Saturday, July 28, 2007

Perspective: On This Day In Iraq -- July 28th edition

July 28, 2003: Soldiers of the 115th Military Police Company, a National Guard unit from Rhode Island, order Iraqi civilians from their cars into waiting areas and guard them as soldiers search their vehicles in Fallujah.

July 28, 2002:

Some Top Military Brass Favor Status Quo in Iraq

Despite President Bush's repeated bellicose statements about Iraq, many senior U.S. military officers contend that President Saddam Hussein poses no immediate threat and that the United States should continue its policy of containment rather than invade Iraq to force a change of leadership in Baghdad.

The conclusion, which is based in part on intelligence assessments of the state of Hussein's nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs and his missile delivery capabilities, is increasing tensions in the administration over Iraqi policy.

The cautious approach -- held by some top generals and admirals in the military establishment, including members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- is shaping the administration's consideration of war plans for Iraq, which are being drafted at the direction of Bush and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

The senior officers' position -- that the risks of dropping a successful containment policy for a more aggressive military campaign are so great that it would be unwise to do so -- was made clear in the course of several interviews with officials inside and outside the Pentagon.

High-level civilians in the White House and Pentagon vehemently disagree. They contend that Hussein is still acting aggressively, is intimidating his neighbors and is eager to pursue weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them.

These officials say time is not on the side of the United States. "The whole question is, how long do you wait with Saddam Hussein in possession of the capabilities he has and would like to have?" said Richard N. Perle, head of the Defense Policy Board, a Pentagon advisory group.

The uniformed military's skepticism would not stop Bush if he were determined to attack Iraq, a White House aide said. "I assume that if the president decides this is going to happen, they'll go along with it," he said.

Read the rest at the Washington Post

July 28, 2003:

US troops in Iraq 'are terrorist magnet'

The commander of US ground forces in Iraq today said that his soldiers had become a "magnet" for foreign terrorists who wanted to strike at America.
Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez said the sophistication of the guerilla attacks, which Washington customarily blames on the former regime's loyalists, had increased over the last month.

"We have to understand that we have a multiple-faceted conflict going on here in Iraq. We've got terrorist activity, we've got former regime leadership, we have criminals, and we have some hired assassins that are attacking our soldiers on a daily basis," he told CNN.

Shortly after he spoke, two US soldiers in Baghdad were seriously injured when a man dropped a grenade from a road bridge onto their canvas-top Humvee as it passed below along Palestine Street.

Guerrilla-style attacks on US forces have killed 49 soldiers in Iraq since the US president, George Bush, declared major combat over on May 1.

Lt Gen Sanchez did not elaborate on the nationalities of the individuals behind such attacks but said there was no evidence any country was sponsoring the fighters.

"[There] is what I would call a terrorist magnet where America, being present here in Iraq, creates a target of opportunity if you will," he explained.

Read the rest at the Guardian

July 28, 2004:

Radical Islam grows among Iraq's Sunnis

Sheikh Mahdi Ahmed al-Sumaidi was detained in Abu Ghraib prison early this year after a weapons cache was found in his Ibn Taymiyyah mosque. Since released, his anti-US fervor is undiminished. "Neither the occupation forces nor the government they installed is acceptable,'' he says. "The legitimate power is the resistance."

Even so, he is grateful for the US invasion. "God uses many tools,'' he says. "America's brutality has caused many to understand that Islam is the answer to our problems. The only solution is Islamic government."

Sheikh Sumaidi is one of a cadre of Sunni preachers whose star has risen sharply in the past year. No longer constrained or exiled by a repressive regime, they are preaching jihad at key mosques and pushing to make Iraq an Islamic state.

They are still on the fringes of mainstream Sunni practice here. But amid almost daily firefights in the Sunni Triangle, these radical preachers are emerging as the principal Sunni rallying point.

"The Islamists are growing up very quickly among the frustrated and disadvantaged,'' says Sadoun al-Dulame, who runs the Iraq Center for Research and Strategic Studies in Baghdad. "All the violence is allowing extremists to mobilize and try to monopolize political space."

The preachers' opponents call them Wahhabis, after the dominant religious ideology of Saudi Arabia. But many prefer to refer themselves as salafy, which emphasizes their desire to return the Islamic world to the practices that prevailed at the time of Mohammad, which they see as a golden age. While the US project was to mold a secular Iraq friendly to the West, the salafys' religious beliefs are not far from Al Qaeda's.

Now, they're playing an increasingly visible political role. When hostages are taken, diplomats quietly contact them, hoping they can secure their release. When interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi wants to negotiate with insurgents in the war-torn town of Fallujah, now in the hands of Sunni jihadis, he goes through their mosques. And increasingly, when young Iraqi Sunnis seek guidance in dealing with a dislocating and fraught time in their lives, they turn to these mosques.

Hussein al-Khaisi, who runs a small shop selling nuts and dates in Baghdad, is one of scores of Iraqi men whose faith has deepened since the US invasion, and he's now a regular attendant at the small An Nur mosque in Baghdad. "During the US invasion, I saw so much chaos and death that I turned to God,'' he says. "Now there is so much corruption and violence that we need an Islamic government according to sharia. That would stop a lot of the suffering we have now."

Sheikh Ayad Ahmed al-Jubari runs the An Nur mosque and says attendance has grown since the invasion, which he says has helped Iraqis see the truth of Islam. He's also been freer to speak his mind - the regime of Saddam Hussein closely controlled political activity at Iraq's mosques. He says ongoing fighting in the Sunni triangle has drawn more people into his circle.

"The Americans wanted to make Fallujah into a place of terror, but God wanted it to be a place to strengthen the resistance,'' says Sheikh Jubari, who goes on to say that Fallujah is now a place of near-miracles. He says the blood of men "martyred" in the fight against the US smells like perfume and that, somehow, insurgents' weapons seemed to never run out of bullets during the April fighting.

Sheikh Jubari also praises the beheadings of "spies" - like Korean translator Kim Sun Il last month - and says it's appropriate to stage attacks on anyone connected with the US.

Mr. Dulame says it's a mistake to focus exclusively on Sunni groups - pointing out that Shiite religious movements like Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army have used murder and intimidation as well.

But most of the insurgent activity inside Iraq - be it car-bombings of police stations, assassinations of top Iraqi officials, or the gun battle between US soldiers and insurgents early Sunday in the town of Buhriz that left 13 insurgents dead - is now conducted by Sunnis, many radicalized during 17 months of fighting with US forces.

Read the rest at the Christian Science Monitor

July 28, 2005:

Iraqi Charter to Give Religion a Big Role

Iraq's constitution will enshrine "a significant role for religion in the state," the Shiite Muslim Arab who is leading the drafting of the charter said Wednesday, in one of the strongest statements yet that the new Iraq will follow the religious will of its Muslim majority.

Constitution committee chairman Humam Hammoudi, in statements backed by Shiites and Kurds working with him on the document, described a system that would steer Iraq between the Muslim secularism of neighboring Turkey and the Muslim theocracy of neighboring Iran.

"For example, unlike Turkey, which would prevent women from veiling, in our constitution there is no article that imposes the veil," Hammoudi told reporters. "Freedom guaranteed. There is no article to impose the veil, and also there is none to prevent it."

Speaking at a news conference, he outlined the charter's status with less than three weeks to go before an Aug. 15 deadline that U.S. officials are pressing the committee to meet. A draft constitution is supposed to be put to a vote by the Iraqi public in October.

Delegates said Wednesday they had yet to reach accord on matters ranging from what to call Iraq to whether the country should have a federal system. Hammoudi said that on Monday, in conjunction with a meeting of national leaders and political chiefs, delegates would announce whether they will ask for a deadline extension.

A delay would undermine efforts to show that the interim government is staying on track in the face of Iraq's bloody insurgency. It could also set back U.S. hopes of beginning to withdraw military forces from Iraq as soon as early spring. There are now about 135,000 U.S. troops in the country.

Statements from Hammoudi and other members of the committee, as well as proposed language circulating in Baghdad, have made clear that the draft is going further in embracing religious law than the preliminary national code drawn up in the first year of the U.S. occupation. That code, approved under U.S. stewardship by an assembly of Iraqi leaders, replaced a secular constitution under Saddam Hussein.

The interim charter officially describes Islam as one main source of Iraqi law. Leaders now are debating designating Islam as the only principal source of new legislation.

On Wednesday, the committee also handed out what members said was an agreed-upon chapter that included allowing individuals to decide matters such as divorce and inheritance according to religious law, if they so chose.

Drafters are also in agreement that no law conflicting with Islam can be adopted, said Hammoudi and Fouad Massoum, a delegate from Iraq's Kurd minority, whose members are traditionally more secular than the Arab majority.

A yet-to-be-established constitutional court would decide whether specific laws were in conflict with Islamic law, Hammoudi said.

Kurds and a secular bloc led by former prime minister Ayad Allawi previously blocked moves that they saw as unduly imposing religion on Iraqis. The spiritual leader of Iraq's Shiite majority, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, has served as a moderating force in the debate by urging drafters to make decisions by consensus.

On Wednesday, however, drafters spoke of following the dictates of the majority. "Average Iraqis now support a significant role for religion in the state," Hammoudi said. "If we don't put this demand in the constitution, the constitution will not get votes. We will fail, the National Assembly will disband, and the process will start over.

"The constitution will not impose anything on people," he said. "Everyone can practice their freedom in their personal affairs according to their beliefs. But the identity of the community goes after the majority of people."

Clerics and religion would have a "guiding role in enhancing the unity and the strength of this state," he added.

"When Islamic law is the rule in the community and the state doesn't abide by this, democracy says we should follow the majority," said Ali Mashadani, a Sunni. "Religion is the organizer of the state now.''

Read the rest at

July 28, 2006:

Shiite calls for Iraqis to take bigger security role

A prominent Shiite politician called Friday for Iraqi forces rather than Americans to play a greater security role and for an end to “interference in their work” — an apparent reference to U.S. efforts to curb abuses by the Shiite-led Interior Ministry...

The remarks by Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, who heads the country’s biggest Shiite party, came as the U.S. military drafted plans to move up to 5,000 U.S. troops with armored vehicles and tanks into Baghdad in an effort to quell escalating violence.

Al-Hakim told thousands of supporters at a rally in the southern city of Najaf that the Americans should turn over more security responsibility to the Iraqis and stop “the interference in their work.”

He said the surging violence was due to “being lax in hunting down terrorists and upholding the wrong policies in dealing with them.”

Sunni extremists and Saddam Hussein loyalists, al-Hakim said, are to blame for the violence. However, he also endorsed the government’s pledge to disband militias, including those affiliated with Shiite politicians.

Al-Hakim, the former commander of the feared Badr Brigade militia, has long complained the Americans have interfered with Iraqi forces’ efforts to crack down on Sunni insurgents and al-Qaida in Iraq terrorists.

Those complaints grew more frequent after U.S. troops raided an Interior Ministry lockup last November and found prisoners showing signs of torture. At the time, the ministry was controlled by al-Hakim’s party and it still wields considerable influence although the ministers were changed in May.

Members of his Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq have been suspicious of U.S. and Iraqi government peace overtures to Sunni insurgents and have privately complained that top Sunni politicians have intervened to free suspects picked up in Baghdad...

Al-Hakim’s party is a major player in the Shiite coalition of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The comments reflect divisions not only within the Iraqi government but among Shiites on the best way to cope with sectarian violence, which U.S. officials now believe is a greater threat to democracy in Iraq than the Sunni insurgency.

The insurgency and the sectarian attacks are essentially two fronts of the same conflict — the struggle for power between Iraq’s two major religious sects unleashed by the U.S.-led invasion that swept away Saddam’s Sunni-dominated regime in 2003.

Many Sunni Arabs feared they would be marginalized in the new Iraq by the long-oppressed Shiites and Kurds who rose to power behind coalition tanks. Shiite activists believe many Sunnis would like to restore Saddam-style rule...

Years of vicious attacks by religious zealots, including members of al-Qaida in Iraq, have sharpened the sectarian gulf. Shiite militants struck back after the Feb. 22 bombing of a Shiite shrine, triggering a wave of tit-for-tat attacks.

Read the rest at MSNBC