Saturday, September 01, 2007

Perspective: On this day in Iraq -- September 1st edition

September 1, 2006: Soldiers from the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team patrol a street during an operation in the Adhamiyah district of Baghdad.

September 1, 2002:

Officers: Iraq Could Drain Terror War

As the Bush administration intensifies talk about toppling Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, military officials are confronting what some see as a looming problem: that by launching a war in the Persian Gulf, the administration will divert attention and resources from the military campaign against al Qaeda and terrorism.

Although Pentagon officials are proceeding to refine plans for a war against Iraq, military officers warn that a major campaign in the Middle East would place a serious drain on intelligence gathering and Special Forces units, two central components of the military's efforts to hunt down al Qaeda and Taliban members in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

How to balance these conflicting stresses on U.S. forces is among the key factors being assessed by war planners, and could contribute to the shape and timing of any military campaign against Iraq. At the moment, with Osama bin Laden, the al Qaeda leader, and his lieutenants still being sought along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan and elsewhere, some military officials worry that the administration may be shifting the focus to Iraq too soon.

"I'd prefer later than sooner," said a senior officer involved in the Pentagon's deliberations. "Can you imagine how it would look if we go to war against Iraq and there's another terrorist attack in the United States at the same time? People will wonder what we're doing."

Defense officials said that spy satellites, reconnaissance aircraft and other intelligence resources employed in Afghanistan would have to be concentrated even more heavily on the Gulf region if President Bush decides to attack Iraq. Additionally, Special Forces members who speak Arabic and Farsi or have other expertise in the region -- and in the past year have been used extensively in Afghanistan -- would likely be diverted to an Iraqi campaign.

Despite the increasingly forceful language of Vice President Cheney and other administration officials, military planners say that, barring a provocation by Iraq, no attack on Iraq is likely until January at the earliest. They note that the administration must complete military planning, move troops and equipment into place, negotiate basing and overflight agreements with regional allies, and consult with Congress before it could launch a war.

As they make the case for action against Iraq, advocates argue that taking on Hussein would not be a diversion from the war on terrorism but an essential complement to it. They cite what they say is Iraq's support of terrorist groups and the threat posed by Hussein's government as a source of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.

Read the rest at the Washington Post

September 1, 2003:

Why Iraq Needs More U.S. Troops

It was just a coincidence that a car bomb killed at least 95 people and a leading Shiite cleric in Najaf on the same morning that the New York Times headline read: "General in Iraq Says More G.I.'s Not Needed." But a few more such unfortunate juxtapositions will sooner or later force the Bush administration to do what it is now desperately trying to avoid doing: Send more American troops to Iraq.

One thing is certain: There are not sufficient forces in Iraq today to create the secure environment within which essential political and economic development can proceed. The Bush administration knows this better than anyone. That's why it has suddenly launched an all-out drive to get a new U.N. resolution, and is contemplating negotiations and compromises with the French that would have been unimaginable even a month ago. Whence comes this unprecedented bout of multilateralist spirit? It derives exclusively from the need to get more foreign forces on the ground in Iraq so that American forces now holding static positions can get to the vital task of hunting proliferating numbers of Iraqi and non-Iraqi terrorists and saboteurs. Or, to put it another way: To make up for the fact that we don't have enough troops.

The same desperation to get more boots on the ground is behind the administration's new, hurried effort to get more Iraqis involved in security operations. Loyal fans of Ahmed Chalabi may exult that Bush officials have finally seen the light. But the Iraqization program comes not from newfound confidence in Chalabi's or any other Iraqi's ability to govern but purely and simply from the need to make up for the shortfall in troops to guard pipelines and government offices and to patrol borders.

In theory, both prongs of the administration's strategy are sound. It would be good to get more international forces into Iraq. And getting the Iraqis themselves to take charge of their own country is the goal of the whole enterprise. But what are the odds these two efforts can bear fruit in time to keep the security situation in Iraq from deteriorating to the point of crisis?

The administration's U.N. gambit will take more than a month and could well fail. The French government has, to say the least, no great interest in helping the United States out of the mess. Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin has been writing poems in anticipation of the day when the Americans would come begging for help, and the price he and President Jacques Chirac want to exact in exchange will be exorbitant. Probably the French demands will be set deliberately so high as to preclude agreement. France's strategy within Europe is not to save America's bacon but to convince the European public that every leader who followed the United States into Iraq -- and especially Tony Blair -- should be thrown out on his ear.

The little secret, moreover, is that neither France nor any other of our leading NATO allies has more than a handful of troops to spare for Iraq. France and Germany are tapped out in missions in Africa, Afghanistan and the Balkans. The British and Spanish are tapped out in Iraq. Polish public opinion is already turning against the deployment in Iraq, and the mounting security problems in Iraq understandably discourage other countries from wanting to participate. The administration's search for a U.N. resolution isn't even aimed at getting European forces but at bringing in the larger forces available from Turkey, India and Pakistan. Never mind whether Turkish and Indian troops in Iraq are really the answer to all our problems in Iraq -- or would instead become part of the problem themselves. The fact is, we may never get them. The Turkish public remains hostile to any deployment. The Indian government is reluctant to take part without a U.N. resolution. And the French have little interest in passing a U.N. resolution solely to help the Americans get Turkish and Indian troops to relieve the American burden in Iraq.

The administration's hopes for getting a capable Iraqi force in place in a timely manner may be misplaced, too. Today there are about 37,000 Iraqi police officers spread around the country. The Bush administration plans to put 28,000 more on the streets -- but only over the next 18 months. Even assuming all goes according to plan, this gradual increase in Iraqi capabilities is not going to make a big difference before next spring.

The problem is, the next few months may be critical to the fate of Iraq and to the American mission there. Insecurity and instability in Iraq will make it difficult if not impossible to bring real improvements in the average Iraqi's standard of living. And as the administration well knows, Iraqis want and need to see progress right now, or more and more of them may turn to opposition, in both its passive and active, violent forms.

There are good reasons why the administration is not sending more troops to Iraq, of course. But they are not the reasons outlined by U.S. commanders. Those generals are saying we have enough troops in Iraq chiefly because they know full well they dare not ask for more. The price of putting another division or more of American troops into Iraq will be high. It means mobilizing more reserves and using more National Guard forces. It either means pushing the Army to the breaking point or making the very expensive but necessary decision to increase the overall size of the American military, and fast. Right now administration officials don't want to think the unthinkable. Unfortunately, they may be forced to in a month or two. And, unfortunately, by then it may be too late.

Read the rest at the Washington Post

September 1, 2004:

Nearly 7,000 US troops injured in Iraq, says Pentagon

The number of American troops wounded in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003 is approaching 7,000, according to figures published yesterday by the Pentagon. The death toll for U.S. military personnel is 975, plus three Defense Department civilians.
The wounded total has approximately doubled since mid-April, when casualties and deaths mounted rapidly as the insurgency intensified. The death toll over that period has grown by about 300.

The Pentagon, which generally updates its casualty count each week, said the number of wounded stands at 6,916, up 226 from a week earlier. In the two months since the United States handed over political sovereignty to an interim Iraq government, the wounded total has grown by about 1,500.

Read the rest at the Seattle Times

September 1, 2005:

Over 950 killed in Baghdad stampede

At least 965 Iraqis were crushed to death or drowned and another 465 wounded on Wednesday in a stampede on a Baghdad bridge as vast crowds of pilgrims were sent into panic by rumours of suicide bombers in their midst.

This toll does not include 25 other people who died by eating food poisoned “on purpose” and seven killed by mortar bombs before the stampede that sparked a sense of panic amongst the pilgrims, sources said.

In Iraq’s deadliest day since the US-led war of March 2003, hundreds of women, children and elderly people were trampled underfoot or jumped to their deaths from the bridge after a deadly mortar strike on a Shiite shrine.

Iraq authorities said the tragedy — which risks inflaming sectarian tensions in the country — was a “terrorist” act by toppled dictator Saddam Hussein’s loyalists and Al Qaeda frontman in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

A security official had earlier said 843 were killed and 388 injured in the crush of pilgrims who converged on the Kadhimiya mosque in northern Baghdad for a ceremony mourning the death of a revered Shia imam.

“We are expecting more drowned corpses to surface,” he said.

Most were trampled to death or fell from Al-Aaimmah bridge into the Tigris river as panic gripped thousands of pilgrims among the several million attempting to make their way to the mosque.

“The terrorist pointed a finger at another person saying that he was carrying explosives... and that led to the panic,” Interior Minister Bayan Baker Solagh told state-owned Iraqia television.

The stampede occurred after the Kadhimiya mosque — the burial place of Imam Musa Kazim who died 12 centuries ago — came under mortar fire, leaving at least seven dead and 37 wounded.

The incident could further stoke tensions between the country’s Shia majority and the ousted Sunni elite which has provided the backbone to the raging insurgency, only days after divisions were revived over the writing of the country’s post-Saddam constitution.

A carpet of shoes belonging to the victims littered the bridge where waist-high concrete barriers designed to foil car bombers were stained with the blood of victims who had been crushed against them.

“It was Saddamists and Zarqawists who spread rumours on the bridge and that is why people panicked,” national security advisor Muwaffaq al-Rubaie told the television.

Read the rest at the Dawn

September 1, 2006:

Pentagon: Cold-blooded carnage soaring in Iraq

Death squads and terrorists have ramped up attacks on civilians in Iraq, killing more than 1,600 people in cold-blooded "execution-style" slayings in July alone, a Pentagon report said Friday.

Increasing violence is affecting "all other measures of stability, reconstruction and transition," according to the report, which examined the situation in June, July and August.

But the report concluded the "current violence is not a civil war, and movement toward civil war can be prevented."

"Sectarian tensions increased over the past quarter manifested in an increasing number of execution-style killings, kidnappings and attacks on civilians," said the report which is required by Congress.

The number of executions reached a new high in July, the Pentagon said, blaming the killings on al Qaeda in Iraq and death squads who are accused of targeting members of various communities to increase sectarian tension.

"The Baghdad coroner's office reported 1,600 bodies arrived in June and more than 1,800 in July, 90 percent of which were assessed to be the result of executions."

The report said the quarter had seen a 51 percent increase in Iraqi casualties and a 15 percent increase in the number of attacks.

Read the rest at CNN

Copter crash and attacks kill 17 more U.S. troops in Iraq

A U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopter went down in northern Iraq, killing all 12 Americans believed to be aboard in the deadliest crash in nearly a year, while five U.S. Marines died in weekend attacks, the military said yesterday.

The latest deaths followed a bloody week in which about 200 Iraqis and a dozen U.S. troops were killed. Iraqi politicians, meanwhile, claimed headway in forming a stable coalition government since the Dec. 15 election, whose final results may be released this week.

U.S. military officials said the UH-60 Black Hawk crashed late Saturday about 10 kilometres east of Tal Afar, a city near the Syrian border that has seen heavy fighting with insurgents. "All [those killed] are believed to be U.S. citizens," military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Barry Johnson said. He did not say what caused the crash.

The Black Hawk was part of a two-helicopter team providing support for the 101st Airborne Division and was flying between bases when communications were lost, the military said. After a search, the helicopter was found about noon yesterday, the military said.

It was the deadliest helicopter crash in Iraq since a CH-53 Sea Stallion went down in bad weather in western Iraq on Jan. 26, 2005, killing 31 U.S. service members.

Three Marines were killed yesterday by small-arms attacks in Fallujah, 60 kilometres west of Baghdad, the military said. Two other Marines were killed Saturday by roadside bombs in separate incidents, the military said.

With the latest Marine deaths, at least 2,643 members of the U.S. military have died since the war started in 2003, according to an Associated Press count. That toll did not include those killed aboard the Black Hawk.

Read the rest at the Globe and Mail