Thursday, July 12, 2007

Perspective: On This Day In Iraq -- July 12th edition

July 12, 2006: Soldiers search a house during a cordon and knock patrol in the northern section of Nineva in Mosul.

July 12, 2002:

Some question plot news timing

The announcement Monday that U.S. officials had nabbed an alleged al-Qaeda terrorist who planned to explode a radioactive "dirty bomb" in the United States meshed neatly with President Bush's agenda. It came four days after Bush proposed a homeland security department in his Cabinet and 10 days after he began describing a doctrine of pre-emptive military strikes against countries that threaten the United States. It seemed to add impetus to his argument that Saddam Hussein must be ousted before Iraq sells weapons of mass destruction to terrorists.

But some people, especially some Democrats, wondered Tuesday whether the arrest announcement dovetailed a little too tidily with Bush's agenda.
Those questions were fueled by the fact that the announcement came a month after Abdullah Al Muhajir's arrest May 8 and by reports Tuesday that he had no radiological material, no concrete plan and no target.

"It would just be interesting to know why any particular day is chosen more than a month after the fact to make an announcement, especially an announcement of this magnitude," says Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster. Other Democrats in Washington said the same thing privately.

Bush's stage-managing of public pronouncements to maximize his goals is a technique every president has used. Trying to dominate news coverage to remind voters that he and fellow Republicans are leading the war on terror is a perquisite of the presidency.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Tuesday that the "dirty bomb" threat was not overstated. "It was described accurately," he said. "At times like this, the initial reports immediately lurch to the worst-case scenario." Fleischer said the timing had nothing to do with Bush's announcement last week of the new homeland security department.

Attorney General John Ashcroft announced the arrest Monday from Moscow, where he was meeting with Russian officials on unrelated matters. "We have disrupted an unfolding terrorist plot," he said.

It wasn't long before Bush and his top aides were making the link between the arrest and the administration's priorities in the war on terrorism.

"Grave threats are accumulating against us, and inaction will only bring them closer," Vice President Cheney said.

In a speech Tuesday in Kansas City, Mo., Bush said, "These shadowy terrorists could hook up with a nation that has got weapons of mass destruction, the nations that I labeled the axis of evil."

Late Tuesday, administration officials said Ashcroft went too far in his description of the "dirty bomb" threat, providing a reminder that message management can be tricky. If Bush is seen as trying to gain a political edge from the threat of terrorism, Americans could lose confidence in him.

Read the rest at USA Today

July 12, 2003:

Bremer: U.S. ready to begin rebuilding Iraqi army

The task of building a new Iraqi military will get under way in the next few weeks at selected training and recruiting sites, the American administrator of Iraq said Thursday.

Speaking over a satellite video hookup from Baghdad, L. Paul Bremer said the project will serve not only to restore a necessary element of Iraq's long-term security but also address the short-term problem of hundreds of thousands of former Iraqi soldiers being without work since the war.

Unemployment more broadly is a "tremendous problem" in postwar Iraq, Bremer said, with far more than half the working-age population jobless. He said a recently announced $100 million emergency construction program was the most efficient way of getting people back to work quickly.

"This is where our greatest challenge lies, and we must now create jobs for Iraqis," Bremer said in a 30-minute question-and-answer session with reporters at the Pentagon. He made the same point earlier Thursday in a similar session with members of the House Armed Services Committee.

"This economy was flat on its back before the war and it's in even worse shape now," he told committee members.

The problem for members of Iraq's former conscript army, which Bremer disbanded along with the better-trained Republican Guard and other elements of the Iraqi military, is especially acute.

Bremer said there were about 375,000 Iraqi conscript soldiers before the war. Some number of those who survived will undergo U.S. training, probably starting in July, and a portion of those will be selected to provide security at facilities currently being guarded by U.S. troops, he said.

Sites for military training and recruiting have been identified, and former Iraq soldiers will be hired to clear and prepare them for use, Bremer said in his remarks to the House committee.

"So we plan to move out rather smartly in trying to stand up this new Iraqi army," he said.

Read the rest at USA Today

July 12, 2004:

Redrawing the Map

I’ve been trying for weeks now to be positive, to figure out how to apply the Powell doctrine in a way which can lead the United States out of this mess in Iraq. The other day, I hit upon what I think may be a long-term solution.

Until now, our premise has been to reshape Iraq as a single, democratic nation within the British-imposed boundaries of 1918. But that is, frankly, an impossible task. Anyone who has studied the region and who sees the predictable jockeying going on now for a seat in the U.S.-imposed government knows such a solution will never work. The real opportunity we have, having deposed Saddam, is to allow the three nations that comprise what we call modern Iraq—the Kurds, the Sunnis and the Shiites—to shape their own futures in a manner which coincides with the more natural evolution of their cultures. What if, rather than imposing our Western notion of a modern Iraq, we embraced, instead, a more regional, pragmatic notion of three separate states. Yes, I know. The pundits are shaking their heads right now thinking, “This guy can’t be serious.” But think through the likely outcomes.

The Kurds would quite happily form their own independent Kurdistan in the north. They’ve been trying to do it for decades. In a very real and measurable way, the Kurds are closer to the ideal outcome sought by the Bush administration, a functioning, capitalist democracy. They love Americans, and they are thriving in the north. The Turks wouldn’t be happy, but their displeasure would be manageable. We would have to establish a U.S. security force across the narrow gap in the north leading from Turkey into northern Iraq, but that would be relatively easy. Turkey would never risk its standing in NATO by attacking U.S. troops. American soldiers could then be withdrawn from elsewhere in Iraq and used entirely in the north to protect the new Kurdish state. They would be welcomed by the Kurdish population with open arms. Plus, the Kurds would have the major oil-producing city of Kirkuk to feed their economy.

The Sunnis in the center could have Baghdad and form their own government, which is what they want anyway. Gulf access would be problematic, but workable. The new state, with its former Baathists, would be a major security concern, but a separate Sunni state could easily be supported by a modest international security force sanctioned by the United Nations. And that U.N. force would have no U.S. troops.

And what about the Shiites in the south? They’re very likely to climb into bed with Iran anyway, either with or without our attempts to stop them. It’s a loss to the United States, but a rump Shiite state aligned with Iran would not significantly shift the regional balance, especially with a flourishing Kurdish state in the north also on Iran’s border.

Taking this scenario one step further, suppose the three states formed a loose federation—the Federation of Iraqi States—with oil as the common link. Such an arrangement might go far to restrain the more extremist Shiite elements in the south, particularly since that population is probably less than eager to march a 1,000 years backward in history as Iran has done.

By redefining our political objective and limiting it, we would be able to limit our military mission to one supporting a population that would welcome us, the Kurds. We would cut our losses in the south and, who knows, maybe the Shiites would actually think more favorably of a United States that let them go. Then again, maybe not. But so what? We’re not going to impose our will on the south anyway, and we’re going to destroy all chance for success anywhere else in the country if we try. The Shiites will simply not be constrained by the U.S. notion of a greater Iraq.

It’s a radical solution, I know, but it makes real sense. It’s only a partial win for the Americans, but it’s a win just the same. And it’s the Powell doctrine at its best. An achievable political end state, a limited military objective in the north, an easy exit strategy and a virtual guarantee of international support. It’s amazingly simple, and it could give the Bush administration a way out. Not that this White House deserves one. But our troops do.

Read the rest at Newsweek

July 12, 2005:

Iraqi unions claim their voice

For most Americans, the idea that Iraq has unions is a strange concept. We have become accustomed to seeing images of soldiers and bombs, while Iraq's working families have little visibility and are given little consideration in U.S. policy debates.

Yet Iraq, a country of 24 million people, has a long history of civic and labor activism dating back to the 1920s, when the British dug the first oil wells, and oil workers organized their first unions. They weren't legal then - - in fact, the British shot strikers in one of Iraq's first labor confrontations. They're not legal now, either.

Saddam Hussein, fearing a progressive movement to topple his dictatorship, banned unions for public workers in 1987. Iraq's public sector includes all of its largest industries -- oil, railroads, ports and big factories.

When the occupation began, however, U.S. authorities refused to repeal that law, despite promises of democracy. Instead, chief occupation administrator Paul Bremer issued Public Order 30 in September 2003 to privatize Iraq's state-owned industries. Thomas Foley, a fund-raiser for President Bush, drew up lists of factories, airlines, railroads, mines and other enterprises to be sold to private investors, including foreign corporations. Despite last January's elections, that program is still on the books.

Iraqi workers adamantly oppose privatization, since it would lead to massive job loss in a country already suffering 70 percent unemployment, according to economists at Baghdad University. To Iraqi unions, denying them legal status is a way to keep them weak in the face of the occupation's economic program.

Yet Iraqi unions -- despite lacking legal status and often being the targets of the occupation on the one hand and terrorists on the other -- have begun winning better conditions for workers. Hundreds of thousands of workers have joined, according to Iraqi labor organizers, making unions the largest institution in Iraqi civil society.

Oil workers recently held a large congress in Basra to voice their opposition to privatizing oil, or selling it to transnational corporations at discounted prices. Oil income, they said, is needed to rebuild their country. Their union calls for keeping public assets in public hands. It also calls for an end to the occupation, and the withdrawal of U.S., British and other foreign troops. Today, Iraq has several union federations. They don't always agree on everything, but on these two points, they see eye-to-eye.

Most Americans hope that the occupation will end too, replaced by a progressive government that will raise living standards and ensure a democratic and peaceful future. The war deprives working families in the United States of the money needed for education and public services, and it sends their children into harm's way. Yet instead of bringing prosperity and peace to Iraqis, the war has brought the opposite. Working families in both countries want the same thing.

That makes it important to seek out the voices of Iraq's unions, its women's, professional and student organizations, and hear what they have to say. Their voice is missing in the debate over the future of their country.

Read the rest at the San Francisco Chronicle

July 12, 2006:

Armor on Iraq Humvees Is Linked to Deadly Rollovers

Thousands of pounds of armor added to military Humvees in Iraq have made the vehicles more likely to roll over and kill or injure soldiers, a newspaper reported.

"I believe the up-armoring has caused more deaths than it has saved," Scott Badenoch, a former Delphi Corp. vehicle dynamics expert, told the Dayton Daily News for its Sunday editions.

Congress and the Army have spent tens of millions of dollars on armor for the Humvee fleet in Iraq, the newspaper said.

That armor -- much of it installed on the M1114 Humvee built at the Armor Holdings Inc. plant north of Cincinnati -- has shielded soldiers from harm.

But serious accidents involving the M1114 have increased, and accidents are much more likely to be rollovers than those involving other Humvee models, the newspaper reported.

An analysis of the Army's ground-accident database, which includes records from March 2003 through November 2005, found that 60 of the 85 soldiers who died in Humvee accidents in Iraq -- or about 70 percent -- were killed when the vehicle rolled, the newspaper said. Of the 337 injuries, 149 occurred in rollovers.

"The whole thing is a formula for disaster," said Badenoch, who is working with the military to design a lighter-armored vehicle.

Army spokesman John Boyce Jr. told the Associated Press on Sunday that the military takes the issue seriously and continues to provide soldiers with additional training on the armored Humvee.

The Army has made safety upgrades to the vehicle, including improved seat restraint belts and a fire-suppression system, he said.

There are more than 25,300 armored Humvees in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said.

When Humvees roll, the most vulnerable passenger is the gunner, the soldier who operates the weapon mounted atop the vehicle.

Gunners were killed in at least 27 of the 93 fatal Humvee accidents since 2001, according to the newspaper's analysis.

Read the rest at the Washington Post