Friday, August 03, 2007

Perspective: On This Day In Iraq -- August 3rd edition

August 3, 2003: Iraqi children enjoy themselves while cooling off in the simmering heat of Baghdad with a sunset swim in the Tigris.

August 3, 2002:

The Saddam In Rumsfeld’s Closet

Five years before Saddam Hussein’s now infamous 1988 gassing of the Kurds, a key meeting took place in Baghdad that would play a significant role in forging close ties between Saddam Hussein and Washington. It happened at a time when Saddam was first alleged to have used chemical weapons. The meeting in late December 1983 paved the way for an official restoration of relations between Iraq and the US, which had been severed since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

With the Iran-Iraq war escalating, President Ronald Reagan dispatched his Middle East envoy, a former secretary of defense, to Baghdad with a hand-written letter to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and a message that Washington was willing at any moment to resume diplomatic relations.

That envoy was Donald Rumsfeld.

Rumsfeld’s December 19-20, 1983 visit to Baghdad made him the highest-ranking US official to visit Iraq in 6 years. He met Saddam and the two discussed “topics of mutual interest,” according to the Iraqi Foreign Ministry. “[Saddam] made it clear that Iraq was not interested in making mischief in the world,” Rumsfeld later told The New York Times. “It struck us as useful to have a relationship, given that we were interested in solving the Mideast problems.”

Just 12 days after the meeting, on January 1, 1984, The Washington Post reported that the United States “in a shift in policy, has informed friendly Persian Gulf nations that the defeat of Iraq in the 3-year-old war with Iran would be ‘contrary to U.S. interests’ and has made several moves to prevent that result.”

In March of 1984, with the Iran-Iraq war growing more brutal by the day, Rumsfeld was back in Baghdad for meetings with then-Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz. On the day of his visit, March 24th, UPI reported from the United Nations: “Mustard gas laced with a nerve agent has been used on Iranian soldiers in the 43-month Persian Gulf War between Iran and Iraq, a team of U.N. experts has concluded... Meanwhile, in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, U.S. presidential envoy Donald Rumsfeld held talks with Foreign Minister Tarek Aziz (sic) on the Gulf war before leaving for an unspecified destination.”

The day before, the Iranian news agency alleged that Iraq launched another chemical weapons assault on the southern battlefront, injuring 600 Iranian soldiers. “Chemical weapons in the form of aerial bombs have been used in the areas inspected in Iran by the specialists,” the U.N. report said. “The types of chemical agents used were bis-(2-chlorethyl)-sulfide, also known as mustard gas, and ethyl N, N-dimethylphosphoroamidocyanidate, a nerve agent known as Tabun.”

Prior to the release of the UN report, the US State Department on March 5th had issued a statement saying “available evidence indicates that Iraq has used lethal chemical weapons.”

Commenting on the UN report, US Ambassador Jeane J. Kirkpatrick was quoted by The New York Times as saying, “We think that the use of chemical weapons is a very serious matter. We've made that clear in general and particular.”

Compared with the rhetoric emanating from the current administration, based on speculations about what Saddam might have, Kirkpatrick’s reaction was hardly a call to action.

Most glaring is that Donald Rumsfeld was in Iraq as the 1984 UN report was issued and said nothing about the allegations of chemical weapons use, despite State Department “evidence.” On the contrary, The New York Times reported from Baghdad on March 29, 1984, “American diplomats pronounce themselves satisfied with relations between Iraq and the United States and suggest that normal diplomatic ties have been restored in all but name.”

A month and a half later, in May 1984, Donald Rumsfeld resigned. In November of that year, full diplomatic relations between Iraq and the US were fully restored. Two years later, in an article about Rumsfeld’s aspirations to run for the 1988 Republican Presidential nomination, the Chicago Tribune Magazine listed among Rumsfeld’s achievements helping to “reopen U.S. relations with Iraq.” The Tribune failed to mention that this help came at a time when, according to the US State Department, Iraq was actively using chemical weapons.

Throughout the period that Rumsfeld was Reagan’s Middle East envoy, Iraq was frantically purchasing hardware from American firms, empowered by the White House to sell. The buying frenzy began immediately after Iraq was removed from the list of alleged sponsors of terrorism in 1982. According to a February 13, 1991 Los Angeles Times article:

“First on Hussein's shopping list was helicopters -- he bought 60 Hughes helicopters and trainers with little notice. However, a second order of 10 twin-engine Bell "Huey" helicopters, like those used to carry combat troops in Vietnam, prompted congressional opposition in August, 1983... Nonetheless, the sale was approved.”

In 1984, according to The LA Times, the State Department—in the name of “increased American penetration of the extremely competitive civilian aircraft market”—pushed through the sale of 45 Bell 214ST helicopters to Iraq. The helicopters, worth some $200 million, were originally designed for military purposes. The New York Times later reported that Saddam “transferred many, if not all [of these helicopters] to his military.”

In 1988, Saddam’s forces attacked Kurdish civilians with poisonous gas from Iraqi helicopters and planes. U.S. intelligence sources told The LA Times in 1991, they “believe that the American-built helicopters were among those dropping the deadly bombs.”

In response to the gassing, sweeping sanctions were unanimously passed by the US Senate that would have denied Iraq access to most US technology. The measure was killed by the White House.

Senior officials later told reporters they did not press for punishment of Iraq at the time because they wanted to shore up Iraq's ability to pursue the war with Iran. Extensive research uncovered no public statements by Donald Rumsfeld publicly expressing even remote concern about Iraq’s use or possession of chemical weapons until the week Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, when he appeared on an ABC news special.

Eight years later, Donald Rumsfeld signed on to an “open letter” to President Clinton, calling on him to eliminate “the threat posed by Saddam.” It urged Clinton to “provide the leadership necessary to save ourselves and the world from the scourge of Saddam and the weapons of mass destruction that he refuses to relinquish.”

Read the rest at Z-Net

August 3, 2003:

Pioneering Army unit will make its combat debut in Iraq this fall

A whisper of cool, mountain air slips through an open window in Col. Michael Rounds' office at this quiet Army post in the shadow of the Cascades. The setting could hardly be more unlike what Rounds' soldiers will face shortly in hot and chaotic Iraq.

Rounds commands a newly formed Stryker brigade combat team — the first of its kind, intended as a model for the Army of the future, and scheduled to make its combat debut in Iraq within two months.

"The brigade is ready to go," Rounds said in an interview.

Rounds' unit, formed from the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, has trained intensively this year in anticipation of being certified combat ready by October. It was not until July 23, however, that the soldiers learned they will be going to Iraq as part of a troop rotation plan.

Although President Bush declared on May 1 that major combat was over, military commanders in Iraq have said repeatedly that they still are in a war zone, one in which the tool they prize most — timely information about the enemy — is the very one that Rounds' soldiers are equipped to provide.

"One of the greatest advantages we have is that we can share information very quickly, and by sharing information very quickly we feel we are less vulnerable" to surprise attack, Rounds said Friday.

The Iraq mission is a milestone for the Stryker Brigade, which itself represents a first step in the Army's effort to become a force more relevant to 21st-century missions.

It may one day be recognized as the most telling legacy of Gen. Eric Shinseki, who retired this summer after four years as the Army's chief of staff, the top uniformed officer. In October 1999, Shinseki outlined a plan for remaking the Army by 2010 into a more versatile force that can move quickly onto distant battlefields, armed with unparalleled ability to dictate the pace of fighting.

Coincidentally, it was the Army's experience in the Persian Gulf in 1990, when Iraq invaded Kuwait and seemed poised to grab the oil fields of eastern Saudi Arabia, that led to the Stryker model.

Shinseki often recalls that the Army's only answer to Iraq's threat to those Saudi oil fields was to send the 82nd Airborne Division. It is quick to respond but was too lightly armed to sustain an effective defense had the Iraqi army crossed the Saudi border and raced for the oil fields.

It was that gap between light and heavy forces that Shinseki and others realized must be closed.

Lt. Gen. Edward Soriano, commanding general of Fort Lewis and the Army's 1st Corps, said in a separate interview Friday that he has no doubt that Rounds has prepared his soldiers for the challenges of Iraq.

"It's going to be difficult," he said. "But I have all the confidence in the world that these soldiers will do just fine. They are pumped up. They are psyched up."

The Stryker is the Army's first new combat vehicle in two decades, although it actually is intended as a stepping stone to the ultimate goal: a high-tech family of fighting systems known as the Future Combat System, which still is on the drawing board and is expected to include unmanned ground and aerial vehicles.

One Stryker can be flown aboard an Air Force C-130 cargo plane, which is designed to land on short, substandard airfields in remote areas. Thus the Stryker Brigade is capable of reaching areas, including the deserts of western Iraq, that units built around tanks could not reach by air.

Gen. John Keane, the acting Army chief of staff, announced on July 23 a plan to maintain the current troop strength in Iraq while allowing those who have been there longest to go home. To do that, the Army is calling on the National Guard as well as active duty units such as the Stryker Brigade.

Asked what gave him confidence that the first Stryker Brigade is ready for real-world combat, Keane pointed to the Fort Irwin, Calif., and Fort Polk, La., training sessions the Strykers conducted last spring.

"We put it through its paces against the toughest opponent our forces have ever faced" — the training center competition, he said. "They are ready to go."

The Stryker is a 19-ton, eight-wheeled armored vehicle built in the United States and Canada. It comes in two variants: an infantry carrier and a mobile gun system. The infantry carrier, in turn, has eight configurations, including a reconnaissance vehicle, a mortar carrier and a vehicle for the brigade commander.

It is named for two Medal of Honor winners: Pfc. Stuart S. Stryker, killed in action in Germany on March 24, 1945; and Spec. 4 Robert F. Stryker, killed in Vietnam on Nov. 7, 1967. They were not related.

Read the rest at the USA Today

August 3, 2004:

Executive grilled on firm's role in Iraq torture

Iraq's prison torture scandal came to California on Monday, as executives of a company tarnished in the controversy came under heavy fire from officials of the state's two largest public pension funds.

State Treasurer Phil Angelides led a team of pension fund board members in questioning Kenneth Johnson, president of U.S. operations of CACI International, a defense contractor based in Arlington, Va., that saw one of its employees implicated in the torture of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison.

The California Public Employees' Retirement System, with $162 billion in assets, and the California State Teachers' Retirement System, with $114 billion in assets, are the largest and third-largest public pension funds in the nation, respectively. CalPERS currently owns 209,100 shares of CACI, and the teachers' fund owns 77,882 shares of the firm -- worth a total of $11.6 million at Monday's closing stock price of $40.43.

The meeting Monday at times resembled a hostile interrogation itself, as Angelides repeatedly interrupted Johnson and the company's lead attorney, William Koegel. "It seems like interrogation is a high-risk activity that is way out of your core business and has minimal return," he said. "Why are you even in it in the first place?"

Johnson replied that the company's work in Iraq is highly profitable. "Iraq is a very fertile opportunity for growth," he said.

CACI, which employs more than 9,000 people, reported revenues of $843 million in 2003, he pointed out, and is expected to gross about $1.5 billion in 2004 -- an increase attributed in part to large defense contracts in Iraq. In addition to providing interrogators to the U.S. military -- which accounts for less than 1 percent of the company's total revenues -- CACI furnishes a wide range of information services and analysis to help the 140, 000 American troops throughout Iraq.

Business in Iraq, Johnson said, "has gone considerably better than even we had hoped for. ... We've been in the right place at the right time."

Angelides shook his head and interrupted again: "No, you've been in the wrong place at the wrong time."

CACI has been under the glare of unwelcome publicity because of Steven Stefanowicz, a CACI employee who was working at Abu Ghraib as an interrogator. A report by Army Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba found that Stefanowicz had commanded military police when torture took place and recommended that he be fired and stripped of his security clearance.

But civilian contractors working abroad fall into a legal black hole and are out of reach of most forms of military and civilian justice. Johnson noted that Stefanowicz has not been charged with any crime.

In contrast, seven American soldiers have been formally accused of abusing Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib. One has pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a year in prison and given a bad conduct discharge. The remaining six await possible legal action.

Johnson said that 19 CACI interrogators were still working in Iraq, mainly at Abu Ghraib. Twelve other company interrogators, including Stefanowicz, have returned to the United States and are still working for the company, though Johnson said Stefanowicz was no longer an interrogator.

Janice Hester Amey, the principal investment officer of the state teachers' retirement fund, pressed Johnson about what steps the company had taken to prevent further abuse from occurring.

Johnson said that he now personally reviews and approves every hire and that all employees being sent to Iraq must undergo a one-week "charm school" run by the Army at Fort Bliss, TX, which includes some human rights training. Also, he said, the company now requires its Iraq-bound employees to sign a form indicating they have read a company-supplied synopsis of the Geneva Conventions.

Read the rest at the San Francisco Chronicle

August 3, 2005:

Enemy in Iraq getting deadlier

Iraqi insurgents using increasingly sophisticated tactics struck a blow to the American heartland Wednesday, killing 14 U.S. Marines in a roadside bombing. It was one of the single deadliest attacks of the war.

Those who died in the attack on a U.S. assault vehicle in western Iraq were from the same Ohio-based Marine Reserve unit that had six members killed Monday.

Wednesday's attack, which targeted a lightly armored amphibious assault vehicle, underscores increasingly creative tactics by Iraqi insurgents who are using bigger and more deadly explosives in an attempt to achieve even more spectacular terrorist strikes, officials in Washington said.

The Marines killed this week were trying to contain "a very lethal and, unfortunately, adaptable enemy," said Brig. Gen. Carter Ham, deputy director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "They are very dangerous, and they certainly have a capability."

President Bush called the deaths of the 14 Marines a "grim reminder" that America is at war.

"These terrorists and insurgents will use brutal tactics because they're trying to shake the will of the United States of America," he said in Grapevine, Texas.

The back-to-back attacks make this one of the costliest three-day periods of the war for U.S. forces and came in an area of western Iraq that has become a crossroads between Baghdad and fighters coming across the Syrian border.

At least 39 U.S. servicemembers have been killed in a series of attacks since July 24. Attacks have spiked in recent weeks: 30 U.S. servicemembers have died in the past week, compared with 18, 15 and six in the preceding three weeks.

More than 1,800 U.S. troops have been killed since the war began.

Read the rest at USA Today

August 3, 2006:

Pentagon Generals Warn of Iraq Civil War

Two top Pentagon commanders said Thursday that spiraling violence in Baghdad could propel Iraq into outright civil war, using a politically loaded term that the Bush administration has long avoided.

The generals said they believe a full-scale civil war is unlikely. Even so, their comments to Congress cast the war in more somber hues than the administration usually uses, and further dampened lawmakers'hopes that troops would begin returning home in substantial numbers from the widely unpopular war in time for this fall's elections.

"I believe that the sectarian violence is probably as bad as I have seen it, in Baghdad in particular, and that if not stopped it is possible that Iraq could move toward civil war,"Gen. John Abizaid, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East, told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the senators,"We do have the possibility of that devolving into civil war."

White House press secretary Tony Snow, flying with President Bush to Texas aboard Air Force One, said the generals had"reiterated something we've talked about on a number of occasions, which is the importance of securing Baghdad, which is why ... you're going to see more and more of a troop presence in Baghdad. ... Obviously, sectarian violence is a concern."

Asked specifically about the generals'comments about a civil war, Snow said,"OK, well, I don't think the president is going to quibble with his generals on their characterizations."

Bush and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld have steadfastly refused to call the situation in Iraq a civil war, although Rumsfeld acknowledged at a news conference Wednesday that the violence was increasing.

Asked whether the United States would continue to have a military mission in Iraq if civil war broke out, Rumsfeld declined to respond directly, saying he didn't want to give the impression he presumed there would be a civil war. He said the question must ultimately be handled by the Iraqis.

"Our role is to support the government. The government is holding together. The armed forces are holding together,"Rumsfeld said at the Senate hearing Thursday.

There are currently about 133,000 U.S. forces in Iraq. The Pentagon has recently decided to extend the deployment of some 3,500 troops and send them into Baghdad, along with Iraqi forces, to bolster security.

Last year, Army Gen. George Casey, then the top U.S. commander in Iraq, expressed hopes of significant troop cuts this year, comments Abizaid seemed to temper on Thursday.

"It's possible to imagine some reductions in forces, but I think the most important thing to imagine is Baghdad coming under the control of the Iraqi government,"Abizaid said.

Abizaid raised the specter of a rise in U.S. casualties, saying,"I think it's possible that in the period ahead of us in Baghdad that we'll take increased casualties _ that's possible."

Many voters have tired of the 3-year-old war, which has cost more than 2,500 U.S. lives and more than $250 billion dollars.

Read the rest at Fox News