Friday, June 29, 2007

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

June 29, 2005: U.S. Marines from Lima Company, Third Battalion, 25th Regiment patrol in Hit as part of 'Operation Sword', an anti-insurgent offensive in Anbar province.

June 29, 2002:

Half of anthrax vaccine being reserved for civilians

The Bush administration announced a new anthrax vaccination policy Friday, including plans to continue vaccinating some military personnel and to stockpile for civilian use a large portion of all the vaccine being produced for the Pentagon.

Under the new policy, which reverses an earlier plan to vaccinate all military personnel, the Pentagon intends in the next two weeks to vaccinate those who are expected to spend at least 15 days a year in regions where the threat of anthrax attack is considered high. That would include countries in the Persian Gulf, the Korea Peninsula and possibly Afghanistan, officials said.

But a significant portion, perhaps more than half, of the vaccine produced will be stored by the Department of Health and Human Services in secret warehouses around the country for use in the event of a domestic anthrax attack, Pentagon officials said. Most of those doses would be given to police, firefighters, rescue squads and others required to respond to such attacks, as well as to people who lived or worked in areas exposed to the anthrax bacillus, administration officials said.

The new policy reflects in part a mounting concern within the Bush administration and among U.S. intelligence officials about reports that Iraq has retained well over 2,650 gallons of liquid anthrax and could be making more in over half a dozen facilities scattered throughout Iraq. The Iraqi anthrax could be used in biological weapon attacks in the region, posing a threat to military personnel, according to U.S. intelligence officials. But some administration officials said they could not rule out the use of such agents in bioterrorist attacks within the United States.

Read the rest at the San Francisco Chronicle

June 29, 2003:

And now for the really big guns

After the war, the corporate invasion. Bechtel, the US construction giant, now leads the rebuilding of Iraq's infrastructure with the chutzpah of a twenty-first century East India Company. Yet other invasions are planned for Iraq over the coming months - in the shape of oil concessions, health privatisation plans and even mobile phone licences.

Despite the worsening security situation, the White House and Pentagon are marshalling these corporate battalions into Iraq - insurance companies, construction firms, commercial health managers and behemoth banks - in the name of free enterprise. The project: to privatise Iraq, a country where 30 per cent of the workforce is employed by the state, and the population is used to food rations and cheap petrol.

Paul Bremer, the US civilian administrator in Iraq, spent most of his time last week at theWorld Economic Forum in Amman, Jordan, talking economics. Bremer is a veteran of Reagan-era diplomacy. Critics wonder if he plans to bring Reaganomics to the Middle East.

Amnesty International has warned that the 'occupying powers must make an explicit commitment to involving Iraqis in decision-making related to reconstruction. Iraqis themselves, ideally through representative institutions, ought to make decisions on rebuilding, on foreign investment, and on the selling of state assets'.

The 'invasion' is an ideological as well as commercial enterprise. George Bush has said that he envisions a 'US-Middle East free-trade area' within 10 years, 'replacing corruption and self dealing with free markets'. Most of the US companies contracted or bidding to open up those free markets happen to enjoy direct or indirect connections to members of the Bush administration. The US has, meanwhile, drafted sweeping plans to establish a free-market economy in Iraq, including privatisation of state-owned industries and the formation of a stock market...

Standing to the fore in the preparations of the economic ground are the neo-conservatives, who have been planning the invasion of Iraq for a decade. They are led by Richard Perle - who was chairman of the powerful Defence Policy Board until recently when he had to resign over a conflict of interest - and the former CIA chief James Woolsey.

'We have a responsibility, a stewardship,' Perle told a forum of the American Enterprise Institute, 'not to turn [Iraq] over to institutions incapable of seeing this through to a successful conclusion ... the last thing the Iraqis need is French statism or German labour practices.'

Read the rest at the Guardian

June 29, 2004:

The strategy of Iraq's insurgents

The US-led coalition authority restored sovereignty to an interim Iraqi government Monday two days earlier than scheduled to outflank insurgents threatening to mark the handover with a heightened campaign of violence.

The surprise handover illustrates the damaging impact of the year-old insurgency on efforts to return stability to Iraq and the challenges that lie ahead for its new government.

"This is a historical day," Prime Minister Ayad Allawi said during the handover ceremony. "We feel we are capable of controlling the security situation."

But it will be no easy task to curb an insurgency that has evolved over the past year from classic guerrilla-style hit-and-run attacks against coalition troops to a fluid multidimensional campaign against a wide array of targets.

Many analysts expect the violence to worsen in coming months as the insurgents attempt to cripple an untested government. "I have never seen an insurgency that has been successfully defeated in months," says Bruce Hoffman, acting director of the Rand Corporation's Center for Middle East Public Policy. "That's why insurgencies are so attractive to our opponents. Insurgents don't have to win, they just have to avoid losing, and that means they can prolong any conflict they're involved in."

In the past few weeks, militants have struck using numerous methods in a concerted effort to undermine the transfer of power. The attacks have included roadside bomb ambushes, drive-by hijackings and ambushes, kidnappings, mortar and rocket bombardments, suicide car bombings, simultaneous multiple bomb attacks nationwide, sabotage of oil pipelines, shooting at aircraft, and assassinations of government officials and political and religious figures.

Some analysts maintain that the coalition forces - from now on known as the Multi-National Forces-Iraq (MNF) - failed to appreciate the strategic threat of the insurgency at the onset and have been inconsistent in their response.

"The insurgents have the initiative and are a constantly dynamic force whereas the coalition forces have been cast very much in a responsive mode," Dr. Hoffman says.

The US military lists its opponents as a mix of former regime loyalists, Iraqi nationalists and Islamists, common criminals freed from jail by Saddam Hussein, and foreign Islamic militants. But the level of coordination between them, if any, remains unclear.

In general, many analysts believe that former Iraqi Army Baathists conduct the bulk of daily attacks while foreign Islamic militants carry out the more spectacular suicide car bombings.

Many of the latter attacks have been pinned on Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian militant who heads the Al-Tawhid and Al-Jihad group. The US military believes that Zarqawi is holed up in the flash point town of Fallujah west of Baghdad and has launched several airstrikes against buildings suspected of being Tawhid hideouts. Still, the airstrikes appear to have done little to curb Zarqawi's activities. He claimed responsibility last week for a series of simultaneous bomb attacks around the country, which killed almost 100 people.

While the suicide bomb attacks capture the headlines, many attacks simply go unreported, especially those against coalition troops in the remoter areas of Iraq.

A senior military official admits that "there are 35 to 40, sometimes up to 60 or more attacks a day" against coalition troops. That rate is even higher than the surge of attacks in November when the insurgency took hold.

Gen. John Abizaid, the commander of the US Central Command, has likened the insurgency in Iraq to "a classical guerrilla-type campaign." But Mr. Hoffman, also a senior fellow at the US Military Academy's Combating Terrorism Center, says that General Abizaid underestimated the opposition.

"We are not talking about ragtag insurgents with castoff weapons and a minimum of military training taking on established militaries, which was often the case in the past," he says. "The former regime elements were highly trained.... Their harassment is more than harassment. It has strategic weight to it because [their] attacks eat away at the heart and fiber of Iraqi security and unity."

A second error of the coalition forces, analysts say, is the lack of resolve in dealing with the insurgency. Two key examples came in April with the offensive against militants in Fallujah and the crackdown against the maverick Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. In response to the killing and mutilation of four American private security contractors, US Marines fought a bloody two-week battle against the insurgents, causing heavy casualties among civilians and rebels. One former resistance fighter told the Monitor that his entire group was wiped out during the clashes.

But despite vows to crush the rebels, the coalition forces ended up striking a compromise that saw the Marines pulling back, leaving the policing of the town to a battalion of Iraqi soldiers. Since then, Fallujah has become a pan-Arab symbol of anti-US resistance, a no-go area for foreigners where Islamic militants impose a Taliban-style rule and the Iraqi battalion remains confined to its barracks.

"The Fallujah resistance sparked the emotions and touched the hearts of people throughout the Arab world because it was one of the few recent instances of Arabs making a stand on their home ground and fighting to defend their community in the face of almost certain death," says Rami Khouri, executive editor of Beirut's Daily Star newspaper.

Mr. Sadr launched his uprising after the coalition authorities shut down his newspaper and arrested a senior aide. The rebellion ignited the Shiite towns of Najaf, Kerbala, and Kufa and saw heavy fighting in the Sadr City slum in Baghdad. The coalition said it would "capture or kill" Sadr, but did neither. Again, the fighting ended with a series of fragile cease-fires. The rebellion has elevated the youthful cleric to a role of powerful opposition figure.

"Our indecision and our hesitancy breathed life into the insurgency and also sent a very worrying message about our resolve," Hoffman says.

Analysts expect the insurgency to continue and possibly intensify during the fraught seven-month mandate of the new Iraqi government. Mr. Allawi has vowed to crush the militants, warning of possible martial law and delaying elections slated for January. But his government lacks the means to confront the militants and will have to rely initially on the MNF while Iraq's security forces are trained and organized. That risks reinforcing the impression that the new government is little more than an American surrogate.

Most Iraqis say they are prepared to give the new government a chance, although that conditional support may not last if the violence continues. US military officials hope that sympathy for the insurgents will decline as the new government takes charge, particularly if the attacks continue to be directed against Iraqi civilians.

Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, who is overseeing the creation of the new Iraqi army, says that the nationalist element among the insurgents already is "diminishing."

"That motivation has to lose its appeal over time," he says.

Read the rest at the Christian Science Monitor

June 29, 2005:

War of mosques is shattering Iraq's hopes

When they killed Abdul Sattar Saffar al-Khazraji, he was waiting for the minibus that would take him to his work as a laboratory supervisor at Nahrain University.

At 8am, as the 30-year-old stood with other workers commuting from the Harriya district of Baghdad, two Opel cars sped up and blocked the road either side of him.

Two men on a motorbike roared into the gap left by the cars. The passenger fired at Abdul Sattar with a pistol as they approached, wounding him in the shoulder. As he collapsed in pain, the gunman delivered the coup de grace, putting a bullet into his head.

In a city where assassination is commonplace, one more killing goes unremarked. Yet Abdul Sattar's death is a reminder of Iraq's most critical question: whether, after two years of insurgency, the bombers of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and their allies are succeeding in a central aim -- pushing a bruised population towards civil conflict.

For the significance of Abdul Sattar was his religion. He was a Sunni. His crime, friends say, was that he was pious and visible, a community leader well known for his involvement in charity and other religious works.

In Harriya, to the city's north -- occupied by both Sunni and Shiite -- he was an obvious target. It is Shiite gunmen that his friends blame for his murder. And they are most certainly right.

In mixed areas of Baghdad, a low-level, tit-for-tat, sectarian conflict has been going on, revolving largely around the city's galaxy of mosques, a conflict that has waxed and waned as the fighting for Fallujah and the Shiite Sadrist uprising pulled the gunmen elsewhere.

Its victims have been mosque guards, imams and other worthies, as well as gunmen and suspected terrorists. They have been the innocent and guilty, picked off by gun, grenade and bomb. It is a nasty little street war fuelled by the wider atrocities of Zarqawi's "al-Qaeda in Iraq" -- the suicide car bombings of Shiite targets, all aimed at stoking the confrontation between the rival Muslim sects.

What is different now is that Zarqawi's provocations, in tandem with the lethal ambition of certain Shiite groups, appear to be succeeding in slowly driving Iraqis apart.

What has changed in the 14 months since I last investigated Baghdad's mosque wars is insidious and very dangerous -- a subtle transformation of how Sunni and Shiite in this city see each other. For suspicion has crept in where there was none before -- even among friends and colleagues who had previously worn their religious identities lightly.

Only a year ago, US and British officials dismissed deaths such as that of Abdul Sattar in the mosque wars as inevitable in Iraq's rebirth. Now, however, the sectarian violence is ringing alarm bells with many of those same officials.

It is precisely on this issue, they fear, that the new Iraq will stand or fall. It is this that will decide how long coalition troops must stay. It is the issue, too, that has the power to demolish the reputations of those who ordered the invasion.

It is a fear rooted in the key determinant of civil conflict: that this cannot catch hold until the population accepts hatred and mutual division. The danger now is that Iraqi people's attitudes -- which have fiercely resisted attempts by such men as Zarqawi to divide Iraq against itself -- may finally be changing...

Violent tensions have always existed, my friend explains. What worries him is the suspicion spreading among even those, like him, who have always enjoyed good relationships through friendship or marriage with the opposing confession, and who have tried to keep tensions suppressed and Iraqis united.

Once, he says, most Shiites and Sunnis would blame "foreign fighters" for attacks, pointing out that suicide bombings were not part of Iraq's culture; now Shiites are asking themselves, both privately and in public, why it is that the Sunnis turn a blind eye to terrorists in their midst. And why do they not surrender them?

It may seem a subtle change, but it is still one of considerable significance. It represents the separation of attitudes among the great and silent majority who wish Iraq to prosper, and to prevent it sliding into civil war.

And the new sense of sectarian anguish is not limited to the majority Shiites alone. On the Sunni side too, even among those who welcomed the fall of Saddam, violence -- as those like Zarqawi have always hoped -- is begetting more violence.

For as the new Shiite-dominated Iraqi government has tried crudely to clamp down on "Sunni-backed terror," it has raided Sunni mosques and rounded up thousands of suspects, stoking up anger at Sunni "persecution" by the Shiites.

Meanwhile, "al-Qaeda in Iraq" is turning up the heat. Last Thursday morning, as three bombs targeted a Shiite mosque in the Karrada district, killing 15, the group claiming responsibility described the act as a "Sunni reprisal raid."

The growing culture of suspicion among ordinary Iraqis has in recent weeks been mirrored by a more hardline stance among community leaders. Figures from both sides have been airing their accusations more brutally than ever before. Most devastating of all was the televised trading of charges of terrorism last month by two of Iraq's most prominent Shiite and Sunni leaders...

Yet while the sectarian violence increases, its outcome is still not inevitable. Many people are determined to avoid civil conflict.

Ali Mahmoud is a guard at the al-Bou Jumaa mosque, one of the targets of Thursday's bombing. We found him by the scorched door of the little building that stands in an alley off a residential street.

He says the mosque was sized up for attack by men who had come the previous evening asking to borrow a coffin for a burial. But he is angry at the suggestion it was a sectarian attack.

"Don't accuse our Sunni brothers," he says. "They came here to help us tidy up the damage. This has been done deliberately to stir up problems among us. Accuse the Arab mujahideen who have come to Iraq."

His is the old voice of the Shiite, holding to the idea of a unified Iraq as more important than the pain.

Read the rest at the Taipei Times

June 29, 2006:

Shiites clash with Sunnis, and GIs join fight in Iraq

Intense clashes erupted Thursday between Shiite and Sunni Arab fighters in a village north of Baghdad, highlighting the sectarian violence that is fracturing Iraq.

American soldiers also took part in the battles, but it was unclear exactly what role they played.

A local resident, Abdul Hadi al-Dulaimi, said the village, which is mostly Sunni Arab, was being raided by Shiite police officers working with militiamen to take revenge for a recent suicide bombing.

American troops were siding with the Shiites and had deployed aircraft and ground troops, Dulaimi said.

The fighting raged into the night.

A U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, Major William Willhoite, said in the evening that "there is something going on up there," but had few further details.

"It looks like it's an operation of some sort being conducted by coalition forces with Iraqi police and army," he said.

At least one senior Iraqi police officer was killed in the fighting. Dulaimi said he knew of five villagers from his tribe who had been killed.

The fighting broke out in the morning, when 30 to 40 black-clad Shiite militiamen stormed into the village, called Daliqiya, and began shooting at houses, said Dulaimi, a member of one of the country's largest Sunni Arab tribes.

Daliqiya abuts another village called Khairnabat, about three kilometers, or two miles, north of the provincial capital, Baquba, where a suicide bomber on a bicycle blew himself up in a crowd on Monday, killing at least 18 people, all of them Shiites.

Militiamen drove into Daliqiya looking for revenge on Thursday, said Dulaimi, 55, a date farmer.

About 30 to 35 families live in the village, most of them Sunni Arabs from the Dulaimi or Ani tribes.

The fighting in the morning lasted for three hours, with Iraqi police officers aiding the militiamen, Dulaimi said in a telephone interview. Many of the villagers sent their wives and children out of the area during a pause in the fighting. The Shiite militiamen and Iraqi security forces returned in the evening with American forces and continued the attack, he said.

"Each of us is armed with the weapons we have at home, and we're willing to defend our homes, our money, our property," said Dulaimi, whose wife and six children fled to Baquba. "We're willing to die for them."

The area around Baquba, a mixed Sunni-Shiite city about 55 kilometers north of Baghdad, has long been restive, but sectarian tensions appear to have worsened there in recent weeks.

Gun battles also broke out Wednesday in the market in central Baquba, as Shiite militiamen fought with Sunni Arab insurgents, according to a shopkeeper, Hassan Abdul Fattah, 25.

The militiamen had distributed fliers in the morning warning Sunni store owners to keep their shops closed or they would be killed, he said. Sunni Arab guerrillas then put out fliers telling the store owners to open their shops or risk death. The Shiite fighters, members of the Mahdi Army, rolled in at noon, and "a battle took place with grenades and mortars," Abdul Fattah said.

Read the rest at the International Herald Tribune