Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Perspective: On This Day In Iraq -- May 29th edition

May 29, 2006: Loaded with more than 90 pounds of military gear, U.S. Marines practice on-loading and off-loading helicopters and simulate a rescuein Al Anbar Province.

May 29, 2002:

Vaccinate against smallpox before attacking Iraq

As Pentagon officials ponder invasion plans for Iraq, U.S. public health officials are debating an issue whose outcome could make such an invasion politically impossible. It is the question of whether to launch a wide-scale vaccination program in the United States against smallpox — historically one of the most devastating diseases known to humanity.

The reason: U.S. government planners believe that the principal threat to America from smallpox is not the danger posed by some future terrorist organization, but by Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. If inoculations are widely administered in advance of an actual outbreak of the disease, even on a voluntary basis, they would become "the shots heard around the world." Other countries would urgently seek to follow America's lead and some would feel highly vulnerable until they had done so.

Saddam is known to have had an extensive, moderately advanced biological warfare program that included the weaponization of anthrax bacteria, among other agents. There is no direct evidence that Iraq weaponized the smallpox virus, but Iraqi specialists are known to have been working with the camelpox virus. The virus may be used as a surrogate for research on smallpox therapies and vaccines — and for the development of the smallpox virus as a weapon.

Although the World Health Organization declared smallpox eradicated in 1980 some of the last naturally occurring cases of the contagious disease were in Iraq, in 1972, when the Ba'athist regime, which Saddam would later head, was consolidating its power. The outbreak may have provided the Iraqi regime the opportunity to obtain and secretly hold onto cultures of the virus — the cause of a disease that over the centuries killed up to 30 percent of those infected and left many of the survivors disfigured with pockmarks, most prominently on the face.

Read the rest at the International Herald Tribune

May 29, 2003:

U.S. 'confident' over Iraq WMDs

U.S. intelligence officials say they are now "confident" that trucks laden with high-tech equipment found in Iraq were designed as mobile biological weapons production facilities.

One of the main premises for the invasion of Iraq was to rid the country of weapons of mass destruction, but despite the discovery of these apparent mobile weapons labs so far U.S. forces have found no banned weapons.

The report, produced jointly by the Pentagon and the CIA, concludes that the trucks must have been intended for weapons production because all other logical alternatives have been ruled out.

"BW (biological weapons) agent production is the only consistent, logical purpose for these vehicles" the report released Wednesday says.

The report adds: "coalition experts on fermentation systems and systems engineering examined the trailer found in late April and have been unable to identify any legitimate industrial use -- such as water purification, mobile medical laboratory, vaccine or pharmaceutical production -- that would justify the effort and expense of a mobile production capability."

The equipment in the trailers was either new and unused, or had been thoroughly cleaned to remove any traces of the materials used, according to the report.

But the find has not convinced critics who say that the existence of the trucks does nothing to prove what the Bush administration predicted before the war -- that at least 100 metric tons of weaponized chemical and biological agents would be found.

Read the rest at CNN

May 29, 2004:

An Iraq Pledge to Watch Closely

"Eventually [Iraqi forces] must be the primary defenders of Iraqi security, as American and coalition forces are withdrawn. . . . At my direction, and with the support of Iraqi authorities, we are accelerating our program to help train Iraqis to defend their country." -- President George W. Bush, U.S. Army War College speech, May 24, 2004.

As we observe this Memorial Day weekend celebration and the dedication of the National World War II Memorial, George Bush's pledge to prepare Iraqis to take over their country's security should not be overlooked. If ever a presidential declaration deserved close tracking and constant appraisal, especially by Congress, Bush's pledge to Iraqize that country's defense is it.

Richard Nixon said much the same thing about Vietnam during the first year of his presidency. 'Course, there's a world of difference between saying and doing. After the launching of Vietnamization, it took four years and an additional 15,000 Americans killed in action before U.S. troops were finally withdrawn from ground combat. And the troops came home only because Americans, war-weary and deeply divided, lost confidence in the White House and its Pentagon advisers, and demanded that Congress impose limitations on U.S. military action.

The burning question this weekend, as we honor those Americans who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country, is how long -- and at what additional cost in U.S. sons, daughters and treasure -- will it take before the Bush administration's ill-fated Iraq venture is mercifully brought to an end?

We learned a bloody and costly lesson 35 years ago by gambling that we could get a foreign country ready in short order to stand and fight on its own. Nixon, as did Lyndon Johnson, underestimated the motivation and fighting skill of the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong. Or, conversely, both overrated the South Vietnamese force that they equipped, trained and sent into combat. Either way, we got it wrong and the NVA got what it wanted: South Vietnam.

To hear Bush tell it this week, the United States is going to march down that same road. He set a goal of creating an Iraqi army of 35,000 soldiers fully prepared to defend their country. That's on top of his order to train an Iraqi force of more than 200,000 police and security personnel. As with Nixon, Bush did not announce a timetable for his program. But his objective is clear: The rate of American withdrawal will be calibrated to the growth of Iraqi forces.

Again, how long?

It's not an idle question. In an appraisal that came in decidedly on the low side, Bush admitted to Monday's national television audience that "the early performance of Iraqi forces fell short." Fell short? "Some refused orders to engage the enemy," said the U.S. commander in chief. Mr. Bush was way too kind. Would that it were only fear on the battlefield.

What about those Iraqi police who cooperated with the insurgents? I'm referring to reports of Iraqis turning over their weapons and the buildings they were guarding. How about those Iraqis who turned their guns on us? Failures of that kind cannot be chalked up to lack of training or unit cohesion, as Bush suggested this week. Something else may be afoot.

Guns are as plentiful in Iraqi homes as sand in the desert. Yet, with a couple of notable exceptions cited in Bush's speech, Iraqis are not showing much stomach for taking on and dismantling the terrorist forces, illegal militias and Saddam Hussein loyalist elements that Bush brands as enemies. Could it be the other way around: that the Iraqi people see the Western occupation -- not Arab militias and guerrillas -- as standing between themselves and their future as a self-determining, Islamic nation? A tougher question still: Even if the Iraqis were capable of dealing with the insurgents by themselves, would they? Does the insurgency have their enmity or their quiet admiration?

By Memorial Day 2005, we may have our answer. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz recently told Congress that it may take a year to 18 months to get Iraqi security forces fully trained and equipped.

Read the rest at the Washington Post

May 29, 2005:

Upon Memorial Day, soldiers worried, optimistic

RAMADI, Iraq (AP) — Sgt. Shawn Biederman is simply trying to survive the next two months and make it home. His unit mate, Spc. Brent Short, has just signed up for a one-year extension.

As another summer of searing heat bears down on Iraq, many soldiers in this troubled Sunni-dominated region of central Iraq say they remain as committed as ever to winning the war, however long it takes. Others fret about missing newborns' first words or precious time with young wives.

Still others worry about the slow pace of creating an Iraqi force to relieve them and say they aren't sure they are accomplishing anything real.

"We want to hand it over to them. But when it comes down to it, the (Iraqi police) we're hiring are all bad," said Army Sgt. Nicholas Radde, 21, of LaCrosse, Wis., as his soldiers took a break from the heat in the parking lot of an abandoned storage area.

Despite two interim Iraqi governments, a national election and the graduation of thousands of Iraqi soldiers, U.S. troops remain the ultimate security force in most of Iraq, more than two years after the U.S.-led invasion.

Read the rest at USA Today

May 29, 2006:

Iraq Poised to Become Main Iranian Ally

TEHRAN, Iran -- To Iran's west lies a natural ally and perhaps its most potent weapon in the international fray over its nuclear program. While Iran and Iraq were arch enemies during the rule of Saddam Hussein, all signs point to an increasingly robust relationship now that Shiites have achieved a dominant role in the Iraqi leadership.

It's a bond that has yet to reach its potential _ in large part because the U.S.-led invasion is responsible for Iraqi Shiites being at the top of the political heap for the first time in modern history. Iraqi Shiites are not looking the gift horse in the mouth.

But Iran and Iraq share a Shiite Muslim majority and deep cultural and historic ties, and Tehran's influence over its neighbor is growing. Iran will likely try to use Iraq as a battleground if the United States punishes Tehran economically or militarily, analysts say.

Many key positions in the Iraqi government now are occupied by men who took refuge in Iran to avoid oppression by the Saddam's former Sunni Muslim-dominated Baathist regime.

Iraq's powerful militias, meanwhile, have strong ties to Iran and have deeply infiltrated Iraqi security forces. They can be expected to side with Iran if the West should attack, said Paul Ingram of the British American Security Information Council.

"Iran has ties with Iraq which have not been mobilized as they could have been," Ingram said. "The militias based in Iraq received much of their training from Iran and they have not taken any instructions yet."

The Mahdi Army, loyal to firebrand anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, and the Badr Brigade, the military wing of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, both have significant links to Iran. The latter group is led by Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, the turbaned pro-Iranian cleric who headed the Shiite ticket that won Iraq's national elections in January.

If Iran is attacked, "Iraqi Shiites will not take this lightly. They will not sit and watch," said Diaa Rashwan, a Cairo-based analyst.

Iran's reach in Iraq goes well beyond the links to the powerful armed groups. After the U.S.-led invasion three years ago, the Iranian government quickly dispatched medical, humanitarian and religious assistance, especially to the predominantly Shiite cities in southern Iraq. Iran now is waiting for its investment in Iraq to accrue interest.

"Iran has a clear strategic depth in Iraq and there is an alliance between Iran and the upcoming Iraqi powers," said Iranian political analyst Mashallah Shamsolvaezin. "Iran hasn't utilized that option yet and it's a card that will be very influential."

Read the rest at the Washington Post