Thursday, September 06, 2007

Perspective: On this day in Iraq -- September 6th edition

September 6, 2005: An Iraqi soldier keeps his face hidden during a cordon and search operation northwest of Baghdad.

September 6, 2002:

New Intelligence Exposes Iraq's Nuke Push

Intelligence on Iraq that the Bush administration will present to Congress includes information on how dangerously close Saddam Hussein has come to developing a nuclear weapon, Fox News has learned.

Sources told Fox News that there is also new information indicating that Iraq has developed new methods of chemical- and biological-weapon delivery, and also of contact between Baghdad and Al Qaeda before and after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

From Vienna, the head of the U.N. nuclear inspection team said Friday that satellite photographs shows unexplained recent construction at Iraqi nuclear sites.

French physicist Jacques Baute, of the International Atomic Energy Organization, said reviews of images taken since 1999 show "some buildings that have been reconstructed ... and some new buildings [that] have been erected," at sites his team had visited in the past.

Without identifying them, Baute described the sites as having potential "dual-use capabilities," meaning they could potentially be locations for both civilian and military nuclear programs.

Surrounded by security, Vice President Dick Cheney and CIA Director George Tenet arrived on Capitol Hill Thursday to brief the top two lawmakers from each party in the House and Senate.

Afterward, Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., spoke to Fox News and said: "It was an important briefing -- there was some new information included in it. ... Is there evidence that he is getting prepared to be able to use biological, chemical and nuclear weapons and be able to deliver them? Yes!"

Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert seemed dour as he left the meeting -- and he also confirmed to Fox News that new intelligence about Saddam's threat and pursuit of weapons of mass destruction had been provided.

Read the rest at Fox News

September 6, 2003:

Rival factions struggle to lead Shiites in Iraq

As believers filed in to Friday prayers, grieving over last week's assassination of Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, clerics huddled in this holy city wrestled with a potentially explosive succession battle that will decide who will lead Iraq's 15 million Shiites.

"A fierce competition is taking place," said Loulouwa al-Rachid, an analyst for the International Crisis Group, a public policy think tank based in Belgium, and an expert on the Shiite community.

The stakes -- for both Iraqis and the U.S.-led occupation authority -- are high.

"An uprising by Iraq's majority Shiites would be a catastrophe for the American occupation force," al-Rachid said. "It would destabilize Iraq."

The power struggle pits moderate middle-class followers and clerics aligned with the al-Hakim family against the poorer, younger and more militant followers of a young clerical student named Moqtada al-Sadr.

Al-Hakim, despite his close ties to the anti-American clerical leadership in Iran, had emerged as a voice of moderation and even allowed his political group, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, to participate in the U.S.-backed Governing Council, where his brother, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, serves. Al-Sadr, on the other hand, has repeatedly made strident calls for the American-led coalition forces to get out of Iraq.

On Friday, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim was expected to officiate at the weekly prayer service in Najaf, but he failed to appear, citing security concerns. His slain brother's deputy, Seyyed Sadreddin al-Kubbanji, stood in for him, but neither man is expected to assume leadership of Najaf's Imam Ali Mosque.

Abdel Aziz al-Hakim does not have the religious credentials to lead Friday prayers on a regular basis. He ran the Badr Brigade, the Supreme Council's 10, 000-man militia, before returning from exile.

The city of Najaf, where Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim and scores of others died in the Aug. 29 car bombing, "is rapidly becoming the Vatican of Shiism," said William Beeman, an anthropologist who heads the Middle East studies department at Brown University.

During the secular rule of Saddam Hussein, the theological center of Shiism shifted to religious cities in Iran. But with the Shiites' oppressor deposed, Najaf is reclaiming its historic place, Beeman said. "Anyone preaching at the Ali mosque is going to be listened to with special acuteness by the body of believers," he said.

Devout Shiites must choose a cleric as a marja, or person to emulate. They follow their marja's orders on everything from personal hygiene to declarations of violent struggle.

The two factions vying for the leadership post made vacant by Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim's assassination have been rivals for decades, and both suffered greatly under Hussein's rule. The al-Hakims say they lost more than 50 relatives in their struggle against the former dictator, while al-Sadr's father, a famous ayatollah, and two brothers were killed by Hussein's henchmen.

Both groups also claim to speak for the majority of the Iraqi people. Shiites make up about 60 percent of the nation of 25 million. And in the wake of the car bombing that killed al-Hakim, both groups have begun arming themselves in the name of protecting Iraq's holy sites.

"There are discussions going on, but they're peaceful," said Muwaffak al- Rubayee, a Shiite scholar and member of the Governing Council. "The important thing is that people are calling for calm. The debate is not being conducted with guns."

But the potential for violence was evident Friday as about 15,000 worshipers filed into Imam Ali Mosque. Kalashnikov-wielding militiamen wearing black armbands that read Badr Brigade stopped vehicles entering the square outside the shrine, and the crowd, chanting "Death to the Baathists, Death to America," vowed to wage holy war in the name of the fallen al-Hakim.

Hussein banned Friday prayers at the Imam Ali mosque, one of many steps he took to stifle Iraq's rebellious Shiites. Al-Hakim, who lived in exile in Iran for 23 years, entered Iraq in May and grabbed control of the vacant pulpit in a flurry, to the chagrin of some and the relief of others.

Although he had lived abroad during most of Hussein's rule, the ayatollah brought back with him enough clerical stature to stabilize the leadership of Najaf. "Al-Hakim was both religiously and politically qualified for the job," said Naseer Kamel Chaderji, a Sunni member of the Governing Council whose wife hails from a well-known Najaf Shiite family.

No one believes the young al-Sadr, who has yet to complete his religious studies, could take the helm of Imam Ali mosque. But some fear he would try to use his family's connections to bolster his faction's standing and pave the way for the arrival of his mentor, Ayatollah Kadhem Husseini Haeri, an ultra- conservative Iraqi cleric based in the Iranian seminary city of Qom.

One of Haeri's first acts after the April 9 fall of Baghdad was to issue fatwas, or edicts -- printed on pamphlets and distributed through poor sections of Baghdad -- denouncing the U.S.-led occupation and calling for Iraqi Shiites to resist it.

Other candidates who have been mentioned include Ayatollah Mohammed Saeed al-Hakim, a relative of the slain cleric, and Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, perhaps the most revered of all Iraq's Shiite clerics. But many religious students and clerics in Najaf dismissed them as too absorbed in their books and religious scholarship and too out of touch with the lives of the people.

It is al-Sadr's salty speech and modest clerical training that has helped him connect with the masses of poor, young alienated Shiites, al-Rachid says. He is known popularly as the marja for the Break-iya -- gangs of young thugs with crew cuts who adopted break-dance culture and were notorious for getting drunk and harassing women in Baghdad's streets.

Leaders of the Shiite community worry about an armed factional fight breaking out between the al-Hakim and al-Sadr camps, both of which claim to represent the Hawza, Najaf's seminary and incubator of Shiite thought.

Although few believe al-Sadr's followers are cold-blooded enough to have pulled off the car bombing that killed al-Hakim, his followers are thought to have been behind the killing of Abdul Majid al-Khoei, an American-backed cleric who was stabbed to death outside the Imam Ali mosque on April 10.

"The situation is very dangerous now," said Sheikh Hassan al-Zergani, a cleric who preaches in the poor Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City.

Read the rest at the San Francisco Chronicle

Shiite Militia Rearms, Works With Coalition

An Islamic militia disbanded by the United States has emerged with weapons and in uniform in Iraq's holiest Shiite Muslim city, a sign Najaf could become a new flash point in the aftermath of a key cleric's assassination.

But the U.S. civilian administrator for Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, said Saturday the armed men were in Najaf "with the full cooperation of the Coalition Provisional Authority and in full cooperation with the coalition forces."

Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld continued his inspection tour of the country, traveling to the ancient city of Babylon and visiting a nearby mass grave.

The Badr Brigade — the armed wing of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq — was disarmed on U.S. orders shortly after the fall of Baghdad five months ago. Its defiant reappearance takes on particular significance because its new leader also sits on the U.S.-picked Iraqi Governing Council.

Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim took over the leadership of the Supreme Council after his brother, Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, was killed in a massive car bombing of the Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf.

Shortly after the Aug. 29 bombing, which killed between 85 and 125 people, armed men wearing Badr armbands have been seen in the streets of Najaf and Karbala, another sacred city for Shiites.

But Bremer said Saturday the men on Najaf's streets were not members of one group, but rather belonged to several different groups.

"They are there temporarily to assist in the security of the holy sites at the request of both the secular and clerical authorities in Najaf," Bremer said during a news conference.

At Friday prayers, a deputy of the slain cleric told an overflow crowd of more than 15,000 people at the shrine to support the Badr Brigade.

"The Badr Brigade must continue to exist and thrive. They must be supported and recognized," said the imam, Sadreddine al-Qobanjial-Qobanji, to chants of "We are all Badr Brigade."

The slain ayatollah was a moderating influence among the Shiites, most of whom do not act on major issues without direction from spiritual leaders. It is not clear whether his brother will follow that moderate line, though Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim has said he plans to continue working on the Governing Council, over which Americans hold a veto.

The Supreme Council was formed in Iran during the al-Hakim brothers' exile after they ran afoul of then-Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in the early 1980s. They returned shortly after Saddam fell and assumed moderating political and spiritual roles among their Shiite followers in the broad swath of territory south of Baghdad to the Kuwait border.

While the al-Hakim brothers called for patience with the American occupation, there are growing indications Shiites are becoming restless with the continuing violence in the country and may be ready to take matters into their own hands.

The Shiites, the majority of Iraq's 25 million people, were long oppressed under Saddam's Sunni-led regime.

On Friday, Bremer told the Iraqis in his weekly broadcast that the United States does not like being an occupying power and will leave when Iraqis have their own elected government.

"You must have a government which governs for your benefit and which derives from your will," Bremer said. "But to elect a government without a permanent constitution is to elect a Pharaoh, someone who, once elected, would have no limits on his power."

Bremer outlined a several-step process involving the drafting and approval of a new constitution that will culminate in Iraqi self-government. But he stressed that he did not know how long it would take.

He also appealed to the Iraqi people to help the Governing Council, the Iraqi police and coalition forces identify and arrest saboteurs and terrorists trying to disrupt the path to democracy.

"These criminals will not succeed, but their campaigns of murder, sabotage and destruction can slow this process," he warned.

In his remarks, Bremer said the next step toward Iraqi self-government would be recommendations by a committee of the Governing Council on a process for writing the constitution.

Iraqis he promised, will eventually vote only on whether to accept the constitution and will then elect their leaders.

"Once Iraq has a freely elected government the Coalition will happily yield the remainder of its authority to that sovereign Iraqi government," Bremer said. "The Coalition will then have fulfilled its obligations to the Iraqi people and to posterity."

Read the rest at Fox News

September 6, 2004:

Allawi accused over 1990s bombings

Iraq's prime minister-designate sent agents to attack Saddam Hussein's regime under CIA direction, it was reported yesterday.

Ayad Allawi's Iraqi National Accord smuggled car bombs and other explosives into the Iraqi capital from its base in exile in northern Iraq, former American intelligence officials told The New York Times.

It is not clear how effective the campaign was and there are conflicting reports over whether the bombs caused any civilian casualties.

There are also suggestions that the allegations stem from the ferocious bureaucratic war raging in Washington between the sponsors of various Iraqi factions. Some officials told The New York Times they found it ironic that last week Dr Allawi said his first priority was to stop bombings, given the record of his group.

Dr Allawi's appointment as the prime minister-designate two weeks ago was strongly backed by the CIA, which backed his group in the 1990s. He also has ties to MI6.

A former Ba'ath Party activist, he helped to organise the coup that brought the party to power in 1968. He fled to London in 1975 after he fell out of favour with Saddam.

In the early 1990s, Saddam's government alleged that several bombs exploded in Baghdad, including one in a cinema causing many civilian casualties. But the bombings were never confirmed.

Robert Baer, a former CIA officer who worked in northern Iraq, told The New York Times that a bombing "blew up a school bus; children were killed". But he was unsure which opposition group was responsible.

Another former senior intelligence officer said: "I don't recall very much killing of anyone."

Mr Allawi acknowledged yesterday that he had been in touch with up to 15 intelligence agencies during his campaign to oust Saddam but refused to address directly The New York Times's claims.

Read the rest at the Telegraph

September 6, 2005:

Troops Back From Iraq Find Another War Zone

Spec. Frank Atkinson, wearing his tan desert fatigues from his recent deployment in Iraq, alternately drove a Humvee through downtown New Orleans streets littered with debris and putrid garbage and held suspected looters at gunpoint with his M-4 rifle.

"It's just so much like Iraq, it's not funny," said Atkinson, of Woodlawn, Ark., "except for all the water, and they speak English."

For a year ending this spring, Atkinson's infantry company of the Arkansas National Guard patrolled Baghdad's deadly Haifa Street, and scores of its members were awarded Purple Heart medals after fighting insurgents. Those war-zone images and instincts came flooding back Friday when Atkinson and 300 other Arkansas guardsmen, wearing helmets and full body armor, rolled into the chaos of central New Orleans.

"It's like Baghdad on a bad day," said Spec. Brian McKay, 19, of Mount Ida, Ark.

The Arkansas contingent is among the estimated 16,000 National Guard troops from 40 states flowing into greater New Orleans to help curb the rash of crime sparked by Hurricane Katrina. An additional 24,000 guardsman and 7,200 active-duty ground troops are committed to relief efforts across the Gulf Coast. Paratroops from the 82nd Airborne Division "locked down" the historic French Quarter on Monday, according to city and military officials.

But the massive military effort remains severely disjointed and hampered by a lack of basic communication between units, Army officers here say. Ground commanders for New Orleans have been functioning without the ability to track the location of some units reporting to them -- something unheard of in Iraq, the officers say.

Much work remains for U.S. soldiers in this gutted no man's land, where looting, drive-by shootings and other crime are rampant. Much as in Iraqi cities, the troops are moving by the hundreds into makeshift bases in schools and other public buildings, setting up checkpoints and 24-hour patrols. The guardsmen have been authorized to seize weapons and detain people.

"We're having some pretty intense gun battles breaking out around the city," said Capt. Jeff Winn of the New Orleans police SWAT team. "Armed gangs of from eight to 15 young men are riding around in pickup trucks, looting and raping," he said. Residents fearful of looters often shout to passing Humvees to alert the soldiers to crimes in progress.

"Hey, stop!" a man wearing a baseball cap yelled to an Arkansas Guard team Sunday afternoon as it drove through the city's Metairie district in Jefferson Parish. "Those people don't live here!" he said, pointing to a white sports car parked outside a large brick home.

Atkinson sped over to the car, hopped out and pointed at it with his M-4 rifle. He and Capt. Derald Neugebauer, 36, of Vilonia, Ark., questioned the two men about looting -- but because they had no radio communication with the New Orleans police, they had to flag down a passing patrol car to hand over the two men.

About an hour later, as dusk fell, Atkinson and Neugebauer were driving down Jefferson Street when the owner of a mini-storage business yelled at them from behind his fence. "Hey, get back here! Those guys just broke into that store!" Across the street, the guardsmen saw two men in their twenties outside a car stereo store with the front window broken in.

Atkinson again swung the Humvee around, and within minutes, the guardsmen had two of the four suspects facedown on the Jefferson Street median. The guardsmen then waved down a passing sheriff's vehicle.

"When I charged a round in the chamber, he got down real fast," Atkinson said later of a suspect.

The guardsmen voiced little hesitation at using deadly force -- a skill honed in Iraq -- on the streets of New Orleans. "If we're out on the streets, we'll fight back and shoot until we kill them. That's too bad but that's what has got to happen," said Spec. Jake Perry, 20, of Camden, Ark. "I didn't spend a year in Iraq to come to Louisiana and get killed."

Indeed, just the smell and feel of a war zone in the city put the soldiers on edge.

"The worst feeling was putting that body armor on," said Spec. Richard Dunlop, 36, also of Camden, who with his comrades has vivid memories of the dozens of Arkansas soldiers who perished in Iraq. "I find myself checking the rooftops. I worry about stepping on something in case it is an IED," he said, referring to an improvised explosive device or roadside bomb.

"I was waiting on a gunfight," he said. "It's weird."

Many of the guardsmen were shocked and angered by the violence and looting. One described 70-year-old women in new Nike high-tops, and stores along the riverfront that looked bombed out.

"The fear in the eyes of the people, the uncertainty . . . people shooting and killing over little bitty things . . . it surprised me. I didn't think it would be that bad in my own country," said McKay, a history student at the University of Arkansas.

But the soldiers said they were gratified to be able to evacuate so many needy -- from elderly residents in wheelchairs, lifted into the backs of U-Haul trucks, to drug addicts jittery from withdrawal.

Meanwhile, conditions for the troops were no better than for New Orleans residents. They slept outdoors on concrete loading docks, living on bottled water and packaged military meals that many flood victims wouldn't eat. They had virtually no power, and initially no portable toilets.

While some Arkansas guardsmen said they had volunteered for hurricane duty, many felt wearied by the back-to-back deployments. "I'm still stressed out. I'm still having nightmares over Iraq -- give me a break!" said guardsman Dominic Nettles.

Sitting in a warm breeze on the riverfront on a recent night, as fish leapt out of the Mississippi and a fire blazed out of the blackness on a distant shore, Nettles and his buddies smoked cigarettes and traded war stories that transported them back to the banks of the Tigris.

"When I came down here, it was just like I was in Iraq. It was unreal," said Spec. Keithean Heath, 20, of Crossett, Ark., shirtless in the heat. "This doesn't happen in your own back yard."

Read the rest at the Washington Post

The tragic costs of Bush's Iraq obsession

Samuel Huntington has called it the Lippmann Gap, echoing the American journalist Walter Lippmann in 1943: "Foreign policy consists in bringing into balance, with a comfortable surplus of power in reserve, the nation's commitments and the nation's power." The historian Paul Kennedy has another name for it: "Imperial overextension". Whatever you call this dangerous disease, the symptoms are clear in the US.

In early 2001, shortly after President George W. Bush was inaugurated and before 9/11, the Federal Emergency Management Agency warned of the three most devastating disasters that could strike the US: a terrorist attack on New York City, a hurricane flooding New Orleans and a San Francisco earthquake. The Bush administration was focused on its priority: Iraq.

The first foreseen disaster took place on September 11 2001, when al-Qaeda flew hijacked jets into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The federal government was taken by surprise. New York City's first responders were hampered by communications problems and poor planning for this long-predicted event. The Bush administration's response to the mass murder committed by al-Qaeda was warped by the focus on Iraq. Many in Washington believe that the administration failed to send sufficient troops to Afghanistan because it was with-holding forces for the invasion of Iraq.

Day after day, the levees of Lake Pontchartrain in New Orleans and the wetlands that protected the city were eroding. Mr Bush and his allies in the Republican-majority Congress have slashed federal spending for flood control in south-east Louisiana by half and funds for work at Lake Pontchartrain by almost two-thirds. From 2003, funds authorised for the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project were diverted to pay for the war in Iraq. Earlier this year, the US Army Corps of Engineers requested $27m (£14.6m) to repair the levees to protect them from hurricanes. Mr Bush sought to cut the amount to $3.9m and also proposed reducing spending to prevent flooding from $78m to $30m (the Republican Congress ultimately passed $5.7m and $36.5m, respectively). The New Orleans Times-Picayune published numerous articles warning that the war in Iraq was taking money away from hurricane protection on the Gulf coast.

Meanwhile, in Iraq, the insurgency metastasised. With US forces divided between the necessary war in Afghanistan and the war of choice in Iraq, and army recruitment numbers plunging, the Bush administration, in addition to hiring private contractors, was forced to mobilise National Guard reserves overseas. When Katrina struck, tens of thousands of National Guard soldiers were in Iraq, along with much of the equipment needed for disaster relief.

At the same time, America's long border with Mexico has gone largely unprotected. Around a million illegal immigrants are apprehended each year, in addition to the estimated half a million who join the roughly 10m living in the US. A growing number of illegal immigrants apprehended at the border are from Middle Eastern countries including Egypt, Yemen, Iraq and Syria. President Bush's justice department claims that suspected American terrorist Jose Padilla and an accomplice planned to enter the US through Mexico and blow up buildings in New York and other cities. Mohammed Junaid Babar, an alleged al-Qaeda agent linked with plots against London, has told US investigators of a plan to bring terrorists into the US from Mexico.

On December 17 2004, Mr Bush signed the National Intelligence Reform Act, which required the addition of 10,000 border patrol agents beginning in 2006. In his February 2005 budget, however, Mr Bush authorised funds for only 210 new border agents. Last month, the Democratic governors of Arizona and New Mexico asked for federal disaster relief to help deal with border chaos.

The horror in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast, and the chaos along the US-Mexican border, join anarchy in Afghanistan and Iraq as proof of the bankruptcy of the Bush doctrine. Mr Bush's neoconservative strategists wanted a crusade for US hegemony in the Middle East and the world; as "national greatness conservatives," some might have been willing to pay for it with higher taxes. But Mr Bush's political base consists of conservatives and libertarians united by a crusade to cut taxes. The attempt to establish American global hegemony without paying for it was a disaster - actually, several disasters - waiting to happen.

If, early in 2001, the Bush administration had focused on al-Qaeda instead of Iraq, it might have responded to FEMA's call to prepare New York for a big terrorist incident. If it had not divided US forces to fight two wars at once, Afghanistan might have been pacified while Saddam remained in power but contained. If Bush had not sacrificed border security to pay for the war in Iraq, the Mexican border might be under control. If Bush had not diverted so many National Guard units to Iraq, disaster relief following Hurricane Katrina would have been swifter and more effective. And if the war in Iraq had not caused the Bush administration to raid money for the New Orleans levees, this big port city might not be a corpse-filled cesspool.

Supporters of the war in Iraq predicted that the dominos would fall in the Middle East. Instead, the dominos are falling across America.

Read the rest at Financial Times

September 6, 2006:

Iraq to take control of military

IRAQ and the US military will sign tomorrow a delayed accord under which coalition forces will hand command of Iraqi armed forces to the Government, a spokesman for Iraq's prime minister has said.

"The accord will be signed tomorrow in the presence of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and General George Casey," the head of the coalition forces in Iraq, Ali al-Dabaqh said.

The agreement was initially to be signed on Saturday, but the handover ceremony was abruptly cancelled after disagreements on the Iraqi side over who should sign the handover on the government's behalf.

Mr Dabaqh said Mr Maliki will name a senior official to sign the agreement, but did not reveal who this would be.

The accord means setting up a Iraqi joint military command for the army, navy and air force, which will gradually take full operational control of Iraq's armed forces, including 115,000 US-trained ground troops.

Currently, Gen Casey has operational command of Iraqi units.

Read the rest at the Daily Telegraph

Iraq Extends State of Emergency

Iraq's parliament reopened Tuesday after a summer recess and voted to extend a state of emergency for a month because of unrelenting sectarian violence, while the president predicted bloodshed will be quelled by the end of next year...

Iraq's state of emergency, which has been in place for almost two years, covers every area except the autonomous Kurdish region in the north. It grants security forces the power to impose curfews and make arrests without warrants.

It has been renewed every month since first being authorized in November 2004, hours before U.S. and Iraqi troops launched a big offensive to drive insurgents out of Fallujah, one of the main cities in the restive Anbar region west of Baghdad.

Read the rest at CBS News