Thursday, August 23, 2007

Perspective: On This Day In Iraq -- August 23rd edition

August 23, 2006: A soldier with the 1st Armored Division cautiously enters an Iraqi residence in Tameem during search operations.

August 23, 2002:

Iraq's great unknowns

In the run-up to promised intervention in Iraq, the Bush administration has been trying hard to establish two kinds of justification.

One is the existence of a clear and present danger of weapons of mass destruction that should be preemptively attacked. The administration has not managed so far to demonstrate that. The furthest that National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice would go, in an interview with the BBC last week, was to say of Saddam Hussein that "if he gets weapons of mass destruction," he will wreak havoc at home and abroad.

The other justification would be Iraqi involvement in anti-American terrorism. Much attention has been given to a Czech intelligence report of a meeting between hijacker Mohammed Atta and an Iraqi agent in Prague five months before Sept. 11. But the meeting has not been corroborated, nor is the CIA sure how important it was if it did happen. And, for what it is worth, Osama bin Laden called Saddam Hussein a "bad Muslim" in a videotape unearthed in Afghanistan by the CNN.

It is embarrassing that, having designated Iraq as a part of an "axis of evil," the administration is unable, despite strenuous efforts, to state definitely that Iraq is involved in anti-American terrorism or that Iraq has chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons it is ready to use. While awaiting better intelligence, President Bush is shifting his attention from violent regime change to what a changed regime would be like.

After one meeting with Iraqi opposition leaders in Washington, the administration is reportedly planning a larger-scale international conference, seeking to establish a coalition that could create a new government.

The meeting would be held in The Hague or elsewhere in Europe in the hope of attracting so-far-absent European support for the enterprise. If an opposition united front can be established – which would be a first – then the invasion of Iraq could be presented as something like the Northern Alliance war with the Taliban in Afghanistan – an indigenous movement with American support.

Plans can be made with exiled leaders, but the great unknown is whether there are dissidents in Iraq who have survived Saddam Hussein's tyrannical rule and who will come forward to help liberate their own country.

Meanwhile, the administration searches for a casus belli – a cause of war – that will sell the American public on a war in Iraq.

Read the rest at the Christian Science Monitor

August 23, 2003:

Emails show how No 10 constructed case for war

Two radically different versions of what happened inside Downing Street in September last year in the run-up to the war with Iraq emerged this week from Lord Hutton's inquiry.

The version that Downing Street presented to the public at the time was of a prime minister struggling to avoid war, intent on working within international law by going through the United Nations, and hinting that Britain was acting as a check on the wilder and more belligerent elements within Washington.

But the emails from various staff members at Downing Street produced in evidence to the Hutton inquiry this week suggest an alternative narrative. These emails, covering the period between September 5 and the publication on September 24 of the government's dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, are not full of concerns and proposals about how the dossier will impact on efforts to get the UN weapons inspectors back into Iraq and ensure that Saddam Hussein cooperated with them.

Instead, the thoughts expressed in the emails convey a frantic attempt to produce a dossier that will justify aggressive action against Saddam Hussein. Within the space of a fortnight and with almost no new evidence - other than the now infamous "45-minute warning" - Mr Blair's aides turned British policy towards Iraq upside down.

For more than 10 years, British policy was to contain Saddam by keeping him weak through sanctions, imposition of no-fly zones and diplomatic isolation. He was regarded as a potential threat but not a pressing one. He dealt with his own people brutally but, with regard to the threat posed to his neighbours and the west, he was in his box and, as long as the US and British planes remained in the region, he could be kept there.

By the time the dossier was published, Saddam had become someone that had to be dealt with as a matter of urgency, one intent on aggression towards his neighbours and the west. Downing Street had produced a new narrative.

In an email released this week Daniel Pruce, a Foreign Office diplomat seconded to the Downing Street press department, offers a glimpse into how No 10 worked to achieve this transformation. "Can we insert a few quotes from speeches he [Saddam] has made which, even if they are not specific, demonstrate that he is a bad man with a general hostility towards his neighbours and the west?" Mr Pruce wrote in the email on September 10 to another diplomat, Mark Matthews, who at the time was in the Foreign Office press department.

He set out a sneaky course of action for bringing public opinion round: "Much of the evidence we have is largely circumstantial so we need to convey to our readers that the cumulation of these facts demonstrates an intent on Saddam's part - the more they can be led to this conclusion themselves rather than have to accept judgments from us, the better."

In a separate email, Mr Pruce said: "Our aim should be to convey the impression that things have not been static in Iraq but that over the past decade he has been aggressively and relentlessly pursuing WMD while brutally repressing his own people."

He added that any reference to weapons should describe their destructive capacity, for example that UN weapons inspectors between 1991 and 1998 "found enough chemical warfare agent to kill x thousand people or contaminate an area the size of Wales."

Other Downing Street aides were also throwing in suggestions that would contribute towards an alarming picture of the Iraqi threat. Tom Kelly, a Downing Street press officer, in an email to Alastair Campbell, the director of communicationson September 11, wrote that there was a need to demonstrate that Saddam had not only the capability to mount an attack but the intent: "We know that [Saddam] is a bad man and has done bad things in the past. We know he is trying to get WMD - and this shows those attempts are intensifying. But can we show why we think he intends to use them aggressively, rather than in self-defence? We need that to counter the argument that Saddam is bad, but not mad."

Mr Kelly also wrote to another Downing Street press officer, Godric Smith, expressing regret that the dossier could not talk up the nuclear threat. The MI6 assessment was that while Saddam wanted a nuclear capability, he did not possess one and was unlikely to do so for years to come. Mr Kelly reluctantly acknowledged this: "The weakness, obviously, is our inability to say he could pull the nuclear trigger any time soon."

Mr Campbell, when asked at the inquiry on Tuesday about Mr Pruce's emails, played down his importance, saying that decisions about what should be in the dossier were taken by staff above his pay grade.

But such emails cannot be dismissed that easily. These emails were in response to a remit set out by someone senior at Downing Street.

The tone of the exchanges suggest that the remit was not to draw up a dossier presenting a realistic appraisal of the threat posed by Saddam but to exaggerate it.

The alternative narrative is that after Mr Blair saw George Bush at Camp David on September 8, the prime minister was readying British and international opinion for war. The flurry of emails came im mediately after that Camp David meeting.

Peter Stothard, the former Times editor who had access to Downing Street at the time, describes in his book 30 Days how Mr Blair in September based his policy on six points, one of which was that "Gulf war 2 - president George W. Bush vs Saddam Hussein - would happen whatever anyone else said or did".

This sense that the decision had been made is also echoed by the former cabinet minister, Clare Short, who opposed the war and who told the Commons foreign affairs committee that she had been informed by three senior people - believed to be another cabinet minister, an MI6 chief and a top civil servant - that war was inevitable. One of them told her to stop fretting because it could not be stopped.

Seen against that background, the frenzied tone of the Downing Street emails makes sense.

Read the rest at the Guardian

August 23, 2004:

Memo Appealed for Ways To Break Iraqi Detainees

A memo issued last summer by a U.S. Army military intelligence officer appealed for suggestions on how to extract information from prisoners in Iraq and called for tougher means of getting intelligence.

"The gloves are coming off gentleman regarding these detainees," said the memo, which carried the signature of Capt. William Ponce Jr. The source of the memo, who refused to be identified, said it was sent by the intelligence staff of Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, who was then commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, to all concerned military intelligence personnel in Iraq.

In an apparent reference to Sanchez's head of intelligence, Col. Steven Boltz, the memo asserted that "Col. Boltz has made it clear that we want these individuals broken. Casualties are mounting and we need to start gathering info to help protect our fellow soldiers from any further attacks."

The memo asked for a list by Aug. 17, 2003, of "what techniques would they feel would be effective" and could be reviewed by legal experts.

The authenticity of the document could not be independently confirmed. It was obtained by The Washington Post on Sunday, one day before pretrial hearings of four military police officers charged with abusing detainees late last year at Abu Ghraib prison, west of Baghdad...

The source of the memo said it was issued about a month before the visit to Abu Ghraib by the commander of the U.S. military's detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Defense attorneys for several of the defendants have said the visit by Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who is now in charge of detention operations in Iraq, was designed to loosen restrictions on interrogation techniques and that the guards charged with abuse were acting under orders of military intelligence officers and other superiors.

Read the rest at the Washington Post

August 23, 2005:

President Bush Knows the True Reasons He Started A War in Iraq, But He's Not Going to Tell

Every year, right around the anniversary of 9/11 the Bush administration spins the public about the reasons 1,864 American soldiers have died fighting for a lie in Iraq. And every year, it’s just as crucial that the media tell the public the truth about the reasons the war was started.

So here goes.

The disinformation campaign the White House launched last weekend should leave no doubt that the war in Iraq was hatched well before 9/11 and is part of a broader strategy to remake the entire Middle East into a so-called Pax Americana, a blueprint drafted by hardcore neoconservatives years ago that called for overthrowing Middle East dictators and installing U.S. approved governments in the region.

It’s entirely likely that the administration will attempt to sell Congress and the public another war in the near future, the next likely target being Iran. How else should we interpret the following statement Bush made in Utah Monday, during a speech he made to Veterans of Foreign Wars?

“The third part of our strategy in the war on terror is to spread the hope of freedom across the broader Middle East,” Bush said.

As public support for the Iraq war erodes, President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have taken their propaganda campaign on the road, once again linking the war in Iraq to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, in hopes that the administration can dramatically change perception of the military conflict in Iraq, even though a half-dozen federal investigations have concluded that Iraq played no role in 9/11.

In the book “The Price of Loyalty,” Bush’s former Treasury Secretary, Paul O’Neill said that the Iraq war was planned just days after the president was sworn into office.

“From the very beginning, there was a conviction, that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go,” O’Neill said, adding that going after Saddam Hussein was a priority 10 days after the Bush’s inauguration and eight months before Sept. 11.

“From the very first instance, it was about Iraq. It was about what we can do to change this regime,” Suskind said. “Day one, these things were laid and sealed.”

As treasury secretary, O'Neill was a permanent member of the National Security Council. He says in the book he was surprised at the meeting that questions such as "Why Saddam?" and "Why now?" were never asked.

O’Neill was fired from his post for disagreeing with Bush’s economic policies. In typical White House fashion, senior administration officials have labeled O’Neill a “disgruntled employee”, whose remarks are “laughable” and have no basis in reality.

Moreover, claims by O’Neill that the U.S. and Britain were operating from murky intelligence during the buildup to war came six days after Bush’s inauguration. It was then that British intelligence communicated to the CIA, the Pentagon and National Security Adviser Rice’s office that an Iraqi defector told British intelligence officials that Saddam Hussein had two fully operational nuclear bombs, according to two senior Bush advisers.

The London Telegraph reported the defector’s claims on Jan. 28, 2001.

“According to the defector, who cannot be named for security reasons, bombs are being built in Hemrin in north-eastern Iraq, near the Iranian border,” according to the Telegraph report. The defector said: "There are at least two nuclear bombs which are ready for use. Before the UN inspectors came, there were 47 factories involved in the project. Now there are 64."

That information turned out to be grossly inaccurate but it was cited by Vice President Dick Cheney during a speech in 2002 as a means to build the case for war.

However, O’Neill’s allegations that Bush planned an Iraq invasion prior to 9-11 are backed up by dozens of on-the-record statements and speeches made by the president’s senior advisers, including Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice, during Bush’s first four months in office.

In dozens of transcripts posted on the Defense Department’s web site between January and May 2001, months before 9-11, Rumsfeld said the United States needed to be prepared for surprises, such as launching preemptive wars against countries like Iraq.

“If you think about it, Dick Cheney's (Secretary of Defense) confirmation hearing in 1989 -- not one United States senator mentioned a word about Iraq,” Rumsfeld said in a May 25, 2001 interview with PBS’ NewsHour. “The word "Iraq" was never mentioned in his entire confirmation hearing. One year later we're at war with Iraq. Now, what does that tell you? Well, it tells you that you'd best be flexible; you'd best expect the unexpected.”

In fact, Rumsfeld discusses the above scenario in a half-dozen other interviews in May 2001 and appears to suggest, by specifically mentioning Iraq, that history would eventually repeat itself.

Responding to a reporter’s question on January 26, 2001 about the Bush administration’s policy toward Saddam Hussein’s regime days after his Senate confirmation hearing, Rumsfeld said “I think that the policy of the country is that it is not helpful to have Saddam Hussein's regime in office.”

In his inaugural address on January 20, 2001 President Bush also alluded to the possibility of war, although he did not mention Iraq by name.

“We will confront weapons of mass destruction, so that a new century is spared new horrors,” Bush said. “The enemies of liberty and our country should make no mistake … We will defend our allies and our interests.”

Read the rest at Political Affairs

August 23, 2006:

'Backdoor draft'?

In a move that critics denounce as a 'backdoor draft," the US Marines and Army are recalling to active duty thousands of men and women who have been discharged for several years. According to the Associated Press, thousands of Marines are being recalled because of "a shortage of volunteers" to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Up to 2,500 Marines will be brought back at any one time, but there is no cap on the total number of Marines who may be forced back into service in the coming years as the military battles the war on terror. The call-ups will begin in the next several months.

This is the first time the Marines have had to use the involuntary recall since the early days of the Iraq combat. The Army has ordered back about 10,000 soldiers since the start of the war.

The BBC reports that while only 2,500 of the 60,000 inactive Marines who comprise the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) will be recalled now, the authorization signed last month by President Bush is open-ended and will stop only when the "Global War on Terrorism" (GWOT) has ended, a sign that many thousands more could be called back to active duty in the coming months and years.

The Boston Globe reports that the former Marines will return to service for up to 18 months and will be deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan next year. Marines and soldiers may be recalled up to eight years after they have been discharged. While the Marines have been meeting recruiting and retention goals, "it is short about 1,200 specialists in engineering, military police work, communications, and intelligence operations."

Tuesday's announcement of the recall "raised some eyebrows" among military experts.

"The announcement surprised me," said Charles Henning, a retired Army officer who specializes in military affairs at the Congressional Research Service, the research arm of the Library of Congress. "I see no indication that they are having trouble manning their units."

Henning said the Marines' seven-month combat tours have perhaps "placed enough strain on the system and they don't want to be sending people back three or four times," he said. But it also could be that the rising US casualties in Iraq – where more than 2,600 troops have died and tens of thousands have been injured since the invasion – may be taking a toll on heavily used units.

The Los Angeles Times reports that the Pentagon has had to "scramble" to meet personnel requirements, long after it was thought that so many troops would not be needed. But the continuing insurgency in Iraq, the sectarian violence which many believe has become a civil war, and the growing strength of the Taliban in Afghanistan, means the need for troops had not abated.
For much of the conflict, the Army also has had to use "stop-loss orders" – which keep soldiers in their units even after their active-duty commitments are complete – as well as involuntary call-ups of its reservists. Both actions have been criticized as a "back-door draft" and are unpopular with service members, many of whom say they have already done their part.

"You can send Marines back for a third or fourth time, but you have to understand you are destroying their lives," said Paul Rieckhoff, founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. "It is not what they intended the all-volunteer military to look like."

Frederick W. Kagan, a resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, told the Times that he believes that the latest stop-loss announcements are the "latest sign" that more ground troops were required in Iraq.

"It is one of an avalanche of symptoms that the ground forces are overstretched by operations in Iraq and Afghanistan," Kagan said. "This administration needs to understand this is not a short-term problem, and it really needs a systemic fix in the size of the ground forces."

McClatchy News Service reports that Tuesday's announcement coincides with a report being issued Wednesday by two military experts that "the Marines are having to borrow equipment from non-deployed units and pre-positioned stockpiles to replace tanks, trucks, armored vehicles and other hardware worn out by more than three years of combat duty in Iraq."

The Iraq war also has put unprecedented wear and tear on the Marine Corps' trucks, tanks and other combat equipment, according to a report by the Center for American Progress and the Lexington Institute, two policy research groups that frequently study national security issues. The war has forced the Marines to keep about 40 percent of its ground combat equipment, 50 percent of its communications gear and 20 percent of its aircraft in Iraq, the report says.

Helicopters fly two to three times more hours than they should, tanks are being used four times as much as anticipated, and Humvees are being driven an average of 480 miles a month, 70 percent of which is off-road. The harsh desert and combat losses are chewing up other gear at nine times their planned rates. Humvees that were expected to last 14 years need to be replaced after only four years in the extreme conditions of the Iraqi desert, the report says.

The report's two authors, Larry J. Korb and Loren Thompson, say it will cost the Marines about $12 billion to replace their equipment, and that figure grows by about $5 billion a year every year the Marines remain in Iraq. Mr. Korb and Mr. Thompson reached a similar conclusion about the Army in a report earlier in the year.

Read the rest at the Christian Science Monitor