Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Perspective: On This Day In Iraq -- August 14th edition

August 14, 2005: Iraqi Kurds demonstrate in support of federalism being written into the new constitutional draft in Khanqin city.

August 14, 2002:

Kurds offer territory for Iraq attack - August 14, 2002

A prominent Iraqi Kurdish opposition leader said Tuesday U.S. military forces would be "welcomed" at areas in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq to stage attacks against Saddam Hussein's regime.

Jalal Talabani, founder and secretary-general of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that after weekend meetings with top Bush administration officials, he and other Iraqi opposition leaders are convinced the United States is now serious about ousting Hussein.

"I explained to the United States officials here that the Iraqi opposition, Kurds included, ... have tens of thousands of armed people," Talabani told Blitzer in an interview.

"We have more than 100,000 (Kurdish resistance fighters), and Syria also has tens of thousands. These forces can liberate Iraq with the support of the United States, with cooperation and coordination with American forces. This is all second, of course, with allowing the United States and facilitating any work that the United States wants to use our area until we stay there."

The opposition leaders met with Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well as other top officials.

Talabani said that despite rumors to the contrary, "The American army will be very warmly welcomed in Iraqi Kurdistan."

"Believe me, the United States is very popular now in Iraqi Kurdistan," he said.

A U.S. official told CNN the Bush administration is assessing the offer. The official said the Iraqi opposition has previously made similar offers in private, but this is the first time they have gone public with an offer to use areas in northern Iraq.

Read the rest at CNN

August 14, 2003:

U.S. gives up on idea of U.N. playing big role in Iraq

The Bush administration has abandoned the idea of giving the United Nations more of a role in the occupation of Iraq, as sought by France, India and other countries as a condition for their participation in peacekeeping there, administration officials said on Wednesday.

Instead, the officials said, the United States will widen its effort to enlist other countries to assist the occupation forces in Iraq, which are dominated by the 139,000 U.S. troops there.

In addition to U.S. forces in Iraq, there are 21,000 troops representing 18 countries -- 11,000 from Britain. The United States plans to seek larger numbers to help, especially with relief supplies that are coming from another dozen countries.

Administration officials said that in spite of the difficult security situation in Iraq, there was a consensus in the administration that it would be better to work with these countries than to involve the United Nations or countries that opposed the war and are now eager to exercise influence in a postwar Iraq.

"The administration is not willing to confront going to the Security Council and saying, 'We really need to make Iraq an international operation,' " said an administration official. "You can make a case that it would be better to do that, but, right now, the situation in Iraq is not that dire."

The administration's position could complicate its hopes of bringing a large number of U.S. troops home in short order. The length of the occupation depends on how quickly Iraq can be stabilized and attacks and uprisings brought under control.

Read the rest at the San Francisco Chronicle

August 14, 2004:

Offensive stalls on need to negotiate

The devastating U.S. offensive against the militia of radical Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr came up against what could be a more formidable foe Friday -- the desire of the Iraqi government to negotiate peace.

The Najaf standoff poses a complicated challenge for American and Iraqi officials: whether to negotiate with al-Sadr and other radicals, or try to crush them militarily. But no matter what happens in the negotiations that began Friday, many analysts say Iraq's fast-growing number of anti-American militants eventually will have to be brought into the country's emerging political system.

Over the past two decades, peace negotiations around the world have succeeded only when rebel forces are allowed to come in from the cold, says Mark Schneider, vice president of the International Crisis Group in Washington, which has been closely involved in ending wars from Latin America to Africa to the Balkans.

"If you're going to have a successful reconciliation process, the losers can't feel that their fundamental needs are being ignored and that there's no option to participate in the political process," he said.

In Nicaragua, El Salvador, Angola, Mozambique and the Balkans, the United States has waged war -- either directly or through local proxy forces -- and finally supported peace negotiations that gave amnesty to its foes and allowed them to gain significant chunks of local power through democratic elections.

In Iraq, however, U.S. officials have expressed unwillingness to grant al- Sadr and his fighters an amnesty. U.S. diplomats reportedly helped block an attempt last month by the Iraqi government to give him a full amnesty, and on Friday, Secretary of State Colin Powell indicated he would oppose any deal that would allow al-Sadr to escape prosecution on charges of involvement in the killing of a fellow Iraqi cleric last year.

"There are charges that have been placed against him by Iraqi authorities, and I hope that in due course he will be available to answer those charges," Powell told reporters in Washington.

Some analysts disagree with that hard line. "You can't argue that you can't give amnesty to people who shoot at Americans," said James Dobbins, a veteran U.S. diplomat who served as special presidential envoy under the Clinton and both Bush administrations, traveling to Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan.

"We didn't prosecute people merely for shooting at Americans in the Balkans, in Somalia, in Afghanistan or in Vietnam. It's not a war crime to shoot at a soldier. You can't try people just for making war. That part of the argument always struck me as unwise," he said. "There has to be some component of reconciliation and amnesty."

Al-Sadr aides said the Shiite cleric is demanding a U.S. withdrawal from Najaf and the freeing of all detained fighters in exchange for disarming his Mahdi Army militia and ending the fighting. For their part, U.S. troops and Iraqi officials want to ensure that any new truce would eliminate the flaws of a previous pact that ended a two-month uprising in early June. American officials say al-Sadr's militants repeatedly violated that cease-fire.

Some analysts who follow Iraqi Shiite politics say that despite al-Sadr's militancy, there is plenty of room for reaching a deal.

"If you go down the list of Muqtada al-Sadr's demands, none of these demands are absolutely nonnegotiable," said Abbas Kadhim, a Najaf native who is a lecturer in Islamic studies at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley and is pursuing a doctorate in Near Eastern affairs at UC Berkeley.

"They are not ones that the government cannot accept; nonnegotiable would be departure of Americans from Iraq within a week. He's asking the foreign troops to pull out of Najaf, and his people should receive an amnesty. And on the government's side, it's easier than last time (in April). They're now saying they are not planning on arresting Muqtada -- unlike the showdown in April, when (now-departed U.S. administrator Paul) Bremer was demanding his arrest.

"There is a possibility for a deal, but both sides have to act outside the realm of their own arrogance. It's not negotiating over Jerusalem here; it's really an innocuous problem."

The new U.N. envoy to Iraq, Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, arrived in Iraq on Friday and called for "a peaceful settlement of difference" in Najaf. At the United Nations, Secretary-General Kofi Annan offered to mediate an end to the standoff, saying that stability in Iraq should be achieved through "negotiation rather than violence." According to U.N. officials, al-Sadr's camp welcomed Qazi's intervention.

But many conservative analysts contend al-Sadr's movement must be crushed. "In any post-conflict situation, there are certain actors who define themselves as spoilers, who aren't willing to go along with the transitional game and who seek to disrupt the process, and Muqtada al-Sadr is one of them," said Larry Diamond, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University who spent three months earlier this year as a senior adviser to the U.S. occupation authority in Iraq.

"He has to be confronted and defeated. Otherwise, you're just kicking the problem down the road."

Read the rest at the San Francisco Chronicle

August 14, 2005:

Boyhood wish: kill enemy soldiers

In our small town of Columbus, Texas (pop. 3,900), we buried one of our local sons on his 19th birthday. He was killed in action in Iraq on June 20. He was a friend of my two oldest sons, and his father was a friend of mine.

There is not a lot for a young man to do in our town, and most leave for college or a job. Christopher came to see me at his father's request prior to enlisting last summer. I am an Air Force vet who served in Southeast Asia. I talked blue in the face to try to get Christopher to go with me to an Air Force or Navy recruiter. In fact, I told him in no uncertain terms that the Army would put a gun in his hands and send him out to be a target. He wouldn't listen.

His head was already filled with a lot of crud from the recruiter about being a scout, riding a four-wheeler ATV around -- big fun! (Christopher was an Eagle Scout.) He had an acquaintance who had been doing that (not in Iraq), and I got the sense that this acquaintance was giving him the hard sell, too. I wonder if the Army has a referral bonus system.

Christopher also had this inexplicable desire to "go shoot some 'Raqis." Maybe some latent desire from too much video gaming. I heard that in the weeks before his death, he was involved in a brief firefight and froze in terror. No doubt reality caught up to him at the speed of a 7.62-caliber bullet. Too bad his recruiter or buddy had not told him about the fear he would experience when he realized someone wanted to really hurt him or kill him.

When I learned of Christopher's death, I was sitting, using a computer in a hotel lounge in Manhattan. (I'm an airline pilot and was on a layover in New York.) I broke down and cried. There were lots of others around and I'm sure they were wondering ... but none asked. I found I was crying not so much for the senseless loss of a young life, or even the grief our friends would bear. As I thought about it, I was crying for our country. What have we come to?

This is my sadness. Our children are being weaned on hatred and violence in this country. It starts with television, gets reinforced and is refined with violent video games (one is produced and distributed by the U.S. Army), and finally the infection spreads through violent team sports in high school. Football in the South is the battlefield training ground for the next generation of cannon fodder. Kids are told to go out there and "hurt 'em, tear 'em up, kill 'em." It is ingrained.

(Careful now, don't get me confused with the liberal left. I own guns and support conservatives. There is a huge difference between defense of home and property and exporting violence to other countries.)

Christopher didn't know it, but as a small-town Southerner he was being trained for his death since early childhood.

Our little town votes mostly Democrat in local elections, but typically votes Republican in presidential races. Discussion or debate about policy in public is seldom heard and somewhat discouraged. What a shame. Most people around here take a passing interest in national or foreign policy for a week or two prior to an election, then just turn back to football, or whatever is covered on the sports page that day.

The notion of death or dismemberment at the hands of an enemy is so foreign as to be incomprehensible to most American youth. Our media does such a precise job of keeping images and details of such things out of the public eye. Not so for many foreign presses. Our schools would never consider teaching children about anything so morbid or unpleasant.

The thought that a boy like Christopher would so lightheartedly desire to kill some people he knew nothing about is very distressing to me. On the one hand, Christopher was a pretty gentle and easygoing kid. If someone said to him, "Hey let's go shoot some kids from Sealy," a rival school, he would obviously have said, "You're crazy -- get lost!" But 'Raqis, why it's open season.

He only saw the differences. He had somehow developed enough hatred to override his sense of right and wrong, and all teaching of love of fellow man. He went to the Southern Baptist Church, and I know it was taught to him. On the other hand, the president of the Southern Baptist convention declared this a "just war." A little hypocrisy there and probably confusing for Christopher. We left that church, by the way.

A few men and women who knew Christopher had been supporting the occupation but are beginning to change their minds. His death is the second our rural county has experienced in the past few months. It is beginning to change some attitudes here -- but too late, I'm afraid.

I hope that we learn sooner than we did in Vietnam that we can't successfully force our ideals on another society unwilling to adopt them or defend them for themselves.

There just aren't enough Christophers to go around.

Read the rest at the San Francisco Chronicle

August 14, 2006:

Just-Returned Troops Sent Back to Iraq

About 300 Alaska-based soldiers sent home from Iraq just before their unit's deployment was extended last month must now go back, the Army said Monday, setting up a wrenching departure for troops and families who thought their service there was finished.

The soldiers _ all from the 172nd Stryker Brigade _ are among the close to 380 troops who had gotten home to Fort Wainwright and to Fort Richardson when Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld ordered the unit to serve four more months. The remaining 80 will not have to return to Iraq.

Army officials sent a team of personnel and pay experts to Alaska to help sort out all of the soldiers' vacations, school enrollments and other plans torn apart by the decision to return them to Iraq. The unit is now being stationed in Baghdad, one of the most violent parts of the country.

Maj. Gen. Charles Jacoby, commander of U.S. Army Alaska, said 301 soldiers will be returning to Iraq, and most are either infantry troops or cavalry scouts needed for the Baghdad mission.

"From a military standpoint, it makes all the sense in the world," said Jacoby, speaking to Pentagon reporters from Alaska, where he was surrounded by a few soldiers and family members affected by the decision. "The brigade needs these soldiers back."

Mary Cheney _ no relation to the vice president _ was sitting nearby and said she wasn't happy when she learned her husband, Staff Sgt. Anthony Cheney, would be in Iraq for another four months. But she said she knew when she married him that things like this could happen.

"I would never question his dedication to his career," said Cheney, who had a baby just a few weeks ago and has three other children. "His heart is with his family, but his mind and his dedication" are with his extended family of fellow soldiers.

The bulk of the 172nd Brigade was still in Iraq when Rumsfeld extended their deployment as part of a plan to quell the escalating violence in Baghdad. Overall, the brigade has about 3,900 troops.

Another 300 soldiers from the unit had left Iraq and gotten to Kuwait, and were about to board flights home when they were called back.

Before Monday's announcement, the troops who had already returned home to Alaska had been told that decisions on their fates would be made on a case-by-case basis.

Army officials said they recalled just one other time during the three-year-long Iraq war when the Pentagon so quickly recalled soldiers who had served a year on the battlefront and gotten home.

Other units have had their deployments extended anywhere from a week or two to a few months.

The 300 soldiers recalled from Alaska on Monday got to spend between three and five weeks at home, and will head back to Iraq in the next week or so. Most of the brigade is expected to leave Iraq by the end of the year, although Army spokesman Paul Boyce said Monday there are no assurances the unit's stay will not be extended again.

Read the rest at the Washington Post