Sunday, July 22, 2007

Perspective: On This Day In Iraq -- July 22nd edition

July 22, 2003: Flame erupts from a building in Mosul hit with a TOW missile killing Saddam Hussein's sons Qusay and Uday.

July 22, 2002:

Go on, call Bush's bluff

During the 17 months of the Bush administration just about everything has gone wrong for the US government in preparing the public for military strikes against Iraq. Convincing friendly governments and allies has not fared much better. Acts of terrorism against US facilities overseas and the anthrax menace at home could not be linked to Iraq. Evidence of al-Qaida/lraq collaboration does not exist, neither in the training of operatives nor in support to Ansar-al-Islam, a small fundamentalist group which allegedly harbours al-Qaida elements and is trying to destabilise lraqi Kurdistan.

In the aftermath of the carnage of September 11, the political landscape in the Middle East has changed dramatically. Years of US double standards in dealing with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict have taken a heavy toll. The Arab, Turkish and Kurdish public in the area is wary of facing more turmoil, suffering and uncertainty.

The Beirut summit of the Arab League in March signalled that all 22 governments want to see an end to the conflict with Iraq. Saudi Arabia and Iraq have since reopened their border at Arar and Saudi businessmen are selling their wares in Baghdad. Iraq has agreed to return Kuwait's national archives and to discuss the issue of missing Kuwaitis. Iran and Iraq have accelerated the exchange of refugees. Syria has normalised its relations with Iraq. Lebanon has done the same. Hardly a week passes without Turkish and Jordanian officials and business delegations visiting Iraq. Jordan's national airline flies five times a week between Amman and Baghdad. Airlinks exist between Damascus and Baghdad. Iraqi Kurdistan maintains contacts with Baghdad at scientific, cultural and sports levels and tries to make the best out of its present (albeit tenuous) local stability. Iraq's political and economic isolation in the Middle East is all but over.

A wave of senior US visitors has tried to dislocate these trends towards normalisation and reconciliation in this troubled region. The US administration has put the UN secretary general on a short leash in his meetings with the Iraqi authorities. The only topic worthy of discussion according to the Americans is the return to Iraq of the UN arms inspectors. This became most apparent during the recently concluded talks with the Iraqis in Vienna.

Europe is increasingly uncomfortable with this unilateral insistence on solving the Iraqi conflict militarily. In varying degrees the same applies to countries in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia has served notice that the Sultan air base near Riyadh will not be available for a new US offensive against Iraq. Under severe US pressure, Qatar has agreed to permit the transfer of logistics from Saudi Arabia to its territory. A political crisis is looming in Jordan as a result of US demands to use Jordan as a possible staging area in a war against Iraq. A similar debacle will face the Turkish government once the prime minister, Bulent Ecevit, decides to relinquish his post and fresh elections are scheduled. An entire region is being destabilised to suit American preferences for political change in Iraq.

Concurrently, a systematic dis- and mis-information campaign, one of the biggest ever undertaken by the US authorities, is intensifying. The US and the international public are being sedated daily with increasing doses of propaganda about the threat Iraq poses to the world in 2002. In the forefront of those advocating war against Iraq has been the US deputy secretary of defence, Paul Wolfowitz, who sees a military solution as the only option. On July 14 he stated in Istanbul: "President Bush has made it clear how dangerous the current Iraqi regime is to the United States and that it represents a danger we cannot live with indefinitely."

To make such statements without offering supporting evidence is irresponsible. It promotes government-induced mass hysteria in the US and is meant to garner bipartisan support for military action. A war on Iraq justified by conjecture is politically foolish and morally repugnant. In the words of the Archbishop of Wales, Dr Rowan Williams: "It is deplorable that the world's most powerful nations continue to regard war, and the threat of war, as an acceptable instrument of foreign policy."

The US Department of Defence and the CIA know perfectly well that today's Iraq poses no threat to anyone in the region, let alone in the United States. To argue otherwise is dishonest. They know, for example, that al-Dora, formerly a production centre for vaccine against foot and mouth disease on the outskirts of Baghdad, and al-Fallujah, a pesticide and herbicide manufacturing unit in the western desert, are today defunct and beyond repair. The UN concluded the former had been involved in biological agent research and development and the latter in the production of materials for chemical warfare. UN disarmament personnel permanently disabled al-Dora in 1996. During a visit with a German TV crew to al-Dora in mid-July - a site chosen by me and not the Iraqi authorities - I found it in the same destroyed condition in which I had last seen it in 1999. Al-Fallujah was partially destroyed in 1991 during the Gulf war and again in December 1998, during operation desert fox. In between a UN disarmament team disabled all facilities in any way related to weapons of mass destruction there, including the castor oil production unit. My visit this month disclosed beyond any doubt that the castor oil unit was inoperable. Remnants of other production facilities are used to manufacture herbicides and pesticides for plant protection and household use.

One does not need to be a specialist in weapons of mass destruction to conclude that these sites had been rendered harmless and have remained in this condition. The truly worrying fact is that the US Department of Defence has all of this information. Why then, one must ask, does the Bush administration want to include Iraq in its fight against terrorism? Is it really too far-fetched to suggest that the US government does not want UN arms inspectors back in Iraq? Do they fear that this would lead to a political drama of the first order since the inspectors would confirm what individuals such as Scott Ritter have argued for some time, that Iraq no longer possesses any capacity to produce weapons of mass destruction? This indeed would be the final blow to the "war against Iraq" policy of the Bush administration, a policy that no one else wants. The Iraqis would be well advised to seize this opportunity and open their doors without delay to time-limited arms inspectors, thereby confirming that they indeed have nothing to hide.

This would make a US war against Iraq next to impossible and start the long journey towards the country's return to normality. What was it that Paul Wolfowitz said on the west front of the US Capitol on April 15? "May God bless all the peacemakers in the world." He still has a chance to be among them.

Read the rest at the Guardian

July 22, 2003:

Bush the Believer

Is George Bush the Iraq war's "useful idiot"?

The phrase was coined by Vladimir Lenin to refer to gullible communist sympathizers who swallowed whole the party line. They believed what they were told, and what they were told was mostly lies.

It could be somewhat the same with Bush. He may well be the last person to believe that the Iraq war was waged virtually in self-defense. He believes that Saddam Hussein was on the verge of obtaining nuclear weapons. He believes Hussein had other weapons of mass destruction and that he was linked somehow -- don't ask how -- to Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda and the events of Sept. 11.

The evidence is nowhere to be found. No weapons of mass destruction have turned up. An advanced Iraqi nuclear program seems to be, well, not so advanced. The evidence for it is either bogus or so tenuous as to be far from convincing. Ties to al Qaeda -- "bulletproof evidence," in the words of Don Rumsfeld -- have not been proved and never made much sense anyway. Al Qaeda is not well disposed toward secular leaders.

What evidence exists suggests, in fact, that the United States was hankering for a war no matter what. Intelligence -- no matter how fragmentary or inconclusive -- was shaped, molded and goosed until it could be used to prove that Hussein had to be taken out swiftly. The bogus uranium from Niger is a mere detail in this regard -- a smoking gun, yes, but one in the hands of White House aides for whom truth meant less than impact.

The real mystery is whether Bush himself realized how weak the evidence for a preemptive war was or was being manipulated by a cadre of disciplined administration aides who long had sought a war with Iraq. These are some of the very same people who in 1998 wrote a letter to President Clinton arguing that America should abandon containment, "removing Saddam Hussein and his regime from power." Ten of the 18 signatories -- including Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz -- are now in the Bush administration and were among the most vigorous proponents of war. Rumsfeld, Bob Woodward tells us, argued at the first Cabinet meeting after the Sept. 11 attacks for war on Iraq...

Had Bush made the same case for war that his aides did in 1998, that could have been debated. But it was a hard case to make, because Hussein really and truly did not pose an imminent threat to the United States. He posed a distant or theoretical threat -- and not really to America but to our interests and allies.

Now Bush stands abandoned by events. No weapons of mass destruction. No nuclear program. No links to al Qaeda. His judgment and his competence are being questioned -- his honesty as well. But the president is no liar. More likely, he is merely an uncritical man who believed what he was told. Lenin knew the type.

Read the rest at the Washington Post

July 22, 2004:

Army to Call Up Recruits Earlier

In what critics say is another sign of increasing stress on the military, the Army has been forced to bring more new recruits immediately into the ranks to meet recruiting goals for 2004, instead of allowing them to defer entry until the next accounting year, which starts in October.

As a result, recruiters will enter the new year without the usual cushion of incoming soldiers, making it that much harder to make their quotas for 2005. Instead of knowing the names of nearly half the coming year's expected arrivals in October, as the Army did last year, or even the names of around one in three, as is the normal goal, this October the recruiting command will have identified only about one of five of the boot camp class of 2005 in advance.

Army officials say that they have been unable to defer as many enlistments as in the past because 4,500 more recruits were needed at midyear to help meet a temporary increase of 30,000 soldiers in the active duty force, which is to grow to 512,000 by 2006. The increases are largely driven by the missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Read the rest at KATC 3

July 22, 2005:

Military wants to allow older recruits

With the Army, Army Reserve and Army National Guard all on pace to fall short of their recruitment goals for the year, the military is reconsidering its age limits for new recruits.

Allowing older soldiers could be costly in terms of benefits, and there is the thorny issue of whether older men and women can keep up with the young. But many in the military argue that people in their 40s are in good physical shape and point out that thousands of middle-aged soldiers are already rotating through Iraq.

On Monday, the Pentagon filed documents asking Congress to increase the maximum age for military recruits to 42, in all branches of the service. Now, the limit is 40 for people without previous military service who want to enlist in the reserves and National Guard, and 35 for those seeking active duty...

The proposal, intended for the 2006 defense budget now pending in Congress, could further ease the military's traditional reliance on young recruits. In March, the Pentagon rewrote its policy from the 1960s that limited new recruits to people under 35, raising the age limit for Army Reserve and Guard recruits by five years, to anyone younger than 40.

Read the rest at the San Francisco Chronicle

July 22, 2006:

In Iraq, Military Forgot Lessons of Vietnam

The real war in Iraq -- the one to determine the future of the country -- began on Aug. 7, 2003, when a car bomb exploded outside the Jordanian Embassy, killing 11 and wounding more than 50.

That bombing came almost exactly four months after the U.S. military thought it had prevailed in Iraq, and it launched the insurgency, the bloody and protracted struggle with guerrilla fighters that has tied the United States down to this day...

There is also strong evidence, based on a review of thousands of military documents and hundreds of interviews with military personnel, that the U.S. approach to pacifying Iraq in the months after the collapse of Hussein helped spur the insurgency and made it bigger and stronger than it might have been.

The very setup of the U.S. presence in Iraq undercut the mission. The chain of command was hazy, with no one individual in charge of the overall American effort in Iraq, a structure that led to frequent clashes between military and civilian officials.

On May 16, 2003, L. Paul Bremer III, the chief of the Coalition Provisional Authority, the U.S.-run occupation agency, had issued his first order, "De-Baathification of Iraq Society." The CIA station chief in Baghdad had argued vehemently against the radical move, contending: "By nightfall, you'll have driven 30,000 to 50,000 Baathists underground. And in six months, you'll really regret this."

He was proved correct, as Bremer's order, along with a second that dissolved the Iraqi military and national police, created a new class of disenfranchised, threatened leaders.

Exacerbating the effect of this decision were the U.S. Army's interactions with the civilian population. Based on its experience in Bosnia and Kosovo, the Army thought it could prevail through "presence" -- that is, soldiers demonstrating to Iraqis that they are in the area, mainly by patrolling...

The U.S. military jargon for this was "boots on the ground," or, more officially, the presence mission. There was no formal doctrinal basis for this in the Army manuals and training that prepare the military for its operations, but the notion crept into the vocabularies of senior officers...

The flaw in this approach, Lt. Col. Christopher Holshek, a civil affairs officer, later noted, was that after Iraqi public opinion began to turn against the Americans and see them as occupiers, "then the presence of troops . . . becomes counterproductive."

The U.S. mission in Iraq is made up overwhelmingly of regular combat units, rather than smaller, lower-profile Special Forces units. And in 2003, most conventional commanders did what they knew how to do: send out large numbers of troops and vehicles on conventional combat missions.

Few U.S. soldiers seemed to understand the centrality of Iraqi pride and the humiliation Iraqi men felt in being overseen by this Western army. Foot patrols in Baghdad were greeted during this time with solemn waves from old men and cheers from children, but with baleful stares from many young Iraqi men.

Complicating the U.S. effort was the difficulty top officials had in recognizing what was going on in Iraq. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld at first was dismissive of the looting that followed the U.S. arrival and then for months refused to recognize that an insurgency was breaking out there. A reporter pressed him one day that summer: Aren't you facing a guerrilla war?

"I guess the reason I don't use the phrase 'guerrilla war' is because there isn't one," Rumsfeld responded...

That fall, U.S. tactics became more aggressive. This was natural, even reasonable, coming in response to the increased attacks on U.S. forces and a series of suicide bombings. But it also appears to have undercut the U.S. government's long-term strategy.

"When you're facing a counterinsurgency war, if you get the strategy right, you can get the tactics wrong, and eventually you'll get the tactics right," said retired Army Col. Robert Killebrew, a veteran of Special Forces in the Vietnam War. "If you get the strategy wrong and the tactics right at the start, you can refine the tactics forever, but you still lose the war. That's basically what we did in Vietnam."

For the first 20 months or more of the American occupation in Iraq, it was what the U.S. military would do there as well.

"What you are seeing here is an unconventional war fought conventionally," a Special Forces lieutenant colonel remarked gloomily one day in Baghdad as the violence intensified. The tactics that the regular troops used, he added, sometimes subverted American goals...

Feeding the interrogation system was a major push by U.S. commanders to round up Iraqis. The key to actionable intelligence was seen by many as conducting huge sweeps to detain and question Iraqis. Sometimes units acted on tips, but sometimes they just detained all able-bodied males of combat age in areas known to be anti-American.

These steps were seen inside the Army as a major success story, and they were portrayed as such to journalists. The problem was that the U.S. military, having assumed it would be operating in a relatively benign environment, wasn't set up for a massive effort that called on it to apprehend, detain and interrogate Iraqis, to analyze the information gleaned, and then to act on it...

Senior U.S. intelligence officers in Iraq later estimated that about 85 percent of the tens of thousands rounded up were of no intelligence value. But as they were delivered to the Abu Ghraib prison, they overwhelmed the system and often waited for weeks to be interrogated, during which time they could be recruited by hard-core insurgents, who weren't isolated from the general prison population...

In improvising a response to the insurgency, the U.S. forces worked hard and had some successes. Yet they frequently were led poorly by commanders unprepared for their mission by an institution that took away from the Vietnam War only the lesson that it shouldn't get involved in messy counterinsurgencies. The advice of those who had studied the American experience there was ignored.

That summer, retired Marine Col. Gary Anderson, an expert in small wars, was sent to Baghdad by the Pentagon to advise on how to better put down the emerging insurgency. He met with Bremer in early July. "Mr. Ambassador, here are some programs that worked in Vietnam," Anderson said.

It was the wrong word to put in front of Bremer. "Vietnam?" Bremer exploded, according to Anderson. "Vietnam! I don't want to talk about Vietnam. This is not Vietnam. This is Iraq!".

Read the rest at Read the rest at the Washington Post