Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Perspective: On This Day In Iraq -- August 21st edition

August 21, 2004: Weary from two weeks of fighting, a Marine keeps his weapon at the ready as his platoon rests in Najaf.

August 21, 2002:

Al Qaeda Presence In Iraq Reported

At least a handful of ranking members of al Qaeda have taken refuge in Iraq, U.S. intelligence officials said yesterday. Their presence could complicate U.S. efforts against the terrorist network's leadership but could also give the Bush administration another rationale for possible military action against the Iraqi government.

Iraq has frequently been cited by administration officials as a haven for al Qaeda fighters who have fled the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan. But what is new, officials said, is the number and senior rank of the al Qaeda members who have been mentioned in recent classified intelligence reports as being in Iraq.

"There are some names you'd recognize," one defense official said.

Alluding to these reports, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld yesterday repeated earlier assertions about al Qaeda's presence in Iraq, but he declined to elaborate on the evidence.

"I suppose that, at some moment, it may make sense to discuss that publicly," he said at a news conference. "It doesn't today. But what I have said is a fact -- that there are al Qaeda in a number of locations in Iraq."

The reports of a more significant al Qaeda presence in Iraq come amid Pentagon planning for a possible invasion of the country and would appear to back President Bush's arguments for toppling President Saddam Hussein. Eager to bolster the case for military action, administration hawks have pressed for months for whatever evidence can be uncovered about any links between Hussein's government and Osama bin Laden's terrorist network.

One of the most tantalizing claims, involving a Czech report of a meeting in Prague in April 2001 between Sept. 11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and an Iraqi intelligence agent, has yet to be corroborated. But U.S. officials continue to probe this and other possible connections.

Read the rest at the Washington Post

August 21, 2003:

U.S.: Terrorism now top threat in Iraq

Terrorism has replaced hit-and-run attacks on American soldiers as the biggest threat to U.S.-led efforts to stabilize Iraq, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq says.

Gen. John Abizaid, chief of U.S. Central Command, told a Pentagon news conference Thursday that elements of the terrorist organization Ansar al-Islam have migrated south into the Baghdad area and that foreign extremists are infiltrating Iraq from Syria to further destabilize it.

Abizaid said terrorists are now firmly established in the Iraqi capital and pose a growing danger.

"Clearly, it is emerging as the number one security threat," he said. "And we are applying a lot of time, energy and resources to identify it, understand it and deal with it."

Abizaid also said he believes that increasing the size of the U.S. military force in Iraq is not the answer to defeating either the terrorists or the remnants of the Saddam Hussein regime. The best approach is getting Iraqis more involved in providing security, he said.

The U.S. death toll in Iraq continued to climb.

The Army announced Friday that two more U.S. soldiers were killed Thursday. One soldier was killed in action near the Iraqi town of al Hilla, 34 miles south of Baghdad. The second was from the 1st Armored Division based in Baghdad. Further details of the deaths were not available.

The Army also said one 1st Armored Division soldier was killed and two were wounded by an improvised explosive in Baghdad shortly before midnight Wednesday. No identities or other details were provided.

As of Friday, the Pentagon counted 273 U.S. dead since the war began, including 135 since May 1, when President Bush declared that major combat operations had ended.

Read the rest at USA Today

August 21, 2004:

All eyes on Iraq as oil price nears $50

World oil prices pushed towards the key $50 a barrel level yesterday as fighting raged in Iraq, although they came off the boil when Iraqi police said they had driven rebels out of the Imam Ali shrine complex in the city of Najaf.

US light crude futures on the Nymex exchange hit an all-time high of $49.33, up more than 60 cents on the day, while Brent futures jumped to a new record of $45.15 as traders feared further sabotage of Iraqi oil exports at a time when demand continues at record levels.

Both contracts slipped back in later trade when an Iraqi government spokesman said police had entered the Imam Ali shrine and ended a two-week revolt. But soon after the seizure was announced, a spokesman for Mr Sadr said the statement was untrue.
Oil prices have set records in 15 of the past 16 trading days and prices are up a third since the end of June, stoking fears that the world economy could be knocked off course by rising fuel costs.

Attacks on Iraqi oil installations overnight by fighters loyal to Mr Sadr had added to the tension in oil markets.

Read the rest at the Guardian

August 21, 2005:

In Iraq, the civil war has already begun

Finding a way to head off civil war is at the heart of all the major initiatives — including the talks over a new constitution — in Iraq. But by most common political-science definitions of the term, "civil war" is already here.

"It's not a threat. It's not a potential. Civil war is a fact of life there now," says Pavel Baev, head of the Center for the Study of Civil War at the Peace Research Institute in Oslo. He argues that until the nature of the conflict is accurately seen, good solutions cannot be found. "What's happening in Iraq is a multidimensional conflict. There's international terrorism, banditry, the major foreign military presence. But the civil war is the central part of it — the violent contestation for power inside the country."

What this means in practical terms, is that an immediate U.S. withdrawal isn't likely to bring peace to Iraq, say analysts. Nor is simply "staying the course," if it isn't matched by a political peace treaty among the warring parties — a role that a new constitution, facing a midnight tonight deadline, could fill.

The academic thumbnail definition of a civil war is a conflict with at least 1,000 battlefield casualties, involving a national government and one or more nonstate actors fighting for power.

While the U.S. has lost 1,862 soldiers, getting an accurate casualty count beyond that is difficult. The Iraqi government and U.S. military say they don't keep figures on Iraqi troops or civilians killed. According to www.iraqbodycount.net, a Web site run by academics and peace activists, 24,865 Iraqi civilians were killed between March 2003 and March 2005. The report said that U.S.-led forces killed 37% of the total.

The spreadsheets in Faad Ameen Bakr's computer shed some light on the casualty rate. Baghdad's chief pathologist pulls down the death toll for Iraq's capital in July: 1,083 murders, a new record.

Under Saddam Hussein, Baghdad was a violent city. But the highest murder rate before the war was 250 in one month. (By comparison, New York City with about 2 million more residents, had 572 murders in 2004, and a peak of 2,245 in 1990).

The month of June, with 870 murders, was the previous record in Baghdad. In a weary monotone, Bakr explains that 680 of the victims were shot, the rest "strangled, electrocuted, stabbed, killed by blunt trauma or burned to death." The totals don't include residents killed by Baghdad's frequent car-bombings.

Read the rest at USA Today

Militias on the Rise Across Iraq

Shiite and Kurdish militias, often operating as part of Iraqi government security forces, have carried out a wave of abductions, assassinations and other acts of intimidation, consolidating their control over territory across northern and southern Iraq and deepening the country's divide along ethnic and sectarian lines, according to political leaders, families of the victims, human rights activists and Iraqi officials.

While Iraqi representatives wrangle over the drafting of a constitution in Baghdad, the militias, and the Shiite and Kurdish parties that control them, are creating their own institutions of authority, unaccountable to elected governments, the activists and officials said. In Basra in the south, dominated by the Shiites, and Mosul in the north, ruled by the Kurds, as well as cities and villages around them, many residents have said they are powerless before the growing sway of the militias, which instill a climate of fear that many see as redolent of the era of former president Saddam Hussein.

The parties and their armed wings sometimes operate independently, and other times as part of Iraqi army and police units trained and equipped by the United States and Britain and controlled by the central government. Their growing authority has enabled them to control territory, confront their perceived enemies and provide patronage to their followers. Their ascendance has come about because of a power vacuum in Baghdad and their own success in the January parliamentary elections.

Since the formation of a government this spring, Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, has witnessed dozens of assassinations, which claimed members of the former ruling Baath Party, Sunni political leaders and officials of competing Shiite parties. Many have been carried out by uniformed men in police vehicles, according to political leaders and families of the victims, with some of the bullet-riddled bodies dumped at night in a trash-strewn parcel known as The Lot. The province's governor said in an interview that Shiite militias have penetrated the police force; an Iraqi official estimated that as many as 90 percent of officers were loyal to religious parties.

Across northern Iraq, Kurdish parties have employed a previously undisclosed network of at least five detention facilities to incarcerate hundreds of Sunni Arabs, Turkmens and other minorities abducted and secretly transferred from Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city, and from territories stretching to the Iranian border, according to political leaders and detainees' families. Nominally under the authority of the U.S.-backed Iraqi army, the militias have beaten up and threatened government officials and political leaders deemed to be working against Kurdish interests; one bloodied official was paraded through a town in a pickup truck, witnesses said.

"I don't see any difference between Saddam and the way the Kurds are running things here," said Nahrain Toma, who heads a human rights organization, Bethnahrain, which has offices in northern Iraq and has faced several death threats.

Toma said the tactics were eroding what remained of U.S. credibility as the militias operate under what many Iraqis view as the blessing of American and British forces. "Nobody wants anything to do with the Americans anymore," she said. "Why? Because they gave the power to the Kurds and to the Shiites. No one else has any rights."

Read the rest at the Washington Post

Reshaped by reality

Short, infrequent and manageable through the superiority of American technology and firepower: Those are the qualities that U.S. wars were supposed to have at the start of the 21st century. And then came Iraq.

America's military changed Iraq in a few weeks in 2003. Since then, Iraq has been changing America's military. The U.S. force structure created out of the experiences of Vietnam and the Cold War possesses vulnerabilities that are being exposed and exploited by the unexpectedly fierce terrorist campaign in Iraq.

The underlying premises that shaped the military force that toppled Saddam Hussein's regime are now under relentless assault in the Sunni-dominated cities of Iraq, where U.S. units still lack the urban battlefield intelligence and tactics needed to stem terror attacks. The antidote to remote-triggered roadside bombings has to be something more practical than using enormously expensive warplanes with jamming devices to disrupt dime-store walkie-talkies.

Increasing the technology and firepower available to U.S. forces in the Sunni Triangle does little to compensate for the structural vulnerabilities. It tends, in fact, to exacerbate one friction of modern wars: As the ability of the warriors to inflict ever-greater destruction on enemy forces grows, the tolerance for such destruction from an instantly informed civilian society shrinks.

Iraq has also brought into sharp focus the costs of the decision by Vietnam-era generals to embed critical skills in reserve and National Guard units to force the call-up of citizen soldiers in an extended conflict. The commanders reasoned that this would bar political leaders from pursuing wars that did not have substantial public support.

But the effect of this decision was to load into the reserves the civil affairs, psychological warfare and other specialized units important to fighting low-intensity conflicts or nation-building. The debate over how many U.S. troops should be in Iraq is a legitimate and important one. But it obscures the equally vital point that the United States does not have available enough of the kind of troops it needs to deploy in Iraq in any event.

Some retired and active-duty senior officers fear that another year of combat duty in urban areas of the Sunni Triangle will break the military cohesiveness and morale of the regular Army, Reserve and National Guard units being rotated into Iraq on multiple tours. Retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey says the National Guard already is "in the stage of meltdown and within 24 months will be coming apart"...

Such concern is driving a dramatic shift in U.S. military planning in Iraq. An emerging aim is to reduce the damage being inflicted on America's armed forces as an institution. It is the structural damage -- the hollowing out of America's military -- that most concerns McCaffrey and other military leaders. Reducing the number of U.S. troops in Iraq's contested urban areas by the summer of 2006 is now a key component of that planning.

The intent of targeted troop withdrawals and redeployments, as formulated by Gen. John Abizaid, the theater commander, and Gen. George Casey, the senior officer in Iraq, was briefed to U.S. commanders, visiting VIPs and a few Iraqi political leaders in early June, according to U.S. and Iraqi sources.

That context is important: The discussion within the Bush administration that has begun to spill out in public is not the direct product of rising antiwar sentiment at home or of the tragic spike this month in U.S. casualties, although reports of the contemplated changes coincided with both those developments.

The process is more deliberative and strategic than that. The battlefield realities of Iraq, as interpreted by the commanders there, will wind up reshaping American forces and tactics at least as much as the much-heralded (and much-needed) transformation process instituted by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. It would be surprising, and foolish, if it were otherwise.

Read the rest at the Washington Post

August 21, 2006:

Daily developments

As of yesterday, at least 2,606 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count. The figure includes seven military civilians. At least 2,069 died as a result of hostile action, according to the military's numbers.

Read the rest at the San Diego Tribune