Sunday, October 07, 2007

Perspective: On this day in Iraq -- October 7th edition

October 7, 2003: U.S. soldiers arrest an Iraqi demonstrating in central Baghdad. 2,000 former employees of the Iraqi intelligence service demanded back pay and jobs. The protesters threw stones and tried to break through a barbed wire barrier.

October 7, 2002:

The lessons of Empire

The photograph below of a fierce-looking group of men cradling antique machine guns comes from an old album in my home. It dates from about 1930, and its caption reads, "Sheik Mahmoud of Kurdistan. Surrendered to Political Officer Victor Holt VC accompanied by FO M.O." "Sheik Mahmoud" was Mahmoud Barzanji, chieftain of a famous Kurdish clan, who led a series of revolts against British rule in Iraq after World War I. "FO M.O." was Royal Air Force Flight Officer Max Oxford, my late father-in-law.

Max had splendid adventures in the service of the British Empire everywhere from central Africa to the South China Sea, but he always had warm memories of his years in Iraq, though this may be because he learned the noble sport of pigsticking there (we've got pictures of that too). I suspect, however, that his affection for Iraq was a rarity. Britain's attempt to rule there was a disaster. At a time when broad-chested conservative believers in American power and dewy-eyed Wilsonian internationalists contemplate a new imperial adventure in Iraq, it's worth recalling what happened the last time.

In the carve-up of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I, London thought that the best way to secure routes to India, the jewel in its imperial crown, was to dominate Mesopotamia. To that end, the treaty at the close of the war cobbled together Iraq from three Ottoman provinces, one Kurdish, one Sunni Muslim and another Shi'ite Muslim. The British moved in under a League of Nations mandate. They didn't have a clue. In 1920 a full-scale revolt broke out. By one account, Britain lost 450 in the rebellion; other sources put the figure higher. Very quickly the British public, weary of endless war and shocked by reports that the R.A.F. routinely bombed women and children in Kurdish villages, turned against the intervention in Iraq. By the time the British slunk home in the 1930s, Iraq's brush with imperialism seemed over.

Or perhaps not. George Bush's speech to the United Nations last month explicitly cast America's Iraq ambitions in terms much wider than the removal of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. Bush contemplated nothing less than a remaking of the Middle East into an area of democracy and economic freedom. The President looked forward to a day when "the people of Iraq" can join a "democratic Afghanistan and a democratic Palestine, inspiring reforms throughout the Muslim world."

Who could argue with that? Yet there is a problem with Bush's vision: it will have to be imposed from the outside. To be sure, in the past, American imperialist practice has usually been more benign than Britain's. (The R.A.F. bombed Iraqi villages that were late in paying their taxes, which even the Colonial Office in London thought was a bit much.) And America's ostensible motives today are pure (so long as we don't mention oil). "Liberty for the Iraqi people," said Bush, "is a great moral cause." It doubtless is. But just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so imperialism is in the mind of the imperialized. The motive of imperialists is irrelevant. (France justified its past colonial policies by a "mission to civilize.") What matters is that imperialism means rule by others. In the end, as the old colonial powers came to understand, that breeds resentment and costs both money and young lives.

Today's neoimperialists claim that if the U.S. could rebuild West Germany and Japan after World War II, it can rebuild Iraq. But the cases could hardly be more different. Both West Germany and Japan had fixed national identities; Iraq does not. Both nations--Germany especially--had memories of democratic institutions; Iraq does not. Neither Japan nor Germany had bitter memories of prior attempts to impose colonial rule; Iraq does. Nor has Washington said precisely how Baghdad will be transformed into Omaha-on-the-Tigris. Bush has signaled that Washington has no intention of doing the job alone; he looks to "the prospect of the U.N. helping to build a government that represents all Iraqis." But there is scant evidence that the Administration is yet thinking about what an international effort to create a new Iraq would entail or how to canvass outside help.

A free Iraq in a prosperous Arab world is in everyone's interest, and unseating Saddam would be a good start down that road. It's what follows that's tricky. The lesson of history is that reforms succeed best if they well up from within a nation, not when they are thrust upon it from outside. If the Administration seriously thinks otherwise, it would be nice to know what lessons it has learned from the failed imperialism of the past. And not just about the finer points of pigsticking.

Read the rest at Time

October 7, 2003:

New team to oversee Iraq effort

The White House is ordering a major revision of reconstruction efforts in view of increasing US public questioning of postwar operations in Iraq and President Bush's own impatience with the progress of America's two key nation-building projects - Iraq and Afghanistan.

The reorganization, aimed at shifting management of the rebuilding projects more fully to the White House, is tacit acknowledgment that neither program is going either as well or as swiftly as hoped.

Indeed, stability and progress in the two countries are seen as key yardsticks by which the American public will measure the Bush administration a year from now. Thus some administration officials and outside experts say the redrawing is also recognition that success could well determine the president's reelection prospects.

While direction of US efforts on the ground in Iraq will remain under the authority of Paul Bremer, coordination and oversight of the stateside element of the rebuilding projects will be assumed by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.

The White House emphasized Monday that the Pentagon will remain the "lead agency" on the rebuilding efforts. But it also acknowledged that the new "Iraq Stabilization Group" will be coordinated by Ms. Rice and divided into four basic areas.

"This is a group to help assist the Department of Defense and the coalition's efforts," White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters. "Ambassador Bremer will still report to Secretary Rumsfeld." The four areas of emphasis, each to be overseen by one of Rice's deputies on the National Security Council, are: counterterrorism, economic issues, political institutions, and communications.

The reorganization reflects "the new phase we're now entering," Mr. McClellan said, when anticipated passage of Mr. Bush's supplemental budget request for Iraq and Afghanistan means "we're going to have a lot more resources." The idea, he said, is to assist Bremer and for the provisional authority to "put those resources to the best possible use."

Still, the management recast reflects a void some experts say has been evident for months. "I've been wondering for a while now who really is in charge of the Iraq process back here," says Patrick Clawson, deputy director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "In most any administration, you would have had a Mr. Iraq here in Washington responsible for the inter-agency coordination."

One reason that hasn't happened until now is that the Bush administration simply thought Iraq and Afghanistan wouldn't remain the security and stability concerns they have. But new fighting has erupted with a regrouping Taliban in Afghanistan. At the same time, US officials in Iraq acknowledge that continued attacks against coalition forces there demonstrate a higher coordination and sophistication among armed opponents.

Another possible factor behind Rice's expanded duties: this administration's management approach.."It's the style of this White House to keep things close to the chest," Mr. Clawson says. Unlike earlier administrations, he notes for example, this one has no single person in charge of the Middle East peace process.

Until now, the stabilization efforts have been largely overseen by the Pentagon. Setbacks and mounting casualties have highlighted management shortcomings, some experts say. But it was probably the interference that the administration's $87 billion Iraq stabilization request encountered in Congress that prompted the new oversight plans. No one, apparently, fine-tuned the budget request with an eye to "what would fly with Congress and what might not," says one source who would not be named.

Publicly the White House says the new management group reflects the turn towards greater emphasis on reconstruction and political reform efforts that will follow passage of the president's supplemental budget.

But the president is also said to be frustrated with lack of a more solid sense of progress in the two countries. At the same time, opinion polls indicate similar frustration among an American public whose confidence in the president's ability to manage the postwar period is flagging.

Dissatisfaction has also surfaced within the administration over management of the Iraq reconstruction effort, with State Department officials especially unhappy at the fact the Pentagon was made the lead agency for rebuilding work.

But the new focus appears to be a tweak of the State Department as well, since it is running Afghanistan's post-conflict reconstruction.

That explains why a particular emphasis of the new coordination will be communication. Administration officials, moreover, have been frustrated that the public is not picking up on signs of hope in Iraq. "There's a feeling in the administration that the great progress we've made in Iraq in may ways has not been reflected at home in the media, and they want to see that the word gets out better," says James Phillips, a Middle East expert at the Heritage Foundation in Washington.

"Their real goal is to stabilize Bush's public approval rating," says Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia. This, he adds, means "sending the message [to people on the ground] to produce - and fast."

Read the rest at the Christian Science Monitor

October 7, 2004:

Fury over Pentagon cell that briefed White House on Iraq's 'imaginary' al-Qaeda links

A Senior Pentagon policy maker created an unofficial "Iraqi intelligence cell" in the summer of 2002 to circumvent the CIA and secretly brief the White House on links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qa'eda, according to the Senate intelligence committee.

The allegations about Douglas Feith, the number three at the Department of Defence, are made in a supplementary annexe of the committee's review of the intelligence leading to war in Iraq, released on Friday.

According to dramatic testimony contained in the annexe, Mr Feith's cell undermined the credibility of CIA judgments on Iraq's alleged al-Qa'eda links within the highest levels of the Bush administration.

The cell appears to have been set up by Mr Feith as an adjunct to the Office of Special Plans, a Pentagon intelligence-gathering operation established in the wake of 9/11 with the authority of Paul Wolfowitz. Its focus quickly became the al-Qa'eda-Saddam link...

Pentagon officials who appeared before the Senate committee testified that Mr Feith and others believed that the CIA was not sufficiently aggressive in its investigation of links between Saddam and al-Qa'eda. During the summer of 2002, administration hardliners believed that evidence of a connection between Iraq and the terrorist organisation would provide a clinching argument for war.

After the publication in June 2002 of a cautious report by the CIA entitled Iraq and al-Qa'eda: A Murky Relationship, Mr Feith passed on a written verdict to the defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, that the report should be read "for content only - and CIA's interpretation should be ignored".

In August 2002, Mr Feith's cell gave a briefing to Mr Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, which included a stinging condemnation of the CIA's intelligence assessment techniques.

In sharp contrast to the Senate intelligence committee's criticisms of "over-reaching" and "exaggeration" by CIA agents, the Pentagon briefing criticised the agency for requiring "juridical evidence" for its findings and for the "consistent underestimation" of the possibility that Iraq and al-Qa'eda were attempting to conceal their collaboration.

In another incident, Mr Feith's Pentagon cell postponed the publication of a CIA assessment of Iraq's links to terrorism after a visit to CIA headquarters at which "numerous objections" were made to a final draft.

In particular, Pentagon officials insisted that more should be made of an alleged meeting between the September 11 hijacker Mohammed Atta and an Iraqi official in Prague in April 2001. The CIA judged reports of the meeting not to be credible, a verdict vindicated on Friday by the Senate committee report.

Most remarkably, on September 16, 2002, two days before the CIA was to produce its postponed assessment, Mr Feith's cell went directly to the White House and gave an alternative briefing to Vice-President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, and to the National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice's deputy.

The briefing contained the section alleging "fundamental problems" with CIA intelligence-gathering. It also gave a detailed breakdown of the alleged meeting between Atta and an Iraqi agent.

The following week, senior Bush officials made confident statements on the existence of a link between Saddam and al-Qa'eda. Mr Tenet would learn of the secret briefing only in March 2004.

Read the rest at the Telegraph

U.S. soldiers honor 130 fallen comrades as division welcomed home from Iraq

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz welcomed the U.S. Army's 1st Armored Division back to its German base Thursday after an extended, 15-month tour of duty in Iraq, joining with soldiers to pay tribute to 130 comrades killed in the Middle East.

Soldiers representing the division's individual battalions, brigades and companies lined up in full battle gear, helmets and desert fatigues as the homecoming ceremony opened with a 15-gun salute for Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the head of V Corps and formerly the top military commander in Iraq.

Wolfowitz greeted the soldiers and their relatives with a message of welcome from President Bush.

"Our country is proud of your service and I am proud to be your commander in chief," Bush's letter said.

The division's troops returned by the end of July and many immediately went on leave, leading to the delayed welcoming ceremony. After a year in Iraq, their tour was extended by three months to help deal with rising violence.

Eight 1st Armored Division soldiers based in the town of Baumholder were killed in a single attack near Baghdad on April 29. The division was supposed to have begun returning home by then, and the extension was a difficult time for service members and families.

"I know you were looking forward to the end of your tour in Iraq," Wolfowitz said. "You had packed your things, called your families, started making plans – some of you were even sitting on the airplane, but you responded like iron soldiers."

"Today is a day to celebrate a job well done and honor the 130 men and women who lost their lives in battle," he said. "We join their families in mourning, knowing that we've lost some of the best men and women of America."

At an earlier 10-minute ceremony, soldiers laid a wreath before a monument to the dead – a wooden model of a five-ton black granite memorial that is planned for the division's Wiesbaden headquarters.

"It is an honor to be here, this is a good thing they are doing because we never can forget all the men who fell and died in line of duty," said Capt. Johnathan Pruden, of Asheville, N.C.

Pruden, using a wheelchair due to shrapnel wounds in his legs, was injured in the explosion of a homemade bomb near Baghdad on July 1.

Corissa Lafromboise, 25, of St. John, N.D., said the Iraq experience eroded many soldiers' enthusiasm for serving in the Army. Her husband, Sgt. Justin Lafromboise, 26, of Belcourt, N.D., spent 15 months in Iraq with the 1st Armored Division's 141st Signal Battalion.

"My husband is getting out soon, he wants to study law enforcement, and my friends' husbands also want to leave," Lafromboise said. "I just do not think that the living conditions were right – it was unsafe and not for anyone who is with a new family."

Read the rest at the San Diego Tribune

October 7, 2005:

George Bush: 'God told me to end the tyranny in Iraq'

George Bush has claimed he was on a mission from God when he launched the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, according to a senior Palestinian politician in an interview to be broadcast by the BBC later this month.

Mr Bush revealed the extent of his religious fervour when he met a Palestinian delegation during the Israeli-Palestinian summit at the Egpytian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, four months after the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

One of the delegates, Nabil Shaath, who was Palestinian foreign minister at the time, said: "President Bush said to all of us: 'I am driven with a mission from God'. God would tell me, 'George go and fight these terrorists in Afghanistan'. And I did. And then God would tell me 'George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq'. And I did."

Mr Bush went on: "And now, again, I feel God's words coming to me, 'Go get the Palestinians their state and get the Israelis their security, and get peace in the Middle East'. And, by God, I'm gonna do it."

Mr Bush, who became a born-again Christian at 40, is one of the most overtly religious leaders to occupy the White House, a fact which brings him much support in middle America.

Soon after, the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz carried a Palestinian transcript of the meeting, containing a version of Mr Bush's remarks. But the Palestinian delegation was reluctant publicly to acknowledge its authenticity.

The BBC persuaded Mr Shaath to go on the record for the first time for a three-part series on Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy: Elusive Peace, which begins on Monday.

Read the rest at the Guardian

October 7, 2006:

Taliban revived in southern Afghanistan

A sweating man wanders into a crowd and blows himself up, leaving a dozen bodies lifeless on the street. A few blocks away, a car bomb pulverizes an armored Humvee, killing two U.S. soldiers and 14 civilians. The kind of anonymous insurgent violence that is convulsing Iraq has migrated 1,500 miles east to plague Afghanistan five years after the U.S.-led invasion that toppled the Taliban regime.

The prospect of a second downward spiral — though so far Afghanistan isn't nearly as violent as Iraq — has experts worried that Western militaries don't have an effective strategy for these irregular wars.

"One Iraq is bad enough," said Bruce Hoffman, a counterinsurgency expert at Georgetown University. "Given that our two main theaters of operations aren't going well, one has to question how well the U.S. understands counterinsurgency."

The reborn Taliban acknowledges that it has adopted the suicide bombings, beheadings and remote-controlled bombs of the Iraqi insurgent movement. Nearly 200 civilians have been killed in suicide attacks this year that look all too much like the wave of bombings sweeping Iraq.

"We're getting stronger in every province and in every district and every village," said Qari Mohammed Yusuf Ahmadi, who calls himself the Taliban's spokesman for southern Afghanistan. "We don't have helicopters and jet fighters. But we're giving America and its allies a tough time with roadside bombs, suicide attacks and ambushes. Our Muslim brothers in Iraq are using the same tactics."

Resemblances to Iraq don't stop there. Taliban public relations teams videotape attacks and post them online, an uncharacteristic venture into modern technology for a Muslim fundamentalist group that once banned cameras and computers.

The West's military strategy in Afghanistan also resembles that in Iraq.

Just as critics say Washington did not send enough troops to Iraq before the insurgency took root, analysts fault the U.S. for failing to press its advantage in Afghanistan in 2002 and 2003 when the Taliban were all but vanquished.

Meanwhile, Afghan observers say the same harsh U.S. tactics, decried in Iraq for causing civilian casualties, have helped the Taliban recruit new fighters.

But unlike Iraq's insurgents, the Taliban has ready sanctuary and support just outside their battle zone, in the border areas of Pakistan.

"There will be no end to this insurgency until its sanctuaries and external support are addressed," said Christopher Alexander, the deputy head of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.

The U.S. military estimates about 6,000 Taliban and other insurgent fighters operate in Afghanistan, many from bases in Pakistan. Yusuf Ahmadi — who spoke by satellite phone from an undisclosed location and whose exact ties to the militia's leadership are unclear — put the figure in the tens of thousands.

The Taliban comeback, while focused on the volatile south and east, has begun to hit Kabul. The mountain capital's tree-lined boulevards are now scarred, like the streets of Baghdad, by garlands of razor wire, towering blast walls and impromptu police checkpoints.

There's little indication that Iraqi insurgents are joining the fight in Afghanistan or giving the Taliban direct aid, although a few Arab and Chechen fighters mingle in Taliban ranks.

But even without much personal contact, the Taliban has learned from Iraq's insurgency. websites explain the insurgent's art: everything from concealed rocket launchers to roadside bomb-making.

"We're not saying they're getting direct support from Iraq," a U.S. military official in Afghanistan said on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the information. "They've evolved by adapting their tactics. They've seen the value of the suicide bomber in Iraq. For them, it's a very cheap and effective weapons system."

The U.S. and NATO military response in Afghanistan also has nuanced differences from Iraq. U.S. warplanes drop 10 times more bombs in Afghanistan than they do in Iraq, and a few U.S. and NATO troops live off base in village houses, a strategy rarely attempted in Iraq.

But most of the allied war efforts looks similar. In both places, troops cordon off villages and search homes. They employ billions of dollars in technology — things like signal jammers and mine-clearing vehicles — to find and disarm roadside bombs. They operate from bases nearly identical in appearance, with troops living in tin trailers barricaded by dirt-filled metal baskets.

The Afghan war is still far smaller, occupying just 40,000 allied troops — a quarter of those in Iraq — and suffering a fraction of the casualties. But for individual soldiers serving in mountainous Taliban lands like Zabul province, the dangers feel the same.

"I know Iraq grabs a lot of headlines. But there's still a war going on over here," said Lt. Col. Steve Jarrard, 46, of Johnson City, Tenn., based in the hard-bitten southern town of Qalat. "I really hope we're doing the right thing over here."

Right now, it's too early to tell the result of major U.S. and NATO offensives aimed at crushing the Taliban.

"In three to six months you'll see a noticeable effect," said NATO spokesman Maj. Luke Knittig. "But you're talking two to five years before seeing a defeat of the insurgency" in southern Afghanistan.

Read the rest at USA Today