Lance Corporal Jeff Lucey, USMC
Veteran: Invasion of Iraq

Jeff Lucey was called to active duty with the 6th Marine Motor Transport Battalion in early 2003. By February he was in Kuwait and in March he was part of the invasion of Iraq. On April 18, 2003, he wrote his girlfriend that he had done “immoral things.” He came home to Belchertown, Mass., in July 2003. Over the next several months, he told his family bits and pieces of his experiences in Iraq — enough to indicate how troubled he was by what he had seen and done. An enduring vision of his was of a young Iraqi boy, shot in the head and dead in the street, clutching a small American flag in his hand. As an American tank came down the street and approached the body, LCpl. Lucey left his vehicle under fire and carried the boy to a nearby alley.

While transporting prisoners, he said he was ordered to shoot two Iraqi soldiers. He remembered looking into their eyes as they shook in terror, and thought about their families. He remembered an officer shouting “pull the f---ing trigger, Lucey.” He remembered shooting the prisoners and watching them die. He told his father there were “other things” he didn’t want to talk about. He began to drink heavily.

By June of 2004, his parents arranged an involuntary commitment to a local VA hospital. He was diagnosed as suffering from depression but was judged not to be a danger to himself or others and released. That month — on June 22, 2004 — Jeff Lucey killed himself by hanging in his parents’ basement. At the memorial service in Holyoke, Mass., his father Kevin said that his son’s death, while not listed as such, was another casualty of the Iraq war. He was 23 years old.

– from Aftershock: Stories About War,
PeaceMeal, Sept/October 2009

janet_weil.jpg (8329 bytes)The illusion of withdrawal in Iraq

Janet Weil

As of June 30th, all U.S. troops must be withdrawn from Iraqi cities, including U.S. bases in Baghdad, according to the Status Of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the U.S. and Iraq. The Iraqi government will also take legal responsibility for the actions of U.S. troops and have legal jurisdiction over American soldiers who commit crimes off-base and off-duty. The SOFA also will grant permission to U.S. troops for military operations, as well as ban the U.S. from staging attacks on other countries from Iraq.

While it may seem like a step forward toward ending the six-year occupation of Iraq, the Pentagon is doing what it can to dodge or play down these SOFA stipulations. In recent weeks, it has been re-classifying bases and troops, hiring “corporate security” mercenaries, and preventing Iraq from having jurisdiction over those actions. It will get away with it too, as Congress never ratified the SOFA, and because many are justifying further occupation under the banner of keeping Iraq secure.

Leading up to the June 30th deadline, the Pentagon has been playing shell games with bases and with soldiers. City limits have been modified to exempt bases from the agreement, and soldiers who have moved out of cities are now encircling them. Three thousand troops stationed at the Forward Operating Base Falcon, located within Baghdad, will not be moving, because Iraqi and American military officials simply decided it wasn’t within the city limits. And thousands of troops in bases sleeping outside the cities will continue to serve in “support” and “advisory” roles during the day.

And while troops may be moving out of the cities, they are not yet moving out of the country. The military has been expanding and building new bases in rural areas to accommodate the movement of soldiers, and Congress just passed a bill that includes more funding for military construction in Iraq. In reality, only 30,000 troops have left Iraq since last September and 134,000 troops still remain.

But the almost equal number of 132,000 military contractors in Iraq are the real loophole. How do they fit into the withdrawal plan? How many of them will stay past June 30th? Or past 2011? Military contractors have been used extensively in the war in Iraq to evade legal accountability and hide the true cost — and body count — of the war. In fact, mercenaries may be on the rise and will spark additional violence in the country.

Arab-American journalist Dahr Jamail points out the violence in Iraq has largely been quelled because the U.S. has paid Iraqi resistance fighters to keep the peace, and the increase in violent resistance in May and June is due to many fighters losing their paychecks from the U.S. government. In his blog, MidEast Dispatches, Jamail writes: “Attacks against U.S. forces are once again on the rise in places like Baghdad and Fallujah, where the Iraqi resistance was fiercest before so many of them joined the Sahwa (Sons of Iraq, also referred to as Awakening Councils) and began taking payments from the U.S. military in exchange for halting attacks against the occupiers and agreeing to join the fight against al-Qaeda in Iraq. Daily we are watching Sahwa members leave their security posts.”

He further explains that many Iraqis are rejoining the resistance in protest of losing their paychecks and increasing government attacks, and thus, have stopped targeting al-Qaeda. Instead of continuing to pay these resistance fighters, the U.S. plans to replace some soldiers and Marines in Iraq with mercenaries — private and corporations. This new occupying force will continue to alienate Iraqis and delay any real Iraqi independence.

Despite working all the loopholes, the U.S. never officially committed to playing by the rules of an Iraq withdrawal, anyway. In 2007 and 2009, members of Congress including then-Senator Hillary Clinton believed the SOFA should have been ratified by the Senate to be legitimate. During the 2008 presidential campaign, Clinton urged Obama to sign on to her legislation that would have required President Bush to bring the SOFA to the Senate first. Obama, then a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, never agreed to do so. But once Clinton dropped her opposition to Obama’s unanimous selection as the Democratic presidential nominee and was rewarded by being chosen as Secretary of State, she put her SOFA principle aside and now supports an agreement that only one country — Iraq — has ratified. The U.S. Senate’s role in ratifying bilateral agreements has been nullified, a development that should worry all who have been concerned about a “unitary executive” and an increasingly weakened Congress.

Even in Iraq, withdrawal plans have been undermined. The Iraqi parliament planned to ratify the SOFA under a national referendum this month. But recently the Iraqi cabinet decided to reschedule it to align with the national parliamentary elections in January 2010. The SOFA is widely unpopular and seen as legitimizing the U.S. occupation until 2011. If it goes to a vote, it will likely be defeated. So Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other Iraqi leaders have colluded with both the Bush and Obama administrations to subvert the will of the Iraqi people.

However, if the Iraq SOFA is not referendum-ratified by July 31 or a 12-month cancellation notice issued, it will expire. If it expires, the U.S. will be in Iraq without legal authorization and U.S. forces may be subject to lock down until the matter is resolved. Under these conditions, U.S. troops will no longer have the bilateral protections — effectively left in a legal and political limbo.

Ultimately, the Pentagon must stop playing chess games to slow down a real withdrawal. And our leaders in the White House and Congress — who just passed another $70 billion for the war — must take real leadership to end this war, including withdrawing all our troops, ending the use of military contractors, stopping funding of any permanent bases in Iraq, and allowing the Iraqi people the space to reclaim their country.

Janet Weil is a CodePink staff member based in San Francisco.
– PeaceMeal, July/August 2009

Iraq war inquiry in Britain

LONDON - British Prime Minister Gordon Brown authorized a long-awaited inquiry into the Iraq war on June 15, but defied requests from bereaved families and activists to hold sessions in public. Brown told the House of Commons that an examination of mistakes made during and after the 2003 U.S.- led invasion will begin in July, but take place entirely behind closed doors. Activists have repeatedly called for a public inquiry to scrutinize what they say are a range of errors made by Britain, the United States and other allies in prewar intelligence and planning for postwar reconstruction work.

Brown said a panel of appointed experts — not lawmakers — will conduct the inquiry, led by John Chilcott, a former senior civil servant who played a key role in the Northern Ireland peace process. He said the panel would look closely at the build up to the Iraq invasion, how the conflict was conducted and problems with planning for reconstruction projects. The panel itself will decide whether to address wider questions about whether Britain should have been involved at all in the Iraq invasion, Brown’s office said.

British officials said the inquiry is the first of its type by a country that joined the Iraq invasion, and will be more comprehensive than the work of the 2006 Iraq Study Group in the U.S. The war was deeply unpopular in Britain, prompting some of the country’s largest ever protest marches, and then-Prime Minister Tony Blair was badly tarnished by his decision to join the war.

– The Associated Press, June 15, 2009
PeaceMeal, July/August 2009

U.S. inaugurates $700 million embassy in Iraq

The United States inaugurated its largest embassy ever on January 5, a fortress-like compound in the heart of Baghdad’s Green Zone — and the most visible sign of what U.S. officials call a new chapter in relations between the U.S. and a more sovereign Iraq. U.S. Marines raised the American flag over the adobe-colored buildings, which sit on a 104-acre site and have space for 1,000 employees — more than 10 times the size of any other American Embassy in the world.

The inauguration of the $700-million embassy came just days after a security agreement between Iraq and the United States took effect, replacing a U.N. mandate that gave legal authority to the U.S. and other foreign troops to operate in Iraq. Under the new security agreement, U.S. troops will no longer conduct unilateral operations and will act only in concert with Iraqi forces. They must also leave major Iraqi cities by June and the entire country by the end of 2011.

U.S. diplomats and military officials moved into the embassy on Dec. 31 after vacating Saddam Hussein’s Republican Palace, which they occupied when they captured Baghdad in April 2003. The palace will now seat the Iraqi government and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s office. In perhaps an unintended sign of the new relationship, al-Maliki did not attend the embassy ceremony because he was traveling in Iran.

The new embassy’s exact dimensions are classified, but it is said to be six times larger than the United Nations complex in New York and more than 10 times the size of the new U.S. Embassy in Beijing, which at 10 acres is America’s second-largest mission.

– PeaceMeal, Jan/February 2009

(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.)

Corruption in Iraqi government remains untouchable

The government of Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is systematically dismissing Iraqi oversight officials, who were installed by order of the American occupation administration to fight corruption in the notoriously graft-ridden Iraqi ministries. The dismissals, confirmed by senior Iraqi and American government officials, have come as estimates of official Iraqi corruption have soared. Some $18 billion in reconstruction funds from the United States have been lost to fraud, embezzlement, theft and waste by Iraqi government officials, according to an Iraqi former top anti-corruption official.

The dismissals have not been publicly announced by Mr. Maliki’s government, but word of them has begun to circulate through the layers of Iraqi bureaucracy. Each of Iraq’s 30 cabinet-level ministries has one inspector general, some of whom have been notably quiet, while others have vigorously investigated both current and former ministers and other senior officials. In one case, investigations of a former electricity minister landed him in jail before he escaped and fled to the United States, and an Oil Ministry inspector general detailed extensive smuggling and extortion schemes that he said bedeviled the industry.

It is generally agreed that seven to nine inspectors general have already been dismissed or forced into retirement, but estimates range up to as many as 17. Senior Iraqi officials and four of the dismissed officials, many of whom asked not to be named for fear of government reprisals, said inspectors had already been removed in the Ministries of Water Resources, Culture, Trade, Youth, Sport and from the cabinet-level Central Bank of Iraq.

“The government put a publicity blackout on [the dismissals] so they can do anything they like,” said Sheik Sabah al-Saeidi, a Shiite lawmaker with the Fadhila Party who heads the Integrity Committee in the Iraqi Parliament. When Parliament recently proposed a law formalizing the professional requirements that must be met by a candidate for inspector general, Mr. Saeidi said, Mr. Maliki’s cabinet strongly opposed it. “They want it to become a political appoint-ment,” Mr. Saeidi said of the oversight position. “They are trying to restrict anti-corruption efforts all over the country.”

Stuart W. Bowen Jr., who leads an independent Washington oversight office, the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, and who is currently working in Iraq, said he knew of six of the dismissals. He said the inspectors general were vulnerable because once their offices were created, the Bush administration provided little support and training for what was a startling concept for the Iraqi bureaucracy, which was shaped by the secrecy and corruption of the Saddam Hussein era.

Mr. Maliki’s stance on oversight was most vividly illustrated by his long-running feud with Judge Radhi al-Radhi, the former head of Iraq’s Commission on Public Integrity, an oversight agency created by the U.S. Coalition Provisional Authority. After Mr. Radhi’s corruption investigations repeatedly embarrassed the Maliki government, the prime minister’s office supported corruption charges against Mr. Radhi himself. Ultimately, Mr. Radhi was forced out and fled Iraq in the summer of 2007, after 31 of his agency’s employees were killed over a three-year period and he had received numerous threats to his own life. Recently granted asylum in the United States, Mr. Radhi estimated that $18 billion in U.S. taxpayer reconstruction money had been lost to various theft schemes since 2004.

In May, two former State Department employees testified before the Senate Democratic Policy Committee that the Bush admini-stration repeatedly ignored corruption at the highest levels within the Iraqi government and kept secret potentially embarrassing information so as not to undermine its relationship with Baghdad. Arthur Brennan, who briefly served in Baghdad last year as head of the department’s Office of Accountability and Transparency (OAT), and James Mattil, who worked as the chief of staff, said that their warnings and recommendations were ignored. The OAT team was dismantled last December after it alleged in a draft report leaked to the media that al-Maliki’s office had derailed or prevented investigations into Shiite-controlled agencies.

The State Department’s policies “not only contradicted the anti-corruption mission, but indirectly contributed to and has allowed corruption to fester at the highest levels of the Iraqi government,” Brennan said. The U.S. embassy “effort against corruption was little more than ‘window dressing,’” he added. Mattil said the administration “remained silent in the face of an unrelenting campaign” by senior Iraqi officials to subvert the Commission on Public Integrity led by Judge al-Radhi.

Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, head of the Democratic Policy Committee, said, “One would have expected that our own government would have been doing everything it could to support” Iraq’s anti-corruption efforts, but “that was simply not the case.” Dorgan added., “On the contrary, our own government contributed to the culture of corruption.”

Even as security has improved, there is a growing sense that Iraq has slipped to new depths of lawlessness. One recent independent analysis ranked Iraq the third most corrupt country in the world. Out of 163 countries surveyed, only Somalia and Myanmar were worse, according to Transparency International, a Berlin-based group that publishes the index annually. And the extent of the theft is staggering. Some U.S. officials estimate that as much as a third of what they spend on Iraqi contracts and grants ends up unaccounted for or stolen, with a portion going to Shiite or Sunni militias.

At the Health Ministry’s main warehouse in Baghdad this summer, U.S. troops discovered that two trucks full of medicines and medical equipment had disappeared while several guards on duty said they saw nothing. Even some Iraqi lawmakers admit that the free-for-all has become too extensive to stop easily. “The size of the corruption exceeds the imagination,” said Shatha Munthir Abdul Razzaq, a member of the Iraq Parliament’s largest Sunni bloc, “because there are no tough laws, no penalties for those who steal.”

A hearing on the rampant corruption last year by the U.S. House government oversight and reform committee was impeded by refusal of the Bush administration to turn over relevant documents or to allow testimony by knowledgeable State Department officials. In response to a subpoena, the administration retroactively classified a Baghdad embassy report on the corruption, meaning the information could not be disclosed to the American public.

The administration has stretched and possibly abused its power to classify information because President Bush’s Iraq policy depends on the Maliki government. But if that government is thoroughly corrupt and dysfunctional, Bush’s policy doesn’t make sense. And that’s the real secret they want to keep.

– edited from The New York Times, Nov. 18, 2008, The Associated Press and International Herald Tribune
PeaceMeal, Nov/December 2008

“In the case of Iraq, corruption has been at the center of the entire mission, from war-waging to nation-building. As the investigative reporters Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele observed in the October [2007] Vanity Fair, America has to date “spent twice as much in inflation-adjusted dollars to rebuild Iraq as it did to rebuild Japan — an industrialized country three times Iraq’s size, two of whose cities had been incinerated by atomic bombs.”

~ Frank Rich, The New York Times, Oct. 21, 2007

Iraqi refugee crisis threatens further Mideast instability

According to the U.N. refugee agency and the International Organization for Migration in 2007, almost 5 million Iraqis had been displaced by the war and associated violence in their country. Over 2.8 million vacated their homes for safer areas within Iraq, while 2 million were living in Syria, Jordan, Iran, Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey and Gulf states. Iraqis have no legal work options in most host countries and are increasingly desperate and in need of humanitarian assistance. They face challenges in finding housing, obtaining food, and have trouble accessing host countries’ health and education systems. Most Iraqis want to be resettled to Europe or North America, and few consider return to Iraq an option. However, with their own resources depleted, small numbers of Iraqis have returned to Iraq in recent months, but most of those who returned were subsequently displaced again.

The violence in Iraq continues and is indiscriminate. Refugees International has met with dozens of Iraqis who have fled the violence and sought refuge in neighboring countries. All of them, whether Sunni, Shi’a, Christian or Palestinian, had been directly victimized by armed actors. People are targeted because of religious affiliation, economic status, and profession — many, such as doctors, teachers, and even hairdressers, are viewed as being “anti-Islamic.” All of them fled Iraq because they had genuine and credible fear for their lives and the lives of their loved ones.

In addition, five-and-a-half years after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, millions of people left in the country still lack access to adequate clean water and proper sewage. Sadiq al-Shimari, director general of water facilities for Baghdad, said water production now amounts to about 70 percent of demand. Iraqi and U.S. officials have been working to refurbish existing water plants, distribution lines and sewage works, but they say major infrastructure improvements will take years. In the meantime, the government, the U.N. and some aid groups dispense water from trucks in some of the neediest areas of Baghdad. The state of Baghdad’s sewage system may be even more bleak. Nearly a billion liters of raw sewage is dumped into Baghdad waterways each day. Sewage seeping and being dumped into water supplies has “grave implications” for Iraqis’ health and the environment, the U.N. says. Acute cases of diarrhea are three times more common in eastern Baghdad, where water service is most problematic, than in the rest of the city. That side of the city has also seen a higher incidence of cholera. “Iraqis who are unable to flee the country are now in a queue, waiting their turn to die,” is how one Iraqi journalist summarized conditions in Iraq.

Iraqi refugees are also overwhelming the basic infrastructure of Iraq’s neighbors, in particular Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, raising concerns over further destabilization of the region. Jordan, Lebanon and Syria consider Iraqis as “guests” rather than refugees fleeing violence. Last October, Syria ended its open-door policy and imposed visa restrictions on Iraqi refugees. In Jordan, where 70 percent of the population is of Palestinian origin, Iraqis have to pay for the most basic services. In Lebanon, Iraqis live as outlaws, hiding from arrest, detention and even deportation. Egypt, the most populous Arab country, hosts 130,000 Iraqis, but has closed its borders to additional Iraqi refugees.

The government of Iraq has provided a meager $25 million to Jordan, Syria and Lebanon to help meet the needs of Iraqi refugees in those countries. Yet, despite numerous requests from neighboring countries, the Iraqi government has failed to deliver additional assistance. Instead, the government has actively encouraged a policy of returns by asking neighboring countries to close their borders, providing financial incentives for refugee families to return, and issuing non-exit stamps when refugees do return to Iraq. Similarly, the government’s inability to manage the public distribution of food has led millions of displaced Iraqis inside the country to lose the only assistance they were receiving. Despite billions of dollars remaining in its national budget, the Iraqi government is spending an extremely small amount to assist its internally and externally displaced populations.

The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees received more than $152 million for Iraqi refugees and internally displaced people in 2007, but that amount equals only about $30 per person. The agency needs far more funding to provide adequate assistance and protection to Iraqis and requested $261 million for 2008, but nearly half of that request remains unfunded. Other U.N. agencies have been slow to acknowledge the extent of the crisis.

Moreover, the UNHCR lacks the resources to process refugees’ documentation adequately. Without staff to monitor borders, the agency depends on national governments for updated information on new arrivals. The fact that Lebanon, Syria and Jordan are not state parties to the 1951 Refugees Convention further reduces UNHCR’s ability to protect refugees.

The U.S. government continues to delay resettlement of Iraqi refugees in the United States. In the 2007 fiscal year, the U.S. fell far short of its promise to permanently resettle 7,000 vulnerable Iraqis. Only 1,608 refugees were resettled from Iraq while, ironically, 5,481 were resettled from Iran. The U.S. promised to resettle 12,000 Iraqis in the 2008 fiscal year, but again the program is off to a slow start with 6,363 Iraqis resettled in the first nine months.

The United States must acknowledge that violence in Iraq and infrastructure destruction have made civilian life untenable there, creating a refugee crisis that is essentially exporting the nation’s instability to neighboring countries. To deal with this crisis, the U.S. should lead an international initiative to support Middle Eastern countries hosting Iraqi refugees and increase direct bilateral assistance to those countries. Given the U.S. central role in Iraq, leading the political and financial response to the Iraqi refugee crisis should be a focal point of its diplomatic efforts in the Middle East.

In addition, the U.S. and the U.N. must work with the government of Iraq to increase its capacity to respond to the needs of its people, and both governments must abstain from encouraging refugee returns until conditions permit. The Iraqi government’s use of international donors’ funds must be closely monitored to prevent waste and theft.

– edited from Refugees International, July 18, 2008, and Reuters
PeaceMeal, Sept/October 2008

(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.)

Obama’s plan for Iraq

by Barack Obama

The call by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki for a timetable for the removal of American troops from Iraq presents an enormous opportunity. We should seize this moment to begin the phased redeployment of combat troops that I have long advocated, and that is needed for long-term success in Iraq and the security interests of the United States.

The differences on Iraq in this campaign are deep. Unlike Senator John McCain, I opposed the war in Iraq before it began, and would end it as president. I believed it was a grave mistake to allow ourselves to be distracted from the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban by invading a country that posed no imminent threat and had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks. Since then, more than 4,000 Americans have died and we have spent nearly $1 trillion. Our military is overstretched. Nearly every threat we face — from Afghanistan to Al Qaeda to Iran — has grown.

In the 18 months since President Bush announced the surge, our troops have performed heroically in bringing down the level of violence. New tactics have protected the Iraqi population, and the Sunni tribes have rejected Al Qaeda — greatly weakening its effectiveness.

But the same factors that led me to oppose the surge still hold true. The strain on our military has grown, the situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated and we’ve spent nearly $200 billion more in Iraq than we had budgeted. Iraq’s leaders have failed to invest tens of billions of dollars in oil revenues in rebuilding their own country, and they have not reached the political accommodation that was the stated purpose of the surge.

The good news is that Iraq’s leaders want to take responsibility for their country by negotiating a timetable for the removal of American troops. Meanwhile, Lt. Gen. James Dubik, the American officer in charge of training Iraq’s security forces, estimates that the Iraqi Army and police will be ready to assume responsibility for security in 2009.

Only by redeploying our troops can we press the Iraqis to reach comprehensive political accommodation and achieve a successful transition to Iraqis’ taking responsibility for the security and stability of their country. Instead of seizing the moment and encouraging Iraqis to step up, the Bush administration and Senator McCain are refusing to embrace this transition — despite their previous commitments to respect the will of Iraq’s sovereign government. They call any timetable for the removal of American troops “surrender,” even though we would be turning Iraq over to a sovereign Iraqi government.

But this is not a strategy for success — it is a strategy for staying that runs contrary to the will of the Iraqi people, the American people and the security interests of the United States. That is why, on my first day in office, I would give the military a new mission: ending this war.

As I’ve said many times, we must be as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in. We can safely redeploy our combat brigades at a pace that would remove them in 16 months. That would be the summer of 2010 — two years from now, and more than seven years after the war began. After this redeployment, a residual force in Iraq would perform limited missions: going after any remnants of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, protecting American service members and, so long as the Iraqis make political progress, training Iraqi security forces. That would not be a precipitous withdrawal.

In carrying out this strategy, we would inevitably need to make tactical adjustments. As I have often said, I would consult with commanders on the ground and the Iraqi government to ensure that our troops were redeployed safely, and our interests protected. We would move them from secure areas first and volatile areas later. We would pursue a diplomatic offensive with every nation in the region on behalf of Iraq’s stability, and commit $2 billion to a new international effort to support Iraq’s refugees.

Ending the war is essential to meeting our broader strategic goals, starting in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the Taliban is resurgent and Al Qaeda has a safe haven. Iraq is not the central front in the war on terrorism, and it never has been. As Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently pointed out, we won’t have sufficient resources to finish the job in Afghanistan until we reduce our commitment to Iraq.

As president, I would pursue a new strategy, and begin by providing at least two additional combat brigades to support our effort in Afghanistan. We need more troops, more helicopters, better intelligence-gathering and more nonmilitary assistance to accomplish the mission there. I would not hold our military, our resources and our foreign policy hostage to a misguided desire to maintain permanent bases in Iraq.

In this campaign, there are honest differences over Iraq, and we should discuss them with the thoroughness they deserve. Unlike Senator McCain, I would make it absolutely clear that we seek no presence in Iraq similar to our permanent bases in South Korea, and would redeploy our troops out of Iraq and focus on the broader security challenges that we face. But for far too long, those responsible for the greatest strategic blunder in the recent history of American foreign policy have ignored useful debate in favor of making false charges about flip-flops and surrender.

It’s not going to work this time. It’s time to end this war.

Barack Obama, a United States senator from Illinois, is the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. His op-ed appeared in The New York Times, July 14, 2008.

– PeaceMeal, July/August 2008

(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 ‘a major debacle’ with outcome ‘in doubt’

“Measured in blood and treasure, the war in Iraq has achieved the status of a major war and a major debacle,” says the opening line of a highly critical study published April 17 by the Pentagon’s premier military educational institute. Moreover, the outcome of the war is “in doubt” despite improvements in security from the buildup of U.S. forces.

The report released by the National Institute for Strategic Studies of the National Defense University raised fresh doubts about President Bush’s projections of a U.S. victory in Iraq just a week after Bush announced that he was suspending U.S. troop reductions. The report carries considerable weight because it was written by Joseph Collins, a former senior Pentagon official who was involved in planning post-invasion humanitarian operations. It was based in part on interviews with other former senior defense and intelligence officials who played roles in prewar preparations.

The report says that the United States has suffered serious political costs, with its standing in the world seriously diminished. Moreover, operations in Iraq have diverted “manpower, materiel and the attention of decision-makers” from “all other efforts in the war on terror” and severely strained the U.S. armed forces. “Compounding all of these problems, our efforts there (in Iraq) were designed to enhance U.S. national security, but they have become, at least temporarily, an incubator for terrorism and have emboldened Iran to expand its influence throughout the Middle East,” the report continues.

The addition of 30,000 U.S. troops to Iraq last year to halt the country’s descent into all-out civil war has improved security, but not enough to ensure that the country emerges as a stable democracy at peace with its neighbors, the report says. “For many analysts (including this one), Iraq remains a ‘must win,’ but for many others, despite obvious progress under General David Petraeus and the surge, it now looks like a ‘can’t win.’”

The report observes, “Strong majorities of both Iraqis and Americans favor some sort of U.S. withdrawal. Intelligence analysts, however, remind us that the only thing worse than an Iraq with an American army may be an Iraq after a rapid withdrawal of that army.”

The report lays much of the blame for what went wrong in Iraq after the initial U.S. victory at the feet of then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. It says that in November 2001, before the war in Afghanistan was over, President Bush asked Rumsfeld “to begin planning in secret for potential military operations against Iraq.” Rumsfeld, who was closely allied with Vice President Dick Cheney, bypassed the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the report says, and became “the direct supervisor of the combatant commanders.”

“ ... the aggressive, hands-on Rumsfeld,” it continues, “cajoled and pushed his way toward a small force and a lightning fast operation.” Later, he shut down the military’s computerized deployment system, “questioning, delaying or deleting units on the numerous deployment orders that came across his desk.”

In part because “long, costly, manpower-intensive post-combat operations were anathema to Rumsfeld,” the report says, the U.S. was unprepared to fight what Collins calls “War B,” the battle against insurgents and sectarian violence that began in mid-2003, shortly after “War A,” the fight against Saddam Hussein’s forces, ended.

Compounding the problem was a whole series of erroneous assumptions made by Bush’s top aides, among them: an expectation fed by Iraqi exiles that Iraqis would be grateful to he U.S. for liberating them from Saddam’s dictatorship; inadequate provision of forces to occupy and secure Iraq, which encouraged the initiation and continuation of an armed insurgency; and poor military reaction to rioting and looting in the immediate post-conflict environment, which further encouraged lawlessness and insurgency. The administration also wrongly expected that “Iraq without Saddam could manage and fund its own reconstruction.”

The report also singles out the Bush administration’s national security apparatus and, implicitly, President Bush himself and both of his national security advisers, Condoleezza Rice and Stephen Hadley, saying that “senior national security officials exhibited in many instances an imperious attitude, exerting power and pressure where diplomacy and bargaining might have had a better effect.”

Collins ends his report by quoting Winston Churchill, who said: “Let us learn our lessons. Never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on the strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter. ... Always remember, however sure you are that you can easily win, that there would not be a war if the other man did not think that he also had a chance.”

– edited from the McClatchy Washington Bureau, April 17, 2008

The 43-page report, “Choosing War: The Decision to Invade Iraq and Its Aftermath,” by Joseph J. Collins, can be read at the National Defense University website:

(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.)

A dangerous walk to work in Iraq

by Hamid Ahmed, Associated Press Writer

BAGHDAD – I felt a sense of sad familiarity while walking to work Saturday [March 29] on the largely deserted streets of Baghdad on Day 2 of a curfew imposed after a new burst of Shiite militia violence. A white cloth fluttered from the antenna of a car to signal the two men inside were noncombatants. Heavy machine-gun fire resounded in the distance. It reminded me of the early days of the U.S.-led war, now in its sixth year. I had hoped such days were over.

Iraqi authorities clamped a curfew on the capital late Thursday as clashes spread between security forces and militia fighters angry over a crackdown in the southern oil port of Basra. That didn’t leave people much time to prepare and I was eager to get to the office and give my colleagues a hand.

It was a beautiful spring day but most people remained holed up in their homes amid the tensions, venturing out only to buy bread and other necessities in the few stores that were open. Even the normally bustling commercial district of Karradah had the feeling of a city under siege.

I had to turn back during my first attempt to venture out after Mahdi Army gunmen crossed my path. During a later try, police and soldiers manning checkpoints at major intersections and side streets gazed at me suspiciously, but I avoided their eyes and kept walking. I planned to spend the night at the office but didn’t pack a bag to avoid attracting attention. The troops inspected the few cars that were out but seemed to be leaving pedestrians alone.

A gunbattle raged in New Baghdad, a stronghold of the Mahdi Army militia that is loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. White smoke rose from the area. Uniformed Iraqi police commandos sped toward the eastern neighborhood in 12 pickups with machine guns mounted in the back, whizzing past me as I crossed a bridge. Otherwise traffic was limited to a few ambulances. A volley of mortars fell somewhere on the east side of the Tigris River that bisects the capital.

It was a grim feeling after months of relative calm in Baghdad with a decline in violence attributed to an influx of American troops, a Sunni revolt against al-Qaida in Iraq, and a cease-fire by al-Sadr that now appears in jeopardy. Just weeks ago I took my children to the Baghdad zoo for the first time in two years; now they were once again forced to stay inside.

– The Associated Press, March. 29, 2008
PeaceMeal, March/April 2008

(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.)

Bush to ignore prohibition on permanent bases in Iraq

On January 25, 2008, President Bush released a signing statement claiming the right to violate four sections of H.R. 4986, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008, which he had just signed into law. These four sections: 841, 846, 1079, and 1222, Bush announced, would be “construed” in a manner “consistent with the constitutional authority of the President.”

Among the measures Bush’s latest signing statement declares the right to violate are: the establishment of a commission to investigate U.S. contractor fraud in Iraq and Afghanistan, the expansion of whistleblower protections, a requirement that U.S. intelligence agencies respond to congressional requests for documents, a ban on funding permanent bases in Iraq, and a ban on funding any actions that exercise U.S. control over Iraq’s oil money.

Over the past seven years, the same language used by Pres. Bush, usually attributed to Vice President Cheney’s Chief of Staff David Addington, has been the precursor to numerous violations of law by his administration, including sections of law banning the use of torture and banning the use of funds to construct permanent U.S. military bases in Iraq. The president has signed laws blocking funding for the construction of permanent bases in Iraq six times, but never stopped the construction.

In January 2007, the House Judiciary Committee held hearings on Pres. Bush’s use of signing statements at which Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Elwood claimed that the president is free to violate any laws until the Supreme Court rules otherwise. Following this hearing, the Government Accountability Office studied a small sample of Bush’s signing statements and found that in a significant percentage of cases his administration was, in fact, violating the sections of law he had claimed the right to “interpret.”

According to the U.S. State Department, 65% of Iraqis favor a withdrawal of U.S. troops. In fact, neither the Iraqi people nor the people of this country have ever supported a permanent U.S. presence in Iraq, and the U.S. Congress has never approved one.

– United for Peace and Justice, January 31, 2008
PeaceMeal, March/April 2008

(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.)