Thursday, November 02, 2006



From the UK Independent :

The country is being partitioned as militiamen fight bloody battles for control of towns and villages north and south of the capital.

As American and British political leaders argue over responsibility for the crisis in Iraq, the country has taken another lurch towards disintegration.

Well-armed Sunni tribes now largely surround Baghdad and are fighting Shia militias to complete the encirclement.

The Sunni insurgents seem to be following a plan to control all the approaches to Baghdad. They have long held the highway leading west to the Jordanian border and east into Diyala province. Now they seem to be systematically taking over routes leading north and south.

Dusty truck-stop and market towns such as Mahmoudiyah, Balad and Baquba all lie on important roads out of Baghdad. In each case Sunni fighters are driving out the Shia and tightening their grip on the capital. Shias may be in a strong position within Baghdad but they risk their lives when they take to the roads. Some 30 Shias were dragged off a bus yesterday after being stopped at a fake checkpoint south of Balad.

In some isolated neighbourhoods in Baghdad, food shortages are becoming severe. Shops are open for only a few hours a day. "People have been living off water melon and bread for the past few weeks," said one Iraqi from the capital. The city itself has broken up into a dozen or more hostile districts, the majority of which are controlled by the main Shia militia, the Mehdi Army.

The scale of killing is already as bad as Bosnia at the height of the Balkans conflict. An apocalyptic scenario could well emerge - with slaughter on a massive scale. As America prepares its exit strategy, the fear in Iraq is of a genocidal conflict between the Sunni minority and the Shias in which an entire society implodes. Individual atrocities often obscure the bigger picture where:

* upwards of 1,000 Iraqis are dying violently every week;

* Shia fighters have taken over much of Baghdad; the Sunni encircle the capital;

* the Iraqi Red Crescent says 1.5 million people have fled their homes within the country;

* the Shia and Sunni militias control Iraq, not the enfeebled army or police.

No target is too innocent. Yesterday a bomb tore through a party of wedding guests in Ur, on the outskirts of Sadr City, killing 15 people, including four children. Iraqi wedding parties are very identifiable, with coloured streamers attached to the cars and cheering relatives hanging out the windows.

Amid all this, Dick Cheney, the US Vice-President, has sought to turn the fiasco of Iraq into a vote-winner with his claim that the Iraqi insurgents have upped their attacks on US forces in a bid to influence the mid-term elections. There is little evidence to support this. In fact, the number of American dead has risen steadily this year from 353 in January to 847 in September and will be close to one thousand in October.

And there is growing confusion over the role of the US military. In Sadr City, the sprawling slum in the east of the capital that is home to 2.5 million people, American soldiers have been setting up barriers of cement blocks and sandbags after a US soldier was abducted, supposedly by the Mehdi Army. The US also closed several of the bridges across the Tigris river making it almost impossible to move between east and west Baghdad. Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi Prime Minister, added to the sense of chaos yesterday when he ordered the US army to end its Sadr City siege.

Mr Maliki has recently criticised the US for the failure of its security policy in Iraq and resisted American pressure to eliminate the militias. Although President Bush and Tony Blair publicly handed back sovereignty to Iraq in June 2004, Mr Maliki said: "I am now Prime Minister and overall commander of the armed forces yet I cannot move a single company without Coalition [US and British] approval."

In reality the militias are growing stronger by the day because the Shia and Sunni communities feel threatened and do not trust the army and police to defend them.

One eyewitness in Balad said two US gunships had attacked Shia positions on Sunday killing 11 people and seriously wounding six more, several of whom lost legs and arms. He added that later two Iraqi regular army platoons turned up in Balad with little military equipment. When they were asked by locals why their arms were so poor "the reply was that they were under strict orders by the US commander from the [nearby] Taji camp not to intervene and they were stripped of their rocket-propelled grenade launchers".

Another ominous development is that Iraqi tribes that often used to have both Sunni and Shia members are now splitting along sectarian lines.

In Baghdad it has become lethally dangerous for a Sunni to wander into a Shia neighbourhood and vice versa. In one middle-class district called al-Khudat, in west Baghdad, once favoured by lawyers and judges, the remaining Shia families recently found a cross in red paint on their doors. Sometimes there is also a note saying "leave without furniture and without renting your house". Few disobey.


From The Australian :

The order by Mr Maliki to lift the blockade of the Shia slum was one of the strongest signs of independence from an Iraqi leader since the 2003 invasion and follows a fortnight of escalating tensions between Iraqi and US officials, culminating in a weekend video conference between Mr Maliki and US President George W. Bush.

The US had established the Baghdad military blockades last week in their unsuccessful search for a missing US soldier of Iraqi descent.

The lifting of the barricades was hailed as a victory by supporters of Shia Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose Mahdi Army militia controls Sadr City and is suspected of kidnapping the US soldier.

According to American officers, the US crackdown on Sadr City had a second motive: the search for Abu Deraa, a man considered one of the most notorious death squad leaders. The soldier and Abu Deraa both were believed by the US military to be in the city.

Mr Maliki's action was the starkest sign yet of the Iraqi PM's differences with US officials, who have urged him to disarm Sadr's militia. Mr Maliki's hold on power depends at least partly on Sadr and his control of parliament's largest voting bloc.

The US departure yesterday set off celebrations among civilians and armed men in Sadr City, who declared victory for Sadr and his militia.

Mr Maliki's challenge to US conduct of the war was the latest in a series of acts designed to force the American hand and test Washington's readiness to give him a greater say in securing the world's most violent capital.

After the Bush administration unveiled a plan last week for Iraq's Government to adopt timelines for progress, especially in curbing violence, Mr Maliki rejected the timetable and accused Washington of infringing on national sovereignty. There was no doubt he was talking tough to show both the Americans and his political base that he would not be pushed around.

The Iraqi leader has also said he feels staunching bloodshed in Iraq might be better handled by Iraqi forces.

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld endorsed a proposal yesterday to spend at least $US1 billion ($1.29 billion) to expand the size and accelerate the training and equipping of Iraqi security forces, underscoring the Bush administration's effort to shift more of the burden away from US troops.

From the New York Times :

Mr. Maliki’s public declaration seemed at first to catch American commanders off guard. But by nightfall, American troops had abandoned all the positions in eastern and central Baghdad that they had set up last week with Iraqi forces as part of a search for a missing American soldier. The checkpoints had snarled traffic and disrupted daily life and commerce throughout the eastern part of the city.

The language of the declaration, which implied that Mr. Maliki had the power to command American forces, seemed to overstep his authority and to be aimed at placating his Shiite constituency.

The withdrawal was greeted with jubilation in the streets of Sadr City, the densely populated Shiite enclave where the Americans have focused their manhunt and where anti-American sentiment runs high. The initial American reaction to the order, which was released by Mr. Maliki’s press office, strongly suggested that the statement had not been issued in concert with the American authorities.

On Wednesday, Mr. Maliki challenged an American assertion that the two governments had agreed on a timetable for stabilizing Iraq. On Thursday and Friday, he issued angry comments pointedly voicing his independence from the Americans, including an account circulated by his aide of an acrimonious meeting with Mr. Khalilzad, during which Mr. Maliki was said to have told the ambassador that he was “a friend of the United States, but not America’s man in Iraq.” On Saturday, the White House convened a videoconference at which Mr. Maliki publicly praised President Bush.

The abrupt declaration by Mr. Maliki on Tuesday followed a visit to Baghdad on Monday by President Bush’s national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, who was here to discuss how to reverse the country’s slide toward all-out civil war.

Within an hour of the statement, American troops had already begun pulling away from the checkpoints on the edge of Sadr City, according to witnesses, though Iraqi security forces remained behind. Lt. Col. Jonathan B. Withington, a military spokesman in Baghdad, said the order would affect only the checkpoints established in the last week, not all the checkpoints manned by Iraqi security forces.

Mr. Maliki’s order said that special security measures, such as the latest roadblocks, “will be carried out only during the curfew period and in emergencies.” It added: “Joint efforts to track down the terrorists and outlaws who jeopardize the lives of people by killing and kidnapping will continue.”


From the UK Independent :

The growing differences between the US and the Iraqi government are rooted in the suspicion among leaders of the Shia community that the US would like to ally itself more closely with the Sunni Arabs, who have hitherto supported the insurgents.

In an unprecedented show of independence by an Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki this week successfully demanded that the US abandon its siege of the great Shia bastion of Sadr City in east Baghdad. Its 2.5 million people celebrated the withdrawal of US checkpoints as an important political victory.

Outside Baghdad, Shia leaders claim that US helicopter gunships have repeatedly opened fire on the Mehdi Army, the Shia militia that supports the radical nationalist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The Mehdi Army has grown in strength as sectarian warfare between Sunni and Shia escalated after the attack on the Shia shrine in Samarra, in February of this year.

The US justifies its attacks on the Mehdi Army by accusing it of running death squads that kill Sunni. This is undoubtedly true, but the Mehdi Army also opposes the coalition's presence in Iraq. The Badr Organisation, the other large Shia militia, which also runs death squads, is seldom targeted by US forces. The differences between Mr Maliki and US representatives in Baghdad show that while Mr Maliki cannot survive without American support, they cannot do without him. Ironically, the US ambassador Zilmay Khalilzad spent months trying to get rid of Ibrahim al-Jaafari, Mr Maliki's predecessor.

The US has long been trying to conciliate the Sunni community, but despite talks with insurgent leaders in Jordan and Saudi Arabia, the US has yet to make any headway in negotiations to end the fighting. The danger for the US is that it may alienate the 60 per cent of the Iraqi population who are Shia without reaching an agreement with the 20 per cent who are Sunni Arabs.

While this year has seen a massive escalation of sectarian fighting, there has also been an increase in the number and effectiveness of attacks on US troops. Between 28 September and 31 October this year, US forces suffered 963 dead and wounded compared to 353 dead and wounded in January. The number of US soldiers killed make up about 13 per cent of casualties.

One reason US casualties have increased is that more soldiers were deployed in Baghdad in October in an attempt to gain control of the city.


From the Los Angeles Times :

For U.S. troops, October was a month of gritty skirmishes against fighters religiously motivated to risk their lives during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan.

October's death toll, the highest for American forces in nearly two years, came during a period without conventional battles or catastrophic helicopter crashes.

Rather, the 103 troops killed in Baghdad and across Iraq were victims of a steady onslaught of assaults, primarily by their longtime nemeses, Sunni Arab insurgents.

The number of attacks on American forces increased in October to unprecedented levels, U.S. military officials said.

"There has been a much more considered effort to specifically target coalition and Iraqi security forces," Army Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, the spokesman for U.S.-led forces in Iraq, told reporters in Baghdad as the month wore on. "There has been a steady increase in the number of attacks specifically against security forces."

There were 224 Iraqi security forces and 1,315 civilians killed in October.

It was a month in which U.S. forces were shot by snipers, struck by rocket-propelled grenades or lured into ambushes where they were sprayed with automatic-weapon fire from the AK-47s found in so many Iraqi homes.

But improvised explosive devices left along roads remained the weapon of choice for Iraq's anti-American insurgency.

Despite jamming devices, tactical adjustments and the increased armoring of military vehicles, at least 51 of the U.S. deaths resulted from makeshift bombs detonated by remote control from a comfortable distance.

At least 43 deaths occurred in Baghdad, indicating a shifting focus away from the Sunni heartland toward Iraq's capital "due to our more deliberate presence, more active involvement out there," Caldwell said last week.

U.S. forces were more exposed than usual in Baghdad because of an ongoing offensive aimed at taking back the streets from the forces of sectarian warfare — Sunni insurgents and Shiite Muslim militiamen, some allied with officials of the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government.

Though U.S. officials say the Shiite militias dominating Iraq's south pose the biggest long-term threat to the country's stability, the vast majority of the Americans were killed in Sunni-dominated areas.

The deaths in Baghdad occurred largely in Sunni-dominated neighborhoods on the west side. Thirty-seven American troops died west of Baghdad, in largely Sunni Al Anbar province. Sunni insurgents in the Euphrates River towns and cities of Iraq's desert hinterlands deem U.S. troops an occupation force and the Baghdad government, run by the nation's long-subjugated Shiite majority, little more than an American puppet.

The Marine Corps, unlike the Army, does not release information about the exact location or cause of deaths. Senior Marine officers think such information could help the enemy. The Marines, in public announcements, described at least 18 of the October deaths as "hostile" incidents in Al Anbar.

Most officials acknowledge that many of the Marine casualties in October occurred in Ramadi, the rundown provincial capital where insurgents have intimidated most Iraqi government workers into fleeing. Marines face daily threats from roadside bombs, snipers and assaults on their fortified bases.

"It's combat nearly every day," one Marine officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "Ramadi is where the terrorists want to establish their capital. They're armed and they're relentless."

Another 17 Americans were killed in Sunni Arab areas north of Baghdad, in and around the provincial capitals of Tikrit, Baqubah, Mosul and Kirkuk, where Kurds and Sunni Arabs are fighting for dominance.

October's death toll was the highest since the month preceding Iraq's Jan. 31, 2005, elections.


From the Washington Post :

The U.S. Air Force is asking the Pentagon's leadership for a staggering $50 billion in emergency funding for fiscal 2007 -- an amount equal to nearly half its annual budget, defense analyst Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute said on Tuesday.

The request is expected to draw criticism on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers are increasingly worried about the huge sums being sought "off budget" to fund wars, escaping the more rigorous congressional oversight of regular budgets.

Another source familiar with the Air Force plans said the extra funds would help pay to transport growing numbers of U.S. soldiers being killed and wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Thompson, who has close ties to U.S. military officials, said the big funding request was fueled by Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England. England told the services in a October 25 memo to include the "longer war on terror," not just the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, in their emergency requests.

"This amount of money is so much bigger than the Air Force would normally request ... it hints at a basic breakdown in the process for planning and funding war costs," said Thompson.

He said the Air Force had identified $30 billion just in past war-related costs that were not approved by the Pentagon.

The Air Force's proposed emergency budget is nearly half the $105.9 billion it requested as its total base budget for fiscal year 2007, which began on October 1.

The Air Force said it asked Pentagon officials for $17.4 billion in emergency war funds in August, but was now submitting "additional requirements to cover costs for the longer war against terror," based on England's memo.

The Army, which got the lion's share of an initial $70 billion supplemental budget passed by Congress last month, is asking for more than $80 billion in additional funds for the second half of fiscal 2007, according to published reports. The Navy is also expected to seek funds for the Marine Corps.

With the latest bill passed last month, Congress has approved about $507 billion in spending for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, under some 13 "emergency" spending requests, according to the Congressional Research Service.

That compares to two supplemental requests made during 11 years of fighting in Vietnam several decades ago, and just one request for the Korean War, according to a congressional aide.


From the MaGill Daily :
The bad news,” investigative reporter Seymour Hersh told a Montreal audience last Wednesday, “is that there are 816 days left in the reign of King George II of America.”

The good news?

“When we wake up tomorrow morning, there will be one less day.”

During his hour-and-a-half lecture – part of the launch of an interdisciplinary media and communications studies program called Media@McGill – Hersh described video footage depicting U.S. atrocities in Iraq, which he had viewed, but not yet published a story about.

He described one video in which American soldiers massacre a group of people playing soccer.

“Three U.S. armed vehicles, eight soldiers in each, are driving through a village, passing candy out to kids,” he began. “Suddenly the first vehicle explodes, and there are soldiers screaming. Sixteen soldiers come out of the other vehicles, and they do what they’re told to do, which is look for running people.”

“Never mind that the bomb was detonated by remote control,” Hersh continued. “[The soldiers] open up fire; [the] cameras show it was a soccer game.”

“About ten minutes later, [the soldiers] begin dragging bodies together, and they drop weapons there. It was reported as 20 or 30 insurgents killed that day,” he said.

If Americans knew the full extent of U.S. criminal conduct, they would receive returning Iraqi veterans as they did Vietnam veterans, Hersh said.

“In Vietnam, our soldiers came back and they were reviled as baby killers, in shame and humiliation,” he said. “It isn’t happening now, but I will tell you – there has never been an [American] army as violent and murderous as our army has been in Iraq.”

Hersh came out hard against President Bush for his involvement in the Middle East.
“In Washington, you can’t expect any rationality. I don’t know if he’s in Iraq because God told him to, because his father didn’t do it, or because it’s the next step in his 12-step Alcoholics Anonymous program,” he said.

Hersh hinted that the responsibility for the invasion of Iraq lies with eight or nine members of the administration who have a “neo-conservative agenda” and dictate the U.S.’s post-September 11 foreign policy.

“You have a collapsed Congress, you have a collapsed press. The military is going to do what the President wants,” Hersh said. “How fragile is democracy in America, if a president can come in with an agenda controlled by a few cultists?”

This remarkable story from the Washington Post details some of the safe-from-the-headlines news that completely underlines how out of control Iraq, and Baghdad in particular, has become.

Iraqi police are ambushing, and killing US soldiers, Militias have utterly infiltrated Baghdad police force and US soldiers are wondering if they should even been teaching some of their 'students' :
"How can we expect ordinary Iraqis to trust the police when we don't even trust them not to kill our own men?" asked Capt. Alexander Shaw, head of the police transition team of the 372nd Military Police Battalion, a Washington-based unit charged with overseeing training of all Iraqi police in western Baghdad. "To be perfectly honest, I'm not sure we're ever going to have police here that are free of the militia influence."
And this :

The Iraqi police are not the only ones who feel unsafe. The American soldiers and civilians who train the Iraqis are constantly on guard against the possibility that the police might turn against them. Even in the police headquarters for all of western Baghdad, one of the safest police buildings in the capital, the training team will not remove their body armor or helmets. An armed soldier is assigned to protect each trainer.

"I wouldn't let half of them feed my dog," 1st Lt. Floyd D. Estes Jr., a former head of the police transition team, said of the Iraqi police. "I just don't trust them."

Jon Moore, the deputy team chief, said: "We don't know who the hell we're teaching: Are they police or are they militia?"

With some of the Americans now training police in Baghdad saying that it may take three or four decades for the militia influence to be voided from the police force. Other American trainers think the militias will always infiltrate the police.
Moore estimated it would take 30 to 40 years before the Iraqi police could function properly, perhaps longer if the militia infiltration and corruption continue to increase. His colleagues nodded.