Saturday, September 29, 2007

Perspective: On this day in Iraq -- September 29th edition

September 29, 2005: A soldier from the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team searches for possible hidden weapons during a patrol in Mosul.

September 29, 2002:

U.S. Forces Building Up Around Iraq

U.S. Marines rode massive green hovercraft last week onto the Kuwaiti shore. But instead of assaulting hostile Iraqi troops, they joined Kuwaiti allies for a three-week exercise in the desert.

Fighter jets from the USS Abraham Lincoln flew overhead, not part of the exercise, but on their way to enforce a "no-fly" zone in southern Iraq.

Engineers in Qatar, meanwhile, are finishing a new forward command post for the U.S. Central Command -- the men and women who would lead a war in Iraq. They're expected to arrive in November to direct another exercise from the low-profile buildings camouflaged as sand dunes.

Special operations forces have put up tents at a new base in Djibouti, across the Red Sea from Yemen. In Kuwait, part of an armored infantry brigade from Fort Benning, Ga., sits within 28 miles of the Iraqi border -- a 10-hour drive to Baghdad.

U.S. military spokesmen insist the exercises and deployments are routine, or part of the war against terrorism. But there is little doubt these forces could be used in an invasion of Iraq to remove President Saddam Hussein.

During a visit to Kuwait last week, Central Command's Gen. Tommy Franks said his men "are prepared to do whatever we are asked to do."

While the governments of Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia refuse to discuss military matters, their citizens bear witness daily to the U.S. military presence in the region.

The Kuwaiti government ordered gas masks for all civil servants and authorized their sale to civilians. Troops have rolled out Patriot missile batteries to defend against possible Scud missile attacks.

"From what we're seeing, it looks like something is going to happen, but it's hard to know exactly what," said Bader al-Otibi, a government worker who was taken prisoner during the Iraqi occupation in 1990. "I'm against war, but I'm also against Saddam."

Along the featureless, rolling desert that is shared by Kuwait and Iraq as a border, unarmed U.N. monitors stand guard in a 10-mile-wide demilitarized zone. An electric fence and anti-tank trenches mark it, but there's little to slow an invading force.

Experts differ on the number of troops needed to invade Iraq -- estimates vary from 50,000 to 350,000, depending on the strategy. Deployments already planned would bring the number of troops in the region to near 50,000 by November, which coincides with a U.S.-proposed deadline for Iraq to comply with U.N. resolutions.

U.S. military personnel, with their close-cropped hair, military-issue luggage and incongruous civilian clothes, are already in hotels in Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait.

F-16 fighter jets roar over Qatar's capital, Doha, and vans full of troops shuttle between the 5th Fleet's headquarters in Juffair, Bahrain, and the international airport, where the U.S. Navy maintains a special terminal for aircraft that fly to the USS Abraham Lincoln and other regional bases.

The aircraft carrier USS Harry Truman, leading a third battle group, is scheduled to be within striking distance of Iraq in November to replace the USS George Washington battle group, Pentagon officials say, bringing the total U.S. naval forces in the area to more than 20,000 sailors and 255 aircraft.

The Marines, in Kuwait for the "Eager Mace" exercise, make up the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, an amphibious invasion force of 2,200 troops. A similar force accompanies most carrier battle groups, meaning 6,600 Marines will be in the region in November.

The U.S. Air Force keeps 6,000 personnel and an undisclosed number of planes at Saudi Arabia's Prince Sultan Air Base; 1,700 troops at Incirlik, Turkey; and 3,300 at the al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar, currently home to refueling planes. Several thousand more U.S. Air Force members operate from two air bases in Kuwait and hundreds of ground support workers are in the United Arab Emirates and Oman.

Part of the 3rd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division from Fort Benning is wrapping up a routine six-month tour as Kuwait's defenders, waiting to be relieved in November by the 2nd Brigade from Fort Stewart, Ga., a Central Command spokesman said. A typical armored infantry brigade numbers between 2,500 and 3,000 troops.

The Fort Benning troops, like the USS George Washington battle group's sailors, could have their stay extended, military spokesmen said.

Tanks and armored personnel carriers for another brigade sit ready at Camp Snoopy in Qatar and the U.S. Military Sealift Command recently hired cargo shops to carry more combat equipment to the region.

Apart from Djibouti, where U.S. special operations forces have set up a base, residents of Eritrea have reported U.S.-financed construction at former Soviet air and naval bases in their country on the Red Sea.

Sitting at a Starbucks in Kuwait City, Abdullah al-Mutairi said he thinks war is inevitable and necessary.

"Kuwait has a lot to lose from a war and Kuwait has a lot to lose if Saddam stays in power," al-Mutairi said. "It is better we choose war than to continue to live in fear."

Read the rest at Fox News

September 29, 2003:

Bush advisers defend Iraq intelligence

President Bush's senior foreign-policy advisers Sunday disputed assertions by the leaders of the House intelligence committee that the administration waged war against Iraq largely on information about Iraq's weapons programs that was five years old, when U.N. inspectors left the country.

National security adviser Condoleezza Rice told "Fox News Sunday" that "there was an enrichment of the intelligence from 1998 over the period leading up to the war," and that Saddam Hussein had "very good programs in weapons of mass destruction . . . it was a gathering danger."

In response to criticism from the top House intelligence committee members that the intelligence community had largely outdated and circumstantial information to form its judgment about Iraq's weapons programs, Rice said the intelligence included new information about Iraq's procurement efforts and attempts to "reconstitute groups of scientists that had worked" for Hussein.

"Yes, I think I would call it new information, and it was certainly enriching the case in the same direction that this is somebody who had had weapons of mass destruction, had used them, and was continuing to pursue them, " she said. "There were many, many dots about what was going on in the Iraqi programs after 1998."

Secretary of State Colin Powell, who also made the rounds of the public affairs shows Sunday, said on ABC's "This Week" that "from 1998 until we went in earlier this year, there was a period where we didn't have benefit of U.N. inspectors actually on the ground and our intelligence community had to do the best they could. And I think they did a pretty good job."

The CIA, in a statement, has also rejected the letter's analysis.

When Bush announced the war had started March 19, he said in a televised address that the nation faced a "grave threat" and declared the United States "will not live at the mercy of an outlaw regime that threatens the peace with weapons of mass murder." But five months after Baghdad fell, U.S. forces have not recovered any weapons of mass destruction despite extensive investigations and interrogations.

Read the rest at the San Francisco Chronicle

September 29, 2004:

Bush ignored warnings on Iraq insurgency threat before invasion

The Bush administration disregarded intelligence reports two months before the invasion of Iraq which warned that a war could unleash a violent insurgency and rising anti-US sentiment in the Middle East, it emerged yesterday.

The warning, delivered in two classified reports to the White House in January 2003, was prepared by the National Intelligence Council, the same advisory board that warned the Bush administration last month that the violence in Iraq could descend into a civil war.

That forecast radically departs from George Bush's upbeat assertions that the situation is improving in Iraq, and he initially dismissed the assessment as a "guess".

The White House spokesman, Scott McClellan, suggested the assessment was the work of "handwringers"...

One of the prewar assessments said it would take years of tumult before democracy was established in Iraq, and the country could revert to its tradition of authoritarian rule. According to the New York Times, it also warned that the new authorities in Iraq could face a guerrilla war waged by remnants of Saddam Hussein's regime, and other militant groups.

Meanwhile, Washington could see a rise in anti-American sentiment across the Middle East, as well as support for some terrorist acts.

The existence of the prewar National Intelligence Council estimate was reported by the conservative columnist, Robert Novak, on Monday, as well as in yesterday's New York Times.

Read the rest at the Guardian

September 29, 2005:

Iraq whistle-blower critical of army probe

A U.S. Army captain who reported new allegations of detainee abuse in Iraq said army investigators seem more concerned about tracking down young soldiers who reported misconduct than in following up the accusations and investigating whether more senior officers knew of the abuses.

The officer, Captain Ian Fishback, said investigators from the Criminal Investigation Command and the 18th Airborne Corps inspector general were pressuring him to divulge the names of two sergeants from his former battalion who also gave accounts of abuse that were made public in a report last Friday by Human Rights Watch.

Fishback said the investigators who questioned him in the past 10 days seemed to be less interested in individuals he identified in his chain of command or in who committed abuses.

"I'm convinced this is going in a direction that's not consistent with why we came forward," Fishback said Tuesday by phone from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where he is going through Army Special Forces training. "We came forward because of the larger issue that prisoner abuse is systemic in the army.

"I'm concerned this will take a new twist and they'll try to scapegoat some of the younger soldiers. This is a leadership problem."

In separate statements to the human rights organization, Fishback and the sergeants described systematic abuses by soldiers in the 82nd Airborne Division, including beatings of Iraqi prisoners, exposure to extremes of hot and cold, stacking in human pyramids and sleep deprivation at Camp Mercury, a base near Falluja.

The alleged abuses took place between September 2003 and April 2004, before and during the abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad.

After trying for 17 months to get his superiors to take action on his complaints, Fishback said, he finally took his concerns this month to aides to two senior senators on the Armed Services Committee, John Warner, Republican of Virginia, the panel chairman, and John McCain, Republican of Arizona.

When the army learned he was talking to Senate aides, Fishback said, army investigators suddenly intensified their interest in his complaints.

Senior Pentagon and army officials responded on Tuesday that the allegations, which focus on the division's 1st Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, were being pursued vigorously.

Colonel Joseph Curtin, an army spokesman, said: "We do take the captain seriously and are following up on this. But it will take time given the period of time that's elapsed since when these allegations took place."

Fishback, 26, a West Point graduate from Michigan and son of a Vietnam War veteran, said he was deeply troubled by the army's response to his concerns, beginning last spring, about what he believed to be treatment of detainees that violated the Geneva conventions.

He said he saw several interrogations where prisoners were abused and was told by sergeants about even more ill treatment of detainees.

When he first took his complaints to his immediate superiors last spring, Fishback said, his company commander cautioned him to "remember the honor of the unit is at stake." He said his battalion commander expressed no particular alarm.

As he moved up his chain of command, he said, no one could give him clear guidance on how the Geneva conventions applied in Iraq.

"We did not set the conditions for our soldiers to succeed," said Fishback, who has served combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. "We failed to set clear standards, communicate those standards and enforce those standards. For us to get to that point now, however, we have to come to grips with whether it's acceptable to use coercion to obtain information from detainees."

By the summer, Fishback had met with Human Rights Watch researchers several times, voicing his complaints. He gave the organization the names of other members of his unit who could support his allegations.

Fishback said that when his superiors learned about 10 days ago that he was preparing to speak to Senate aides about his concerns, they directed him to talk to criminal investigators, which he said he did for 90 minutes on Sept. 19.

When he refused to divulge the sergeants' names, he said investigators told him there was not much they could do immediately.

But last Thursday, a day after Human Rights Watch notified the 82nd Airborne that it would be releasing a copy of its report outlining the allegations, Fishback said he was summoned back to Fort Bragg from field training for nearly six hours of questioning by investigators.

Fishback said he had no regrets about coming forward.

"It's the right thing to do," he said.

Read the rest at the International Herald Tribune

September 29, 2006:

Of Course Iraq Made It Worse

The declassified judgments from the National Intelligence Estimate on terrorism caused a stir in the political world this week, but for most -- we would guess almost all -- scholars of jihadist terrorism, they are largely uncontroversial. The war in Iraq, the lack of reform in the Muslim world and anger at its endemic corruption and injustice, the pervasiveness of anti-Western sentiment -- all these have long been identified as major drivers of radical Islamist terror.

What's striking, instead, is that anyone could still disagree with this assessment of the role of Iraq, as President Bush and commentators such as Robert Kagan ["More Leaks, Please," op-ed, Sept. 26] have done. It's a shame that more of the document wasn't released, because none of the evidence or argumentation to support the claim that Iraq has added fuel to the jihadist fire was included. And there's no good reason most or all of it shouldn't be released.

In fact, though, you don't need an NIE to demonstrate the most controversial judgment -- that the war in Iraq has worsened the terrorist threat. The official coordinated evaluation by Britain's domestic security and foreign intelligence services noted that "the conflict in Iraq has exacerbated the threat from international terrorism and will continue to have an impact in the long term." This conclusion is echoed by interior ministries, law enforcement agencies and intelligence services in every part of the world.

Since the United States invaded Iraq, there has been a significant increase in the number of people committed to the jihadist cause. There is, of course, no turnstile counting those hopping aboard the jihadist train, as the NIE excerpt concedes. Demands for an unattainable precision on this aren't realistic.

Although jihadist activity is burgeoning around the world, many of the new recruits can be grouped into three categories. The first are the "homegrown" terrorists who may have little connection to al-Qaeda or other existing groups but who have been won over by the ideas of Osama bin Laden and his followers. Self-starters have appeared not only in Madrid, Leeds and London but also in Canada, the Maghreb, the Middle East and Pakistan.

Some question whether these people have really been spurred by Iraq. Just as President Bush urges that we take the terrorists at their word about their wish to create a new caliphate, we take them at their word about their motivation: Iraq has been crucial. The Madrid bombers were explicit about their desire to punish Spain for its support of the United States in Iraq; friends and neighbors recounted that those who bombed the London subway system were obsessed with Iraq. And time and again, investigators have found that these new recruits hoarded Internet videos packed with scenes of violence from Iraq -- part of a narrative of heroic defiance that is deeply compelling to some young Muslims.

The two other categories of recruits are centered in Iraq itself. One consists of the foreign fighters, who, it turns out, are not the remnants of al-Qaeda that the administration believed would flock to their doom in Iraq. According to both Saudi and Israeli scholars who have studied the biographies of foreign fighters killed in Iraq, very few had prior experience of Islamic radicalism. They were drawn by their perception that the indignity of Iraqi occupation had to be fought.

The final category is Iraqi jihadists. There were virtually none in Iraq before the invasion. Now Sunni insurgent organizations espousing jihadism are dominated by Iraqis, who number in the thousands. As the NIE judgments suggest, those groups, which have already carried out bombings in Jordan, are likely to look for more targets outside Iraq.

The terrorists are increasing not only in numbers but also in lethality. As leaked government reports and expert analyses have observed, jihadists have been able to improve their bombmaking and urban warfare skills in Iraq in a way they could not in Afghanistan. A Marine intelligence report indicated last month that they have also acquired a sanctuary in Anbar province that the United States is probably incapable of destroying.

Defenders of the war in Iraq, such as Vice President Cheney, contend that since the United States has not been hit since Sept. 11, the threat cannot be growing. In fact, the terrorists understand that for now it is easier to kill Americans in Iraq than in America, and at this they have succeeded. After the Heathrow plot to destroy U.S.-bound commercial jets and the disclosure of a homegrown cell next-door in Canada, suggesting that the danger is subsiding bespeaks obliviousness or denial.

Then there is the claim that Iraq has not had a catalytic effect because the terrorists were already after us, an argument the president repeated Tuesday. "We weren't in Iraq when we got attacked on September the 11th. . . . We weren't in Iraq when they first attacked the World Trade Center in 1993."

No doubt the United States would have had a serious struggle against radical Islam after Sept. 11 under any circumstances. But the occupation of Iraq, by appearing to confirm bin Laden's arguments about America's antipathy toward the Muslim world, has had an incendiary effect and made matters dramatically worse.

The invasion of Iraq was the wrong answer to the terrorist challenge, for which we will pay a high price for years to come. The continued need to defend that move by the administration and its partisans is preventing the nation from crafting the necessary strategy to meet the terrorist challenge and make Americans safer. The evidence is at hand.

Read the rest at the Washington Post