Thursday, May 24, 2007

Perspective: On This Day In Iraq -- May 24th edition

May 24, 2006: A soldier from the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division looks through the scope of an M-4 rifle while taking part in a security mission in Tall Afar

May 24, 2002:

Military Bids to Postpone Iraq Invasion

The uniformed leaders of the U.S. military believe they have persuaded the Pentagon's civilian leadership to put off an invasion of Iraq until next year at the earliest and perhaps not to do it at all, according to senior Pentagon officials.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff have waged a determined behind-the-scenes campaign to persuade the Bush administration to reconsider an aggressive posture toward Iraq in which war was regarded as all but inevitable. This included a secret briefing at the White House earlier this month for President Bush by Army Gen. Tommy R. Franks, who as head of the Central Command would oversee any U.S. military campaign against Iraq.

During the meeting, Franks told the president that invading Iraq to oust Saddam Hussein would require at least 200,000 troops, far more than some other military experts have calculated. This was in line with views of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who have repeatedly emphasized the lengthy buildup that would be required, concerns about Hussein's possible use of biological and chemical weapons and the possible casualties, officials said.

Read the rest at the Washington Post

May 24, 2003:

Blix suspects there are no weapons of mass destruction

The chief UN weapons inspector, Hans Blix, said yesterday that he suspected that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction,
He added that "in this respect" the war might not have been justified.

"I am obviously very interested in the question of whether or not there were weapons of mass destruction - and I am beginning to suspect there possibly were none," he said in an interview with the Berlin newspaper Der Tagesspiegel.

Dr Blix, who retires next month, has previously condemned as "shaky" the evidence presented by British and American intelligence before the war, and said that it was "conspicuous" that they had failed to make significant discoveries after the war.

But in yesterday's interview, he went further. He said: "The main justification for the war was weapons of mass destruction, and it may turn out that in this respect the war was not justified."

Read the rest at the Guardian

May 24, 2004:

Iran warns US as forces pound holy sites in Iraq

Iran issued a "formal warning" to the Bush administration yesterday as American military forces launched a major attack on the Iraqi holy cities of Najaf and Kufa.

The attack was an apparent attempt to crush the Shia rebellion in the south of Iraq led by the militant cleric Moqtadr al-Sadr.

Aircraft bombed Najaf, site of the Imam Ali shrine, one of the holiest in Shia Islam, killing several civilians. Tanks and armoured cars raided an important mosque in nearby Kufa, killing around 20 militants.

The attack appears to be a last-ditch attempt by the Americans to gain the initiative in the Shia belt about 100 miles south of the capital, Baghdad, even as control is slipping from their grasp.

In recent weeks their troops have barely been able to move out of their heavily fortified bases without coming under attack from militants loyal to Sadr.

The outcome of the campaign to regain control of Najaf, Kufa and Karbala, slightly to the north, may well prove pivotal for US attempts to pacify Iraq and conduct an organised withdrawal.

The three cities are of immense religious importance of the followers of Shia Islam, which is the state religion in Iran, Iraq's neighbour to the east.

The Iranian foreign ministry said the situation in Iraq had changed following the "torture of prisoners" and "attacks on the holy places".

Read the rest at the Telegraph

May 24, 2005:

Women already see combat

Last month, a striking photo of a 25-year-old soldier named Dawn Halfaker appeared on the front page of USA TODAY. Lt. Halfaker was wearing an Army T-shirt and was missing her right arm, the result of a rocket-propelled grenade slamming into her armored Humvee in Iraq.

Reaction to the photo was muted. No campaigns to pull women out of combat zones. Just supportive letters noting the sacrifice made by Halfaker and other women in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Now, some members of Congress seem determined to "protect" Halfaker and other women in the military. The lawmakers are challenging Army policies that have placed thousands of women in war zones where front and rear lines are murky.

Most women in uniform aren't seeking that kind of help. Nor is the Army, which prefers to manage its own fighting forces without congressional meddling.

The issue comes to a head this week as the House of Representatives considers an amendment that would put Congress — not the military — in control of the Defense Department's polices on women. Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, and others recently lost an attempt to pull thousands of women out of combat-zone tasks. Their latest proposal to place Congress in charge amounts to a back-door way of achieving the same goal.

The current guidelines date to 1994, when then-Defense secretary Les Aspin opened 91% of Army jobs to women, up from two-thirds. Women poured into all the services, including the Army, where today they make up 15% of the Army's active force.

Aspin fenced off jobs involving direct ground combat. Those are the forward assault units such as infantry and special forces. For the most part, that policy has worked well. Although women make up 10% of the forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, they constitute only 2% of the casualties.

But if women are prohibited from serving in combat, why are there any casualties? The answer: Military zones are dangerous places. Of the 35 women who have died in the two countries, 12 died in plane or vehicle crashes. The rest ran into the same sort of danger Halfaker did. She was passing through streets that lack front and rear lines. That 1994 policy didn't envision wars such as the one in Iraq.

Read the rest at USA Today

May 24, 2006:

Armed groups propel Iraq toward chaos

BAGHDAD Even in a country beset by murder and death, the 16th Brigade represented a new frontier.

The brigade, a 1,000-man force set up by Iraq's Ministry of Defense in early 2005, was charged with guarding a stretch of oil pipeline that ran through the southern Baghdad neighborhood of Dawra. Heavily armed and lightly supervised, some members of the largely Sunni brigade transformed themselves into a death squad, cooperating with insurgents and executing government collaborators, Iraqi officials say.

"They were killing innocent people, anyone who was affiliated with the government," said Hassan Thuwaini, the director of the Iraqi Oil Ministry's protection force.

Forty-two members of the brigade were arrested in January, according to officials at the Ministry of the Interior and the police department in Dawra.

Since then, Iraqi officials say, individual gunmen have confessed to carrying out dozens of assassinations, including the killing of their own commander, Col. Mohsin Najdi, when he threatened to turn them in.

Some of the men assigned to guard the oil pipeline, the officials say, appear to have maintained links to the major Iraqi insurgent groups. For months, American and Iraqi officials have been trying to track down death squads singling out Sunnis that operated inside the Shiite-led Interior Ministry.

But the 16th Brigade was different. Unlike the others, the 16th Brigade was a Sunni outfit, accused of killing Shiites. And it was not, like the others, part of the Iraqi police or even the Interior Ministry. It was run by another Iraqi ministry altogether.

Such is the country that the new Iraqi leaders who took office Saturday are inheriting. The headlong, American-backed effort to arm tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers and officers, coupled with a failure to curb a nearly equal number of militia gunmen, has created a galaxy of armed groups, each with its own loyalty and agenda, which are accelerating the country's slide into chaos.

Indeed, the 16th Brigade stands as a model for how freelance government violence has spread far beyond the ranks of the Shiite-backed police force and Interior Ministry to encompass other government ministries, private militias and people in the upper levels of the Shiite government.

Sometimes, the lines between one government force and another - and between the police and the militias - are so blurry that it is impossible to determine who the killers are.

"No one knows who is who right now," said Adil Abdul Mahdi, one of Iraq's vice presidents.

The armed groups operating across Iraq include not just the 145,000 officially sanctioned police officers and commandos who have come under scrutiny for widespread human rights violations. They also include thousands of armed guards and militia gunmen: some Shiite, some Sunni; some, like the 145,000-member Facilities Protection Service, operating with official backing; and some, like the Shiite-led Badr Brigade militia, conducting operations with the government's tacit approval, sometimes even wearing government uniforms.

Read the rest at the International Herald Tribune