Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Perspective: On this day in Iraq -- September 26th edition

September 26, 2004: U.S. Marines from the 1st Expeditionary Unit wrapped up in protection against blowing sand patrol the Iraqi-Syrian border.

September 26, 2002:

Rumsfeld presents evidence of Iraq's link with al-Qaeda

Donald Rumsfeld, the US defence secretary, yesterday made an explicit link between al-Qaeda and Iraq, saying the evidence was contained in a new report by the Central Intelligence Agency.

"Yes, there is a linkage between al-Qaeda and Iraq," he said at the end of a three-day visit to Poland in which he spent most of the time telling Nato's defence ministers what threats Saddam Hussein's Iraq posed.

However, European defence ministers who were shown the evidence were divided over whether it proved a link.

Diplomats said the Bush administration has for months been trying to establish links between al-Qaeda and other terrorist organisations to Iraq. The aim was to garner international support to justify "regime change" in Iraq through military action.

Mr Rumsfeld said dossiers presented to Nato ministers - one on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction capabilities, drawn up by Britain's intelligence services, the other from the CIA on the alleged links between al-Qaeda and Iraq - showed the nature of the threats.

John McLaughlin, deputy head of the CIA, presented a 20-minute slideshow. For some ministers, it provided sufficient evidence of a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq. For others, there was little new in the slideshow, indicating the emerging splits in the 19-member strong military over how to respond to any US attack on Iraq.

For Mr Rumsfeld the dossiers spoke for themselves. "Everyone is on notice. Everyone has a clear understanding of the threats that are posed [by Iraq]. Our job is not to connect the dots after something has happened but to come to the conclusion to protect wives, innocent men and children."

He added he had already received "unsolicited" political or military support from several Nato countries in the event that the Bush administration decided to launch any military strikes against Iraq, unilaterally or through pre-emptive action.

Nato diplomats said support came from among others, Britain, Spain, Italy, Poland and the Czech Republic during a dinner on Tuesday evening devoted to Iraq.

Federico Trillo, Spain's defence minister, said the evidence "was impressive and interesting". Madrid was willing to stand behind the Bush administration.

Read the rest at the Financial Times

Bush, Congress close to deal on Iraq

Democratic leaders in Congress, angered by President Bush's criticism, said Thursday that lawmakers may not be ready to vote next week on a resolution authorizing war against Iraq. Bush struck a more conciliatory stance and said, "Soon we will speak with one voice," as he stressed the dangers of delay in reaching a unified approach on Iraq.

"Each passing day could be one on which the Iraqi regime gives anthrax or VX nerve gas or someday a nuclear weapon to a terrorist ally," Bush said...

Under a White House proposal circulating on Capitol Hill and obtained by The Associated Press, the president could use military force against Iraq to defend U.S. national security interests. The president must tell Congress — before or after the use of force — why diplomatic means were not adequate to protect those interests. It removes a phrase from the White House's original proposal, which Democrats said was too broad, that extended the authority to the region around Iraq.

Read the rest at USA Today

September 26, 2003:

Cheney's Ties to Halliburton

A Congressional Research Service report released yesterday concluded that federal ethics laws treat Vice President Cheney's annual deferred compensation checks and unexercised stock options as continuing financial interests in the Halliburton Co.

Democrats have aggressively challenged Cheney's claim that he has no financial ties to Halliburton, despite those arrangements.

The Houston-based energy conglomerate has been awarded more than $2 billion in contracts for rebuilding Iraq, including one worth $1.22 billion that was awarded on a noncompetitive basis.

The report, from the law division of the congressional research arm of the Library of Congress, said deferred salary or compensation received from a private corporation -- as well as unexercised stock options -- may represent a continuing financial interest as defined by federal ethics laws.

The seven-page report, dated Monday, did not name Cheney or Halliburton, but addressed the general legal question. It was prepared at the request of Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), who said Cheney should "stop dodging the issue with legalese, and acknowledge his continued financial ties with Halliburton to the American people."

Cheney, who was Halliburton's chairman and chief executive, has disclosed the payments and the 433,333 options. The report suggests no illegality.

Catherine Martin, Cheney's public affairs director, said: "The vice president has no financial interest in Halliburton. He has no stake in the company. He will in no way benefit from the rise or fall of Halliburton's stock price or the success or failure of the company."

Cheney said on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sept. 14 that he has "no financial interest in Halliburton of any kind and haven't had now for over three years." His assertion came during a discussion of Halliburton's contracts in Iraq. Cheney said he had "severed all my ties with the company, gotten rid of all my financial interests."

Democrats disputed that because Cheney received deferred compensation of $147,579 in 2001 and $162,392 in 2002, with payments scheduled to continue for three more years.

In response, Cheney's office said he had purchased an insurance policy so he would be paid even if Halliburton failed. And his office also has announced he has agreed to donate the after-tax proceeds from his stock options to three charities.

However, the congressional report said that neither the insurance policy nor the charity designation would change the public official's disclosure obligation.

The continuing controversy over Cheney's statement puts him in the position of drawing criticism to the White House. In the past, White House officials have considered him a reassuring figure for viewers and voters.

Read the rest at the Washington Post

Islam filling Iraq's ideological vacuum

Alarmed by the possibility of sectarian violence, key Iraqi Shia and Sunni organisations have established active contacts with each other to prevent such an outbreak. There was an imminent threat of the two communities clashing last month on the day that the leading Shia cleric, Mohammad Baqr Al Hakim was assassinated in Najaf.

Incensed Shia youths were set to go on a rampage on the streets, but were effectively prevented from doing so by Husayn Al Sadr, a leading Shia cleric in Baghdad's Kadhamiya district. Iraq has a majority Shia population, but the Shias have been historically denied political power. Shia youths, after the fall of the Ba'athist regime of Saddam Hussein, are clamouring for political assertion and appear to be increasingly attracted to a radical brand of Islam.

Support for the firebrand cleric, Muqtada Al Sadr, especially in the Sadr city, a huge Shia-dominated slum area of Baghdad, is perceptibly rising. The group is also making inroads in other Shia-dominated cities such as Al Kut. Despite its strong criticism of Iran, Muqtada Al Sadr's group is suspected to be having ties with hardliners in Teheran and is said to be under the influence of Kazim al-Hussein al-Hairi, a religious leader based in Qom.

The top Shia cleric, who heads the Hawza or the collegiate authority based in Najaf that exercises global influence among Shias is the Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. Many in the streets of Najaf are of the view that the reported differences between Ayatollah Sistani and Muqtada Al Sadr are highly exaggerated, manageable and reconcilable. In other words, radical Shias and others like Ayatollah Sistani who belong to the "quietist school" and do not wish that leading Shia clerics should get involved in politics, have linkages with each other, which have not broken down.

Ironically, the radical Shias are showing a remarkable awareness of the negative consequences of sectarian clashes, and how these could pull Iraq apart. Muqtada Sadr's group is in active contact with Ahmed Al Qubasy, a leading Sunni theologian based in the United Arab Emirates and his brother, Mohammad Al Kubasy. Sheikh Ahmad Al Qubasy was earlier a professor of Islamic studies in Baghdad University before he had to go onto exile in Dubai.

Mustapha Yakubi, the spokesman for Muqtada Al Sadr told The Hindu that Sheikh Ahmed Qubasy had visited Muqtada Al Sadr in Najaf after the collapse of the Saddam Hussein regime and the two leaders are in touch with each other and are determined to prevent Sunni-Shia clashes. With the collapse of Ba'athism, Islam appears to be filling Iraq's ideological vacuum.

While the picture is far from clear, an increasing number of Shias are now looking at forming an Islamic state in Iraq. "It may not be possible that Iraq is based on the Iranian model but the centrality of Islam in our lives should be recognised by a new Iraqi constitution", Mr. Yakubi said.

Hinting that Islamic jurists should play a leading role in running the country, he added that "educated people" among Shias and Sunnis have to come together and unite.

Disillusionment with the U.S. occupation is fast growing, but analysts here say that Shias are not yet in a mood to directly confront the occupiers or launch an active Islamic resistance movement against them.

However, while they wait and watch, at least till the new constitution is formed and elections held, preparations are underway to build a network with Sunni groups in case the occupation forces deny Shias dominant political access.

In Mr. Yakubi's view, "Our leaders, both Sunni and Shia, think that there should be peaceful solutions to problems. Otherwise we have to make a suggestion towards Jehad."

Read the rest at the Hindu

September 26, 2004:

Osama's Candidate

Where does Osama bin Laden stand on gay marriage? What are his views on privatization of Social Security and stem cell research? Is he concerned about judges who place their personal opinions ahead of the Constitution? Or does he care more about corporations that outsource good American jobs to foreign countries?

It seems we're going to have a national debate about whom bin Laden and al Qaeda support for president. Fair enough. Bin Laden's opinion, if only we could know it, would probably affect the judgment of voters more than that of any other independent thinker except, of course, John McCain. So far, the bin Laden debate has been pretty one-sided, with a string of Republican public officials claiming that terrorists are rooting for John Kerry and some bloggers and a columnist or two suggesting that he may prefer Bush.

My favorite among the Republican mind readers is House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who said last week, "I don't have data or intelligence to tell me one thing or another," which is an assertion that no one will disagree with. But he continued that al Qaeda "would be more apt to go [for] somebody who would file a lawsuit with the World Court or something rather than respond with troops."

Like many Americans, Hastert seems to be confusing bin Laden with Saddam Hussein. This is a confusion the Bush administration and campaign wish to encourage, and the president himself may even share. To describe Kerry's position on Hussein as "file a lawsuit" is merely witless and unfair. To describe his position on bin Laden that way is mystifying.

In fact the Bush administration's focus on Iraq after Sept. 11 -- a country that had nothing to do with the terrible events of that day -- might be a point in the president's favor for bin Laden, as he sits in his cave studying materials from the League of Women Voters and the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

If there is one thing we know about bin Laden before the start of the Iraq war, it is that he wasn't in Iraq. With the invasion of Iraq, bin Laden got all the benefits of being America's public enemy No. 1 but none of the disadvantages. He got an explosion of anti-Americanism around the world, potential recruits lined up out the cave door and around the block for future suicide missions, swell new opportunities for terrorism in the chaos of Iraq itself, and the forced retirement of Saddam Hussein, whom he never cared for. He got a thousand Americans dead and hundreds of billions of capitalist dollars gone -- results that would make any terrorist episode a huge success -- without his having to lift a finger. And meanwhile, every bomb dropped on Iraq was a bomb not dropped on him. What's not to like?

True, bin Laden probably does hold it against Bush that, when not distracted by Iraq, the president has been trying to kill him. That kind of thing can't help but cloud a fellow's judgment. It is all very well for civics textbooks to tell us that, when voting, we should put selfish interests aside and think of the greater good. But it may well be difficult to concentrate on those frightening Congressional Budget Office projections of the structural deficit in 10 years when there is an even more frightening din of bombs exploding and a direct hit on a cave three caves down and one to the right.

But bin Laden cannot help noticing that so far Bush has failed to kill him. And he has no reason to suppose that a President Kerry would enjoy announcing his death or capture to the world any less than Bush would. So for bin Laden -- just as for many voters in this election -- the choice comes down to the lesser of two evils.

The difference between Osama bin Laden's endorsement and John McCain's (well, one of many differences) is that McCain's presumably has a positive effect and bin Laden's has a negative one. If bin Laden wants to help his candidate, he must hide, or even disguise, his preference. This makes any argument or evidence about that preference inherently self-defeating. If he is honorary chairman of the annual "Kabul Salutes W" dinner and gala, does that mean he supports Bush or does it mean he wants people to think he supports Bush, which then must mean that he does not support Bush?

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said recently that terrorists in Iraq "are trying to influence the election against President Bush." In saying so, Armitage is trying to influence the election in favor of President Bush. But he has no evidence other than these actions. And if their very actions send a clear message that they are trying to defeat President Bush, then the effect of those actions will be to help President Bush. So even if Armitage is right, he's wrong.

At least Osama bin Laden is probably concentrating on what really matters in this election. He is not spending a lot of time comparing ancient typewriter fonts, or reviewing the circumstances of Kerry's third Purple Heart. In that sense -- and only in that sense -- he may be a good influence.

Read the rest at the Washington Post

September 26, 2005:

Baghdad Neighborhood's Hopes Dimmed by the Trials of War

In the chaotic, hopeful April of 2003, Baghdad's Karrada district was one of those neighborhoods where residents showered flowers on U.S. forces entering the capital. Revelers threw water on one another and the Americans, exuding joy at the crushing of a dictatorship that had silenced, tortured and killed their people.

Now, with the end of the third and in many ways hardest summer of the U.S.-led occupation, the lights of Karrada are dimmer. The collapse of Iraq's central power system has left Baghdad averaging less than eight hours of electricity a day.

The crowds on the sidewalks have thinned -- kidnapping and other forms of lawlessness since the invasion mean Baghdad's comparatively liberated women seldom leave home without a good reason.

Car bombings and other insurgent attacks, as unknown in Baghdad before the invasion as suicide subway bombings were in London until this summer, have killed more than 3,000 people in the capital since late spring.

Leaving the house for work each day has become a matter of turning the key and consigning one's fate to God, said Jassim Mohammed, 41, a Karrada merchant who has lost two of his closest friends and one of his lighting shops in car bombings since the Americans came.

"Now in Iraq, no one and nothing can protect you but that. Every morning you kiss them goodbye," Mohammed said, referring to his wife and children, "because you don't know if you will be back or not. Everyone in Iraq does that now."

Mohammed's remaining shop, its chandeliers sparkling with their Czech-made crystal pendants, is one of the last bright spots at night on Karrada's grubby streets.

Like the rest of Baghdad, Karrada is messier, more beat up than it was before the invasion. Merchants leave some damage from bombings unrepaired, anticipating more violence. Rubbish tends to pile up in once-tidy streets, neglected by a weak, cobbled-together government.

And more than two years after flowers and water cascaded onto the arriving Americans, what's being thrown on Karrada's streets, and who is throwing it, has changed as well.

Mohammed, a courtly, gentle-mannered man, carefully chose the harshest word he could think of for urine.

In Karrada this summer, Mohammed and the neighborhood watched as American soldiers on patrol grew irritated at an Iraqi who had left his car in the street to run inside a store on an errand, blocking their armored convoy.

The Americans took one of the empty plastic water bottles they use to relieve themselves when on patrol, Mohammed said. When the Iraqi driver ran out to move his car, an annoyed American plunked him with the newly filled bottle and rolled on, Mohammed said.

"He started crying," Mohammed said of the Iraqi driver, humiliated in front of the neighborhood.

Mohammed, who said he had been one of the happiest people in Karrada to see the Americans when they came in April 2003, retrieved the bottle and handed it to the weeping man.

"I said, 'Give this to the Iraqi government,' " Mohammed said. " 'Tell them this is the sovereignty the Americans have brought us.' "

Many in Baghdad were sure that the mightiest army in the world had a plan for what would follow the invasion. Hiding in their homes, they waited to be told what it was.

A month after the Americans arrived, Kareema, a 42-year-old engineering student, wondered when they would reschedule oral defenses for master's theses.

Kareema was sheltered in her dark home with her four sisters and sisters-in-law -- all doctors or engineers who had devoted their lives to learning and their careers and waited only to resume them. Outside, looters had stripped classrooms of desks and blackboards, burned university buildings and ransacked a museum holding artifacts charting 5,000 years of civilization in Iraq.

The breakdown in order and the dismissal of Iraq's security forces unleashed a crime wave that still lingers. Daylight kidnappings and robberies are common. Parents hire armed guards for their children's school buses. Boys and girls in middle-class neighborhoods routinely fight off strangers who attempt to shove them into the trunks or back seats of cars and take them away for ransom.

And three summers into the U.S. occupation, Kareema and her sisters and sisters-in-law cloak themselves in black and wear black gloves when they go out, a neighbor who knows them said. But these days, the neighbor said, the sisters seldom go out...

Americans, and the rest of the world, frequently compared the chaos in New Orleans this month to the situation in Baghdad. But New Orleans didn't look that way a month ago. And three years ago, neither did Baghdad, Karrada's people said.

"We used to have electricity," said Emad, the university student. "We used to have water."

"Entertainment," interrupted Emad Mahdi, a driver for a government ministry who was with her.

"We used to be able to walk in the streets with our heads high, not afraid," Emad said. What happened in New Orleans -- the contrast between official words and deeds -- should give the world a better idea of the U.S. performance in Baghdad, she said.

"They failed there, they failed here," Emad added angrily. "Americans should take a lesson from what Americans have done for three years in Iraq."

"In the States now, everyone wants to help, but here -- everyone forgets about us."

Read the rest at the Washington Post

September 26, 2006:

Army chief tells Bush: there's not enough money for Iraq war

George Bush suffered a serious rebuke of his wartime leadership yesterday when his army chief said he did not have enough money to fight the war in Iraq.

Six weeks before midterm elections in which the war is a crucial issue, the protest from the army head, General Peter Schoomaker, exposes concerns within the US military about the strain of the war on Iraq, and growing tensions between uniformed personnel and the Pentagon chief, Donald Rumsfeld.

Three retired senior military officers yesterday accused Mr Rumsfeld of bungling the war on Iraq, and said the Pentagon was "incompetent strategically, operationally and tactically". Major General Paul Eaton, a retired officer who was in charge of training Iraq troops, said: "Mr Rumsfeld and his immediate team must be replaced or we will see two more years of extraordinarily bad decision-making."

The rare criticism from the three officers, all veterans of the Iraq war, is an embarrassment to Mr Bush at a time when his party had hoped to campaign on its strong leadership in the "war on terror".

The officers echoed the findings of the National Intelligence Estimate at the weekend, which said the Iraq war had fuelled Islamist extremism around the world. They also accused the Pentagon of putting soldiers' lives at risk by failing to provide the best equipment available. "Why are we asking our soldiers and marines to use the same armour we found was insufficient in 2003?" asked Thomas Hammes, a retired Marine Corps colonel.

The criticism comes amid an unprecedented show of defiance from the army chief, Gen Schoomaker. The general refused to submit a budget plan for 2008 to Mr Rumsfeld, arguing the military could not continue operations in Iraq and its other missions without additional funds, the Los Angeles Times reported yesterday. The seriousness of the protest was underlined by Gen Schoomaker's reputation as an ally of the Pentagon chief. The general came out of retirement at Mr Rumsfeld's request to take up the post.

"It's quite a debacle," said Loren Thompson, a military analyst at the Lexington Institute thinktank. "Virtually everyone in the army feels as though their needs have been shortchanged."

Gen Schoomaker's defiance gives a voice to growing concern within the military about the costs of America's wars, and the long-term strain of carrying out operations around the world.

For the past three years, the $400bn (£210bn) cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been funded by emergency spending bills passed by Congress. But Gen Schoomaker and others say the Iraq war has also put a severe strain on regular budgets. That puts the generals at odds with Mr Rumsfeld's strategic vision of a more nimble, hi-tech military. In addition, Congress and the White House have cut a number of army spending requests over the past months. "There is no sense in us submitting a budget that we can't execute, a broken budget," he told a Washington audience.

As the war in Iraq continues with no sign of a reduction in US forces, military officials have repeatedly complained about the strain on personnel, and say they fear they may be forced to rely more heavily on the National Guard and reservists to meet the demands of overseas deployments. General John Abizaid, America's senior commander in the Middle East, said last week there was little chance of any drawing down of the 140,000 forces in Iraq before next spring.

The burden of that commitment was underlined yesterday when the army extended the combat tours of about 4,000 soldiers serving in the Ramadi area.

Read the rest at the Guardian

U.S. Military Deaths in Iraq Hit 2,703

As of Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2006, at least 2,703members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count. The figure includes seven military civilians. At least 2,152 died as a result of hostile action, according to the military's numbers.

The AP count is three more than the Defense Department's tally, last updated Tuesday at 10 a.m. EDT.

The British military has reported 118 deaths; Italy, 33; Ukraine, 18; Poland, 17; Bulgaria, 13; Spain, 11; Denmark, five; El Salvador, four; Slovakia, three; Estonia, Netherlands, Thailand, two each; and Australia, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Romania, one death each.

Read the rest at Fox News