Friday, September 14, 2007

Perspective: On this day in Iraq -- September 14th edition

September 14, 2006: Soldiers from the 1st Armored Division head back to base in a Bradley Fighting Vehicle following a raid in Ramadi.

September 14, 2002:

Baghdad 'planning 1,500km missiles'

The Pentagon believes that Iraq is developing missiles with a range of up to 1,500km that could be operational within the next three years.

Officials said yesterday Iraq's development of medium-range missiles was in addition to its existing short-range missiles.

Pentagon officials said yesterday that Iraq had tested components of missiles with ranges longer than 150km. But they said their assessment was based on knowledge of Iraq's previous programmes and its "active effort to gain materials and knowledge and people and technology".

The Pentagon assessment of Iraq's missile capabilities came the day after President George W. Bush told the UN's General Assembly that Iraq's Scud missiles breached UN resolutions by having ranges "beyond the 150km permitted by the UN".

"Work at testing and protection facilities shows that Iraq is building more long-range missiles so that it can inflict mass death throughout the region," the president warned, before calling for the immediate destruction of those missiles.

The Pentagon sought to reinforce those warnings yesterday by detailing both Iraq's links with terrorist groups and its development of chemical and biological weapons.

In recent days the White House has distanced itself from the suggestion that Iraq was linked to the hijackers responsible for the September 11 terrorist attacks last year.

But the administration insists that there is a serious threat to world security posed by the overlap between terrorists and rogue states developing weapons of mass destruction.

A senior Pentagon official said yesterday that there was evidence of Iraq's continued development of chemical and biological weapons.

"We continue to see suspicious activities at sites that we believe are related to their CW [chemical weapons] and BW [biological weapons] programmes," the official said.

Read the rest at the Financial Times

September 14, 2003:

Powell: 'We are not occupiers' in Iraq

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell on Sunday said U.S. forces are not occupiers but liberators, shortly after the military said another American soldier had died in an attack on a U.S. convoy.

"We are not occupiers," Powell told a Baghdad news conference. "We have come under a legal term having to do with occupation under international law, but we came as liberators."

"We have liberated a number of countries, and we do not own one square foot of any of those countries, except where we bury our dead," Powell said on his first visit to Baghdad...

Powell told CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer" on Sunday that Iraq remains "a little unstable in the central part of the country, but we knew it would be difficult."

Read the rest at CNN

A 'Shiite Strategy' in Iraq?

Trends in Iraq seem to be moving in two different directions these days. The guerrilla war between the United States and insurgents continues, with mounting clashes and casualties. Yet the standoff with the Shiite leader Moqtada Sadr in Najaf and Kufa has ended, and those cities are no longer controlled by the Mahdi Army. The intractable security problems in Sunni areas, coupled with success in Shiite ones, might lead the Iraqi government (and Washington) toward a "Shiite strategy" in Iraq. But going down that path has its dangers. It would heighten Iraq's divisions along ethnic and religious lines. That could make today's problems look easy.

After the creation of the interim Iraqi government in June, many hoped that the insurgency would die down. It hasn't. Today it appears more organized, entrenched and aggressive than ever. The U.S. Army cannot use its military superiority to take Sunni cities from the guerrillas because that would produce heavy civilian casualties and fuel anti-Americanism. The interim Iraqi government itself may not have the necessary credibility to take on such a task. Prime Minister Ayad Allawi is a tough guy, but he is clearly aware of the limits of his legitimacy. And the Iraqi army will not be up to the job for at least another year. In these circumstances, it's difficult to see how the insurgency will diminish in strength. Last week Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations, Sameer Shaker Sumaidaie, predicted to the Scotsman newspaper that unless the United States and Britain added "a considerable amount" of troops to Iraq, the insurgency could grow.

But for all its resilience, the insurgency has not spread across the country, nor is it likely to. Its appeal has clear limits. While it has drawn some support from all Iraqis because of its anti-American character, the insurgency is essentially a Sunni movement, fueled by the anger of Iraq's once-dominant community, which now fears the future. It is not supported by the Shiites or the Kurds. (The Shiite radical Sadr has been careful not to align himself too closely with the insurgency, for fear of losing support among the Shiites.) This is what still makes me believe that Iraq is not Vietnam. There, the Viet Cong and their northern sponsors both appealed to a broad nationalism that much of the country shared.

Hence the temptations of a "Shiite strategy." Such an approach would view the Sunni areas in Iraq as hopeless until an Iraqi army could go in and establish control. It would ensure that the Shiite community, as well as the Kurds, remained supportive of Allawi's government and of the upcoming elections. It would attempt to hold elections everywhere -- but if they could not be held in the Sunni areas, elections would go forward anyway. That would isolate the Sunni problem and leave it to be dealt with when forces become available.

The Shiites are easier to handle. They supported the U.S. invasion, which rid them of Saddam Hussein's tyranny. They have also disciplined their own, curbing Sadr's violent challenges to the government. Allawi and Washington handled this well, careful not to blast their way through Najaf's Imam Ali shrine (a "sensitive" war, one might say). But the key was that Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the towering Shiite figure, does not want Sadr to disrupt the path to elections (and thus Shiite majority rule).

A Shiite strategy is understandable but risky. If the Sunnis end up with no representatives, they will have even less incentive to support the new Iraqi order. Today a significant number of Sunnis feel disenfranchised, and thus they support the guerrillas (estimates vary from 25 percent to 65 percent). If they are cut out of the government, all will feel disenfranchised. And to have one-fifth of the population -- people who are well trained and connected -- supporting an insurgency will make it extremely difficult to defeat militarily.

Allawi is trying hard to co-opt Sunni tribal and religious leaders. But the structure of Sunni political authority is fractured; there is no dominant Sunni leader like Ayatollah Sistani. And Allawi's plans to offer insurgents amnesty were derailed by the U.S. objection to pardoning anyone who was involved in killing Americans.

In Iraq the one truly pleasant surprise so far is that there has been little religious and ethnic bloodshed. Many of the experts who counseled against an invasion predicted that after Hussein's fall, the Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds would tear each other apart. Nothing like this has happened. The problems -- of resistance, nationalism and anti-Americanism -- have been quite different. But the balance is fragile. If the United States and the Iraqi government played a sectarian strategy, things could unravel.

In many of their colonies the British would often favor a single group as a quick means of gaining stability. Almost always the results were ruinous: a trail of civil war and bloodshed. If Allawi and the United States make the same mistake, there will be 140,000 American troops in the middle of it all.

Read the rest at the Washington Post

September 14, 2004:

A wave of attacks kills 150 in Iraq

Insurgents carried out ambushes and at least 11 suicide car bombings Wednesday in an extraordinary wave of attacks in and around the capital that killed about 150 people and wounded hundreds.

The violence included a suicide bombing in a Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad in which the attacker used a new tactic: luring dozens of day laborers to a van with promises of work and then blowing it up.

More bombings and attacks followed throughout the day with several each hour, as police cars careered wildly through the city struggling to restore order and hospitals overflowed with wounded people. In Taji, north of Baghdad, gunmen abducted 17 people and shot and killed them, Interior Ministry officials said.

Al Qaeda's leader in Iraq purportedly declared all-out war on Shiite Muslims, Iraqi troops and the government in an audiotape released Wednesday on an Internet site known for carrying extremist Islamist content, The Associated Press reported from Cairo.

Read the rest at the International Herald Tribune

U.S. shifts Iraq rebuilding funds to security, oil

The United States announced it will shift more than $3 billion earmarked for Iraqi reconstruction to improve security and oil production, the State Department said Tuesday.

The news came the same day that insurgents launched two deadly assaults at Iraqi police targets -- killing 47 people in a car bombing at a police recruit line in Baghdad and 12 police officers in a drive-by shooting in Baquba.

"Without security, there's no possibility, as many power plants as you have, to actually get electricity, water, sewage, power to Iraqis," said Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Marc Grossman. "And so that's why so much of this money and the reallocation that you see is moving toward security."

In order to offset the redirection of money, the United States will reduce spending on water and sewage projects by $1.9 billion and electricity by $1 billion.

Iraq has identified improving water, sewage and electricity as important reconstruction projects. Robin Raphel, a former ambassador who now works on Iraqi reconstruction issues at the State Department, acknowledged that few Iraqis have access to potable water and that most receive electricity for about half the day only.

Read the rest at CNN

September 14, 2005:

Iraq violence kills more than 140

A suicide bomber lured a crowd of Shi'ite day labourers to his minivan and blew it up, killing 114 people and wounding more than 156 in Baghdad's old town on Wednesday, Iraq's second deadliest car bombing since war began.

The bomber drew the men to his vehicle with promises of work before detonating the bomb, which contained up to 220 kilos of explosives, an Interior Ministry source said.

Gunmen also killed 17 people in Taji, a northern suburb of the capital, while bombs exploded across Baghdad all morning. Police said they seemed to be carefully orchestrated.

"It has been a hectic day with bombs exploding across Baghdad. It is highly likely that these attacks were coordinated," a police official told Reuters.

Fears of civil war have grown in the run-up to an October 15 vote on a new constitution for Iraq's post-Saddam Hussein era.

Read the rest at TVNZ

September 14, 2006:

Iraq announces security operation in country's second largest city

Thousands of Iraqi and British forces will start a security crackdown in the country's second largest city in a bid to rid it of death squads and stop mortar attacks on residential areas, Iraqi authorities announced Thursday.

Although the mainly Shiite city of Basra has not seen the level of violence that is plaguing the Baghdad, 550 kilometers (340 miles) to the north, it still suffers from violence — including attacks on British bases in the area.

Authorities also openly acknowledge that the local police force has been infiltrated by militia, and that corruption is widespread.

"We cannot accept the situation as it is today," Gen. Ali Hammadi, head of Basra's High Security Committee, said at a news conference. "The security situation must be improved and the 'death squads' defeated if the city is to prosper."

Hammadi said the security operation — which will include both Iraqi and the mainly British forces deployed in southern Iraq — would take place over the next few months and would include all sectors of the city.

"Starting very soon, we will regularly surge thousands of Iraqi security forces, assisted by Multi-National Forces, into the city to create a secure environment," he said. "We will seek to make 'death squads' and other criminals a thing of the past."

A coalition official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because official announcements were being made by the Iraqi authorities, said the operation would begin in the next two days.

Hammadi said the plan aimed to stabilize the situation in Basra to the point where Iraqi forces could take over the handling of security from coalition troops. The handover of security control to Iraqi forces is a key element of any eventual drawdown of international troops.

The start of the Basra operation comes as Iraqi and coalition forces continue a massive security effort in Baghdad, where troops and police have been going through the city neighborhood by neighborhood in an effort to stem the widespread sectarian bloodshed pitting Sunni Arab and Shiite Muslims against each other.

In predominantly Shiite Basra, however, the violence has been mostly between Shiite groups battling each other for power as well as attacking Sunni Arabs in the city. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki declared a state of emergency in the city in June.

Iraqi authorities also acknowledged Thursday that part of the city's security problems stem from the infiltration of the police by militia members.

"We say that our institutions are corrupted," said Deputy Interior Minister Gen. Abdel Khider al-Tahir. "We have to clean this up."

Al-Tahir insisted that efforts were being made to find and arrest corrupt members of the Iraqi forces.

"If we find anyone, we will arrest them and severely punish them," he said.

In an effort to tackle the police problem, authorities were also trying to find new recruits, the deputy minister said — although the force is already over-staffed.

"We start to build our police. We chose the correct people to be an example for the others," he said, adding that the selection process for about 200 extra policemen will be stringent.

Those being recruited will come from all backgrounds — including Sunnis and Christians, al-Tahir said.

He said that while for the time being, the security operation would use forces already in Basra, local authorities would discuss with al-Maliki the possibility of sending more troops from outside the area.

"What we want to try and do here is to start momentum," said British Lt. Col. Peter Merriman, commanding officer of the 2nd Battalion, Royal Regiment of Fusileers. "What we want to do is to show people what the benefits of security can bring."

The plan was designed in the hope that the city's population "will recognize themselves that actually, with better security comes the promise of better economic future," Merriman said, referring to reconstruction work that has been stalled.

Read the rest at the International Herald Tribune

The real link between 9/11 and Iraq

You've heard US President George W Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney say it over and over in various ways: there was a connection between the events of September 11, 2001, and Iraq. Let's take this seriously and consider some of the links between the two.

-- At least 3,438 Iraqis died by violent means during July (roughly similar numbers died in June and August), significantly more than the 2,973 people who died in the attacks of September 11.

-- A total of 1,536 Iraqis died in Baghdad alone in August, according to revised figures from the Baghdad morgue. That's more than half the September 11 casualties in one city in one increasingly typical month. According to the Washington Post, this figure does not include suicide-bombing victims and others taken to the city's hospitals, nor does it include deaths in towns near the capital.

-- By the beginning of this month, 2,974 US military service members had died in Iraq and in the Bush administration's "global war on terror", more than died on September 11. (Twenty-two more American soldiers died in Iraq in the first nine days of September, and at least three in Afghanistan.)

-- Five years after the attacks on New York and the Pentagon, according to Emily Gosden and David Randall of the British newspaper The Independent, the Bush administration's "global war on terror" has resulted in, at a minimum, 20 times the deaths of September 11; at a maximum, 60 times. It has "directly killed a minimum of 62,006 people, created 4.5 million refugees and cost the US more than the sum needed to pay off the debts of every poor nation on Earth. If estimates of other, unquantified, deaths - of insurgents, the Iraqi military during the 2003 invasion, those not recorded individually by Western media, and those dying from wounds - are included, the toll could reach as high as 180,000."

According to Australian journalist Paul McGeough, Iraqi officials (and others) estimate that that country's death toll since 2003 "stands at 50,000 or more - the proportional equivalent of about 570,000 Americans".

-- Last week, the US Senate agreed to appropriate another US$63 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, whose costs have been averaging $10 billion a month so far this year. This brings the (taxpayer) cost for Bush's wars so far to about $469 billion and climbing. That's the equivalent of 469 Ground Zero (as the site of the destroyed World Trade Center is called) memorials at full cost-overrun estimates, double that if the memorial comes in at the recently revised budget of $500 million. (Keep in mind that the estimated cost of these two wars doesn't include various perfectly real future payouts such as those for the care of veterans and could rise into the trillions.)

-- In 2003, with its invasion of Iraq over, the Bush administration had about 150,000 troops in Iraq. Just under three and a half years later, almost as long as it took to win World War II in the Pacific, and despite much media coverage about coming force "drawdowns", troop levels are actually rising - by 15,000 in the past month. They now stand at 145,000, just 5,000 short of the initial occupation figure. (Pre-invasion, top administration officials such as deputy secretary of defense Paul Wolfowitz took it for granted that US troop levels would be drawn down to the 30,000 range within three months of the taking of Baghdad.)

Read the rest at Asia Times