Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Perspective: On This Day In Iraq -- June 6th edition

June 6, 2006: A bullet is caught on camera in-flight (extreme right) as a U.S. Navy Petty Officer attached to 2nd Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company and deployed with 1st Marine Expeditionary Force fires at insurgents probing U.S. and Iraqi army positions in Ramadi.

June 6, 2002:

After Saddam, What Next?

When President Bush declared in a June 1 speech at West Point that he would preempt possible attacks on the U.S., he seemed to be sending a clear message to Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein: You're high on my hit list.

Of course, Bush has been suggesting this for months -- and nothing has happened. In addition to working out the logistics of a military operation with a clear objective, another major concern has been the fate of Iraq if Saddam were ousted. Indeed, the conventional wisdom is that any military campaign to oust the brutal dictator would be easier than the peace that follows.

That's what weighed on the mind of President Bush's father 11 years ago, when he decided not to march U.S. troops to Baghdad after annihilating Iraq's military. Back then, Bush and his national security advisers feared that all hell would break loose in the country, and the region, if Saddam were out of the picture.

AFGHANISTAN'S EXAMPLE. The opposite may be true today. One person who isn't that worried about the post-Saddam era is one of the world's leading experts on Iraq: Amatzia Baram, a professor at Haifa University. In a presentation earlier this year at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, he laid out several possibilities for Iraq, none of them all that fearful, really.

Look at what has happened in Afghanistan as an indication of Iraq's possible future. Despite some continuing dustups among regional warlords, Afghanistan has proved more peaceful since the collapse of the Taliban regime than anyone had a right to expect -- especially under a transition government crafted in distant Germany. And things are likely to improve after the tribal elders gather for the loya jirga and establish a broader-based government to be created in Kabul, rather than Bonn.

It will be critical to create a government in post-Saddam Iraq that also is broadly representative of its many constituencies. These include the Sunnis near Baghdad, the Shiites in the south, the Kurds in the north, opposition forces inside and outside the country, military officers with no firm allegiances to Saddam, and tribal leaders, who have increased their importance in recent years. The U.S. already is planning conferences so that many of these groups can meet. This is hardly an easy task, but the experience in Afghanistan suggests it's not only possible, but plausible.

GOOD SOLDIERS? Baram doubts that Iraq would disintegrate, as some of its neighbors fear. That's because, while Sunnis are concentrated near Baghdad, the city is still 70% Shiite -- and the Shiites probably wouldn't break off from such a critical center of population, industry, services, and government administration. While the Shiites are sympathetic to their brethren in Iran, they are Iraqis first, Baram says. Meanwhile, the minority Sunnis who dominate the government also want a united Iraq, Baram adds.

It's always possible that the military would try to fill the vacuum in the short term -- and that might not be such a bad thing. Despite its complicity with Saddam, the military remains the most respected institution in the country, Baram says, and could maintain stability.

The task for the U.S. would be to befriend the officers who take over and try to pave the way for elections. It's plausible that a military regime in Iraq could have good relations with America. Saddam himself did during the Iran-Iraq War. And if the postwar Afghanistan experience is any indication, links to the U.S. aren't inevitably the kiss of death they used to be in the region. Liberated Iraqis could be every bit as grateful as liberated Afghans have been.

Read the rest at Business Week

June 6, 2003:

Iraq Stabilization Impinges on Army Rotation, Rebuilding

The struggling campaign to stabilize postwar Iraq has frustrated U.S. Army plans to reduce troops there and begin replenishing a military force stretched exceedingly thin by war and peacekeeping commitments, a senior Pentagon official said yesterday.

While the stress on the Army can probably be sustained for a few more months, the official said, any delay beyond that could seriously disrupt troop rotation schedules for Afghanistan and South Korea and erode the Army's ability to maintain an adequate reserve for other contingencies.

Asked if he had ever seen the Army so stretched, the official said: "Not in my 31 years" of military service.

The assessment by the official, who insisted on anonymity during a briefing of reporters from several major newspapers, provided a glimpse of one of the major sources of pressure on the Bush administration to hasten efforts to improve security in Iraq and recruit troops from other countries who can substitute for U.S. forces.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said yesterday that discussions were underway with 41 countries to contribute forces for peacekeeping duty in Iraq. While he said only a few governments had offered firm commitments, he expressed hope that the number would rise and that allied reinforcements would begin flowing into Iraq by September.

"We're talking substantial numbers," said Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Myers stood beside Rumsfeld on Capitol Hill and answered a few questions after a closed-door briefing to House members.

Asked whether the arrival of these forces would ensure that some U.S. troops could be pulled out of Iraq, Myers kept the administration's options open.

"The security situation will drive that," he said. "We aren't going to be driven by a date."

Read the rest at the Washington Post

June 6, 2004:

Did Iran Use Chalabi to Lure US Into Iraq?

WASHINGTON, 6 June 2004 — Here’s an interesting twist on Ahmed Chalabi: He was a front man used by Iranian intelligence to deceive the US into believing that Saddam Hussein, Iran’s archenemy, had weapons of mass destruction.

This very serious allegation was run by several US and Israeli papers last week. They quote American intelligence and law enforcement sources saying their agencies are investigating the possibility that the former Iraqi exile leader was used by Iranian intelligence.

Chalabi, until recently the darling of the Bush administration’s hawkish neocons wing, was considered the most likely choice to head Iraq once Saddam Hussein was overthrown. Last month, the Pentagon cut off his $340,000 monthly stipend, and security forces raided his Baghdad home and offices.

Earlier this week it was widely reported that American intelligence officials believed Chalabi informed an Iranian official that the US had broken the secret communications code of Tehran’s intelligence service.

Chalabi on Thursday accused George Tenet — who resigned as CIA chief earlier in the day — of being behind the accusations. “I denied these charges and I will deny them again,” Chalabi told the Associated Press. He attacked Tenet, saying his policies in Iraq over the past 10 years “caused the death of hundreds of Iraqis” and he “provided erroneous information about weapons of mass destruction to President Bush.”

Ironically, Chalabi is using the same charge that many have leveled against him. For years Chalabi urged the US to oust Saddam. His Iraqi National Congress reportedly passed on pre-war intelligence contending that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. This intelligence is now suspect as no weapons of mass destruction have been found.

But far more damning are allegations that Chalabi passed on Iranian disinformation about Iraq to Washington — with the aim of obtaining American support for regime change in Baghdad.

That allegation was first mentioned in the New York-based Newsday late last month, and since then expanded accounts have appeared around the world.

Larry Johnson, a former CIA analyst, told Forward that the CIA had repeatedly warned US officials about Chalabi’s Iranian connections, but was ignored by the Pentagon.

Read the rest at Arab News

June 6, 2005:

Radical Shiite cleric says Iraq's political process legitimizes 'occupation'

Scores of supplicants filed slowly past Muqtada al-Sadr, kissing his hands in a show of loyalty to this fiery young anti-American cleric who has created one of the most dynamic religious and political movements in Iraq.

But despite the support he enjoys, al-Sadr told The Associated Press in a rare interview he would steer clear of Iraqi politics as long as U.S. troops remain in the country, and warned the current government legitimizes the occupation instead of preparing for its end.

"As long as the occupier is here, I will not interfere in the political process," he said, adjusting himself on a brown cushion lying on the floor of a long hallway. "I would like to condemn and denounce the last Iraqi government's decision to legalize the occupation. Legalizing the occupation is rejected from any angle."

Holed up for nearly a year in his maroon-colored home in one of this Shiite holy city's upscale neighborhoods, the 32-year-old seminary student has used deft diplomacy and backstage maneuvering to quietly but methodically build a power base across the country.

On a hot Sunday in dusty Najaf, at least 200 men lined up to be searched inside a tent before being admitted into the small house with a rose garden and courtyard with a date palm – modest for a man of his standing. No weapons were in sight...

His movement has its roots in the 1990s when his father Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr, a powerful Shiite cleric, defied Saddam Hussein. The senior al-Sadr was killed by suspected Saddam agents in a 1999 spray of gunfire.

The son inherited a network of schools and charities built by his father, and his supporters, mostly seminary students, resurfaced after Saddam's fall, organizing local charities and vigilante groups in Shiite areas.

Al-Sadr has a formidable following among young and impoverished Shiites – particularly 100 miles to the north in Baghdad's Sadr City, home to some 2.5 million Shiites and named for his father.

He also has managed to transform himself into a respectable political figure, with the loyalty of some key lawmakers and Cabinet ministers.

His supporters ran in the January elections as independents or members of electoral alliances. At least 20 "Sadrist" deputies are thought to be in the 275-member parliament. Some, though, are seen as owing allegiance to his father's memory and not to him...

During the rambling interview, al-Sadr indirectly criticized Iraq's Shiite spiritual leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, for promoting the process that led to formation of the Shiite-led government.

"In reality, the electoral process was designed to legitimize the occupation, rather than ridding the country of the occupation," al-Sadr said.

The United States formally ended its occupation of Iraq last June, but it maintains nearly 140,000 troops in the country.

Read the rest at the San Diego Tribune

June 6, 2006:

Basra's descent bodes poorly for allied mission in Iraq

As Basra goes, so goes Iraq?

It certainly, and worryingly, seems that way.

Three years ago, as the initial military victory in Iraq teetered into chaos, the southern, mainly Shiite city of Basra stood out as a hopeful symbol of how the country could recover. The British, who controlled it, put decades of colonial know-how to work.

They made friends with local leaders, patrolled on foot without helmets and fixed problems on the spot.

It seemed to work. Basra was touted as a hopeful showcase for coaxing Iraq into a stable democracy.

Three years later, what's happening in Basra is far more ominous. The British occupiers are no longer so welcome or as much in control. Rival militias duke it out on the streets. There has been ethnic cleansing of Sunnis, who held power when Saddam Hussein was in charge.

Last week, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki imposed a state of emergency there — but to little effect. Violence since then has included a weekend car bombing that left 28 dead and more than 60 injured.

Major Rob Yuill, a British official who trains Basra's police, told The (London) Times the city was becoming like sectarian Bosnia, and "we're stuck in the middle." Though security forces are being trained, most are loyal to one of the militias.

What happens in Basra could well set the agenda for the rest of the country. The city of 1.3 million people is Iraq's main port and center for the country's 60% Shiite majority. It sits on large oil reserves. Some Shiites want to form a quasi-independent superstate with Basra at its center. They want to abandon the minority Sunnis, leaving them with no oil.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, a revered Shiite cleric, has tried to hold Iraq together and ethnic bloodshed down, but his influence has seemed to wane lately. The elected unity government in Baghdad — the last best hope for quelling the insurgency and a slide into civil war — is so weak it hasn't even managed to appoint ministers of interior and defense, the two most important posts.

The situation in Basra raises a question: Does it make more sense to stay to try to quell increasing sectarian and terrorist violence, or leave and let Iraqis fight it out? British officials have talked of drawing down troops soon — while insisting that their mission has been more success than failure.

Their decision is likely to foreshadow the U.S. endgame in Iraq. Perhaps some uneasy calm can first be achieved. But right now, Basra seems more to reinforce Lawrence of Arabia's cautionary words in 1920 about British involvement in Iraq. Mesopotamia (as Iraq used to be known) was, Lawrence said, "a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honor."

Read the rest at USA Today