Sunday, May 27, 2007

Perspective: On This Day In Iraq -- May 27th edition

May 27, 2005: M2A2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle crew members with 3rd Brigade Troop Battalion, 3rd Infantry Division, drive back to Forward Operating Base Warhorse after a mission in near Baqubah

May 27, 2002:

U.S. power doesn't rally terror allies

The Bush administration boasts that 20 nations have supplied troops for the U.S.-led military effort in and around Afghanistan, but all the talk of a robust coalition can't hide the fact that increasingly America is a military giant in a world of relative pygmies.

The United States military budget is $343 billion this fiscal year, and President Bush has proposed raising it to $396 billion, an amount he is sure to get from a Congress stirred to unity on military spending by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

In comparison, the combined military budgets for all 18 other NATO member nations plus major U.S. allies Japan, South Korea and Australia add up to only $212.6 billion.

"In terms of capabilities, allied forces -- except the British -- are largely viewed as a hindrance to American power projection," said Sean Kay, a defense policy researcher at the Eisenhower Institute in Washington, D.C.

This lopsidedness in military capability carries enormous implications for America's role in the world and for its relations with its longtime allies, especially as Bush presses for further action against his "axis of evil," particularly Iraq under Saddam Hussein.

On his current European tour, which continues today in France, Bush has met with little enthusiasm from U.S. allies for military action against Iraq.

Read the rest at the SF Chronicle

May 27, 2003:

Rumsfeld warns Tehran on Iraq regime

Donald Rumsfeld, US defence secretary, on Tuesday warned Iran that the US would "aggressively put down" any attempt to install a theocratic regime in Iraq.

The warning reflects Washington's concern that Shia Muslim clerics in Iraq, some with theological or political ties to Iran, have emerged as the most adroit leaders on the ground, helping to fill the vacuum left by the fall of Saddam Hussein.

"Iran should be on notice that their efforts to remake Iraq in Iran's image will be aggressively put down," Mr Rumsfeld said in a speech to the independent Council on Foreign Relations, in New York.

The US, he said, had its "stake" in helping Iraq move to some form of representative democracy. There was no American template but the US would not allow another dictatorship to exist.

Read the rest at Financial Times

May 27, 2004:

N.Y. Times admits deficiencies in Iraq coverage

To the readers:

In an editors' note Wednesday, the New York Times acknowledged that some of its Iraq coverage "was not as rigorous as it should have been" because it had failed to sufficiently challenge or qualify controversial information or failed to revisit questionable claims as more information became known.

The stories -- six were cited in particular -- shared a characteristic, the Times said: "They depended at least in part on information from a circle of Iraqi informants, defectors and exiles bent on 'regime change' in Iraq, people whose credibility has come under increasing public debate in recent weeks."

The Chronicle, which subscribes to the New York Times News Service, published four of the stories. They were:

-- Nov. 8, 2001: "Defectors detail Saddam's agents of terror," which ran on Page A5 in The Chronicle and Page 1 in the Times, described secret Iraqi camps that had trained Islamic terrorists. The story was attributed to two Iraqi defectors and said the purported training was "likely to fuel one side of an intense debate in Washington over whether to extend the war against Osama bin Laden and the Taliban government of Afghanistan to include Iraq." The Times' note said the terrorism training has never been verified.

-- Dec. 20, 2001: "Iraqi defector says he renovated secret weapons labs" ran on Page A5 of The Chronicle and the front page of the Times. It described how an Iraqi "civil engineer" helped renovate sites for biological, chemical and nuclear weapons as late as the year 2000. "It is still possible that chemical or biological weapons will be unearthed in Iraq, but in this case it looks as if we, along with the administration, were taken in," the Times said Wednesday.

-- Sept. 8, 2002: "Sizing up Hussein/Iraq said to be seeking ingredients for atom bomb," which ran on Page A3 in The Chronicle and led the Times' front page, asserted that Iraq "has intensified its quest for nuclear weapons and has embarked on a worldwide hunt for materials to make an atomic bomb." The Times said the claim "came not from defectors but from the best American intelligence sources available at the time. Still, it should have been presented more cautiously. There were hints that the usefulness of the tubes in making nuclear fuel was not a sure thing, but the hints were buried deep, 1, 700 words into a 3,600-word article."

-- April 21, 2003: "Scientist says Iraq destroyed illicit arms" ran on Page A14 in The Chronicle, Page 1 in the Times. Iraq was destroying chemical weapons of biological equipment just before the war began, the story said, citing members of a U.S. military team who had talked to an Iraqi scientist. According to the story, the account supports the Bush administration's contention that Iraq had continued to develop illegal weapons before the war and "provides an explanation why U.S. forces had not yet turned up caches of banned weapons in Iraq."

The Times acknowledged it had not followed up on the story to determine whether the source was believable and his claims were true.

In their note to readers, Times editors said they had reviewed hundreds of stories. Mostly, they said, "we found an enormous amount of journalism that we are proud of. In most cases, what we reported was an accurate reflection of the state of our knowledge at the time, much of it painstakingly extracted from intelligence agencies that were themselves dependent on sketchy information."

Read the rest at the SF Chronicle

May 27, 2005:

Shift to sectarian killings feared in Iraq

No one knows who tortured and killed Hassan al-Nuaimi, a Sunni Arab cleric whose body was found in an empty lot this month, with a hole drilled in his head and both eyes missing. But the various theories have a distinctly sectarian tinge.

A Shiite police chief investigating the death said that he suspected Sunni Arab extremists who have driven much of the insurgency in Iraq, a lot of it aimed at Shiites. The Sunni family mourning the cleric pointed the finger at the Badr Organization, a Shiite militia. But with Nuaimi buried, the truth, as so often is the case with killings in Iraq, seemed lost in rumor and allegations.

The only sure thing was that Nuaimi, and another Sunni man who helped write sermons, were killed within 12 hours of their disappearance from a mixed Sunni-Shiite neighborhood in northeast Baghdad. And their deaths, amid violence that has taken more than 550 lives across Iraq this month, renewed concern that the bloodshed might be shifting ever more toward crudely sectarian killings.

"The killing in Iraq now is according to religious identity," said Sheik Abdel Nasir al-Janabi, a religious Sunni and a hard-line member of the National Dialogue Council, a Sunni political group that says it has ties to the insurgency. "Now you're killed because you're a Sunni Arab."

Shiite leaders, including Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's most powerful Shiite cleric, have responded to such talk with calls for calm, and they renewed appeals to Shiites that they place their trust in Iraq's fledgling democracy, not revenge killings.

But the urgency of the Shiite leaders' appeals reflects a deepening anxiety that the welter of allegations about Shiite death squads targeting Sunni Arabs, true or false, may prompt still more sectarian killings, pushing the country to the brink of civil war.

"We are drifting into a sectarian society," said Ghassan al-Atiyyah, a secular Shiite and the director of the Iraqi Foundation for Development and Democracy, a Baghdad research institute.

"The Americans, instead of strengthening liberal and secular, they are now hostage of Sciri," he said, referring to a religious Shiite political group, "and Kurds."

"They let the genie out of the bottle," Atiyyah said.

Read the rest at the International Herald Tribune

May 27, 2006:

Vietnam War's shadows lengthen over Iraq

The silhouettes that roar through the Baghdad twilight are sleeker than the helicopters of an earlier time. The wind brings dust, not drenching monsoons. The river snaking seaward is called Tigris, not Mekong. And this war's not fought to the wail of Jimi Hendrix's guitar.

But half a world away and half a lifetime later, a long shadow from a long-ago conflict hangs over the U.S. war in Iraq — in its "body counts" and "turning points," its Claymore mines and Kalashnikovs, its "hearts and minds" and "search and destroy," its anti-war voices rising back home.

Steve Budnick felt the deja vu when mortar rounds fell as he settled into a civilian job with the U.S. reconstruction agency here.

"That's what took me back, the mortars," the 60-year-old ex-infantryman said. "But these Iraqis can't aim worth a damn!"

"These guys are nothing compared with the North Vietnamese," said Jack Holley, now a U.S. logistics chief, then a young Marine officer. "The NVA would have had us marked and cross-haired."

Unlike the single-minded foe in Vietnam, the anti-U.S. resistance here is fragmented, without a political program. That war was bigger — 543,000 U.S. troops in 1969, facing hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese fighters, compared with 130,000 Americans here, versus perhaps 20,000 insurgents. It was a disgruntled, draftee U.S. Army then, unlike today's all-volunteer force. And U.S. casualty rates were much higher: an average 19 Americans killed a day over eight years in Vietnam, compared with two a day here.

But for all the contrasts in scale, this U.S. military operation — far from American shores, bent on shaping the political future of another land, facing a resourceful resistance, trying to hand off the fight to local allies, and fast losing support at home — shows important parallels to Vietnam.

The parallels are obvious enough to prompt war veterans such as the retired colonel Holley to look for lessons from Vietnam. His: U.S. soldiers should fight shoulder-to-shoulder with Iraqi allies, something he said worked for Marines in Vietnam before all was lost.

Read the rest at the Houston Chronicle