Friday, May 18, 2007

Perspective: On This Day In Iraq -- May 18th edition

May 18, 2003: Soldiers of 1st Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, (Air Assault) march onto an air strip during a change of command ceremony.

May 18, 2002:

US may attack Iraq with Kurds’ assistance

A consultant to the French Foreign Ministry’s Centre for Forecasts and Analysis (CAP: Centre d’analyse et previsions) says that in his opinion there’s a 90 per cent chance that the United States will stage an attack on Iraq.

Gerard Chaliand, a noted international specialist on guerrilla warfare and terrorism, says that the United States, according to his intelligence, will make use of Iraq’s Kurdish population in the eventual unrolling of the US attack. “All will depend,” he cautions, “on the American first strike,” which he says the US will undertake single-handedly, adding that “and whether the first strike is able to successfully destroy Baghdad’s offensive capacities.”

Only then, he says, will the United States be able to make use of the Kurdish forces which, he implies, it has nurtured on the ground, in preparation for the long-expected attack. “Once the Iraqi army is placed on the defensive,” notes Chaliand, “the United States will be able to activate a Kurdish offensive within Iraq with Kurdish troops serving in a backup capacity.

Read the rest at the Dawn

May 18, 2003:

Bored with Iraq -- already

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Last Wednesday two top U.S. generals in Iraq held a news conference in Baghdad's half-wrecked convention center. The subject was deteriorating security and the two officers, Lt. Gen. David McKiernan and Maj. Gen. Buford Blount III, were pummeled by the press about why they weren't doing more to make Baghdad safer.

It was 102 degrees, and in the middle of the session all the lights went out. The two generals looked like they were enjoying this encounter about as much as a root canal. At one point General Blount, explaining why his men didn't just shoot looters, said: "They were not threatening soldiers. They were just stealing something."

Frankly, my heart went out to the generals, both of whom distinguished themselves in this war. First, they were stuck explaining U.S. policy in Baghdad, because Jay Garner's hapless nation-building team rarely spoke to anyone, and his replacement, L. Paul Bremer, had just arrived.

But the generals were also miscast because they and their men are trained to kill people, not chase looters. Neither they nor their men want to be serving as the police, and they were not prepared to do that. They came to Baghdad with 1,800 military police officers. Saddam Hussein used 20,000 police officers to control this city of five million.

But when Saddam vanished, so did his police and government. This created a power vacuum that we were not ready to fill. This unleashed the looting, which Donald Rumsfeld blithely dismissed with his infamous line: "Freedom is untidy. Free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things." And so they did. Many pieces of Iraq's economic and governmental infrastructure — which the U.S. Air Force carefully spared with its smart bombs — were destroyed from the ground up by dumb looters or saboteurs, while we watched. Chaos is untidy. Freedom requires limits.

Drive around Basra and see what looters have done to just one institution: the 12,000-student Basra University. It looks like a tornado hit it. Looters have made off with all the desks and chairs, ransacked the library, and were last seen by my colleague Marc Santora ripping out window frames and digging up cables. Check out some of the factories around Baghdad, or many ministries, power plants, oil refineries, police stations, water systems. All have been hobbled by looting — which is why power is in short supply, phones don't work, and gas lines are a mile long.

"There are no police in my neighborhood, no judge — I can kill you right now and no one will say a thing," Hasanian Muallah, an engineer, said to me. "We're very happy to get rid of Saddam, but we're depressed by the situation on the street. People don't care who is going to be vice president. They just want a government."

I am sure things will improve. But after traveling around central Iraq, here's what worries me: The buildup to this war was so exhausting, the coverage of the dash to Baghdad so telegenic, and the climax of the toppling of Saddam's statue so dramatic, that everyone who went through it seems to prefer that the story just end there. The U.S. networks changed the subject after the fall of Baghdad as fast as you can say "Laci Peterson," and President Bush did the same as fast as you can say "tax cuts."

Read the rest at the CNN

May 18, 2004:

Bremer vows political process in Iraq will continue

Iraq's most influential Shiite cleric on Tuesday demanded that all armed groups — including U.S. troops — withdraw from the embattled holy cities of Najaf and Karbala, where nine militiamen loyal to a rebel cleric were killed in heavy fighting with U.S. forces.

The statement by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani came after the U.S. administrator in Iraq vowed to continue the transfer of sovereignty to Iraqis as scheduled despite Monday's killing of the head of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council.

"Terrorists are trying to stop Iraq's march to sovereignty and peace," U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer said at a memorial service in Baghdad for Izzadine Saleem, who was killed by a suicide bomber Monday at a checkpoint near coalition headquarters. "They will not succeed."

"We must continue the political process leading to an interim government next month and to elections next year," he added.

The killing was a major setback to American efforts to stabilize Iraq just six weeks before the June 30 handover of sovereignty.

The U.S.-led coalition is struggling to contain an insurgency in Sunni areas north and west of Baghdad, as well as an uprising in the Shiite heartland to the south led by radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Read the rest at USA Today

May 18, 2005:

Iran foreign minister visits Iraq

Wasting little time in registering its new influence in Iraq, Iran sent its foreign minister to Baghdad on Tuesday only 48 hours after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice became the first high-level visitor to hold talks with Iraq's new Shiite-majority government.

The arrival of Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi underscored changes in the political landscape that many Iraqis find dizzying: Almost 25 years after Iraq and Iran fought an eight-year war that left a million people dead, the government in Baghdad is now led by officials with close personal, religious and political ties to Iran's ruling Shiite ayatollahs.

On a day of deepening sectarian violence, Kharrazi held talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, President Jalal Talabani and Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari. He vowed that his country was committed to supporting Iraq's political and economic reconstruction and would do all it could to improve security.

"We believe securing the borders between the two countries means security to the Islamic Republic of Iran," Kharrazi said.

Iraqi officials who greeted Kharrazi acknowledged that the timing of his arrival, so soon after Rice's 12-hour visit on Sunday, was not chance. "The political message of this visit is very important, notably in its timing," said Zebari, who at one point broke into fluent Persian, Iran's principal language, during a news conference with Kharrazi.

For his part, the Iranian envoy appeared eager to put the United States on notice that Iran expects to wield influence in Iraq, especially in the long term. At one point, standing beside al-Jaafari, Kharrazi fielded a question about the competition for influence in Iraq between Washington and Tehran with a reminder of what he described as the geographical realities.

"Let me add that the party that will leave Iraq is the United States, because it will eventually withdraw," he said in English, referring to the 138, 000 U.S. troops here. "But the party that will live with the Iraqis is Iran, because it is a neighbor to Iraq."

Read the rest at the SF Chronicle

May 18, 2006:

What Bush should do about National Guard

President Bush stirred things up again this week with his proposal to use the National Guard to protect our borders. Is he right or wrong about the Guard's overall role?

He's totally on target in wanting to use the Guard to reinforce our borders. He's woefully wrong in having Guardsmen and women continue to fight and die in Iraq.

The modern-day National Guard began with the Militia Act of 1903, which replaced a similar act of 1792. The Constitution says the militia may be called up to "execute the laws of the Union, suppress insurrections and repel invasions."

Terrorists invaded the USA on 9/11. They are a constant threat along our 2,000-mile Mexican border and our 4,000-mile border with lower Canada. Terrorists in Iraq are not, and never were, a threat to our homeland.

Read the rest at USA Today