Sunday, September 30, 2007

Perspective: On this day in Iraq -- September 30th edition

September 30, 2005: A soldier with the 1st Infantry Regiment provides rear security during a medical assistance mission near Rawah.

September 30, 2002:

Report: U.S. supplied the kinds of germs Iraq later used for biological weapons

Iraq's bioweapons program that President Bush wants to eradicate got its start with help from Uncle Sam two decades ago, according to government records getting new scrutiny in light of the discussion of war against Iraq.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sent samples directly to several Iraqi sites that U.N. weapons inspectors determined were part of Saddam Hussein's biological weapons program, CDC and congressional records from the early 1990s show. Iraq had ordered the samples, claiming it needed them for legitimate medical research.

The CDC and a biological sample company, the American Type Culture Collection, sent strains of all the germs Iraq used to make weapons, including anthrax, the bacteria that make botulinum toxin and the germs that cause gas gangrene, the records show. Iraq also got samples of other deadly pathogens, including the West Nile virus.

The transfers came in the 1980s, when the United States supported Iraq in its war against Iran. They were detailed in a 1994 Senate Banking Committee report and a 1995 follow-up letter from the CDC to the Senate.

The exports were legal at the time and approved under a program administered by the Commerce Department.

"I don't think it would be accurate to say the United States government deliberately provided seed stocks to the Iraqis' biological weapons programs," said Jonathan Tucker, a former U.N. biological weapons inspector.

"But they did deliver samples that Iraq said had a legitimate public health purpose, which I think was naive to believe, even at the time."

The disclosures put the United States in the uncomfortable position of possibly having provided the key ingredients of the weapons America is considering waging war to destroy, said Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va. Byrd entered the documents into the Congressional Record this month.

Byrd asked Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld about the germ transfers at a recent Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. Byrd noted that Rumsfeld met Saddam in 1983, when Rumsfeld was President Reagan's Middle East envoy.

"Are we, in fact, now facing the possibility of reaping what we have sown?" Byrd asked Rumsfeld after reading parts of a Newsweek article on the transfers.

"I have never heard anything like what you've read, I have no knowledge of it whatsoever, and I doubt it," Rumsfeld said. He later said he would ask the Defense Department and other government agencies to search their records for evidence of the transfers.

Invoices included in the documents read like shopping lists for biological weapons programs. One 1986 shipment from the Virginia-based American Type Culture Collection included three strains of anthrax, six strains of the bacteria that make botulinum toxin and three strains of the bacteria that cause gas gangrene. Iraq later admitted to the United Nations that it had made weapons out of all three.

The company sent the bacteria to the University of Baghdad, which U.N. inspectors concluded had been used as a front to acquire samples for Iraq's biological weapons program.

The CDC, meanwhile, sent shipments of germs to the Iraqi Atomic Energy Commission and other agencies involved in Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs. It sent samples in 1986 of botulinum toxin and botulinum toxiod — used to make vaccines against botulinum toxin — directly to the Iraqi chemical and biological weapons complex at al-Muthanna, the records show.

Botulinum toxin is the paralyzing poison that causes botulism. Having a vaccine to the toxin would be useful for anyone working with it, such as biological weapons researchers or soldiers who might be exposed to the deadly poison, Tucker said.

The CDC also sent samples of a strain of West Nile virus to an Iraqi microbiologist at a university in the southern city of Basra in 1985, the records show.

Read the rest at USA Today

September 30, 2003:

U.S.-British Differences Show Iraq Intelligence Gap

In the buildup to the Iraq war last fall, the intelligence agencies of Britain and the United States raised questions about each other's most dramatic claims concerning Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, according to newly released British documents and recent interviews with U.S. congressional and administration officials.

Documents published by British government investigators show that in September 2002, British intelligence played down as not conclusive evidence that Iraq's attempted purchases of specialized aluminum tubes signaled an intention to use them to produce nuclear weapons. In a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) released the following month, the CIA strongly contended that the attempted purchases did reflect such an intent.

In turn, U.S. intelligence officials in September 2002 questioned the reliability of intelligence on Iraq's alleged effort to purchase uranium in Africa and Hussein's capability to deploy chemical weapons within 45 minutes. The British emphasized those two points in an intelligence dossier published Sept. 24, 2002, and President Bush repeated them as he made his case for attacking Iraq.

With U.S. and British forces having found no evidence of weapons of mass destruction in the four months since major combat operations ended in Iraq, the disagreements between the allies' intelligence agencies highlight how little they actually knew about Hussein's chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs before the war.

The new British information, arising from three government inquiries, also showed that there were two points on which the United States and the British agreed: that there was no evidence before the war that Hussein had given chemical or biological materials to terrorists, and that the Iraqi leader probably would take such a step only if his government was about to collapse under attack.

Senior U.S. and British policymakers cited the threat of Iraq's turning such weapons over to terrorists as a reason for attacking Baghdad.

The aluminum tubes figured prominently in the Bush administration's case for going to war. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell cited the tubes when he presented evidence against Iraq to the United Nations last February. In its October 2002 NIE, the CIA emphasized Iraq's attempts to purchase the tubes, specifically mentioning the effort as a "key judgment" in declaring that Hussein had reconstituted his nuclear weapons program.

However, from its early drafts, the British dossier was more subdued on the point, first including it only as Iraq's covert attempts to acquire "specialized aluminum which is subject to internal export controls because of its potential application to gas centrifuges used to enrich uranium."

Prime Minister Tony Blair's director of communications and strategy at the time, Alastair Campbell, played a coordinating role in production of the dossier and made suggestions to the intelligence officials as drafts were done. One newly released memo, dated Sept. 17, 2002, just before the final draft was finished, suggested that the number of aluminum tubes Iraq had sought, 60,000, be placed in the dossier's draft executive summary.

But intelligence experts at the British Foreign Office stepped in, according to a Sept. 19 memo from John Scarlett, chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), the senior British intelligence panel that included leaders of intelligence agencies and representatives from the Defense Ministry and Foreign Office. As chairman, Scarlett had been given responsibility for drafting the dossier.

Scarlett wrote Campbell that he had removed the reference to aluminum tubes from the executive summary and "toned down the reference to aluminum tubes . . . [reflecting] some very recent exchanges on intelligence channels." There is no mention of what those exchanges were, but one addition to the final dossier's discussion of the 60,000 aluminum tubes was the phrase, ". . . there is no definitive intelligence that it is destined for a nuclear programme."

"That was a reflection of the state of the intelligence," Scarlett told a British investigative panel last Tuesday.

In the United States, the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research had vigorously opposed the intelligence community's estimate that the tubes were for a nuclear centrifuge.

In their dossier, the British claimed that Hussein's "military planning allows for some of the WMD [weapons of mass destruction] to be ready within 45 minutes of an order to use them." Bush publicly repeated the claim the day the dossier was made public and again in his weekly radio address without checking with the CIA on its accuracy.

Sir Richard Billing Dearlove, the director of Britain's Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), which is popularly known as MI6, told a British investigative panel earlier this month that information for the 45-minute claim came in August 2002 from "a senior Iraqi military officer who was certainly in a position to know this information."

A report released Sept. 11 by the British Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee disclosed that the information was the only piece of intelligence the British had with "definite times associated with the deployment or use" of such weapons. But the committee pointed out that SIS "did not know what munitions the Iraqi officer was referring to or their status." In addition, there was no knowledge "from where and to where the munitions might be moved" in that time frame, nor whether they existed.

Dearlove testified earlier this month that the intelligence referred to "battlefield weapons," which the published dossier did not make clear.

A senior Bush administration official familiar with the intelligence said that the CIA never included the 45-minute deployment in its intelligence assessments because it had "no separate reporting," although it found the statement "interesting and plausible." A senior congressional aide said Congress had been told that U.S. intelligence "had no confidence in the Iraqi officer" and that the information itself was "general."

The British government inquiries also disclosed new intelligence about Iraq's alleged attempts to purchase uranium in Africa, an important point for the Bush administration.

The president used the British dossier to support the 16-word statement in his 2003 State of the Union address that, "The British government has learned Saddam Hussein has recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." Subsequently, the White House acknowledged that it was wrong to have included the line in the speech. The new British documents show the basis on which the Blair government made the assertion.

SIS had two independent sources for reporting the uranium purchase attempts, according to the Intelligence and Security Committee report: One source provided the information in June 2002 and the other just as the dossier was being finalized that September. One of the two was described as "documentary evidence."

In his Sept. 17 memo to Scarlett, Campbell asked, "Can we say he [Hussein] has secured uranium from Africa," underlining the word "secured." At a hearing last week, Campbell was asked why he sought that change and responded, "I had been present at discussions where I thought that was a definitive piece of information."

On Sept. 18, Scarlett wrote Campbell that the intelligence underlying the allegation was in the possession not of the British, but of some unnamed foreign service. He told Campbell, "The agreed interpretation of the intelligence, brokered with some difficulty with the originators and owners of the reporting, allows us only to say that he has 'sought' uranium from Africa."

At the same time, the CIA was arguing with other officials in London that U.S. intelligence on that subject was too weak and that the item should not be included in the British dossier. The previous February, the CIA had sent former U.S. ambassador Joseph C. Wilson to Niger, where the supposed offer to purchase was made, to check on the allegation, and he came back with denials from Niger officials.

In his testimony last week , Scarlett said the British at the last minute softened a statement that they had "compelling" intelligence on the alleged seeking of uranium. "We had received further intelligence . . . which indicated that it was being sought but no more; and anyway the word 'compelling' is not a word that we would normally use unless we had a very high [degree of confidence]."

SIS did not obtain the documentary evidence of the uranium allegation until March 2003, when the International Atomic Energy Agency declared that documents it had received from the United States related to Iraq's alleged uranium purchases in Niger had been forged. Since that time, SIS has been attempting to "check the authenticity" of its documents, the parliamentary committee said.

As for the information provided by the other British source, the committee said that after questioning the SIS "about the basis of its judgment," it had determined the dossier statement on Iraq seeking uranium in Africa was "reasonable."

Read the rest at the Washington Post

September 30, 2004:

U.S. Effort Aims to Improve Opinions About Iraq Conflict

The Bush administration, battling negative perceptions of the Iraq war, is sending Iraqi Americans to deliver what the Pentagon calls "good news" about Iraq to U.S. military bases, and has curtailed distribution of reports showing increasing violence in that country.

The unusual public-relations effort by the Pentagon and the U.S. Agency for International Development comes as details have emerged showing the U.S. government and a representative of President Bush's reelection campaign had been heavily involved in drafting the speech given to Congress last week by interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. Combined, they indicate that the federal government is working assiduously to improve Americans' opinions about the Iraq conflict -- a key element of Bush's reelection message.

USAID said this week that it will restrict distribution of reports by contractor Kroll Security International showing that the number of daily attacks by insurgents in Iraq has increased. On Monday, a day after The Washington Post published a front-page story saying that "the Kroll reports suggest a broad and intensifying campaign of insurgent violence," a USAID official sent an e-mail to congressional aides stating: "This is the last Kroll report to come in. After the WPost story, they shut it down in order to regroup. I'll let you know when it restarts."

Asked about the Kroll reports yesterday, USAID spokesman Jeffrey Grieco said, "The agency has restricted its circulation to those contractors and grantees who continue to work in Iraq." He said that the reports were given to congressional officials who sought them, but that the information will now be "restricted to those who need it for security planning in Iraq." An agency official said the decision was unrelated to the Post story and was based on a fear that the reports "would fall into insurgents' hands."

Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's office has sent commanders of U.S. military facilities a five-page memorandum titled "Guidance to Commanders." The Pentagon, the memo says, is sponsoring a group of Iraqi Americans and former officials from the Coalition Provisional Authority to speak at military bases throughout the United States starting Friday to provide "a first-hand account" of events in Iraq. The Iraqi Americans and the CPA officials worked on establishing the interim Iraqi government. The Iraqi Americans "feel strongly that the benefits of the coalition efforts have not been fully reported," the memo says.

The memo says the presentations are "designed to be uplifting accounts with good news messages." Rumsfeld's office, which will pay for the tour, recommends that the installations seek local news coverage, noting that "these events and presentations are positive public relations opportunities."

The memo anticipates controversy. "It is well understood that the efforts and sacrifices associated with Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom have resulted in a significant human toll," it says. "As such, emotions and apprehensions may run high in response to the conduct of these visits." The memo offered reassurance that those on the tour "are not political policy makers" and said commanders at each base "are in the best position on how to market this voluntary attendance program effectively."

Lt. Col. Joe Richard, a Pentagon spokesman, said most of the Iraqi Americans are teachers who will emphasize improvements made to the Iraqi education system. He said they want to "provide some perspective on the operation" in Iraq. "I wouldn't characterize it as unusual. There are provisions that allow for it."

At the White House, National Security Council spokesman Jim Wilkinson said the Iraqi Americans have "a legitimate perspective, and that perspective should be heard."

White House spokesman Scott McClellan, asked Tuesday about similarities between Bush's statements about Iraq and Allawi's speech to Congress last week, said he did not know of any help U.S. officials gave with the speech. "None that I know of," he said, adding, "No one at the White House." He also said he did not know if the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad had seen the speech.

But administration officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the prime minister was coached and aided by the U.S. government, its allies and friends of the administration. Among them was Dan Senor, former spokesman for the CPA who has more recently represented the Bush campaign in media appearances. Senor, who has denied writing the speech, sent Allawi recommended phrases. He also helped Allawi rehearse in New York last week, officials said. Senor declined to comment.

The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and British Foreign Service officials also helped Allawi with the text and delivery of his remarks, said administration officials who were involved. The State Department and officials elsewhere in the government took the lead in booking Allawi's interviews. Administration officials said that the Iraqi Embassy in Washington consists of just a few officials and has only a dial-up Internet connection, so was incapable of preparing for the high-profile tour.

Read the rest at the Washington Post

US bases in Iraq: sticky politics, hard math

If a new Iraq government should agree to let American forces stay on, how many bases will the US request?

One, as the United States Army currently maintains in Honduras? Six, the number of installations it lists in the Netherlands. Or maybe 12?

The Pentagon isn't saying.

But a dozen is the number of so-called "enduring bases" located by John Pike, director of His military affairs website gives their names. They include, for example, Camp Victory at the Baghdad airfield and Camp Renegade in Kirkuk. The Chicago Tribune last March said US engineers are constructing 14 "enduring bases," but Mr. Pike hasn't located two of them.

Note the terminology "enduring" bases. That's Pentagon-speak for long-term encampments - not necessarily permanent, but not just a tent on a wood platform either. It all suggests a planned indefinite stay on Iraqi soil that will cost US taxpayers for years to come.

The actual amount depends on how many troops are stationed there for the long term. If the US decides to reduce its forces there from the 138,000 now to, say, 50,000, and station them in bases, the costs would run between $5 billion to $7 billion a year, estimates Gordon Adams, director of Security Policy Studies at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. That's two to three times as much as the annual American subsidy to Israel. Providing protection for Israel is one of several reasons some analysts cite for the US invasion of Iraq.

If more troops are based in Iraq for the long haul, the cost would be higher. US Army planners are preparing to maintain the current level of forces in Iraq at least through 2007, The New York Times reported this week. But no decision has been made at the political level.

So far, the Bush administration has not publicly indicated that it will seek permanent bases in Iraq to replace those recently given up in Saudi Arabia, a possibility mentioned by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz before US forces moved into Iraq. The US already has bases in Kuwait and Qatar.

At an April 2003 press conference, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said any suggestion that the US is planning a permanent military presence in Iraq is "inaccurate and unfortunate." With the presidential election weeks away, he is unlikely to alter that pronouncement on such a politically touchy matter. Such a move would almost certainly attract fire from Democratic candidate John Kerry.

Nonetheless, several military experts in Washington assume Iraq's new government will need the support of American troops - and thus "permanent" bases - for years, perhaps decades, to come.

The US already has 890 military installations in foreign countries, ranging from major Air Force bases to smaller installations, say a radar facility. Perhaps bases in Iraq would enable the Pentagon to close a few of those facilities. As part of a post-cold-war shift in its global posture, the Defense Department has been cutting the number of its installations in Germany, which total more than 100. Last week Mr. Rumsfeld testified about a global "rearrangement" of US forces to the Senate Armed Forces Committee.

"Who needs Germany when we have Iraq?" asks Mr. Pike of

Building bases in Iraq has risks. Two Americans beheaded last week were working as civil engineers constructing the Taji military base north of Baghdad, one of the bases Pike lists as "enduring."

The bigger risk: Polls find that at least 80 percent of Iraqis - whatever their views on the insurgency, democracy, the removal of Saddam Hussein, and other issues - want US armed forces to leave their nation. Making the bases permanent could stir up more opposition to the US occupation.

Another fear, however, is that without US bases, the various Iraqi factions - the Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds - would fall into civil war. In turn, this conflict could drag in Iran, Syria, and Turkey, leading to a widespread conflict in the Middle East. Hope of establishing a democracy in an Arab nation would fade.

To avoid these risks, an Iraq government will accept a US military presence despite popular disapproval, Pike says. "An indefinite American presence in Iraq is the ultimate guarantor of some quasi-pluralistic government."

Also, withdrawal of US forces would be seen by Iraqi insurgents as a victory, prompting them to redouble their efforts to kill Americans, says Thomas Donnelly, a military expert at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.

The US can afford maintaining bases in Iraq, he argues. US defense spending now amounts to a bit more than 4 percent of gross domestic product, the nation's output of goods and services. It might rise as a result of Iraq bases to 5 percent of GDP, still less than the 6.5 percent of GDP in the cold war or the 10 percent during the Vietnam War.

Not everyone agrees. Permanent bases in Iraq are a "disastrously bad idea," says Jessica Mathews, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. It reinforces Iraqi suspicions that the US launched the war to get a hand on Iraqi oil, control the region, and wants to maintain a puppet government in Baghdad.

The total cost of the Iraq war has reached $125 billion to $140 billion, estimates Mr. Adams. Reconstruction boosts the total to as high as $175 billion. Permanent bases would keep the tab running for years to come.

Read the rest at the Christian Science Monitor

September 30, 2005:

On lookout for insurgents, Marines yearn for home

As the crimson sun rolled behind the Taraq an-Naja Mountains, a group of U.S. Marines scraped their shovels across the infertile, rocky soil of western Iraq, trying to set their mortar launchers deeper into the dust.

In the Euphrates River valley before them twinkled the white and yellow lights of Sada and Karabila -- key Iraqi towns near the border with Syria controlled by fighters loyal to insurgency leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Marines from the 1st Mobile Assault Platoon, Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment camped out Thursday on a moonless night in the desiccated expanse overlooking the towns, setting up mortar firing positions and keeping an eye for any insurgent movement inside the settlements.

As they set up their mortars, the Marines discarded the metal bindings of 81mm ammo cases, leaving the long metal strips on the ground like some strange petrified seaweed mysteriously beached onto the Iraqi desert. On the bottom of a dry riverbed, salt reflected the receding light. A lightning flash, an early sign of fall, lit up the horizon over Sada, and a thunderclap followed.

Then darkness enveloped the encampment, and all became smells and sounds.

A Marine laughed in the distance. Another one, closer, lit a cigarette, which glowed orange in the dark. Dogs barked in Sada, and a donkey screamed. A humvee smelled of diesel fuel. A muezzin started a solemn call for the evening prayer. Somewhere, a car sped down a road. From time to time, helicopters roared overhead. Marines whispered loudly over the racket of rotors.

Cool wind carried noises across the shadowy desert, and Marines listened and sniffed in the darkness.

"Night is different," said Gunnery Sgt. Derrick Link, 32, as he listened to the static on the humvee radio, a lifeline for his platoon to battalion commanders. "You rely on different senses in the night. Your hearing instead of your sight. Everything sounds a lot closer than it is."

Night is also a time to contemplate and reminisce. The Marines talked about home.

Navy medic Michael Larson, 30, talked about 19th century Russian writers ("I love Gogol!") and food.

"I used to make focaccia bread, with olives and Parmesan cheese," he said. "I'd make pasta Alfredo. I love to cook. Make the whole course.

"When I go home, it will be, like, my girlfriend, food and my daughter, these three, nothing else."

Pfc. Dale Fellows, 19, talked about his girlfriend, too. She was a year ahead of him in high school in upstate New York, and now she goes to Northeastern University in Boston. She is an intern at the Boston Globe.

Link talked about his 9-year-old daughter, Samantha, who started cheerleading classes this year.

Stephen Thomson, 30, talked about his dream to go to medical school to become a radiologist.

"They work in teams, and they really know their anatomy, and I'm very interested in anatomy and physiology," he explained.

At 9 p.m., desert wind kicked up dust and carried it across the encampment. The temperature dropped from the daytime's 95 degrees to 62 in a matter of minutes. Marines materialized out of the opaque darkness, stopping by Link's truck to chat, rest and smoke. Some moved on, disappearing in the blowing sand; others stayed to seek the comfort of companionship.

"They rarely attack in the dark," Lance Cpl. Jared Treadway, 22, consoled himself, his shoulder-mounted launcher leaning against Link's humvee.

Link disagreed.

"Last time we stayed overnight, last week, the first night we got hit pretty bad," he said, standing near his humvee, which was parked facing the lights of Sada.

But this time the troops were luckier. An orange trace of a lone mortar round arched out of Sada at about 5:30 a.m., injuring no one.

"Maybe they are just waiting it out; maybe they're feeling there's a big fight coming, they just don't know when," Link said. "That's what I would have done."

At 1 a.m., the Marines start digging foxholes next to their humvees.

Earlier in the evening, when their convoy crept through the desert, the Marines had watched the tracks that crisscrossed the desert: humvee tire tracks; small tracks, from gerbils or mice; and larger ones, from foxes or stray dogs. The ones to watch out for were human tracks -- possible signs that someone had laid a roadside bomb in the fine, ankle-deep dust.

But where they finally made camp, the dirt was packed hard and strewn with small rocks, making the wasteland look like the surface of the moon.

Next to the passenger door of his humvee, Link drew a rectangular shape on the ground with the tip of his shovel, and forcefully stabbed the ground. The shovel went in less than one inch.

"F -- ing not good," he muttered. He took off his Kevlar helmet and his body armor. "This ground is hard as a f -- ing rock. There's no f -- ing way."

But he continued to dig, as did the troops around him. For several minutes, the air filled with the sound of metal scraping against rock.

At one point, Thomson stepped away from the 3-inch-deep hole he had managed to gouge in the ground, contemplating his work.

"It's like digging a grave," he says. "I'll lay in my little grave, I'll put my sleeping bag on top of me, and I'll be warm. I've found out that the deeper you dig, the warmer it gets."

"Last time we were out," he continued, "the first day, I dug like a champion. The second day, I didn't dig deep enough, and I was cold."

He paused, then smiled.

"I talk about digging as though I'd been digging graves all my life," he said, shaking his head.

Soon, everyone except for the Marines pulling guard duty was lying in the foxholes they had managed to dig. It became so quiet that the ticking of Link's wristwatch filled the air.

Then there were steps.

A Marine carrying a backpack walked past Link's humvee, looking lost.

"I'm just freaking -- oh yeah," he said, remembering something, and walked away.

Link stretched out in his foxhole and fell asleep. Two hours later, the muezzin's call for prayer once again filled the dark predawn air.

"Wake up, wake up, prayer is better than sleep," the muezzin called in melodious Arabic.

The Marines' night in the desert was over.

Read the rest at the San Francisco Chronicle

September 30, 2006:

Pull troops out of Iraq: British officers

Senior British military officers have been pressing the UK government to withdraw British troops from Iraq and concentrate on what they now regard as a more worthwhile and winnable battleground in Afghanistan.

They believe there is a limit to what British soldiers can achieve in southern Iraq and that it is time the Iraqis took responsibility for their own security, defense sources say. Pressure from military chiefs for an early and significant cut in the 7,500 British troops in Iraq is also motivated by extreme pressure being placed on soldiers and those responsible for training them.

"What is more important, Afghanistan or Iraq?" a senior defense source asked on Thursday.

"There is a group within the Ministry of Defense [MoD] pushing hard to get troops out of Iraq to get more into Afghanistan," the source said.

Military chiefs have been losing patience with the slow progress made in building a new Iraqi national army and security services. Significantly, they now say the level of violence in the country will not be a factor determining when British troops should leave.

The debate has been raging between groups in the MoD and has involved the chiefs of staff as well as the permanent joint headquarters, defense sources say. Army chiefs have expressed concern about polls showing the decreasing popularity of the war and the impact on morale and recruitment.

Political arguments, including strong US pressure against British troop withdrawals, have won, at least for the moment. US generals in Iraq privately made it clear they were deeply unhappy about British talk of troop reductions.

The fierce debate at the highest military and political levels in the MoD is reflected in a passage of a leaked memo written by a staff officer at the Defense Academy, which is a think tank for the MoD.

It reads: "British armed forces are effectively held hostage in Iraq -- following the failure of the deal being attempted by COS [chief of staff] to extricate UK armed forces from Iraq on the basis of doing Afghanistan -- and we are now fighting (and arguably losing or potentially losing) on two fronts."

Read the rest at the Taipei Times

Security Summary: September 30, 2007

Above: An Iraqi police officer guards two men detained for trying to launch a Katusha rocket against Kirkuk airport today.

MOSUL - Eleven handcuffed and blindfolded bodies, all with gunshot wounds and showing signs of torture, were found dumped in one place Mosul, 390 km (240 miles) north of Baghdad, police said.

BAGHDAD - Five bodies were found in different areas of Baghdad in the past 24 hours, police said.

BAGHDAD - U.S. forces killed 20 insurgents on Saturday after an attack using a rocket-propelled grenade and small arms fire on a U.S. aircraft in an area about 30 km (20 miles) northwest of Baghdad, the U.S. military said.

MOSUL - Gunmen killed two policemen in eastern Mosul, police said.

BAGHDAD - Iraqi and U.S. special forces detained 16 suspected militants in operations across Iraq on Saturday, the U.S. military said.

BAGHDAD - One U.S. soldier was killed and another was wounded on Saturday when their unit was hit by a roadside bomb and came under small arms fire, the U.S. military said.

BAGHDAD - Police found three unidentified bodies with signs of torture in the town of al-Haswa, south of Baghdad.

NEAR BAGHDAD - Suspected al Qaeda militants attacked a farm, killing the owner and wounding three of his relatives south of Baghdad, police said.

BAGHDAD - Iraqi soldiers killed 40 militants during operations in three northern Iraqi provinces in the past 24 hours, a Defence Ministry statement said.

MOSUL - Gunmen killed two people in a market in Mosul, police said.

MOSUL - Two policemen were wounded when a roadside bomb exploded near their patrol in Mosul, police said.

HAWIJA - A roadside bomb exploded near a police patrol and wounded two policemen in the town of Hawija, 70 km (40 miles) southwest of Kirkuk, police said.

BAGHDAD - U.S. forces killed two suspected insurgents and detained 21 others on Saturday and Sunday during operations to disrupt al Qaeda networks in the cities of Samarra, Baghdad, Mosul and Tikrit, the U.S. military said.

MOSUL - A member of the Nineveh provincial council and his three guards were killed when gunmen sprayed their car with bullets in southeast Mosul police said.

BAGHDAD - U.S. forces detained 15 suspects believed to be members of Iraqi Special Groups, which the United States says are linked to Iran, during a combined operation in Baghdad, the U.S. military said.

BAGHDAD - Four bodies were found in different areas of Baghdad on Saturday, police said.

DIWANIYA - Police said they found the body of an Iraqi soldier shot in Diwaniya, 180 km (110 miles) south of Baghdad. The soldier was kidnapped on Saturday.

MOSUL - Police said gunmen killed two imams of mosques in separate incidents on Saturday in Mosul, bringing the total number of imams killed in the city on Saturday to three.

MOSUL - Gunmen killed two women and one man in a drive-by shooting on Saturday in Mosul, police said.

From Reuters/Alternet

Report: Tempo of Iran attack planning increasing; 'There is a desperate effort by Cheney et al. to bring military action to Iran as soon as possible'

Above: Aircraft from the Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force including a B-52 bomber conduct a fly by of the John C. Stennis, Kitty Hawk and Nimitz Carrier Strike Groups during 'Operation Valiant Shield' war games in August. Conducted off the coast of Guam, the massive exercises were reported to include training for an attack on Iran.

This summer, the White House, pushed by the office of Vice-President Dick Cheney, requested that the Joint Chiefs of Staff redraw long-standing plans for a possible attack on Iran, according to former officials and government consultants. The focus of the plans had been a broad bombing attack, with targets including Iran’s known and suspected nuclear facilities and other military and infrastructure sites. Now the emphasis is on “surgical” strikes on Revolutionary Guard Corps facilities in Tehran and elsewhere, which, the Administration claims, have been the source of attacks on Americans in Iraq. What had been presented primarily as a counter-proliferation mission has been reconceived as counterterrorism...

At a White House meeting with Cheney this summer, according to a former senior intelligence official, it was agreed that, if limited strikes on Iran were carried out, the Administration could fend off criticism by arguing that they were a defensive action to save soldiers in Iraq. If Democrats objected, the Administration could say, “Bill Clinton did the same thing; he conducted limited strikes in Afghanistan, the Sudan, and in Baghdad to protect American lives.” The former intelligence official added, “There is a desperate effort by Cheney et al. to bring military action to Iran as soon as possible. Meanwhile, the politicians are saying, ‘You can’t do it, because every Republican is going to be defeated, and we’re only one fact from going over the cliff in Iraq.’ But Cheney doesn’t give a rat’s ass about the Republican worries, and neither does the President.”...

“They’re moving everybody to the Iran desk,” one recently retired C.I.A. official said. “They’re dragging in a lot of analysts and ramping up everything. It’s just like the fall of 2002”—the months before the invasion of Iraq, when the Iraqi Operations Group became the most important in the agency. He added, “The guys now running the Iranian program have limited direct experience with Iran. In the event of an attack, how will the Iranians react? They will react, and the Administration has not thought it all the way through.”...

The revised bombing plan for a possible attack, with its tightened focus on counterterrorism, is gathering support among generals and admirals in the Pentagon. The strategy calls for the use of sea-launched cruise missiles and more precisely targeted ground attacks and bombing strikes, including plans to destroy the most important Revolutionary Guard training camps, supply depots, and command and control facilities.

“Cheney’s option is now for a fast in and out—for surgical strikes,” the former senior American intelligence official told me. The Joint Chiefs have turned to the Navy, he said, which had been chafing over its role in the Air Force-dominated air war in Iraq. “The Navy’s planes, ships, and cruise missiles are in place in the Gulf and operating daily. They’ve got everything they need—even AWACS are in place and the targets in Iran have been programmed. The Navy is flying FA-18 missions every day in the Gulf.” There are also plans to hit Iran’s anti-aircraft surface-to-air missile sites. “We’ve got to get a path in and a path out,” the former official said.

Read the rest at the New Yorker

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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

Security Summary: September 29, 2007

Above: Relatives gather at three coffins during a funeral today for the victims of an air strike in the Dora area of Baghdad when U.S. troops backed by helicopter gun ships raided an apartment building killing at list 10 civilians and wounding 12.

BAGHDAD - A mortar killed one civilian and wounded four people in the mainly Shi'ite Abu Dsheer neighbourhood in south Baghdad, police said.

BAGHDAD - A roadside bomb in New Baghdad, a district of southeast Baghdad, killed two civilians and wounded eight, police said.

BAGHDAD - A U.S. soldier was killed by small arms fire while conducting combat operations in southern Baghdad, the U.S. military said. Another soldier was killed by gunfire in Diyala province, north of the capital.

SAMARRA - U.S. forces killed five people in an air strike in Samarra, 100 km (60 miles) north of Baghdad, on Friday after they said soldiers came under fire from a building. The soldiers found rocket-propelled grenades, rifles, ammunition, and an improvised explosive device at the site.

BAGHDAD - U.S. forces killed one gunman and detained eight others on Saturday during operations across Iraq. The U.S. military said the dead man may have been linked to Abu Usama al-Tunisi, a prominent al Qaeda figure killed on Tuesday.

SAMARRA - The bodies of eight suspected militants with gunshot wounds were delivered by Iraqi special forces to the main hospital in Samarra, police said.

HAMDANIYA - A car bomb targeting a police patrol killed at least four policemen and wounded 16 civilians in Hamdaniya, 30 km (20 miles) east of the northern city of Mosul, police said.

BAGHDAD - The Iraqi army and gunmen clashed in Amin square in central Baghdad wounding four civilians, police said.

MOSUL - Gunmen shot the imam of a mosque outside his house in eastern Mosul, 390 km (240 miles) north of Baghdad, police said.

HAWIJA - Hawija police chief's assistant died from wounds after roadside bomb targeted his patrol in Hawija, 70 km (43 miles) southwest of Kirkuk city, police said.

BAGHDAD - U.S. military said air strike in Doura district of southern Baghdad on Thursday evening targeted men firing mortars. It estimated two to three people were killed or wounded. A senior health official in central Baghdad said the attack killed seven men and wounded six.

BAGHDAD - Five bodies were found in different districts of Baghdad on Friday, police said.

DIWANIYA - A body was found with gunshot wounds on Friday in southern Diwaniya, 180 km (112 miles) south of Baghdad, police said.

JURF AL-SAKHAR - Al Qaeda militants attacked Sunni Arab tribes working with U.S. forces on Friday in Jurf al-Sakhar, 85 km (53 miles) south of Baghdad, wounding six, police said.

NEAR HILLA - Gunmen shot a member of the disbanded Ba'ath party on Friday south of Hilla, 100 km (62 miles) south of Baghdad, police said.

HILLA - Gunmen killed a man in southern Hilla on Friday, police said.

JBELA - Policemen defused several bombs in hand-held torches after one detonated wounding four people in Jbela, 65 km (40 miles) south of Baghdad, police said.

MOSUL - A mortar bomb killed a local journalist on Friday in western Mosul, police said.

BAGHDAD - Iraqi and U.S. forces detained suspected al Qaeda in Iraq cell leader and destroyed a large weapons cache during operations on Wednesday and Friday in central Iraq. The cell leader was believed to be responsible for assassinations and engaging in firefights in the Baghdad area of Ghazaliya.

From Reuters/Alternet

Friday, September 28, 2007

Perspective: On this day in Iraq -- September 28th edition

September 28, 2006: U.S. Army soldiers, assigned to 1st Battalion, 66th Armored Regiment, patrol a road at sunset during a cordon and search operation in Sheik Hamid.

September 28, 2002:

Religious Leaders' Voices Rise on Iraq

The invasion of Afghanistan was swift, directed at likely perpetrators of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and bolstered by emotional support from most Americans.

U.S. religious leaders debated such issues as whether centuries-old "just war" principles applied to high-tech air assaults against military targets that might house noncombatants. But most agreed it was necessary to attack Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network and the Taliban government harboring it.

No such consensus exists for the planned next stage of President Bush's war on terrorism -- a military assault to destroy Iraq's weaponmaking capabilities and remove Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. And there has been more time for reflective thinking reminiscent of the debates preceding the Persian Gulf War, said Brian Grieves, director of peace and justice ministries for the Episcopal Church.

Religious leaders are divided over whether an attack against Iraq would meet the conditions for a just war, including the assurance that nonviolent means have been exhausted, that military action will be strictly defensive and that few innocents will die as a result.

Thus far, the religious community has tended to be critical of Bush's war rhetoric.

Several major U.S. religious organizations have written letters to the White House opposing the president's call for a preemptive military strike against Iraq, citing insufficient evidence of Iraq's involvement in the Sept. 11 attacks, concerns about the impact of renewed war on the Iraqi people and the potential for further destabilization of the Middle East.

But the president also has received support from leaders of the fastest-growing segment of religion in the United States -- evangelical Christianity.

"In this instance, the president has articulated a faith much like our own," said Richard Cizik, vice president for governmental affairs at the National Association of Evangelicals. That faith includes a stated belief in Jesus Christ and the existence of "evil" in the form of people like Hussein, Cizik said.

"This isn't preemption but another step in responding to the continuum of terrorism, of evildoers" in the world, said Cizik, whose association represents at least 10 million charismatics, Pentecostals and other evangelicals in 51 denominations.

Cizik stopped short of supporting unilateral action by the United States. Bush should continue a "good-faith effort" to obtain the support of Congress and the United Nations and "exhaust thoroughly" alternative means to military action, he said.

Richard Land, president and chief executive of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the 16 million-member Southern Baptist Convention, offered no such qualifier.

"There's no doubt in my mind Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction, is seeking more and, when he gets them, he will use them against our military forces, our embassies and against our allies," said Land, whose commission speaks for the denomination on public policy issues.

Land called religious leaders who oppose Bush's stance "well-intentioned and naive" and said he supports whatever military means are necessary -- unilateral or otherwise -- to overthrow the Iraqi regime.

Why invade now? "My educated surmisal is that the president and intelligence community believe Saddam is much closer than we know he is to getting these weapons," Land said. "Time is on Saddam's side, not ours. I'd rather be safe than sorry."

Opponents of an invasion have been more vocal. Opposition began in earnest last month, when the World Council of Churches' central committee, meeting in Geneva, called on the United States "to desist from any military threats against Iraq" and urged U.S. allies "to resist pressure to join in preemptive military strikes against a sovereign state under the pretext of the 'war on terrorism.' "

On Aug. 30, the public policy office of the 8.3 million-member United Methodist Church issued a statement opposing military action as "reckless" and saying that "United Methodists have a particular duty to speak out against an unprovoked attack [because] President Bush and Vice President Cheney are members of our denomination."

On Sept. 12, the day following the anniversary of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, the ecumenical Churches for Middle East Peace faxed a letter to Bush, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, national security adviser Condoleezaa Rice and other members of the White House staff.

Read the rest at the Washington Post

September 28, 2003:

In Iraq, private contractors lighten load on U.S. troops

A noisy column of green camouflage heralds the coming of the new Iraqi Army's first recruits. The would-be soldiers -- young and middle aged, Kurdish, Arab and Turkoman -- march in formation, launch ambushes, fire their weapons and take instruction on the ethics of being good soldiers.

The United States occupation authority, proudly displaying the battalion-size set of recruits for the international media earlier this month, hopes they will eventually grow into a pro-American military that will defend the country from foreign enemies and prevent domestic strife.

But to train them in these critical tasks, the United States isn't turning to its own armed forces but to a group of gray-suited specialists under contract from the Vinnell Corp., a subsidiary of American defense giant Northrop Grumman. Vinnell is one of more than a dozen private military companies, often called PMCs, hired by the Pentagon to augment U.S. forces in Iraq in ways that have occasionally raised the eyebrows of real soldiers and occupation officials.

"The Iraqi army is such an essential component for the future of Iraq in terms of avoiding civil war," said Rex Wempen, a Baghdad-based security consultant and former Special Forces operative. "It shows how embedded the PMCs are in the thinking of the Department of Defense that they would use them to train that army."

At a time when the overstretched U.S. military is struggling to convince other nations to send troops to help secure Iraq, the private military contractors can relieve some of the pressure on American forces.

"If you're going to keep the number of troops down, this is the way to do it," said Wempen. "The expense is the same or more. But politically it's much less expensive."

Staffed by ex-military personnel, the private firms are playing an increasingly visible role in Iraq.

Armed employees of Custer Battles, a Fairfax, Va., firm, guard Baghdad airport, manning the type of checkpoints often operated by American soldiers.

Erinys, a British company with offices in the Middle East and South Africa, guards the oil fields.

Global Risk, a British firm that offers "risk management," has the contract to provide armed protection for the Coalition Provisional Authority, the U.S.-led occupation power.

DynCorp of Reston, Va., has been hired to help train Iraq's police.

Much of the work conducted by the contractors is secret. Western security officials in Iraq say the companies aren't yet going out on combat operations as they do in Colombia and other countries. Mostly they safeguard sites, but occasionally they are needed for a specific task -- say, quietly snatching a suspected loyalist to Saddam Hussein.

"The CIA has recruited ex-military people to do operations in Iraq," said an Iraq-based former U.S. military official who requested anonymity. "These people have security clearances."

Coalition and U.S. military officials say the contractors have the flexibility to do some things quickly that armed forces simply can't.

"They could be got here quickly," said British Brig. Jonathon Riley. "The U.S. or Britain didn't have to deploy another combat brigade to take this task."

Contractors also can cast a wider net in hiring, helping to internationalize the forces in Iraq even as U.S. attempts to attract more foreign troops stall.

"We're trying to get more international participation here and the contractors can hire internationally," said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Johnny Monds, one of the coalition soldiers in Kirkush.

Employees of Erniys make $88,000 a year, plus benefits -- triple what most soldiers make. A bodyguard from a company like Pilgrims or Securicor can cost as much as $500 a day.

Private contractors say their services nevertheless often save money. "The cost of a soldier or officer is very high in training, retirement, medical, education of dependents, etc.," said an official of a Washington, D.C.-area military contractor.

Though contractors don't have to deal with Army red tape, they have their own complications to unravel. Vinnell, for example, has subcontracted most of the Kirkush training to MPRI, an Alexandria, Va., firm that helped train the Croatian and Bosnian armies.

Vinnell's compound in Saudi Arabia, where it has worked for a long time, was bombed May 13 and nine of its employees were killed in a suspected al Qaida attack. "They had a very difficult time getting people to work here for them [after that]," said an MPRI employee in Iraq.

Problems at the Kirkush facility, a sprawling campus of brick buildings near the Iranian border, began as soon as trainers and recruits arrived in the summer. The food initially was so bad that many of the trainers threatened to quit, an official at Kirkush wrote in an e-mail correspondence. "One contractor was discovered to have been using an old kerosene tanker to transport water in, and about 50 people got sick," he wrote.

Many coalition soldiers on the ground are squeamish about the private contractors and say they weren't involved in the decision to contract out duties such as training soldiers. They hope the contractors are a temporary fix, and that eventually Iraqis themselves -- including former members of Saddam's Baath Party now barred from joining the military -- will take up the duty.

"This is a very touchy issue," said a high-level coalition military official who opposes expanded use of private soldiers in Iraq. "There's a lot of pressure to use these contractors. Some oppose it. Some support it."

Some soldiers said privately that the soldiers-for-hire walk around Iraq with their weapons in full view as if they belong to a coalition army. They worry that the private-sector soldiers might not be constricted by the same rules of engagement and that any rogues among them who kill or hurt Iraqis could bring reprisals on all foreign forces.

Under current rules of engagement, many U.S. soldiers in volatile regions can open fire on any civilian brandishing a weapon. A coalition military official in Baghdad asked, "What are the rules of engagement [for the private companies]? Are they civilians or are they military? I don't know who they are and I don't want to go anywhere near them.''

The Coalition Provisional Authority did not respond to several formal requests for information regarding private military activities in Iraq. Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, responding to a question about them at a press conference several weeks ago, said he did not know of any plans to use contractors to perform security functions for the military.

On the ground, however, dozens of private soldiers -- many of them well-trained former U.S. or British Special Forces -- are operating in Iraq.

Richard Galustian of Pilgrims, a contractor that provides security for many Western media outlets, said PMCs must register with the Ministry of Interior as well as the coalition authority. He described one incident in which his firms' security officials opened fire on a group of suspected bandits along the road from Baghdad to the Jordanian border. "Certainly, at least one or two people were hit," he said.

According to one former Special Forces operative now in Baghdad, military contractors guarding ministries on behalf of the occupation authorities have killed Iraqis seen as trying to loot or attack the buildings.

"It's Iraq," he said. "You're accountable to nobody. But I guess ultimately you're accountable to the U.S. military for what happens."

At the Kirkush training facility, the contractors expressed enthusiasm at the prospect of helping, not killing, Iraqis. Almost all the staff there are former U.S. military with security clearances.

"All of us came here with feelings of altruism that go way beyond the pay," one of the trainers under the Vinnell contract said in an email. "We have here the best of the best when it comes to what we do. Many of us have been doing this secret stuff for years and know each other from other parts of the world."

One even complained that the coalition forces were trying to make it appear as if they and not the contractors were training the new Iraqi recruits. "[They] worked very hard to make it look like a coalition operation," said the official, an employee of one of the contractors working at Kirkush. "Well, it truly isn't. It's all civilians like me."

In Latin America, where the United States has been quietly waging a war against drug lords and anti-government guerrillas for years, the Pentagon has contracted many military duties to private armies for hire -- including combat operations. Many coalition officials hope limits are placed on the use of such contractors in Iraq.

"I believe there is much discussion about the use of contractors who are accountable in the right way for some specific functions to do with peacekeeping," said Riley, the British general. "But I think one has to be very careful about where and when contractors are applied. There are very specific circumstances in which they are useful."

Read the rest at the Pittsburgh Post Gazette

September 28, 2004:

General downplays Iraq violence

The head of U.S. Central Command has given an upbeat assessment of the situation in Iraq, despite the deaths of 250 Iraqis and 29 U.S. military personnel in the last week.

General John Abizaid said Tuesday that progress on the ground belies the negative images of the war effort. He also asserted the new Iraqi military structure can accommodate some people who served during the Saddam Hussein era.

Comparing the Afghan experience to Iraq, Abizaid said the people are eager for the upcoming transitional national assembly elections in January.

"I do think there is a general lack of understanding in the United States as to how it's going," said Abizaid, interviewed by Baghdad Bureau Chief Jane Arraf at the 1st Infantry Division's Camp Warhorse near Baquba.

That the images on the screen are almost always negative images as opposed to the significant and positive steps that are taken.

"For example, today we met with the governor of Diyala province here and we met with the police chief of the province. Violence is down. We're moving forward economically. People are very optimistic about being able to conduct elections ... they're optimistic about the future."

Read the rest at CNN

Pentagon may shorten tours of duty in Iraq

The US army is considering shortening tours of duty for its soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq as a way of persuading them to re-enlist, it was reported yesterday.
As the insurgency in Iraq intensifies, military authorities are finding it difficult to recruit troops or to persuade soldiers to extend their service.

The shortage is acute among military reserves and the National Guard, the so-called weekend warriors, who between them account for about half the US forces in Iraq. Some military officials say the Pentagon will be confronted with a recruitment crisis unless combat tours are shortened. But with US forces overstretched, it is unclear how that can be achieved.

"All the army leadership agrees that 12 months is too long," Lieutenant General Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, told the New York Times. "We need to move to a shorter rotational base."

Read the rest at the Guardian

September 28, 2005:

The new pornography of war is the most horror-filled website I have ever seen; and if you are reading this at breakfast, or anywhere near a child, you should stop right now. It is a site for trophy pictures, originally a place where men could trade pornographic pictures of women they knew. But in wartime the definition of trophy changes, so when you look at the forum now you are likely to see something such as this:

A burnt and crumpled Arab face rests in a blue kitchen bowl. It doesn't look as if the back of the head is there, but it's impossible to be sure because everything behind the eyes is hidden in a pool of blood and everything below the jaw is missing. Underneath the picture are two discreet text ads for "Free amateur teen pictures" and "Mother and Daughter omfg! They are whores lol!"

There are several hundred such pictures on the site, all apparently submitted by American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. The deal offered by the site's owner, Chris Wilson, is that serving soldiers get free access if they can prove they are abroad. He did this from a patriotic impulse: it was difficult for soldiers to make credit card payments from Afghanistan. So he decided to accept evidence of life abroad instead. This doesn't have to be a picture of a mutilated corpse, but those will do nicely. The site now has more than 160,000 members.

The scandal at Abu Ghraib showed that modern armies are full of people with digital cameras who will document everything they see, no matter how shaming it might be in the outside world. Some of these pictures are far worse than anything that came out of the prison but they show the same tangle of lust for flesh, power and killing.

There's some dispute about whether all of the pictures are real but it seems beyond doubt that most of the posters claiming to be soldiers actually are, not least because the American Army tries to stop its soldiers accessing the site and posting captions like this: "Iraqi driver tried to run a checkpoint ... this is an Iraqi driver and passenger that tried to run a checkpoint during the first part of OIF [Operation Iraqi Freedom]. The bad thing about shooting them is that we have to clean it up. The car was shot at with 5.56mm and 7.62 mm rounds. The 7.62 did his head" - but the viewer must take on trust that the head existed.

The soldier, signing himself "vagetarian", who posted the picture comments: "These are things that we have to do. Some of us dont like it but it must be done to protect ourselfs and our way of life. These are here to show we dont take anything lightly."

News of the site has been circulating outside the army for about a month, since Helena Cobban, a Quaker blogger and journalist, found a reference to it in an Italian report. "It underlines the deeply exploitative nature of most pornography," she says.

Wilson, the owner of the site, is proud of displaying the photographs. He popped up himself in the discussions on Cobban's blog to say: "I think everyone should see them. This is a side of the war that is shown from the soldiers THEMSELVES. Where else can you go see that?"

He is proud of free expression as a mark of civilisation (though, for legal reasons, the site is hosted in the Netherlands, and not Florida where he lives). At the head of each column of pictures is an uplifting paragraph denouncing censorship, which starts: "America isn't easy. America is advanced citizenship."

"It is", says Cobban, "like finding Mistah Kurtz, sitting in the middle of the black jungle, surrounded by heads on stakes"

Read the rest at the Guardian

September 28, 2006:

Land says Baptists still support Bush, Iraq war

The head of public policy for the Southern Baptist Convention says an overwhelming majority of Baptists still support President Bush and his handling of the Iraq war.

In an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday, Richard Land said that exit polls showed about 84 percent of Southern Baptists voted for Bush in 2004. The Iraq war hasn't significantly eroded that support, he said, despite recent polls that show Republicans losing ground with moderate evangelicals.

“I'm not ready to throw in the towel on Iraq yet,” said Land, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, the Southern Baptist Convention's public policy arm.
“It would be foolish to say anybody's pleased,” Land said. “I don't think the president's pleased with the progress of the war. Clearly, he would have wished things would have gone better. So do I.”

But, Land added: “I still think Iraq is one of the more noble things we've done. We went there to try to restore freedom and to bring freedom to the Middle East.”

Read the rest at the San Diego Tribune