Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Perspective: On This Day In Iraq -- July 31st edition

July 31, 2003: Soldiers of the 115th Military Police Company, Rhode Island National Guard, question an Iraqi after searching his home for bomb-making materials. The search yielded one rifle, one knife, and pictures of Saddam, which were confiscated.

July 31, 2002:

US hunt for Iraq's ebola factory

A biological weapons laboratory in Iraq is said to be making a deadly strain of virus codenamed Blue Nile, which American intelligence officials believe is the Ebola virus.

Washington is trying to pinpoint the location of the laboratory, revealed by defectors and Iraqi exiles. They described underground test chambers, tight security and a staff of 85 people working to equip Iraqi's military with biological agents powerful enough to inflict heavy casualities on any American invading force.

The Pentagon is examining satellite images of the west bank of the Tigris river in Baghdad, the Washington Post reports today. "It sounds credible," a Pentagon intelligence analyst is quoted as saying. "But proving it is another matter."

Finding the laboratory is important to President Bush, whose justification for an attack on Iraq is that the country is making biological and nuclear weapons that could pose a threat to the United States.

None of the Iraq dissidents has given US intelligence conclusive information on the state of Saddam Hussein's weapons programme. Washington experts agree, however, that Iraq has the knowhow and equipment to create weapons of mass destruction. If the laboratory is up and running, it would provide evidence of a biological weapons programme that was kept secret from the West for more than 15 years, hidden from UN inspectors. The UN destroyed all Iraq's known biological munitions, but admits it could not find all of them. Iraq admitted to the inspectors it had made three types of biological weapons using anthrax bacteria and two kinds of biological toxins.

President Bush has told senior members of Congress the US will not launch a military attack on Iraq before the November midterm elections, giving Congress time to debate such an operation. The Pentagon has said it needs six more months to put forces in place to fight in Iraq.

Read the rest at the Evening Standard

July 31, 2003:

Bremer: Iraq elections possible within a year

Iraq's U.S.-appointed Governing Council, struggling with questions about its legitimacy, could be replaced through general elections held within a year, Iraq's U.S. administrator said Thursday...

L. Paul Bremer, a former diplomat and counterterrorism expert, said he believed a new constitution could be written and accepted by the Iraqi people in a referendum, followed by general elections by the middle of next year.

"It is certainly not unrealistic to think that we could have elections by midyear 2004," Bremer said while touring the partially refurbished Iraqi Foreign Ministry with members of the interim government he appointed on July 13.

"And when a sovereign government is installed, the coalition authority will cede authority to the government and my job here will be over."

In the past, Bremer has said a government could be in place by the end of 2004. His optimism was surprising given that it took the Governing Council more than two weeks to agree on a presidency, its first order of business.

When the 25 members were unable to select a single president, they tried to come up with a three-member presidency before finally deciding on a nine-member team that will each hold the presidency for a month, council sources told The Associated Press.

The legitimacy of Iraq's government is key to rebuilding the country. On Wednesday, World Bank President James Wolfensohn said it was unclear whether the council had the legitimacy to receive international loans.

"Clearly a constitution and an elected government would constitute a recognized government, but what do we do in the meantime?" Wolfensohn said during a one-day trip to Baghdad. "It's a subject that needs interpretation."

An elected government also would allay doubts among many United Nations members, who have been hesitant to send peacekeeping troops to an Iraq occupied and administered by the United States, which snubbed the international body by launching its war.

The United States said it had to go to war despite a lack of majority support on the U.N. Security Council because of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction. So far, none have been found and Iraqi scientists insist they don't exist.

Read the rest at USA Today

July 31, 2004:

Iraq police say the job is now perilous

Being an Iraqi police officer used to be a safe, cushy job that sometimes required chasing down pickpockets and car thieves, but left plenty of time for tea.
Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, however, insurgents armed with automatic weapons, mortars and car bombs have made law enforcement one of Iraq's most hazardous occupations.

"It used to be prestigious. ... People respected us, criminals were afraid of us," said 1st Lt. Amjid Mohammed, a 26-year-old detective at al-Bayaa police station, Baghdad's largest. "Today it's the opposite: It's we who are afraid."

Insurgents see police as collaborators with U.S.-led forces, who are struggling to restore order. They've blown up police stations all over the country, sometimes disguised as cops. They've gunned down officers in drive-by shootings as they left home for work, and they've battered police stations with mortar barrages and rocket-propelled grenades.

From April 2003 to May 2004 alone, 710 Iraqi police were killed out of a total force of 130,000 officers, authorities said. Until then, police say, an officer's death was nearly always of natural causes.

Last month's handover of sovereignty to an interim Iraqi government has brought little change.

A truck bomb Wednesday targeted a police recruiting center in Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, where hundreds of job applicants were gathered. It killed 70 people.

"We're being targeted all the time," said Mohammed, his face scarred from a car-bombing that destroyed the al-Bayaa station in October, killing 15 Iraqis and one U.S. soldier.

On July 19, the two-story station was hit again by an explosives-packed fuel tanker. Nine died, including an officer. About 70 of al-Bayaa's 200 officers were wounded.

Mohammed was lucky: He was inside at the time. But he spent much of that day cleaning shards of glass from his office. Others tended to the wounded and picked pieces of charred flesh from rubble outside.

On July 24, assailants fired on police at a checkpoint in Baghdad's al-Shurta district, wounding seven, the Interior Ministry said. The next day, gunmen near Mahmoudiya, south of the capital, sprayed automatic weapons fire on a convoy carrying west Baghdad's police chief, killing two of his bodyguards.

In Mahmoudiya itself, assailants killed two police as they traveled to work. In the northern city of Kirkuk, another policeman was shot dead waiting for a ride home.

A few at al-Bayaa quit their jobs after this month's bombing. But such violence has done little to deter potential recruits, who are lining up outside the main police academy in Baghdad, said Sabbah Kadhim, an adviser to the interior minister. "We have plenty of applicants," he said.

Most are drawn by the salary of 295,000 Iraqi dinars a month, or $207, relatively good pay in a country where unemployment is high. "Where else can I get this kind of salary?" said Ziyad Khalaf, a 54, who's served 36 years in the Baghdad force. "I have a wife, six sons and three daughters. I have to feed them," he said, rubbing his thumb across his fingers, as if holding a wad of cash.

Crime surged after U.S. troops advanced into Baghdad in April 2003. Mohammed, who used to investigate one case on a busy day, now gets 40 to 50 case files on his desk daily.

"Our biggest problem used to be fistfights," said Mohammed. "Today we have gunfights, kidnappings, assassinations. It's 100 times worse."

During the Saddam era he carried no weapon. Now, like most officers, he tucks a Glock 9 mm pistol in his belt. Leaving the station Monday, he brought along an AK-47 assault rifle, too, in case his Glock ran out of bullets.

Read the rest at USA Today

July 31, 2005:

Report raises concerns about Iraqi reconstruction

The United States risks having "little to show for billions" of dollars spent on Iraqi reconstruction because of rising security costs and mismanagement, a new report said Sunday.

Rapidly escalating security costs have made it impossible for U.S. agencies to estimate how much they will need to finish projects intended to increase production of oil and electricity and improve sanitation and health, wrote Stuart Bowen, the U.S. special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction.

U.S. agencies must determine whether they have enough money to finish the projects and whether the Iraqis have "the tools and knowledge necessary" to keep the projects working after the Americans leave, Bowen wrote. "A failure on either of these points risks leaving little to show for billions in U.S. infrastructure investment," he said.

Bowen was appointed to monitor $18.4 billion allocated for Iraqi reconstruction in 2004. Overall, $24 billion has been approved and $9 billion spent since 2003, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Congress' watchdog agency.

According to a report issued Thursday by the GAO, security costs are consuming more than a third of reconstruction funds. The report said that 330 private contractors, many of them working for security companies, had been killed.

Read the rest at USA Today

July 31, 2006:

Officials: Iraq shouldering war on terror

BAGHDAD, Iraq – Two high-ranking Iraqi government officials said yesterday their country was fighting international terrorists on its own soil on behalf of other countries and should, as a result, be compensated with economic and military assistance.

Their comments suggested an emerging strategy from the fragile coalition government to portray Iraq as the global front line against terrorism and make a case for international aid...

The comments about international terrorists by the two Iraqi officials – the national security adviser and a deputy prime minister – echo the argument adopted by the Bush administration after the invasion in 2003 to justify its actions after its original contention that Saddam Hussein possessed unconventional weapons proved unfounded.

“We are fighting terrorism in Iraq, not only for Iraqis but also on behalf of the international community,” said Barham Salih, a deputy prime minister, during a news conference that covered a wide range of economic, security and anti-corruption initiatives.

National security adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie, who also attended the news conference, made a statement of his own later using remarkably similar language.

“Iraq is now defending not only Iraqis but is also defending the region and the world,” al-Rubaie said. “So what is the world giving us in return?”

Al-Rubaie said Iraq, with its economy foundering and security forces under siege, urgently needed economic and military aid.

Mahdi al-Hafith, a member of parliament and former planning minister who leads an independent policy and development group, said he did not expect that the apparently coordinated statements would have much impact.

“We should have some specific and concrete details,” al-Hafith said in an interview. “Otherwise it is just a political statement.”

Al-Rubaie, Salih and the ministers of oil, finance and planning praised a five-year initiative with the United Nations announced last week to make the country more attractive to foreign investors by working to reduce corruption, create jobs and improve security.

Several American and European oil companies are foremost among the potential investors, eager for a share of Iraq's oil reserves, regarded as the second-largest in the world.

Read the rest at the San Diego Tribune