Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Smart Way Out of a Foolish War

The Smart Way Out of a Foolish War:... "The"decision to militarily disengage will also have to be accompanied by political and regional initiatives designed to guard against potential risks. We should fully discuss our decisions with Iraqi leaders, including those not residing in Baghdad's Green Zone, and we should hold talks on regional stability with all of Iraq's neighbors, including Iran.

Contrary to Republican claims that our departure will mean calamity, a sensibly conducted disengagement will actually make Iraq more stable over the long term. The impasse in Shiite-Sunni relations is in large part the sour byproduct of the destructive U.S. occupation, which breeds Iraqi dependency even as it shatters Iraqi society. In this context, so highly reminiscent of the British colonial era, the longer we stay in Iraq, the less incentive various contending groups will have to compromise and the more reason simply to sit back. A serious dialogue with the Iraqi leaders about the forthcoming U.S. disengagement would shake them out of their stupor.

Ending the U.S. war effort entails some risks, of course, but they are inescapable at this late date. Parts of Iraq are already self-governing, including Kurdistan, part of the Shiite south and some tribal areas in the Sunni center. U.S. military disengagement will accelerate Iraqi competition to more effectively control their territory, which may produce a phase of intensified inter-Iraqi conflicts. But that hazard is the unavoidable consequence of the prolonged U.S. occupation. The longer it lasts, the more difficult it will be for a viable Iraqi state ever to reemerge.

It is also important to recognize that most of the anti-U.S. insurgency in Iraq has not been inspired by al-Qaeda. Locally based jihadist groups have gained strength only insofar as they have been able to identify themselves with the fight against a hated foreign occupier. As the occupation winds down and Iraqis take responsibility for internal security, al-Qaeda in Iraq will be left more isolated and less able to sustain itself. The end of the occupation will thus be a boon for the war on al-Qaeda, bringing to an end a misguided adventure that not only precipitated the appearance of al-Qaeda in Iraq but also diverted the United States from Afghanistan, where the original al-Qaeda threat grew and still persists.

Bringing the U.S. military effort to a close would also smooth the way for a broad U.S. initiative addressed to all of Iraq's neighbors. Some will remain reluctant to engage in any discussion as long as Washington appears determined to maintain its occupation of Iraq indefinitely. Therefore, at some stage next year, after the decision to disengage has been announced, a regional conference should be convened to promote regional stability, border control and other security arrangements, as well as regional economic development -- all of which would help mitigate the unavoidable risks connected with U.S. disengagement.

Since Iraq's neighbors are vulnerable to intensified ethnic and religious conflicts spilling over from Iraq, all of them -- albeit for different reasons -- are likely to be interested. More distant Arab states such as Egypt, Morocco or Algeria might also take part, and some of them might be willing to provide peacekeeping forces to Iraq once it is free of foreign occupation. In addition, we should consider a regional rehabilitation program designed to help Iraq recover and to relieve the burdens that Jordan and Syria, in particular, have shouldered by hosting more than 2 million Iraqi refugees.

The overall goal of a comprehensive U.S. strategy to undo the errors of recent years should be cooling down the Middle East, instead of heating it up. The "unipolar moment" that the Bush administration's zealots touted after the collapse of the Soviet Union has been squandered to generate a policy based on the unilateral use of force, military threats and occupation masquerading as democratization -- all of which has pointlessly heated up tensions, fueled anti-colonial resentments and bred religious fanaticism. The long-range stability of the Middle East has been placed in increasing jeopardy.

Terminating the war in Iraq is the necessary first step to calming the Middle East, but other measures will be needed. It is in the U.S. interest to engage Iran in serious negotiations -- on both regional security and the nuclear challenge it poses. But such negotiations are unlikely as long as Washington's price of participation is unreciprocated concessions from Tehran. Threats to use force on Iran are also counterproductive because they tend to fuse Iranian nationalism with religious fanaticism.

Real progress in the badly stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process would also help soothe the region's religious and nationalist passions. But for such progress to take place, the United States must vigorously help the two sides start making the mutual concessions without which a historic compromise cannot be achieved. Peace between Israel and Palestine would be a giant step toward greater regional stability, and it would finally let both Israelis and Palestinians benefit from the Middle East's growing wealth.

We started this war rashly, but we must end our involvement responsibly. And end it we must. The alternative is a fear-driven policy paralysis that perpetuates the war -- to America's historic detriment.

Zbigniew Brzezinski was national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter. His most recent book is "Second Chance: Three Presidents and the Crisis of American Superpower."

[bth: all strategies have risks and we are beyond choosing great options - merely the best practical option. This is as good as any and certainly beats the 100 year war plan McCain envisions.]

War and Piece:

War and Piece:: "An"An Iranian contact sends this. Please note that I have not confirmed the details, see the editor's note below:







FRED SABERI: 0046-736-421240

Editor's note: I should note that I *have not confirmed the details* in the above, but decided, because the sender, a frequent contact on Iranian issues, strongly believed this person's life was in imminent danger, and that there was a short window for information and attention to possibly lead to diplomatic intervention which could save a person's life, to post it and forward it on to contacts 'as is' for the moment and deal with it as a news issue later. I made a judgment that that was the ethical thing to do.

Friday Update: The Iranian contact says, "There appears to be good news on this front thanks to the immediate response, interest and intervention of various parties." He'll try to confirm shortly.

A reader in Germany, MoonofA, notes German passport numbers have nine digits. [It's the number of his German refugee document, I'm told.] Also noted, the apparent allegation that Ebrahimi was involved in the defection of Ashgari from Iran to the West. I have never understood the story of that alleged defection, it's quite a rabbit hole; but have never before heard that the FBI was involved, and have reason to think that is not the case.

Later Friday Update: Am told that US officials and other NGOs and individuals on the scene in Turkey got involved, and that the VOA, in an interview with his Germany-based wife, is reporting that Ebrahimi has been put on a plane back to Germany from Turkey. Contact waiting to verify whether that is the case.

Am told Ebrahimi is a former Lebanese Hezbollah, former IRGC, friend of Asghari, left Iran in 2003, became refugee in Germany, married to Iranian journalist resident in Germany. That Ashgari contacted Ebrahimi after he defected to ask him to tell his family that he was okay, and that Ebrahimi has written about the Ashgari case.


More from the LA Times' Borzou Daragahi:

A diplomatic standoff over the fate of an Iranian dissident temporarily detained this week at a Turkish airport has revealed new clues about the defection of a high-ranking Iranian military official in late 2006 and exposed lingering tensions between Ankara and Tehran over the incident.

The dissident, Amir Farshad Ebrahimi, was held for nearly 18 hours over Thursday and Friday in a cell inside Istanbul's Ataturk International Airport amid a tug-of-war over whether he would be sent back to Germany, where he lives, or deported to Iran, human rights activists and Western officials said. He was finally placed on an airplane to Berlin on Friday afternoon, his lawyer said.

In a series of phone calls from his cell, Ebrahimi said Iranian officials wanted him to answer for his role in the defection of Brig. Gen. Ali Reza Asgari, a former Iranian deputy defense minister and Revolutionary Guard commander who disappeared during a trip to Turkey.

Ebrahimi said Asgari now lives in the United States, where he is believed to have provided intelligence about Iran's military capabilities and operations. ...

Asgari is believed to be the highest-ranking Iranian official to defect to the West. Analysts say he served as an intelligence official in Lebanon during the 1990s and became deputy defense minister under then-President Mohammad Khatami.

After a business trip to Syria in 2006, Asgari left for Turkey, and then dropped out of sight. "Because of the intelligence he had he was very much in danger," Ebrahimi said. "He had very precious intelligence about the Iranian nuclear program."

Ebrahimi said he coordinated with international organizations and U.S. officials to help Asgari leave Turkey for the West in late 2006. The two met in Nicosia, Cyprus, immediately after Asgari left Turkey, he said. ...

[bth: note you are reading this on blogs from Laura Rosen's website which is probably one of the very best. So where is freaking Fox News when you need them? Mass media has become virtually useless]

Sic Semper Tyrannis 2008: More on Basra, South Iraq and Iran

Sic Semper Tyrannis 2008: More on Basra, South Iraq and Iran: "'.."the damage has not only been to Britain's military reputation. It has also led to the most profound split between Britain and America since relations froze during the Suez crisis 50 years ago.

Shamefully for Britain, the White House is now considering sending its own forces to sort the mess that the British have left behind. Last week, one White House official acidly remarked: "American blood is going to have to buy off the British failure in Basra."

Already at the Basra air base, I can reveal, the British subsidiary of U.S. construction giant KBR is building four huge dining facilities - known to the American army as DFACs. These are capable of feeding 4,000 men and suggest that the U.S. Army is contemplating a massive deployment to southern Iraq - including a major presence inside Basra itself. " Daily Mail


In the context of British withdrawal from south Iraq, I wrote a while back that the US would inevitably have to fill the vacuum so created with its own forces. That time is fast approaching. KBR is not building these facilities for the Iraqis. It sounds like a reinforced brigade combat team will go in there plus USAF on the base.

In the interest of not making things worse with our cousins across the sea, I will restrict my comment on the Daily Mail article to making a request, on behalf of the uniformed services people, that we not encounter further condescension from the British on the subject of the superiority of their knowledge, sophistication, methods, etc. with regard to COIN. Enough.

I do not believe that Iran wants to go to war with the United States either in the maritime regions of the gulf and Arabian Sea or in Iraq itself. Whatever initial "benefits" Iran might experience would be far outweighed by the eventual devastation wrought on Iranian infrastructure by American air and sea power. They know that.

It has been argued in these pages that the flow of crude and LPG could be obstructed as a major economic "weapons system." That is merely true. In fact, an obstruction of the flow of oil out of the Gulf would require Iranian action to create the obstruction. The United States and especially this administration would be eager to see that as a casus belli. The Iranians surely know that as well. I have watched the US Navy at work in situations like this before. Any obstruction would not last long. The price per barrel? There would be a sizable "spike" before the obstruction were cleared but it would be limited in duration and the resulting retaliatory action against Iran would be catastrophic for them.

A major non-SOF American ground effort against Iran? This is an absurd idea for all the reasons given here before. I will leave it for you all to thrash that out.

Many of the readers here are greatly underestimating the potential of a guerrilla campaign against the Kuwait-Baghdad supply line. Yes, the roads can be held open, but at what cost in diverted assets? pl

[bth: so the Americans, probably the marines, are going to replace the Brits in Basra. So where do we get the troops?]

This week proves our retreat from Basra was one of Britain's great military disasters | the Daily Mail

This week proves our retreat from Basra was one of Britain's great military disasters | the Daily Mail: "British"military history contains more than its fair share of glorious victories, but there have also been notable disasters. It has become horrifyingly clear that one of these is our involvement in southern Iraq, culminating in our soldiers' exit from Basra Palace late last year.

At the time, the Government presented the withdrawal of British troops as a success. Gordon Brown assured us that they had done their job so well that it was safe to hand over to local forces.

It is difficult to tell whether the Prime Minister was deliberately lying, or whether - more likely - he was mistaken about what was going on. Either way, the truth was very different. Far from calmly handing over Basra to the new regime, we were driven out by Iranian-backed militias, leaving behind a state of murderous anarchy.

This became horrifically plain last week when widespread fighting broke out inside Basra. Iraq's Prime Minister, Nouri Maliki, has ordered his army to try to regain control of the city. Meanwhile, Britain's 4,000 troops, safely cocooned in Basra air base outside the town, are taking no part in what may well prove to be a crucial battle.

This is a humiliation. All this week, commentators used the state visit of the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, to mock his country's shamefully inadequate military involvement in Afghanistan - keeping their troops well out of harm's way while the burden of fighting has been carried out by others.

[bth: worth a full revolting read]

War Is Boring Dropping the (Nonlethal) Ball

War Is Boring: "Despite"the obvious need for nonlethal weapons in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military has inexcusably dragged its heels when it comes to actually fielding the systems — this despite the technology being perfectly ready. The saga of the much-vaunted and much-delayed Active Denial System “heat ray” is just one example. The Air Force has consigned that device to a seemingly endless series of tests. The Marines, for their part, have doggedly refused to get even the simplest less-than-lethal weapons to where they’re needed: on Iraq’s chaotic streets. In January, the Tampa Tribune broke the story of bureaucratic resistance to repeated requests from deployed Marines for handheld laser “dazzlers” meant for temporarily blinding drivers trying to rush checkpoints (pictured). I expand on that story in the latest issue of Defense Technology International:...

Navy SEALs: Mental Strength And Courage - Men's Health

Navy SEALs: Mental Strength And Courage - Men's Health: "At"precisely 9:21 p.m., the marine sitting beside me at the Baghdad LZ, the helipad inside the Green Zone, stands and strides toward the bomb shelter. His gait is brisk but not panicked. I follow, fumbling with my helmet.

A nanosecond earlier, we'd heard the muffled ka-whompf that announced the launch of a Russian-made Katyusha rocket.

Overhead, the keening hiss of the projectile intensifies before terminating with a deafening and, to me, terrifying explosion just as we reach the tunnel-like concrete shelter.

"Jesus," somebody says as the scrum of bodies -- marines, soldiers, airmen -- crushes inside.

Whether from the piled humanity or the rocket's concussion (doubtful, since I learned later that the shell landed hundreds of yards away), the lenses of my glasses pop from their frames. I grope around the dark dirt floor with the flat of my hand. Someone not far down the row shines a penlight. "Grab that light, will ya?" I say to the marine next to me.

He is a broad, blond sergeant named Bill Cullen from the First Battalion of the Fourth Marines. He is 26, from Walton, Kentucky, and wears a tan, fire-resistant, U.S. Marine-issue flight suit. He grabs the flashlight.

"Shine it in my face," I say. He hesitates. I take off my wire frames. "It's an experiment. Just do it, please."

In the dark of the shelter my face illuminates; a score of eyes turn toward me.

"What do you see?" I ask. "What's it look like? The color."

"Pale," someone says.

There's a snicker. "Yeah, real white." More laughter....

[bth: this is an article well worth a full read.]

Marine Determined To Win Heart, Mind Of At Least One Iraqi | The Onion - America's Finest News Source

Marine Determined To Win Heart, Mind Of At Least One Iraqi | The Onion - America's Finest News Source: "BAGHDAD"—Despite several failed attempts to secure the popular support of the Iraqi people, Lance Cpl. David Hoekner told reporters Monday that he remains committed to his personal goal of winning the heart and mind of at least one Iraqi citizen before his tour ends in July. "I figure I can definitely charm a kid into liking me," said Hoekner, who had been gaining ground in his rapport with the Iraqi people until a December firefight that resulted in 24 civilian casualties. "I always carry extra chocolate bars and a soccer ball when I'm out on patrol, and I've even learned a few words in Arabic. Mark my words, there will be one little Iraqi boy who will think of the United States as the Great Liberator by the time I leave." Hoekner has set several additional goals for himself while still on duty, including driving a MIA2 Abrams battle tank, killing top al-Qaeda officer Abu Ayyub al-Masri, and trying falafel

China Celebrates Its Status As World’s Number One Air Polluter | The Onion - America's Finest News Source

China Celebrates Its Status As World’s Number One Air Polluter | The Onion - America's Finest News Source: "
China Celebrates Its Status As World�s Number One Air Polluter"
China Celebrates Its Status As World�s Number One Air Polluter

Friday, March 28, 2008

Gates Orders Inventory of US Nukes

Gates Orders Inventory of US Nukes - Politics on The Huffington Post: "WASHINGTON"— Defense Secretary Robert Gates has ordered a full inventory of all nuclear weapons and related materials after the mistaken delivery of ballistic missile fuses to Taiwan, the Pentagon said Thursday.

Gates told officials with the Air Force, Navy and Defense Logistics Agency to assess inventory control procedures for the materials and to submit a report within 60 days.

Earlier this week, Gates directed Navy Adm. Kirkland H. Donald to take charge of a full investigation of the delivery mistake in which four cone-shaped electrical fuses used in intercontinental ballistic missile warheads were shipped to the Taiwanese instead of the helicopter batteries they had ordered.

It was the second nuclear-related mistake involving the military that has been revealed in recent months. In August an Air Force B-52 bomber was mistakenly armed with six nuclear-tipped cruise missiles and flown from Minot Air Force Base, N.D., to Barksdale Air Force Base, La. At the time, the pilot and crew were unaware they had nuclear arms aboard.

The electrical fuses were delivered in fall 2006, but the military did not fully realize the gravity of the blunder until last week. The revelation sparked sharp protests from China and forced President Bush to acknowledge the error in a phone call Wednesday with Chinese President Hu Jintao.

While the shipment did not contain nuclear materials, the error is particularly sensitive because China vehemently opposes U.S. arms sales to Taiwan. U.S. officials were quick to say that the incident did not suggest any change in policies toward Taiwan arms sales.

But China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said, in a statement posted on the agency's Web site, that China had sent a protest to Washington expressing "strong displeasure."

He said China demanded the U.S. investigate the matter and report back to China to "eliminate the negative effects and disastrous consequences created by this incident."

Despite quarterly checks of the inventory, defense officials said they never knew the fuses were gone. Only after months of discussions with Taiwan over the missing batteries did the Pentagon finally realize _ late last week _ the seriousness of what had happened.

During that time, according to a senior Taiwan defense official, the U.S. initially asked Taiwan to dispose of the missile fuses. U.S. officials said that early on it was thought the Taiwanese had simply received the wrong batteries.

Once the error was discovered, the military quickly recovered the four fuses, which are linked to the triggering mechanisms in Minuteman nuclear missile nose cones. But Gates has demanded sweeping reviews to discover how it happened and whether it indicates a broader problem in the security of the military's nuclear weapons and related materials.

In his memo released Thursday, Gates ordered a physical inventory of all nuclear related items. Donald, whose assessment is separate from the agencies' inventories, must provide Gates with an initial report by April 15.

[bth: this story just doesn't reconcile. For example this happened in 2006 and after two years of quarterly inventory checks we just discover the problem? I don't think so. Then we asked the Taiwanese to destroy the fuses instead of recovering them, then the article says we recovered them? So which is it? After all its been two damned years. This just doesn't add up. Somebody was going to lose their job over this screw up and they simply hid the evidence, that's my guess. ... by the by how do batteries get stored with nuke fuses anyway?]

U.S. Jets Drop Bombs in Basra, Green Zone Hit With More Rocket or Mortar Attacks - International News | News of the World | Middle East News | Europe News - U.S. Jets Drop Bombs in Basra, Green Zone Hit With More Rocket or Mortar Attacks - International News | News of the World | Middle East News | Europe News: "A"British military spokesman in Basra says U.S. warplanes have carried out at least two airstrikes overnight in Iraq's southern oil port.

Maj. Tom Holloway says jets have been providing air support since clashes between Shiite militias and Iraqi forces erupted in the southern oil port on Monday, but it's the first time bombs have been dropped.

Iraqis have been in control of security in Basra since the British withdrew last December, but Britain maintains troops there to provide assistance when needed.

Iraqi police say clashes between Shiite militants and government security forces have resumed in at least two cities south of Baghdad.

The fighting on Friday comes as the fortified Green Zone in Iraq's capital has again come under attack by rockets or mortars.

A thick cloud of smoke was seen over the zone Friday about 2:30 p.m., shortly after two rounds hit. It was the day's first attack on the area.

The Sunni vice president's daughter says his office has been hit during shelling of the Green Zone, killing two guards and wounding four....

U.S. Armor Forces Join Offensive In Baghdad Against Sadr Militia

U.S. Armor Forces Join Offensive In Baghdad Against Sadr Militia - "BAGHDAD"March 27 -- U.S. forces in armored vehicles battled Mahdi Army fighters Thursday in Sadr City, the vast Shiite stronghold in eastern Baghdad, as an offensive to quell party-backed militias entered its third day. Iraqi army and police units appeared to be largely holding to the outskirts of the area as American troops took the lead in the fighting.

Four U.S. Stryker armored vehicles were seen in Sadr City by a Washington Post correspondent, one of them engaging Mahdi Army militiamen with heavy fire. The din of American weapons, along with the Mahdi Army's AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades, was heard through much of the day. U.S. helicopters and drones buzzed overhead.

The clashes suggested that American forces were being drawn more deeply into a broad offensive that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, launched in the southern city of Basra on Tuesday, saying death squads, criminal gangs and rogue militias were the targets. The Mahdi Army of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, a Shiite rival of Maliki, appeared to have taken the brunt of the attacks; fighting spread to many southern cities and parts of Baghdad.

As President Bush told an Ohio audience that Iraq was returning to "normalcy," administration officials in Washington held meetings to assess what appeared to be a rapidly deteriorating security situation in many parts of the country.

Maliki decided to launch the offensive without consulting his U.S. allies, according to administration officials. With little U.S. presence in the south, and British forces in Basra confined to an air base outside the city, one administration official said that "we can't quite decipher" what is going on. It's a question, he said, of "who's got the best conspiracy" theory about why Maliki decided to act now.

In Basra, three rival Shiite groups have been trying to position themselves, sometimes through force of arms, to dominate recently approved provincial elections.

The U.S. officials, who were not authorized to speak on the record, said that they believe Iran has provided assistance in the past to all three groups -- the Mahdi Army; the Badr Organization of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, Iraq's largest Shiite party; and forces loyal to the Fadhila Party, which holds the Basra governor's seat. But the officials see the current conflict as a purely internal Iraqi dispute.

Some officials have concluded that Maliki himself is firing "the first salvo in upcoming elections," the administration official said.

"His dog in that fight is that he is basically allied with the Badr Corps" against forces loyal to Sadr, the official said. "It's not a pretty picture." ...

[bth: so while Bush gives Ohio happy talk US armor is leading the offensive after Maliki's Iraqi troops melted into the general population when they met resistance. How again are US national interests advanced by this effort?]

Areas of Baghdad fall to militias as Iraqi Army falters in Basra

Areas of Baghdad fall to militias as Iraqi Army falters in Basra - Times Online: "Iraq’s"Prime Minister was staring into the abyss today after his operation to crush militia strongholds in Basra stalled, members of his own security forces defected and district after district of his own capital fell to Shia militia gunmen.

With the threat of a civil war looming in the south, Nouri al-Maliki’s police chief in Basra narrowly escaped assassination in the crucial port city, while in Baghdad, the spokesman for the Iraqi side of the US military surge was kidnapped by gunmen and his house burnt to the ground.

Saboteurs also blew up one of Iraq's two main oil pipelines from Basra, cutting at least a third of the exports from the city which provides 80 per cent of government revenue, a clear sign that the militias — who siphon significant sums off the oil smuggling trade — would not stop at mere insurrection.

In Baghdad, thick black smoke hung over the city centre tonight and gunfire echoed across the city.

The most secure area of the capital, Karrada, was placed under curfew amid fears the Mahdi Army of Hojetoleslam Moqtada al-Sadr could launch an assault on the residence of Abdelaziz al-Hakim, the head of a powerful rival Shia governing party.

While the Mahdi Army has not officially renounced its six-month ceasefire, which has been a key component in the recent security gains, on the ground its fighters were chasing police and soldiers from their positions across Baghdad.

Rockets from Sadr City slammed into the governmental Green Zone compound in the city centre, killing one person and wounding several more.

Mr al-Maliki has gambled everything on the success of Operation Saulat al-Fursan, or Charge of the Knights, to sweep illegal militias out of Basra.

It has targeted neighbourhoods where the Mahdi Army dominates, prompting intense fighting with mortars, rocket-grenades and machineguns in the narrow, fetid alleyways of Basra.

In Baghdad, the Mahdi Army took over neighbourhood after neighbourhood, some amid heavy fighting, others without firing a shot.

In New Baghdad, militiamen simply ordered the police to leave their checkpoints: the officers complied en masse and the guerrillas stepped out of the shadows to take over their checkpoints. ...

[bth: this kind of reporting isn't showing up in US news.]

U.S. forces drawn deeper into Iraq crackdown

U.S. forces drawn deeper into Iraq crackdown - swissinfo: "BAGHDAD"Reuters) - U.S. forces were drawn deeper into Iraq's four day-old crackdown on Shi'ite militants on Friday, launching air strikes in Basra for the first time and battling militants in Baghdad.

The fighting has exposed a deep rift within Iraq's majority Shi'ite community and put pressure on Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, whose forces have failed to dislodge fighters loyal to cleric Moqtada al-Sadr from Iraq's second largest city.

Iraqi authorities shut down Baghdad with a strict curfew on Friday which seemed to reduce the rocket and mortar barrages that have wreaked havoc in the capital this week. Lawmakers, including those loyal to Sadr, met to seek an end to the impasse.

The government says it is fighting "outlaws", but Sadr's followers say political parties in Maliki's Shi'ite-led government are using military force to marginalise their rivals ahead of local elections due by October.

The Iraqi ground commander in Basra, Major-General Ali Zaidan, told Reuters his forces had killed 120 "enemy" fighters and wounded around 450 since the campaign began.

But Reuters television footage from Basra showed masked gunmen from Sadr's Mehdi Army still in control of the streets, openly carrying rocket launchers and machine guns.

A British Ministry of Defence spokesman said U.S. warplanes had opened fire in Basra for the first time in support of Iraqi units on the ground. British troops, which patrolled Basra until December, have so far remained on a base outside the city.


A Reuters witness said Mehdi Army gunmen had seized control of Nassiriya, capital of the southerly Dhi Qar province. Mehdi Army fighters have held territory or fought with authorities in Kut, Hilla, Amara, Kerbala, Diwaniya and other towns throughout the Shi'ite south over the past several days.

In Baghdad there have been clashes in at least 13 mainly Shi'ite neighbourhoods, especially Sadr City, the vast slum named for the cleric's slain father where his followers maintain their power base.

"There have been engagements going on in and around Sadr City. We've engaged the enemy with artillery, we've engaged the enemy with aircraft, we've engaged the enemy with direct fire," said Major Mark Cheadle, spokesman for U.S. forces in Baghdad.

In one strike before dawn, a U.S. helicopter fired a hellfire missile at gunmen firing from the roof of a building, killing four of them, Cheadle said. A Reuters photographer there filmed windows blown out of cars and walls pocked with shrapnel.

U.S. forces said they killed 27 fighters in operations in the capital on Thursday.

In Nassiriya, a Reuters reporter said he could see groups of fighters with machineguns and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. The sound of sporadic gunfire echoed through the streets. Police appeared to be staying in their stations.

Militants have also taken control of the town of Shatra, 40 km to the north, he said, citing witnesses.

Maliki on Wednesday gave militants in Basra 72 hours to surrender. With that deadline looming on Friday, he announced they would be given until April 8 to hand over some weapons.

"All those who have heavy and intermediate weapons are to deliver them to security sites and they will be rewarded financially," he said in a statement issued by his office.

Oil exports from Basra of more than 1.5 million barrels a day provide 80 percent of Iraq's government revenue. An explosion at a pipeline damaged exports on Thursday, but they were back to normal on Friday.

Parliament speaker Mahmoud Mashhadani said representatives of Shi'ite and Sunni parties, including those loyal to Sadr, had agreed to attend a special session at 3 p.m. (12:00 p.m. British time).

Sadr, who helped install Maliki in power after an election in 2005 but later broke with him, has called for talks with the government. But Maliki has vowed to battle what he calls criminal gangs in Basra "to the end".

The clashes have all but wrecked a truce that Sadr imposed on his Mehdi army last August, which Washington had said helped curb violence.

U.S. President George W. Bush has praised Maliki's "boldness" in launching the operation, the largest military campaign carried out yet by Maliki's forces without U.S. or British combat units. Bush said it showed the Iraqi leader's commitment to "enforce the law in an even-handed manner".

Sadr's followers have staged a "civil disobedience" campaign, forcing schools and shops to shut, and Sadr has threatened a "civil revolt" if the crackdown is not halted

[bth: so it appears that the US is providing air cover and indirect fire for Maliki in its civil war with Sadr and in multiple cities. The Brits have stayed on their little base. If this is in preparation for the October elections in Iraq, one wonders how the vote counting will go.]

Comrade Sid: spy who siphoned off $½bn from Iraq Oil-for-Food deal - Times Online

Comrade Sid: spy who siphoned off $½bn from Iraq Oil-for-Food deal - Times Online: "UN"official who held a pivotal post in the Oil-for-Food programme for Iraq has been exposed by a defector as a Russian spy who diverted almost half a billion dollars to top Russian officials in “one of the richest heists in world history”.

Alexandre Kramar, who set the price of Iraqi crude as a UN oil overseer from 1996 to 2003, was an undercover agent for Russia's foreign intelligence agency, the SVR, his former handler says.

The revelation throws new light on the UN Oil-for-Food scandal, which implicated dozens of politicians, diplomats and businessmen around the world, as well as the UN official overseeing the programme, and the son of the former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

It provides fresh evidence of Russia's complicity in helping Saddam Hussein to circumvent UN sanctions imposed after the 1990 invasion of Kuwait. The crumbling of the UN embargo, which was designed to prevent Iraq from rebuilding its weapons of mass destruction, was one of the factors behind the US and British decision to go to war in 2003.

Despite Mr Kramar's central importance to the UN programme and longstanding suspicions about his conduct, his covert role as a Russian agent was missed by the UN investigation led by Paul Volcker, a former Chairman of the US Federal Reserve.

Mr Kramar has been unmasked by Sergei Tretyakov, the SVR's deputy station chief in New York from April 1995 until he defected on October 11, 2000.

Mr Tretyakov, who worked as a double-agent for the US for at least three years, tells his story in a book by the intelligence author and former Washington Post reporter Pete Earley, entitled Comrade J: The Untold Secrets of Russia's Master Spy in America After the End of the Cold War. As deputy station chief, Mr Tretyakov supervised all 60 SVR intelligence agents in Manhattan and oversaw the handling of more than 150 foreign sources working for the Russians.

Planting Mr Kramar in the UN was considered Mr Tretyakov's biggest coup. Earley writes that the UN oil overseer “diverted half a billion dollars from the programme into the pockets of top Russian government leaders in both the Yeltsin and Putin presidencies.

“Neither Yeltsin nor Putin made any effort to stop the thefts,” he adds. “The Putin Administration did, however, arrange for the SVR officer to be awarded one of the Russian Federation's highest civilian commendations, not because of bravery or honour, but for his role in pulling off one of the richest heists in world history.”

Established in 1996, the Oil-for-Food programme permitted Iraq to sell limited quantities of oil under strict supervision to raise money to import food, medicine and other humanitarian goods. The oil price was fixed by UN overseers, whose recommendations were invariably rubber-stamped by a sanctions committee made up of the 15 Security Council members.

The original panel of four UN oil overseers, who were Norwegian, American, French and Russian, set the barrel price close to the market rate. But when first the Norwegian, then the American and the French overseers stepped down, Mr Kramar in effect set the Iraqi oil price by himself. Russia blocked the appointment of replacement overseers, so he operated alone from June 1999 to August 2000.

Saddam's scam of using oil to buy influence around the world could not have worked if Iraqi oil had not been underpriced. With Mr Kramar in charge the UN oil price allowed a profit of as much as 35 cents per barrel, Earley writes. That means the recipient of a voucher for ten million barrels could make an instant $3.5million (£1.75million) selling the contract, without ever shipping a drop of oil. Earley estimates that Mr Kramar diverted up to $476million to 46 individuals or organisations in Russia. ....

[bth: Volker's report and investigation came well after the Russian agent defected. This was covered up in the report. Putin and friends made hundreds of millions over this ... look into his soul my ass.]

Thursday, March 27, 2008

U.S. Steps Up Unilateral Strikes in Pakistan -

U.S. Steps Up Unilateral Strikes in Pakistan - "The"United States has escalated its unilateral strikes against al-Qaeda members and fighters operating in Pakistan's tribal areas, partly because of anxieties that the country's new leaders will insist on a scaling back of military operations in that country, according to U.S. officials.

Washington is worried that pro-Western President Pervez Musharraf, who has generally supported the U.S. strikes, will almost certainly have reduced powers in the months ahead, and so it wants to inflict as much damage as it can to al-Qaeda's network now, the officials said.

Over the past two months, U.S.-controlled Predator aircraft have struck at least three sites used by al-Qaeda operatives. The attacks followed a tacit understanding with Musharraf and Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani that allows U.S. strikes on foreign fighters operating in Pakistan, but not against the Pakistani Taliban, the officials said.

About 45 Arab, Afghan and other foreign fighters have been killed in the attacks, all near the Afghan border, U.S. and Pakistani officials said. The goal was partly to jar loose information on senior al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants, by forcing them to move in ways that U.S. intelligence analysts can detect. Local sources are providing better information to guide the strikes, the officials said.

A senior U.S. official called it a "shake the tree" strategy. It has not been without controversy, others said. Some military officers have privately cautioned that airstrikes alone -- without more U.S. special forces soldiers on the ground in the region -- are unlikely to net the top al-Qaeda leaders.

The campaign is not specifically designed to capture bin Laden before Bush leaves office, administration officials said. "It's not a blitz to close this chapter," said a senior official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of ongoing operations. "If we find the leadership, then we'll go after it. But nothing can be done to put al-Qaeda away in the next nine or 10 months. In the long haul, it's an issue that extends beyond this administration."

Musharraf, who controls the country's military forces, has long approved U.S. military strikes on his own. But senior officials in Pakistan's leading parties are now warning that such unilateral attacks -- including the Predator strikes launched from bases near Islamabad and Jacobabad in Pakistan -- could be curtailed.

"We have always said that as for strikes, that is for Pakistani forces to do and for the Pakistani government to decide. . . . We do not envision a situation in which foreigners will enter Pakistan and chase targets," said Farhatullah Babar, a top spokesman for the Pakistan People's Party, whose leader Yousaf Raza Gillani is the new prime minister. "This war on terror is our war."

Leaders of Gillani's party say they are interested in starting talks with local Taliban leaders and giving a political voice to the millions who live in Pakistan's tribal areas. Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte and Assistant Secretary of State Richard A. Boucher heard the message directly from tribal elders in the village of Landi Kotal in the Khyber area yesterday.

"We told the visiting U.S. guests that the traditional jirga [tribal decision-making] system should be made effective to eliminate the causes of militancy and other problems from the tribal areas," said Malik Darya Khan, an elder. "We also told them that we have some disgruntled brothers" -- an indirect reference to local Taliban and militants -- who should be pulled into the mainstream through negotiations and dialogue, he said.

"The tribal turmoil can be resolved only through negotiations, not with military operations," Khan added. But he and others have said little specifically about how the new government should cope with foreign fighters, causing the Bush administration to engage in heavy lobbying on that issue.

[bth: this may explain the firing or rotation of Paki generals last week.]

Supplier under scrutiny on aging arms for Afghans - International Herald Tribune

Supplier under scrutiny on aging arms for Afghans - International Herald Tribune: "Since"2006, when the insurgency in Afghanistan sharply intensified, the Afghan government has been dependent on American logistics and military support in the war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

But to arm the Afghan forces that it hopes will lead this fight, the American military has relied since early last year on a fledgling company led by a 22-year-old man whose vice president was a licensed masseur.

With the award last January of a federal contract worth as much as nearly $300 million, the company, AEY Inc., which operates out of an unmarked office in Miami Beach, became the main supplier of munitions to Afghanistan's army and police forces.

Since then, the company has provided ammunition that is more than 40 years old and in decomposing packaging, according to an examination of the munitions by The New York Times and interviews with American and Afghan officials. Much of the ammunition comes from the aging stockpiles of the old Communist bloc, including stockpiles that the State Department and NATO have determined to be unreliable and obsolete, and have spent millions of dollars to have destroyed....

[bth: read the article in full, then vomit]

Gunmen blow up another oil pipeline in southern Iraq - International Herald Tribune

Gunmen blow up another oil pipeline in southern Iraq - International Herald Tribune: "A A"bomb struck an oil pipeline Thursday in Iraq's southern city of Basra where Iraqi security forces have been clashing with Shiite militia fighters, an oil official said, the second such attack this week.

Despite the turbulence, Iraq's oil minister assured international oil companies that ongoing clashes would not affect oil exports and drilling operations.

"The security situation in Basra is still unstable ... but this has not reflected negatively on works at oil output and export installations," Hussein al-Shahristani told the U.S.-funded Radio Sawa.

Al-Shahristani said his ministry has more than 12,000 police "who are on high alert and deployed around oil fields and pipelines."

The bomb exploded underneath the Zubair-1 pipeline that sends crude oil from the Basra Zubair oil field to tanks for Iraq's two exporting terminals on the Gulf: al-Umaiya and Basra, according to an official in Basra.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information, said the effect of Thursday's 10 a.m. blast could have an impact on Iraq's oil exports but the extent was uncertain.

It was the second pipeline bombing this week. On Tuesday night, a bomb damaged a domestic oil pipeline that links the Noor oil field in the southern Maysan province to the refinery in Basra, officials said. It was expected to take several days to repair the damage....

[bth: folks, its about the cash flow from exported oil. 12,000 police are on alert to protect it. Understand that the bombing of the pipeline is a veto vote by Sadrs forces that don't have control of the export terminals. Maliki's intervention down in Basra is to prevent a negotiated settlement of revenues between Sadr and the local government. This is about how to allocate oil revenues plain and simple.]
Informed Comment

Ensuring Permanence - The Washington Independent - U.S. news and politics -

Ensuring Permanence - The Washington Independent - U.S. news and politics - "This"week the United States suffered its 4,000th military death in Iraq. That number will surely increase, as violence is now exploding across the country. Iraqi forces are clashing with the powerful Shiite militia of radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. As if to offer denial in the face of disaster -- and commit the U.S. to losing many more soldiers and Marines -- the Bush administration has begun negotiations with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to keep U.S. troops in Iraq for years, even decades, after President George W. Bush leaves office.

The negotiation, set to conclude this summer, will establish the basis for a long-term U.S. occupation of Iraq. According to the Bush administration, the Iraqi government requested a bilateral agreement to replace the expiring U.N. mandate for the occupation, which offended Iraqi sovereignty. Asked if there was any irony in preparing a plan to keep thousands of foreign soldiers in Iraq in the name of Iraqi sovereignty, a National Security Council official, who requested anonymity, replied, "Sure, but we plan to negotiate that aspect" of the agreement.

Critics in the U.S. and in the Middle East are talking about the impending accords as the fulfillment of a hidden agenda. On Al Jazeera's "Inside Iraq" program, a recent report on the negotiations began: "This firm handshake between President Bush and Prime Minister al-Maliki may seal what had been predicted all along: that the U.S. has no intention of withdrawing from Iraq." Indeed, for years, the U.S. military in Iraq has quietly constructed massive bases that can garrison tens of thousands of troops indefinitely. ...

[bth: President Bush is committing the US to a foreign treaty without Senate approval.]

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

YouTube - Ali G - Iran vs. Iraq

YouTube - Ali G - Iran vs. Iraq: ""

Capitol Police Missed Device

Capitol Police Missed Device - "Federal"officers searching a suspicious pickup truck near the U.S. Capitol in January missed an explosive device that remained undetected behind the seat for three weeks, officials said yesterday.

Michael S. Gorbey, who was initially detained for carrying a loaded shotgun near the Capitol, is now facing charges of planning to set off a bomb, according to an indictment filed in D.C. Superior Court. U.S. Capitol Police are investigating how their top-rated bomb squad failed to spot the hazardous device.

The revelations evoked one of the nightmare scenarios that Congress has spent millions of dollars to avert since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The contraption in Gorbey's truck, parked about two blocks from the Capitol, "could have caused serious injuries" if detonated, said Terrance W. Gainer, the Senate sergeant-at-arms.

Sources familiar with the investigation said, however, that the device was not in imminent danger of exploding. It was identified in court documents as being made of a can of gunpowder duct-taped to a box of shotgun shells and a bottle containing buckshot or BB pellets.

The device was discovered during a second search of the vehicle in February by Capitol Police. The truck had been sitting in a government parking lot since being seized in January, authorities said....

[bth: ridiculous oversight]

Egyptian government scrambles to ease bread shortages amid political crisis

Egyptian government scrambles to ease bread shortages amid political crisis - International Herald Tribune: "Egypt's"government is struggling to contain a political crisis sparked by rising world food prices. Violent clashes have broken out at long lines for subsidized bread, and the president, worried about unrest, has ordered the army to step in to provide more.

The crisis in the world's most populous Arab country and a top U.S. ally in the Mideast is a stark sign of how rising food prices are roiling poorer countries worldwide. The World Food Program on Monday urged countries to help it bridge a funding gap in food assistance caused by higher prices.

The issue in Egypt centers on subsidized versions of the flat, round bread that is a staple of people's diets. Acute shortages of subsidized bread, which is sold at less than one U.S. cent a loaf, have caused long lines at distributors, prompting violence at some sites in poor neighborhoods in recent weeks.

At least seven people have died, according to police — two who were stabbed when fights erupted between customers waiting in line, and the rest from the exhaustion of waiting in line.

Independent and opposition parties have been sharply critical of President Hosni Mubarak's government, calling the long lines a sign that his government is failing....

[bth: the long lines are a sign that $100 bbl oil is driving up ethanol production in the US and consequently the price of wheat. Hard to believe but that leads to political instability in Egypt. Too bad their good muslim brothers over in Saudi Arabia who roll in cash couldn't give a damn.]

Peaceful Iraq protests spark clashes; 50 reported dead -

Peaceful Iraq protests spark clashes; 50 reported dead - "Fighting"between Iraqi security forces and supporters of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr left 50 dead in the southern city of Basra and spread to several Baghdad districts Tuesday, Iraqi officials said.

The fighting erupted as al-Sadr's political organization launched a nationwide civil disobedience movement to protest recent arrests of its members.

The discord threatens to unravel a much-praised cease-fire by the cleric's militia, the Mehdi Army, which U.S. commanders have credited with helping ease the sectarian warfare that gripped Iraq in 2006.

An official with Basra's Provincial Council, speaking on condition of anonymity, told CNN that at least 50 people were killed and 120 wounded Tuesday.

The dead included Iraqi troops, police, civilians and militiamen, the official said.

In addition, at least 30 Iraqi security force members were kidnapped by militia fighters in Basra, he said.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is personally overseeing efforts to restore order in Basra, said Ali Hadi, an official in the prime minister's office.

He said al-Maliki met with high-ranking Iraqi security officers ahead of a push against militia fighters, which was launched early Tuesday.

The provincial government official said the prime minister arrived without advance notice, and provincial officials were unaware of plans for Tuesday's operation. He said explosions could still be heard late Tuesday, but an Interior Ministry official in Baghdad said security forces were in control of most of the city by Tuesday evening.

Residents of Basra, Iraq's second-largest city and its major oil port, held demonstrations earlier this month to demand better security. Kidnappings, murders and thefts have risen since British troops handed over responsibility for the province to Iraqi soldiers and police in December and withdrew to a base at the city's airport.

In addition, violent rivalries among Shiite factions have spread throughout southern Iraq, with Mehdi Army fighters tangling frequently with the Badr Brigade, the militia of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq -- which has a strong presence in Iraqi security forces. Al-Sadr's movement, the ISCI and the Fadhila party all wield influence in Basra.

Nassar al-Rubaie, an official in al-Sadr's political movement, linked Tuesday's attacks to provincial elections slated to take place October 1.

"The police and army forces are used for political reasons," al-Rubaie said.

Al-Sadr announced a six-month cease-fire in August, after fighting between his followers and Badr forces in the Shiite holy city of Karbala left more than 50 dead. He extended it for another six months in February, but the Americans and the Iraqi Army have continued to target Mehdi Army followers they accuse of ignoring the agreement.

The Mehdi Army launched two uprisings against U.S. troops in 2004. Leaders of his political movement say the recent raids by U.S. and Iraqi forces have unfairly targeted militia members, and al-Rubaie said government security forces comprise rival militias that have killed, tortured and arrested innocents.

A Basra city council official said that the fighting erupted when security forces entered Mehdi Army strongholds, where militiamen were armed with machine guns, grenades, rockets and mortars. Iraqi security forces picked up 40 suspect militiamen involved in planting bombs Tuesday, the Interior Ministry official said.

Militiamen used roadside bombs to bring down part of a bridge in northern Basra on Tuesday, witnesses and police reported, hindering the movement of security forces.

In Baghdad, meanwhile, Mehdi Army fighters battled Iraqi national police units in eastern and southwestern Baghdad, the Interior Ministry official told CNN. At least six people were wounded, including two police officers, the official said.

Clashes occurred in al-Hamza Square at the edge of Sadr City, the cleric's power base in eastern Baghdad, and spread to more than half a dozen other neighborhoods.

Attackers wielding small arms in the western neighborhood of Tobchi attacked the office of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's top Shiite cleric, the official said. Iraqi security forces have gained control of the area, and the office is under their protection.

In addition, rockets and mortar shells rained down on U.S. troops around Baghdad, killing one American soldier, a U.S. military spokesman said. A dozen attacks targeted four U.S. bases and the International Zone, the fortified enclave in the heart of Baghdad that houses American and Iraqi government offices, Lt. Col. Steven Stover said.

"In our assessment, rogue Shia elements who are violating al-Sadr's cease-fire announcement are responsible for the attacks today," Stover said.

Other developments

...• Earlier clashes occurred in al-Hamza Square at the edge of Sadr City, the cleric's power base in eastern Baghdad. In Maamel, also in eastern Baghdad, gunmen attacked an Iraqi police checkpoint and kidnapped six police officers, an Interior Ministry official told CNN.

• At least four al Qaeda in Iraq members were killed in volatile Diyala province on Sunday in two military raids, the U.S. military said Tuesday.

• The military also reported a roadside bombing on Sunday that killed two children and wounded two civilians. It occurred in Khatoon, north of the Diyala provincial capital of Baquba.

Diyala is an ethnically and religiously mixed province that stretches north and east of Baghdad and borders Iran.

The U.S. military also said it had determined that six people killed and two people wounded in an American helicopter strike near Samarra on Saturday were prospective pro-U.S. militia members -- not "terrorists" as previously suspected

[bth: just a couple of notes. So yesterday two American contractors who had been kidnapped and their fingers returned to Coalition Forces were found dead. One presumes that they were killed by Sadr forces after a failed hostage exchange or kidnapping. Then you see Sadr's 'rogue' forces issuing three demands the primary of which seems to be the release of prisoners. One wonders if the two are link and which prisoners they are specifically referring to? Are they the Iranians we are still holding or are they some factional thugs or are we still holding the former Minister of Health that was acquitted last week for lack of trial evidence (witnesses disappeared or were scared) after he had murdered patients sent to hospitals and/or relatives who came to claim bodies? There must be a huge untold story unfolding here. Too damned bad we don't have a journalist within sight to investigate this hostage/mafia warfare more closely. Then there are the cut and run Brits down in Basra and the three way fight for oil cash going on. Make no mistake its about the oil revenue in Basra and who controls it before the October 1 elections in Iraq. This is going to get long and ugly. The Brits won't return. The marines will be sent in is my guess. Last note the very last paragraph of this lengthy CNN rehash of a Pentagon briefing where the military admits it killed our own allies a few days ago instead of 'terrorists' despite reassurances to the contrary last week. Damned amazing. Too bad we don't have a journalist in Iraq to follow up on that story either.]

New Pakistani Leaders Tell Americans There’s ‘a New Sheriff in Town’

New Pakistani Leaders Tell Americans There’s ‘a New Sheriff in Town’ - New York Times: "The"top State Department officials responsible for the alliance with Pakistan met leaders of the new government on Tuesday, and received what amounted to a public dressing-down from one of them, as well as the first direct indication that the United States relationship with Pakistan would have to change.

On the day that the new prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gillani, was sworn in, Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte and the assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs, Richard A. Boucher, also met with the Pakistani president, Pervez Musharraf, whom they had embraced as their partner in the campaign against terrorism over the past seven years but whose power is quickly ebbing.

The leader of the second biggest party in the new Parliament, Nawaz Sharif, said after meeting the two American diplomats that it was unacceptable that Pakistan had become a “killing field.”

“If America wants to see itself clean of terrorists, we also want that our villages and towns should not be bombed,” he said at a news conference here. Mr. Sharif, a former prime minister, added he was unable to give Mr. Negroponte “a commitment” on fighting terrorism.

The statements by Mr. Sharif, and the cool body language in the televised portions of his encounter with Mr. Negroponte, were just part of the sea change in Pakistan’s domestic politics that is likely to impose new limits on how Washington fights militants within Pakistan’s borders....

[bth: Negroponte's high profile visit just when the government is coming into power probably gives the public impression that they're the new puppets. Meanwhile they want to be the new sheriff. Not a good first visit.]

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Happily for the busy lunatics who rule over us,
we are permanently the United States of Amnesia.
We learn nothing because we remember nothing
--"The State of the Union," Gore Vidal

Crooks and Liars

Army begins using $150,000 artillery shells in Afghanistan - World- Army begins using $150,000 artillery shells in Afghanistan: "OTTAWA"— Canadian army gunners in Afghanistan are now cleared to fire GPS-guided artillery shells at Taliban militants — at the cost of $150,000 a round.

The Excalibur shell could very well be the most expensive conventional ammunition ever fired by the military.

Supporters argue that the weapon, which has the ability to correct itself in flight, has pinpoint accuracy. They predict that will cut down on the mounting civilian death toll from air strikes in a war-torn region, where insurgents often hide among the population.

“It lands exactly where you want it to land,” said Col. Jim Willis, a senior officer in charge of acquiring the munitions.

“It provides more safety.”

About 18 months ago, the army announced its intention to buy a handful of the experimental shells to go along with its brand new 155-millimetre M-777 howitzers.

Introducing the weapon to the army’s arsenal has been slower than expected because of concerns related to the shell’s performance in cold weather and precautions to make sure the GPS signals can’t be jammed or scrambled by insurgents.

Willis said battery guns supporting Canada’s battle group in Kandahar recently test fired the shell in the desert and the new weapon performed flawlessly. He wouldn’t say how many shells were fired.

A U.S. army unit in eastern Afghanistan conducted its own tests late last month and has also cleared the Excalibur for action.

The price tag has provided fodder for critics of the war, who’ve described the shell as overkill and noted that the cost is like firing a Ferrari.

U.S. defence contractor Raytheon began promoting the shells in the fall of 2006 as the “next generation” of artillery munitions.

Willis, an officer with 32 years experience with big guns, said he believes the Excalibur represents a quantum leap forward because instead of firing a dozen shells at one target, only one round is needed. The Defence Department spent $150,000 a round in the fall of 2006 on the first batch of shells off the production line. Willis says, as time goes on, they are expecting the cost to drop to $86,000 per shell.

Ordinary high-explosive rounds cost up to $2,000 apiece.

The Excalibur shell uses satellite signals and software to guide it to within 10 metres of its intended target, even when fired from up to 40 kilometres away. Regular shells are said to be accurate to within 50 metres.

Willis conceded that army planners have noticed a difference in performance during freezing temperatures, but added that the shell is being used in hot weather in Afghanistan.

The question of whether the Excalibur has been led astray by sophisticated interference technology was something both the army and defence industry officials were reluctant to address.

Safeguards are in place to make sure a round doesn’t land among friendly troops — or in the midst of civilians, said Willis.

The system “has counter-measures built in, but obviously I can’t get into the details here,” he said. “Aside from the counter-measures, it flies to so quickly to a target that the chance of it being jammed is remote.”

US Navy Confirms Suez Canal Shooting News::News Article: "An"American cargo ship under contract to the U.S. Navy opened fire on a small Egyptian boat while moving through the Suez Canal, the U.S. military said Tuesday in a statement. Egyptian authorities said at least one man was killed, but the U.S. said it had no reports of casualties.

The Global Patriot, which was under short term charter to the navy's Military Sealift Command, entered the canal from the Red Sea at Suez after dark Monday when it was approached by several small boats, according to both U.S. and Egyptian officials.

The U.S. Navy is very careful about the activities of small boats near their war ships ever since the 2000 suicide attack by a motor boat on the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen killed 17 sailors. A U.S. Navy security team was aboard the cargo ship.

"The boats were hailed and warned by a native Arabic speaker using a bullhorn to warn them to turn away. A warning flare was then fired," said a statement from the U.S. embassy in Cairo. "One small boat continued to approach the ship and received two sets of warning shots 20-30 yards in front of the bow."

The statement added that "All shots were accounted for as they entered the water." It also said that "initial reports indicate that no casualties were sustained on either vessel."

An Egyptian security official at the canal, however, said that after the warning shots, a man was shot dead in the small boat and that the three other men with him were wounded.

The head of the union of seamen in Suez, Abbas al-Amrikani, told The Associated Press by telephone that the body of the man, Mohammed Fouad, went to the hospital morgue before being transferred to the Ibrahim Nafie mosque ahead of burial.

"We are praying over his the body right now," al-Amrikani said over audible sounds of prayer. "I saw the body. The bullet entered his heart and went out the other side." He added that Fouad was 27-years-old and a father of three, including a 6-month-old girl.

The Egyptian government did not immediately issue official comment on the affair.

Small boats selling cigarettes and other products often swarm the civilian ships moving through the canal. These waterborne merchants know not to approach military vessels but the "Global Patriot" looked like a civilian vessel, said the security official, speaking on customary condition of anonymity.

"We are very conscious of being in heavily trafficked areas and we as professional mariners try to keep people from getting too close," Fifth Fleet spokeswoman Cmdr. Lydia Robertson told The Associated Press by phone from Bahrain. "Our team did take the appropriate steps to take those measured steps to warn the vessels that were getting too close."

Robertson, who noted that a Navy security team was on the vessel, said that the same rules of engagement applied for war ships as for those under contract.

Egyptian officials confirmed that the ship was now continuing its journey through the canal and expected to arrive at Port Said near the Mediterranean by nightfall.

The "Global Patriot" is registered to the New York-based Global Container Lines and, according to the company Web site, the vessel trades between the United States, the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf and the East Africa.

About 7.5 percent of world sea trade passes through the canal, which at its narrowest is 120 yards wide. The canal is a major source of foreign currency for Egypt.

Bush Given Iraq War Plan With a Steady Troop Level - New York Times

Bush Given Iraq War Plan With a Steady Troop Level - New York Times: "Troop"levels in Iraq would remain nearly the same through 2008 as they have been through most of the five years of war there, under plans presented to President Bush on Monday by the senior American commander and the top American diplomat in Iraq, senior administration and military officials said.

Mr. Bush announced no final decision on future troop levels after the video briefing by the commander, Gen. David H. Petraeus, and the diplomat, Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker. The briefing took place on the day when the 4,000th American military death of the war was reported and just after the invasion’s fifth anniversary.

But it now appears likely that any decision on major reductions in American troops from Iraq will be left to the next president. That ensures that the question over what comes next will remain in the center of the presidential campaign through Election Day....

[bth: wow who would have guessed that? That Bush would leave the hard decisions to the next president. Gee what a man this president is.]

Cheney On 4,000 Dead Americans: They Volunteered - Cheney

Cheney On 4,000 Dead Americans: They Volunteered - Politics on The Huffington Post: "Wrapping"up a nine-day overseas trip to Iraq, Vice President Dick Cheney was asked, in an exclusive interview with ABC News, about the effect on the nation of today's grim milestone of at least 4,000 U.S. deaths over the five-year Iraq war.

Noting the burden placed on military families, the Vice President said the biggest burden is carried by President Bush, and reminded ABC news that the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan volunteered for duty

[bth: sorry bastard. All 4000 were better Americans than he and Bush ever were. The biggest burden carried by Bush? Not. ... When you come to realize that Bush and Cheney really don't give a damn about soldiers or their families a great deal begins to make sense.]

YouTube - CBS Exposes Hillary Clinton Bosnia Trip.

YouTube - CBS Exposes Hillary Clinton Bosnia Trip.: ""

Monday, March 24, 2008

SWJ Blog

10,000 Syrian troops deploy in Kurdish region

10,000 Syrian troops deploy in Kurdish region | Jerusalem Post: "The"Syrian army has moved some 10,000 soldiers into five cities in the country's northern, Kurdish-dominated region, following violence over the weekend, which left three people dead. The killing occurred during celebration of the Kurdish New Year - Nowruz - in the city Qameshli close to the border with Turkey, according to several local news sources

Some 10 percent of the Syrian population is Kurdish but, despite this, they lack any political influence and the Kurdish language and flag are both banned. Following a population census in 1962, the Syrian government stripped some 20% of the Kurds of their citizenship in an effort to Arabize the population, claiming that many of the local Kurds had infiltrated the country from neighboring Turkey and Iraq.

The effect of the census left the Kurds, who had lost their citizenship, stateless, despite the fact that many of them fulfilled the demands set out by the Syrian government such as being born in Syria. Residing in Syria also meant many lacked the possibility of gaining citizenship in another country. The Arabization policy was part of a larger movement that swept the Middle East during the 1960s and '70s that promoted regional cooperation based on a common cultural heritage.

Disturbances were also reported from Turkey, where police and Turkish Kurds clashed in several cities in the countries eastern, Kurdish-dominated region. Melees also took place between police and local Kurds in Mersin and Izmir, in western Turkey

YouTube - Linkin Park - What I've Done

YouTube - Linkin Park - What I've Done: ""

US wants Britain to lead 'surge' in southern Iraq - Yahoo! News

US wants Britain to lead 'surge' in southern Iraq - Yahoo! NewsUS plans to urge Britain to launch a "surge" in Basra to combat increasing violence in the southern Iraqi region, the Sunday Mirror newspaper reported

Britain, which has around 4,100 troops in Iraq, transferred control to Iraqi forces in December last year but could now be asked to step up its role again amid top-level concern about the situation, the paper said.

It quoted an unnamed senior US military source saying: "Three big militias are currently engaged in a particularly bloody battle in southern Iraq.

"US and Iraqi forces are involved in a huge operation to attack an Al-Qaeda stronghold in Mosul.

"But after that, the plan is to turn the coalition's attention on to Basra and we will be urging the British to surge into the city.

"If they do not have enough troops, then they will be offered US Marines to help out.

"The feeling is that if southern Iraq is hugely unstable, it will affect the success of the surge in the north and destabilise the whole country."

The source added: "The proposal to go back into Basra is being examined at the highest level in Baghdad."

US military commanders say that a "surge" of 30,000 US troops since last January is partly responsible for a dip in violence in Iraq.

But unnamed senior British civil service sources told the Sunday Mirror that Britain would be highly reluctant to go back into Basra because of pressure at home to pull troops out.

"We do not have enough troops for a surge ourselves. The hope is that we can train enough Iraqi army recruits in the next year to cope with the inter-tribal warfare going on in Basra," one source quoted by the paper said.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said British forces were giving "important support" to Iraqi forces in the Basra area but "retain the ability to re-intervene on the ground, in the unlikely event of such a request from the Iraqis."

The spokesman added: "We have regular discussions with our coalition partners and the Iraqi government, and they support our approach."

Recent media reports say that Britain will delay its planned withdrawal of around 1,500 troops from Iraq until the end of this year because of increased attacks in Basra.

The cuts were originally due to come into effect early this year.

The Ministry of Defence spokesman said troop numbers in Iraq would be reduced "over the coming months."

[bth: the Brits aren't going to surge in Iraq except toward the exit. Their army is smaller than our marine corp. They may increase troop levels in Afghanistan to compensate a little for us, but the Brits have decided to cut and run from Iraq. I can't say I blame them, but there it is. If areas are stablizing after the violence crests, why aren't we able to move large numbers of troops hotspot to hotspot? Afterall McCain and Joe Lieberman can walk through markets? Or was that just a ruse? Well anyway, back to things that matter. The Brits are backing out of Iraq and usually they are six months ahead of any similar decision at the Pentagon.]

The War Endures, but Where’s the Media? - New York Times

The War Endures, but Where’s the Media? - New York Times: "Five"years later, the United States remains at war in Iraq, but there are days when it would be hard to tell from a quick look at television news, newspapers and the Internet.

Media attention on Iraq began to wane after the first months of fighting, but as recently as the middle of last year, it was still the most-covered topic. Since then, Iraq coverage by major American news sources has plummeted, to about one-fifth of what it was last summer, according to the Project for Excellence in Journalism.

The drop in coverage parallels — and may be explained by — a decline in public interest. Surveys by the Pew Research Center show that more than 50 percent of Americans said they followed events in Iraq “very closely” in the months just before and after the war began, but that slid to an average of 40 percent in 2006, and has been running below 30 percent since last fall.

Experts offer many other explanations for the declining media focus, like the danger and expense in covering Iraq, and shrinking newsroom budgets. In the last year, a flagging economy and the most competitive presidential campaign in memory have diverted attention and resources.

“Vietnam held the media’s attention a lot better because it was a war with a draft that touched a lot more people; people were sent against their will, and many more Americans were killed,” said Alex S. Jones, director of the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard.

“In a conventional war, like World War II, there’s dramatic change, a moving front line, a compelling narrative,” he said. But after the triumphal first months, Iraq became a war of insurgents vs. counterinsurgents, harder to make sense of, “with more of the same grim news, day after day.”

The three broadcast networks’ nightly newscasts devoted more than 4,100 minutes to Iraq in 2003 and 3,000 in 2004, before leveling off at about 2,000 a year, according to Andrew Tyndall, who monitors the broadcasts and posts detailed breakdowns at And by the last months of 2007, he said, the broadcasts were spending half as much time on Iraq as earlier in the year.

Since the start of last year, the Project for Excellence in Journalism, a part of the nonprofit Pew Research Center, has tracked reporting by several dozen major newspapers, cable stations, broadcast television networks, Web sites and radio programs. Iraq accounted for 18 percent of their prominent news coverage in the first nine months of 2007, but only 9 percent in the following three months, and 3 percent so far this year.

The policy debate in Washington that dominated last year’s Iraq coverage has almost disappeared from the news. And reporting on events in Iraq has fallen by more than two-thirds from a year ago.

The drop accelerated with a sharp decline in violence in Iraq that began at the end of last summer. The last six months have been safer for American troops than any comparable period since the war began, with about 33 killed each month, compared with about 91 a month over the previous year.

“The available news hole got so much smaller because election and economic news took up so much of the space,” said Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Center.

There are no authoritative figures for most media coverage before 2007. But a check of several large and midsize newspapers’ archives shows a year-by-year decline in articles about Iraq, and an increase in the proportion supplied by wire services. Experts who follow the coverage say there is no doubt about the trend.

“I was getting on average three to five calls a day for interviews about the war” in the first years, said Michael E. O’Hanlon, a senior fellow on national security at the Brookings Institution. “Now it’s less than one a day.”

He argued that Americans who support the war might not have wanted to follow the news when it was bad, and that Americans against the war are less interested now that the news is better. And the presidential candidates, he said, have shown “surprisingly little interest in discussing it in detail.”

Many news organizations have fewer people in Iraq than they once did, though no definitive numbers are available. Coalition officials have said that although there were several hundred reporters embedded with military units early in the war, the number has been measured in tens in recent months.

Violence against journalists makes reporting on Iraq costly and difficult; executives of The New York Times have said that the newspaper is spending more than $3 million a year to cover Iraq. The risks have forced news organizations to hire private security forces and Iraqi employees who can go places that Westerners cannot safely explore.

From the start of the war through 2005, journalists and their support workers were killed in Iraq at a rate of one every 12 days, according to tallies kept by the nonprofit Committee to Protect Journalists. In 2006 and 2007, the rate was one every eight days. Most of those killed have been Iraqis.

“Danger and the expense are gigantic factors,” Mr. Jones said. “The news media have to constantly revisit how much money and risk to expend.”

[bth: namely its not their kids. No draft, no kids, not interest. ... you can count the number of reporters on your hands and toes. Think about it, there is nobody there. ... And if you think that't bad try Afghanistan.]

YouTube - metal storm

YouTube - metal storm: ""

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The threat to men of great dignity, privilege and pretense
is not from the radicals they revile;
it is from accepting their own myth.
Exposure to reality remains the nemesis of the great
-- a little understood thing

--John Kenneth Galbraith

A Cost Benefit Analysis of Iraq

RealClearPolitics - Articles - A Cost Benefit Analysis of Iraq: ..."This"scenario is a distinct possibility. But several caveats are in order. First, we can't be sure that Iraqi Sunnis will re-forge their alliance with al Qaeda. The "Awakening" of Iraq's Sunni tribes occurred in the summer of 2006, after the Samarra Mosque bombing and at the height of sectarian fighting - at a moment, in other words, when Sunnis would have ostensibly been seeking allies. Second, it misreads the history of how the al Qaeda safe haven developed in Afghanistan. When bin Laden returned to Afghanistan in 1996, his Taliban patrons had already captured Kabul, the country's capital, and had essentially forced their Northern Alliance opponents into a corner. That is not the case in Iraq, where it is al Qaeda and its Sunni sponsors that are cornered and overwhelmingly out-numbered.

Still, a rejuvenated al Qaeda in Iraq with some capacity to strike at Western targets would be a direct cost of an expedited withdrawal. Yet arguing that we must bear the costs of remaining in Iraq for a decade simply to prevent this unwelcome likelihood is not a wise use of American resources in our wider struggle against jihadism. There are al Qaeda enclaves in multiple parts of the globe, including in Pakistan and Europe, with a much greater capacity to kill American civilians. Pouring billions of dollars and tens of thousands of combat troops into Iraq to battle a far smaller, less potent branch is disproportionate to the threat they pose.

In fact, it plays right into al Qaeda's hand. As a small, decentralized network, al Qaeda cannot deliver one death blow, but it can drain the U.S. At little cost to itself, al Qaeda can funnel suicide bombers into Iraq (just as the Pakistanis funneled Stinger Missiles into Afghanistan during that country's war with the Soviet Union) while still retaining the capacity to strike targets in Pakistan, London and elsewhere. Some analysts have argued that is precisely why America must stay in Iraq, to reverse the perception that American policy can be altered by killing Americans. But staying in Iraq reinforces another, equally potent, al Qaeda narrative of America the Occupier.

There is no easy, cost-free Iraq policy. The astute American strategist George Kennan once argued that we should apply "business accounting" when weighing America's response to security threats. The surge has helpfully clarified the costs of seeing a counter-insurgency strategy through to fruition. We must now debate if the gains are really worth it.

The Army's manpower squeeze - Los Angeles Times

The Army's manpower squeeze - Los Angeles Times: "Everyone"knows the U.S. Army is overstretched by the simultaneous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The dirty little secret is that nobody knows how much longer it can keep it up before its fighting capability declines. A year? Probably, with lowered recruiting standards and big bonuses. Three years? No one in Washington will answer that question. But recent indicators are making some tough generals queasy.

First, the good news. The Marine Corps and the Air Force are doing fine. They continue to attract capable young people, and they're managing to retain their top officer talent. And all of the services, including the Army, met or exceeded their recruitment goals for February, no small feat given the near certainty that those who enlist now will soon be sent to Iraq.

But a closer look shows just how far the Army has had to lower its standards to keep itself in soldiers. The following "metrics" -- data the military collects to assess its strength -- were compiled from open sources by the nonpartisan Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

In 2006, the percentage of Army recruits who were high school graduates (82%) was the lowest since 1981, and their scores on the military's aptitude test were the worst since 1985. The number of "moral waivers" issued to those with criminal records more than tripled since 1996, to 8,500 in 2006. Worse, the number of recruits with felony convictions was up 30% in 2006 compared with 2005. And the Army apparently stooped to social promotion: 94% of recruits graduated from basic training in 2006, compared with 82% in 2005.

Keeping the all-volunteer Army at full strength in wartime hasn't been cheap, either. The cost per troop soared to $120,000 in 2006 from $75,000 in 2001. And to keep reenlistments up, the Army had to pay retention bonuses of $735 million in 2006, up more than eightfold from the $85 million paid in 2003. Even so, officer shortages are a problem, and at the rank of http://http:\\ "> , the backbone of the command structure, the Army is at 60% strength in Iraq. Moreover, for the last year it hasn't had the 3,200 troops needed to fill a brigade designated as militarily "required" for Afghanistan.

Senior officers who remember when the Army did break during the Vietnam War say they're amazed by how brilliantly the volunteer force is performing, despite stop-loss orders and brutal schedules of up to 15 months' deployment and just one year home before another tour. The Army believes that soldiers should deploy no more than one year in three, to keep stress on family life manageable. The fear is that if the stress becomes too much -- as measured by soldiers going AWOL, refusing orders or declining en masse to reenlist -- it will be too late to rescue morale.

This is relevant now because the presidential candidates are making campaign-trail promises they may not be able to keep. Republican John McCain, judging the risk to U.S. national security of Iraq unraveling to be far greater than that of the Army unraveling, has said he would keep troops in Iraq for 100 years if necessary. But will there be enough volunteers in the sixth year of the Iraq war? If not, would he contemplate the political anathema of a draft? Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton think breaking the Army is riskier than withdrawing from Iraq, and Obama also promises to increase the number of troops in Afghanistan -- a position advocated by this page. But if the situation in Afghanistan deteriorates -- and there are signs that it could -- where would we get the manpower to "surge" there?

On the campaign trail, it's bad politics to admit that there are limits to U.S. power. But failure to warn voters that the looming military manpower shortage may limit our foreign policy options could well come back to haunt the next commander in chief.

[bth: there are two things that will end this war quickly - a draft and taxes.]

YouTube - Spring II of II

YouTube - Spring II of II: ""