Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Perspective: On this day in Iraq -- September 12th edition

September 12, 2004: A US Braddley Armoured Vehicle burns after being attacked on Haifa Street in Baghdad. Fighting broke out in the early hours and explosions shook the center of Baghdad as U.S. helicopters opened fire at targets in the area. Over 20 Iraqis were killed and 48 injured in a day of heavy fighting. No U.S. troops died.

September 12, 2002:

Iraq attack could alter world rules

When President Bush addresses the UN General Assembly Thursday, pressing his case against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, he will be asking the world to alter the founding principles of the post-World War II international order.

Advocating preemptive military action against Baghdad before it uses its alleged chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons, Mr. Bush is challenging United Nations rules on sovereignty and the acceptable use of force that have underpinned global relations for three generations.

To the Bush administration, this is a matter of adapting to a new danger. But this argument will likely alarm the vast majority of UN members listening to the US leader. They know that their best chance of restraining Bush is to meet him partway, by threatening to use force on their own terms against Iraq – if Mr. Hussein does not cooperate with UN weapons inspectors – as suggested this week by French President Jacques Chirac.

Bush faces a difficult task in bridging the gap that currently separates him from almost every other world leader over how to deal with the Iraqi government.

Washington has openly set "regime change" as its goal, claiming that Mr. Hussein is amassing weapons of mass destruction for use against America and its allies and that he must be deposed before he gets a chance to use them.

"Time is not on America's side," presidential spokesman Ari Fleischer warned recently.

The closest that any US ally has come to supporting Bush's position is British Prime Minister Tony Blair's warning Tuesday that "action will follow" if Iraq ignores demands to allow arms inspectors back into the country.

Most European governments are expected to back the sort of proposal that French President Jacques Chirac made earlier this week, for a two-stage UN procedure. Under a first resolution Iraq would be given three weeks to allow inspectors in without conditions, and if it refused, a second Security Council resolution would be passed on whether or not to use military force.

It is not clear, however, that such a plan will satisfy Washington, where officials are afraid that Hussein might accept inspectors but then prevaricate and withhold cooperation, rendering their work of dubious value...

By attacking Iraq without UN endorsement, Washington would be arrogating to itself the right to decide what constitutes a threat to world peace, and what to do about it. That would be a significant break from international norms.

As UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan underscored Wednesday, only the UN Security Council could provide "the unique legitimacy that one needs to be able to act" against threats to international peace.

If the US goes it alone, that "neo-imperial vision," argues Georgetown professor John Ikenberry in the current edition of Foreign Affairs magazine, "could transform today's world order in a way that the end of the cold war ... did not"..."Simply put, sovereignty does not grant governments a blank check to do whatever they like within their own borders," State Department director of policy planning Richard Haass argued recently. And since Sept. 11, he added, "countries affected by states that abet, support, or harbor international terrorists ... have the right to take action to protect their citizens"...

Deterrence and containment – the doctrines used to keep the peace during the cold war – are worthless against terrorists prepared to sacrifice themselves, the president argued last June at West Point.

"We must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans, and confront the worst threats before they emerge," he said. "Our security will require all Americans to be forward-looking and resolute, to be ready for preemptive action when necessary to defend our liberty and to defend our lives."

Many US allies would agree with the strategic thinking behind this approach to a new terrorist threat, but they are fearful of international anarchy should the US act alone.

Nothing would keep other countries from deciding that a threat to their national security justified a preemptive armed strike, President Chirac said this week, citing India and Pakistan, or China in its dispute with Taiwan as possible examples.

Read the rest at the Christian Science Monitor

September 12, 2003:

Wolfowitz Backs Off Claim of Al Qaeda-Baathist Plots to Kill Americans

The Pentagon's No. 2 official retreated Friday from his assertion that key lieutenants of Al Qaeda leader Usama bin Laden are plotting with Saddam Hussein loyalists to kill Americans in Iraq.

In television and newspaper interviews on Thursday's anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said hundreds of fighters from Al Qaeda and other groups are now in Iraq. Wolfowitz also said "a great many" bin Laden operatives were trying to link up with remnants of Saddam's regime to attack Americans.

"We know it (Iraq) had a great deal to do with terrorism in general and with Al Qaeda in particular, and we know a great many of bin Laden's key lieutenants are now trying to organize in cooperation with old loyalists from the Saddam regime to attack in Iraq," Wolfowitz said Thursday on ABC's "Good Morning America."

Read the rest at Fox News

Halliburton's Iraq costs $2 bln so far and rising

Costs incurred by Halliburton Co., the U.S. oil services contractor, in Iraq have climbed to nearly $2 billion and should continue to rise, Army spokesmen said, citing the effect of widespread looting and sabotage to the nation's energy infrastructure.

Houston-based Halliburton currently holds two contracts, for oilfield repairs and for logistics support services, from which it earns a small percentage as income. As U.S. involvement in Iraq grows longer and more expensive, Halliburton stands to reap bigger profits.

Earlier this year Halliburton was granted, without competition, a contract by the Army Corps of Engineers to repair and restore Iraq's oil fields. As of Sept 8, the total cost of that contract to taxpayers was just under $948 million, spokesman Scott Saunders said on Friday.

That's about $200 million higher than projected just last month, mostly because the U.S. has been forced to import oil and fuels into Iraq, which has the world's second-largest oil reserves after Saudi Arabia. Importing oil, gasoline, diesel and propane is costing the United States about $6 million per day.

"We didn't expect to have this much trouble getting production back up, or to have pipelines blown up and power stations sabotaged," Corps spokesman Scott Saunders said.

Halliburton, led by U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney from 1995 to 2000, receives a base fee of 2 percent of those costs, or $19 million. But profits could rise as high as 7 percent, or $66 million, with performance bonuses.

Under its second contract, Halliburton's KBR unit has racked up about $1 billion in expenses in Iraq. Under this contract, secured from the U.S. Army Field Support Command in December 2001 after competitive bidding, KBR provides dining services, mail delivery, transportation and other logistics to military personnel worldwide.

Under the field support contract, Halliburton can earn 1 percent to 3 percent of contract costs, or roughly $10 million to $30 million. By comparison, Halliburton in the second quarter earned $26 million.

By the middle of next month, the Corp is expected to award two contracts for the longer term restoration of Iraq's northern and southern oilfields, which will replace Halliburton's current no-bid contract. KBR is one of the bidders.

The Corps spokesman declined to disclose the number or identify of bidders.

The outsourcing of military field support services, once the job of the soldiers themselves, began in 1992, when Cheney was Secretary of Defense under the first Bush Administration.

Read the rest at Forbes

September 12, 2004:

It's Worse Than You Think

Iraqis don't shock easily these days, but eyewitnesses could only blink in disbelief as they recounted last Tuesday's broad-daylight kidnappings in central Baghdad. At about 5 in the afternoon, on a quiet side street outside the Ibn Haitham hospital, a gang armed with pistols, AK-47s and pump-action shotguns raided a small house used by three Italian aid groups. The gunmen, none of them wearing masks, took orders from a smooth-shaven man in a gray suit; they called him "sir." When they drove off, the gunmen had four hostages: two local NGO employees—one of them a woman who was dragged out of the house by her headscarf—and two 29-year-old Italians, Simona Pari and Simona Torretta, both members of the antiwar group A Bridge to Baghdad. The whole job took less than 10 minutes. Not a shot was fired. About 15 minutes afterward, an American Humvee convoy passed hardly a block away—headed in the opposite direction.

Sixteen months after the war's supposed end, Iraq's insurgency is spreading. Each successful demand by kidnappers has spawned more hostage-takings—to make Philippine troops go home, to stop Turkish truckers from hauling supplies into Iraq, to extort fat ransom payments from Kuwaitis. The few relief groups that remain in Iraq are talking seriously about leaving. U.S. forces have effectively ceded entire cities to the insurgents, and much of the country elsewhere is a battleground. Last week the total number of U.S. war dead in Iraq passed the 1,000 mark, reaching 1,007 by the end of Saturday.

U.S. forces are working frantically to train Iraqis for the thankless job of maintaining public order. The aim is to boost Iraqi security forces from 95,000 to 200,000 by sometime next year. Then, using a mixture of force and diplomacy, the Americans plan to retake cities and install credible local forces. That's the hope, anyway. But the quality of new recruits is debatable. During recent street demonstrations in Najaf, police opened fire on crowds, killing and injuring dozens. The insurgents, meanwhile, are recruiting, too. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld once referred to America's foes in Iraq as "dead-enders," then the Pentagon maintained they probably numbered 5,000, and now senior military officials talk about "dozens of regional cells" that could call upon as many as 20,000 fighters.

It's not only that U.S. casualty figures keep climbing. American counterinsurgency experts are noticing some disturbing trends in those statistics. The Defense Department counted 87 attacks per day on U.S. forces in August—the worst monthly average since Bush's flight-suited visit to the USS Abraham Lincoln in May 2003. Preliminary analysis of the July and August numbers also suggests that U.S. troops are being attacked across a wider area of Iraq than ever before. And the number of gunshot casualties apparently took a huge jump in August. Until then, explosive devices and shrapnel were the primary cause of combat injuries, typical of a "phase two" insurgency, where sudden ambushes are the rule. (Phase one is the recruitment phase, with most actions confined to sabotage. That's how things started in Iraq.) Bullet wounds would mean the insurgents are standing and fighting—a step up to phase three.

Another ominous sign is the growing number of towns that U.S. troops simply avoid. A senior Defense official objects to calling them "no-go areas." "We could go into them any time we wanted," he argues. The preferred term is "insurgent enclaves." They're spreading. Counterinsurgency experts call it the "inkblot strategy": take control of several towns or villages and expand outward until the areas merge. The first city lost to the insurgents was Fallujah, in April. Now the list includes the Sunni Triangle cities of Ar Ramadi, Baqubah and Samarra, where power shifted back and forth between the insurgents and American-backed leaders last week. "There is no security force there [in Fallujah], no local government," says a senior U.S. military official in Baghdad. "We would get attacked constantly. Forget about it."

U.S. military planners only wish they could. "What we see is a classic progression," says Andrew Krepinevich, author of the highly respected study "The Army and Vietnam." "What we also see is that the U.S. military is not trained or organized to fight insurgencies. That was the deliberate choice after Vietnam. Now we look to be paying the price." Americans aren't safe even on the outskirts of a city like Fallujah. Early last week a suicide bomber rammed his vehicle into two U.S. Humvees nine miles north of town on the four-lane concrete bypass called Highway 10. Seven Americans died. It was one of the deadliest blows against U.S. forces since June, when Iraqis formally resumed control of their government...

As much as ordinary Iraqis may hate the insurgents, they blame the Americans for creating the whole mess. Three months ago Iraqi troops and U.S.-dominated "multinational forces" pulled out of Samarra, and insurgents took over the place immediately. "The day the MNF left, people celebrated in the streets," says Kadhim, the Interior spokesman. "But that same day, vans arrived in town and started shooting. They came from Fallujah and other places and they started blowing up houses." Local elders begged Allawi's government to send help. "The leaders of the tribes come to see us and they say, 'Really, we are scared, we don't like these people'," Kadhim continues. "But we just don't have the forces at the moment to help them." Last week negotiators reached a tentative peace deal, but it's not likely to survive long. The Iraqi National Guard is the only homegrown security force that people respect, and all available ING personnel are deployed elsewhere.

Will Iraq's troubles get even worse? "The insurgency can certainly sustain what it's doing for a while," says a senior U.S. military official. Many educated Iraqis aren't waiting to find out. Applicants mobbed the courtyard of the Baghdad passport office last week, desperate for a chance to escape. Police fired shots in the air, trying to control the crowd. "Every day there is shooting, gunfire, people killed, headaches for lack of sleep," said Huda Hussein, 34, a Ph.D. in computer science who has spent the past year and a half looking for work. "I want to go to a calm place for a while." It's too bad for Iraq—and for America—that the insurgents don't share that wish.

Read the rest at Newsweek

Insurgency in Iraq will be brought under control, says Powell

Secretary of State Colin Powell said Sunday that the United States has a plan to quash the insurgency raging in several Iraqi cities and bring those areas under control in time for national elections in January.
Powell acknowledged that the U.S.-led coalition faces a "difficult time," but he said the Bush administration is committed to making Iraq stable.

"This is not the time to get weak in the knees or faint about it, but to drive on and finish the work that we started," he told NBC's Meet the Press.

The secretary of state said U.S. commanders are working with Iraqi military leaders and the interim government of Prime Minister Ayad Allawi to put down the extremists in control of Fallujah and other cities.

The insurgency "will be brought under control," Powell said. "It's not an impossible task."

Powell also dismissed the possibility of delaying Iraqi elections, which are scheduled for the end of January. "Nobody's planning to postpone the elections," he said.

"When that insurgency is put down, what the people of the world will see are Iraqis in charge of their own destiny, moving forward toward an election that will provide for a representative form of government," said Powell. "It's going to be something that we'll be able to be proud of.

Read the rest at USA Today

September 12, 2005:

The war of unintended consequences

During the past century the United States has faced two brutal assaults. Within four years of the first, on December 7 1941, the US and its allies had mobilised, taken on and defeated two powerful enemies, Japan and Germany. Four years after the second, on September 11 2001, what real progress can the US and its allies honestly claim for the war on terror?

The answer, tragically and alarmingly, is that they have not made enough. Not only is terror very much still with us, it is also on the increase. Last year, the US state department reported 651 "significant terrorist attacks" around the world, three times the total for 2003 and the highest annual number since Washington began to collect such statistics two decades ago. Around a third of those attacks took place in Iraq, supposedly the central front of the war on terror, in some parts of which terrorist killings have now reached pandemic levels. Since April, more than 4,000 Iraqis have been killed by terrorists in Baghdad alone. But the killing is in no way confined to Iraq. No one in London needs any reminder of that. And Britain, like the US and many others, is wrestling to balance established liberties and ways of life with the danger that another 9/11, or another 7/7, may occur at any time.

The assault on America four years ago this week was in every way as infamous a deed as the one committed by Japan in 1941. Much of the response to it, however, was not just ineffective but counter-productive. Faced with 9/11, George Bush's initial response was briefly both brainy and belligerent. But the initial advantages were quickly squandered under pressure from the ideological right. By choosing to rid the world of evil - above all in Iraq - rather than to hunt down, take out and politically disable al-Qaida, Mr Bush set his country on a path which continues to dismay America's friends and to delight its enemies.

In effect, though, he also did Osama bin Laden's job for him. The war on terror, with its rhetoric of a battle between good and evil and its talk of a fight that will last for generations, depended for credibility upon the efficacy of American power and upon the accuracy of the US neocon prescription of a "democratic revolution" across the Middle East. In reality, both have proved to be wishful thinking - the real surprise being the limits of the US military effort. America has fought and occupied, but it has not shown that it can rebuild. The idea that Iraq would set off a domino democratic effect across the Middle East now seems even more preposterous than ever - if Iraq is exporting anything to its neighbours, it is violence not democracy. Faced with a ruthless insurgency, American public opinion is faltering as the gulf on the ground between reality and objectives widens. Post-Katrina, the question is not whether the US will begin to withdraw - but when, how and, above all, with what damage.

Politically this may be inevitable and even desirable - but we will all live with the consequences. The most damning charge against the war on terror is that it has been a recruiting sergeant for the very forces it sought to destroy. As Mark Danner put it in the New York Times yesterday, Mr Bush's failure to focus on al-Qaida has created a global "al-Qaidaism" of the kind that struck this country on July 7. Such al-Qaidaism is not going to go away. If the earlier generation could produce a 9/11 in the face of American power, what will the next generation produce in the wake of the American weakness inseparable from an Iraq withdrawal? Bin Laden's organisation may have been damaged and disrupted since 2001, and his dreadful cause may in many places be in the hands of amateurs, but he could never have dreamed that the world four years after the twin towers would look so favourable to his objectives.

Read the rest at the Guardian

September 12, 2006:

In Iraq, war's toll open to question

When the top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, announced at the end of August that violence had dropped significantly in Baghdad because of a security crackdown, he did not make a key distinction:

His figures excluded people killed by bombs, mortars, rockets or other mass attacks, including suicide bombings - a significant part of the daily violence in and around the capital.

The decision to include only victims of drive-by shootings and those killed by torture and execution, usually at the hands of death squads, allowed U.S. officials to argue that the crackdown that began in the capital Aug. 7 had halved the city's murder rate.

Iraqi Health Ministry figures showed that 1,536 people died violently in and around Baghdad in August, nearly the same number as in July.

The types of slayings, including suicide bombings, that the United States excluded from the category of "murder" were not made explicit at the time. When they released the murder rate figures, U.S. officials and their Iraqi counterparts were eager to show progress in restoring security in Baghdad at a time when Iraq appeared on the verge of civil war.

Caldwell said at the end of August that "attacks in Baghdad were well below the monthly average for July. Since Aug. 7, the murder rate in Baghdad dropped 52 percent from the daily rate for July."

Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, a U.S. military spokesman, said Monday, "These comments were intended to highlight some specific indicators of progress and were never stated in relation to broader casualty figures."

He said Caldwell "used murders and executions specifically because they are a key indicator of sectarian-related violence."

Johnson added that although the military collected data on violence from as many sources as possible and used a consistent methodology, "we do not claim our information represents every possible victim of violence."

Read the rest at the St. Petersberg Times