Monday, June 04, 2007

Perspective: On This Day In Iraq -- June 4th edition

June 4, 2004: U.S. soldiers stand over a comrade struck down by a sniper during a U.S. Army patrol on Palestine street near Sadr City

June 4, 2002:

Sender Unknown

Lost in the debate over what clues the FBI may have missed prior to September 11 is the troubling fact that the agency still hasn't figured out who mailed those anthrax-laced letters to members of Congress and major media outlets. The FBI says it believes the letters come from a domestic source, most likely a disgruntled American scientist. But as the agency toils away to nab a culprit, many an alternate theory has bloomed. Some are nutty, like the contention this month by a British tabloid that the culprit was a Harvard biologist who mysteriously fell from a Memphis bridge last November. (Assassinated by the U.S. government, naturally.) Or the recent suggestion by a respected New York microbiologist, Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, that some rogue government scientist had taken an FBI plan to study the dangers of mail-borne anthrax too far.

A more serious, and credible, theory comes from conservatives who see the hand of Saddam Hussein at work. Not coincidentally, these also happen to be the same conservatives who favor imminent U.S. military action against Iraq. After all, any connection between Iraq and terrorism in America vastly strengthens the case for toppling Hussein. The most recent installment in this crusade came from Wall Street Journal editor-columnist Robert Bartley, who yesterday rejected the FBI's domestic "lone wolf" theory in favor of "a stream of evidence pointing in an even more sinister direction." The high-grade anthrax, Bartley argues, was likely brewed in Iraq and transferred to an Al Qaeda operative who began sending it around soon after 9/11. "Connect the dots," Bartley implored the FBI.

There are, to be sure, some curious dots out there. The Czech government insists it monitored a Prague meeting between an Iraqi agent and lead hijacker Mohammed Atta. In addition, one of Atta's accomplices visited a then-unsuspecting Florida physician last summer about a mysterious black lesion he had developed. Some scientists (but not the FBI) now believe it might have been cutaneous anthrax. Most oddly, perhaps, the tabloid employee who was the first anthrax victim lived within a few miles of Atta.

But there's one enormous, insurmountable flaw that sinks all the Al Qaeda-Iraq theories: The anthrax letters were not designed to kill; they were designed to terrify. All of the recovered letters (the letter sent to American Media in Boca Raton, Florida, was never found) clearly declared their deadly nature, with chilling warnings like "We have this anthrax," "Take penacilin [sic] now," and "You die now." It was these generous and quite unnecessary words that prevented the anthrax mailings from killing dozens, and possibly hundreds, of people instead of a handful. Imagine that, instead of an ornery message proclaiming "Death to America," the letter to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle really did appear to be from a fourth-grade class, as its return address so sinisterly indicated. ("Dear Senator Daschle, You are our most favorite Senator. Please come visit our science fair this fall..." and so on, innocently.) The anthrax could have been mixed into an adorable decorative frosting of glitter and tiny paper stars that would seem a perfectly natural flourish for a bunch of school kids. A letter like that would surely have been thrown into a "reject politely" folder and forgotten--until Senate staffers began to suffer massive infections and die a few days later, touching off a wild panic. Al Qaeda didn't teach its recruits how to warn their victims; it taught them to kill as many people as possible. Does anyone believe Al Qaeda, or Saddam Hussein for that matter, would choose terror without murder when they can have both?

Read the rest at the New Republic

June 4, 2003:

In postwar Iraq, stability is missing in action

BAGHDAD — Nearly two months after U.S. forces stormed into Baghdad and toppled Saddam Hussein's government, Iraq's capital seethes with insecurity.

Mob-like crime has given rise to almost daily carjackings, kidnappings, gunfire and armed robberies. Looted buildings are repeatedly set afire.

The problems, echoed in towns and cities across Iraq, are not just impediments for Iraqis as they try to rebuild their lives. The ongoing chaos also has marred the U.S. military victory in April and has delayed the Bush administration's initial plan to install an interim Iraqi government later this month.

The lack of security has consumed the energies of U.S. officials, hampered humanitarian aide, blocked the homecoming of thousands of troops and sparked a wave of hostility against U.S. forces from Iraqis who consider the United States incapable of restoring the one thing Saddam could offer: stability.

Read the rest at USA Today

June 4, 2004:

Iraqi militia leader holed up in shrine

America yesterday pledged to arrest a radical Shi'ite leader hours after his militia fought with coalition troops in Baghdad as a tide of unrest threatened to engulf Iraq.

The US-led Coalition Provisional Authority announced that an arrest warrant had been issued for Moqtada al-Sadr, 30, the figurehead of Shi'ite discontent.

Sadr is accused of involvement in the murder of a leading cleric last year.

Last night he was barricaded inside a holy shrine in Kufa, south of Baghdad, where his supporters and armed followers from his banned private militia vowed to defend him with their lives. "We will be human shields for his protection," said one.

Paul Bremer, the US administrator in Iraq, branded Sadr an "outlaw" and accused him of organising attacks on coalition forces and trying to subvert the "legitimate authority" in Iraq.

"We will not tolerate this," he said.

Read the rest at the Telegraph

June 4, 2005:

Radical Shiite leader who once battled U.S. moves into Iraq's political mainstream

BAGHDAD, Iraq – Arguably Iraq's most popular Shiite group, followers of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr have packed away their guns and now speak of "political resistance" rather than martyrdom in battle.

Once dismissed as an upstart, the portly al-Sadr has been transformed into a respectable political figure, commanding the loyalty of key lawmakers and several Cabinet ministers.

"We are growing stronger and our appeal is becoming wider," Ibrahim al-Jaberi, a senior official at al-Sadr's office in Sadr City, said Saturday.

Sadr City is a sprawling Baghdad neighborhood that is home to some 2.5 million Shiites and the largest bastion of support for al-Sadr. It was named for the cleric's father, the late Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr, who was killed in 1999. The younger al-Sadr's images are everywhere – on walls, shop widows, car windshields and even ice boxes used by street vendors selling sodas or ice cream.

In many ways, today's "Sadrists" have changed since their heavily armed militia battled U.S. troops last fall, but their canny mix of politics, religious fervor and military capability make them the one group in postwar Iraq with the potential for rapid growth.

Read the rest at the San Diego Tribune

June 4, 2006:

Iraq turning out to be a quagmire for UK troops

As British troops went in to Iraq in March 2003, the Iraqi information minister, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, provided some unexpected entertainment at a time of great uncertainty. But some of his claims do not seem so risible now, one of them being: “We have drawn them into a quagmire and they will never get out of it.”

Quagmire is the word. Unable to halt the country’s descent into a sectarian civil war, and yet reluctant to admit failure and leave a vacuum by withdrawing, we are faced with a terrible dilemma in Iraq today. The situation would be familiar to TE Lawrence, who described in 1920 how clumsy involvement in Iraq had left Britain “in a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honour”.

Lawrence had shot to fame through his role in the Arab revolt, which began in the Hejaz in western Arabia 90 years ago. The uprising had been surreptitiously encouraged by the British. By sponsoring a revolt in the holy cities of Makkah and Madina, they hoped to sow disarray throughout the Islamic world that would defuse the call to jihad issued by the Ottoman sultan to Muslims in India and Egypt at the beginning of the First World War.

The Turks were rapidly driven from Makkah but not Madina, which was directly linked by rail to their headquarters at Damascus. Just as George Bush and Tony Blair don’t want to pull out of Iraq for the admission of failure such a withdrawal would represent, the Turks were loath to leave Medina in 1916 and relinquish their leadership of the Muslim world, which they believed came with the possession of the holy city.

Lawrence was one of a handful of advisers dispatched to help the Bedu rebels. As he quickly realised, the Ottomans’ determination to cling on in Madina left them vulnerable to hit-and-run warfare. “This show is splendid,” he told a colleague, “you cannot imagine greater fun for us, greater fury and vexation for the Turks.” There was no shortage of guerrillas. The completion of the Hejaz railway from Damascus to Madina in 1908 had hurt the Bedu, who hired out camels and guides to travellers, and had sidelines in robbery and protection rackets. Like the economically dispossessed young men dying in the insurgency in Iraq today, the Bedu had little to lose from taking the abundant British gold on offer.

British and American troops in Iraq are vulnerable to similar tactics today. Richard Holmes’s new book, Dusty Warriors, provides a vivid example from 2004. Determined to engage with the people of Al Amarah, the British army kept a base inside the city. The base, under regular mortar attack, had to be supplied by armoured convoys, which were frequently ambushed. The British fired back, preserving access to their city-centre outpost, but at the cost of spiralling violence. The killing of one insurgent only moves others to take his place. And the “fury and vexation” caused by the insurgents’ almost unanswerable tactics seems to have triggered the alleged massacre in Haditha by US troops last November.

“To make war upon rebellion was messy and slow,” in Lawrence’s memorable phrase, “like eating soup with a knife.” His own estimate after the war was that the Turks would have needed 600,000 men to pacify the Hejaz. Today in Iraq, a similar-sized area, there are fewer than 200,000 coalition troops. Soon there will be even fewer. It seems Lawrence’s central message, that guerrillas are almost impossible to defeat, is finally beginning to sink in.

Read the rest at the Dawn