November 02, 2007

Secret source of phony Iraq intel outed

From the AP:

WASHINGTON - The Iraqi defector code-named "Curveball," whose false tales of biological weapons labs bolstered the U.S. case for war, wasn't the prominent chemical engineer he claimed to be and invented stories to help his case for asylum in Germany, a new report says.

"Curveball" is Rafid Ahmed Alwan, who did study chemical engineering but made poor grades and never managed a biological weapons facility, according to CBS' "60 Minutes," which will broadcast on Sunday a report describing how Alwan became a secret intelligence source.

Although known publicly only by his code name, Curveball has been repeatedly discredited by investigations of the United States' faulty prewar intelligence and became an embarrassment to U.S. spy agencies. A presidential intelligence commission found that Curveball, who mostly told his stories to German intelligence officials who passed them on to the U.S., was a fabricator and an alcoholic.

"60 Minutes" reports that Alwan arrived at a German refugee center in 1999 and began spinning his tales of a facility making mobile biological weapons in an effort to gain asylum. The ploy apparently achieved his goal, and Alwan is assumed to be living in Germany today under an assumed name.

Although German intelligence officials warned the CIA that Curveball's claims of mobile bioweapons labs were unreliable, and U.N. inspectors determined before the war began in 2003 that parts of his story were false, the Bush administration continued to promote the existence of such mobile labs for months after the invasion, until it was widely accepted that they could not be found.

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August 27, 2007

So much for clapping harder

Troops Cheer Call For Iraq Withdrawal

A call by Puerto Rico's governor for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq earned a standing ovation from a conference of more than 4,000 National Guardsmen.

Gov. Anibal Acevedo Vila said Saturday that the U.S. administration has "no new strategy and no signs of success" and that prolonging the war would needlessly put guardsmen in harm's way.

"The war in Iraq has fractured the political will of the United States and the world," he said at the opening of the 129th National Guard Association general conference. "Clearly, a new war strategy is required and urgently."

Acevedo said sending more troops to Iraq would be a costly blunder.

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May 22, 2007

Intelligence community predicted civil war in Iraq

From Walter Pincus at the Washington Post:

Assessments Made in 2003 Foretold Situation in Iraq
Intelligence Studies List Internal Violence, Terrorist Activity

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 20, 2007; Page A06

Two intelligence assessments from January 2003 predicted that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and subsequent U.S. occupation of Iraq could lead to internal violence and provide a boost to Islamic extremists and terrorists in the region, according to congressional sources and former intelligence officials familiar with the prewar studies.

The two assessments, titled "Principal Challenges in Post-Saddam Iraq" and "Regional Consequences of Regime Change in Iraq," were produced by the National Intelligence Council (NIC) and will be a major part of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence's long-awaited Phase II report on prewar intelligence assessments about Iraq. The assessments were delivered to the White House and to congressional intelligence committees before the war started.

The committee chairman, Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), and the vice chairman, Sen. Christopher S. Bond (R-Mo.), announced earlier this month that the panel had asked Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell to declassify the report for public release. Congressional sources said the two NIC assessments are to be declassified and would be part of a portion of the Phase II report that could be released within the next week.

The assessment on post-Hussein Iraq included judgments that while Iraq was unlikely to split apart, there was a significant chance that domestic groups would fight each other and that ex-regime military elements could merge with terrorist groups to battle any new government. It even talks of guerrilla warfare, according to congressional sources and former intelligence officials.

The second NIC assessment discussed "political Islam being boosted and the war being exploited by terrorists and extremists elsewhere in the region," one former senior analyst said. It also suggested that fear of U.S. military dominance and occupation of a Middle East country -- one sacred to Islam -- would attract foreign Islamic fighters to the area.

The NIC assessments paint "a very sobering and, as it has turned out, mostly accurate picture of the aftermath of the invasion," according to a former senior intelligence officer familiar with the studies. He sought anonymity because he is not authorized to speak about still-classified assessments.

The former senior official said that after the NIC papers were distributed to senior government officials, he was told by one CIA briefer that a senior Defense Department official had said they were "too negative" and that the papers "did not see the possibilities" the removal of Hussein would present.

A member of the Senate committee, without disclosing the contents of the studies, said recently that the release will raise more questions about the Bush administration's lack of preparation for the war's aftermath.

In his book, "At the Center of the Storm," former CIA director George J. Tenet discussed the NIC assessments as well as prewar intelligence analyses his own agency prepared on the same issues. Some of the language in the CIA reports that Tenet describes are similar to judgments in the NIC assessments because the agency is a major contributor to such papers, according to present and former intelligence analysts.

While Tenet admits that the CIA expected Shiites in southern Iraq, "long oppressed by Saddam, to open their arms to anyone who removed him," he said agency analysts were "not among those who confidently expected coalition forces to be greeted as liberators."

Tenet writes that the initial good feeling among most Iraqis that Hussein was out of power "would last for only a short time before old rivalries and ancient ethnic tensions resurfaced." The former intelligence analyst said such views also reflected the views in the NIC paper on post-Hussein Iraq.

The NIC assessments also projected the view that a long-term Western military occupation would be widely unacceptable, particularly to the Iraqi military. It also said Iraqis would wait and see whether the new governing authority, whether foreign or Iraqi, would provide security and basic services such as water and electricity.

Tenet wrote that the NIC paper on Iraq said that "Iraqi political culture is so imbued with norms alien to the democratic experience... that it may resist the most vigorous and prolonged democratic treatments."

The senior intelligence official said that the prewar analysis of challenges in post-Hussein Iraq contained little in the way of classified information since it was an assessment of future situations and was almost all analysis. The assessment of regional consequences of regime change in Iraq would require deletions since it contains "comments on the policies and perspectives of some friendly governments."

The committee focused on the two NIC assessments -- rather than analyses by the CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency or the State Department -- because they were written under the supervision of national intelligence officers and coordinated with all intelligence agencies. Such papers are similar to more formal National Intelligence Estimates except they are not finalized and approved by the National Foreign Intelligence Board, made up of the heads of the agencies.

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March 30, 2007

"You and I could walk through those neighborhoods today"

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August 21, 2006

Well, that settles it then

Let's go to the video tape.

QUESTION: What did Iraqi have to do with that?

BUSH: What did Iraq have to do with what?

QUESTION: The attacks upon the World Trade Center.

BUSH: Nothing.

Video via Crooks and Liars.

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July 06, 2006

Update on Iraq

From Robert Dreyfuss at

Ironically, in response to Maliki’s less-than-forthcoming initiative, what appears to be a majority bloc of the Iraqi resistance made an offer of their own. The resistance, they said, would halt the fighting, stopping all attacks on U.S. occupation forces and the Iraqi government, in exchange for a U.S. pledge to leave Iraq in two years. For the United States, fighting a war-without-end in Iraq, that ought to have been seen as a good deal. But it was rejected out of hand.

The offer by the resistance, a ceasefire in exchange for an end to the occupation in 2008, also got little U.S. media attention. And, although I may have missed it, not a single U.S. political leader from the left nor those who are calling for a U.S. withdrawal—not Russ Feingold, not John Kerry, not Jack Murtha—took note of the offer. None had the guts to say to Bush: we ought to accept this deal. No editorial writer at the New York Times took up his pen to support it. No thinktanker at the Brookings Institution or the Center for American Progress had the courage to say: “What the Iraqi resistance is saying is a good idea.”

Meanwhile, back in Iraq, Maliki made it clear exactly what “conditional amnesty” means. While offering to talk to Sunni tribal elders and to minor elements of the resistance that he believes he can co-opt, the government of Iraq issued “Wanted” notices and rewards for 41 resistance leaders. It was a bitter irony. The list of 41 was a Who’s Who of the Iraqi resistance; in other words, the regime was offering rewards of up to $10 million for the capture or killing of precisely the people it ought to be negotiating a truce with! Among them were Raghad Hussein, the daughter of Saddam, who is living in Jordan; Saddam’s wife, Sajida Hussein, who lives in Qatar; Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, a former top Iraqi official who is widely believed to be a leader of the underground; and at least a dozen other top former Baathists, Iraqi military and intelligence officials, and others. The issuance of the list underscored the fact that neither Khalilzad nor Maliki are seeking a deal with the real Iraqi resistance, merely attempting to corral a few more stray Sunni leaders into the regime.

The list of 41 received an immediate rebuke from Jordan. Since 2003, Raghad Hussein has lived in Jordan under the protection of the government of Jordan and King Abdullah. Asked whether Jordan would turn her over to the Iraqi government, Amman slapped Baghdad in the face. A spokesman for the king of Jordan said bluntly: “She is the guest of the Hashemite royal family.”

The Jordanians added that, in their opinion, Raghad is not violating the terms of her asylum agreement, according to which she is supposed to refrain from political activity. Of course, it is widely believed that she, along with many other top Iraqi officials in Jordan, are helping to direct, support and finance the Iraqi resistance. Although the Jordanian government prefers to maintain the polite fiction that Iraq’s resistance has no base in Jordan, it does. And Jordan’s rebuff of Iraq means that even this erstwhile American ally is prepared to challenge the U.S.-Iraqi regime of quislings in Baghdad.

Jordan’s stance makes it even clearer that no end to the fighting can occur until and unless an international conference is convened to involve Iraq’s neighbors (including Iran), the Arab League, and the United Nations (including Russia and China) in helping to stabilize Iraq politically. Part One of ending the war is a deal with the resistance, and Part Two is the internationalization of the peace. So far, there is not the slightest hope that the Bush administration is prepared to accept either. “We will stay. We will fight. And we will prevail,” Bush told troops at Fort Bragg on Sunday.

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June 28, 2006

Take the offer

If the US really wants to separate the insurgents from the terrorists, here is the only plausible means to do so:

From the AP:

Eleven Sunni insurgent groups have offered an immediate halt to all attacks — including those on American troops — if the United States agrees to withdraw foreign forces from Iraq in two years, insurgent and government officials told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Withdrawal is the centerpiece of a set of demands from the groups, which operate north of Baghdad in the heavily Sunni Arab provinces of Salahuddin and Diyala. Although much of the fighting has been to the west, those provinces are increasingly violent and attacks there have crippled oil and commerce routes.

The groups who've made contact have largely shunned attacks on Iraqi civilians, focusing instead on the U.S.-led coalition forces. Their offer coincides with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's decision to reach out to the Sunni insurgency with a reconciliation plan that includes an amnesty for fighters.

The Islamic Army in Iraq, Muhammad Army and the Mujahedeen Shura Council — the umbrella group that covers eight militant groups including al-Qaida in Iraq — were not party to any offers to the government....

In addition to the withdrawal timetable, the Iraqi insurgents have demanded:

• An end to U.S. and Iraqi military operations against insurgent forces.

• Compensation for Iraqis killed by U.S. and government forces and reimbursement for property damage.

• An end to the ban on army officers from Saddam's regime in the Iraqi military.

• An end to the government ban on former members of the Baath Party — which ruled the country under Saddam.

• The release of insurgent detainees.

The 1920 Revolution Brigades, the umbrella for seven other groups, was established in the so-called Sunni Triangle north and west of Baghdad shortly after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Its name refers to Iraq's historical fight against British colonialism.

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March 04, 2006

They picked this guy to run the World Bank?

For some reason I find this excerpt from a speech Paul Wolfowitz gave in May of 2001 highly amusing. On a related note, I'm also thinking of renaming my "Rebuilding Iraq" category to "Bad News from Baghdad":

Not long ago I spoke to the American Turkish Council and I took a bold risk, reciting an old Turkish saying in Turkish, a feat that I won't attempt for you today. I'll do it in English. The saying goes, "bad news comes back, even from Baghdad." Ten years after the Gulf War we're still getting bad news from Baghdad, from the same tyrannical regime. This regime which has meant bad news for so many for so long poses one of today's most pressing obstacles to peace. It has become clear that there is no cost-free or risk-free option in dealing with that regime.

We must see Saddam without illusion if we are to know how to deal with the dangers that he creates. We cannot appease him. His appetites cannot be satisfied. There will be no peace in the region and no safety for our friends there--Arabs or Israelis, Kurds or Turkamons--as long as he remains in power. ...

As Secretary of State Powell has said, "Saddam Hussein is sitting on a failed regime that is not going to be around in a few years' time. The world," Secretary Powell said, "is going to leave him behind and his regime behind as the world marches to new drummers, drummers of democracy and of free enterprise." And let me add to that, it is our obligation to help this forward march in every way that we can. ...

Today the tyrannical regime in Baghdad is the root cause of the most immediate dangers that we face in the Persian Gulf. Hope for Iraq and hope for peace in the region rests on the liberation of that country from the tyranny of Saddam's regime. .... Again, to quote our Secretary of State, "We believe a change in the regime in Iraq would be in the interests of all concerned."

All concerned? Think he meant Al Qaeda, Syria, and Iran? It's clear now that it's in all of their interests for Iraq to remain unstable.

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February 10, 2006

Flawed intelligence or flawed policy?

Paul Pillar, National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia from 2000 to 2005 at the CIA, speaks out:

"Official intelligence on Iraqi weapons programs was flawed but even with its flaws, it was not what led to the war," Pillar said in an article written for the March/April issue of Foreign Affairs and posted on the magazine's Web site on Friday.

"If the entire body of official intelligence analysis on Iraq had a policy implication, it was to avoid war -- or, if war was going to be launched, to prepare for a messy aftermath," he said.

Pillar was not immediately available for comment. A CIA spokesman said Pillar was expressing his own personal point of view and not the official views of the spy agency.

The CIA and other agencies that make up the U.S. intelligence community have been widely criticized for prewar Iraq intelligence including the claim that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, which was a main justification for the war. No such weapons have been found.

The full article by Pillar is worth the read:

The most serious problem with U.S. intelligence today is that its relationship with the policymaking process is broken and badly needs repair. In the wake of the Iraq war, it has become clear that official intelligence analysis was not relied on in making even the most significant national security decisions, that intelligence was misused publicly to justify decisions already made, that damaging ill will developed between policymakers and intelligence officers, and that the intelligence community's own work was politicized. As the national intelligence officer responsible for the Middle East from 2000 to 2005, I witnessed all of these disturbing developments.

Public discussion of prewar intelligence on Iraq has focused on the errors made in assessing Saddam Hussein's unconventional weapons programs. A commission chaired by Judge Laurence Silberman and former Senator Charles Robb usefully documented the intelligence community's mistakes in a solid and comprehensive report released in March 2005. Corrections were indeed in order, and the intelligence community has begun to make them.

At the same time, an acrimonious and highly partisan debate broke out over whether the Bush administration manipulated and misused intelligence in making its case for war. The administration defended itself by pointing out that it was not alone in its view that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and active weapons programs, however mistaken that view may have been.

In this regard, the Bush administration was quite right: its perception of Saddam's weapons capacities was shared by the Clinton administration, congressional Democrats, and most other Western governments and intelligence services. But in making this defense, the White House also inadvertently pointed out the real problem: intelligence on Iraqi weapons programs did not drive its decision to go to war. A view broadly held in the United States and even more so overseas was that deterrence of Iraq was working, that Saddam was being kept "in his box," and that the best way to deal with the weapons problem was through an aggressive inspections program to supplement the sanctions already in place. That the administration arrived at so different a policy solution indicates that its decision to topple Saddam was driven by other factors -- namely, the desire to shake up the sclerotic power structures of the Middle East and hasten the spread of more liberal politics and economics in the region.

If the entire body of official intelligence analysis on Iraq had a policy implication, it was to avoid war -- or, if war was going to be launched, to prepare for a messy aftermath. What is most remarkable about prewar U.S. intelligence on Iraq is not that it got things wrong and thereby misled policymakers; it is that it played so small a role in one of the most important U.S. policy decisions in recent decades.

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February 09, 2006

Why politics and religion don't mix

Cartoon controversies aside, Riverbend sums up the situation in Iraq:

At the end of the day, people who follow these figures tell themselves that even if the current leader isn’t up to par, the goal and message remain the same- religion, God’s word as law. When living in the midst of a war-torn country with a situation that is deteriorating and death around every corner, you turn to God because Iyad Allawi couldn’t get you electricity and security- he certainly isn’t going to get you into heaven should you come face to face with a car bomb.

The trouble with having a religious party in power in a country as diverse as Iraq is that you automatically alienate everyone not of that particular sect or religion. Religion is personal- it is something you are virtually born into… it belongs to the heart, the mind, the spirit- and while it is welcome in day to day dealings, it shouldn’t be politicized.

Theocracies (and we seem to be standing on the verge of an Iranian influenced one), grow stronger with time because you cannot argue religion. Politicians are no longer politicians- they are Ayatollahs- they become modern-day envoys of God, to be worshipped, not simply respected. You cannot challenge them because for their followers, that is a challenge to a belief- not a person or a political party.

You go from being a critic or ‘opposition’ to simply being a heathen when you argue religious parties.

Americans write to me wondering, “But where are the educated Iraqis? Why didn’t they vote for secular parties?” The educated Iraqis have been systematically silenced since 2003. They’ve been pressured and bullied outside of the country. They’ve been assassinated, detained, tortured and abducted. Many of them have lost faith in the possibility of a secular Iraq.

Then again… who is to say that many of the people who voted for religious parties aren’t educated? I know some perfectly educated Iraqis who take criticism towards parties like Da’awa and SCIRI as a personal affront. This is because these parties are so cloaked and cocooned within their religious identity, that it is almost taken as an attack against Shia in general when one criticizes them. It’s the same thing for many Sunnis when a political Sunni party comes under criticism.

That’s the danger of mixing politics and religion- it becomes personal.

I try not to dwell on the results too much- the fact that Shia religious fundamentalists are currently in power- because when I do, I’m filled with this sort of chill that leaves in its wake a feeling of quiet terror. It’s like when the electricity goes out suddenly and you’re plunged into a deep, quiet, almost tangible darkness- you try not to focus too intently on the subtle noises and movements around you because the unseen possibilities will drive you mad.

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February 01, 2006

From murdered to savior of democracy?

Call me skeptical of Al Sadr, who I still think assassinated Mohammed Baqir Al Hakim. Regardless, it seems clear that he is now the leading political force in Iraq, and he wants Americans troops out - or he will take up arms against them:

The Sadrist lawmakers will have about 30 of the Shiite coalition's 128 seats in the new Iraqi parliament, a number equal to the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), generally thought to be the most powerful Shiite party.

But a splinter Shiite group, known as the Risalyoon, or Messengers, took two additional seats, and is expected to ally with the Sadrists in coming days.

Already Sadr has pushed the Shiite coalition and other Iraqi politicians to take a more intransigent stance on key issues. Agreement to his 14-point code of honor was his precondition to join the Shiite slate. The code demands a short-term timetable for US withdrawal, recognizes the right of armed resistance should it stay, and rejects ties with Israel.

Along with his fellow Shiites, some 200 Iraqi politicians signed on to the document. This support that Sadr has attracted could erode the traditional alliance between other Shiite politicians and the US - a relationship that has helped legitimize the continued American presence in Iraq.

You could look at this as a good thing. Less risk of civil war, and fewer soldiers coming home in flag draped coffins. On the other hand, it's not exactly a beacon for liberty and freedom in the world:

"He will be very extreme, a real die-hard fundamentalist in terms of religion and state issues, and the US occupation, but at the same time when it comes to making some concessions to the Sunnis he can be a moderating force," says Amatzia Baram, an Iraq expert at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington....

Since ending his armed struggle, Sadr, whose critics say he is simply riding his late father's coattails, has kept a low profile while other Shiite factions compete for control of prestigious government posts....

"The health ministry serves half a million people a day. The transportation ministry serves 200,000 to 300,000 people," says Mr. Arraji. "But what does the foreign or interior ministry do for poor Iraqis? These ministries are under the control of the occupation; we have no use for them."

...Baram, the Iraq expert in Washington, calls the Sadrists' approach brilliant grassroots politicking, and warns that four years down the road they're likely to have doubled their strength in parliament.

"In all these ministries they are planting their people on the grassroots social level," says Baram. "They'll control huge government budgets and when they spend this money they'll get all the credit, and it will be very difficult to uproot them later on."

For now, Sadr and his legions are pleased with their piece of the pie, but they clearly have loftier ambitions. "We are like Hamas," says Mr. Rubaie, the Sadrists political tactician. "We will bear arms and will not compromise our right to resistance, but we also help the people and win elections."

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January 22, 2006

Only the best for our troops

From the AP:

Halliburton, the company formerly headed by Vice President Dick Cheney, disputes the allegations about water problems at Camp Junction City, in Ramadi, even though they were made by its own employees and documented in company e-mails.

"We exposed a base camp population (military and civilian) to a water source that was not treated," said a July 15, 2005, memo written by William Granger, the official for Halliburton's KBR subsidiary who was in charge of water quality in Iraq and Kuwait.

"The level of contamination was roughly 2x the normal contamination of untreated water from the Euphrates River," Granger wrote in one of several documents. The Associated Press obtained the documents from Senate Democrats who are holding a public inquiry into the allegations Monday.

Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., who will chair the session, held a number of similar inquiries last year on contracting abuses in Iraq. He said Democrats were acting on their own because they had not been able to persuade Republican committee chairmen to investigate.

The company's former water treatment expert at Camp Junction City said that he discovered the problem last March, a statement confirmed by his e-mail the day after he tested the water.

While bottled water was available for drinking, the contaminated water was used for virtually everything else, including handwashing, laundry, bathing and making coffee, said water expert Ben Carter of Cedar City, Utah.

Another former Halliburton employee who worked at the base, Ken May of Louisville, said there were numerous instances of diarrhea and stomach cramps — problems he also suffered.

It gets worse:

The first memo on the problem — written by Carter to Halliburton officials on March 24, 2005 — was an "incident report" from tests Carter performed the previous day.

"It is my opinion that the water source is without question contaminated with numerous micro-organisms, including Coliform bacteria," Carter wrote. "There is little doubt that raw sewage is routinely dumped upstream of intake much less than the required 2 mile distance.

"Therefore, it is my conclusion that chlorination of our water tanks while certainly beneficial is not sufficient protection from parasitic exposure."

Carter said he resigned in early April after Halliburton officials did not take any action to inform the camp population.

The water expert said he told company officials at the base that they would have to notify the military. "They told me it was none of my concern and to keep my mouth shut," he said.

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January 21, 2006

They still don't need the Sunni votes

The NY Times is mistaken:

The first official results in Iraq's landmark December elections showed Friday that the Shiite and Kurdish coalitions once again dominated the voting, but came up just short of the two-thirds majority needed to form a government on their own.

Let's review.

Hakim controls 130 votes
United Iraqi Alliance (Shiite): 128
Risalyoon (non-UIA al-Sadr supporters): 2

Talabani controls 58 votes
Kurdish Alliance: 53
Islamic Union of Kurdistan: 5

Dulaimi controls 87 votes
Iraqi Accord Front (Sunni): 44
Iraqi List (secular Allawi): 25
Dialogue Front (al-Mutlaq): 11
Musalaha wal Tahreer (al-Juboori): 3
Turkman Front: 1
Rafidain (Assyrian): 1
Yazidi Movement (non-Islamic minority religion): 1
Mithal al-Alusi (Sunni politician): 1

It would be good for all parties involved if the UIA reached out to Dulaimi, but the truth is that they do not really need his votes. Of course, Al Sadr is the wild card. Unlike Hakim and the Kurds, he has voiced support for a strong central government, which is more in line with the thinking of the Sunni alliance than his own UIA slate. Allawi could change sides too, but I doubt he will.

Remember, Al Sadr has 1/4 of the UIA seats, not just those extra two.

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January 20, 2006

Chalabi was shut out!

I'm so excited, I'm taking the entire weekend off. From Iraq the Model:

The Final Results!

Here are the results as announced by Safwat Rasheed of the board of the election committee in a press conference in Baghdad:

UIA ~ 5021000….109 seatsfrom the province +19 compensatory=128

Accord Front :~1840000 votes…37 from the province +7 compensatory=44

Dialogue Front (al-Mutlaq) : ~499000 votes… 9 seats from the province+2 compensatory=11

Iraqi List (Allawi) :~977000 votes….21seats from the provinces+4 compensatory=25

Kurdish Alliance : ~2642000 votes…43 seats from the rpovinces+10 compensatory=53

Islamic Union of Kurdistan : ~157000 votes 4 seats from the provinces+1 compensatory=5

Risalyoon: ~145000 votes 1 from the provinces +1 compensatory =2

Musalaha wal Tahreer (Misha’an al-Juboori) : ~129000 ...votes 3 seats from the provinces.

Rafidain (Assyrian): ~ 47000 votes…. 0 seats from the provinces+1 compensatory=1 seat.

Turkman Front: ~ 87000 votes….1 seat

Mithal al-Alusi : ~32000 votes…1 seat from the provinces

Yazidi Movement: ~ 21000 votes…1 seat (compensatory)

TOTAL 275 Seats.


Ironically, the first objection to the results came from the UIA!

Al-Arabiya TV reported that Ammar al-Hakeem (AbdulAziz’s son) and Hussein al-Shahristani announced that the UIA objects to the way seats were distributed among provinces and they think that this “unfair distribution has cut down the UIA’s share by 10 seats”.
Al-Hakeem and al-Shahristani reportedly said that they’ll be writing a memo with their objections to the electoral authorities.

There is a more readable table here:

United Iraqi Alliance (Shiite): 128 (46.5%)
Kurdish Alliance: 53 (19.3%)
Iraqi Accord Front (Sunni): 44 (16.0%)
Iraqi List (secular Allawi): 25 (9.1%)
Dialogue Front (al-Mutlaq): 11 (4.0%)
Islamic Union of Kurdistan: 5 (1.8%)
Musalaha wal Tahreer (al-Juboori): 3 (1.1%)
Risalyoon (non-UIA al-Sadr supporters): 2 (0.7%)
Turkman Front: 1 (0.4%)
Rafidain (Assyrian): 1 (0.4%)
Yazidi Movement (non-Islamic minority religion): 1 (0.4%)
Mithal al-Alusi: 1 (0.4%)

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January 19, 2006

Iraqi election results

There is still no official announcement, but Reuters has the latest:

Electoral Commission sources say the Shi'ite Islamist Alliance will win about 128 of the assembly's 275 seats. The main Sunni bloc should get 43 or 44 seats, with another Sunni group taking 11 and a third three.

The main Kurdish bloc secured 52 seats, the sources said, secular former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's group 25 seats.

Some doubt remains over a handful of seats distributed by a complex system of allocation under proportional representation.

To summarize:

Unified Iraqi Coalition of Hakim 128
Kurdistani Gathering of Talabani 52
Tawafoq Iraqi Front of Dulaimi 44
Iraqi National List of Allawi 25
Hewar National Iraqi Front of Mutlak 11
Unnamed Sunni Political Party 3
Total number of seats listed 263

Others parties who won seats:
Islamic Union of Kurdistan
Iraqi Turkuman Front
Liberation and Reconciliation Gathering

There are 12 seats up for grabs among these and other small parties - including the Iraqi National Congress - who did not get enough votes to earn a seat, but still get one thanks to the complex election law.

In my view, it would be better for those seats to be redistributed among the parties who did get enough votes to earn a set, but I am still not sure if I understand the seat allocation rules correctly.

Overall, the Sunnis did better as well as I had expected. The UIA and Kurds are the ones who should be disappointed. The UIA lost five to ten seats due to the odd means of allocating the remainers. The Kurds were doomed from the start, due to the regionial allocations and relatively mixed population in two of the four Kurdish provinces.

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January 09, 2006

Election results? What election results?

Iraq's final election results may not come for 2 weeks

BAGHDAD - Final results from Iraq's Dec. 15 parliamentary elections may not be announced for another two weeks, and an international team reviewing election complaints has begun its work, an official from Iraq's election commission said Tuesday.

The Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq has finished reviewing complaints filed after last month's elections and will announce the findings on Wednesday, commission member Hussein Hindawi told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

But the IECI won't announce final election results until the international team finishes its work, meaning results might not be ready for two weeks, said IECI member Safwat Rashid.

Officials had previously said final results would be announced in early January.

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December 19, 2005

Ahmed who?

Well, it looks like Chalabi could get shut out. Lacking enough support in any of the provinces to win a single seat would indeed prevent him from becoming prime minister and hurt his chances for Oil Minister or Finance Minister, as well. Which is to say nothing of his conviction for bank fraud in Jordan, or the fact that most Iraqis hate his guts. I should probably hold off on the celebration until the official results are released, but I would bet Mahdi will be PM.

Here are preliminary returns from Al Jazeera:

In Baghdad province, results from 89% of the ballot boxes showed the Shia United Iraqi Alliance ahead with 58% of the vote in Iraq's biggest electoral district.

The electoral commission said the alliance received 1,403,901 votes, followed by the Sunni Arab Iraqi Accordance Front with 451,782 votes, and the Iraqi National List ticket of Iyad Allawi, the former prime minister, with 327,174 votes....

Results from southern Basra province, also mixed but predominantly Shia, saw the clergy-backed alliance significantly ahead, winning 612,206 votes with 98% of ballot boxes counted. Allawi's group was in second place with 87,134 votes, while the Iraqi Accordance Front trailed with 36,997.

Kurdish parties were overwhelmingly ahead in their three northern provinces.

In Dahuk, results from 93% of ballot boxes showed the Kurdistan Coalition List, an alliance consisting of the two main Kurdish parties, received 344,717 votes representing 89% of votes counted.

The Kurdistan Islamic Union followed with 28,401 ballots, while the Rafidian party, which represents Assyrian Christians, trailed with 4696.

Allawi's group received 2327 votes.

In Arbil, results from 76% of ballot boxes showed the Kurdish alliance winning 570,098 votes, or 95%. The Kurdistan Islamic Union won 19,612, or 3.24%, while Allawi's ticket had 2420.

In Sulaimaniya, results from 98% of ballot boxes showed the Kurdish alliance ahead with 671,814 votes, followed by the Kurdistan Islamic Union with 83,208 - and trailed by Allawi's National List with 1806.

The AP has some more details:

By comparison, the United Iraqi Alliance received less than 8 percent in Saddam Hussein's home province of Salahuddin and Allawi garnered about 10 percent. Nearly all the rest went to Sunni Arab groups.

Although no detailed overall figures were provided and results were partial, the turnout seemed to be large. Officials have estimated that 11 million people went to the polls, or up to 70 percent of the country's 15 million registered voters....

A senior official in the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, one of the main groups in the United Iraqi Alliance, said the alliance was expecting to get about 130 seats.

"The United Iraqi Alliance strongly believes that all the various components of the Iraqi people should participate in the decision making, including forming the upcoming government. This means that the new Iraqi government will be a national unity government," Redha Jawad Taqi said.

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December 08, 2005

AEI and Iran endorse Chalabi for PM

The San Antonio Express News has the details:

Here is a summary of the five major alliances, based on Arab press reporting of the Raphaeli analysis:

The Iraqi National Alliance includes the two major Shiite political parties that won the greatest number of seats last January and the party of current Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari.

This alliance received the blessing of al-Sistani last time, and it also includes the movement of Shiite radical Muqtada al-Sadr. Ahmad Chalabi had been part of the alliance, but will not be this time.

The alliance has become increasingly loyal to Iran, which supports it, but it is viewed as less likely to do well this time.

Americans who hope to see a pluralist, democratic Iraq should not support its efforts.

The National Congress Party, which Chalabi created, is "10 entities of a liberal and secular orientation, representing Shia, Sunni and Turkmen," according to Raphaeli.

Although Iran supports the Iraqi National Alliance, it has endorsed Chalabi as prime minister.

The Iraqi Accord Front is the major Sunni alliance. The alliance head is pressuring Sunnis to vote rather than boycott, as they did last January, and to participate in the political process rather than support the insurgency.

The Kurdish Alliance includes, as the name suggests, the major Kurdish political parties, which likely will lose some proportion of their representation if Sunnis participate this time.

Americans should hope that the Iraqi National List does well in this election. Former interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi heads the list, which includes both Shiite and Sunni secular and nonsectarian political figures. It also includes many leaders of the women's movement in Iraq.

Allawi and Chalabi could pick up a seat or two from several of the southern or even northern provinces, and a handful in Baghdad. For the most part, the seats will be split among the three major ethnic alliances however, with votes cast mainly along ethnic lines. It is interesting to note that Al Sadr will receive one quarter of the seats allocated to the main Shia list, the Iraqi National Alliance. The real question is whether Chalabi and Allawi can buy, I mean win, enough votes to prevent the Shia list from winning a majority in the new Parliament. If so, they could form a voting block with the Sunnis and Kurds that theoretically shuts the Shia out.
I don't think it's likely but Allawi got 40 seats last time. Why not?

What caught me off guard was the part about Iran - not just the American Enterprise Institute - backing Ahmed Chalabi for Prime Minister. Well, I guess now we know, "What is the price of oil?"

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December 07, 2005

Iraqi Election Predictions

One interesting thing about the elections next week is that 230 of the 275 seats will be awarded to each province, instead of from a national pool. The remaining 45 will be awarded from the full pool. This guarantees the Sunnis dozens of seats in the new parliament, regardless of voter turnout. I was worried because instead of being based strictly on population, the number of seats per province is determined based on the number of registered voters. However, based on the chart below it looks like a pretty fair breakdown of seats.

Here are the numbers from the IEC web site combined with the census data posted by for 2003:

Province - Registered out of Total for Guaranteed Seats
Baghdad - 3,664,922 of 6,386,067 for 59 seats
Nineveh - 1,197,940 of 2,473,727 for 19 seats
Sulaymania - 914,441 of 2,159,803 for 15 seats
Arbeel - 795,291 of 1,845,166 for 13 seats
Basra - 1,035,055 of 1,760,984 for 16 seats
Babylon - 694,192 of 1,444,372 for 11 seats
DheeQar - 778,574 of 1,427,220 for 12 seats
Deyala - 624,099 of 1,373,862 for 10 seats
Anbar - 574,138 of 1,280,011 for 9 seats
Salahadeen - 498,017 of 1,077,785 for 8 seats
Najaf - 493,808 of 946,251 for 8 seats
Karbala - 409,081 of 755,994 for 6 seats
Wasit - 494,955 of 941,827 for 8 seats
Qadisiya - 486,827 of 866,695 for 8 seats
Tameem - 576,048 of 839,121 for 9 seats
Maysan - 417,273 of 743,409 for 7 seats
Dahouk - 429,182 of 616,609 for 7 seats
Muthanna - 295,326 of 536,264 for 5 seats
Total - 14,379,169 of 27,475,167 for 230 seats

Based on the referendum results, and breakdown of Sunni to Shia and Arab to Kurd, I would say we can expect to see the following approximate breakdown of all 275 seats, by ethnic faction, assuming the overall seats go 5 Turkoman, 10 Sunni, 10 Kurd, 20 Shia:

5 Turkoman or Chaldean ethnic minorities
55 Sunni (Anbar, Salahadeen, 1/2 Deyala, 1/2 Nineveh, 1/4 Baghdad)
75 Kurd (1/2 Deyala, 1/2 Nineveh, Tameem, Sulaymania, Dahouk, Arbeel)
140 Shia (3/4 Baghdad plus all the remaining nine southern provinces)

Once again, the Shia will win a slim majority, but now they will have the option of forming a coalition with either the Sunnis or the Kurds.

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November 21, 2005

Cheney must have no sense of irony

From the AP:

"The flaws in the intelligence are plain enough in hindsight. But any suggestion that prewar information was distorted, hyped or fabricated by the leader of the nation is utterly false," Cheney said in a speech to the American Enterprise Institute.

Here is a quick pop quiz. Which of the following are true about AEI?

A) Cheney used to work there and his wife still does.
B) Main backers of Chalabi who also gave a speech there recently.
C) Supplied most of the "researchers" for the Office of Special Plans.
D) All of the above.

If you answered D, you're right, but D is for dishonest so you ought to be ashamed of yourself:

At the same time, Cheney pressed the administration's high-voltage attack on war critics, particularly Senate Democrats who voted in October 2002 to give Bush authority to go to war in Iraq and who now oppose his policy, calling them "dishonest and reprehensible."

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November 20, 2005

Lying for a just cause?

We will hear a lot more of this in the months and years to come. Two responses come to mind. First, when you have a secret strategy that no one knows about, what happens if you are wrong? Second, how do you reconcile lying to justify a war and this small oath the President took in January 2001? As prescribed in the Constitution:

Before he enter on the execution of his office, he shall take the following oath or affirmation:--"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

From Jonah Goldberg:

A lie for a just cause

...What if Bush did lie, big time? What, exactly, would that mean? If you listen to Bush's critics, serious and moonbat alike, the answer is obvious: He'd be a criminal warmonger, a failed president and — most certainly — impeachment fodder. Even Bush's defenders agree that if Bush lied, it would be a grave sin. For example, the Wall Street Journal recently accused Harry Reid & Co. of becoming "Clare Boothe Luce Democrats" for even suggesting that Bush would deceive the public. Luce, a Republican, had insisted that FDR "lied us into war." And this, the Journal editorialized, was a "slander" many paranoid Republicans took to their graves.

...Even the most cursory reading of any presidential biography will tell you that statesmanship requires occasional duplicity. If great foreign policy could be conducted Boy Scout-style — "I will never tell a lie" — foreign policy would be easy (and Jimmy Carter would be hailed as the American Bismarck). This isn't to say that the public's trust should be breached lightly, but there are other competing goods involved in any complex situation.

Now, you might say that Iraq was no WWII, Saddam was no Hitler, and 9/11 was no Pearl Harbor. Those are all fair arguments with varying degrees of merit. But WWII wasn't "the good war" in our hearts until after Pearl Harbor and even until after the Holocaust, and a lot of Hollywood burnishing.

The Bush Doctrine is not chiefly about WMD and never was. Like FDR's vision, it balances democracy, security and morality. Still, the media and anti-Bush partisans have been bizarrely unmoved by the revelations of Hussein's killing fields, his torture chambers for tots and democracy's tangible progress in the Middle East.

If Bush succeeds — still a big if — the painful irony for Bush's critics is that he will go down in history as a great president, even if he lied, while they will take their paranoia to their graves.

As a reminder, here is the definition of faithful:



Adhering firmly and devotedly, as to a person, cause, or idea; loyal.
Having or full of faith.
Worthy of trust or belief; reliable.
Consistent with truth or actuality: a faithful reproduction of the portrait.

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Former General Odom on the Iraq War

The former head of the NSA lists nine reasons people say we have to stay the course:

1) We would leave behind a civil war.

2) We would lose credibility on the world stage.

3) It would embolden the insurgency and cripple the move toward democracy.

4) Iraq would become a haven for terrorists.

5) Iranian influence in Iraq would increase.

6) Unrest might spread in the region and/or draw in Iraq's neighbors.

7) Shiite-Sunni clashes would worsen.

8) We haven’t fully trained the Iraqi military and police forces yet.

9) Talk of deadlines would undercut the morale of our troops.

Then he explains why the opposite is true in every single case.

Finally, he concludes:

The US invasion of Iraq only serves the interest of:

1) Osama bin Laden (it made Iraq safe for al Qaeda, positioned US military personnel in places where al Qaeda operatives can kill them occasionally, helps radicalize youth throughout the Arab and Muslim world, alienates America's most important and strongest allies – the Europeans – and squanders US military resources that otherwise might be finishing off al Qaeda in Pakistan.);

2) The Iranians (who were invaded by Saddam and who suffered massive casualties in an eight year war with Iraq.);

3) And the extremists in both Palestinian and Israeli political circles (who don't really want a peace settlement without the utter destruction of the other side, and probably believe that bogging the United States down in a war in Iraq that will surely become a war between the United States and most of the rest of Arab world gives them the time and cover to wipe out the other side.)

I disagree. The invasion itself is not the problem. The occupation is the problem. Why is their an occupation? The real reason for the invasion was to "strength our position in the region" not to liberate Iraq. They were so fearful of giving up control of the occupation to the UN that they failed to realize the UN - or NATO - was in fact the only possible path to strengthen our position in Iraq, not weaken it.

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November 03, 2005

Coming full circle on Iraq

What possible better location could there be for a speech by the future democratically elected Prime Minister of Iraq, Ahmed Chalabi?

Apparently Scooter Libby had a prior engagement and will not be available to make the introduction.

An Insider's View: Democratic Politics at Work in Iraq

A Foreign Policy Briefing from Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi

Start: Wednesday, November 9, 2005 2:30 PM

End: Wednesday, November 9, 2005 3:45 PM

Location: Wohlstetter Conference Center, Twelfth Floor, AEI
1150 Seventeenth Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036

In the last year, Iraqis successfully elected a transitional government and overwhelmingly approved a new constitution. Despite continuing security challenges and a deepening sectarian divide, Iraqis are moving toward a functioning democracy. And while sectors of Iraq continue to lag, there is an untold story of economic reform.

Will the constitution provide the foundation for a democratic system that can be a model for the Middle East? What can be expected of the upcoming December parliamentary elections? Is Iraq moving beyond sectarian politics, or does the federalism model in the new constitution deepen the divide?

To address these and other issues, AEI welcomes Ahmad Chalabi, deputy prime minister of Iraq, to deliver his first public speech in the United States in more than two and a half years.

2:15 p.m. Registration

2:30 Introduction: Christopher DeMuth, AEI
Keynote Address: Ahmad Chalabi, deputy prime minister of Iraq

3:45 Adjournment

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November 02, 2005

Did Chalabi pass on the Niger forgeries?

From La Repubblica in Rome:

SISMI's War in Iraq: The Iranian Connection

...Twenty men are gathered around a large table, covered by maps of Iraq, Iran and Syria. The big cheese are Lawrence Franklin and Harold Rhode of the Office of Special Plans, Michael Ledeen of the AIE, a SISMI chief accompanied by his assistant (the former is a balding man between 46 and 48 years of age; the latter is younger, around 38, with braces on his teeth) and some mysterious Iranians.

Pollari confirms the meeting to La Repubblica: When [Defense Minister Martino] asked me to organize the meeting, I became curious. But it was my job and I wasn't born yesterday. It's true—my men were also present at the meeting. I wanted to know what was cooking. It's also true that there were maps of Iraq and Iran on the table. I can tell you those Iranians were not exactly "exiles". The came and went from Tehran with their passports with no difficulty whatsoever as if they were transparent to the eyes of the Pasdaran.

So the Iranians were not exiles. They were not opponents of the regime of the ayatollahs. These men are members of the regime, sent by Tehran. If someone in Washington is wondering what the devil they were doing there on the eve of the invasion, in Rome, elbow-to-elbow with people from the Pentagon, we can supply some elucidation. But to make some sense out of the confusion, you have to listen to an American intelligence source, who has requested anonymity. He tells us: You Italians have always underestimated the work of conversion carried out Ahmed Chalabi, the chairman of Iraqi National Congress. You tend to omit this chapter from your side of the story because you think Ahmed concerns only the Americans. But that's not the way it is: he is also your business, far beyond anything you currently believe or imagine....

The bogus Italian dossier on the Niger uranium turns up [at the meeting] also—and we don't know exactly why--because Chalabi is in possession of it. Brooke is responsible for liaison between Condoleezza Rice and Paul Wolfowitz and between the Pentagon and the Iraqi National Congress. He is more heeded in Tehran than Chalabi.

Hmm. Early 2002 was not exactly the "eve of the invasion" unless you count the Downing model. Which we might need to consider. It's also possible they got the date wrong. Anyway, see more details and speculation here.

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This is not good news

From the Washington Post's blockbuster tomorrow:

More than 100 suspected terrorists have been sent by the CIA into the covert system, according to current and former U.S. intelligence officials and foreign sources. This figure, a rough estimate based on information from sources who said their knowledge of the numbers was incomplete, does not include prisoners picked up in Iraq.

In other words, some of the prisoners are from Iraq. Here's hoping they were Al Qaeda transplants, not insurgents, or you could argue that's a war crime. Of course, you could argue Abu Ghraib was too, but it's a little harder to say this one didn't come from the top.

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November 01, 2005

Ahmed Chalabi - The Great Peacemaker

Please read this whole post or you will miss the punchline.

From the AP this afternoon:

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Politically savvy and a sharp dresser with a perpetual grin, Ahmad Chalabi has gone from Washington insider, to alleged Iranian spy, to someone the Bush administration cannot afford to ignore — all in the space of two years.

Chalabi, a deputy prime minister, plans to travel this month to Washington to refurbish a reputation tainted by the since-discredited claims that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. At home, Chalabi has quit a Shiite political alliance criticized for its strong ties to Iran.

All this points to one thing: Chalabi is maneuvering to become Iraq's next prime minister after elections in less than two months.

That might seem a long-shot for Chalabi, an MIT graduate and former banker who is a controversial figure at home and abroad. But his political acumen and ability to survive leave both friends and foes in awe....

In Washington, administration officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to make announcements to the media, said efforts were under way to arrange meetings for Chalabi with Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Chalabi's top aide, Haider al-Mousawi, said meetings with Treasury Secretary John Snow and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley also were in the works....

"Chalabi is entertaining hopes of an alliance between his new coalition, the Sadrists and Fadhila," said Ali al-Adeeb, a senior official of Dawa party. "He knows that it's the Islamic trend and not the liberals who will prevail in Iraq."

Chalabi is contesting the election on a single ticket that includes his Iraqi National Congress, a group that supports restoration of the monarchy and small Kurdish and Turkomen factions.

It's too late for other groups to join Chalabi before the election since the deadline for registering candidacies passed last Friday. But others such as Fadhila and the al-Sadr movement could forge an alliance in the new parliament.

Just ask Iraqis:

These days, when the U.S.-run administration in Baghdad takes confidential polls to gauge public support for its hand-picked Iraqi Governing Council, Chalabi's approval ratings are "the most negative by far" among the 25 members, says an official who's perused the results. "The numbers I've seen run around 60 percent negative to 30 percent positive." (March 8, 2004)

Even ask The New Yorker:

Iraqis have long seen him as an American puppet with no constituency at home; in polls, they have given Chalabi approval ratings lower than those for Saddam Hussein. (May 29, 2004)

For an added bonus, ask Doug Feith:

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Salem Chalabi has been to the Hague and he's looked at post-war tribunals in Bosnia, Rwanda and the Balkans.

Now he's been appointed Director-General of the new Iraqi tribunal. He's appointed the seven judges and four prosecutors who will try Saddam Hussein and other from his regime who will be charged by the new tribunal.

SALEM CHALABI: We're trying to meet international standards of due process of law, so we don't want to do this in a very quick fashion. We have to organise it, we have to prepare it, we have to get the judges trained, we have to get the investigative judges to review the evidence – this is a long process.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Salem Chalabi may be a controversial choice. Many Iraqis are already frustrated with their inability to reach those in power, and the man running the tribunal is seen by some as one of those special few who access and control the corridors of power.

Iraqis want the tribunal and they want Saddam Hussein on trial, but the tribunal's critics say any perception it's an American creation, not genuinely independent, could diminish the public perception of its power.

According to the US newspaper The Hill, Chalabi's business partner Mark Zell runs a law firm with the US Undersecretary of Defence Douglas Feith, a key neo-conservative architect of the Iraq war. Feith's Pentagon office oversees the distribution of those reconstruction contracts.

But Salem Chalabi is confident the tribunal will be accepted. (April 22, 2004)

Even critics agree:

Chalabi for the Nobel Peace Prize...

At some point there is silence. This is the point when both sides are convinced that the other one is completely inane and ridiculously intractable. It’s sort of a huffy silence, with rolling eyes and lips drawn into thin slits of scorn.

I’ve learned the best way to mediate these arguments is to let them develop into what they will. Let the yellers yell, the shouters shout and the name-calling and innuendos ensue. The important part is the end- how to allow the debating parties to part friends or relatives, or (at the very least) to make sure they do not part sworn enemies for life. It’s simple, no matter what their stand is, all you have to do is get a couple of words in towards the end. The huffy silence at the end of the debate must be subtly taken advantage of and the following words murmured as if the thought just occurred that moment:

“You know who’s really bad? Ahmed Chalabi. He’s such a lowlife and villain.”

Voila. Like magic the air clears, eyebrows are raised in agreement and all arguing parties suddenly unite to confirm this very valid opinion with nodding heads, somewhat strained laughter and charming anecdotes about his various press appearances and ridiculous sense of fasion. We’re all friends again, and family once more. We’re all lovey-dovey Iraqis who can agree nicely with each other. In short, we are at peace with each other and the world.

And that is why Ahmed Chalabi deserves the Nobel Peace Prize. (March 9, 2005)

Chalabi for Prime Minister! 99.11% YES!!!

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October 05, 2005

Good news from Iraq for a change

The Iraqi government has been shamed into reversing their rule change:

Iraq's Parliament voted today to cancel a last-minute rule change that would have made it almost impossible for Iraq's new constitution to fail in the upcoming national referendum.

The reversal came a day after United Nations official in Baghdad told Shiite and Kurdish leaders that the new rule was a violation of international election standards. Sunni Arab leaders who oppose the constitution had also criticized the rule change, saying it amounted to rigging the referendum in advance.

The Shiite and Kurdish leaders capitulated today, with 119 of 157 legislators voting to cancel the rule change. But Shiite leaders said they were still deeply concerned about whether the vote would be fair, and they left the door open to challenging the results if the constitution fails on Oct. 15.

The Shiite leaders said they believed insurgents might manipulate the vote through selective violence. They said they had agreed to cancel the change only after securing a promise from the Iraqi government that it would prevent that from happening.

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October 03, 2005

Talk about rigging an election

In Iraq, not showing up to vote counts as voting. By simply being registered to vote, you count towards the 1/3 of registered voters who "do not reject" the constitution, thereby allowing it to pass in the critical Sunni provinces. The only way the constitution will not pass is if the Kurds suddenly decide to vote it down, which I doubt.

I've already fallen off the Newsaholic wagon, but this is an important development:

Meanwhile, the parliament decision Sunday was the latest instance of the Shiite-dominated government making a favorable interpretation of rules on the constitution.

Those rules state that the constitution is defeated if two-thirds of voters in any three of Iraq's 18 provinces reject it, even if an overall majority across the country approve.

Iraq's Sunni Arab majority has been counting on those rules to defeat the charter at the polls. There are four provinces where Sunni Arabs could conceivably make the two-thirds majority "no" vote.

But instead, parliament, which has only 16 Sunni members, approved an interpretation stating that two-thirds of registered voters - rather than two-thirds of all those who cast ballots - must reject the constitution for the rules to apply.

The change effectively raises the bar to reach the two-thirds mark.

Saddam would be proud of these guys:

Of about 8.56 million votes cast in the election, the UIA received 4.08 million, the combined Kurdish parties garnered 2.17 million and the Iraqi list of interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi got 1.17 million.

CNN calculates that those numbers would give the UIA about 130 seats on Iraq's 275-seat National Assembly, the Kurds about 70 seats, and the Iraqi list about 40 seats.

Some 58 percent of Iraq's registered voters turned out for the elections, despite violence that killed more than 40 people.

It is virtually impossible for the Iraqi constitution to fail now.

Consider that 2/3 turnout among registered voters is considered high here in the US, where we've had considerably longer to get the hang of this democracy thing, and you might understand why no Sunni will accept the legitimacy of the constitution now. Civil War could well erupt, or Iraq could simply fall apart into three distinct parts. There is a word for that - Balkanization:

Balkanization is a geopolitical term originally used to describe the process of fragmentation or division of a region into smaller regions that are often hostile or non-cooperative with each other. The term has arisen from the conflicts in the 20th-century Balkans. The first Balkanization was embodied in the Balkan Wars, and the term was further reaffirmed in the Yugoslav wars.

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October 02, 2005

Iraqi President asks Prime Minister to resign

From the AP:

Iraq's Kurdish president called on the country's Shiite prime minister to step down, the spokesman for the president's party said Sunday, escalating a political split between the two factions that make up the government.

President Jalal Talabani has accused the Shiite-led United Iraqi Alliance, which holds the majority in parliament, of monopolizing power in the government and refusing to move ahead on a key issue for Kurds, the resettlement of Kurds in the northern city of Kirkuk.

"The time has come for the United Iraqi Alliance and the Kurdistan coalition to study Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari's stepping aside from his post," said Azad Jundiyani, a spokesman for Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. "This is for the benefit of the political process."

Jundiyani would not say whether the Kurds would withdraw from the government if the Shiite alliance does not back them in removing al-Jaafari. Talabani has made indirect threats to withdraw from the coalition if Kurdish demands are not met.

As always, Juan Cole has more details:

The wrangling between President Jalal Talabani (a Kurd) and Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari (a religious Shiite) may after all threaten the stability of the government. Aljazeerah says, "Kurdish officials warned on Saturday they would consider pulling out of the government if their demands are not met. That would cause the collapse of the government and put a new layer of political instability and fragmentation between Iraq's main communities." The Kurds are angry because they say the Shiite government had pledged to begin a major resettlement of Kurds in Kirkuk, but has not. Kirkuk is about a quarter Turkmen (mostly Shiites), a quarter Arab and a half Kurdish. Many Kurds and Turkmen were expelled from the city by Saddam Hussein, who brought in Arabs (many of them Shiites from the south) as settlers to "Arabize" Kirkuk, a major petroleum producer. The pledge given by the Shiite majority to resettle the expelled Kurds would threaten the interests of the Shiite Turkmen and the Shiite Arabs, and they surely have put enormous pressure on PM Ibrahim Jaafari to drag his feet on it.

There will eventually be a referendum on the future of Kirkuk in which Kirkuk residents will vote, according to the interim constitution. The Kurdish parties are desperate to flood the city with their supporters, so that when the referendum is held it will go in their favor (i.e. Kirkuk province would join the Kurdistan provincial confederacy along with Irbil, Dohuk, and Sulaimaniyah. The Shiites, by holding up resettlement, are placing that outcome in doubt. The Turkmen and the Shiite Arabs desperately do not want to be in Kurdistan, and the Turkmen have demanded a semi-autonomous Iraqi Turkmenistan instead if it looks as though that might happen.

The Iraqi government is unlikely to fall, since 54 percent of the delegates in parliament are religious Shiites who will support Jaafari, and a government can remain in power with a simple majority. But if even a few Shiites defected, Jaafari could be vulnerable to a vote of no confidence. For the Iraqi government to fall at this point might well hurl the country into a maelstrom of political discontent and even more violence. Kirkuk is a powderkeg.

Al-Hayat: The Sunni Arab members of the constitution drafting committee said Saturday that they are negotiating with US Ambassador in Baghdad Zalmay Khalilzad to make some final amendments to the new Iraqi constitution. Ali Saadoun, a member of the National Dialogue Council (Sunni), said that Khalilzad "promised to add these amendments to the draft that is printed, and to broach them through an appendix to it." But the head of the constitution drafting committee in parliament, Shiite cleric Humam Hammoudi, objected that "These are not alterations or additions but are rather just affirmations and clarifications in the draft language, especially with regard to the unity of Iraq and its Arab identity." In an interview with Aljazeerah, he was in fact alarmed at Khalilzad's maneuvering, and angrily said that no changes could be made to the constitution at this late date.

The UN is supposed to be printing millions of copies of this document, a certified final text of which nobody has yet seen outside parliament, so that the Iraqi public can study it before the October 15 referendum.

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September 29, 2005

Judge Orders Release of Abu Ghraib Photos

This could definitely complicate a Gonzales nomination:

At the end of the process, the leading contenders include current and former high-ranking administration officials with long ties to Bush: Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales and White House Counsel Harriet Miers, as well as former Deputy Atty. Gen. Larry Thompson, who is now the general counsel of Pepsico and would be the court's third African-American justice.

Bush has long said he would like to name the first Hispanic to the high court, and Gonzales is the only prospect to emerge at the end of the summerlong selection process.

Of course, Hellerstein has made similar rulings in the past only to be outsmarted by the Pentagon yet again. Who knows what will happen.

From the AP:

Saying the United States "does not surrender to blackmail," a judge ruled Thursday that pictures of detainee abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison must be released over government claims that they could damage America's image.

U.S. District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein ordered the release of certain pictures in a 50-page decision that said terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan have proven they "do not need pretexts for their barbarism."

The ACLU has sought the release of 87 photographs and four videotapes taken at the prison as part of an October 2003 lawsuit demanding information on the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody and the transfer of prisoners to countries known to use torture. The ACLU contends that prisoner abuse is systemic.

The judge said: "Our nation does not surrender to blackmail, and fear of blackmail is not a legally sufficient argument to prevent us from performing a statutory command. Indeed, the freedoms that we champion are as important to our success in Iraq and Afghanistan as the guns and missiles with which our troops are armed."

Ah, here is an updated version of the story, with this key sentence:

The ruling was expected to be appealed, which could delay a release for months.

Ultimately, the appeal will go to the Supreme Court, so in many ways this whole post is just one big circular argument.

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September 28, 2005

Cliff May is an idiot

This is like Jeffrey Dahmer saying, "Newsflash: There are some bodies in the fridge and it looks like something hinky might be going on!"

So how do you think they got there, Cliff?

From the Corner:


That’s according to a story in the Washington Post this morning.

“U.S. military leaders say they now see [Abu Musab al-] Zarqawi's group of foreign fighters and Iraqi supporters, known as al Qaeda in Iraq, as having supplanted Iraqis loyal to ousted president Saddam Hussein as the insurgency's driving element.”

Some of us have suspected as much. (One clue: Baathists do not eagerly volunteer for suicide bombing missions; they tend to be a tad skeptical about the whole 72 virgins deal.)

Posted by Mike at 09:34 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

September 22, 2005

Think happy thoughts, think happy thoughts

Saudi Minister Warns U.S. Iraq May Face Disintegration

Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, said Thursday that he had been warning the Bush administration in recent days that Iraq was hurtling toward disintegration, a development that he said could drag the region into war.

"There is no dynamic now pulling the nation together," he said in a meeting with reporters at the Saudi Embassy here. "All the dynamics are pulling the country apart." He said he was so concerned that he was carrying this message "to everyone who will listen" in the Bush administration.

Prince Saud's statements, some of the most pessimistic public comments on Iraq by a Middle Eastern leader in recent months, were in stark contrast to the generally upbeat assessments that the White House and the Pentagon have been offering....

Prince Saud, who is in Washington for meetings with administration officials, blamed several American decisions for the slide toward disintegration, though he did not refer to the Bush administration directly.

Primary among them was designating "every Sunni as a Baathist criminal," he said....

Prince Saud said he met with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice last week and added that American officials generally responded to his warnings by telling him that the United States successfully carried off the Iraqi elections and "they say the same things about the constitution" and the broader situation in Iraq now. On Thursday, in fact, the senior administration official said, "The forward movement of the political process is the best answer."

Prince Saud argued: "But what I am trying do is say that unless something is done to bring Iraqis together, elections alone won't do it. A constitution alone won't do it." Prince Saud is a son of the late King Faisal and has been foreign minister for 30 years.

The prince said he served on a council of Iraq's neighboring countries - Jordan, Syria, Turkey, Iran and Kuwait as well as Saudi Arabia - "and the main worry of all the neighbors" was that the potential disintegration of Iraq into Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish states would "bring other countries in the region into the conflict."

Turkey, he noted, has long threatened to send troops into northern Iraq if the Kurds there declare independence. Iran, he asserted, is already sending money and weapons into the Shiite-controlled south of Iraq and would probably step up its relationship, should the south become independent. Saudi Arabia has long been wary of Iran's influence in the region, given that it is a Shiite theocracy.

"This is a very dangerous situation," he said, "a very threatening situation."

Can you say "Regional Conflict"?

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September 01, 2005

Bush: We went to war to keep Osama out of Iraq

It's very simple: We are drawing Osama and Al Qaeda out to fight us in Iraq, killings tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians in the process, in order to keep Osama and Al Qaeda out of Iraq and keep them from recruiting any new supporters.

I think Bush said it best himself yesterday:

"If Zarqawi and bin Laden gain control of Iraq," he said, "they would create a new training ground for future terrorist attacks, they'd seize oil fields to fund their ambitions, they could recruit more terrorists by claiming an historic victory over the United States and our coalition."

Of course, last week, Bush also said:

Our troops know that they're fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere to protect their fellow Americans from a savage enemy. They know that if we do not confront these evil men abroad, we will have to face them one day in our own cities and streets, and they know that the safety and security of every American is at stake in this war, and they know we will prevail.

Got it?

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August 31, 2005

The Daou Report and the three R's

Peter Daou is wrong. There was a moral justification for the Iraq War. Liberation is indeed a worthy moral cause. Unfortunately, that is not what the Bush administration really had in mind. Instead of liberation, they wanted revenge, resources, and a chance to "reshape" the region. Bush, and most Iraq War hawks, saw freedom and democracy as "spreading our ideals" and "creating an ally in the heart of the Middle East" - none of which is in the true interests of the Iraqi citizens or indicative of a free people governing themselves as they see fit. The reason we haven't been treated as liberators is that we have not been liberators! Instead of bringing in Iraq's neighbors and the international community after we captured Baghdad, we simply dismissed the rest of the world - especially Iraq's neighbors. For two years, the insurgency grew, while we clung to the same selfish, arrogant idea that Iraq was ours to control. Surely, we don't want Iraq's neighbors propping up their own puppet regimes in Baghdad, but by giving the appearance of propping up our own, Bush has shown the true face of his designs on Iraq. Revenge, resources, and reshaping the region are not morally justifiable goals.

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August 26, 2005

A New Kind of Liberation?

Well, I guess this is one way to keep people from fleeing the chaos that has taken hold in Iraq. "We freed your country, now go and live there."

Britain is host to around 7,000 Iraqi asylum seekers, of which 250 are currently in detention centres, Jamal said....

A Home Office spokeswoman told AFP that Iraqis are beginning to be returned, in line with nationals from other countries with no permission to stay.

"We can confirm that we are now detaining Iraqi nationals with no leave to remain as we work towards preparations for enforcing removals to Iraq," she said.

What's next?

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Bush is asking Hakim for favors?

What next, will he take up wind surfing? Or ask for a permission slip?

Al-Adeeb said Bush personally telephoned Shiite leader Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim and asked him to make compromises on parts of the consitution that would purge former members of Saddam's Sunni-dominated Baath Party from government jobs and political life and on federalism, which the Sunnis strongly oppose.

A second Shiite negotiator also confirmed the Bush call but asked that his name not be published.

Al-Adeeb said al-Hakim told the president that the Shiite bloc was made up of several groups "and they might reject the constitution if the article on the Baath Party is removed."

Seriously, I think it's not a bad move to call. It's just ironic.

Posted by Mike at 08:44 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Iraq on the brink of a meltdown?

The Daily Telegraph thinks so:

Iraq on brink of meltdown

The credibility of Iraq's political process was in danger last night as parliament again failed to vote on a draft constitution which a Sunni politician said was "fit only for the bin".

The government had earlier announced plans to bypass parliament in an attempt to push through the document.

But as the final hours ran out before the deadline for approving the constitution, Hajim al-Hassani, the speaker of the parliament, appeared to overrule the country's leaders by insisting that negotiations would continue today, meaning that the deadline would be missed for the third time.

The impression of growing crisis in Iraq was reinforced when a new front erupted in the violent rebellion, with Shia Muslims fighting each other with guns and rocket-propelled grenades.

Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the prime minister, made an emergency television appeal for peace and sent two police commando units to Najaf where the fighting had started.

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August 25, 2005

Definitely not a good sign

Considering that if the new constitution is rejected, these parties are the ones who will be running most of Iraq by default.

From the New York Times:

Fighting broke out in Baghdad and the holy city of Najaf on Wednesday between rival Shi'ite militias, raising fears of a renewed uprising by radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi army against the U.S.-backed government.

At least eight people were killed and dozens wounded, health officials said, in street battles in Najaf involving pro-government Badr Organization fighters and supporters of Sadr, who has joined Sunni Arabs in denouncing a constitution the Shi'ite-led government is preparing to force through parliament.

The head of the Badr Organization denied it was involved.

The interior minister dispatched police commandos to Najaf and announced a curfew in the city on state television.

A spokesman for Sadr warned of a ``general call to arms'' unless rival groups apologized for what he called attacks on Sadr's office in Najaf. His Mehdi Army was banned after U.S. troops crushed two uprisings last year, but it has not disarmed.

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August 21, 2005

Iraq's future looks worse every day

It's becoming obvious that my August 11th post was extremely naive. Clearly, myself and most Americans just don't know enough about Iraq, and what is happening there on the ground, but we can tell it's FUBAR.

How can American soldiers keep Iraq together, when the only forces who aren't trying to kill Americans are fighting to tear Iraq apart? I guess I should have trusted that uneasy feeling in my gut when all this talk of confederations among provinces was raised. This is a sobering article indeed:

While Iraqi representatives wrangle over the drafting of a constitution in Baghdad, forces represented by the militias and the Shiite and Kurdish parties that control them are creating their own institutions of authority, unaccountable to elected governments, the activists and officials said. In Basra in the south, dominated by the Shiites, and Mosul in the north, ruled by the Kurds, as well as cities and villages around them, many residents say they are powerless before the growing sway of the militias, which instill a climate of fear that many see as redolent of the era of former president Saddam Hussein.

The parties and their armed wings are sometimes operating independently, and other times as part of Iraqi army and police units trained and equipped by the United States and Britain and controlled by the central government. Their growing authority has enabled them to seize territory, confront their perceived enemies and provide patronage to their followers. Their rise has come because of a power vacuum in Baghdad and their own success in the January elections.

Since the formation of a government this spring, Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, has witnessed dozens of assassinations, claiming members of the former ruling Baath Party, Sunni political leaders and officials of competing Shiite parties. Many have been carried out by uniformed men in police vehicles, according to political leaders and families of the victims, with some of the bullet-riddled bodies dumped at night in a trash-strewn parcel known as The Lot. The province's governor said in an interview that Shiite militias have penetrated the police force; an Iraqi official estimated that as many as 90 percent of officers were loyal to religious parties....

"There is an absence of law," said a 40-year-old Transportation Ministry official who was detained for five days in Dahuk last month. The official said a Kurdish officer had accused him of "writing against the Kurds on the Internet."

"'Freedom' and 'liberty' are only words in ink on a piece of paper," he said. "The law now, it's the big fish eats the small fish."

It seems Moqtada al Sadr is the only Shiite working for a united Iraq. Considering he and his militia are also responsible for the deaths of many Americans and Iraqi police, this is not a good sign. Nor is this commentary, which helps explain what SCIRI and Dawa might have in mind:

The Pakistani and Iranian experiments have shown that Sadr was right to treat the creation of "Islamic man" as a prerequisite for the ideal Islamic economy. These experiments also point, however, to the virtual impossibility of accomplishing a Sadrist moral transformation. If the moral fiber of Pakistanis and Iranians has not improved, as judged by Islamist leaders themselves, this is not for lack of trying.

For all the lip service Dawa's current leaders pay to Sadr's wisdom, they have given no indication of how they would succeed where others have failed. They have not elucidated what his teachings imply for wage policy or assistance to the downtrodden, to say nothing of policies on oil, the environment or foreign trade. Curiously, the Islamists among Iraq's constitutional framers are drawing moral and intellectual authority from a man whose thinking is of no practical help in resolving Iraq's vast policy challenges. The significance of Sadr's intellectual legacy lies, then, less in the particularities of its policy proposals than in the justification that it provides for giving the Dawa leadership a voice in Iraqi governance, including economic policy-making.

Notwithstanding Dawa's claim to provide a revolutionary economic agenda, as a matter of practice, Sadr's legacy serves two political goals. First, it provides a manifesto for placing a clerical seat at Iraq's national bargaining table. And second, it serves as a rhetorical device with mass resonance. At a time when most Arabs consider Islam under siege, a policy can be tainted merely by making it seem un-Islamic. A proposal categorized as un-Islamic will fail no matter how sound the utilitarian arguments in its favor.

Accordingly, secularist anxiety about Dawa goes well beyond the substance of its current policy positions. In the rough-and-tumble of Arab politics, Islamist parties will enjoy an advantage in any national debate by virtue of their ability to frame their own position, whatever its content, as uniquely Islamic and rival positions as evil.

Please notice that this is talking about Moqtada's father, not Moqtada. It would bet the son's goal of keeping Iraq united is to widen the swath of land over which Islamic rule can be established.

This account, from an American soldier who served in Sadr City, is not a good sign either:

For the most part the Iraqi's are glad america is there, but they are the silent majority. They are too scared that if they speak out for us they would be kidnapped or murdered. One Iraqi asked me why America doesn't build schools or donate cars like the Japanese did. I told him it's because every time we try to build something either the workers get scared and don't show up because they are working for Americans and scared of retribution or because it is constantly attacked by one of the various militias.

I was never once in my entire year in iraq, attacked by Saddam loyalists or Al Qaeda, I was attacked by shiite milita that was sick of the American military bullying its way through traffic, never delivering on any promises it said it would keep, and just generally sick of a foreign military presence. Yes they were also religious extremists, but most were just disillusioned with America's presence.

Just imagine if George W. was a dictator and all of a sudden Canada invaded. We would be happy at first, but after almost 2 years of them still hanging around and nothing getting done, I'm fairly certain we would rise up against them too.

Chuck Hagel had something to say about it this morning, too:

Hagel Says Iraq War Looking Like Vietnam

A leading Republican senator and prospective presidential candidate said Sunday that the war in Iraq has destabilized the Middle East and is looking more like the Vietnam conflict from a generation ago.

Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, who received two Purple Hearts and other military honors for his service in Vietnam, reiterated his position that the United States needs to develop a strategy to leave Iraq.

Hagel scoffed at the idea that U.S. troops could be in Iraq four years from now at levels above 100,000, a contingency for which the Pentagon is preparing.

"We should start figuring out how we get out of there," Hagel said on "This Week" on ABC. "But with this understanding, we cannot leave a vacuum that further destabilizes the Middle East. I think our involvement there has destabilized the Middle East. And the longer we stay there, I think the further destabilization will occur."

Hagel said "stay the course" is not a policy. "By any standard, when you analyze 2 1/2 years in Iraq … we're not winning," he said.

Posted by Mike at 04:37 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

August 20, 2005

Look at the bright side

From Hardball on MSNBC last tonight:

SCHEUER: Well, at first—I only tracked him for the last 10 years, ma‘am. I tracked him for as long as the U.S. government has been tracking him. He‘s an existential threat, as they say, to the United States. He can detonate probably a weapon of mass destruction inside of the United States, be it a suitcase nuclear weapon or a chemical or biological weapon. And we‘ve done really very little to stop him from proceeding along that course.

O‘DONNELL: Do you think that he is in Afghanistan?

SCHEUER: I think he is along the border. I think the general judgment that he is on the Pak-Afghan border hiding or at least living is very accurate. He is very comfortable there. He is protected by the tribes that live on the border. And the one thing we would hate to say but it is perfectly true is that he is the most important leader and hero in the Muslim world today. There are very few Muslims who would ever think of turning him over to the Americans.

O‘DONNELL: And, finally, the president has made the case that winning the war in Iraq is central to winning the war on terror and making sure that Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda cannot take—harm the United States. Is that true, if we win there, will that help?

SCHEUER: No, ma‘am. The war in Iraq has broken the back of our counterterrorism effort. I‘m not an expert on the threat posed by Saddam Hussein, but the invasion of Iraq has made sure this war will last decades ahead and it has transferred bin Laden and al Qaeda from being man and an organization into being a philosophy and a movement. We‘ve really made sure that the war against us is going to be a long and very bloody one. Iraq was an absolutely disastrous decision.

You know, I'm realizing that while Bin Laden was not a focus of my blog when it started, I've been mentioning him more often lately. Maybe it's because I'm paying more attention, or maybe it's not.

Posted by Mike at 02:19 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

August 11, 2005

The Good Sumerian?

The reason I think this is a good thing, is that the SCIRI is really the only hope of stemming the tide of Al Sadr's radicals in the south. A strong SCIRI means Moqtada can hopefully be controlled. In addition, this is probably the best way to keep the Kurds and even the Sunnis from seceding before a new Constitution is even approved.

From Juan Cole:

Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), has made his move. Giving a speech in the holy city of Najaf, he demanded that the nine southern Shiite-majority provinces be allowed to form a regional confederation that would deal with the central government in Baghdad. This confederation would mirror the "Kurdistan" confederation of northern provinces already established. The southern confederation, which some call "Sumer," in honor of the ancient civilization of that region, would make a claim on some percentage of the petroleum revenue coming out of the Rumaila oil fields.

Al-Hakim has split on this issue with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who earlier, at least, is said to have opposed the plan. He has also split with his coalition partner, the Dawa Party, led by Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari, which prefers that the central government continue to deal with each of the 9 provinces separately.

Although Dawa got the prime ministership and so has a special interest in retaining the prerogatives fo the center, SCIRI won most of the provincial elections in the south, dominating their governing councils. Since SCIRI believes that it can continue to be dominant in the Shiite south, it is essentially making a claim on provincial resources and power, denying some portion of them to the central government. It cannot be good for the prospects of the approval of a permanent constitution to have a major split develop within the United Iraqi Alliance (which has a majority in parliament and groups Dawa and SCIRI) on this issue.

Alissa Rubin of the Los Angeles Times reports that prime minister Jaafari has sent an envoy to the southern city of Samawah in an attempt to quell the political turbulence there. The governing council had attempted to oust the governor, a SCIRI figure, and he has refused to go. Now governing council members say that they are receiving death threats. The Japanese Self Defense Forces appear to be essentially barricaded in and in some danger given this outbreak of instability among Shiites in the region. See below on how likely their mission is to continue very long given these developments and also the coming Japanese elections.

Meanwhile, Jaafari has thrown his support behind the ousting of Baghdad mayor Alaa al-Tamimi by SCIRI. SCIRI won the Baghdad provincial council elections last January and therefore has the right to appoint its own mayor. Often in contemporary Iraq, incumbents put there by the United States or its proxy interim government have refused to leave when ordered to do so by the winners at the ballot box, and Tamimi was one of those who had ensconced himself, apparently with a private guard. The change of mayor therefore had to be accomplished by the elected governing council through a kind of coup whereby Badr Corps (the paramilitary of SCIRI) occupied the mayor's office.

Bill Roberts and Jeff St. Onge argue that President Bush is doing a high wire act without a net in Iraq. He cannot increase US troop strength in hopes of destroying the guerrilla movement, because the US does not have the extra troops. He also cannot keep 138,000 US troops in Iraq for another year without risking destroying the all-volunteer army. So he has to draw down. But if he does that too fast or in a strategically flat-footed way, the guerrills could kill off the new elected government and through Iraq-- and the oil-producing Gulf region-- into massive turmoil. The Bush administration is therefore proposing a rolling withdrawal, without fixed deadlines or targets, but simply bringing out US units when Iraqi units can take over. (The problem with this strategy is a) that it can be thwarted by a simple ratcheting up of guerrilla attacks, requiring delays in US drawdowns and b) the Iraqi troops probably are not going to be ready for 5 years.)

If it will really take five years like he thinks, for Iraqi security forces to be able to walk into a public marker wearing their uniform without a mask, and actually gain the respect of the Iraqi people, the local militias are looking better all the time. The only problem is how to keep them from breaking up the country once they take power.

Anyway, in case you were wondering:

Archaeology dates the origin of the Sumerian civilization to ca 4000 BCE. This civilization invented writing (c. 3200 BCE) and ultimately culminated in the Semitic empire of Sargon the Great (c 2340 BCE). Sumer and the Sumerian language declined after 2000 BCE and the area was later absorbed successively by the empires of Babylonia, Assyria and Persia.

Samaria, on the other hand, was an area in ancient Palestine, a land of hills and valleys between Judea and Galilee. Most of Samaria is now part of the West Bank under the control of the Palestinian Authority.

Posted by Mike at 02:39 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

August 05, 2005

Juan Cole strikes again

Not one, but two brilliant posts, on Iraq and the GWOT respectively.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me--can't get fooled again:

The bizarre report by Jim Miklaszewski of NBC news that US military sources are saying Iran is the source of more sophisticated bombs used by Sunni Arab guerrillas in Iraq seems so unbelievable because it is. Poor Jim is the victim of a high-level Department of Defense black psy-ops operation (or perhaps such an operation has been supplied by a sub-contractor). You wonder if it is Doug Feith's parting gift to the American people-- laying the groundwork for a war with Iran.

This is the give-away sentence:

' Intelligence officials believe the high-explosives were shipped into Iraq by the Iranian Revolutionary guard or the terrorist group Hezbollah, but are convinced it could not have happened without the full consent of the Iranian government.

Earlier in the article it was alleged that the supposedly captured shipment came from northeastern Iran. Yet by this later paragraph, the US military intelligence guys can't tell whether it came from the west or the east, or whether it came from Iran or Hizbullah. But if you don't know whether something comes from Lebanon or Iran, then you really don't know where it came from at all, do you? Lebanon and Iran are not like each other. One speaks Persian, the other Arabic. Why, they aren't even close to one another.

As Fareed Zakaria has also pointed out:

Salih al-Mutlaq, whose National Dialogue Council has links to the insurgents, argues that negotiating with them would cripple the jihadists. "If the Americans reach an agreement with the local [Baathist] resistance, there won't be any room for foreign fighters," he says.

My diplomatic source argues that the people he has talked to appear credible and are willing to be tested (by ceasing their attacks for a week, for example). Their message to him has been, "The United States is not our strategic enemy. Our strategic enemy is Iran. We want to end the war with America." That is why they insist on direct talks with the Americans.

Anyway, back to Fisking the "War on Terror":

Not content with creating a vast terrorist network to harass the Soviets, Reagan then pressured the late King Fahd of Saudi Arabia to match US contributions. He had earlier imposed on Fahd to give money to the Contras in Nicaragua, some of which was used to create rightwing death squads. (Reagan liked to sidestep Congress in creating private terrorist organizations for his foreign policy purposes, which he branded "freedom fighters," giving terrorists the idea that it was all right to inflict vast damage on civilians in order to achieve their goals).

Fahd was a timid man and resisted Reagan's instructions briefly, but finally gave in to enormous US pressure.

Fahd not only put Saudi government money into the Afghan Mujahideen networks, which trained them in bomb making and guerrilla tactics, but he also instructed the Minister of Intelligence, Turki al-Faisal, to try to raise money from private sources.

Turki al-Faisal checked around and discovered that a young member of the fabulously wealthy Bin Laden construction dynasty, Usama, was committed to Islamic causes. Turki thus gave Usama the task of raising money from Gulf millionaires for the Afghan struggle. This whole effort was undertaken, remember, on Reagan Administration instructions....

Then in July, 2005, General Richard Myers, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, announced that there was not actually any "War on Terror:" ' General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the National Press Club on Monday that he had "objected to the use of the term 'war on terrorism' before, because if you call it a war, then you think of people in uniform as being the solution." ' (Question: Does this mean we can have the Bill of Rights back, now?)

The American Right, having created the Mujahideen and having mightily contributed to the creation of al-Qaeda, abruptly announced that there was something deeply wrong with Islam, that it kept producing terrorists.

My emphasis, not his. Great stuff.

Posted by Mike at 05:17 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

August 01, 2005

This makes a lot of sense

As far as proportional representation goes, it makes much more sense to have provincial allotments, as opposed to a national free for all. I believe several states here in the US, Illinois for one, already use a similar method for electing their state legislatures. It also has the side benefit of being much more immune to vote fraud. Coincidentally, that is one of the main arguments used to support keeping the electoral college here in the United States.

From Juan Cole:

The Sunday news cycle took a roller coaster ride with regard to whether the constitution drafting committee of the Iraqi parliament will be finished by August 15. It must request a postponement by today if it is going to seek one. First, committee chair Humam al-Hamoudi said they might ask for a one-month delay rather than the 6-month delay that is permitted by the Transitional Administrative Law (interim constitution). That seems to have sent President Jalal Talabani ballistic, and he intervened to say that there must be no postponement. He differed in that stance from his Kurdish colleagues on the committee, many of whom were reportedly seeking a six-month postponement. Finally, it was announced that the committee would meet the Aug. 15 deadline for most of the constitution, but might continue working on some particularly contentious articles. I'm not sure that move would be constitutional (I should have thought Aug. 15 was an all or nothing affair). But now that parliament is elected and sovereign, I suppose it may do as it pleases.

On Sunday, LBC reports that Sunni Arab parliamentarians made a push to have the next elections by 18 electoral districts, instead of having Iraq just one district. The latter system, used on Jan. 30, allowed Sunni Arabs to be virtually excluded from parliament. In a district-based system, Anbar would probably get 11 or so seats, and they would be filled by Sunnis, even if the turnout of the voters was light. In a system where all Iraq is the electoral district, nobody might represent Anbar. Al-Hayat says that the change to provincial voting districts was sought by the Shiites of the United Iraqi Alliance.

The Sunnis and/or Shiites did not get their debate, because the Kurdish Alliance and the Iraqiyah list of Iyad Allawi boycotted the session, depriving it of a quorum. They insisted that such a serious debate needed to be announced at least a couple of days beforehand so that all parties could prepare for it, not just sprung suddenly. In a district-based election, Allawi's list very likely would be reduced to 2-4 delegates, since it gets votes only from the small Baghdad and Basra middle class. On Jan. 30, the Iraqiyah garnered 14 percent. The Kurds would also see their 75 parliamentary delegates somewhat reduced. They would get elected primarily from 6 provinces, which would presumably have about 90 seats out of 275. But Kurds would be assured of dominating the delegations of only three of them, while the other three are mixed.

Posted by Mike at 06:45 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

July 29, 2005

Bernard Lewis on the War on Terror

Even a broken clock is right twice a day:

President Bush and other Western politicians have taken great pains to make it clear that the war in which we are engaged is a war against terrorism not a war against Arabs, or, more generally, against Muslims, who are urged to join us in this struggle against our common enemy. Osama bin Laden's message is the opposite. For bin Laden and those who follow him, this is a religious war, a war for Islam and against infidels, and therefore, inevitably, against the United States, the greatest power in the world of the infidels.

In his pronouncements, bin Laden makes frequent references to history. One of the most dramatic was his mention, in the October 7th videotape, of the "humiliation and disgrace" that Islam has suffered for "more than eighty years." Most American–and, no doubt, European–observers of the Middle Eastern scene began an anxious search for some thing that had happened amore than eighty years" ago, and came up with various answers. We can be fairly sure that bin Laden's Muslim listeners – the people he was addressing – picked up the allusion immediately and appreciated its significance. In 1918, the Ottoman sultanate, the last of the great Muslim empires, was finally defeated–its capital, Constantinople, occupied, its sovereign held captive, and much of its territory partitioned between the victorious British and French Empires. The Turks eventually succeeded in liberating their homeland, but they did so not in the name of Islam but through a secular nationalist movement. One of their first acts, in November, 1922, was to abolish the sultanate. The Ottoman sovereign was not only a sultan, the ruler of a specific state; he was also widely recognized as the caliph, the head of all Sunni Islam, and the last in a line of such rulers that dated back to the death of the Prophet Muhammad, in 632 AD. After a brief experiment with a separate caliph, the Turks, in March 1924, abolished the caliphate, too. During its nearly thirteen centuries, the caliphate had gone through many vicissitudes, but it remained a potent symbol of Muslim unity, even identity, and its abolition, under the double assault of foreign imperialists and domestic modernists, was felt throughout the Muslim world.

Historical allusions such as bin Laden's, which may seem abstruse to many Americans, are common among Muslims, and can be properly understood only within the context of Middle Eastern perceptions of identity and against the background of Middle Eastern history. Even the concepts of history and identity require redefinition for the Westerner trying to understand the contemporary Middle East. In current American usage, the phrase "that's history" is commonly used to dismiss something as unimportant, of no relevance to current concerns, and, despite an immense in vestment in the teaching and writing of history, the general level of historical knowledge in our society is abysmally low. The Muslim peoples, like everyone else in the world, are shaped by their history, but, unlike some others, they are keenly aware of it. In the nineteen eighties, during the Iran-Iraq war, for instance, both sides waged massive propaganda campaigns that frequently evoked events and personalities dating back as far as the seventh century. These were not detailed narratives but rapid, incomplete allusions, and yet both sides employed them in the secure knowledge that they would be understood by their target audiences–even by the large pro portion of that audience that was illiterate. Middle Easterners' perception of history is nourished from the pulpit, by the schools, and by the media, and, al though it may be – indeed, often is – slanted and inaccurate, it is nevertheless vivid and powerfully resonant.

But history of what? In the Western world, the basic unit of human organization is the nation, which is then subdivided in various ways, one of which is by 'c religion. Muslims, however, tend to see not a nation subdivided into religious groups but a religion subdivided into nations. This is no doubt partly because most of the nation-states that make up the modern Middle East are relatively new creations, left over from the era of Anglo-French imperial domination that followed the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, and they preserve the state-building and frontier demarcations of their former imperial masters. Even their names reflect this artificiality: Iraq was a medieval province, with borders very different from those of the modern republic; Syria, Palestine, and Libya are names from classical antiquity that hadn't been used in the region for a thousand years or more before they were revived and imposed by European imperialists in the twentieth century; Algeria and Tunisia do not even exist as words in Arabic–the same name serves for the city and the country. Most remarkable of all, there is no word in the Arabic language for Arabia, and modern Saudi Arabia is spoken of in stead as "the Saudi Arab kingdom" or "the peninsula of the Arabs," depending on the context. This is not because Arabic is a poor language - quite the reverse is true–but because the Arabs simply did not think in terms of combined ethnic and territorial identity. Indeed, the caliph Omar, the second in succession after the Prophet Muhammad, is quoted as saying to the Arabs, "Learn your genealogies, and do not be like the local peasants who, when they are asked who they are, reply: I am from such-and-such a place."'

Of course, that doesn't mean the clock ain't broke:

That morning the group gathered in the lobby of a hotel in downtown Washington. From there, one participant recalls, "we got into mini-buses and took off at about a zillion miles an hour. We had a full-blown police escort, motorcycle outriders, the works, and at the peak of the morning rush hour they had cleared the entire interstate across the 14th Street Bridge. It took almost no time at all to get to the Pentagon... When we got there, it was like a war zone. You could still smell the smoke."

They met in Rumsfeld's conference room. After a C.I.A. briefing on the 9/11 attacks, Perle introduced two guest speakers. The first was Bernard Lewis, professor emeritus at Princeton, a longtime associate of Cheney's and Wolfowitz's. Lewis told the meeting that America must respond to 9/11 with a show of strength: to do otherwise would be taken in the Islamic world as a sign of weakness-one it would be bound to exploit. At the same time, he said, America should support democratic reformers in the Middle East. "Such as," he said, turning to the second of Perle's guest speakers, "my friend here, Dr. Chalabi."

Chalabi's presence at the meeting represented a triumph for his long-standing Washington adviser, Francis Brooke, who had spent years forging a large network of sympathetic contacts for Chalabi, among journalists and on Capitol Hill. Several of those around the table already counted themselves strong I.N.C. supporters, including Perle, Gingrich, and Professor Lewis, along with the Pentagon neocons who drifted in and out of the meeting-Luti, Feith, and Wolfowitz. Yet, while Chalabi had attracted powerful support, there were reasons to keep him at a distance. In particular, he had been convicted in 1992 of embezzling tens of millions of dollars from Petra Bank, Jordan's third-largest, which he had started. (Chalabi denies the charge.) He fled the country before he could be imprisoned. When it came to discussing who should replace Saddam, State Department and C.I.A. officials soon came to use a brutal abbreviation: "A.B.C.-anyone but Chalabi."

At the meeting Chalabi said that, although there was as yet no evidence linking Iraq to 9/11, failed states such as Saddam's were a breeding ground for terrorists, and Iraq, he told those at the meeting, possessed W.M.D.

Posted by Mike at 12:59 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

July 28, 2005

4th25 Live from Iraq now available

Beats watching Over There, in more ways than one:


live from iraq

© 2005 4th25 entertainment

CD List price: $14.95
CD Baby Price: $10.00

IN STOCK. ORDER NOW. Will ship within 24 hours!

Posted by Mike at 04:27 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

July 27, 2005

Chris Matthews on the Iraq War

From the Chris Matthews Show on Sunday:

"If the war in Iraq was going better, we wouldn't still be asking how we got into it. But it isn't, so we are. For some, the deciding argument for going to war with Iraq was was nuclear. If Saddam Hussein had the bomb or was about to [get it], we had to stop him.

How many times were we told the smoking gun would be a mushroom cloud? How many times did the vice president tell us that Iraq had a nuclear program? Who can forget that the President himself used his State of the Union to warn of Saddam cutting a deal down in Africa? It was a smart, shrewd strategy...talking about mushroom clouds. It got people off the fence. It carried the undecideds. It shut down the opposition. It got us into Iraq. But it was based on faulty, bogus evidence.

Two years ago, with our forces fully engaged in Iraq, the nuclear threat was long seen as inoperative. Now a former Ambassador [Joseph Wilson], who had been sent to Africa before the war looking for evidence of an Iraqi uranium deal, said he came back empty. But he wasn't the first to try and knock down the nuclear argument. Intelligence agencies had been doing that for months, just as unsuccessfully.

The larger scandal in this White House/CIA leak story is not just who leaked the name of an undercover agent, but whether we were given a case for war---the deciding factor for many of us---knowing that it didn't hold water. As we work to find our way out of Iraq, we should focus a bit...on how we got in."

Posted by Mike at 04:54 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

July 24, 2005

US attorney ignores US court order?

That's a new one. Well, at least no one has officially declared marshall law and announced that the FOIA is null and void, yet.

From the SF Chronicle:

Lawyers for the Defense Department are refusing to cooperate with a federal judge's order to release secret photographs and videotapes related to the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal.

The lawyers said in a letter sent to the federal court in Manhattan late Thursday that they would file a sealed brief explaining their reasons for not turning over the material, which they were to have released by Friday.

The photographs were some of thousands turned over by Spc. Joseph Darby, the whistle-blower who exposed the abuse at Abu Ghraib by giving investigators computer disks containing photographs and videos of prisoners being abused, sexually humiliated and threatened with dogs.

The small number of the photographs released in spring 2004 provoked international outrage at the American military.

In early June, Judge Alvin Hellerstein of U.S. District Court in Manhattan ordered the release of the additional photographs, part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union to determine the extent of abuse at American military prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan and at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

More from the LA Times:

The ACLU said sealed documents the government filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Manhattan would be used to argue that dozens of photographs could not be released because they would result in a safety threat to individuals.

"We obviously express skepticism about the latest move on the government's part to withhold information the public is clearly entitled to," said Amrit Singh, an ACLU staff lawyer.

The government raised its new challenge to releasing pictures and videos from Abu Ghraib prison on the same day it was supposed to show the exhibits to a judge presiding over the case, the ACLU said.

Sean H. Lane, the government lawyer handling the case, referred questions to Herbert Haddad, a spokesman for U.S. Atty. David N. Kelley.

Haddad said the government did file papers in the case under seal, and said he could not discuss their contents.

Posted by Mike at 12:29 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

July 18, 2005

News from Iraq or is it Sumer?

TIME has the full story:

America's Founding Fathers spent nearly four months hashing out a constitution. Iraq's drafting committee has been trying to crank one out in half that time. With an Aug. 1 deadline rapidly approaching, the chief sticking point appears to be how the government can avoid another Saddam-like concentration of power. Both the Shi'ites and the Kurds are pushing for varying degrees of federalism, and the U.S. is supporting the plan. The Kurds have long sought a large degree of autonomy for their region in the north. The Shi'ites too are now calling for an autonomous region in the south, to be called Sumer, home to Iraq's only ports, as well as at least 80% of its oil reserves.

The stumbling block is the Sunni contingent, which opposes a partition along sectarian or ethnic lines and wants a strong central government. "The Sunni Arabs are already pushing back on this. They all hate it," said a U.S. embassy official familiar with the drafting process. Jawad al-Malaki, a Shi'ite committee member and adviser to Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, calls the Sunni approach a nonstarter, warning that it could lead to a new dictatorship. Meanwhile, the U.S. is trying to convince the Sunnis that federalism is in their interest. "If you had the kind of system the Sunnis want, what you'd probably get is a Shi'a Prime Minister appointing a Shi'a Islamist to go run Anbar [a mainly Sunni province where much of the insurgency is raging]," the official said. "Do you really think that's what they want?"

Unless the constitution committee asks for a six-month extension, these squabbling groups plan to submit a draft by month's end so that Parliament can vote on it by Aug. 15. Already some fear that the Sunnis may want to keep up their recalcitrance in order to force new elections. But Shi'ite and Kurdish members say they will vote the constitution out of the committee without the Sunnis if they must, and the U.S. is willing to back them up. If the Sunnis derail the process, says the U.S. official, "we'll know who to blame." --By Christopher Allbritton

Ah, well, I think the Iraqis already blame us, that much is clear.

Posted by Mike at 04:23 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

July 15, 2005

One week left

Originally scheduled for June 30th, the release of the worst Abu Ghraib photos was rescheduled to July 22nd. I'm not sure how I missed the story. It was covered by a total of one newspaper online, the Orange County Register:

By Eric Rosenberg, Hearst Newspapers, June 19, 2005

The Pentagon is preparing to release another batch of photos showing prisoner abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad, a step that is likely to renew criticism of the U.S.

The digital photos are from the same batch amassed by Army Spc. Joseph Darby, who was based at Abu Ghraib. Darby turned the photos over to military investigators last year. Later, some photos showing naked Iraqi prisoners being forced to simulate sex acts were broadcast and published.

The ensuing controversy triggered wide criticism of U.S. policies at the prison.

To date, eight soldiers have pleaded guilty or been convicted at court-martial in the scandal.

A federal judge in New York on June 2 ordered the government to prepare to release the rest of the Darby photos in response to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union under the Freedom of Information Act.

In issuing his order, U.S. District Court Judge Alvin Hellerstein of New York City gave the government until June 30 to get the photos ready by removing information in the pictures that might identify the victims. The judge said the photographs "are the best evidence the public can have of what occurred" at Abu Ghraib.

David Kelley, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, has asked Hellerstein for an extension - until July 22 - to get all the video and still pictures ready for release.

In a June 10 letter to Hellerstein, Kelley said the government would have the photographs ready by June 30. But "in order to address all of the responsive Darby images at one time," he requested that Hellerstein not order the release of any until the video processing is completed July 22.

Kelley said the Army's Criminal Investigation Crime Lab is processing the videos frame-by-frame.

The Bush administration is likely to pay a public-relations penalty for failing to release all of the Abu Ghraib images sooner...

I guess I can understand why the networks are not interested. It's not like images of Iraqi women and children being raped by American soldiers and their translators could possibly inflame Iraqi public opinion and push the movement for withdrawal of American forces over the top:

Baghdad – Abdel-Wahed Tohmeh – Al-Hayat, July 4, 2005

103 members of the [ 275-member] National Assembly (the Parliament) have demanded the adoption of a resolution cancelling the request made by the Government to the UN Security Council to extend the presence of multinational forces, and urging the Government to put “a clear plan for army building and a timetable for the withdrawal of occupation troops” from Iraq.

Falah Hassan Shneishel MP (of the “Independent National Bloc”) [the INB is the parliamentary bloc of Muqtada al-Sadr’s Current, which plays a prominent role in the organization of the political fight against the occupation] explained that the number of MPs demanding a timetable for the withdrawal of occupation troops has exceeded 103 after more than 20 additional MPs have adopted the statement issued two weeks ago in this regard.

By my count, they only need 35 more votes for a 138 seat majority, even assuming that no one abstains or fails to show up for the vote.

Posted by Mike at 03:20 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

July 06, 2005


If you have not read "Against All Enemies" by Richard Clarke you are really missing out on the definitive book about the War on Terror. I had paged through it before but missed the key chapters on his time with Bush, so I had not bothered to buy a copy. All that detail about a Millienium bomb plot and so forth. Trust me, I'm reading it now, and it explains how Iraq distracted us from al Qaeda to a T, and in the words of the Bush administration counterterrorism leader, too.

Anyway, this post by Stirling Newberry reminded me of that today:

The harsh conclusion is that the very documents being read in the Pentagon in the days after 9/11 provided clear warnings not to go into a nation without intelligence, not to go in with a "limited contingent," not to set large and sweeping goals of political transformation, and not to rely on an increasingly fragile military instrument to effect change. The Downing Street Memos show how, systematically, these points were ignored by key US envoys to Great Britain, and the final invasion of Iraq ended up looking like the invasion of Afghanistan by the USSR. That is, politically compelled for ideological reasons, but constrained by economic and military shortages.

With the crash of a Chinook troop transport helicopter, lost, in all probability, to hostile fire, the parallels between the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq should be held to closer parallel. Consider that, from the point of invasion to the 10 May letter, the Soviets had suffered, on average, 5 killed per day of involvement, and 13 wounded. The United States has suffered only 2.3 killed, but 16 wounded. In other words, the intensity of American combat in Iraq differs from the Soviet presence in Afghanistan only in that better American evacuation and medical technology, plus better armor, saves 3 people every day who otherwise would have died.

In short, the United States is fighting its own version of the war that, according to the the foreign policy intellectual establishment, either brought down or hastened the fall of the USSR. We have engaged in the same mistakes: the Downing Street Memos of March 2002 show a determination to invade but an admission that there is poor intelligence on troops, deployment of Weapons of Mass Destruction and the state of Saddam's air force. There is no mention made of non-conventional or guerrilla warfare, just as the planning documents of the Soviet invasion do not once mention the possibility of a resistence developing. There is a reliance on an outside trained elite that, it is admitted, has no credibility on the ground.

It was a Soviet politician who reminded his fellow politburo members that with each person's death and closing of the eyes, a unique world comes to an end. It might also be added that when a nation closes its eyes to the lessons of the past, it too sets itself on a course toward its own death, a journey to that country "from which no traveler returns."

Posted by Mike at 06:12 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

July 02, 2005

General admits to secret air war

From the Sunday London Times:

The American general who commanded allied air forces during the Iraq war appears to have admitted in a briefing to American and British officers that coalition aircraft waged a secret air war against Iraq from the middle of 2002, nine months before the invasion began.

Addressing a briefing on lessons learnt from the Iraq war Lieutenant-General Michael Moseley said that in 2002 and early 2003 allied aircraft flew 21,736 sorties, dropping more than 600 bombs on 391 “carefully selected targets” before the war officially started.

The nine months of allied raids “laid the foundations” for the allied victory, Moseley said. They ensured that allied forces did not have to start the war with a protracted bombardment of Iraqi positions.

If those raids exceeded the need to maintain security in the no-fly zones of southern and northern Iraq, they would leave President George W Bush and Tony Blair vulnerable to allegations that they had acted illegally.

Moseley’s remarks have emerged after reports in The Sunday Times that showed an increase in allied bombing in southern Iraq was described in leaked minutes of a meeting of the war cabinet as “spikes of activity to put pressure on the regime”.

Moseley told the briefing at Nellis airbase in Nebraska on July 17, 2003, that the raids took place under cover of patrols of the southern no-fly zone; their purpose was ostensibly to protect the ethnic minorities.

A leaked memo previously disclosed by The Sunday Times, detailing a meeting chaired by the prime minister and attended by Jack Straw, the foreign secretary, Geoff Hoon, the then defence secretary, and Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, chief of defence staff, indicated that the US was carrying out the bombing.

But Moseley’s remarks, and figures for the amount of bombs dropped in southern Iraq during 2002, indicate that the RAF was taking as large a part in the bombing as American aircraft.

Details of the Moseley briefing come amid rising concern in the US at the war. A new poll shows 60% of Americans now believe it was a mistake.

Posted by Mike at 01:40 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

June 22, 2005

Bush better declare victory soon

Before it is too late:

WASHINGTON - The CIA believes the Iraq insurgency poses an international threat and may produce better-trained Islamic terrorists than the 1980s Afghanistan war that gave rise to Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, a U.S. counterterrorism official said on Wednesday.

A classified report from the U.S. spy agency says Iraqi and foreign fighters are developing a broad range of deadly skills, from car bombings and assassinations to tightly coordinated conventional attacks on police and military targets, the official said.

Once the insurgency ends, Islamic militants are likely to disperse as highly organized battle-hardened combatants capable of operating throughout the Arab-speaking world and in other regions including Europe.

Fighters leaving Iraq would primarily pose a challenge for their countries of origin including Saudi Arabia and Jordan. But the May report, which has been widely circulated in the intelligence community, also cites a potential threat to the United States.

From Sunday's Presidential Radio Address:

As we work to deliver opportunity at home, we're also keeping you safe from threats from abroad. We went to war because we were attacked, and we are at war today because there are still people out there who want to harm our country and hurt our citizens. Some may disagree with my decision to remove Saddam Hussein from power, but all of us can agree that the world's terrorists have now made Iraq a central front in the war on terror. These foreign terrorists violently oppose the rise of a free and democratic Iraq, because they know that when we replace despair and hatred with liberty and hope, they lose their recruiting grounds for terror.

Our troops are fighting these terrorists in Iraq so you will not have to face them here at home. We mourn every one of these brave men and women who have given his or her life for our liberty. The terrorists know they cannot defeat our troops, so they seek to weaken our nation's resolve. They know there is no room for them in a free and democratic Middle East, so the terrorists and insurgents are trying to get us to retreat. Their goal is to get us to leave before Iraqis have had a chance to show the region what a government that is elected and truly accountable to its citizens can do for its people.

Time and again, the Iraqi people have defied the skeptics who claim they are not up to the job of building a free society. Nearly a year ago, Iraqis showed they were ready to resume sovereignty. A few months ago, Iraqis showed they could hold free elections. This week, Iraqis have worked on an agreement to expand their constitutional drafting committee to ensure that all communities are represented in the process. I am confident that Iraqis will continue to defy the skeptics as they build a new Iraq that represents the diversity of their nation and assumes greater responsibility for their own security. And when they do, our troops can come home with the honor they have earned.

This mission isn't easy, and it will not be accomplished overnight. We're fighting a ruthless enemy that relishes the killing of innocent men, women, and children. By making their stand in Iraq, the terrorists have made Iraq a vital test for the future security of our country and the free world. We will settle for nothing less than victory.

I'll continue to act to keep our people safe from harm and our future bright. Together we will do what Americans have always done: build a better and more peaceful world for our children and grandchildren.

Thank you for listening.

Posted by Mike at 08:18 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

June 13, 2005

Required listening for the 101st Keyboard Division

Assuming those who support the war are ready to hear how it's going. Like a lot of good rap albums, Live from Iraq has raw emotions, deep insights, and irrational dreams of violence. The bad part is that you know the violence is real. The good part is that you get an idea what it is really like for soldiers on the ground. The soldiers' politics vary, but their message is the same: War is hell. It's also pretty clear they see all Iraqis as the enemy, too. Which is disturbing, but probably inevitable ever since Bush made the occupation an American one.

Twenty minutes worth of samples are free at


Live from Iraq

1. the deployment
2. live from iraq
3. lace your boots
4. holdin my breath
5. 24 hours
6. behind the screens
7. matter of time
8. fuckem
9. integrity
10. the anthem
11. dirty
12. I ride
13. reality check
14. testament of a soldier
15. pussy

From the AP:

Saunders planned to put his musical aspirations on hold while he was deployed, but soon after arriving at Camp War Eagle near the Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City, he came up with the idea for the album.

"I'd been trying to find my angle my whole life as an artist," he said. "If I can't take this opportunity and have anything to say about probably the most influential year of my life then I could never really consider myself to be an artist."

Many soldiers answered his call for participants, but most lost interest when they heard what he had in mind.

"Everybody wanted to do their own thing," Saunders said. "And when I gave them the guidance and said, 'This isn't gonna be about 23-inch rims when you're over here riding a Humvee' ... they didn't like it."

Staves said some people actually laughed at the group and told them no one would buy a rap album about Iraq.

"I told them it's not about the money. It's about the music," he said.

Newsweek has a music video, too.

Posted by Mike at 10:25 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

June 03, 2005

USA - July 4, 1776 - July 4, 2005

Mark your calendars. Two hundred and thirty years of progress towards American leadership in the world are about to come to a bitter end, and the last days of true American influence in the world could get very ugly indeed:

Fri Jun 3, 9:25 AM ET

A judge has ordered the government to release four videos from Abu Ghraib prison and dozens of photographs from the same collection as photos that touched off the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal a year ago.

The federal judge issued the order late Wednesday requiring the Army to release the material to the American Civil Liberties Union to comply with the Freedom of Information Act.

The ACLU said the material would show that the abuse was "more than the actions of a few rogue soldiers."

Judge Alvin Hellerstein said the 144 pictures and videos can be turned over in redacted form to protect the victims' identities. He gave the Army one month to release them.

Just in time for the Fourth of July. There will be fireworks alright, but not the kind we are used to seeing, I am afraid.

Posted by Mike at 01:44 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

April 18, 2005

Talabani favors ethnic militias

Considering the Kurds believe they have more to gain than to lose in a divided Iraq, watch President Talabani and the words he uses very closely:

Iraq's new president has said the insurgency could be ended immediately if the authorities made use of Kurdish, Shia Muslim and other militias.

Jalal Talabani said this would be more effective than waiting for Iraqi forces to take over from the US-led coalition.

Mr Talabani, a Kurd, also told the BBC he would not sign a death warrant for captured former leader Saddam Hussein.

And he warned that any attempt to impose an Islamic government on Iraq would break up the country.

On the other hand, he makes several good points

Mr Talabani said he favoured an amnesty for Iraqi insurgents who had taken up arms out of disenchantment with the new regime.

He also said he believed members of the former ruling Baath Party should be allowed to take up jobs in civil life and the administration - but not in the armed or security forces, unless they had a track record of secret opposition to Saddam Hussein.

But he made it clear that any such major decisions would have to be taken via a consensus involving the presidency, the cabinet and the parliament.

Asked how long it would take for Iraqi security forces to be in a position to replace the US-led coalition, President Talabani said the transition could take place straight away if a new strategy were adopted.

"In my opinion, Iraqi forces, the popular forces and government forces, are now ready to end the insurgency and end this terrorism," he said.

"But there is a kind of thinking inside the [outgoing interim] government that they must not use [them]."

The Kurds have in the past offered the use of their estimated 80,000 Peshmerga guerrillas for security tasks but have been turned down.

So, too, has the Iranian-influenced Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Sciri) and its Badr brigade, another well-trained fighting force.

"We cannot wait for years and years of terrorist activity because we haven't enough government forces," the president said.

Posted by Mike at 11:28 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

April 13, 2005

Iraqis gather to greet Rumsfeld

Well, or something like that:

Chanting "No! No to terrorism!" and "No! No to America!" thousands of supporters of a radical Shiite cleric who once led uprisings against U.S. troops called Saturday for American forces to withdraw from Iraq, staging a massive protest at the same square where - two years ago to the day - protesters pulled down a towering statue of ousted Saddam Hussein.

After meeting with Iraq's newly elected leaders, Rumsfeld apparently hoped to assure the Iraqi people the U.S. had no long term designs on Iraq. Or something like that. His answer to calls for an American timetable of withdrawal:

The United States has no exit strategy or timetable for pulling out its forces from Iraq, and any withdrawal depends on the readiness of the Iraqi security forces, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on a surprise visit to Iraq today.

“We don't have an exit strategy, we have a victory strategy,” Rumsfeld told U.S. reporters. “The goal is to help the Iraqi Forces develop the skills and the capacity to provide their own security.''

The Defense Secretary arrived in Baghdad before sunrise Tuesday for his second visit to Iraq in three months, and the ninth since the March 2003 invasion.

He began his day with talks on the military situation with U.S. Army General George Casey, who said that training the Iraqi security forces was going well, but noted that they’re still not ready to take full charge.

There are about 152,000 Iraqi soldiers and policemen, according to the Iraqi interim government. Rumsfeld said that progress is being made in their training, without indicating when they could become fully competent.

“We have to see the institutional capacity developed so that they can take over the security responsibility,'' he said. “As that takes place, the responsibility of the coalition forces will decline and they will be able to move away and leave.''

Asked if the U.S. plans to have permanent military bases in Iraq, Rumsfeld said that this would be discussed with the Iraqi government after the draft of the permanent constitution and the outcomes of the elections, due in December.

Earlier in the day, the U.S. Defense Secretary met with the newly elected Interim President Jalal Talabani, and Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari.

Rumsfeld demanded both leaders to stick to a timetable set by interim laws passed under the previous U.S.-led occupation authority, which call for the constitution to be put to a referendum in October.

He also advised them not to allow "turbulence or incompetence or corruption" that could hamper progress toward building “democracy” and defeating the insurgency.

Posted by Mike at 02:06 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

April 05, 2005

I'll believe it when I see it

But this seems like it might actually go through:

BAGHDAD, Iraq, April 5 - Iraq's major political parties agreed this evening to appoint a president and two vice presidents at a meeting of the national assembly on Wednesday, according to a senior assembly leader, breaking a two-month deadlock in negotiations to form a new government.

The main Shiite and Kurdish political blocs have agreed to name Jalal Talabani, a Kurdish leader, as president; Adel Abdul Mahdi, a prominent Shiite Arab politician, as vice president; and Sheik Ghazi al-Yawar, the Sunni Arab president of the interim government, as the other vice president, said Hussein al-Shahristani, a vice speaker of the assembly.

The three officials, who will make up the presidency council, will have two weeks from their appointment to name a prime minister, who would then select a cabinet. The new government would have to be approved by a majority vote of the assembly, according to the interim constitution.

The agreement breaks an impasse between the main parties that had threatened to wreck the confidence built up during the Jan. 30 elections, when Iraqis defied insurgent threats to walk in droves to polling stations.

Posted by Mike at 07:21 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

March 29, 2005

Allawi and al-Yawer storm out of assembly

From the AP:

Shouting from their seats, lawmakers failed to agree on a Speaker during their second-ever National Assembly meeting today, with wrangling over bringing in Sunni Arabs a step officials hope will quell the Sunni-led insurgency prolonging already tortuous talks on forming a new government.

The bickering exposed tensions in the newly formed parliament, with outgoing interim Prime Minister Mr Ayad Allawi storming out of the session, followed by interim President Mr Ghazi al-Yawer who turned down the Speakers job. What are we going to tell the citizens who sacrificed their lives and cast ballots on 30 January, asked Mr Hussein al-Sadr, a Shiite member of Mr Allawis coalition.
The short session mostly held behind closed doors after a nearly three-hour delay adjourned until this weekend. Mr Al-Sadr said the parliament Speaker would likely be chosen on Sunday, giving Sunni lawmakers time to come up with a candidate. We saw that things were confused today, so we gave them a last chance, he added. We expect the Sunni brothers to nominate their candidate. Otherwise, we will vote on a candidate on Sunday.

Shi'ite, Kurdish and Sunni representatives had been trying to come up with a name for the Sunni Arab candidate that legislators promised would be announced during todays session.

Full coverage from Knight Ridder:

The second meeting of the Iraqi national assembly slipped into shouts and allegations Tuesday just before reporters were removed, the prime minister walked out and the meeting ended abruptly.

At the root of the tension was an ongoing feud between Sunni Muslim politicians and the Shiite Muslim group that swept elections. President Ghazi al-Yawer, a Sunni, refused an offer from Shiite and Kurdish political leaders to be the speaker of the assembly, saying Sunnis were being marginalized in the political process.

Two months after national elections on Jan. 30, the assembly finished the day without performing its first order of business - appointing a speaker.

"I couldn't say that I am happy with the state of the negotiations because we haven't been involved very deeply in those negotiations that have been going on only between the two groups,'' the Shiites and Kurds, said Hashim al Hassani, a Sunni from al-Yawer's political list. They're telling Sunnis "this is what is left for you, and take it or leave it. It is not acceptable."

...The assembly meeting, held in a compound guarded by American soldiers, tanks and helicopters, began about three hours late because of continued bargaining.

Dhari al Fayadh, the moderator, opened the meeting by asking God for guidance, then quickly informed the assembly that there was no speaker candidate.

Al Fayadh opened the floor for comment, and the proceeding devolved into loud arguments.

"The people must be informed about what is happening behind the scenes," shouted Shatha al Musawi, a member of the Shiite alliance. "All the details of the discussions about the obstacles that hinder the democratic process and stop the political process must be made public. If you do not do that, it means that you are concealing the enemies of Iraq."

A representative from the southern town of Basra complained that British troops had raided his home and called for the release of those detained.

As the arguing hit a crescendo, al Fayadh ordered the removal of a TV camera crew from Al-Iraqiyah, a news network that was filming the event live, and Western reporters.

Several assembly members protested, saying that the proceedings should be open to the public.

"If the media will allow me, I have something to say to the members," al Fayadh said. "I swear that no one told me" to make the cameras leave.

Furthering his argument, al Fayadh added, "I am older than you."

A moment later, images on TV screens across the nation switched to a symphony playing the Iraqi national anthem, followed by a montage of interviews extolling the virtues of Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite who'll have to step down after a new prime minister is formally named.

Arguing could be heard from outside the conference room where the assembly was meeting. Allawi left minutes later, then al-Yawer. The assembly adjourned.

Iraqi officials said they hoped to reconvene on Sunday.

If the Kurds are supposedly so pro-American, and in step with the Bush administration, then why does it still seem that their goal is a separate Republic of Kurdistan? Apparently everything is just peachy, as President Bush explained this morning:

"The free people of Iraq are now doing what Saddam Hussein never could - making Iraq a positive example for the entire Middle East."

Some might beg to differ:

The bickering and continued isolation of the Sunnis will lead to more widespread violence, warned Nabil Mohammed, a political science professor and analyst at Baghdad University.

"It is hard to build a new country and a government on the basis of the ethnic and nationality differences," he said. "Doing so is going to divide the country."

Abdul Jabar Ahmed, another analyst at Baghdad University, agreed.

"When ordinary Iraqis see the elite fighting on TV, it makes them want to follow their leaders' example - to fight, to go to civil war," he said.

Out of mounting concerns about a Sunni backlash and increasing violence between Sunnis and Shiites, the alliance and Kurds had wanted a Sunni to take the assembly's visible speaker spot. But al-Yawer's refusal was firm, and he demanded that he be given at least a vice president's slot.

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March 18, 2005

Kurdistani separatism on the rise

Abbas Kadhim has some unique insights on the developing situation in Iraq, specifically in regards to growing Kurdish plans to secede:

Iraqi politicians who are in the process of framing the future of their country find it convenient to stick their heads in the sand whenever the Kurdish crisis comes up. It is about time the truth is spelled out: the Kurds are not interested in being part of Iraq. Every move they have made so far is geared towards independence. Between now and a bold declaration of the state of Kurdistan there is precious time to create facts on the ground maximising the chances for a viable state. The crown jewel of this endeavour will be the annexation of Kirkuk. Failure to deal with this murky situation from the outset will surely be to the detriment of a unified Iraq.

The Kurdish approach to the problem of the oil- rich northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk has been carefully plotted. The Kurds spare no effort to change the demographics of the city. This process involves the re-settlement of Kurds by the tens of thousands and, at the same time, driving out the Arab population at gunpoint. Kurdish officials bluntly declare that they do not want Arabs in their territories. This plot will guarantee the annexation of Kirkuk under the federal arrangement that will give any city the option to join any province it chooses by a majority vote. The 30 January elections provided a clear example of this kind of fraud that went on with impunity.

The Kurdish leadership is using the gains in the elections to intimidate, or maybe bribe, their Arab rivals who need their support to form the new government. They will also do so when the new constitution is written, exploiting their favourite three- province veto clause in the transitional administrative law. They will veto any constitution that reduces their chances of independence. Mindful of the hostile geo-political atmosphere, they realise that Kirkuk's oil is their only guarantor of viability for their separatist dreams.

Hence, the new federalism they have in mind will not allow an Iraqi Arab to relocate in a Kurdish city. It is also a unique form of federalist arrangement that gives the national government no sovereignty in the Kurdish territories. At the present time, the national government has no power to extend its laws, curfews or troop movement anywhere in Kurdistan. If this relation is enshrined in the permanent Constitution, the only function the national government will serve is transferring block grants to the Kurdish government without the ability to enforce any form of accountability. This is not like any form of federalism in the world.

When the conditions for a Kurdish separation materialise, Iraq will soon become three states, but not the ones many analysts predict -- a Kurdish state in the north, a Sunni Arab state in the middle and a Shia state in the south. Indeed, the chances of fragmentation in the Kurdish territory are much higher than the odds in the rest of Iraq.

Here's a Kurdistani in his own words:

Why I cant be Iraqi again!!

By: Dr. Ahmad Mirawdaly

Mar 15, 2005

It has hardly been given attention internationally, that five million Kurds living in south Kurdistan (Iraqi Kurdistan) have over the years suffered greatly at the hands of various regimes in Baghdad.

We the Kurds are from the Iranian branch of Indo-Europeans, and practice many religions but mainly Islam. The estimated 40 million Muslims worldwide are spread throughout the mountainous area between Turkey, Iran, Syria, Azerbaijan and northern Iraq. Our languages and traditions are distinct from Persians, Turks, and Arabs who control our country. Within borders of our occupiers in Iraq, Iran, turkey and Syria, we Kurds are the largest minority group....

In his comments about Anfal, Makiya asks Is every Arab responsible? Millions of Arabic words have been written about more than 300 Palestinian villages destroyed in the creation of Israel. And justly so; would that I could add a million more words. But why is it that not one Arab intellectual has written about the elimination of more than 3,000 Kurdish villages by an Arab state?

...Genetic cases occurring in children born years after the chemical attack, suggest that the effect from these chemical agents are transmitted to succeeding generations.

Personally, I was only 14 when they took me out of my class room, tortured and imprisoned me for a year with no charges laid.

Can anyone give me one good reason to become Iraqi again?

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March 15, 2005

Where is Chalabi's Nobel Peace Prize?

I have to admit that Riverbend has a good point:

If ANYONE should get the Nobel Peace Prize, it should be my favorite Puppet - Ahmed Chalabi. No, really - stop laughing. Ahmed Chalabi is the one Iraqi politician we can all agree on. Iraqi political debates were never pretty. Lately, theyve been worse than ever. I think, to a certain degree, we dont really know how to debate. Sometimes, a debate will begin over a subject both debating parties actually agree upon and then it will escalate into a full-blown yelling match. It never fails to happen with politics.

A debate will usually begin about two current parties or politicians- say Allawi and Jaffari. Someone will say something like, Well its too bad Allawi didnt win Now were stuck with that Daawachi Jaffari Someone else will answer with, Oh please- Allawi is completely American. Well never have our independence if he gets power. A few more words will be exchanged in a debating tone of voice. The voices will get sharper and someone will drudge up accusations In no time it turns into a full-scale political brawl with an underlying religious intonation. No one knows just how it happens- how that frightening thing that is an Iraqi political debate develops and escalates so quickly.

At some point there is silence. This is the point when both sides are convinced that the other one is completely inane and ridiculously intractable. Its sort of a huffy silence, with rolling eyes and lips drawn into thin slits of scorn.

Ive learned the best way to mediate these arguments is to let them develop into what they will. Let the yellers yell, the shouters shout and the name-calling and innuendos ensue. The important part is the end- how to allow the debating parties to part friends or relatives, or (at the very least) to make sure they do not part sworn enemies for life. Its simple, no matter what their stand is, all you have to do is get a couple of words in towards the end. The huffy silence at the end of the debate must be subtly taken advantage of and the following words murmured as if the thought just occurred that moment:

You know whos really bad? Ahmed Chalabi. Hes such a lowlife and villain.

Voila. Like magic the air clears, eyebrows are raised in agreement and all arguing parties suddenly unite to confirm this very valid opinion with nodding heads, somewhat strained laughter and charming anecdotes about his various press appearances and ridiculous sense of fasion. Were all friends again, and family once more. Were all lovey-dovey Iraqis who can agree nicely with each other. In short, we are at peace with each other and the world

And that is why Ahmed Chalabi deserves the Nobel Peace Prize.

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March 01, 2005

State department says child labor now "routine" in Iraq

The documented cases of rape, torture, abuse of women, sharia law, and summary execution - are indeed disturbing, but it is important to not lose track of the impact the chaos is having on an entire generation of Iraqi children. After all, they're the future of Iraq.

From the State Department's report:

According to UNICEF, almost one-half of the country's total population was under the age of 18.

Primary education, which is free and universal, is compulsory through age 11. Attendance in the sixth grade fell to about 50 percent of first grade levels due, in part, to the pervasiveness of child labor.

According to UNICEF, nearly 1 in 4 children (31.2 percent of girls and 17.5 percent of boys) between the ages of 6 and 12 did not attend school. According to authorities, literacy dropped from 80 percent in the late 1980s to approximately 50 percent during the year. Although 75 percent of teachers are women, women and girls represented approximately 70 percent of the increase in illiteracy....

The Child Labor Unit at MOLSA was established in January with a staff of four. The Unit is responsible for coordinating child labor projects designed to eliminate the worst forms of child labor, raising awareness of the hazards of the worst forms of child labor, and conducting inspections of work places to enforce child labor laws. No inspectors were hired or trained, and no further budget allocations were made to support the unit by year's end.

Despite the various laws and regulations in place, children were routinely tapped as an additional source of labor or income for the family unit. This often took the form of seasonal manual labor in rural areas, while in cities; it often meant begging or peddling a variety of products

According to a report of the Islamic Institution for Women and Children, many children under the age of 16 worked to help support their unemployed parents. The report cited poverty as the main reason for child labor. In Baghdad's industrial zone (Kusra and Attach areas), children worked in various industrial crafts industries and constituted approximately 30 percent of the workers. Children earned, 66 cents to $2 (1000 to 3000 dinars) per day.

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February 24, 2005

Chalabi is so full of shit

Besides the comedic value, the following timeline of articles does answer two pressing questions. First, how did Chalabi make the Sistani list in the first place? Well, his friend Sharistani drew up the list! Second, how fast can the editors of the New York Sun make it back from a Baghdad meeting of Chalabi supporters, all thirty, to write their next editorial defending the man? Clearly, pretty fast, because I'm not sure how else you could find thirty Chalabi supporters in Iraq, much less get them all in the same room. He has more enemies than friends, not even counting the warrant for his arrest in Jordan on charges of corruption and fraud.

February 22, 2005
Chalabi claims numbers to be Iraqi PM

February 23, 2005
Iraqi Coalition nominates Jaafari to preside over the interim government

February 24, 2005
Chalabi Supporters Form Caucus To Act as Opposition Bloc

What Next?

February 25, 2005
Chalabi seizes power in bloodless coupe. Pentagon urges caution.

February 26, 2005
Chalabi flees to Washington under cover of dark, in fear for his life.

Good grief. The only thing funnier is this editorial in the NY Sun:

The decision of the Shiite majority in the transitional parliament in Iraq to put forward the Islamic fundamentalist Ibrahim Jafari as prime minister will be a disappointment to many who were rooting for Ahmad Chalabi. But we would not count him out in the medium term. The head of the Iraqi National Congress has already made fools of those who ridiculed his lack of a democratic base, and he will still emerge as a formidable figure in the new parliament and, perhaps, the government. More substantively, he may be in a position to make good on what he once told a British broadcaster, in response to the question of whether Iraq needs another strongman like the Afghan leader Hamid Karzai. "No," Mr. Chalabi replied. "What Iraq needs is another Erhard."

My bad, I thought he said Earnhardt. Driving in Baghdad is no joke.

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February 20, 2005

Chalabi my ass

Am I the only one who finds it highly amusing that all these US media outlets are claiming Chalabi has a shot at the Prime Minister spot? Considering his approval rating is lower than Saddam, I'm not so sure.

Apparently, the Chalabi spin machine has not reached Arabic News:

The Iraqi coalition which is supported by the Shiite clergy Ayatullah al-Seistani chose the deputy Iraqi Vice President and chairman of the Islamic Dawa party in Iraq, Ibrahim al-Jafaari, to assume the post of the new prime minister. The decision will be issued within 48 hours.

Mrs. Jinan al-Obeidi, the woman candidate for the list of this coalition said that "after discussions with other lists, Dr. al-Jaafari was selected for the post of the prime minister." It explained that the other candidate to assume this post the minister of finance Adel Abdul Mahdi gave up this post to al-Jaafari.

Al-Jafaari deputy in the Islamic call party Adnan Ali stressed that this decision will be officially announced "during two or three days."

Latest word is that delays in the announcement are on account of the uniquely timed resignation of Negroponte to assume his place as NID.

Via Juan Cole:

Al-Hayat reports that a decision on the new prime minister will not be announced until at least Wednesday. The decision was postponed in part because of Ashura, and in part because of the difficulty in getting a "green light" from Washington in the wake of Ambassador John Negroponte's appointment as intelligence czar. US news sources have not spoken as openly of the need for a green light from Washington, but al-Hayat's sources are frank about it. This frankness agrees with the comment made by one embassy official that Iraq cannot select a prime minister who is unacceptable to Washington.

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February 17, 2005

Prime Minister Jaafari

Were Al Hakim's tears really tears of disappointment, not tears of joy, when the election results were released on Sunday? I still can't find any reliable accounts, but many have attributed it to either disappointment, or raw emotion at the final result which nineteen members of his family were killed in the process of reaching. Either way, it reminded me that the SCIRI and Dawa Party are still political novices, and recent stories have also raised the point that they would prefer to enforce Sharia and have every Muslim woman in Baghdad wear a veil, for else. The most disappointing moment however, was when I heard that Chalabi was a candidate for PM.

Chalabi? Wasn't there a recent poll of Iraqi's which said only 3% had any respect for the man? This is like the Republicans nominating Dan Quayle for President, or Rush Limbaugh, Oxycotin charges and all. It sure might put a strain in ties with Jordan if the Iraqi PM is arrested on old charges of fraud on his first diplomatic visit.

I seriously doubt Chalabi will win the secret ballot to be held soon, or that if he did, that Sistani - with final say - would approve it. In that light, the certified results show the UAI did get 140 seats as many experts had predicted. 75 for the Kurds. 40 for Allawi. Jaafari will be PM, Talabani will be President, and the Iraqi constitution will not include Sharia. All it takes is a 2/3 majority in any three provinces to defeat the constitution. My fear is that this could lead to more autonomy for the Kurds than anyone but the Kurds would be comfortable with, since almost all Kurds support an independent Kurdistan separate from Iraq. Should be interesting.

Posted by Mike at 10:16 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

February 14, 2005

A billion here, a billion there

Remember how the Coalition Provisional Authority could not quite account for $9 billion, meant for much needed improvements in Iraq to restore things like clean water and electricity? Well, the shortages are still nationwide, but details are starting to emerge about what exactly happened to the missing billions:

WASHINGTON - A former U.S. occupation official in Iraq (news - web sites) thought he was in the Wild West in 2003 as he watched colleagues pull $2 million in fresh bills from a vault and stuff them in a contractor's gunnysack.

Cash payments that weren't stuffed in sacks were made from a pickup truck that bore the name of Iraq's grounded airline. American authorities thought the vehicle would "meld into the environment," the ex-official, Frank Willis, said.

Willis, who was a senior adviser in aviation and telecommunications, planned to describe his experience Monday to a panel of Democratic senators. The hearing is to spotlight the waste of money in Iraq by the former occupation agency, the Coalition Provisional Authority.

Because Iraq had no functioning banking system in 2003, money was kept in a basement vault in CPA headquarters, a former palace of Saddam Hussein (news - web sites).

Officials from the CPA, which ruled Iraq from June 2003 to June 2004, would count the money when it left the vault, but nobody kept track of the cash after that, Willis said.

"In sum: inexperienced officials, fear of decision-making, lack of communications, minimal security, no banks and lots of money to spread around. This chaos I have referred to as a 'Wild West,'" Willis said in testimony submitted to the Democratic Policy Committee.

"This isn't penny ante. Millions, perhaps billions of dollars have been wasted and pilfered," said the chairman of the Democratic panel, Sen. Byron Dorgan (news, bio, voting record) of North Dakota. He said the hearing was arranged because the Republicans who run Congress have declined to investigate fraud, waste and abuse in Iraq.

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February 13, 2005

Iraqi National Assembly expert analysis

Looks like I misplaced the two "extra" seats you get when you assign them based on a 28850 vote threshold. The AFP gave one more to the Cadres and Elites list of Al Sadr supporters and to the Islamic Action Organization, as well. From the AFP:

- United Iraqi Alliance, Shiite coalition backed by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani: 140 seats.

- Kurdish Alliance of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party: 75 seats.

- Iraqi List of outgoing Prime Minister Iyad Allawi: 40 seats.

- Iraqiyun list of outgoing President Ghazi al-Yawar: 5.

- Iraqi Turkmen Front: 3.

- National Independent Cadres and Elite, linked to radical Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr: 3.

- People's Union (communist): 2.

- Kurdistan Islamic Group: 2.

- Islamic Action Organisation in Iraq/Central Direction (Shiite): 2.

- National Democratic Alliance of Abed Faisal Ahmed: 1.

- National list of Mesopotamia (Christian): 1.

- Reconciliation and Liberation Gathering of Sunni Mishaan al-Juburi: 1.

Posted by Mike at 04:52 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Shiite Alliance wins majority of seats

Based on the official, uncertified results from the IEC website, I believe the threshold for a seat in the new Iraqi National Assembly will be about 28850 votes, based on the official election results:

Party Votes Seats
111 43205 1
130 2175551 75
169 4075295 141
175 93480 3
204 36255 1
255 150680 5
258 36795 1
283 60592 2
285 1168943 41
311 30796 1
324 69920 2
352 69938 2

Here are the number of seats by party name:

141 United Iraqi Alliance
75 Kurdistan Alliance List
41 Iraqi List
5 Iraqis
3 Turkoman Iraqi Front
2 Islamic Group of Kurdistan
2 National Union
2 National Independent Cadres and Elites
1 Islamic Action Organization
1 Al Rafideen National List
1 National Democratic Alliance
1 Liberation and Reconciliation Gathering

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February 07, 2005

Kurds move into second place

If estimates of 8 million votes cast are true, that means the IEC is about half way through the count. Here is the latest from Reuters:

BAGHDAD - A coalition of Iraq's main two Kurdish parties has moved into second place behind a Shi'ite Islamist alliance in the vote count following the Jan. 30 elections, partial results released Monday showed.

The partial results, from some polling centers in 13 of Iraq's 18 provinces, showed that the Shi'ite alliance had around 2.3 million votes, with the Kurds winning around 1.1 million and a bloc led by interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi on around 620,000.

The election commission says the partial results do not necessarily give a clear picture of the final distribution of the votes.

The partial results include figures for two of Iraq's three Kurdish-ruled northern provinces, and also several southern mainly Shi'ite provinces.

The Shi'ite alliance is widely expected to win by far the most votes in the election, with the Kurds second and Allawi's bloc tipped to come third.

Posted by Mike at 02:35 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

February 04, 2005

Alliance total reaches 2.2 million votes

From the AP:

The United Iraqi Alliance, which has the endorsement of Iraq's top Shiite clerics, won more than two-thirds of the 3.3 million votes counted so far, the election commission said. Allawi's ticket was running second with more than 579,700 votes....

The new election figures represented partial returns from 10 of Iraq's 18 provinces, said Hamdiyah al-Husseini, an election commission official. All 10 provinces have heavy Shiite populations, and the Alliance had been expected to run strong in those areas.

For example, the returns included the 15 percent of votes in Basra provinces counted and certified so far, and 80 percent tallied in the less densely populated Muthanna province. Votes from 35 percent of the more than 5,200 polling centers around the country have been counted, al-Husseini said.

The Alliance also won the most out of the 265,000 votes cast by Iraqis abroad, with 36 percent, compared to 29 percent for the main Kurdish coalition and nine percent for Allawi, according to a complete count released by the International Organization for Migration, which organized the vote in 14 countries.

Posted by Mike at 02:18 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

February 03, 2005

First partial Iraqi election returns

From the AP:

Incomplete election results from Baghdad and five others of Iraq's 18 provinces showed the Shiite clerical-endorsed ticket running strong in races for seats in the National Assembly, according to the first official results.

So far, 1.6 million votes have been counted, from 10 percent of the country's polling stations. The United Iraqi Alliance, which is backed by the country's most influential Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, had 1.1 million votes, and the list led by interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's list was second with more than 360,500 votes.

But the figures were only partial results - mainly from Shiite dominated provinces where the Alliance was expected to do well - and were too small to say whether they represent the nationwide trend.

Election officials have said it could take up to seven to 10 days from the Sunday vote to produce full official results. Some 16 million Iraqis were eligible to vote, but it is still not known what percentage turned out at the polls. Seats in the National Assembly will be determined by the percentage of the nationwide vote that each faction wins.

Iraqi election officials said Thursday they sent a team to Mosul to look into allegations of voting irregularities in the surrounding Ninevah province, a largely Sunni region. Complaints have included polling stations running short of ballots, confusion over the poll locations and ongoing military operations. It was not clear how many voters were affected.

Posted by Mike at 11:46 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

January 31, 2005

Turnout under 10% in Al Anbar province

NBC News has details, but not the big picture:

RAMADI, Iraq - Voter turnout in Ramadi, the capital of restive Al Ansar Province and in the heart of the Sunni Triangle, was disappointing, but hardly unexpected.

According to U.S. military sources, around 1,700 Iraqis, mostly Sunnis, voted here, representing about 1 percent of eligible voters.

The city's main polling site looked like a high security no-man's-land for most of the day....

Figures for the entire province painted a slightly brighter picture. Over 15,000 Iraqis voted, including around 7,500 in Fallujah, scene of a major U.S. counter offensive last November that destroyed much of the city.

While there are no precise census data, U.S. military sources believe that in the end up to 10 percent of Al Ansar's Sunnis voted.

Via the Coalition Provisional Authority web site:

Towns in Al-Anbar Province Population
Falowja 425,774
Al-Kaime 116,129
Ramadi 444,582
Rowtba 24,813
Ana 37,211
Haditha 75,835
Hit 105,825
Total 1,230,169

As you can see, 15,000 voters is about 1% of the population of Al Anbar province. If you had 10% turnout of registered voters, it means at most 20% of the voting age population was registered to vote. (Assuming up to half the population is under age eighteen). Nationwide, 8 million voted, but only 15,000 in the sixth most heavily populated province. 7,500 voted in Falluja (population 435,774) and about 1,700 in Ramadi (population 444,582). It is worth noting that although initial vote tallies are complete, these prelimiary results have not been released. Will they sit on them the full ten days, or only until after the State of the Union?

From the AP:

Iraq Finishes First-Phase Ballot Count

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Iraq's interim leader called on his countrymen to set aside their differences Monday, while polling stations finished the first-phase count of millions of ballots from the weekend election that many Iraqis hope will usher in democracy and hasten the departure of 150,000 American troops.

From the counts by individual stations, local centers will prepare tally sheets and send them to Baghdad, where vote totals will be compiled, election Commission official Adel al-Lami said. Final results could take up to 10 days.

With turnout in the vote still unknown, concern was focused on participation by Iraq's Sunni Arab minority, amid fears that the group that drives the insurgency could grow ever more alienated. Electoral commission officials said turnout in hardline Sunni areas was better than some expected, thought they cited no numbers. A U.S. diplomat warned that Sunni participation appeared "considerably lower" than that of other groups.

Here's another dose of reality from Samarra:

In Samarra, fear keeps voters away

SAMARRA, Iraq (Reuters) - Heavily-fortified polling centres were deserted and streets empty as Iraqis in the restive Sunni Muslim city of Samarra stayed home, too frightened or angry to vote in the country's historic election.

"Nobody came. People were too afraid," said Madafar Zeki, in charge of a polling centre in Samarra, in the Sunni heartland, where the insurgency has been bloodiest.

According to preliminary figures provided by a joint U.S. and Iraqi taskforce who safeguarded Sunday's vote, fewer than 1,400 people cast ballots in the city of 200,000.

The figure includes votes from soldiers and police, most of whom were recruited from the Shi'ite south.

Posted by Mike at 03:54 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Iraqi exit polls

From Reuters:

Officials in the United Iraqi Alliance believe their bloc of mainly Shi'ite parties has won almost half of the 275 assembly seats, based on their own exit polls and 13,000 monitors.

Iraqis may have to wait days for the Electoral Commission to declare the results, but if those projections are correct, the Alliance could link with smaller parties to build a two-thirds majority in parliament, enough to choose Iraq's new leaders.

Party exit polls suggest voters ignored most of the 111 choices on their bulky and bewildering ballot papers and plumped for one of three main blocs in contention for power.

A Kurdish grouping is expected to come second behind the United Iraqi Alliance, with a secular bloc led by Shi'ite interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi likely to take third place.

If Sistani's list really got more than one third of the votes, that prevents anyone from choosing the new leaders without their support. So will they ally themselves with the Kurds, who are suspicious of most things Arab, or with Allawi's group which has accused them of being agents of Iran and threatened to arrest members of their list? It should make for some interesting horse trading indeed. I suspect that between the autonomy-minded Kurds in the north, the autonomy-minded Shia in the south, and the wary Sunnis in the west, many of whom did boycott the election, we will not see a strong central government, but several stronger regional governments, instead.

Here are some details from the report:

Even politicians who doubt that the Alliance will gain 50 percent of assembly seats acknowledge it will be well-placed to form a ruling coalition, perhaps with Kurdish groups.

The Alliance has dominated the bulk of the mostly Shi'ite south, even its tribal areas, and some parts of Baghdad, including Sadr City and mixed Sunni-Shi'ite neighbourhoods such as Dora and Shaab, according to unofficial party estimates.

Allawi's group did well in Baghdad, Sunni provinces and southern pockets, such as traditionally secular Nassiriya.

The likelihood that no single party will dominate the assembly will mean extensive horse-trading before a prime minister is chosen. Allawi is not out of the running.

"We have won 85 percent in the south and a strong majority in Baghdad. Lots of votes have been already counted and this is what they show," said an independent member in the Alliance.

Meshan al-Jiboury, a Sunni candidate from Mosul, said Sunnis largely shunned the polls, citing the mixed Duluiya region on the Tigris river north of Baghdad, where he said only a few hundred Sunnis voted compared to as many as 60,000 Shi'ites.

"It seems the Alliance will pull it off and Finance Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi could become prime minister, but he will have to work with democratic and Sunni forces suspicious of the Iranian bent of his bloc," Jibouri told Reuters.

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January 27, 2005

Hersh's Prediction: Panic and Catastrophe

Very interesting speech:

There's a lot of anxiety inside the -- you know, our professional military and our intelligence people. Many of them respect the Constitution and the Bill of Rights as much as anybody here, and individual freedom. So, they do -- there's a tremendous sense of fear. These are punitive people. One of the ways -- one of the things that you could say is, the amazing thing is we are been taken over basically by a cult, eight or nine neo-conservatives have somehow grabbed the government. Just how and why and how they did it so efficiently, will have to wait for much later historians and better documentation than we have now, but they managed to overcome the bureaucracy and the Congress, and the press, with the greatest of ease. It does say something about how fragile our Democracy is. You do have to wonder what a Democracy is when it comes down to a few men in the Pentagon and a few men in the White House having their way. What they have done is neutralize the C.I.A. because there were people there inside -- the real goal of what Goss has done was not attack the operational people, but the intelligence people. There were people -- serious senior analysts who disagree with the White House, with Cheney, basically, that's what I mean by White House, and Rumsfeld on a lot of issues, as somebody said, the goal in the last month has been to separate the apostates from the true believers. That's what's happening. The real target has been “diminish the agency.” I'm writing about all of this soon, so I don't want to overdo it, but there's been a tremendous sea change in the government. A concentration of power.

On the other hand, the facts -- there are some facts. We can’t win this war. We can do what he's doing. We can bomb them into the stone ages. Here's the other horrifying, sort of spectacular fact that we don't really appreciate. Since we installed our puppet government, this man, Allawi, who was a member of the Mukabarat, the secret police of Saddam, long before he became a critic, and is basically Saddam-lite. Before we installed him, since we have installed him on June 28, July, August, September, October, November, every month, one thing happened: the number of sorties, bombing raids by one plane, and the number of tonnage dropped has grown exponentially each month. We are systematically bombing that country. There are no embedded journalists at Doha, the Air Force base I think we’re operating out of. No embedded journalists at the aircraft carrier, Harry Truman. That's the aircraft carrier that I think is doing many of the operational fights. There’s no air defense, It's simply a turkey shoot. They come and hit what they want. We know nothing. We don't ask. We're not told. We know nothing about the extent of bombing. So if they're going to carry out an election and if they're going to succeed, bombing is going to be key to it, which means that what happened in Fallujah, essentially Iraq -- some of you remember Vietnam -- Iraq is being turn into a “free-fire zone” right in front of us. Hit everything, kill everything. I have a friend in the Air Force, a Colonel, who had the awful task of being an urban bombing planner, planning urban bombing, to make urban bombing be as unobtrusive as possible. I think it was three weeks ago today, three weeks ago Sunday after Fallujah I called him at home. I'm one of the people -- I don't call people at work. I call them at home, and he has one of those caller I.D.’s, and he picked up the phone and he said, “Welcome to Stalingrad.” We know what we're doing. This is deliberate. It's being done. They're not telling us. They're not talking about it.

We have a President that -- and a Secretary of State that, when a trooper -- when a reporter or journalist asked -- actually a trooper, a soldier, asked about lack of equipment, stumbled through an answer and the President then gets up and says, “Yes, they should all have good equipment and we're going to do it,” as if somehow he wasn't involved in the process. Words mean nothing -- nothing to George Bush. They are just utterances. They have no meaning. Bush can say again and again, “well, we don't do torture.” We know what happened. We know about Abu Ghraib. We know, we see anecdotally. We all understand in some profound way because so much has come out in the last few weeks, the I.C.R.C. The ACLU put out more papers, this is not an isolated incident what’s happened with the seven kids and the horrible photographs, Lynndie England. That's into the not the issue is. They're fall guys. Of course, they did wrong. But you know, when we send kids to fight, one of the things that we do when we send our children to war is the officers become in loco parentis. That means their job in the military is to protect these kids, not only from getting bullets and being blown up, but also there is nothing as stupid as a 20 or 22-year-old kid with a weapon in a war zone. Protect them from themselves. The spectacle of these people doing those antics night after night, for three and a half months only stopped when one of their own soldiers turned them in tells you all you need to know, how many officers knew. I can just give you a timeline that will tell you all you need to know. Abu Ghraib was reported in January of 2004 this year. In May, I and CBS earlier also wrote an awful lot about what was going on there. At that point, between January and May, our government did nothing. Although Rumsfeld later acknowledged that he was briefed by the middle of January on it and told the President. In those three-and-a-half months before it became public, was there any systematic effort to do anything other than to prosecute seven “bad seeds”, enlisted kids, reservists from West Virginia and the unit they were in, by the way, Military Police. The answer is, Ha! They were basically a bunch of kids who were taught on traffic control, sent to Iraq, put in charge of a prison. They knew nothing. It doesn't excuse them from doing dumb things. But there is another framework. We're not seeing it. They’ve gotten away with it.

For me, it's just another story, but out of this comes a core of -- you know, we all deal in “macro” in Washington. On the macro, we're hopeless. We're nowhere. The press is nowhere. The congress is nowhere. The military is nowhere. Every four-star General I know is saying, “Who is going to tell them we have no clothes?” Nobody is going to do it. Everybody is afraid to tell Rumsfeld anything. That's just the way it is. It's a system built on fear. It's not lack of integrity, it's more profound than that. Because there is individual integrity. It's a system that's completely been taken over -- by cultists. Anyway, what's going to happen, I think, as the casualties mount and these stories get around, and the mothers see the cost and the fathers see the cost, as the kids come home. And the wounded ones come back, and there's wards that you will never hear about. That's wards -- you know about the terrible catastrophic injuries, but you don't know about the vegetables. There's ward after ward of vegetables because the brain injuries are so enormous. As you maybe read last week, there was a new study in one of the medical journals that the number of survivors are greater with catastrophic injuries because of their better medical treatment and the better armor they have. So you get more extreme injuries to extremities. We're going to learn more and I think you're going to see, it's going to -- it's -- I'm trying to be optimistic. We're going to see a bottom swelling from inside the ranks. You're beginning to see it. What happened with the soldiers asking those questions, you may see more of that. I'm not suggesting we're going to have mutinies, but I'm going to suggest you're going to see more dissatisfaction being expressed. Maybe that will do it. Another salvation may be the economy. It's going to go very bad, folks. You know, if you have not sold your stocks and bought property in Italy, you better do it quick. And the third thing is Europe -- Europe is not going to tolerate us much longer. The rage there is enormous. I'm talking about our old-fashioned allies. We could see something there, collective action against us. Certainly, nobody -- it's going to be an awful lot of dancing on our graves as the dollar goes bad and everybody stops buying our bonds, our credit -- our -- we're spending $2 billion a day to float the debt, and one of these days, the Japanese and the Russians, everybody is going to start buying oil in Euros instead of dollars. We're going to see enormous panic here. But he could get through that. That will be another year, and the damage he’s going to do between then and now is enormous. We’re going to have some very bad months ahead.

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January 24, 2005

State of the Occupation

President George Bush will barely mention it other than to report on "successful" elections in his State of the Union address, so I've gone around the blogs to provide an update on events over in Iraq.

From Newsday via City of Brass:

On the evening of Jan. 18, as we made our way up a broad boulevard, in the distance I could see car making its way toward us. As a defense against potential car-bombs, it is now standard practice for foot patrols to stop oncoming vehicles, particularly after dark.

"We have a car coming," someone called out as we entered an intersection. We could see the car about a 100 meters away. The car continued coming; I couldn't see it anymore from my perch but could hear its engine now, a high whine that sounded more like acceleration than slowing down. It was maybe 50 yards away now.

"Stop that car!" someone shouted out, seemingly simultaneously with someone firing what sounded like warning shots -- a staccato, measured burst. The car continued coming. And then, perhaps less than a second later, a cacophony of fire, shots rattling off in a chaotic, overlapping din. The car entered the intersection on its momentum and still shots were penetrating it and slicing it. Finally, the shooting stopped, the car drifted listlessly, clearly no longer being steered, and came to a rest on a curb. Soldiers began to approach it warily.

The sound of children crying came from the car. I walked up to the car and a teenaged girl with her head covered emerged from the back, wailing and gesturing wildly. After her came a boy, tumbling onto the ground from the seat, already leaving a pool of blood.

"Civilians!" someone shouted, and soldiers ran up. More children -- it ended up being six all told -- started emerging, crying, their faces mottled with blood in long streaks. The troops carried them all off to a nearby sidewalk....

Meanwhile, the children continued to wail and scream, huddled against a wall, sandwiched between soldiers either binding their wounds or trying to comfort them. The Army's translator later told me that this was a Turkoman family and that the teenaged girl kept shouting, "Why did they shoot us? We have no weapons! We were just going home!"

...The Army told me it will probably launch a full investigation.

An investigation? How about changing policy to at least try waving cars off with a flashlight, before shooting the driver in the head?

From Riverbend:

Water is like peace- you never really know just how valuable it is until someone takes it away. It’s maddening to walk up to the sink, turn one of the faucets and hear the pipes groan with nothing. The toilets don’t function… the dishes sit piled up until two of us can manage to do them- one scrubbing and rinsing and the other pouring the water.

Why is this happening? Is it because of the electricity? If it is, we should at least be getting water a couple of hours a day- like before. Is it some sort of collective punishment leading up to the elections? It’s unbelievable. At first, I thought it was just our area but I’ve been asking around and apparently, almost all of the areas (if not all) are suffering this drought.

I’m sure people outside of the country are shaking their heads at the words ‘collective punishment’. “No, Riverbend,” they are saying, “That’s impossible.” But anything is possible these days. People in many areas are being told that if they don’t vote- Sunnis and Shia alike- the food and supply rations we are supposed to get monthly will be cut off. We’ve been getting these rations since the beginning of the nineties and for many families, it’s their main source of sustenance. What sort of democracy is it when you FORCE people to go vote for someone or another they don’t want?

Allawi’s people were passing out pamphlets a few days ago. I went out to the garden to check the low faucet, hoping to find a trickle of water and instead, I found some paper crushed under the garden gate. Upon studying it, it turned out to be some sort of “Elect Allawi” pamphlet promising security and prosperity, amongst other things, for occupied Iraq. I'd say it was a completely useless pamphlet but that isn't completely true. It fit nicely on the bottom of the cage of E.'s newly acquired pet parakeet.

They say the borders are closed with Jordan and possibly Syria. I also heard yesterday that people aren't being let into Baghdad. They have American check-points on the main roads leading into the city and they say that the cars are being turned back to wherever they came from. It's a bad situation and things are looking very bleak at this point.

It's amazing how as things get worse, you begin to require less and less. We have a saying for that in Iraq, "Ili yishoof il mawt, yirdha bil iskhooneh." Which means, "If you see death, you settle for a fever." We've given up on democracy, security and even electricity. Just bring back the water.

Brief mention from CBS News today:

Engineers have fixed water pipes that were sabotaged this month causing water shortages in Baghdad, the Iraqi government said Sunday.

"The (western Baghdad) Karkh water plant returned to full capacity after repairs to damaged water pipes in Tarmiyah district," 50 kilometers (30 miles) north of Baghdad. "The damage was caused by insurgent bombs" on Jan. 15, the government said.

Since the attack occurred, many Baghdad neighborhoods on both sides of the Tigris River had suffered a critical water shortage.

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January 16, 2005

Introducing Adel Abdul-Mahdi

From the Associated Press:

Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, a Shiite cleric who leads Iraq's largest Shiite political party, heads the Sistani-backed ticket, but is not seeking the job of prime minister. Finance Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi, a senior member of Hakim's Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, is the designated candidate for the job.

Abdul-Mahdi worked with the Americans who directly ruled Iraq for 14 months until last June, and according to diplomats who know him, he's a seasoned politician who has reached out to Kurds and Sunni Arabs.

Senior Shiite figures, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Abdul-Mahdi's chances of becoming prime minister have improved after two visits to Washington over the past few months, when he met with President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.

A Washington-based diplomat close to Iraq's political process said Allawi remained the United States' choice, but Washington would not allow itself to be seen as blocking Abdul-Mahdi if the assembly preferred him as prime minister.

However, many Iraqis are uncomfortable with Abdul-Mahdi's SCIRI because it is Islamic-oriented, was bankrolled by Iran for two decades and was based there until Saddam's ouster enabled it to return to Iraq.

It is not uncommon to hear Farsi, Iran's main language, spoken at party offices. Party leaders frequently visit Iran, and the group's military wing, the now-dissolved Badr Brigade, fought with Iran against Iraq in a ruinous 1980-88 war.

Abdul-Mahdi's chances are helped by the grass-roots campaigning of fellow candidates.

Activists from SCIRI and Dawa, another Shiite party, are going door-to-door and mosque-to-mosque to get out the vote.

Allawi, in contrast, appears to be using his position in government to campaign heavily on television and appears nightly on the air.

Some Allawi allies have scathingly attacked the rival ticket, labeling it an "Iranian slate" and warning that, if elected, it will bring clerical rule to Iraq. Sistani's allies dismiss the charges as scaremongering.

This from Knight Ridder, too:

Amer Hassan Fayadh, a political science professor at Baghdad University and a secular candidate in the elections, said the United Iraqi Alliance dealt a devastating blow to competitors by adding Sistani's face to campaign materials. The alliance is widely viewed as the front-runner of about 100 slates of candidates on the ballot.

"They're trying to fool voters by using Sistani," Fayadh said. "Using Sistani's image is a cunning move to exploit the ignorance of voters to get more votes, but it's a clear violation of the rules."

The independent Iraqi Electoral Commission said Monday that it was investigating many complaints about the use of "religious symbols," which are banned from the campaign, but it's not clear if Sistani's image constitutes a religious symbol....

"Using Sistani's photo gives the impression that there is a religious obligation to vote for the alliance," said Sanaa Kadhim, a Shiite political science graduate student at Baghdad University. "It's a smart political move that confirms Ayatollah Sistani's stance on elections."

The United Iraqi Alliance is anchored by Abdulaziz al Hakim, the head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the largest political party in the country. With well-known running mates and alleged support from Iran, where Hakim and other top candidates were exiled during Saddam Hussein's regime, the mostly conservative Shiite slate stands to wield great power in the new national assembly.

Hakim's representatives acknowledged that they're responsible for printing the posters with Sistani's face. In recent sermons and Arabic-language newspaper columns, clerics allied with the Supreme Council insisted to voters that Sistani supported their ticket.

GOTV, lit, viz, town halls. Do they have SCIRI phone banks, too?

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January 13, 2005

Shia haters

Saw two things today which raise good, and somewhat funny points.

First this online quiz result from City of Brass:

You are a SHIA. You are devoted to the Prophet and
the 12 Imams, pray on a clay disk, and may or
may not beat yourself in Muharram. Everyone
hates you, by the way.

Then this part of an article in the Weekly Standard. I disagree with many of the things he says where he labels all Sunnis as insurgents, but he does have a few good points in there, too:

At least the Times stops short of arguing that majority rule is ipso facto a bad idea, or that letting Saddam loose would also soothe Sunni sensibilities. I guess we have to wait for his trial for that transformation.

There's more than simple fear of freedom at work here. For a long time conventional wisdom about Iraq has insisted upon conflating the differences among Iraqi and Iranian Shia. This Shia-fear stems not only from the American experience of the Iranian Revolution but from many decades of propagandizing by the region's Sunni autocrats and monarchs. But a clear reading of Iraq today reveals not a lumpen Shiatariat but a pluralistic political community ranging from Abdel Aziz al-Hakim to Ahmed Chalabi. What brings them together, after generations of "estrangement" from Iraqi politics, is the chance at a decent life, a taste of liberty, and the pursuit of some happiness.

Ordinary Americans might be forgiven for wondering why it is that toppling a dangerous dictator, liberating a violently suppressed majority, and electing a representative government was a strategic mistake whose consequences should be postponed as long as possible. You have to be a member of the foreign-policy elite to understand these things.

No, I don't read the Weekly Standard. I found that on Google News.

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Why I Support Al Hakim

He may be a conservative religious zealot, but so is our President, and at least this guy is not beholden to corporate interests. Secondly, he has a basic belief in democratic systems, which is not the case for any other Arab national leader or ally of the US. Last but not least, these Shia clerics are the only chance Iraq has got.

A little religious zeal sure beats a massive regional crisis.

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January 09, 2005

Al Qaeda versus Al Hakim?

I am more and more interested in the dynamic forming between conservative Shiite leaders in Iraq on the one hand and the violent extremests supported by Bin Laden on the other. It reminds me of a contrast between Catholic church leaders on one hand and say, armed White Supremist groups on the other. In the end, Al Hakim wins.

From the Washington Post:

Iraq's insurgents, believed to be predominantly Sunni, repeatedly have targeted Shiites in apparent attempts to widen sectarian rifts.

The Shiite leaders who spoke Sunday belong to the Unified Iraqi Alliance, a mainstream Shiite coalition running in the election. The group was expected to do well and its leaders likely will have top government posts if the vote goes through.

"The Iraqi Unified Alliance calls for national talks to stand against the civil war or sectarianism conflict," said Sheikh Humam Hamoudy, a member of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, which is part of the coalition. "We call for unity particularly with the Sunni brothers because there is a large plan to create a sectarian fight."

The Shiite leaders, who are backed by Iraq's most influential cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, said postponing the vote would only create more chaos in Iraq. They rejected comments purportedly made by Osama bin Laden in a tape released Monday in which the al Qaeda leader urged Muslims not to vote, calling the election illegitimate.

"We believe in the joint participation of all the components of the Iraqi people," said Abdul Aziz Hakim, head of SCIRI. "Bin Laden is interfering in the Iraqi affairs by calling his criminal followers to hinder Iraqis from voting."

From the AP:

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- The group of Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi claimed responsibility Tuesday for the assassination attempt against the leader of Iraq's largest Shiite Muslim party that killed and wounded dozens of people.

In a statement posted on an internet web site, al-Zarqawi's al-Qaida in Iraq said one of its members carried out the suicide attack near Abdel Aziz al-Hakim's office Monday that killed 15 people and wounded more than 50. Al-Hakim, who was not in the office but in his adjacent house, was not hurt.

The assassination attempt came a month before Iraq's general elections in which al-Hakim is running, while most Sunni Muslims are boycotting saying it should not be held under U.S. occupation and amid deteriorating security situation. Shiites, who make up 60 percents of Iraq's 26 million, want to show their strength through elections after living under Sunni domination for decades.

"On Monday morning, one of the lions of the martyrdom seekers brigades, belonging to the military wing of al-Qaida in Iraq launched an attack in order to wipe out one of the symbols of treason for the Americans," the statement said.

It added that "We tell you Hakim that if one arrow missed you we have many more arrows."

U.S. officials have offered a reward of $25 million for the capture of al-Zarqawi. He is believed to be behind numerous high-profile attacks in Iraq, including last year's bombing of the U.N. headquarters, the beheading of several foreign hostages and the August 2003 killing of al-Hakim's elder brother Mohammed Baqir in the Shiite holy city of Najaf.

They may have "many arrows" but Saddam has tried that route before:

NAJAF, Iraq _ After years of praying for mercy and receiving little, Najaf's leaders say their day of deliverance is finally near _ Jan. 30, to be precise.

The city of Najaf is the spiritual center for Iraq's Shiite Muslim majority. On election day, clerics and residents pray, Najaf's religious importance will turn into political power.

Barring a delay in the vote, conservative Shiites stand to sweep the Jan. 30 parliamentary elections, opening an era of unprecedented influence for Najaf, whose people suffered for decades under the dictatorial rule of Iraq's Sunni Muslim minority....

Saddam's Sunni-led regime recognized the power of Najaf's ayatollahs and attacked it by filling mass graves with their followers. His government imprisoned, tortured and killed Shiite dissidents and deserters. His men harassed, exiled or assassinated clerics.

A portrait of a young man, often in military uniform, who died or disappeared under the former regime adorns many Najaf living rooms. From the drivers of donkey carts to the American-appointed officials in the governor's office, practically every Najaf native has a story of a "martyred" loved one.

Saddam's fall offered Najaf residents only a brief reprieve from bloodshed. As Shiites asserted their long-marginalized beliefs, Sunni insurgents targeted them. Najaf leaders now fear that election-related violence could result in yet another missed chance for Shiite self-determination.

I would not bet against those conservative clerics in Najaf.

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December 11, 2004

What will Moqtada Al-Sadr do now?

I'm not even trying to pretend to understand what is going on any more. Perhaps the UIA pretended to welcome Al Sadr with open arms, only to make it harder for him to oppose them in the end? Not a bad idea, I guess. I hope he keeps his cool, though. If Al Sadr decides to try disrupting the election, that would be a worst case scenario.

Financial Times:

Since negotiations behind the list became public two months ago, Sadr loyalists have issued contradictory messages about whether they would participate, but politicians associated with Mr Sistani expressed confidence that the radical movement could be brought on board.

Hussein al-Shahristani, a nuclear scientist involved in compiling the list, said that the Sadr supporters were not included for bureaucratic reasons, but would back the list.

"The Sadr movement is not registered as a political entity, and therefore is not part of the alliance. but they are supporting the Marja'iya [Shia clergy] in its call for elections and they are asking their followers to vote for this list," Mr Shahristani said.

However, a leading Sadr loyalist politician was quoted by the Arabic-language al-Hayat newspaper on Tuesday that Mr Sadr's followers would "suspend" its participation in the elections, and denied reports of support for Mr Sistani's list.

"We are under siege and prevented from holding Friday prayers in the Kufa mosque [near Najaf]. They closed our offices and they arrested many of the [Sadr] trend's leaders," Ali Smeisim said.

"We suspend our participation in the election unless the government changes its policies, and then we will support the list that we see represents the will of the people."

Mr Sadr has not led prayers in the Kufa mosque near his home in Najaf, nor made any other appearances, since ending a three-week insurrection in late August.

This all directly contradicts earlier reports that the list included 30 members of Al Sadr's group, 25 from DAWA, and on 20 from SCIRI.

Apparently, Moqtada decided on his own to boycott the election again:

The article also reported comments of Muqtada al-Sadr: "Over here you have America shelling cities for the sake of security and the elections, and over there you have the parties that are alleging that elections will help establish security and stability, forgetting the existence of the Occupation."

He said the Sadrists were not participating in the elections because their officials kept being arrested, they were not given permission to open an office in Najaf or to hold Friday prayers in the Kufa Mosque, or to recover the mosques that they used to manage, as well as because of the lack of security in several Iraqi cities.

Az-Zaman: Muqtada al-Sadr warned that the elections scheduled for January 30 will lead to the ethnic partition of Iraq. He wrote in a sermon delivered for him by Shaikh Abd al-Zuhrah al-Suway'idi at the Muhsin Mosque in Sadr City, "They allege that the elections advance security, and security advances the elections. This is false and wrong." Announcing his boycott of the elections, he said, "Beware, beware lest ethnic divisions have a place in the elections. I want only a noble Iraqi election, neither Shiite nor Sunni. However, Iraq can protect for me my religion, my honor, my unity."

To be continued.

Posted by Mike at 08:05 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

December 10, 2004

Prime Minister Al-Hakim?

They haven't even had an election yet, but they are already putting our own American smoke-filled backroom politicians to shame.


Dec. 9 - The much-anticipated Shiite list of candidates for the forthcoming elections in Iraq was presented today—in partial anonymity and peculiar secrecy. This is the slate of candidates who will almost certainly win elections if they take place on schedule next Jan. 30. And in a few days it will have to begin campaigning.

The grouping of 228 candidates, a coalition running together as the newly formed United Iraqi Alliance, today formally filed for a place on the ballot at the Baghdad offices of the Independent Elections Commission for Iraq and then held a press conference at which representatives of the group refused to reveal the names of those on their list, or even who was at its head. A media spokesman for the IECI also refused to reveal the contents of the Shiite list. The head of the elections commission, Adel Hindawi, reached by telephone, said, "I haven't seen the list, and I don't know anything about it."

The United Iraqi Alliance list will presumably eventually become public, when the Dec. 15 deadline for candidates to file passes and campaigning begins—assuming that candidates do not contemplate campaigning in secrecy. The secrecy is apparently motivated by security concerns for some of those on the list, and by horse-trading still going on among members of the coalition over what positions they'll get in the new government. Some of the names on the list have come out, but the most stunning thing about it is who is left out: notably, Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and his Iraqi National Accord party. This makes it almost impossible for Allawi to be re-elected prime minister, and could even mean he would not win a seat in the National Assembly.

In typical Washington - I mean Baghdad - fashion, the secret does however appear to have gotten out:

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) A cleric with links to Iran leads the candidate list of a powerful coalition of Iraq's mainstream Shiite Muslim groups for next month's election, an aide said Friday. The list also includes former Pentagon favorite Ahmad Chalabi and some followers of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim the head of Iraq's largest Shiite party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution would stand to take a central position in the assembly that will create Iraq's next government and constitution, if the coalition takes most of the parliament seats in the Jan. 30 vote.

Al-Hakim has already started padding his foreign policy resume, too:

General Shaikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, received Chairman of the Iraqi Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution and Member of the Iraqi National Council Abdul Aziz Al Hakim at Al Bateen Palace in Abu Dhabi on Sunday.

They discussed developments in Iraq and the role being played by Iraqi forces and other organisations to create a conducive atmosphere for the general elections.

Gen. Shaikh mohammed reiterated the UAE’s support to the Iraqi people in their efforts to build a new Iraq that enjoys peace, security, stability and unity. He said iraq is currently going through a delicate but crucial situation which needs the concerted efforts of all its loyal sons and daughters, in addition to the support of the international community to assist in the establishment of a system that will satisfy all Iraqi people, help them achieve their ambitions and aspirations and enable the country regain its proper place at the Arab and international levels.

Hakim praised the UAE for its continuous support for Iraq, which, he said, has significant impact in alleviating the sufferings of the Iraqi people.

He said the UAE, under the wise leadership of the late Shaikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, did not relent any effort to ensure peace and stability in Iraq and to alleviate the sufferings of the Iraqi people. He expressed confidence that the country, under the leadership of the President, His Highness Shaikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, will continue on the path of Shaikh Zayed in supporting Iraq and assisting the Iraqi people to achieve peace, security and stability for their country to enable it play its role in joint Arab cause.

No word yet if he has made any early visits to Iowa or New Hampshire.

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December 08, 2004

Don't blink or you'll miss it

With all the news stories about how the election must go forward for January 30th, you would think the media might show some interest in what the election will actually decide. You would be wrong. I don't check google news for a day or two, and I miss the disintegration and rebuilding of the Sistani list, not exactly a minor development.

From Tuesday's New York Times:

Published: December 7, 2004

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Dec. 6 - A rift has developed among the major Shiite political groups here, raising the prospect of fierce competition for votes among rival Shiite factions in the coming elections and possibly altering the religious and political alignment of the country's new national assembly.

The development is a major setback for Iraq's most powerful religious leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali alSistani, who appointed a committee in October to create a single coalition dominated by Shiite religious parties. A majority of Iraqis are Shiites, but their leaders have expressed concern that without a united front, they may lose the allegiance of more secular voters and fail to dominate the new government.

On Monday a coalition of several dozen groups and individuals calling itself the Shiite Council announced plans to break away from the United Iraqi Alliance, the new umbrella group formed under Ayatollah Sistani's auspices.

Ayatollah Sistani was reportedly trying to repair the rift through intermediaries as late as Monday evening. But the divisions over power sharing and other issues appeared to be so deep that it was "almost impossible" to reconcile the two sides, officials with the Shiite Council said.

From the same day's Chicago Tribune:

Posted on Tue, Dec. 07, 2004

BAGHDAD, Iraq - (KRT) - Representatives of Iraq's top Shiite cleric, the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Tuesday finalized an electoral coalition that will group all the country's major Shiite parties, most minor ones and dozens of independents on a single slate.

The coalition's broad reach will put it in a commanding position to gain a sizeable percentage of the majority-Shiite vote in Iraq's election scheduled for Jan. 30, and perhaps dominate the National Assembly that will draft a new permanent constitution for Iraq.

The coalition will run as the United Iraqi Alliance, though among most Iraqis it is already being referred to simply as "Sistani's list." That alone is likely to give it a boost among Iraqi Shiites, who universally respect their top religious leader, regardless of their political views.

The crafting of the unified list of candidates represents a triumph for the ayatollah, who has cast aside his traditional detachment from politics to work toward uniting Iraq's Shiites behind the electoral process.

A threat by several smaller Shiite parties and secularists to pull out of the coalition and contest the election independently was averted at a meeting in Baghdad between the parties and al-Sistani's representatives late Tuesday, participants said.

The Shiite Political Council, an umbrella organization of 38 political parties, was persuaded to join the coalition after announcing last week that it would withdraw to protest the preponderance of religious hard-liners on the list, said Hussein Musawi, a spokesman for the group.

At the time, Musawi had complained that "all the top names on the list are turbaned men who support wilayat al faqih," the theory of governance pioneered by Iran's late leader, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

The Iraqi National Congress of Ahmed Chalabi, the former favorite of the Bush administration, also confirmed its participation Tuesday after expressing similar reservations. A spokesman for Chalabi, Haidar Musawi, said some of the group's concerns had been addressed by reshuffling the order of names on the list.

Had either or both these two groups decided to run independently, al-Sistani's vision of presenting a united Shiite front to the electorate would have been diluted.

Such is the weight, however, of the groups already represented on the list that any one party would find it hard to compete against it, something acknowledged by the Shiite Council in deciding to rejoin the list.

I guess the list of candidates for DNC chair speaking in Orlando this weekend won't be the only fast changing news item to keep an eye on.

Here are some more details from Radio Free Europe:

By Charles Recknagel for RFE/RL (08/12/04)

Iraqis are due to go to the polls on 30 January to elect a new National Assembly. The National Assembly will choose a new interim government and appoint a body to write the country's first post-Saddam Hussein constitution. Ahead of the vote, hundreds of Iraqi parties are jockeying to form alliances to improve their chances of winning seats. Now, one of the biggest coalitions to date has emerged - a United Iraqi Alliance endorsed by preeminent Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. Its organizers officially announced yesterday that it would field 240 candidates for the National Assembly, saying the list represents "the birth of a new, democratic, and just Iraq". By any measure, the new United Iraqi Alliance has a diverse membership. The biggest players are Iraq's two main Shi'ite religious parties - the Supreme Council For the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and Al-Da'wah party. Both of those parties are currently in the government of interim prime minister Iyad Allawi. But the alliance also includes representatives of radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who has led two uprisings against US forces in southern Iraq. And it includes the secular Iraqi National Congress (INC) of Ahmad Chalabi, a former US ally now distanced by Washington. Those are the familiar groups represented on the list. But at least half of the list's total of 240 candidate slots will reportedly be awarded to far less well-known parties. The lesser-known figures include independent Shi'ite leaders, as well as representatives of the Turkish-speaking Turkoman minority and the minority of Iraqi Kurds who are Shi'ite. They also include representatives of one of Iraq's largest Sunni tribes, the Shammar, which extends from parts of the south of the country to Mosul in the north.

Alliance has broad geographical base

All that gives the alliance - which says just over two-thirds of its candidates will be Shi'ite - a broad geographical and communal base. Announcing the new alliance yesterday, former nuclear scientist Hussein al-Shahristani - one of the list's best-known organizers - called it a "truly national alliance - not a Shi'ite list". Still, if the new alliance has a national span, its biggest appeal is likely to be to the some 60 per cent of Iraqis who are Shi'ite. That is because the alliance was cobbled together under the auspices of a six-person committee endorsed by preeminent Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani. Kamran al-Karadaghi, an expert on Iraq at the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) in London, said al-Sistani's endorsement assures large numbers of Shi'ite will come out to vote for the alliance's candidates. "Al-Sistani's endorsement will definitely play a role to ensure a large proportion of Shi'ite will vote for this list. But whether that means that all Shi'ite in Iraq will vote for this, that's, of course, questionable," al-Karadaghi said. But while the new list looks certain to make a good showing at the polls, it is far less clear what its political program will be once it wins seats in the National Assembly. A top al-Sistani representative, Hamid Khaffaf, suggested in November that the list's members are united by "respect for Islam." He said the requirements for candidates joining the list were that they "do not change the Islamic character of the Iraqi people and that they do not support any legislation opposed to Shar'ia [Islamic law]." Such statements have created public speculation about whether the list has an Islamist agenda, such as pressing for Shar'ia or for greater clerical oversight of political affairs.

Too diverse to share a platform?

But analyst al-Karadaghi called the list too diverse to share such a platform. "In this united list, there are a lot personalities who are really, by name, Shi'ite and Islamists, but they are not fundamentalists or extreme Islamists, even among the Supreme Council [SCIRI], within the Al-Da'wah party," al-Karadaghi said. "We have also [in the alliance the secular] INC headed by Ahmad Chalabi and [there is former nuclear scientist] Hussain al-Shahristani himself, who is one of the main names in the list. You can't say that they are strictly very Islamic, and they would want immediately to establish an Islamic rule in Iraq." Washington has previously ruled out an Islamic theocracy in Iraq and sought to balance Islamist pressures with guarantees the country can develop a secular democratic system. Under the temporary Iraqi constitution supervised by US occupation authorities earlier this year, Islam was designated a source for legislation but not the sole source. Many analysts expect the debate over the role of Islamic law in Iraq to reemerge as a major issue when the new assembly appoints a body to write the country first post-Saddam Hussein constitution. Some analysts say the alliance members - like many coalitions forming ahead of the January vote - might have little more in common than an urge to win seats in the National Assembly by pooling their resources. The Shi'ite parties share a common interest in maximizing Shi'ite representation in the assembly, while non-Shi'ite groups can parlay their support of the al-Sistani-backed list into more seats than they might get otherwise.

A strong candidate for the January poll

The new alliance is widely considered to be one of the strongest candidate lists now in competition for the 30 January vote. The run-up to the poll has seen jockeying among hundreds of parties to form coalitions, as well as calls for boycotts from parts of the Sunni community. Another likely major player in the poll is a party being formed by Iraq's Sunni Arab interim president, Ghazi Ajir al-Yawir. That party - called The Iraqis - groups Sunni and Shi'ite figures, including several current government ministers. Many Kurdish groups, including the two major Kurdish parties, have agreed to form a unified candidate list of their own. Jalal Talibani, head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, recently called "on the people of Kurdistan to participate in the elections, as we need very single vote to obtain as many seats as possible in the Iraqi National Assembly." But voter registration has been severely hampered by poor security conditions in many Sunni-majority areas of central Iraq. Iraq's main Sunni Muslim political party - the Iraqi Islamic Party - withdrew from Allawi's government in protest over the US-led security operation in Falluja in November. The influential Muslim Clerics' Association has called for a boycott of the January vote, saying the election "intends to achieve the aims of the occupying authority in Iraq and the authorities cooperating with them."

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December 06, 2004

United Iraqi Alliance

Expect to hear that name more often:

Iraq News, BAGHDAD - Iraq's main Shi'ite political parties, backed by one of the country's largest Sunni Arab tribes as well as Kurds and Turkmen, have sealed an alliance to stand in next month's elections.

A list of candidates, called the United Iraqi Alliance, has been approved by Iraq's most influential Shi'ite cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, but he was not involved in its selection, a member of the committee that drew up the list said.

"This is an historic moment," Hussain al-Shahristani, a former nuclear scientist imprisoned by Saddam Hussein and once tipped to become Iraq's interim prime minister, told Reuters on Monday. "This is the birth of a new, democratic and just Iraq."

Documents legalising the list, comprising about 20 political groups, movements and parties, are expected to be signed on Monday and it should be presented to Iraq's Independent Electoral Commission on Tuesday, Shahristani said.

The two main parties on the slate are the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and Dawa, which has splintered since the fall of Saddam but both of whose main branches are signed on to the list.

It also includes the Iraqi National Congress, headed by former U.S. ally Ahmad Chalabi, the National Democratic Party, and the chief of the Shamar, one of Iraq's most powerful Sunni Arab tribes, headed by the uncle of Iraq's interim president.

The inclusion of the Shamar, who are dominant in northern Iraq, chiefly around the city of Mosul, is of particular importance with Iraq's insurgency, believed to be led by Sunni extremists, showing no sign of letting up.

Iraq's president, Ghazi al-Yawar, has decided to launch his own political party, The Iraqis. It is not clear how many of the Shamar tribe will follow his lead or that of his uncle.

Others signed up include a group from Iraq's Turkish-speaking Turkmen minority and a party representing Shi'ite Kurds. Most Kurds are Sunni Muslims.

Moqtada al-Sadr, the rebellious Shi'ite cleric who has led two uprisings against U.S. forces in southern Iraq this year, will also have representatives on the slate. The cleric himself and his top religious aides are not on it, however.

"It is a truly national alliance, it is not a Shi'ite list," said Shahristani, who will be among the list's top names.

Sistani, an Iranian-born cleric who holds enormous sway among Iraq's 60 percent Shi'ite majority, put together a six-person committee that spent nearly two months negotiating with parties and groups to draw up the alliance.

Shahristani said the cleric, who lives in the holy Iraq city of Najaf, was "very happy with the outcome", but he stressed Sistani had had no veto over the names and groups drafted in.

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December 01, 2004

One party rule for Iraq, too?

I guess Republicans aren't the only ones who like the idea. The Shiites have combined SCIRI, Dawa, and even Al Sadr into a single slate of candidates to be voted for all under a single box. Granted they will still be representing different factions, but they will all be under the same official "party" voting line. I like the fact that Iraq is using proportional representation, but with only a single dominant party, so dominant they are even including Kurds and Sunnis on their list, what is the point of even voting if a vast majority of votes will be for "what has been dubbed the Sistani list" and that list has been decided before the fact to include members from all the different parties? Why not let each party run separately and see how many votes they actually receive? I guess the fear is that the result could be too lopsided, but it will be interesting to see what happens now. This paragraph, in particular, caught my eye. Earlier this year, Allawi's popularity rivaled Al Hakim. Apparently, no more:

A glaring omission from the slate, which is yet to be named, but which is not expected to refer to the Shia faith in its title, is the Iraqi National Accord, headed by interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.

But the rest of the article is interesting as well:

Iraq's elections, scheduled for Jan. 30, will be conducted as if the country were a single electoral constituency.

Parties or coalitions will present lists of candidates for a 275-seat national assembly. Seats will be filled from the lists in relation to the number of votes received across the country.

The elected assembly will then oversee the writing of a new constitution and the organising of full democratic elections before the end of 2005.

Shahristani, a former nuclear scientist who was jailed under Saddam and was a candidate to become Iraq's interim prime minister, said several Sunni tribes had joined the list, as well as Kurds and groups from the Turkish-speaking Turkomen minority.

"There are also many independents," said Shahristani, who rejected claims that Sistani had vetted and needed to approve the list, but said the cleric had been consulted regularly.

Well, with Sistani's support, this list is going to define the future of Iraq. As opposed to a cliffhanger, this election's results will be decided once the list is released, well before any votes are cast.

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October 10, 2004

"What are they going to do, send us to Iraq?"

Iraqi's and journalists are not the only ones who can see that "the situation is very bad" in Iraq. From the Washington Post:

Perez is hardly alone. In a dozen interviews, Marines from a platoon known as the "81s" expressed in blunt terms their frustrations with the way the war is being conducted and, in some cases, doubts about why it is being waged. The platoon, named for the size in millimeters of its mortar rounds, is part of the 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment based in Iskandariyah, 30 miles southwest of Baghdad.

The Marines offered their opinions openly to a reporter traveling with the 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines during operations last week in Babil province, then expanded upon them during interviews over three days in their barracks at Camp Iskandariyah, their forward operating base.

The Marines' opinions have been shaped by their participation in hundreds of hours of operations over the past two months. Their assessments differ sharply from those of the interim Iraqi government and the Bush administration, which have said that Iraq is on a certain -- if bumpy -- course toward peaceful democracy.

"I feel we're going to be here for years and years and years," said Lance Cpl. Edward Elston, 22, of Hackettstown, N.J. "I don't think anything is going to get better; I think it's going to get a lot worse. It's going to be like a Palestinian-type deal. We're going to stop being a policing presence and then start being an occupying presence. . . . We're always going to be here. We're never going to leave."

...Several members of the platoon said they were struck by the difference between the way the war was being portrayed in the United States and the reality of their daily lives.

"Every day you read the articles in the States where it's like, 'Oh, it's getting better and better,' " said Lance Cpl. Jonathan Snyder, 22, of Gettysburg, Pa. "But when you're here, you know it's worse every day."

...Asked if he was concerned that the Marines would be punished for speaking out, Autin responded: "We don't give a crap. What are they going to do, send us to Iraq?"

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From the frontline

While she never meant for it to be read by anyone but her friends, this email from a Wall Street Journal correspondent in Baghdad makes it pretty clear. The entire country of Iraq is a war zone. No one is safe anywhere.

Being a foreign correspondent in Baghdad these days is like being under
virtual house arrest. Forget about the reasons that lured me to this job: a chance to see the world, explore the exotic, meet new people in far away lands, discover their ways and tell stories that could make a difference.

Little by little, day-by-day, being based in Iraq has defied all those reasons. I am house bound. I leave when I have a very good reason to and a scheduled interview. I avoid going to people's homes and never walk in the streets. I can't go grocery shopping any more, can't eat in restaurants, can't strike a conversation with strangers, can't look for stories, can't drive in any thing but a full armored car, can't go to scenes of breaking news stories, can't be stuck in traffic, can't speak English outside, can't take a road trip, can't say I'm an American, can't linger at checkpoints, can't be curious about what people are saying, doing, feeling. And can't and can't. There has been one too many close calls, including a car bomb so near our house that it blew out all the windows. So now my most pressing concern every day is not to write a kick-ass story but to stay alive and make sure our Iraqi employees stay alive. In Baghdad I am a security personnel first, a reporter second.

It's hard to pinpoint when the 'turning point' exactly began. Was it April
when the Fallujah fell out of the grasp of the Americans? Was it when Moqtada and Jish Mahdi declared war on the U.S. military? Was it when
Sadr City, home to ten percent of Iraq's population, became a nightly battlefield for the Americans? Or was it when the insurgency began
spreading from isolated pockets in the Sunni triangle to include most of Iraq? Despite President Bush's rosy assessments, Iraq remains a disaster. If under Saddam it was a 'potential' threat, under the Americans it has been transformed to 'imminent and active threat,' a
foreign policy failure bound to haunt the United States for decades to come.

Iraqis like to call this mess 'the situation.' When asked 'how are thing?' they reply: 'the situation is very bad."

What they mean by situation is this: the Iraqi government doesn't control most Iraqi cities, there are several car bombs going off each day around the country killing and injuring scores of innocent people, the
country's roads are becoming impassable and littered by hundreds of
landmines and explosive devices aimed to kill American soldiers, there are assassinations, kidnappings and beheadings. The situation, basically, means a raging barbaric guerilla war. In four days, 110 people died and over 300 got injured in Baghdad alone. The numbers are so shocking that the ministry of health -- which was attempting an exercise of public transparency by releasing the numbers -- has now stopped disclosing them.

Insurgents now attack Americans 87 times a day.

A friend drove thru the Shiite slum of Sadr City yesterday. He said young men were openly placing improvised explosive devices into the ground. They melt a shallow hole into the asphalt, dig the explosive, cover it with dirt and put an old tire or plastic can over it to signal to the locals this is booby-trapped. He said on the main roads of Sadr City, there
were a dozen landmines per every ten yards. His car snaked and swirled to avoid driving over them. Behind the walls sits an angry Iraqi ready to detonate them as soon as an American convoy gets near. This is in Shiite land, the population that was supposed to love America for liberating Iraq.

For journalists the significant turning point came with the wave of abduction and kidnappings. Only two weeks ago we felt safe around Baghdad because foreigners were being abducted on the roads and highways between towns. Then came a frantic phone call from a journalist female friend at 11 p.m. telling me two Italian women had been abducted from their homes in broad daylight. Then the two Americans, who got beheaded this week and the Brit, were abducted from their homes in a residential neighborhood. They were supplying the entire block with round the clock electricity from their generator to win friends. The abductors grabbed one of them at 6 a.m. when he came out to switch on the generator; his beheaded body was thrown back near the neighborhoods.

The insurgency, we are told, is rampant with no signs of calming down. If any thing, it is growing stronger, organized and more sophisticated every day. The various elements within it-baathists, criminals, nationalists and Al Qaeda-are cooperating and coordinating.

I went to an emergency meeting for foreign correspondents with the military and embassy to discuss the kidnappings. We were somberly told our fate would largely depend on where we were in the kidnapping chain once it was determined we were missing. Here is how it goes: criminal gangs grab you and sell you up to Baathists in Fallujah, who will in turn sell you to Al Qaeda. In turn, cash and weapons flow the other way from Al Qaeda to the Baathisst to the criminals. My friend Georges, the French journalist snatched on the road to Najaf, has been missing for a month with no word on release or whether he is still alive.

America's last hope for a quick exit? The Iraqi police and National Guard
units we are spending billions of dollars to train. The cops are being
murdered by the dozens every day-over 700 to date -- and the insurgents are infiltrating their ranks. The problem is so serious that the U.S. military has allocated $6 million dollars to buy out 30,000 cops they just trained to get rid of them quietly.

As for reconstruction: firstly it's so unsafe for foreigners to operate that
almost all projects have come to a halt. After two years, of the $18
billion Congress appropriated for Iraq reconstruction only about $1 billion or so has been spent and a chuck has now been reallocated for improving security, a sign of just how bad things are going here.

Oil dreams? Insurgents disrupt oil flow routinely as a result of sabotage
and oil prices have hit record high of $49 a barrel. Who did this war exactly benefit? Was it worth it? Are we safer because Saddam is holed up and Al Qaeda is running around in Iraq?

Iraqis say that thanks to America they got freedom in exchange for
insecurity. Guess what? They say they'd take security over freedom any day, even if it means having a dictator ruler.

I heard an educated Iraqi say today that if Saddam Hussein were allowed to run for elections he would get the majority of the vote. This is truly sad.

Then I went to see an Iraqi scholar this week to talk to him about
elections here. He has been trying to educate the public on the importance of voting. He said, "President Bush wanted to turn Iraq into a democracy that would be an example for the Middle East. Forget about democracy, forget about being a model for the region, we have to salvage Iraq before all is lost."

One could argue that Iraq is already lost beyond salvation. For those of us on the ground it's hard to imagine what if any thing could salvage it from its violent downward spiral. The genie of terrorism, chaos and mayhem has been unleashed onto this country as a result of American mistakes and it can't be put back into a bottle.

The Iraqi government is talking about having elections in three months
while half of the country remains a 'no go zone'-out of the hands of the
government and the Americans and out of reach of journalists. In the other half, the disenchanted population is too terrified to show up at polling stations. The Sunnis have already said they'd boycott elections, leaving the stage open for polarized government of Kurds and Shiites that will not be deemed as legitimate and will most certainly lead to civil war.

I asked a 28-year-old engineer if he and his family would participate in
the Iraqi elections since it was the first time Iraqis could to some degree
elect a leadership. His response summed it all: "Go and vote and risk being blown into pieces or followed by the insurgents and murdered for cooperating with the Americans? For what? To practice democracy? Are you joking?"


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August 26, 2004

End of the Seige

There is something powerful about 20,000 people marching non-violently into a war zone, right past American tanks and in full view of American snipers, then pouring into the Imam Ali mosque, and ending Al Sadr's control of the shrine.

Thousands of Shiites end Najaf siege

The gates of Najaf's Imam Ali shrine were forced open Thursday by a sea of weeping and chanting Shiite Muslims, ending a siege of the shrine which had lasted for days and weeks of fighting with US forces.

Yet as the camp of radical cleric Moqtada Sadr, who led a rebellion against the US-led forces and the new Iraqi government, went into talks with the country's highest Shiite authority, the military standoff appeared far from over....

"God is great. This is democracy, this is the new Iraq, this is the greatest defeat we could have inflicted on the Americans. It's the most beautiful day in my life," he shouted, hurrying inside the main mausoleum to pray.

"We have been on the road since yesterday. When we reached the area, the national guard and the Iraqi police tried to prevent us from heading towards the shrine, but there was nothing they could do," said 20-year-old Hussein Noma, from the town of Amara....

He and the others were greeted like heroes by the 300 besieged Sadr militiamen inside....

Most of the demonstrators were Sistani supporters.

"It is my duty to follow the orders of the ayatollah and it was the duty of all Muslims to work for a peaceful solution," said Ali Rasheed, a young man from Kut....

Further up the stream of at least 20 000 demonstrators, in the Al-Jadida neighbourhood outside the Old City, a surreal scene unfolded as bewildered American soldiers trapped in their tanks watched as posters of Sistani and Moqtada posters were waved in their faces.

The presence of the US troops in the neighbourhood underlined that the battle was not over and that a tense "armed truce" could follow the jubilation.

US forces were still deployed all along the edge of the sprawling Valley of Peace cemetery, one of the largest in the world, as well as in several neighbourhoods outside the Old City.

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August 25, 2004

Return of the Grand Ayatollah

My greatest fear? That Sistani will be assassinated on Thursday in front of the Imam Ali mosque, just like Al Hakim was before him. Whether the Iranians, the Saudis, or even Al Qaeda were behind it, you know who would surely take the blame. US.

From the BBC:

Iraq's leading Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, is reported to have prepared a peace plan to try to end the violence in the city of Najaf. Iraqi police would replace foreign troops in the demilitarised city while compensation would be paid to people affected by three weeks of fighting.

Ayatollah Sistani is due to arrive in Najaf, his home city, having returned to Iraq from medical treatment abroad. Thousands of Iraqis are preparing to heed his call for a march to the city.

Ayatollah Sistani called for "all believers" to march to Najaf to try to end the three-week military confrontation between US forces and fighters loyal to Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr....

Ayatollah Sistani's plan envisages weapons-free zones in both Najaf and Kufa, a Sadr stronghold, aides said.

Sadr fighters are believed to remain in control of Najaf's Imam Ali shrine complex, refusing to yield to US and Iraqi forces surrounding them.

From the New York Times:

NAJAF, Iraq, Thursday, Aug. 26 - Iraq's most powerful Shiite cleric returned to the country on Wednesday from a hospital stay in London, calling for a mass demonstration here to end three weeks of fighting, and hours later American forces made their way almost to the gate of the Shrine of Imam Ali, where Shiite insurgents had established a base.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who commands the loyalty of millions of Shiite Muslims, came across the border in a convoy from Kuwait and planned to reach Najaf, his home, at dawn Thursday and lead a march to the shrine where American army and marines squeezing out the militia of the rebel cleric Moktada al-Sadr. As the United States Army barraged the Old City in the early hours of Thursday, the Marines advanced from the west by tank and on foot, and fires burned....

The announcement by the 73-year-old grand ayatollah, at a critical moment in the battle, set the stage for a dramatic show of his authority in the ravaged city. Adherents in the nearby holy city of Karbala massed to join the march.

With Mr. Sadr's Mahdi Army militia suffering from the bombardment, the announcement by Ayatollah Sistani suggested that he was seizing an opportune moment, gambling that his return could disperse what appeared to be an increasingly confused and demoralized group of insurgents and signal to Iraq's majority Shiites that he could save the shrine from damage or destruction....

After Mr. Smeisim's arrest, a group calling itself the Brigade of Divine Fury kidnapped the brother-in-law of the Iraqi defense minister, Hazim al-Shalaan. The group demanded Mr. Smeisim's release.

It was the arrest of another Sadr aide that led to the seizure of the shrine by the Mahdi Army on Aug. 5. Ayatollah Sistani, whose house is less than 100 yards away, left Iraq for London the next day, and was reported to have undergone an angioplasty to clear a blocked artery on Aug. 13.

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August 21, 2004

Sistani is not a fool

The key point to remember about Al Sadr and the Imam Ali mosque is that the Mahdi army - or rather militia - taking it over had nothing to do with protecting it, and everything to do with protecting Al Sadr. That and trying to turn the Shia community against the Americans and the Iraqi interim government. So far, they have had some success in both areas, but their work is not complete. That's why events keep shifting back and forth so dramatically. Al Sadr can not accept a solution that won't inflame the Shia masses to incite a revolt. By now, he feels that is his only true chance to achieve power. He has nothing to lose.

Sistani, on the other hand, is not about to play his game. This is why Sistani will not formally take control of the mosque until the Mahdi fighters are gone. Thus preventing them from causing an incident then broadening the scope of the reaction by portraying it as an assault on Sistani not just Sadr and his men. What remains to be seen is whether Sistani can pull it off, and get rid of the Mahdi army without compromising his public image as a strong, yet non-violent, opponent to American desires for control. So far Sadr has continued to embrace Sistani as an ally, but there is clearly not a lot of trust between them:

The crisis appeared on the verge of resolution Friday with insurgents' surprising decision to remove their weapons from the Imam Ali Shrine, where they had been hiding, and turn the holy site over to top Shiite clerics.

But the two sides were still debating how to arrange such a transfer Saturday.

Al-Sadr aides said they tried to hand the keys over to representatives of Iraq's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, who refused to accept them, demanding the shrine be evacuated first.

Sheik Ali Smeisim, a senior al-Sadr aide, said the militants wanted a delegation from al-Sistani's office to first inspect the shrine and make sure its treasures were intact, so that al-Sadr's followers would not be accused of stealing or damaging anything. Only then will the militants leave, he said.

Al-Sistani's aides say they will not send a delegation because of the security situation in the city.

"If the brothers in the office of ... al-Sadr want to vacate the holy shrine compound and close the doors and hand over the keys, then the office of the religious authority in Najaf will take the keys for safekeeping until the crisis ends," Sheik Hamed Khafaf, an al-Sistani aide, said from London where the cleric is undergoing medical treatment. "We cannot receive the shrine compound unless they agree to this formula."

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August 20, 2004

I wonder if this will make the next Bush ad?

Here is part of the text from the latest Bush campaign TV ad:

It begins with the mandatory message that this commercial was approved by the campaign to re-elect George W. Bush. It then shows a swimmer gliding through a pool, and it shows flags from Afghanistan and Iraq. A voice announces: "Freedom is spreading throughout the world like a sunrise. And this Olympics, there will be two more free nations and two fewer terrorist regimes. With strength, resolve and courage, democracy will triumph over terror. And hope will defeat hatred."

Here is President Bush in his own words:

Last Friday, he made a campaign speech in Oregon, saying: "Just the image of the Iraqi soccer team playing in the Olympics. It's fantastic, isn't it?"

Maybe they'll get invited to the White House if they win a medal?

Or maybe not: "Iraqi Soccer Players Slam 'Criminal' Bush"

Members of the Iraqi Olympic soccer team branded US President George Bush a criminal and called for American troops to pull out of the war-torn country.

Speaking after winning their group stage at the Games in Greece, one player said he would take up arms against US troops in his country.

And the team attacked Mr Bush for running re-election campaign adverts featuring the Iraqi team.

Iraq as a team does not want Mr Bush to use us for the presidential campaign, said midfielder Salih Sadir.

He can find another way to advertise himself.

Sadir was angered at Mr Bushs adverts, which show pictures of the Afghan and Iraqi flags with the words: At this Olympics there will be two more free nations and two fewer terrorist regimes.

We dont wish for the presence of Americans in our country. We want them to go away, said Sadir, 21, whose home town of Najaf has been battered by the war.

Another star player, Ahmed Manajid, 22, said of Mr Bush: How will he meet his god having slaughtered so many men and women?

He has committed so many crimes.

Manajid, from Fallujah, said he would be fighting US troops right now if he were not at the Olympics.

I want to defend my home. If a stranger invades America and the people resist, does that mean they are terrorists?

Everyone (in Fallujah) has been labelled a terrorist. These are all lies. Fallujah people are some of the best people in Iraq.

In an interview with the US magazine Sports Illustrated, the team coach Adnan Hamad told of the ongoing violence in his homeland.

My problems are not with the American people. They are with what America has done in Iraq: destroy everything.

The American army has killed so many people in Iraq. What is freedom when I go to the stadium and there are shootings on the road?

Now, compare that to what we're hearing from the White House:

WASHINGTON -- Defending President Bush's foreign policies, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice counseled Americans to be "less critical of every twist and turn" in Iraq.

"We need to be more patient with people who are making those early steps" toward a working multiethnic democracy, Rice said yesterday as US troops fought a bloody battle with insurgents in the slums of Baghdad and Iraqi forces searched for ways to subdue insurgent militias in Najaf.

Rice said that in US history, it took a long time for the country to achieve democratic goals.

And so far, she said, Iraq's postwar leaders have not made a compromise comparable to the one by the framers of the US Constitution, who "made my ancestors three-fifths of a man."

I guess what those soccer players are describing is one hell of a nasty twist and turn? I also think Condi is forgetting the first step the framers took. Something about driving the Redcoats into the ocean, or something along those lines?

Posted by Mike at 05:34 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sistani to the rescue

This is not the first time he has come to the Americans' aide at a critical time:

Militants Remove Arms From Najaf Shrine

One al-Sadr aide said the keys to the shrine could be handed over later Friday to religious authorities under al-Sistani, though details were still being worked out.

Sporadic gunfire and occasional explosions were heard in the city Friday evening, but far less than previous nights.

By nightfall, al-Sadr's fighters remained in control of the shrine, but they were no longer bringing their weapons inside the walled compound of the holy site, according to an Associated Press reporter inside.

Many armed militiamen were still circulating in the Old City district outside the shrine, but as they entered the compound they left their guns with comrades outside, then reclaimed them as they exited.

No weapons were visible inside the shrine, the AP reporter said. It was not known whether any weapons were hidden inside, though militant leaders denied they had hidden any....

Handing over the shrine to al-Sistani's religious authorities appeared to be a face-saving way to emerge from the standoff for al-Sadr, who opposes the U.S. presence in Iraq and often sharply criticizes the pro-U.S. interim government.

"We don't want to appease the government. ... We want to appease the Iraqi people," an aide to al-Sadr, Ahmed al-Shaibany, said earlier Friday as he headed to al-Sistani's office in the city to discuss handing over the keys.

An aide to al-Sistani, who has been undergoing medical treatment in London, said al-Sistani agreed but that details of a transfer still needed to be worked out.

"If they want to hand over the keys to the Shiite religious leadership, then the religious leadership will welcome this in order to defuse the crisis," Sheik Hamed Khafaf said.

This is a big step from Friday morning, with gunmen on the roof of the mosque.

Posted by Mike at 02:15 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

August 19, 2004

Amid Najaf crisis, Bush takes vacation

Needless to say, Bush clearly grasps the seriousness of the crisis in Najaf:

Bush Begins Weeklong Stay at Texas Ranch

7 minutes ago

DEB RIECHMANN, Associated Press Writer

CRAWFORD, Texas - President Bush and first lady Laura Bush are involved in a little he-said, she-said business here at the presidential ranch.

He's working on the acceptance speech he'll deliver in two weeks at the Republican National Convention. She's working on one she'll deliver earlier at the convention.

"One of the things he'll stay in touch with staff about over the next few days is the convention speech," White House press secretary Scott McClellan told reporters here on Thursday. "While, of course, he'll talk about the clear differences that voters face, it'll very much be a forward-looking speech talking about his agenda for America that builds upon his record of results."

Posted by Mike at 05:15 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Imagine if Najaf was Vatican City

This is not the Imam Ali mosque. It is another building in the holy city of Najaf, where American troops were seldom allowed to go and have not bombed, until now.

Pretend the Pope is out of town for surgery in London, and the Americans are assauting Saint Peter's Cathedral while he is gone, to attack IRA radicals holed up there. If you were a Catholic, you might understand how the Shia feel today.

Needless to say, this will not help Allawi gain legitimacy among Iraqis.

The Ultimate Stupidity, The Attack on Najaf


"Oppose the oppressor and support the oppressed."

-Imam Ali, Last Will and Testament (39 AH; 661 CE)

I have been thinking for months that if those commanding U.S. forces in Iraq really wanted to perform the ultimate stupidity, and ratchet up exponentially the degree of hatred they face in Iraq and throughout the Muslim world---then theyd surely attack the Imam Ali Shrine in Najaf, or be drawn into a situation where theyd damage it. This is the most important Shiite site in the world, and is holy not only to Shiites (about 120 million people) but also to all the billion-plus Muslims on the planet. It sits atop the tomb of Ali, cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet, fourth caliph ("successor" of Muhammed and political and religious leader of the expanding Muslim world), assassinated by opponents in 661. Alis partisans supported his son Hussein as next caliph, but Umayyad foes defeated Hussein and 72 followers in battle at Karbala in 680, their martyrdoms producing the enduring division between Sunni and Shia Islam.

Hussein is entombed, not with his father, but in Karbala. But according to Shiite tradition, an even more remarkable figure rests under the golden dome of the Ali Shrine: Adam, the first man. A son of Noah, who refused to enter the ark, died in Najaf, and here the patriarch Abraham and his son Isaac once bought a parcel of land now called the Valley of Peace. This is the sprawling Wadi al-Salaam cemetery (the worlds largest) that adjoins the shrine. Pilgrimage to Najaf will supposedly bring 70,000 Muslims immediate entry into Paradise. Najaf was home to Irans Ayatollah Khomeini for twelve years. It was a target of Saddam Hussein during the Shiite rebellion after the 1991 Gulf War, in which the first President Bush encouraged the Shiites to rise up, only to abandon them ignominiously. (In that episode the shrine was looted and bombed, although soon repaired by the Baathist regime.) Ayatollah Mohammad Sadiq al-Sadr, Muqtada al-Sadrs father, was assassinated here in 1999. In short, Najaf is a hub of mythology, tradition, and historical memories of injustice, resistance and martyrdom that inevitably affect its significance as a military target. Especially when Shiite resistance fighters take refuge there, and use it as a base of operations against unwelcome infidel troops.

Shiites constitute about 10% of the worlds Muslims, and are the majority population in Iran (93%) and Azerbaijan (61%). They comprise large communities in India and Pakistan (over 50 million total), but are the majority in only two Arab nations, tiny Bahrain (65%) and Iraq (60%). In Iraqi Shiism, the Arab and Indo-Iranian worlds intersect, and by chance the holiest site of Shiism is located in a proud Arab country, next door to the Shiite powerhouse of Iran, and now surrounded by foreign invaders. The latter, under fire from the general population, come to hate, fear and disparage the Iraqis and, regardless of the orders they receive from their officers, cannot be expected to treat Muslim sites with sensitivity and deference.

'Final call' issued for militia to leave mosque

Meanwhile, sounds of intense fighting erupted Thursday outside the mosque.

CNN's Kianne Sadeq, who is inside the compound with other journalists at the invitation of al-Sadr's Mehdi militia, reported persistent sounds of mortars, gunfire and many explosions, and devastation to the streets, homes and businesses around the mosque compound.

Two of the mosque's minarets have been damaged in recent fighting, and al-Sadr loyalists said a clock in one of the towers caught fire, Sadeq reported. The mosque is one of the holiest shrines in Shiite Islam.

"Everything outside of the mosque seems to be totaled," Sadeq said.

Ailing Sistani plans quick return from UK

LONDON: Iraq's most influential Shi'ite cleric, Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani, who is undergoing medical treatment in London, is worried about violence in Najaf and wants to return as soon as he can, his spokesman said yesterday.

Sistani's health could prove crucial to Iraq's stability. He stands against the resistance espoused by the young Shi'ite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr, whose militia has fought US and Iraqi government forces for more than a week in the latest flare-up....

Many of Iraq's Shi'ite majority view the reclusive Iranian-born Al Sistani as their highest religious authority and are anxiously waiting for his recovery and return to Iraq.

Kashmiri said exactly when the Muslim cleric returned would depend on doctors' advice. He came to London on August 6.

Al Sistani had an operation to unblock a coronary artery in a London hospital last week and was due to undergo eye surgery later yesterday.

Najaf assault turns allies against US

When the US wanted a Shia cleric to strengthen the credibility of the IGC, it turned to Bahr al-Ulum, whose family had lost many members for opposing Saddam Hussein.

But watching his hometown of Najaf come under US bombardment to crush Muqtada al-Sadr and his supporters, Bahr al-Ulum has lost faith in US intentions towards Iraq, and says millions of moderates like him, who welcomed last year's invasion, now regard Washington as an enemy.

"The Americans have turned the holy city into a ghost town. They are now seen as full of hatred against Najaf and the Shia. Nothing I know of will change this," the former president of the now defunct council said on Friday.

"I do not understand why America craves crisis. A peaceful solution to the confrontation with Muqtada could have been reached. We were hoping that Prime Minister Iyad Allawi would lead the way, but he sided with oppression."

Bahr al-Ulum has been one of the most outspoken critics of violence fuelled by al-Sadr and his supporters, who have challenged the authority of elder clerics such as Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and Bahr al-Ulum himself.

Does Iraq violence threaten democracy?

From "In my opinion, Moqtada has greatly contributed in the weakening of the Shias and has desecrated the holy shrines that he claims to defend. He claims to be a devout Shia while turning the Holy Mausoleum of Imam Ali into a weapon cache and a potential battleground. He placed pieces of artillery and machineguns on top of its minarets and when Americans returned his fire, he claimed that infidel Americans were destroying the shrines. Moqtada, you are very much aware of the holiness of these sites and should spare them any harm. If you want martyrdom, get out there and leave them as places of prayer like they have always been. Americans didn't come near them for a whole year until your army occupied it." -Haydar Al Karabala'i, Karbala, Iraq

Posted by Mike at 04:57 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (1)

August 16, 2004

Can you spot the liar?

"They have threatened to blow up the Imam Ali mosque if attacked"

Najaf, Iraq, Aug. 16 (UPI) -- The sacred Shiite Imam Ali mosque in Najaf is being held by 25 militants who have booby-trapped it with explosives, CNN reported Monday.

In a written statement, the Interior Ministry said the unidentified group was threatening to blow up the building if it came under attack. Accordingly, the interim Iraqi government has ordered national guard forces not to target the mosque, and not to approach it. U.S. troops are under similar orders.

The mosque houses the tomb of the Prophet Muhammed's cousin and son-in-law.

"It is a conspiracy to commit a big massace"

The chief government negotiator said he decided to quit the talks in Najaf after three fruitless days, but representatives of militant cleric Muqtada al-Sadr said a deal had been all but reached before interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi personally intervened to quash it.

"It is a conspiracy to commit a big massacre," al-Sadr's top negotiator, Sheik Ali Smeisim, told the pan-Arab Al-Jazeera television station.

Soon after the talks broke down, a massive Army and Marine force of tanks, Humvees and armored vehicles lined up inside a U.S. military base in Najaf for an assault on the militants, which Allawi reportedly called off.

If you said "Both of them!" I hope you're right. I really hope you're right:

Once again, U.S. armed forces appear on the verge of winning a decisive military victory in Iraq this time in the holy city of Najaf. And once again, they appear closer to losing the larger wars for a stable and friendly Iraq and for an Islamic world that will cease producing anti-U.S. terrorism.

That is the rapidly growing concern of Middle East and Islamic specialists as U.S. Marines, after a week of fighting, captured virtually all of central Najaf on Thursday, including the home of Mehdi Army leader Moqtada al-Sadr, and launched a final siege of the Imam Ali mosque, which is considered the world's holiest shrine by some 120 million Shi'ite Muslims....

Shi'ites "worldwide are shocked and outraged over what is going on in Najaf," Imam Moustafa Al-Qazwini, a prominent Shi'ite leader based in California, told the Los Angeles Times on Thursday. "They consider it an assault on the sanctity of Islam and in particular Shia Islam."

"Any attack on that city will destroy America's future in Iraq completely," said al-Qazwini, who supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 but became disillusioned with the occupation after several months of traveling to the occupied nation earlier this year.

To Juan Cole, an Iraq expert at the University of Michigan, the fighting of the past week marks a major setback for Washington's larger political goals.

"The credibility of the Allawi government as an independent Iraqi government has been decisively undermined by this," Cole said adding that while much of the Iraqi public was willing to give the interim leader a chance, "he will now be seen as nothing more than an American puppet or, worse, an American agent."

That impression is strengthened by the reemergence of U.S. troops and aircraft in the fighting over the past week, after a conscious effort since Allawi took over in late June to sharply reduce the visibility of U.S. forces in Iraq.

Cole and others noted that Marines' actions have created serious and potentially fatal strains even within the government. Its Shia vice president, Ibrahim Jaafari, who is also leader of the Dawa Party and generally regarded as Iraq's most popular political figure, on Wednesday denounced the presence of U.S. forces in Najaf, while the deputy governor of Najaf province resigned to protest "all the U.S. terrorist operations that they are doing against this holy city."

Why not just honor the Olympic truce? Would waiting a few weeks kill anyone?

In ancient Greece, all fighting had to stop from a week before the games until a week after so that athletes, artists and spectators could travel safely to and from Olympia.

The concept was revived by the modern Games' organizers in 1992 during the war between Serbs and Muslims in Bosnia and endorsed by the UN.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell, speaking in Washington on Friday, said the truce appeal was a "noble effort" but sadly it would have no impact on Iraq: The violence was the work of "outlaws and ... former regime elements and ... terrorists who respect no truce, who respect nothing except force."

Posted by Mike at 07:36 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

August 08, 2004

Sadr's not so popular uprising

From Reuters:

BAGHDAD - Radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's militiamen rule the streets of Baghdad's biggest slum, clutching AK-47 assault rifles and barking orders at motorists.

But finding new recruits may not be easy in Sadr City, a sprawling stronghold for the Shi'ite Muslim cleric whose fighters are posing a major challenge to the interim government of Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.

Some youths who may have once been inspired by Sadr's calls for holy war say they are giving Allawi a chance to deliver on his promises of stability and economic prosperity.

"I hope that Allawi will stabilize the situation and help the people of Sadr City," said Ahmed Dhia, 25, a worker in a biscuit factory.

"I am not interested in joining Sadr's movement. What we need is a normal life."

More interesting excerpts:

While some young men dominated the streets, others were busy in a carpentry workshop, selling petrol from plastic canisters or lifting bags of cement.

"We want Allawi to come here and deal with Sadr's fighters. We want more work, not Jihad (holy war)," said Ali Sattar, 17, who earns $3 a day selling petrol.

Those moderate young men with hopes of an improved economy provide Allawi with a chance to rally support among Iraqis still patient after decades of oppression under Saddam, American occupation and continuing uncertainty....

Taking a stand against the militiamen could be risky for teenagers who want to see Allawi stamp his authority along its potholed streets and dirt lanes piled high with garbage.

"The youth are not joining the Mehdi Army these days. But if we confront any of them they threaten us," said carpenter Mohammed Saleh, 19.

Posted by Mike at 01:34 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

August 03, 2004

More details from Abu Ghraib

From Rolling Stone:

It has been months since the now-infamous photographs from Abu Ghraib revealed that American soldiers tortured Iraqi prisoners -- yet the Bush administration has failed to get to the bottom of the abuses."There are some serious unanswered questions," says Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican on the Armed Services Committee. The Pentagon is stalling on several investigations, and congressional inquiries have ground to a halt. The foot-dragging is astonishing, given that Congress has access to classified documents detailing the abuses outlined by Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba in his report on Abu Ghraib. Rolling Stone obtained those files in June and offers this report on their contents.

The new classified military documents offer a chilling picture of what happened at Abu Ghraib -- including detailed reports that U.S. troops and translators sodomized and raped Iraqi prisoners. The secret files -- 106 "annexes" that the Defense Department withheld from the Taguba report last spring -- include nearly 6,000 pages of internal Army memos and e-mails, reports on prison riots and escapes, and sworn statements by soldiers, officers, private contractors and detainees. The files depict a prison in complete chaos. Prisoners were fed bug-infested food and forced to live in squalid conditions; detainees and U.S. soldiers alike were killed and wounded in nightly mortar attacks; and loyalists of Saddam Hussein served as guards in the facility, apparently smuggling weapons to prisoners inside.

The files make clear that responsibility for what Taguba called "sadistic, blatant and wanton" abuses extends to several high-ranking officers still serving in command positions. Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who is now in charge of all military prisons in Iraq, was dispatched to Abu Ghraib by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld last August. In a report marked secret, Miller recommended that military police at the prison be "actively engaged in setting the conditions for successful exploitation of the internees." After his plan was adopted, guards began depriving prisoners of sleep and food, subjecting them to painful "stress positions" and terrorizing them with dogs. A former Army intelligence officer tells Rolling Stone that the intent of Miller's report was clear to everyone involved: "It means treat the detainees like shit until they will sell their mother for a blanket, some food without bugs in it and some sleep." In the files, prisoner after prisoner at Abu Ghraib describes acts of torture that Taguba found "credible based on the clarity of their statements and supporting evidence provided by other witnesses." The abuses took place at the Hard Site, a two-story cinder-block unit at the sprawling prison that housed Iraqi criminals and insurgents, not members of Al Qaeda or other terrorist organizations. In one sworn statement, Kasim Mehaddi Hilas, detainee number 151108, said he witnessed a translator referred to only as Abu Hamid raping a teenage boy. "I saw Abu Hamid, who was wearing the military uniform, putting his dick in the little kid's ass," Hilas testified. "The kid was hurting very bad." A female soldier took pictures of the rape, Hilas said.

Posted by Mike at 01:50 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

July 19, 2004

Jim Miklaszewski knows the real story

With all this talk about Seymour Hersh and the young boys raped at Abu Ghraib, I think people are missing the real source of the story, Jim Miklaszewski:

May 7, 2004

JIM MIKLASZEWSKI, NBC PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The swearing in that opened the hearing, signaled the gravity of what was about to unfold. In his opening statement, Secretary Rumsfeld, for the first time, apologized and offered compensation to Iraqis who had been abused.

DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: To those Iraqis who were mistreated by member of the U.S. Armed Forces, I offer my deepest apology.

MIKLASZEWSKI: Rumsfeld then dropped a bomb, revealing that there were more photos, even videos depicting abuses far worse than what has been seen so far.

RUMSFELD: There are other photos that depict incidents of physical violence towards prisoners, acts that can only be described as blatantly sadistic, cruel, and inhuman.

MIKLASZEWSKI: U.S. military officials tell NBC News, the unreleased images, show American soldiers severely beating one Iraqi prisoner to near death; apparently, raping an Iraqi female prisoner; acting inappropriately with a dead body; and Iraqi guards apparently videotaped by U.S. soldiers raping young boys.

SEN. LINDSAY GRAHAM , SOUTH CAROLINA: Were talking about rape and murder here, were not just talking about giving people a humiliating experience, were talking about rape and murder and some very serious charges.

As much as I don't trust News Max, here's a quote from May 4th:

"The Iraqi guards apparently engaged in rape of female prisoners and perhaps some young boys," reported NBC Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski on Tuesday.

Miklaszewski told radio host Don Imus that the Iraqi guards had been recruited "in an effort to control the Iraqis inside the prison. The American military invited Iraqis - they trained them up ever so briefly and put them into the prison."

I can't find a transcript of the interview, but here's another excerpt from it:

The Associated Press reports that a senior Bush administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the photos (of US soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners) hurt the US efforts to win over an audience that is already deeply skeptical of US intentions. Arabs and Muslims, the official added, "are certain to seize upon the images as proof that the American occupiers are as brutal as ousted President Saddam Hussein's government."

Officials at the Defense Department are also said to be "livid," and well aware of the damage that has been done by the incident, according to NBC News' Pentagon reporter Jim Miklaszewski. Speaking on the Imus in the Morning radio/MSNBC program Tuesday , Mr. Miklaszewski said he asked a Pentagon contact about the soldiers alleged to be involved, to which the Pentagon official replied, "You mean the six morons who lost the war?"

If you ask me, the Nick Berg beheading video was released on May 11th, and Miklaszewski and others agreed to keep the lid on the story. Not sure that I blame them too much. Would you promote a story if you thought it would lead to the deaths of innocent people? That's why the photographs weren't released.

I don't think they should be either, but that doesn't mean the contents should be kept secret. A description in words is clearly not as inflammatory as a photo.
The desire not to release graphic images is no excuse for covering up a crime!

The Pentagon should release a description of all photos, video, and audio. Now.

Posted by Mike at 07:04 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

June 15, 2004

Did someone say we'd leave if asked?

Interesting article:

WASHINGTON - A poll of Iraqis commissioned by the U.S.-backed government has provided the Bush administration a stark picture of anti-American sentiment more than half of Iraqis believe they would be safer if U.S. troops simply left.

The poll, commissioned by the Coalition Provisional Government last month but not released to the American public, also found radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is surging in popularity, 92 percent of Iraqis consider the United States an occupying force and more than half believe all Americans behave like those portrayed in the Abu Ghraib prison abuse photos.

The Associated Press obtained a copy of a multimedia presentation about the poll that was shown to U.S. officials involved in developing Iraq policy. Several officials said in interviews the results reinforced feelings that the transfer of power and security responsibilities to the Iraqis can't come too soon.

"If you are sitting here as part of the coalition, it (the poll) is pretty grim," said Donald Hamilton, a career foreign service officer who is working for Ambassador Paul Bremer's interim government and helps oversee the CPA's polling of Iraqis.

"While you have to be saddened that our intentions have been misunderstood by a lot of Iraqis, the truth of the matter is they have a strong inclination toward the things that have the potential to bring democracy here," he said in a telephone interview Tuesday from Baghdad.

Hamilton noted the poll found 63 percent of Iraqis believed conditions will improve when an Iraqi interim government takes over June 30, and 62 percent believed it was "very likely" the Iraqi police and Army will maintain security without U.S. forces.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said, "Let's face it. That's the goal, to build those up to the point where they can take charge in Iraq and they can maintain security in Iraq."

The poll results conflict with the generally upbeat assessments the administration continues to give Americans. Just last week, President Bush predicted future generations of Iraqis "will come to America and say, thank goodness America stood the line and was strong and did not falter in the face of the violence of a few."

The current generation seems eager for Americans to leave, the poll found.

Especially interesting in this light:

White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters accompanying US President George W Bush on a campaign trip to the mid-western state of Wisconsin, "We only station our forces in places around the world where we are welcome.

"I fully expect coalition forces to continue to be in Iraq at the invitation of a sovereign government on July 1," he said.

"If a sovereign Iraqi government did not want us there, we would not be there. But I fully expect we will be there at their invitation."

An opinion poll conducted for the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) and quoted by yesterday's Washington Post showed 80 per cent of Iraqis mistrusted the CPA and 82 per cent disapproved of US and allied forces in their country.

The survey, which was not released to the public, ware disheartening for US and occupation officials, appearing to indicate the US effort in Iraq is not winning over Iraqi public opinion, said the Post.

Posted by Mike at 06:37 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (1)

May 25, 2004

More from Riverbend

Gotta love her:

Of course, several things occurred to us, after hearing of the raid. The first thing I thought was, "Well, it's about time" Then, as the news began to sink in, it made less since. Chalabi was America's lapdog- why is he suddenly unsuitable for the new Iraq? He was convicted in Jordan several years ago and everyone knows he's a crook and a terrible politician I'm also convinced that the Bush administration knew full well that he was highly unpopular in Iraq. He's not just a puppet- he's a mercenary. He encouraged the sanctions that killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and maimed the country itself. He supported the war and occupation vehemently and fabricated lies about weapons and threats to further his cause. He's a criminal- and a lousy one at that....

Meanwhile, a couple of days ago, 40 people were murdered in western Iraq while they were celebrating a wedding- an American helicopter fired at the civilians, killing women and children. Apparently, the guests at the wedding were shooting klashnikovs into the air. You'd think that the Americans would know by now that shooting klashnikovs into the air is a form of celebration and considering the fact that the party was far from any major town or city, the shots were virtually harmless. No one did anything about the shots being fired when Saddam was caught- in spite of the fact that Baghdad was a virtual firestorm of bullets for several hours. That was ok- that was 'acceptable' and even amusing to the 'authorities'. I can see how dozens of women, children and celebrating men would be a 'threat' though. Yes, it makes perfect sense.

"In a written statement the Pentagon said last night: "Our report is that this was not a wedding party, that these were anti-coalition forces that fired first..."

No. Of course not- it couldn't have been a wedding party. It was a resistance cell of women and children (one deviously dressed in a wedding gown!). It wasn't a wedding party just as mosques aren't mosques and hospitals are never hospitals when they are bombed. Celebrating women and children are not civilians. 'Contractors' traveling with the American army to torture and kill Iraqis ARE civilians. CIA personnel are 'civilians' and the people who planned and executed the war are all civilians. We're not civilians- we are insurgents, criminals and potential collateral damage. Check out to read some thought-provoking commentary on the whole sadistic incident.

In conclusion, some words of advice to Chalabi- you are a mercenary to be bought and sold... it's time to put you up on the market again and hope for bidders. Get the car ready, make the trunk as comfortable as possible and head for the borders.

Posted by Mike at 11:55 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

May 21, 2004

Charles Graner is a sick fuck

I don't care if you're taking orders. Who is this guy, Vlad the Impaler?

Previously secret sworn statements by detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq describe in raw detail abuse that goes well beyond what has been made public, adding allegations of prisoners being ridden like animals, sexually fondled by female soldiers and forced to retrieve their food from toilets.

The fresh allegations of prison abuse are contained in statements taken from 13 detainees shortly after a soldier reported the incidents to military investigators in mid-January. The detainees said they were savagely beaten and repeatedly humiliated sexually by American soldiers working on the night shift at Tier 1A in Abu Ghraib during the holy month of Ramadan, according to copies of the statements obtained by The Washington Post....

Hilas told investigators that he asked Graner for the time one day because he wanted to pray. He said Graner cuffed him to the bars of a cell window and left him there for close to five hours, his feet dangling off the floor. Hilas also said he watched as Graner and others sodomized a detainee with a phosphoric light. "They tied him to the bed," Hilas said....

One day, the detainee said, American soldiers held him down and spread his legs as another soldier prepared to open his pants. "I started screaming," he said. A soldier stepped on his head, he said, and someone broke a phosphoric light and spilled the chemicals on him.

"I was glowing and they were laughing," he said.

The detainee said the soldiers eventually brought him to a room and sodomized him with a nightstick. "They were taking pictures of me during all these instances," he told the investigators....

He also said Graner repeatedly threw the detainees' meals into the toilets and said, "Eat it."

Right. That should be our new slogan. They can print some leaflets up or something: "Saddam who? At least we're better than Vlad the Impaler!"

Construction of the castle was difficult work, and many of the slaves died in the process. Many were forced to work naked, for their clothes had fallen off from wear. Needless to say, Vlad Dracula in no way considered these people human beings, and he treated them worse than animals, severely punishing and torturing his captives, whether or not they had done anything to provoke him. He abhorred weakness of any kind, and was determined to be the ruler of a Kingdom which would only be host to the rich and powerful.

One day, Vlad Dracula decided to cleanse his Kingdom of those he considered to be lazy and unproductive, those who suffered from illness, a handicap, or were simply born in poverty. He decreed that no one should go hungry in his Kingdom, and invited all the poor, unfortunate souls who tainted his concept of what society should be to a banquet in the great hall in Tirgoviste. Once he felt his "guests" had been well fed, not to mention drunk and complacent, Vlad made his appearance, asking them how they would enjoy never having to feel the pain of hunger ever again, or if they wished to never have to worry about anything ever again, to be without a care in the world.

Of course, their reply was enthusiastic, so he obliged, ordering his men to board up the hall, which was then set ablaze. No one escaped. Vlad Dracula's treatment of his own subjects paled in comparison to the atrocities he committed against his enemies, and any who opposed him. On St. Bartholomew's Day, he impaled 30,000 merchants for disobeying trade laws, having their bodies left to rot outside the city walls as a reminder of what would happen to any who disobeyed him.

Rumours abound that Vlad also ate the flesh, and drank the blood of his enemies, often holding dinner parties next to the freshly impaled. He was very proud of his work, and anyone who showed disdain while looking upon the thousands of putrefying corpses would soon suffer the same fate. Vlad liked to arrange the impaled in circular patterns, the length of the stakes determined by the victim's rank; this way, wealthy, or powerful opponents would plainly see they were not above the law. Impalements were carried out in a variety of ways.

During his reign, Vlad Dracula also had people decapitated, had their eyes gouged out, had them skinned alive, boiled, burnt, dismembered, eviscerated, or sometimes just physically disfigured for his own amusement. In one particular incident, Turkish ambassadors who had refused to remove their Phrygian caps in his presence were asked why they insulted him in such a manner. When they replied it was because their hats had to remain on their heads according to custom, he graciously honored their tradition by ordering their hats permanently nailed to their heads, never to be removed again.

Emphasis added.

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May 18, 2004

Another isolated incident?

This stuff is disturbing just to read:

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - U.S. forces beat three Iraqis working for Reuters and subjected them to sexual and religious taunts and humiliation during their detention last January in a military camp near Falluja, the three said Tuesday.

The three first told Reuters of the ordeal after their release but only decided to make it public when the U.S. military said there was no evidence they had been abused, and following the exposure of similar mistreatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad.

Two of the three said they had been forced to insert a finger into their anus and then lick it, and were forced to put shoes in their mouths, particularly humiliating in Arab culture.

All three said they were forced to make demeaning gestures as soldiers laughed, taunted them and took photographs. They said they did not want to give details publicly earlier because of the degrading nature of the abuse.

The soldiers told them they would be taken to the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, deprived them of sleep, placed bags over their heads, kicked and hit them and forced them to remain in stress positions for long periods.

The U.S. military, in a report issued before the Abu Ghraib abuse became public, said there was no evidence the Reuters staff had been tortured or abused.

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May 16, 2004

Baghdad commentary

The past few weeks, I have been wondering how recent events were playing among Muslims in Iraq. All I had to do was visit a few sites on my blogroll. Shia Pundit is an American, not a Baghdad resident like Riverbend, but still.

Here is Riverbend's scathing rebuke of the American occupation:

Just Go...
People are seething with anger- the pictures of Abu Ghraib and the Brits in Basrah are everywhere. Every newspaper you pick up in Baghdad has pictures of some American or British atrocity or another. It's like a nightmare that has come to life.

Everyone knew this was happening in Abu Ghraib and other places seeing the pictures simply made it all more real and tangible somehow. American and British politicians have the audacity to come on television with words like, "True the people in Abu Ghraib are criminals, but" Everyone here in Iraq knows that there are thousands of innocent people detained. Some were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, while others were detained 'under suspicion'. In the New Iraq, it's "guilty until proven innocent by some miracle of God".

People are so angry. Theres no way to explain the reactions- even pro-occupation Iraqis find themselves silenced by this latest horror. I cant explain how people feel- or even how I personally feel. Somehow, pictures of dead Iraqis are easier to bear than this grotesque show of American military technique. People would rather be dead than sexually abused and degraded by the animals running Abu Ghraib prison.

There was a time when people here felt sorry for the troops. No matter what one's attitude was towards the occupation, there were moments of pity towards the troops, regardless of their nationality. We would see them suffering the Iraqi sun, obviously wishing they were somewhere else and somehow, that vulnerability made them seem less monstrous and more human. That time has passed. People look at troops now and see the pictures of Abu Ghraib and we burn with shame and anger and frustration at not being able to do something. Now that the world knows that the torture has been going on since the very beginning, do people finally understand what happened in Falloojeh?

I'm avoiding the internet because it feels like the pictures are somehow available on every site I visit. I'm torn between wishing they weren't there and feeling, somehow, that it's important that the whole world sees them. The thing, I guess, that bothers me most is that the children can see it all. How do you explain the face of the American soldier, leering over the faceless, naked bodies to a child? How do you explain the sick, twisted minds? How do you explain what is happening to a seven-year-old?

There have been demonstrations in Baghdad and other places. There was a large demonstration outside of the Abu Ghraib prison itself. The families of some of the inmates of the prison were out there protesting the detentions and the atrocities faces streaked with tears of rage and brows furrowed with anxiety. Each and every one of those people was wondering what their loved ones had suffered inside the walls of the hell that makes Guantanamo look like a health spa.

And through all this, Bush gives his repulsive speeches. He makes an appearance on Arabic tv channels looking sheepish and attempting to look sincere, babbling on about how this 'incident' wasn't representative of the American people or even the army, regardless of the fact that it's been going on for so long. He asks Iraqis to not let these pictures reflect on their attitude towards the American people and yet when the bodies were dragged through the streets of Falloojeh, the American troops took it upon themselves to punish the whole city.

He's claiming it's a "stain on our country's honor"... I think not. The stain on your country's honor, Bush dear, was the one on the infamous blue dress that made headlines while Clinton was in the White House... this isn't a 'stain' this is a catastrophe. Your credibility was gone the moment you stepped into Iraq and couldn't find the WMD... your reputation never existed.

So are the atrocities being committed in Abu Ghraib really not characteristic of the American army? What about the atrocities committed by Americans in Guantanamo? And Afghanistan? I won't bother bringing up the sordid past, let's just focus on the present. It seems that torture and humiliation are common techniques used in countries blessed with the American presence. The most pathetic excuse I heard so far was that the American troops weren't taught the fundamentals of human rights mentioned in the Geneva Convention Right- morals, values and compassion have to be taught.

All I can think about is the universal outrage when the former government showed pictures of American POWs on television, looking frightened and unsure about their fate. I remember the outcries from American citizens, claiming that Iraqis were animals for showing 'America's finest' fully clothed and unharmed. So what does this make Americans now?

We heard about it all we heard stories since the very beginning of the occupation about prisoners being made to sit for several hours on their knees being deprived of sleep for days at a time by being splashed with cold water or kicked or slapped about the infamous 'red rooms' where prisoners are kept for prolonged periods of time about the rape, the degradations, the emotional and physical torture and there were moments when I actually wanted to believe that what we heard was exaggerated. I realize now that it was only a small fragment of the truth. There is nothing that is going to make this 'better'. Nothing.

Through all of this, where is the Governing Council? Under what rock are the Puppets hiding? Why is no one condemning this? What does Bremer have to say for himself and for the Americans? Why this unbearable silence?

I don't understand the 'shock' Americans claim to feel at the lurid pictures. You've seen the troops break down doors and terrify women and children curse, scream, push, pull and throw people to the ground with a boot over their head. You've seen troops shoot civilians in cold blood. You've seen them bomb cities and towns. You've seen them burn cars and humans using tanks and helicopters. Is this latest debacle so very shocking or appalling?

The number of killings in the south has also risen. The Americans and British are saying that they are 'insurgents' and people who are a part of Al-Sadir's militia, but people from Najaf are claiming that innocent civilians are being killed on a daily basis. Today the troops entered Najaf and there was fighting in the streets. This is going to cause a commotion because Najaf is considered a holy city and is especially valuable to Shi'a all over the world. The current situation in the south makes one wonder who, now, is going to implement a no-fly zone over areas like Falloojeh and Najaf to 'protect' the people this time around?

I sometimes get emails asking me to propose solutions or make suggestions. Fine. Today's lesson: don't rape, don't torture, don't kill and get out while you can- while it still looks like you have a choice... Chaos? Civil war? Bloodshed? Well take our chances- just take your Puppets, your tanks, your smart weapons, your dumb politicians, your lies, your empty promises, your rapists, your sadistic torturers and go.

Here is Shia Pundit's take on the Al Sadr standoff in Najaf:

live by the sword, die by the sword. I'll admit to being all over the pessimism-optimism axis on the issue of Muqtada Sadr and the threat he poses to both eventual Iraqi liberty and the fate of the holy sites in Najaf. But Juan Cole has reported a real reason to hope:

Some teachers in the Najaf seminaries called upon radical young cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to leave the shrine of Imam Ali, just as the Imam Husayn had departed from Mecca (when he led his uprising against the Umayyad empire in 680-81). This according to the Iranian newspaper, Baztab. The seminarians said that it was obvious that Muqtada's bloody confrontation with the US was doomed to fail, and that he should do the right thing and take his fight out of Najaf so as to protect it, just as Imam Husayn had protected Mecca.

This is precisely the correct manner in which to address the misuse of religion - by fighting fire with fire. If Sadr - or Osama bin Laden for that matter - choose to wrap themselves in religious justification for their essentially political causes, then they must be forced to discover that the mantle of religion has thorns of responsibility.

Sadr has likened the occupation forces to Yazid, the tyrannical caliph who ruled Damascus and upon whose orders Imam Husain AS was martyred. Sadr was very quick to adopt the rhetoric of Husain's AS martyrdom - now he must be held to that standard.

There has been a lot of critique against Ayatollah Sistani for not doing enough, but I detect his hand in the message above. The point here is that Sistani at all costs wants to avoid the fate of the earlier British imperial adventure in Iraq, where the Shi'a rose up in religious war and ultimately lost any influence over its governance, ensuring decades of oppression under the Ba'ath. Diana Moon has argued that Sistani wants the same outcome as Sadr, namely a theocratic state on the model of Iran, but that's just not accurate. Sistani has consistently moved to support the cause of direct democracy, and criticized the CPA and Bremer for not moving quickly enough. Direct democracy is incompatible with the Iranian model, as we saw last year with the full-scale boycott of the Iranian elections by the reformers. Sistani does not want that path, and has supported the constitutional process. Sadr is the one who sees democracy as a threat, and he is rightly the one who needs to be marginalized. In doing so, however, lies great risk, and only Sistani's behind-the-scenes maneuvering can prevent Sadr from achieving the notoriety he desires.

UPDATE: There are some Shi'a in Najaf willing to take up arms against those who wrap themselves in the flag of Islam, unjustly:

In a deadly expression of feelings that until now were kept quiet, a group representing local residents is said to have killed at least five militiamen in the last four days.

The murders are the first sign of organised Iraqi opposition to Sadrs presence and come amid simmering discontent at the havoc their lawless presence has wreaked.

The group calls itself the Thulfiqar Army, after a twin-bladed sword said to be used by the Shiite martyr Imam Ali, to whom Najafs vast central mosque is dedicated.

Residents say leaflets bearing that name have been circulated in the city in the last week, urging Sadrs al-Mahdi army to leave immediately or face imminent death.

The name Thulfikar is very significant indeed, to a Shi'a. This is the highest form of jihad I have seen, because they fight not against non-muslims doing their duty, but against pseudo-muslims who try to subvert the faith. I've engaged in a verbal form of jihad against the same enemy myself. Sadr's little blasphemy is also triggerring a larger, non-violent backlash that has yet to crest.

George Dubya and Company, are you listening?

While I agree with General Latif, I'm not sure most Iraqis do, or if he even does:

FALLUJAH, Iraq - A former Saddam Hussein-era general appointed by the Americans to lead an Iraqi security force in the rebellious Sunni stronghold of Fallujah urged tribal elders and sheiks Sunday to support U.S. efforts to stabilize Iraq.

Retired Maj. Gen. Mohammed Abdul-Latif rose to prominence after nearly monthlong battles last month between the Marines monthlong battles in April between the Marines and insurgents hunkered down in Fallujah's neighborhoods.

"We can make them (Americans) use their rifles against us or we can make them build our country, it's your choice," Latif told a gathering of more than 40 sheiks, city council members and imams in an eastern Fallujah suburb....

Latif also told the insurgents to "stop doing stupid things."

"Those bullets that are fired will not get the Americans out, let them finish their job here so that they can return to their country," Latif said.

"Our country is precious, stop allowing the bad guys to come from outside Iraq to destroy our country."

Latif, a former military intelligence officer said to have been imprisoned by Saddam and exiled, praised the former Iraqi army.

"The army used to be honest until Saddam made the men turn into beasts, take bribes, betray their own country," he said. "The real army is the army that works hard to serve its own citizens, with courage and strength."

After the meeting, Latif told The Associated Press that the situation in Fallujah has greatly improved, that "winds of peace" prevail in the city and the people that fled the fighting have returned. He would not elaborate on the size or current activities of the Fallujah Brigade.

"Let us speak about peace," Latif said in English. "Fallujah was an open wound, now it's healing."

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May 15, 2004

"Some people think you can bullshit anyone"

These have to be the most significant three paragraphs I've read in a while:

The roots of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal lie not in the criminal inclinations of a few Army reservists but in a decision, approved last year by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, to expand a highly secret operation, which had been focussed on the hunt for Al Qaeda, to the interrogation of prisoners in Iraq. Rumsfelds decision embittered the American intelligence community, damaged the effectiveness of lite combat units, and hurt Americas prospects in the war on terror.

According to interviews with several past and present American intelligence officials, the Pentagons operation, known inside the intelligence community by several code words, including Copper Green, encouraged physical coercion and sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners in an effort to generate more intelligence about the growing insurgency in Iraq. A senior C.I.A. official, in confirming the details of this account last week, said that the operation stemmed from Rumsfelds long-standing desire to wrest control of Americas clandestine and paramilitary operations from the C.I.A.

Rumsfeld, during appearances last week before Congress to testify about Abu Ghraib, was precluded by law from explicitly mentioning highly secret matters in an unclassified session. But he conveyed the message that he was telling the public all that he knew about the story. He said, Any suggestion that there is not a full, deep awareness of what has happened, and the damage it has done, I think, would be a misunderstanding. The senior C.I.A. official, asked about Rumsfelds testimony and that of Stephen Cambone, his Under-Secretary for Intelligence, said, Some people think you can bullshit anyone.

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May 13, 2004

On the bright side

At least they did not film it. Or so it would seem. But then, neither did Saddam.

It appears certain that American soldiers have raped or gang raped several Iraqi women in their custody, most of whom never even committed a crime. These women are women who feel ashamed to be seen without a veil. It is customary for some Iraqis to kill family members who are raped, due to the shame. It also seems certain the American guards have killed a handful of male prisoners in cold blood.

First weapons of mass destruction, then freedom, now basic rights. What's next?

Posted by Mike at 12:49 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Is Tom Delay on crack?

From an AP story today:

Others said they saw images of corpses, military dogs snarling at cowering prisoners, women commanded to expose their breasts and sex acts, including forced homosexual sex.

"There were people who were forced to have sex with each other," said Rep. Gary Ackerman, D-N.Y.

Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., said, "There were some pictures where it looked like a prisoner was sodomizing himself" with an object. He said blood was visible in the photograph.

Not everyone reacted the same way to the additional photos.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, said he thought "some people are overreacting."

"The people who are against the war are using this to their political ends," he said.

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May 10, 2004

Worse than incompetent

The rest of the world is finally starting to understand what this say one thing do another administration is all about. The worst thing about George Bush, though, is that when he finds himself in a hole, all he can do is keep on digging. I just hope he doesn't take us all to hell with him.

Bush's Backing of Rumsfeld Shocks and Angers Arabs

DUBAI (Reuters) - Arab commentators reacted with shock and disbelief on Monday over President Bush (news - web sites)'s robust backing of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld against calls for his resignation.

Critics had called for him to quit after the furor over the abuse of Iraqi prisoners but analysts, editors and ordinary Arabs were united in their condemnation of Bush who said the United States owed Rumsfeld a "debt of gratitude."

"After the torture and vile acts by the American army, President Bush goes out and congratulates Rumsfeld. It's just incredible. I am in total shock," said Omar Belhouchet, editor of the influential Algerian national daily El Watan.

"Bush's praise for Rumsfeld will discredit the United States...and further damage its reputation, which is already at a historic low in the Arab world," he added.

Analysts have said the damage from images seen worldwide of U.S. soldiers abusing naked Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison would be indelible, incalculable and a gift to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden (news - web sites).

What people saw, they said, was the true image of the occupation: humiliation of an occupied people, contempt for Islam, sadism and racism.

"After Mr. Bush's decision to keep Rumsfeld, all their apologies seem like lip service," Dubai-based political analyst Jawad al-Anani told Reuters. "Mr. Rumsfeld would have certainly lost his job if the prisoners were American."

"The United States is spending so much money by setting up Alhurra television and Radio Sawa to improve its image in the Arab world...How can it reconcile that with keeping a man who has insulted every Arab through the abuses of Iraqi prisoners," added Anani, a former Jordanian foreign minister.

University of Algiers professor Mahmoud Belhimeur agreed.

"I cannot believe the United States reacts the way an authoritarian regimes would. Bush should have done the honorable thing and fired Rumsfeld," he said.

And if you had any doubts about how bad the situation is, go read this:

NBC News later quoted U.S. military officials as saying that the unreleased photographs showed American soldiers severely beating an Iraqi prisoner nearly to death, having sex with a female Iraqi prisoner, and acting inappropriately with a dead body. The officials said there also was a videotape, apparently shot by U.S. personnel, showing Iraqi guards raping young boys.

...Some of the photographs later made their way to the American media. Lindh was later stripped naked, bound to a stretcher with duct tape, and placed in a windowless shipping container. Once again, the affidavit said, military personnel photographed Mr. Lindh as he lay on the stretcher. On July 15, 2002, Lindh agreed to plead guilty to carrying a gun while serving in the Taliban and received a twenty-year jail term. During that process, Brosnahan told me, the Department of Defense insisted that we state that there was no deliberate mistreatment of John. His client agreed to do so, but, the attorney noted, Against that, you have that photograph of a naked John on that stretcher.

The photographing of prisoners, both in Afghanistan and in Iraq, seems to have been not random but, rather, part of the dehumanizing interrogation process. The Times published an interview last week with Hayder Sabbar Abd, who claimed, convincingly, to be one of the mistreated Iraqi prisoners in the Abu Ghraib photographs. Abd told Ian Fisher, the Times reporter, that his ordeal had been recorded, almost constantly, by cameras, which added to his humiliation. He remembered how the camera flashed repeatedly as soldiers told to him to masturbate and beat him when he refused.

Posted by Mike at 06:25 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

March 31, 2004

American occupation going according to plan

I think the next step in Bush's master plan must call for an unceremonious American withdrawl right after his resounding defeat on November 2nd. Followed by a bloody power struggle in Baghdad and the dissolution of the Iraqi interim government. Do I even need to explain any more how the only way to succeed was to make this thing a UN effort instead of an American occupation?

Iraqis Drag Four Corpses Through Streets

FALLUJAH, Iraq - Jubilant residents dragged the charred corpses of four foreign contractors including at least one American through the streets Wednesday and hanged them from the bridge spanning the Euphrates River. Five American soldiers died in a roadside bombing nearby.

The four contract workers for the U.S.-led coalition were killed in a rebel ambush of their SUVs in Fallujah, a Sunni Triangle city about 35 miles west of Baghdad and scene of some of the worst violence on both sides of the conflict since the beginning of the American occupation a year ago.

It was reminiscent of the 1993 scene in Somalia, when a mob dragged the corpse of a U.S. soldier through the streets of Mogadishu, eventually leading to the American withdrawal from the African nation.

Three Contractors Killed in Iraq Were U.S. Citizens

WASHINGTON - Three of four contractors working for the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq who were killed in an ambush in Falluja on Wednesday are U.S. citizens, a State Department official said.

"We've identified three of the four as Americans," said the official, who asked not to be identified. Cheering Iraqis dragged the charred and mutilated bodies of the four through the streets of Falluja, a town 32 miles west of Baghdad.

Posted by Mike at 01:38 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

March 17, 2004

It's the UN control, stupid!

Key phrase from Spain's new President in the coverage of his pull out from Iraq:

"Unless there is a change in which the occupiers give up control and the UN takes control of the situation, the Spanish troops will come back," he added. He set a deadline of June 30, the same date by which Washington vows to turn power over to an interim Iraqi government.

Posted by Mike at 11:57 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

March 06, 2004

Iraq's Real Holy War

Once again, I've got to thank Ed Cone, this time for a link to this:


Published: March 6, 2004

MONTEREY, Calif. The first celebration of the Muslim holiday Ashura since the fall of Baghdad has been particularly bloody for Shiites and ominous for American foreign policy. Some 140 Iranian and Iraqi Shiite pilgrims died in suicide bombings in Baghdad and Karbala this week, and 43 Pakistani Shiites were killed in Quetta, Pakistan.

The attacks brings to light a grave problem facing America: the Shiite revival in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein has reinvigorated a Sunni militancy that in turn threatens peace and stability in a broad swath of Asia from Pakistan to Lebanon.

American authorities may well be correct that the bombings were the work of the terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Al Qaeda operatives who see sectarian violence as the means to subvert American plans for the country. However, it would be a mistake to view the anti-Shiite violence in Iraq as the work of a small group of terrorists and limited to Iraqi politics.

Anti-Shiism is embedded in the ideology of Sunni militancy that has risen to prominence across the region in the last decade. Wahhabi Sunnis, who dominate Saudi Arabia's religious affairs and export their philosophy to its neighbors, have led the charge, declaring Shiites "infidels" and hence justifying their murder. (The legacy of Wahhabi violence against Shiites dates back to at least 1801, when Wahhabi armies from the Arabian Peninsula invaded southern Iraq and desecrated the holy shrine at Karbala.)

These anti-Shiite beliefs have spread to South Asia and Afghanistan, where the Taliban government used them to justify massacres of Shiite civilians. Even with the fall of the Taliban, widespread killings of Shiites and bombings of Shiite mosques and community centers in both Afghanistan and Pakistan have continued.

Many of the Sunni militants responsible for the attacks were trained in the same camps in Afghanistan as the Qaeda fighters and the Taliban soldiers. They fought side by side when the Taliban secured its grip on Afghanistan, notably the captures of Mazar-i-Sharif and Bamiyan in 1998, during which at least 2,000 Shiite civilians were murdered. And Ramzi Yousef, who was convicted of planning the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, is also a prime suspect in the bombing of the Shiite shrine of Mashad in Iran in 1994.

The point here is that the forces that are today killing Shiites in Iraq have their roots all over the region. It is a network of Arabs and non-Arabs, South Asians and Middle Easterners, Wahhabis and non-Wahhabis. And if these men succeed in starting a sectarian civil war, it will quickly spread beyond Iraq's borders.

While Shiites make up only 10 percent to 15 percent of the world's 1.3 billion Muslims, 120 million of them live in the Middle East. They are the majority populations in Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Iran and Iraq, the largest community in Lebanon, and sizable minorities in various Persian Gulf emirates, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

The American-led invasion of Iraq has produced a Shiite cultural revival there that is shifting the balance of power between Shiites and Sunnis. Political events have further angered Sunnis outside Iraq especially the creation of the Shiite-dominated Iraqi Governing Council and the virtual veto power over it exercised by the Shiites' religious leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

It is virtually unthinkable to many Sunnis that one of the most important Arab countries the seat of the Abbasid Empire from the 8th to 13th centuries, which established Sunni supremacy and brutally suppressed Shiites would pass from Sunni to Shiite domination. In militant Sunni circles, it is taken as proof of an American conspiracy against them and against Islam as a whole. Thus Sunni militancy is not only inherently anti-Shiite, but anti-American as well.

What the United States is facing in Iraq is not just a Qaeda operation against American control, but the vanguard of a broad movement. It is based on the premise that violence against Shiites will not only derail Iraq's transition to democracy, but will also incite Shiite-Sunni violence throughout the Muslim world.

To contend with Sunni militancy in Iraq, America must contain it throughout the Middle East and South Asia. Among other things, this means putting pressure on countries like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to stem the tide of anti-Shiite rhetoric in their mosques and media. It also means insuring that Iraqi Sunnis do not feel left out of the emerging democratic Iraq, and working with Ayatollah Sistani to quell Shiite rage over the attacks. What happened in Karbala must not become a sign of things to come for the whole region.

Vali Nasr is a professor of national security affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School.

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March 02, 2004

The eyes of a mass murderer


Granted, I haven't been following things as closely as I was a few months back, but I don't see how anyone but Sadr could bomb fellow Shiites on Ashoura. He basically stated that he would start a civil war if the political process went forward as planned. It has, so he's doing his best. I have no respect for Al Qaeda, but even Bin Laden has principles - as twisted and evil as they may be. Killing fellow Muslims' on a holy day is not in Osama's deck of cards. The worst part is that Sadr's allies are actually convincing Iraqis the Americans are behind the bombings! Clearly, Sadr's wealthy Saudi financiers are spooked over the recently agreed upon Iraqi interim constitution. Not to mention the prospect of free and fair elections across their border. It's already making waves in Iran. The tale of Solomon and the baby comes to mind. Iraq is the baby. Sadr has chosen to try to cut it in half.

For the record, here is Sadr's idea of a "holy" war:

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October 08, 2003

"I have a contract for you"

From the New York Times:

Iraqi officials and businessmen charge that millions of dollars in contracts are being awarded without competitive bidding, some of them to former cronies of Mr. Hussein's government.

"There is no transparency," said Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish member of the Governing Council, "and something has to be done about it.

"There is mismanagement right and left, and I think we have to sit with Congress face to face to discuss this. A lot of American money is being wasted, I think. We are victims and the American taxpayers are victims."

A number of businessmen say they believe it is necessary to pay kickbacks to win contracts. A spokesman for one of the largest American corporations awarding subcontracts here, Bechtel, said his company had neither paid any kickbacks nor had been approached by Iraqis seeking to pay kickbacks. He said Bechtel made all of its contract information available on its Web site and at offices in Baghdad and Basra. A check of the Web site on Friday found no information, only a notice that the site was "under construction."

The lack of transparency and competition, Governing Council members said in interviews, may be encouraging corruption. They said they believed that many contracts had been inflated beyond the reasonable cost for the work, creating opportunities for kickbacks between prime contractors and subcontractors....

An American businessman, who would not allow his name to be used, said the occupation authority was doling out contracts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars by simply telephoning favored companies and announcing, "I have a contract for you," as he characterized a telephone call he received this week.

Mr. Othman said, "I hope Congress knows what is going on, but if they don't know and we don't know, then God help everybody."

Looks like Senator Edwards has the right idea:

While Edwards believes a peaceful and stable post-war Iraq is critical for American security, he has raised a number of issues President Bush must address before he will vote for Iraqi reconstruction funds, including providing a long-term budget for reconstruction, securing the help of our allies, and creating an independent panel to oversee reconstruction contracts to ensure they are awarded fairly.

I will not give this president a blank check, Edwards continues in the ad. We should stop the inside deals and work with our allies in Iraq so we can afford to make us stronger at home with health care for every child and a real plan to create jobs.

Edwards has been a leading critic of the insider deals that have been cut under this presidents watch. The North Carolina senator has aggressively questioned Vice President Cheneys financial interests in Halliburton, a company that has received billions in no-bid government contracts, and called for a ban on former administration officials like Joe Allbaugh using their connections to secure sweetheart government deals.

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October 07, 2003

The victory that could have been

In my view, deposing Saddam was the right thing to do, even if there were no weapons of mass destruction (as I now don't think there were). See my post here for the play by play on Bush's State of the Union address. He was basically lying by omission the whole time he talked about Iraq. If the UN were more effective, though, I think it could get rid of more dictators like Milosevic and Hussein. In that sense, the war was right.

Where Bush went way, way wrong was once the bombs stopped falling. The right thing to do would have been to give up control to the international community, while keeping our troops there as long as the UN needed them. Bush has done the exact opposite. Instead of inviting the UN to take the lead, and showing some humility, Bush has kept tight control, lined up sweetheart deals for US companies, and then demanded the UN simply fall in behind his lead! Bush fails to realize that just like himself, the other world leaders want to save face, too. Both sides have to give something to reach a comprise. Bush refuses to do so.

If our just cause was to liberate Iraq, that just cause does not extend to controlling Iraq after the war. The American people sense this, but it is getting lost in the public debate. The anti-war, pro-war contruct is still being used six months after Baghdad fell. The next layer down, "What about the post-war?" just gets lost in the shuffle. The future of Iraq is for the people of Iraq to decide, but we can not simply "Bring the troops home" and leave the gangsters and criminals to rule Iraq. We need to build a government with credibility, and a US puppet will have none. If we don't give up control to the UN soon, we risk failing what could have been a perfectly righteous cause.

Posted by Mike at 03:00 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)