Wednesday, July 04, 2007

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

July 4, 2006: Soldiers from 506th Regimental Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, prepare to enter and search an abandoned building while on patrol along the Diyala River in East Baghdad.

July 4, 2002:

Blair threatens action against 'brutal' Iraq regime

PRIME Minister Tony Blair tonight threatened military action to topple Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's "brutal" regime.

Mr Blair pledged there would be no "precipitative action" but delivered a blunt warning to Saddam that he had to allow weapons inspectors back into his country "any time, any place that the international community demands".

The Prime Minister's toughest talk yet on Iraq came in a speech at the George Bush Senior Presidential Library in College Station, Texas, after two days of talks with the president George W Bush.

Mr Blair said: "We must be prepared to act where terrorism or weapons of mass destruction threaten us.

"The fight against international terrorism is right. We should pursue it vigorously, not just in Afghanistan but elsewhere... Since September 11 the action has been considerable, in many countries, but there should be no let up.

"If necessary the action should be military and again, if necessary and justified, it should involve regime change. I have been involved as British Prime Minister in three conflicts involving regime change - Milosevic, the Taliban and Sierra Leone, where a country of six million people was saved from a murderous group of gangsters who had hijacked the democratically elected government."

Mr Blair said the international community could not intervene in all cases "but where countries are engaged in the terror or weapons of mass destruction business, we should not shirk from confronting them".

Mr Blair said he hoped that Syria, Iran and North Korea could be persuaded to reform.

But he went on: "As for Iraq, I know some fear precipitative action. They needn't. We will proceed, as we did after September 11, in a calm, measured, sensible but firm way.

Read the rest at the Telegraph

July 4, 2003:

Culture shock and awe

It didn't have to be this way. But because of heavy-handedness and cultural insensitivity, the American occupation force has now lost the support of the three key Shi'ite leaders in Iraq - allies through circumstance until now.

The Grand Ayatollah Ali Husseini al-Sistani announced last Saturday the issuing of a fatwa against an "illegitimate" constitution "if it is not adopted by an Iraqi government elected by the people". Young cleric Muqtada al-Sadr - whose religious family is highly influential in Iraq - has denounced American "terrorism". And Mohammed Baqr al-Hakim, the president of the Supreme Assembly for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SAIRI) , has said on the record that an Iraqi administration named by American proconsul L Paul Bremer would be "illegal".

Bremer's task for Iraq is to form a political council of 25 to 30 Iraqis. This council, approved by Bremer, will then appoint ministers and be consulted on all key decisions, which will then be made by Bremer himself. Bremer said on Tuesday that this "provisional authority" was expected to be set up by mid-July. It's now clear that the project has been flatly rejected by the moderate yet heavyweight al-Sistani, "The project in question is fundamentally unacceptable." While he still condemns the non-stop attacks against the Americans and the British, he is at pains to point out that "the [occupation] authorities don't enjoy any prerogative to appoint the members of the assembly charged to elaborate the constitution". United Nations special envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello has witnessed first-hand the impatience and anger of the all-powerful al-Hawza - the "Shi'ite Vatican" in the holy city of Najaf. On Saturday, Vieira de Mello had a long conversation (behind closed doors) with al-Sistani, and then with al-Hakim and al-Sadr.

No leaders in Najaf - or anywhere in Iraq for that matter - have forgotten the promise made in February by the American special envoy to deal with the Iraqi opposition. Zalmay Khalilzad promised then that the government of the country would be handed over to Iraqis once the war ended. Al-Hakim is now saying that an Iraqi government should be formed soon "to work to end the occupation by peaceful means".

Vieira de Mello is now fully aware of the balancing act that he will have to perform to bridge the gulf between not only the Sunni community, but between the dominant Shi'ites (62 percent of the population) and the "occuliberators" (as the Americans have been dubbed by observers). Even though Shi'ite religious leaders are still talking about cooperation with the Americans and a strategy of non-violence, there is now a completely different ball game.

The best indication is the fact that al-Sistani told Vieira de Mello to deliver "a message to Paul Bremer" - implying that direct contact was not welcomed any more. The UN special envoy did not - and certainly could not - elaborate, but the message was almost certainly news about the fatwa declaring that an Iraqi constitution written by the Americans or even by Iraqis appointed by the Americans would be "illegitimate". Al-Sistani is clear: a new constitution can only be written and approved by popularly-elected Iraqis.

As for SAIRI leader al-Hakim - who recently came back from exile in Iran - he is following with great interest the American campaign of "de-Ba'athization" of Iraqi society. But his warning mirrors the ayatollah's: "If Mr Bremer himself names an administration and a group of officials, it will be illegal. It will be against the UN resolution. It will be against George [W] Bush's promises that Iraq must be a free and democratic country, a sovereign country liberated from foreign influence." Al-Hakim stresses that as long as American military and diplomats control the political process, "the country will not be stable".

For his part, al-Sadr, while denouncing "the American occupation legitimized by the UN", wants "a representative government of the Iraqi people" as soon as possible. He echoes what is arguably the consensus among Iraqis: "Saddam [Hussein's] regime was unacceptable, but the foreign occupation is also unacceptable." On the heavy-handed behavior of American troops, the young al-Sadr pointedly says "one does not combat terrorism with terrorism".

Saddam's regime vanished on April 9, almost three months ago. Baghdadis have had enough. Power cuts are the norm: homes are deprived of drinking water and air-conditioning with temperatures hovering above 40 degrees Celsius. The Americans blame the cuts on sabotage. Military Humvees with loudspeakers tour the city with the message that electricity will be back "as soon as possible". Baghdadis interpret it otherwise: a wide consensus in the streets is that the Americans are trying to sap the morale of the population, and then tighten their grip.

Iraq is a cauldron of mixed emotions. Although their living conditions are poor, it's fair to say that the majority of Baghdadis don't want the Americans to leave - at least for now: this would be the road to civil war. But they are practically unanimous in their critique of both American inertia - in terms of improving living conditions in the capital - and obsession with their own security: American soldiers only move in convoys and with their hands on the triggers of their M-16s. The outside world can follow daily on television footage of US soldiers frisking Iraqi women through their traditional abbaya. It is arguable that the killings of innocent Iraqi women and children would have been avoided if American soldiers had been taught to speak at least 10 basic words in Arabic - as well as to pay attention to basic religious and cultural norms in the Arab world.

Just like after the war on Afghanistan, the Americans once again have squandered their accumulated capital of good will in Iraq . Al-Hakim always mentions the force of "public opinion". The Shi'ite spiritual leaders' new attitude towards the Americans is nothing but a reflection of popular anger. Unlike Sunnis, Ba'athists or not, related or not to Saddam's promise of a guerrilla war against the foreign invaders, the Shi'ites may not want the Americans out by now. But they are making it very clear that the Iraqi population will not bend to Bremer's diktats.

"Vietnamization" may be too overstretched a concept - at least not before the real force and extent of Saddam's announced intifada for the end of the month is revealed. But "quagmire" is now a more than realistic scenario. The US cannot leave Iraq because - in a very Chinese way - it would lose tremendous face. But if does not show a little more humanity and sensitivity towards the plight of Iraqis, it is bound to be attacked non-stop, Vietnam-style. Former counter-insurgency specialist Bremer may be just another casualty in a litany of monstrous mistakes. Iraqis - a very sophisticated and well-educated people carrying in their collective unconscious the lessons of 7,000 years of civilization - cannot but see the writing on the wall.

Read the rest at Asia Times

July 4, 2004

Iraq war and the neo-cons

As we stand at the moment of truth in Iraq – sovereignty now transferred to the Iraqis – Americans, whether for or against the war, will be hoping for better times ahead.

AdvertisementBut even as our eyes are trained on the future hoping for the best, it would do us well to pause to consider how America got to this point where in reality prospects of success are extraordinarily fragile and where America's global legitimacy stands at enormous risk. This will help us consider whether we should endorse similar future enterprises and, if so, whether we would do things differently. Let us see what the questions and conclusions might look like.
Question one: Who are the responsible parties?

It is likely that future historians will begin their search in the think tanks of Washington's 17th street, where in the 1990s a strange Manichean-millenarian fusion philosophy now known as neo-conservatism gathered strength. There, a strategic concept centering on the use of force and including within it a plan to reconstitute and democratize the Middle East beginning with Iraq, incubated for over a decade. When the opportunity of 9/11 presented itself, this pre-conceived concept – envisioning a traditional state-on-state war despite the fact that al-Qaeda was a non-state actor – was foisted on the nation by a group of neo-conservative intellectuals who had made their way into positions at the top of the Bush administration.

Those involved are by now all too familiar and include Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith (Department of Defense), Elliott Abrams (NSC), I. Lewis Libby (Vice President's Office), and Richard Perle (Defense Policy Board).

The record of their actions in bringing about the Iraq War is unforgiving. During the 1990s, reconstituting the Middle East, and Iraq specifically, was a clear objective. Wolfowitz says he became alarmed about Iraq as early as 1979. In 1994 he identified Iraq as a "backlash state." In 1997 the Project for the New American Century laid out an argument for using American military power to challenge hostile regimes. In January 1998, several members of this group wrote an open letter to then-President Clinton urging Saddam's forcible removal from power. Hours after 9/11, neo-conservatives were advocating action against Iraq. One of them, former CIA Director James Woolsey, proposed this "no matter who should be responsible" for 9/11.

What was motivating them? To remove Saddam and install a democratic Iraq? Were they not aware of the vast dimensions of this task – and the likely cost in men, resources and allied support? Had they not examined the immense cultural and historical differences between the West whose democracies are rooted in the Enlightenment and beyond, and the Arab nations whose historical experience has provided none of the social or cultural preconditions for democracy, and whose language, for example, has no word for "equality" or even "politician"?

In neo-conservative hands, war is a device for transforming both regions and religions. Consider the thoughts in a May 26, 2003,

e-mail referring to the U.S. mission in Baghdad: "We have a chance here to really help the Iraqi people and later other Muslims as well as to build the basis for a liberal democracy based on freedom of conscience. We should support secularism in Iraq. Only as a last resort should we agree that Islam should be the religion of the state." The sender was Harold Rohde, now in the Pentagon's Office of Net Assessment.

Conclusion One: The war against Iraq was a pre-conceived idea, not a direct response to 9/11.

Question Two: How was the war sold to the American people?

Leaving aside the now infamous invocation of weapons of mass destruction (which Wolfowitz described as a "pretext"), the deliberately deceptive language used by the administration to cause 70 percent of Americans to believe that Saddam was linked to 9/11 (something now dismissed by the 9/11 Commission) and the self-serving delusion that the invasion would be a "cakewalk," the central neo-conservative selling point was that an attack on Iraq would somehow restore the halcyon days of Ronald Reagan with what pamphleteers William Kristol and Robert Kagan called a "neo-Reaganite foreign policy".

Yet the neo-conservative interpretation of Reagan's foreign policy is, to be blunt, a travesty of Reagan's record. Reagan's historic achievement – the defeat of Soviet communism – was secured without a single hostile sortie by NATO. Deployment of U.S. forces under Reagan took place on three and only three occasions (Libya, Grenada and Lebanon) and in each case the objectives were clear, the "exit strategy" was plain and the duration was limited. Reagan described war as a "last resort" and reflected that belief in several confrontations including the difficult China-Taiwan confrontation early in his presidency. Most significantly, through his successive arms control summits with the Soviet leadership Reagan built up the climate of trust that enabled Mikhail Gorbachev to handle the Soviet implosion without fear of U.S. interference. For his moderate, diplomatic approach, Reagan incurred neo-conservative ire. Norman Podhoretz, a neo-conservative icon and editor of commentary charged that Reagan represented "Carterism without Carter." Thus the idea that Reagan's legacy enshrines use of the military as the main instrument of American foreign policy is flat-out inconsistent with his record.

Conclusion Two: The neo-conservatives did not level with the American people about the war.

Question Three: How could a special interest like the neo-conservatives have had such a wide influence?

The answer here reflects on all of us. An institutional failure took place at the center of government with the National Security Council failing to integrate the passionately held views of a small group with the broad range of American interests and foreign policy instruments. But the failure goes wider. Congress, the media and the academy failed to bring sufficient critical judgment to bear. A major national enterprise was allowed to proceed without a full examination of the White House case, a clear understanding of the costs, or what the end game would look like.

Those who pointed to practical difficulties, most notably Army Chief of Staff Gen. John Shinseki who advocated the deployment of significantly higher force levels to Iraq, were elbowed aside. Administration claims of coming help from allies were largely taken at face value. And most congressional Democrats voted to authorize war. It took an independent senator, Harry Byrd, and a complete outsider, Howard Dean, to make the case against the war.

Conclusion: Both our constitutional system of checks and balances, and venerable institutions like the media and the academy are vulnerable to pressures, conflicts and events that inhibit their proper function. Their dysfunction invites the type of excess by special interest that has brought Iraq and the prospect of a broader conflict between Islam and the West. Rebalancing these critical institutions and the relations among them preconditions the return to a rational, consensus-driven foreign policy.

Having authored the Iraqi debacle, it would be easy to conclude that the neo-conservatives have had their day. But just as the "best and brightest" generation led the nation into Vietnam, so special interests like today's neo-conservatives may draw on deeply held political and cultural beliefs to animate U.S. policy in the years ahead. So while the neo-conservatives, per se, may fade, their themes will endure to challenge us another day.

Read the rest at the San Diego Tribune

July 4, 2005:

British, US aid to Iraq diverted to commando units

British and US aid intended for Iraq's hard-pressed police service is being diverted to paramilitary commando units accused of widespread human rights abuses, including torture and extra-judicial killings.

Iraqi Police Service officers said ammunition, weapons and vehicles earmarked for the IPS are being taken by shock troops at the forefront of Iraq's new dirty counter-insurgency war.

The allegations follow a wide-ranging investigation by the London-based Observer newspaper into serious human rights abuses being conducted by anti-insurgency forces in Iraq. The Observer has seen photographic evidence of post-mortem and hospital examinations of alleged terror suspects from Baghdad and the Sunni Triangle that demonstrate serious abuse of suspects including burnings, strangulation, the breaking of limbs and -- in one case -- the apparent use of an electric drill to perform a knee-capping.

The investigation revealed:

-- A "ghost" network of secret detention centers across the country, inaccessible to human rights organizations, where torture is taking place.

-- Compelling evidence of widespread use of violent interrogation methods including hanging by the arms, burnings, beatings, the use of electric shocks and sexual abuse.

-- Claims that serious abuse has taken place within the walls of the Iraqi government's own Ministry of the Interior.

-- Apparent cooperation between unofficial and official detention facilities, and evidence of extra-judicial executions by the police.

The issue of increasing human rights abuses has been raised with the new Iraqi government by the UK Foreign Office, the US State Department, and the UN. British Embassy officials in Baghdad have been briefed on the crisis by concerned senior Iraqi officials on several occasions.

The British Ministry of Defense (MOD) confirmed that it has spent ?27 million in gift aid on the Iraqi security services, which provided guns, ammunition, and public order equipment such as protective vests and armored Land Rovers. An MoD source said the majority of this material went to the police. A further ?20 million went to the police from the government's Global Conflict Prevention Pool, jointly funded by the MOD, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development.

Despite that, the British government has, until now, remained silent in public on the issue of the country's widening human rights crisis.

The British opposition Liberal Democrat defense spokesman Michael Moore called on ministers to make an immediate statement in the House of Commons: "These are serious reports that go to the heart of the question of the coalition's oversight of the security situation in Iraq. The Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defense must urgently inform Parliament about the scope of their investigation into these allegations," he said.

The Foreign Office said last night that it was taking the reports of abuse "very seriously." It issued detailed responses to the claims: "We are aware and deeply concerned by reports of detainee abuse by Iraqi police officers and of men in police uniforms committing serious crimes, whether these men are genuine policemen or not. Any abuse of detainees is unacceptable."

Read the rest at the Taipei Times

July 4, 2006:

Secret CIA unit stalking bin Laden since 1996 has been disbanded

The CIA has closed down a secret unit that for a decade had the mission of hunting Osama bin Laden and his top lieutenants, according to intelligence officials.

The terrorist tracking unit, known inside the spy agency as "Alec station," was disbanded late last year and its analysts reassigned to other offices within the CIA's Counterterrorist Center, the officials said Monday.

The decision is a milestone of sorts for the agency, which created the unit before bin Laden became a household name and bolstered its ranks after the Sept. 11 attacks, when President George W. Bush pledged to bring bin Laden to justice "dead or alive."

The realignment reflects a view that Al Qaeda is no longer as hierarchical as it once was, intelligence officials said, as well as growing concern about Al Qaeda-inspired groups that have begun carrying out attacks independent of bin Laden and his top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

CIA officials said that tracking bin Laden and his deputies remained a high priority, and that the decision to disband the unit was not a sign that the effort had slackened. Instead, the officials said, the realignment reflects a belief that the agency can better deal with high-level threats by focusing on regional trends rather than on specific organizations or individuals.

"The efforts to find Osama bin Laden are as strong as ever," said Jennifer Dyck, a CIA spokeswoman. "This is an agile agency, and the decision was made to ensure greater reach and focus" for counterterrorism efforts.

The CIA's decision to close the bin Laden unit was first reported Monday by National Public Radio.

Michael Scheuer, a former senior CIA official who was the first head of the bin Laden unit, said he believed the move reflected a view within the agency that bin Laden was no longer the threat he had once been.

Scheuer said he believed that view was mistaken.

"This will clearly denigrate our operations against Al Qaeda," Scheuer said. "These days at the agency, bin Laden and Al Qaeda appear to be treated merely as first among equals."

In recent years, the war in Iraq has stretched the resources of the intelligence community and the Pentagon, creating new priorities for U.S. officials tracking global terrorist threats. For instance, the bulk of the military's classified counterterrorist units, like the U.S. Army's Delta Force, had been redirected from the hunt for bin Laden to assist in the search for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed last month in Iraq.

An intelligence official who was granted anonymity to discuss classified counterterrorism units said the closing of the bin Laden unit reflected a greater grasp of the terrorist organization. "Our understanding of Al Qaeda has greatly evolved from where it was in the late 1990s," the official said, but added, "There are still people who wake up every day with the job of trying to find bin Laden."

Established in 1996, when bin Laden's calls for global jihad were a source of increasing concern for officials in Washington, Alec station operated in a similar fashion to other CIA stations around the globe.

The two dozen staff members who worked at the station, which was named after Scheuer's son and was housed in leased office space near CIA headquarters in northern Virginia, issued regular cables to the agency about bin Laden's growing capabilities and his desire to strike U.S. targets throughout the world.

In his book "Ghost Wars," which chronicles the CIA's efforts to hunt bin Laden in the years before the Sept. 11 attacks, the journalist Steve Coll wrote that some inside the agency likened Alec station to a "cult" that over time become increasingly obsessed with Al Qaeda.

"The bin Laden unit's analysts were so intense about their work that they made some of their CIA colleagues uncomfortable," Coll wrote. Members of Alec station "called themselves 'the Manson Family' because they had acquired a reputation for crazed alarmism about the rising Al Qaeda threat."

Intelligence officials said that Alec station was disbanded late last year after Bob Grenier, who until February was in charge of the Counterterrorist Center at the CIA, decided that the agency needed to reorganize to better address constantly evolving terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda.

Read the rest at the International Herald Tribune