Saturday, March 31, 2007

Bush says arbitrary deadline is bad

"The House bill would impose restrictions on our commanders in Iraq, as well as rigid conditions and arbitrary deadlines on the Iraqi government. It would mandate a precipitous withdrawal of American forces, if every one of these conditions is not met by a date certain. Even if they are met, the bill would still require that most American forces begin retreating from Iraq by March 1st of next year, regardless of conditions on the ground.
It's unclear what the military significance of this date is. What is clear is that the consequences of imposing such a specific and random date for withdrawal would be disastrous. If the House bill becomes law, our enemies in Iraq would simply have to mark their calendars. They'd spend the months ahead picking how to use their new -- plotting how to use their new safe havens once we were to leave. It makes no sense for politicians in Washington, D.C. to be dictating arbitrary time lines for our military commanders in a war zone 6,000 miles away.
. . . You know, following World War II, after we fought bitter enemies, we lifted up the defeated nations of Japan and Germany and stood with them as they built their representative governments. We committed years and resources to this cause. And the effort has been repaid many times over in three generations of friendship and peace. After the Korean War, had you predicted that Korea would have been a major trading partner in the world, or Japan would have been a major trading partner and vibrant economy, or China would be developing an open market, and the Far East would be relatively peaceful, they'd have called you a hopeless idealist. And yet, because of America's presence and influence, the Far East has emerged as I've described it.
The stakes are high in the efforts we're undertaking in Iraq. It's a part of a long ideological struggle against those who spread hatred, and lack of hope, and lack of opportunity. But I believe, with patience and resolve we will succeed. The efforts we're undertaking today will affect a generation of Americans who are coming up in our society.
. . . If we stand by the Iraqi people today and help them develop their young Iraqi-style democracy, they're going to be able to take responsibility for their own security. And when that day comes, our forces can come home. *
. . . It's tough work, but it's necessary work -- work the United States has done before, and work the United States will complete now."

* President Bush also said that after Iraq is able to handle its own security it can "be an ally in this global struggle against those who would do us harm." I would add that Iraq should voluntarily choose to be this ally and not feel pressured to make this choice.

Bush, George. (The White House). President Bush Discusses Economy, War on Terror During Remarks to the National Cattlemen's Beef Association. March 28, 2007.

posted: saturday, march 31, 2007, 7:40 PM ET
update: wednesday, april 4, 2007, 4:38 PM ET


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Withdrawal bill passes Senate. Bush says veto.

"Issuing a stinging challenge to President Bush, the Senate on Thursday approved a spending measure that provided more than $97.5 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan but ordered troop withdrawals from Iraq to begin within 120 days and set a goal of removing most armed forces within a year.
Democrats, preparing for a veto fight, immediately sought to paint the president as obstinate in the face of broad public sentiment against the war. They said he would be the one abandoning American forces should he reject a final bill that lawmakers expected to produce in a few weeks.
. . . But Mr. Bush was not wavering. He stood on the North Portico of the White House, flanked by Republican House leaders, and delivered his veto threat one more time."

Hulse, Carl & Zeleny, Jeff. (The New York Times). Defying Bush, Senate Passes Iraq Spending Measure. March 30, 2007.

posted: saturday, march 31, 2007, 5:47 PM ET


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Revenge killings in Tal Afar after bombings

"One of the bloodiest chapters in Iraq’s sectarian strife unfolded over the past two days in the northern city of Tal Afar where gunmen, some of them apparently police officers, participated in the revenge killings of scores of Sunnis in the aftermath of a huge double suicide bombing in a Shiite area.
Two hours after the explosion of truck bombs, which killed 83 people and wounded more than 185, the gunmen — some of whom witnesses recognized as police officers — went house to house in a Sunni neighborhood, dragged people into the street and shot them in the head, witnesses and local leaders said. The killing went on for several hours before the Iraqi Army intervened. The police are mostly Shiites." [1]

" 'The car bombs are aimed at Shia, and when they see it so one-sided and it keeps carrying on, without any government action, I think it's a matter of time before they come back for revenge,' said Haider al-Ebaidi, a Shiite lawmaker. To Ebaidi, the progress of the security plan, which U.S. and Iraqi forces began implementing in the middle of February, 'so far has been very slow, and the longer it takes, the more pressure there will be on the people to seek help from militias, and this is very dangerous.'
But U.S. military officials cautioned that the attacks in Tall Afar and south of Baghdad did not necessarily add up to a resurgence of Shiite militias.
. . . 'Whether we can say that some group is back or some militia is back after two isolated events in two different parts of the country is probably too early to say,' said Lt. Col. Christopher C. Garver, a U.S. military spokesman.
. . . Tall Afar had as many as 200,000 residents several years ago, although U.S. military officials say the population has declined to 80,000. Most residents are ethnic Turkmen, about 70 percent of them Sunni and 25 percent Shiite." [2]

[1] Rubin, Alissa J. (The New York Times). 70 Killed in Wave of Revenge in Northern Iraq. March 29, 2007.
[2] Partlow, Joshua. (The Washington Post). Gunmen Go On Rampage In Iraqi City. March 29, 2007.

posted: saturday, march 31, 2007, 5:39 PM ET


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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Draft Baath law approved

"Iraq's prime minister and president have approved a draft law allowing many former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party to return to their government jobs, and it could be voted on this week, officials said Monday.
The legislation, seen by the United States as crucial to pacifying Iraq, will go to parliament as soon as it is reviewed by cabinet officials, said Ahmed Shames, a spokesman for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
. . . Under U.S. pressure, Maliki agreed last year to readdress the issue of former Baathists by early this year. Some U.S. officials had recently warned that the efforts were stalled.
The draft, which was released by the U.S. Embassy early Tuesday, would let all but the three highest levels of Baathists return to their jobs, provided they had not been involved in criminal activity. All those who lost their jobs would collect a pension." [1]

"[T]housands more former Baathists would be allowed to hold government jobs than under the current law. Former Baathists who return to government work would have to sign a pledge that they would refrain from making political statements about the current government.
The law would also set a three-month time limit for Iraqi citizens who have complaints against former Baathists to bring a claim. Then the courts would have six months to rule. Any claims brought subsequently would be thrown out.
The goal of the new law is to take a step toward reconciling Sunnis and Shiites, said Dr. Sadiq al-Raqadi, a political adviser to Mr. Maliki.
'The reason for the new law is that the government wants to finish these cases; they want to close the files of the Baathists,' he said. 'This is an effort to find a solution for the problem of the Baathists.' " [2]

[1] Brulliard, Karin. (The Washington Post). Proposed Iraqi Law Would Restore Jobs For Baath Members. March 27, 2007.
[2] Rubin, Alissa J. (The New York Times). Iraqis Announce New Steps Aimed at Reconciling Sunnis and Shiites. March 27, 2007.

posted: thursday, march 28, 2007, 12:56 AM ET
update: thursday, march 28, 2007, 12:59 AM ET


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Sunni and Shia Baghdad compared

"[I]n Adhamiya, a [Baghdad] community with a Sunni majority, any semblance of normal life vanished more than a year ago.
. . . Anyone who works with the government, whether Shiite or Sunni, is an enemy in the eyes of the Sunni insurgents, who carry out attack after attack against people they view as collaborators. While that chiefly makes targets of the Shiite-dominated Iraqi Army and the police, the militants also kill fellow Sunnis from government ministries who come to repair water and electrical lines in Sunni neighborhoods.
. . . It adds up to a bleak prognosis for Sunnis in Baghdad. Until the violence is under control, there is unlikely to be any progress. But it is hard to persuade Sunnis to take a stand against the violence when they seem to receive so little in return.
. . . The head of the district council was gunned down 10 days ago; three months earlier his predecessor was killed the same way.
The council had been a beacon for beleaguered Adhamiya residents, its offices busy from early morning. But its members are under attack, and it is unclear how long they will be willing to continue to take the risks that come with helping their neighbors." [1]

In Baghdad's Sadr City, Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's "influence is everywhere. His representatives run the hospitals, the Islamic courts, the police, the municipal offices and the mosques. He pays for funerals and school books. He builds houses and controls inflation. He punishes the corrupt and those whose activities taint Islam or his privileged name.
. . . Yet Sadr's stronghold remains one of Baghdad's poorest areas. Banners proclaiming the Sadr name overlook open sewage canals, unpaved roads and crumbling buildings.
Revitalizing his city, Sadr representatives say, is a key motive behind the cleric's uneasy cooperation with his arch adversary, the U.S. military, in recent weeks. Several reconstruction projects, some U.S.-funded, are already underway.
. . . The area is home to fighters linked to death squads who have driven thousands of Sunnis from their houses. Yet children and young men play soccer here in parks with manicured grass. Crowds mingle in open-air bazaars without fear of a suicide bomber. Women walk alone to shop, while men have long conversations in outdoor cafes, a sign of normalcy that has vanished from most of Baghdad.
. . . Now, as sectarian strife transforms the nation, cleansing mixed areas, Sadr City is perhaps the best indicator of the Baghdad that is emerging from chaos. Here, Shiites walk, pray and converse, largely with other Shiites, basking in the trust afforded by mingling with their own sect." [2]

[1] Rubin, Alissa J. (The New York Times). Sunni Baghdad Becomes Land of Silent Ruins. March 26, 2007.
[2] Raghavan, Sudarsan. (The Washington Post). An Enclave of Normalcy in Fearful Baghdad. March 27, 2007.

posted: thursday, march 28, 2007, 12:43 AM ET


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Khalizad met insurgents / Constitution regions bad, critics say

"The senior American envoy in Iraq, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, held talks last year with men he believed represented major insurgent groups in a drive to bring militant Sunni Arabs into politics.
'There were discussions with the representatives of various groups in the aftermath of the elections, and during the formation of the government before the Samarra incident, and some discussions afterwards as well,' Mr. Khalilzad said in a farewell interview on Friday at his home inside the fortified Green Zone.
. . . An American official said it was difficult to determine whether the people Mr. Khalilzad met with really were influential representatives of insurgent groups, as they claimed.
. . . The most complex legacy of Mr. Khalilzad — and arguably the most divisive — is the Constitution, passed in a national referendum in October 2005. Sunni Arab voters overwhelmingly rejected it, but most Shiites and Kurds, who make up 80 percent of the population, supported it. That paved the way for full-term elections in December 2005.
. . . Mr. Khalilzad and his colleagues, the critics say, were so fixated on meeting the political timetable laid out by the White House that they pushed through a document that may have inflamed the Sunni-led insurgency by enshrining strong regional control. The Constitution reaffirms Sunni Arab beliefs that Shiites and Kurds want oil and territory." [1]

The new draft oil law hasn't fixed that? And what about that charge that the oil law is cheating Iraq out of much or most of its oil revenue?

[1] Wong, Edward. (The New York Times). U.S. Envoy Says He Had Meetings With Iraq Rebels. March 26, 2007.

related posting
Is draft oil law cheating Iraq out of revenue? March 14, 2007.

posted: thursday, march 29, 2007, 12:19 AM ET
update: thursday, march 29, 2007, 12:22 AM ET


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Monday, March 26, 2007

Students' Iraq play silenced

"Student productions at [Connecticut's] Wilton High School range from splashy musicals like last year’s 'West Side Story,' performed in the state-of-the-art, $10 million auditorium, to weightier works like Arthur Miller’s 'Crucible,' on stage last fall in the school’s smaller theater.
For the spring semester, students in the advanced theater class took on a bigger challenge: creating an original play about the war in Iraq.
. . . [But] the school principal last week canceled the play, titled 'Voices in Conflict,' citing questions of political balance and context.
The principal, Timothy H. Canty, who has tangled with students before over free speech, said in an interview he was worried the play might hurt Wilton families 'who had lost loved ones or who had individuals serving as we speak.'
. . . At least 10 students involved in the production, however, said that the principal had told them the material was too inflammatory, and that only someone who had actually served in the war could understand the experience. . . . and [they said] that the principal barred the class from performing it even after they changed the script to respond to concerns about balance."

Cowan, Alison Leigh. (The New York Times). Play About Iraq War Divides a Connecticut School. March 24, 2007.

posted: monday, march 26, 2007, 9:56 PM ET

posted: monday, march 26, 2007, 11:08 PM ET


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Sectarianism began with US-picked Council, Makiya says

" 'There were failures at the level of leadership, and they’re overwhelmingly Iraqi failures,' he [Iraqi intellectual Kanan Makiya] said. Chief among the culprits, he added, were the Iraqis picked by the Americans in 2003 to sit on the Iraqi Governing Council, many of them exiles who tried to create popular bases for themselves by emphasizing sectarian and ethnic differences.
'Sectarianism began there,' he said.
Mr. Makiya said he preferred not to name names. But it is well known that he had a falling out with Mr. [Ahmad] Chalabi after Mr. Chalabi began courting Moktada al-Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric, in order to win support in Iraq’s first national elections. For years before the war, Mr. Makiya had toiled with Mr. Chalabi to organize the Iraqi exiles who, despite disparate ideologies, stood united in their hatred of Mr. Hussein.
Then there is the small issue of American policy. 'Everything they could do wrong, they did wrong,' Mr. Makiya said. 'The first and the biggest American error was the idea of going for an occupation.' "

Wong, Edward. (The New York Times). Critic of Hussein Grapples With Horrors of Post-Invasion Iraq. March 24, 2007.

posted: monday, march 26, 2007, 9:34 PM ET


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PRT diplomats coming to Iraq

"Ten veteran diplomats and four representatives of the Agency for International Development will depart for Iraq in coming days as the civilian core of 10 new provincial reconstruction teams, the first step in what the Bush administration has promised will be a significant increase in efforts to accelerate local economic and political development.
. . . Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, meeting with the new reconstruction team members on Friday, said, “I do believe that we learned an important lesson during our time in Iraq, which is that we don’t want to just try and build, and help the Iraqis build a stable, democratic society from the top down, but also from the bottom up.
“And that means that they have to have good local and provincial leadership, that they have to have good local and provincial governance, economic development. They have to be able to respond to the needs of their people. This is not a country that has had a concept of local governance and local leadership but rather one that was very much all centered in Baghdad, and we’re now trying to help them to build that.”

Shanker, Thom & Glanz, James. (The New York Times). Iraq Reconstruction Teams to Receive Needed Support. March 24, 2007.

posted: monday, march 26, 2007, 9:20 PM ET


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Sunni deputy PM bombed by insurgents

"One of Iraq's deputy prime ministers was seriously wounded Friday in a bombing that highlighted the ability of insurgents to breach heightened security in the midst of a U.S.-led crackdown in Baghdad.
The attack against Salam Z. al-Zobaee, one of the highest-ranking Sunni Arabs in the Shiite-led government, killed at least six people . . . Brig. Qassim al-Moussawi, spokesman for the Baghdad security plan, said at a news conference.
. . . Zobaee, whose lungs and stomach were punctured by shrapnel, underwent surgery at the U.S. military-run Ibn Sina Hospital in the fortified Green Zone, officials said. . . . The Islamic State of Iraq, a Sunni insurgent umbrella network that includes the group al-Qaeda in Iraq, asserted responsibility for the attack in an Internet statement [in a translation on the SITE Institute], saying Zobaee was a 'betrayer' for joining the government.
'We ask Allah . . . that this betrayer vagabond who sold his religion and his people for a small price not be safe. We say to all betrayers of the infidel al-Maliki government . . . wait for what will hurt you,' the statement said. . . . The authenticity of the statement could not be confirmed." [1]

"Mr. Zubaie is from a tribe that is part of the Anbar Salvation Council, a group of tribal leaders that has taken a stand against Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the most militant of the Sunni groups in the insurgency against the Americans and the Shiite-led Iraqi government." [2]

[1] Brulliard, Karin & al-Izzi, Saad. (The Washington Post). Maliki Deputy Wounded in Blast. March 24, 2007.
[2] Rubin, Alissa J. (The New York Times). 9 Die as Assassins’ Blasts Wound Sunni Deputy Premier. March 24, 2007.

posted: monday, march 26, 2007, 9:02 PM ET

update: monday, march 26, 2007, 9:09 PM ET


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Withdrawal bill passes House; Bush says veto

"A deeply divided House of Representatives voted Friday to bring most American combat troops home from Iraq next year.
. . . The legislation aimed at accelerating an end to the war passed on a vote of 218 to 212, with all but two Republicans opposing. . . . Mr. Bush dismissed the action as 'political theater' and promised to veto attempts to manage the war from Capitol Hill.
. . . A two-thirds vote of each house of Congress would be required to override the presidential veto that Mr. Bush has threatened, and Democrats have conceded that they could not meet that target.
. . . Several lawmakers derided the total of nearly $24 billion in domestic spending — benefiting spinach growers and shrimp fishermen and peanut storage, among others — that Democrats put into the bill to make it more palatable to its members.
. . . But Democrats disagreed, saying they were simply financing projects that Republicans failed to address when they were in control of Congress. And they pointed to the money devoted to caring for troops when they return from Iraq."

Zeleny, Jeff. (The New York Times). House, 218 to 212, Votes to Set Date for Iraq Pullout. March 24, 2007.

posted: monday, march 26, 2007, 8:27 PM ET


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Sunday, March 25, 2007

Pakistan tribes want modernity, not Taliban

Along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan, (aka, Talibanistan), "tribal leaders interviewed by TIME say they do not support the aims of the jihadists. But the Taliban's campaign of fear has worn down local resistance. Malik Sher Muhammad Khan, a tribal elder from Wana, says, 'The Taliban walk through the streets shouting that children shouldn't go to school because they are learning modern subjects like math and science. But we want to be modern.' "

Baker, Aryn. (Time). The Truth About Talibanistan. March 22, 2007.

posted: sunday, march 25, 2007, 2:39 AM ET


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Friday, March 23, 2007

Sunnis skew poll down; federalism good for Sunnis; U.S. criticized, but still wanted

In most of the questions in a poll of Iraqis by ABC News and other news organizations, the nationwide "net" percentages (Shiite-Sunni-Kurd combined) for these questions seem to be skewed downward by the highly negative responses of the Sunnis. For example, in question 1 on how life is going these days, it is said that 39% of the nationwide "net" responded that life was good. But in the sect breakdown portion of the question, 53% of Shiites (who comprise around 60% of Iraqis) and 68% of Kurds (15-20% of Iraqis) said that life was good. A mere 7% of Sunnis (15-20% of Iraqis), on the other hand, said that life was good. So the "net" percentage gets skewed way down to 39%, even though 53% of the Shiites and 68% of the Kurds, said that life was good. And this type of skewed "net" percentage is the percentage that often gets reported.

Wouldn't a more accurate description be that a majority of Iraqis say life is good with the exception being the Sunnis, comprising 15-20% of Iraqis, who overwhelmingly say that life is not good? Not only is it more clear and accurate, but it allows one to focus on potential problem areas and solutions.

Most news accounts of the poll point out this disparity between Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish responses. But I think the point should be made more strongly and pervasively. And as I said before, most of the questions in the poll seem to follow this pattern.

From the poll results, it also appears that autonomous, semi-autonomous or independent regions are gaining favor, at least among Shiites and Kurds. In question 14, 59% of Shiites and 79% of Kurds supported either regional states with a federal government or separate independent states. Only 3% of Sunnis favored either of these choices. The other choice was a "unified Iraq with central government in Baghdad" which 97% of Sunnis favored as opposed to 41% of Shiites and 20% of Kurds.

I'm not sure why the Sunnis still so strongly favor this highly centralized form of government. It seems that Iraq has been trying this type of government since the fall of Saddam and according to the poll, the Sunnis are pretty miserable on most counts. Only 24% of Sunnis have confidence in the police and only 8% have confidence in the national government. Even with their local leaders, only 12% of Sunnis have confidence. This is contrasted with 57% of Shiites and 80% of Kurds who have confidence in their local leaders with similar high percentages for the police and the national government.

And who exactly do the Sunnis want to put in charge of this highly centralized government? Saddam and most of his inner circle are either dead, in prison or in hiding. The Sunnis have no faith in their current local leaders. They don't trust the current majority Shiite national institutions. They certainly don't like the Americans. So who's left?

The Sunnis' current view of their situation seems pretty hopeless. (Perhaps a reflection of their dire situation.) It's possible that the remaining Baathists could take charge, but the Shiites and Kurds seem reluctant to letting Baathists back into most positions of power, let alone letting them run the country again.

On the other hand, with an autonomous, semi-autonomous or independent region, the Sunnis could possibly let the Baathists run things in their Sunni region, if they wanted, as long as they weren't hostile towards the Shiite and Kurdish regions. (They would have to do a better job of chosing their leaders than they are apparently doing now, however. Perhaps they could get some help in this area.) But the possibility of some level of autonomy doesn't seem to appeal to the Sunnis.

But it should since the future looks good for a cooperative, accommodating Sunni population. The oil law seems like it has a good chance of passing, so the Sunnis would have all that oil revenue coming in to build any type of relatively peaceful region they wanted with their own trusted security forces and providers of basic services. It doesn't appear that Iraq is going to break into independent states anytime soon, so there would still be a central, federal government that they could turn to if they needed help. And based on their similar population numbers, the Sunnis would have as much power on the federal level as the Kurds who seem to be satisfied with their current power level. And having federalized regions doesn't mean that the different regions have to be isolated from one another either. They could be as close or as distant as they chose to be, respecting basic rights at all times, of course. Why wouldn't the Sunnis want that for themselves? Why is that such a bad choice?

One thing the poll says that Sunnis and Shiites generally agree on is their negative impression of America's role in Iraq. Though they still apparently would like the U.S. to stay until the security situation improves. The Kurds support the U.S.

ABC News. ABC News/USA Today/BBC/ARD poll -Iraq: Where things stand. Ebbing hope in a landscape of loss marks a national survey of Iraq. March 19, 2007.

posted: friday, march 23, 2007, 8:36 PM ET

update: monday, march 26, 2007, 11:38 PM ET


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Monday, March 19, 2007

Qaeda threat from Afghan-Pakistan, not Iraq

"Attacking the United States clearly remains on bin Laden's agenda. But the likelihood that such an attack would be launched from Iraq, many experts contend, has sharply diminished over the past year as al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) has undergone dramatic changes. Once believed to include thousands of 'foreign fighters,' it is now an overwhelmingly Iraqi organization whose aims are likely to remain focused on the struggle against the Shiite majority in Iraq, U.S. intelligence officials said.
. . . [O]fficials estimated that Iraqis make up 90 percent of AQI's several thousand fighters.
. . . [B]in Laden appears to have regained his stature among Muslim extremists and bolstered his ability to draw recruits. 'As people around the world sign up to fight jihad,' the intelligence official said, 'before they were always going to Iraq. Now we see more winding up in Pakistan.'
As al-Qaeda recoups its numbers and organizational structure in the lawless and inaccessible territory along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, it is seen as having little need for major bases in western Iraq, where the flat desert topography is ill-suited for concealment from U.S. aerial surveillance."

DeYoung, Karen & Pincus, Walter. (The Washington Post). Al-Qaeda in Iraq May Not Be Threat Here. March 18, 2007.

posted: monday, march 19, 2007, 11:12 PM ET

update: friday, march 23, 2007, 8:49 PM ET


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Detainees escape when imposters take their place

"Ten Iraqis being held in a British military detention center in Basra carried out an audacious escape plan over the past several days: they switched places with visitors, British authorities said Friday.
An 11th detainee was missing, but no one appeared to have been substituted for him, British authorities said. The detention center is at a British base on the outskirts of Basra.
The escape came to light on Thursday, when it became apparent that 'one person was not who he said he was,' said a spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity. The military began to investigate and found that nine other detainees were also substitutes. The real ones had walked out the door, apparently after swapping clothes with their willing stand-ins, British officials said.
The substitutions were carefully plotted, and the imposters “were remarkably well prepared,” the spokesman said.
'They looked the same,' he said. 'They knew the stories of the people they were substituting for. It was quite a sophisticated effort, very carefully planned.' "

Rubin, Alissa J. (The New York Times). 10 Detainees Pull Off Escape as Visitors Take Their Place. March 17, 2007.

posted: monday, march 19, 2007, 10:58 PM ET


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Sunday, March 18, 2007

PRT-backed Mosul court seen as possible model

"Last year, the criminal justice system here [in Mosul] had nearly ground to a halt. Intimidated judges were refusing to hear trials. Some judges were allowing suspected insurgents to go free.
Then American advisers in this northern Iraqi city made a proposal: The Iraqis should bring in judges from Baghdad who would serve anonymously. And local officials and the chief judge in Baghdad agreed.
Now U.S. military officers and State Department officials here tout the Mosul program as a major success and a model for the rest of the country.
. . . [T]he judges depend on the United States to help them with matters as basic as traveling safely from Baghdad . . . [American officials, banned from the courts,] meet with the judges in military-style 'after-action reviews' that last an hour or so a few times a week.
. . . In its first three months, [the court] . . . handed down 12 death sentences and prison terms ranging from three years to life. They also acquitted 33 detainees.
. . . '[The judges have] been extremely courageous,' [Provincial Reconstruction Team leader James] Knight said. 'This is the keystone achievement of this PRT.' "

Murphy, Bill Jr. (The Washington Post). Mosul Court Is Americans' Exhibit A. March 16, 2007.

posted: sunday, march 18, 2007, 8:55 AM ET

update: sunday, march 18, 2007, 9:10 AM ET


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Counterinsurgency takes 11 years, Abazaid says

" 'Insurgencies are not easily solved by foreign troops,' he [retiring Centcom commander Gen. John Abizaid] warns. Only Iraqi security forces can stabilize the country in a lasting way, and America's mission is training and advising those forces. That's where patience comes in: America is four years into a process that, by Abizaid's reading of counterinsurgency history, takes an average of about 11 years. On that timetable, less than halfway through, he thinks the United States is doing okay in Iraq -- assuming it has the patience to finish the mission."

By Washington Post columnist David Ignatius.

Ignatius, David. (The Washington Post). Abizaid's Long View. March 16, 2007.

posted: sunday, march 18, 2007, 8:36 AM ET


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Some militias allowed to patrol own Baghdad areas

"[I]n Baghdad, American officials seem increasingly willing to tolerate some of those Shiite militias as long as they patrol their own neighborhoods."

Cooper, Helene & Sanger, David E. (The New York Times). Iraqis’ Progress Lags Behind Pace Set by Bush Plan. March 15, 2007.

posted: sunday, march 18, 2007, 8:25 AM ET


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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Is draft oil law cheating Iraq out of revenue?

"The [Bush] administration has highlighted the law’s revenue sharing plan, under which the central government would distribute oil revenues throughout the nation on a per capita basis. But the benefits of this excellent proposal are radically undercut by the law’s many other provisions — these allow much (if not most) of Iraq’s oil revenues to flow out of the country and into the pockets of international oil companies.
The law would transform Iraq’s oil industry . . . into a commercial industry, all-but-privatized, that is fully open to all international oil companies.
The Iraq National Oil Company would have exclusive control of just 17 of Iraq’s 80 known oil fields, leaving two-thirds of known — and all of its as yet undiscovered — fields open to foreign control.
. . . Iraqis may very well choose to use the expertise and experience of international oil companies. They are most likely to do so in a manner that best serves their own needs if they are freed from the tremendous external pressure being exercised by the Bush administration, the oil corporations — and the presence of 140,000 members of the American military."

Op-ed by Antonia Juhasz, "an analyst with Oil Change International, a watchdog group." [1]

Ms. Juhasz raises a troubling possibility. I know little about oil or business, but why would Iraq agree to be cheated out of its oil revenue? While the Bush administration's ties to the oil industry are well-known, Congress and pundits from all sides had also been pushing Iraq to pass an oil law. What was their motivation?

I read through the oil law and it seemed OK. It had provisions for transparency, competitive bidding, royalties, taxes, etc. Article 9 said that model contracts would honor "national control," "ownership of the resources," and "optimum economic return for the country." But like I said, I know little about oil or business.

I look forward to another Op-ed piece (or adjustments to the draft oil law) that will address Ms. Juhasz's concerns.

Juhasz, Antonia. (The New York Times). Whose Oil Is It, Anyway? March 13, 2007.

Draft Iraq Oil and Gas Law. February 15, 2007. (via the Oil Change International website).

posted: thursday, march 15, 2007, 2:12 AM ET

update: thursday, march 15, 2007, 2:23 AM ET


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Afghanistan needs time, ambassador says

"The departing American ambassador to Afghanistan, Ronald E. Neumann, said Monday that he did not see the Taliban as the big threat it appeared to represent a year or two ago, and that he was leaving feeling 'reasonably optimistic' about the state of the insurgency and the country’s progress.
. . . The ambassador said that the Afghan Army, which initially had been envisioned as a light force reliant on American allies, was being strengthened, with a goal of building it to 70,000 troops, and that it was being supplied with armored vehicles, aircraft and body armor.
The program to develop a police entity was two years behind that of the army, he said, but current plans also call for more support for the police.
. . . Mr. Neumann said people in Afghanistan and abroad should understand that it would take considerable time to see results in the country. It had taken four years to set up a military justice system for the Afghan National Army — from drafting the law to training legal personnel — before the army could hold its first court-martial, he said. Plans to train a civilian judiciary are proceeding, but the effects will not be felt on the ground even in a year’s time, he said."

Gall, Carlotta. (The New York Times). U.S. Diplomat ‘Optimistic’ About Afghanistan. March 13, 2007.

posted: wednesday, march 14, 2007, 9:09 PM ET



Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Iraq vs. Afghan withdrawal

"President Bush approved 8,200 more U.S. troops for Iraq and Afghanistan on top of reinforcements already ordered to those two countries, the White House said Saturday, a move that comes amid a fiery debate in Washington over the Iraq war." [1]

Why aren't people demanding that the U.S. exit Afghanistan like they are Iraq? It seems like many of the same objections would apply to both situations. Death and injury to American soldiers, imposing America's system of government on another country, the length of time, the expense. Where's the fiery debate over the Afghan war, or any debate, for that matter?

Baker, Peter. (The Washington Post). Additional Troop Increase Approved. March 11, 2007.

posted: tuesday, march 13, 2007, 9:14 PM ET


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New descriptor: "zombie idea"

"Staffers in the [U.S.] embassy's economic section called Commerce's plan to end the [Iraqi's monthly food] rations a 'zombie idea.'
'It was one of those bad ideas that you think is dead, but it keeps coming up every nine to 12 months,' the embassy official said. 'And each time it comes up, the plan gets worse.' "

Chandrasekaran, Rajiv. (The Washington Post). Agencies Tangle on Efforts to Help Iraq. March 11, 2007.

posted: tuesday, march 13, 2007, 8:23 PM ET

update: tuesday, march 13, 2007, 8:24 PM ET


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Iraq's draft oil law should get more attention

"The recent hydrocarbon law, approved after much wrangling by Iraq's council of ministers, deserves a great deal more praise than it has been receiving. For one thing, it abolishes the economic rationale for dictatorship in Iraq. For another, it was arrived at by a process of parley and bargain that, while still in its infancy, demonstrates the possibility of a cooperative future. For still another, it shames the oil policy of Iraq's neighbors and reinforces the idea that a democracy in Baghdad could still teach a few regional lessons.
To illustrate my point by contrast: Can you easily imagine the Saudi government allocating oil revenues so as to give a fair share to the ground-down and despised Shiite workers who toil, for the most part, in the oil fields of the eastern region of the country? Or picture the Shiite dictatorship in Iran giving a fair shake to the Arab-speaking area of Khuzestan, let alone to the 10 percent of Iranians who are both Sunni and Kurdish? To ask these questions is to answer them. Control over the production and distribution of oil is the decisive factor in defining who rules whom in the Middle East."

Hitchens, Christopher. (Slate). Blood and Oil. March 12, 2007.

posted: tuesday, march 13, 2007, 8:09 PM ET


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Monday, March 12, 2007

Petreaus press conference (video)

"General Petraeus repeatedly stressed the long-term nature of the troop increase.
. . . He said there were no 'looming' requests for additional troops and that he had not yet taken a position on an assessment by the second-ranking commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, that the greatly enlarged American force remain until February 2008.
But he added, 'If you’re going to achieve the kinds of effects that we probably need, it would need to be sustained certainly for some time well beyond the summer.'
Military officials in Iraq have indicated that they would need a large American troop presence for at least a year and probably far longer to achieve lasting stability. For now, Congress seems persuaded to give General Petraeus’s strategy a year to yield results, setting the summer of 2008 as a deadline for the return of all troops.
General Petraeus’s open-ended strategy appeared to be an effort to avoid a repeat of the pattern that has doomed past American efforts to halt the insurgency. In hot spots including Tal Afar and Diyala, United States soldiers have cracked down on insurgents and then reduced the American presence only to see insurgents retake old ground." [1]

Q: "A number of people that we spoke to yesterday were lamenting the fact that Mahdi Army wasn't there to help. That in the past, security has been much better for the pilgrims. . . . Do you think that there is role for Mahdi Army in this sort of manner?
. . . GEN. PETRAEUS: Well, you know, ultimately, that's a question for -- truly for the Iraqi government, for its authorities and certainly its security force leaders.
You know, many of our -- of the coalition countries have a variety of auxiliary police or other functions. The challenge, of course, is that some of these organizations have participated in true excesses, and they have been responsible, some of them, some the extremist elements of them -- and I think that the challenge has been to determine, you know, how do you incorporate those who want to serve a positive -- in a positive way, and as neighborhood watches, let's say, but unarmed in our own communities, but without turning into something much more than that?
. . . I must tell you that I was taken aback by what I saw in driving around Ghazalia, parts of Adhamiya, parts of Mansour, parts of East Rashid, the Dura area and so forth. And some of that certainly, clearly, is the result of extremist sectarian militias. And I think that is the concern about employing them." [2]

Gen. Petraeus also said, "I was heartened by what I saw in Ramadi, by what I've heard described about in Hit, where again Anbaris, the members of those tribes, have said, enough, and have banded together, raised their hand, joined the police forces and in fact are standing and fighting against al Qaeda Iraq. And you can start to see, by the way, for what it's worth, an identity emerging among them that is, again, very heartening to someone who has been here since the beginning off and on and watched things go up and down in Anbar province -- frankly, mostly down during a variety of periods. So that's, again, a very, very interesting development in that regard." [2]

[1] Oppel, Richard A. Jr. (The New York Times). New U.S. Commander in Iraq Won’t Rule Out Need for Added Troops. March 9, 2007.
[2] Federal News Service. Multinational force Iraq press conference with General David Petraeus, U.S. Army, Commanding General. MNF-1. March 8, 2007. (no link).

video source

The Pentagon Channel. Gen. David Petraeus. March 8, 2007. (enter "petraeus" in search box).

posting: monday, march 12, 2007, 5:32 AM ET
update: monday, march 13, 2007, 9:52 PM ET


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Fadhila to exit Shia bloc, wants to be nonsectarian

"[A] growing number of politicians publicly declared that they embraced the idea of a cross-sectarian political movement that has been gaining strength this week. It was not yet clear the form the front would take, but if successful it would have broad implications for parliamentary divisions and the way government ministries are apportioned: they are currently handed out to parties, most of which have clear sectarian sympathies.
Most significantly, the Fadhila Party, a faction of the united Shiite bloc, the largest group in Parliament, announced it was leaving the bloc.
A spokesman for Fadhila suggested there was frustration with sectarian politics.
'We want to try to build a new politics that is not sectarian that will include all of Iraqi society,' said Bassim Sharif, a leader of the Fadhila party. However, he stopped short of saying that they would join the new bloc. 'For now we will try to work alone to prove there is a Shiite party that can work in a nonsectarian way.' But, he added, 'this is the first step to save Iraq from this crisis.' " [1]

Regarding Fadhila leaving the Shiite bloc, "[o]ne possible scenario in coming weeks would be an alliance between Fadhila and the Iraqi National List, a group led by secular Shiite and former prime minister Ayad Allawi, which has 25 seats.
. . . Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish lawmaker, said he interpreted the move as evidence of growing disapproval of Maliki and the ruling alliance.
"These changes show that neither the Shiite coalition nor the government has been able to improve things and that they are gradually growing weaker," Othman said.
Mithal al-Alusi, a Sunni parliament member, said it is too early to tell how the party's withdrawal will alter Iraq's political landscape. But he said the development should be seen as evidence that democracy has taken root in Iraq." [2]

"Shiite parties under the umbrella of the United Iraqi Alliance now hold 113 seats. Kurdish parties have 53 seats and Sunni groups have 44. The remaining 50 members are independent or do not belong to sectarian groupings." [2]

[1] Rubin, Alissa. (The New York Times). Attacks on Shiite Pilgrims Continue. March 8, 2007.
[2] Londono, Ernesto. (The Washington Post). Shiite Bloc in Parliament Diminished by Defection. March 8, 2007.

posted: monday, march 12, 2007, 4:50 AM ET


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Friday, March 09, 2007

8-month sentence for not serving in Iraq

"A U.S. Army medic who jumped out a window of his base housing and fled to California to avoid a redeployment to Iraq was convicted of desertion Tuesday at a court-martial. He was sentenced to eight months in prison _ far short of the maximum seven-year sentence.
Spc. Agustin Aguayo, 35, who refused to return to Iraq because he believes war is immoral, admitted the less serious charge of being absent without leave but was unsuccessful in contesting the more serious desertion charge.
. . . Since Aguayo has been jailed for 161 days awaiting trial, he could be free within a few weeks. [The judge, R. Peter] Masterton also ordered that Aguayo be reduced in rank to private, forfeit his pay, and receive a bad conduct discharge at the end of his sentence.
Aguayo, who was not the first soldier to be convicted of desertion for refusing to serve in Iraq, said he enlisted in 2002 to earn money for his education. Though military operations in Afghanistan were under way and discussions about Iraq were ongoing, he said he never thought he would have to fight."

Another anti-war option. And only 8 months.

Frey, George. (The Associated Press). Army Medic Is Found Guilty of Desertion. March 6, 2007.

Hawley, Charles. (Spiegel). Aguayo Follows His Conscience to the Brig. March 6, 2007.

posted: friday, march 9, 2007, 2:19 PM ET
update: saturday, march 10, 2007, 9:43 AM ET


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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Police allowed Hilla bombings, survivors say

"In the chaotic aftermath of the Hilla blasts [which killed at least 77], survivors not only accused Sunni terrorists of carrying out the attacks but also blamed the Iraqi police and American forces for allowing them too happen.
Enraged, they said Iraqi policemen had stopped the Shiite marchers from searching unfamiliar people nearby.
'We hold the police responsible,' said Khudair Abbas, 67, a survivor. 'We were searching the pilgrims to look for terrorists, and a police force came and prevented us from searching, saying that it is their job to do. A few minutes after the police left, the explosion happened!'
Ahmad Hassan, 22 . . . said it appeared the police were intent on breaking up any effort by the Mahdi Army, the large militia controlled by anti-American Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, to impose its own security on the march, as in past years.
'But there was no Mahdi Army among us,' Mr. Hussain said. 'We were all locals from the same area.' " [1]

"Abdul Razak al-Nadawi, a spokesman for Sadr, denounced the attacks as 'a criminal act' and blamed the government for not protecting the pilgrims. Sadr representatives, he added, had asked the government to allow the Mahdi Army to help provide security along the route from Baghdad to Karbala, but the government did not take them up on the offer.
'Last year, when the Mahdi army was involved in securing the road, no attacks occurred, but this year we have seen the breaches that happened,' Nadawi said in a telephone interview from the southern city of Najaf. 'The government should have been more alert and better prepared to deal with the situation.'
Nadawi said that the Sadrists would not be pressured to retaliate against the Sunni insurgents. 'We are still committed and comply with the words of our leader, Moqtada Sadr, which call for calm and self-restraint,' he said." [2]

Would it be a bad idea to let the Mahdi Army do purely defensive security? And if the public wants to participate in their own security, it seems like they should be encouraged, especially if the ultimate goal is to build a democratic society. Supporting the public in their efforts also seems like an opportunity for the U.S. to build good relations with the Iraqi people. It might also be an opportunity to find good recruits for future local police officers as opposed to the current police force which seems to have a history of controversy. Not that the public should be allowed to become vigilantes, but their showing of initiative should be seen as a positive, hopeful sign and not something to be suppressed.

[1] Oppel, Richard A. Jr. (The New York Times). Attacks Across Iraq Kill at Least 109 Shiite Pilgrims. March 7, 2007.
[2] Londono, Ernesto & Raghavan, Sudarsan. (The Washington Post). 118 Shiite Pilgrims Killed in Iraq Attacks. March 7, 2007.

posted: wednesday, march 7, 2007, 10:56 PM ET
update: saturday, march 10, 2007, 9:02 AM ET


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Afghan opium farmers & traffickers support Taliban / Afghan people support government, NATO spokeswoman says

"In its largest offensive yet, thousands of NATO troops moved Tuesday into the mountains of southern Afghanistan where hundreds of hardcore Taliban insurgents hold sway -- an operation in the world's biggest opium-producing region aimed at winning over a population long supportive of militant fighters.
. . . Helmand is the world's biggest producer of opium, and a new U.N. drug assessment indicates this year's poppy harvest could be higher than last year's record output. The U.N. says Taliban fighters protect poppy farmers and tax the crop, deriving money for their insurgency -- perhaps as much as hundreds of millions of dollars.
Aside from offering protection, the Taliban also derives its strong local support from ethnic and tribal ties.
. . . U.S. intelligence officials say Taliban fighters have flooded into Helmand over the last several months, and there are now more fighters there than anywhere else in the country." [1]

"NATO said the offensive was aimed at countering the Taliban insurgency, which has joined forces with drug traffickers to make Helmand the most lawless province in Afghanistan.
. . . 'We know there are hundreds of foreign fighters' in southern Afghanistan, Colonel Collins said. 'They are from Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa.' He said hard-core Taliban, who number in the 'high hundreds,' are able to recruit young men in the districts and are supported by militias trafficking in narcotics." [2]

"Lt. Col. Angela Billings, a spokeswoman for NATO forces, said the time is right to try to break the insurgents' grip on the area.
'Afghanistan is a different place than it was nine months ago. The local population is tired of the unrest,' Billings said. 'They're definitely behind [NATO forces] and the Afghan national security forces. They believe in the government, and they want to be supportive.' " [3]

[1] The Associated Press. NATO Launches Offensive Against Taliban. March 6, 2007.
[2] Gall, Carlotta. (The New York Times). NATO Mounts Largest Attack on Taliban in the South. March 7, 2007.

[3] Witte, Griffe. (The Washington Post). NATO Offensive Targets Taliban In S. Afghanistan. March 7, 2007.

posted: wednesday, march 7, 2007, 8:45 PM ET
update: thursday, march 7, 2007, 12:04 AM ET


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Refugee camps can cause problems, too

"Humanitarian agencies are already drawing up plans for huge refugee camps inside and around Iraq's borders, although many are concerned they will only add to the country's problems.
'When refugees and displaced persons start collecting in camps,' [Brookings Institute's Carlos] Pascual said, 'you get a vulnerable population -- and a lot of unemployed men -- who are subject to attack, recruitment and internal violence. This is where you often get further radicalization, and the camps themselves become a source of the problem.' "

DeYoung, Karen & Ricks, Thomas E. (The Washington Post). No U.S. Backup Strategy For Iraq. March 5, 2007.

posted: wednesday, march 7, 2007, 8:32 PM ET

update: wednesday, march 7, 2007, 8:11 PM ET


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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Mixed marriages targeted: Is mixed region a solution?

"As U.S. and Iraqi forces attempt to pacify the capital, mixed couples who symbolize Iraq's once famous tolerance are increasingly entangled by hate.
. . . 'In the absence of security, Iraqis are protecting themselves by turning to their sects and their tribes,' said Zina Abdul Rasul, a U.N. human rights worker who herself is a product of a mixed marriage. 'It is becoming normal to hear about mixed families breaking down.'
. . . While there are no official statistics, sociologists estimate that nearly a third of Iraqi marriages are unions between members of different sectarian or ethnic communities. In the aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, many Iraqis argued that the prevalence of such unions showed that Iraqis cared more about their Arab or national identity than their sect, which would spare the country a civil war.
But Iraq's sectarian strife has risen sharply since the bombing of a revered Shiite shrine in Samarra by Sunni militants a year ago. Since then, more than 500,000 Iraqis have fled their homes, a number that is growing by 50,000 every month, according to the United Nations. The vast majority have left mixed areas, the main battlefields of the sectarian war." [1]

Could a mixed, secular province or region be a solution? If 1 in 3 marriages are mixed marriages, then it seems that they would make up a significant number of people. If you add other possible inhabitants such as family members of the mixed marriages, non-sectarian secularists, minority groups, artistic/creative types, other targeted groups or individuals, or people who would just enjoy living in a mixed, secular area, the number would be even larger. *

Last year's federalism law is due to take effect in a little over a year. It will allow provinces to vote on whether to form semi-autonomous provinces or join with other provinces to form semi-autonomous regions. There's no reason that a mixed, secular province or region could not be formed when this law takes effect.

Of course, having a country where one could live peacefully in any location would probably be the preference. But considering all the violence over the past years, this sort of countrywide peace, if ever achieved, may be an uneasy peace at best for awhile. And even with relative peace, there is no guarantee that mixed marriages and others will not continue to be targeted. So the formation of a mixed, secular province or region with security designed especially for its inhabitants seems like it would be a desirable goal.

* Christians might also be included among these groups unless they succeed in forming their own area.

[1] Raghavan, Sudarsan. (The Washington Post). Marriages Between Sects Come Under Siege in Iraq. March 4, 2007.

posted: tuesday, march 6, 2007, 6:30 PM ET

update: saturday, march 10, 2007, 9:10 AM ET


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Reality over perception needed for Iraq success

" 'The administration has been so focused on perception that it has frequently missed the point' of Iraq's complex realities, says Qubad Talabani, Washington representative of the Kurdistan Regional Government. 'If how it looks in Washington becomes more important than how it works out in Baghdad, we all lose.'
That is a caution that applies to war critics who insist on unrealistic benchmarks or deadlines as well as to war supporters who insist on Bush's freedom of action. Both tend to overestimate U.S. ability to manage withdrawal -- or escalation -- on its own terms, relegating Iraqis and others in the region to the status of bit players in an American political drama.
The addition of 17,500 troops into Baghdad that Bush announced Jan. 10 smacked initially of being another gimmick, of resembling an exit-covering escalation, as in an old Western where the gunslinger backs out the saloon door with guns blazing.
But the impression of impending crisis has either prompted or helped Maliki to develop a political initiative of his own to accompany the surge -- and has encouraged U.S. officials to give him more room to maneuver."

By Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland

Hoagland, Jim. (The Washington Post). Desperation Helps Out In Baghdad. March 4, 2007.

posted: tuesday, march 6, 2007, 5:32 PM ET


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Afghan people still don't support U.S.?

"The shooting [of 16 civilians] will be a setback for American forces in Afghanistan, who have been working to contain the continuing insurgent attacks, in particular roadside bombs and suicide attacks, and win the support of the people with reconstruction and development projects. Deadly riots shook Kabul last May after American troops were involved in a fatal car crash and then opened fire on the crowd."

Gall, Carlotta. (The New York Times). 16 Civilians Die as U.S. Troops Fire on Afghan Road. March 5, 2007.

posted: tuesday, march 6, 2007, 5:03 PM ET



Sunday, March 04, 2007

Draft oil law details

"· Reaffirms that oil and gas resources are owned by all the people of Iraq and contains a firm commitment to revenue-sharing among regions and provinces on the basis of population.
· Establishes a predictable framework and processes for federal-regional cooperation that demonstrate the government's commitment to democracy and federalism.
· Creates a principal policymaking body for energy -- the Federal Council on Oil and Gas -- that will have representatives from all of Iraq's regions and oil-producing provinces.
· Ensures that all revenue from oil sales will go into a single national account and that provinces will receive direct shares of revenue, thereby significantly increasing local control of financial resources.
· Establishes international standards for transparency and mandates public disclosure of contracts and associated revenue and payments. This is essential to build confidence in the new political order and to counter corruption.
. . . It also requires best practices in environmental protection and field management and development."

Op-ed by Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. ambassador to Iraq.

Khalilzad, Zalmay. (The Washington Post). A Shared Stake in Iraq's Future. March 3, 2007.

posted: sunday, march 4, 2007, 9:12 PM ET


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Maliki to replace Sadr allies, officials say

"Iraq's prime minister [Nuri al-Maliki] said Saturday he will reshuffle his Cabinet within two weeks and pursue criminal charges against political figures linked to extremists.
. . . The prime minister did not say how many Cabinet members would be replaced. But some officials said about nine would lose their jobs, including all six Cabinet members loyal to radical anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, an al-Maliki ally.
. . . Last month, U.S. and Iraqi troops arrested Deputy Health Minister Hakim al-Zamili, an al-Sadr ally, for allegedly diverting millions of dollars in government funds to the Mahdi Army and allowing death squads to use ambulances and government hospitals to carry out kidnappings and killings.
During the interview, al-Maliki said other top officials would face prosecution for ties to insurgents, sectarian militias and death squads _ including members of parliament."

Reid, Robert H. & Abdul-Zahra, Qassim. (The Associated Press). Iraq PM Vows Cabinet Shakeup in 2 Weeks. March 3, 2007.

posted: sunday, march 4, 2007, 9:02 PM ET

update: sunday, march 4, 2007, 9:32 PM ET


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Surge update: Sunnis violent, Shiites quieter, Baghdad violence down

"In recent months, al-Qaeda in Iraq and other Sunni groups have begun to use more sophisticated tactics, downing U.S. helicopters and staging large attacks that have claimed the lives of hundreds of Iraqi civilians.
Meanwhile, the Mahdi Army, the largest and most violent Shiite militia, headed by anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, has faded from neighborhoods it once visibly controlled. Sadr, whose forces have fiercely battled U.S. troops, appears to be cooperating with the security plan, although a statement attributed to him and released Sunday warned that the plan 'will not be good if it is controlled and ruled by our enemies, the occupiers.'
Mahdi Army militiamen 'have certainly reduced their activities in the past couple of weeks,' said Lt. Col. Scott Bleichwehl, a U.S. military spokesman. 'What is their long-term intention? It is absolutely too early to tell.' " [1]

"The new Baghdad security operation . . . has led to a sharp drop in violence in the capital." [2]

[1] Raghavan, Sudarsan. (The Washington Post). Sunni Insurgents Ascendant in Iraq's Caldron of Violence. March 3, 2007.
[2] Reid, Robert H. & Abdul-Zahra, Qassim. (The Associated Press). Iraq PM Vows Cabinet Shakeup in 2 Weeks. March 3, 2007.

posted: sunday, march 4, 2007, 8:48 PM ET

update: sunday, march 4, 2007, 9:40 PM ET


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Autonomous region proposal for W. Sahara

"Neighboring Algeria helped create and then lent armed support to the Polisario Front, a guerrilla group that resisted Moroccan rule [in the Western Sahara].
. . . For many years there was fierce fighting, from which tens of thousands of families fled, and eventually came under the care of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Though the violence concluded with a United Nations-brokered cease-fire in 1991, the Western Sahara’s inhabitants remain caught in the unresolved conflict.
. . . After a year-long national discussion, Morocco is to propose, at the United Nations in April, a plan to establish the Western Sahara as an autonomous region under Moroccan sovereignty. Autonomy would provide effective self-determination for the Sahrawis, allowing for local decision-making and control over economic, social, linguistic and cultural issues. Successful autonomy regions like this exist elsewhere. The Trentino-Alto Adige region in Italy and the autonomous region of Madeira in Portugal are examples, as are Catalonia and the Basque Provinces in Spain. The creation of these quasi-states has unlocked longstanding disputes once thought resolvable only by force."

Op-ed by Frederick Vreeland, former U.S. ambassador to Morocco

[1] Vreeland, Frederick. (The New York Times). Will Freedom Bloom in the Desert? March 3, 2007.

posted: sunday, march 4, 2007, 8:34 PM ET

update: tuesday, march 6, 2007, 11:27 PM ET


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Friday, March 02, 2007

Twisted branches (photos)

posted: friday, march 2, 2007, 8:18 AM ET


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Thursday, March 01, 2007

U.S. to attend meeting that includes Iran & Syria

"American officials said Tuesday that they had agreed to hold the highest-level contact with the Iranian authorities in more than two years as part of an international meeting on Iraq.
The discussions, scheduled for the next two months, are expected to include Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her Iranian and Syrian counterparts.
. . . Iraqi officials had been pushing for such a meeting for several months, but Bush administration officials refused until the Iraqi government reached agreement on pressing domestic matters, including guidelines for nationwide distribution of oil revenue and foreign investment in the country’s immense oil industry, administration officials said.
. . . [The talks] will include Britain, Russia, and a host of international organizations and Middle Eastern countries."

Cooper, Helene & Semple, Kirk. (The New York Times). U.S. Set to Join Iran and Syria in Talks on Iraq. February 28, 2007.

posted: thursday, march 1, 2007, 11:19 AM ET


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American public wants out, poll says

"This Washington Post-ABC News poll was conducted by telephone February 22-25, 2007, among a random national sample of 1,082 adults."

7. "Do you think (the United States should keep its military forces in Iraq until civil order is restored there, even if that means continued U.S. military casualties); OR, do you think (the United States should withdraw its military forces from Iraq in order to avoid further U.S. military casualties, even if that means civil order is not restored there)?" (Stay 42%; Withdraw 56%)

8. "Do you support or oppose Bush's proposal to send approximately 22,000 additional U.S. military forces to Iraq?" (Support 32%; Oppose: 67%)

9a. "Would you support or oppose Congress trying to block Bush's plan by creating new rules on troop training and rest time that would limit the number of troops available for duty in Iraq?" (Support 58%; Oppose 39%)

9b. "Would you support or oppose Congress trying to block Bush's plan by restricting funding for the war?" (Support 46%; Oppose 51%)

10. "Who do you blame more for failing to control the violence in Iraq - (the United States), or the (Iraqi government?)" (US 18%; Iraqi govt 70%; both (vol.) 8%; neither (vol.) 3%) *

11. "Would you support or oppose reducing U.S. military and financial support for the Iraqi government if the Iraqis fail to make progress toward national unity and restoring civil order?" (Support 66%; Oppose 30%)

* I'm not sure what "vol." means. Maybe they volunteered that response on their own.

The Washington Post. Washington Post-ABC News Poll. February 27, 2007.

posted: thursday, march 1, 2007, 1:47 AM ET
update: thursday, march 1, 2007, 1:52 AM ET


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VPs Cheney and Abdul-Mahdi get bombed

"A suicide bomber blew himself up on Tuesday morning outside the gate of the United States air base near Kabul where Vice President Dick Cheney was staying, killing at least 23 people. The vice president heard the blast from a mile away.
. . . A Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility, and said in a telephone call to the Reuters news agency that the attack had been aimed at Mr. Cheney." [1]

"An explosion inside the Ministry of Public Works on Monday wounded an Iraqi [Shiite] vice president and the public works minister and killed at least five people, in what officials described as a possible assassination attempt.
. . . Adel Abdul-Mahdi, one of Iraq’s two vice presidents, was approaching a conference room lectern to address ministry employees at the time of the blast, which tore through walls and hurled him to the ground, witnesses said. His guards threw themselves on top of him, and he was immediately taken to an American-run hospital inside the Green Zone where witnesses said he was received in a wheelchair, covered in dust but smiling.
Statements from several offices of the Shiite-led Iraqi government later said he was released and had returned to work.
The public works minister, Reyad Ghareeb, was seriously wounded, news agencies reported. It was not clear if his wounds were life-threatening." [2]

[1] Wafa, Abdul Waheed & Gall, Carlotta. (The New York Times). A Mile From Cheney, Afghan Bomber Kills at Least 23. February 28, 2007.
[2] Cave, Damien. (The New York Times). Bombing at Iraqi Ministry Wounds 2 Top Officials. February 27, 2007.

posted: thursday, march 1, 2007, 1:18 AM ET


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