Thursday, August 16, 2007

Perspective: On This Day In Iraq -- August 16th edition

August 16, 2003: Iraqis pass by graffiti changed from an anti-American message by US troops in Ramadi.

August 16, 2002:

Israel To U.S.: Don't Delay Iraq Attack

Israel is urging U.S. officials not to delay a military strike against Iraq's Saddam Hussein, an aide to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Friday.

Israeli intelligence officials have gathered evidence that Iraq is speeding up efforts to produce biological and chemical weapons, said Sharon aide Ranaan Gissin.

"Any postponement of an attack on Iraq at this stage will serve no purpose," Gissin said. "It will only give him (Saddam) more of an opportunity to accelerate his program of weapons of mass destruction."

Read the rest at CBS News

August 16, 2003:

British claim on Iraq weapons was 'hearsay'

Britain's claim before the Iraq war that Baghdad could deploy weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes was based on second-hand information, The Guardian reported on Saturday.

The revelation that the "45-minute" assertion was hearsay was contained in an internal foreign office document released to a judicial inquiry probing the suspected suicide of a government arms expert at the centre of a row of how Britain went to war. Senior judge Lord Hutton is leading an investigation probing the circumstances leading up to the death of scientist David Kelly, a former United Nations arms inspector in Iraq.

Hotly denied claims from the BBC that London "sexed up" an official dossier last September on Iraq's weapons arsenal to bolster the case for war in March, together with the suspected suicide of Kelly - the likely source of the report - have triggered a major political crisis for Prime Minister Tony Blair.

BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan reported that Blair's office was responsible for inserting in the Iraq dossier the claim that Saddam Hussein could launch weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes.

Read the rest at the Independent

August 16, 2004:

Ordered to Just Walk Away

The national guardsman peering through the long-range scope of his rifle was startled by what he saw unfolding in the walled compound below.

From his post several stories above ground level, he watched as men in plainclothes beat blindfolded and bound prisoners in the enclosed grounds of the Iraqi Interior Ministry.

He immediately radioed for help. Soon after, a team of Oregon Army National Guard soldiers swept into the yard and found dozens of Iraqi detainees who said they had been beaten, starved and deprived of water for three days.

In a nearby building, the soldiers counted dozens more prisoners and what appeared to be torture devices – metal rods, rubber hoses, electrical wires and bottles of chemicals. Many of the Iraqis, including one identified as a 14-year-old boy, had fresh welts and bruises across their back and legs.

The soldiers disarmed the Iraqi jailers, moved the prisoners into the shade, released their handcuffs and administered first aid. Lt. Col. Daniel Hendrickson of Albany, Ore., the highest ranking American at the scene, radioed for instructions.

But in a move that frustrated and infuriated the guardsmen, Hendrickson's superior officers told him to return the prisoners to their abusers and immediately withdraw. It was June 29 – Iraq's first official day as a sovereign country since the U.S.-led invasion.

The incident, the first known case of human rights abuses in newly sovereign Iraq, is at the heart of the American dilemma here...

The U.S. Embassy in Iraq confirmed the incident occurred and disclosed for the first time that the United States raised questions about the June 29 "brutality" with Iraq's interior minister...

The June 29 confrontation between U.S. troops and Iraqi officials at the Interior Ministry has been mentioned in news accounts in the United States and Britain. But details about the prisoners' injuries, the actions of the Oregon Guard and the high-level American decision to leave the injured detainees in the hands of Iraqis has not been previously reported...

When U.S.-led forces drove Saddam Hussein from power in April 2003, the Iraqi army was disbanded, and the country's social order collapsed. Looting was common and petty crime skyrocketed. Local thugs settled scores and exacted bribes with impunity. The rise in crime, coupled with the wave of car bombings and kidnappings, undermined the legitimacy of the provisional government.

In late June, on the eve of the transition of power, Iraq's prime minister in waiting, Ayad Allawi, announced a crackdown on crime. Police and security forces rounded up about 150 people in a seedy east Baghdad neighborhood. Many Iraqis cheered the action, which netted a collection of immigrants and poor Iraqis.

The Iraqi police took those arrested to a compound on the grounds of the Interior Ministry.

On the morning of June 29, Oregon guardsmen set off from their base near the Interior Ministry on routine neighborhood patrols.

Lookouts climbed towers ringing the base, and scouts took their usual positions in hidden vantage points around the neighborhoods of east Baghdad, looking for threats and signs of trouble.

One of the scouts posted in a tall building squinted through his rifle scope at the courtyard adjoining the Interior Ministry. He saw a man in plainclothes standing over a handcuffed and blindfolded prisoner. The guardsman watched through his rifle scope as the man reared back and brought what appeared to be a stick or metal rod down on the prisoner, who was lying on the ground.

The scout took pictures through his scope and considered his options.

The Oregon guardsman did not speak for this story. But others who spoke with the soldier said he radioed battalion headquarters to report the beating. According to one soldier, he said he would begin shooting the Iraqi guards if someone didn't intervene.

That message was passed to Lt. Col. Hendrickson, the battalion's commander, who gathered soldiers from the unit's headquarters company and a translator. Soon after, Hendrickson led a procession of Humvees from the guards' Patrol Base Volunteer to the Iraqi compound.

The squad of armed and armored Oregon guardsmen pushed into the detention yard "basically unchallenged," according to the written account by Southall, a Newark, Calif., middle school teacher who serves with the Oregon Guard...

According to Southall and other soldiers, the guardsmen began by separating the prisoners from the Iraqi policemen.

Some of the detainees said they had been held for three days with little water and no food. "Many of these prisoners had bruises and cuts and belt or hose marks all over," Southall said. At least one had a gunshot wound to the knee.

"I witnessed prisoners who were barely able to walk," Southall said.

The Oregon soldiers moved the prisoners into the shade of a nearby wall, cut them loose and handed out water bottles. They administered first aid when necessary and gave intravenous fluids to at least one dehydrated prisoner.

At about that time, U.S. military police arrived on the scene and began disarming the Iraqi policemen and moving them farther away from the prisoners, according to Southall.

Hendrickson demanded through the interpreter to speak with someone in charge of the Iraqi policemen. Two men came forward.

"One was a well-dressed obese man who told LTC Hendrickson that there was no prisoner abuse and that everything was under control and they were trying to conduct about 150 investigations as soon as possible," Southall said. The other, smaller man, who Southall said identified himself as "Maj. Ahmed," claimed he was responsible for outside security only and that those responsible for any prisoner abuse were inside the building.

Hendrickson then led some of the Oregon guardsmen inside to investigate further.

"There were several rooms within the building," Southall said. "One room, about 20 by 20 feet squared, contained even more prisoners, all in the same sad shape as the prisoners found in the outer area. There were about 78 prisoners crowded in this little room with no available furniture, no air conditioner, no water or food or restrooms available."

Southall said one prisoner claimed the Iraqi police arrested him at a market and confiscated his passport even though he had "paid a tremendous bribe" to the arresting officer. Others, many of whom appeared to be non-Arab shopkeepers and workers, said they had been detained for lack of proper identification.

The Oregon guardsmen walked into the adjoining office, where they saw several Iraqis sitting around a table smoking cigarettes.

"There was a tightly bound and gagged prisoner crumpled at the feet of these men," Southall said. "There was a recently eaten tray of food . . . and a nice water cooler that was standing upright in good order. This room was heavily air conditioned, which was a stark contrast to the rooms that contained prisoners."

The men in the room said they had not beaten anyone. They asserted, however, "that these prisoners were all dangerous criminals and most were thieves, users of marijuana and other types of bad people," according to Southall's account.

As U.S. soldiers continued to fan out in the building, they found more bound-and-gagged prisoners, and "hoses, broken lamps and chemicals of some variety," which could have been used as torture devices, Southall said.

Hendrickson radioed up the chain of command in the Army's 1st Cavalry Division, relaying what he had seen and asking for instructions. As the soldiers waited, Southall said, the Iraqi policemen began to get "defiant and hostile" toward the Americans.

It wasn't long before the order came: Stand down. Return the prisoners to the Iraqi authorities and leave the detention yard.

That order infuriated the Oregon guardsmen, who viewed themselves as protectors of the abused prisoners. Nonetheless, the soldiers obeyed. None of the soldiers interviewed for this story said which U.S. general gave the order...

"The guys were really upset," said one soldier. Said another who talked to them immediately afterward, "They were really moved by what they'd seen."

Read the rest at Alternet

August 16, 2005:

Despite Setback, Bush Optimistic on Iraqi Charter

The failure to draft a new Iraqi constitution by yesterday's deadline represents another blow to President Bush's attempts to show progress that would pave the way for U.S. troop withdrawals, some analysts said yesterday, but U.S. officials called it a temporary setback and hailed Iraqi leaders for staying at the negotiating table.

Bush, who last week expressed confidence that the deadline would be met, issued a statement applauding "the heroic efforts of Iraqi negotiators" as they continued to talk. At a news conference, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called the decision to extend the deadline by seven days a victory for rule of law and predicted the Iraqis would reach agreement by Monday.

"We are witnessing democracy at work in Iraq," Rice said. "The new constitution will be the most important document in the history of the new Iraq. We are confident that they will complete this process and continue on the path toward elections for a permanent government at the end of the year."

The delay may not have much lasting significance if it leads to a document with broader support across sectarian lines. Negotiators have been divided over delicate questions such as women's rights in an Islamic society and the degree of regional control that Shiite and Kurdish sections would enjoy. U.S. officials noted that representatives of the Sunni minority remain involved, deeming that critical to defusing popular support for the Sunni-dominated insurgency.

"It's quite remarkable how much the process has become more inclusive over the last couple of months," Rice said. She added that any final document should guarantee women's rights. "We've been very clear that a modern Iraq will be an Iraq in which women are recognized as full and equal citizens," Rice said. "And I have every confidence that that is how Iraqis feel."

Read the rest at the Washington Post

August 16, 2006:

Bush strongly defends policy in Iraq

President Bush said critics of his Iraq policies are advocating a "cut and run" strategy that would draw terrorists to American soil.

"Leaving before we complete our mission would create a terrorist state in the heart of the Middle East, a country with huge oil reserves that the terrorist network would be willing to use to extract economic pain from those of us who believe in freedom," Bush said Wednesday.

"If we leave before the mission is complete, if we withdraw, the enemy will follow us home," he said.

Read the rest at USA Today