Saturday, September 08, 2007

Perspective: On this day in Iraq -- September 8th edition

September 8, 2006: Soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division pause at the end of a patrol near Wynot, Iraq.

September 8, 2002:

Sizing Up Hussein

More than a decade after Saddam Hussein agreed to give up weapons of mass destruction, Iraq has intensified its quest for nuclear weapons and has embarked on a worldwide hunt for materials to make an atomic bomb, Bush administration officials said Saturday.

Over the past 14 months, Iraq has tried to buy thousands of specially designed aluminum tubes, which U.S. officials believe were intended as components of centrifuges to enrich uranium.

U.S. officials said that several efforts to arrange the shipment of the high-strength tubes were blocked or intercepted, but they declined to say, citing the extreme sensitivity of the intelligence, where they came from or how they were stopped.

The attempted purchases are not the only signs of a renewed Iraqi interest in acquiring nuclear arms. Hussein has met several times in recent months with Iraq's top nuclear scientists and, according to U.S. intelligence, praised their efforts as part of his campaign against the West.

Iraqi defectors who once worked for the nuclear weapons establishment there have told U.S. officials that acquiring nuclear arms is again a top Iraqi priority. U.S. intelligence agencies are also monitoring new construction at potential nuclear sites.

While there is no indication that Iraq is on the verge of deploying a nuclear bomb, Iraq's pursuit of nuclear weapons has been cited by hard-liners in the Bush administration to argue that the United States must act now, before Hussein acquires nuclear capability and thus alters the strategic balance in the Persian Gulf.

Read the rest at the San Francisco Chronicle

Bush, Blair Decry Hussein: Iraqi Threat Is Real, They Say

President Bush said yesterday the world has all the evidence it needs that Iraq is continuing to develop weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons, as he was host to British Prime Minister Tony Blair for a three-hour strategy session on building international support for aggressive action against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Speaking to reporters before they began closed-door consultations at Camp David, Bush and Blair agreed the Iraqi threat must be addressed quickly. "We owe it to future generations to deal with this problem," Bush said.

"The policy of inaction, doing nothing, is not something we can responsibly adhere to," Blair said.

Bush is scheduled to address the United Nations about Iraq on Thursday. His advisers say the speech will lay out the case for urgent action, and warn the international community that time is running out for stopping Hussein's pursuit of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons...

Officials said the U.N. speech would amount to an ultimatum in which Bush will outline the threat in its starkest, most immediate terms and indicate that the United States will not wait much longer for international action. They said some details of the speech are still under discussion, including whether Bush would propose that the Security Council set a deadline for Iraqi compliance or issue a resolution authorizing an international military force to compel inspections.

The president said yesterday that "my administration still supports regime change," then added without elaboration, "There's all kinds of ways to change regimes."

Read the rest at the Washington Post

September 8, 2003:

Weapons inspectors: Iraqi nuke program was in disarray

U.N. inspectors found Iraq's nuclear program in disarray and unlikely to be able to support an active effort to build weapons, the atomic agency chief said in a confidential report obtained Monday by The Associated Press.

International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei reiterated that his experts uncovered no signs of a nuclear weapons program before they withdrew from Iraq just before the war began in March.

The United States and Britain invaded Iraq because they believed Saddam Hussein's regime was developing nuclear arms as well as chemical and biological weapons.

"In the areas of uranium acquisition, concentration and centrifuge enrichment, extensive field investigation and document analysis revealed no evidence that Iraq had resumed such activities," ElBaradei said in the report, made available to the AP by a diplomat.

Read the rest at USA Today

War may have turned Iraq into a hub for terrorists

When he described Iraq as "the central front" of the war on terror in his televised speech Sunday night, President Bush confirmed what many analysts and U.S. officials have been saying for weeks -- Iraq is drawing Islamic militants from around the Arab world who want to kill Americans.

It's a powerful argument for strengthening the U.S. commitment to staying the course in Iraq and defeating the enemy. At the same time, however, it opens Bush to unflattering questions:

Has the American presence in Iraq deterred terrorists or encouraged them? And has the U.S. administration itself been partially responsible for allowing the foreign militants to pass unhindered across Iraq's sieve-like borders?

In his speech, Bush emphasized how postwar Iraq had transformed the terrorist equation. "Two years ago, I told the Congress and the country that the war on terror would be a lengthy war, a different kind of war, fought on many fronts in many places," he said. "Iraq is now the central front."

Ironically, many experts said, the U.S. occupation of Iraq and the chaos that has ensued have turned warnings of Iraqi terrorism into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

"Iraq has been converted from a country without a major terrorist presence into a serious terrorist threat," said Jessica Stern, a professor at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government who has written two books on religious terrorism.

Soon after the events of Sept. 11, 2001, some members of the Bush administration suggested Iraq might have had a hand in the attacks -- through an alleged connection between Iraqi intelligence agents and one of the Sept. 11 organizers -- and was linked to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network. No hard evidence has been offered to back the allegations and most experts believe they are false, although recent opinion polls show that a majority of Americans believe the allegations nonetheless.

Read the rest the San Francisco Chronicle

UK to send 1,200 extra troops to Iraq

The UK government confirmed on Monday that it would send around 1,200 additional troops to Iraq to add to the existing 10,000 strong British force, in a bid to stabilise the country in the wake of the latest attacks.

The move comes after leaked documents last week showed that Jack Straw, the foreign secretary, believed more troops are urgently needed to avoid a security collapse in Iraq.

Geoff Hoon, defence secretary, in a written statement to parliament, said: "There is an immediate requirement for two battalions and some additional specialist personnel". The reinforcements will be drawn from the Second Battalion Light Infantry - already deployed in Iraq and First Battalion Royal Green Jackets and are expected to remain until November.

Bernard Jenkin, shadow defence secretary, responding to Mr Hoon's statement, said that while the deployment was "a necessary step" it was also a "humiliation" for a government which had hoped to reduce its military commitment to Iraq.

Read the rest at Financial times

Bush to double Iraq budget

President Bush, addressing the nation about the unexpectedly violent Iraq occupation, called last night for doubling the amount of money that already has been spent on the conflict and urged other countries to send more help.

In a televised speech to the nation, Bush said he will ask Congress for $87 billion in military and reconstruction spending for next year, significantly more than the range administration officials had given lawmakers. That brings to about $150 billion the amount the United States is spending on the Iraq war and its aftermath -- 50 percent more than officials had expected just a few months ago.

The speech, while outlining what Bush called significant progress in the nearly six months since the invasion of Iraq began, was a stark acknowledgment that the occupation of that country has been more difficult and costly than anticipated. It was the first presidential address since May 1, when Bush, standing on an aircraft carrier, declared victory in "the battle of Iraq" and the end of major combat. With ongoing violence shaking public support for the operation, and foreign countries reluctant to relieve overtaxed U.S. troops in Iraq, Bush delivered a more sober message last night, appealing for sacrifice at home and assistance from abroad.

"I recognize that not all of our friends agreed with our decision to enforce the Security Council resolutions and remove Saddam Hussein from power," Bush said last night, days after his administration, in a policy reversal, said it would ask the United Nations to sanction a multinational force in Iraq. "Yet we cannot let past differences interfere with present duties. Terrorists in Iraq have attacked representatives of the civilized world, and opposing them must be the cause of the civilized world. Members of the United Nations now have an opportunity, and the responsibility, to assume a broader role in assuring that Iraq becomes a free and democratic nation."

Administration and congressional officials said the huge spending request would send an unmistakable signal that the United States would not be cowed by attacks on U.S. troops and other targets in Iraq aimed at undermining the occupation. Speaking four days before the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Bush said the war on terrorism that began with those attacks could not be won without success in Iraq.

"Iraq is now the central front," he said in a 18-minute address from the Cabinet Room of the White House. "Enemies of freedom are making a desperate stand there -- and there they must be defeated."

About $75 billion of the $87 billion request, for the fiscal year beginning next month, is related to Iraq. That is on top of $79 billion Congress approved, mostly for Iraq, in a similar measure for the current year after the war began in April. The administration also hopes to get an additional $30 billion to $55 billion for the effort from other countries and Iraqi oil revenue over the next year.

The large amount of the request -- the 1991 Persian Gulf War, by contrast, cost $82.5 billion in current dollars, of which the United States paid only $9 billion -- shocked some lawmakers. If approved, it would increase the federal budget deficit for 2004 to $562 billion from the $475 billion the White House had projected this summer without considering the war costs. The White House is now in danger of violating its own limit for budget deficits -- 5 percent of gross domestic product, or $600 billion.

Read the rest at the Washington Post

Who is losing Iraq?

After the Conquest of Gaul, Julius Caesar--who served as both the Tommy Franks and L. Paul Bremer of that operation--had serious pacification problems. A particularly violent revolt occurred in the town of Uxellodunum. "Caesar saw his work in Gaul could never be brought to a successful conclusion if similar revolts were allowed to break out," wrote his friend Aulus Hirtius. "So he decided to deter all others" by cutting off the hands of the prisoners taken at Uxellodunum and sending the survivors out across Gaul as an object lesson. Hirtius concluded, "The situation was now everywhere satisfactory."

Iraq, like Gaul, is divided into three parts--and the U.S. has more serious pacification problems, and a less vivid set of pacification options, than Caesar did. The Bush Administration says the country is largely quiet--but a successful guerrilla war doesn't require much more than a fervent handful of fighters. In Iraq there are on average a dozen attacks against American soldiers each day. There are countless acts of sabotage. There is massive theft of oil, copper (from power lines) and electrical equipment. And there are the now weekly high-profile terrorist acts, like the bombing of the U.N. headquarters two weeks ago and of a shrine in Najaf last week.

Indeed, a depressing array of defense and foreign policy experts, including members of the uniformed military, have quietly concluded that postwar Iraq is the most vexing theater of operations the American military has faced since Vietnam. Even if Saddam Hussein is captured or killed, most experts (outside the Pentagon) believe that the restoration of order will be extremely difficult. Jihadist terror, organized criminality and internecine religious violence are likely to continue. For the immediate future, this is where George Bush's war on terrorism is being fought--and this is where his political future may be decided.

Last week the President restated the obvious: retreat is not an option. Iraq cannot be left an anarchic, terrorist state. Every major Democrat running for President, including Howard Dean, agrees--and most go further than Bush, asserting that more money and manpower are needed to secure the peace. But the President has stubbornly resisted sharing with the American people a detailed assessment of the situation in Iraq: the fact that we may still be there a decade from now at a cost of hundreds of billions. The Pentagon--the civilian leadership of the Pentagon, that is--stubbornly insists that it retain control of all aspects of the Iraq operation and that no increased manpower is needed. Oddest of all, the Pentagon retains its neoconservative fantasy that Ahmed Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress--who misled the Administration on weapons of mass destruction and on the rose petals that would greet the American liberators--may yet be coronated leader of a population that barely knows who he is.

Perhaps the defense ideologues remain hypnotized by Chalabi because the reality on the ground is so depressing. There will be no stability, and certainly no economic progress, until there is real security--but the three most likely paths toward security have severe drawbacks. The first is increased use of American troops and money. The money is inevitable--a supplemental appropriation of $60 billion, including $15 billion to $20 billion for reconstruction efforts, is being prepared--but more troops are problematic because the Army is already overstretched. The second path is a return to the U.N., which the State Department is trying to negotiate. This would be helpful symbolically--it would be nice to have Iraq become the world vs. the terrorists--and perhaps financially, but it would have limited military utility: State expects only 10,000 U.N. peacekeepers. And a deal will be difficult: the U.N. will agree to American control of the military operations, but not civil administration. "No Bremer," an international diplomat told me. "He's not done very well."

That leaves Iraqification, the third path, which everyone agrees is absolutely necessary. The Pentagon says it is Iraqifying as fast as it can, building no fewer than five indigenous security services that will ultimately involve 70,000 recruits. But far more bodies are needed. Several experts, including some in the Administration, suggest calling the Iraqi army--the ragtag regular army, not the Republican Guard--back to barracks. We are paying 235,000 former Iraqi soldiers to do nothing each month. Why not pay them to be border guards, to provide security for pipelines, power lines and neighborhoods? If they can't do that, why pay them at all?

A Pentagon official told me the idea of reactivating the army is "naive"--which is ironic, given the Pentagon's willful naivete about postwar Iraq. But I suspect that all these options will be attempted in the coming months, lest George W. Bush face the electorate in 2004 as the President who presided over a severe degradation of the U.S. military and the diminution of America's reputation in the world--as the President who lost Iraq.

Read the rest at Time

September 8, 2004:

Iraq shutdown sends oil price to fresh high

The prospect of a world oil supply shock loomed yesterday after threats from Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr stopped oil production in the south of Iraq and sent prices to new record highs.

In London, a barrel of Brent Crude for September delivery spiked up 93 cents to close at $41.56 as traders wondered where oil would come from to ease the crisis. September oil on the New York Mercantile Exchange rose 60 cents to $44.55.

Oil production from the north of Iraq was halted last week by a terrorist attack on the pipeline to the Turkish port of Ceyhan.

Yesterday, a threat from Al-Sadr's Mehdi army prompted the state Southern Oil Company to halt pumping to the oil terminal at Basra. Company officials said they had enough oil stored to keep exports running for around two days.

Read the rest at the Telegraph

September 8, 2005:

Iraq's Sunnis Register to Vote in Droves

Voter registration soared in some Sunni Arab parts of Iraq as Sunnis mobilized to try to vote down a draft constitution they believe will divide the country, according to figures released Wednesday at the close of registration for the Oct. 15 referendum...

The surge in voter registration in the heavily Sunni west signaled the minority's belated entry into the country's political process. Most Sunnis stood on the sidelines of the Jan. 30 national elections that seated the transitional government, which was charged with drafting the constitution. As a result, Sunnis were left with diminished political leverage in negotiations over the document.

This time, "we registered to defeat the constitution," said Khalid Jubouri, a guard at a government ministry in Fallujah, a city in the volatile western province of Anbar. "This is considered fighting by word and thought. We are optimistic about the battle, and we will win it eventually."

Iraqis who voted in the January elections are automatically eligible to vote in the referendum on the constitution without registering. It was unclear whether the registration figures would be challenged.

If voters approve the constitution on Oct. 15, the country will vote in national elections on Dec. 15 for Iraq's first full-term post-invasion government. If the charter is defeated, Iraqis will vote on Dec. 15 for another temporary government, which would try again to draft a constitution. Defeating the constitution requires a two-thirds rejection in at least three of Iraq's 18 provinces.

Many Sunnis oppose the draft constitution because it would allow the Kurdish north and the heavily Shiite south to form separate, oil-rich regions. The split could leave the center and west with little political power and few resources.

Read the rest at the Washington Post

"We've Exchanged a Tyrant for an Occupier"

The 2003 invasion of Iraq and its consequences owe more to the insistent saber-rattling of the removed, intellectual classes than any other war in American history. That so many leaders and commentators now coldly politicize what is, at bottom, a visceral and powerfully emotional experience for those on the receiving end of our invasion has magnified the inability of many Americans to understand the differences between the Bush administration's aspirations and Iraq's realities. It also has depersonalized the Iraqi people in many eyes and fed the irony of the rhetoric from those who claim that Iraqi resistance is driven simply by the fear and hatred of the "freedom" America has brought them. The U.S. leadership views the attempt to overhaul Iraq as power politics, designed to remake an entire region. Most Iraqis, by contrast, measure the invasion and occupation through its impact on diverse cultural forces, strongly held local traditions and a long history of other invasions and occupations.

Enter Anthony Shadid, a Washington Post reporter whose book Night Draws Near gives us -- perhaps for the first time -- a clear understanding of how and why the Iraqi people have reacted to the American invasion and occupation of their country...

Several themes resonate throughout the book, many of which should give pause to adherents of the narrow political orthodoxy that seems to define so much of the U.S. debate and analysis of Iraq. American commentators often begin their discussions with the premise that the Baath era was a uniquely monstrous period in Iraqi history. Few Iraqis look back to that period with fondness, but as time passes, many of them lament the loss of order that came with the dictatorship, in contrast to the murderous chaos that defines the occupation.

Indeed, few Americans grasp how deeply Iraqis feel their own history, or how fiercely they have always resisted foreign occupation. "The last four centuries were hell," one burly, aging Iraqi academic says to Shadid. "Despotic, tyrannical, bloody regimes, and most of them were foreign." We learn that President Bush's promise that the U.S. military would arrive in Iraq not as conquerors but as liberators was virtually identical to the words British Maj. Gen. Sir Stanley Maude used in 1917 ("Our armies do not come into your cities and lands as conquerors or enemies, but as liberators"), when Britain began a decades-long occupation during World War I, defeated the Ottoman Turks and took control of Iraq's oil. "It's a long story, the history of Iraq," a Baghdad restaurateur told Shadid, without apparent irony.

Not surprisingly, Shadid shows us a U.S. administration that has locked itself away from the violence and frequent hostility that rumble outside the "palm-shrouded, formerly manicured villas and palaces" of what has come to be known as the Green Zone. The Coalition Provisional Authority's largely Republican and painfully inexperienced staff was "drawn from the ranks of Washington lobbyists, congressional staffers, policy enthusiasts and the public-relations specialists less charitably known as flaks," Shadid notes. "Most of the staffers so rarely emerged from the [Green Zone] . . . that they had no notion of what was going on in the country they were supposed to rule. . . . The Green Zone was truly a world unto itself."

Shadid breaks new ground in offering us a much-needed look at the human face of the Iraqi people, as well as an acute analysis of the variegated cultural and historical forces that ultimately are going to decide the political fate of Iraq. In one gruesome but illuminating scene, we see a father being forced by angry fellow villagers to kill his own son, who had turned into an informer for the Americans, lest failure to do so set off years of "blood-soaked vendettas." Whatever an American politician may wish to make of this event, it graphically debunks the notion that resistance to the American occupation has been merely the work of "dead-enders" or "foreign terrorists." As Shadid points out, in Sunni regions "tribal authority had grown in the wake of the government's fall . . . tribal code stipulated a brutal frontier justice, which had come to fill a lawless void. This code, rigorous and unforgiving, was paramount."

Indeed, through Shadid's eyes, we see clearly the chasm between occupier and occupied -- a rift that runs far deeper than the usual ethnic divisions between Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds that dominate U.S. debates about the country's future. "The Americans in Baghdad framed the tumult in Iraq from the perspective of their own heritage and expressed them in the familiar vocabulary of democratic ideals," he writes. "They had come as liberators." But the Iraqis' own "vocabulary was shaped less by a reflexive celebration of democracy and freedom and more by their own religion, nationalism, and material circumstance." For Iraqis, "justice" trumps "freedom." Most important, for Shadid's interlocutors, legitimacy is the key to future Iraqi politics, pitting the Americans' Westernized constitutional scheme against less formal structures based on religion and tribal leadership. "The Americans never understood the question; Iraqis never agreed on the answer," Shadid writes. "Who had the right to rule? As important to Iraqis was the question of where that right came from -- God, the gun, money, law, tradition?" Visiting Fallujah, he surveyed "the virtual incomprehension between ruler and ruled, staring across a religious divide." The custodian of a local mosque told him, "We don't accept humiliation and we don't accept colonialism." A teacher added, "We've exchanged a tyrant for an occupier."

In analyzing the ethnic debate, Shadid gives us historical and cultural insights that often differ with prevailing views. While most political analysts tend to lump Iraqis together as Shiites, Sunnis or Kurds, his careful examination of the differences between the Shiite factions led by the upstart cleric Moqtada Sadr and the country's most important political figure, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, is essential reading. And while the American political and military focus over the past two years has been the defeat of the Sunni-dominated insurgency, Shadid is one of the few writers to show the almost unbelievable strategic mousetrap playing itself out as the Shiites -- less secular and more susceptible to the influence of Iran -- step ever closer to the prize of national dominance.

Mixed in with such fresh, hard-won insights are passages that combine acute reporting skills and novelistic phrasing, giving the reader a true sense of people and place. During the battle for Baghdad, Shadid noticed "the buses that still, spectacularly, ran their routes, even during the most pitched fighting on the capital's streets." And after a gruesome bombing in Najaf that killed more than 80 people near a Shiite shrine, "the wood stalls lay splintered in blackened pools of grime and blood mixed with charred metal and brick. Along one sidewalk, men sifted with their hands through shards of glass for silver rings blown from their display cases."

Read the rest at the Washington Post

September 8, 2006:

Two Laid to Rest Had Beaten the Odds

Marine Staff Sgt. Dwayne E. Williams had survived three concussions from dismantling hundreds of roadside bombs in Iraq. Army Spec. Matthew E. Schneider had overcome a heart condition that a doctor said would kill him before he was a toddler.

The Marine and the soldier who were used to beating the odds were buried near each other at Arlington National Cemetery yesterday.

Williams, a 28-year-old Baltimore native, was dismantling yet another improvised explosive device -- a feat for which he had already been awarded a Bronze Star -- in Anbar province on Aug. 24 when the device exploded, killing him and another soldier.

Schneider, a 23-year-old from Gorham, N.H., was relaxing on his bunk in Ramadi when he suffered an apparent heart attack Aug. 28.

At services yesterday, Williams's wife, LaStar, and 4-year-old son, Malachi, received a flag from a Marine sergeant to honor his contributions to the war. As a bugler played taps, family members and friends huddled, never removing their eyes from the flag-draped coffin.

"What made me cry is now his son won't have a father, like Dwayne didn't have a father," said Melissa Manning, a cousin of Williams's who said their relationship was more like brother and sister. "He was trying to be a good dad, and that's what I'm mad about."

She said that Williams had grown up in a tough neighborhood in Baltimore but stayed away from gangs and drugs because he knew they would interfere with his goals.

Although dismantling bombs is among the most dangerous assignments in Iraq, Williams thrived on it, family members said. He came from a family of military veterans dating to World War I and had long planned to enter the service before enlisting nine years ago. He was on his third tour of duty in Iraq, and his family was anticipating his return to the United States later this month.

"I don't support war, so I didn't want him to go," Manning said. "But he thought it would be a good opportunity to go to school and to see the world and to do something important. That's the promise that the Marines give."

In the face of war, Williams relied on the love of his family and God to stay strong, she said. He called his mother every day and wrote lengthy e-mails that were posted on a family Web site. He saved the lives of his comrades at least once, screaming to them to take cover after he disconnected one bomb only to find another nearby.

"I found another device set as a trap for us. I yelled 'IED' so others could run," he wrote. "Four Marines including myself were within the blast radius of this item. The Lord is good."

An only child, Williams was especially close to his extended family. He lived with Manning for two years before being deployed to Iraq, she said.

"We liked to joke with each other, go out to eat, go see movies," she said. "He was so gifted at building things, drawing and all sorts of things. If I needed something fixed, he could fix it, and he was so down-to-earth."

Less than 30 minutes after Williams was buried, Schneider's family arrived at the same section of the cemetery to bury their son and brother. A Mormon chaplain praised the young man's desire to help people, whether Americans or Iraqis.

"We're here to honor Matthew's devotion to duty," he said.

The chaplain told the assembled crowd about a time when Schneider came upon a woman whose purse had been stolen. Without thinking twice, Schneider went to the nearest ATM and withdrew $200 to give to the woman, he said.

A technological whiz, Schneider spent his spare time in Iraq setting up high-speed Internet connections for about 80 soldiers. His job was to maintain communication with those on the front lines, and he planned to reenlist in the military as an information technology specialist.

Williams and Schneider are the 260th and 261st military personnel killed in Iraq to be buried at Arlington.

Read the rest at the Washington Post

NATO wants 2,000 extra troops to combat Taliban

Nato today called on its member nations to provide at least 2,000 more troops to bolster its force in Afghanistan amid a resurgence of Taliban violence.
Hostilities continued in the country today, where a suicide car bomb hit a US patrol in central Kabul, killing 16 people, including civilian bystanders and two US soldiers.

Colonel Brett Boudreau, speaking at a meeting of Nato's defence chiefs in Warsaw, said "2,000 plus" troops were needed to combat the deadliest spate of violence since the Taliban regime was ousted in 2001...

Brigadier Ed Butler, the British commander of coalition forces in the southern Helmand province, said the fighting in Afghanistan had become more intense than Iraq. He told ITN news: "The fighting is extraordinarily intense. The intensity and ferocity of the fighting is far greater than in Iraq on a daily basis."

Some 20,000 Nato soldiers and a similar number of US forces are in Afghanistan trying to crush a renewed Taliban insurgency.

Read the rest at the Guardian