Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Perspective: On This Day In Iraq -- June 13th edition

June 13, 2006: A soldier from the 101st Airborne Division searches for weapons caches near Bayji

June 13, 2002:

Messy war on the new masters of Armageddon

When all is said and done, there can't be an argument against the need for terrorism to be interdicted. It is now the satanic enemy of the ordered world in which most people, rich and poor, have a right to live. It seems important for liberals and Europeans to remember that. Safety has to be a basic strategic priority. It cannot be deposited as an afterthought - a verbal concession - at the end of a loud defence of civil liberties or an incessant questioning of American conduct. Curbing, reducing or somehow pre-empting terrorism has become the prime and rightful preoccupation of the governments on which our daily security, alas, depends.

Those other values matter greatly. The balance has to be kept. The basic right of suspected terrorists to be treated in custody according to the common rule of law cannot be violated without eventually wrecking the society that's being defended. There's plenty to be said as well about the shapeless, pervasive and probably unending task of correcting the historic pretexts for Islamic terrorism.

But pre-emption is what we ideally need. Getting our retaliation in first. Identifying terrorists before they strike and disposing of them is better than waiting for the palace of Westminster to go up in flames. We're all in the same menacing mess. The threat is everywhere, in the US and Europe at least. So the old rules of engagement need to be adjusted. International law mostly envisages a world order in which states are the units of threat and counter-threat. Passing a UN resolution to outlaw weapons of mass destruction (WMD) is sublimely beside the point. Abandoning these illusions is a challenging but essential, if imperfect, defence against the new masters of Armageddon.

In principle, therefore, President Bush's West Point speech - "a doctrinal statement", the White House called it this week - should not have been too shocking. It redefines the US position to encompass the new enemy. In place of deterrence and containment, the policies emerging are pre-emption and "defensive intervention", to be deployed against states or groups bent on using WMD against the US. To oppose that ex cathedra and ab initio sounds like opposing the only sensible strategy a responsible power could deploy towards the devious, patient, often stateless, always suicidal enemies at the gates.

But there is a very big problem. Everything in a pre-emption doctrine that purports to be subtler than bombing errant suspects into the stone age depends on intelligence. Smart intelligence matters far more than smart missiles. It's all that stands between us and a pre-emption catastrophe. And here the British intelligence community, America's only close intelligence ally, presents a disturbing picture. Let me share some conversations.

According to one security honcho in London, the enemy still holds most of the cards. It's true that intelligence is the one area where the UK budget has kept pace with the US: both were secretly raised by 20-30% after September 11. It's also true that the crisis has liberated our people to conduct covert action of a type that was previously banned. When the suspects are in countries that are allies not enemies, covert action, including killing, is the only option. "We're not going to start bombing Pakistan," I was reminded. But many al-Qaida operatives are holed up there. A new rubric has been approved, as long as the suspects can be found.

C ollaboration, on the other hand, is still minimal. The FBI/CIA fiascos of rivalry and blundering play out on the international stage. Only two EU countries have intelligence services operating seriously beyond their own borders, and the US will never trust the French. The mistrust runs wider. In Nato, the Brits and Americans have a word for any intelligence they will share with others: decaffeinated. Here is an alliance that, in terms of intelligence, has neither the shared means nor the mutual trust to make this vital work collaborative. When I suggested that the pre-emption doctrine meant this surely had to change, my source's body language measured the risible incredulity such an idea was worth.

It's true, he said, that the Americans were prepared to have cautious exchanges with even less reliable Middle East services on one-off operations. If the prize was high, the risk might be worth it. Iraq was an example. But, in general, the intelligence community of the good guys was not a community. The catastrophe of September 11 had changed many things, but not that. We all depend on the Americans, who are far ahead of all other powers and yet, as is daily becoming clearer, are highly episodic in what they can be relied on to get right.

Read the rest the Guardian

June 13, 2003:

In Iraq, Things Really Aren't That Bad

WASHINGTON- Two months after the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime, Iraq is widely depicted as a nation in chaos, with armed gangs dominating Baghdad's streets amid a widespread breakdown of public services. Having returned from Iraq two weeks ago, I believe this picture is distorted. In fact, we may soon look back at the postwar looting as only a bump in a long road.

Before the war, those of us planning for post-conflict Iraq worried about these possibilities: up to one million refugees, widespread food shortages, epidemics, acute homelessness, a shutdown of the oil industry and general lawlessness.

In the end, only the last became reality.

Read the rest from the NY Times

June 13, 2004:

Marines Practice Iraq Urban Warfare Tactics

Marines are practicing Iraqi urban warfare tactics here at home.

Using a simulated town, Marines are training for various combat and related situations in preparation for deployment to Iraq. During the training exercises, 200 Marines portray Iraqi men and women — from religious leaders to terrorists.

Knowledge and speed are key to the exercises, since Marines often have little more than an hour in real life to put a strategy into place and secure a town. The goal of the simulation is to successfully fight a three-block urban warone block may be for conducting humanitarian aid, another for conducting security operations and a third could consist of full-scale armed combat. Among other things, Marines spend a significant amount of time trying to recognize roadside bombs.

Military officials hope to build the Marines' confidence in such operations and save lives during real fighting.

"It's gonna prevent us losing lives when we go over there," said one Marine. "The missions we go on are going to be as real as possible ... they're [Marines] gonna fall back on the training we got here in the States so when we go over there, we don't even have to think about it."

Read the rest at Fox News

June 13, 2005:

US troops, security contractors increasingly at odds in Iraq

In a late May incident, 16 US military contractors, all former US military personnel, were detained for three days by US Marines in Fallujah, Iraq. The military contractors say they were abused and humiliated by the US troops, a charge which the US military has said is "categorically untrue."

"I never in my career have treated anybody so inhumane," one of the contractors, Rick Blanchard, a former Florida state trooper, wrote in an email quoted in the Los Angeles Times. "They treated us like insurgents, roughed us up, took photos, hazed us, called us names."

The Los Angeles Times reported on Saturday the incident has not only underlined the problems that exist between military and civilians contractors in Iraq, but has also once again called into question the way the US military treats suspects and detainees.

One military contractor, Matt Raiche, a former US Marine himself, said the Marines seemed to be particularly upset at the contractors' working conditions and the pay they received.

Although the details remain unclear, the May 28 incident reflects the long-simmering tension between the military and private business in Iraq. Even though the government has hired companies to perform many functions there -- including providing security -- it does not formally oversee their activities, allowing misunderstandings and disputes to fester.

Raiche said the Marines seemed resentful about the salaries contractors in Iraq are paid. "One Marine gets me on the ground and puts his knee in my back. Then I hear another Marine say, "How does it feel to make that contractor money now?'"

Read the rest at the Christian Science Monitor

June 13, 2006:

Iraq contractors make billions on the front line

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Private military contractors are earning billions of dollars in Iraq -- much of it from U.S. taxpayers.

Business is booming for those willing to tackle one of the most dangerous jobs on Earth. Lucrative U.S. government contracts go to firms called on to provide security for projects and personnel -- jobs that in previous conflicts have been done by the military.

A single contract awarded to Britain's AEGIS Specialist Risk Management company by the Pentagon was worth $293 million, and while the government says it cannot provide a total amount for the contracts -- many of which are secret -- industry experts estimate Iraq's security business costs tens of billions of dollars.

These contractors have not been without controversy. Late last year, AEGIS launched an investigation into whether its employees produced video clips that showed up on the Internet in which it appeared civilian vehicles were being shot at. AEGIS has not released the results of its investigation, but a U.S. Army investigation found no probable cause that a crime occurred.

The market for private contractors is there thanks to an unprecedented "outsourcing" of conflict, according to Amy Clark, who led the Baghdad end of a small private security contractor.

"Where you've got a military where the assets and the personnel are strained, then private contractors have had to step in and fill the void," she told CNN, agreeing to be interviewed if her company's name was not revealed.

But where there is money, there is also danger. No official totals exist of how many private contractors have been killed in Iraq. But Clark believes the death rate among the 25,000 or so contractors is higher than among U.S. military forces...

There is plenty of money and plenty of work to go around, much of it taken by Blackwater -- one of the larger companies and perhaps the best known, because tragedy befell its employees in Falluja March 31, 2004. Four employees were killed -- two of their bodies hung from a bridge.

Blackwater was founded in 1997, and business boomed after 9/11. Wartime demands are allowing it to expand even further, and it recently opened new headquarters in North Carolina, where it can train people from the military and law enforcement.

Blackwater also looks for opportunities beyond war zones to disaster areas, such as the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina, or places where peacekeepers could be stationed, like the crisis-hit region of Darfur in Sudan.

Cofer Black, a former head of the CIA Counterterrorism Center and now vice-chairman of Blackwater, said the company is ready to tackle more hot spots.

"My company could deploy a reasonable small force under guidance or leadership of any national authority and do a terrific job of protecting, you know, innocent women from being raped, young kids from having their arms hacked off with machetes."

Read the rest at CNN