Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Perspective: On This Day In Iraq -- August 28th edition

August 28, 2004: Soldiers from the 1st Cavalry division patrol the Wadi al-Salam (Valley of Peace) cemetery near Najaf's Imam Ali shrine as the three-week standoff between U.S. troops and al-Sadr's Mahdi Army comes to an end.

August 28, 2002:

All signs pointing to war

At a recent town hall meeting in Fort Hood, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was asked by a young soldier how Russo-American relations would be affected in the event of an armed conflict with Iraq. Rumsfeld prefaced his response by saying "I suppose if I answer the question, the implication will be that we're going to have a conflict with Iraq. And I therefore would suggest to the press and ... everyone here that if I do answer the question, as I'm going to answer the question in a minute ..."

Government officials have become masters of evasive action when the matter of upcoming war with Iraq is discussed. Nearly every day a new reason is given for why we should go to war with Iraq, but government officials and the mass media have been keeping us in the dark about whether we will go to war. For those who care to look beyond The Associated Press, it will become apparent that the administration is merely waiting for the right time to announce the war, which has already begun in some respects.

The most telling sign of the war is the movement of U.S. and British troops into strategic positions in the Middle East. On Aug. 16, The Asia Times reported that since March, 8,000 U.S. troops and 1,700 British Marines have moved into Kuwait, 4,000 U.S. troops have moved into Qatar, and 5,000 British troops have moved into Oman. Also reported was an increase in the number of U.S. troops in Turkey by 18,000 in the past two months. UmmahNews, which describes itself as a news agency that does not rely on Western sources, reported on Aug. 22 that U.S. warships have begun to dock in Colombo Harbor in Sri Lanka to refuel for the first time in eight years. In his Aug. 23 column in Spies Magazine, former NSA officer Richard Bennett mentioned that approximately 10,000 U.S. troops are now stationed in Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, and Georgia. More importantly, about 2,000 U.S. Special Forces and 5,000 Turkish Commandos are now in the Kurdish area of northern Iraq. The Economist has also reported on U.S. troop movement in the Middle East, claiming in an Aug. 1 article, "America routinely deploys more than 50,000 service personnel within striking distance of Iraq." It is rather disturbing that such an escalation has not been mentioned in the major U.S. news services.

The nature of training exercises that have recently been undertaken by the military is yet another indication that preparations for war are underway. In a recent editorial for the Ottawa Citizen, Greg Jaffe described a five-week urban warfare training camp undertaken by 980 U.S. Marines, which included 96 hours of mock combat in a city environment. Millennium 2002, a much larger exercise, has been described on the Web site of the California military base Fort Irwin. This exercise took place from July 24 through Aug. 9, involving close to 100,000 personnel from all services fighting a mock battle in the California desert. The urban fighting exercise will help soldiers prepare for a fight in a crowded city, such as Baghdad. The Fort Irwin exercise, as Michael Ruppert points out in the August edition of his newsletter, From The Wilderness, was more similar to an attack on Iraq than one would think. One of the maps used and displayed on Fort Irwin's Web site was that of Az Zubayr prison in Iraq. Ruppert also notes that, "The geographic location of the support bases from which airstrikes and resupply missions were flown in California, Arizona, Nevada and elsewhere correspond roughly in geographic distance to the actual positioning of military installations throughout the Middle East that would be used to support a U.S. invasion of Iraq." The preparations the military is making for a possible attack indicate that a war is more likely than administrators will let on.

While Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld pretend to not know whether a war will happen, anyone tired of listening to them can find more than enough information in the independent and international media to suggest that the war will start any day now - as soon as Bush decides to declare it. The sentiments of the international press are best summed up by a graphic that appeared on the front page of the Aug. 26 online edition of Al-Jazeera: over the background of an American flag stained with blood, Saddam Hussein and George Bush are shown on each of the bottom quarters of the graphic, with a row of flames below Saddam. Figuring prominently in the middle of the graphic is a U.S. warplane dropping a load of bombs.

Read the rest at the Daily Texan

August 28, 2003:

Commander: No Need for More U.S. Troops in Iraq

The commander of U.S. forces in Iraq said Thursday there was no need for more U.S. troops in the country and blamed continuing violence on insufficient intelligence and the lack of cooperation from the Iraqi people...

Regarding the continuing violence, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez said the country needs an Iraqi civil defense force and more Iraqi police to "establish linkages to the Iraqi people ... to get the information that we need."

"Putting more soldiers on the ground is not going to solve the problem if I don't have the intelligence to act on," Sanchez said at a news conference.

Sanchez said casualty figures since the end of major fighting in Iraq — declared by President Bush on May 1 — were "about what we would expect to get in this kind of conflict." Since May 1, 143 U.S. soldiers have died — five more than during the war itself.

Sanchez acknowledged the U.S. forces had foreign fighters in custody, but refused to give any details about where they had come from or how they were captured.

Earlier this summer, Sanchez announced plans to train about 7,000 Iraqis to serve in a civil defense force to guard important facilities in the country and to patrol with U.S. soldiers. He said 185 civil defense trainees were ready to graduate and begin serving.

Sanchez said he also would welcome an international forces to bring about peace and help rebuild Iraq.

Read the rest at Fox News

U.S. can't sell resolution on Iraq

U.S. diplomats said Thursday that they are making little or no progress in their push for a United Nations resolution that would persuade reluctant allies to commit new peacekeeping troops to Iraq.

The diplomats have floated various ideas to jump-start the moribund talks at the United Nations, including the possibility of turning over Iraq peacekeeping duties to a multinational force that would be headed by a U.S. general.

But the countries that can provide the tens of thousands of troops the Bush administration is seeking continue to demand a shift in U.S. policy that would give the United Nations wide authority over political, military and humanitarian issues in Iraq. There is no sign the Bush administration would agree to that, and negotiations appear to be stalemated.

"It's not dead yet," said a U.S. official involved in the talks. "But everyone knows we're going to have to give something up, and there has not been a decision at the White House to do that"...

Behind the scenes, the administration seems increasingly frantic to find an infusion of international troops and financial contributions for Iraq. But the United States faces the difficult task of soliciting many of the same countries that opposed the war. Countries targeted for potential troop deployments include Germany, France, Russia, Turkey and India. U.S. and British officials hope to make enough headway that the text of a resolution could be ready by mid-September, when the U.N. General Assembly opens its annual session.

Read the rest at USA Today

White House May Seek More Money For Iraq

The Bush administration may ask Congress next month for a few billion more dollars for Iraq reconstruction officials said Wednesday, only a few weeks after the Pentagon said extra money would not be needed at least until the new budget year begins in October.

The possible early infusion of fresh cash is an indication of the urgency felt by L. Paul Bremer, the civilian administrator of Iraq, and others in the administration to make faster progress in Iraq.

The administration has been saying for weeks that it expects to request billions in emergency funding for Iraq during the 2004 budget year, but until now it had insisted enough money was available through September to pay for civic projects like repairing utilities and schools.

In fact, as recently as Aug. 4 the Pentagon had estimated that $4 billion of the $62.6 billion in emergency funding it received in April would be left over when the budget year ends Sept. 30.

The United States is spending about $3.9 billion a month on military operations in Iraq, and that does not count funds used by Bremer's Coalition Provisional Authority to rebuild the wartorn country.

Read the rest at Fox News

August 28, 2004:

Bush admits mistake over Iraq

President Bush yesterday conceded for the first time that he had "miscalculated" the post-war situation in Iraq, but insisted US strategy was flexible enough to deal with the insurgency.

The admission, in an interview with the New York Times, made news because the president is not given to revisiting his decisions. Asked in April if he had made mistakes in office, he was unable to think of any.

However, a report on the Abu Ghraib torture scandal, released this week, put some of the blame for the "chaos" at the Iraqi prison on the administration's failure to prepare adequately for an insurgency. The report, by James Schlesinger, a conservative Republican and former secretary of defence, said the Pentagon's war plans had assumed a "benign" postwar environment.

In his interview, Mr Bush said he had made a "miscalculation of what the conditions would be" in postwar Iraq. But he said that was the result of the "swift victory" against the Iraqi army, which collapsed so fast that it was able to melt away and stage a guerrilla insurgency.

Read the rest at the Guardian

Proposal to replace US troops in Iraq with Muslims stalls

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA (AP) A proposal to replace US forces in Iraq with soldiers from Muslim countries has stalled because of problems over the continued presence of American troops and obtaining a UN mandate, a top official said yesterday.

Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar of Malaysia, whose country holds the chairmanship of the 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference, told reporters that Muslim countries have not been agreeable to serving under the US-led coalition's command.

Syed Hamid's remarks, made at the official dedication of a US-supported Southeast Asian anti-terrorism center, were the most recent sign that a Saudi proposal that Muslim troops could take up positions in Iraq as coalition forces withdraw has not gained traction.

Syed Hamid said there was "nothing on the agenda" of the UN Security Council to mandate a peacekeeping force from Muslim nations under a UN command -- the only banner that would be politically acceptable.

"I don't think the US is interested in leaving," Syed Hamid said. "It is difficult if the US doesn't agree and it is not on the agenda of the Security Council."

Under the Saudi plan, the primary role of Muslim forces would be to protect UN officials, but they could be used to help guard the borders against armed infiltrators.

Syed Hamid refused to say if the proposal has been scrapped, but admitted that "it has not taken off the ground." Discussions were ongoing among Islamic countries, he said.

"If we are going to participate, my own view is that the idea of a replacement [force] may not be possible or practical," he said.

"If we want to participate, we may have to participate under the banner of the multinational force," he said.

The Bush administration is eager to enlist Muslim countries to relieve the burden on American troops, and provide an element of Muslim approval to the fight against insurgents in Iraq. But administration officials have noted that Muslim countries are resisting the plan.

Saudi officials had mentioned Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, Malaysia, Algeria, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Morocco and Yemen as countries that might join its proposed Muslim force to help stabilize Iraq. But none has really stepped forward.

Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had said the presence of the US-led coalition "is fueling hatred and opposition from many factions in Iraq, and hence the continuing acts of violence."

There are some 138,000 US troops in Iraq and more than 900 Americans have been killed since military operations began in March last year.

Read the rest at the Taipei Times

August 28, 2005:

Iraq takes yet another step closer to civil war

Saddam Hussein intended Baghdad's convention centre to be a showcase. A phalanx of pillars in the foyer, an expanse of marble, two staircases sweeping up to a vast hall, the building was a statement: this is Iraq.

The carpets are tattered now, the windows grubby and the toilets do not flush, but that did not stop the convention centre last week doing exactly what it was supposed to do. It exhibited a nation.

For months, Iraq's leaders have come here to draft a new constitution, secular politicians in suits, tribal elders in robes, clerics in cloaks, some women in abayas, others in trousers, gathered under one roof for one momentous task.

The 15 August deadline was extended once, twice, three times as details were hammered out, until yesterday, finally, under the gaze of American and British officials and the world's media, a historic compromise between the main ethnic and sectarian groups was declared.

'The negotiation is finished and we have a deal,' said the Deputy Prime Minister, Ahmed Chalabi, one of the key movers behind the scenes. 'Everybody made sacrifices. It is an excellent document.' State television showed people rejoicing in the Shia holy city of Najaf.

There was just one problem. The Sunnis, the restive minority everybody agreed had to be included to make the constitution a success, were queuing up to denounce the document as a betrayal that would fan the insurgency.

The main objection on the Sunni side was to federalism, which they said would break up the state and sandwich Sunnis in the centre, where there is no oil, between an autonomous Kurdistan in the north and a Shia region in the south. The Sunnis - many of them former ruling Baath party members - also wanted to block attempts to purge from government those who had served the old regime.

The Kurds and Shias reportedly offered to delay autonomy for the south and to dilute de-Baathification, but the concessions were not enough.

'What they have proposed will only create division and disturbance. People should reject this constitution,' said Salah al-Mutlik, a Sunni on the constitution committee. Abdul Nasser Janabi, another member of the drafting committee, said he wanted the draft postponed: 'There are many disputes that we cannot agree on.'

What was on display at the convention centre was confusion, anger and division - an accurate reflection of Iraq's political process. Some leaders of the ruling Shia and Kurdish coalition insisted that consensus had been reached, as if saying it would make it true. Asked to name a Sunni who was on board, an aide to Chalabi suggested Hachem al-Hassani, the Speaker of parliament. But Hassani told reporters: 'No, no. I never said I am in agreement or disagreement.'

Unless talks resume and produce a last-minute breakthrough, the stage is set for a bitter referendum battle, pitting the majority Shias and Kurds against the Sunnis, which could edge the country closer to civil war.

Sunnis, thought to be a majority in four of Iraq's 18 provinces, can torpedo the 15 October referendum if they muster a two-thirds majority in three provinces. As a result, they are racing to register voters.

But Washington hoped to avoid this scenario, because it fears the outcome will derail the political process and exacerbate violence. The stakes are huge - for a country that has already suffered tens of thousands of deaths since the US-led invasion toppled Saddam, and that now faces the prospect of a civil war that could claim the lives of hundreds of thousands more; and for the governments in Washington and London, who desperately need a political success in Baghdad to allow them to withdraw their troops before their voters revolt.

The smiling faces and purple fingers of January, when millions voted in the first democratic elections in decades, seems far away. The new constitution was supposed to unite the country and pave the way for elections in December that would draw the Sunnis into mainstream politics.

Instead, the document has become a lightning rod for Sunni resentment. Having boycotted the polls in January, there were so few Sunnis in parliament that representatives were appointed to the constitution committee.

And so for weeks the key negotiators have met in a room known as the mudbakh (kitchen) to try to hammer out an accord, leaving members of parliament to speculate over lunches of noodles and soft drinks, as one negotiator would emerge to brief the media, only to be flatly contradicted by his successor.

As last week wore on, however, it was clear that the Sunnis were growing angrier, claiming they had been sidelined while Kurds and Shias cooked up a deal that would be presented as a fait accompli. Exasperated by yet another rumour about consensus, one Sunni, Hussein al-Falluji, said it was quite simple: 'They hate us and we hate them.'

It was a joke - of sorts. But outside the convention centre, no one was laughing. Thousands of Sunnis marched in the northern cities of Kirkuk and Baquba, chanting 'No to federalism.' Some held aloft pictures of Saddam.

But for many Iraqis, the constitution remained an abstraction. Radio call-in shows seethed with complaints about lack of electricity, clean water and security. And it has been far from an abstraction in Washington's corridors of power.

Beneath the gaunt white marble of the Lincoln Memorial, Ammar Hakim cut a dramatic figure on his visit two weeks ago to DC. With his black turban and flowing religious robes, the Islamic cleric from Najaf drew stares wherever he went in America's capital. But this was no tourist visit. Ammar toured the Pentagon, meeting officials from the Defence Department, State Department and the National Security Council.

It was a trip that took in the main power centres of America. And what it showed is just how far the crisis in Iraq has penetrated the heart of American politics. Ammar is important because his father, Abdul Aziz Hakim, leads the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the main Shia party in the new Iraqi government.

It was the elder Hakim whom Bush telephoned last week in the middle of the negotiations: it was a startling example of just how seriously the White House takes the crisis in Iraq.

In a conversation on Wednesday night, Bush spoke at length to Hakim from Nampa, Idaho, where he had just delivered a fierce defence of the Iraq war. The call was prompted by news that Shia leaders were poised to end negotiations and put the document to a referendum, in the face of Sunni opposition. Bush held that such a move would be a disaster, isolating even further the Sunni communities who are at the heart of the anti-American insurgency.

In the final analysis, however, it appears it was not the Shias, as Bush feared, but the Sunnis who have torpedoed consensus on the constitution, first forcing a number of concessions from the Shias, then deciding to walk out on the whole process.

'The Sunnis made the tactical decision to negotiate for as much as they could get out of the document and then walk out to protect their own positions within their community,' said one diplomat. 'It is a dangerous tactic. It will take a lot of patching up.'

His comments reflect the sense of crisis that has been growing in both Washington and London of late...

It was in the knowledge, too, that, while Bush could pick up the phone to try to cajole or mollify Hakim as a representative of Shia desires, on the Sunni side, despite more than two years of effort, there is no one of a similar stature and influence to call.

That pessimism has been reflected in the new and chilling conversation that has repeatedly taken place among government and intelligence officials in the past few weeks on both sides of the Atlantic - how do you know when you are on the brink of civil war? And which, out of the available models, Iraq might follow if it follows down that path?

Read the rest at the Guardian

August 28, 2006:

Baghdad Museum director gives up

The director of the Baghdad Museum has resigned and moved to Syria because he felt under threat from fundamentalists with ties to the Shiite- led government, a Western diplomat said Sunday.

The director is known as a prominent advocate for the preservation of antiquities in Iraq. A spokesman for the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, in charge of the museum, confirmed that the director, Donny George, resigned earlier this month and left Iraq a few days ago.

"We think he left Iraq to eventually try to go to the United States or a European country," said the spokesman, Abdul Zahra al-Talaqani.

The Western diplomat, who has some expertise in antiquities, said during a telephone interview on Sunday evening that George had recently told people close to him that he felt threatened. George was a mid-level official in the Baath Party under Saddam Hussein's government and may be the victim of a revenge campaign by conservative Shiites, said the diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the comments could further endangerGeorge.

Since the fall of Saddam in 2003, hard-line Shiite politicians have pushed for a purging of Baath Party officials from the government, even though many Iraqis joined the party out of social pressure or to advance their careers and not out of ideological motivation. Many Shiites and Kurds feel great hostility toward the Baath Party, whose top officials, including Saddam, were from the Sunni Arab minority.

The Western diplomat said George is dedicated to saving antiquities. "I think any institution would revere somebody with his skills and abilities," the diplomat said.

The flight of George was first reported by The Art Newspaper, a trade publication based in London. George told the newspaper that he had fled Iraq because the current government had appointed fundamentalist Shiites to oversee the ministry's antiquities board and no longer had money for the preservation of antiquities.

George, a Christian, spoke to The Art Newspaper from Damascus, the Syrian capital. The interview was posted on the Internet on Saturday.

George said his position had become untenable over the past year because the new officials in charge of antiquities preservation are followers of Moktada al-Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric who led two uprisings against the Americans in 2004.Sadr holds at least 30 seats in the Parliament and is one of the most powerful political forces in Iraq. He also commands the Mahdi Army, a formidable militia.

"I can no longer work with these people who have come in with the new ministry,"George said. "They have no knowledge of archaeology, no knowledge of antiquities, nothing."

George added that the new appointees were focused exclusively on preserving art from the country's Islamic history and not from earlier periods. Long before Islam arrived here, modern Iraq was the site of several flourishing civilizations, beginning with the ancient societies of Mesopotamia in the Tigris and Euphrates River basins.

George said in the interview that he had come under increasing pressure from ministry officials to sever his contacts with international experts on antiquities. In addition, he said, the work of preserving ancient sites and relics had come to a stop over the past two years. Though there exists on paper a government force of 1,400 guards assigned to protect various sites, the government will run out of money in September to continue paying the guards, he said.

"The coalition has to do something about this," he said, referring to the American-led forces.

Talaqani, the ministry spokesman, saidGeorge's statements were wrong. He accusedGeorge of trying to make himself look besieged in order to apply for asylum in the United States or Europe. "He's using this story so some immigration officials will believe the Iraqi government is pressuring him,"Talaqani said.

The new director of the museum is a woman named Amira Eidan, he said.

The halls of the Baghdad Museum are sealed with concrete and its treasures are not open to the public. The hauling- off of many of its relics in 2003, during the mass looting that swept Baghdad in the wake of the American invasion, became a potent symbol of the lack of foresight with which the Bush administration had planned for the consequences of the war. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld gave a simple answer when asked about all the looting: "Stuff happens."

In the years since, as Baghdad degenerated into a morass of sectarian violence, George periodically sealed off much of the museum with concrete. If he felt the situation was improving, he would order the concrete walls taken down. But when violence flared, he would ask for the walls to be put back up.

By this summer, the seesawing had taken place about a half-dozen times. A New York Times reporter who toured the museum last month saw that walls had been put up to block off many of the halls. An official there, Mohsen Hassan, said the erection of this latest round of walls had occurred months earlier because of a mass abduction near the museum.

Read the rest at the International Herald Tribune