Saturday, June 30, 2007

Perspective: On This Day In Iraq -- June 30th edition

June 30, 2006: A soldier with 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team searches for enemy weapons in a mechanic's garage in Mosul.

June 30, 2002:

US deploys soldiers in northern Iraq: report

Dozens of US troops and intelligence services have been sent into northern Iraq from Jordan under a plan to overthrow President Saddam Hussein, the Lebanese newspaper As-Safir reported today.

In a front-page story datelined London, the daily quoted " well informed diplomatic sources"as saying Washington "has launched a security and military operation in Iraq".

Central Intelligence Agency chief George Tenet had "personally visited northern Iraq during his last tour of the region and had given orders to start the security plan after US President George W Bush (recently) approved a decision to ask the CIA to overthrow ... Saddam,"the source said.

The Lebanese daily, which maintains close relations with the Syrian leadership, said forward bases for US troops had been set up in Jordan.

"Jordanian King Abdullah has given orders to clear two military airports in Jordan for the US forces. About 2,000 US troops have been deployed in Jordan so far," it said.

"Dozens of those US soldiers, along with CIA agents, have been sent into Iraqi territory," it said.

The sources said the US had started a "flurry of contacts with various forces among the Iraqi opposition, and there are great difficulties in forming a coalition similar to the 'Northern Alliance' in Afghanistan".

"Intensive contacts are being held with both the Kurdish and Shi'ite opposition in order to establish springboards for potential operations," they said.

The sources added that Washington had first approached Saudi Arabia, which "refused to let its territory be used for any military attack against Iraq".

"It seems that discussions moved to other countries in order to reach an agreement on the possibility of using their territory in case it is needed," they said.

"The United States has drawn a plan for an emergency economic assistance to Jordan in case its economic and trade relations with Iraq suffer a crisis," they added.

Read the rest at the Age

June 30, 2003:

Rumsfeld dismisses talk of Iraq operation turning into a quagmire

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Monday dismissed suggestions that U.S. forces in Iraq are in a quagmire, likening the situation to the United States' own lengthy and bloody transition from British rule to constitutional democracy.

Fighting in Iraq will "go on for some time" with remnants of the former Baath Party that ruled Iraq for decades under Saddam Hussein, as well as Fedayeen Saddam paramilitary "death squads," he said.

"We are dealing with those remnants in a forceful fashion, just as we have had to deal with the remnants of al-Qaeda and Taliban in Afghanistan and tribal areas near Pakistan," he added.

In his opening statement at a Pentagon news conference, Rumsfeld drew parallels between the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan and the years immediately following the American Revolution.

"Our first attempt at a governing charter, the Articles of Confederation, failed in a sense," he said. "It took eight years before the founders finally adopted our Constitution and inaugurated our first president.

"Were we in a quagmire for eight years? I would think not. We were in a process, we were evolving from a monarchy into a democracy." He added, "That history is worth remembering as we consider the difficulties that the Afghans and the Iraqis face today. The transition to democracy is never easy."

The Bush administration's approach to stabilizing Iraq is coming under increasing scrutiny as the American death toll mounts. On Monday the Pentagon said the number of U.S. forces who have died in Iraq since the war began in March stood at 203, of which 139 are classified as hostile deaths.

Since May 1, when President Bush declared major combat operations over, 65 Americans have died, including 25 in hostile action.

Rumsfeld became irritated when a reporter mentioned Vietnam as an example of a quagmire.

"There are so many cartoons where people, press people are saying, 'Is it Vietnam yet,' hoping it is and wondering if it is," he said. "And it isn't. It's a different time, it's a different era, it's a different place."

Read the rest at the San Diego Tribune

June 30, 2004:

Freedom’s Reign?

At least now Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III can go home and buy a decent pair of shoes. He had on a blue suit over the usual incongruous hiking boots when he attended the furtive handover ceremony at which he formally ended the American occupation of Iraq and granted sovereignty to Iraq’s interim government. For his 13 months as the American administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), he wore those boots. Was there mud in his armored car, or on the floorplates of his Blackhawk? Was he making that many tours of the farmlands of the Two Rivers? Even Iraqi officials who were disposed to like him, marveled at those boots. They were, at least, a constant reminder that this was a war zone, as if anyone here needed to be reminded.

The ceremony itself was a fitting expression of the spin with which American officials have at least managed to persuade some of their friends, and perhaps even themselves, that all is well in Iraq. Officials at the CPA’s Office of Strategic Communications relentlessly depicted the event as proof that the new Iraqi government was doing so well that it was ready for sovereignty two days ahead of schedule. Nonsense: things are going so badly that the American administration felt compelled to mark the historic event with a ceremony that was brief, held in secret, and timed to trick the insurgents into not attacking and marring the television imagery.

Nearly 1,000 coalition lives and tens of billions of dollars later, American authorities had to sneak out of the country. They had governed it neither long nor well, so it was especially appropriate that they muddled up the ceremony as well. Pool reporters covering the event were given contradictory instructions by CPA handlers, and at first didn’t even file to their hundreds of colleagues kept from the small-scale event. At an undisclosed location inside the Green Zone, Bremer, his British counterpart David Richmond, the Iraqi Prime minister, Ayad Allawi, and the president, Sheikh Ghazi al-Yawar, plus a couple other Iraqi officials, drank tea and coffee and then Bremer read a statement: “We welcome Iraq’s steps to take its rightful place with sovereignty and honor among the free nations of the world. Sincerely, L. Paul Bremer, ex-administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority.” The “ex-administrator” bit was delivered as a laugh line, with the desired if somewhat strained result.

Just how bad things are was underscored by a decision to immediately close most Iraqi goverment and official offices until the end of the week. Workers at Baghdad International Airport were told to stay home until July 6th, presumably to make it harder for insurgents to infiltrate the airport, which they've done repeatedly. Last weekend a C-130 transport was holed by ground fire as it took off, killing one of the passengers, so it wasn’t an unreasonable precaution. But it’s a telling sign that after a year of military occupation, Iraqis can celebrate their at least nominal independence with no safe connection to the outside world. Despite repeated attempts to pacify the two-mile-long airport highway, including defoliating the verges, it remains the most dangerous stretch of road in Iraq—with daily attacks on travelers along it. What’s more, that highway is also the main road leading to Camp Victory, the American military headquarters in Iraq.

And what kind of country are we handing back to the Iraqis? Oil exports are still moribund, thanks to repeated, successful attacks on pipelines, which 138,000 coalition troops and 14,000 private oil-industry security guards and squadrons of helicopters and jet fighters can’t seem to protect. A country with the world’s second largest reserves is forced to import gasoline from neighboring Jordan, which has no oil reserves, and sell it to its citizens at a fraction of the cost, due to the huge expense of trucking it in safely—and fear of riots at the pumps if the costs are passed on. Reconstruction in general is stalled in large part, as the many foreign companies that flocked to Iraq to do the job are spending ever-growing proportions of their budgets on protecting their own staffs. Kellogg Brown and Root, one of the largest contractors, is retracting into the Green Zone next month, as many other major contractors already have done.

Despite all the money being pumped in, unemployment among Iraqis remains in the high double digits. The safe and secure environment the United States promised is yet to materialize; no foreigner is safe anywhere except under very heavy guard. And Iraqis are bedeviled by unchecked street crime, random bombings and widespread kidnappings for profit—even when they’re not being targeted as collaborators. The electric grid is still unable to supply the country for more than a few hours a day, and generation of power hasn’t yet reached goals promised for last summer—just as the really severe hot weather begins this summer.

Read the rest at Newsweek

June 30, 2005:

Baghdad's mayor complains about crumbling capital

BAGHDAD, Iraq – Baghdad's mayor decried the capital's crumbling infrastructure and its inability to supply enough clean water to residents, threatening Thursday to resign if the government won't provide more money.

The statement from Mayor Alaa Mahmoud al-Timimi was an indication of the daily misery that Baghdad's 6.45 million people still endure more than two years after the U.S.-led invasion. They are wracked not only by unrelenting bombings and kidnappings, but by serious shortages in water, electricity and fuel.

"It's useless for any official to stay in office without the means to accomplish his job," al-Timimi told reporters.

Al-Timimi is seeking $1.5 billion for Baghdad in 2005 but so far has received only $85 million, said his spokesman, Ameer Ali Hasson.

Efforts to expand Baghdad's water projects were set back earlier this month when insurgents sabotaged a pipeline near Baghdad. Now, some complain the water they do get smells bad, and Hasson acknowledged in some areas, the water gets mixed with sewage.

"The problem is escalating," said al-Timimi, a Shiite who took office in May 2004.
The pipeline has been repaired and water levels are expected to return to normal in the coming days, the mayor told reporters. But that won't help with shortages that existed before the sabotage, he said.

"I am part of the government and aware of the problems the country is facing," al-Timimi said. "But I need to have technical support from the concerned parties at the government. The people are blaming me and the Baghdad municipality."

According to City Hall, Baghdad produces about 544 million gallons of water per day, some 370 million gallons short of its required amount. Some 55 percent of the water is lost through leakage in the pipes.

Iraqis also complain of shortages of power and fuel.

Electrical shortfalls were common during the Saddam Hussein era and attributed to a poor distribution network, but the situation has worsened due to sabotage and lack of maintenance.

Before the U.S.-led invasion, Baghdad residents had about 20 hours of electricity a day. Today, they get about 10, usually broken into two-hour chunks.

In addition, Iraq is not able to refine enough oil, so must import gasoline. Convoys carrying fuel are often attacked by insurgents and the ensuing shortage has led to a black market in Baghdad.

Read the rest at the San Diego Tribune

June 30, 2006:

History fuels Tehran's vision for Iraq

Vast war cemeteries on the outskirts of Tehran bear silent witness to Iran's complex relationship with neighbouring Iraq. Hundreds of thousands of Iranians died in the 1980-88 war with Saddam Hussein's regime. Now their well-ordered graves are adorned with plastic flowers, flags and personal mementoes. Each has a glass display case containing a photograph of the "martyr" beneath. They all look so terribly young.
The Iran-Iraq war, in which the US, Britain and others quietly sided with Saddam against the Islamic revolution, is mostly forgotten in the west. Not so in Tehran, where, for example, the UN security council's failure to condemn Iraq's initial aggression or use of chemical weapons has fed an abiding distrust of a body that now lectures Iran on the perils of weapons of mass destruction.

The survivors of the war generation, including president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was a revolutionary guard, are now in power. And it is memories of this conflict that help drive Iran's bid for influence and control in post-Saddam Iraq. Officials argue that more than any other country Iran has a legitimate interest in ensuring that those who rule in Baghdad do not threaten their neighbours again.
"Iran wants stability and security in Iraq, there's a consensus on that," said Nasser Hadian-Jazy, a politics professor at Tehran university. "It wants to protect the Shia shrines, maintain the borders. It wants to ensure that Iraqi territory is not used to make attacks on Iran." To maintain its advantage, Tehran also wanted a government in Baghdad that was neither too weak nor too strong, he said, an assessment echoed by western diplomats.

Iran's leaders paraded their influence with Iraq's dominant Shia community during a high-profile visit to Tehran last week by Abdul-Aziz Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution in Iraq, an organisation with roots in Iran that runs the powerful Badr brigades militia. Mr Ahmadinejad urged deeper political, economic and cultural collaboration. That may only underscore the concerns of Iraq's Sunni minority about Iran's cloying embrace.

The supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, used Mr Hakim's visit to reiterate Iran's call for "foreign occupation forces" to leave Iraq. Withdrawal was a "prerequisite" for Iraq's national security and Iran's, too, he implied. As part of its bid for regional leadership, Iran will host a ministerial summit of all Iraq's neighbours plus Egypt on July 8.

Officials flatly reject British assertions that Iran has assisted Iraqi insurgent attacks, saying violence does not serve Iran's interest. But it has withheld border security cooperation with British forces in Basra, a western diplomat confirmed. Hamid Reza Asefi, the foreign ministry spokesman, claimed in turn that the US was continuing to assist the Iraq-based Mojahedin-e Khalq and its political wing, a terrorist grouping formerly backed by Saddam and linked to numerous outrages inside Iran.

"The Americans are shouting about terrorism. But on the other hand they have close links with a terrorist group," Mr Asefi said. "This is the most hated group in Iran. They are definitely trying to destabilise our security, directly and indirectly."

The US was also stirring up trouble among Iran's Kurdish, Azeri and other minorities with "British guidance", he claimed. "Our intelligence say this foreign intervention is quite clear. US interference and meddling is quite obvious."

All the same, Iran's leaders were grateful to the Bush administration for ridding them of Saddam, said Aliakbar Rezaei, a senior diplomat, with an ironic smile. "We're very thankful to the Americans. They paved the way for us in Iraq and Afghanistan. In Lebanon, too - our influence has increased due to the Syrians leaving. They've pushed up the oil price. Thank you!

"The Americans are also helping us establish a common identity in the region. Iran is closer to Egypt and other Arab countries because of the common enemy we share. The Arabs and Muslims were not unified. But the US has achieved this. They've done a lot for us."

Read the rest at the Guardian