Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Perspective: On this day in Iraq -- October 9th edition

October 9, 2006: A policeman grimaces while being sent to a hospital. Three police recruits died and more than 1,200 recruits fell ill after eating meals at a military training base. The outbreak was later officially attributed to food poisoning.

October 9, 2002:

Bush vs. the CIA

In a speech intended to frighten the American people into supporting a war, the president Monday again trotted out his grim depiction of Saddam Hussein as a terrifying boogeyman haunting the world. However, a CIA report released late last week and designed to bolster Bush's case for preemptive invasion instead provided clear evidence that Iraq poses less of a threat to the world than at any other time in the past decade.

In its report, the CIA concludes that years of U.N. inspections combined with U.S. and British bombing of selected targets have left Iraq far weaker militarily than in the 1980s, when it was supported in its war against Iran by the United States.

The CIA report also concedes that the agency has no evidence that Iraq possesses nuclear weapons, although it lamely attempts to put the worst spin on that embarrassing fact: "Although Saddam probably does not yet have nuclear weapons or sufficient material to make any, he remains intent on acquiring them."

Of course, that is a statement about intent, not capability, and one that can be made about dozens of the world's nations, many of them run by dictators as brutal as Saddam.

None of the unstable nations already possessing deliverable nuclear weapons are targets of Bush's wrath. And in the case of the military dictatorship of Pakistan, which at some point is likely to use such weapons in a war with India, we have even eliminated the sanctions imposed as punishment for developing those nuclear arms.

More important than its psychoanalyzing of Iraq's megalomaniacal leader is the CIA's concession that the much-maligned inspections done by teams of experts organized by the International Atomic Energy Agency actually worked quite well: "More than 10 years of sanctions and the loss of much of Iraq's physical nuclear infrastructure under IAEA oversight have not diminished Saddam's interest in acquiring or developing nuclear weapons."

Similarly, the report concludes that Iraq's chemical weapons "capability was reduced during the UNSCOM (United Nations Special Commission) inspections and is probably more limited now than it was at the time of the Gulf War."

The report also notes that all cases of documented use of chemical weapons by Iraq occurred on or before March 1988, primarily against Iranian troops in a war covertly supported by the United States, and that neither chemical nor biological weapons were used against the United States during or after the Gulf War.

So what we have here is our top intelligence agency endorsing the past success of a peaceful, enforceable disarmament technique that our allies and the United Nations support, while our president and his Cabinet repeatedly belittle it as a sham.

In fact, if the CIA is to be believed, the inspections that were broken off four years ago amid bombing of Iraq by the United States and its allies should be reinstated immediately, even ahead of a tougher U.N. resolution.

If Iraq thwarts the resumption of effective inspections, the CIA report also makes obvious that continued airstrikes targeting suspected armaments facilities would make far more sense than a costly, risky full-fledged invasion.

"UNSCOM inspection activities and coalition military strikes destroyed most of (Iraq's) prohibited ballistic missiles and some Gulf War-era chemical and biological munitions," the CIA report says, but "Iraq still has a small force of extended-range Scud-variant missiles, chemical precursors, biological seed stock, and thousands of munitions suitable for chemical and biological agents."

The report claims that Iraq may have converted some of its "legitimate vaccine and biopesticide plants to biological warfare." But since the CIA report provides maps pinpointing suspect Iraqi weapons sites, they could easily be taken out short of the antiseptic-sounding "regime change" the Bush administration is aching to achieve.

In truth, the invasion is required not to meet a pressing threat to our security but rather to meet the threat to GOP control of Congress posed by a sagging U.S. economy and a stock market that has wiped out the savings of many Americans. That and the pent-up desire of frustrated wannabe imperialists among top Bush advisors to find a way to use our high-tech weaponry to micromanage the world. The CIA report makes it clear there is no plausible national security reason for pushing for war with Iraq at this time, other than the ill-advised imperial goal of directly controlling the world's oil supplies.

That's why the president in his speech Monday was reduced to scaring Americans with more tales of Hussein the Boogeyman.

Read the rest at Salon

US canvas city gears up for war with Iraq

In the desert on the west coast of the Gulf, 2,000 American service personnel are stationed at Camp Andy, a drab collection of air- conditioned tents rapidly wearing out from sun and heat.

The tent city has its own dining areas, a cinema, a basketball court and bunkers, all rapidly set up after September 11, when the US turned Qatar's al-Udeid into its largest aircraft refuelling base for military operations in Afghanistan.

While the US centres its diplomatic efforts on the United Nations in New York, it is at places such as al-Udeid that it is preparing for war.

Temporary as it may look, the US-inhabited part of the Qatari base has caught the world's eye as the Pentagon has appeared to play it up as one of the operating sites in a possible military campaign against Iraq.

Four US cargo aircraft are lined up less than a mile away. They are some of the 24 cargo and refuelling aircraft the US maintains at the base, which has a runway long enough to handle the heaviest transport aircraft and bombers.

Dozens of army trucks are parked near by. Aircraft shelters blend into the desert landscape. The only concrete-built, permanent site is the emir's lounge, where visitors can rest on sofas and treat themselves to water and tea.

The temporary US facilities are being upgraded. According to Colonel Timothy Scott, the base commander, Qatar is also expanding the camp and Washington is negotiating with the government to have joint use of the more permanent facilities.

To satisfy growing curiosity and fend off charges in the Arab world that it is secretly planning to assist the US in an Iraq war, the Qatari government is lifting the veil on al- Udeid. On Wednesday it allowed local and foreign journalists on a tour of the base.

But the visit was limited to areas used by the refuelling wing of the US air force, and officials said they were not in a position to discuss any matters that relate to the US Army Central Command.

No one would point to the location of the most intriguing piece of the al-Udeid puzzle - the underground computers and communications equipment said to have been moved there to form the nerve centre in a new Gulf war. Nor would they speak of the underground shelters that diplomats say can house 80 aircraft.

The air command and control centre that analysts say is being built in al-Udeid is a possible alternative to the more sophisticated Prince Sultan base in Saudi Arabia, a US ally that has become increasingly squeamish about the American military presence.

Riyadh has said use of its territory could be possible only if a US campaign is authorised by the UN. It has placed restrictions on the US military, frustrating Pentagon officials.

In a region where anti-US sentiment is rising and American military installations are targets for attacks - a US marine was killed in Kuwait on Tuesday - the tiny peninsula of Qatar has proved to be an accommodating friend to the US.

The government can afford to take unpopular measures. The country has a population of 150,000 (and 450,000 expatriates), the third-largest gas reserves in the world and a per capita income of $27,000. The US presence, say western diplomats, is considered an insurance policy in a small country with often stormy relations with larger neighbours.

d3 Part of the headquarters staff of US Army Central Command will move from Tampa, Florida, to al- Udeid in a few weeks, ostensibly for an internal military exercise. But the Pentagon has indicated the move could become permanent.

Al-Udeid is probably the safest environment for the US in the region, Col Scott said. Barbed wire and a wide perimeter protect against intruders and the Andy Camp is a few miles down the road, at little risk of car bomb attacks.

Most important to the US, however, is freedom of operation. With few restrictions on rules of engagement, the US air force's co-operation with the government in the Afghanistan campaign is "absolutely outstanding," said Col Scott.

Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabr al-Thani, Qatar's foreign minister, said the US has not asked to use the base in a military campaign against Iraq. But he indicated a demand would be considered. "Our people know about the American presence, there's nothing secret about al-Udeid," he said. "We'll discuss with the US many issues, if it's reasonable or not. The Americans respect us and we respect them, we take into account our special relationship."

Al-Udeid's possible participation in war will also depend on the level of assistance the US receives elsewhere in the region.

"All the facilities [in the region] are important, every piece of the puzzle has a role to play," said a western diplomat in Doha, the Qatari capital. "It's all designed so that if you lose one of the places you can use another one."

Read the rest at Financial Times

October 9, 2003:

Rumsfeld dismisses talk of diminished role in Iraq

The White House and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld moved quickly Wednesday to contain an unusual public breach over Iraq policy, a day after Rumsfeld testily told European reporters that he had not been consulted before a reorganization designed to give the White House more control over the occupation of the country.

Appearing at a NATO conference in Colorado Springs on Wednesday afternoon, Rumsfeld tried to dismiss any talk of his diminished role in Iraq policy, suggesting at one point that reporters should concentrate on "something more important," like the World Series potential of his hometown Chicago Cubs.

That tone contrasted with his harsh language on Tuesday, when he said President Bush had never discussed with him the creation of the Iraq Stabilization Group, set up by Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser.

The first he heard of it was in a memorandum from Rice last week, he said. In a seeming criticism of the White House, he suggested that the National Security Council was finally focused on doing what it should have been doing all along -- coordinating the work of the many government agencies dealing with Iraq.

He told reporters on Tuesday "it's not quite clear to me why" Rice sent him a memorandum on the subject. When he was pressed on the question by a German broadcast reporter, he retorted, "I said I don't know. Isn't that clear? You don't understand English? I was not there for the backgrounding," a reference to explanations of the new approach that were provided on Sunday to the New York Times.

Bush's spokesman, Scott McClellan, retracted on Wednesday his statement on Monday that Rumsfeld had been fully involved in the decision to create the new group.

"Maybe I should not have characterized it that way," he said.

But several administration officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said on Wednesday that Rice had, in fact, discussed the issue with Rumsfeld and the other members of the National Security Council last week. The memorandum that she sent out last Thursday to Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell and CIA Director George Tenet refers in its first sentence to previous discussions she had with all of them.

Administration officials said that Rumsfeld's display of pique appeared rooted in the widespread perception that his power was being diminished -- a perception Rice disputed on Sunday.

Several officials said it also reflected growing tensions between the Pentagon and the White House over poorly executed plans for postwar Iraq, along with the Pentagon's failure to work smoothly with other agencies -- from the Treasury to the State Department -- that are increasingly critical to making the reconstruction effort work.

"This is about more than just how we handled Iraq," said one administration official. "It's about getting the Rumsfeld crowd to understand the reality of what's happening, and what's not working."

In his interview with the Financial Times, two German broadcast correspondents and a Spanish wire service on Tuesday, Rumsfeld characterized the Iraq Stabilization Group as a small bureaucratic adjustment rather than a broad rethinking of how the administration should marshal and coordinate its resources.

"The way I read the memorandum is that it is basically what the responsibility of the NSC is and always has been," he said. The agency's role, he added later, "is what it's always been," one of coordination.

Asked whether White House officials had failed to brief him before news of the new group came out, he said, "That's true."

At the White House, officials appeared caught between two competing impulses: to pacify Rumsfeld by describing the new group as a routine bureaucratic adjustment, and to convince Congress -- which is considering the president's request for $87 billion for Iraq -- that Bush is focusing the energy of the government on one of the most crucial problems in his presidency.

"Rumsfeld doesn't like this because he doesn't want to admit anything went wrong," one senior American diplomat involved in the debate said. "So, what else is new? It's Rumsfeld."

On Wednesday, Rumsfeld did all he could to submerge public expression of those differences. During a news conference held in conjunction with a NATO defense ministers session in Colorado Springs, he sounded like a very different man than the one who so openly expressed his displeasure to European correspondents.

"I just am really quite surprised about all of this frufrah about this memo, " Rumsfeld said. "It's just a little, short, one-page memo."

Read the rest at the San Francisco Chronicle

October 9, 2004:

Officer says CIA attempted to avoid Geneva rules in Iraq

The actions of the Central Intelligence Agency in keeping inmates at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq off official rosters appeared to have been intended to speed their transfer to sites outside Iraq, where they would not be protected by the Geneva Conventions, the former commander of the joint interrogation center at the prison has told Army investigators.

The allegation by Lt. Col. Steven Jordan, in testimony in February, was included in hundreds of pages of secret documents released Friday by the Center for Public Integrity. Jordan said the approach had been authorized under an unwritten agreement between the CIA and Col. Thomas Pappas, the top military intelligence officer at the prison. The center said it had obtained the documents from journalist Osha Gray Davidson, a contributor to Rolling Stone magazine.

Two Army generals told Congress last month that at the CIA's request, Army jailers had failed to register dozens of detainees at Abu Ghraib in order to hide them from Red Cross inspectors. But Jordan said in his testimony that the CIA's purpose had been to avoid anything that might have slowed moving them.

"They would not put them in the regular detainee process where you get fingerprinted, 'cause once a detainee did that, you're kinda in there three to six to eight months," Jordan said in his testimony, in Camp Doha, Kuwait, on Feb. 21.

He went on to use an abbreviation for "other government agency," a term used in military circles to refer to the CIA: "The OGA folks wanted to be able to pull somebody in 24, 48, 72 hours if they had to get 'em to Gitmo, do what have you."

In the past, U.S. officials have insisted that no prisoners from Iraq were ever transferred to the American detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which is known as Gitmo. They have acknowledged two cases in which prisoners captured were transferred out of Iraq and then returned, but they have declined to comment on whether there might have been others.

The United States has said all prisoners captured in Iraq were covered under the Geneva Conventions. Prisoners held by the United States in Guantanamo and some other lockups, including those in Afghanistan and some secret locations, have not been granted the same protection.

A CIA spokesman would not comment on Jordan's remarks, and an attorney for Jordan also declined comment.

Jordan, an Army reservist, is among the military intelligence officers identified by Army investigators as sharing in responsibility for the abuses at Abu Ghraib.

An Army report by Gen. Paul J. Kern and others criticized Pappas in particular for failing to challenge the CIA practice of keeping detainees off the books.

The documents made public by the Center for Public Integrity on Friday also included a classified memorandum written by an Army general in September 2003 recommended that guards at Abu Ghraib prison be put under the authority of a senior military intelligence officer.

The document provides the clearest indication to date that the military police at Abu Ghraib were made subordinate to the new Joint Interrogation and Debriefing Center under Jordan.

Read the rest at the San Francisco Chronicle

October 9, 2005:

Ombudsman: A Parting Thought on Iraq, Again

When I started as ombudsman in November 2000, it was at the beginning of a deadlocked presidential election, a historic struggle that was to last 36 days and be settled by the Supreme Court. Less than a year later came Sept. 11. Then came wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Those last three events have turned out to dominate many of these columns, perhaps to a fault. The Post touches our lives in many other ways that probably deserved more attention than they got from me.

Iraq, in particular, has proved impossible for me, along with many readers, to put aside and move away from. I keep coming back to it, in part, because readers keep coming back to it but also because I cannot think of a story in the past 40 years that offers more warning signs for journalism and for the role of the press in our democracy. And it's not just the press for whom Iraq should loom large. It is also Congress, the Cabinet, the civil service, the intelligence community and the military leadership.

There is no bigger story than war. And a war whose major premise -- the threat from Iraqi weapons of mass destruction -- turned out to be unsupported is an even bigger story. That the administration presented this threat to the public with such a strong, yet false, sense of certainty -- including the imagery of mushroom clouds -- is an even more important lesson for all of us about big but not well-examined decisions. How did a country on the leading edge of the information age get this so wrong and express so little skepticism and challenge? How did an entire system of government and a free press set out on a search for something and fail to notice, or even warn us in a timely or prominent way, that it wasn't or might not be there?

Since the war began, many other questions have been raised about other prewar assessments. But the key question for journalists is how the process of vetting the main prewar rationale for sending Americans into a war took place, or failed to take place.

This is not a political question. It would need to be pursued if these events had taken place under a Democratic administration, as was the case 40 years ago when a murky event, or non-event, in Vietnam's Tonkin Gulf also went largely unchallenged and provided the peg for another president to commit the United States and its military to a long and costly war.

One can only hope that history will show that some good will come from the invasion of Iraq. Things don't look good now. Retired Army Lt. Gen. William E. Odom, who headed the National Security Agency in the Reagan administration, said last month that the invasion of Iraq "will turn out to be the greatest strategic disaster in our history." Let's hope not, but whatever happens, the issue for journalists is how they performed in the run-up to war.

Much has already been written -- including about two dozen columns of mine -- about the press and the general failure to challenge in prewar coverage. As I look back at the past five years in this job, that is by far the single most important and most disappointing performance by the press, including The Post. And The Post -- along with the Los Angeles Times and the Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service -- was among the best. But it was nowhere near good enough.

The Post is surely one of the top newspapers in the world, and I think it has been on something of a roll during the past two years or so in terms of especially solid and revealing coverage of many subjects that some would prefer not to be covered. But the period before the Iraq war is so important because it was one of those historic, chips-are-down moments when a newspaper, especially one as important as The Post, must commit to using its resources and exercising its responsibilities to probe fully what the government is saying and doing.

As I've noted in previous columns, The Post contributed a fair number of stories that raised questions about the issue of weapons of mass destruction. But too many of these were placed well inside the paper. Several other stories that challenged the official wisdom and unfolded in public were either missed or played down. I have attributed this mostly to what seemed to me to be a lack of alertness on the part of editors who at the time were also undoubtedly focused on preparing for the coming war.

Editors up and down the line are the key to this and, in my view, at times are the weak link between reporters and readers. Reporters are as good as they've ever been. But editors set the tone. They should be experienced and as informed as reporters. They need to contribute to, and transmit, the sense that there are very important stories out there -- whether war or health care or budget deficits or other subjects that affect our lives and future -- and that there is a determination and commitment to get to the bottom of them in a timely fashion.

The prewar Iraq situation also provided a unique test because the subject was complicated and classified. The administration was enormously skillful and disciplined at getting its message across while keeping other things secret. It made effective use of our concerns and reactions to the scary post-Sept. 11 world. Some journalists or news organizations may have been intimidated by the atmosphere. I don't think The Post was.

Rather, it seemed to me that editors didn't have their eye on, and didn't go for, the right ball at the right time. It's a lesson that ought to be etched in the culture here as deeply as Watergate.

Read the rest at the Washington Post

Marines who fought in Fallujah return to Iraq less than one year later

They stormed the insurgent-ridden city of Fallujah, returned home, and now are back in Iraq's most troubled province – all in 10 months time.

Some prefer this hectic pace. "I didn't join the Marine Corps just to stand around," said Lance Cpl. Giovanni Perez of Los Angeles.

But for others, the demands of the overstretched U.S. military are just too much, regardless of the bonuses being dangled before them to re-enlist.
"I get out of the Marine Corps in seven months and I can't wait," Cpl. Daniel Trigg of Olympia, Wash., said while guarding a mosque where a large cache of insurgent weapons was being removed.

Trigg is on his third tour in Iraq in three years. His last tour had him in the southern city of Najaf, where U.S. troops fought fierce battles with Shiite Muslim militiamen last year.

For Lance Cpl. James Whelan of Kalamazoo, Mich., coming back is worth it. "As long as we clean up our mess and get this country back up on its feet," he said, leaning against a palm tree and scanning a thicket of grass. Just 20, he also is on his third tour in Iraq.

Their unit, the 3rd Battalion, 1st Regiment from Camp Pendleton, Calif., is one of three Marine battalions sent to Iraq three times.

Last November it joined in the battle for Fallujah, where several of its Marines were killed and dozens earned Purple Hearts while clearing out insurgents. Now it is in trying to tame Anbar Province's Sunni Arab cities in the west that previously had no U.S. or Iraqi security forces.

The task is not easy. The unit they replaced suffered 48 deaths during a seven-month tour, and letters posted on a mosque by a former Iraqi policeman begging for forgiveness from al-Qaeda members indicates the difficulty of rebuilding a local security force.

Marines note the war, at least in this region, has evolved since their last tour. Insurgents are now hiding instead of controlling entire neighborhoods.

Some Marines say this is a more challenging task than simply using the military's superior arsenal against gun-toting insurgents holed up in homes.

"It's harder. Before, you could just shoot a tank round through someone's window," said Sgt. Jesse Zunke, a squad leader from Reno, Nev., comparing the insurgency in Haditha to the militants who once swaggered through Fallujah.

"Now it's just playing detective and meeting these people," Zunke said shortly before an explosion rippled through the city, the latest of dozens of roadside bombs to be discovered and detonated.

The Marines focus on finding weapons and trying to collect information in an area where allegiances often change and true sentiments are hard to identify. On Friday, a large Sunni mosque blared messages supporting U.S. forces from loudspeakers, according to military translators – but it was the same mosque where the arms cache had been found the day before.

For Marines who have been to Iraq before, the latest seven-month deployment is easier because of their experience, although some feel they are testing their luck.

"I'm a little less nervous this time because I know what to expect," said Lance Cpl. Kemny Kim of Houston, who got two Purple Hearts for wounds during his prior tour.

Kim talked as he searched through groves of palm trees along the Euphrates River, chewing on pomegranate seeds and a pear offered by a farmer. His brother, also a Marine, just returned home from a tour in Ramadi.

Marines said their prior experiences had them prepared to for whatever comes in an area where 20 Marines were killed in August alone.

"You can tell the Iraqis who are scared because we're here and those who are scared because they're bad," said 1st Lt. David Jackson of New York, a squad leader.

Repetitive patrols through mostly empty streets, with only the sound of boots softly crunching on sandy roads and the hum of warplanes above, are relieved by an old Marine tactic – jokes and pranks.

As a young man on a bicycle approached a patrol, the lead Marine instructed the man to raise his hands and lift his shirt to check for explosives – then slap one hand on the opposite arm, then behind his head. It was the Macarena dance, laughing Marines noticed, before they let the man cycle past with a broad smile.

Marines waiting to scale a wall during house-to-house searches in 90-degree weather jokingly described their feelings: "Outstanding," said one smirking Marine. "This is the greatest feeling in the world," said another as the call to prayer wailed from a mosque a few blocks away.

"It's kind of like you never left. We're all used to it," Zunke said before his squad finished searching a block of houses and returned to their makeshift home in a school.

Read the rest at the Washington Post

October 9, 2006:

Secret Iraq Meeting Included Journalists

It was the kind of shadowy, secret Washington meeting that Bob Woodward is fond of describing in detail. In his new book, “State of Denial,” he writes that on Nov. 29, 2001, a dozen policy makers, Middle East experts and members of influential policy research organizations gathered in Virginia at the request of Paul D. Wolfowitz, then the deputy secretary of defense. A report was produced for President Bush and his cabinet outlining a strategy for dealing with Afghanistan and the Middle East in the aftermath of 9/11.

What was more unusual, Mr. Woodward reveals, was the presence of journalists at the meeting. Fareed Zakaria, the editor of Newsweek International and a Newsweek columnist, and Robert D. Kaplan, now a national correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly, attended the meeting and, according to Mr. Kaplan, signed confidentiality agreements not to discuss what happened.

Mr. Zakaria, who was not told that the meeting would produce a report, takes issue with Mr. Woodward’s account.

“I thought it was a brainstorming session,” he said. “I was never told that there was going to be a document summarizing our views and I have never seen such a document.” (Mr. Woodward wrote that the report, which supported the invasion of Iraq, caused Mr. Bush to focus on the “malignancy” of the Middle East situation.)

While members of policy research groups often dispense advice to administration officials, journalists do not typically attend secret meetings or help compile government reports. Indeed, many Washington journalists complain that the current administration keeps them at an unhealthy distance.

Mr. Kaplan said much of the meeting was spent drafting and reworking the document, on which Mr. Zakaria’s name did not appear, and was “a forceful summary of some of the best pro-war arguments at the time.” Could any of the participants have been unaware there was a document in the making? “No, that’s not possible,” he said.

Mr. Kaplan, who was then a freelancer at The Atlantic Monthly, said he spoke to his editor before attending, and was given approval to attend because “everybody was in a patriotic fervor.”

Mr. Zakaria said he felt participating was appropriate because his views, as a columnist for Newsweek, were public, although he has never divulged his involvement to his readers.

“My column is an analytical column,” he said, adding that he gives advice to policy makers and elected officials: “If a senator calls me up and asks me what should we do in Iraq, I’m happy to talk to him.”

Read the rest at the NY Times