Saturday, August 02, 2008

Support: Beating Bleeding

Support: Beating Bleeding: "August"1, 2008: Technology, and the war in Iraq, have combined to create some major advances in emergency medicine. In the past, troops would often die from loss of blood before a surgeon could get in there to stop the bleeding. Two new technologies have been developed, and used heavily, that have sharply reduced the number of troops bleeding to death from combat wounds (which are often multiple and massive).

Over the last five years, the U.S. military has received clotting bandages (to stop heavy bleeding) and granular substances that have the same effect. This was a major medical advance to come out of the war effort. But, competition being what it is, there were three clotting products, each operating a little differently.

Over 95 percent of the time, these clotting devices stop bleeding, especially in areas where a tourniquet could not be applied. While medics, and troops, prefer the bandage type device, there are situations where the fine granular substance is a better solution (especially in the hands of a medic).

In the first two years of use, over 250,000 of these bandages were obtained for military needs. This was to make sure everyone in a combat zone had one at all times. While there are not a lot of casualties in base areas, the occasional rocket or mortar shell is likely to cause the kinds of wounds where these bandages can be a lifesaver. So it was a morale boost if everyone could carry one around (a small first aid kit is a standard part of combat equipment).

Following the introduction of the clotting devices, there were more cases of wounded troops getting to a hospital alive, but in need of massive transfusions to replace lost blood. This led to the development of new, and much improved, techniques for getting a lot of blood into a patient who needed that done, and done as quickly as possible without inducing shock or death from blood loss. The new procedures involved some use of the new clotting agents, but was mainly about adjusting the amount of saline solution used along with the blood, and tweaking the overall procedure. This was possible because there were so many such cases encountered in Iraq to try new techniques on. These were often situations where you had no choice but to try something new. The new techniques have reduced bleeding fatalities by over 75 percent, and are one of the reasons why combat deaths are less than a third of what they were in Vietnam and previous wars.

[bth: huge]

Anthrax Suspect’s Death Is Dark End for a Family Man -

Anthrax Suspect’s Death Is Dark End for a Family Man - "FREDERICK"Md. — Bruce E. Ivins arrived last month for a group counseling session at a psychiatric center here in his hometown with a startling announcement: Facing the prospect of murder charges, he had bought a bulletproof vest and a gun as he contemplated killing his co-workers at the nearby Army research laboratory

“He was going to go out in a blaze of glory, that he was going to take everybody out with him,” said a social worker in a transcript of a hearing at which she sought a restraining order against Dr. Ivins after his threats.

The ranting represented the final stages of psychological decline by Dr. Ivins that ended when he took his life this week, as it became clear that he was a suspect in the 2001 anthrax attacks.

For more than three decades, Dr. Ivins, 62, had worked with some of the world’s most dangerous pathogens and viruses, trying to find cures in case they might be used as a weapon. Now he was a suspect in the nation’s worst biological attack.

To some of his longtime colleagues and neighbors, it was a startling and inexplicable turn of events for a churchgoing, family-oriented germ researcher known for his jolly disposition — the guy who did a juggling act at community events and composed satiric ballads he played on guitar or piano to departing co-workers. ...

[bth: so what actual evidence is there that this is the guy and why did it take a settlement with Hatfield for over four million dollars and this guy's suicide to bring this forward. If Ivins was the suspect, why was he still in the lab for 7 more years? What evidence besides the fact that he went nuts in July, what evidence is there that he did the dirty deeds in 2001?]

Iraq contractor bans cell phones for 'safety and security' -

Iraq contractor bans cell phones for 'safety and security' - "A"major Defense Department contractor has ordered its employees in Iraq to turn in their personal cell phones because "of a safety and security concern."

Houston, Texas-based KBR Inc., formerly Kellogg Brown & Root, issued a statement saying the company had sent a message with the order to its Iraq employees, but it did not explain the concern that prompted it.

"The matter giving rise to this message is still being reviewed by KBR management, so the company will not provide further comment at this time," the statement said.

According to an e-mail obtained by CNN, the company issued the order to all KBR employees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait -- although in its communications with CNN, the company specified only Iraq. In the e-mail, employees are ordered to stop using their cell phones as of 8 a.m. Saturday and turn them in to the company's human resources department.

"Any individual using a personal cell phone will be disciplined," the e-mail says. "Termination is an option of discipline. The cell phone will be confiscated."...

The Raw Story | Who first wrongly linked anthrax to Iraq -- and why?

The Raw Story | Who first wrongly linked anthrax to Iraq -- and why?: ... "although"there had been active online speculation about an Iraqi source for the anthrax by the first week of October, the first suggestion that official investigations were focusing on that nation appears to have come in an article published in the Guardian on October 14.

Under the headline, "Iraq 'behind US anthrax outbreaks' - Pentagon hardliners press for strikes on Saddam," David Rose and Ed Vulliamy wrote, "American investigators probing anthrax outbreaks in Florida and New York believe they have all the hallmarks of a terrorist attack - and have named Iraq as prime suspect as the source of the deadly spores. Their inquiries are adding to what US hawks say is a growing mass of evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved, possibly indirectly, with the 11 September hijackers."

Rose and Vullaimy noted a (since-debunked) report that Mohamed Atta had met with an Iraqi agent in Prague, writing, "According to sources in the Bush administration, investigators are talking to Egyptian authorities who say members of the al-Qaida network, detained and interrogated in Cairo, had obtained phials of anthrax in the Czech Republic. Last autumn Mohamed Atta is said by US intelligence officials to have met in Prague an agent from Iraqi intelligence called Ahmed Samir al-Ahani, a former consul later expelled by the Czechs for activities not compatible with his diplomatic mission."

They added that, "It was confirmed yesterday that Jim Woolsey, CIA director from 1993 to 1996, recently visited London on behalf of the hawkish Defence Department to 'firm up' other evidence of Iraqi involvement in 11 September. Some observers fear linking Saddam to the terrorist attacks is part of an agenda being driven by US hawks eager to broaden the war to include Iraq, a move being resisted by the British government."

The next day, the Wall Street Journal picked up the story, but without the Guardian's skepticism, suggesting that the most likely suspect was al Qaeda using supplies obtained from Iraq.

"U.S. officials let Saddam know during the Gulf War that if he used such agents against U.S. forces he would get a destructive response," explained the Journal. "But that doesn't mean he, or his agents, might not want to unleash the weapon from a deniable distance, or via third parties. His anti-American animus hasn't lessened since his Gulf defeat. And Czech government sources have reported that Atta, the hijacking mastermind, met at least once with Iraqi diplomat Ahmad Samir Al-Ani in Prague."

On the same day, CNN quoted former UN weapons inspector Richard Butler as saying, "What we've got to be certain about above all is whether it came from a country supporting these terrorists as a matter of policy, such as Iraq, which we know has made this stuff. And there's a credible report, not fully verified, that they may indeed have given anthrax to exactly the group that did the World Trade Center. ... It's possible that many months ago anthrax, a small quantity of it, was handed over in Prague to Mohamed Atta ... and the person who handed it over in Prague was an Iraqi."

These reports, and the use of the since-discredited claim that Mohammed Atta had visited Prague the previous year, appear closely allied with the aims of the Pentagon at that time. Former White House counter-terrorism adviser Richard Clarke has reported that Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz were discussing the possibility of war with Iraq as early as the afternoon of September 11.

Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh has further indicated that the Office of Special Plans (OSP) was created in the fall of 2001 "in order to find evidence of what Wolfowitz and his boss, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, believed to be true—that Saddam Hussein had close ties to Al Qaeda, and that Iraq had an enormous arsenal of chemical, biological, and possibly even nuclear weapons that threatened the region and, potentially, the United States."

Former CIA director James Woolsey, described in the Guardian story as trying to "firm up" evidence of Iraqi involvement in 9/11 on behalf of Pentagon hawks, was working closely at that time with the Office of Special Plans and is now known to have been sent to London by Paul Wolfowitz. In 2002, Woolsey became a founding member of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq

13 Saudi students pave way in quest for women's rights - The Boston Globe

13 Saudi students pave way in quest for women's rights - The Boston Globe: "Saudi"women were barred from diplomatic careers, and until recently could not even study international relations or political science at Saudi universities. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs opened jobs to women in 2005, but few landed coveted foreign policy positions.

That could soon change because of a unique partnership launched this year by The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and Dar Al-Hekma College, the first private college for women in Saudi Arabia. This week, 13 Saudi women completed a crash course in international diplomacy, blazing a brazen path for the future of their country, where women still can't drive or vote - nor, in many cases, travel, work, or see a doctor without permission from a male guardian.

"As graduates, we become pioneers by taking the road less traveled and pave it for others to follow," Dina Madani said in a graduation speech urging her peers to become pioneers not only in education, but also in the workforce and society. "We want to be the catalyst that hastens the development of our country."

The six-month program - split between Dar Al-Hekma in Jeddah and the Fletcher School - is the first known journey by an American university into training Saudi women to become diplomats. The new opportunity for women to represent their country could spur further gains in women's rights in Saudi Arabia, a key US ally, and allow the kingdom to become more competitive in a global society, officials at both schools said.

The Fletcher School has also agreed to help the women's college start an undergraduate program in international relations and diplomacy as early as fall 2009 to propel more Saudi women into diplomatic postings....

[bth: the education of women and the development of rights for women in Saudi Arabia is key to any meaningful relationship beyond oil between the United States and Saudi Arabia.]

JOSEPH L. GALLOWAY: Top general says more troops no answer in Afghanistan

JOSEPH L. GALLOWAY: Top general says more troops no answer in Afghanistan: "There's"military slang that seemingly applies to the situation on the ground in Afghanistan today. The operative acronym is FUBAR - Fouled Up Beyond All Recognition. That first letter doesn't really stand for "Fouled," and the R sometimes stands for Repair.

One of the sharper military analysts I know has just returned from a tour of that sorrowful nation, which has been at war continuously since the Soviet army invaded it in late 1979.

Gen. Barry McCaffrey, who retired from the U.S. Army with four stars and a chest full of combat medals including two Distinguished Service Crosses, says we can't shoot our way out of Afghanistan, and the two or three or more American combat brigades proposed by the two putative nominees for president are irrelevant.

McCaffrey predicts that 2009 will be the year of decision as the Taliban and a greatly enhanced presence of "foreign fighters" try to sever roads and halt road construction to strangle and isolate the capital, Kabul and attack NATO units that are hamstrung by restrictions and rules of engagement dictated by their home governments.

More ominously, the general says, we can expect a Taliban drive to erase Afghanistan's border with Pakistan in the wild frontier provinces of Pakistan that have provided sanctuary for Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders and fighters since Osama bin Laden escaped there in 2001.

The general says that despite the two presidential candidates' sound bites, a few more combat brigades from "our rapidly unraveling Army" won't make much difference in Afghanistan.

Military means, he writes, won't be enough to counter terror created by resurgent Taliban forces; we can't win with a war of attrition; and the economic and political support from the international community is inadequate.

"This is a struggle for the hearts of the people, and good governance, and the creation of Afghan security forces," McCaffrey writes. He says the main theater of war is in frontier regions pf Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the combatants are tribes, religious groups, criminals and drug lords.

It'll take a quarter-century of nation-building, road and bridge building, the building of a better-trained and better-armed Afghan National Police and National Army and the eradication of a huge opium farming industry to achieve a good outcome in Afghanistan, McCaffrey wrote in his report to leaders at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

We can't afford to fail in Afghanistan, the general says, but he doesn't address the question of whether we can afford to succeed there, either.

McCaffrey writes that the situation in Afghanistan is dire, and is going to get a lot worse in the 24 months ahead. The country is in abject misery - 68 percent of the population has never known peace; average life expectancy is 44 years; maternal mortality is the second-highest in the world; terrorist violence and attacks are up 34 percent this year; 2.8 million Afghans are refugees in their own country; unemployment is 40 percent and rising; 41 percent of the population lives in extreme poverty; the only agricultural success story is a $4 billion opium crop producing a huge amount of heroin; and the government at province and district level is largely dysfunctional and corrupt.

The battle will only be won, McCaffrey says, when there's a real Afghan police presence in all of the country's 34 provinces and 398 districts; when the Afghan National Army is expanded from 80,000 troops today to 200,000 troops; when we deploy five U.S. combat engineer battalions with a brigade of Army Stryker forces for security to begin a five-year road building program that also trains Afghan army engineer units and employs Afghan contractors and workers.

Without NATO, we're lost in Afghanistan, he writes. But NATO's level of commitment and engagement in Afghanistan is woefully inadequate - European troops are restricted by their political leaders at home, risk-averse in a dangerous environment and almost totally unequipped with the tools needed for an effective counter-insurgency campaign - helicopters, intelligence, logistics, engineers, civil affairs and special operations units, precision munitions, medical support and cash to prime local economic efforts.

As for neighboring Pakistan and bellicose American threats to cross the border and mount more attacks on insurgents there, McCaffrey says this would be a "political disaster" that would imperil any Pakistan support for our campaign and likely result in Pakistan's weak civilian government shutting off American supply routes into Afghanistan.

Our efforts in Afghanistan, inadequate though they may be, now cost $34 billion each year and clearly this would have to be substantially increased if the fixes McCaffrey prescribes are to be implemented.

As good as the American ground troops operating in Afghanistan are - many are on their third or fourth combat deployments there or in Iraq - McCaffrey says our military is under-resourced and too small for the national strategy we've been pursuing.

The general concludes his report by writing: "This is a generational war to build an Afghan state and prevent the creation of a lawless, extremist region which will host and sustain enduring threats to the vital national security interests of the United States and our key allies."

This ought to be a wake-up call for all Americans, and for John McCain and Barack Obama. Now there's a sound bite for them.

[bth: with respect to Galloway who I admire greatly, McCaffrey didn't bowl me over on his war on drugs, nor on his analysis over these last few years in Iraq.]

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Afghan Journalist Jailed for Blasphemy Faces Death If Convicted, Danger If Acquitted - International News | News of the World | Middle East News | Europe News - Afghan Journalist Jailed for Blasphemy Faces Death If Convicted, Danger If Acquitted - International News | News of the World | Middle East News | Europe News: "An"Afghan journalist who printed a translation of the Koran in a Persian dialect is on trial for blasphemy and could face the death penalty if convicted. But with threats from various powerful groups, he could face the same fate even if acquitted.

Ghaws Zalmay was arrested last November trying to flee to Pakistan after Afghanistan’s Senate backed a group of powerful Sunni clerics who were calling for his arrest. He was scheduled to have a third hearing in a Kabul court on Wednesday.

Zalmay, who was a spokesman for the Attorney General and head of Afghanistan's Journalists' Union at the time of his arrest, was charged with 13 counts of blasphemy. He is accused of having "written his own Koran" in Dari, one of Afghanistan's official languages. His two brothers and a friend were imprisoned, too, charged with helping him flee.

Following Zalmay's arrest, there were demonstrations and calls for his death, including from former Prime Minister Ahmadshah Ahmadzai, a warlord and opponent to President Hamid Karzai in the 2004 presidential elections.

Now, as Afghanistan struggles with its nascent judicial system, Zalmay’s case — and others like his — are putting the country’s experiment with democracy to the test....

Sic Semper Tyrannis 2008: The US Government and "Afghan Man."

Sic Semper Tyrannis 2008: The US Government and "Afghan Man.": "The"point is that Afghanistan has got to figure out how to get along as a nation, and there have been a lot of steps toward nation building," he said. "A lot of local warlord-type leaders have been marginalized - not all of them completely."

Mr. Boucher, who is assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, also attributed some of the chatter to political jockeying ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections in Afghanistan late next year.

"That's bringing out a little more these days - resentments and alliances between groups and talk about ethnic politics, but I think there is a stronger movement toward creating a sense of nation."

The Northern Alliance was founded by mostly Uzbek and Tajik warlords and took power after the Soviet pullout in 1989. The Taliban was formed later as a Pashtun resistance to the alliance and seized control of most of Afghanistan in 1996. The Bush administration relied on the Northern Alliance to capture northern Afghanistan in 2002. Washtimes


This kind of policy formulation is derived from an excessive exposure to political science (PS) professors at an impressionable age.

PS sells the idea that human society is evolving towards higher forms. The creed in this secular religion holds that human behavior is universal in nature in all important aspects and that apparent differences are fated to disappear as mankind and its societies develop toward higher and more general forms. The form sought by the more practical is that of national states. Some of the more visionary seek the emergence of a globalized world culture and state. PS is an idea system, that originated in the age of cultural, literary and scholarly romanticism of the 19th Century. European scholars like Durkheim and Weber reflected the same set of ideas that created romantic nationalism, marxism (a very romantic idea), belief in the "Golden Ages" of various peoples, Germans, Italians, Jews, etc. For minority group scholars like Durkheim and Weber, the notion of redefining societies within a new paradigm is always attractive. The Arab World was late to the European "Romantic Age" so the creation of paradigms like Baathism, Phalangism or the Syrian Social Party came along a bit later than the European copies of this phenomenon. For the minority member, a new paradigm that does not recognize the old one that considered you to be marginal is clearly a good thing.

These State Department types are soaked in PS. It permeates their thinking as much as it does that of the Jacobins. The Defense Department is also infested with this kind of thinking since so many military area specialists and civilian policy people have been sent to graduate school in PS and/or International Relations, a related disorder and delusion.

In the early years of the Iraq adventure, the PS outlook ruled supreme on the American side. The "enlightened" sought everywhere in Iraq for opportunities to advance the interests of a unitary Iraqi state in which central government ruled supreme and ethnic, tribal and other particularist interests were ignored or suppressed. "Iraqi Man" was the goal, as it had been for the Baath. The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) merely wanted a different "Iraqi Man."

It was only with the reluctant acceptance of the reality of Iraqi fractiousness and difference within the notion of Iraq, the state, that the situation in Iraq began to improve. More US troops helped, a maturation of the new Iraqi security forces helped, a willingness on the part of the Maliki government to see itself as needing Sunni Arab and Kurdish support helped. This last, of course, represented an acceptance on the part of the Maliki regime of the need to deal with the diversity of Iraqi COMMUNITIES, rather than individuals belonging to the "Iraqi Man" ethnicity. Most importantly, the acceptance by the US armed forces of the diversity of the human terrain they faced in Iraq and a newfound willingness to work with that diversity turned the tide in the struggle for Iraq. This change in US armed forces thinking occurred IN SPITE OF US national government policy, not because of it.

Now we have this man, Boucher, either sincerely or in his role as successful bureaucrat, mouthing the same crap with regard to Afghanistan that his colleagues and fellow members of the Foreign Service "club" mouthed with regard to Iraq.

There is no "Afghan Man." There will not be an "Afghan Man" in any time frame relevant to the US armed forces' efforts to pacify Afghanistan. Afghanistan was created by the Russian Empire and the British Indian Empire in an effort to build a buffer zone in a wild, high, incredibly diverse region in Central Asia that happened to be both ungovernable and located between their respective holdings. There IS NO AFGHAN PEOPLE. There are half a dozen peoples within the borders of the STATE OF AFGHANISTAN. They have never blended into one people and will not do so unless such a thing occurs at a glacial rate of evolutionary change.

Bottom Line: The US armed forces should say, YES, YES to whatever nonsense political "scientists" say about Afghanistan. At the same time, apply what you have learned about the uses of diversity. Oh, yes. Political Science is science in the same way that Alchemy and Astrology are sciences. pl

[bth: Col. Lang is a national asset. Too bad this administration hasn't listened to him]

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Armor: MRAP As Mothership

Armor: MRAP As Mothership: "July"29, 2008: Some 12 ton Cougar 6x6 MRAPs (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) have been modified and used successfully as RVSs (Reconnaissance Vehicle Systems). These are used for combat reconnaissance (along a road that might have roadside bombs) as well as route clearance (getting rid of the roadside bombs). To that end, the RVS is equipped with a remotely controlled (from inside the RVS) 12.7mm machine-gun turret, blue force tracker (to see where all other friendly vehicles are) and several external vidcams. The most interesting feature is a robot deployment and recovery system. The robot has its own armored compartment, and it can exit the RVS, check out a suspected roadside bomb, and return to the RVS, all without exposing any of the human crew to enemy fire.

Basically, RVS is a 12 ton truck that is hardened to survive bombs and mines. The Cougar can get troops into combat situations where mines, explosives or any kind of obstacle, have to be cleared, or just survived. The RVS was designed to carry 16 troops, but with all the extra equipment, normally carries fewer than ten. The RVSs cost about a million dollars each, and have been very successful in combat. - From Insurgency: ISI release of video of attack on Occupation American Convoy - From Insurgency: ISI release of video of attack on Occupation American Convoy: ""

Rape Victim’s Death Ruled “Suicide” By Army — Henry Waxman, Where Are You?

Firedoglake » Rape Victim’s Death Ruled “Suicide” By Army — Henry Waxman, Where Are You?: "The"The Jamie Leigh Jones-Halliburton rape case was horrific, but what happened to PFC Lavena Johnson in Iraq in 2005 was many orders of magnitudes worse.

The parents of the young Missouri woman were told that she died of self-inflicted gunshot wounds, and her death was ruled a suicide. But her physician father became suspicious after looking at injuries to the body:

After two years of requesting documents, one set of papers provided by the Army included a xerox copy of a CD. Wondering why the xerox copy was in the documents, Dr. Johnson requested the CD itself. With help from his local Congressional representative, the US Army finally complied. When Dr. Johnson viewed the CD, he was shocked to see photographs taken by Army investigators of his daughter’s body as it lay where her body had been found, as well as other photographs of her disrobed body taken during the investigation.

The photographs revealed that Lavena, a small woman, barely 5 feet tall and weighing less than 100 pounds, had been struck in the face with a blunt instrument, perhaps a weapon stock. Her nose was broken and her teeth knocked backwards. One elbow was distended. The back of her clothes had debris on them indicating she had been dragged from one location to another. The photographs of her disrobed body showed bruises, scratch marks and teeth imprints on the upper part of her body. The right side of her back as well as her right hand had been burned apparently from a flammable liquid poured on her and then lighted. The photographs of her genital area revealed massive bruising and lacerations. A corrosive liquid had been poured into her genital area, probably to destroy DNA evidence of sexual assault.

Despite the bruises, scratches, teeth imprints and burns on her body, Lavena was found completely dressed in the burning tent. There was a blood trail from outside a contractor’s tent to inside the tent. She apparently had been dressed after the attack and her attacker placed her body into the tent and set it on fire.

The Electronic Village has been working hard to draw attention to this tragedy. Color of Change has now joined the battle and is asking people to contact Henry Waxman and ask him to conduct hearings as chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Amy Goodman had an interview with Lavena's parents you can listen to here. Just heartbreaking.

[bth: what I just don't understand is why the Army officers let this coverup happen? What did they think? Did they care about justice? It would appear that she was murdered by a contractor and raped.]

The Raw Story | Report: Empty prison in Iraq a $40M 'failure'

The Raw Story | Report: Empty prison in Iraq a $40M 'failure': "BAGHDAD"- In the flatlands north of Baghdad sits a prison with no prisoners. It holds something else: a chronicle of U.S. government waste, misguided planning and construction shortcuts costing $40 million and stretching back to the American overseers who replaced Saddam Hussein.

"It's a bit of a monument in the desert right now because it's not going to be used as a prison," said Stuart Bowen, the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, whose office plans to release a report Monday detailing the litany of problems at the vacant detention center in Khan Bani Saad.

The pages also add another narrative to the wider probes into the billions lost so far on scrubbed or substandard projects in Iraq and one of the main contractors accused of failing to deliver, the Parsons construction group of Pasadena, Calif.

"This is $40 million invested in a project with very little return," Bowen told The Associated Press in Washington. "A couple of buildings are useful. Other than that, it's a failure."

In the pecking order of corruption in Iraq, the dead-end prison project at Khan Bani Saad is nowhere near the biggest or most tangled.

Bowen estimated up to 20 percent "waste" — or more than $4 billion — from the $21 billion spent so far in the U.S.-bankrolled Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund. It's just one piece of a recovery effort that swelled beyond $112 billion in U.S., Iraqi and international contributions.

But the empty prison compound — in the shadows of more than two dozen watchtowers now dotted by birds' nests — is an open sore for both American watchdogs and local Iraqi politicians who had counted on the prison as an economic boost.

The head of the municipal council in Khan Bani Saad, Sayyed Rasoul al-Husseini, called it "a big monster that's swallowed money and hopes" — including those for more than 1,200 new jobs.

He sometimes drives out to the site, near groves of date palms and a former Saddam-era military training camp about 12 miles northeast of Baghdad and just over the border in the tense Diyala Province.

Al-Husseini says he walks the perimeter and wonders what can be salvaged. A housing development is not possible, he said. Many concrete walls lack proper iron reinforcements and "can collapse at anytime," he said. Birds and small animals have found homes in the towers and crannies.

"But some of the cell blocks are good," he suggested. "So maybe it can become a factory. I don't know. It's depressing."

The idea for the modern-style prison began with the Coalition Provisional Authority running Iraq after Saddam's fall.

On behalf of the authority, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers awarded a $40 million contract in March 2004 to global construction and engineering firm Parsons to design and build an 1,800-inmate lockup to include educational and vocational facilities. Work was set to begin May 2004 and finish November 2005.

Nothing went right from the start, the report says.

The Sunni insurgency was catching fire. The U.S. was under pressure to improve prison conditions following the abuses exposed at Abu Ghraib.

Washington's focus shifted quickly from rebuilding to just holding its ground. The prison project got started six months late and continued to fall behind — until Parsons asked to push the completion date to late 2008, the report said.

The U.S. government pulled the plug in June 2006, citing "continued schedule slips and ... massive cost overruns." But they hadn't abandoned the hope of finishing the project — awarding three more contracts to other companies in a doomed effort.

The waste was made more egregious by the fact that Diyala badly needs more prisons to handle a growing inmate population. Bowen's team was told that about 600 inmates are crowded into an existing Diyala prison designed for 250 inmates and that the overcrowding and health conditions are so grave that several inmates have died, the report says.

The problem at Khan Bani Saad is only one example of the millions of dollars auditors found were wasted on construction projects by Parsons, which left Iraq two years ago.

In a companion report also being released Monday, Bowen said the prison was part of a $900 million Parsons contract to build border posts, courts, police training centers and fire stations. It was one of 12 contracts awarded in 2004 in hopes of restoring Iraq's infrastructure.

Of 53 construction projects in the massive Parson contract, only 18 were completed.

As of this spring, Parsons had been paid $333 million. More than $142 million of that — or almost 43 percent — was for projects that were terminated or canceled.

While the failure to complete some of the work was "understandable given the complex nature and unstable security environment in Iraq, millions of dollars" were likely wasted, the report said.

Bowen said only about 10 U.S. contracting officers and specialists were working on the $900 million contract, whereas 50 or 60 would be assigned to a comparable undertaking in the United States.

In a last wasteful act at Khan Bani Saad, the U.S. government allowed $1.2 million worth of construction supplies to be left unguarded at Khan Bani Saad after work was suspended in June 2007 — fencing, gravel, piping and other items. Most of it is now missing.

U.S. officials turned over control of the semifinished prison to Iraq's Justice Ministry nearly a year ago. The ministry promptly replied it had no plans to "complete, occupy or provide security" for the facility, the report said.

In the end, Parsons got $31 million and the other contractors got $9 million.

Some parts of the facility are usable, but construction in other parts is so substandard that demolition is the only option, the report said. Inspectors found cracking and crumbling concrete slabs, columns not strong enough to support the structure and incorrect use of reinforcement bars meant to strengthen the concrete.

"Khan Bani Saad is a microcosm of the shortfalls in the reconstruction program," said Bowen.

And the choice of Parsons — in retrospect — was part of a far bigger web of alleged shortcomings by the conglomerate in Iraq.

"This is the worst performing contractor that we have identified" among the seven firms so far studied in Congress-mandated reviews of Iraqi projects, said Bowen.

It was not possible to get advance comment from Parsons. Under the rules for the release of the audit, reporters were not allowed to reveal its details until Monday.

But the report said Parsons had argued that the U.S. government misrepresented the security conditions. Parsons said that its subcontractors faced threats that either shut down or slowed work almost daily. In August 2005, the site manager for one of Parsons' subcontractors was shot to death in his office.

Diyala remains one of the most dangerous places in Iraq. In the past week, U.S. and Iraqi forces have stepped up sweeps against insurgents in one of their last footholds near Baghdad.

But officials of the Army Corps of Engineers — one of the agencies that oversaw the prison construction — countered that Parsons understood conditions in Iraq at the time. They also said Parsons rarely reported security threats, and only recorded seven days when it cited delays due to violence.

Bowen said his agency has done 120 audits on Iraqi projects. "And they tell an episodic story of waste," he said.

[bth: so where was the corp of engineers during all this? Parsons was the same company that botched up the hospitals too. That isn't mentioned in the article. The board of directors of Parsons needs to be arrested. Until someone at that level is held to account this type of corruption will continue. This isn't isolated. Parsons as a business should be bankrupted and whoever is running the Corp of Engineers should be held to account. Its one thing to have a project delayed or facing security risks, its another to build a concrete wall without rebar supports.]

YouTube - baby evil look

YouTube - baby evil look: ""

Bombers and Ethnic Clashes Kill 61 in Iraq -

Bombers and Ethnic Clashes Kill 61 in Iraq - "BAGHDAD"— Three women wrapped in explosives killed dozens in Iraq on Monday, shaking the country as chaos and ethnic violence erupted in the volatile northern city of Kirkuk, where tensions had already run high between majority Kurds and ethnic Turkmens

All told, at least 61 people were killed and 238 wounded, nearly all of them Kurdish political protesters in Kirkuk and Shiite pilgrims in Baghdad. It was one of the bloodiest days in a year in which violence has dropped strikingly.

The violence in Kirkuk, with its delicate ethnic and sectarian makeup perched atop great oil reserves, deeply unnerved government and security officials, who instituted curfews there and in Baghdad. Leaders of the Turkmen ethnic group, in competition for land and political power with the Kurds, called for protection by United Nations security forces.

The attacks also underscored that the raw passions and anger fed by Iraq’s deep ethnic, regional and sectarian divides can still instantly ignite. Concerns about stability ran so high that Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki ordered a battalion of Iraqi troops to reinforce Kirkuk and put other unspecified “emergency reserve” troops on alert in case the violence spread, state-run television reported late Monday.

The city was already on edge when thousands of Kurds poured into an area near the provincial headquarters on Monday morning, to protest legislation in Baghdad that would dilute the Kurds’ dominance in the city.

Then, just after 11 a.m., a suicide bomber blew herself up, killing at least 17 demonstrators and wounding 47 others, according to Iraqi security officials.

No one claimed responsibility for the bombing, which bore the hallmarks of Sunni Arab extremists. Nonetheless, many in the crowd blamed Turkmen extremists for the attack, and within minutes a mob of enraged Kurds began attacking Turkmen political offices and setting their buildings ablaze.

“They burned Turkmen buildings and they burned many cars,” said Brig. Burhan Taha of the Kirkuk police.

Gunfire and rocks from the mob wounded at least 25 Turkmen guards, according to the Kirkuk police. The guards — some armed with machine guns — returned fire, killing at least 12 Kurds in the mob. An additional 102 people were wounded in the melee that followed the bombing, the police said, though it was not clear how many were shot by Turkmen guards or wounded by other violence.

Another senior Kirkuk police commander, Brig. Sarhad Qadir, said the mob that attacked the Turkmens included members of the Asaish, a Kurdish security force, who were not in uniform but were carrying weapons.

“The Asaish and the Kurdish protesters attacked the Turkmen buildings,” Brigadier Qadir said. The Turkmen guards fought back with Kalashnikov automatic rifles and heavier machine guns, and the fighting lasted more than an hour, he said.

One element fueling the Kurds’ rampage was the widespread belief that Turkmens had fired on Kurdish demonstrators dashing away from the bomb blast.

The explosion sent “body parts flying into the air,” said Benjamin Lowy, an American photojournalist who was within a block of the attack. “Then the mob started stampeding, and within moments someone started shooting into the crowd, and the bullets were flying past me.”

The gunfire clearly appeared to have been aimed directly into the crowd, and not into the air such as in an effort to disperse rioters, Mr. Lowy said. One victim at the hospital, a 15-year-old boy, died from a bullet fired directly into his chest. Long after the bombing there was “tons of shooting in the rest of the city,” he said, as rumors continued to sweep the populace that Turkmens had been behind the attack.

Farouk Abdullah, a senior Turkmen politician, said that offices of every Turkmen party had been attacked and that Kurdish rioters had destroyed a number of other Turkmen buildings. “We don’t know why they attacked us,” he said. “We did not have anything to do with the explosion.”

By the end of the day, the riot and violence by Kurds against Turkmens had become one of the most severe ethnic skirmishes in Kirkuk since the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. The city has long been considered a tinderbox because of its volatile mix of Kurds, Turkmens and Arabs . ...

YouTube - Robot fish synchronise into schools

YouTube - Robot fish synchronise into schools: ""

Police: Man shot churchgoers over liberal views

The Raw Story | Police: Man shot churchgoers over liberal views: "KNOXVILLE"Tenn. - An out-of-work truck driver accused of opening fire at a Unitarian church, killing two people, left behind a note suggesting that he targeted the congregation out of hatred for its liberal policies, including its acceptance of gays, authorities said Monday.

A four-page letter found in Jim D. Adkisson's small SUV indicated he intentionally targeted the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church because, the police chief said, "he hated the liberal movement" and was upset with "liberals in general as well as gays."

Adkisson, a 58-year-old truck driver on the verge of losing his food stamps, had 76 rounds with him when he entered the church and pulled a shotgun from a guitar case during a children's performance of the musical "Annie."

Adkisson's ex-wife once belonged to the church but hadn't attended in years, said Ted Jones, the congregation's president. Police investigators described Adkisson as a "stranger" to the congregation, and police spokesman Darrell DeBusk declined to comment on whether investigators think the ex-wife's link was a factor in the attack.

Adkisson remained jailed Monday on $1 million bond after being charged with one count of murder. More charges are expected. Four victims remained hospitalized, including two in critical condition.

The attack Sunday morning lasted only minutes. But the anger behind it may have been building for months, if not years.

"It appears that what brought him to this horrible event was his lack of being able to obtain a job, his frustration over that, and his stated hatred for the liberal movement," Police Chief Sterling Owen said.

Adkisson was a loner who hates "blacks, gays and anyone different from him," longtime acquaintance Carol Smallwood of Alice, Texas, told the Knoxville News Sentinel.

Authorities said Adkisson's criminal record consisted of only two drunken driving citations. But court records reviewed by The Associated Press show that his former wife obtained an order of protection in March 2000 while the two were still married and living in the Knoxville suburb of Powell.

The couple had been married for almost 10 years when Liza Alexander wrote in requesting the order that Adkisson threatened "to blow my brains out and then blow his own brains out." She told a judge that she was "in fear for my life and what he might do."...

Monday, July 28, 2008

Attacks on U.S. convoys decline -

Attacks on U.S. convoys decline - "WASHINGTON"— Iraqi insurgents have nearly ceased their once-constant attacks on convoys delivering U.S. supplies for reconstruction projects and equipment for Iraq's security forces, and shipments are at their highest levels since the start of the war.

Through June 2008, there were only 93 attacks on about 6,100 logistics convoys carrying supplies ranging from building materials for schools, hospitals and public utilities to weapons for local police, Pentagon data obtained by USA TODAY show.

That's a convoy-attack rate of about 1.5%. During some months in late 2006 and early 2007, attack rates were up to 20%.

The 6,100 convoy missions during the first six months of this year also represent a substantial increase over previous years. In all of 2007, the Pentagon ran fewer than 6,900 convoys.

"The improved security obviously is allowing us to move more (supplies), but there also has been a large increase in demand for the services," says Col. Gary Pease, chief of staff for the Gulf Region Division of the Army Corps of Engineers, which oversees the convoys.

The logistics convoys move virtually all materials supplied by the United States for reconstruction efforts in Iraq, which are a pillar of the Pentagon's strategy to win the support of the Iraqi people.

Unlike U.S. military convoys used to move troops and their equipment, the logistics convoys rely on drivers and vehicles supplied by Iraqi companies under contract with the corps. British and U.S. companies provide convoy security, also under contract with the corps.

Historically, delays in logistics convoys, typically due to security problems, have been one of several key factors in delaying Iraqi reconstruction projects, says Ginger Cruz, deputy Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction. "The improvement in security … certainly is contributing to an improvement in the reconstruction program."

The decline in convoy attacks is the latest evidence of decreasing violence in Iraq. Overall, insurgent attacks have fallen 80% since the U.S. troop "surge" in June 2007. They're now at their lowest level since March 2004, Pentagon data show.

Pease says the successful use of private security contractors to protect the logistics convoys frees more U.S. troops for combat and peacekeeping.

Congress has moved to heighten regulation of security contractors after several high-profile cases in which they were found to be involved in unwarranted killings of Iraqi civilians. And industry officials, who are resisting calls for more restrictions on the role those contractors can play, say the successful use of contractors to protect logistics convoys underscores the important role they can play.

"If you take (that role) away, you have to rethink the role that you want U.S. soldiers to play," says Jeffery Green, a lobbyist who represents the Private Security Company Association of Iraq, a trade group of U.S. contractors operating in the region. The contractors "are doing a lot of hard and important work out there."

[bth: this is full of interesting information. Last year virtually all convoys north of Baghdad and south of Kurdish regions were attacked. Then we started paying off the Awakening. Convoy attacks fell. Now see how the private contractors are woven into the scene. We don't have enough troops to take on this duty. It must be contracted out. We use non-US nationals as drivers so that their casualties don't show up in our newspapers - also they cost less. The integration of private contractor drivers, now migrating to private contractor security is important in light of the changing rules of engagement. Note how the military has begun to weave Iraqi companies into the equation. A smart move. Less liability and less chance of attack I guess. This time last year Blackwater was setting up to take over security on the convoys, then their little incidents happened along with a probable loss of immunity, so the DOD decided to work with Iraqi companies. A smart move. At least the money somehow matriculates into the local economy.]

Hortibot: Making the moves and autonomous row following premiere

Hortibot: Making the moves and autonomous row following premiere: " "

U.S. military confronts unprecedented emotional war wounds | | Detroit Free Press

U.S. military confronts unprecedented emotional war wounds | | Detroit Free Press: "A"recent Rand Corp. study -- criticized by the military for relying on too small a sample -- calculated that some 300,000 out of 1.6 million veterans of these two wars have suffered some sort of post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury, which used to be called a concussion.

Nor has the military ever faced such sharp criticism for its handling, or mishandling, of the mental well-being of its troops. But never before have commanders and their troops dealt with the problems and the stigma of PTSD more directly than in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Now the Army identifies a condition called acute stress reaction (ASR) -- the immediate aftermath of a traumatic incident in a combat zone. Since PTSD sometimes takes years to manifest, military doctors and counselors prefer the new term to describe what they regard as normal reactions among troops confronted by abnormal situations.

Last year, the Army launched a mandatory training program to identify and treat the causes and symptoms of PTSD. The Pentagon no longer treats visits to a counselor as an adverse factor in giving security clearances....

McClatchy Washington Bureau | 07/27/2008 | U.S. concedes Iraq victims were law-abiding, not insurgents

McClatchy Washington Bureau | 07/27/2008 | U.S. concedes Iraq victims were law-abiding, not insurgents: "BAGHDAD"-- The U.S. military said Sunday that the three people killed last month after U.S. soldiers shot at their car in one of the most secured areas of Iraq were civilians, not criminals as the military initially reported.

The correction came more than a month after a bank manager at a branch inside the airport, Hafeth Aboud Mahdi, and two female bank employees were shot at by U.S. soldiers as they sped to work on a road within the secured airport compound. The road is used only by people with high-level security clearance badges. The car veered off the road, hit a concrete blast wall and burst into flames.

The original statement said that Mahdi and the two women were "criminals" and that an American convoy on the side of the secured road came under small-arms fire from the vehicle. Soldiers said they shot back. A weapon was found in the debris and two U.S. military vehicles were struck by bullets from the attack, the statement on June 25 said.

"When we are attacked, we will defend ourselves and will use deadly force if necessary," Maj. Joey Sullinger, a spokesman for 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, said in a statement at the time. "Such attacks endanger not only U.S. soldiers but also innocent civilians, including women and children, traveling the roadways of Baghdad."

On Sunday the story changed and the tone was apologetic. A military statement said that neither the civilians who were killed nor the soldiers were at fault for the deaths. An investigation found that "the driver and passengers were law-abiding citizens of Iraq."

Soldiers had pulled off the road because one of the vehicles in the convoy was having maintenance problems. As they worked on the vehicle they saw Mahdi's car and thought it was moving too quickly toward them, the statement said. Believing they might be in danger, the soldiers warned the car. When the driver ignored the signals they shot at the vehicle, the statement said.

The alleged attack and the weapon that was said to have been recovered from the burned vehicle were misunderstandings, the statement said.

"This was an extremely unfortunate and tragic incident," said Col. Allen Batschelet, chief of staff, MND-B and 4th Infantry Division, in a statement. "Our deepest regrets of sympathy and condolences go out to the family. We are taking several corrective measures to amend and eliminate the possibility of such situations happening in the future."

Mahdi's son, Mohammed Hafeth, said the statement was insufficient.....

[bth: timely universal issuance of commercial laser dazzlers might have prevented this tragedy. It isn't hard to understand why an occupation army soon wears out its welcome.]

Washington Times - Army search under way for enhanced body armor

Washington Times - Army search under way for enhanced body armor: "The"Army has begun a search for the next generation of bulletproof body armor.

Pentagon-supervised live-fire testing was recently completed at the Army's Aberdeen, Md., Proving Ground. Further tests are scheduled before the service chooses a successor to ESAPI, or Enhanced Small Arms Protective Insert. It is a system of super-hard ceramic plates designed to stop armor-piercing rounds. ESAPI slides inside an Outer Tactical Vest, creating the Interceptor Body Armor System.

A retired Army officer who has toured Iraq and Afghanistan to poll service members on their armor needs told The Washington Times that one theme stands out: the war fighters say that whatever new plates are chosen, they want the Interceptor to remain relatively lightweight at under 30 pounds. Added weight, they say, restricts mobility and thus increases the chance of being shot.

"They would rather keep the Interceptor at current weight. They don't want any more weight," said the source, who asked not to be named because he is not authorized to speak to the press in his current government job. "The soldiers feel safe and protected in terms of it working, but they want it lighter, if possible."

An Army spokesman declined to comment on the competition.

Warning to Israel

A defense industry executive who has contact with Israelis says they tell him that the Bush administration is sending strong signals to Jerusalem not to strike Iran - at least not before the November election in the U.S.

But truth be told, the Pentagon does not want Israel to hit Iran's nuclear targets this year, or perhaps ever. Adm. Michael G. Mullen, Joint Chiefs chairman, made it clear at a news conference earlier this month that he does not want a third front - in addition to Iraq and Afghanistan - with a war with Iran. He said he does not now have sufficient troops to send badly needed reinforcements to Afghanistan.

Iran has promised a robust counterattack against Israel - and against U.S. assets in the Middle East - if the Jewish state launches its F-16 and F-15 fighters to disable Tehran's network of nuclear research-and-development sites.

Coming home

The last of five reinforcement brigades have left Iraq, officially ending the troop surge. The exit leaves 15 Marine and Army brigades. Now begins a period of assessment that may well lead to President Bush approving a second drawdown at the end of the year.

If retired Army Gen. Jack Keane has his way, U.S. troop strength will remain at 15 brigades for a while.

"For the rest of 2008, we have to not squander the gains we have made," Gen. Keane, an adviser to commanders in Iraq, told The Times. "Getting down below 15 brigades probably isn't warranted, given we want to make certain when we pull the five brigades out that all of our assumptions are correct, and it will take awhile to understand that."

The two key assumptions are the enemy's strength and the Iraqi military's capability.

"Those are the two assumptions that we got wrong in the past," Gen. Keane said. "We underestimated the enemy, and we overestimated the Iraqis from 2003 to 2006."

Marines vs. Army

As might be expected, there is tension between the storied Army Special Forces (better known as Green Berets) and the Marine Corps' first special-operations command.

Green Berets have made their mark not only by fighting irregular wars, but also by traveling abroad to train the personnel of friendly nations in the art of counterinsurgency. The mission is called Foreign Internal Defense (FID).

What irks the Green Berets are statements by some Marine brass that the Corps will be doing a lot more foreign defense training in the coming years and may eclipse Special Forces.

A Special Forces veteran told The Times: "If the Marine Corps develops a widespread attitude that they are the experts on Foreign Internal Defense, they will show themselves to be asses.If SF digs in their heels and won't provide training materials, a huge rift will develop. I don't think that will happen. With the situation in Afghanistan and Iraq, the entire military recognizes the need for foreign training. There are plenty of missions for everyone."

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac: Congress backs rescue package - Telegraph

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac: Congress backs rescue package - Telegraph: "World"markets are poised for a major relief rally today after the US Congress met in a rare weekend session to pass the most far-reaching rescue package for America's financial system since Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal.

The emergency bail-out gives the US Treasury sweeping authority to inject capital into the giant mortgage lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which together own or guarantee half the country's $12 trillion stock of home loans.

The ceiling on the US national debt has been lifted by a further $800bn, giving the Treasury almost unlimited resources to prop up the two lenders.

In parallel, the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) is to guarantee up to $300bn of fresh mortgages for struggling homeowners trapped with soaring loan costs, often the result of "honeytrap" contracts.

The scheme aims to avoid an avalanche of fresh defaults as the housing market continues to deteriorate. Over 740,000 homes fell into foreclosure in the second quarter....

[bth: don't worry the kids can pay for it. No need to raise corporate taxes or issue a windfall profits tax on big oil or impose an oil import tax. No need, the kids can pay for it.... why screw the man when we can screw the kids who get this mountain of financial debt.]

38 killed in Kirkuk attack

The CNN Wire: Latest updates on top stories Blog Archive - 38 killed in Kirkuk attack « - Blogs from "BAGHDAD"Iraq (CNN) — A suicide bomber and gunmen killed at least 38 people and wounded 178 others during an attack on a Kurdish political rally in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, a police official told CNN.

Thousands of Kurds had gathered in central Kirkuk to protest an election law that was passed by the Iraqi parliament last week but rejected by the Iraqi presidency council.

During the rally, a woman ran among the protesters and detonated explosives that she was carrying. Soon after, gunmen started firing on the crowd from different directions, the official said.

The Kurdish opposition to the election law stems from intense political disputes among the Kurds, Arabs, and Turkmens in the Kirkuk region, which is regarded by the Kurds as a majority Kurdish region.

Gunman opens fire in Tennessee church, 7 injured

The Raw Story | Gunman opens fire in Tennessee church, 7 injured: "KNOXVILLE"Tenn. (AP) — A gunman opened fire at a church youth performance Sunday and killed two people, including a man who witnesses called a hero for shielding others from a shotgun blast.

Seven adults were also injured but no children were harmed at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church. Church members said they dove under pews or ran from the building when the shooting started.

The gunman was tackled by congregants and eventually taken into police custody.

Jim D. Adkisson, 58, was charged with first-degree murder and was being held on $1 million bail, according to city spokesman Randy Kenner, who did not know if the suspect had retained an attorney. Authorities were searching Adkisson's home in the Knoxville bedroom community of Powell, Kenner said.

The man slain was identified as Greg McKendry, 60, a longtime church member and usher. Church member Barbara Kemper told The Associated Press that McKendry "stood in the front of the gunman and took the blast to protect the rest of us."

Linda Kreager, 61, died at the University of Tennessee Medical Center a few hours after the shooting, Knoxville city spokesman Randall Kenner said.

Five people remained hospitalized, all in critical or serious condition. Two others were treated and released.

The gunman's motive is not yet known. The church, like many other Unitarian Universalist churches, promotes progressive social work, such as desegregation and fighting for the rights of women and gays. The Knoxville congregation has provided sanctuary for political refugees, fed the homeless and founded a chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, according to its Web site.

Kemper said the gunman shouted before he opened fire.

"It was hateful words. He was saying hateful things," she said, but refused to elaborate.

The FBI was assisting in the case in case it turns out be a hate crime, Police Chief Sterling Owen said. Police were taking statements from witnesses and collecting video cameras from church members who taped the performance.

There were about 200 people watching a performance by 25 children based on the musical "Annie" when the shooting took place.

Church member Mark Harmon said he was in the first row. "It had barely begun when there was an incredibly loud bang," he said.

Harmon said he thought the noise was part of the play, then he heard a second loud bang. As he dove for cover, he realized a woman behind him was bleeding. She looked like she was in shock, touching her wound, he said.

"It seems so unreal," Harmon said. "You're sitting in church, you're watching a children's performance of a play and suddenly you hear a bang."

Harmon said church members just behind him in the second and third rows were shot. His wife told him that she saw the gunman pull the shotgun out of a guitar case.

Witnesses reported hearing about three blasts from the .12-gauge shotgun, which spreads pellets out when the shot leaves the barrel. Witnesses said they did not recognize the gunman.

Church members said the gunman was tackled by John Bohstedt, who played "Daddy Warbucks" in the performance. He declined comment when reached by phone at his home.

Friends of McKendry said he was friendly with everyone.

"Greg McKendry was a very large gentlemen, one of those people you might describe as a refrigerator with a head," said member Schera Chadwick, whose husband, Ted Lollis, arrived at the church just after the shooting. "He looked like a football player. He did obviously stand up and put himself in between the shooter and the congregation."

McKendry and his wife had recently taken in a foster child.

The church's minister was on vacation in western North Carolina at the time of the shooting but returned Sunday afternoon.

"We've been touched by a horrible act of violence. We are in a process of healing and we ask everyone for your prayers," the Rev. Chris Buice said in a statement outside the church. "I will tell you we love Greg McKendry. We are grieving the loss of a wonderful man."

Associated Press writers Beth Rucker in Knoxville and Cara Rubinsky and Anna Varela in Atlanta contributed to this report.

[bth: you think hatred and evil has been driven back, and then it resurfaces. Unitarians were also killed in Selma.]

Black Soldiers Get Apology For WWII Convictions For Rioting - Black Soldiers Get Apology For WWII Convictions For Rioting: "SEATTLE"(AP) ― The Army formally apologized Saturday for the wrongful conviction of 28 black soldiers accused of rioting and lynching an Italian prisoner of war in Seattle more than six decades ago.

"We had not done right by these soldiers," Ronald James, assistant secretary of the Army for manpower and reserve affairs, said Saturday. "The Army is genuinely sorry. I am genuinely sorry."

Relatives of the soldiers joined elected officials, military officers and one of the defense lawyers to hear James give the apology before hundreds of people in a meadow near the old Fort Lawton parade grounds and chapel in Discovery Park.

In addition, the soldiers' convictions were set aside, their dishonorable discharges were changed to honorable discharges and they and their survivors were awarded back pay for their time in the brig.

All but two of the soldiers are dead. One, Samuel Snow of Leesburg, Fla., planned to attend the ceremony but wound up in the hospital instead because of a problem with his pacemaker.

The convictions were overturned in October at the prodding of Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Seattle, largely based on the book "On American Soil" published in 2005 by Jack Hamann, a CNN and PBS journalist, and his wife Leslie about the riot on the night of Aug. 14, 1944, and subsequent events at Fort Lawton.

Dozens were injured in the melee that started with a scuffle between an Italian prisoner of war and a black soldier from the segregated barracks near the POW housing. A POW, Guglielmo Olivotto, was found hanged at the bottom of a bluff the next day.

The Army prosecutor was Leon Jaworski, who went on to become special prosecutor in the Watergate scandal of the early 1970s.

Forty-three black soldiers were charged with rioting and three also were charged with murder. Two defense lawyers were assigned to the case and given two weeks to prepare without ever being shown an Army investigation criticizing the way the riot was handled.

Hamann also wrote that at least two soldiers were threatened with lynching by Army detectives. When one witness said a "Booker T." was present at the riot but couldn't give any more detail, the Army charged two men by that name. Another was charged with rioting although white, black and Italian POW witnesses all said he tried to quell the disturbance.
In the ensuing trial 28 men were convicted.

One of those attending the ceremony Saturday, Arthur Prevost of Houston, said his father Willie, one of the convicted soldiers, never talked about what had happened.

"I think he was embarrassed," Prevost said. "I wished he had told us."
Snow's son, Ray Snow, told the gathering his father felt no animosity for the long-ago injustice.

"He was so honored" by the tribute, Ray Snow said. "We salute you for remembering a travesty that took place."

[bth: one wonders why the Army couldn't have corrected this injustice decades ago. Is it a lack of moral courage that prevents these injustices from being corrected sooner?]

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Galloway: Back to the future in the war on terror - Salt Lake Tribune

Galloway: Back to the future in the war on terror - Salt Lake Tribune: "The"events of this week served to underline the fact that the war on terrorism was always really about Afghanistan and Pakistan, and that President George W. Bush's splendid little adventure in Iraq was always a sideshow, even though it siphoned off the biggest chunk of manpower and resources.

The president and his would-be Republican successor, Sen. John McCain, had barely completed even one Iraq victory lap singing hosannas to the surge when they were obliged to begin thinking and talking about how they're going to shore up a failing policy in Afghanistan.

They'd do well, as would McCain's opposite number, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama, to give some serious thought to what's happening, or not happening, as the case may be, in neighboring Pakistan.

Completing the trifecta of perfect storms, Obama dropped by Baghdad for a chat with Iraqi and American military and civilian leaders. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki promptly invited U.S. forces in his country to leave, sounding quite comfortable with Obama's plan to remove the last American combat troops within 16 months of his taking office on Jan. 20, 2009.

American military leaders have made it quite clear that any build-up of American troops in Afghanistan will be dependent on the removal of an equivalent number of troops from Iraq - on virtually a one-for-one basis.

U.S. commanders in Afghanistan are pushing hard for reinforcements to fight a resurgent Taliban guerrilla force in southern Afghanistan. American casualties in Afghanistan are climbing swiftly even as they've been dropping in Iraq.

The administration's hopes that our NATO allies would sharply increase the number of their troops in Afghanistan and devote more of them to fighting the bigger, bolder and more dangerous Taliban forces have gone a glimmering.

Instead, we're treated to the sight of American troops patrolling through endless fields of opium poppies that seemingly are the only cash crop in Afghanistan, and being careful not to step on the plants.

The poppy crop has given Afghanistan the dubious honor of having again become the world's biggest exporter of opium and its deadly derivative, heroin. We have neither the manpower nor the money to do much about that except to ignore it on pain of widening the rebellion and swelling the ranks of the Taliban if we resume opium eradication efforts.

Obama says he'd send two new combat brigades (approximately 3,000 troops in each brigade) to Afghanistan. McCain tried to trump that by suggesting that he'd send three brigades. President Bush in recent months has dispatched a single Marine brigade to bring the total number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan to around 30,000.

The president and his merry band were huddling to chew over the few and unpalatable (to them) options: Announce an Afghanistan surge of two to four more combat brigades accompanied by the withdrawal of a similar number of brigades from Iraq, perhaps by not replacing departing units as they leave.

But if you believe, as the administration and McCain seem to, that the surge "worked" and Iraqi forces are ready to take over, why stop there? (My colleague Nancy Youssef's recent experience embedded with an Iraqi unit raises some questions about the latter proposition.)

There's an invitation on the table to negotiate a timetable for an American withdrawal from Iraq. Why not seize it with whoops and cheers and put in place a timetable that would withdraw U.S. combat troops at the rate of one brigade per month until all that remains are small groups of U.S. advisers and trainers with the Iraqi Army and police, and a small ready reaction force to protect them and the huge new American Embassy in Baghdad's Green Zone?

How many more American soldiers are needed to secure Afghanistan? How many additional billions of dollars are needed to repair and build roads and infrastructure? How much to shore up the sagging fortunes of the Afghan central government, whose writ and reach barely extends beyond the city limits of Kabul?

The answer, in all cases, is a lot. A lot of American troops and a wad of American money - and don't count on NATO to pick up any of the slack. Even that may not be enough, of course, so long as neighboring Pakistan remains a safe haven, training and recruiting ground for Islamic militants.

An outgoing American commander said it was his opinion that a total force of more than 400,000 troops - Afghan Army, U.S. forces and NATO troops - would be needed to secure Afghanistan. American and NATO forces total around 50,000. The Afghan Army and national police numbered fewer than 100,000 at the end of 2007.

The late and unlamented Soviet Union sent more than 200,000 soldiers into Afghanistan at the end of 1979. Although they treated all of the country as a free fire zone and forced millions of refugees across the border into Pakistan, in the end the Soviet Army was defeated and retreated.

It's way past time to begin withdrawing from Iraq and begin reinforcing Afghanistan and find some other way of dealing with Pakistan besides throwing money into the air in Islamabad and hoping that a few million dollars land in the right places.

You've done a heckuva job there, George. Pat yourself on the back, and give Dick a hug while you're at it.

Joseph L. Galloway is a military columnist for McClatchy Newspapers and a former senior military correspondent for Knight Ridder Newspapers; he is co-author of the national best-seller "We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young." Readers may write to him at: P.O. Box 399, Bayside, Texas 78340.

Information Dissemination: Sell The Strategy to Expand the Fleet

Information Dissemination: Sell The Strategy to Expand the Fleet: "The"world has changed quite a bit since the cold war when the DDG-51 was conceived, and quite a bit since the Gulf War when the DDG-1000 was conceived. When the Maritime Strategy was being produced, Mullen made it clear the Maritime Strategy would begin with Seapower 21 (PDF) and use the rapidly changing world resulting from globalization as context. In many ways, many not obvious until mentioned, the Navy has already evolved in the 21st century, but these things aren't self evident until discussed.

The Navy is currently putting bombs on target in support of the Army and Marines, successfully fielding an Army of IAs and others to plug holes in Army force structure, gaining and assimilating experience in unconventional but non-SOF warfare through an aggressive NECC, recruiting sufficient recruits, retaining sufficient experienced officers (although there is work to be done here in regards to experienced Captains), supplying Admirals to top joint and other national leadership positions (CJCS, DNI, Combatant Commanders, etc.), and not unduly embarrassing the country with horrific scandals or with unseemly inter-service turf brawls. These are great reasons why the Nation has a lot to be proud of in regards to the Navy, but these positive trends are often lost in any discussion of the Navy.

The one aspect of evolution in the 21st century not visible is the shipbuilding plan, which carries with it visibility with the American people on a higher plane than those other items. In speaking to the American people about shipbuilding and Navies, we think it is important to keep it simple, make it easy to understand, and insure the explanation is as self evident as possible. Meeting all three goals in Washington DC requires brilliant PPT skills, but it doesn't have to for communicating to a broader audience.

On this blog, we intentionally keep things simple. I have an outstanding artist who works for me, and I could easily instruct him to make this fairly plain looking blog hip and stylish, but to what end? The simplicity in layout insures fast loading of content, and the only stunning visuals we highlight here is the excellent photography we associate with blog posts. In other words, readers aren't distracted by the imagery of the blog, rather the imagery of the blog content. This is intentional. In communicating our message to readers, our strategy is to focus the reader on substance, not style, thus why we keep it simple.

We discuss maritime strategy using the simple visual analogy of a Yin Yang. The Yin Yang represents warfighting and peacemaking as two opposing and, at the same time, complementary (completing) applications of naval power.

We believe the Navy must take a balanced approach addressing the requirements for winning war and managing peace as instructed by the maritime strategy. If the Navy is to balance itself, this means there must be a commitment to building flexible forces for leveraging the sea as base to connect with the non-integrated gaps, and in this way position itself to better manage the maritime challenges of peacetime. Using the Yin Yang analogy, if black is war and white is peace, this analogy is used to recognize the white dot as peacemaking forces as a requirement for winning war, just as the black dot represents warfighter capabilities as a requirement for managing peace. We believe this analogy is self evident to anyone with a clear understanding of modern conventional and asymmetrical warfare.

The current Navy is built to fight major wars against peer opponents. The Navy of today consists of 11 aircraft carriers, 109 surface combatants (22 CGs, 52 DDGs, 30 FFGs, and 5 PCs), 2 Littoral Combat Ships, 53 attack submarines, 4 cruise missile submarines, 14 ballistic missile submarines, 31 amphibious warfare ships (3 LHAs 7 LHDs, 9 LPDs, and 12 LSDs), and 14 minesweepers. This list does not include the 31 combat logistics ships and 17 support ships.

Of the 167 total surface vessels in the fleet, only 51 are less than 4200 tons. That ratio represents 30% of the total surface force, and all 51 are unrated surface combatants. Of just the surface combatant force, 33% are less than 4200 tons, again all of them unrated. The naval force today is completely unbalanced in favor of the wartime requirement for fighting the Soviet Union of 1989 or the Iraqi Army of 1991. 66% of the total surface combatant fleet is designed to do two things very well, destroy targets on land with cruise missiles and shoot down many varieties of cruise missile and aircraft threats in the air. When talking about the threat environment of the 21st century, be it submarines, ballistic missiles, small boat swarms, mines, and a variety of asymmetric threats, the Navy is not well designed for meeting those challenges.

In keeping things simple, we liken the current resource strategy to an upside down triangle. Looking at the upside down triangle, if you were to write war at the top and peace at the bottom, then inside the triangle divide it into three parts with two horizontal lines, write Sea Strike in the large top portion, Sea Shield in the middle portion, and Sea Basing in the bottom small portion (Seapower 21). you just created a PPT slide of the fleet constitution of the US Navy today. We do not believe that type of fleet constitution matches the Navy's own maritime strategy. This is why we find the debate on Capitol Hill regarding the DDG-1000 to be so extraordinarily stupid, because the debate is ultimately about which type of battleship the Navy should fill in the top large "Sea Strike" portion of the upside down triangle, a political debate to ultimately decide if the nation should build the battleship for fighting the 1989 Soviet Union, or the battleship for fighting against the 1991 Iraq Army.

Only because of the ignorance and apathy of the average American regarding the Navy would such a silly debate ever be allowed to occur.

Now take a triangle sitting on a long base with a point at the top. Write war above the tip and peace along the bottom. Inside the triangle divide it into three parts with two horizontal lines, write Sea Strike in the small top portion, Sea Shield in the middle portion, and Sea Basing in the bottom large portion. We believe this triangle would better illustrate the fleet constitution strategy better aligned with the requirements of the Navy's maritime strategy. Allow us to elaborate.

In major power war, the Navy should be very aware by now that Command of the Sea in the 21st century is determined by aircraft and submarines. Between the CVN force, the SSBN force, the SSGN force, and the SSN force all forms of sea control and power projection are achieved. Even today, whether it is with carrier aviation in the current wars or submarines picking off targets with cruise missiles in failed states like Somalia, these are the major combat platforms at sea. This is also self evident in the way the Navy develops its surface combatant force, which is designed to protect high value vessels from air and submarine attack. The surface combatant fleet doesn't even bother putting anti-ship missiles on its most advanced battleships, because the Navy knows that aircraft will sink enemy ships long before the surface fleet is in range to attack.

However, for peacetime roles today the Navy only has a limited number of ships to draw from. The ships pushing the peacetime activities required to achieve the goals of the maritime strategy include the amphibious force, the small combatants under 4200 tons, and the ships operated by the Military Sealift Command. Indeed if you look at activities like that of the Coast Guard cutter Dallas (WHEC 716), the Navy is basically outsourcing its peacetime engagement responsibilities in major maritime theaters to the already stretched thin Coast Guard. The Navy really should be embarrassed that it is incapable of doing the mission the Coast Guard does today in the Persian Gulf, it is a tragedy of leadership the Navy doesn't see its inability to do that mission as a problem, because that is part of the global mission set the maritime domain demands in today's maritime era.

The Navy, indeed Congress and the American people in general, are under the misguided perception that the AEGIS battleship is the dreadnought of our era. This is absolutely false, and would only be true if the Navy was facing a peer competitor. The Dreadnought of the modern maritime era is the Amphibious Ship, and what we call the mothership; essentially the weapon system and logistical enabler capable of saturating the maritime domain with manned and unmanned systems to USE command of the sea, and influence that domain throughout the littorals and into land. Without the ability to saturate the maritime domain with naval power and establish what the Navy calls Maritime Domain Awareness, the Navy is unable to maintain command of the sea, thus unable to exploit its use to promote the conditions necessary for building a stable, peaceful maritime environment that promotes economic growth in struggling states.

By using submarines to alleviate the surface combatant force from having to carry the burden of major war, the surface fleet should reconstitute itself with fewer battleships and more smaller surface combatants to operate within these theater Sea Bases. In other words, using the triangle analogy described above for peacetime, the resource strategy would list submarines and aircraft carriers in the small area labeled sea strike, the battleships in the middle portion labeled sea shield, and a large number of motherships, amphibious ships, small combatants, logistics ships, and support ships filling the large portion at the bottom of the triangle to support the peacetime, or SysAdmin, requirements as established in the Navy's maritime strategy. This force ultimately represents the viable solution for the asymmetrical threats to the maritime domain, because it becomes the forward deployed persistent naval force present to deal with these threats.

It is time to align resources to maritime strategy by recognizing that in the maritime environment of today the Navy is currently in a position to fight its wars with a small number of powerful platforms at the high end, but the Navy requires a saturation force made up of a lot of large flexible amphibious type ships and a large number of smaller surface combatants if the Navy is serious about using command of the sea in peacetime.

[bth: I find this article fascinating and confusing. So the new ships are cost overrun monsters not designed for this war. Got it. The missions has changed and more small ships are needed to maintain presence. Got it. So senators are saying that going back to a 1980s ship design is a bad idea because technology and threats have changed. Got it. So what I don't understand is why these two destroyers are our only two choices - one that is too costly and one that is too old? What's the third alternative here?]

Taliban using Western forces to eliminate rivals

Taliban using Western forces to eliminate rivals: "Taliban"factions are using Western forces to eliminate rival commanders in a new version of the "Great Game" being played out in Afghanistan and Pakistan, top security sources have suggested.

The tempo of targeted attacks on the Taliban leadership has dramatically increased in the past months. Though the British and Americans have presented the recent assassinations of top leaders of the Taliban to show that their policy of "decapitating" the enemy leadership is working, security sources said that factions with the Taliban are using Western forces to eliminate rival chieftains in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"Not all of the intelligence we are getting is being given for altruistic reasons. The Taliban movement is pretty amorphous and we are aware that different groupings appear to be passing on information," said a senior Western official, who deals with both Nato and Afghan forces on security matters.

"There appears to be a power struggle going on in the insurgent leadership across the [Pakistan] border and we are also aware that certain official bodies have their own agendas and that is reflected in what they tell us," he was quoted as saying by The Independent newspaper today.

Security sources said "hits" on the Taliban leadership have almost all been based on initial intelligence provided from within the insurgency, although details of the movements of some senior insurgents have also been traced from intercepted telephone calls.

[bth: you think? Who could have guessed?]

Informed Comment

Informed Comment

British soldier and his faithful friend die side-by-side in Afghanistan - Telegraph

British soldier and his faithful friend die side-by-side in Afghanistan - Telegraph: "Lance"Corporal Ken Rowe was waiting for the patrol to assemble close to the rear gate of Forward Operating Base Inkerman, high in the Upper Sangin Valley.

With him was Sasha, a yellow Labrador, with a friendly face and a tail that never stopped wagging.

The pair were accompanying a routine early morning patrol, with 4 platoon, B Company of the 2nd Bn Parachute Regiment (2Para) into the Green Zone, a notorious Taliban stronghold, which begins only a few hundred yards from the walls of the isolated base.

As part of a three-week embed with the British Army in Helmand, I joined the patrol last Monday morning just as dawn was breaking over the Helmand desert.

Like many of the 30 soldiers who formed up for the patrol, I was immediately drawn to Sasha. I let her smell my hand before patting her head and tickling her ear. Sasha looked up, her face almost smiling, enjoying the attention.

"Lovely dog", I said to L/Cpl Rowe, "She's the best", he said. We then chatted about the merits of "explosives search dogs" in Helmand.

"They're a major asset," said L/Cpl Rowe. "The soldiers love having them on patrol They can find explosives and weapons, even the presence of weapons, so out here they are a really useful tool and the soldiers like having them around as well - and the Taliban don't."

As we chatted, other soldiers went through the same ritual. Lots of pats and "hello girl" from the troops as they moved forward to load their weapons. It was as though the presence of a dog was a reminder of home, something familiar and unthreatening, in a hostile and violent world. It was imperceptible, but I could almost sense the soldiers' morale lifting as it became clear that L/Cpl Rowe and Sasha were joining the patrol.

Then, for a split second, all of those hours of obedience training gave way to instinct when Sasha caught sight of one of the many leopard-like feral cats that roam the base.

Sasha disappeared, without a sound in a cloud of dust, chasing the cat around the camp. We all laughed quietly. "Who'd be a dog handler?", L/Cpl Rowe said to himself, slightly embarrassed by his dog's momentary lapse of self-control.

Sasha came back, head bowed, knowing that she had erred. L/Cpl Rowe attached the lead and said "sit!". The dog obeyed, and then, in an act of affection, let her body rest against the side of her master's leg. "She's saying sorry", said L/Cpl Rowe.

The patrol took us through a local hamlet called Saregar, which the soldiers had dubbed the "Star Wars Village", and then into the Green Zone, where they began searching a series of compounds for Taliban weapons and explosives.

It is difficult and dangerous work, and the dog handlers, who are attached to units from the Royal Army Veterinary Corps, share exactly the same risks.

The threat from Improvised Explosive Devices and so-called legacy mines from the Soviet occupation, is ever present, and rather than stand and fight, the Taliban now "shoot and scoot", according to the soldiers.

The dangers in this part of Helmand are now so great that the soldiers paraphrase the mantra used by the IRA during the 30 years of The Troubles.

"The Taliban only have to be lucky once but we have to be lucky all the time", Sergeant Wayne Sykes, told me as we patrolled through the Green Zone, waiting for the Taliban to attack.

Luck ran out for L/Cpl Rowe, 24, and Sasha last Thursday, when during another identical routine patrol through the Green Zone, both he and Sasha were killed instantly by automatic fire in a Taliban ambush. Six other soldiers were also injured.

L/Cpl Rowe and Sasha had died together as they had served together, side by side.

I was shocked when told of L/Cpl Rowe's death. Like many who knew him, my first instinct was that it must have been a mistake. Then the realisation dawned and it seemed almost impossible that someone you had been chatting to a few days earlier had now gone for ever.

Shiite Militia in Baghdad Sees Its Power Ebb -

Shiite Militia in Baghdad Sees Its Power Ebb - "BAGHDAD BAGHDAD"— The militia that was once the biggest defender of poor Shiites in Iraq, the Mahdi Army, has been profoundly weakened in a number of neighborhoods across Baghdad, in an important, if tentative, milestone for stability in Iraq.

It is a remarkable change from years past, when the militia, led by the anti-American cleric Moktada al-Sadr, controlled a broad swath of Baghdad, including local governments and police forces. But its use of extortion and violence began alienating much of the Shiite population to the point that many quietly supported American military sweeps against the group.

Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki struck another blow this spring, when he led a military operation against it in Baghdad and in several southern cities.

The shift, if it holds, would solidify a transfer of power from Mr. Sadr, who had lorded his once broad political support over the government, to Mr. Maliki, who is increasingly seen as a true national leader.

It is part of a general decline in violence that is resonating in American as well as Iraqi politics: Senator John McCain argues that the advances in Iraq would have been impossible without the increase in American troops known as the surge, while Senator Barack Obama, who opposed the increase, says the security improvements should allow a faster withdrawal of combat troops.

The Mahdi Army’s decline also means that the Iraqi state, all but impotent in the early years of the war, has begun to act the part, taking over delivery of some services and control of some neighborhoods.

“The Iraqi government broke their branches and took down their tree,” said Abu Amjad, a civil servant who lives in the northern Baghdad district of Sadr City, once seen as an unbreachable stronghold for the group.

The change is showing up in the lives of ordinary people. The price of cooking gas is less than a fifth of what it was when the militia controlled local gas stations, and kerosene for heating has also become much less expensive. In interviews, 17 Iraqis, including municipal officials, gas station workers and residents, described a pattern in which the militia’s control over the local economy and public services had ebbed. Merchants say they no longer have to pay protection money to militiamen. In some cases, employees with allegiances to the militia have been fired or transferred. Despite the militia’s weakened state, none of the Iraqis interviewed agreed to have their full names published for fear of retribution.

In a further sign of weakness, Shiite tribes in several neighborhoods are asking for compensation from militia members’ families for past wrongs.

The changes are not irreversible. The security gains are in the hands of unseasoned Iraqi soldiers at checkpoints spread throughout Baghdad’s neighborhoods. And local government officials have barely begun to take hold of service distribution networks, potentially leaving a window for the militia to reassert itself.

The militia’s roots are still in the ground, Abu Amjad said, and “given any chance, they will grow again.”

A Criminal Enterprise

At the peak of the militia’s control last summer, it was involved at all levels of the local economy, taking money from gas stations, private minibus services, electric switching stations, food and clothing markets, ice factories, and even collecting rent from squatters in houses whose owners had been displaced. The four main gas stations in Sadr City were handing over a total of about $13,000 a day, according to a member of the local council.

“It’s almost like the old Mafia criminal days in the United States,” said Brig. Gen. Jeffrey W. Talley, an Army engineer rebuilding Sadr City’s main market.

Um Hussein, a mother of 10 in Sadr City, the largest Shiite district in the capital and one of the poorest, said her family’s fuel bill had dropped so far that she could afford to buy one of her daughters a pair of earrings with the savings. Others interviewed listed simpler purchases that had now become possible: tomatoes, laundry detergent, gasoline.

One young man said that even though his house was right across from a distribution center that sold cooking gas, he was not allowed to buy it there at state prices, but instead was forced to wait for a militia-affiliated distributor who sold it at higher prices.

“We had to get our share of the cooking gas from Mahdi Army people,” Um Hussein said. “Now, everything is available. We are free to buy what we want.”

Before, the Mahdi Army controlled the 12 trucks that made daily deliveries of cooking gas canisters for the district, because the leader of the Sadr City district council, who was affiliated with the militia, was the one who handled the trucks’ documents.

“We had no idea when they were coming or where they were going,” the council member said, referring to the trucks.

Those who questioned the militia’s authority were dealt with harshly. A gas station worker from Kadhimiya recalled a man in his 60s being beaten badly for refusing to pay the inflated gas price last year. The Sadr City council member described his relationship with the militia by touching his hand to his face.

“I was kissing them here, here and here,” he said pointing to his right cheek, his left cheek and then his forehead.

A spokesman for the movement in Sadr City, Sayeed Jaleel al-Sarkhy, defended the Mahdi Army, saying in an interview that it was not a formal militia and denying the charges that it had taken control of local services. He said the militia had been infiltrated by criminals who used the name of the Mahdi Army as a cover.

“The Mahdi Army is an army of believers,” he said. “It was established to serve the people.”

An employee in the Sadr City local government who oversees trash collectors — daily laborers whose salaries he said were controlled by the militia — said that had long stopped being true.

“I am sick all over,” he said. “I am blind. I’ve got a headache. I’ve got a toothache. My back hurts. All of this is from the Mahdi Army.”

Signs of Weakness

A month after Mr. Maliki’s military operation, strange things started to happen in Shuala, a vast expanse of concrete and sand-colored houses in northern Baghdad that was one of the Mahdi Army’s main strongholds. Militia members suddenly stopped showing up to collect money from the main gas station, a worker there said.

A member of the Shuala district council said: “They used to come and order us to give them 100 gas canisters. Now it’s, ‘Can you please give me a gas canister?’ ”

Then, several weeks later, 11 workers, guards and even a director, all state employees with ties to the militia, were transferred to other areas. Employees’ pictures were posted so American and Iraqi soldiers could identify impostors.

The Iraqi Army now occupies the militia’s old headquarters in Shuala. Soldiers set up 18 checkpoints around the neighborhood, including at the gas station. When the militia opened a new office, soldiers put a checkpoint there, too, said an Iraqi major from the unit based there. Iraqi soldiers recently distributed warning notices to families squatting in houses whose rent had been collected by the Mahdi Army until May.

In Sadr City, the authorities closed the militia’s radio station. The leader of the district council was arrested by the American military. Cooking gas delivery documents must now be approved by three officials, not just one, the council member said.

Another sign of weakness is the growing number of financial settlements between powerful Shiites and Mahdi Army members’ families over loved ones who were killed by the militia. In Topchi, a Shiite neighborhood in western Baghdad, a handwritten list of militia members’ names was taped up in the market this month, with the warning for their families to leave town. Several of their houses were attacked.

Some militia members’ families went to the local council to ask for help. They found none. Mahdi militiamen killed four local council members over several weeks last fall.

“I told them this isn’t good, they must not be blamed,” the council member said. Even so, “if your brother has been killed, this is the time for revenge.”

Now neighborhoods are breathing more freely. A hairdresser in Ameen, a militia-controlled neighborhood in southeast Baghdad, said her clients no longer had to cover their faces when they left her house wearing makeup. Minibuses ferrying commuters in Sadr City are no longer required to play religious songs, said Abu Amjad, the civil servant, and now play songs about love, some even sung by women.

“They lost everything,” said the Sadr City government employee. “The Sadr movement has no power now. There is no militia control.”

Lingering Fears

The Mahdi Army might be weak, but it is not gone.

Majid, a Sadr City resident who works in a government ministry, said several Iraqi Army officers in his area had to move their families to other neighborhoods after Mr. Maliki’s military operation because the militia threatened them. Bombs are still wounding and killing American soldiers in the district. And early this month, one Iraqi officer’s teenage son was kidnapped and killed, his body hung in a public place as a warning, said Majid, who gave only his first name because he feared reprisals.

“People are still afraid of the Mahdi Army,” he said. “You still get punished if you talk bad about them.”

While most of the Iraqi soldiers at the new checkpoints seem loyal to the government, others have sympathies closer to the militia. A friend of Majid’s was obliged to pay a steep tribal settlement, after telling an army patrol about his neighbor, a militia member. The patrol had been infiltrated and leaked the tip to the neighbor.

“They are still trying to influence things,” General Talley said, though his overall assessment was that their control was receding.

The shift comes at a crucial moment: Iraqis will vote in provincial elections in December. The weakening of the Sadrists in national politics clears the stage for the group’s most bitter rival — a Shiite party led by another cleric, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim. One of the party’s members, Jalal al-Din al-Sagheer, a sheik and a member of Parliament, is arranging state aid for Sunni families willing to move back to Topchi.

The timing was not missed by the Sadr movement’s spokesman, who said the government had recently warned the group to vacate its office. He blames Mr. Hakim’s party for the attempts to marginalize his movement, whose members have also been targets of a political crackdown in southern Iraq.

“Some parties are occupying large buildings in Jadriya,” he said, referring indirectly to the headquarters of Mr. Hakim’s party. “That’s what makes us suspicious. Why only us?”

He added, “The main motive is to exclude the Sadr movement from politics.”

One indicator of whether the new gains will hold is whether local governments can truly fill the gap that the militia left and deliver services effectively and consistently.

General Talley said his unit had recently spent $34 million to help reconstruct a major market in Sadr City. But the district council has gotten bogged down in arguments over who has the right to disburse $100 million that Mr. Maliki promised Sadr City after the military operation. The district council was given 90 days to come up with projects. More than 30 days have passed and not one proposal has been submitted, council members said.

“To be honest with you, I find it very slow,” said Haidar al-Abadi, an adviser to Mr. Maliki who said that funds had been held back because militia-affiliated companies had gotten involved. “There’s a danger this slowness could backfire.”

The militia is painting its response on Sadr City walls: “We will be back, after this break.”

The Iraqi Army is painting over it.

Reporting was contributed by Mohammed Hussein, Tareq Maher, Campbell Robertson, Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Alissa J. Rubin

[bth: several things of note. There is no mention of any Sunnis moving back into the neighborhoods. The ethnic cleansing appears to be over and complete. The arguments are between Shia factions. Second, the decline in propane and gasoline prices is a very good sign. What would help is to know the price trends by neighborhood of ammunition, AK 47s, pistols, food staples, cigarettes, etc. These are good indicators of the overall economic and political condition. ... On balance this report is very very encouraging with the exception of the ridiculously slow expenditure of $100 million in reconstruction funding and jobs.]