Friday, August 24, 2007

Perspective: On This Day In Iraq -- August 24th edition

August 24, 2003: A U.S. Army soldier examines a body found under a bridge in central Baghdad.

August 24, 2002:

New York Times under fire over stance on Iraq

Leading hawks in Washington who back a military attack on Iraq have turned their guns on the New York Times, charging that America's most influential newspaper is deliberately distorting its news coverage to undermine the case for war.

There have been rumblings of concern within the Bush administration and rival sections of the press for some weeks, but the dismay has broken into the open with some trenchant criticism this week of alleged appeasement of Saddam Hussein.

The New York Times, reflecting the views of its predominantly liberal, metropolitan readership and editorial staff, has long been hostile to the Bush administration and to Mr Bush's presidential candidacy in 2000, with its leaders and star columnists almost unanimously hostile - and frequently scathing - about him and his circle.

But the charge is now more serious that the paper's news columns have been turned into propaganda instruments of the anti-war party.

Comments sceptical about the use of military force by once powerful Republicans such as Brent Scowcroft, who served the first president Bush as national security adviser, have been highlighted with front page treatment, even though Mr Scowcroft has been out of the public eye for many years.

Last week the paper gave prominence to a report that the Republican Party was splitting over Iraqi policy, partly based on a highly selective interpretation of comments by Henry Kissinger, the former secretary of state.

The New York Times seized on some of Dr Kissinger's caveats to suggest he opposed an American attack, when in fact he had declared there to be "an imperative for preemptive action" against Saddam Hussein.

Other recent news stories have sounded the alarm that a war could wreck the American economy, while a selection of interviews with members of the public appeared skewed to suggest almost no Americans support military action, which is sharply at odds with opinion poll data.

Another story reminded readers that Washington sided with Baghdad during the Iran-Iraq war, which would not have surprised many readers as it was common knowledge at the time.

Charles Krauthammer, a hawkish commentator in the Washington Post, thundered: "Not since William Randolph Hearst famously cabled his correspondent in Cuba and declared, 'You furnish the pictures and I'll furnish the war', has a newspaper so blatantly devoted its front page to editorialising about a coming American war."

By convention, American newspapers have opinionated editorial pages while the news pages are supposed to be "objective", though in practice most big city newspapers reflect a faint liberal bias.

Critics blame the editor, Howell Raines, a southern liberal who took over a year ago after running the opinion pages and now seems to be changing the whole paper's outlook.

The Bush administration loathes the paper, as was obvious during the 2000 campaign when Mr Bush was caught on microphone referring to a well-known New York Times reporter as "a major league asshole", a slip which seemingly did him no harm with the public.

Read the rest at the Telegraph

August 24, 2003:

Poll: Most see U.S. bogged down in Iraq

With public confidence declining in President Bush's handling of the war in Iraq, nearly 70% of Americans feel the United States will be bogged down in the country for years without achieving its goals, a poll finds.
The Newsweek poll released Saturday also found that nearly 6 of 10 people are concerned that the U.S. military will be overextended should another security threat arise outside Iraq. And 7 of 10 are concerned the costs of the war will increase the deficit and hurt the economy.

The war costs the United States roughly $1 billion per week.

The poll of 1,011 adults was taken Thursday and Friday, just after last week's suicide truck bombing at the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad that killed the top U.N. envoy there and at least 22 others.

U.S. and British troops have also been targets of guerrilla attacks. Military figures show that 135 U.S. soldiers have died in Iraq since May 1, when President Bush declared the end of major combat operations there.

Americans had mixed feelings over how to proceed. About 48% said the United States should withdraw military personnel because of the attacks, while 47% said the soldiers should stay.

About 61% said the United States did the right thing in taking military action, down 7% from a poll taken in late July.

And 72% say they would support turning over some authority for rebuilding Iraq to the United Nations. France, Russia, India and other countries have ruled out sending soldiers to Iraq unless a multinational force is authorized by the United Nations.

The poll found that 54% approved of Bush's handling of the Iraqi situation, down from 58% in late July.

And for the first time in a Newsweek poll, the percentage of registered voters who would not like to see Bush re-elected as president outnumbered those who supported a second term (49% to 44%).

The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Read the rest at USA Today

August 24, 2004:

Iraq's new soccer heroes enraged by Bush praise

US President George W. Bush stood accused of appropriating the Olympic movement for political means on Sunday amid reports he was planning to visit Athens later this week to watch some sporting events, including a potential gold-medal winning bid by the Iraqi soccer team.

According to unconfirmed reports in the US, the White House is examining the logistical and security implications of Bush traveling to the Greek capital in time for Saturday's soccer final.

Iraq, whose progress to the semifinals has been one of the Athens Games' most captivating stories, will meet Paraguay today for a possible place in the finals.

The Greek foreign ministry confirmed on Sunday night that US Secretary of State Colin Powell will be in Athens for the closing ceremony.

But it is the potential presidential visit to the games that will fuel a dispute between the election campaign of Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney and the US Olympic Committee over an advertisement which links Iraqi and Afghan participation in the Games with the US administration's "war on terror."

The ad, which has been broadcast in the US for one week, begins with footage from the 1972 Games in Munich, during which 13 Israeli athletes were killed by terrorists, and continues with a narrator saying, "Freedom is spreading through the world like a sunrise. And this Olympics there will be two more free nations and two less terrorist regimes."

As the flags of Afghanistan and Iraq flutter in the breeze, it concludes: "With strength, resolve and courage, democracy will triumph over terror and hope will defeat hatred."

Under US copyright law, only the US Olympic Committee has the right to use the Olympic insignia, images and trademarks for marketing purposes.

Initially, the committee had reportedly called for the ad to be withdrawn, but its spokesman retreated from that on Sunday night.

"We have contacted the president's election campaign team and asked them to forward us a copy of the advert. Once we have reviewed it and determined the type and extent of the use of the Olympic name, we will decide how to progress," spokesman Darryl Seibel said.

The committee might want to avoid a confrontation with Bush, but it appears that the objects of his affections have no such qualms.

To the embarrassment of their media handlers in Athens, members of the Iraqi soccer team have reacted furiously to the news that their efforts are being used to aid Bush's efforts to win a second term.

Team coach Adnan Hamd told Sports Illustrated magazine: "My problem is not with the American people. They are with what America has done; destroyed everything. The American army has killed so many people in Iraq. What is freedom when I go to the stadium and there are shootings on the road?"

One of the team's midfield players, Ahmad Manajid, accused Bush of "slaughtering" Iraqi men and women.

"How will he meet his God having slaughtered so many? I want to defend my home. If a stranger invades America and the people resist, does that make them a terrorist?" he said.

Mark Clark, spokesman for the Iraqi Olympic squad, accused journalists of taking advantage of the players.

"They are not very sophisticated politically. Whoever posed these questions knew the answers would be negative. It is possible something was lost in translation. The players are entitled to their opinions but we are disappointed," he said.

Read the rest at Taipei Times

August 24, 2005:

In Iraq Jail, Resistance Goes Underground

CAMP BUCCA, Iraq -- In the darkest hours before dawn, groups of 10 detainees toiled 15 feet beneath Compound 5 of America's largest prison in Iraq. The men worked in five-minute shifts, digging with shovels fashioned from tent poles and hauling the dirt to the surface with five-gallon water jugs tethered to 200 feet of rope. They bagged it in sacks that had been used to deliver their bread rations and spread it surreptitiously across a soccer field where fellow inmates churned it during daily matches, guards and detainees recalled.

The 105th Military Police Battalion, charged with running Camp Bucca in the scorching desert of southernmost Iraq, knew something was amiss: Undetectable to the naked eye, the field's changing color was picked up by satellite imagery. The excavated dirt was also clogging the showers and two dozen portable toilets. The dirt was showing up under the floorboards of tents; some guards sensed that the floor itself seemed to be rising. Mysteriously, water use in the compound had spiked.

Hours before the planned prison break on March 24, an informant tipped off the Americans, who then drove a bulldozer across Compound 5. What they discovered was breathtaking: a fully completed tunnel that stretched 357 feet, longer than a football field. Inside were flashlights built from radio diodes and five larger spaces to provide ventilation. The tunnel's walls were as smooth and strong as concrete, sculpted with water and, the Americans believe, milk. The exit, beyond the compound's fence, was camouflaged with sand-colored cardboard. It opened into a partially concealed trench that would lead the detainees to freedom.

The discovery of what came to be known as "The Great Escape" tunnel was a seminal moment for the Americans charged with guarding Iraq's exploding prison population. It underscored the fact that the guards were not simply policing more than 6,000 detainees but, in their own way, fighting an enemy that exhibited the same complexity and resilience inside the prison's chain-linked fences and miles of coiled razor wire as it did in the most embattled streets of Iraq. For the inmates, the fight had never stopped.

"It was a military operation. It was very organized, and it was very disciplined," said Mohammed Touman, 27, an inmate released May 27 from Compound 5. "If only 200 people would have escaped, it would have been a blow to the Americans."

Col. James B. Brown, commander of the 18th Military Police Brigade, which oversees the U.S. military's three detention facilities in Iraq, said the escape would have been one of the largest from any U.S.-run facility in history.

"In a prison, there's the feeling that the war is over for you and it's over for me. We'll chit-chat at the fence and get through this together," he said. "Nothing could be further from the truth."

Inside Camp Bucca, Brown said, "the war is not at all over."

Since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003, the military said it has arrested more than 40,000 people. The population today at the three U.S.-run prisons -- Bucca, Abu Ghraib and Camp Cropper near the Baghdad airport, where former President Saddam Hussein and his lieutenants are being held -- is 10,600, double the number of a year ago. The average incarceration at Bucca is a year. The military attributes the surge in detentions to an increase in combat operations and the inability of the nascent Iraqi justice system to handle the crushing caseload.

Many of the freed detainees express bewilderment at why they were held; even the U.S. commander who oversees Bucca, Col. Austin Schmidt, 55, of Fairfax, estimated that one in four prisoners "perhaps were just snagged in a dragnet-type operation" or were victims of personal vendettas.

"This is like Chicago in the '30s: You don't like somebody, you drop a dime on them," Schmidt said. "And by the time the Iraqi court system figures it out, they go home. But it takes a while."

Camp Bucca sits on one of the most unforgiving plots of Iraq, a desert moonscape of 130-degree temperatures and howling winds, a few minutes drive from the Kuwaiti border. The prison's two-mile perimeter contains 12 compounds, six on each side of a dirt and gravel road the Americans call the Green Mile. The detainees, usually clad in bright yellow jumpsuits or prison-issued traditional gowns, called dishdashas, are housed in tan-colored canvas tents or air-conditioned plywood buildings with corrugated tin roofs; each holds about 20 detainees. During the day, the intense heat keeps all but a few of the inmates from venturing into the sandy courtyards. At the corner of each compound, guards with automatic rifles stand watch from three-story wooden towers.

Three meals a day are served -- bread, cheese, jam and tea for breakfast and dinner, rice and stew for lunch, former detainees recalled in recent interviews. Although the Americans offer classes and even movies as incentives for good behavior, most downtime is devoted to lessons organized by the inmates. Some English is offered -- both elementary and advanced -- but the curriculum is heavy on religion: Islamic jurisprudence and doctrine, Muslim history, Arabic grammar and Koranic recitation, the former detainees said.

Most Sunni and Shiite prisoners are kept in separate compounds. In the Shiite area, about 20 clerics are in charge. They hand down stern justice. For breaking rules, inmates are denied food or beaten on the soles of their feet with poles, leaving no visible marks. In the more numerous Sunni compounds, inmates elect a leader from their ranks. Once in power, detainees said, his decisions are unquestioned.

"We organized ourselves by ourselves," said Hassan Challoub, a Shiite inmate from Baghdad who was freed last month. Guards have discovered a large and elaborate array of artwork throughout the camp, but mainly in living quarters: portraits of Moqtada Sadr, a popular Shiite cleric who commands an armed militia, intricately etched on fabric culled from tents; Koranic verses rendered in sloping Arabic calligraphy; even handbags fashioned from juice boxes left over from meals.

Breaking the monotony is the arrival of what the detainees call the "Happy Bus," which picks up prisoners who are to be released.

When the 105th Military Police Battalion, a North Carolina Army National Guard unit from Asheville, arrived last fall, the detainee population was 3,900, according to Brown. Before long, the military stepped up counterinsurgency operations across Iraq and hundreds of inmates arrived each week. Among them were veterans of Sadr's Shiite militia, the Mahdi Army, which had organized two armed uprisings against U.S. troops; Sunni followers of Abu Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian-born insurgent leader blamed for some of Iraq's worst carnage; other Sunni insurgents loyal to tribes or the former ruling Baath Party; and a handful of religious fighters from other Arab countries.

"I guess we were kind of naive when we first got here," said Sgt. 1st Class John Freeman, of Marion, N.C., who was put in charge of detainee operations at Bucca. "It was like, 'Hey, they're inside a fence. They don't have anything they can hurt us with.' We learned quickly."

On April 1, a four-day riot began in Compound 3, where the Shiites were held.

A former detainee, Challoub, known as Abu Hala, was a burly, bearded 45-year-old Mahdi Army commander detained in August during pitched fighting with U.S. forces in Sadr City, a Shiite slum in eastern Baghdad. In Bucca, he was second in command at Compound 3. On that April morning, he said he watched as American guards tried to remove 10 prisoners from the courtyard, among them four clerics who made up the Shiite compound's leadership. The guards put the men on the ground, cuffed their hands behind them and, he said, put their boots on the clerics' backs.

"As a Muslim, when you see your teacher treated like that, of course, you will get angry. As a Shiite, you should respect the cleric," said Challoub, who was released last month and returned to Baghdad. "That's when the chaos started."

U.S. commanders said the prisoners were being transferred to a maximum-security compound but denied that the detainees were forced to the ground or that soldiers held them down with their boots. Some of the detainees sat down in the dirt in protest, guards recalled. Others crowded around the detainees and screamed, "Don't go!"

Around 8:30 a.m., the company commander and prison commandant, Lt. Col. T. Paul Houser, a social worker from Catawba County, N.C., emerged from a meeting with the International Committee of the Red Cross and heard the commotion. Houser jumped in the back of a covered cargo truck and headed for Compound 3. As he approached, a chunk of cinderblock struck him in the left eye, fracturing his cheek in three places and breaking three teeth.

"I turned and just caught it in the face," said Houser, who was flown by helicopter to a military hospital, where a doctor told him his protective glasses had saved his eyesight. "I guess it must have come through the back of the vehicle. It was a lucky shot."

Suddenly, everything the Americans had provided the inmates over the previous months was turned against them, according to guards and a videotape of the riot made available by the military. The cinderblock had been chiseled from the concrete base of a tent pole; hundreds of pieces had been stored inside a tent the inmates used as a mosque that the military designated off limits to the guards. The detainees used floorboards as shields. They hurled socks filled with a cocktail of feces, dirt and flammable, slow-burning hand sanitizer, the Americans said. One of the crude devices ignited a Polaris all-terrain vehicle.

Before long, the ground was carpeted with pieces of cinderblock, much of it flung with slingshots fashioned from thin rubber gloves the Americans had given the inmates to distribute food. The detainees used what Brown called "standard David and Goliath" slings cut from the canvas tents. The most skillful, Brown said, could propel the cinderblock chunks through a bank teller's window. One chunk, he said, embedded in the wall behind a tower guard's head.

The Americans fired back with rubber bullets and tear gas but failed to slow the projectiles cascading from the courtyard. "With that deadly velocity, they were out-ranging our nonlethal weapons, which becomes very dangerous," Brown said.

"The violence, it was just absolutely incredible," said 1st Lt. Shawn Talmadge, a fire engine salesman from Richmond. "The sheer volume of rocks and the accuracy of them throwing the rocks -- it was just a full-out battle."

Talmadge said he had an epiphany. "I realized, these guys have been fighting riots and wars a lot longer than we have. These guys have been fighting this way for hundreds of years."

Challoub, who was wounded twice in the foot by nonlethal bullets, said that within hours hundreds of prisoners had joined the fight. Many shouted, "There is no god but God!" and "We are ready to die for you, Moqtada!"

Detainees in later interviews claimed to have held the compound for more than a week. Challoub and others said they were imbued with the spirit of Imam Mahdi, a messianic figure central to Shiite belief. They celebrated the courage of fighting a battle they knew they would lose.

"We wouldn't let them see us suffer," said Abu Abdullah Saadi, another Mahdi Army veteran released from the camp.

"We fought bravely, we fought like heroes," Challoub said. "Despite hunger, despite our injuries, we still fought."

On the fourth day of the riots, the Americans called in a Black Hawk helicopter, the video showed. The helicopter descended over the camp, the force of its rotor flattening the tents that hadn't already been burned down by the detainees. Bulldozers and 200 heavily armed soldiers encircled the compound. The Shiite prisoners finally gave up, complying with a list of demands that included handing over their weapons: the remaining floorboards and cinderblock rubble.

Little was left of the camp; it smoldered, smoke mixing with the stench of overturned portable toilets the detainees had used to barricade the entrance. Heaps of garbage, rocks and used tear gas canisters littered the yard.

It was the end to what had been a sobering period for the Americans, coming just days after the tunnel was discovered in Compound 5.

According to former Sunni prisoners, work on the tunnel had begun in January, beneath the wooden floorboards of a tent. The detainees dug down three feet, installed a false bottom with planks, then tunneled 12 more feet to a point where the sand gave way to packed dirt. To prevent the entrance from collapsing, the inmates reinforced it with plywood scraps and sandbags.

At its peak, nearly a third of the more than 600 inmates were engaged in the dig, detainees said. The work was tedious: The teams worked only at night, usually between 1 a.m. and the dawn prayer before the morning head count. Usually no more than three feet of dirt per day was excavated; each worker spent just five minutes in the tunnel, digging with flattened tent poles wrapped with canvas grips.

Inside the tunnel, the detainees carved spaces for others to push air with a makeshift bellow system, the former detainees said. Once each five-gallon water jug was filled with dirt, men at the tunnel's entrance pulled it to the surface. Others carted it off and spread it across the compound.

"There was no work during the day," said Ali Atlawi Mughir, 31, who was detained in Baghdad in August 2004 and held in Compound 5. "The group never mentioned their secret."

By the end of March, the tunnel, just wide enough for one person to crawl through, was complete.

"It was an engineering miracle," said Muthanna Mahmoud, a 30-year-old inmate.

Inmates said they planned the prison break for after midnight on March 24. They would leave in groups of 25; during roll call, others would answer, covering their tracks, detainees said. All that was left was for the leadership to determine the order of the prisoners' escape. "They didn't want pandemonium," said Touman, another inmate.

For the Americans, it was a race against time. For days, they had detected something was wrong. In addition to the clogged showers and portable toilets, an informant had hinted that a tunnel was under construction, the fourth in as many months at the prison. But he never pinpointed its location or how far the detainees had dug.

That afternoon, an intelligence officer met again with the informant. This time he disclosed that the tunnel was in Compound 5 and had been completed. The detainees planned to escape within 48 hours, the informant said. He told the officer he feared a bloodbath if they were caught escaping. "That's the story he gave us; it's as credible as anything else we've heard," said Houser, the prison commandant. "I don't know why he'd risk getting his throat cut for giving up such a huge, huge find."

The Americans immediately moved the detainees into a holding area and bulldozed a straight line through the compound. Within minutes it collapsed part of the tunnel. Trying to find the tunnel's exit, the Americans dug parallel to the compound fence. Before long it was night and they still hadn't found the end. Three guards walked outside, across a dirt road, beyond yet another fence, to a sandy berm bordering a trench. The cardboard that concealed it was propped up from inside by a 2-by-4.

"Through a fluke we walked right past the exit; we almost fell in," said Talmadge.

Talmadge, the battalion's assistant operations officer, had studied engineering at Virginia Tech. "I was just fascinated by the complexity and simplicity of the whole thing," he said. "The tunnel, it's like perfectly made. It's nice and smooth, the edges of the wall. So we started doing some math calculations. They moved 100 tons of soil in about eight weeks."

"Extremely intelligent, these guys are," said Talmadge.

Since the riot and the discovery of the tunnel, the U.S. military has overhauled Camp Bucca. The tents are nearly gone, replaced by buildings with concrete foundations almost impossible to dig through or fashion into a weapon. The dwellings are built at an angle, putting nearly all the detainees in the guards' line of sight. The compounds have been partitioned into quadrants, limiting the inmates movements and communication. The 105th no longer distributes hand sanitizer or rubber gloves.

Brown said the changes came with the realization that Camp Bucca is not a prison "but actually a battle space."

Eventually, as with counterinsurgency operations throughout the country, the military plans to turn Bucca over to Iraqi security forces. But when that will happen is unclear. "The target keeps moving," said Schmidt, the base commander. "So I'm building," he said. "I'm putting in things that look an awful lot like permanent structures."

Read the rest at the Washington Post

August 24, 2006:

Despite carnage, cleaning up after bombings in Iraq has taken on sense of 'normalcy'

They're scenes all too familiar in Iraq: shattered buildings, mangled cars, pools of blood. The carnage takes its toll on the landscape – and those responsible for cleaning up the mess.

There aren't any trained hazmat specialists here. It's the same minimum wage guys who sweep trash off the streets for a daily wage of less than $5.

“They've gotten used to this,” Amir Ali, spokesman for Baghdad's municipal government, said of the cleanup crews. “It's daily routine now to deal with these horrific scenes. All of Baghdad has witnessed destruction.”
With so much violence since the March 2003 invasion, Iraqis have the post-blast drill down pat.

First on the scene are civil defense workers who extinguish fires, provide first aid to survivors and carry off the dead. They then spray the site with jets of water to wash away most of the blood.

Then, come the street cleaners, who get no training on how to deal with bombing sites.

“Usually at that point, most of the blood is gone,” said Ammar Adnan, who supervises a cleanup crew. “If not, well, we have to deal with it. We go in, do it quick and leave – you don't want that depressing scene lurking around for long.”

Adnan, who works part-time to pay for his engineering education at Baghdad University and help his parents with expenses, says there is another reason to work fast: Insurgents sometimes plant a second bomb to kill and maim police and cleaners who rush to the scene.

Adnan himself had a recent narrow escape in Amariyah, a mostly Sunni neighborhood in western Baghdad.

“We were cleaning after an explosion that targeted a police car and suddenly another boom went off – it was like a split second between life and death,” he said.

None of the workers with Adnan was injured, but not all are so lucky.

Lt. Col. Qassim Majid, spokesman for the civil defense unit in eastern Baghdad, said four of his employees have been killed and three injured over the past two months in follow-on explosions.

“These evil souls do that to inflict more casualties and hamper any attempts at restoring normal life,” Majid said. “These men were doing a humanitarian job – it's nothing religious or political. It's duty and volunteerism combined.”

The trained civil defense teams have better equipment and vehicles than in the days of Saddam Hussein. But security is worse now, and the frequency of attacks has strained resources.

“Previously, we used to deal with a fire once a week. Now we deal with at least three explosions a day,” Majid said.

His unit has about 800 workers and is responsible for nearly three-fourths of Baghdad. Even a medium-size explosion requires at least 30 civil defense workers, he said.

Scattered body parts are collected by rescue teams and packed in a bag that is carried by ambulance to a hospital.

Hospital officials say the parts are kept in refrigerators until enough are collected for a burial – but not cremation, in line with Muslim tradition. However, workers at some medical facilities and the Baghdad morgue have complained that bits of flesh sometime clog drain pipes.

Private contractors dispose of blown-apart cars, removing them by crane and taking them to junkyards where metal workers dismantle them. Parts that aren't too badly damaged are resold, and the rest are melted down.

Mohammed al-Obeidi, who sells scrap metal in Baghdad's central industrial market, said he sends workers with donkey carts to junkyards to collect twisted car bodies and turns them into iron bars.

“Those mangled cars, we collect them every day,” al-Obeidi said, his matter-of-fact tone illustrating the complacency with which many Iraqis now perceive the daily violence.

It is the low paid, untrained street-sweepers who seem to suffer the most.

Ali, the city government spokesman, confirmed they don't get training or psychological counseling for coping with the horror, but he said all Iraqis have had to come to grips with carnage.

“The psyche of all Iraqis now is disturbed – whether you work for the health ministry, defense ministry or wherever,” he said. “Even if you don't have to deal with it because it's your job, you see it on the street everyday.”

Adnan agreed it's all part of the job of his cleaning crew.

“But if I could find a better job, I'd quit this,” he said. “It just crushes your soul.”

Read the rest at the San Diego Tribune

How to look like a failure

Each Bush presidency is unhappy in its own way. George W has contrived to do the opposite of his father, as if to provide evidence for a classic case of reaction formation. Rather than halt the army before Baghdad, he occupied the whole country. Rather than pursue a Middle East peace process that dragged along a recalcitrant Israeli government, he cast the process aside.

"Frustrated?" President Bush volunteered in his Monday press conference. "Sometimes I'm frustrated." His crankiness has deeper sources than having truncated his usual month-long summer vacation in Texas. "Rarely surprised," he continued, extolling his world-weary omniscience. "Sometimes I'm happy," he plunged on. "This is - but war is not a time of joy. These aren't joyous times."

Bush is trapped in a self-generated dynamic that eerily recalls the centrifugal forces that spun apart his father's presidency. It was not until the Gulf war that the public became convinced that the elder Bush was a strong leader and not the "wimp" stereotypically depicted. Then came a recession. Bush's feeble response was not seen as merely an expression of typical Republican policy, but as a profound character flaw. If Bush was strong, why didn't he solve the problem?

The younger Bush's staggering mismanagement of the Iraqi occupation has until recently served his purpose of seeming to defy the elements of chaos he himself has aroused. By stringing every threat together into an immense plot that justifies a global war on terrorism, however, he has ultimately made himself hostage to any part of the convoluted storyline that goes haywire.

Having told the public that Iraq is central to a war on terror, the worse things go in Iraq, the more the public thinks the war on terror goes badly. Asked at his press conference what invading Iraq had to do with September 11, Bush seemed so dumbfounded that at first he answered directly. "Nothing," he said, before sliding into a falsely aggrieved self-defence: "Except for it's part of - and nobody has ever suggested in this administration that Saddam Hussein ordered the attack."

Asked about sectarian violence in Iraq, Bush's voice suddenly went passive. "You know, I hear a lot of talk about civil war." Indeed, he might have heard it from his top generals, John Abizaid and Peter Pace, who, seriously off-message from Bush's PR campaign of relentlessly stressing "victory", testified before the Senate on August 3, as Abizaid said: "Sectarian violence is probably as bad as I have seen it."

All the stopgap strategies have failed to halt it eliminating Zarqawi, the civil action teams, building up the police, concentrating forces in Baghdad. Asked three times what his strategy is, or whether he has a new one, Bush tried to fend off the question with words like "dreams" and "democratic society". "That's the strategy," he said. Then Bush confused having a strategy with being in Iraq. "Now, if you say, are you going to change your strategic objective," he struggled to explain, "it means you're leaving before the mission is complete."

Perhaps Bush's bizarre summer reading, according to his press office, of Camus's The Stranger, is responsible for his melange of absurdities, appeal to existential threat, and erratic point of view, veering from aggressor to passive observer. Would a staff aide have the audacity to suggest that he read Strategy, BH Liddell Hart's military classic? "Self-exhaustion in war," writes Hart, "has killed more states than any foreign assailant." It was a lesson in restraint the father understood when he stopped short of Baghdad.

Read the rest at the Guardian