Monday, September 24, 2007

Perspective: On this day in Iraq -- September 24th edition

September 24, 2003: An American soldier from the 4th Infantry division stands guard over a suspected Saddam loyalist as his family watches from a distance during an early morning raid on a village outside Tikrit.

September 24, 2002:

Blair Says Iraq Could Deliver Powerful Weapons Within 45 Minutes

AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: And good evening, again, everyone... On we go to The Whip and the news of the day. Much of it has to do with Iraq. The British prime minister, his much anticipated speech before parliament on Iraq. Christiane Amanpour is in London tonight -- Christiane, the headline from you, please.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Aaron, the early morning papers all are full of the headline that Tony Blair said Iraq has a military capability of weapons of mass destruction that could be delivered within 45 minutes notice.

Read the rest at CNN

Iraq Only One to Two Years Away from Nuclear Weapons: Britain

Britain on Tuesday unveiled a long-awaited dossier of evidence against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, accusing Iraq of posing a danger to the stability of the Middle East and the world.

The 55-page document about the threat posed by Iraq's alleged weapons programs claimed that Iraq was only one to two years away from producing nuclear weapons.

Iraq tried to acquire from Africa material and technology for the production of nuclear weapons, the dossier said.

It also claimed that Iraq is continuing to produce chemical and biological weapons and has plans to use them.

Iraq had learned how to conceal equipment and documentation from weapons inspectors and would be able to hide its weapons program even if the United Nations sends in new inspectors, said the document, which was posted on Britain's government websites from 0700 GMT.

Prime Minister Tony Blair hoped that the evidence in the dossier will convince skeptics of the need to take action, ahead of an emergency sitting of the British Parliament to discuss the crisis.

Writing in the foreword, Blair said it "is unprecedented for the government to publish this kind of document."

"But in the light of the debate about Iraq and weapons of mass destruction I wanted to share with the British public the reasons why I believe this issue to be a current and serious threat to the UK national interest," he said.

Blair said he has become "increasingly alarmed" in recent months by the evidence from inside Iraq that ... "Saddam Hussein is continuing to develop WMD, and with them the ability to inflict real damage upon the region and the stability of the world."

The prime minister also claimed that, despite sanctions, the "policy of containment" employed toward Iraq has not worked and the picture presented by intelligence chiefs in recent months has "become more not less worrying."

Read the rest at the Peoples Daily

Bush Praises Blair for Iraq Remarks

President Bush praised British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Tuesday for a speech and 50-page document outlining Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's history of weapons of mass destruction program, its breach of U.N. resolutions and the current attempt to rebuild the program.

"Prime Minister Blair, first of all, is a very strong leader, and I admire his willingness to tell the truth and to lead. Secondly he continues to make the case, like we make the case, that Saddam Hussein is a threat to peace," Bush told reporters in a question-and-answer session following a West Wing Cabinet meeting...

Bush said he understood that Blair didn't get specific because "he is not going to reveal sources and methods of collection of sensitive information. Those sources and methods will be used later on, I am confident. We need to gather more information about how this man has deceived the world"...

"The 45-minute window under which Iraq is prepared to use biological and chemical weapons is one further sign of worries we have about Iraq and their militaristic intentions," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Tuesday.

Fleischer disregarded suggestions that Blair and Bush on different tracks with the former worried about disarmament and the latter focusing on regime change.

"I don't think there's any difference between us," Fleischer said.

Read the rest at Fox News

September 24, 2003:

Passive Deceit & the Death of David Kelly

Dr. David Kelly, the British weapons inspector who took his life earlier this summer, would likely be alive today if the the best and brightest of British intelligence had not engaged in “passive deceit.” If they had not allowed a misinterpretation to lodge in the brains of the media and public, Kelly would not have made the allegations to a BBC reporter that started the unfortunate chain of events that culminated in Kelly’s death.

Deceit can be active or passive. An example of active deceit is to claim that you “know” that Iraq continued to produce chemical and biological weapons from 1999 to 2002 when you merely suspect such was the case. The September 24, 2002 dossier “Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction” gave the false impression that a mere “judgment” — based on limited, unconfirmed intelligence — was an established fact. The misleading formulation was presented both in the main text, prepared by the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) under the supervision of JIC chairman John Scarlett, and in the Prime Minister’s Foreword, penned by Alastair Campbell and reviewed and approved by Tony Blair.

Passive deceit occurs when you’re in position to correct a misperception but you fail to act. Perhaps you prefer to allow the misperception to lodge in the brains of citizens as fact, because it serves your political interests. An example of passive deceit is the non-response of two intelligence chiefs, Scarlett and MI6’s Sir Richard Dearlove, after much of the British public and media assumed from their reading of the dossier that Iraq could launch a WMD attack on Britain’s overseas interests (if not on Britain itself) within 45 minutes of an order to do so.

In fact, Iraq could not. The spy bosses knew it could not, yet neither man appeared to make any effort to correct the misimpression or urge anyone in the Blair administration to do so.

According to senior British spooks, a few weeks before the publication of the dossier Brit intelligence received information from a reliable source that a second reliable source — a senior Iraqi military man — said Iraq could deploy some of its chemical and biological weapons within 20 to 45 minutes of an order to fire them. Intelligence analysts presumed that the weapons in question were battlefield munitions with scant range — that is, they posed a threat to Iraqi citizens and perhaps foreigners living within a few miles of Iraq’s borders. The analysts did not believe the Iraqi’s info referred to the 20 or fewer long-range missiles Iraq allegedly still possessed, which if they existed could reach British bases on the island of Cyprus. (We can, of course, add “allegedly” to the chem/bio weapons themselves.)

As for missiles that might reach Mother England, not even Tony Blair pretended Iraq had such weapons. But just to be on the scary side, he or Campbell removed this reassuring sentence from an early draft of the Foreword: “The case I made is not that Saddam could launch a nuclear attack on London or another part of the UK (he could not). . . .” No need to unduly comfort the public with reliable information on the limited nature of the Iraqi threat.

The “45 minutes” claim appears four times in the dossier. In the Blair/Campbell Foreword, it’s presented as established fact, and the preceding sentence declares, “Intelligence reports make clear that he sees the building up of his WMD capability, and the belief overseas that he would use these weapons, as vital to his strategic interests, and in particular his goal of regional domination.”

Consider these three consecutive bullets from a section in the main text laying out “what we know”:

“-- Iraq possesses extended-range versions of the SCUD ballistic missile in breach of UNSCR 687 which are capable of reaching Cyprus, Eastern Turkey, Tehran and Israel. It is also developing longer-range ballistic missiles;

“-- Iraq's current military planning specifically envisages the use of chemical and biological weapons;

“-- Iraq's military forces are able to use chemical and biological weapons, with command, control and logistical arrangements in place. The Iraqi military are able to deploy these weapons within 45 minutes of a decision to do so;”

Only a fool would read those passages and think, “I gotta hunch that the only weapons that can be deployed within 45 minutes are battlefield munitions with minimal range.”

JIC chairman John Scarlett and MI6 chief Richard Dearlove have explained to the Hutton Inquiry that yes, the public misinterpreted the passages, and no, that was not the intent.

So why didn’t they correct the misinterpretation? Even if they preferred to remain anonymous, as befitting spy chiefs, they could have spoken to Blair and Campbell and urged them to clue the public in. After all, the dossier was presented as a work of the intelligence services, the JIC in particular. The JIC chairman should have been concerned that, despite his best intentions, the public had got the wrong idea.

Wouldn’t he want senior government officials, including the prime minister, to go on TV and say, “Hey, sorry about the confusion and the scare, but here’s what that ‘45 minutes’ really means”?

Both from the standpoint of the JIC’s reputation and the importance of informing rather than misinforming citizens in a democracy, a prompt, well-publicized clarification was in order. But it was not forthcoming.

On September 22, 2003, Minister of Defence Geoff Hoon told the Hutton Inquiry that he too knew the true meaning of the 45-minute claim. Asked why he did nothing a year ago when British newspapers ran scary headlines about the Iraqi threat, based on a logical but false interpretation of the dossier, he faulted the media for engaging in “exaggeration,” said it was not his duty to correct their errors, and added it had been his experience that getting the press to issue corrections was “time-consuming and fruitless.”

Among those who assumed the dossier’s 45-minute claim related to missile-delivered WMD was Dr. Kelly, Britain’s leading expert on biological weapons. That’s why he was bothered by the dossier’s discussion of 45 minutes: he didn’t see how that missiles could be loaded with WMD and readied for attack so quickly.

Kelly was confused because the people in position to clear up the confusion preferred to allow Brits to make a false presumption that increased the likelihood they would support Blair’s Iraq policy.

Kelly wouldn’t have talked about the 45-minute claim in May 2003 with BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan if the matter had been clarified in September. There would have been no ensuing Campbell-BBC brouhaha, no effort to find out who was Gilligan’s source, for there would have been no story and no source. Kelly wouldn’t have been hounded. He would have spent the summer in government service doing what he was exceptionally good at: investigating Iraqi WMD programs in Iraq.

There would have been no unbearable pressure, no long, troubled walk, no sad death years before his time.

Read the rest at Scoop NZ

No WMD in Iraq, source claims

No weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq by the group looking for them, according to a Bush administration source who has spoken to the BBC.
This will be the conclusion of the Iraq Survey Group's interim report, the source told the presenter of BBC television's Daily Politics show, Andrew Neil.

Downing Street branded the story "speculation about an unfinished draft of an interim report".

Mr Neil said the draft report - which the source said is due to be published next month - concludes that it is highly unlikely that weapons of mass destruction were shipped out of the country to places like Syria before the US-led war on Iraq...

Mr Neil said that according to the source, the report will say its inspectors have not even unearthed "minute amounts of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons material".

They have also not uncovered any laboratories involved in deploying weapons of mass destruction and no delivery systems for the weapons...

UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said: "This is speculation on an as yet unpublished report.

"I await the report eagerly from Mr Kay (head of the survey group), as does the international community."

Mr Straw argued that the whole international community had agreed Iraq's weapons programmes had posed - the issue had been what to do about it.

People did not need the ISG report for evidence of that threat, he said. It was already shown in volumes of reports from UN inspectors.

A Number 10 spokesman said "we don't have this text", but asked if the prime minister had seem the report, remarked: "We are not going into details of process"...

The survey group, led by David Kay, a former UN weapons inspector and now a special adviser to the CIA, is a largely US operation, although it includes some British and Australian staff.

Its 1,400 personnel are made up of scientists, military and intelligence experts, and its work is shrouded in secrecy.

Its focus is intelligence, using documents and interviews with Iraqi scientists to build up a picture of the secret world of Iraq's weapons programmes.

The survey group has been under pressure to prove the Bush administration's case that Iraq's weapons posed a significant threat.

Read the rest at BBC News

September 24, 2004:

Bush Surprises Departing Troops With Gift -- Himself

It had been a pretty glum day for Spec. Brian Parker, who along with the other members of his National Guard unit said goodbye to their families and departed on a charter flight for a long-term stint in Iraq. But then, on a refueling stop here, a familiar figure boarded the plane.

"We were down when we left our families," Parker said, giving a thumbs down. "But then we heard Air Force One was here. It's a good morale boost."

President Bush, after a campaign appearance in Bangor, held his plane on the tarmac when he heard an MD-11 carrying 292 Army reservists and National Guard members was about to refuel here. For the troops, grimly heading toward an 18-to-24-month assignment in Iraq, it was a welcome lift. For Bush, who has been accusing his Democratic presidential opponent, Sen. John F. Kerry, of demoralizing the troops in Iraq by criticizing the war effort, it was a chance to demonstrate his devotion to the troops.

Read the rest at the Washington Post

Humiliated and impotent, every Iraqi is a hostage now

They sit in their solitary cells all day, uncharged with any crime. No family member, no friend, no lawyer may visit. Their freedom depends on a callous game of Pentagon roulette. Word filters out that they are about to be released. Then word follows that - alas - it will take a bit more time.

These are America's Iraqi hostages, whose captivity in a high-security camp at Baghdad airport has already lasted for over a year. The two women scientists whose fate has been spotlighted this week belong to a larger group of Iraqi prisoners who should not have been held so long.

Their cases cannot be compared to that of the British engineer, Kenneth Bigley, or the other foreigners kidnapped by fundamentalist groups. The circumstances are different. The motivations are different. Their treatment is different...

But the holding of Iraqi scientists, whom the Americans call high-value detainees, is significant because they, more than any other group, seem to be hostages. Taken initially into custody because it was thought they could shed light on those elusive weapons of mass destruction, it is clear they had little new to say. There were no WMD, as they always insisted.

Dr Rihab Rashid Taha, called Dr Germ by UN weapons inspectors, was an expert in biological warfare, who consistently told them before the war that all stocks had been destroyed years earlier. Why has she not been let go? She has not been charged with any crime, and even if she were, could she not be freed on bail? Is it that the US authorities don't want her talking to the press about the biological specimens she received from American companies in the 1980s when Saddam Hussein was Washington's friend? Are they worried she might produce the receipts she has said she holds?

What of Dr Amer al-Saadi, the rocket scientist who briefly became the government's link man with the inspectors in 2002? He, too, repeatedly told them Iraq's WMD were dismantled long ago. He was the first senior Iraqi to surrender voluntarily to the US authorities in April last year, expecting to be held for brief interrogation and then let go.

Yesterday his brother, Radwan, told me he was assured last month that Amer's release had been authorised and only a few bureaucratic procedures remained. It seems he was part of the same joint Iraqi-American review process which apparently gave the green light to releasing the women scientists weeks before Kenneth Bigley's kidnappers focused on them.

Why the delay? Did Donald Rumsfeld or George Bush's election advisers get cold feet, fearing the impact of interviews that would once again highlight the fraud behind the invasion? Was the Iraqi government in favour of the release, as its justice minister suggested, but over-ruled by the Americans and denied the sovereignty it is claimed to enjoy?.

What of Saddam Hussein himself? Has he, too, become a pawn in Bush's bid to retain power? Few doubt that - unlike the scientists - he is a war criminal, although technically he remains innocent until convicted. When, and if, an Iraqi court with judges chosen independently by Iraqis puts him on trial, not many tears will flow.

The issue is the timing. It was only thanks to the International Committee of the Red Cross that the former dictator appeared in court at all. On the eve of the formal transfer of sovereignty in June, it declared that as a prisoner of war he must be released, if he had not been charged. The Americans hurried to comply.

After his brief but powerful defiance from the dock they said his trial would take months to prepare. His lieutenants would be tried first in the hope they would give evidence against him. Saddam would not go back to court until 2005, if then.

Suddenly we hear his trial may take place next month. This will be the famous "October surprise". Bush will use the spotlight on Saddam as a way of trying to justify the war on Iraq and put John Kerry on the defensive. In this cynical scheme of things, America's best-known prisoner becomes a hostage of Bush's election bid.

Small wonder that Iraqis feel humiliated and impotent. They are trapped between different sets of foreigners. On one side they face the barbarity of outside Islamists, who use Iraq as the latest and most convenient terrain for jihad against America. On the other, they see the stubbornness of Bush and the arrogance of Blair, who refuse to admit that their adventure was wrong, has become a disaster, and needs to be ended. Every Iraqi is a hostage now.

Read the rest at the Guardian

September 24, 2005:

Senior UK officers query military's role

Senior military officers, anxious about the security situation in Iraq, are beginning to seriously question the role of British troops in the country.

At a meeting on Thursday night at Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs, serving officers applauded as Colonel Tim Collins, commander of the 1st Battalion the Royal Irish Regiment during the invasion of Iraq, attacked the handling of the invasion and subsequent operations.

"We have clearly no plan," he told his audience of serving and retired military officers. "We are relying entirely, it seems to me, on military muscle to impose freedom and democracy."

He said British commanders had "no idea" about the complexities of Iraq at the time of the invasion. "The gravest mistake is that we took away the [Iraqi] police, the army, and took away the intelligence services." That left a dangerous vacuum, Col Collins said...

The British government insists it has no plans to change its flexible proposals for a staged withdrawal of troops next summer in some provinces of southern Iraq currently under British control. The British insist they are reviewing tactics but not strategy. Ministers concede they may need to remake the case for their Iraq strategy from first principles, since much of the public, in the words of one cabinet member, seems to be convinced that "Britain went to war on a lie or misapprehension and is now overseeing chaos".

Read the rest at the Guardian

General McCaffrey: Iraq victory won't be planners' doing

Despite the Pentagon’s “childish assumptions” going into a war it has “played on the cheap,” the Iraq war is still likely to end successfully, said retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey. But McCaffrey said Friday in an interview at U.S. Army Europe’s Land Combat Expo 2005 that success depends on the Iraqis’ ability to form a government that can resolve conflicts, an Iraqi military force of some 250,000 troops and continued U.S. economic support.

“What we’re interested in is not solving these great chasms between Shia and Sunni,” he said. “We’re interested in helping them hammer out an agreement to resolve these chasms politically …

“We’re going to end up with a federal government or a civil war.”

McCaffrey, who at the time he retired was the most decorated four-star in the U.S. Army, has long been critical of the way senior Defense Department officials went into the war, assuming they could defeat an army and pacify a large country with far fewer troops than he says generals said they needed.

“They were childish in their assumptions,” he said of Pentagon officials. “They looked at [former Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric] Shinseki and said, ‘What the hell does he know?’ They were so sure of their judgments, they got us into terrible difficulty.”

Read the rest at Stars and Stripes

September 24, 2006:

Slipping into chaos

The debate is over: By any definition, Iraq is in a state of civil war.

Indeed, the only thing standing between Iraq and a descent into total Bosnia-like devastation is 135,000 U.S. troops – and even they are merely slowing the fall. The internecine conflict could easily spiral into one that threatens not only Iraq, but also its neighbors throughout the oil-rich Persian Gulf region with instability, turmoil and war.

The consequences of all-out civil war in Iraq could be dire. Considering the experiences of recent such conflicts, hundreds of thousands of people may die. Refugees and displaced people could number in the millions. And with Iraqi insurgents, militias and organized crime rings wreaking havoc on Iraq's oil infrastructure, a full-scale civil war could send global oil prices soaring even higher.

But the greatest threat that the United States would face from civil war in Iraq is from the spillover – the burdens, the instability, the copycat secession attempts and even the follow-on wars that could emerge in neighboring countries.

Welcome to the new "new Middle East" – a region where civil wars could follow one after another, like so many Cold War dominoes. And unlike communism, these dominoes may actually fall.

For all the attention on summer's Israeli-Hezbollah conflict, far more people died in Iraq in that time than in Israel and Lebanon, and tens of thousands have been killed from the fighting and criminal activity since the U.S. occupation began. Additional signs of civil war abound. Refugees and displaced people number in the hundreds of thousands. Militias continue to proliferate. The sense of being an "Iraqi" is evaporating.

Considering how many mistakes the United States has made in Iraq, how much time has been squandered and how difficult the task is, even a serious course correction in Washington and Baghdad may only postpone the inevitable.

Iraq displays many of the conditions most conducive to spillover. The country's ethnic, tribal and religious groups are also found in neighboring states, and they share many of the same grievances. Iraq has a history of violence with its neighbors, which has fostered desires for vengeance and fomented constant clashes. Iraq also possesses resources that its neighbors covet – oil being the most obvious, but important religious shrines also figure in the mix – and its borders are porous.

Civil wars – whether in Africa, Asia, Europe or the Middle East – tend to spread across borders. For example, the effects of the Jewish-Palestinian conflict, which began in the 1920s and continued even after formal hostilities ended in 1948, contributed to the 1956 and 1967 Arab-Israeli wars, provoked a civil war in Jordan in 1970-71 and then triggered the Lebanese civil war of 1975-90. In turn, the Lebanese conflict helped spark civil war in Syria in 1976-82.

With an all-out civil war looming in Iraq, Washington must decide how to deal with the most common and dangerous ways such conflicts spill across national boundaries. Only by understanding the refugee crises, terrorism, radicalization of neighboring populations, copycat secessions and foreign interventions that such wars frequently spark can we begin to plan for how to cope with them in the months and years ahead.

Massive refugee flows are a hallmark of major civil wars, and refugees often continue the wars from their new homes. At times, armed units move from one side of the border to the other. The millions of Afghans who fled to Pakistan during the anti-Soviet struggle in the 1980s illustrate such violent transformation. Stuck in camps for years while war consumed their homeland, many joined radical Islamist organizations and became the core of the Taliban when the Soviets departed. This movement took power in Kabul and opened the door for a new base of operations for al-Qaeda.

Refugee camps often become a sanctuary and recruiting ground for militias, which use them to launch raids on their homelands. Inevitably, their enemies attack the camps – or the host governments. In turn, those governments begin to use the refugees as tools to influence events back in their homelands, arming, training and directing them, and thereby exacerbating the conflict.

Refugees from Iraq could worsen instability in all of its neighboring countries. Kuwait, for example, has some 1 million citizens, one-third of whom are Shiite. The influx of several hundred thousand Iraqi Shiites could change the religious balance in the country overnight. Both these Iraqi refugees and the Kuwaiti Shiites could turn against the Sunni-dominated Kuwaiti government, seeing violence as a means to end the centuries of discrimination they have faced at the hands of Kuwait's Sunnis.

Numbers of displaced people are already rising in Iraq. About 100,000 Arabs are believed to have fled northern Iraq under pressure from Kurdish militias. As many as 200,000 Sunni Arabs reportedly have been displaced by the fighting between Sunni groups and the American-led coalition in western Iraq. In the past 18 months, 50,000 to 100,000 Shiites have fled mixed-population cities in central Iraq for greater safety farther south. So far, in addition to the Palestinians and other foreigners, only the Iraqi upper and middle classes are fleeing the country altogether, moving to Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon or the Gulf States. If the violence continues to escalate, even those without resources will soon flee to vast refugee camps in the nearest country.

The war in Iraq has been a disaster for the struggle against Osama bin Laden. Fighters there are receiving training, building networks and becoming further radicalized – and the U.S. occupation is proving a dream recruiting tool for young Muslims worldwide. Wide-scale civil war in Iraq could make the terrorism problem even worse.

Such terrorist organizations as Hezbollah, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the Armed Islamic Group, the Irish Republican Army and the Palestine Liberation Organization were all born of civil wars. They eventually shifted from assaulting their enemies in Lebanon, Sri Lanka, Algeria, Northern Ireland and Israel, respectively, to mounting attacks elsewhere. Should Iraq descend into a deeper civil war, the country could become a sanctuary for both Shiite and Sunni terrorists, possibly even exceeding the problems of Lebanon in the 1980s or Afghanistan under the Taliban.

The U.S. military presence keeps a lid on the jihadist effort. There are no enormous training camps as in Afghanistan, and Hezbollah and other Shiite terrorist groups have maintained a low profile in Iraq. But the more embattled the Shiites feel, the better the chance they will invite greater Hezbollah involvement. Shiite fighters may even strike the Sunni backers of their Iraqi adversaries, such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, or incite their own Shiite populations against them. And lost in the focus on Arab terrorist groups is the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), an anti-Turkish group that has long fought to establish a Kurdish state in Turkey from bases in Iraq. The more Iraq is consumed by chaos, the more likely it is that the PKK will regain a haven in northern Iraq.

The Sunni jihadists would be particularly likely to go after Saudi Arabia given its long, lightly patrolled border with Iraq, as well as their interest in destabilizing the ruling Saud family. The turmoil in Iraq has energized young Saudi Islamists. In the future, the balance may shift from Saudis helping Iraqi fighters against the Americans to Iraqi fighters helping Saudi jihadists against the Saudi government, with Saudi oil infrastructure an obvious target.

Civil wars tend to inflame the passions of neighboring populations. The problem worsens whenever ethnic or religious groupings also spill across borders. Frequently, people demand that their government intervene on behalf of their compatriots embroiled in the civil war. Alternatively, they may aid their co-religionists or co-ethnics on their own – taking in refugees, funneling money and guns, providing sanctuary.

Sometimes, radicalization works in the opposite direction if neighboring populations share the grievances of their comrades across the border and as a result are inspired to fight in pursuit of similar goals in their own country. Iraq's neighbors are vulnerable to this aspect of spillover. Iraq's own divisions are mirrored throughout the region; for instance, Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia all have sizable Shiite communities. In Saudi Arabia, Shiites make up about 10 percent of the population, but they are heavily concentrated in its oil-rich Eastern Province. Bahrain's population is majority Shiite, although the regime is Sunni. Likewise, Iran, Syria and Turkey all have important Kurdish minorities, which are geographically concentrated adjacent to Iraqi Kurdistan.

Some of Iraq's neighbors already show dangerous signs of radicalization. Most ominous of all, tensions are rising between Shiites and Sunnis in the key Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. As in Bahrain, many Saudi Shiites saw the success of Iraq's Shiites and are now demanding better political and economic treatment. The government made a few initial concessions, but now the kingdom's Sunnis are openly accusing the Shiites of heresy. Religious leaders on both sides have begun to warn of a coming civil war or schism within Islam. The horrors of such a split are on display only miles away in Iraq.

Read the rest at the Dallas Morning News

Stretched by war demands, Army extends combat tour of a brigade in Iraq

The Army is stretched so thin by the war in Iraq that it is again extending the combat tours of thousands of soldiers beyond the promised 12 months — the second such move since August.

Soldiers of the 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division had been expecting to return to their home base in Friedberg, Germany in mid-January. Instead, they will stay an extra 46 days in Iraq, until late February, the Pentagon announced Monday. The soldiers are operating in western Anbar province, one of the most violent parts of Iraq.

The Pentagon also announced that the 4th Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division will deploy to Iraq 30 days earlier than scheduled, starting in late October. The announcement did not say why the speedup was deemed necessary, but three officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said it is part of a plan to augment forces in Baghdad, where U.S. and Iraqi troops are struggling to contain insurgent and sectarian violence.

The Pentagon said troop rotations could be changed even further "based upon changes in the security situation." A surge in sectarian violence in Baghdad and continuing insurgent violence elsewhere in Iraq have foiled Pentagon plans to begin a troop reduction this fall.

"The Army is coming to the end of its rope in Iraq," said Loren Thompson, a defense analyst at the Lexington Institute, a private research group. "It simply does not have enough active-duty military personnel to sustain the current level of effort."

Of the 142,000 U.S. troops now in Iraq, nearly 120,000 are Army soldiers.

The tour extension affects between 3,500 and 4,000 soldiers in the brigade, officials said. They spoke only on condition of anonymity because the Pentagon had yet to make an announcement.

Asked about the matter at a news conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld would not confirm the extension but said that "from time to time there may be" units required to stay in Iraq longer than scheduled. He spoke before the Pentagon issued its written announcement.

Last month, the Army's 172nd Stryker Brigade was ordered to extend its tour in Iraq by up to four months. Some members of that unit had already returned to the brigade's home base in Alaska when the decision was announced. About 300 soldier had to go back to Iraq, drawing public complaints from some families.

Rumsfeld also appeared to hint at other adjustments to the troop rotation plan.

"We're also bringing some other units in earlier, which is another way of dealing with that issue" of how to keep a sufficient number of troops in Iraq with a limited number of combat brigades available, Rumsfeld said.

The extension reflects a dilemma for Army leaders: either keep one group of soldiers in Iraq longer than promised, or replace them with another group that has not yet had its minimum 12 months at home between combat tours. Either choice risks upsetting some soldiers and their families. And the fact that the choice cannot be avoided is a sign that troop rotations in Iraq are squeezing the Army from several directions.

Some members of Congress are expressing concern that the military is over-stretched by the war. On Monday, Sen. Arlen Specter said the situation in Iraq is "disintegrating" into a civil war. "My instinct is once the (November) election is over there will be a lot more hard thinking about what to do about Iraq and a lot more candid observations about it."

The pinch is evident also in closed-door deliberations between the Army and administration officials over the size of the service's budget for 2008. The Army chief of staff, Gen. Peter Schoomaker, took the highly unusual step in August of delaying submission of the Army's budget plan, arguing that the service requires either a much bigger budget than the administration has proposed or relief from some of its worldwide commitments.

The Los Angeles Times reported in its Monday editions that Schoomaker is seeking $138.8 billion (€109 billion) for 2008, or nearly $25 billion (€19.6 billion) more than the limit originally set by Rumsfeld. The Army's budget this year is $98 billion (€76.7 billion).

The 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division is being extended in Iraq because the unit that is scheduled to replace them — the 1st Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division — needs more time to prepare. If it had deployed as originally scheduled, it would not have had the minimum 12 months at home between combat tours.

The 3rd Infantry has already served two tours in Iraq, including the initial invasion of the country in March 2003.

Last week, the top American commander in the region said the U.S. military is likely to maintain and may even increase its force of more than 140,000 troops in Iraq through next spring. Gen. John Abizaid, head of U.S. Central Command, said he would consider adding troops or extending the Iraq deployments of other units if needed.

Until sectarian violence spiked early this year, Bush administration officials had voiced hopes that this election year would see significant U.S. troop reductions in what has become an increasingly unpopular war.

Read the rest at the International Herald Tribune