Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Perspective: On This Day In Iraq -- July 17th edition

July 17, 2006: A soldier with the 4th Infantry Division, provides perimeter security in a rural field after a long foot movement to search for weapons caches near Mushahda.

July 17, 2002:

Invading Iraq: Would the public go along?

Plans for a US invasion of Iraq are being drawn and redrawn. News reports of a likely military push against Saddam Hussein unfold daily. And the American public almost uniformly agrees with President Bush in viewing the Iraqi regime as "evil." In fact, many believe Mr. Hussein poses a greater danger than Osama bin Laden.

But the effort to unseat Hussein faces important hurdles with the American public, with prospective allies overseas, and even in some quarters of the military. In recent polls, when weighing whether Washington should use military force to unseat Hussein, the public becomes more tentative in its backing, diverging from the drum-beating rhetoric of Mr. Bush.

Indeed, opinion polls suggest that the Bush administration must put forward a more powerful case than it has so far to mobilize the public fully behind a military invasion of Iraq. Moreover, Bush must offer more proof of threats posed by Iraq's links to weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and terrorism – and use such evidence to build an international military coalition.

In essence, Bush needs to lay the political and diplomatic groundwork for a military campaign against Iraq, much as his father did in the six months prior to launching the Gulf War in 1991, say analysts.

"He is making threatening statements to warn Saddam Hussein and rattling swords, but in terms of the international community, he doesn't have the support or a place to launch the invasion. He does not have deep public support," says James Thurber, a professor of government at American University.

Still, mobilizing public opinion is a task clearly within The White House's reach. A June 21 Gallup poll found that 59 percent of respondents favor sending American troops to the Persian Gulf to topple Hussein.

Read the rest at the Christian Science Monitor

July 17, 2003:

Report fears growing chaos in Iraq

Iraq's "potential for chaos" is growing by the day, giving the US only three months to turn the security situation around, according to a highly critical report on US reconstruction efforts delivered by an independent team of experts.

Commissioned by Donald Rumsfeld, secretary of defence, five experts led by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) spent 12 days travelling through much of Iraq. Their report, made public on Thursday, warns of the dangers ahead and gives a sharp critique of the Bush administration's postwar performance.

"The next 12 months will be critical to the success or failure of the Iraq reconstruction effort. The potential for chaos is becoming more real every day," the report said, referring to the guerrilla warfare and sabotage mounted by remnants of the old regime.

Security was steadily deteriorating in Baghdad, the northern city of Mosul and elsewhere, and anti-Americanism was on the rise in parts of the country, the team concluded.

"The next three months are crucial to turning around the security situation which is volatile in key parts of the country. . . The Iraqi population has exceedingly high expectations and the window for co-operation may close rapidly if they do not see progress on delivering security, basic services, opportunities for broad political involvement and economic opportunity."

The team paid tribute to the dedication of US troops and the coalition provisional authority (CPA) led by Paul Bremer. But it said the entire civilian effort needed to be "immediately turbo-charged" with more money, personnel and resources. International involvement, particularly that of the United Nations and World Bank, had to be broadened.

But the report also noted that the CPA was disconnected from reality. It needed to decentralise and give the resources needed to the newly established governing council of Iraqis. The team described the 25- member council as highly competent and backed their request for UN recognition.

Rick Barton of CSIS described the CPA as "living in a cocoon inside a bubble". He noted that many US troops were static, tied up guarding US personnel and compounds.

Read the rest at Financial Times

July 17, 2004:

Iraqi PM executed six prisoners: witnesses

Iyad Allawi, the new Prime Minister of Iraq, pulled a pistol and executed as many as six suspected insurgents at a Baghdad major crimes unit just days before Washington handed control of the country to his interim Government, according to two people who allege they witnessed the executions.

They say the prisoners - handcuffed and blindfolded - were lined up against a wall in a courtyard next to the maximum-security cell block in which they were held at the Al-Amriyah security centre, in the city's north-western suburbs.

They say Dr Allawi told onlookers that the victims had each killed as many as 50 Iraqis and they "deserved worse than death".

The Prime Minister's office has denied the entirety of the witness accounts in a written statement to The Age, saying Dr Allawi had never visited the centre and he did not carry a gun.

But the informants told The Age that Dr Allawi shot each young man in the head as about a dozen Iraqi policemen and four Americans from the Prime Minister's personal security team watched in stunned silence.

Iraq's Interior Minister, Falah al-Naqib, is said to have looked on and congratulated him when the job was done. The Interior Minister's office has issued a denial.

Rumours have been circulating in Iraq for some time about Dr Allawi, including about this particular incident. But The Age has been first to find people who say they witnessed executions by Dr Allawi.

One of the witnesses claimed that before killing the prisoners - and they name three of the people alleged to have been executed - Dr Allawi had told them he wanted to send a clear message to the police on how to deal with insurgents. "The prisoners were against the wall and we were standing in the courtyard when the Interior Minister said that he would like to kill them all on the spot. Allawi said that they deserved worse than death - but then he pulled the pistol from his belt and started shooting them," one of the witnesses said.

Re-enacting the killings, one witness stood three to four metres in front of a wall and swung his outstretched arm in an even arc, left to right, jerking his wrist to mimic the recoil as each bullet was fired. Then he raised a hand to his brow, saying: "He was very close. Each was shot in the head."

The witnesses said that seven prisoners had been brought out to the courtyard, but the last man in the line was only wounded - in the neck, said one witness; in the chest, said the other.

Given Dr Allawi's role as the leader of the US experiment in planting a model democracy in the Middle East, allegations of a return to the cold-blooded tactics of his predecessor are likely to bring to the boil a debate on how well Washington knows its man in Baghdad, and precisely what he envisages for the new Iraq.

The witnesses did not perceive themselves as whistle-blowers. In interviews with The Age they enthusiastically supported Dr Allawi for the killings. One justified the alleged killings and said: "These criminals were terrorists. They are the ones who plant the bombs. Allawi said they deserved worse than death; that they didn't need to be sent to court."

The two witnesses were independently and separately found by The Age; neither approached the newspaper. Nor were they put forward by, or through, others. They were interviewed on different days in a private home in Baghdad, without being told that the other had spoken.

A condition of the co-operation of each man was that no personal information would be published, but others known to The Age have vouched for their credibility. Both interviews lasted more than 90 minutes and were conducted through an interpreter - with another journalist in the room for one of the meetings. The witnesses were not paid for the interviews.

Before the shootings, the 58-year-old Prime Minister is said to have told the policemen that they must have courage in their work and that he would shield them from any repercussion if they killed insurgents in the course of their duty. The witnesses said that the Iraqi police observers were "shocked and surprised".

But asked what message they might take from the act, one said: "Any terrorists in Iraq should have the same destiny. This is the new Iraq.

"Allawi wanted to send a message to his policemen and soldiers not to be scared if they kill anyone - especially, they are not to worry about tribal revenge. He said there would be an order from him and the Interior Ministry that all would be fully protected.

"He told them: 'We must destroy anyone who wants to destroy Iraq and kill our people'. At first they were surprised. I was scared - but now the police seem to be very happy about this. There was no anger at all, because so many policemen have been killed by these criminals."

Dr Allawi had made a surprise visit to the complex, the witnesses said.

In Baghdad, accounts of the shootings are interpreted by observers as useful to a little-known returned exile of 33 years who needs to prove his leadership credentials as a "strongman" in a war-ravaged country that has no experience of democracy.

Neither witness could give a specific date for the killings. But the number of days that each said had lapsed since the shootings narrowed the time frame to on or around the third weekend in June - about a week before the rushed handover of power in Iraq and more than three weeks after Dr Allawi was named interim Prime Minister.

They said that as many as five of the dead were Iraqis, two of whom came from Samarra, a volatile town to the north of the capital, where an insurgency attack on the home of the Interior Minister had killed four of Mr Naqib's bodyguards on June 19.

The Age has established the names of three of the prisoners alleged to have been killed. Two names connote ties to Syrian-based Arab tribes, suggesting they were foreign fighters: Ahmed Abdulah Ahsamey and Amer Lutfi Mohammed Ahmed al-Kutsia.

The third was Walid Mehdi Ahmed al-Samarrai. The last word of his name indicates that he was one of the two said to come from Samarra, which is in the Sunni Triangle.

The three names were provided to the Interior Ministry, where senior adviser Sabah Khadum undertook to provide a status report on each for The Age. He was asked if were they prisoners, were they alive or had they died in custody? But he later cut short an interview by hanging up the phone, saying only: "I have no information - I don't want to comment on that specific matter."

All seven were described as young men. One of the witnesses spoke of the distinctive appearance of four as "Wahabbi", the colloquial Iraqi term for the foreign fundamentalist insurgency fighters and their Iraqi followers.

He said: "The Wahabbis had long beards, very short hair and they were wearing dishdashas (the kaftan-like garment worn by Iraqi men)."

Raising the hem of his own dishdasha to reveal the cotton pantaloons usually worn beneath it, he said: "The other three were just wearing these - they looked normal."

One witness justified the shootings as an unintended act of mercy: "They were happy to die because they had already been beaten by the police for two to eight hours a day to make them talk."

After the removal of the bodies, the officer in charge of the complex, General Raad Abdullah, is said to have called a meeting of the policemen and told them not to talk outside the station about what had happened. "He said it was a security issue," a witness said.

The witnesses say that as many as 30 people, including the victims, may have been in the courtyard. One of the witnesses said there were five or six civilian-dressed American security men in each of a convoy of five or six late-model four-wheel-drive vehicles shepherding Dr Allawi's entourage on the day.

Read the rest at the Age

July 17, 2005:

Bush 'sought to influence polls in Iraq'

American President George Bush approved a covert plan to influence the outcome of Iraq's January 2005 election, but dropped it amid opposition from the United States Congress, the New York Times reported on Sunday.

After debate within the White House, "the president's national security team recommended that he sign a secret, formal authorisation for covert action to influence the election," the Times said, citing "a dozen current and former government officials" familiar with the discussions.

"Bush either had already signed it or was about to when objections were raised in Congress. Ultimately, he rescinded the decision," the Times said.

All the sources spoke anonymously, except for Frederick Jones, spokesperson for the National Security Council, who would not comment on whether a formal authorisation ever existed.

"But there were concerns about efforts by outsiders to influence the outcome of the Iraqi elections, including money flowing from Iran," he was quoted as saying.

"This raised concerns about whether there would be a level playing field for the election. This situation posed difficult dilemmas about what action, if any, the United States should take in response," he said.

"In the final analysis the president determined and the United States government adopted a policy that we would not try - and did not try - to influence the outcome of the Iraqi election by covertly helping individual candidates for office."

The White House declined to elaborate on whether covert action was provided to political parties favoured by Washington, however, according to the Times.

Read the rest at IOL

July 17, 2006:

Iraq: A Deadly Name Game

In Iraq these days, the wrong name can get you killed. By law, all Iraqis carry jinsiyas, or national ID cards. But in a country where your ethnicity can make you a target, a jinsiya can become a death warrant. If your name is Omar you're likely a Sunni Muslim, named after a seventh-century imam despised by Shiites. If you're Amar or Aamer, pronounced almost the same, you could be from either sect. If you're Ali, you're probably Shiite. As a result, many Iraqis have started carrying two jinsiyas—a real one, and a fake one linking them to the rival sect. (Iraqis typically know which to present, depending on whether the checkpoint is in a Sunni or Shiite neighborhood.) "I still like the old name, but it's wise now to abandon it," says Omar Y., who carries a second jinsiya with the neutral name Aamer and who declined to give his last name out of concern for his safety.

The demand for false ID cards has spiked as bodies pile up in the Baghdad morgue at the rate of 35 to 50 a day, frequently bound and blindfolded, a jinsiya in their shirt pocket. The Iraqi Islamic Party, a hard-line Sunni group, claims it has tallied at least 65 Omars who have been killed since violence escalated in February after the destruction of a Shiite mosque in Samarra.

Before the war, forged jinsiyas went for about 2,500 dinars, or $1.70. Now the price has risen to 25,000 dinars. It's still a bargain compared with a legal name change, which can cost $400 or so in legal fees and bribes. (Also, the court publishes the new and old names in a local newspaper, which can defeat the purpose of getting the name change.) Tahsin Ahmed, a Shiite who married a Sunni, recently changed the name of his son Omar after his son's teacher cornered him at school and demanded to know if he was secretly Sunni. "That's a very dangerous name to have," the professor told the boy. Fearing for his son's life, Ahmed reluctantly bought him a fake ID with a new, Shiite name. Which? He's not saying.

Read the rest at Newsweek