Sunday, September 16, 2007

Perspective: On this day in Iraq -- September 16th edition

September 16, 2003: A soldier walks through the empty prison cells at Abu Ghraib prison, closed at the time since the U.S. invasion.

September 16, 2002:

Iraq to allow U.N. inspectors

Iraq says it will allow United Nations weapons inspectors back into the country.

President Bush had threatened a military strike against Iraq if it did not allow the inspectors in to search for weapons of mass destruction.

In 1990, Iraq invaded its neighbor, Kuwait. A coalition of nations rallied to Kuwait's defense in the Persian Gulf War, driving Iraq out of that country. The United Nations imposed sanctions against Iraq. To have the sanctions lifted, Iraq had to allow inspectors in to assure the world that it was not developing weapons of mass destruction. Most recently in 1998, Iraq refused the inspectors entry into the country. Now, facing growing support for the U.S. position on Iraq, Iraqi leaders have decided to allow the weapons inspectors back in.

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan told reporters, "I can confirm to you that I have received a letter from the Iraqi authorities conveying its decision to allow the return of inspectors without conditions to continue their work." Annan is turning the letter over to the Security Council. He says Iraq has stated its ready to discuss the practical arrangements for weapons inspectors to return.

But not everyone welcomes this news. The White House has dismissed the Iraqi offer, saying it simply doesn't address all the issues the U.S. has set forth in order for Iraq to avoid military action.

Read the rest at CNN

September 16, 2003:

U.S. is training a new, diverse Iraqi army

Ali Tawfak Abbas says he was once ashamed to wear the Iraqi army uniform. But Abbas on Monday beamed with excitement about the new national army, as he and hundreds of other recruits went through training by U.S.-led occupation forces at a desert camp here, 30 miles west of the Iranian border.

In the army of former President Saddam Hussein, Abbas said, he had two meals a day and could not drink water, even when outdoor drills in the searing sun left him dehydrated. And as war with the United States approached this spring, he said, he and eight fellow soldiers planned their escape.

"I used to have to keep my head down because I was ashamed of the politics of the old regime," said Abbas, 19, from Najaf, who was wearing a U.S. Army-issued green and beige camouflage uniform. "Now I am proud to be a part of the first line of defense to the new, democratic Iraq."

Abbas spoke during a visit to the training facility by journalists, who arrived in CH-47 Chinook military helicopters and toured the camp under escort. The 735 recruits at the camp are part of a force intended to defend the country's borders and guard key sites by next year.

The trainees had just returned from a one-week leave, during which 16 of them decided not to return. Yesterday, the returning recruits fired weapons, simulated an attack and listened to lessons about health and hygiene.
They also stood in 5-foot holes and shot at targets 300 yards away with AK-47 assault rifles, as an instructor from Vinnell Corp., a subsidiary of Northrop Grumman, looked on.

After the exercise, Khalid Taher Khalid, 29, an Iraqi Kurd, said that ethnic tensions were nonexistent and that he joined the new army out of a sense of obligation to the country.

"I have loyalty to all of Iraq," he said.

During his decades of rule in Iraq, Saddam built up a 400,000-man army, which he controlled through fear and intimidation.

The new Iraqi army, a mix of Sunni and Shiite Muslims, Kurds and people from other groups, will consist of 40,000 soldiers and officers who have undergone a nine-week course. Four battalions will be ready for duty by January and the remaining 37,000 soldiers will be in place by September 2004, U.S. military officials said.

A source of pride even during Saddam's rule, the national army was a way for thousands of men to earn a living. L. Paul Bremer, the civilian administrator in Iraq, disbanded the army when he arrived in May, fearing that it contained too many leaders from Saddam's Baath Party. Bremer also announced that no soldiers above the rank of lieutenant colonel would be allowed to serve in the new army.

Bremer's decision led to protests by former soldiers and eventually he agreed to pay stipends. U.S. military personnel and civilians have also set up job programs for former army officers. Of the $87 billion additional funding for Iraq and Afghanistan that President Bush recently requested from Congress, $2.1 million is earmarked for training the new Iraqi army and other defense forces.

The U.S. military began recruiting soldiers in Baghdad, Basra and Mosul in July. Among the recruits, Shiites make up about 60 percent, Sunnis 25 percent and Kurds 10 percent, with the rest from other ethnic groups. At the end of six weeks of training, U.S. officials select officers from the recruits, based on their efforts during training.

After completing training, recruits graduate to the rank of private first class, and receive salaries of $70 a month. Officer candidates will receive $100 a month during training.

When a full division has completed training, the unit's soldiers will come under the command of the 4th Infantry Division, which is based in Tikrit, Saddam's ancestral home.

Brig. Jonathan Riley, the British deputy commander of the training group, said the new Iraqi army would be focused on protection instead of the aggression that characterized Saddam's army. "They can defend Iraq's borders but not be seen as a threat to its neighbors," he said. "What we will create is an army that they will build upon for the future."

About 60 percent of the current recruits have some sort of military background, U.S. military officials said. Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, the commanding general at the base, acknowledged that nine weeks was a short training period, but said that because most recruits have some military experience, "nine weeks is sufficient to create a credible infantry unit."

Read the rest at the Tribune-Review

September 16, 2004:

Copters did fire at Iraqi crowd, Army says

U.S. commanders acknowledged yesterday that their helicopters fired seven rockets and 30 high-caliber machine-gun rounds onto a crowded Baghdad street earlier this week during a battle that killed 16 Iraqis and sparked a heated debate about how civilians often become the victims of U.S. firepower.

Army officials called the helicopter attack an appropriate response after U.S. soldiers were fired on by insurgents from the vicinity of a Bradley fighting vehicle set ablaze by a suicide car bomb.

"The actions taken by our soldiers and pilots were clearly within their rights," said Maj. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, commander of the Army's 1st Cavalry Division, which patrols Baghdad.

U.S. officials said it was unclear what caused the casualties — volleys from the helicopters, explosions from ammunition in the Bradley, or insurgent fire. "We regret the loss of any innocent civilians," said Col. Jim McConville, who heads the aviation brigade for the 1st Cavalry Division.

The carnage along the capital's Haifa Street has enraged many Iraqis who say that U.S. troops often attack without provocation and fire randomly when attacked.

On Sunday, television viewers around the world saw footage of the Haifa Street battle that also injured 61 Iraqis. Among the dead was Mazen al-Tumeizi, a reporter for Al Arabiya, the Arab-language satellite network, who was taping a report with the smoking U.S. armored vehicle in the background when an explosion occurred and he was hit.

Military commanders acknowledged yesterday that earlier U.S. accounts that the helicopters were providing cover for escaping U.S. troops were not correct. The troops had already retreated to a strong point more than 400 yards away by the time the two Kiowa Warrior helicopters appeared in the sky above Haifa Street at about 7:30 a.m., commanders said. The six wounded soldiers from the Bradley had been evacuated.

The two helicopters made three passes each and fired a total of seven rockets and squeezed off 30 rounds of .50-caliber machine-gun fire, said McConville. He said soldiers in the helicopters were aiming at "insurgent or terrorist forces firing at our aircraft," and not at civilians gawking and poking at the disabled fighting vehicle.

Officials also disavowed an earlier U.S. account that a rocket was launched at the Bradley to destroy it and ensure it did not fall into enemy hands. The fire was aimed solely at armed insurgents in the vicinity of the disabled vehicle, the commanders said.

Several survivors interviewed yesterday at Kerama Hospital in Baghdad disputed the U.S. account.

"I saw no one among the people near or on top of the burning tank who had a weapon," said Alaa Naeem Amlwan, 30, who had shrapnel removed from his abdomen and was being treated for a broken leg. "The Americans felt angry when they saw the people celebrating and carrying the black banner of Tawhid and Jihad."

Hamoodi Abdul-Hadi, 24, said gunmen who had earlier fired at U.S. ground troops had fled the area by the time the helicopters arrived.

"There were people surrounding the burnt tank," Abdul-Hadi said, "but the fighters had left the scene by then."

Read the rest at the Seattle Times

Glowing promises can't hide dark turn of events in Iraq

With each passing day, the U.S. war in Iraq is looking bleaker and the Bush administration's rosy scenario less convincing.

Just how bad the insurgency in Iraq has become was underscored by a classified intelligence report prepared for President Bush in July and leaked this week. Its outlook for the country by the end of 2005 is tenuous stability at best, civil war at worst.

Certainty, the facts on the ground make the worst-case prediction seem plausible:

• Insurgents control three dozen cities and towns. While most are in the Sunni Triangle, where Saddam Hussein had enjoyed his broadest support, they're spreading and becoming the base for increasingly sophisticated and frequent attacks on U.S. and coalition forces. Those now average 50 a day.

• The number of insurgents, recently put at 5,000 by the Pentagon, now may be 20,000, according to various estimates.

• Deaths of U.S. troops have been climbing since the U.S. turned authority over to an interim Iraqi government on June 28.

In spite of these worrisome developments, the Bush administration continues to put an optimistic face on the situation. It cites progress in bringing democracy and prosperity to Iraq, and says it expects national elections to take place throughout the country in January with the help of 200,000 U.S.-trained Iraqi troops that will assume security operations in just a few months.

As the U.S. presidential election approaches, the administration has good political reasons to paint the best possible picture of Iraq — particularly since it has few good options for bringing the insurgency under control any time soon. But a White House that hides the truth about a worsening conflict from the American public only loses support for its mission. Vietnam showed that.

This week, even some Republican senators began breaking ranks with the administration's upbeat assessments of the war. Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., described Iraq as "beyond pitiful. It's beyond embarrassing. It's now in the zone of dangerous."

Not that the options for suppressing the insurgency are evident. This week, the administration began trying one. It moved to divert more than $3 billion from reconstruction to security and election planning. That's hardly likely to be enough. The United Nations, which is overseeing the elections, has little staff in the country because of the fighting, and it is struggling to recruit a needed 70,000 election workers. Many Iraqis are too fearful to sign up, as insurgents are targeting Iraqis working with foreigners.

Separate efforts to train Iraqi forces to rout the insurgents have yielded mixed results at best. By the Pentagon's estimate, 95,000 are ready, but not to the point where they can carry out the major offensives needed to flush out rebel enclaves.

One possibility — sending in reinforcements for the 160,000 coalition troops — risks a bigger Iraqi backlash, a dilemma the U.S. already faces in offensives underway to retake insurgent strongholds. And large-scale reinforcements aren't available.

While all of the options have downsides, the longer the administration denies the deepening crisis in Iraq, the longer the crisis will fester. That places U.S. troops in greater peril, risks turning Iraq into a terrorist haven and dims hopes of creating a viable government, much less a model of democracy in the Middle East.

By sticking with rosy scenarios during the Vietnam War, U.S. leaders only deepened the quagmire, soured public opinion and eventually retreated.

With so much at stake in Iraq, a U.S. pullout is not an option. But as civil war looms, sorting reality from wishful thinking is the best way to begin averting disaster.

Read the rest at USA Today

September 16, 2005:

The clash of Shariah and democracy

When America toppled Saddam Hussein, it promised to replace his ruthless and lawless regime with a government characterized by the rule of law. But what kind of law?

The draft Iraqi constitution provides for Islam as "a fundamental source of legislation"; it further stipulates that no law can be legislated that "contradicts the ruling of Islam." The application of Shariah, or Islamic law, is not mentioned, but that is the implication of these phrases.

The dispute between Sunnis and Shiites during the drafting of the constitution was only about whether Shariah should be the single source of lawmaking, or just one of several. Did the United States wage a costly war in Iraq in order to introduce Shariah? Did decision makers in Washington know that in post-Saddam Iraq there are divergent understandings of democracy and the rule of law - the Western secular and the Islamic Shariah-based understanding of constitutional law - which clash with each other?

In addition, there is no common understanding of Shariah among Muslims, because Islamic law is based on the interpretation of the Koran and has never been codified. The term Shariah occurs only once in the Koran, and in the context of morality, not law.

The post-Koranic character of the Shariah is made clear by the fact that in the eighth century, after the Islamic revelation, the four legal schools, or madhahib, of Islamic law were established on the basis of diverse interpretations of the Koran.

The call for Shariah that one hears today throughout the Muslim world, as religion becomes politicized and the law Islamized, is a call for an Islamic state based on the idea that Shariah can form a country's constitution. The global context is the political revival of religion - and along with it the idea of divine law. But is Shariah really constitutional law? And how does the call for Islamization of the law fit in with democracy?

In fact, Shariah understood as modern constitutional law is in conflict with individual human rights.

Take the question of freedom of faith. Islam respects the other monotheist faiths, Judaism and Christianity, and provides their believers with recognition as "protected minorities," but does not view them as equals. Muslims themselves are denied the right of conversion, which is regarded as "riddah," or apostasy. If Muslims convert, the Shariah calls for them to be punished with death.

For that reason, Shariah cannot contribute to a legal pluralism, because any pluralism must combine diversity with basic common understandings. The commitment to universal international standards can coexist with a diversity of cultures, but only if a common concept of law is insisted upon.

Respect for the global political revival of religion means recognizing religious legal traditions, even ones recently revived or newly invented. But Shariah would have to be reformed before an Islamic democracy could come about that was based on the recognition of commonalities in constitutional law.

In its present form, Shariah is not eligible as a model for constitutional law. The inclusion of Shariah in the Iraqi constitution, even as "a source," gives concern over whether this is to become the model for the rule of law in the envisioned process of a transformation of the greater Middle East.

Read the rest at the International Herald Tribune

U.S. tempers its view of victory in Iraq

Since the day in May 2003 when President Bush stood beneath a banner proclaiming "Mission Accomplished," the course of the conflict in Iraq has been one of optimism followed by revision.

From the earliest battle plans, which called for the quick return home of tens of thousands of troops, to the campaign in Fallujah and national elections that followed, the Pentagon had hoped it could largely eliminate lingering unrest before turning security over to Iraqis.

The increasingly bracing tone from the White House and Pentagon, however, points to a new calculus. The persistence of the attacks, as well as their undiminished capacity - witnessed by Wednesday's bombings in Baghdad, which killed more than 150 Iraqis - seems to have confirmed that the insurgency will probably outlast the American occupation.

Indeed, the inability of American forces to defeat the insurgency through strikes such as the current offensive in Tal Afar raises doubts about the possibility of any clear victory for the administration. And it could leave the Iraqis with a years-long task that many planners had not anticipated.

"There has been a clear realization that this war is not winnable in the short term," says Seth Jones, a terrorism expert at RAND Corp. in Arlington, Va.

The change in thinking has come gradually, as pivotal moments in the maturation of the Iraqi state have come and gone - and the insurgency has remained. In the first months after Mr. Bush declared victory, Pentagon officials were loath even to use the word "insurgency" to describe the attacks that killed some two dozen troops in May and June of 2003.

In testimony before Congress that July, Gen. Tommy Franks argued that the attacks did not fit his definition of an insurgency.

A year later, however, the continuing toll of the insurgency was reshaping the Pentagon's expectations. By the spring of 2005, a spike in violence, despite the previous November's successful campaign against the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah and January's relatively peaceful elections, made it clear that political momentum was not enough.

Part of the reason for the failure to plan for uncertainties came from the ideological insistence that almost all Iraqis would see Americans as liberators. Yet it also came from a political calculation that dismissed the lessons of the Clinton years. "There was a sense that there was nothing to learn from Somalia or Haiti or Bosnia," says Dr. Jones.

Some parts of the administration have been slower to reach this point than others. In the midst of the May attacks, Vice President Dick Cheney famously said that the insurgency was in its "last throes." But less than a month later, on June 26, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said: "Insurgencies tend to go on five, six, eight, 10, 12 years. Coalition forces, foreign forces are not going to repress that insurgency. We're going to create an environment that the Iraqi people and the Iraqi security forces can win against that insurgency."

It is this attitude that has moved from post-invasion rhetoric to Pentagon doctrine. In some ways, it is the same measure of victory that the Pentagon laid out two years ago. "At an absolute minimum, we'll be here for [two years], and probably longer, to make sure that [Iraqi forces] are capable of protecting the sovereignty of Iraq," said Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez in an Aug. 7, 2003, Pentagon briefing.

Administration officials have always insisted that events on the ground - and not artificial timelines - would dictate American actions in Iraq. Yet today, the finish line is no more certain than it was two years ago - and the threat that Iraqi forces will be facing when US troops leave is more dire than many military officials imagined.

The result is that Bush's characteristic steel about Iraq still lacks any specifics or certainty. "As a practical matter, no one in the administration is going to admit this," says Anthony Cordesman, an analyst for the Center for Strategic and International Studies here. "Nobody's making military promises that are unrealistic."

There are some positive signs. The offensive to roust insurgents from Tal Afar, which began in May and intensified the past two weeks, has put more responsibility in the hands of the Iraqi military. "It's a very important step in turning over security to the Iraqis," says Rachel Bronson, an analyst for the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

But there is a long way to go, she and others say. Significantly, when Iraqi President Jalal Talabani suggested this week that Iraqi forces would be ready to replace 50,000 US troops by the end of the year, he quickly reversed his statement and later added that US soldiers might be needed for another two years, though he set no deadline.

Amid this military uncertainty, administration officials have turned to political events as the primary marks of progress. "The referendum on the constitution and the elections at the end of December are the most important aspects of what we're doing now," Gen. George Casey told Congress in June.

Yet Wednesday's attacks in Baghdad suggest that the practical matter of adequately preparing the Iraqi military - not the grand clash of political ideas - will ultimately determine the success or failure of American hopes, analysts say. In a recent paper, Dr. Cordesman writes: "If political developments do have a positive effect, it will be ... because a substantially larger number of Iraqi Sunnis ... see the military balance shifting decisively in favor of Iraqi government forces."

Read the rest at the Christian Science Monitor

September 16, 2006:

Fort Lewis war objector faces new charge

The Army added another charge against a lieutenant who refused to serve in Iraq because he believes the war is illegal, but did not say if the case will proceed to a court martial.

The new charge is based on Lt. Ehren Watada's remarks to the national convention of Veterans for Peace, held in Seattle last month, Army spokesman Joe Piek said Friday.

At the veterans gathering, Watada said that "to stop an illegal and unjust war, soldiers can choose to stop fighting it," according to a support group, Friends and Family of Lt. Watada.

Watada, 28, of Honolulu, Hawaii, refused to deploy on June 22 with his Fort Lewis-based unit. He already was charged with missing troop movement, conduct unbecoming an officer and contempt toward officials, including using "contemptuous words" against President Bush in media interviews.

Conviction on all charges could bring a maximum of eight years in prison, Piek said.

Read the rest at USA Today