Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Perspective: On this day in Iraq -- September 18th edition

September 18, 2003: An Iraqi firefighter stops for his noon prayers while battling an oil pipeline fire caused by a bomb explosion along the main line from Iraq to Turkey near the northern Iraqi town of Beiji.

September 18, 2002:

Rumsfeld: Iraq Disarmament a Must

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld continued to make the case against Saddam Hussein Wednesday, saying weapons inspectors will not be effective enough to achieve the goal of disarming Iraq.

"Weapons inspections do have a place if they can be sufficiently intrusive to disarm a country," Rumsfeld said, adding that with the many means Iraq has used to disguise its weapons program it is unlikely that a U.N. weapons inspection team would have much success.

"Even the most intrusive inspection regime would have difficulty getting at all of his weapons of mass destruction," he said.

Protesters interrupted the defense secretary as soon as he began to testify. A woman sitting only a few rows behind him stood up and started asking him if the goal was really getting oil and not preventing terrorism. She was joined by a second woman who chanted and held up banners saying "U.N. inspections, not war."

After the two were escorted out of the room, Rumsfeld recovered quickly, saying the ability of the individuals to get into the congressional hearing and demonstrate is an indication of the freedoms that U.S. citizens have -- something Iraqi citizens don't enjoy.

Read the rest at Fox News

Saddam's concessions will never be enough for the US

To the "man in the street", on whose support Tony Blair and George Bush ultimately depend, it looks like a fair enough offer. For months the US has been huffing and puffing, mouthing and mithering, making waves over Iraq, demanding that it do what Washington wants. Now, finally, it has received a simple answer: yes. So what does the US do? Ask for more.

It is worth recalling how this pseudo-epiphany was reached. The build-up began in earnest with Bush's "axis of evil" speech in January; then came his doctrine of "pre-emptive attack" (what security adviser Condoleezza Rice sweetly calls "anticipatory defence"). Then a startled world learned that "rogue states" holding weapons of mass destruction were more or less on the team with Osama and al-Qaida. That, it transpired, made them legitimate targets for America's "war on terror" and "regime change".

Last week, Bush turned his screw yet more fiercely. If Iraq truly wished peace, he hectored, it must not only agree to full, certified disarmament under UN auspices (and on US terms). It must also swiftly honour all the numerous obligations laid upon it after the Gulf war.

But Iraq's weapons remained the principal focus. Some chemical and biological capability is still most likely at Saddam Hussein's disposal, according to the final reports of the UN inspectors in 1998. He may since have developed more. Scarier still, hawks squawk, Iraq may be only three years, or three months, or who knows, three weeks away from acquiring a nuclear weapon. An image was conjured of the Baghdad bazaar. "Pop round next Tuesday Mr Saddam. Your package will be waiting."

Such angst with all this blethering did Bush and his cohorts inspire. Such discomfiture and war-feverish unease did they spread among European allies such as Blair and his party followers. What strains and stresses stole like shadows of the night over the deserts of the Middle East as Arab allies and foes alike contemplated a coming US onslaught. How greatly did they clamour and cringe, to the delight of the Cheneys and Rumsfelds, Wolfowitzs and Perles. One by one, slinking Saudis followed chapeau-chomping French into the American sheepfold.

And then, after all this hot and bother fuss, suddenly and out of the blue, even before General Tommy Franks, the wannabe "Stormin' Norman", has unpacked his Qatar camp bed, Iraq simply says "OK". To all these provocations, Baghdad puts a timely stopper.

Nor is there any doubting the popularity of Saddam's shift, enough to make the White House sick. Security council members declare themselves encouraged. Russia looks forward to a political settlement and an end to threats of war. China discerns a positive sign. Backsliding Germany's Joschka Fischer rubs it in with a told-you-so about the efficacy of the UN-centred, multilateral approach. Even in London, predictions fly suggesting that war, if it comes, has now been put back a year, that Bush and Blair are split over how to proceed, and that Downing Street will be blamed by US hardliners for steering their president up a diplomatic blind alley. Some Muslim countries, meanwhile, demand a lifting of sanctions.

Worse still, the no-strings nature of Iraq's riposte has plain-spoken appeal. And to the "man in the street", increasingly bowed, browbeaten and bamboozled by the government's line (as polls show) but now relieved and hopeful, it seems reasonable. After all, what more do these people want?

Quite a lot, actually, and the Bushmen's demands will increase rather than diminish as yesterday's momentary flummoxing fades. The gap between what America might wisely do, and what it really does, may yet grow schismatically chasmatic.

The US has a "moral obligation", says sensible Liberal Democrat Menzies Campbell, to take the Iraqi offer seriously and explore it fully. Will it do so? The initially scornful and dismissive response can be expected to harden in the days ahead into a firm line insisting the threat has not diminished one whit, that Iraq will be judged by actions, not words, and that merely "tactical" manoeuvres of this sort have been seen before.

Far from welcoming Iraq's prima facie compliance with weapons inspections resolutions, the coming US emphasis will be on the several other "materially breached" UN decrees. And whatever Moscow says, the dogged pursuit of a new resolution authorising a yet tougher line will continue apace.

Far from facilitating the inspections process, quickly agreeing a timetable and fixing an end point, as Iraq has previously asked, the stress now will be on anywhere, anytime coercion, intrusion, paramilitary enforcement, and re-extraction of inspectors at the first glimmer of obstruction. The public message will be scepticism, that anything worth finding has already been hidden, that "cheat and retreat" is Iraq's game, and that the military option may still be the only option.

To this end, despite yesterday's developments, the military build-up will continue, the ships and tanks, planes and carriers so vital to America's sense of self-worth will edge towards Iraq, the tone-deaf Rumsfeld's Pentagon will bang on at what Syria calls the drums of war and deathly ominous B52s, like so many unChristian soldiers marching as to war, will once more silence the hedgerows of Gloucestershire. Expect US pretexts for escalation, fake and insincere negotiations, and false horizons.

For Saddam, with every concession, the bar will be raised ever higher. Almost whatever he says or does, the gun will remain at his head, the trigger ever cocked for the commencement of a battle which Bush et al will not be denied. Despite a broad international consensus against it, regime change and nothing less will remain the ultimate objective.

And why, the "man in the street" might ask, do they appear so set on violence? Because Bush's misconceived, over-hyped global "war on terror" has run out of targets and is far from won. Because Iraq is oil-rich (the second biggest reserves) and the Saudis grow unreliable. Because, purely in domestic policy terms, especially post-Enron, this government is political roadkill. Because the administration's predominant, evangelical clique believes it is solo superpower America's historic mission (Bush says it is a "calling") to spread its universal values and rescue a muddled world from itself. Because the Bush family has old scores to settle and new elections to win. Because Bush lacks the insight and imagination to act differently. Because in their September 11 pain and unforgotten anger, not nearly enough of America's "men in the street", and in high places too, are prepared to say stop, pause, and consider what it is they do.

Read the rest at the Guardian

September 18, 2003:

$87 Billion War Request Details Spending

President Bush formally shipped his $87 billion war spending request to Congress last night, offering new details about the burgeoning costs of reconstructing Iraq and drawing criticism from Democrats that the White House is willing to spend more on Iraqis than on U.S. citizens.

The spending bill's fine print offers a glimpse of the task the administration faces in rebuilding Iraq. Of the president's request, nearly $5.8 billion would go toward rebuilding Iraq's electricity system. An additional $2.1 billion is earmarked for its oil infrastructure, $3.7 billion for water and sewer building, $800 million for telecommunications and transportation improvements, and $900 million to upgrade hospitals and health care.

U.S. taxpayers will construct two prisons in Iraq, build houses and finance the importation of $900 million worth of fuel to a country with the world's second-largest oil reserves. All that is to be done by the end of 2004, administration officials said.

"These funds are necessary to win the war on terrorism and support our troops," an administration official said to reporters during a conference call that was conducted on condition of anonymity. "And that's for Americans. The faster Iraq is fully stabilized and secure, the faster Americans can leave"...

The Treasury Department reported yesterday that the federal deficit had blown through the $400 billion mark for the first time in history. With the added war costs, White House officials say the deficit could reach $535 billion in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

The war request offers not much hope of a quick resolution. Administration officials say the request envisions no change from the 200,000 troops deployed in Iraq and Kuwait. Indeed, the president is seeking $2.2 billion to finance additional military reserve and National Guard mobilizations.

The $20.3 billion sought for Iraqi relief and reconstruction is only part of the $50 billion to $75 billion that will be needed to do the job, administration officials concede. They hope some of the shortfall will be made up at the end of October, when an international donors' conference is to convene in Madrid, although senior administration officials have publicly said they do not expect much help.

Some of the shortfall is also to be covered by Iraqi oil sales. But for now, one official said, the $12 billion in oil exports anticipated next year will cover only the cost of oil industry operations. Of the oil industry request, $1.2 billion would go to rapid pipeline repair equipment and operations in anticipation of continued sabotage.

Read the rest at the Washington Post

September 18, 2004:

Iraq had no WMD: the final verdict

The comprehensive 15-month search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq has concluded that the only chemical or biological agents that Saddam Hussein's regime was working on before last year's invasion were small quantities of poisons, most likely for use in assassinations.

A draft of the Iraq Survey Group's final report circulating in Washington found no sign of the alleged illegal stockpiles that the US and Britain presented as the justification for going to war, nor did it find any evidence of efforts to reconstitute Iraq's nuclear weapons programme.

It also appears to play down an interim report which suggested there was evidence that Iraq was developing "test amounts" of ricin for use in weapons. Instead, the ISG report says in its conclusion that there was evidence to suggest the Iraqi regime planned to restart its illegal weapons programmes if UN sanctions were lifted.

Charles Duelfer, the head of the ISG, has said he intends to deliver his final report by the end of the month. It is likely to become a heated issue in the election campaign.

President George Bush now admits that stockpiles have not been found in Iraq but claimed as recently as Thursday that "Saddam Hussein had the capability of making weapons, and he could have passed that capability on to the enemy".

The draft Duelfer report, according to the New York Times, finds no evidence of a capability, but only of an intention to rebuild that capability once the UN embargo had been removed and Iraq was no longer the target of intense international scrutiny.

The finding adds weight to Mr Bush's assertions on the long-term danger posed by the former Iraqi leader, but it also suggests that, contrary to the administration's claims, diplomacy and containment were working prior to the invasion.

The draft report was handed to British, US and Australian experts at a meeting in London earlier this month, according to the New York Times. It largely confirms the findings of Mr Duelfer's predecessor, David Kay, who concluded "we were almost all wrong" in thinking Saddam had stockpiled weapons. The Duelfer report goes into greater detail.

Mr Kay's earlier findings mentioned the existence of a network of laboratories run by the Iraqi intelligence service, and suggested that the regime could be producing "test amounts" of chemical weapons and researching the use of ricin in weapons.

Subsequent inspections of the clandestine labs, under Mr Duelfer's leadership, found they were capable of producing small quantities of lethal chemical and biological agents, more useful for assassinations of individuals than for inflicting mass casualties.

Mr Duelfer, according to the draft, does not exclude the possibility that some weapons materials could have been smuggled out of Iraq before the war, a possibility raised by the administration and its supporters. However, the report apparently produces no significant evidence to support the claim. Nor does it find any evidence of any action by the Saddam regime to convert dual-use industrial equipment to weapons production.

"I think we know exactly how this is going to play out," said Joseph Cirincione, a proliferation expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

"You'll see a very elaborate spin operation. But there's not much new here from what the ISG reported before," he said. "There are still no weapons, no production of weapons and no programmes to begin the production of weapons. What we're left with here is that Saddam Hussein might have had the desire to rebuild the capability to build those weapons."

"Well, lots of people have desire for these weapons. Lots of people have intent. But that's not what we went to war for."

Read the rest at the Guardian

Bush 'pleased with the progress' in Iraq

In a phone interview with a newspaper, President Bush played down a U.S. intelligence forecast painting a pessimistic picture for the future of Iraq, including the suggestion that civil war could erupt there.

The National Intelligence Estimate was sent to the White House in July with a classified warning predicting that the best case for Iraq was "tenuous stability" and the worst case was civil war, a source confirmed to CNN. (Intelligence report: Iraq prospects bleak)

The 50-page report, completed in July, was commissioned internally within the intelligence community and contained classified and declassified portions.

President Bush talked about the report in an interview published Saturday by The Union Leader of Manchester, New Hampshire.

"The Iraqis are defying the dire predictions of a lot of people by moving toward democracy," Bush told the paper. "It's hard to get to democracy from tyranny. It's hard work. And yet, it's necessary work. But it's necessary work because a democratic Iraq will make the world a freer place and a more peaceful place.

"I'm pleased with the progress," Bush said.

Read the rest at CNN

September 18, 2005:

This is a mess of our own making

When I led my men of the 1st Battalion the Royal Irish Regiment across the border into Iraq we believed we were going to do some good. Goodwill and optimism abounded; it was to be a liberation, I had told my men, not a conquest.

In Iraq I sought to surround myself with advisers - Iraqis - who could help me understand what needed to be done. One of the first things they taught me was that the Baath party had been a fact of life for 35 years. Like the Nazi party, they said, it needed to be decapitated, harnessed and dismantled, each function replaced with the new regime. Many of these advisers were Baathists, yet were eager to co-operate, fired with the enthusiasm of the liberation. How must it look to them now?

What I had not realised was that there was no real plan at the higher levels to replace anything, indeed a simplistic and unimaginative overreliance in some senior quarters on the power of destruction and crude military might. We were to beat the Iraqis. That simple. Everything would come together after that.

The Iraqi army was defeated - it walked away from most fights - but was then dismissed without pay to join the ranks of the looters smashing the little infrastructure left, and to rail against their treatment. The Baath party was left undisturbed. The careful records it kept were destroyed with precision munitions by the coalition; the evidence erased, they were left with a free rein to agitate and organise the insurrection. A vacuum was created in which the coalition floundered, the Iraqis suffered and terrorists thrived.

One cannot help but wonder what it was all about. If it was part of the war on terror then history might notice that the invasion has arguably acted as the best recruiting sergeant for al-Qaeda ever: a sort of large-scale equivalent of the Bloody Sunday shootings in Derry in 1972, which in its day filled the ranks of the IRA. If it was an attempt to influence the price of oil, then the motorists who queued last week would hardly be convinced. If freedom and a chance to live a dignified, stable life free from terror was the motive, then I can think of more than 170 families in Iraq last week who would have settled for what they had under Saddam. UK military casualties reached 95 last week. I nightly pray the total never reaches 100.

The consequences of this adventure may run even deeper. Hurricane Katrina has caused a reappraisal of the motives and aims of this war in the US. The storm came perhaps in the nick of time as hawks in Washington were glancing towards Iran and its newly found self-confidence in global affairs. Meanwhile, China and India are growing and sucking up every drop of oil, every scrap of concrete or steel even as the old-world powers of the UK and US pour blood and treasure into overseas campaigns which seem to have no ending and no goal.

It is time for our leaders to explain what is going on. It was as a battalion commander trying to explain to his men why they would embark on a war that I came to public notice. The irony is that I made certain assumptions that my goodwill and altruistic motivations went to the top. Clearly I was naive. This time it is the role of the leaders of nations to explain where we are going and why. I, for one, demand to know.

Read the rest at the Guardian

In Iraq, soldier-son fights beyond her protection

It had never occurred to me that my children could die. Not even once, from the glory days of sweet faces and scabby knees.

About a month ago, at Tampa International Airport, as I waited for my soldier-son's return from Iraq, I contemplated nearly 2,000 other mothers whose children have died in the sand there. Like most Americans, I have strong feelings about war in general and this war in particular. But when the life of one of your loved ones is on the line every single day, none of that matters. Politics lose all meaning. World issues, pushed out of your head, are replaced with anxiety.

My kids work for the U.S. government. Aren, 26, drives an Army Paladin, a self-propelled cannon. Beth, 21, is in her third year of Navy service - aircraft electronics tech. My eldest, Matt, 28, is an intelligence agent.

When they left home, I was proud. They had chosen jobs to somehow mitigate America's Sept. 11. Small-town life in Illinois seemed unlikely preparation. I was mildly apprehensive, as mothers are.

At 3 years old, Aren messed with a wasp nest and earned himself a dozen stings. I righteously nursed his wounds, feeling angry at the universe for endangering my boy. In 2003, two decades later, at his boot camp graduation, I watched a mock-up of the conduct of war, and I remembered his stings.

While pyrotechnics left spots in my eyes and harmless explosions boomed in my chest, I struggled with tears and an eerie sense of something I couldn't name. Those new soldiers' average age was about 18, the universe had a wake-up call for them and no mother on earth could forestall it.

That I couldn't shield Aren anymore confused me. I hugged my son, congratulating him and cherishing the blessed knowledge that he was not bound for Iraq. His unit, the 2BCT, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, had been based in Korea since the 1950s.

Weeks later, Aren called. I expected the usual amusing rookie-screw-up stories. He sounded odd. I shrugged off a quick chill.

"So," he said. "They're moving us to another theater."

That's what they call war, a theater. I had ironic visions of actors in grease paint. Then I caught up.

"Iraq. Mom, I'm going to Iraq."

The phone felt hot in my icy hands. My head raged, and I swear I stepped outside myself, watched myself pace a 7-foot expanse of ceramic tile, and stifled a primal scream.

With deliberate control, I said, "You'll be fine. You're okay, right?"

Like a duck in a shooting gallery, I zipped back and forth across the lanai during the 10-minute conversation. I hung up, bubbles of hysteria rising in me. I was sure I would vomit. I cried.

Four weeks to deployment - too quick.

One moment he had been safe, the next his 4 a.m. calls were backed by exploding mortars and filled with images of dead people, violence and something called IEDs (improvised explosive devices).

I needed television news to be on all day long. I wouldn't go anywhere in case he called or, God forbid, the Army called. Later, I wouldn't allow news on at all. Couldn't bear photos of solemn-faced youngsters who would never come home.

If a vehicle came down our block, even the mailman, who I knew would rumble down the street every afternoon, my mind made it an Army van bringing two regular guys, soldiers, to tell me what no parent ever wants to hear.

I talked compulsively to any one who would listen. Strangers were compassionate.

"Tell Aren thanks." "We'll keep him in our prayers."

Care packages were a mission; selecting exactly the right contents, a holy protection.

What felt like centuries crawled by - then rumors that the 2BCT was coming home. Having suffered more casualties than any other unit, they were quietly training their replacements. Two footlockers, smudged with greasy sand, arrived at our front door in June. I sat on one, and closed my eyes. Hope.

More soldiers died. More injuries. Aren told of a Humvee vaporized below his lookout tower. Restricted to his post, he couldn't help. My mind boggled at what my son had witnessed in this long year of his short life.

Summer's end. Standing at the airport in Tampa, I concentrated on my breathing. I felt like I had run a long way, for a long time. Looking up, I saw Aren at the top of the escalator.

I don't remember anything except the hug. He sighed a huge sigh. His boots were on home ground.

Typical mom, I had never considered my kids' mortality. But I knew this was a reprieve for us. I marked a quiet moment for the other moms and offered a mother's prayer for their soldiers' peace and safety now.

I still can't watch much of the news.

Read the rest at the St. Petersberg Times

September 18, 2006:

14,000 U.S. detainees sit in "war on terror" legal limbo

In the few short years since the first shackled Afghan shuffled off to Guantánamo, the U.S. military has created a global network of overseas prisons, its islands of high security keeping 14,000 detainees beyond the reach of established law.

Disclosures of torture and long-term arbitrary detentions have won rebuke from leading voices, including the U.N. secretary-general and the U.S. Supreme Court. But the bitterest words come from inside the system, which is the size of several major U.S. penitentiaries.

"It was hard to believe I'd get out," Baghdad shopkeeper Amjad Qassim al-Aliyawi said after his release — without charge — last month. "I lived with the Americans for one year and eight months as if I was living in hell."

Captured on battlefields, pulled from beds at midnight, grabbed off streets as suspected insurgents, tens of thousands now have passed through U.S. detention, the vast majority in Iraq. Many say they were often interrogated around the clock, then released months or years later without apology, compensation or any word on why they were taken.

Defenders of the system say it's an unfortunate necessity in the battles to pacify Iraq and Afghanistan, and to keep suspected terrorists out of action.

Every U.S. detainee in Iraq "is detained because he poses a security threat to the government of Iraq, the people of Iraq or coalition forces," said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Keir-Kevin Curry, a spokesman for U.S.-led military-detainee operations in Iraq.

But dozens of ex-detainees, government ministers and legislators, human-rights activists, lawyers and scholars in Iraq, Afghanistan and the United States interviewed by The Associated Press said the detention system often is unjust and inflames anti-Americanism in Iraq and elsewhere.

Reports of extreme physical and mental abuse, symbolized by the notorious Abu Ghraib prison photos of 2004, have abated as the Pentagon has rejected torturelike treatment of the inmates. Most recently, on Sept. 6, the Pentagon issued a new interrogation manual banning forced nakedness, hooding, stress positions and other abusive techniques.

The same day, President Bush said the CIA's secret outposts in the prison network had been emptied.

Whatever the progress, whether small or significant, grim realities persist.

Human-rights groups count dozens of detainee deaths that were never explained or for which no one has been punished. The secret prisons — unknown in number and location — remain available for future detainees. The new manual banning torture doesn't cover CIA interrogators. And thousands of people still languish in a limbo, deprived of one of common law's oldest rights, habeas corpus, the right to know why you are imprisoned.

"If you, God forbid, are an innocent Afghan who gets sold down the river by some warlord rival, you can end up at [Bagram prison, in Afghanistan] and you have absolutely no way of clearing your name," said John Sifton of Human Rights Watch in New York.

The U.S. government has contended it can hold detainees until the "war on terror" ends — as it determines. "When we get up to 'forever,' I think it will be tested" in court, said retired Adm. John D. Hutson, former top lawyer for the U.S. Navy.

In Iraq, the Army oversees about 13,000 prisoners at Camp Cropper near the Baghdad airport, Camp Bucca in the southern desert, and Fort Suse in the Kurdish north.

Neither prisoners of war nor criminal defendants, they are just "security detainees" held "for imperative reasons of security," said command spokesman Curry, using language from an annex to a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing the U.S. presence here.

Others say there's no need to hold these thousands outside of the rules for prisoners of war established by the Geneva Conventions.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan declared in March that the extent of arbitrary detention here is "not consistent with provisions of international law governing internment on imperative reasons of security."

Meanwhile, officials of Nouri al-Maliki's four-month-old Iraqi government say the U.S. detention system violates Iraq's national rights.

At the Justice Ministry, Deputy Minister Busho Ibrahim said it has been "a daily request" that the detainees be brought under Iraqi authority.

The cases of U.S.-detained Iraqis are reviewed by a committee of U.S. military and Iraqi government officials. The panel recommends criminal charges against some, release for others. Almost 18,700 have been released since June 2004, the U.S. command says, not including many more who were held and then freed by local military units and never shipped to major prisons.

Some let go, no longer considered a threat, later joined or rejoined the insurgency.

The review process is too slow, say U.N. officials. Until the detainees are released, often families don't know where their men are — the prisoners are almost always men — or even whether they're in American hands.

Released prisoner Waleed Abdul Karim, 26, recounted how his guards wielded their absolute authority.

"Tell us about the ones who attack Americans in your neighborhood," he quoted an interrogator as saying, "or I will keep you in prison for another 50 years."

As with others, Karim's confinement may simply have strengthened support for the anti-U.S. resistance. "I will hate Americans for the rest of my life," he said.

Read the rest at the Seattle Times