Monday, September 17, 2007

Perspective: On this day in Iraq -- September 17th edition

Above: Soldiers with the 101st Airborne Division search for a suspected terrorist camp in southwest Iraq.

September 17, 2002:

Bombs will deepen Iraq's nightmare

I am an Iraqi British woman (half-Kurdish, half-Arab). I have lived in Britain since 1976. I can't go back to Iraq because, like many Iraqis, I was imprisoned and tortured. When I was released I was haunted by human howls of pain and memories of the dead.

Once in London, I could hardly believe I was safe in a democratic country. The day that I first exercised my right to vote was one of the happiest of my life. On election day 1979, I was up at 5am. I was the first to vote that day. I voted Labour. The Conservatives won.

The massacre of Halabja in 1988 went unnoticed here. Iraq was then the darling of the west. Iraq fought the west's war with Iran, to protect their interests and ensure a free market for oil. But this was Mrs Thatcher's government, which supported friendly dictators and normalised relations with military regimes.

In 1990, the Iraqi regime occupied Kuwait, and the US and UK decided Saddam had breached his contract of employment. In January 1991, hell was unleashed against the Iraqi people. The bombing lasted 43 days, destroyed many civilian targets and massacred tens of thousands of defenceless conscripts. Iraqis were shocked and confused: it seemed bizarre to punish them for the crimes of their persecutors.

Confusion turned to numbness when people discovered they were to be subject to one of the most comprehensive campaigns of economic sanctions in modern history. On December 6 1995, I sent an A4 padded envelope to my nieces and nephews in Mosul. It contained one pencil case, three erasers, three sharpeners, six fountain pens, two markers, one glue-stick and two Biros. It was marked "gift for children". The envelope was returned, stamped: "Due to international sanctions against Iraq, we are not able to forward your packet." But that was under John Major.

In 1997, the Labour party was at last elected, and Robin Cook declared the government's foreign policy to be "ethical". I applauded. But what has the restoration of hope brought? Continuing sanctions, for a start, which has meant starvation, death and intellectual stagnation. The bombing of Iraq has never stopped either. The USAF and RAF have been bombing civilians almost daily since December 1998; 144 civilians were killed in raids in 1999 alone. For the rest, life in Iraq goes on, as hard as ever.

Here are some paragraphs from two personal letters. The first, from a relative: "We women spend most of our time doing what our grandmothers used to do: we are staying home, sieving flour, baking bread, preparing and storing tomato puree and raising chickens."

The next, from a friend: "Let me share a laugh with you. As Selma, my wife, was being wheeled out of the operating theatre, the doctor handed me two things: a long prescription and, what else, do you think? Selma's uterus! I had to go find the medicine as soon as possible, and also to take the uterus to a private lab for a biopsy. It was the start of a 20-hour madman's journey around Baghdad."

So how do I now find myself standing by Iraq's dictatorial regime, while Tony Blair presents himself as the defender of both democracy and the Iraqi people? For decades, it was the other way around. Iraqis were not only resisting the oppressive regime, they were sacrificing their lives for change long before the occupation of Kuwait. They appealed for help from western governments. Their request was: stop supplying the Ba'ath regime with weapons. Nobody listened.

It's 2001: election time again. I hesitated, but still voted Labour. What choice did I have? Now the US is pushing for a massive assault on Iraq, and Blair is one of the few leaders willing to offer troops. Can it be true that the man I voted for is now preparing to "liberate" Iraq, in the same way he liberated Afghanistan, by ensuring the death of thousands of civilians? Is it true that he is relying on the Iraqi National Congress, a group set up in the early 90s with CIA help, and now funded by the State Department? Does he know that they are loathed by most Iraqis?

You are "either with us or against us", they say. As an Iraqi that means choosing between war and the dictator. To be on the side of the oppressed does not mean we are unaware of the complexity of the situation. To campaign for the lifting of sanctions, for an end to the paralysing bombardment and daily threat of war is to stand by the Iraqi people; it is that policy which will help them to change the oppressive regime. Any change should be initiated from within Iraq, not imposed by Bush or Blair.

When I hear Tony Blair speak on Iraq, I am reminded of my old landlady, who asked me, politely, in the late 1970s, about home. I explained a little about the government there and how it doesn't give a damn about people. She listened attentively then, in a nice, gentle way, said: "Next time, don't vote for him dear."

Read the rest at the Guardian

September 17, 2003:

Bush: No Link Between Iraq, Sept. 11 Attacks

Deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein may have not been involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, but he definitely is linked to the terrorists who did commit those crimes, President Bush said Wednesday.

"We have no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with the Sept. 11" attacks, Bush said at the start of a meeting with congressional lawmakers discussing new energy legislation. But, he added, "There's no question that Saddam Hussein had Al Qaeda ties."

The White House expressed consternation earlier in the day over reports that members of the administration have led the public to believe a link exists between Saddam and the attacks on the United States.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said that in no way did Vice President Dick Cheney suggest in interviews over the weekend that there was evidence of Saddam's participation in the attacks. Bush never came to that conclusion either, the spokesman said.

McClellan could offer no clear explanation as to why recent public opinion polls indicate that 70 percent of Americans think there is a tie between Iraq and the attacks.

In an appearance on a Sunday newsmaker show, Cheney was asked whether he was surprised that more than two-thirds of Americans in a Washington Post poll would express a belief that Iraq was behind the attacks.

"No, I think it's not surprising that people make that connection," Cheney answered.

Cheney said on Sunday that success in stabilizing and democratizing Iraq would strike a major blow at the "the geographic base of the terrorists who have had us under assault for many years, but most especially on 9-11."

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld (search) said Tuesday he had no reason to believe that Iraq's deposed leader, Saddam Hussein, had a hand in Sept. 11.

At a Pentagon news conference, Rumsfeld was asked about the Post poll.

"I've not seen any indication that would lead me to believe that I could say that," Rumsfeld said.
He added: "We know he [Saddam] was giving $25,000 a family for anyone who would go out and kill innocent men, women and children. And we know of various other activities. But on that specific one, no, not to my knowledge."

The Bush administration has asserted that Saddam's government had links to Al Qaeda, the terrorist network led by Usama bin Laden that conducted the Sept. 11 attacks. And in various public statements over the past year or so, administration officials have suggested close ties.

In a television interview Tuesday night, White House National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said that one of the reasons Bush went to war against Saddam was because he posed a threat in "a region from which the 9-11 threat emerged."

Rice, asked about the same poll numbers, said, "We have never claimed that Saddam Hussein had either direction or control of 9-11"...

Cheney said he recalled being asked about an Iraq connection to Sept. 11 shortly after the attacks, and responded that the time that he knew of no evidence at that point.

"Subsequent to that, we have learned a couple of things," he said.

"We learned more and more that there was a relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda that stretched back through most of the decade of the '90s; that it involved training, for example, on [biological warfare] and [chemical warfare]; that Al Qaeda sent personnel to Baghdad to get trained on the systems, and involved the Iraqis providing bomb-making expertise and advice to the Al Qaeda organization."

Read the rest at Fox News

U.S. Faces 'Revenge' In Iraq

The commander of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq said in an interview published Wednesday that U.S. forces, already under pressure from a guerrilla-style resistance, now face revenge attacks from ordinary Iraqis angered by the occupation...

Sanchez's remarks came after the friendly fire killing late last week of eight Iraqi policemen by American soldiers near Fallujah, 30 miles west of Baghdad. The military and the U.S. administrator for Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, have apologized...

While U.S. forces increasingly patrol Iraqi hotspots with American-trained local militiamen, citizens voice growing anger with tactics that are seen as heavy-handed and insensitive to Iraqi social and religious customs.

"We have seen that when we have an incident in the conduct of our operations, when we killed an innocent civilian, based on their ethic, their values, their culture, they would seek revenge," Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez was quoted as telling The Times newspaper in London.

Coalition forces were seeking "to ensure that when a mistake has been made and when we have inadvertently wound up killing someone that we go and do the right thing culturally to take care of those families."

Read the rest at CBS News

September 17, 2004:

The acid test of Bush's folly

The corrosive impact of the Iraq crisis in almost all areas of international relations, as well as on Iraq's long-suffering civilians, was dramatically demonstrated yesterday by the UN general secretary Kofi Annan's blunt declaration that last year's war was illegal.

The recent spat between the US and Iraq's northern neighbour Turkey is a case in point. Since the war officially ended, Turkey has fretted about Iraq's possible fragmentation, Kurdish separatism, and the safety of Iraq's ethnic Turk minority.

When US forces attacked the city of Tal Afar, home to many Turkomen, last week, Ankara finally drew the line.

Unless they called a "total stop" to the fighting there, the foreign minister Abdullah Gul said, Turkey would suspend all cooperation, closing the vital supply lines to northern Iraq.

Thus has a "liberated" Iraq achieved by default something that Saddam Hussein never could: an open if temporary rupture between the US and a key Muslim ally which is now increasingly identifying with the EU.

Turkey's concern about regional stability is shared by Iraq's other neighbours. Jordan and Syria have good cause for alarm, and according to a new study by the Chatham House thinktank in London, full-scale civil war in Iraq would draw in Saudi Arabia in support of the Sunni minority.

The war has had a deeply destabilising impact on the House of Saud. It has further strained ties with the US al ready badly frayed by 9/11. Whereas in the past, Saudi jihadis, principally from al-Qaida, have gone abroad to pursue their terrorist aims, the US occupation of Iraq has drawn them to a new base, awash with arms, from which to attack western interests in Saudi Arabia.

On Wednesday another Briton fell victim to a barely contained internal breakdown, fatally shot in Riyadh.

"In all likelihood, Saudi Arabia will be contaminated with jihadis in the same way as Afghanistan," the study says. "Osama bin Laden's ideological children are returning to his homeland."

One thing at stake is the west's oil supply. If the Iraq war really was about securing the Middle East oilfields , then George Bush may be well on the way to achieving the exact opposite.

Another ostensibly unsettling consequence is that Iran may emerge stronger, in regional terms; another potential case of the US shooting itself in the foot.

Iranian economic, cultural and political influence with Iraq's Shia majority is growing. An isolated Syria is ever more dependent on Iranian goodwill. And the US is so bogged down militarily that, it is argued, the chances of aggression against Tehran are now diminishing.

For these reasons Iran's dominant conservatives hope the US will agree to unconditional dialogue. However, civil war in Iraq could just as easily suck them in against the US on the side of the Shia.

In this unpredictable, regional evolution can be heard the death knell for Mr Bush's "Greater Middle East Initiative" to deliver democracy to all the Arabs.

And his infamous doctrine of pre-emptive strikes, preventive war and forcible regime change also seems to be dying in the aftermath of its first application in Iraq.

Read the rest at the Guardian

Government warns Americans of travel to Iraq

The State Department reminded Americans Friday of the dangers of traveling in Iraq, a day after two American construction workers were kidnapped from their home in Baghdad.

"The security threat to all American citizens in Iraq remains extremely high, with a high risk of attacks on civilians," the department said in a travel warning update. "...All vehicular travel in Iraq is extremely dangerous."

The department, without providing additional details, said it had credible information that terrorists have targeted civil aviation, and warned of the danger of using civilian aircraft to enter or leave Iraq.

Insurgents are targeting hotels, restaurants, police stations, checkpoints, foreign diplomatic missions, international organizations and other locations with expatriate personnel, the department said.

Attacks occur throughout the day, but travel at night is especially dangerous, the warning said. It described as particularly dangerous: Travel in or through Ramadi and Fallujah; between al-Hillah and Baghdad; and between the International Zone and Baghdad International Airport.

Read the rest at USA Today

September 17, 2005:

US warns of terrorist group luring more recruits

AL-QAEDA'S top operative in Iraq is drawing more Iraqi nationals to his organisation, increasing the reach and threat of an insurgent group that has been behind many of the most devastating attacks in the country, according to US officials and Iraqi Government leaders.

The group, headed by Jordanian-born radical Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, previously was composed almost exclusively of militants from other Arab nations, and has long symbolised the foreign dimension of a stubborn insurgency fighting to oust American forces. But Zarqawi "is bringing more and more Iraqi fighters into his fold", a US official said, adding that Iraqis accounted for "more than half his organisation".

Although Zarqawi is believed to command fewer than 1000 fighters, the daring and lethal nature of their attacks, coupled with Zarqawi's links to al-Qaeda have made him the most notorious figure in the Iraq insurgency.

The US has placed a $25 million bounty on Zarqawi, whose organisation has been behind a series of beheadings, suicide bombings and other gruesome attacks.

Zarqawi's faction has claimed responsibility for a bombing campaign this week that has left at least 169 dead, apparently in reprisal for a US-Iraqi campaign against insurgents in Tal Afar.

Details of a growing Iraqi dimension to Zarqawi's group were provided by three US officials with access to classified intelligence data. Their comments reflect the Government's latest attempt to come to grips with a multi-layered insurgency that has often confounded US forces and intelligence agencies.

The US officials indicated that the infusion of Iraqis, including, apparently, former members of the Iraqi intelligence service and military, represented a change in the group's make-up rather than a major expansion.

A significant Iraqi presence in the Zarqawi group carries ominous implications, both for the Bush Administration and the fledgling government it supports in Baghdad.

The Iraqis under Zarqawi's wing could provide him with better intelligence and give legitimacy to a group viewed by many Iraqis as unwanted outsiders. In addition, Iraqi recruits are being exposed to the workings of a highly efficient Islamic extremist group.

Read the rest at the Age

September 17, 2006:

Iraq stumbling in its bid to rein in rogue police

Shiite militiamen and criminals entrenched throughout Iraq's police and internal security forces are blocking efforts by some Iraqi leaders and the American military to root them out, a step critical to winning the trust of skeptical Sunni Arabs and quellingsectarian conflict, Iraqi and Western officials say.

The new interior minister, Jawad Kadem al-Bolani, who oversees the police, lacks the political support to purge many of the worst offenders, including senior managers who tolerated or encouraged the infiltration of Shiite militias into the police under the previous government, according to interviews with more than a dozen officials who work with the ministry and the police.

The housecleaning was not expected to be easy, and some headway has been made in firing people. But despite that progress, recent difficulties illustratethe magnitude of the task facing Bolani and Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.

When he took office in late May, Maliki said one of his top goals was to reform the Shiite-led Interior Ministry, which had, to the minority Sunni Arabs, become synonymous with government complicity in abduction and killing.

The ministry recently discovered that more than 1,200 police officers and other employees had been convicted years ago of murder, rape and other violent crimes, said a Western diplomat who has close contact with the ministry.

Some had even been on death row. Few have been fired.

The ministry still has no way to screen recruits by sect or for militia allegiance. Such loyalties are at the rootof the ministry's problems.

A powerful official suspected of aiding the Shiite militias, Adnan al-Asadi - nicknamed Triple A by the Americans - still holds the job of deputy minister of administration. Asadi is "the one who really runs" the ministry,said Saleh Mutlak, a Sunni Arab legislator.

A senior American commander said that of the 27 paramilitary police battalions, "We think five or six battalions probably have leaders that have led that part of the organization in a way that is either criminal or sectarian or both."

Death squads in uniforms could be responsible for a recent surge in sectarian violence, with at least 165 bodies found throughout Baghdad since Wednesday.

Read the rest at the International Herald Tribune

Ties to GOP Trumped Know-How Among Staff Sent to Rebuild Iraq

After the fall of Saddam Hussein's government in April 2003, the opportunity to participate in the U.S.-led effort to reconstruct Iraq attracted all manner of Americans -- restless professionals, Arabic-speaking academics, development specialists and war-zone adventurers. But before they could go to Baghdad, they had to get past Jim O'Beirne's office in the Pentagon.

To pass muster with O'Beirne, a political appointee who screens prospective political appointees for Defense Department posts, applicants didn't need to be experts in the Middle East or in post-conflict reconstruction. What seemed most important was loyalty to the Bush administration.

O'Beirne's staff posed blunt questions to some candidates about domestic politics: Did you vote for George W. Bush in 2000? Do you support the way the president is fighting the war on terror? Two people who sought jobs with the U.S. occupation authority said they were even asked their views on Roe v. Wade .

Many of those chosen by O'Beirne's office to work for the Coalition Provisional Authority, which ran Iraq's government from April 2003 to June 2004, lacked vital skills and experience. A 24-year-old who had never worked in finance -- but had applied for a White House job -- was sent to reopen Baghdad's stock exchange. The daughter of a prominent neoconservative commentator and a recent graduate from an evangelical university for home-schooled children were tapped to manage Iraq's $13 billion budget, even though they didn't have a background in accounting.

The decision to send the loyal and the willing instead of the best and the brightest is now regarded by many people involved in the 3 1/2 -year effort to stabilize and rebuild Iraq as one of the Bush administration's gravest errors. Many of those selected because of their political fidelity spent their time trying to impose a conservative agenda on the postwar occupation, which sidetracked more important reconstruction efforts and squandered goodwill among the Iraqi people, according to many people who participated in the reconstruction effort.

The CPA had the power to enact laws, print currency, collect taxes, deploy police and spend Iraq's oil revenue. It had more than 1,500 employees in Baghdad at its height, working under America's viceroy in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, but never released a public roster of its entire staff.

Interviews with scores of former CPA personnel over the past two years depict an organization that was dominated -- and ultimately hobbled -- by administration ideologues.

"We didn't tap -- and it should have started from the White House on down -- just didn't tap the right people to do this job," said Frederick Smith, who served as the deputy director of the CPA's Washington office. "It was a tough, tough job. Instead we got people who went out there because of their political leanings."

Endowed with $18 billion in U.S. reconstruction funds and a comparatively quiescent environment in the immediate aftermath of the U.S. invasion, the CPA was the U.S. government's first and best hope to resuscitate Iraq -- to establish order, promote rebuilding and assemble a viable government, all of which, experts believe, would have constricted the insurgency and mitigated the chances of civil war. Many of the basic tasks Americans struggle to accomplish today in Iraq -- training the army, vetting the police, increasing electricity generation -- could have been performed far more effectively in 2003 by the CPA.

But many CPA staff members were more interested in other things: in instituting a flat tax, in selling off government assets, in ending food rations and otherwise fashioning a new nation that looked a lot like the United States. Many of them spent their days cloistered in the Green Zone, a walled-off enclave in central Baghdad with towering palms, posh villas, well-stocked bars and resort-size swimming pools.

By the time Bremer departed in June 2004, Iraq was in a precarious state. The Iraqi army, which had been dissolved and refashioned by the CPA, was one-third the size he had pledged it would be. Seventy percent of police officers had not been screened or trained. Electricity generation was far below what Bremer had promised to achieve. And Iraq's interim government had been selected not by elections but by Americans. Divisive issues were to be resolved later on, increasing the chances that tension over those matters would fuel civil strife.

To recruit the people he wanted, O'Beirne sought résumés from the offices of Republican congressmen, conservative think tanks and GOP activists. He discarded applications from those his staff deemed ideologically suspect, even if the applicants possessed Arabic language skills or postwar rebuilding experience.

Smith said O'Beirne once pointed to a young man's résumé and pronounced him "an ideal candidate." His chief qualification was that he had worked for the Republican Party in Florida during the presidential election recount in 2000...

He and his staff used an obscure provision in federal law to hire many CPA staffers as temporary political appointees, which exempted the interviewers from employment regulations that prohibit questions about personal political beliefs...

One former CPA employee who had an office near O'Beirne's wrote an e-mail to a friend describing the recruitment process: "I watched résumés of immensely talented individuals who had sought out CPA to help the country thrown in the trash because their adherence to 'the President's vision for Iraq' (a frequently heard phrase at CPA) was 'uncertain.' I saw senior civil servants from agencies like Treasury, Energy . . . and Commerce denied advisory positions in Baghdad that were instead handed to prominent RNC (Republican National Committee) contributors."

As more and more of O'Beirne's hires arrived in the Green Zone, the CPA's headquarters in Hussein's marble-walled former Republican Palace felt like a campaign war room. Bumper stickers and mouse pads praising President Bush were standard desk decorations. In addition to military uniforms and "Operation Iraqi Freedom" garb, "Bush-Cheney 2004" T-shirts were among the most common pieces of clothing.

"I'm not here for the Iraqis," one staffer noted to a reporter over lunch. "I'm here for George Bush."

Read the rest at the Washington Post