Thursday, September 13, 2007

Perspective: On this day in Iraq -- September 13th edition

September 13, 2006: A man opens his door to the announcement of a search of his house by Marines from Regimental Combat Team 5 in Fallujah.

September 13, 2002:

The Insiders' Iraq

As President Bush presents his case for toppling Saddam Hussein to the United Nations, U.S. and British intelligence officials are already well along in planning for a war against Iraq, and for its aftermath.

Their strategic planning is centered on the expectation that Hussein can ultimately count on the loyalty of only a few thousand hard-core fighters, according to intelligence officials interviewed this week. These officials expect that once the U.S.-led attack has begun, Iraqi tribal leaders and even the commanders of some elite Republican Guard units will change sides.

"Not everyone will want to die," was the coldblooded assessment of one Iraq specialist. "At least one major Republican Guard unit will flip." Among the chieftains of Iraq's powerful Sunni Muslim tribes, the official continued, "once it's clear to them that Saddam is going, then they will switch allegiance."

The intelligence officials, who have been briefed in detail on U.S. planning, were generally supportive of the need to strike Hussein soon, while he remains relatively weak. They focused on what they described as the "opportunity" presented by Iraq, rather than the threat. Indeed, they worry that the Bush administration, in its enthusiasm for finding a rationale for war, may have overstated the threat of Iraqi nuclear weapons and its links with al Qaeda terrorists.

The intelligence officials are skeptical about the administration's recent warnings that Hussein could be just a few months away from acquiring a bomb. "That would be true only if someone gave them everything except the trigger; otherwise, no," said one official. He explained that the nuclear program "is not the priority" for Hussein now, because the logistics are difficult and relatively easy to monitor.

The officials also dismissed speculation that Hussein's intelligence service met with al Qaeda terrorist Mohamed Atta in Prague shortly before the Sept. 11 attacks. "We remain absolutely convinced that there was no event in Prague that would point to [an Iraqi intelligence link to al Qaeda]," one official said. He noted that Czech security chiefs have now concluded they made a mistake in their earlier reports of such a meeting.

The biggest threat Hussein poses, said one official, is biological weapons delivered through unconventional means, such as a suitcase, a drone or a suicide airplane. "He's such an unpredictable person, he may be thinking of things that would horrify us," the official said.

"You could imagine Saddam having someone carry a briefcase of smallpox virus, and opening the briefcase in the New York subway -- and saying that he has such people all over the United States, and unless the U.S. withdraws its troops, he will release all the virus," speculated another of the intelligence officials.

To topple the Iraqi regime, the planners are counting on a reservoir of anti-Hussein feeling -- stemming from the reality that nearly every family in Iraq has been touched by the brutality of his secret police. The intelligence officials said their contacts inside Iraq have urged the United States to break this power, by striking at the leadership of Hussein's Special Republican Guards and other elite units that maintain political control in the Sunni Muslim central regions.

"If you can put out his eyes, we'll move," was one recent message from inside Iraq, according to one of the intelligence officials.

Because they believe that anti-Hussein feeling is potent inside the country, the war planners are discussing how to contain the reprisals and revenge killings that would follow a U.S. assault. One official worries about the "Bosnification" of Iraq.

"Once you've liberated the country, a major problem is settling scores," an official cautioned. For this reason, he said, it was crucial that the United States and its allies inside the country move quickly to convene a national assembly that would allow all the ethnic and religious groups to feel that they have some voice.

The intelligence officials said it will be important to reassure the Sunni Muslims, who govern Iraq under Hussein even though they represent a minority of its population. That may mean granting amnesty for members of the army, and even the Baath Party, who pledge to support a post-Hussein regime.

Already, Hussein's regime is beginning to lose control of Shia-dominated southern Iraq, the officials said. In the key southern city of Basra, for example, "Baath officials and the military know they are in hostile country." The officials added that there are recent reports that some officials in the Basra area have tried to cut deals with rebel Shia groups they expect may soon be in control.

In arguing the case for going to war, the intelligence officials don't appear to be worried about the Iraqi military, its air defense, its nuclear program, its links to al Qaeda or its ability to mobilize global support. And they doubt there will be much instability in the Arab world, as long as the Iraqi people seem happy and other countries such as Syria, Jordan and Egypt share in the economic windfall that would come from rebuilding Iraq.

Read the rest at the Washington Post

September 13, 2003:

Bush says he has 'clear strategy' in Iraq

President Bush is stressing that the United States has a clear mission in Iraq to fight terrorists and foster democracy there, yet a new poll shows that fewer than half of Americans share his belief.

"We are following a clear strategy with three objectives: destroy the terrorists, enlist international support for a free Iraq and quickly transfer authority to the Iraqi people," Bush said Saturday in his weekly radio address.

Bush said U.S.-led coalition forces continue to take action against loyalists of Saddam Hussein and foreign terrorists, and the United States is moving forward on a specific plan to return sovereignty and authority to Iraqi citizens. A governing council comprising Iraqi citizens has selected a committee that will help draft a new constitution.

"When a constitution has been drafted and ratified by the Iraqi people, Iraq will enjoy free and fair elections," he said, "and the coalition will yield its remaining authority to a free and sovereign Iraqi government."

He said the United States is continuing to urge international cooperation in rebuilding Iraq.

Secretary of State Colin Powell was meeting Saturday in Geneva with the secretary general of the United Nations and representatives of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council to discuss ideas for a new U.N. resolution to encourage wider participation in the reconstruction effort.

The State Department announced in Geneva that after the meetings Powell would make his first visit to Iraq.

"Today, with our help, the people of Iraq are working to create a free, functioning and prosperous society," Bush said. "The terrorists know that if these efforts are successful, their ideology of hate will suffer a grave defeat. So they are attacking our forces, international aid workers, and innocent civilians."

Read the rest at USA Today

September 13, 2004:

The Real Reason We're In Iraq

We should get out of Iraq immediately. Let me explain...

But, first, bear in mind why we're in Iraq. It has nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction, and it has nothing to do with the brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein.

It has a lot to do with ambition.

Before we invaded Iraq, our politicians told us that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction in great quantities. Secretary of State Colin Powell even went to the United Nations and described Iraq's cache in detail, down to the pound of certain weapons.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told us that not only did Iraq have these weapons but he knew exactly where they were.

This is why I seriously doubted that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. What our government told us defied logic and common sense.

The United Nations had inspectors in Iraq looking for weapons. They couldn't find any. Logic and common sense, then, would have dictated that our government tell those inspectors where to look. After all, if we knew, why wouldn't we share our knowledge with the inspectors?

We wouldn't, of course, because we didn't know. Our government explained its unwillingness to help by explaining that it didn't want to compromise confidential sources.

How much sense does that make? Saddam has enough weaponry to attack the western world, and we can't lead the UN inspectors to it because we don't want Saddam to know how we got the information? Give me a break!

(As a footnote, it should be noted that a favorite trick of pathological liars is to "protect" their nonexistent sources of information.)

We now know for certain that Saddam did not have the weapons we used to go to war against Iraq.

And common sense tells that we didn't attack Iraq because Saddam is a brutal dictator. He was a brutal dictator back in the days when we played footsie with him as he fought Iran. (Do a Google image search for Rumsfeld and Saddam, and you'll find pictures of Rummy and Saddam shaking hands.)

Historically, the United States has always been friendly with brutal dictators if it's to our financial advantage. Currently, there are other dictators afoot; Saddam wasn't the only one.

And anyone who can read knows that Saddam had nothing whatsoever to do with the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

So why did we go to war with Iraq?

The short answer is "oil." But that's not the whole story.

Briefly, we went to war with Iraq because an influential group of conservatives (now known as "neo-cons") convinced President George W. Bush that it was in America's best interests to conquer Iraq as a first step toward dominating the oil-producing nations in the Middle East and eventually the world.

Not insignificantly, these same neo-cons wanted to eliminate Iraq as a threat to their darling ally, Israel.

Their plan is laid out in detail on the Web at

So we invaded Iraq not to save ourselves from weapons of mass destruction, not to rid the world of a brutal dictator and not to avenge the murders of Sept. 11. We invaded Iraq because Bush and his pals think America should rule the world.

That's why we can't win. The rest of the world isn't going to let us win. The rest of the world might admire us, but they do not want to be dominated by us.

And that's why we should get out of Iraq today. Not tomorrow, not next week, not a year from now, but today.

Try as we may, we are not going to turn Iraq into a model democracy. The Sunnis don't want democracy. The Shiites don't want a democracy. The Kurds don't want a democracy.

The Saudis do not want a new democracy as a neighbor. Nor do the Kuwaitis. Nor do the Syrians. None of the countries in that region with despotic rulers want us to succeed. And don't think for a moment they're above slipping terrorists into Iraq to kill Americans.

The plan to conquer Iraq was half-baked from the start. Our troops were not properly trained or equipped to do the job given them. (Sent to the desert in jungle fatigues? Not given body armor? Completely untrained in handling prisoners?)

There was no "exit plan" because we never intended to exit. The plan was, and is, to build military bases in Iraq and stay there forever as cock of the walk in the Middle East.

Many of our European friends, who have a sense of history, knew better than to get involved in such a fool's mission.

Bush may be the idealist other people think he is, but his grandiose plan for controlling the world has at least one fatal flaw: it depends, childlike, on the good will of all involved.

Yet, not even the U.S., the alleged "good guy" in this mess, has demonstrated purity. Our leaders see Iraq as a place to make money. So Bush & Co. have set up their friends to cash in on the rebuilding of Iraq, a job that should be done (for pay) by the people who built it in the first place: Iraqis.

We can't win in Iraq. Hardly anybody wants us to. The longer we stay there, the more Iraqi children end up maimed or dead, the more of our young men and women die.

Clearly, our government lied to us, and to the world, to get us into this war. That alone should tell us it's wrong.

Several years ago, George W. Bush made a decision to quit drinking. As one of my e-mailers suggests, we would have been better off if he had decided, instead, to quit lying.

It's not too late, George.

Read the rest at the San Francisco Chronicle

September 13, 2005:

'My War' -- a soldier's wild ride

To say that Colby Buzzell was at loose ends when he left high school is an affront to the concept of loose ends. He says he "barely graduated" from California High School in San Ramon, and then he kicked around in San Francisco.

At 26, he sat down and wrote out a list of the jobs he'd held: "flower delivery guy, valet guy, cash register at Orchard Supply guy, car washer guy, gift shop sales guy, telemarketing guy, 7-Eleven guy, record store guy, towel guy at the gym guy, and I worked seasonally at Toys 'R' Us."

"And that's not even a complete list," he said in a phone interview last week.

So it will be a bit of a surprise to his high school buddies to learn that he has a book -- "My War: Killing Time in Iraq" -- coming out Oct. 20. Even bigger if you add that he's working with a major publisher (Putnam) and that literary lion Kurt Vonnegut calls the book "... nothing less than the soul of an extremely interesting human being at war ..."

Good luck trying to figure it all out. Buzzell is still trying to decide if he is thrilled or mystified.

"I don't know what to make out of all of it," Buzzell says. "It just sort of happened. I'm just going to jump on the ride for a while."

The simple explanation is that one day Buzzell was sitting on a bar stool at O'Kane's Irish Pub and Grill in San Ramon and the next he was behind an M240 Bravo machine gun in Iraq. Somewhere along the way he went over to the Internet café at his Army base camp in Mosul and posted his experiences on a blog.

And then all hell broke loose.

Buzzell's blog was discovered, and word spread. His blog began to get as many as 10,000 hits a day. His Army commanding officers began to take an interest, unable to decide if he was telling it like it was or undermining the American effort.

But by then, he was a sensation, and controlling his blog was proving to be very difficult. Interview requests began to come in from PBS and the Wall Street Journal. Pretty impressive for someone who wasn't clear on exactly where his words went when he shipped them out on the World Wide Web.

"I had never even heard the word, blog, before," he says now. "I didn't tell my parents about it because I was swearing and cussing and stuff and I didn't want them to trip out."

Buzzell's entries, which form the basis for his book, have moments that are too surreal to be anything but true. When his platoon drives up to a mosque in Mosul and they start to take fire, everyone opens up with automatic weapons -- except for the guys who pull out their new digital cameras for some authentic photos of combat. With the mosque covered in a cloud of dust kicked up from hundreds of rounds of fire, Buzzell looks over to see a machine-gunner "hysterically throwing up the heavy-metal devil horn hand signal like it was an Ozzy Osbourne concert."

But the centerpiece, called "Men in Black," is vivid enough to make you smell the gunpowder -- and the fear. Buzzell starts with a copy of the three paragraph wire service account of a "clash" between American troops and Iraqi insurgents. Then he says, "Now here's what really happened."

The account of the firefight that follows has become an Internet cult classic, linked and passed from reader to reader. It was eventually published in Esquire magazine and turned out to be the perfect pitch for a book deal. Not that he had anything like that in mind when he came back from the patrol, still amped.

"I didn't even think what I was doing," Buzzell says. "I remember I sat down and I closed my eyes for a second and then I thought, 'just go from the beginning.' The words just poured out. I couldn't type fast enough. I finished, posted up the blog, walked out, lit up a cigarette and had no idea what I had done."

Again the Army had conflicted feelings. Some of his commanding officers thought he'd captured the events to perfection and was providing a service. Some, even higher up, were uneasy.

His battalion commander, Lt. Col. Buck James, wrote in an e-mail that is quoted in the book that there was an inquiry "to determine if there was a breach of operational security anywhere in his blog."

Buzzell, no fool, got the message and eventually took down the blog and the "Men in Black" entry on his own.

"It was getting really crazy," he says now. "I was getting hammered with hundreds and hundreds of e-mails. It was a little overwhelming. I didn't join the Army to cause problems."

"My War" has bits like "Men in Black," but it isn't a print version of TV's "Over There." (Buzzell, by the way, watched one episode of the FX channel's show and hated it.) Beneath the layer of bravado and dust is the story of a young guy who was lost and looking for something to change his life.

"They say war is the great adventure," Buzzell says. "I just wanted to go on the great adventure. I thought I'll join the Army and if nothing else I can say I did something."

You have to wonder how many Colby Buzzell's there are, a lost generation of kids who don't buy into the route to college and no longer see the honor in a blue-collar job. Buzzell was a lost soul, waiting for a thunderbolt to blast him out of his dead-end existence. To his astonishment, it happened.

Today, he is well aware of how many writers struggle to get their work published and are unable to find an outlet. And here he is thinking about a book tour and a national release of his first effort.

"I guess," he shrugs, "the trick is not to try."

Read the rest at the San Francisco Chronicle

September 13, 2006:

Cleric lays out post-occupation vision for Iraq

In a shabby but spotless living room in the holy city of Najaf, a top deputy of Shiite Muslim leader Muqtada al-Sadr quietly sketched out his vision of the Iraq to come, after the Americans withdraw.

First, “there will be a civil war,” cleric Mustafa Yaqoubi said as his three young children wandered in and out of the room. The rising violence and rivalries under the U.S. occupation make a shaking-out all but inevitable once foreign forces go, Yaqoubi said.

“No matter the number of people who would lose their lives, it is better than now,” he added. “It would be better than the Americans staying.”
The al-Sadr aide said that when the tumult ends, Iraq's Shiite majority finally will claim its due, long resisted by the Americans: freedom to usher in a Shiite religious government that Yaqoubi said would be moderate and perhaps comparable in some ways to Iran's.

Yaqoubi speaks as one of two or three longtime intimates of al-Sadr, the young heir of a revered Shiite clerical family. Al-Sadr's rough-edged, strongly anti-U.S. street movement of poor, largely uneducated Shiites has burgeoned into one of the strongest political and armed forces in Iraq.

Yaqoubi's arrest by U.S.-led coalition troops, on charges in the stabbing death of an al-Sadr rival, ignited full-scale street battles between al-Sadr followers and U.S. forces in April 2004. He was freed in August 2005 after 16 months in prison.

Read the rest at the San Diego Tribune

Iraqi leader asks Iran for help with security

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki made his first official visit to Iran, a close ally, asking the Islamic regime on Tuesday to crack down on al-Qaida militants infiltrating his country and seeking new deals to help Iraq's troubled oil industry.

The visit reflected the complex relationship between Iran, a mostly Shiite Muslim country, and Iraq's government, now dominated in the post-Saddam Hussein era by Shiite allies of Iran. Since Saddam's fall in 2003, Iraq has sought better relations with Iran and to heal scars left by the 1980-88 war between the two countries that killed more than a million people.

The two enjoy increasingly strong ties that include new oil cooperation. Iraq has turned to Iran for help with a chronic shortage of petroleum goods, reaching a deal last month to import Iranian gasoline, kerosene and cooking fuel. Iraqi officials said al-Maliki's visit and other recent exchanges could improve the cooperation.

But at the same time, the United States — the Iraqi government's other top ally and a bitter enemy of Iran — has repeatedly accused Iran of interfering in Iraqi politics and allowing insurgents to cross the porous 1,000-mile border. Iran denies the claims.

Moreover, Iraq is struggling to control Shiite-Sunni sectarian violence, some of which is blamed on Shiite militias that are linked to parties in the government but also believed to have ties with Iran.

Al-Maliki's welcome was warm in Iran, where he spent part of his yearslong exile from Iraq during Saddam's rule.

The Iraqi premier held a red-carpet reception at the office of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

"All our assistance to the Iraqi people will be to establish complete security" in Iraq, Ahmadinejad said at a joint news conference, according to the state-run news agency.

Al-Maliki said his visit would be "a turning point in the expansion of relations between Iran and Iraq that enjoy historical and ancient ties."

Read the rest at the Seattle Times