‘Cakewalk’ now a death march

Three-and-a-half years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the predicted “cakewalk” has turned into a death march, and many of the commander-in-chief’s former supporters are abandoning his “stay the course” strategy like a sinking ship.

The bloody Sunni-Shiite sectarian civil war in Iraq has been claiming victims at such a rate that in October Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered his health ministry to stop releasing figures. However, the United Nations reported that 3,709 Iraqi civilians were killed in October, the highest monthly toll since the 2003 U.S. invasion. The toll for both September and October was 7,054 civilians killed, including 351 women and 110 children. Moreover, any official count is significantly short of actuality because of Muslim burial practice. Many bodies are quickly buried without being counted at the morgues or hospitals.

A new pattern of revenge has emerged that is driving the killings in Baghdad. The pattern has become one of attack and counterattack, with Sunni militants staging what U.S. commanders call “spectacular” strikes and Shiite militias retaliating with abductions and murders of Sunnis. The killings are ugly and often as brutal as they were under Saddam Hussein’s rule: bodies are found with drill holes, acid burns, broken bones, and often decapitated. The bodies are dumped in sewage areas and trash pits.

Many victims are killed in reprisal to even out the sectarian toll. Militias come to funerals and offer to carry out revenge attacks; gunmen execute blindfolded people in full public view; and mortars — increasingly common weapons for retaliatory attacks — are lobbed between Sunni and Shiite neighborhoods.

On Nov. 23, suspected Sunni insurgents killed 215 people in Baghdad’s main Shiite district with a combination of suicide car bombs and mortars. The following day, revenge-seeking Shiite militiamen seized six Sunnis outside a mosque as they left Friday prayers, drenched them with kerosene and burned them alive. Iraqi soldiers did nothing to stop the attack, police and witnesses said.

Sunnis and Shiites both said they were preparing themselves for escalation of the killing. Iraqis are posting pleas on Internet message boards to buy extra ammunition and weapons. Hussam Sammaraie, a Sunni cell phone company executive, stays inside his home. He carries his AK-47 and 60 bullets everywhere, even to bed. “I hug my AK-47 more than my wife,” he said.

A negotiated settlement between the factions — what the Bush administration has attempted to implement for the past two years — is failing. Although the Kurds and Shiites participated fully in the political process, the minority Sunnis did not see the government as representing, much less protecting, their interests.

A senior member of Iraq’s government lamented the hatred evident on both sides: “It’s worse than a civil war. In a civil war, you at least know which factions are fighting each other. We don’t even know that anymore.” About 100,000 Iraqis a month are fleeing to Jordan and Syria to escape the horror.

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who supported the invasion of Iraq and previously advised President Bush that “victory” was the only way to exit Iraq, now says the much more limited goal is to prevent the emergence of a “fundamentalist jihadist regime” in Baghdad. “We are in an extremely difficult situation,” he said in a BBC television interview, “because we are fighting an insurrection in the middle of a civil war.” He added: “You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that what we’re seeing now would be an odd appearance for a victory.”

Kenneth Adelman, who as a member of the Defense Policy Board had famously predicted that the 2003 invasion would be a “cakewalk,”is the latest voice from inside the Bush circle to speak out against the president or his policies. A former Reagan administration official, Adelman had an angry falling-out with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld this fall, and he and Dick Cheney are no longer on speaking terms. Adelman believes that “the president is ultimately responsible” for what he now calls “the debacle that was Iraq.”

The Iraqi government itself is part of the problem, because it is also afflicted with the sectarian hostility. Prime Minister Maliki is a Shiite who, to a great extent, owes his position to backing from the radical militant cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army — a militia that now fields 40,000 to 60,000 men versus the Iraqi army’s well under 10,000 men that are effective to conduct operations. Maliki’s central government is largely incapable of exercising any authority outside Baghdad’s walled-in Green Zone. His motorcade was pelted with stones on Nov. 26 by fellow Shiites in Baghdad’s slum, Sadr City, a stronghold of the Mahdi Army.

Furthermore, according to a classified Marine Corps intelligence report, the situation in Anbar province has deteriorated to a point that U.S. and Iraqi troops “are no longer capable of militarily defeating the insurgency” there, where at least 90 U.S. troops have died since Sept. 1. “[N]early all government institutions from the village to provincial levels have disintegrated or have been thoroughly corrupted and infiltrated by al-Qaeda in Iraq” or other insurgent groups, the report says. Al-Qaeda itself is now an “integral part of the social fabric of western Iraq” — entrenched, autonomous and financially independent. The insurgency in Iraq is now raising $100-200 million a year from oil smuggling and other illegal activity.

Hope is placed on the Iraq Study Group, a 10-member, bipartisan panel formed by Congress in March to review the Bush administration’s Iraq policy and propose changes. The focus of the ISG is to find a plan that would not only bring peace to Iraq, but also be a political solution for the United States. Any proposed plan would undoubtedly have to be a face-saving one, in order to be acceptable to President Bush. There is a lot of speculation that James Baker, who was George Bush Sr.’s secretary of state and is the Republican co-chairman of the ISG, is maneuvering to save Bush Jr.’s presidency from the worst foreign policy debacle in U.S. history.

Many see a need to “internationalize” the resolution of the conflict by enlisting other countries to help stabilize and provide security in Iraq. James Baker even visited U.S. adversaries Iran and Syria to explore the possibility of gaining assistance from them. Other encouraging developments in this area have taken place. After nearly a quarter-century of severed ties, Iraq said Nov. 20 it will resume diplomatic relations with neighboring Syria. And on Nov. 27, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani arrived in Tehran with a delegation of Iraqi officials to enlist Iran’s help in quelling the spiraling violence that threatens to tear his country apart.

The Democratic co-chairman of the Iraq Study Group, former Indiana Rep. Lee Hamilton, said it may not even be possible for the panel itself to reach agreement on a recommended course of action. On Nov. 27, the deeply divided ISG began debating a draft report that, according to insiders, urges an aggressive regional diplomatic initiative — including direct talks with Iran and Syria — but sets no timetables for a military withdrawal. The panel wrapped up two days of intensive meetings behind closed doors, with hopes of submitting its recommendations to President Bush by the end of the year.

There appear to be no good options left for Iraq. Other ideas being considered — increased training of Iraqi troops or focusing on a new deal between the warring Shiites and Sunnis — have already been tried or have limited chances of success. Both the Iraqi Army and the civilian police have been implicated in enabling and participating in the sectarian death squads.

The volatility of the entire Mideast was accentuated Nov. 21 when Pierre Gemayel, 34, Lebanon’s industry minister and an outspoken opponent of the Syrian-allied Hezbollah, was gunned down in a well-orchestrated assassination. President Bush blasted both Syria and Iran for trying to destabilize Lebanon.

The chaos also cast a shadow over a planned crisis summit in Amman, Jordan between Prime Minister Maliki and President Bush. Politicians loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr threatened to boycott parliament and the Cabinet if Maliki went ahead with the meeting.

There is a fear that the civil war in Iraq will lead to disintegration of the Iraqi state and draw in surrounding countries. “Regional war is very much a possibility,” said Joost Hiltermann of the International Crisis Group. Jordan’s King Abdullah said on ABC’s This Week, “We could possibly imagine going into 2007 and having three civil wars on our hands,” citing conflicts in Iraq, Lebanon and the decades-long strife between the Israelis and Palestinians. The spillover of violence into Afghanistan is also soaring, prompting Belgian Defense Minister André Flahaut to publicly call for NATO to discuss an exit strategy at the Riga summit that began Nov. 28.

Speaking in Riga, Latvia on Nov. 27, President Bush reiterated his opposition to a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. He said, “There is one thing I’m not going to do. I am not going to pull our troops off the battlefield before the mission is complete.”

From the military to members of Congress, Americans are increasingly blaming the escalating violence in Iraq on the Iraqis themselves. Iraqi Ambassador Samir Sumaidaie said he worries about the growing chorus of official voices blaming Iraq. “The U.S. through its actions and omissions has helped to create the current conditions in Iraq,” he said. “Therefore the U.S. also bears responsibility in putting right the situation.” Experts of various political stripes see the talk of blame as a preamble to withdrawal — Americans edging toward the door that leads to disengagement.

The crucial question is whether the United States can extricate itself without leaving behind an unending civil war that will spread more chaos and suffering throughout the Middle East, while spawning terrorism across the globe. Even with the best future American effort, it appears that — barring some miracle — Iraq will remain at war with itself for years to come, with its government weak and divided, and its economy battered and dependent on outside aid.

– edited from The Washington Post, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The Associated Press and Reuters
PeaceMeal, Nov/December 2006

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Aussie firm briefed on Iraq war year before invasion

New documents show that a year before the Iraq war was launched, a senior Australian diplomat tipped off Australia’s leading agribusiness, AWB Ltd., that Australia would join the U.S.-led invasion. The documents released Nov. 22 show Australia’s then U.N. ambassador John Dauth revealed the position of Prime Minister John Howard’s Government to former AWB chairman Trevor Flugge. The evidence appears to contradict statements by the Howard Government that it did not decide to join the war until after the invasion was debated in the United Nations in late 2002 and early 2003.

The documents were released by a Commission of Inquiry under judge Terence Cole, which investigated whether Australian companies had broken the law in transactions related to the U.N. Oil-For-Food Program. The Cole inquiry was established after the prior Volcker Inquiry revealed in October 2005 that AWB, the exclusive marketer of all Australian bulk wheat exports, had paid the largest single illicit bribe — $290 million — to the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein in order to secure wheat sales to Iraq.

The new revelation prompted the federal Opposition to call for the Cole inquiry into AWB’s Iraq kickbacks to be reopened and its scope expanded — just 24 hours before its final report was to be handed to the Government.

Mr. Dauth briefed Mr. Flugge in New York in Feb. 2002 — 13 months before the invasion — and the details appear in minutes of AWB’s 27 Feb. 2002 board meeting tendered to the inquiry. “The ambassador stated that he believed that U.S. military action to depose Saddam Hussein was inevitable and that at this time the Australian Government would support and participate in such action,” the minutes said.

Mr. Dauth, now high commissioner in New Zealand, predicted the Iraq war would be similar to the campaign in Afghanistan, with heavy use of air support followed by the deployment of ground troops. “He undertook to ensure that AWB was given as much warning as would be possible under such circumstances but noted that in these instances the Australian Government often had little notification,” the board minutes said.

Opposition Leader Kim Beazley said the documents showed the Howard Government was prepared to take AWB into its confidence a year before going to war — but not the Australian people. Mr. Beazley said the Cole Commission, which is likely to recommend criminal charges against current and former AWB executives over the huge illicit payments the company made to Iraq, should be authorized to continue its investigation and expand its scope to allow findings against the Government, its ministers and officials.

– edited from News.com.au (Australia)
PeaceMeal, Nov/December 2006

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Iraq war increases terror threat

The Iraq war is fueling a growing threat of global terrorism and “shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders,” according to a partially-released National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) report, an assessment that reflects the consensus of all 16 U.S. intelligence services, including the CIA. It concludes that Islamic extremists are growing “in both number and geographic dispersion,” that new radical threats are emerging, and that terrorist attacks are likely to increase. It also says that Iraq has become a training ground for terrorists and a recruitment tool for extremists around the world. The grim assessment anticipates a spread of terrorist activity globally for at least the next five years.

Completed in April, some of the NIE’s findings were leaked by unnamed government officials and reported Sept. 24 by media outlets, without quoting directly from the classified document. President Bush subsequently ordered a three-page portion of the 30-page document declassified.

The report is the intelligence services’ first formal appraisal of global terrorism since the Iraq war began. It asserts that Islamic radicalism, rather than being in retreat, has spread across the globe, and it cites the “centrality” of the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the insurgency that has followed as the leading motivation. The NIE states: “The Iraq conflict has become the ‘cause celebre’ for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of U.S. involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement.” Rather than contributing to eventual victory in the global counterterrorism struggle, it concludes that the situation in Iraq has worsened the U.S. position, according to officials familiar with the classified document.

There has been tension between the Bush Administration and American spy agencies for more than two years over the violence in Iraq and the prospects for a stable democracy in the country. Some intelligence officials have said the White House has consistently presented a more optimistic picture of the situation in Iraq than justified by intelligence reports from the field. Pres. Bush and his top advisers contend the newly declassified assessment of global terrorism supports their arguments that the world is safer five years after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, because of the Iraq war. But virtually all conclusions of the NIE document are bad news. The report’s few positive notes are couched in conditional terms, dependent on future successful completion of difficult tasks ahead.“If this [current] trend continues, threats to U.S. interests at home and abroad will become more diverse, leading to increasing attacks worldwide,” the document says. “The confluence of shared purpose and dispersed actors will make it harder to find and undermine jihadist groups.” (For the conclusions of the NIE, see: www.dni.gov)

Rep. Jane Harman of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said: “Contrary to the president’s assertions, our failed strategy in Iraq has exacerbated the threat against us. The president says that fighting them ‘there’ makes it less likely we will have to fight them ‘here.’ The opposite is true. Because we are fighting them there, it may become more likely that we’ll have to fight them here.”

Moreover, a Senate Intelligence Committee report released Sept. 8 found that, before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the regime of Saddam Hussein had no links with al Qaeda and had refused to cooperate with it. The Senate report said, “Postwar findings indicate that Saddam Hussein was distrustful of al Qaeda and viewed Islamic extremists as a threat to his regime, refusing all requests from al Qaeda to provide material or operational support.”

The Republican-controlled House Intelligence Committee released Sept. 20 an even more ominous report about the terrorist threat. That assessment, based entirely on unclassified documents, details the growing jihad movement and says, “Al Qaeda leaders wait patiently for the right opportunity to attack.”

– compiled from the Tri-City Herald, The Associated Press, The New York Times, and The Washington Post
PeaceMeal, Sept/October 2006

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

watada.jpg (4852 bytes)Army officer refuses to serve in Iraq

In a rare case of officer dissent, a U.S. Army lieutenant at Fort Lewis, Washington, has refused orders to head out to Iraq to lead troops in what he believes is an illegal war of occupation. 1st Lt. Ehren Watada was scheduled for his first deployment to Iraq in June with Stryker brigade troops.

Watada, 28, is a native of Hawaii, and an Eagle Scout who graduated from Hawaii Pacific University with a finance degree. His father, Robert Watada, a retired Hawaii state official, was opposed to the war in Vietnam and was able to do alternative service in the Peace Corps in Peru.

After the younger Watada enlisted, he was sent to officer-training school in Georgia. Watada said he supported the war at that time because he believed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

“I had my doubts,” he said, “but I felt like the president is our leader, and he won’t betray our trust, and he would know what he was talking about, and let’s give him the benefit of the doubt.” Over the past year, his opinion changed as he read up on the war and became convinced that there was “intentional manipulation of intelligence” by the Bush administration.

In January, Watada told his commanders that he believed that the war was unlawful, and therefore, so were his deployment orders. He did not, however, consider himself a conscientious objector, since he was willing to fight in wars that were justified, legal and in defense of the nation. Watada was told that he could submit his resignation, but that the Army would recommend disapproval. That resignation was rejected in May, he said.

At a June 7 press conference announcing his decision, Watada argued that the Administration’s invasion and occupation of Iraq was “manifestly illegal” because it “violates our democratic system of checks and balances. It usurps international treaties and conventions that by virtue of the Constitution become American law. The wholesale slaughter and mistreatment of the Iraqi people with only limited accountability is not only a terrible moral injustice, but a contradiction to the Army’s own Law of Land Warfare. My participation would make me party to war crimes.”

“I feel that we have been lied to and betrayed by this administration,” Lt. Watada said in a telephone interview from Fort Lewis. “It is the duty, the obligation of every soldier, and specifically the officers, to evaluate the legality, the truth behind every order — including the order to go to war.”

On July 5 the Army brought charges against Lt. Watada. His court-martial is expected in October. He faces up to eight years in jail and a dishonorable discharge. Under military law, soldiers have the right to refuse to carry out illegal orders; in fact, they have a duty not to commit war crimes. In a court-martial proceeding, Watada said he would try to mount a case about the illegality of the war under international law and United States law. But he is aware that a military court might not allow him to make that case. “I think they will do their best to make an example of me,” he said.

In trying Lt. Watada, the Army will be putting itself, the Iraq War and the Bush Administration on trial. In the context of plummeting support for the war and cascading evidence of officially concealed criminal acts by U.S. forces, such an event has the potential to focus public attention on possible U.S. war crimes, just as the Winter Soldier Investigation did during the Vietnam War.

Since the beginning of the war, more than 7,900 members of the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force have deserted. The desertions typically involve enlisted personnel, not officers. Lt. Watada has not deserted, since he remains on post in Fort Lewis.

Among the enlisted ranks at Fort Lewis, Sgt. Kevin Benderman is serving a 15-month sentence at a base correctional facility for refusing a second tour of duty in Iraq in January 2005. Benderman, an Army mechanic for 10 years, was decorated for his service in Iraq in 2003. But he returned home conscientiously opposed to the war because of the dehumanizing killing and destruction he witnessed.

When Navy Petty Officer Pablo Paredes was court-martialed in 2005 for refusing to go to Iraq, the military judge who found him guilty gave him a mild sentence with no jail time and astonishingly declared, “Any seaman recruit has a reasonable cause to believe that the wars in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq were illegal.”

See: www.ThankYouLt.org

– edited from The Seattle Times, 7 June 2006, and The Nation online, 10 July 2006
PeaceMeal, July/August 2006

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Memories of a massacre in Haditha

Witnesses to the slaying of 24 Iraqi civilians by U.S. Marines on Nov. 19, 2005, in the town of Haditha say the Americans shot men, women and children at close range in retaliation for the death of a Marine lance corporal in a roadside bombing. Aws Fahmi, a Haditha resident who said he watched and listened from his home as Marines went from house to house killing members of three families, heard his neighbor across the street, Younis Salim Khafif, plead in English for his life and the lives of his family members. “I heard Younis speaking to the Americans, saying: ‘I am a friend. I am good,’” Fahmi said. “But they killed him, and his wife and daughters.” The girls killed were ages 14, 10, 5, 3 and 1, according to death certificates. Two U.S. military boards are investigating the incident as potentially the gravest violation of the law of war by U.S. forces in Iraq. The probes were ordered after Time magazine presented military officials in Baghdad in January with the findings of its own investigation, based on survivors’ accounts and on a videotape shot by an Iraqi journalism student at Haditha’s hospital and inside victims’ houses. An investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service into the killings and a separate probe by the Army Central Command into an alleged coverup are slated to end in the next few weeks. Senator John Warner, chairman of the Armed Services Committee and a former secretary of the navy, announced May 28 that he would hold hearings on the incident in Haditha after the investigations are completed, to avoid interfering with them.

The Marines have briefed members of the Senate Armed Services Committee and other officials on the findings. “Marines overreacted ... and killed innocent civilians in cold blood,” said Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), a former Marine who maintains close ties with senior Marine officers despite his opposition to the Iraq war. Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), another former Marine, said, “This is going to be an ugly story.” Charges of murder, dereliction of duty, and making a false statement are likely, according to people familiar with the case.

The first account of the killings was on Nov. 20, the day following the incident. U.S. Marines spokesman Capt. Jeffrey Pool issued a statement saying that a roadside bomb had killed 15 civilians and a Marine. In a later gunbattle, he added, U.S. and Iraqi troops had killed eight insurgents. Time magazine said in March the military revised that statement after it provided the videotape showing bullet-riddled corpses lined up at the Haditha morgue.

Haditha is one of a chain of farm towns on the Euphrates River where U.S. and Iraqi forces have battled foreign and local insurgents without resolution for much of the war. The incident was touched off when a roadside bomb struck a 1st Marine Regiment supply convoy. The explosion instantly killed the driver of a Humvee, Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas, 20, of El Paso, who was on his second tour of duty in Iraq. Insurgents planted the bomb on a side road off one of Haditha’s main streets, placing it between two vacant lots to try to avoid killing and further alienating Haditha’s civilians, residents said.

The bomb went off at 7:15 a.m. The descriptions of subsequent events, provided by witnesses in Haditha, could not be independently verified, although their accounts of the number of casualties and their identities were corroborated by death certificates.

In the first minutes after the shock of the blast, Marines appeared stunned as they moved around the burning Humvee, witnesses said. Then one of the Marines took charge and directed other Marines into the house closest to the blast, Aws Fahmi said. It was the home of 76-year-old Abdul Hamid Hassan Ali, a wheelchair-bound diabetic amputee. In the house with Ali and his 66-year-old wife, Khamisa Tuma Ali, were three middle-aged male members of their family, at least one daughter-in-law and four children — 4-year-old Abdullah, 8-year-old Iman, 5-year-old Abdul Rahman and 2-month-old Asia. Marines entered shooting, witnesses recalled. Most of the shots in Ali’s house and two others were fired at such close range that they went through the bodies of the family members and plowed into walls or the floor, physicians at Haditha’s hospital said.

A daughter-in-law, identified as Hibbah, escaped with Asia, survivors and neighbors said. Iman and Abdul Rahman were shot but survived. Four-year-old Abdullah, Ali and the rest died. Ali took nine rounds in the chest and abdomen, leaving his intestines spilling out of the exit wounds in his back, according to his death certificate.

The Marines moved to the house next door, Fahmi said. Inside were 43-year-old Khafif, 41-year-old Aeda Yasin Ahmed, an 8-year-old son, five young daughters, and a 1-year-old girl staying with the family, according to death certificates and neighbors. The Marines shot them at close range and hurled grenades into the kitchen and bathroom, survivors and neighbors said later. Khafif’s pleas could be heard across the neighborhood. Four of the girls died screaming. Only 13-year-old Safa Younis lived — saved, she said, by her mother’s blood spilling onto her, making her look dead when she fell in a faint.

Moving to a third house in the row, Marines burst in on four brothers — Marwan, Qahtan, Chasib and Jamal Ahmed. Neighbors said the Marines killed them together.

The first or last victims of the day happened upon the scene inadvertently, witnesses said. Four male college students — Khalid Ayada al-Zawi, Wajdi Ayada al-Zawi, Mohammed Battal Mahmoud and Akram Hamid Flayeh — had left the Technical Institute in Saqlawiyah for the weekend to stay with one of their families on the street, said Fahmi, a friend of the young men. A Haditha taxi driver, Ahmed Khidher, was bringing them home. According to Fahmi, the young men and their driver turned onto the street and saw the wrecked Humvee and the Marines. Khidher threw the car into reverse, trying to back away at full speed, and the Marines opened fire from about 30 yards away, killing all the men inside the taxi.

The whole incident is said to have lasted three to five hours.

At some point on Nov. 19, Marines in an armored convoy arrived at Haditha’s hospital. They placed the bodies of the victims in the garden of the hospital and left without explanation, said Mohammed al-Hadithi, one of the hospital officials who helped carry the bodies inside. By some accounts, some of the corpses were burnt.

The remains of the 24 lie today in a cemetery called Martyrs’ Graveyard. Their deserted homes are frequented by scrounging dogs. Graffiti on one of the houses declared: “Democracy assassinated the family that was here.”

One point of dispute is whether houses were destroyed by fire or by airstrikes. Some Iraqis reported that the Marines burned houses in the area of the attack, but two people familiar with the case said warplanes conducted airstrikes, dropping 500-pound bombs on more than one house. That is significant for any court-martial proceedings, because it would indicate that senior commanders, who must approve such strikes, were paying attention to events in Haditha that day.

Families of those killed in Haditha keep an ear cocked to a foreign station, Radio Monte Carlo, waiting for any news of a trial of the Marines. “They are waiting for the sentence, although they are convinced that the sentence will be like one for someone who killed a dog in the United States,” said Waleed Mohammed, a lawyer preparing a file for Iraqi courts and the United Nations, if the U.S. trial disappoints, “because Iraqis have become like dogs in the eyes of Americans.”

The head of Iraq’s Hammurabi human rights organization said, “These violations of human rights happen every day in Iraq.”

The insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq said it sent copies of the journalism student’s videotape to mosques in Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, using the killings of the women and children to recruit fighters.

– edited from The Washington Post, Reuters, and The New York Times
PeaceMeal, May/June 2006

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

U.S. troops in Iraq say end war in 2006

An overwhelming majority of American troops serving in Iraq — 72 percent — think the United States should exit the country within a year, according to a new poll conducted by Zogby International in conjunction with Le Moyne College's Center for Peace and Global Studies. Moreover, 29% of the respondents, serving in various branches of the armed forces, said the U.S. should leave Iraq "immediately."

The survey included 944 military respondents interviewed face-to-face at several undisclosed locations throughout Iraq between Jan. 18 and Feb. 14, 2006. The wide-ranging poll ( www.zogby.com/news/ReadNews.dbm?ID=1075) shows that 58% of those serving in Iraq say the U.S. mission is clear in their minds, while 42% said it is either unclear to them, that they have no understanding of it at all, or are unsure.

A whopping 85% of the troops said the U.S. mission is mainly "to retaliate for Saddam's role in the 9-11 attacks," even though President Bush himself has acknowledged there was no connection between the two. On Bush's alleged pre-war pretext of removing weapons of mass destruction, 93% said that is not a reason for U.S. troops being there. "Instead," said pollster John Zogby, president and CEO of Zogby International, "that initial rationale went by the wayside and, in the minds of 68% of the troops, the real mission became to remove Saddam Hussein." Only 24% said that "establishing a democracy that can be a model for the Arab world" was the main or a major reason for the war.

The survey also shows that somewhat more than half of the U.S. military personnel in Iraq — 55 percent — said it is not appropriate or standard military conduct to use harsh and threatening methods against insurgent prisoners in order to gain information of military value.

– PeaceMeal, Jan/February 2006

Soldiers flee to Canada to avoid Iraq duty

More than 9,000 U.S. servicemen have deserted since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and an estimated 400 of them have crossed the border into Canada . More than 20 have already applied for political refugee status there, arguing that violations of the rules of war in Iraq by the United States entitle them to asylum. A decision on a test case involving two U.S. servicemen is due shortly and is being watched with interest by others on both sides of the border.

Ryan Johnson, 22, from near Fresno, California, was due to be deployed with his unit to Iraq in January 2005 but crossed the Canadian border in June and is seeking asylum. "I had spoken to many soldiers who had been in Iraq and who told me about innocent civilians being killed and about bombing civilian neighborhoods," he said.

"It's been really great since I've been here, Johnson added. "Generally, people have been really hospitable and understanding, although there have been a few who have been for the war." He is now unable to return to the United States.

Johnson had been on speaking tours across Canada as part of a war resisters' movement and had come across other servicemen living underground. Jeffry House, a Toronto attorney who represents many of them, said that an increasing number were seeking asylum. "There are a fair number without status and a fair number on student visas," he said, and under U.N. guidelines on refugee status, they were entitled to seek asylum.

The first test cases involve Jeremy Hinzman, 26, who deserted from the 82 Airborne Division, and Brandon Hughey from the 1st Cavalry Division. A decision on their applications is due within the next few weeks. If they are turned down, the case will be taken to the federal appeal court and the Canadian supreme court, according to Mr. House, a process that would last into next year at least.

All deserters, past and present, are placed on an FBI wanted list. In early March, Allen Abney, 56, who deserted from the Marines as a teenager during the Vietnam War, was arrested as he crossed into the U.S. from British Columbia. Now 56 with a wife and three children, Abney had crossed into the U.S. hundreds of times before without problem. He was held in a military jail in California for a few days and then discharged.

"They have resuscitated long-dormant warrants," said attorney House. "I know 15 people personally who have crossed ten or more times without problems, and then all of a sudden they are arresting people. It seems like it would be connected to Iraq."

Lee Zaslofsky, 61, the coordinator of the War Resisters' Support Campaign in Toronto, said that he was impressed by the young men who were seeking asylum. "Some have been to Iraq and others have heard what goes on there," he said. "Mainly, what they discuss is being asked to do things they consider repugnant. Most are quite patriotic ... Many say they feel tricked by the military."

– edited from The Guardian (U.K.), 28 March 2006
PeaceMeal, Jan/February 2006

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Iraq security ‘out-of-control’

In his State of the Union address, President Bush offered no hope of change in his “stay the course” policy for Iraq. And despite the best efforts of the White House to put the most optimistic spin on its war there, the big-picture accounting provided by different arms of government don’t hide the obvious: The situation in Iraq is actually deteriorating.

In mid-January, the Pentagon released a report showing that the total number of insurgent attacks increased by 30 percent in 2005 to 34,131— an average of almost 94 a day. The new statistics also show that the number of car bombs more than doubled from 420 in 2004 to 873 last year, and the number of suicide car bombs went from 133 to 411. Sixty-seven attackers wore suicide vests last year, up from only seven in 2004.

Roadside bombs, or improvised explosive devices — the most common weapon of the insurgency, increased to 10,953 in 2005 from 5,607 the year before. Those numbers include roadside bombs that were discovered and defused.

In other words, in the third year since the fall of Saddam Hussein, a year in which Iraqis voted three times, the security situation became substantially worse. An official assessment drawn up by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) depicts the security situation in Iraq as dire, amounting to a “social breakdown” in which criminals have “almost free rein.”

The USAID assessment was attached to documents published in early January for the Focused Stabilization in Strategic Cities Initiative, a $1.3-billion project to curb violence in cities such as Baghdad, Basra, Mosul, Kirkuk and Najaf, through job creation and investment in local communities. The assessment argues that insurgent attacks “significantly damage the country’s infrastructure and cause a tide of adverse economic and social effects that ripple across Iraq.”

“In the social breakdown that has accompanied the defeat of Saddam Hussein’s regime, criminal elements within Iraqi society have had almost free rein,” the document says. “In the absence of an effective police force capable of ensuring public safety, criminal elements flourish ... Baghdad is reportedly divided into zones controlled by organized criminal groups-clans.”

In addition, government reports on reconstruction find spectacular waste and failure to complete many projects. And Iraq’s oil output right now is about 1 million barrels a day less than it was before President Bush launched his invasion.

– edited from USA Today and The Guardian (U.K.)
PeaceMeal, Jan/February 2006

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Cost of Iraq war could reach $2,000 billion

The cost of the Iraq war could reach $2,000 billion, far above the White House’s pre-war projections, when long-term costs such as lifetime health care for thousands of wounded U.S. soldiers are included, according to a study released on January 9. Nobel Prize-winning Columbia University economist Joseph E. Stiglitz and Harvard lecturer Linda Bilmes included in their study disability payments for the 16,000 wounded U.S. soldiers, about 20 percent of whom suffer serious brain or spinal injuries. They said U.S. taxpayers will be burdened with costs that linger long after U.S. troops withdraw from Iraq.

“Even taking a conservative approach, we have been surprised at how large they are,” the authors of the study said, referring to total war costs. “We can state, with some degree of confidence, that they exceed a trillion dollars.”

Before the invasion, then-White House budget director Mitch Daniels predicted Iraq would be “an affordable endeavor.” White House economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey was fired at that time when he predicted total Iraq war costs at $100 billion to $200 billion. The Bush administration has allocated a total of about $251 billion for Iraq, so far.

Unforeseen costs include recruiting to replenish a military drained by multiple tours of duty, slower long-term U.S. economic growth, and health-care bills for treating long-term mental illness suffered by war veterans. Army statistics as of July 2005 said about 30 percent of U.S. troops developed mental-health problems (PTSD) within three to four months of returning from Iraq.

Another unforeseen cost, the study said, is the loss to the U.S. economy from injured veterans who cannot contribute as productively as they otherwise would and costs related to American civilian contractors and journalists killed in Iraq. Death benefits to military families and bonuses paid to soldiers to re-enlist and to sign up new recruits are additional long-term costs.

Stiglitz, who won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2001, has been an outspoken critic of the Bush administration’s Iraq policy. He and Bilmes based their projections partly on past wars and included the economic cost of higher oil prices, a bigger U.S. budget deficit, and greater global insecurity caused by the Iraq war. They said a portion of the rise in oil prices — conservatively estimated at 20 percent of the $25-a-barrel gain in oil prices since the war began — could be attributed directly to the conflict and that this had already cost the United States about $25 billion. “Americans are, in a sense, poorer by that amount,” they said.

The projection of a total cost of $2,000 billion assumes U.S. troops stay in Iraq until 2010, but with steadily declining numbers each year. They projected the number of troops there in 2006 at about 136,000. Currently, the United States has 153,000 troops in Iraq. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Roseann Lynch, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said on January 9 that the Iraq war was costing the United States $4.5 billion monthly in military “operating costs,” excluding procurement of new weapons and equipment.

The 36-page report is available in pdf format at: www.josephstiglitz.com

– edited from Reuters, Jan. 9, 2006
PeaceMeal, Jan/February 2006

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)