Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Perspective: On This Day In Iraq -- July 18th edition

July 18, 2005: A Marine fires an AT-4 light anti-armor weapon at an old tank during fire and maneuver training near Camp Bucca.

July 18, 2002:

Al Qaeda Weapons Worries

Although U.S. troops in Afghanistan turned up no evidence that al Qaeda had nuclear weapons, the Pentagon still worries the terrorist network could get them from sources in other countries, a senior official said.

Stephen Younger, director of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, said extensive searches in Afghanistan showed al Qaeda was interested in nuclear technologies, as well as biological and chemical weapons.

He said they had made little progress toward building their own bombs before U.S. forces intervened last fall, drove the Taliban regime from power and sent surviving al Qaeda leaders into hiding.

“Al Qaeda has been trying to get a weapons of mass destruction capability,” he told a group of reporters Wednesday. “I think they had a limited infrastructure in Afghanistan to produce it indigenously.

“However, that doesn't mean that they don't have a different capability elsewhere,” he added. Later he said this meant that al Qaeda leaders may have connections in other countries that already have the technological base for building nuclear weapons. They have the money to make such links, he said, and they have “access to people in countries with advanced technological capability.”

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has publicly raised the possibility that Iraq could be such a supplier for al Qaeda or other international terrorist groups.

Al Qaeda's interest in biological weapons seemed to be focused mainly on anthrax, Younger said.

In light of the Sept. 11 attacks and concerns within the Bush administration that international terrorists might link up with Iraq to obtain weapons of mass destruction, the Pentagon is exploring new ways to neutralize or destroy biological and chemical weapons that might be stored underground.

Younger said one possibility is a warhead that would encapsulate a biological or chemical weapons facility with a hard or sticky foam rather than blow it up with conventional bombs.

Another possibility is a nonexploding warhead that spreads flammable materials to incinerate biological agents.

Both approaches are still on the drawing board. They would be alternatives to conventional high-explosive warheads, which might allow contaminants to escape, threatening civilians or U.S. troops.

“It's not as simple as blowing it up,” Younger said.

Younger said that although the United States does not know what kinds of weapons Iraq may have developed since U.N. inspections ended in 1998, it is a “reasonable assumption” based on Saddam Hussein's track record that the Iraqi president either has or is pursuing weapons of mass destruction.

Iraq claims it has no weapons of mass destruction.

Read the rest at CBS News

July 18, 2003:

Postwar Window Closing in Iraq, Study Says

A team of outside experts dispatched by the Pentagon to assess security and reconstruction operations in Iraq reported yesterday that the window of opportunity for achieving postwar success is closing and requires immediate and dramatic action by U.S. military and civilian personnel.

The team concluded that the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority in charge of reconstruction efforts is isolated and underfunded, and it recommended that U.S. officials move immediately to internationalize the daunting task of rebuilding Iraq, particularly in light of "rising anti-Americanism in parts of the country."

Amid escalating guerrilla attacks against U.S. forces and mounting criticism of the Bush administration by Democrats for poor postwar planning in Iraq, the report represents a comprehensive, independent assessment of conditions there, both in terms of security and reconstruction.

"The 'hearts and minds' of key segments of the Sunni and Shi'a communities are in play and can be won, but only if the Coalition Provisional Authority and new Iraqi authorities deliver in short order," the experts said in 10-page report to Pentagon officials, which they released at a news conference.

The report noted "significant progress" but said "the next 12 months will be decisive."

The team, organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, traveled to Iraq at Pentagon expense between June 27 and July 7. It was led by John Hamre, who served as deputy defense secretary in the Clinton administration and is now CSIS president.

Bryan G. Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, said defense officials "agree with the assessment that there has been enormous progress in Iraq since the removal of [Saddam Hussein's] regime and that significant challenges lie ahead."

"We look forward to working through the report in a systematic fashion to determine how we might put into practice the elements and findings, as appropriate," Whitman said.

Read the rest at the Washington Post

July 18, 2004:

Iraq Stock Exchange Makes Gains

The miniature Liberty Bell clanged. Elbows flew. Sweat poured down foreheads. Sales tickets were passed and, with a flick of the wrist, 10,000 shares of the Middle East Bank had more than doubled in value.

The frantic pace Sunday of those first 10 minutes of trading typified the enthusiasm behind the Iraq Stock Exchange — a new institution seen as a critical step in building a new Iraqi economy.

In just five sessions, trading volume has nearly quadrupled and the value of some stocks has surged more than 600 percent, gains traders say reflects the pent up frustration of 15 months of closure.

"How can I not be excited by this?" Taha Ahmed Abdul-Salam, the exchange's chief executive officer, said as he eyed the activity on the trading floor.

The ISX is temporarily housed in a converted restaurant. Looters had gutted the old exchange, so traders now jostle for position in a long room overlooking an old dining room. Where bartenders once chatted with patrons sidling up for drinks, a bank of secretaries log orders.

With space limited, investors are not allowed in the exchange, let alone the "floor." Instead, from a makeshift courtyard, they can look in through the same windows that once offered diners a garden view. Joining them are the posse of men armed with assault rifles who provide security for the exchange.

Such scenes are standard in the tumultuous Iraqi capital. But the presence of security does little to dampen enthusiasm at the exchange.

The unofficial figures of the day's trade tell the story. Over $10 million in stocks changed hands, reflecting the movement of about 1.43 billion shares — though only 27 companies are listed on the exchange.

"Iraqis have always been business savvy," said Abdul-Salam, the former research head at the old exchange. "But that we have this much activity with so few companies listed shows just how much pent up frustration there was among investors under the previous regime."

For Iraqis, these days have been a long time coming. The ISX replaces the now-defunct Baghdad Stock Exchange, which was riddled with corruption. Saddam's extended family often muscled in at will by simply issuing new shares for companies they found attractive.

The new exchange has built in safeguards against manipulation. It took about a year to set up, with 12 brokerage houses and banks that own it working alongside former occupation authorities to lay the legal and regulatory framework.

"This is much better than before," said Emad Shakir al-Baghdadi, a broker with the Okaz Co. firm. The removal of a 5 percent cap on price swings has added tremendous credibility and liquidity to the market, he added.

"Look at these prices," he said, glancing at the board showing offers for one industrial company at about 25 dinars, almost two-tenths of a cent. "These shares are ridiculously undervalued. That's why prices are surging as much as 600 percent from day-to-day."

The exchange was inaugurated last month and is open two days a week for two hours a day. Sunday's session was the first open to the media.

Read the rest at Fox News

July 18, 2005:

Studies: War radicalized most foreign fighters in Iraq

Two new studies, one by the Saudi government and one by an Israeli think tank, which "painstakingly analyzed the backgrounds and motivations of hundreds of foreigners entering Iraq to fight the United States" have found that most foreign fighters in Iraq were not terrorists before the Iraq war, but were "radicalized by the war itself." The Boston Globe reported on Sunday that the studies " cast doubt" on claims by President Bush that terrorists have "seized on the opportunity to make Iraq the 'central front' in a battle against the United States."

However, interrogations of nearly 300 Saudis captured while trying to sneak into Iraq and case studies of more than three dozen others who blew themselves up in suicide attacks show that most were heeding the calls from clerics and activists to drive infidels out of Arab land, according to a study by Saudi investigator Nawaf Obaid, a US-trained analyst who was commissioned by the Saudi government and given access to Saudi officials and intelligence.

A separate Israeli analysis [by Global Research in International Affairs] of 154 foreign fighters compiled by a leading terrorism researcher found that despite the presence of some senior Al Qaeda operatives who are organizing the volunteers, 'the vast majority of [non-Iraqi] Arabs killed in Iraq have never taken part in any terrorist activity prior to their arrival in Iraq.'

The Globe also reports that American intelligence officials and terrorism experts have a very similar picture of these fighters: that prior to the Iraq war, they were not extremists who wanted to attack the US in an Al Qaeda-like manner, but "are part of a new generation of terrorists responding to calls to defend their fellow Muslims from 'crusaders and 'infidels.' "

'The president is right that Iraq is a main front in the war on terrorism, but this is a front we created,' said Peter Bergen, a terrorism specialist at the nonpartisan New America Foundation, a Washington think tank.

Read the rest at the Christian Science Monitor

July 18, 2006:

Sectarian violence out of control in Iraq

BAGHDAD — A Sunni driver lures Shiites into a van by promising jobs — then blows it up, killing 53 people. Sunni gunmen spray bullets and grenades at shoppers, not caring that they include women and children. Shiite death squads roam Baghdad streets, singling out and slaughtering Sunnis.
The new unity government of Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds was supposed to bring Iraqis together. Instead, sectarian bloodletting is spiraling out of control.

In the last two days alone, more than 120 people were killed in two spectacular examples of Sunni-Shiite violence — 53 in the suicide van bombing Tuesday in Kufa and 50 in the massacre Monday in the market in Mahmoudiya.

Since then, at least 19 more have been slain in Mahmoudiya in what police say were reprisals for the market massacre. Their bodies were found by police, scattered in different parts of town.

American officials had hoped the unity government, which took office May 20, could curb sectarian attacks by promoting cooperation between the sects. It promised to disband the Shiite militias and persuade Sunni insurgents to lay down their arms, so that U.S. troops could go home.

But unity in parliament has not been translated into peace on the streets. Lawmakers elected on religiously based tickets find it difficult to restrain their constituents, whose lives are under constant threat by the rival religious group.

With the government unable to protect them, people put their trust in religious-based militias. The killings continue and the government loses respect with every mass killing.

"The security situation is heading toward collapse," Shiite politician Bassem Sharif warned last week. "There is sectarian animosity within the Iraqi public, and this is putting pressure on the political process."

Instead of withdrawal, the top U.S. commander, Gen. George Casey, said last week that more U.S. troops may take to the streets if Iraqi forces cannot cope with the rising violence.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki may yet be able to reverse the slide. But public confidence is waning. His much-heralded security plan for Baghdad — which includes 50,000 police and troops operating checkpoints and patrolling the capital — is widely perceived as a failure.

"Iraqis had hoped for good news when al-Maliki formed his Cabinet," commentator Mohammed al-Shabout wrote in the government-owned newspaper Al-Sabah. "But regrettably, the good news ceased. We regret to say all we have is bad news."

And there's plenty of bad news.

The United Nations reported Tuesday that nearly 6,000 civilians were slain across Iraq in May and June, a spike that coincided with rising sectarian attacks. The report said 2,669 civilians died in May and 3,149 in June — the first full month of the Maliki government.

The report's figures were higher than some other counts, but even the U.N. said many killings go unreported.

An AP count showed at least 696 Iraqis were killed in sectarian or war-related violence in the first 18 days of July. That's a sharp rise over the same period last year, when an AP count showed more than 450 Iraqis were killed.

But statistics alone cannot convey the depth of the sectarian brutality.

In Kufa, police said the suicide attacker drove to a street corner where laborers congregate, hoping someone will offer them work for the day. The driver promised jobs, filled the van, and then detonated it on a bustling street.

Sunni gunmen in Mahmoudiya sprayed the crowd of mostly Shiite shoppers Monday with automatic weapons and fired rocket-propelled grenades into the melee, according to police and survivors. In the aftermath, children lay on hospital gurneys, their legs shattered, their bodies writhing in pain.

Nearly every day, police find corpses in Baghdad streets and vacant lots, victims of death squads that hunt down members of the rival sect. The bodies often show signs of horrific torture, including holes drilled into their eyes or skulls.

As a result, many Iraqis — especially those who live in Baghdad and other religiously mixed cities — are terrified. Almost everyone seems to have a relative or acquaintance who has disappeared or died violently.

Airlines that fly out of Baghdad are heavily booked through the summer as Iraqis with enough money send their families abroad — many of them for long stays. But most Iraqis can't leave, and are forced to live in a constant state of fear.

In Baghdad, few venture out in the evening — except in districts where their sect is in the majority and the streets are controlled by militias. Motorists use streets that steer clear of areas where the other sect dominates.

In a statement June 27, the United Nations estimated that about 150,000 Iraqis had fled their neighborhoods to escape sectarian and insurgency-related violence during the previous four months.

The lucky ones find shelter with relatives in areas where most people are members of their own sect. The less fortunate end up in small tent cities clustered around mosques.

U.S. officials blame much of the sectarian crisis on the legacy of the Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq until he was killed in a U.S. airstrike June 7. The Jordanian-born Zarqawi considered Shiites heretics and collaborators with the Americans and sought to promote civil war by repeated attacks on Shiite civilians.

"Terrorists have adapted by exploiting Iraq's sectarian fault lines," U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad told a Senate committee last week. "Sectarian violence has now become THE significant challenge to Iraq's future."

Others believe the U.S. contributed to sectarian strains by appearing to favor Shiites early in the occupation, in the belief that many Sunni Arabs remained loyal to Saddam Hussein. That perception fueled Sunni fears that the Shiite majority would seek payback for repression under Saddam's Sunni-dominated regime.

Although sectarian killings began soon after Saddam fell in 2003 but accelerated after the bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra five months ago. That triggered a tidal wave of reprisal attacks against Sunni mosques and clerics.

The latest outbreak began July 1 when a car bombing killed 66 people in Bagdad's heavily Shiite district of Sadr City. A week later, masked Shiite gunmen roamed the streets of Baghdad's Jihad neighborhood killing Sunnis. At least 41 people died.

Read the rest at USA Today