Sunday, June 03, 2007

Perspective: On This Day In Iraq -- June 3rd edition

June 3, 2003: Young Iraqis enjoy the slide at an amusement park in Baghdad, reopened June 3 for the first time since the start of the war. The park was reopened with the assistance of the 2nd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, out of Fort Bragg, N.C.

June 3, 2002:

'Strike first' policy on Iraq? Not so easy

President Bush has not wavered in his stated goal of unseating the Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, but the US military faces diplomatic and practical obstacles on its path to Baghdad.

Mr. Bush set forth his resolve in a speech Saturday to West Point graduates, stating that in the post-9/11 world, the US military must be prepared to launch preemptive strikes, to "confront the worst threats before they emerge."

He didn't mention Iraq by name, but clearly implied it would fall among the potential targets. Bush talked of an unprecedented threat of chemical, biological, or nuclear attack from "terrorists and tyrants."

Still, recent signs suggest that the debate that has raged in Washington since Sept. 11 over whether to take military action against Iraq is far from over.

A key factor complicating any decision to move forward with a military operation is Iraq's new willingness to discuss a return of UN weapons inspectors absent since 1998. Advocates of using force see this as a ploy by Hussein.

But US allies in Europe are so far reluctant to endorse the military option, with some favoring the pursuit of alternatives to contain Hussein, such as arms inspections.

Reservations over using military force to unseat Hussein are also surfacing in the American public and among members of Congress and the US armed services. Moreover, potential allies in the Mideast are putting priority on resolving the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.

"The outcome of US policy is not predetermined," says Kenneth Katzman, an Iraq specialist at the Congressional Research Service who advises members of Congress. "It will depend on whether Iraq lets the inspectors in and its degree of cooperation."

Talks between UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Iraq's Foreign Minister Naji Sabri over renewing inspections are planned for July. This will be the third stage in negotiations that resumed in March for the first time since 1998, when inspectors left after years of obstruction by Iraq.

US officials and experts are divided over whether Iraq will now cooperate with inspectors sufficiently to ensure that Iraq will not develop chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons. Iraq denies it is pursuing such weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Yet US intelligence as well as the accounts of Iraqi defectors suggest that the programs are alive and well, arms experts say.

One view, expressed emphatically by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other senior Pentagon officials, is that Hussein is unlikely to abandon the pursuit of WMD. "It would have to be an enormously intrusive inspection regime for ... any reasonable person to have confidence that it could in fact find, locate, and identify the government of Iraq's very aggressive weapons of mass destruction program," Mr. Rumsfeld said in April.

Read the rest at the Christian Science Monitor

June 3, 2003:

Ratchet up the urgency on Iraq weapons search

The war with Iraq ended a month ago, but a new battle is erupting. The failure of U.S. troops to find weapons of mass destruction has kicked off a fierce debate at home over the Bush administration's prime justification for toppling Saddam Hussein.

With senators from both parties calling this week for hearings into why banned weapons haven't been located, some Democrats are asking whether they ever existed. Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., complained that the failure to find chemical and biological agents or a nuclear program raises "serious questions about prevarication and the reckless use of power." Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., accused the administration of using forged documents in making its case for war.

The administration has shrugged off the charges by both downplaying the importance of finding the weapons now that Iraq is liberated and playing up minor discoveries. President Bush claimed that U.S. forces already discovered weapons of mass destruction. But that was based on finding just two truck trailers that are merely suspected of being mobile biological weapons labs. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz invited heightened cynicism with the flippant admission that the administration's pre-war warnings about Saddam's dangerous stashes were used to sell the war because the weapons were "the one issue that everyone could agree on."

But beliefs that Saddam didn't have banned weapons or that their existence no longer matters are dangerous illusions. In fact, a broad coalition of experts in the U.S. and abroad has concluded that Saddam almost certainly had massive stocks of lethal chemical and biological agents at least until just before the war, with much of the arsenal still unaccounted for.

Even with Saddam gone, finding out what happened to those caches and destroying them if they exist remain top priorities. An administration that sold the invasion of Iraq as part of the larger war against terror has an obligation to ensure the weapons aren't acquired by terrorists.

Read the rest at USA Today

June 3, 2004:

Army extends duty tour in units bound for Iraq

The Army announced Wednesday it will require soldiers to extend their active duty tours if their units are bound for Iraq and Afghanistan, a move that could keep thousands of troops in the service for months longer than they had expected over the next several years.

The announcement, which expands an existing program that applies to some soldiers already in Iraq or Afghanistan, means soldiers in the two combat zones who had planned to retire, move to other Army jobs or leave the military when their enlistments expired will be required to stay as long as their units do. That could range from a few extra weeks to more than a year. Commanders will be allowed to make exceptions in special circumstances.

The move will affect active-duty and Reserve units that are within 90 days of deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan, which are now typically one-year assignments, and will last up to 90 days after the unit returns home, Army officials said.

The officials did not give a precise time frame for how long the policy will remain in force or exactly how many troops it will affect, saying that depends on the pace of an ambitious Army reorganization and how operations go in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A senior Army general said the move will allow the Army to keep units together as they deploy for duty in Afghanistan or Iraq, instead of incorporating new recruits or recent transfers who would not perform as well.

"The rationale is to have cohesive, trained units going to war together," said the officer, Lt. Gen. Franklin Hagenbeck, the deputy chief of staff for personnel.

But military analysts and some lawmakers said the widening of the so- called stop-loss policy is the latest indication that the Army is stretched dangerously thin as it struggles to maintain more than 115,000 soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as smaller deployments elsewhere. The new policy does not apply to the Marine Corps, which has more than 25,000 Marines deployed in the two countries, or the Navy or Air Force.

Without the program, an average Army division would have to replace more than 4,000 soldiers, roughly one-quarter to one-fifth of its total force, before or during a deployment, the Army said in a statement. There are the equivalent of roughly five divisions deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Army has already been scrambling to increase troop strength in the two countries. About 20,000 soldiers had their tours extended by 90 days this spring to fill the gap between troop rotations. In recent weeks, the Army announced it will send 3,600 troops from South Korea to Iraq to relieve pressure on Army troops there. And for the first time, the Army is looking to deploy an elite unit that serves in desert training exercises, the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment at Fort Irwin (San Bernardino County), to Iraq.

Also, for the first time in more than a decade, the Army is combing through the Individual Ready Reserve, the nation's pool of former soldiers, looking for specialists with critically needed skills. So far, 618 soldiers have been called back to duty under the program.

"The Army is just running out of creative ideas for coping with the level of commitment that Iraq requires," said Loren Thompson, a military analyst at the Lexington Institute, a policy research center in Arlington, Va. "It's clear there was a fundamental miscalculation about how protracted and how intense the ground commitment in Iraq would be."

Read the rest at the SF Chronicle

June 3, 2005:

The Bush revolution has only just begun

All through the White House last week they talked of little else. Everywhere Bush Administration officials looked they could see the first spring-like buds of freedom starting to appear amid the barren political landscape of the Middle East.

In Beirut crowds of flag-waving demonstrators clamoured for their "cedar revolution", eventually forcing the Syrian-backed government of Omar Qarami to resign. In Cairo the Pharaonic Hosni Mubarak, who has held undisputed power for 25 years, announced that when Egyptians vote in a referendum later this year other candidates will be allowed to challenge his president-for-life status.

These, along with developments such as the recent municipal elections in Saudi Arabia, were just the latest manifestations of a dramatic climate change in the politics of the region. Some of the more enthusiastic pro-democracy supporters are talking of a Prague-like spring sweeping through the tired autocracies of the Arab world.

The Bush Administration has not been slow to identify the roots of this tentative flowering of democracy among the long-oppressed peoples of the Middle East. The purple dye-marked fingers of the Iraqis who voted in January's historic election are seen as having planted the seeds of a revolution that could yet fundamentally alter the region's outlook.

"You should never underestimate the potency of freedom," a senior White House official told me. "Once you have let the genie out of the bottle it is hard to put it back. People look at what happened in Iraq and say, `Hey, we can do that here too.' "

Read the rest at the Telegraph

June 3, 2006:

State has 'melted,' leaving Basra in chaos

The message in the Shiite newspaper was perfectly clear: Watching soccer is a dangerous distraction. It leads to celebrating in the street, listening to music, waving flags and seeing scantily clad female fans - all forbidden.

Fadhila, one of the many religious Shiite political parties that proliferate in this southern city, was handing out copies at Basra University.

Iraqi leaders have called on the army to halt this once-quiet southern city's slide into chaos. But the problems run far deeper than tanks and machine guns can reach.

They begin in Basra's institutions, where political parties have taken root, forming morals patrols in the halls of Basra University, moving into the flimsy police force and controlling the guard force that protects the important sites at the state oil company.

"We're into political porridge," said Brigadier James Everard, commander of the British forces that patrol southern Iraq. "It's mafia-type politics down here."

Many parties - there are six in the Basra Provincial Council - have their own militias, and those armed groups have been fighting battles over political causes in recent months. The result has been a soaring murder rate, the second- highest casualty month for the British military since the start of the war and an absolutely terrified population.

"I cannot talk with you," said Sajid Saad Hassan, a professor at Basra University's agriculture college. "I haven't joined a party and no militia is protecting me."

As military planners contemplate the future of this war, they are seeing a southern Iraqi landscape that is infinitely more complex than it was at the start of their effort.

For the last three years, Baghdad has put its resources into fighting an insurgent war in central and western Iraq, and the predominantly Shiite south has been allowed to go its own way.

But rules fell away along with the regime of Saddam Hussein, leaving a broken landscape of sagging state institutions. Ambitious political parties, criminal gangs and the region's vast network of tribes, stepped in to fill the vacuum.

"So much of the state melted after Saddam fell," U.S. official said.

Among the first steps for the new state was the building of a police force. But the police chief at the beginning was weak, and the parties quickly began to bully him.

Politically motivated recruiting increased the size of the force, which now has 15,000 members, twice as many as it should have, a British official said.

Major General Hassan Swadi al-Saad, the city's police chief, said he had resisted influence by the parties, a practice that had nearly cost him his life. Last week his convoy was bombed - an attack that he said was probably carried out by police officers working for one or another party.

On Tuesday, gunmen killed one of his senior guards and wounded another.

"The parties are assassinating one another for posts," he said.

Read the rest at the International Herald Tribune