Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Perspective: On This Day In Iraq -- July 11th edition

July 11, 2006: A Stryker Brigade Combat Team leader maintains radio contact with an Apache attack helicopter during a mission near Tal Afar.

July 11, 2002:

Officials: 'No evidence' defector saw bin Laden in Iraq

A PBS program scheduled to air Thursday features an Iraqi defector saying he saw Osama bin Laden in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad in 1998, but U.S. officials said they are skeptical of the report.

If a clear link could be established between the government of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and the group that attacked the United States on September 11, it would help the Bush administration justify military action to overthrow the Iraqi regime.

"We're not dismissing this, but we have no evidence of such a visit" to Iraq, said a knowledgeable U.S. official.

"We have no evidence that is true," said one official, though he added that U.S. intelligence has not ruled out the possibility that bin Laden and other al Qaeda members may have had contacts with Iraqi officials in the past.

The new PBS program "Wide Angle" quotes the Iraqi defector as saying that he saw bin Laden in Iraq on July 9, 1998 -- shortly before al Qaeda blew up two U.S. embassies in Africa.

U.S. officials said an Iraqi intelligence official may have traveled to Afghanistan in the late '90s to meet with bin Laden or other senior al Qaeda leaders -- though the evidence of that meeting is not conclusive. The officials said if there is any connection between Hussein and al Qaeda, the evidence remains weak, and the PBS program "does not add" to it.

Officials have said Iraq ran camps for years providing training in guerrilla and terrorist techniques. The United States has no evidence members of al Qaeda ever attended the camps but can't entirely rule it out, officials said.

U.S. defense officials said that in recent years they have identified about half a dozen training camps inside Iraq used by the country's intelligence and internal terrorist groups largely to preserve Hussein's regime. Those camps do remain under U.S. surveillance.

The PBS program also restates assertions by Czech officials that Mohammed Atta, the apparent ringleader of the September 11 hijackers met in Prague with an Iraqi intelligence official named Al-Ani. Czech officials have said the meeting took place in April 2001. U.S. officials said there is evidence Atta traveled to the Czech city in 1999 and possibly in 2000 but none he was there in April last year.

Read the rest at CNN

July 11, 2003:

Who's who in postwar Iraq

PAUL BREMER. The US civilian administrator was sent to Baghdad by President George W. Bush in May to replace Jay Garner, a retired army lieutenant general whose efforts were overwhelmed by the chaos that descended on postwar Iraq. A counterterrorism specialist with 23 years' experience in the State Department, Mr Bremer has little previous involvement in Arab affairs or with reconstruction projects. But US officials say his appointment appealed to both the State Department and the Pentagon, because of his diplomatic experience, his belief in aggressive action to deal with terrorism and his close relationship with prominent US conservatives...

AYATOLLAH MOHAMMAD-BAQIR AL-HAKIM. The Shia leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq was imprisoned and tortured as an opposition leader by the Ba'ath party regime during the 1970s and went into exile in Iran, where he lived for 23 years.

Ayatollah al-Hakim advocates strict adherence to a hardline interpretation of the concept velayat al-faqih in which ultimate authority rests with a supreme spiritual leader.

His relations with the US have been uneasy, partly because he holds the US responsible for the failure of the Shia uprising in southern Iraq in 1991.

The presence in Iraq of Sciri's armed militia of 12,000-15,000 men, the Badr Brigade, has led to further tensions with the US-led occupation authority, which has demanded that the group disarm.

Before his return to Iraq, Ayatollah al-Hakim said the Iraqi nation would "use any legitimate means to resist foreigners' occupation of Iraq, should they decide to remain", but he has since softened his stance, ruling out violence as a means of resisting the US occupation and declaring that the Badr Brigade will now be transformed into a civilian organisation.

Despite Iranian support and a high international profile it remains unclear how much political influence he will wield. His younger brother, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, has been named as a potential US nominee for the governing council.

MASSOUD BARZANI, leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party which rules the western part of the Kurdish self-rule area from the regional capital Irbil. He represents the more traditional, tribal elements in Kurdish society, and controls a fighting force of up to 35,000. The KDP was founded in 1946 as a coalition of various political parties. In 1996 the KDP reportedly asked for assistance from Saddam Hussein in gaining territory occupied by the PUK. Saddam capitalised on the divisiveness and was able to crush the INC bases in northern Iraq.In spite of their differences, the groups are now reconciled and made attempts to establish better relations with the European Union.

JALAL TALABANI of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan - Mr Talabani, who was one of the PUK's founders in 1975, is one of the great survivors of Middle East politics. The PUK was founded in 1975 and has historic ties with Syria and Iran. Group members are primarily Shiite Muslims. In 1986, it signed a co-operation agreement with Iran to overthrow Iraq's ruling Baath party. In December 2002, Talabani joined long-time rival Massoud Barzani of the KDP on a diplomatic mission to lobby the EU for support.

AYATOLLAH ALI AL-SISTANI. Iraq's top Shia cleric is considered a moderate, who adheres to a tradition of leaving the running of the country to the politicians, with the clerical establishment providing guidance. Based in the holy city of Najaf, he is one of the most senior members of the Hawza, and his pronouncements have tremendous influence over Iraq's Shia community that comprises 60 per cent of the population.

The Hawza - a powerful institution that is a mix of religious authority and political consciousness - was founded in the 10th century and trains the Shia clergy. It comprises around 150 schools, universities and seminaries, with over 5,000 students. Ayatollah Sistani issued a religious ruling or fatwa in June opposing the formation of a constitutional council by the American occupation authority, saying Iraqis should elect those who draft their constitution. His ruling was the most significant political pronouncement in the postwar period by the cleric, who urged Iraqis to push for general elections for a constitutional assembly, followed by a referendum on a draft constitution.

MUQTADA SADR. Leader of the radical Sadr faction in Najaf and son of Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq Sadr, who was assassinated by the government of Saddam Hussein in 1999. He has adopted a policy of political activism since the end of the war, dismissing the traditional clergy as too quietist. His group has occupied hospitals in Baghdad and filled them with armed guards, ostensibly to protect the buildings from lawlessness. The group's spiritual guide is Ayatollah Qadhim al-Hairi, who remains in Iran. Mr Hairi is reported to have issued a fatwa, or religious edict, declaring it lawful for Muslims to kill senior officials of Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath party who dared to return to work.

Read the rest at the Financial Times

July 11, 2004:

Iraq's Old Army May Be Recalled

Iraq's new leader wants to call some of its old army back to duty to help restore peace in his war-torn land. Disbanding that defeated force 13 months ago was a mistake made in Washington, says a U.S. Army colonel who held a pivotal role in Baghdad at the time.

"It was because ideology ruled where reality should have," Col. Paul F. Hughes, then strategic policy director for the U.S. occupation authority, said of last year's decision.

Other key players said the order came not from then-Iraq administrator L. Paul Bremer as believed, but from top-level civilian officials at the Pentagon, and that it was done without consulting U.S. military chiefs.

With no Iraqi security forces on hand, the U.S. military was left almost alone to confront an Iraqi insurgency and crime wave that built through 2003 — fed in part by armed soldiers of the disbanded army.

"Anyone who ever worked in any country after a losing war knows you have to do something with the old soldiers," Hughes told The Associated Press. "Otherwise, they're out of work and they will do what people do who know how to use guns."

Iyad Allawi, Iraq's interim prime minister, says he hopes to reconstitute three or four divisions of the old army — up to 40,000 troops, about 10 percent of the huge force maintained under the ousted Baathist government of Saddam Hussein.

Allawi first spoke out against the U.S. decision last October, as a member of Iraq's governing council. By May, before taking over as interim prime minister, he told The Los Angeles Times, "We need an army, full stop."

His approval last week of legislation permitting martial law and military governors makes an army recall "imperative," said Ray Salvatore Jennings, an expert in postwar transitions with the government-financed U.S. Institute of Peace.

"If the army had not been fully dissolved, we would be starting from a far more advantageous position," Jennings said in Baghdad.

Last August, the U.S. command in Iraq began training a "New Iraqi Army" of light infantry, but the slow-paced program has produced only an estimated 7,000 troops, far short of the 40,000-member military the Americans once projected for October 2004.

Meanwhile, the first trained battalion fell apart when more than one-third of the men deserted, and the 2nd Battalion refused to fight alongside U.S. Marines against insurgents in the city of Fallujah this April.

The U.S. command says other newly organized security forces, including police and a lightly armed national guard, are more than 200,000 strong. But they are short on equipment and training.

"They were not intended to fight a pitched battle against well-armed insurgents," the U.S. General Accounting Office notes in a new assessment of postwar Iraq, where 138,000 U.S. troops bear the brunt of the fighting.

Jay Garner, the retired Army general who was the first U.S. administrator in Baghdad, went to Iraq in April 2003 planning to use the old army in a rebuilding role, keeping troops organized and paid.

In the face of the U.S.-British invasion, that army had disintegrated, its men gone home, often with weapons. But Hughes, now at the National Defense University in Washington, said he and others in Baghdad in those early weeks nonetheless coordinated with a committee of Iraqi generals and kept track of units.

"I had more than 100,000 names that this committee had pulled together," he said. Then the May 23, 2003, decree came down dissolving the army, signed by the newly arrived Bremer.

"Neither Jay nor I was consulted on that," Hughes said.

Bremer's senior security adviser, Walter B. Slocombe, told AP it was not his boss's decision.

"It was approved specifically at very high levels at the Department of Defense," said Slocombe, now back in private law practice in Washington. Hughes said it was driven by "ideology," a belief "that everything connected with power structures of Iraq was bad."

Neither would discuss which civilian Pentagon officials made the decision. Gen. Peter Pace, the Pentagon's No. 2 officer, said last February the top U.S. military men, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were not consulted.

Slocombe, who still defends last year's decision, said recalling Iraqi units risks setting the stage for collisions between U.S. and Iraqi troops.

Read the rest at Fox News

July 11, 2005:

Quieter than bombs, Iraq's foul water also kills

BAGHDAD – In Baghdad's Sadr City slum a pipe has burst, turning an empty building lot into a garbage- strewn mudhole. Children are gambolling in the filth, cooling from the 45 degree Celsius (115 Fahrenheit) summer heat.

A man scoops up the dirty water with a tin bucket into a tub in the back of his pickup truck to take home to his family.

Insurgent sabotage, years of neglect and a reconstruction effort halted because of violence have turned Iraq's water supply into a stinking trickle, killing Iraqis as surely as bullets and bombs. Most of those who die are small children.
'My son is suffering from dehydration,' says Lamia Khudier, clutching tiny baby Akeel at Sadr City's Health Clinic Number 6.

'It's the water. The water is dirty. It smells. Please, fix the water. It is disgusting.'

Baghdad's pipes are broken. Fresh water and raw sewage mix underground. Water pressure is low or non-existent, forcing Baghdadis to use their own pumps to suck out foul water.

The clinic's director, Ziad Nima Salman, says most children in the slum suffer from dehydration, diarrhoea and vomiting. Babies are fed milk made by mixing powder with putrid water.

Few records are kept of how many children are dying. International aid organisations have largely fled. But from where Salman is sitting, the problem has got worse over the last two years.

His clinic has treated twice as many patients with hepatitis A and typhoid in just the first six months of this year than in all of 2004, he said.

'For us, the most important thing is the children. They are suffering because of this contamination,' he said.

Read the rest at the San Diego Tribune

July 11, 2006:

From Baghdad Mosque, a Call to Arms

BAGHDAD, July 11 -- The words they have come to fear thundered out from the mosque loudspeakers as the sun sank over Baghdad: "God is great! God is great! God is great!"

Just one day earlier, Sunni Arab sheiks in Amiriyah, one of Baghdad's most embattled neighborhoods, had gone door to door recruiting volunteers who would be willing to fight against Shiite militias. The mosque's signal Tuesday night meant the time to fight was now.

According to witnesses and a Washington Post special correspondent, carloads of men in tracksuits, suspected by residents to be members of the powerful Shiite militia known as the Mahdi Army, pulled up outside the Malouki mosque and fired rocket-propelled grenades at the house of worship. During the firefight, a bullet pierced the shoulder of a mosque guard. Cars were gutted and burned. Residents said they did not know how many people died.

Gunfire clattered through the hot evening air; children bawled at the sound. In one home, a wife locked the front door and pleaded with her husband not to leave the house. A former army officer barked orders to neighbors who assembled to mount a defense: You go up to the rooftops. You guard the street corners.

Saleh Muhammed, an Amiriyah resident, told a Post special correspondent that he dialed 130 into his cellphone, Baghdad's emergency number. "The Mahdi Army has attacked Amiriyah," he told the Interior Ministry dispatcher.

"The Mahdi Army are not terrorists like you," said the dispatcher at the ministry, which is controlled by a Shiite party and operates closely with militias. "They are people doing their duty. And how could you know that they are the Mahdi Army? Is it written on their foreheads?" He hung up the phone...

The current spate of sectarian killing began Sunday, when police said Shiite militiamen stormed a largely Sunni neighborhood in Baghdad and killed more than 50 people, convincing many Iraqis that the violence had reached unprecedented intensity. Tuesday's parliament meeting focused on how to slow the runaway killing, and Sunni legislators who have been boycotting to protest the kidnapping of a colleague announced they would return Wednesday to show unity.

"Certainly, what is happening is the start of the civil war. It is a dangerous situation in which the people are involved now and are being dragged into massive killings," said Haidar al-Ibadi, a Shiite legislator.

Read the rest at the Washington Post