Saturday, September 15, 2007

Perspective: On this day in Iraq -- September 15th edition

September 15, 2006: Iraqi army soldiers practice marksmanship techniques during a live-fire exercise near Baqubah.

September 15, 2002:

In Iraqi War Scenario, Oil Is Key Issue

A U.S.-led ouster of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein could open a bonanza for American oil companies long banished from Iraq, scuttling oil deals between Baghdad and Russia, France and other countries, and reshuffling world petroleum markets, according to industry officials and leaders of the Iraqi opposition.

Although senior Bush administration officials say they have not begun to focus on the issues involving oil and Iraq, American and foreign oil companies have already begun maneuvering for a stake in the country's huge proven reserves of 112 billion barrels of crude oil, the largest in the world outside Saudi Arabia.

The importance of Iraq's oil has made it potentially one of the administration's biggest bargaining chips in negotiations to win backing from the U.N. Security Council and Western allies for President Bush's call for tough international action against Hussein. All five permanent members of the Security Council -- the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China -- have international oil companies with major stakes in a change of leadership in Baghdad.

"It's pretty straightforward," said former CIA director R. James Woolsey, who has been one of the leading advocates of forcing Hussein from power. "France and Russia have oil companies and interests in Iraq. They should be told that if they are of assistance in moving Iraq toward decent government, we'll do the best we can to ensure that the new government and American companies work closely with them."

But he added: "If they throw in their lot with Saddam, it will be difficult to the point of impossible to persuade the new Iraqi government to work with them."

Read the rest at the Washington Post

September 15, 2003:

U.S. cuts its hopes for help in Iraq

The Pentagon has sharply sliced the number of foreign troops it hopes will help stabilize Iraq, but even the 10,000 to 15,000 it is now seeking may be unattainable.
The obstacles — including political opposition in some countries, transportation problems and stretched military forces worldwide — leave few nations in a position to supply more troops. That has forced the Pentagon to reduce its earlier goal of attracting 60,000 additional foreign forces.

More foreign soldiers could take pressure off U.S. troops; some have been in Iraq since before the war began in mid-March. Adding foreign troops would support the U.S. argument that the reconstruction and security mission is a multinational effort, not an overwhelmingly U.S. occupation. And it could lead to sharing the costs of rebuilding Iraq.

Acknowledging the difficulty, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Sunday on CBS' Face the Nation, "If there's another U.N. resolution, my guess is the most we could hope to get for, by way of additional international troops, would be something between zero or 10,000 and 15,000."

On Saturday, Secretary of State Colin Powell met with his diplomatic counterparts representing the four other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, but they made little progress in crafting a resolution expanding the U.N.'s role in Iraq. There are 145,000 U.S. and 12,000 British troops in Iraq, plus 15,500 from 29 other countries.

"We're still encouraging troops of other nations to join the coalition effort," Powell said on Fox News Sunday. "And we know there are some 14 countries that are examining that idea to see whether or not they can make a contribution."

So far, only Bangladesh has said publicly it would send troops if a U.N. force is approved. Britain pledges to send at least 1,200 more troops to Iraq.

To boost numbers in Iraq, U.S. officials have intensified negotiations with India, Pakistan, Russia and Turkey. They are even holding out hope that France and Germany, the strongest opponents of the war, will send troops in a move to rebuild ties with the United States. And they have been courting Argentina, Brazil and Chile as sources for soldiers.

Read the rest at USA Today

Powell rejects a speedy handover in Iraq

Colin Powell, America's secretary of state, yesterday dismissed international calls for a speedy transfer of power in Iraq with a warning that rushing the handover would end in failure.

"The worst thing that can happen is to push this process too quickly before the capacity for government is there and the basis for legitimacy is there and see it fail," he said.

Mr Powell was in Baghdad after an attempt in Geneva on Saturday to reach a deal on a new United Nations resolution ended inconclusively, with France in particular arguing that Washington should hand over sovereignty within a month. "We don't want to stay here a day longer [than needed]. It is expensive. Our young soldiers would like to get home to their families," Mr Powell said.

"[But] we can't just say 'You are a government, fine, go, you have full authority'. It will be some time before any new government can take over responsibility for security."

His remarks set the stage for a week of frenetic diplomacy in an attempt to reach an agreement before President George W Bush's planned speech to the UN General Assembly next Monday.

They came as the White House launched a concerted defence of the record of post-war Iraq amid fresh indications of faltering public support. Back home, Mr Powell's sometime rival in Washington, Donald Rumsfeld, the defence secretary, sought to counter claims that the Pentagon plan for post-war Iraq was failing and that his own star was fading.

A front-page story in The Washington Post yesterday suggested that leading figures in Congress and in the military were blaming him for the mixed record of the post-Saddam Hussein era in Iraq.

Characteristically, he came out in super-confident form yesterday when asked about this article and about polls suggesting public disquiet over the course of events.

Appearing on CBS's Face the Nation, he denied that US troops were getting "bogged down" in Iraq. "The truth is that we are not. We have been there four and a half months since the end of major military conflict. Four and a half months is not bogged down in my view," he said.

He also insisted that calls for more troops were misplaced, and that claims that the military commanders were unhappy with his stance were wrong.

Read the rest at Read the rest at the Telegraph

September 15, 2004:

Iraq: a descent into civil war?

Lying amid the debris strewn near Al-Karkh police station was the photo of a young man in a blue T-shirt. The passport snap had been part of his application to join Iraq's police force.

Yesterday, however, he and dozens of other recruits queueing outside the station in central Baghdad were blown to pieces by a car bomb. Near the photo, someone had heaped the shoes of the dead and injured into a neat pile.

The destruction from the suspected suicide blast which killed 47 people and injured 114 was everywhere: bits of metal, glass, a broken billiard table, a dead bird and pools of blood.

There was nothing left of the recruit in the photo.

"The bomb went off at 10am. A lot of people were queueing up to join the police," said Allah Hamas, 31, who owns Allah's Famous Falafel Stand, next to the police station.

"I handed a customer a sandwich. Suddenly there was an explosion and a piece of metal ripped off the top of his head.

"After that I ran out to help. We covered the dead with blankets. I saw at least 30 bodies. Thirteen of them were burnt completely. Some people were scattered into pieces. We found them among their files and photos."

It was the deadliest single incident in the Iraqi capital for six months, but there was nothing unique about the explosion; it took place a few hundred metres from Haifa Street, a well-known centre of resistance to the American occupation and the scene of heavy fighting on Sunday. It was embarrassingly close to the green zone and the US embassy.

But it reveals a grim truth about the nature of Iraq's evolving insurgency: Iraqis are killing Iraqis.

In recent months, and especially since the handover of "power" to the unelected interim government, Iraq's resistance has concentrated its efforts on killing those who collaborate with the Americans - the police officers, would-be police officers, translators, governors and government officials.

It is beginning to look like, and feel like, civil war.

In another incident yesterday, gunmen ambushed a minibus full of policeman in Baquba, north-west of Baghdad, killing 11 of them and a civilian. They were on their way home to their base.

In Ramadi, clashes between US troops and insurgents left eight dead and 18 wounded.

Responsibility for the attacks in Baghdad and Baquba was claimed yesterday by Tawhid and Jihad, Iraq's shadowy and fastest-growing militant group, which is allegedly linked to the Jordanian al-Qaida ally Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

In reality, though, the real identities of the insurgents remain opaque. They undoubtedly include a handful of foreign fighters, but the majority are Iraqi nationalists violently opposed to the continuing occupation of their country.

"What happened here has really got nothing to do with Islam," said Rafid Ahmed, whose shop in Al-Karkh was destroyed.

Mr Ahmed said his two neighbours in the next-door barber's shop were killed. He survived only because he opened up late.

"Why are these people targeting Iraqi police recruits? They just want to get a salary because they are unemployed," he said. "The people who did this are terrorists."

What would he do now? "Wait and see," he said. "This store provided an income for a whole family."

In the row of ruined neighbouring shops there were bloodstains on the ceilings. A few metres away, beyond a pavement strewn with rubble and bits of tree, the explosion had dug a large crater. The blackened engine of the car had landed 30 metres away.

Mingled with the smell of incinerated metal was something else: burnt flesh.

Another witness, Raad Tawfiq, 40, contradicted the claims of Tawhid and Jihad. "It wasn't a suicide bomb," he said. "They blew the car up by remote control. People in the restaurant spotted them leaving, but it was too late.

"This was a massacre," he said.

Read the rest at the Guardian

Iraq's insurgency appears to take the upper hand

Two years ago, the head of the Arab League was scolded by many for predicting that "the gates of hell" would be unleashed if President Bush proceeded with his threat to invade Iraq.

But when Amr Moussa reprised his statement to a meeting in Cairo this week, there was no dissent. Instead, the former Egyptian foreign minister, an influential figure in the Middle East, got nods when he said "the gates of hell are open in Iraq, where the situation is becoming more complicated and troubled."

U.S. plans had called for Iraq's new government and Prime Minister Ayad Allawi to be gaining respect and organizing for national elections now. Instead insurgents appear more powerful than ever. By some counts, more than three dozen Iraqi cities and towns are in the hands of leaders hostile to the new government and the United States, and apparently able to dispatch gunmen and suicide bombers at will. The resistance that was spotty a year ago now launches an average of more than 50 attacks against U.S. or coalition forces a day.

Some of the most horrific attacks have been aimed at those cooperating with the United States and the U.S.-backed government: More than 700 Iraqi police officers have been killed.

Increasingly, the U.S. civil and military effort in Iraq appears aimed at keeping the country from sliding into chaos rather than moving ahead. That change was underscored this week when the Bush administration said it was shifting more than $3 billion from its Iraq reconstruction budget to boost security.

The National Intelligence Council presented President Bush this summer with several pessimistic scenarios regarding the security situation in Iraq, including the possibility of a civil war there before the end of 2005.

Administration officials also are warning that the bloodshed will get worse before it gets better. "We do expect an increase in violence as we approach the January election in Iraq, because the election is what the insurgents fear," said Richard Armitage, deputy secretary of State, this week in Prague. Yet, he added, despite "having trouble with the insurgency ... we feel along with our allies in Iraq that we are making progress on these matters."

President Bush urged patience in a speech to the National Guard Association on Tuesday. "Despite ongoing violence in Iraq, that country now has a strong prime minister, a national council, and national elections are scheduled in January. The world is changing for the better," Bush said.

But doubts that the situation can be turned around are rising, even among some Republicans on Capitol Hill. At a hearing Wednesday on the administration's request to reallocate the $3.5 billion in reconstruction funds to shore up Iraqi security forces, Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., said the move was "an acknowledgement that we are in deep trouble." Despite positive talk from the administration, he said, the money shift shows there's no "grand illusion that we're winning."

"I think it's worse than we had expected and led to believe, and that is the benchmark," says Lawrence Korb, a former assistant secretary of Defense under President Reagan who is now an analyst at the Center for American Progress, a liberal-leaning group in Washington, D.C. "If I said to you that Saddam (Hussein) would be out in the spring of 2003, and in September 2004 you would have all this going on, you would say no."

Adds Korb: "In the Sunni Triangle area, I would not want to go out (at) night." In addition to the violence in the cities, insurgents "are going after people aligning themselves with the new government, and they show they have the ability to disrupt the oil, which is the center of the economic plan, even in the so-called safe south."

"The bottom line is, at this moment we are losing the war," says Andrew Bacevich, a former Army colonel who teaches international relations at Boston University. "That doesn't mean it is lost, but we are losing, and as an observer it is difficult for me to see that either the civilian leadership or the military leadership has any plausible idea on how to turn this around"...

The last time the United States was enmeshed in a larger and more protracted conflict was in Vietnam a generation ago. Comparisons between the two are frequent now. The Iraq war marks the first time since Vietnam that U.S. troops have been involved in sustained combat for more than a few months. And for now, at least, the Iraq war seems to have no obvious end in sight.

Part of the problem America faced in Vietnam was the inability to define the end — what President Lyndon Johnson called the "light at the end of the tunnel" — or to measure progress in getting there, says Andrew Krepinevich, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who now heads a Washington think tank.

North Vietnam's willingness to sacrifice its sons guaranteed continuation of the fighting, Krepinevich says. The United States was not outfought. It was "out-bled" — the same strategy the jihadists apparently mean to duplicate in a different form today, he says.

Ted Galen Carpenter of the Cato Institute, a libertarian group that favors an American pullout, says historical comparisons are imperfect, and Vietnam doesn't fit as well as the Soviet experience in Afghanistan or the British fight in Northern Ireland.

Terrorist tactics used by the insurgents in Iraq were learned in those earlier conflicts. The Soviet-Afghan war turned out to be a breeding ground for terrorists including Osama bin Laden.

Carpenter warns that if the United States doesn't get out of Iraq soon, the conflict could become the same sort of catalyst for terrorism that Afghanistan was.

"It's avoidable if the U.S. terminates the mission as soon as possible. But if it drags on ... it is going to be a rallying cry for Islamic radicals around the world," he says.

Read the rest at USA Today

Report for Bush provides bleak assessment of Iraq

The National Intelligence Council presented President Bush this summer with several pessimistic scenarios regarding the security situation in Iraq, including the possibility of a civil war there before the end of 2005.
In a highly classified National Intelligence Estimate, the council looked at the political, economic and security situation in the war-torn country and determined that — at best — stability in Iraq would be tenuous, a U.S. official said late Wednesday, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

At worst, the official said, were "trend lines that would point to a civil war." The official said it "would be fair" to call the document "pessimistic."

The intelligence estimate, which was prepared for Bush, considered the window of time between July and the end of 2005. But the official noted that the document draws on intelligence community assessments from January 2003, before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and the subsequent deteriorating security situation there.

This latest assessment was performed by the National Intelligence Council, a group of senior intelligence officials that provides long-term strategic thinking for the entire U.S. intelligence community.

Acting CIA Director John McLaughlin and the leaders of the other intelligence agencies approved the intelligence document, which runs about 50 pages.

The estimate appears to differ from the public comments of Bush and his senior aides who speak more optimistically about the prospects for a peaceful and free Iraq. "We're making progress on the ground," Bush said at his Texas ranch late last month.

A CIA spokesman declined to comment Wednesday night.

The document was first reported by The New York Times on its Web site Wednesday night.

It is the first formal assessment of Iraq since the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on the threat posed by fallen Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Read the rest at USA Today

September 15, 2005:

The Sunni world turned upside down

Osama bin Laden curses them as "the most evil creatures under the heavens." Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, derides them as "the lurking snake, the spying enemy and the penetrating venom." They are, in one Arab insult, "worse than the Jews."

These diatribes aren't aimed at Americans, but at Shiite Muslims, specifically by Sunni extremists who, like many Sunnis, have regarded Shiites as heretics ever since their seventh-century schism over the true successor of the Prophet Muhammad. Iraq has become the latest battlefield in this centuries-old struggle within Islam, with Wednesday's massive attacks aimed at Shiites in Baghdad and a chilling audiotape the same day, apparently from Zarqawi, declaring "all-out war against Shiites everywhere" only the latest manifestation.

Yet more than two years into the Iraq war, Washington's failure to grasp the true scope of this religious struggle risks undermining its strategic goals across the region.

For the world's 1.3 billion Muslims, nearly 90 percent of them Sunni, the psychological shock of the Shia minority assuming power in Baghdad cannot be exaggerated. Sunni monarchs and autocrats have historically ruled every Arab country except multiethnic Lebanon and Syria. Even in Iraq and Bahrain, the only two Arab nations with Shiite majorities, the Shia have long suffered under Sunni masters.

Now, for the first time in a millenniim, Shiites in Iraq are dominating an Arab land, unnerving Sunnis and inspiring Shiites across the Middle East.In Saudi Arabia, where the puritanical Wahhabi religious establishment condemns Shiites as infidels, the kingdom's first municipal elections in March saw Shiites prevail in the one region where they constitute a majority, the oil-rich Eastern Province.

King Abdullah II spoke for many Sunnis last year when he warned of a Shia "crescent" stretching from Iran through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon that would disrupt the balance of power in the Middle East. Nor was it surprising that Iraq's Arab neighbors offered more condolences and aid to the victims of Hurricane Katrina than to Iraq after the recent stampede in Baghdad that killed some 1,000 Shiite pilgrims. These are the same regimes that, like the United States, stood by while their Sunni brother Saddam Hussein slaughtered more than 100,000 rebellious Shiites and Kurds after the 1991 Gulf war.

Washington would be wise to recognize talk of an Iranian-controlled Shiite "crescent," as the boogeyman it is. "It is a fallacy," said Ahmad Chalabi, a secular Shiite who is one of Iraq's deputy prime ministers and a former favorite of the Pentagon. Chalabi acknowledges that Iraq's leading political parties have close ties to Tehran. "But do not make the mistake of confusing Iraqi Shiites, who are Arab, with Iranian Shiites, who are Persian," he told me. "Iraqi Shia are proud to be Iraqis and Arabs."

Still, many Sunnis see cooperation between Iraqi Shiites and the U.S. as a conspiracy against them - a "Wahhabi-containment policy," as Terence Ward, an author and regional expert, puts it."The profound conviction among much of the Arab world today, including the Saudi royal family, is that the U.S. plans to do the same to Saudi Arabia that they have engineered in Iraq."

Like Iraq, the theory goes, Saudi Arabia would be divided into three parts. The moderate Hashemites of Jordan would regain their historic control of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina; autonomous Saudi Shiites would control the oil-laden Eastern Province; and the Wahhabis would be left baking in the sands of the Nejad Desert.

This may be Sunni paranoia, especially since Washington doesn't even talk with the largest Shiite community in the Middle East - Iran. But such suspicion explains why so many in the region's Sunni political and religious establishment have been ambivalent or hostile to Iraq's new Shiite government and why Saudi Arabians account for a vast majority of suicide bombers in Iraq, according to independent analysts.

With Sunnis leading the charge to defeat Iraq's draft constitution in next month's referendum, and Sunni jihadists waging a holy war against the United States and its allies, it's time that Washington appreciate the historical irony. The greatest obstacle to American interests in the region is not the Shiites that Washington has spent a quarter-century trying to contain in Iran, but Sunni zealots, fueled and funded by America's old "ally" Saudi Arabia.

But irony, as Anatole France observed, "is the joy of wisdom." Only after Washington defines its true adversaries can it wage a real battle to defeat them. That would be the beginning of wisdom, in Iraq and beyond.

Read the rest at the International Herald Tribune

September 15, 2006:

CIA Learned in '02 That Bin Laden Had No Iraq Ties, Report Says

The CIA learned in late September 2002 from a high-level member of Saddam Hussein's inner circle that Iraq had no past or present contact with Osama bin Laden and that the Iraqi leader considered bin Laden an enemy of the Baghdad regime, according to a recent Senate Intelligence Committee report.

Although President Bush and other senior administration officials were at that time regularly linking Hussein to al-Qaeda, the CIA's highly sensitive intelligence supporting the contrary view was apparently not passed on to the White House or senior Bush policymakers.

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and two GOP colleagues on the committee disclosed this information for the first time in the panel's report on Iraq released last week. They wrote in the "additional views" section of the report that the Cabinet-level Iraqi official "said that Iraq has no past, current, or anticipated future contact with Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda" and that the official "added that bin Laden was in fact a longtime enemy of Iraq."

On Sept. 25, 2002, just days after the CIA received the source's information, President Bush told reporters: "Al-Qaeda hides. Saddam doesn't, but the danger is, is that they work in concert. The danger is, is that al-Qaeda becomes an extension of Saddam's madness and his hatred and his capacity to extend weapons of mass destruction around the world. . . . [Y]ou can't distinguish between al-Qaeda and Saddam when you talk about the war on terror."

According to the three Republicans, the CIA said it did not disseminate the intelligence about the lack of a Hussein-bin Laden connection because "it did not provide anything new."

Read the rest at the Washington Post