Thursday, September 27, 2007

Perspective: On this day in Iraq -- September 27th edition

September 27, 2003: British soldiers patrol near a camel train outside Al Amara.

September 27, 2002:

Rumsfeld: Iraq Sheltered Top Bin Laden Aides

Turning up the political heat on Iraq, the Bush administration said Thursday that Baghdad is so completely in cahoots with Al Qaeda that it has harbored top aides to Usama bin Laden and may have trained the terrorists in germ and gas warfare.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said the United States has evidence that senior members of Al Qaeda have been in Baghdad "in recent periods," but they did not include bin Laden. It's unclear whether they remain in the Iraqi capital, he said, because they are "moving targets."

Rumsfeld said he had high confidence in this information, but he acknowledged that the intelligence reporting is based on different types of sources of "varying degrees of reliability." He said some of the information came from suspected Al Qaeda members in U.S. detention.

Iraq denies it supports Al Qaeda.

"We have what we believe to be credible information that Iraq and Al Qaeda have discussed safe haven opportunities in Iraq [and] reciprocal nonaggression discussions," Rumsfeld told a Pentagon news conference.

He cited "solid evidence" of Al Qaeda members in Baghdad, but at one point he refrained from explicitly stating they had received a government-sanctioned grant of safe haven. That, he said, "happens to be a piece of intelligence that either we don't have or we don't want to talk about."

Just a day earlier, when asked during a news conference in Poland about alleged links between Al Qaeda and Iraq, Rumsfeld would say nothing except to assert that such links exist. He said Thursday that he was at liberty to elaborate because some intelligence had been declassified.

Other senior administration officials joined in throwing accusations at Iraq that appeared designed to bolster President Bush's argument that Iraq poses such a grave danger that Saddam Hussein must be deposed, by force if necessary.

"Al Qaeda and Iraq are too close for comfort," White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said.

Secretary of State Colin Powell told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that "there is evidence of a linkage" between Iraq and Al Qaeda. He said he was unaware of any Iraqi link to the Sept. 11 terror attacks but would not dismiss the possibility.

Rumsfeld and the Pentagon's top military officers met at the White House with Bush to discuss a range of issues including Iraq. The officers included the chiefs of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines as well as the chairman and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Thursday's statements, which echoed those made previously by national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, are the strongest yet alleging Iraqi complicity with Al Qaeda. Previously, evidence of the two working together was tenuous, or came from what U.S. officials called unreliable sources.

Rumsfeld said "senior level contacts" between Al Qaeda and Iraq go back a decade and have been increasing since 1998. In that year the Iraqi ambassador to Turkey traveled to Afghanistan to meet with senior Al Qaeda leaders, another U.S. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The administration has been less specific about information pointing to Iraqi assistance to Al Qaeda on chemical and biological weapons. Rice said in an interview with PBS' The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on Wednesday that several Al Qaeda detainees have said that Iraq provided "some training to Al Qaeda in chemical weapons development."

Rumsfeld made the same assertion in a more qualified way.

"We do have, I believe it's one report indicating that Iraq provided unspecified training relating to chemical and/or biological matters for Al Qaeda members." He added that there is other information "of varying degrees of reliability" that supports that single report.

In a carefully worded statement, Rumsfeld also asserted that the U.S. government has credible evidence that Al Qaeda leaders have "sought contacts in Iraq" who could help them acquire weapons of mass destruction capabilities. He did not say whether Iraqis provided such help.

The widely held view has been that while Saddam and bin Laden both oppose the United States, their motivations are too different for them to work together. Saddam seeks secular power; bin Laden's drive comes from religious motivations and his opposition to the U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia and the Arab world.

"No one is trying to make an argument at this point that Saddam Hussein somehow had operational control of what happened on Sept. 11, so we don't want to push this too far, but this is a story that is unfolding, and it is getting clearer, and we're learning more," Rice said.

Read the rest at Fox News

September 27, 2003:

Transcript: Bush Weekly Radio Address

Good morning.

Earlier this week, I spoke to the United Nations — which has become, like our country, a target of terrorism. In the past month, terrorists have made two bombing attacks on the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad, killing Iraqi citizens, U.N. officials, and international aid workers.

On Tuesday, I conveyed the sympathy of our country for the losses of the U.N., and the gratitude of our country for the relief efforts of the U.N. in Iraq. I also expressed America's determination to fight and win the war on terror — for the safety of our own people and for the benefit of all mankind.

The world is safer today because, in Afghanistan, our broad coalition destroyed the training camps of terrorists and removed the brutal regime that sponsored terror. The world is safer today because we continue to hunt down Al Qaeda and its terrorist allies, and have captured or killed nearly two-thirds of Al Qaeda's known leaders and key facilitators.

The world is safer today because, in Iraq, our coalition ended a regime that cultivated ties to terror while it built weapons of mass destruction. And for the safety of the people of Iraq and of all free nations, our forces are now conducting a systematic campaign to defeat holdouts of the old regime and other terrorists who have joined them.

In the struggle between terrorist killers and peaceful nations, there is no neutral ground. All nations must join in confronting this threat where it arises — before the terrorists can inflict even greater harm and suffering. And all nations should stand with the people of Afghanistan and Iraq as they build a future based on freedom and democracy.

Our coalition is helping the Iraqi people to build a secure, hopeful, and self-governing nation which will stand as an example of freedom to all the Middle East. We are rebuilding more than a thousand schools, supplying and reopening hospitals, rehabilitating power plants, water and sanitation facilities, bridges and airports.

We are training Iraqi police, border guards, and a new army, so that the Iraqi people can assume full responsibility for their own security. Iraq now has its own Governing Council, has appointed interim government ministries, and is moving toward elections. Iraq's new leaders are showing the openness and tolerance that democracy requires — and also the courage. Yet every young democracy needs the help of friends. America is providing that help to Iraq, and all nations of goodwill should do their part, as well.

Our goal is a free Iraq, where the Iraqi people are responsible for their own affairs. We want Iraq's governmental institutions to be strong, and to stand the test of time. So I called on the United Nations to take up vital responsibilities in this effort. America is now working with friends and allies on a new Security Council resolution which will expand the U.N.'s role in Iraq. As in the aftermath of other conflicts, the United Nations should assist in developing a constitution, training civil servants, and conducting free and fair elections. Many U.N. members — from the Philippines to Poland and now Germany — have expressed their commitment to helping build a democratic and stable Iraq.

The stakes in Iraq are high, for the Middle East and beyond. If freedom and progress falter in the Middle East, that region will continue to export violence that takes lives in America and around the world. If democracy and tolerance and peace advance in that region, it will undermine the bitterness and resentment that feed terrorism. The terrorists understand this — so they have chosen to fight against order and liberty in Iraq. They must, and they will, be defeated. And I am confident that more nations will rally to the side of the Iraqi people and help them to build a free and peaceful nation.

Thank you for listening.

Read the rest at Fox News

Patriots and invaders

It was my first and brutally abrupt realisation that Baghdad, the city of my childhood, is now occupied territory. It was also my first encounter with a potent symbol of Iraqi hostility to the occupation forces. Sitting in the front seat of the taxi that brought us from Amman, I suddenly realised that a heavy machine gun was pointing at us from only a few metres away. It was an American soldier aboard an armoured vehicle in front of us, stuck in a traffic jam on the outskirts of Baghdad. He gestured disapprovingly towards our driver for approaching with some speed, then looked to his left and angrily stuck out a middle finger. I followed his gaze and there was a child of no more than eight or nine sitting in a chair in front of the open gates leading to the garden of his house. He was shouting angrily, with a clenched fist of defiance, cutting the air with swift and furious right hooks.

Two weeks later, and after talking to scores of people and touring much of Baghdad, it dawned on me that that child's rebellious, free spirit was a moving and powerful symbol of how most people in Baghdad felt towards the occupation forces. It is precisely this indomitable spirit which survived the decades of Saddam's brutal regime, the numerous wars and the murderous 13 years of sanctions. And it is precisely this spirit that Bush and Blair did not take on board when they decided to invade and occupy Iraq. They chose instead to listen to the echo of their own voices bouncing back at them from some of the Iraqi opposition groups, nurtured, financed and trained by the Pentagon and the CIA. Some of these Iraqi voices are now members of the US-appointed Iraqi governing council.

A recent report in the Washington Post backs up the rumours I heard in Baghdad that the Iraqi resistance to occupation is so strong that the authorities are now actively recruiting some of the brutal officers of the security and armed forces that Saddam himself used to suppress the people. If true, the US administration, in the name of fighting the so-called remnants of Saddam's regime, is now busy trying to rebuild the shattered edifice of Saddam's tyrannical state - a tyranny which they had backed and armed with WMD for many years. One of the popular sayings I repeatedly heard in Baghdad, describing the relations between the US and Saddam's regime, is "Rah el sani', ija el ussta" - "gone is the apprentice, in comes the master."

The governing council is not so much hated as ridiculed, and attacked for having its members chosen along sectarian lines. Most of the people I talked to think that it is a powerless body: it has no army, no police, and no national budget, but boasts nine rotating presidents. One of the jokes circulating in Baghdad was that no sooner had you brought down Saddam's picture than you were being asked to pin up nine new ones.

Support for the council is largely confined to some activists of the organisations that belong to it. Indeed, it could be argued that most supporters of the more credible organisations belonging to the council are opposed to membership of the US-appointed body. The leaders of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Sciri), for example, are finding it increasingly hard to convince these supporters that cooperation with the invaders is still a possible route to independence and democracy. The same goes for another smaller but equally credible party, the Islamic Da'wa, which experienced a split and serious haemorrhaging of membership following its decision to join the council.

The now small organisation that enjoyed majority support in Iraq in the late 50s, the Iraqi Communist party (ICP), was opposed to the invasion and the council, but decided to join it at the eleventh hour. Most of its supporters opposed the move. One, a poor truck driver, described it as being even worse than the 1972 ICP leadership decision to join Saddam's government. That policy collapsed in a pool of blood when Saddam turned on the party's members, killing, jailing and forcing into exile thousands of them. The truck driver described the council as "the devil's lump of iron": a saying which refers to the superstitious practice of keeping a small piece of metal in the house to ward off the devil.

The gulf between popular sentiment and membership of the council was clear after the murder of the leader of Sciri, Ayatolla Mohammed Baqir Al Hakim. The slogans chanted by the hundreds of thousands who marched in the three-day funeral processions in Baghdad and Najaf - "Death to America, Death to Saddam" and "There is no god but Allah; America is the enemy of Allah; Saddam is the enemy of Allah" - were very much in tune with what I witnessed in Baghdad. They revealed the strength of anti-US feeling in Baghdad and the south.

The one area where America has had relative success is Iraqi Kurdistan. The political situation in this region is complex. Most Kurds believed that the no-fly zone during Saddam's reign protected them from his chemical weapons, and it is evident that the sanctions did not hurt Kurdistan as much as it did the rest of Iraq. In the lead-up to the war, most Kurds accepted the tactical notion of being protected against Saddam and the hated Turkish forces. But despite this, it is likely that American plans in Kurdistan will face popular opposition once the realities of US interests and the regional contradictions reassert themselves. Meanwhile, the historic political unity between Arabs and Kurds in Iraq is unlikely to be broken.

What of the armed resistance? And why is it much more evident in some parts of Iraq than others? There is no doubt that armed resistance directed against the US forces enjoys wide popular support and is mostly carried out by politically diverse, locally based organisations. However, I also met many in Baghdad who, though supportive of the "patriots" who resist the "invaders", believe that such actions are "premature". One should, they argue, first exhaust all peaceful means, mobilising the people in mass organisations before confronting the occupation forces in armed struggle. Popular sentiment can be gleaned from the conspiracy theories circulating in Baghdad. People routinely blame the US or Israel or Kuwait for attacks on civilian rather than military targets.

But you do not need to be a conspiracy theorist to suspect that the main reason for the high intensity of armed conflict in areas of central Iraq and Mosul is that the US itself decided to make these areas the arena for a showdown that they thought they could win more easily, thereby establishing a bridgehead from which they could subdue Baghdad and the south. They provoked conflict by killing civilians in cold blood in Falluja, Mosul, Ramadi and elsewhere long before any armed resistance in those areas.

The occupying forces quickly discovered that the slightest provocation in the labyrinthine working-class districts of Baghdad, and most cities of the south, was being met by massive shows of popular strength on the streets. The US military command are surely aware that Iraqis in these areas are heavily armed, well-trained and better organised.

The US authority's nonsense about a "Sunni triangle" and "Shi'ite Baghdad and south" is a smokescreen which has so far failed to divide the Iraqi people or drive them into internecine conflict. The only people who now believe that the US will back a democratic path in Iraq are the few who have still not fully grasped America's role in Iraq's modern history, the strategic significance of Iraq, or the nature of US foreign policy today.

Leaving the city on the road back to Amman, when our car passed by the house of that precocious child, I realised why my love for Baghdad remained undiminished despite 34 years in exile.

Read the rest at the Guardian

September 27, 2004:

CIA versus Bush

A few hours after George W. Bush dismissed a pessimistic CIA report on Iraq as "just guessing," the analyst who identified himself as its author told a private dinner last week of secret, unheeded warnings years ago about going to war in Iraq.

This exchange leads to the unavoidable conclusion that the president of the United States and the Central Intelligence Agency are at war with each other.

Paul R. Pillar, the CIA's national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia, sat down Tuesday night in a large West Coast city with a select group of private citizens. He was not talking off the cuff.

Relying on a multi-paged, single-spaced memorandum, Pillar said he and his colleagues concluded early in the Bush administration that military intervention in Iraq would intensify anti-American hostility throughout Islam.

This was not from a CIA retiree but an active senior official. (Pillar, no covert operative, is listed openly in the Federal Staff Directory.)

For President Bush to publicly write off a CIA paper as just guessing is without precedent. For the agency to go semi-public is not only unprecedented but shocking.

George Tenet's retirement as Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) removed the buffer between president and agency. As the new DCI, Porter Goss inherits an extraordinarily sensitive situation.

Pillar's Tuesday night presentation was conducted under what used to be called the Lindley Rule (devised by Newsweek's Ernest K. Lindley): the identity of the speaker, to whom he spoke, and the fact that he spoke at all are secret, but the substance of what he said can be reported.

This dinner, however, knocks the Lindley Rule on its head. The substance was less significant than the forbidden background details.

The Bush-CIA tension escalated September 15 when The New York Times reported a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that was circulated in August (not July as the newspaper reported), spelling out "a dark assessment of Iraq" with civil war as the "worst case" outcome.

The NIE was prepared by Pillar, and well-placed sources believe Pillar leaked it, though he denied that at Tuesday night's dinner.

The immediate White House reaction to the NIE, from spokesman Scott McClellan, was to associate it with "pessimists" and "hand-wringers."

With Iraqi interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi at his side at the United Nations, Bush said of the CIA: "They were just guessing as to what the conditions might be like."

A few hours later, Pillar discussed the Iraqi war in a context of increased aversion to the U.S. -- an attitude he said his East Asia section at the CIA was aware of three years ago and feared would be exacerbated by U.S. military intervention.

When Pillar was asked why this was not made clear to the president and other higher authorities, his answer was that nobody asked -- not even DCI Tenet.

The CIA official spokesman said Pillar's West Coast appearance was approved by his "management team" at Langley as part of an ongoing "outreach" program.

However, the spokesman said, Pillar told him that the fact I knew his name meant somebody had violated the off-the-record nature of his remarks. In other words, the CIA bureaucracy wants a license to criticize the president and the former DCI without being held accountable.

Through most of the Bush administration, the CIA high command has been engaged in a bitter struggle with the Pentagon. CIA officials refer to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Under Secretary Douglas Feith as "ideologues."

Nevertheless, it is clear the CIA's wrath has now extended to the White House. Bush reduced the tensions a little on Thursday, this time in a joint Washington press conference with Allawi, by saying his use of the word "guess" was "unfortunate."

Modern history is filled with intelligence bureaus turning against their own governments, for good or ill.

In the final days of World War II, the German Abwehr conspired against Hitler. Soviet intelligence was a state within a state. More recently, Pakistani intelligence was plotting with Muslim terrorists.

The CIA is a long way from those extremes, but it is supposed to be a resource -- not a critic -- for the president.

Read the rest at CNN

September 27, 2005:

Iraq's Draft Constitution Is Said to Deepen Divide

Iraq's proposed constitution -- and the process used to draft it -- have deepened the divide among Iraq's factions and will likely trigger civil war unless changes are negotiated quickly to accommodate the concerns of Sunni Muslims, warned a new report by the International Crisis Group.

The report comes less than three weeks before an Oct. 15 referendum on Iraq's proposed constitution. The ICG calls on the Bush administration to engage in a "last-ditch, determined effort" to broker a compromise among the country's three largest ethnic and religious groups.

"Unless the flaws of its draft constitution can be corrected in the next few weeks before the Iraqi people vote on it, Iraq is likely to slide toward full-scale civil war and the break-up of the country," says the ICG, an independent, nonprofit nongovernmental organization working to resolve conflict in 50 countries on four continents.

The group charges that the constitution was rushed, which cost the process any possibility of consensus. Critical parts of the constitution -- notably on the federal arrangements that will decentralize power -- are also so vague that they already "carry the seeds of future discord," the report says.

Because Iraq's oil resources are largely in the Shiite south and the Kurdish-dominated north, Sunnis are left feeling marginalized and facing a future in a landlocked region bereft of resources, it said.

"The main danger is that the constitution ratifies and exacerbates the sectarian divisions within the country," Robert Malley, director of ICG's Middle East program, said in an interview yesterday. "Both the process through which it was done and the content are deepening the divide between Kurds and Shiites on one side and the Sunnis on the other. If the constitution is only approved by only two of the three communities, it will only be a confirmation of Iraq's sectarian and ethnic divisions rather than an attempt to overcome them. This has not advanced the process of reconciliation; it . . . more likely is a step backward."

Because the constitution is likely to pass, the report concludes that the only option left is for a concerted U.S. effort to reach a new political agreement on steps that can be taken after the political process plays out in the October referendum and in the December elections for a permanent government. The agreement could then be implemented either through constitutional amendment or legislation, ICG proposed.

Read the rest at the Washington Post

September 27, 2006:

Group Wins Public Relations Deal in Iraq

A public relations company known for its role in a controversial U.S. military program that paid Iraqi newspapers for stories favorable to coalition forces has been awarded another multimillion dollar media contract with American forces in Iraq.

Washington-based Lincoln Group won a two-year contract to monitor a number of English and Arabic media outlets and produce public relations-type products such as talking points or speeches for U.S. forces in Iraq, officials said Tuesday.

"Lincoln Group is proud to be trusted to assist the multinational forces in Iraq with communicating news about their vital work," Lincoln Group spokesman Bill Dixon said in a statement. Details about the contract were confirmed by the U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, and were also described in documents posted on a federal government Web site outlining contracts awarded.

The contract is worth roughly $6.2 million per year over a two-year period, according to Johnson.

The idea is to use the information to "build support" in Iraqi, Arabic, international and U.S. audiences for what the military describes as its goals in Iraq, such as destroying the insurgency and helping Iraqis build a democracy, according to contract documents.

The list of media outlets to be watched includes the New York Times, Fox Television and the satellite channel, Al-Arabiya.

The Lincoln Group was mired in controversy last year when it became known that the company had been part of a U.S. military operation to pay Iraqi newspapers to run positive stories about coalition activities. According to the company's Web site, it was created in 2003 to do public relations and communications work in challenging environments such as Iraq.

The type of contract, its cost, and the fact that it was awarded to the PR and communications company have raised questions.

Rep. Robert Andrews, D-N.J., who serves on the House Armed Services Committee, said he would be asking the Department of Defense for information about how this "controversial" vendor was chosen, saying the choice of the Lincoln Group "concerns me greatly."

But, Andrews said he's more concerned about the fact that the contract was awarded at all, not just to the Lincoln Group.

"I wish that our problem in Iraq was that the military wasn't getting good PR," Andrews said. "The problem seems to be that the country is sliding into civil war."

Johnson could not comment on how the Lincoln Group was chosen, simply saying it was a "standard contracting process." He said the contract did not include any provisions to purchase favorable coverage or pay for favorable stories. The Lincoln Group would not comment on the contract beyond the statement issued.

Read the rest at the Washington Post

Report: Iraq 'cause celebre' for jihadists

The global jihadist threat from militant Muslims "is spreading and adapting to counterterrorism efforts," likely "leading to increasing attacks worldwide," according to a stark formal intelligence estimate partially declassified by the CIA yesterday.

The Bush administration's three-year war in Iraq is fueling that threat, the report says.

"We assess that the Iraq jihad is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives ... the Iraq conflict has become the 'cause celebre' for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of U.S. involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement."

The administration released four pages from the lengthy report yesterday in an apparent effort to counter a New York Times story about it last weekend.

But the alarming conclusions in what was released - with no indication of what was held back - appeared to challenge the Bush administration's fundamental claim that it is winning the war on terror as well as to undermine its rationale for the war in Iraq.

Frances Townsend, the president's counterterrorism adviser, struggled to downplay the impact of the report - meant to be a consensus of the nation's intelligence community - while fielding tough questions in a conference call with reporters.

She said the report, issued in May, assessed "current trends" in the "near term." But "the president has always said that this is going to be a long, hard slog. This is a long war because it's not only a battle of arms, but it's a battle of ideas. And the battle of ideas is going to be a long-term battle."

In response to a later question she said the term assessed in the report was five years.

As for the increasing number of "jihadists," Townsend said, "I don't think this is so much a numeric count as an exploiting of the vulnerabilities. And we continue to exploit the vulnerabilities every day. This is a constant judgment we make."

The report did say that the "global jihadist movement is decentralized, lacks a coherent global strategy, and is becoming more diffuse." The movement's greatest vulnerability is its political solution, an ultra-conservative form of religious governance that is unpopular with a majority of Muslims, it asserted.

But new jihadist networks and cells "are increasingly likely to emerge" and Europe is an "important venue" for attacks on Western interests, it says.

Read the rest at Newsday