Sunday, September 23, 2007

Perspective: On this day in Iraq -- September 23rd edition

September 23, 2006: Marines of Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment take a break from a patrol through a neighborhood east of Husayba.

September 23, 2002:

US 'devoted' to Iraq's reconstruction

The US will be "completely devoted" to the reconstruction of Iraq as a unified, democratic state in the event of a military strike that topples Saddam Hussein, said Condoleezza Rice, US national security adviser.

As the White House has begun to consider military strategies in Iraq, Ms Rice said the US would seek a swift victory by using "sufficient force to win".

Ms Rice, speaking in an interview with the Financial Times, signalled US willingness to spend considerable time and money rebuilding Iraq after the fall of Mr Hussein's regime.

Reinforcing the Bush administration's message that the values of freedom, democracy and free enterprise do not "stop at the edge of Islam", Ms Rice underlined US interest in the "democratisation or the march of freedom in the Muslim world". She said of places such as Bahrain, Qatar and - "to a certain extent" - Jordan: "There are a lot of reformist elements. We want to be supportive of those."

As the negotiations at the United Nations between US and British diplomats and their Russian and French counterparts are set to intensify this week, Ms Rice pressed the security council for a clear resolution with effective measures of enforcement.

Tony Blair, the prime minister, will today convene a special cabinet meeting to discuss the Iraq crisis, at which he is expected to unveil details of the dossier on Mr Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.

Downing Street officials yesterday insisted that the dossier, to be published tomorrow morning ahead of a parliamentary debate on Iraq, will spell out the growing threat posed by Iraq's WMD. They argued that it was not designed to step up the case for military action against Baghdad.

Read the rest at the Financial Times

September 23, 2003:

Vision of the neocons stays fixed on making hard choices

Every Tuesday morning during the Iraq war Washington's opinion-makers and journalists knew there was only one place to be: at the "black-coffee briefings" held at the American Enterprise Institute, a fortress-like building on M and 17th streets, opposite the main offices of the National Geographic magazine.

Technically, AEI is a thinktank. More than that, though, it is the headquarters of the intellectual movement known as neoconservatism. Its staff includes famous names such as Richard Perle, Irving Kristol and Newt Gingrich. The magazine Weekly Standard, the neocon bible, is published at the same address.

Black coffee was not strictly compulsory at the briefings - adding milk was allowed - but it did seem a particularly apt metaphor. The neocons felt they were delivering stern, sobering truths, wake-up calls with all the kick of a strong espresso: that liberating Iraq and making an awesome show of American power was vital for the US and the world, that democracy would spread through the region as dictators fell like dominoes.

Resistance would be minimal: the war could be fought, most argued, with the lean hi-tech military championed by Donald Rumsfeld. But not with the UN and Europe, who did not have the stomach for the new era of muscular American power. But that was then; September in Washington finds the ultra-hawks in ferment. They confess to being taken aback by events in Iraq. Some are responding by arguing that the terrorist attacks on US troops there may actually be, counterintuitively, a good thing.

In interviews with the Guardian they expressed deep scepticism about President Bush's new overtures to the UN, accusing the White House of a lack of commitment - and, most surprising of all, rounding on their former hero Donald Rumsfeld. The distance between the president and the movement widely credited with persuading him to go to war in the first place has never seemed greater.

"All of us surely understand that, but for the president, we wouldn't be arguing about postwar Iraq - we would still be arguing about what to do with Saddam," said Thomas Donnelly, an AEI scholar and senior fellow at the Project for the New American Century, the influential rightwing group whose founding signatories include Dick Cheney, the vice-president, Mr Rumsfeld, and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz.

"But having got rid of the guy, we're now understanding that regime change is a much larger undertaking than we thought it was. But this is a unique American responsibility, and passing the buck to the rest of the world, a good portion of which didn't agree with us in the first place, is not a great idea."

There is still plenty of the old defiant optimism that prompted one AEI scholar, Danielle Pletka, to publish a paper in April, mid-war, bluntly entitled Everything is Going Well. Mr Donnelly and his colleagues are emphatic that they still feel that way. But insufficient troops, he argues, mean "we're making it harder than it has to be".

The near-daily grim news of US casualties in Iraq has inspired some audacious responses - most notably what has been labelled the "flypaper theory", pungently summarised by the conservative commentator Andrew Sullivan. "Being based in Iraq helps us not only because of actual bases, but because the American presence diverts terrorist attention away from elsewhere," he argued on his website.

Even General Ricardo Sanchez, commander of the coalition's ground forces in Iraq, appeared to subscribe to this theory, conceding that Iraq was "a terrorist magnet" but adding: "This is exactly where we want to fight them." Other neoconservatives disagree, however - one of numerous ways in which their previous consensus seems to be fragmenting.

Some dissenters have seen the breach with the Pentagon coming since before the war. As an example, Mr Rumsfeld was reported to have personally delayed the dispatch to Iraq of heavy artillery units based in Texas and Germany. Even to many hawks that seemed a foolhardy degree of commitment to the "revolution in military affairs", the doctrine that America will win the wars of the future with light, nimble forces using laser-guided missiles and precision bombs.

"Rumsfeld, in particular, has become a bit of a problem, because he's so committed to the revolution in military affairs that he doesn't like the idea of American ground troops patrolling, doing low-tech things," said William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard.

"But ... sometimes the world doesn't allow you to do everything with precision bombs. And I think we should be willing to do what it takes."

In the interest both of American influence and the Iraqi people a much bigger commitment of US troops and money is essential, he argues. This is why the president's request for billions more in funds has spread some relief among the neocons. Some privately hint that they might prefer it if French and German opposition to Mr Bush at the UN were to result in the defeat of US negotiators there.

One prominent pro-war voice has even said so publicly. "It would be a delightful irony if Jacques Chirac prevented President Bush from putting the wrong foot forward," Reuel Marc Gerecht of the AEI wrote recently in the Weekly Standard.

"[The administration has] been trying to do it on the cheap, and that's a mistake," Mr Kristol said. "What's going to rectify that mistake is not the UN - it's the $87bn, and a more urgent full-throated US commitment to getting it right, doing the reconstruction, and laying the conditions for the Iraqis taking over."

If the motives for urging an attack on Iraq in the first place seemed ever-changing, that might have been because, in the words of the liberal Washington commentator Joshua Micah Marshall, "it was the classic overdetermined question". Several of these thinkers' deeply held convictions, in other words, all pointed to the same conclusion.

They have a passionate belief in the benefits of US-style democracy. They want to stun potential enemies, both terrorists and "rogue states", into realising the scale of American force. They want to reduce US reliance on such allies as Saudi Arabia. And reduce regional pressure on Israel. All dictated the same thing: attacking Iraq. "There was a period where they had a way of winning all the arguments," said Mr Marshall, who edits the website "But now they're off their game plan."

A White House that appeared in tune with their thinking has proved to have other concerns: proving a point about military technology, in Mr Rumsfeld's case, and, in the president's, winning the next election. "There are peple around the president who can see that, politically, this is a mess," Mr Marshall said. "But the neocons see it all in grand-historical terms - if it takes 100,000 soldiers, if it takes a draft, who cares? We gotta do it."

Their clarion call now is for "Iraqification" of Iraq: an argument which brings the neoconservatives curiously close to the viewpoint put by the French and Germans at the UN. "We need a game plan for a swift transfer to the Iraqis, because we haven't won until we have government by the Iraqis," said Danielle Pletka, author of the optimistic mid-war paper, although going to the UN "doesn't accelerate that, it decelerates it."

Ms Pletka's argument represents yet another emerging camp. She blamed problems in Iraq on "a bizarre colonial attitude" on the part of Colin Powell's state department and the British. But her comments underline a pervasive sense that the marriage of the neocons and the Rumsfeld wing of the Bush administration may be heading for the rocks.

Those with old-fashioned colonialist attitudes had influence over the governance of the country, Ms Pletka said, "because they've got the bodies ... And yet, for reasons utterly mysterious to me, the Pentagon refuses to send its people there. They should be making sure they have a big role there, too. And they won't. And I have no idea why."

Read the rest at the Guardian

U.N. Agencies: Millions in Iraq Still Hungry

About half of the Iraqi population is in need of food assistance, two U.N. food agencies said Tuesday, blaming the war and years of economic sanctions and drought.

Of these, some 3.5 million Iraqis -- vulnerable groups such as malnourished children, pregnant women and nursing mothers -- will need supplementary food rations next year, at an estimated cost of $51 million.

The figures were part of a joint report by two Rome-based agencies of the United Nations, the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Program. The agencies sent a mission to Iraq in June and July to assess the food situation.

The report said that starvation has been averted, but warned that chronic malnutrition persisted among the 25 million population, despite a better cereal harvest this year compared to 2002.

This year's cereal production is forecast at 4.1 million tons, 22 percent more compared to last year's estimated harvest. Cereal imports for 2003/2004 are estimated at 3.4 million tons, of which 3.2 million tons are likely to be purchased commercially and about 244,000 tons are food-aid pledges.

Production has increased mainly due to rains in the north, increased irrigation and distribution of agricultural assistance such as seed or fertilizer in the main producing areas.

However, the report said that food will still need to be distributed in the short and medium term while the agriculture sector recovers.

The agencies urged the country to devolve all returns from oil sales to the Development Fund for Iraq -- a recently established fund for financing humanitarian and reconstruction efforts -- with special consideration for the agriculture sector.

The report singled out water availability and sanitation as the two major problems in postwar Iraq. Currently a daily maximum of 18 gallons per person is available to the 5 million residents of Baghdad -- about half of prewar availability. The situation is even worse in southern cities.

The agencies said the U.S. military occupation and postwar turmoil has taken a toll on the sowing of summer cereal and industrial crops, as well as on the capacity to produce fertilizers.

Two fertilizer factories are apparently not working, said the report, raising the question of where next year's estimated 600,000 tons of fertilizers for cereals alone will come from.

Livestock conditions are generally stable in most parts of the country, having benefited from good pastures and the availability of grain.

In the wake of the Iraq crisis, the United Nations appealed for a total $2.2 billion, possibly the biggest humanitarian operation in history.

Read the rest at Fox News

September 23, 2004:

Allawi backs Bush campaign by defending Iraq war

Iyad Allawi, Iraq's interim prime minister, lent his support to President George W. Bush's presidential campaign on Thursday by defending the Iraq war and offering an optimistic assessment of the country's future.

Mr Allawi gave an upbeat report to a joint session of the US Congress on Thursday morning, thanking the American people and pledging to hold elections in January. "We are succeeding in Iraq," he said.

In a speech that echoed the case Mr Bush has made on the campaign trail, Mr Allawi told Congress: "We are better off, you are better off and the world is better off without Saddam Hussein."

He was greeted with a standing ovation.

Later, at a White House press conference, Mr Bush and Mr Allawi set out to convince the American people that - regardless of what they see on their television screens or hear from Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry - Iraq is making "steady progress".

By choosing to come to Washington less than six weeks before a US election, Mr Allawi has positioned himself not only as the US's partner in the effort to build a democracy in the Middle East but also as Mr Bush's ally in his campaign for a second term...

Mr Bush was challenged repeatedly by reporters on Thursday to square the reports of beheadings, car bombings and insurgent strongholds with his own upbeat description of a free, modern society in Iraq.

"What's important for the American people to hear is reality, and the reality is right here in the form of the prime minister, and he is explaining what is happening on the ground," Mr Bush said.

Read the rest at the Financial Times

September 23, 2005:

Bush asserts troops must stay in Iraq

As thousands of antiwar protesters arrived for a rally this weekend in the nation's capital, President Bush yesterday asserted that the immediate withdrawal of American troops from Iraq would make the world more dangerous and ''allow the terrorists to claim a historic victory over the United States."

Speaking at the Pentagon and flanked by Vice President Dick Cheney and his top national security team, Bush also sought to reassure the public that the federal government is up to the tasks of rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina, handling Hurricane Rita and its aftermath, and fully prosecuting the war in Iraq while fighting international terrorism...

the president's Pentagon visit was clearly designed to dampen the potential impact of the antiwar rally this weekend on the National Mall in Washington. Liberal groups and leading peace activists say they expect hundreds of thousands of people will come to protest the US military presence in Iraq and demand that Bush bring the troops home now.

''Listen, there are differences of opinion about the way forward," Bush said. ''I understand that. Some Americans want us to withdraw our troops so that we can escape the violence. I recognize their good intentions, but their position is wrong. Withdrawing our troops would make the world more dangerous and make America less safe."

Bush said pulling out before the Iraqi government is fully prepared to battle insurgents who killed 10 more civilians in a series of attacks yesterday would ''repeat the costly mistakes" of when the United States withdrew troops after deadly terrorist attacks in Iran and Lebanon and when jubilant crowds tore apart a downed military helicopter in Somalia.

''The terrorists saw our response to the hostage crisis in Iran, the bombings of the Marine barracks in Lebanon, the first World Trade Center attack, the killing of American soldiers in Somalia, the destruction of two US embassies in Africa, and the attack on the USS Cole," Bush said. ''The terrorists concluded that we lacked the courage and character to defend ourselves, and so they attacked us."

Citing briefings he received from his top commanders yesterday, Bush said the military is making progress against the insurgency in Iraq and in establishing a politically viable state. Newly trained Iraqi forces are taking the lead in many security operations, the president said, including a recent offensive in the insurgent stronghold of Tal Afar along the Syrian border -- a key transit point for foreign fighters and supplies.

''Iraqi forces are showing the vital difference they can make," Bush said. ''They are now in control of more parts of Iraq than at any time in the past two years. Significant areas of Baghdad and Mosul, once violent and volatile, are now more stable because Iraqi forces are helping to keep the peace."

Read the rest at the Boston Globe

The 'myth' of Iraq's foreign fighters

The US and Iraqi governments have vastly overstated the number of foreign fighters in Iraq, and most of them don't come from Saudi Arabia, according to a new report from the Washington-based Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS). According to a piece in The Guardian, this means the US and Iraq " feed the myth" that foreign fighters are the backbone of the insurgency. While the foreign fighters may stoke the insurgency flames, they make up only about 4 to 10 percent of the estimated 30,000 insurgents.

The CSIS study also disputes media reports that Saudis are the largest group of foreign fighters. CSIS says "Algerians are the largest group (20 percent), followed by Syrians (18 percent), Yemenis (17 percent), Sudanese (15 percent), Egyptians (13 percent), Saudis (12 percent) and those from other states (5 percent)." CSIS gathered the information for its study from intelligence sources in the Gulf region.

The CSIS report says: "The vast majority of Saudi militants who have entered Iraq were not terrorist sympathizers before the war; and were radicalized almost exclusively by the coalition invasion."

The average age of the Saudis was 17-25 and they were generally middle-class with jobs, though they usually had connections with the most prominent conservative tribes. "Most of the Saudi militants were motivated by revulsion at the idea of an Arab land being occupied by a non-Arab country. These feelings are intensified by the images of the occupation they see on television and the Internet ... the catalyst most often cited [in interrogations] is Abu Ghraib, though images from Guantanamo Bay also feed into the pathology."

The report also gives notes that the Saudi government for spending nearly $1.2 billion over the past two years, and deploying 35,000 troops, in an effort to secure its border with Iraq. The major problem remains the border with Syria, which lacks the resources of the Saudis to create a similar barrier on its border.

The Associated Press reports that CSIS believes most of the insurgents are not "Saddam Hussein loyalists" but members of Sunni Arab Iraqi tribes. They do not want to see Mr. Hussein return to power, but they are "wary of a Shiite-led government."

The Los Angeles Times reports that a greater concern is that 'skills' foreign fighters are learning in Iraq are being exported to their home countries. This is a particular concern for Europe, since early this year US intelligence reported that "Abu Musab Zarqawi, whose network is believed to extend far beyond Iraq, had dispatched teams of battle-hardened operatives to European capitals."

Iraq has become a superheated, real-world academy for lessons about weapons, urban combat and terrorist trade craft, said Thomas Sanderson of [CSIS].

Extremists in Iraq are "exposed to international networks from around the world," said Sanderson, who has been briefed by German security agencies. "They are returning with bomb-making skills, perhaps stolen explosives, vastly increased knowledge. If they are succeeding in a hostile environment, avoiding ... US Special Forces, then to go back to Europe, my God, it's kid's play."

Read the rest at the Christian Science Monitor

September 23, 2006:

Bush’s ‘victory’ mess in Iraq

Harold Pinter wrote a play a while back called “Betrayal.” The plot was a fairly mundane story about an adulterous affair among affluent London literati. What gives the tale its haunting magic is that Pinter tells it in reverse: starting with the couple breaking up and ending with that first ambiguous flirtation.

Others have tried this device. Martin Amis used it in a novel called “Time’s Arrow” to make some point or other about the dangers of nuclear war. There is a Stephen Sondheim musical called “Merrily We Roll Along,” which starts with the hero as an unattractive middle-aged Hollywood power player and ends with him as an idealistic youth gazing toward “the hills of tomorrow.” A clever movie several years ago called “Memento” used the time-backward trick as a way to imitate for the audience the effect of amnesia.

So it’s been used by some of the masters. And it’s a good trick: disorienting, as modern art is supposed to be, and with built-in poignancy. But that doesn’t mean that anyone can pull it off. Frankly, I would have pegged George W. Bush — whose awareness of his own weaknesses is one of his more attractive traits — as just about the last person in the world who would try this literary jujitsu. But in his own narrative of his own war (the one in Iraq) he has done it. If you trace the concept of “victory” in his remarks on Iraq, and those of subordinates, you discover a war that was won 3 1/2 years ago and today it has barely started.

Return with me, if you will, to May 1, 2003. That was the day Bush landed on the USS Abraham Lincoln and — under a banner declaring “Mission Accomplished” — declared that “major combat operations in Iraq have ended” and “the United States and our allies have prevailed. (Applause.)” (This is from the official White House transcript.) The White House later claimed that the banner was somebody else’s idea and that Bush didn’t declare victory in so many words. But Bush did use the word “victory,” saying that Iraq was “one victory in a war on terror.” As I recall, the occasion was pretty triumphal. Perhaps you remember differently. And in his radio address two days later, Bush used the term “victory” unabashedly.

Soon, however, the concept of “victory” became more fluid. There is not just one victory but many. Or, as White House press secretary Scott McClellan put it in August 2004, “Every progress made in Iraq since the collapse of Saddam’s regime is a victory against the terrorists and enemies of Iraq.” And there was a subtle shift from declaring how wonderful victory was to emphasizing how wonderful it will be. “The rise of democracy in Iraq will be an essential victory in the war on terror,” Vice-President Cheney said in April 2004.

In the 2004 campaign, Bush said repeatedly that one reason to vote for him over Senator John Kerry was that he, Bush, had “a strategy that will lead to victory. And that strategy has four commitments.” By October 2005 these four “commitments” had been honed down to three “prongs.” Then they metastasized into four “categories for victory. And they’re clear, and our command structure and our diplomats in Iraq understand the definition of victory.” It’s nice that someone does.

It was during the 2004 campaign that Bush offered his most imaginative explanation for why victory in Iraq looked so much like failure. “Because we achieved such a rapid victory” — note that it is once more, briefly, a victory — “more of the Saddam loyalists were [still] around.” On May 1, 2006, the third anniversary of “mission accomplished,” McClellan was asked whether “victory” had been achieved in Iraq. He said, “We’re making real progress on our plan for victory. . . . We are on the path to victory. We are winning in Iraq. But there is more work to do.” Democrats should shut up because their criticism of the president “does nothing to help advance our goal of achieving victory in Iraq.” (Once victory is achieved, presumably, it will be okay for Democrats to criticize.) And make no mistake, Bush said July 4: “When the job in Iraq is done, it will be a major victory.” On the fifth anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, The Post’s accurate headline read: “Bush Says Iraq Victory Is Vital.” And Bush was eloquent. “Once more into the breach, dear friends, once more. . . .” Well maybe not that eloquent. But his point was the same as Henry V’s: Don’t give up now! “Mistakes have been made in Iraq,” he conceded. He even conceded that “Saddam Hussein was not responsible for the 9/11 attacks.” But let us not, for mercy’s sake, learn anything from five years of experience. Instead, let’s just pretend it all never happened. After all, we won this war back in 2003.

Read the rest at the Dawn