Saturday, May 19, 2007

Perspective: On This Day In Iraq -- May 19th edition

May 19, 2005: A soldier provides forward security while fellow soldiers prepare to enter an Iraqi village in search of information about insurgent activity in Iskandariya, part of the area known as the 'Triangle of Death'.

May 19, 2002:

Learning to live with toxic terror

Playwright Neil Simon picked the right place when he penned Lost in Yonkers, his family comedy set in the quiet commuter town just a 20-minute drive from Manhattan's skyscrapers. Mention the suburb's name in a word-association test and the typical New Yorker would likely answer "sleepy" and "safe".

But not last Thursday night. First came the shrieking sirens and moon-suited biohazard crews, then the road blocks, circling helicopters and an iron-tight quarantine enforced by national guardsmen with automatic weapons. For the remainder of a confused and anxious evening, the town was gripped by what has become one of America's greatest fears in these post-September 11 days: the chilling possibility that it had been selected as the target of full-fledged assault with chemical or biological weapons.

As it turned out - some four hours after the first members of a family described only as being "of Mideast origin" went into convulsions and collapsed in their apartment - the cause was later identified as nothing more sinister than an outbreak of food poisoning...

But what if it did happen? What if, for example, Bush launched an attack on Iraq and Saddam Hussein's sleeper agents in the US unleashed the biological weapons that few doubt he possesses?

If that scenario unfolds, the panic that struck home last week to the north of Manhattan would spread nationwide. It's a deeply unsettling thought: an entire nation lost in Yonkers.

Read the rest at the Age

May 19, 2003:

Thousands of Shiites march demanding end to U.S. occupation

BAGHDAD (AP) — Thousands of Shiite Muslims staged the largest protest against America's presence in Iraq since the war's end with a noisy but peaceful rally. The well-organized march Monday was policed by men carrying AK-47s who did not confront nearby U.S. soldiers keeping watch.

Since Saddam Hussein's ouster by coalition troops last month, there has been a spate of smaller gatherings, some of them hundreds strong, demanding that occupying forces withdraw. But Monday's march was the biggest in terms of numbers, and had a distinctly political message.

Carrying portraits of ayatollahs and other religious leaders, the crowd, which swelled at one point to 10,000, chanted "No Shiites and no Sunnis — just Islamic unity" and sang religious songs. "No to the foreign administration," one banner unfurled by the marchers said.

The march was the latest show by Shiites of their newfound power in postwar Iraq — though they sought to show unity with Iraq's Sunni Muslim minority by starting the march at a Sunni mosque. A lone Sunni cleric took part in the rally, and it was unclear how many Sunnis were in the crowd.

"What we are calling for is an interim government that represents all segments of Iraqi society," said Ali Salman, an activist.

Organizers sprayed participants with water to cool them off, and monitors formed human chains around the crowd to ensure that the marchers stayed in line and no violence occurred.

Small groups of U.S. infantrymen, including snipers deployed on nearby rooftops, watched the rally but did not intervene. Several dozen Shiite organizers armed with assault rifles patrolled the area. They, too, were left alone by the Americans.

The U.S.-led Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance said it didn't mind such demonstrations but expressed confidence that a majority of Iraqis welcome the new authorities.

The marchers went from the Sunni mosque in the capital's northern district of Azimiyah and crossed the Tigris River to Kadhamiya, a neighborhood that is home to one of the holiest Shiite shrines in Iraq.

Two dozen Shiite clerics in turbans and black robes led the march, standing in the back of a huge truck to address the predominantly male crowd.

"What we want is a united Iraq," said Mohammed al-Fatous, a 31-year-old Shiite cleric from al-Thawra, a Baghdad district formerly known as Saddam City that is home to 2 million Shiites. The procession was organized mainly by religious groups from al-Thawra.

"We want a nation that's run by honest people who are elected by the people of Iraq," said al-Fatous. "We don't want charlatans."

Many Iraqis are suspicious of exiled opposition politicians who returned following Saddam's fall and are elbowing for power. Some have called the returnees American stooges who are trying to implement a Western-style political system unsuitable for Iraq.

Read the rest at USA Today

May 19, 2004:

Bush: Iraq government to be named soon

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States expects decisions to be made in a "couple of weeks" about the makeup of the interim Iraqi government that will take power after June 30, President Bush told reporters Wednesday.

The Bush administration has asked U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi to choose members of a new government for Iraq, which would run the country until elections could be held in 2005.

"I anticipate in the next couple of weeks, decisions will be made toward who will be the president and the vice presidents, as well as the prime minister and other ministers," Bush said after a Cabinet meeting Wednesday morning.

The president said Secretary of State Colin Powell was consulting with U.N. Security Council members to build support for that resolution -- which also would authorize the presence of U.S. troops at the head of a multinational force that would retain control over Iraqi security forces.

Currently, about 138,000 U.S. troops and another 20,000 allied troops are based in Iraq.

Read the rest at CNN

May 19, 2005:

Generals Offer Sober Outlook on Iraqi War

BAGHDAD, Iraq, May 18 - American military commanders in Baghdad and Washington gave a sobering new assessment on Wednesday of the war in Iraq, adding to the mood of anxiety that prompted Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to come to Baghdad last weekend to consult with the new government.

In interviews and briefings this week, some of the generals pulled back from recent suggestions, some by the same officers, that positive trends in Iraq could allow a major drawdown in the 138,000 American troops late this year or early in 2006. One officer suggested Wednesday that American military involvement could last "many years."

Gen. John P. Abizaid, the top American officer in the Middle East, said in a briefing in Washington that one problem was the disappointing progress in developing Iraqi police units cohesive enough to mount an effective challenge to insurgents and allow American forces to begin stepping back from the fighting. General Abizaid, who speaks with President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld regularly, was in Washington this week for a meeting of regional commanders.

In Baghdad, a senior officer said Wednesday in a background briefing that the 21 car bombings in Baghdad so far this month almost matched the total of 25 in all of last year.

Read the rest at Kurdish News

May 19, 2006:

Iraqis fleeing the 'slaughter farm'

Deaths run like water through the life of the Bahjat family. A barber. Three grocers. Four neighbors. Two men who ran a currency exchange shop.

But when six armed men stormed into their sons' primary school this month, shot a guard to death, and left fliers ordering it to close, Assad Bahjat knew it was time to leave.

"The main thing now is to just get out of Iraq," said Bahjat, standing in a room heaped with suitcases and bedroom furniture in eastern Baghdad.

"It's like we are in hell, looking for a piece of straw to grab onto," Bahjat said. "Even with more time, the security will not improve."

Iraqis have been leaving Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. Jordan is believed to have close to a million Iraqis, and Syrian cities also have growing Iraqi populations. But since the bombing of a shrine in Samarra sparked a sectarian rampage, crime and killing has spread further through Iraqi society, paralyzing neighborhoods and smashing families.

Now, on the brink of a new, permanent government, Iraqis are expressing the darkest view of their future in three years, and larger numbers are choosing to leave.

"We're like sheep at a slaughter farm," said a businessman, who is arranging a move to Jordan. "Before we were 2,000, and now we are 200. We are just waiting for our time."

'Now you feel, it is much more dangerous for yourself," the businessman said. "All Iraqis are talking like this."

The migration is difficult to count. Iraq's Ministry for Migration said it does not keep track.

In one rough indicator, the Ministry of Education has issued 39,554 letters permitting parents to take their children's academic records abroad since 2004, indicating that about that many families have left.

It issued twice as many letters in 2005, as in 2004, said Sabah al-Jaff, the director of the examination department at the ministry.

One other clue is the number of new passports issued - 1.85 million in the last 10 months.

One particularly devastating event, and a turning point for many middle class Iraqis, was the days of sectarian violence after the bombing of the Samarra shrine.

The violence was shocking: Gangs of Shiites in Baghdad pulled Sunni Arabs out of houses and mosques and killed them in a spree that sparked retaliatory attacks and displaced 14,500 families from the end of February to early May, according to the Ministry for Migration.

Even worse, however, was how little the government did to stop the violence. That failure boded ominously for the future, leaving many Iraqis feeling that the government was incapable of protecting them and even more darkly, that it helped in the killing.

Read the rest at the International Herald Tribune