Sunday, September 02, 2007

Perspective: On this day in Iraq -- September 2nd edition

September 2, 2006: An Iraqi army soldier from the Military Police, 7th Iraqi Army Division practices formation movements during a U.S.-run patrol and breach training exercise in Ramadi.

September 2, 2002:

Bush against the world

From Turkey to Egypt and Pakistan to Saudi Arabia, no countries in the Islamic world are paragons of internal democracy. They limit debate and punish dissent. Yet George Bush's crusade against Iraq has produced a disturbing paradox. The Islamic world understands that, at least in foreign affairs, politics is about speaking your mind in public. Words uttered in the open can be a powerful ingredient in the mix of pressures that decision-makers have to weigh. By contrast, it is in Europe, with its democratic traditions, that this truism is being discarded.

Gerhard Schröder is the only leader who has publicly denounced US plans for an attack on Iraq. Others hide their doubts and speak opaquely. The Islamic world's near-unanimity in warning against such an attack is the more remarkable in that many of the loudest opponents are major recipients of American aid or loans from the International Monetary Fund (which often amount to the same thing). When allies defy Washington, regardless of indebtedness, their boldness is impressive. The presidents of Pakistan and Egypt made their opposition clear last week. Turkey has also told the United States it is unhappy about Mr Bush's war plans. Rich Gulf states, such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia, have said the same. Kuwait and Iran, the two countries with most reason to fear Saddam Hussein since they have been invaded by him in the past, are also opposed.

The contrast with 1991, when George Bush senior put together a military coalition against Iraq, is striking. At that time, the US war aim of reversing Iraq's invasion of Kuwait was clear. It was aimed at defending a state's national sovereignty. Arab states were not enthusiastic about an outside non-Arab power using force in their region and there were doubts as to how far the US had gone in trying to find a negotiated solution before embarking on the path of war. But there was a firm Arab consensus on the need to reverse the Iraqi invasion. This time Mr Bush junior's aim of "regime change" in Iraq stands the national sovereignty issue on its head, and creates a precedent for further interventions by the United States against other governments around the world. Mr Bush junior also differs from his father on his approach to Israel. While George Bush senior took a firm line with Israel, pressing it to join the Madrid conference for regional peace in the Middle East, the current president is limp. Lampooned in cartoons in which he warns the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, "Withdraw, or I will do nothing", Mr Bush has adopted a more one-sided position on Israel and the Palestinians than any US president before him.

Why should Islamic leaders help a man whose priorities in the Middle East are so far from their concerns? Colin Powell said yesterday that US policy was that weapons inspectors should return and that the world has to be presented with the information necessary for a serious debate. Donald Rumsfeld, by contrast, says that the United States will go to war against Iraq alone, if necessary. Other countries, he adds, will see sense after the event. This is as arrogant as it is misguided. Few leaders, Arabs included, have any liking for Saddam Hussein. If he died tomorrow, the region would not mourn. That does not mean they welcome foreign military intervention to remove him. Ignoring their objections risks turning George Bush's war into a dangerous "clash of civilisations". Which is yet another reason why European governments that have doubts about Mr Bush's policy should join their Islamic colleagues in unfettered public dissent.

Read the rest at the Guardian

September 2, 2003:

Officials: No Iraq price tag for now

Despite increasing demands from Congress for details of the costs of postwar Iraq, the Bush administration is likely to wait two months before submitting its first rebuilding estimate, administration officials say.

Internal estimates for rebuilding Iraq put the price for the coming fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, between $40 billion and $60 billion, according to two administration officials. That would be in addition to the cost of keeping U.S. military forces there — currently about $3.9 billion a month.

Officials stress that only broad estimates are available, and their funding request won't be complete because of uncertainty about Iraq's future needs. Much of the money would go toward repairs to the electrical grid, water supply and oil-production facilities.

Read the rest at USA Today

Iraq's security net risks dredging up a harvest of hatred

Iraqi sheep farmer Thani Mushlah was asleep on his roof when the American soldiers arrived before dawn.

"They banged open my door, came for me and made me lie face down on the floor in front of my wife and children," he said.

Two hours later, as the heat rose with the morning sun, Mr Mushlah, 33, was sitting handcuffed on the desert floor inside a ring of barbed wire used as a temporary prison during the US military raid on the village of Hamreen.

"The Americans said they came to free us, so why do they humiliate and insult us?" Mr Mushlah muttered to a reporter out of hearing of his guards.

The scene, commonplace since the US-led invasion of Iraq, illustrated the dilemma the occupiers face: how to stop alienating the population they said they came to liberate while flushing out guerillas who attack US forces daily.

On the evidence at Hamreen, a dusty collection of mud-brick houses in rural Iraq north of Baghdad, it is a near-impossible conundrum.

The youngest of 30 or so detainees inside the circle of barbed wire was a boy, 15, released after some hasty consultations. The eldest was a grandfather with a walking stick who could only shuffle a little at a time.

About half of the men were blindfolded, adding to their discomfort as they sat under the sun for several hours.

Grandfather Muawer Mehisin Ali, who gave his age as anywhere between 80 and 100, was philosophical but clearly upset.

"I am an old man. What can I do? I have never hurt anyone," he said, before adding: "I am thirsty. I need water."

Major Eric Schwegler, in charge of the operation for the 4th Infantry Division's 4th Battalion, 42nd Regiment, was unapologetic, saying the Iraqis understood such tough tactics were needed to find "the bad guys".

"What we are doing here may seem harsh," he said. "But we explain to them that to catch a single fish you have to cast a big net. They understand if they have nothing to hide, we will release them."

Other units will return in later days, he said, to make restitution for any damage done to property and to talk over what had happened with the locals.

The raid in Hamreen had a typical objective for Iraq's occupiers - to find five men suspected of planning attacks and having close ties to toppled dictator Saddam Hussein's fedayeen fighters or Baath Party.

Sixty-eight military vehicles swarmed in under cover of darkness, turning off lights for the final stretch to maximise surprise for Operation Arrow Sky. Joined at the critical moment by two Apache helicopters, the Americans blocked off roads to the village while teams broke into half a dozen houses.

One Iraqi tossed away a bag and ran off into the desert before an Apache hovering overhead convinced him to stop. The bag was full of weapons.

"Everybody thinks we're looking for the shooter, the guy who pulls the trigger," said Major Schwegler.

His regiment is still upset at their first fatal casualty two weeks ago when a soldier drove over an explosive device.

He was one of 65 US and 11 British soldiers killed by hostile fire since the Iraq war's main hostilities were declared over on May 1. Washington blames the attacks on former Saddam loyalists and newly arrived foreign Islamic militants.

Read the rest at the Age

September 2, 2004:

Administration miscalculated rebel strength, Powell says

Secretary of State Colin Powell acknowledged Thursday that the Bush administration miscalculated the strength of insurgents in Iraq but said the United States would "not become faint of heart" in enforcing its Iraq policy.

"What we have to do is to defeat this insurgency," Powell said in an interview Wednesday in Panama to Panama's TVN Channel 2. A text was released Thursday by the State Department. "Let's remember what is causing this trouble. It's not the United States. It's not the coalition forces that are there."

Read the rest at USA Today

US standing with Arabs hits a low

Ahmed Ibrahim has always dreamed about living in the United States. He thinks America provides a good model for Egypt. "I'd like us to have that kind of freedom, my sons to have that kind of freedom,'' he says. Yet, over the past year, he's come to see the US as an enemy of democracy in his region, a country that plays by a different set of rules at home than it does abroad.

"Now that I look back, we can see that the plan to control us has been there all along. I just didn't recognize it before,'' says Mr. Ibrahim, a prosperous businessman in his mid-30s. "The US supported the Shah of Iran, then dropped him. The same thing with Saddam. Now they say they're bringing democracy to Iraq, but it's just getting worse and worse. They're just shuffling the Arabs around like pieces on a gameboard."

He isn't alone. A June poll by Zogby International in six Arab countries showed that America's already-limited esteem in the Arab world has plummeted since the invasion of Iraq. Just two years ago, Zogby found that 76 percent of Egyptians had an unfavorable impression of the US. Today, that number is 98 percent.

Though lowest in Egypt, there are similar declines throughout the region, which analysts say will cut deeply into America's ability to pursue it's objectives here. Even though governments in the region aren't generally democratic, they still have to take into account popular opinion when forming their policies towards the US. The source of most frustration appears to be US policy towards Palestinians and the invasion of Iraq.

The declines extend beyond the Arab world's largest country to other key US allies. In Jordan, another major recipient of US aid, America's unfavorable rating jumped from 61 percent to 78 percent and in Saudi Arabia it rose from 87 percent to 94 percent.

"They say 'democracy,' but they support dictators,'' says Mohammed, a 26-year-old designer in Jordan who asked that his full name not be used. "Look at what's happening in Najaf. The US was killing Shia - the people America said it was there to liberate."

Read the rest at the Christian Science Monitor

September 2, 2005:

The growing Sunni-Shi'a divide

As the debilitating security situation in Iraq threatens to widen the Sunni-Shi'ite rift, leaders on both sides are trying to allay fears of a sectarian war -- a tall order in an atmosphere charged with accusations, power struggles, and growing animosity.

Part of the problem stems from the Iraqi transitional government's failure to completely disprove allegations that government forces are behind a recent surge of attacks on Sunnis -- particularly in Baghdad, but also in areas north, south, and west of the capital. Sunni leaders opposed to the government use the attacks to fuel the notion that the government is supporting a campaign led by former Shi'ite militiamen from the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq's (SCIRI) Badr Corps -- many of whom now work for the Interior Ministry's commando Wolf Brigade -- and other sanctioned security forces.

The Shi'a are also regularly targeted in Iraq by Ba'athists and Sunni Islamists working under Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi's Tanzim Qa'idat Al-Jihad fi Bilad Al-Rafidayn, as well as the Ansar Al-Sunnah Army, and scores of other armed groups sympathetic to the Sunni insurgent movement. Al-Zarqawi's group claims attacks daily against Badr Forces and officials on Internet websites.

The situation is compounded because attacks against both sects are often carried out by men in uniform, leaving the victims to question whether the attackers are government forces or insurgents in disguise. There are dozens of documented incidents over the past two years in which insurgents disguised as police or security forces attacked civilians at makeshift checkpoints, in home raids, car bombings, and in suicide attacks inside government-controlled buildings.

Iraqi leaders have said that insurgents and foreign elements are killing both Sunnis and Shi'a in an effort to stifle political development and spark a civil war.

For Sunni Islamist insurgents, the struggle is for an Islamic state based on Salafist ideology. Al-Zarqawi and his sympathizers view the Shi'a as "takfir" (declaring someone a nonbeliever; from "kafir" -- infidel). Sunni Islamist insurgents also refer to the Shi'a as "alqami" -- a reference to Mu'ayyad al-Din Muhammad Ibn al-Alqami, a Shi'ite minister in the last Abbasid caliphate, who purportedly assisted the Mongols in conquering Baghdad in 1258.

The motivation for Ba'athists and other secular Sunni insurgents is to wreak havoc, destabilize the Shi'ite-led government, and stifle the political process while driving the multinational forces from Iraq, thereby creating the opportunity for a Ba'athist return to power.

Outside agitators Syria and Iran are motivated by a desire to keep Iraq weak, thwarting what they see as the "American project" in Iraq; and preventing the Shi'a from gaining any real power. Syria would also prefer to see a Sunni-led state. For Iran, the goal is to keep the Shi'a dependent on Iran and to maintain the dominance of the Shi'a clergy from Qom -- which gained prominence during the Saddam Hussein era when the Shi'a were oppressed -- rather than in Al-Najaf, the historical seat of Shi'a Islam.

There is little doubt that some Shi'ite and Sunni Iraqis are also engaged in infighting, retaliatory attacks, and power struggles. And both sides have elements that are linked to insurgents and outside agitators. The extent of infighting among Iraq's Muslim communities is therefore difficult to gauge.

Tensions between Sunnis and Shi'ites have escalated in recent weeks. Sunni leaders -- including Iraqi National Dialogue Council Secretary-General Khalaf al-Ulayyan, blamed Shi'ite members of the Interior Ministry's security forces on 30 August for the arrest of more than 70 Sunnis who were later found dead -- bound by hands and feet and shot execution style.

The claim was supported by Justice Minister Abd al-Husayn Shandal, who accused "local and foreign groups" of carrying out massacres against the Sunnis in Iraq, "Al-Hayat" reported on 31 August. Shandal cited the existence of detention camps that are outside the control of the ministry as one of the reasons for human-rights violations against the Sunnis. Sunni parliament deputy Mish'an al-Juburi told "Al-Hayat," "An official figure from the [Shi'ite] 'Alliance' list heads a special assassination department and we know him very well. He supervises the kidnapping and execution of the Sunnis."

A former leader of the Shi'ite Badr forces, Abu Akbar al-Sa'idi, denied that Badr has had any role in the kidnappings and assassinations of Sunnis, and pointed out that "hundreds" of Badr members identity cards were taken in attacks on Badr offices, suggesting that they may have been used by the real perpetrators of the attacks on Sunnis. He added that Ba'athists, supporters of Al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi and extremists on both sides, are trying to provoke Muslim infighting.

Meanwhile, Shi'ite leaders were quick to claim that the 31 August stampede on a bridge leading to Al-Kadhimiyah that left more than 800 Shi'a dead was the result of a terrorist attack on the procession of worshippers. Seven people were killed about two hours before the stampede in a mortar attack on the crowd that was later claimed by the Victorious Sect Army. The stampede, they say, came after rumors spread that there was a suicide bomber among the thousands of worshippers.

A number of people familiar with the bridge said that concrete blocks were recently placed on the bridge to control traffic, which added to the tragedy.

A spokesman for Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr told Al-Jazeera television that al-Sadr's Office held the Iraqi and U.S. governments responsible for the tragedy. "We and our Sunni brothers lived for centuries in harmony and such things never happened until the occupation forces entered Iraq in such a barbaric, savage way and started trying to fragment unity between the Sunnis and the Shi'ites, and between the Shi'ites themselves in a sick attempt to divide and fragment Iraq," claimed Abbas al-Rubay'i.

Meanwhile, Sunni leaders extended their condolences. Sunni Imam Mu'ayyad al-A'zami told Al-Jazeera that the incident was an "act of fate" and the result of overcrowding, adding: "There were no terrorist attacks or any collapses in the bridge." A number of Sunni leaders called on their followers to assist the Shi'a in whatever way, including through the donation of blood.

Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari appealed for calm, and declared three days of mourning for the victims. He also reiterated calls for national unity.

Iraqi National Security Adviser Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i was able to find one unifying action during the tragedy. He told Reuters: "My heart goes to those who have reacted in a patriotic way, not in a sectarian way, and also the next-door neighborhood, which is a Sunni neighborhood -- al-Kadhamiyah -- their inhabitants came out to help visitors, who are mainly, or exclusively, Shi'ite visitors, and this shows the unity of these people."

Read the rest at RFE

September 2, 2006:

President's Radio Address

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. This week, I spoke to the American Legion in Salt Lake City. I thanked the military veterans for their lifetime of service to our country. And I gave them an update on the war that America is now fighting in defense of freedom in our time.

We're approaching the fifth anniversary of the September the 11th attacks -- and since that day, we have taken the fight to the enemy. Yet this war is more than a military conflict; it is the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century. On one side are those who believe in freedom and moderation -- the right of all people to speak, worship, and live in liberty. On the other side are those driven by tyranny and extremism -- the right of a self-appointed few to impose their fanatical views on all the rest. We did not ask for this war, but we're answering history's call with confidence -- and we will prevail.

We are using every element of national power to defeat the terrorists. First, we're staying on the offense against the terrorists, fighting them overseas so we do not have to face them here at home. Second, we made it clear to all nations, if you harbor terrorists, you're as guilty as the terrorists, you're an enemy of the United States, and you will be held to account. And third, we have launched a bold new agenda to defeat the ideology of the enemy by supporting the forces of freedom and moderation in the Middle East and beyond.

A vital part of our strategy to defeat the terrorists is to help establish a democratic Iraq, which will be a beacon of liberty in the region and an ally in the global war on terror. The terrorists understand the threat a democratic Iraq poses to their cause, so they've been fighting a bloody campaign of sectarian violence, which they hope will plunge that country into a civil war. Our commanders and diplomats on the ground believe that Iraq has not descended into a civil war. They report that only a small number of Iraqis are engaged in sectarian violence, while the overwhelming majority want peace and a normal life in a unified country. America will stand with the Iraqi people as they protect their new freedom -- and build a democracy that can govern itself, sustain itself, and defend itself.

Working side-by-side with Iraqi forces, we recently launched a major new campaign to end the security crisis in Baghdad. This operation is still in its early stages, yet the initial results are encouraging. The people of Baghdad are seeing their security forces in the streets, dealing a blow to criminals and terrorists. According to one military report, a Sunni man in a diverse Baghdad neighborhood said this about the Shia soldiers on patrol: "Their image has changed. Now you feel they are there to protect you." Over the coming weeks and months, the operation will expand throughout Baghdad -- until Iraq's democratic government is in full control of the capital. This work is difficult and dangerous, but Iraqi forces are determined to succeed -- and America is determined to help them.

Here at home, some politicians say that our best option is to pull out of Iraq, regardless of the situation on the ground. Many of these people are sincere and patriotic -- but they could not be more wrong. If America were to pull out before Iraq can defend itself, the consequences would be disastrous. We would be handing Iraq over to the terrorists, giving them a base of operations and huge oil riches to fund their ambitions. And we know exactly where those ambitions lead. If we give up the fight in the streets of Baghdad, we will face the terrorists in the streets of our own cities. The security of the civilized world depends on victory in the war on terror, and that depends on victory in Iraq, so America will not leave until victory is achieved.

For all the debate, American policy in the Middle East comes down to a straightforward choice: We can allow the Middle East to continue on the course that led to September the 11th -- and a generation from now, our children will face a region dominated by terrorist states and radical dictators armed with nuclear weapons. Or we can stop that from happening, by rallying the world to confront the ideology of hate, by supporting the forces of liberty and moderation in the region, and by helping give the people of the Middle East a future of hope. And that is the choice America has made.

The path to victory will be uphill and uneven, and it will require more patience and sacrifice from our Nation. Yet we can be confident of the outcome, because America will not waver -- and because the direction of history leads toward freedom.

Thank you for listening.