Sunday, July 15, 2007

Perspective: On This Day In Iraq -- July 15th edition

July 15, 2005: A soldier performs medical aid on an Iraqi man while another helps secure the area after a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device targeted their convoy.

July 15, 2002:

Decoding the headlines about Iraq

The last time an American president made war on Iraq, he gathered his aides together and quietly told them what to do. He dispatched some on secret missions to round up cash from rich countries without armies, others to nail down overflight rights from nations that preferred to sit on the fence. He saw to the freezing of Iraqi assets and the movement of U.S. warships, troops and planes--and when they were in position, he mounted a worldwide diplomatic push for war. Only later did he let the public in on the details. Even some of George H.W. Bush's best friends later admitted that they couldn't really believe he'd pulled it off.

But now that another Bush Administration is packing for a trip to Baghdad, the son's method in no way resembles the father's. For President George W. Bush's team isn't so much preparing for war with Iraq as it is fighting a war with itself about whether and how to fight. The battle is oddly, alarmingly, public. The battlefield--not southern Iraq this time but the front pages of various newspapers--is strewn with bickering Bush aides and unnamed generals. Amid all the leaking and counterleaking, Bush's own comments about his aims keep shifting--which may explain why those of everyone around him do too.

Sometime last spring the President ordered the Pentagon and the cia to come up with a new plan to invade Iraq and topple its leader. He feared that Saddam was developing weapons of mass destruction and might link up with remnants of al-Qaeda for another attack on America. At first, the timetable called for action this fall, but then the Middle East exploded, India and Pakistan started to rumble, and Afghanistan slid toward chaos again--all of which helped push back the expected mobilization until at least early next year. And now that the U.S. economy seems to be downshifting again, Iraq may have to wait--some think forever. As a top official from one Middle East ally put it last week, "Iraq is over. The window is closed."

That hasn't stopped the warriors from skirmishing. It began in April, when Pentagon sources leaked word to the New York Times that an Iraqi war would require as many as 250,000 troops. That was standard procedure--warning the White House and Congress that a march to Baghdad would mean more casualties than they realized. It was also a signal. Says a former service Secretary: "The generals don't want to put kids in harm's way for what they think is a fool's errand."

That led to a second wave of leaks from various factions proposing cheaper, safer alternatives: Air Force and Special Operations teams wanted an Afghanistan-style operation, with commandos and bombers coordinating (in theory, anyway) with Iraqi opposition groups. That approach had backing from key officials, notably Wayne Downing, a retired Army general in charge of coordinating the war on terrorism. The Central Command chief, Army General Tommy Franks, rejected it because he believes the opposition isn't up to the job. "There are 24 divisions of the Iraqi army," an Army officer told Time. "There's a limit to how much you can do with guys on horseback and B-52s." Not long after Downing's plan fell out of favor, he announced he was leaving the government.

But when the basics of Franks' own secret plan--a three-pronged attack on Iraq from Turkey, Kuwait and Jordan--appeared in the Los Angeles Times and then the New York Times, the front-page war became too costly. Not only was a good secret loose, but the U.S. had a diplomatic snafu to clean up: Jordan relies on next-door neighbor Iraq for oil and wasn't keen about being dimed out as an enemy-in-waiting by a handful of U.S. Army colonels. Amman declared, as Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher told Time, "Jordan's territory will not be used as a launching pad against Iraq in any way, now or in the future."

Bush officials tried to shut down the cross fire on Thursday, telling USA Today that no full-scale invasion could take place without a "significant provocation,'"such as the invasion of Kuwait that started the Gulf War. That's a far cry from the policy Bush unveiled at West Point last month, when he warned nations harboring weapons of mass destruction that the U.S. reserves the right to make preemptive strikes against them. And because hardly anyone thinks Saddam Hussein would be foolish enough to repeat his 1990 mistake, it suggested anew that Washington is engaged more in psy-war than in war itself.

Read the rest at Time

July 15, 2003:

Disparate voices of Iraq emerge from silence

Thousands of Iraqis marched through Baghdad yesterday, celebrating the 45th anniversary of the overthrow of the monarchy and calling for the restoration of national independence.
Many carried pictures of Abdul Karim Kassem, the army general and 1958 coup leader who nationalised Iraq's British-owned oil company and was overthrown five years later in a CIA-backed plot supported by Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath party.

Across town supporters of the constitutional monarchists held a mourning meeting for King Faisal II, grandson of the ruler imposed by Britain in 1920.

The rival events, a further symbol of the vibrant debate among Iraqis after 30 years of repression, came a day after the inauguration of the new US-appointed governing council. It decided yesterday to send a three-person delegation with widely different views to address the UN security council next week. It will consist of Adnan Pachachi, a former foreign minister, Ahmad Chalabi, leader of the CIA-funded Iraqi National Congress, and Akila al Hashimi, a former member of the Ba'ath party who was a senior official in the foreign ministry until April.

For the constitutional monarchists, led by Sharif Ali bin Hussein, a cousin of the murdered king and the only pretender to the throne who has returned to Iraq, yesterday was cause for double sorrow. The US administrator, Paul Bremer, decided not to invite him on to the council.

The last invitation went to the Communist party, whose leader Hamid Majeed Mousa only decided on Friday to join the council after saying he would not. "We decided to take part because of the extra powers given to it," Kawa Besarani, a party spokesman, said.

These include oversight of security. Mr Bremer has accepted that the council will be in charge of rebuilding Iraq's armed forces and police. Some in the council want US and British troops to leave the cities so that Iraqi forces can gradually replace them and leave security in Iraqi hands.

A US soldier was killed and six were wounded when a convoy was ambushed by a group with rocket-propelled grenades in a middle-class area of Baghdad early yesterday. His death brings to 32 the number of US forces killed since President Bush declared the war over.

Other parties on the council, including the Communists and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, one of the main Shia groups, would favour a United Nations peace-keeping force to take over from the coalition so as to give foreign troops legitimacy.

India yesterday supported this view. Rejecting an American request to join the coalition forces in Iraq, the external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha announced that India could only consider sending troops under UN authority. "Were there to be an explicit UN mandate for the purpose, the government could consider the deployment of our troops in Iraq," he said after a meeting of the cabinet and security officials. Washington had put pressure on India by sending a team of Pentagon officials to New Delhi last month to discuss arrangements for an Indian deployment in Iraq.

The new council in Iraq is already divided over its attitude to America. A proposal for it to express thanks to President Bush for the invasion and to declare April 9 "Liberation Day" was rejected by most members at their first informal meeting on Saturday. Instead, they made April 9 a holiday to celebrate "the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime".

A majority also decided to invite the chief UN representative rather than Mr Bremer to make the only speech by a foreigner at the council's launch on Sunday.

Mouwafak al-Rabii, a Shia member of the governing council and a human rights activist, said: "Nobody wants the Americans to stay one day longer than what they have to stay." He added that when Iraq has a government, an elected parliament and the security is under control then "the coalition troops should leave".

Shortly afterwards a Tunisian embassy car was destroyed in a blast near the compound where the council convened.

Read the rest at the Guardian

July 15, 2004:

Has Iraq war made U.S. safer? That's questionable.

Imagine yourself in the summer of, say, 2054, and reading a history book with your great-grandkids. Here's the big question: Will President Bush's assertion this week — that the U.S. invasion of Iraq has made Americans safer even though no weapons of mass destruction have been found — have withstood the test of time and the scrutiny of historians? That's far from clear. All we can predict for sure is a few paragraphs about how, back in those olden times, the claim was a cornerstone of a bitter 2004 battle for the White House.

Here's why. Standing in front of a political backdrop — "Protecting America" — to underscore his message, Bush made a three-point argument Monday for how the Iraq war had made Americans safer. First, a tyrant had been removed. Second, U.S. efforts to foster democracy were transforming Iraq into "an example" for the region. And third, Iraqi and U.S. forces were fighting terrorists.

Good points, on the surface. But they don't necessarily stand up to deeper scrutiny — or even to the gut reactions of many Americans watching the nightly news reports of a continued insurgency in Iraq. Bush's real message was conveyed by his scant mention of Iraq. It formed only a tiny slice of his wide-ranging recitation of reasons the U.S. is winning the much broader war on terror. Nod off during the speech and you might have missed those few lines.

It's a tough sell.

A devil's advocate — or the many skeptics in the USA and around the world — could easily have sat on Bush's shoulder and whispered some disturbing counterarguments.

Here's how they run. The fact that Saddam is gone may be a plus, particularly for long-suffering Iraqis. It also removes a regional threat. But the value to the war on terrorism is questionable. Saddam kept out terrorists and put down the kind of insurgency that now threatens the country. The democratic enterprise is shaky, provoking fears it could descend into civil war or fundamentalism, either of which would make Iraq a haven for terrorists. Hardly the surefire success that can win a shining place in the history books.

Context, of course, is everything. Bush had to make the keep-the-faith case after what Saddam might have termed the mother of all surprises. When the U.S. went to war against Iraq 16 months ago, the stated reason was to remove Saddam's supposed vast stockpiles of unconventional weapons that he could use against the region or sell to terrorists. There was ample reason to believe he had those weapons. But a Senate report last week detailed intelligence failures that provided a dud casus belli.

Even so, it now seems obvious that the administration misjudged the ramifications of its rush to go to war. Predictions of a fast, sure victory followed by a stable peace ring more hollow with each new U.S. casualty.

The war on terrorism could join the casualty list. Differences over Iraq have split us from allies who rallied to our side after 9/11, and Iraq has drained resources from other needs, most notably in Afghanistan, where warlords still rule most of the country.

Iraq could yet settle into some form of Islamic democracy. And terrorists there might become as scarce as before the war began.

But the argument that we are safer from terrorism now because we went to war in Iraq is dubious at best.

Read the rest at USA Today

July 15, 2005:

Iraq probing $300 million blown on bad equipment

BAGHDAD, Iraq – The Iraqi Defense Ministry has squandered more than $300 million buying faulty and outdated military equipment in what appears to be a massive web of corruption that flourished under U.S.-appointed supervisors for a year or longer, U.S. and Iraqi military officials said this week.

Vendors are suspected of vastly overcharging for substandard equipment, including helicopters, machine guns and armored vehicles, and kicking back money to Iraqi Defense Ministry buyers.

The defective equipment has jeopardized the lives of Iraq's embattled security forces and exposed a startling lack of oversight for one of the country's most crucial rebuilding projects.

Officials of Iraq's recently elected government have fired the main suspects in the scandal, and several former defense overseers are under investigation for possible criminal charges, Iraqi Defense Minister Saadoun al-Duleimi said in an interview this week.

Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus is the senior U.S. officer in charge of training and equipping Iraqi forces. He declined to comment on the allegations, saying it was a matter for Iraq's government to resolve.

Al-Duleimi said investigators are looking at more than 40 questionable contracts that allegedly sent a huge chunk of the ministry's annual budget into the pockets of senior Iraqi defense officials and their foreign business partners.

Investigators are looking at purchases dating to the June 28, 2004, transfer of sovereignty from U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer III to the caretaker government of U.S.-backed Prime Minister Ayad Allawi.

After the transfer, Americans still ran the show behind the scenes, said several Iraqi bureaucrats involved with the ministry at the time. It's implausible to them that U.S. officials, who held daily briefings with Iraqi defense chiefs, didn't catch wind of the alleged wrongdoing.

"It seems hard to understand to an outsider that this stuff could go on under our noses and Americans wouldn't know anything about it. But, clearly, we didn't know everything," said a U.S. military official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The official emphasized that U.S. taxpayer funds were not involved in the alleged corruption, though he added that commanders have had to dip into U.S. money to correct the losses and keep Iraqi training on track.

One apparent disastrous purchase was a shipment of sleek MP5 machine guns, costing about $3,500 apiece, that are now believed to be Egyptian-made knockoffs worth $200 each on the street, according to U.S. and Iraqi officials familiar with the contracts under scrutiny.

Many deals were brokered by former Iraqi exile Ziad Tareq Cattan, who was hired by the CPA in 2004 and quickly rose from district councilman to be the Iraqi defense ministry's chief weapons buyer. Cattan, who oversaw the ministry's acquisitions, logistics and infrastructure portfolio, was known as a man who flew around the world spending millions of government cash with little accountability.

Cattan was fired last month. He phoned Knight Ridder yesterday, saying he was in the northern town of Irbil. He said the accusations against him were made up by Americans angry that he questioned their training procedures for Iraqi troops and by newly elected Shiite Muslim leaders jealous of a rival Sunni Muslim in such an important ministry post. He denied taking a 10 percent finder's fee for contracts.

Read the rest at the San Diego Tribune

July 15, 2006:

U.S., Iraq military court Sunni soldiers

RAMADI, Iraq — Their televised graduation was supposed to be a moment of national celebration: A class of 1,000 Sunni Arab soldiers emerging from basic training would show Iraqis that the country's worsening religious divide was not afflicting the national army.

Two months later, only about 300 of them have reported for duty, U.S. officials say.

The evaporation of the class underscores the struggling U.S. and Iraqi effort to increase recruitment from the disgruntled Sunni Arab minority, which forms the backbone of the insurgency.

The success or failure of the effort holds broad ramifications, especially as U.S. forces begin to hand control of troublesome Sunni cities and neighborhoods to Iraqi soldiers, most of whom are now Shiites and Kurds.

Unless more Sunnis join up, soldiers from one sect will increasingly target the hometowns of the other sects — without U.S. supervision.

"Units that are purely Shiite or Kurd or Sunni are looked on by various other sectors of the community as not being representative of their needs," Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said this year. "A unit that has all Iraqis embedded in it is better able to handle whatever kind of strife comes along."

The 1,000 graduates were part of a program to recruit 6,500 Sunnis from restive Anbar province. But with two classes of enlistees trained, only 530 soldiers have been added to the ranks, said Lt. Col. Mike Negard, a spokesman for the U.S. training command.

"The program is ongoing and its duration is based not on a timetable but to achieving the recruiting goal," Negard said.

Though the Iraqi army does not track the religious affiliation of its soldiers, U.S. commanders acknowledge Iraq's military lacks a proportionate number of Sunni troops. The effect of this imbalanced force has been unmistakable.

In Baghdad, civilians in Sunni Arab neighborhoods such as Azamiyah and Dora have attacked Iraqi troops, thinking they were Shiite death squads that have slain hundreds of Sunnis. Such attacks have been rising in many parts of Iraq.

Sunni Arab politicians have long complained the government waited much too long to recruit from the Sunni heartland in western Iraq.

Recruiting stations targeting Sunnis were only added west of Fallujah in late 2005 or early this year — while tens of thousands of Shiites had been lining up to enlist in southern Iraq for a year and longer.

The Ministry of Defense blames persistent insurgent attacks in Anbar for the slow recruiting drive.

But some critics fault the U.S. military for not making recruitment in Anbar a priority sooner and complain it doesn't track the religious makeup of soldiers.

"It's a mistake not to track the sectarian makeup of the security forces. In fact it's a big mistake," said Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow of foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution.

But he also said getting more Sunni Arabs to enlist carries problems, because of the possibility of insurgents infiltrating the army.

U.S. officials track the religious makeup of battalion commanders and above, but say the decision not to ask common soldiers about their religious background was left in Iraqi hands. "That's not for me to decide," Negard said.

Many U.S. commanders play down the importance of balancing the Iraqi army's religious makeup, arguing the main problem is retaining troops who have already joined.

Meanwhile, bombs and mortars struck Shiite and Sunni mosques in the Baghdad area Friday, the latest in a week of attacks that have killed more than 250 people.

Read the rest at the Seattle Times