Monday, October 01, 2007

Perspective: On this day in Iraq -- October 1st edition

October 1, 2004: Soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division conduct house-to-house searches during Operation Baton Rouge in Samarra.

October 1, 2002:

White House Would Welcome Hussein Assassination

The White House press secretary today said the Bush administration would welcome the assassination of Saddam Hussein by his countrymen, arguing that "one bullet" would be a cost-effective way of removing the threat the Iraqi leader represents.

"The cost of one bullet, if the Iraqi people take it on themselves, is substantially less" than going to war, President Bush's press secretary, Ari Fleischer, said when asked at a televised briefing about the cost of military action against Iraq. Asked whether the administration was advocating the assassination of Hussein, Fleischer repeatedly replied: "Regime change is welcome in whatever form that it takes."

Read the rest at the Washington Post

October 1, 2003:

Bush cronies advise on buying up Iraq

Former US government officials with close connections to the Bush family have set up a consultancy with the former Thatcher aide Lord Powell to advise companies how to win contracts in the $87bn (£52bn) effort to rebuild Iraq.

The emergence of New Bridge Strategies has intensified criticism that the Bush administration is putting cronyism before either Iraqi or US national interests.

The initial reconstruction contracts in Iraq went exclusively to US corporations.

They included Halliburton, Vice-President Dick Cheney's former company, which won a $500,000 deal to put out oil fires and provide services for US troops without having to go through a competitive bidding process.

The scope for western firms to do business in Iraq was widened considerably last month when the Iraqi governing council announced that companies operating in Iraq could be entirely owned by foreign companies.

On its website New Bridge Strategies describes itself as "a unique company that was created specifically with the aim of assisting clients to evaluate and take advantage of business opportunities in the Middle East following the conclusion of the US-led war in Iraq".

"Its activities will seek to expedite the creation of free and fair markets and new economic growth in Iraq, consistent with the policies of the Bush administration," the statement declares.

"The opportunities evolving in Iraq today are of such an unprecedented nature and scope that no other existing firm has the necessary skills and experience to be effective both in the United States and on the ground in Iraq."

The website advertises the political connections of its board members, particularly its chairman and director, Joe Allbaugh.

Mr Allbaugh was George Bush's campaign manager in the 2000 presidential election and formerly part of the "iron triangle" of close Bush aides which included Karl Rove and Karen Hughes.

In the first two years of Mr Bush's presidency Mr Allbaugh ran the federal emergency management agency.

The company's vice-chairman is Edward Rogers, who was a deputy assistant to the first President George Bush and an executive assistant to the White House chief of staff.

Another member of its board member, Lanny Griffith, was a senior aide to George Bush Sr.

Both worked on his 1988 presidential campaign and both are now lobbyists with close ties to the current White House.

Lord (formerly Sir Charles) Powell, who was one of Lady Thatcher's closest advisers in government and is the brother of Tony Blair's chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, is the only British member of the board.

He is described as an international businessman on the boards of Textron, Caterpillar, and the luxury goods company Louis-Vuitton Moët-Hennessy (LVMH).

Paul Krugman, a New York Times commentator and frequent critic of the Bush administration, described the company as forming part of a long list of examples of Bush "cronyism".

He said the former law firm of Douglas Feith, a senior Pentagon official who was instrumental in pushing the case for war, was also competing for postwar business.

He pointed to the exclusive contract for restoring Iraq's electricity supply given to Bechtel, "whose Republican ties are almost as strong as Halliburton's".

He said the decision not to let local contractors bid for some of the work was part of the reason Iraq was suffering so many blackouts.

The US army have also complained that the practice of subcontracting the supply of rations and clothing has led to significant delays and hardships for the troops, because private contractors, fearful for their own safety, have failed to turn up in Iraq.

Mr Krugman wrote: "The really important thing is that cronyism is warping policy: by treating contracts as prizes to be handed to their friends, administration officials are delaying Iraq's recovery, with potentially catastrophic consequences."

New Bridge Strategies had not returned calls from the Guardian by yesterday evening

But its president, John Howland, has assured the New York Times that it is not seeking to promote its political connections to drum up business.

He added that although Mr Allbaugh had spent most of his career in politics, "there's a lot of cross-pollination between that world and the one that exists in Iraq today."

Read the rest at the Guardian

October 1, 2004:

Marine corporal was "a kid at heart"

The drumming began and six Marines appeared in uniform. Their footsteps were silent as they walked down the aisle, escorting a casket covered by an American flag.

The audience then sang a somber rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner."

About 400 friends and family members, including more than 20 Marines, assembled at University Presbyterian Church in Seattle yesterday to celebrate the life of Lynnwood Marine Cpl. Steven Arnold Rintamaki, an active child, a talented musician and a constant jokester who matured into a caring young man.

Uplifting music and moments of laughter punctuated the memorial service as family and friends remembered the 21-year-old who died in a bomb explosion Sept. 16 in Iraq. They described Cpl. Rintamaki as a loving son, grandson, brother and friend who valued relationships above all else.

Myra Rintamaki of Lynnwood, who adopted her son when he was 8 months old, shared memories of him as a comedian, a violinist, a drummer, a skier, a model — Cpl. Rintamaki once worked for Nordstrom and The Bon Marché — and a Marine.

"He's a mischievous risk-taker," she said. "He searched for challenges all through his life, including in the Marines and Iraq."

The Rev. Kay Broweleit, who has known Cpl. Rintamaki since he was a boy, recalled when he played the violin to lead his youth camp in a call to worship, a rare moment of focus for the energetic child. "Steven was one of those boys that covered a lot of territory," she said.

Lindsay Rintamaki swallowed tears as she spoke about her brother. "A kid at heart," he was the only 5'10", 175-pound guy she'd seen with kids hanging from his limbs swinging like monkeys, his sister said.

Cpl. Rintamaki attended Meadowdale High School and Westside Place, a former private school in Seattle. A few years ago, he was reunited with his biological parents.

Stacey Malaspino Swinson, Cpl. Rintamaki's birth mother, who lives in Tacoma, said she cherishes the conversations they've been able to have for the past three years.

"I don't have the memories to share of Steven growing up," she said, sobbing. "Yet secretly, behind the shadows, I watched with such pride."

Swinson lauded her son's wisdom and said she will always remember one thing that he taught her: "Steven said to me, 'Love is the one true language in the world. Without it you have nothing.' "

Cpl. Rintamaki was a squad leader assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, out of Camp Pendleton, Calif. He died when a bomb exploded near the Humvee where he was a gunner in Iraq's Al Anbar province.

Read the rest at the Seattle Times

October 1, 2005:

Bush sees progress in Iraq war effort

President Bush said Saturday he is encouraged by the increasing size and capability of the Iraqi security forces, touting progress on a key measure for when U.S. troops can come home.

The upbeat remarks in Bush's weekly radio address came two days after the top commander in Iraq said only one Iraqi battalion is ready to fight without U.S. support.

"All Americans can have confidence in the military commanders who are leading the effort in Iraq, and in the troops under their command," Bush said. "They have made important gains in recent weeks and months; they are adapting our strategy to meet the needs on the ground; and they're helping us to bring victory in the war on terror."

The sunny presentation of the situation in Iraq is part of a renewed push by the administration to win support for the war effort from an increasingly reluctant American public.

It conflicts with the news from Iraq and some assessments from top commanders.

On Friday, Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said Sunni Arab opposition to Iraq's draft constitution has increased the potential for instability and called into question U.S. hopes for substantial troop cuts next spring

It was the second time this week that Casey rolled back his July prediction that "fairly substantial" troop withdrawals could begin next spring.

On Wednesday, he told Congress that only one Iraqi army battalion was ready to go into combat without U.S. support, down from three estimated a few months ago. He argued, though, that the Iraqi army is getting stronger, with more than 30 Iraqi battalions deemed capable of leading combat operation against insurgents, albeit with U.S. help.

Bush said more than 100 Iraqi battalions are operating throughout the country. "Our commanders report that the Iraqi forces are serving with increasing effectiveness," he told radio listeners.

Buffeted by criticism over his administration's response to Hurricane Katrina, Bush sought this week to shift his public focus back to Iraq and to the anti-terror fight. He built a reputation for commanding leadership and won re-election in part on those two issues, but polls indicate the public is becoming more troubled by the daily U.S. casualties in Iraq and the uncertain prospects for victory.

At least 200 people have been killed in the past five days, including 13 U.S. service members, and the number of American troops killed in Iraq since the start of the war is approaching 2,000.

Read the rest at USA Today

5 from state killed in Iraq

A student at Indiana University of Pennsylvania was among five Pennsylvania Army National Guardsmen slain in a roadside bombing in Iraq on Thursday in the second bloodiest day of the war for Pennsylvania soldiers.

Staff Sgts. Daniel L. Arnold, 27, of Montrose, and George A. Pugliese, 39, of Carbondale, and Spcs. Eric Slebodnik, 21, of Carbondale, the IUP student; Lee A. Wiegand, 20, of Hallstead, and Oliver Brown, 19, of Athens, died when an improvised explosive device struck their Bradley Fighting Vehicle near the insurgent hotbed of Ramadi in western Iraq.

The soldiers were on a routine patrol to secure a railroad bridge when their Bradley was struck by the bomb. Insurgents then opened up with small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades, setting the vehicle ablaze.

All save Arnold were members of C Company, 1st battalion, 109th Infantry Regiment, headquartered in New Milford. Arnold was a member of Headquarters Company.

Gov. Ed Rendell offered his condolences to the families of the soldiers, and said he would reach out to them over the weekend.

"I've yet to meet a Pennsylvania soldier on a welcome-home ceremony who said, 'This is a waste of time, we're endangering our young people, we ought to get out now,' " Rendell told The Associated Press. "Everyone believed we were making progress and believed we were there for the right reasons and that's what I try to tell the parents to offer them some consolation."

The news hit hard at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where Slebodnik, 21, studied history and political science and earned money as a part-time caller for the campus fund-raising office from February 2003 until he was deployed in December of last year.

IUP already was planning an Oct. 19 memorial service for another student, sophomore Ryan Kovacicek, a criminology major, who was killed while on active duty in Iraq in July.

Susan Stake, assistant director of annual giving, remembered Slebodnik as outgoing and well-liked. Pictures are still posted on a campus Web page from a party that co-workers threw for him before he shipped out.

"It was a little bit emotional because a lot of the kids hated to see him go," she said. "He was real positive about how after he finished his tour of duty, he would come back and finish his studies."

"It's a horrible tragedy," said IUP spokeswoman Michelle Fryling.

Arnold, a heavy-equipment mechanic, is survived by a wife and two sons, said his mother, Janet Arnold.

"He was an excellent soldier, but he was a devoted father and a loving son," she said.

Arnold's family received word of his death Thursday, the same day Arnold's father Kendall received a 62nd-birthday card from him in the mail.

The latest deaths increased to 104 the number of soldiers with ties to Pennsylvania who have died in support of the U.S. war in Iraq. The Pennsylvania National Guard also lost five soldiers on Aug. 9, including four who were killed when insurgents detonated a roadside bomb and hit them with rocket-propelled grenades.

The Pennsylvania AP has included in its list of state fatalities two categories of soldiers: those identified by the Pentagon as being from Pennsylvania, and those who grew up in Pennsylvania and spent much of their lives in the state but whose military careers later took them elsewhere.

Before word of the deaths leaked out yesterday morning, members of the community already were mourning an Iraq death at the funeral of Spc. William Evans, also of the 109th Infantry. Evans, 22, of Hallstead, was killed Sept. 19 along with two other soldiers in a roadside bombing in Iraq.

"We pick ourselves up by the bootstraps when things like this happen," said Maj. Stephen Zarnowski, adding that 70 soldiers attended Evans' funeral yesterday.

U.S. Rep. Don Sherwood, whose district includes the hometowns of all five of the solders killed Thursday, as well as that of Evans, said the deaths were a huge loss for the community.

"This is a terrible blow for a small, rural area to accept," said Sherwood, a Republican. "We'll be in their debt forever."

More than 3,200 Pennsylvania guardsmen are deployed in Iraq, the highest per capita in the nation. Only California and Texas have suffered more casualties in the war in Iraq.

Read the rest at the Post Gazette

October 1, 2006:

White House in crisis over 'Iraq lies' claims

President George Bush was braced for one of the toughest fights of his political life yesterday as a fierce row broke out over whether he has been misleading the American public over the worsening violence in Iraq. The crisis also rippled across the Atlantic with claims that the administration hid crucial Iraq intelligence from its British allies.

Sparking the crisis was a series of leaks from a hard-hitting new book by the political journalist Bob Woodward, one of the two Washington Post reporters who broke the Watergate scandal that engulfed the Nixon administration three decades ago.

The author's first television interview on the Iraq book is due to be shown this evening on the CBS show 60 Minutes, and is expected to ignite a huge row over the conduct of the war. The book lifts the lid on an administration in crisis, claiming that Bush and his top officials have deliberately covered up the seriousness of the violence in the war-torn country.

Woodward has so far been sympathetic to the Bush administration's decision to go to war in Iraq.

In the TV interview Woodward accuses Bush of keeping the real situation in Iraq secret from the American public and playing down the true level of violence. 'There's public [information] and there's private. But what did they do with the private? They stamp it secret. No one is supposed to know,' he says.

His book - State of Denial - is also understood to say Tony Blair was angry at discovering that Washington was keeping key intelligence on Iraq from Britain - even classifying reports based partly on contributions from British operatives as off-limits. In some cases, British personnel flying US planes in Iraq were denied access to pilots' manuals, the book reportedly alleges. Downing Street denied to comment last night.

Woodward's book says that insurgent attacks in Iraq are now running at a rate of about four an hour and that officials believe the situation will get worse next year. That allegation is particularly damaging to the administration, which has staked its reputation in mid-term Congressional elections on its ability to win the war. It also flies in the face of regular Republican claims that the situation in Iraq is improving.

Woodward's book also provides a gripping insider's account of a White House deeply divided over Iraq. It shows that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been at odds with Bush over the war and that former White House chief of staff Andy Card had backed the replacement of Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld - but was overruled.

It portrays Bush as determined to stick it out even if his only supporters are whittled down to his wife and the White House dog. 'I will not withdraw, even if Laura and Barney are the only ones supporting me,' Woodward quotes Bush as having told top Republicans at a White House meeting.

The book could not have come at a worse time for the Republican party. America is gearing up for vital elections and both parties are fighting on the issue of national security. That is usually a Republican strength, but Woodward's book will undermine the idea that the ruling party is best at prosecuting the war.

Bush spokesman Tony Snow has denied one key allegation - that Rumsfeld no longer takes calls from Rice. 'That is ridiculous,' Snow said. The White House has also insisted that the war in Iraq remains a vital part of the wider war on terror. In his weekly radio address, Bush said that fighting Islamic militants was part of winning the struggle against terrorists.

He also slammed Democrats and others who used a leaked intelligence report last week - which warned that invading Iraq had made America more prone to terrorist attack - to score political points against Bush's Iraq policy. 'Some in Washington have selectively quoted from this document to make the case that, by fighting the terrorists in Iraq, we are making our people less secure here at home. This argument buys into the enemy's propaganda.'

But it is now far from clear that such arguments are resonating with the American public.

Read the rest at the Guardian