Saturday, July 07, 2007

Perspective: On This Day In Iraq -- July 7th edition

July 7, 2004: U.S. soldiers with the 1st Cavalry deal with the heat, lack of water and incoming small arms fire during an operation in Fallujah.

July 7, 2002:

Changing the Subject

George W. Bush is well on his way in his program of worldwide regime-change. Palestine is on notice that it must -- in "a free and fair election," mind you -- oust Yasser Arafat or else. And now we are told, by the New York Times, that plans for an invasion of Iraq are well advanced. We must hope that someone in the inner circle is warning the president that regime-changing is harder than subject-changing -- something at which he is exceptionally adept.

The president is extremely touchy about stories that in any way contradict his contention that he had no warning before Sept. 11. Several FBI agents stepped forward to suggest otherwise: Kenneth Williams in Phoenix, followed closely by Coleen Rowley of Minneapolis. Rowley gave a Senate committee a bill of particulars against agency higher-ups who ignored her office's findings on Zacarias Moussaoui.

But Rowley was buried alive the very next day as the White House unfurled a homeland security reorganization that would cost $38 billion and involve huge numbers of federal employees -- although oddly enough, neither the FBI nor the CIA. It was something that Bush had resisted for months, and the scope of it set Washington ababble to the exclusion of any consideration of Rowley and all that she said.

The most spectacular instance of subject change followed. On June 20, the press published the story of a National Security Agency intercept that featured a warning as cryptic as the utterance of the Delphic oracle on a bad day: "The match is about to begin." Its publication sent the vice president into orbit. He issued a thunderous blast on a favorite subject, leaky members of Congress, who, he was sure, had blabbed. The Senate and House intelligence committees had a joint fit of self-abasement. "Investigate us," they implored the FBI, which, of course, they are supposed to be investigating.

The episode tells you everything you need to know about why Bush so adamantly prefers such committees to the special Sept. 11 inquiry suggested by sophisticates.

But Bush faces a subject that could be the challenge of his life in the business scandals that have crept onto the radar screens of the voters, who once upon a time did not consider corporate greed as any of their business except as something to grumble about around the kitchen table.

These new "malefactors of great wealth" are not just distant figures hurrying toward their private jets bound for some purchased paradise; no, in many cases they have been entrusted with the pension funds of millions of Americans who are faced with the prospect of a penurious old age. In a generally doting public, according to a Pew Research Center poll, almost 40 percent disapprove of the way Bush is handling the greed problem.

Those corporate rogues who cook their books, bleed their companies, overreport their earnings and speak with forked tongues to investing clients are paid astronomical salaries, which never seem to be enough. They are also the kind of people Bush has hung out with all his life. They are the people who feel that government agencies such as the Federal Election Commission should subvert in any way they can legislation such as McCain-Feingold -- a bill Bush signed into law in stealth lest anyone imagine he approved of it.

Like them, Bush, a former friend of Enron CEO Kenneth Lay, thinks that capitalism should be unfettered, that industrial regulations should be written by industrialists. Bush, while governor of Texas, proposed a program of voluntary cleanups by polluters, expressing a belief in their good intentions that is not universally shared.

They are the people who think that Christ's declaration that man does not live by bread alone is a misprint. It is probably too much to hope that Democrats who gratefully accepted large campaign purses from the graspers will refrain from self-righteousness.

Bush has been lecturing the greedy and has booked a Wall Street speech. Meanwhile, The Post's Dana Milbank has written a story that may show the high-fliers that preacher Bush is still one of them, just as impatient and high-handed as they themselves were with government regulation. In 1991 Bush filed a report with the Securities and Exchange Commission on a stock trade some 34 weeks late. His alibis were strikingly uninventive, variations on the "dog ate my homework" theme. First he blamed the SEC for losing his disclosure documents. Subsequently he blamed his company's lawyer. During an SEC probe, Bush was represented by a lawyer whom he has since appointed ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

Bush told us the other day that he "love[s] peace." But not with Iraq. In the face of reservations from the Joint Chiefs he is planning a major military adventure. It still might be a more congenial subject than the crimes of his boardroom pals.

Read the rest at the Washington Post

July 7, 2003:

Gen. Franks: No extra troops needed in Iraq

Despite increasing attacks against Americans in postwar Iraq, no extra troops are needed there now, the war's retiring commander said Monday.

Gen. Tommy Franks said rising casualties among coalition occupation forces come in pursuit of "a worthy cause" — attempting to establish democracy in Iraq. And he agreed with the much criticized comment by President Bush, who taunted attackers with the phrase "Bring 'em on!"

"The sense that I have right now is that it's not time to send in additional troops," the four-star general told ABC's Good Morning America in an interview marking his retirement. "We want ... to continue to move forward with establishing security by working with the Iraqis."

There are some 145,000 Americans and 12,000 coalition forces including British, Poles and others in Iraq now. Up to 20,000 international soldiers will flow into Iraq to help, beginning later this month and concluding the deployments at the end of September, the Pentagon has said.

Franks' comments came as three more Americans died in Iraq, with a bomb attack on a military convoy in Baghdad early Monday killing one and gunmen slaying two others in attacks hours earlier.

Franks said conditions in Iraq keep changing and that coalition forces have been moving their operations to the action.

"The thing that ... I spend most time thinking about is the notion that could lead one to believe that these coalition forces in Iraq are sitting back and waiting for something ... for these criminals and these Fedayeen Saddam (paramilitary) elements to come and attack them — and that simply isn't the case," Franks said. "This is all about offensive operations in Iraq and that's what our troops are doing."

Coalition forces have staged numerous raids in recent weeks in special operations to root out remnants of the Saddam Hussein regime and loyalists believed involved in hit-and-run attacks against occupying forces and Iraqis who cooperate with them.

But the attacks have increased. Some three dozen American and British troops have been killed since Bush declared major combat over in Iraq on May 1.

Franks, who was spending his last day in uniform Monday, lamented the deaths in Iraq — and the casualties resulting from the campaign in Afghanistan that he commanded against the Taliban and al-Qaeda terrorists. But he said the U.S. military actions became necessary after the al Qaida attacks in American on Sept. 11, 2001.

"Where we find criminals, death squads and so forth who are anxious to do damage to this country and to peace-loving countries around the world, I absolutely agree with the president of the United States — 'Bring 'em on!," Franks said.

Read the rest at the Washington Post

July 7, 2004:

Iraq Approves Law Allowing Martial Rule

Iraq's interim government has approved a national security law that will give Prime Minister Ayad Allawi broad powers of martial rule in troubled areas, including direct command of army, police and intelligence units, a senior Iraqi government official said Tuesday.

Although the law will give Allawi new latitude to combat insurgents, the prime minister had sought even tougher measures, some of which were stripped out of early drafts because of objections from other members of the interim government and from foreign governments, said the senior official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The law will restrict the prime minister's power by requiring any declaration of emergency rule to have the consent of the country's president and its two vice presidents, as well as a majority of the 32-member cabinet. Iraq's highest court also will be able to overturn Allawi's martial law declarations.

Even so, the new law will allow Allawi to deploy Iraq's army to fight insurgents. When the country's old army was disbanded and a new army created, L. Paul Bremer, then the U.S. administrator of Iraq, issued a decree preventing the army from being used for domestic security. But Bremer lifted that restriction in a final order issued before he departed Iraq on June 28, the day political authority was transferred to the interim government...

The national security law will give Allawi the power to place himself or another administrator in charge of Iraqi soldiers, police and other security forces in areas under martial law. The government could also declare curfews, conduct emergency searches without court orders and ban public demonstrations in those areas. Further details were expected to be announced as early as Wednesday.

Early drafts of the law would have allowed Allawi to declare a state of emergency with a simple majority vote of his cabinet. Under the final version, such a declaration also needs the support of the president and the two vice presidents. A provision to allow for a nationwide state of emergency was deleted from the law, the senior official said.

Allawi is "not talking about blanket national martial law procedures with extreme measures," Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz told the Senate Armed Services Committee on June 25.

Read the rest at the Washington Post

July 7, 2005:

Conservative talkers taking radio shows on road to Iraq

Public support for the war in Iraq is plummeting at home and overseas, military recruiters aren't making their quotas, and U.S. soldiers and Iraqi civilians are being killed every day by insurgents.

But enough of the bad news, say a group of six conservative talk-show hosts led by San Francisco's Melanie Morgan.

They're headed to Iraq on Friday for a "Truth Tour" -- a seven-day trip designed to show that what's happening on the ground in Iraq isn't as dire as what's being beamed across the globe on network news programs and described in mainstream publications.

The talkers will stop Friday at Central Command in Tampa, Fla., to throw a thank-you barbecue for the military. Then they'll fly commercially to Kuwait and be transported by military planes to Camp Victory in Baghdad, where each will broadcast two days of shows next week. Next, they're headed to Camp Arifjan in Kuwait for three more days of shows. Throughout, many of the radio hosts are planning to call other conservative shows, like the nationally syndicated "Sean Hannity Radio Show," to spread the gospel about what they see.

Even though reporters have been embedded with military units since months before the March 2003 invasion, the talkers say that in the past year, foreign correspondents have been more comfortable reporting from their Baghdad hotel rooms about the roadside bomb blast of the day than about describing the positive developments going on in the country.

"We're going to talk to the troops who are there and get the story straight from them without the filter of the liberal media," said Morgan, who co-hosts a morning show on KSFO-AM in San Francisco.

She said she planned to "get away from my military minders and talk to people."

Slipping away will be tough, as military officials say the talkers will be accompanied at all times.

"They will be treated like any other media," said Sgt. Anne M. Proctor, media embed coordinator for Multi National Forces Iraq.

"And if they think that the military is going to let something happen to them while they're over there, c'mon," said comedian Al Franken, who hosts a talk show on the liberal Air America radio network that is broadcast in the Bay Area. "That's how stupid these people are. They think they can walk around and talk to shopkeepers. They don't realize how dangerous it is over there."

Critics like Franken say the Truth Tour is nothing more than propaganda from the well-oiled conservative media echo chamber. They call it a velvet- rope tour that aims to re-inflate sagging support for the Bush administration's Iraq policy.

"It's extremely Orwellian," said Don Hazen, executive editor of San Francisco-based Alternet. "You can't spin the fact that there are people dying over there, and there's no light at the end of the tunnel and no coherent policy on how to get out. How is that a good story?"

"Oh, that's just the same old 'Bush lied/people died' protest chant," Morgan said.

Fought bare-knuckled over talk radio and throughout the blogosphere, Truth Tour cross-talk is the latest fight to influence public opinion over the war in Iraq.

According to the Brookings Institute's Iraq Index, a compilation of life and economic indicators, life in Iraq defies any simplistic description, on the left or the right. While the amount of electricity flowing in Baghdad is below the prewar levels, and unemployment is somewhere between 28 and 40 percent, more than 60 percent of Iraqi respondents to a poll said their life was better than before the war, and a strong majority were hopeful about the future.

What isn't in doubt: The Truth Tour talkers are going to see Iraq largely through the eyes of the U.S. military.

Funded in part by the hosts, and in some cases by their stations, the tour is part morale-booster -- Morgan is bringing coffee and cookies for the troops -- and part infotainment. The hosts will broadcast live from the Middle East and will invite callers to connect with service personnel.

But if they're only in country for a week, they're unlikely to uncover any "truth" that the military doesn't want them to see, said John McManus, who runs the Bay Area media watchdog organization, Embedded reporters who spend weeks with a unit develop sources that can help them paint a more nuanced picture of what's going on, he said.

"If they're calling this a 'Truth Tour,' then that implies that they're going as journalists," McManus said. "But their methodology of finding the truth sounds suspect. People tend to see what they're looking for. And if they're all conservatives, then their viewpoint is going to skew toward that."

The trip is being organized by Move America Forward, an organization co- founded by Morgan. Last month, the group launched an "I Love Gitmo" public support campaign -- complete with bumper stickers -- to support the people operating the embattled detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Read the rest at the San Francisco Chronicle

July 7, 2006:

Volunteers Collect Bodies In Iraq

There isn't a day in Baghdad that passes without the discovery of bodies dumped in places across the capital. Some are found tied together in abandoned vehicles on highways. Some are left among piles of garbage. Some are pulled from the Tigris River in the Shiite neighborhood of Kadhimiya.

There are volunteers of local Iraqi men who line the river bank in Kadhimiya; they are volunteers on the lookout for the bodies that float downstream and sometimes get caught in the reeds. One man, 18-year-old Ali Ghanem, has been doing this every day since last winter. He's said to be the best swimmer of the group.

Recently, he pulled out eight bodies. A day before that, it was 11. He says he's used to it now. Sometimes he pulls the bodies by their clothes, or from the hands. He says he's now used to the smell.

Many of the bodies have been tortured. Ahmed Hussein lost his nephew, who was kidnapped along with two of his friends not too long ago. He says their bodies turned up later in the river.

"You cannot imagine the way they were tortured. I haven't seen anything like it," Hussein said. "They used to say Saddam executes people and grinds their bodies up, but it is nothing compared to this. It's so horrible."

The Ravages of Sectarian Violence

Many of the dead are victims of sectarian violence. The people who live in Kadhimiya, a religious Shiite area in Baghdad, claim that the dead they find here every day are all Shiite. Adil Abu Saif works at the local office for radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Like a lot of people here, Saif blames Sunni insurgents for the dead they find in the river. The killings appear to occur upstream, in mainly Sunni insurgent strongholds.

The bodies are often dumped in the Tigris up north, and then float down towards Kadhimiya. Abu Saif says he watches the news on television every day, and if there's a report on killings upstream, everyone comes to the river the next day to wait for the bodies to appear.

He said recently, more than 50 Iraqi police were ambushed in Taji, north of Baghdad. The day after the ambush, volunteers in Kadhimiya pulled out 13 bodies of men wearing police uniforms.

He says the dead are "100 percent Shiite"

"The families who come looking for their missing are Shiite. The killers are like bandits. They wait on the road for those who come tired from work. There are no American soldiers, there are no checkpoints."

Abu Saif says volunteers have retrieved more than 400 bodies from the river in just two months. Families post pictures of the missing on boards near the place where the bodies are brought in. One resident, Ali al Saadi, uses his video camera to record each body that is recovered, so locals have proof for authorities who might accuse them of actually killing the victims.

"We have noticed something strange lately," he said. "The bodies that come are not handcuffed. Their hands have been drilled and bolted together." He says the killers cannot be real Muslims if they treat people this way.

"Is this the holy war they talk about? There's no mercy in the hearts of the killers," Saadi says. The worst thing he's ever seen from weeks of recording the events by the river: a head floating alone.

Local Go It Alone

The volunteers don't get any help from the authorities. The river police claim they aren't allowed to act without orders, even if it means retrieving a body stuck in the middle of the river at 2 a.m., a time when it is dangerous for the swimmers to try.

"It's a shame for Iraqis to say they have a government, because our government hasn't done a thing for the people," Saadi said. "It's impossible to say they've done something."

Then the divers spot a body. It's still far away, at least 500 feet, but they're so accustomed to watching the river they know what to look for now. The men, some with their trousers rolled up to their knees, the others in long shorts, charge into the river, calling to each other to bring the body in. As they call for rope, they look at the corpse and call out "It's a man, he's been burnt." The body, decomposed and bloated, has been dead for a long time.

More volunteers sprinkle rose water to mask the smell of rotting flesh filling the air. They wrap a white cotton sheet around the body, praying "There is no God but God" as they work. For one man, the smell is too much, and he stands to the side and vomits.

As some of the men tend to the body, Mohammed Qasim calls the local police, something he says he's been doing since the morning. The police usually come and collect the bodies and take them to the morgue. Two of the bodies have been laying near the river bank since 4 in the morning and their smell is everywhere.

"This is the fifth time we've called you," Qasim says into the phone. "We've just pulled a third one out. The smell is everywhere, the sun is on them." The policeman on the other end assures Qasim they will eventually come, but Qasim doesn't believe him.

"They won't come," he said. "We wait two, three hours. Either they come or they don't. I've been calling them since four in the morning. They haven't come.”

When they finish, the swimmers stand at the bank, breathing heavily. They don't get paid for what they do. They say it's their religious duty. They could use life jackets, though. One of them asks for a motor boat. Ali Imad shushes him and says "forget the boat;" a life jacket and plastic gloves would be more than enough.

"At least it would help us swim, and helps us when we pull the body," he said. "Our lungs get filled with water, no one will bring us gloves."

Imad says the police have all the equipment to do the job but refuse to: They come, "wearing gloves and show off, but they refuse to carry the body. They say they'll get dirty."

Soon after they see another body, and dive into the river to retrieve it.

Read the rest at NPR