl from Qatif, that this manner of justice is appalling, brutal and bigoted — and that no matter who said it was the right thing to do, and how long ago it was said, this should no longer be done?

Usually, Muslim groups like the Organization of the Islamic Conference are quick to defend any affront to the image of Islam. The organization, which represents 57 Muslim states, sent four ambassadors to the leader of my political party in the Netherlands asking him to expel me from Parliament after I gave a newspaper interview in 2003 noting that by Western standards some of the Prophet Muhammad’s behavior would be unconscionable. A few years later, Muslim ambassadors to Denmark protested the cartoons of Muhammad and demanded that their perpetrators be prosecuted.

But while the incidents in Saudi Arabia, Sudan and India have done more to damage the image of Islamic justice than a dozen cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad, the organizations that lined up to protest the hideous Danish offense to Islam are quiet now.

I wish there were more Islamic moderates. For example, I would welcome some guidance from that famous Muslim theologian of moderation, Tariq Ramadan. But when there is true suffering, real cruelty in the name of Islam, we hear, first, denial from all these organizations that are so concerned about Islam’s image. We hear that violence is not in the Koran, that Islam means peace, that this is a hijacking by extremists and a smear campaign and so on. But the evidence mounts up.

Islamic justice is a proud institution, one to which more than a billion people subscribe, at least in theory, and in the heart of the Islamic world it is the law of the land. But take a look at the verse above: more compelling even than the order to flog adulterers is the command that the believer show no compassion. It is this order to choose Allah above his sense of conscience and compassion that imprisons the Muslim in a mindset that is archaic and extreme.

If moderate Muslims believe there should be no compassion shown to the girl from Qatif, then what exactly makes them so moderate?

When a “moderate” Muslim’s sense of compassion and conscience collides with matters prescribed by Allah, he should choose compassion. Unless that happens much more widely, a moderate Islam will remain wishful thinking.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a former member of the Dutch Parliament and a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, is the author of “Infidel.”

[bth: as a matter of principle after all the idiots and liars that have shown up from the American Enterprise Institute, I find my self in the uncomfortable position of actually agreeing with this guy. I feel a flogging coming on.]

The Army's $200 Billion Makeover - washingtonpost.com

The Army's $200 Billion Makeover - washingtonpost.com: "EL PASO -- A $200 billion plan to remake the largest war machine in history unfolds in one small way on a quiet country road in the Chihuahuan Desert.

Jack Hensley, one of a legion of contractors on the project, is hunkered in a slowly moving SUV, serving as target practice for a baby-faced soldier in a Humvee aiming a laser about 700 yards away. A moment later, another soldier in the Humvee punches commands into a computer transmitting data across an expanse of sand and mesquite to a site 2 1/2 miles away. On an actual battlefield, this is when a precision attack missile would be launched, killing Hensley almost instantly. ...

[bth: this is a very worthwhile article to read about the Future Combat System. What really burns my biscuits though is the statement that the army had never tried to do such an ambitious program or to do it in such a short time frame. What a steaming load. Take a look at aircraft in WWI or WWII. Take a look at tank development or radio development or submarine development during that period. It's the cold war that went to crap when the lobbyists and contractors and congress started messing with the system so much that it essentially failed to function - at least as it relates to winning wars. ... Then there is the simple and plain issue of financial attrition. We cannot afford to refit our army and fund this gilded stuff at the present level. Something has got to give. Reality has got to step in either from some general or from congress. I'd highly recommend that Gates make the decision to focus on stuff that is relevant in two years or less. That narrows things radically but still keeps us at cutting edge. If Boeing or SAIC can't find a way to be relevant in less time then cut them out of the budget. Taking such a harsh timeline also has the impact of improving our ability to predict both technology and the combat situation we are fighting in.]
 
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Bush loses ground with military families

Bush loses ground with military families - Los Angeles Times: "WASHINGTON -- Families with ties to the military, long a reliable source of support for wartime presidents, disapprove of President Bush and his handling of the war in Iraq, with a majority concluding the invasion was not worth it, a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll has found.

The views of the military community, which includes active-duty service members, veterans and their family members, mirror those of the overall adult population, a sign that the strong military endorsement that the administration often pointed to has dwindled in the war's fifth year.

Nearly six out of every 10 military families disapprove of Bush's job performance and the way he has run the war, rating him only slightly better than the general population does.

And among those families with soldiers, sailors and Marines who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan, 60% say that the war in Iraq was not worth the cost, the same result as all adults surveyed.

"I don't see gains for the people of Iraq . . . and, oh, my God, so many wonderful young people, and these are the ones who felt they were really doing something, that's why they signed up," said poll respondent Sue Datta, 61, whose youngest son, an Army staff sergeant, was seriously wounded in Iraq last year and is scheduled to redeploy in 2009. "I pray to God that they did not die in vain, but I don't think our president is even sensitive at all to what it's like to have a child serving over there."

Patience with the war, which has now lasted longer than the U.S. involvement in World War II, is wearing thin -- particularly among families who have sent a service member to the conflict. One-quarter say American troops should stay "as long as it takes to win." Nearly seven in 10 favor a withdrawal within the coming year or "right away."

Military families are only slightly more patient: 35% are willing to stay until victory; 58% want the troops home within a year or sooner.

Here, too, the military families surveyed are in sync with the general population, 64% of whom call for a withdrawal by the end of next year.

"You generally expect to see support for the president as commander in chief and for the war, but this is a different kind of war than those we've fought in the past, particularly for families," said David Segal, a military sociologist at the University of Maryland.

Today's all-volunteer force is older and more married than any before it. Facing a shortage of troops, the Army increased the maximum enlistment age from 35 to 42 and called up reservists, who tend to be older and more settled than recruits fresh out of high school. The result is a fighting force that left thousands of spouses and children behind.

At the same time, deployments have grown longer and more frequent as troops rotate in and out of the war zone, sometimes three and four times, with no fixed end date in sight, a wearing existence that has contributed to opposition to Bush and his war strategy.

"The man went into Iraq without justification, without a plan; he just decided to go in there and win, and he had no idea what was going to happen," said poll respondent Mary Meneely, 58, of Arco, Minn. Her son, an Air Force reservist, served one tour in Afghanistan. "There have been terrible deaths on our side, and it's even worse for the Iraqi population. It's another Vietnam."

The survey, conducted under the supervision of Times Poll Director Susan Pinkus, interviewed 1,467 adults nationwide from Nov. 30 through Monday. It included 631 respondents from military families and 152 who have had someone in their family stationed in Iraq or Afghanistan. The margin of error for the entire sample is plus or minus 3 percentage points; for military families it is 4 percentage points, and for families with someone in the war zone it is 8 percentage points.

Other surveys have shown an erosion of support for Bush and the war among military personnel, including a 2005 poll by Military Times of their active-duty readers.

Now the disapproval of Bush appears to have transferred to his party. Republican leanings of military families that began with the Vietnam War -- when Democratic protests seemed to be aimed at the troops as much as the fighting -- have shifted, the poll results show.

When military families were asked which party could be trusted to do a better job of handling issues related to them, respondents divided almost evenly: 39% said Democrats and 35% chose Republicans. The general population feels similarly: 39% for Democrats and 31% for Republicans.

"The Democrats are not seen as the anti-soldier group anymore," said Charles C. Moskos, a military sociologist at Northwestern University. He added that Bush's firm backing of the troops did not gain him any points because the entire country was now viewed as supportive of the military, even if not of the war. "He doesn't get extra credit for that."

"We support the troops; we don't support Bush," said respondent Linda Ramirez, 52, of Spooner, Wis., whose 19-year-old son is due to be deployed with the Marines early next year. "These boys have paid a terrible, terrible price."

The carnage -- nearly 3,900 killed and 29,000 wounded -- is contributing to the war's unpopularity, even though the number of dead is low compared with previous wars, Moskos thinks.

Medical advances on the battlefield have saved more lives but sent home more severely injured troops; for every soldier killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, eight are wounded -- nearly triple the ratio in Vietnam.

Asked about the Bush administration's handling of the needs of active-duty troops, military families and veterans, 57% of the general public disapprove. That number falls only slightly among military families -- 53% give a thumbs-down.

And most military families and others surveyed took no exception to retired officers publicly criticizing the Bush administration's execution of the war. More than half of the respondents in both groups -- 58% -- say such candor is appropriate. Families with someone who had served in the war are about equally supportive at 55%.

faye.fiore@latimes.com


[bth: the media treats military families as if they are stupid instead of patriotic. 15 months of deployment is just ridiculous with a year in between. This war and its cycle is beating up families of army units in particular. Marines at least rotate in 6 months. An army reservist that is self employed is likely to be bankrupted by this deployment and war. Do the republicans give a damn about that? Evidently not, or not enough to risk taking a political stand that would do something about the problem. It will take a draft and higher taxes to end this war.]

US shopping malls boost security after shooting

US shopping malls boost security after shooting: "Shopping Shopping centers across America have stepped up security to protect shoppers during the busy holiday season in the wake of a deadly shooting in a Nebraska mall that left nine people dead.
While several shopping malls increased patrols after a lone gunman fired an assault rifle into a crowded store in Omaha on Wednesday, industry officials acknowledged that such tragedies are difficult to prevent.

Shopping centers, which are considered by security experts a "soft" target for terrorism, already implemented tighter security measures following the attacks of September 11, 2001.

But American shoppers are reluctant to accept even measures that would force them to go through metal detectors or be frisked by guards to enter their beloved malls, said Malachy Kavanagh, spokesman for the International Council of Shopping Centers.

"We hope that we will not get to that point in this country because we live in a free society and respect people's right to travel unimpeded," Kavanagh told AFP.

While Shoppers who were surveyed in focus groups indicated they would rather not have to go through metal detectors, they appeared willing to accept them if the government raised the terror alert level, he said.

Measures installed after September 11 include closer coordination with local police, the use of high-resolution cameras that can read car license plates in parking lots and the inspection of delivery trucks. Some malls even have bomb-sniffing dogs.


The FBI warned just last month of potential Al-Qaeda attacks on US shopping malls during the Christmas season, but conceded that the threats received may not be credible.

"If you look back through the years, this is a tactic and practice of Al-Qaeda to express threats during the Christmas season," FBI special agent Ross Rice said at the time, adding that the information had not been corroborated.

Rice said an FBI bulletin went out to law enforcement agencies to advise them to be vigilant as malls become crowded with holiday shoppers.

But he said he did not think any new security measures would be put in place in response to the threat as most local agencies already increase patrols at malls during this time.

"This time of the year is very busy in and around malls and they focus additional security there," he said.

The Defense Department also has a system in place to support local law enforcement officials in case of a terror attack in a shopping center, said Paul McHale, the Pentagon's assistant secretary for homeland defense....

US Army plans robot planes operated by non-pilots

US Army plans robot planes operated by non-pilots | The Register: "Military pilots are up in arms* over US Army plans for substantial, powerful drone combat aircraft to be operated by mere mortals without wings on their chests.

The flying death machines in question are the US Army's new version of the well-known US Air Force Predator. The army's "Sky Warrior" version is a somewhat enlarged variant on the original Predator-A, though not as large and puissant as the Predator-B, aka the "Reaper". A Sky Warrior can carry much less ordnance than a Reaper.

The thing that makes the Sky Warrior different is that it doesn't need a large operating staff of fully-trained human pilots. Ordinary Predators and Reapers are normally handled during landing and takeoff by a qualified pilot on the ground at their operating base in the theatre of war. While flying missions, they are controlled via satellite by different pilots who are normally in America. As the drone planes can stay up for very long periods, these pilots normally work in shifts, requiring even more personnel.

Far from making pilots obsolete, Predator and Reaper type systems actually demand more of them, and plenty of other support personnel too. This may be one reason why air forces - traditionally run by pilots - have been so tolerant of them.

But the US Army has no interest in having lots of pilots. It just wants aircraft overhead doing a job as cheaply as possible. Thus the Sky Warrior can land and take off automatically, and - it seems - will be handled in flight by people without wings on their chests at all.

The Sky Warrior programme is the point at which unmanned aircraft move from being remotely piloted to remotely operated, a key step along the road to being fully autonomous - true killer robots. (Software has already been demonstrated which can handle groups of drones to carry out complex tasks - eg, following a vehicle - with only minimal human supervision.)

Bill Sweetman, doyen of aerospace journalists, attended a recent conference in London on flying killer robots. Most of the attendees were air force types, and unsurprisingly they were angry and worried about the Army plans.

"We're allowed to be in civilian airspace, 1000 feet away from jumbo jets. Who's going to like a non-rated Army officer doing that?" one Predator pilot asked.

"In order to apply lethal force you should be a rated aviator," commented another, referring to the Sky warrior's potential to carry eight Hellfire missiles, each capable of destroying a tank. That said, other things can apply this level of lethal force; for example another tank, often commanded by a lowly, non-aviator corporal in the British Army.

Underlying the aviators' anguish, says Sweetman, is "a real concern that if the Army has got it wrong, a blue-on-blue disaster or a midair will set back the development of UAVs by decades".

Sweetman, a staunch friend of air forces everywhere in the eternal baiting and bureaucratic warfare among armed services, also noted that the only speaker at the conference who approved of the US Army plans was one from General Atomics, makers of the Sky Warrior. (Sweetman spoke himself.)

Of course, pilots don't always prevent disasters. Indeed, in a recent case involving the crash of a Predator-B operated by US Customs, a fully-trained pilot with thousands of hours in the air caused not only the crash but a serious crisis for local air-traffic authorities. It's hard to see how a specialist Army warrant officer would be any more likely to commit this kind of error....

Robo-troubleshooters back up London fire brigade | The Register

Robo-troubleshooters back up London fire brigade | The Register: "Perhaps somewhat tired of fighting humanity's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, combat robots are now following the path trodden by many a retiring meatsack warrior: they are joining the fire brigade. However, just as in the military, the droids tend to get used for the most dangerous jobs.

In the case of the London fire brigade, this means searching recently/currently burning buildings, warehouses etc. for potentially explosive cylinders of acetylene gas. Acetylene, once heated in a fire, may explode at any time up to 24 hours later - even if the fire has been put out long before.

It's possible to tell whether a given acetylene cylinder has cooled down to where it can safely be dealt with, but this involves getting close to it with a thermal imager. Human firefighters are understandably reluctant to do this; the fleshy firemen tend instead to simply cordon off a 200m hazard zone around any location suspected to contain heated acetylene bottles and wait with a cup of tea, perhaps for 24 hours or more, before going in.

This can - and does - cause nightmares when a hazard zone overlaps a railway line, as all traffic can be brought to a halt for long periods. The fire service left to itself would probably have taken some little time to do anything about prolonged acetylene-related delays, but UK railways-grid operator Network Rail was desperate to find a solution.

“We are very conscious of the fact that fires involving suspected or actual Acetylene gas cylinders have caused misery to passengers,” said Derek Holmes of Network Rail. Apparently there were ten acetylene incidents which caused railway delays around London in the year up to June 2007. Each of these will have cost Network Rail five-figure sums for every hour they went on.

Enter the "Talon" military robot, which has already seen service in huge numbers as a bomb-disposal machine in the Wars On Stuff. Now fireproofed and kitted out with a thermal imaging camera, it can crawl about and search out any acetylene cylinders. If the gas bottles are at a dangerous temperature, the Talon's droid buddy "Black Max" - "similar in size and appearance to a quad bike", according to its operators - can squirt cooling water on it. Should the scene be obscured by debris or rubble, a third mini-digger robot, "Brokk 90", can clear it away.

The Bob the Builder-esque droid squad are available 24/7 and travel with their fleshy support staff in a special "response vehicle".

The team is provided in support of the London fire brigade by QinetiQ, the technology firm created by selling off large parts of the UK government defence-research apparatus in a controversial privatisation process. QinetiQ chiefs bought Foster-Miller, US makers of the Talon, in order to improve their revenue situation in the run-up to flotation.

The robot firemen have been on standby since September, according to the company, and have been called out six times. QinetiQ claims that the droids have already prevented 49 hours' worth of line closures.

“It has always been our intention to explore... ways of overcoming the disruption," said Val Shawcross, speaking for the London fire brigade.

"This innovative trial using equipment and people provided by QinetiQ, with the support of Network Rail, shows how determined we all are." ®

Watchdog raps MoD over Qinetiq sell-off bonanza

Watchdog raps MoD over Qinetiq sell-off bonanza [printer-friendly] | The Register: "Analysis UK gov watchdog the National Audit Office (NAO) has released a damning report into the privatisation of the country's top-secret defence research labs and facilities as Qinetiq.

The report, now available online from the NAO (http://www.nao.org.uk/publications/index.htm), severely criticises the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and some of the consultants which advised it during the selloff process - who themselves pocketed large fees. (Total spend on consultants was more than £28m.)

Sir John Bourn, NAO chief, said today:

"I believe more money should have been secured for the public purse."

That seems reasonable. According to the report:

The Department has received net proceeds of £576 million from the transaction to date... it also retained a 19 per cent shareholding [in Qinetiq].
The MoD has received £576m for 81 per cent of a business with annual revenues of £1.1bn (on which it makes approximately £120m profits). As the report also notes:

[The MoD is] still by far the largest customer [of Qinetiq], accounting for some 57 per cent of QinetiQ’s revenue in 2006. The majority of this business was awarded without competition.
And it will keep on being awarded without competition, because much of that business relates to operating UK test facilities and firing ranges which are effectively a monopoly which the MoD must use. Indeed, the MoD, as part of selling off Qinetiq, is tied into using these facilities until 2028 under a sweetheart deal called the Long Term Partnering Agreement, worth up to £5.6bn to Qinetiq just for keeping the facilities open. The MoD has to pay more on top when it wants to actually use them. And it's actually even worse than it sounds, because Qinetiq can crank up the price.

The MoD may be exposed to significant price increases... This risk is greater in year ten (and at each subsequent review), as QinetiQ has the right to terminate the contract if it does not agree to the outcome of the price reviews... If there are no other contractors that can supply these services in the market [and in most cases there aren't] QinetiQ may be able to negotiate significant price increases.
One reason that the test-ranges deal was such a big pillow for the MoD to bite was that the MoD has long failed to invest in the facilities and keep them up to scratch.

The LTPA was in part established to address the legacy of underinvestment in the assets used in the delivery of test and evaluation services. To this end, the contract is based on there being £136 million of capital and rationalisation expenditure in the first five years. QinetiQ receives funding for the depreciation of this capital expenditure through the contract.
In effect, then, the MoD still pays to fix up its old test ranges. It does so by borrowing the money from the private sector and then repaying over decades. At the same time it loses ownership of the assets it is paying to fix up.

This is a bit like being an Irish tenant of a rack-renting English landlord before the Republic became independent, paying for any necessary improvements of property you rent at extortionate terms.


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Unsurprisingly, the NAO says that "the commercial value of the Long Term Partnering Agreement was not fully understood" by the government.

The NAO beancounters went on to highlight the role of the people who became Qinetiq's top executives.

"It is of concern that the MoD did not seek specialist advice on the incentive scheme, which resulted in the top ten managers owning shares worth £107m," said Bourn.

"This level of return exceeded what was necessary to incentivise management," he added, in dryly understated style.

In particular one can follow the progress of Sir John Chisholm, founder of defence contractor CAP Scientific, who was hired in the 1990s by the MoD to be head of the Defence Research Agency, which formed the core of the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA) in 1995. Chisholm continued as head of DERA, most of which he subsequently took private as CEO of Qinetiq.

DERA was established in April 1995 and drew together some twelve science and technology offices and the Defence Research Agency ... DERA received the vast majority of its revenue from the Ministry of Defence ... The head of the Defence Research Agency, Sir John Chisholm, who had formerly started the defence software company CAP Scientific, was appointed the chief executive officer of DERA.
Over the period 1992-1998 the MoD’s budget for research fell ... DERA’s chief executive officer proposed a range of options ... Although DERA’s top management could potentially benefit personally from the involvement of private investment, the case [for going private] was not validated by the MoD. The MoD sees no reason why it should have validated this policy decision which was based on analysis prepared by DERA management ...

As part of the process of creating Qinetiq, the MoD involved US private equity group Carlyle, who made out like gangbusters - scooping £300m profits after just three years on an investment of £42m. It is, of course, usual for private-equity groups to incentivise management teams with share plans.

"The MoD was not involved in the design of the share incentive scheme although it assessed and approved it," says the NAO. In other words, Chisholm and his fellow execs were allowed to set up the deal with Carlyle. In brief, this was what the private-equity guys and Chisholm's team decided:

All employees could choose to invest a minimum of £500 in the co-investment scheme, and got 40 share options for free [worth £80 on flotation, a bit less now].
The top 245 senior managers were given the opportunity to invest in ordinary equity that benefited from a performance ratchet.

The top ten managers were given the opportunity to invest in ordinary equity that benefited from a double performance ratchet.

The end result of this was that many of Qinetiq's ordinary employees, unable to scrape up £500, got £80. Those who could find £500 to chuck in made a return of £9 for every £1 invested as a result of their hard work in building the company's value up to 2006. Fair enough, one might say.

The 245 managers, on their special deal, made £145 - that's one hundred and forty five pounds for every £1 they invested over three years - collectively coming away with better than £65m, an average of £270,000 each.


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The top ten led by Sir John Chisholm, who according to the NAO had pushed the deal through unopposed since the early years of DERA, scored no less than a two-hundred-fold payoff. Chisholm himself, putting down £130k, came out with a cool £25 million worth of shares. Three other executives are specifically named by the NAO: Graham Love, Hal Kruth and Brenda Jones, who made £20m, £13m and £11m respectively.

Much of Qinetiq's value-build in its three years before flotation could be said to have come from the MoD signing up to the 25-year gravy train partnering deal; a lot more came from a bunch of acquisitions in the States, which delivered nearly all the new revenue required to make Qinetiq profitable.

So actually, even 900 per cent for the smallfry seems a bit cheeky, although many won't have been able to get in on it. Twenty thousand percent payola for Chisholm and his top team seems grotesque. In NAO-speak:

We consider that the returns in this case exceeded those necessary to incentivise management.
Then, of course, there's the matter of intellectual property inherited by Qinetiq from DERA. As we noted this week (http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/11/21/qinetiq_fatcat_stealth_tech_spy_ew_selloff/), the company seems to be selling off all kinds of critical military secrets - not least the knowhow required to build stealth aircraft, and interesting spookery electronics.

The MoD says, however, that all the best secrets were kept in the small part of DERA which stayed in the government under the name Defence Science and Technology Laboratories (DSTL). In particular, Blighty's valuable secret access to American military/spook tech (and America's use of crafty UK boffinry) was supposed to be safeguarded in this way, after "concerns expressed by collaborative partners in the US Department of Defense* over the sensitivity of privatising certain elements of DERA".

The NAO report isn't exactly reassuring on this:

Intellectual property relating to international collaboration projects was in most cases transferred to DSTL ... some of the concerns held by... the US Department of Defense* were addressed ...
Presumably a little thing like Stealth wasn't thought important enough to keep secret. Similarly, at least a few neat ideas employed by the British GCHQ and American NSA listening agencies seem to have been OK'd for sale. Or maybe the MoD's efforts to separate DSTL and Qinetiq just haven't worked in the real world. In most cases the secret government labs and the privatised company ones share sites, and boffins can simply walk in and out of each other's offices, canteens etc; though the MoD swears blind that at least they don't share IT systems or buildings anymore.

All in all, another masterful bit of work by the MoD, one really has to say. They didn't just sell off all our secrets and a lot of our assets and get (us) brutally shafted on the deal. They seem to have sold an unknown number of American secrets too, and created a perpetual, leaky, revolving back door through which more critical secret tech can dribble out. ®

*One notes that the US DoD includes the National Security Agency (NSA), the US government's primary code-cracking and comms intercept outfit. The UK equivalent is GCHQ, which is under the Foreign Office along with the spies. It is sometimes said that the NSA has actually been able to learn a few tricks from British electronic spies in recent times.

[bth: so basically Qinetiq is a state subsidized monopoly controlled by a foreign government and allowed to compete in the US against private companies.]

Thursday, December 06, 2007

YouTube - Neil Diamond - I Am...I Said (Live 1976)

YouTube - Neil Diamond - I Am...I Said (Live 1976): ""

Nurse at Pearl Harbor recounts the peril

The News-Press, news-press.com, Local & State, Nurse at Pearl Harbor recounts the peril: "Monica Benning of Fort Myers has written one book, co-authored another, been a guest at the White House, been the poster girl for the "Uncle Sam Needs Nurses" program and is the only nurse alive who was on duty at the Hickam Field Hospital at Pearl Harbor the morning of Dec. 7, 1941.

She often is asked to speak of her experiences on that "Day of Infamy," the 66th anniversary of which is Friday.

When speaking about that morning she closes her eyes, sees it, then recounts it as though she is a reporter at the scene. She speaks with no script. This is her story:

Powerful recollection

On Dec. 7, 1941, there were few patients at the Hickam Field Station Hospital so only two nurses were on duty — she and Irene Boyd.

At 7:55 a.m., she had just given Sgt. Patton aspirin when they heard the roar of planes.

A boom.

"It crashed!" she thought.

They rushed to the porch and saw planes marked with red circles. Explosions, smoke. It was the Japanese.

Duty kicked in. Patients had to be moved to the cellar; electricity was blown out; there was no elevator running.

Bedlam, blasts from torpedoes, bombs, machine guns and anti-aircraft fire were everywhere.

Soon, casualties were carried in on chairs, doors, boards. Other hospital personnel were arriving.

Ambulatory patients were sent to the main hospital. Ambulances, dairy trucks, station wagons, anything that could roll was used.

And then a second attack. Everything shook — a bomb fell very close to the hospital.

Benning ducked under a trash can lid. Someone was tugging. It was a corpsman, who later said: "Nurse, I wasn't trying to take it, I was trying to get under it with you."

As Benning moved from one of the injured to another, they often asked her to help someone else.

They asked her to contact relatives or wives at home to give last bits of information.

Walk-in casualties had an arm hanging, foot missing, a self-applied tourniquet.

The dead were placed on the lawn and checked periodically — just in case.

American Red Cross nurses and military wives arrived to help.

By sunset, Benning could see Old Glory was still flying.

Ripped, but still there.

Storied service

Benning was born and raised in Apalachicola. She entered nurses training in 1936 and passed her public health examination in 1939. She was looking for excitement and travel, which led her to the Army Nurses Corps as a second lieutenant stationed at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington.

She was selected to be part of the program "Uncle Sam Needs Nurses" and was featured on posters and in movies, and she was a guest at President Franklin D. Roosevelt's inauguration and gala.

She soon got her wish for travel. The assignment was Hawaii. She and two friends took the train to San Francisco and boarded the liner Mariposa, departing July 1941.

It was a grand trip. They arrived in Hawaii on a picture-perfect day with welcoming bands.

She was ordered to Tripler General Hospital on the outskirts of Honolulu. Hawaii was everything she ever dreamed of: beautiful and exciting. She noted there were many military posts with an equal number of officers' clubs, a ratio of 20 male officers to every nurse.

A date, through a friend, resulted in meeting a newcomer to the islands, Lt. Barney Benning. A romance developed.

She dated others, too.

"Competition is always good," she said.

But Benning was her favorite. He admired her "beautiful legs," and she loved his sense of humor, politeness, good looks — and he had a car.

She was assigned to the new Station Hospital at Hickam Field.

On Dec. 6, she and Barney Benning went to the Pearl Harbor Club: full moon, lights, music, dancing. He drove her back to her quarters and they made plans to go to Waikiki the next day.

During and after the attack, Barney Benning could see the hospital, and because it was OK, could surmise Monica Benning was OK as well. But she didn't know of his fate until Wednesday when he walked in to say he was all right. Several friends were missing or dead.

Each nurse had arranged with a different medical officer to kill her if the Japanese made a successful landing.

It was in the hectic period afterward when Barney Benning proposed, and the couple set a date for Aug. 20, 1942.

Married nurses were automatically separated from the service but, while still on accrued leave, the surgeon general recalled all nurses on terminal leave by reason of marriage, so Benning reported back to the Station Hospital at Hickam Field.

She was feeling badly, so she went for a checkup. Shortly, a message arrived: "Sometime in the early part of next summer, you will receive a little bundle — I hope it's a boy. Signed: the Stork."

She requested separation from the service. She would return to the mainland.

She was assigned to special duty. It turned out this involved Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker. She was to be the nurse on a B-24 to California, tending two special patients; one, a crew member of Rickenbacker.

She arrived at Walter Reed Hospital, the place she took her entrance physical exam and had her final exam for honorable discharge Dec. 29, 1942.

At lunch with Col. Julis Flikke, superintendent of Army nurses, she was asked to write the story of her army career, including the modeling, recruiting posters, the Dec. 7 attack, romance, marriage and the trip with Rickenbacker. The book is called "A Real Nurse's Dream."

When she called Eastern Air Lines about a trip to Tallahassee, she found Rickenbacker, who became president of the airline, had arranged for her to travel as priority, free of charge.

She was home. But, one step needed to be taken — a telegram to Barney Benning: arrived safely, Merry Christmas. Love, Monica Conter Benning

Afterword: The bomb that landed next to the hospital left a crater about 40 feet across. A sapling banyan was planted on that site two weeks after the attack as a healing gesture.

It was dedicated to Mrs. Monica Conter Benning in 2001. When she visited in 2006 for the Pearl Harbor Day remembrance as guest speaker, Monica Benning visited the tree and reported: "It is huge."

— Ed Unser, 77, of Fort Myers, is a retired fighter who flew 552 combat missions in Korea and Vietnam. He is a member of The News-Press Team Watchdog, a citizen journalist panel. Panel members work with professional reporters, perform research and submit original material for publication

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Ex-Staffer To Weldon Agrees to Guilty Plea - washingtonpost.com

Ex-Staffer To Weldon Agrees to Guilty Plea - washingtonpost.com: "Former congressman Curt Weldon's chief of staff has agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy charges for allegedly helping a consulting firm championed by Weldon obtain federal funds and for concealing money the firm paid his wife, according to court papers filed yesterday.

Russell James Caso Jr. and a top official at the unnamed nonprofit consulting firm met repeatedly with Weldon to seek the Pennsylvania Republican's help in obtaining federal funds for the organization's defense projects, according to the court papers. ...

From Sarajevo to Guantanamo: The Strange Case of the Algerian Six

From Sarajevo to Guantanamo: The Strange Case of the Algerian Six: "On a wintry evening in January 2002, a crowd of more than 150 people gathered outside Sarajevo's central jail awaiting the release of six prisoners, a group of Algerian-born men suspected of being members of an Al Qaeda cell that had plotted to bomb the U.S. embassy in Bosnia-Herzegovina's capital city. The alleged Al Qaeda members had been in custody since October, when they were rounded up by Bosnian police, but a major development in the case had arrived earlier that day, after Bosnia's highest courts issued a pair of rulings, one ordering the immediate release of the prisoners due to lack of evidence and the other preventing the men from being deported. But as the evening wore on and the men had still yet to be set free, the celebratory mood gave way to anxiety. And when, instead of releasing the men, the Bosnian special police forces arrived on the scene intending to hand the men over to the U.S. military, the peaceful gathering quickly turned into a violent confrontation. Riot police intervened and a convoy eventually managed to whisk the prisoners away.

They would emerge in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where they became some of the infamous prison's first inmates. More than six years have passed since the so-called "Algerian Six" landed in Gitmo. In the intervening time, Bosnia's Supreme Court suspended criminal proceedings against the men; the country's chief prosecutor formally cleared them of the terrorism charges; and several Bosnian and European institutions have called for their release. But the Pentagon maintains the detainees are Al Qaeda operatives who continue to pose a threat to the security of the United States. ...

Monday, December 03, 2007

Blame Canada

SWJ Blog

Broken skulls 'repaired with stem cells'

Broken skulls 'repaired with stem cells' - Telegraph: "Broken skulls can be repaired using cells from human embryos, scientists have shown.

Researchers were able to plug holes in the skulls of mice by transplanting the stem cells, which grew into new bone tissue.

Although the study is at an early stage, the experiment indicated one way in which human embryonic stem cells (ESCs) might be used in practical treatments....

Sic Semper Tyrannis 2007: Sale on Pakistan's Weapons

Sic Semper Tyrannis 2007: Sale on Pakistan's Weapons: "'Dear Pat

A week or so ago, I noticed some of your readers were nervous about the fate of Pakistani’s nuclear arsenal. While some concern remains, the following facts should be noted.

As early as 2000, the Clinton administration created a joint commission, a liaison group, consisting of American and Pakistani scientists. The purpose of this group was to help the Pakistanis create command and control codes for the use of such weapons that would be unbreakable. In the course of such work, America basically gained full knowledge of Pakistan’s command and control system.

The US then used snatch teams to kidnap Pakistani scientists who were peddling Pakistan’s nuclear technology or knowledge of it to undesirables. A bunch of such scientists disappeared from Burma while traveling, for example. But the kidnaping disrupted the alleged 200 links between the Pakistan nuclear community and terrorists such as al Queda.

Other Pakistanis sympathetic to al Qaida Sultan Bashiruddin, a much decorated scientist for Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, were arrested and interrogated.

The US had thoroughly infiltrated the nuclear procurement-peddling ring without telling the Pakistanis about it, which is why the US got Libya to abandon its program and why Iran, another Pakistan client, disclosed its own activities to the IAEA..

After 9/11, American aid to the Pakistanis to safeguard and control its nuclear arsenal was stepped up, with Bush using the proposed $3 billion in US aid as a bludgeon. Pakistan has 40 nuclear weapons, but within two days of the attacks, Pakistan’s military began to secretly relocate critical nuclear weapons components to six new secret locations, known to the Bush administration. When Pakistan joined the war on terrorism, it submitted to additional US oversight.

Lastly, Musharaff shuffled top military and intelligence personnel just before the US attack on Afghanistan on October 7. A new Pakistani Strategic Planning Division was set up, headed by a three-star general to supplement the control of such weapons by the National Command Authority.. There were also changes made to keep nuclear technology out of the hands of jihadis in the event Musharaff was assassinated. The US again had a big part to play in this.

So while the nukes of any country are allegedly in danger of hijacking, apparently the new safeguards are such that the slightest error in procedure renders the weapon null and void, a system much like the one the Russian used with their portable nuclear weapons systems.
So for now, the danger of jihadis seizing a Pakistan nuke seem minimal.
With greetings to all,

Richard Sale"

[bth: curious. I was not aware of any scientists being snatched.]
 
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UK leaving Iraq insecure, MPs warn | UK Latest

UK leaving Iraq insecure, MPs warn | UK Latest | Guardian Unlimited: "British troops are set to hand over control of Basra to Iraqi forces with their original goal of establishing security in the city unfulfilled, MPs have warned.

As UK forces prepare for the formal transition later this month, the Commons Defence Committee painted a bleak picture of the legacy they leave behind.

Violence against civilians was undiminished as the city remained in the grip of the militias and criminal gangs, with "serious questions" over the true allegiances of many police officers. While the Iraqi army had made "significant progress", the committee said it still needed back-up support from the British - particularly logistics and intelligence - to operate effectively.

At the same time, the committee questioned the continued viability of the remaining British force, based outside the city itself at Basra Air Station, once its numbers are halved to 2,500 from next spring.

"If there is still a role for UK forces in Iraq, those forces must be capable of doing more than just protecting themselves at Basra Air Station," the report said.

"If the reduction in numbers means they cannot do more than this, the entire UK presence in south eastern Iraq will be open to question."

While the committee welcomed the reduction in attacks on UK forces since they pulled out of their last base in the city - Basra Palace - in September, this alone could not be seen as a measure of success.

"The fact there has been no corresponding reduction in the number of attacks against the civilian population of the city is a matter of concern," it said....

[bth: do the words "cut and run" come to mind?]

YouTube - Gallipoli Waltzing Matilda

YouTube - Gallipoli Waltzing Matilda: ""

Gul reaffirms army's right to act in Iraq

Gul reaffirms army's right to act in Iraq | Herald Sun: "TURKISH President Abdullah Gul overnight reaffirmed Turkey's readiness and right to intervene in northern Iraq one day after the Turkish army said it carried out an operation there against Kurdish rebels.

Kurdish officials in Iraq insisted overnight that there had been no Turkish military incursion, describing as baseless Ankara's claims that significant losses had been inflicted on Kurdish rebels.

"(The army) was granted a mandate. This mandate is being used when (the army) deems it necessary," Mr Gul said before flying to Pakistan for an official visit.

Turkey said it carried out an "intense intervention" against Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) rebels in northern Iraq yesterday, sending in special forces after the cabinet authorised the army to carry out cross-border operations.

The army said overnight that two PKK rebels had been killed in clashes in south-eastern Turkey yesterday.

Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek made clear that operations in northern Iraq would continue as the army saw fit.

"The Chief of General Staff decides and will decide the necessity and timing of (the operations). If the goal is met with one operation, then one operation will be done. If 10 operations are needed, then 10 operations will be done," he told broadcaster Kanal 24.

A Turkish military official said about 100 special forces troops had crossed into Iraq yesterday and that long-range artillery and up to six helicopters had bombed a PKK camp after spotting a group of 50-60 rebels 20km inside the border.

But Jabbar Yawar, a spokesman for Kurdistan's Peshmerga security forces in Iraq, said there had been no incursion or shelling by Turkish forces into northern Iraq.

He also said there were no casualties in the area.

A PKK official, who asked not to be named, said in Sulaimaniya in northern Iraq that the Turkish military's claims were "lies and false allegations".

Ankara has massed up to 100,000 troops near the mountainous border with northern Iraq, backed by tanks, artillery and warplanes ahead of a long-awaited strike against Kurdish rebels who use bases in northern Iraq to launch attacks in Turkey.

On Saturday, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said the cabinet had authorised the armed forces to conduct a cross-border operation.

Ankara has made many threats of military action but, under heavy US pressure, has so far shown restraint. ...

[bth: PR campaign or winter campaign in the mountains? My guess is its a PR campaign for domestic consumption in Turkey.]
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The Swamp: Webb, back from Iraq, questions impact of 'surge'

The Swamp: Webb, back from Iraq, questions impact of 'surge': "One day after returning from his first visit to Iraq, Virginia Sen. Jim Webb called again for ``robust regional diplomacy” and suggested the impact of President Bush’s troop surge has been overstated.

Appearing today on NBC’s Meet the Press, the former Navy secretary and Marine combat veteran credited U.S. troops for helping increase security. But Webb, an early and vocal critic of the Iraq war, showed no sign of changing his view after a two-day trip to Iraq and Kuwait.

The trip included a visit to Anbar province in western Iraq, where his son Jimmy served in combat last year.

Administration officials and supporters have pointed to a lessening of violence in Anbar—and a decision by some Sunni insurgents there to side with U.S. forces against al Qaeda terrorists-- as an indication of progress in Iraq.

But Webb suggested the realignment of Sunni forces had little to do with the surge of U.S. troops and was more a reaction to a growing frustration with al Qaeda terrorists.

``This was happening before the surge began, well before the surge began,” Webb said. ``And it would have been happening if there wasn’t a surge
.”

The increasing sense of security in Iraq has allowed Iraqi refugees to begin returning to the war-torn country, according to recent news reports. But Webb described the troop surge, as he did from its inception this year, as a ``tactical adjustment” that ``didn’t change the over-arching strategy of what we are trying to do.”

Webb, a freshman Democrat who has won outsized attention in Congress on the Iraq war because of his military background, said several positive factors on the ground in Iraq have conspired to create ``a very important interval” for the United States.

With the easing of tensions in Anbar, restraint from an influential Shiite leader in Baghdad and interest by Turkey in avoiding a Kurdish guerrilla war on its border, Webb said the time is right to launch an intensive round of diplomacy.

``That’s the only way that we’re going to be able to take advantage of the quality of the work that our military people have done,” Webb said. ``And we’re still waiting.”

But for all his criticism of the war and White House strategy, Webb declined to endorse the call of more liberal Democrats seeking to cut off funding for the war.

``The one thing for sure is, nobody is going to cut off funding for the things that are necessary for our people to be able to do their job on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan,” the senator said. ``I think that’s just not a winning formula.”

Webb also said he was concerned about a new agreement reached between the U.S. and the prime minister of Iraq that envisions a long-term military presence in Iraq.

``There has to be a formula here where the United States Congress specifically ratifies the notion of long-term bases, if that’s where they’re going,” Webb said. ``I do not believe we should have long-term bases in Iraq. I believe we should get this overwatch done, we should move our combat troops off the streets of Iraq, and we should move toward a situation where we do not have a large military presence in that region.”

In his 20-minute interview, Webb also played up the chance that Virginia could elect a Democrat for president next year, despite its long history of siding with Republicans. The last Democratic president to win Virginia was Lyndon Johnson in 1964.

Webb, who ousted Republican Sen. George Allen last year, cited Democratic victories in Republican-friendly districts in the General Assembly races in Hampton Roads last month as evidence of growing Democratic strength.

Based on recent electoral history and the changing demographics of Virginia, he said, ``The state is open.”

Webb again dismissed the notion of serving as a vice-presidential running mate, when asked by moderator Tim Russert.

``Nobody is talking to me, and I don’t think that would be a great-- I don’t think that would be a compelling enough reason for me to leave what I’m doing right now.”

Without explicitly ruling out the possibility of a vice-presidential bid, Webb said, ``I really am not interested in that.”

David Lerman reports for The Daily Press of Hampton Roads, Va., a Tribune Co. newspaper.
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Sunday, December 02, 2007

IRAQ: A Tenuous 'Peace' in Al-Anbar

IRAQ: A Tenuous 'Peace' in Al-Anbar: "RAMADI Iraq, Nov 29 (IPS) - A semblance of calm belies an undercurrent of violence, detentions and fear across Iraq’s volatile al-Anbar province.

The province -- which occupies one-third of Iraq’s geographic area -- has been a bane to authorities since the beginning of the occupation.

"The Americans talked about our province as the deadliest enemy, and suddenly they are marketing us as their best friends," Sa’doon Khalifa, an independent politician in the capital city of al-Anbar Province, Ramadi -- 110 km west of Baghdad -- told IPS. "They were lying to their people and to the world in both cases as we were never terrorists nor their friends now," he stressed.

Khalifa explained that resistance fighters in al-Anbar did fight occupation forces, but now they are standing down from launching new attacks against U.S. forces.

This is due in large part to U.S. military payments to collaborating tribal sheikhs -- already totalling over 17 million dollars. The money funds tribal fighters who are paid 300 dollars per month to patrol their areas, particularly against foreign fighters.

The military refers to these men as "Concerned Local Citizens," "Awakening Force," or simply "volunteers," even though it is well known that most of them used to carry out attacks against the occupation forces.

"Those Americans thought they would decrease the resistance attacks by separating the people of Iraq into sects and tribes," a 32-year-old man from Ramadi -- speaking on terms of anonymity -- told IPS, "They know they are going deeper into the moving sand, but the collaborators are fooling the Americans right now, and will in the end use this strategy against them."

As of Wednesday, the U.S. military counts 77,000 of these fighters. It plans to add another 10,000. Eighty-two percent of the fighters are Sunni.

In spite of this mass recruitment, sporadic attacks are continuing against U.S. forces in the province.

"It is true that hundreds of fighters were killed or detained by the so-called Awakening Forces, but there are thousands who will never quit fighting until this occupation is ended," Ali Khamees, a former major of the Iraqi army told IPS in Ramadi.

Khamees believes that the de-escalation is a "new technique by the resistance to reduce the suffering of people in al-Anbar and move somewhere else to fight."

Attacks against U.S. forces have increased in other Iraqi provinces -- like Diyala, Saladin and Mosul.

The U.S. army reported dozens of soldiers killed throughout November while local reports insisted that the U.S. casualties are much higher than declared.

A female suicide bomber wounded seven U.S. soldiers Wednesday in Baquba - - the capital city of the volatile Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad -- when she detonated her explosive vest near the troops.

On Tuesday in the same city, another suicide bomber detonated his explosives-filled vest in front of the police headquarters -- killing six people and wounding seven, according to Iraqi police.

Underscoring how tenuous the peace in al-Anbar is, on Nov. 22 a car bomb exploded in Ramadi, killing at least six people in what was one of the deadliest attacks there in recent months.

Ramadi police officials said the bomb exploded near the city’s courthouse in the late morning detonated by a suicide bomber. At least 30 civilians were injured, Iraqi police officials said.

"I was just leaving the bank 80 metres away from the explosion the moment it took place," Doctor Ahmed Al- Aani told IPS in Ramadi, "I did not notice any car coming to the spot, so I think it was parked there. The strange thing was that an American Army convoy passed exactly thirty seconds after the blast. The thing I found even stranger was that they passed without any action like closing the area or trying to help the wounded."

Another two eyewitnesses told the same story with slight differences in details like the number of casualties and how many seconds later the U.S. military convoy passed.

Iraqis across the province are complaining about harsh tactics being meted out by the new "Awakening Forces" supported by the U.S.

"We will behead anyone who carries a gun in this province," Wussam Hardan, a senior leader of the Awakening Forces in Ramadi told sources very close to IPS in the city. "No court, no lawyers, no nothing. We have our own ways to get those criminals to confess," Hardan said.

The people of the province fear the recent developments, despite the relative improvement in the security situation.

"It is quieter because the Americans stopped many of their activities in al- Anbar," Shakir Mahmood, a human rights activist in Ramadi told IPS -- on condition that his false name be used. "There were so many arrests by U.S. forces, police and the Awakening during the past month and we cannot even talk about it because we feel threatened by all three of them," he said.

"So many of the detainees are well known to be innocent people taken into custody according to false information by others who have a personal feud with them or their families," Mahmood added, "It is the same old story being repeated and God knows what is going to happen next."

Arrests are being made after individuals are accused of being al-Qaeda members or of having links with Iran. Thousands have been detained for a year or more without any court procedures, while the police and the Awakening militias have executed many others.

On Nov. 13 the International Committee for the Red Cross estimated that there are around 60,000 people detained in U.S. and Iraqi prisons in the country.

(*Ali, our correspondent in Baghdad, works in close collaboration with Dahr Jamail, our U.S.-based specialist writer on Iraq who travels extensively in the region)

[bth: so how is it that in a matter of months we can add 77,000 Sunnifighters when we can barely organize and train an Iraqi army of Shea? And further, how is it that the Sunni resistance was always estimated around 22,000 or less yet we have 77,000 fighters now under our pay who formerly fought against us? Were we underestimating the number of insurgents all along or just being lied to?]

Iraqi insurgents regrouping, says Sunni resistance leader

Guardian | Iraqi insurgents regrouping, says Sunni resistance leader: "Iraq's main Sunni-led resistance groups have scaled back their attacks on US forces in Baghdad and parts of Anbar province in a deliberate strategy aimed at regrouping, retraining, and waiting out George Bush's "surge", a key insurgent leader has told the Guardian.

US officials recently reported a 55% drop in attacks across Iraq. One explanation they give is the presence of 30,000 extra US troops deployed this summer. The other is the decision by dozens of Sunni tribal leaders to accept money and weapons from the Americans in return for confronting al-Qaida militants who attack civilians. They call their movement al-Sahwa (the Awakening).

The resistance groups are another factor in the complex equation in Iraq's Sunni areas. "We oppose al-Qaida as well as al-Sahwa," the director of the political department of the 1920 Revolution Brigades told the Guardian in Damascus in a rare interview with a western reporter.

Using the nom de guerre Dr Abdallah Suleiman Omary, he went on: "Al-Sahwa has made a deal with the US to take charge of their local areas and not hit US troops, while the resistance's purpose is to drive the occupiers out of Iraq. We are waiting in al-Sahwa areas. We disagree with them but do not fight them. We have shifted our operations to other areas".

Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, has seen some of the heaviest fighting since the 2003 invasion but has become conspicuously calmer in recent months. "There is no resistance at the moment in Ramadi," Omary said. He described the tribal Awakening movement as "good for pushing al-Qaida out but negative for the resistance". "There are no armed clashes between us and them but they prevent us working in their areas," he added.

Omary's group is named after a Sunni uprising against British occupation forces in 1920. The group recently joined seven other Sunni-led armed resistance organisations to form the Front for Struggle and Transformation, a political committee aimed at drawing up a programme for national unity and hastening a US withdrawal.

Besides Ramadi, the Awakening movement was also operating in Sunni-majority districts of Baghdad, such as Ameriya, Adhamiya, and parts of Ghazaliya and Jihad, Omary said. He predicted it was unlikely to last for more than a few months. It was a "temporary deal" with the US and would split apart as people realised the Americans' true intentions.

He cited last week's announcement that the Bush administration plans to work with the Shia-led government of Nuri al-Maliki on arrangements for long-term US military bases and an open-ended occupation in Iraq.

Operating in small cells, Sunni resistance groups have been responsible for most of the roadside bomb attacks on US vehicles in western Iraq. While they are starting to unite at the political level, their suspicion of Iraq's Shia militias shows no sign of abating. "We helped [Shia cleric] Moqtada al-Sadr in 2004 when the Americans attacked Najaf, but see no point in dialogue with him now," Omary said.

Although Sadr presented himself as a nationalist and was unusual among Shia politicians in calling for an early end to the US occupation, Omary added: "He's still supporting this sectarian government in Baghdad. When his militias attack the United States they do it for their own political reasons and not to liberate Iraq".

Sadr's militia, the Jaish al-Mahdi, had killed too many innocent Sunni civilians, he went on.

Sadr's supporters often claim he is not in control of most of the militants who have abducted and murdered Sunni civilians in the spate of tit-for-tat sectarian violence provoked by the bombing of the golden-domed shrine in Samarra last year. The shrine is particularly sacred to Shias.

"He never says they are not under his control, so we have to assume they are, said Omary. "He should denounce them. Every Sunni family in Baghdad has had someone killed by Jaish al-Mahdi. They have destroyed around 300 mosques in Baghdad. If you want us to negotiate with al-Sadr, you have to ask us to negotiate with al-Qaida. We consider al-Qaida is closer to us than Jaish al-Mahdi."