The Commons is a weblog for concerned citizens of southeast Iowa and their friends around the world. It was created to encourage grassroots networking and to share information and ideas which have either been suppressed or drowned out in the mainstream media.

"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection." (Henry V, Act V, Scene 4)

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Frank Rich - As the Iraqis Stand Down, We’ll Stand Up

As the Iraqis Stand Down, We’ll Stand Up


IT will be all 9/11 all the time this week, as the White House yet again synchronizes its drumbeating for the Iraq war with the anniversary of an attack that had nothing to do with Iraq. Ignore that fog and focus instead on another date whose anniversary passed yesterday without notice: Sept. 8, 2002. What happened on that Sunday five years ago is the Rosetta Stone for the administration's latest scam.

That was the morning when the Bush White House officially rolled out its fraudulent case for the war. The four horsemen of the apocalypse — Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell and Rice — were dispatched en masse to the Washington talk shows, where they eagerly pointed to a front-page New York Times article amplifying subsequently debunked administration claims that Saddam had sought to buy aluminum tubes meant for nuclear weapons. "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud," said Condoleezza Rice on CNN, introducing a sales pitch concocted by a White House speechwriter.

What followed was an epic propaganda onslaught of distorted intelligence, fake news, credulous and erroneous reporting by bona fide journalists, presidential playacting and Congressional fecklessness. Much of it had been plotted that summer of 2002 by the then-secret White House Iraq Group (WHIG), a small task force of administration brass charged with the Iraq con job.

Today the spirit of WHIG lives. In the stay-the-surge propaganda offensive that crests with this week's Congressional testimony of Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, history is repeating itself in almost every particular. Even the specter of imminent "nuclear holocaust" has been rebooted in President Bush's arsenal of rhetorical scare tactics.

The new WHIG is a 24/7 Pentagon information "war room" conceived in the last throes of the Rumsfeld regime and run by a former ABC News producer. White House "facts" about the surge's triumph are turning up unsubstantiated in newspapers and on TV. Instead of being bombarded with dire cherry-picked intelligence about W.M.D., this time we're being serenaded with feel-good cherry-picked statistics offering hope. Once again the fix is in. Mr. Bush's pretense that he has been waiting for the Petraeus-Crocker report before setting his policy is as bogus as his U.N. charade before the war. And once again a narrowly Democratic Senate lacks the votes to stop him.

As always with this White House, telegenic artificial realities are paramount. Exhibit A, of course, was last weekend's precisely timed "surprise" presidential junket: Mr. Bush took the measure of success "on the ground here in Anbar" (as he put it) without ever leaving a heavily fortified American base.

A more elaborate example of administration Disneyland can be found in those bubbly Baghdad markets visited by John McCain and other dignitaries whenever the cameras roll. Last week The Washington Post discovered that at least one of them, the Dora market, is a Potemkin village, open only a few hours a day and produced by $2,500 grants (a k a bribes) bestowed on the shopkeepers. "This is General Petraeus's baby," Staff Sgt. Josh Campbell told The Post. "Personally, I think it's a false impression." Another U.S. officer said that even shops that "sell dust" or merely "intend to sell goods" are included in the Pentagon's count of the market's reopened businesses.

One Baghdad visitor left unimpressed was Representative Jan Schakowsky, a Democrat from Chicago, who dined with her delegation in Mr. Crocker's Green Zone residence last month while General Petraeus delivered his spiel. "He's spending an awful lot of time wining and dining members of Congress," she told me last week. Though the menu included that native specialty lobster tortellini, the real bill of fare, Ms. Schakowsky said, was a rigid set of talking points: "Anbar," "bottom up," "decrease in violence" and "success."

In this new White House narrative, victory has been downsized to a successful antiterrorist alliance between Sunni tribal leaders and the American military in Anbar, a single province containing less than 5 percent of Iraq's population. In truth, the surge had little to do with this development, which was already being trumpeted by Mr. Bush in his January prime-time speech announcing the surge.

Even if you believe that it's a good idea to bond with former Saddamists who may have American blood on their hands, the chances of this "bottom up" model replicating itself are slim. Anbar's population is almost exclusively Sunni. Much of the rest of Iraq is consumed by the Sunni-Shiite and Shiite-Shiite civil wars that are M.I.A. in White House talking points.

The "decrease in violence" fable is even more insidious. Though both General Petraeus and a White House fact sheet have recently boasted of a 75 percent decline in sectarian attacks, this number turns out to be as cooked as those tallies of Saddam's weapons sites once peddled by WHIG. As The Washington Post reported on Thursday, it excludes Shiite-on-Shiite and Sunni-on-Sunni violence. The Government Accountability Office, which rejected that fuzzy math, found overall violence unchanged using the methodology practiced by the C.I.A. and the Defense Intelligence Agency.

No doubt General Petraeus, like Dick Cheney before him, will say that his own data is "pretty well confirmed" by classified intelligence that can't be divulged without endangering national security. Meanwhile, the White House will ruthlessly undermine any reality-based information that contradicts its propaganda, much as it dismissed the accurate W.M.D. findings of the United Nations weapon experts Hans Blix and Mohammed ElBaradei before the war. General Petraeus intervened to soften last month's harsh National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq. Last week the administration and its ideological surrogates were tireless in trashing the nonpartisan G.A.O. report card that found the Iraqi government flunking most of its benchmarks.

Those benchmarks, the war's dead- enders now say, are obsolete anyway. But what about the president's own benchmarks? Remember "as the Iraqis stand up, we'll stand down"? General Petraeus was once in charge of the Iraqi Army's training and proclaimed it "on track and increasing in capacity" three years ago. On Thursday, an independent commission convened by the Republican John Warner and populated by retired military officers and police chiefs reported that Iraqi forces can take charge no sooner than 12 to 18 months from now, and that the corrupt Iraqi police force has to be rebuilt from scratch. Let us not forget, either, Mr. Bush's former top-down benchmarks for measuring success: "an Iraq that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself." On that scorecard, he's batting 0 for 3.

What's surprising is not that this White House makes stuff up, but that even after all the journalistic embarrassments in the run-up to the war its fictions can still infiltrate the real news. After Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack, two Brookings Institution scholars, wrote a New York Times Op-Ed article in July spreading glad tidings of falling civilian fatality rates, they were widely damned for trying to pass themselves off as tough war critics (both had supported the war and the surge) and for not mentioning that their fact-finding visit to Iraq was largely dictated by a Department of Defense itinerary.

But this has not impeded them from posing as quasi-journalistic independent observers elsewhere ever since, whether on CNN, CBS, Fox or in these pages, identifying themselves as experts rather than Pentagon junketeers. Unlike Armstrong Williams, the talking head and columnist who clandestinely received big government bucks to "regularly comment" on No Child Left Behind, they received no cash. But why pay for what you can get free? Two weeks ago Mr. O'Hanlon popped up on The Washington Post op-ed page, again pushing rosy Iraq scenarios, including an upbeat prognosis for economic reconstruction, even though the G.A.O. found that little of the $10 billion earmarked for reconstruction is likely to be spent.

Anchoring the "CBS Evening News" from Iraq last week, Katie Couric seemed to be drinking the same Kool-Aid (or eating the same lobster tortellini) as Mr. O'Hanlon. As "a snapshot of what's going right," she cited Falluja, a bombed-out city with 80 percent unemployment, and she repeatedly spoke of American victories against "Al Qaeda." Channeling the president's bait-and-switch, she never differentiated between that local group he calls "Al Qaeda in Iraq" and the Qaeda that attacked America on 9/11. Al Qaeda in Iraq, which didn't even exist on 9/11, may represent as little as 2 to 5 percent of the Sunni insurgency, according to a new investigation in The Washington Monthly by Andrew Tilghman, a former Iraq correspondent for Stars and Stripes.

Next to such "real" news from CBS, the "fake" news at the network's corporate sibling Comedy Central was, not for the first time, more trustworthy. Rob Riggle, a "Daily Show" correspondent who also serves in the Marine Reserve, invited American troops in Iraq to speak candidly about the Iraqi Parliament's vacation.

When the line separating spin from reality is so effectively blurred, the White House's propaganda mission has once more been accomplished. No wonder President Bush is cocky again. Stopping in Sydney for the economic summit after last weekend's photo op in Iraq, he reportedly told Australia's deputy prime minister that "we're kicking ass." This war has now gone on so long that perhaps he has forgotten the price our troops paid the last time he taunted our adversaries to bring it on, some four years and 3,500 American military fatalities ago.

Bush's New Friend

Bush’s new Iraqi friend.

During his “surprise visit” to Iraq earlier this month, President Bush met with Sattar Abu Risha, the head of the Anbar Salvation Council who “has a rather unsavory reputation as one of the shadiest figures in the Sunni community.” Time magazine wrote that “Sheikh Sattar, whose tribe is notorious for highway banditry, is also building a personal militia, loyal not to the Iraqi government but only to him.” Marc Lynch writes, “It’s kind of humiliating to watch an American President get rolled by a two bit, corrupt petty shaykh.” More depressingly:

According to one widely disseminated account of their meeting, Bush acted shocked when Abu Risha complained about Sunnis being killed in Baghdad because of their names, claiming he had never heard of such things. … [I]f true, what an astonishingly depressing admission of ignorance of one of the most important aspects of the Iraqi situation: he has never heard of the ethnic cleansing of Baghdad.

Time to Take a Stand

Time to Take a Stand


Here’s what will definitely happen when Gen. David Petraeus testifies before Congress next week: he’ll assert that the surge has reduced violence in Iraq — as long as you don’t count Sunnis killed by Sunnis, Shiites killed by Shiites, Iraqis killed by car bombs and people shot in the front of the head.

Here’s what I’m afraid will happen: Democrats will look at Gen. Petraeus’s uniform and medals and fall into their usual cringe. They won’t ask hard questions out of fear that someone might accuse them of attacking the military. After the testimony, they’ll desperately try to get Republicans to agree to a resolution that politely asks President Bush to maybe, possibly, withdraw some troops, if he feels like it.

There are five things I hope Democrats in Congress will remember.

First, no independent assessment has concluded that violence in Iraq is down. On the contrary, estimates based on morgue, hospital and police records suggest that the daily number of civilian deaths is almost twice its average pace from last year. And a recent assessment by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office found no decline in the average number of daily attacks.

So how can the military be claiming otherwise? Apparently, the Pentagon has a double super secret formula that it uses to distinguish sectarian killings (bad) from other deaths (not important); according to press reports, all deaths from car bombs are excluded, and one intelligence analyst told The Washington Post that “if a bullet went through the back of the head, it’s sectarian. If it went through the front, it’s criminal.” So the number of dead is down, as long as you only count certain kinds of dead people.

Oh, and by the way: Baghdad is undergoing ethnic cleansing, with Shiite militias driving Sunnis out of much of the city. And guess what? When a Sunni enclave is eliminated and the death toll in that district falls because there’s nobody left to kill, that counts as progress by the Pentagon’s metric.

Second, Gen. Petraeus has a history of making wildly overoptimistic assessments of progress in Iraq that happen to be convenient for his political masters.

I’ve written before about the op-ed article Gen. Petraeus published six weeks before the 2004 election, claiming “tangible progress” in Iraq. Specifically, he declared that “Iraqi security elements are being rebuilt,” that “Iraqi leaders are stepping forward” and that “there has been progress in the effort to enable Iraqis to shoulder more of the load for their own security.” A year later, he declared that “there has been enormous progress with the Iraqi security forces.”

But now two more years have passed, and the independent commission of retired military officers appointed by Congress to assess Iraqi security forces has recommended that the national police force, which is riddled with corruption and sectarian influence, be disbanded, while Iraqi military forces “will be unable to fulfill their essential security responsibilities independently over the next 12-18 months.”

Third, any plan that depends on the White House recognizing reality is an idle fantasy. According to The Sydney Morning Herald, on Tuesday Mr. Bush told Australia’s deputy prime minister that “we’re kicking ass” in Iraq. Enough said.

Fourth, the lesson of the past six years is that Republicans will accuse Democrats of being unpatriotic no matter what the Democrats do. Democrats gave Mr. Bush everything he wanted in 2002; their reward was an ad attacking Max Cleland, who lost both legs and an arm in Vietnam, that featured images of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein.

Finally, the public hates this war and wants to see it ended. Voters are exasperated with the Democrats, not because they think Congressional leaders are too liberal, but because they don’t see Congress doing anything to stop the war.

In light of all this, you have to wonder what Democrats, who according to The New York Times are considering a compromise that sets a “goal” for withdrawal rather than a timetable, are thinking. All such a compromise would accomplish would be to give Republicans who like to sound moderate — but who always vote with the Bush administration when it matters — political cover.

And six or seven months from now it will be the same thing all over again. Mr. Bush will stage another photo op at Camp Cupcake, the Marine nickname for the giant air base he never left on his recent visit to Iraq. The administration will move the goal posts again, and the military will come up with new ways to cook the books and claim success.

One thing is for sure: like 2004, 2008 will be a “khaki election” in which Republicans insist that a vote for the Democrats is a vote against the troops. The only question is whether they can also, once again, claim that the Democrats are flip-floppers who can’t make up their minds.

Your Chance of Being Kidnapped or Killed in Baghdad is 100%

Your Chance of Being Kidnapped or Killed in Baghdad is 100%

by Cenk Uygur [dailykos]
Sat Sep 08, 2007 at 04:36:27 PM CDT

We were talking to Newsweek's correspondent in Baghdad, Babak Dehghanpisheh, on Friday's show. I asked him if a Westerner, journalists or otherwise, could walk around in Baghdad unprotected by the military. He said it would be "suicidal."

I don't really know what I expected. I knew it was dangerous and I suspected that no Westerner went outside of the Green Zone without protection, but I didn't get the sense of how perilous it was until we talked to Dehghanpisheh.

So, I followed up by asking him if being harmed was a certainty if you were unprotected in Baghdad. He answered that your chances of getting killed or kidnapped in Baghdad if you were an unprotected Westerner was "one hundred percent."

Think about that. That's amazing. The Bush administration claims that they have made significant progress in Baghdad security. If anyone had told you that four and a half years into the Iraq War, that any Westerner who walked around Baghad without a military convoy would have a 100% of being kidnapped or killed in Baghdad, what would you have thought?

You probably would not have believed it. You might have asked, "What happened, did we lose the war?" You certainly wouldn't have surmised that we were making progress.

Imagine if someone told you of all the Americans who had died and been injured in the war, the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians killed, the fact that there were no weapons of mass destruction, that Saddam Hussein had no links to the 9/11 bombers, that Iraq was in a state of chaos, there was mass ethnic cleansingand sectarian warfare and Baghdad was 100% unsafe to Westerners - then imagine that the Bush administration was still talking about how we were making great progress in the war and that it was still worth doing. And then imagine that people took them seriously.

I don't think the people inside Washington have a sense of how awful this war has gone. It is an unimaginable failure. It is a historic and epic catastrophe. And here we are this far into it with politicians still talking about winning and saying it was the right thing to do to go in and that if we just stay a little longer and keep escalating the conflict we can turn it around.

I don't think any Congressman should be able to vote to continue this war unless they can take an unprotected walk in Baghdad for fifteen minutes. Put the voting booth in the middle of Baghdad, give them some purple ink and any Congressman who can make it to the voting area without a military escort and vote yes to continue the war should have their vote counted.

Even with all that we have seen, is the American public fully aware of the situation in Baghdad? Has the media done its job in making them aware? Is everyone in America aware that Baghdad is off limits to any Westerner, that you will be kidnapped or killed if you don't have protection there? How could anyone who knows this think we have made any progress in Baghdad? How could anyone conclude that the war and the so-called surge have been anything but a complete and utter failure?

You can watch the whole interview with Babak Dehghanpisheh of Newsweek (and read the transcript) here.

The Myth of AQI

The Myth of AQI
Fighting al-Qaeda in Iraq is the last big argument for keeping U.S. troops in the country. But the military's estimation of the threat is alarmingly wrong.

By Andrew Tilghman

Washington Monthly

In March 2007, a pair of truck bombs tore through the Shiite marketplace in the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar, killing more than 150 people. The blast reduced the ancient city center to rubble, leaving body parts and charred vegetables scattered amid pools of blood. It was among the most lethal attacks to date in the five-year-old Iraq War. Within hours, Iraqi officials in Baghdad had pinned the bombing on al-Qaeda, and news reports from Reuters, the BBC, MSNBC, and others carried those remarks around the world. An Internet posting by the terrorist group known as al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) took credit for the destruction. Within a few days, U.S. Army General David Petraeus publicly blamed AQI for the carnage, accusing the group of trying to foment sectarian violence and ignite a civil war. Back in Washington, pundits latched on to the attack with special interest, as President Bush had previously touted a period of calm in Tal Afar as evidence that the military's retooled counterinsurgency doctrine was working. For days, reporters and bloggers debated whether the attacks signaled a "resurgence" of al-Qaeda in the city.

Yet there's reason to doubt that AQI had any role in the bombing. In the weeks before the attack, sectarian tensions had been simmering after a local Sunni woman told Al Jazeera television that she had been gang-raped by a group of Shiite Iraqi army soldiers. Multiple insurgent groups called for violence to avenge the woman's honor. Immediately after the blast, some in uniform expressed doubts about al- Qaeda's alleged role and suggested that homegrown sectarian strife was more likely at work. "It's really not al-Qaeda who has infiltrated so much as the fact [of] what happened in 2003," said Ahmed Hashim, a professor at the Naval War College who served as an Army political adviser to the 3rd Cavalry Regiment in Tal Afar until shortly before the bombing. "The formerly dominant Sunni Turkmen majority there," he told PBS's NewsHour With Jim Lehrer soon after the bombing, "suddenly ... felt themselves having been thrown out of power. And this is essentially their revenge."

Subscribe Online & Save 33%A week later, Iraqi security forces raided a home outside Tal Afar andarrested two men suspected of orchestrating the bombing. Yet when the U.S. military issued a press release about the arrests, there was no mention of an al-Qaeda connection. The suspects were never formally charged, and nearly six months later neither the U.S. military nor Iraqi police are certain of the source of the attacks. In recent public statements, the military has backed off its former allegations that al-Qaeda was responsible, instead asserting, as Lieutenant Colonel Michael Donnelly wrote in response to an inquiry from the Washington Monthly, that "the tactics used in this attack are consistent with al-Qaeda."

This scenario has become common. After a strike, the military rushes to point the finger at al-Qaeda, even when the actual evidence remains hazy and an alternative explanation—raw hatred between local Sunnis and Shiites—might fit the circumstances just as well. The press blasts such dubious conclusions back to American citizens and policy makers in Washington, and the incidents get tallied and quantified in official reports, cited by the military in briefings in Baghdad. The White House then takes the reports and crafts sound bites depicting AQI as the number one threat to peace and stability in Iraq. (In July, for instance, at Charleston Air Force Base, the president gave a speech about Iraq that mentioned al-Qaeda ninety-five times.)

By now, many in Washington have learned to discount the president's rhetorical excesses when it comes to the war. But even some of his harshest critics take at face value the estimates provided by the military about AQI's presence. Politicians of both parties point to such figures when forming their positions on the war. All of the top three Democratic presidential candidates have argued for keeping some American forces in Iraq or the region, citing among other reasons the continued threat from al-Qaeda.

But what if official military estimates about the size and impact of al-Qaeda in Iraq are simply wrong? Indeed, interviews with numerous military and intelligence analysts, both inside and outside of government, suggest that the number of strikes the group has directed represent only a fraction of what official estimates claim. Further, al-Qaeda's presumed role in leading the violence through uniquely devastating attacks that catalyze further unrest may also be overstated.

Having been led astray by flawed prewar intelligence about WMDs, official Washington wants to believe it takes a more skeptical view of the administration's information now. Yet Beltway insiders seem to be making almost precisely the same mistakes in sizing up al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Despite President Bush's near-singular focus on al-Qaeda in Iraq, most in Washington understand that instability on the ground stems from multiple sources. Numerous attacks on both U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians have been the handiwork of Shiite militants, often connected to, or even part of, the Iraqi government. Opportunistic criminal gangs engage in some of the same heinous tactics.

The Sunni resistance is also comprised of multiple groups. The first consists of so-called "former regime elements." These include thousands of ex-officers from Saddam's old intelligence agency, the Mukabarat, and from the elite paramilitary unit Saddam Fedayeen. Their primary goal is to drive out the U.S. occupation and install a Sunni-led government hostile to Iranian influence. Some within this broad group support reconciliation with the current government or negotiations with the United States, under the condition that American forces set a timetable for a troop withdrawal.

The second category consists of homegrown Iraqi Sunni religious groups, such as the Mujahadeen Army of Iraq. These are native Iraqis who aim to install a religious-based government in Baghdad, similar to the regime in Tehran. These groups use religious rhetoric and terrorist tactics but are essentially nationalistic in their aims.

Al-Qaeda in Iraq comprises the third group. The terrorist network was founded in 2003 by the now-dead Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. (The extent of the group's organizational ties to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda is hotly debated, but the organizations share a worldview and set of objectives.) AQI is believed to have the most non-Iraqis in its ranks, particularly among its leadership. However, most recent assessments say the rank and file are mostly radicalized Iraqis. AQI, which calls itself the "Islamic State of Iraq," espouses the most radical form of Islam and calls for the imposition of strict sharia, or Islamic law. The group has no plans for a future Iraqi government and instead hopes to create a new Islamic caliphate with borders reaching far beyond Mesopotamia.

The essential questions are: How large is the presence of AQI, in terms of manpower and attacks instigated, and what role does the group play in catalyzing further violence? For the first question, the military has produced an estimate. In a background briefing this July in Baghdad, military officials said that during the first half of this year AQI accounted for 15 percent of attacks in Iraq. That figure was also cited in the military intelligence report during final preparations for a National Intelligence Estimate in July.

This is the number on which many military experts inside the Beltway rely. Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow in foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution who attended the Baghdad background briefing, explained that he thought the estimate derived from a comprehensive analysis by teams of local intelligence agents who examine the type and location of daily attacks, and their intended targets, and crosscheck that with reports from Iraqi informants and other data, such as intercepted phone calls. "It's a fairly detailed kind of assessment," O'Hanlon said. "Obviously you can't always know who is behind an attack, but there is a fairly systematic way of looking at the attacks where they can begin to make a pretty informed guess."

Yet those who have worked on estimates inside the system take a more circumspect view. Alex Rossmiller, who worked in Iraq as an intelligence officer for the Department of Defense, says that real uncertainties exist in assigning responsibility for attacks. "It was kind of a running joke in our office," he recalls. "We would sarcastically refer to everybody as al-Qaeda."

To describe AQI's presence, intelligence experts cite a spectrum of estimates, ranging from 8 percent to 15 percent. The fact that such "a big window" exists, says Vincent Cannistraro, former chief of the CIA's Counterterrorism Center, indicates that "[those experts] really don't have a very good perception of what is going on."

It's notable that military intelligence reports have opted to cite a figure at the very top of that range. But even the low estimate of 8 percent may be an overstatement, if you consider some of the government's own statistics.

The first instructive set of data comes from the U.S.-sponsored Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. In March, the organization analyzed the online postings of eleven prominent Sunni insurgent groups, including AQI, tallying how many attacks each group claimed. AQI took credit for 10 percent of attacks on Iraqi security forces and Shiite militias (forty-three out of 439 attacks), and less than 4 percent of attacks on U.S. troops (seventeen out of 357). Although these Internet postings should not be taken as proof positive of the culprits, it's instructive to remember that PR-conscious al- Qaeda operatives are far more likely to overstate than understate their role.

When turning to the question of manpower, military officials told the New York Times in August that of the roughly 24,500 prisoners in U.S. detention facilities in Iraq (nearly all of whom are Sunni), just 1,800—about 7 percent—claim allegiance to al-Qaeda in Iraq. Moreover, the composition of inmates does not support the assumption that large numbers of foreign terrorists, long believed to be the leaders and most hard-core elements of AQI, are operating inside Iraq. In August, American forces held in custody 280 foreign nationals—slightly more than 1 percent of total inmates.

The State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), which arguably has the best track record for producing accurate intelligence assessments, last year estimated that AQI's membership was in a range of "more than 1,000." When compared with the military's estimate for the total size of the insurgency—between 20,000 and 30,000 full-time fighters—this figure puts AQI forces at around 5 percent. When compared with Iraqi intelligence's much larger estimates of the insurgency—200,000 fighters—INR's estimate would put AQI forces at less than 1 percent. This year, the State Department dropped even its base-level estimate, because, as an official explained, "the information is too disparate to come up with a consensus number."

How big, then, is AQI? The most persuasive estimate I've heard comes from Malcolm Nance, the author of The Terrorists of Iraq and a twenty-year intelligence veteran and Arabic speaker who has worked with military and intelligence units tracking al-Qaeda inside Iraq. He believes AQI includes about 850 full-time fighters, comprising 2 percent to 5 percent of the Sunni insurgency. "Al-Qaeda in Iraq," according to Nance, "is a microscopic terrorist organization."

So how did the military come up with an estimate of 15 percent, when government data and many of the intelligence community's own analysts point to estimates a fraction of that size? The problem begins at the top. When the White House singles out al-Qaeda in Iraq for special attention, the bureaucracy responds by creating procedures that hunt down more evidence of the organization. The more manpower assigned to focus on the group, the more evidence is uncovered that points to it lurking in every shadow. "When you have something that is really hot, the leaders start tasking everyone to look into that," explains W. Patrick Lang, a retired U.S. Army colonel and former head of Middle East intelligence analysis for the Department of Defense. "Whoever is at the top of the pyramid says, 'Make me a briefing showing what al-Qaeda in Iraq is doing,' and then the decision maker says, 'Aha, I knew I was right.'"

With disproportionate resources dedicated to tracking AQI, the search has become a self-reinforcing loop. The Army has a Special Operations task force solely dedicated to tracking al-Qaeda in Iraq. The Defense Intelligence Agency tracks AQI through its Iraq office and its counterterrorism office. The result is more information culled, more PowerPoint slides created, and, ultimately, more attention drawn to AQI, which amplifies its significance in the minds of military and intelligence officers. "Once people look at everything through that lens, al-Qaeda is all they see," said Larry Johnson, a former CIA officer who also worked at the U.S. State Department's Office of Counterterrorism. "It sort of becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy."

Ground-level analysts in the field, facing pressures from superiors to document AQI's handiwork, might be able to question such assumptions if they had strong intelligence networks on the ground. Unfortunately, that's rarely the case. The intelligence community's efforts are hobbled by too few Arabic speakers in their ranks and too many unreliable informants in Iraqi communities, rendering a hazy picture that is open to interpretations.

Because uncertainty exists, the bar for labeling an attack the work of al-Qaeda can be very low. The fact that a detainee possesses al-Qaeda pamphlets or a laptop computer with cached jihadist Web sites, for example, is at times enough for analysts to link a detainee to al-Qaeda. "Sometimes it's as simple as an anonymous tip that al-Qaeda is active in a certain village, so they will go out on an operation and whoever they roll up, we call them al-Qaeda," says Alex Rossmiller. "People can get labeled al-Qaeda anywhere along in the chain of events, and it's really hard to unlabel them." Even when the military backs off explicit statements that AQI is responsible, as with the Tal Afar truck bombings, the perception that an attack is the work of al-Qaeda is rarely corrected.

The result can be baffling for the troops working on the ground, who hear the leadership characterizing the conflict in Iraq in ways that do not necessarily match what they see in the dusty and danger-laden villages. Michael Zacchea, a lieutenant colonel in the Marine Reserves who was deployed to Iraq, said he was sometimes skeptical of upper-level analysis emphasizing al-Qaeda in Iraq rather than the insurgency's local roots. "It's very, very frustrating for everyone involved who is trying to do the right thing," he said. "That's not how anyone learned to play the game when we were officers coming up the ranks, and we were taught to provide clear battlefield analysis."

Even if the manpower and number of attacks attributed to AQI have been exaggerated—and they have—many observers maintain that what is uniquely dangerous about the group is not its numbers, but the spectacular nature of its strikes. While homegrown Sunni and Shiite militias engage for the most part in tit-for-tat violence to forward sectarian ends, AQI's methods are presumed to be different—more dramatic, more inflammatory, and having a greater ripple effect on the country's fragile political environment. "The effect of al-Qaeda has been far beyond the numbers that they field," explains Thomas Donnelly, resident fellow for defense and national security at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. "The question is, What attacks are likely to have the most destabilizing political and strategic affects?" He points, as do many inside the administration, to the February 2006 bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samara, a revered Shiite shrine, as a paramount example of AQI's outsize influence. President Bush has laid unqualified blame for the Samara bombing on al-Qaeda, and described the infamous incident—and ensuing sectarian violence—as a fatal tipping point toward the current unrest.

But is this view of AQI's vanguard role in destabilizing Iraq really true? There are three reasons to question that belief.

First, although spectacular attacks were a distinctive AQI hallmark early in the war, the group has since lost its monopoly on bloody fireworks. After five years of shifting alliances, cross-pollination of tactics, and copycat attacks, other insurgent groups now launch equally dramatic and politically charged attacks. For example, a second explosion at the Samara mosque in June 2007, which destroyed the shrine's minarets and sparked a wave of revenge attacks on Sunni mosques nationwide, may have been an inside job. U.S. military officials said fifteen uniformed men from the Shiite-run Iraqi Security Forces were arrested for suspected involvement in the attack.

Second, it remains unclear whether the original Samara bombing was itself the work of AQI. The group never took credit for the attack, as it has many other high-profile incidents. The man who the military believe orchestrated the bombing, an Iraqi named Haitham al-Badri, was both a Samara native and a former high-ranking government official under Saddam Hussein. (His right-hand man, Hamed Jumaa Farid al-Saeedi, was also a former military intelligence officer in Saddam Hussein's army.) Key features of the bombing did not conform to the profile of an AQI attack. For example, the bombers did not target civilians, or even kill the Shiite Iraqi army soldiers guarding the mosque, both of which are trademark tactics of AQI. The planners also employed sophisticated explosive devices, suggesting formal military training common among former regime officers, rather than the more bluntly destructive tactics typical of AQI. Finally, Samara was the heart of Saddam's power base, where former regime fighters keep tight control over the insurgency. Frank "Greg" Ford, a retired counterintelligence agent for the Army Reserves, who worked with the Army in Samara before the 2006 bombing, says that the evidence points away from AQI and toward a different conclusion: "The Baathists directed that attack," says Ford.

Third, while some analysts believe that AQI drafts Baathist insurgents to carry out its attacks, other intelligence experts think it is the other way around. In other words, they see evidence of native insurgent forces coopting the steady stream of delusional extremists seeking martyrdom that AQI brings into Iraq. "Al-Qaeda can't operate anywhere in Iraq without kissing the ring of the former regime," says Nance. "They can't move car bombs full of explosives and foreign suicide bombers through a city without everyone knowing who they are. They need to be facilitated." Thus new foreign fighters "come through and some local Iraqis will say, 'Okay, why don't you go down to the Ministry of Defense building downtown.'" AQI recruits often find themselves taking orders from a network of former regime insurgents, who assemble their car bombs and tell them what to blow up. They become, as Nance says, "puppets for the other insurgent groups."

The view that AQI is neither as big nor as lethal as commonly believed is widespread among working-level analysts and troops on the ground. A majority of those interviewed for this article believe that the military's AQI estimates are overblown to varying degrees. If such misgivings are common, why haven't doubts pricked the public debate? The reason is that alternate views are running up against an echo chamber of powerful players all with an interest in hyping AQI's role.

The first group that profits from an outsize focus on AQI are former regime elements, and the tribal chiefs with whom they are often allied. These forces are able to carry out attacks against Shiites and Americans, but also to shift the blame if it suits their purposes. While the U.S. military has recently touted "news" that Sunni insurgents have turned against the al-Qaeda terrorists in Anbar Province, there is little evidence of actual clashes between these two groups. Sunni insurgents in Anbar have largely ceased attacks on Americans, but some observers suggest that this development has less to do with vanquishing AQI than with the fact that U.S. troops now routinely deliver cash-filled duffle bags to tribal sheiks serving as "lead contractors" on "reconstruction projects." The excuse of fighting AQI comes in handy. "Remember, Iraq is an honor society," explains Juan Cole, an Iraq expert and professor of modern Middle Eastern studies at the University of Michigan. "But if you say it wasn't us—it was al-Qaeda—then you don't lose face."

The second benefactor is the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, often the first to blame specific attacks on AQI. Talking about "al-Qaeda" offers the government a politically correct way of talking about Sunni violence without seeming to blame the Sunnis themselves, to whom they are ostensibly trying to reach out in a unity government. On a deeper level, however, the al-Maliki regime has very limited popular support, and the government officials and ruling Islamic Dawa Party feel an imperative to include Iraqi troubles in the broader "global war in terrorism" in order to keep U.S. troops in the country. In June, when faced with increasingly uncomfortable pressure from the Americans for his failure to resolve key political issues, al-Maliki warned that Iraqi intelligence had found evidence of a "widespread and dangerous plan by the terrorist al-Qaeda organization" to mount attacks outside of Iraq.

Elsewhere within the Shiite bloc of Iraqi politics, Moqtada al-Sadr has his own reasons for playing up the idea of AQI. "The Sadrists want to overstate the role of al-Qaeda in a way to emphasize on the 'foreignness' of the current problem in Iraq; and this easily fits their anti-occupation ideology, which seems to gain more popularity among Shia Iraqis on a daily basis," said Babak Rahimi, a professor of Islamic Studies and expert in Shiite politics at the University of California at San Diego.

Bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, remain eager to take credit for the violence in Iraq, despite the bad blood that existed between bin Laden and AQI's slain founder, al-Zarqawi. They've produced a long series of taped statements in recent years taunting U.S. leaders and attempting to conflate their operations with the Sunni resistance in Iraq. "They want to bring this all together as a motivating tool to encourage recruitment," said Farhana Ali, a terrorism expert at the RAND Corporation.

The press has also been complicit in inflating the threat of AQI. Because of the danger on the ground, reporters struggle to do the kind of comprehensive field reporting that's necessary to check facts and question statements from military spokespersons and Iraqi politicians. Today, for example, U.S. reporters rarely travel independently outside central Baghdad. Few, if any, insurgents have ever given interviews to Western reporters. These limitations are understandable, if unfortunate. But news organizations are reluctant to admit their confines in obtaining information. Ambiguities are glossed over; allegations are presented as facts. Besides, it's undeniably in the reporter's own interest to keep "al- Qaeda attacks" in the headline, because it may move their story from A16 to A1.

Finally, no one has more incentive to overstate the threat of AQI than President Bush and those in the administration who argue for keeping a substantial military presence in Iraq. Insistent talk about AQI aims to place the Iraq War in the context of the broader war on terrorism. Pointing to al- Qaeda in Iraq helps the administration leverage Americans' fears about terrorism and residual anger over the attacks of September 11. It is perhaps one of the last rhetorical crutches the president has left to lean on.

This is not to say that al-Qaeda in Iraq doesn't pose a real danger, both to stability in Iraq and to security in the United States. Today multiple Iraqi insurgent groups target U.S. forces, with the aim of driving out the occupation. But once our troops withdraw, most Sunni resistance fighters will have no impetus to launch strikes on American soil. In that regard, al-Qaeda—and AQI, to the extent it is affiliated with bin Laden's network—is unique. The group's leadership consists largely of foreign fighters, and its ideology and ambitions are global. Al-Qaeda fighters trained in Baghdad may one day use those skills to plot strikes aimed at Boston.

Yet it's not clear that the best way to counter this threat is with military action in Iraq. AQI's presence is tolerated by the country's Sunni Arabs, historically among the most secular in the Middle East, because they have a common enemy in the United States. Absent this shared cause, it's not clear that native insurgents would still welcome AQI forces working to impose strict sharia. In Baghdad, any near-term functioning government will likely be an alliance of Shiites and Kurds, two groups unlikely to accept organized radical Sunni Arab militants within their borders. Yet while precisely predicting future political dynamics in Iraq is uncertain, one thing is clear now: the continued American occupation of Iraq is al-Qaeda's best recruitment tool, the lure to hook new recruits. As RAND's Ali said, "What inspires jihadis today is Iraq."

Five years ago, the American public was asked to support the invasion of Iraq based on the false claim that Saddam Hussein was somehow linked to al-Qaeda. Today, the erroneous belief that al-Qaeda's franchise in Iraq is a driving force behind the chaos in that country may be setting us up for a similar mistake.

Andrew Tilghman was an Iraq correspondent for the Stars and Stripes newspaper in 2005 and 2006. He can be reached at

Troop Buildup, Yielding Slight Gains, Fails to Meet U.S. Goals

Troop Buildup, Yielding Slight Gains, Fails to Meet U.S. Goals

BAGHDAD, Sept. 8 — Seven months after the American-led troop “surge” began, Baghdad has experienced modest security gains that have neither reversed the city’s underlying sectarian dynamic nor created a unified and trusted national government.

Improvements have been made. American military figures show that sectarian killings in Baghdad have decreased substantially. In many of Baghdad’s most battle-scarred areas, including Mansour in the west and Ur in the east, markets and parks that were practically abandoned last year have begun to revive.

The surge has also coincided with and benefited from a dramatic turnaround in many Sunni areas where former insurgents and tribes have defected from supporting violent extremism, delivering reliable tips and helping the Americans find and eliminate car bomb factories. An average of 23 car bombs a month struck Baghdad in June, July and August, down from an average of 42 over the same period a year earlier.

But the overall impact of these developments, so far, has been limited. And in some cases the good news is a consequence of bad news: people in neighborhoods have been “takhalasu” — an Iraqi word for purged, meaning killed or driven away. More than 35,000 Iraqis have left their homes in Baghdad since the American troop buildup began, humanitarian groups reported.

The hulking blast walls that the Americans have set up around many neighborhoods have only intensified the city’s sense of balkanization. Merchants must now hire a different driver for individual areas, lest gunmen kill a stranger from another sect to steal a truckload of T-shirts.

To study the full effects of the troop increase at ground level, reporters for The New York Times repeatedly visited at least 20 neighborhoods in Baghdad and its surrounding belts , interviewing more than 150 Iraq residents, in addition to sectarian militia members, Americans patrolling the city and Iraqi officials. They found that the additional troops had slowed, but far from stopped, Iraq’s still-burning civil war. Baghdad remains a city where sectarian violence can flare at any moment, and where the central government is becoming less reliable and relevant as Shiite or Sunni vigilantes demand submission to their own brand of law.

“These improvements in the face of the general devastation look small and insignificant because the devastation is so much bigger,” said Haidar Minathar, an Iraqi author, actor and director. He added that the security gains “have no great influence.”

The troop increase was meant to create conditions that could lead from improved security in Baghdad to national reconciliation to a strong central government to American military withdrawal. In recent weeks, President Bush and his commanders have shifted their emphasis to new alliances with tribal leaders that have improved security in Diyala Province, the Sunni Triangle and other Sunni areas, most notably Anbar Province.

This, not Baghdad, was the area Mr. Bush conspicuously chose to visit this week.

But when he announced Jan. 10 his plan to add 20,000 to 30,000 troops to Iraq, Mr. Bush emphasized that Baghdad was the linchpin for creating a stable Iraq. With less fear of death in the capital, “Iraqis will gain confidence in their leaders and the government will have the breathing space it needs to make progress in other critical areas,” the president said.

That has not happened. More than 160,000 American troops are now in Iraq to help secure 25 million people. Across Baghdad — which undoubtedly remains a crucial barometer — American and Iraqi forces have moved closer to the population, out of giant bases and into 29 joint security stations. But even as some neighborhoods have improved, others have worsened as fighters moved to areas with fewer American troops.

Lt. Col. Steven M. Miska, deputy commander of a brigade of the First Infantry Division that is charged with controlling northwest Baghdad, said, “We’ve done everything we can militarily.”

He said, “I think we have essentially stalled the sectarian conflict without addressing the underlying grievances.”

Sunnis and Shiites still fear each other. At the top levels of Iraq’s government and in the sweltering neighborhoods of Baghdad, hatreds are festering, not healing. The political standoff identified by this week’s Government Accountability Office report can be found not just in the halls of Iraq’s Parliament.

The distrust and obstinacy start in the streets.

Dealing with intermittent electricity, few jobs, widespread corruption and fresh memories of unspeakable horrors, Iraqis of all sects are scrambling for power, for control.

Iraq’s mixed neighborhoods are sliding toward extinction. During the troop increase, Shiite militias have continued to drive Sunnis out of at least seven neighborhoods of Baghdad. The Mahdi Army, loyal to Moktada al-Sadr, is turning into what many describe as a shadow government, while desperate Sunnis have come to rely almost exclusively on American troops for their protection — a remarkable turnaround from four years ago when the Americans arrived.

In the minds of many, the fight is for survival. For others, the moment of calm has raised disconcerting questions about Iraq’s societal breakdown and where to go from here. The past seven months have crystallized a sense that the Americans are no longer the primary issue: Sunnis most fear Shiite Iran; Shiites are terrified of Sunni extremists and Baathists.

What Congress must now decide, based on extensive data and testimony from Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq, and Ryan C. Crocker, the American ambassador, is to what extent an American presence can define Iraq’s future. The fifth and final brigade of the troop buildup arrived only in June. General Petraeus has focused on “tactical momentum,” citing the so-called Sunni awakening as proof of success and cause for a continued and expansive American investment of lives and money.

But a close look at three kinds of neighborhoods — Sunni, Shiite and mixed — indicates that while there is certainly momentum, it is still largely driven by the sectarian forces in Iraq, and moving according to their rules.

In Huriya, a Shiite Takeover

The Sunni mosques in Huriya sit empty, burned and broken while new monuments to revered Shiite imams have arisen, framed in sparkling black marble.

Here in this working-class western Baghdad neighborhood, the signs of a Shiite takeover stand out — and offer a glimpse into a possible future of a Shiite-ruled Iraq without a capable, nonsectarian government. The Sunnis are gone, forced out by the Mahdi Army. And in the wake of that rout — which peaked just before a company of American soldiers moved into a joint security station on Jan. 31 — violence has declined. Only one or two bodies a week now appear in the streets instead of the 30 or 40 that surfaced weekly in December.

Terror and instability, however, have remained. Here and in nearly every other Shiite-dominated area of Baghdad, from Ur and Sadr City east of the Tigris to Shula west of it, residents and American officials report that the Mahdi Army has expanded and deepened its control of daily life.

Families in Huriya depend on the Sadr organization for gas, medicine and other necessities. In return, many Shiites say they live in constant fear of a knock on the door: sometimes the gunmen come to borrow a car or a house; sometimes they demand help at a checkpoint, or for a mission to kill or displace Sunnis from another neighborhood.

Whatever the militia demands, it gets.

“You have to prove your loyalty to them, otherwise you won’t be safe,” said Lamyia al-Saedi, 31, a Shiite government employee who moved to Huriya eight months ago after being expelled from neighboring Adel, a Sunni stronghold.

American commanders in Huriya (Arabic for “freedom”) recognized the strength of the group’s wide-ranging network soon after their arrival. In early May, a 40-year-old Shiite police officer whose brother had been killed by the Mahdi Army would only agree to talk to American soldiers at 3 a.m., after pulling an officer and a reporter into a dark, unfinished room far from the street.

A week ago, it was much the same: to receive a tip from one of their sources, soldiers from Company A, First Battalion, Second Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division had to wait until everyone else in the neighborhood had gone to sleep.

Some Mahdi leaders have been pushed out, killed or captured, said Capt. George W. Feese, 29, the company commander, but threats from others remain.

Abu Sajat, one of several Mahdi leaders known to Captain Feese’s unit, claims to command several hundred fighters in Huriya, Washash, Iskan and Topchi, a cluster of middle- and working-class areas that have become increasingly violent, and more Shiite, in recent months. He showed up wearing a brown shirt unbuttoned to his sternum, dark sunglasses and brown polyester pants with a belt that had missed several loops toward the back.

Pulling his belt over a sizable stomach, he bragged that they were playing a game of cat and mouse with the Americans in which the Mahdi Army always has more men, more loyalty among Baghdad’s residents and more freedom of movement. Huriya, he said, was stable because the Sunnis were gone, not because the Americans had arrived.

“They can’t break up our organization,” he said. “If you count all the Americans in Iraq, they are really just prisoners.”

In return for about $120 a month plus “donations” collected from Shiite neighbors or Sunni victims, Abu Sajat said his men had sworn loyalty to Moktada al-Sadr and promised to kill Americans or Sunnis when called upon to do so.

A younger member of the Mahdi Army in Huriya said that two men who refused to follow such an order in July ended up dead.

Sunnis remain Abu Sajat’s primary target. After seizing control of roughly 100 Sunni-owned houses in Huriya, Abu Sajat said his men moved on to Iskan and Washash, areas with a lighter American presence to the south. Business has been good — pushing Sunnis out brings in rents from Shiite families moving in, and profits from the sale of furniture or cars.

But Abu Sajat, 36, a former pushcart vendor who said he spent seven years in prison under Saddam Hussein, insisted that he had no interest in money. He said the militia’s earnings from Huriya often went to less fortunate Shiites. Last week, he said his command contributed 23 million Iraqi dinars, or $18,400, to Sadr City families whose homes had been damaged or whose relatives had been killed in American military raids.

His justification for attacking Sunnis was simple, and sectarian: “Their houses belong to us,” he said. “They’ve colonized us for more than 1,000 years.”

“Sunnis are just like the puppies of a filthy dog,” he said. “Even the purest among them is dirty.”

The Americans soldiers in Huriya acknowledge it has been a struggle trying to dismantle the Mahdi network. Several months ago, a photograph of another Mahdi leader, Haider Kadhim, (“The No. 1 action guy in Huriya,” a soldier said) hung on the walls of the windowless joint security station where they live, someone whom the soldiers hoped to arrest or kill. Last week, his mugshot was still there.

Abu Sajat said Mr. Kadhim was busy in Topchi, out of the unit’s reach.

Captain Feese, the Company A commander, said Huriya residents felt safer without thugs like Mr. Kadhim on the streets. But even with the extra troops, there are parts of Baghdad, like the northern neighborhood of Shula, where militias roam with impunity.

There, at one of its refugee camps, the Mahdi Army now brazenly issues laminated badges to those it deems worthy of admittance.

A recent American report concluded that Mahdi Army leaders in Shula enjoy “freedom of movement” in part “because of a lack of permanent CF presence,” referring to coalition forces.

Colonel Miska, Captain Feese’s commander, who oversees Shula, Huriya and other Shiite-dominant areas, said that units regularly entered the neighborhood for raids, which had killed or captured many prominent Mahdi fighters. But, he said, referring to joint security stations, “We do not have a J.S.S. in Shula, due to lack of combat power.”

In Huriya, Captain Feese’s men have tried to erase the militia’s signs of strength. They have not touched the new Sadr monuments, but they initially tore down posters of Mr. Sadr at the market, only to see them reappear.

Many Iraqis, Captain Feese said, hesitate to work closely with the Americans because “they know I’m going home.” Even now, most Iraqis in Huriya still do not believe the Americans can protect them in a city where, two weeks ago, the Shiite head of a neighborhood just southeast of Huriya was shot dead in a Mahdi-controlled Shiite area. It was taken as a punishment for working with the Americans.

“You can put pressure on it,” said Captain Feese, “but you can’t claim victory.”

Contrasts of Sadr al-Yusufiya

A roadside ditch here in the Sunni triangle town of Sadr al-Yusufiya contains the two extremes of the American experience in this Euphrates River farming village southwest of Baghdad.

At one end sit the remains of a truck bomb that a suicide bomber from Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia tried to ram into the village’s American base in June. At the other end, a thousand overheated Sunni men, ages 18 to 35, wait to be given physical examinations and literacy tests by the very same American troops some of them were trying to kill recently.

The push-ups, pull-ups and reading exams are the American military’s attempt to screen the candidates and hasten their hoped-for entry into the Shiite-dominated Iraqi police.

These Sunnis now hope the Americans will help them rejoin the new Iraqi order that they rejected, and that has in turn rejected them for so long.

But it remains unclear whether an Iraqi government dominated by religious Shiites will be eager to embrace the large-scale return of these young men of fighting age. Nor is it clear whether the Americans’ new allies of convenience will submit to the Shiite authorities in Baghdad.

Many of these men’s fathers and tribal leaders were officers in the Baath government’s military.

Whatever the suspicions harbored by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s Shiite-led government — and the suspicion is entirely mutual — it is the Sunni belt that has produced the most tangible fruit for Mr. Bush and General Petraeus.

Young men in fluorescent-banded jackets stand on every corner, operating checkpoints as part of a growing neighborhood watch venture that General Petraeus has seized upon and branded “Guardians” or “Concerned Citizens.”

Under the project, financed by the American military, the local tribes are paid $10 a day per man to provide security in their areas.

Despite protestations from United States commanders that they are not arming these “volunteers,” local American officers confirm that the sheiks can spend the contract money as they wish, diverting money from wages to buy weapons, radios or vehicles if they choose.

The “awakening,” as it has been called, has brought early dividends. Suicide bomb attacks in Baghdad are down — partly because these areas manufactured bombs and sent them into the capital.

Certainly, life at Patrol Base Warrior Keep in Sadr al-Yusufiya has become much easier for Capt. Palmer Phillips and his men of Company B, Second Battalion of the Second Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, out of Fort Drum, N.Y.

There have been only two roadside bomb explosions in the last five months, and this week they drove their Humvees without incident to and from sheiks’ houses late at night along country roads that only a few months ago would have been treacherous.

“We are now getting information from the local volunteers, they are telling us very specific things about Al Qaeda’s activities, they are very specific about checkpoints, people, ratlines and targets,” said Captain Phillips. Ratlines refers to supply lines.

But there are undercurrents.

On a visit to Sadr al-Yusufiya last month, Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the second-ranking American commander in Iraq, met with the local sheiks.

They made it abundantly clear that their cooperation did not come free, and that they wanted tangible benefits like jobs, weapons, vehicles, military supplies and electricity.

They also delivered not-so-veiled warnings that the Americans’ low-paying job-creation plan, while welcome, was unlikely to keep their people on the right side of the law for long.

“We are determined to kick out terror from our areas but, sir, you shouldn’t forget that fighting terrorism has to be balanced,” cautioned Yassin Abed al-Gurtani, a former general in Saddam Hussein’s army.

“After a month or a few months, what if this contract ends and people find themselves without jobs and can’t join the police or the army?” he said. “We are worried that they might join the wrong side, and we return back to square one.”

Some have already reverted. Fueling concern over the Americans’ eagerness to embrace untested new allies, Captain Phillips concedes that he has already arrested 15 of the Concerned Citizens “for suspected Al Qaeda ties.” Most were turned in by their own checkpoint colleagues for “facilitating” the movement of wanted men. Captain Phillips says he is convinced that most of the Sunnis genuinely want to get back into the system, in which 85 percent of the National Police force is Shiite, and is encouraged that the Iraqi government sent a senior reconciliation official to talk to them.

But there has been little action. And he points out that there is simply no government near Sadr al-Yusufiya for the Sunnis to turn to, even now that they want to. American officers in areas where similar arrangements have been in place longer say that the Sunni groups lack training and are already growing frustrated with the slow process of being accepted by the Shiite-dominated police.

As yet undeterred, the Sunnis in Sadr al-Yusufiya spend all day in line, baking in the 100-degree temperatures, desperate for jobs.

Others show little interest in national policing, saying they simply want to defend their local areas and are sick of being unable to go even to nearby Mahmudiya without risk of being killed by Shiite militias.

Just as many Shiites instinctively mistrust the minority that kept them down during the Baathist era, so the Sunnis here show little sign of remorse, or of desiring reconciliation.

Here many bridle at criticism of Saddam Hussein. Heads shake at the mention of Hussein-era mass graves, including one at Mahawil just half an hour’s drive south. “Saddam just put bad people in jail,” said Abu Ali, 40. “Some people, they exaggerate.”

Almost all predict an intensified civil war once the Americans leave. “We will fight the government until the very last bullet,” threatened one, before dashing inside to try to join it.

Sahar Naeem Suleiman, 27, went further. “If we get into the Iraqi police we can move to Mahmudiya and Yusufiya and south Baghdad to free them and kill all the militias.”

Col. Michael Kershaw, commander of the Second Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, denied that the United States was simply arming one side for future conflicts in Iraq, saying that wider factors were at work.

“Are they playing us? To some extent we are all playing each other, right? Everybody’s self-interest is at the center,” he said.

“Somewhere they made a political decision that Al Qaeda does not meet their self-interest. All Iraqis see that the United States’ time here is numbered. There is a finite amount of time the United States is going to stay here and do this, and they are going to have to figure this out eventually on their own.”

Militants Quit Dora for Saydia

Visible from any high point in Baghdad are twin pillars of smoke that rise from an oil refinery and a power station near the city’s southern edge. The eastern plume rises from Dora, an area of industry, spacious homes and brutal Sunni extremists while the western plume edges closer to an area of mixed neighborhoods, including Saydia.

The wide Hilla highway has long acted as a border, keeping the bloodshed of Dora from the stability of Saydia — until the troop buildup. Nineteen-ton Stryker vehicles have hammered through Dora over the past few months, bringing enough peace for a third of the shops in Dora’s main market to reopen.

But the push drove Sunni militants out of Dora and into Saydia, where they began attacking Shiites. It was not long before Shiite militias, including the Mahdi Army, responded in kind, despite repeated calls by Mr. Sadr for a freeze in violent activity. Saydia descended into chaos.

With that, its status as a tolerant, middle-class district shared by Sunnis and Shiites was lost, following the precedent of so many other Baghdad neighborhoods.

Saydia is now a virtual ghost town, where the Shiite Mahdi Army and Sunni Arab death squads roam the streets. If Iraq’s civil war has stalled in other parts of the city, here the engines of sectarianism are running at full throttle.

The hostilities now reach down to the next generation. “I have been attacked personally by children as young as 10 and 13 with hand grenades and so forth,” said Lt. Col. Barry Huggins, a Stryker commander, describing the fight for Dora earlier this summer.

The once-ruling Sunnis have become even more hostile toward what they now regard as a triple occupation of their country: by Americans, Iranians and Shiites who have seized power from them.

“The most dangerous thing is the government and the people representing the government,” snarled Abu Hashemi, 48, a Dora resident.

He said, “If you ask anyone in Dora, ‘Do you prefer an American soldier or someone belonging to the Mahdi Army or the Badr Brigades?’ they will say ‘Leave the American and kill the other.’ Because the Americans will leave Iraq but the other people are staying with us.”

American commanders are worried about their staying power, too. Some of Col. Ricky Gibbs’s Stryker battalions are rotating out, he told senior Iraqi and American officers last month, and he wants more Iraqi police sooner than training units say they can be properly screened, drilled and equipped.

Even if the additional troops stay on, Dora’s gains seem fragile. The restoration of order is still too brittle to convince the people who matter the most: the thousands of Dora residents who have fled the violence, Sunni and Shiite alike.

Sahira, 40, is a Shiite, but her two daughters are Sunnis, like her former husband. Now living in Karada, she was too afraid to give her full name. She hopes to return to Dora one day, but her children have no such expectation.

“All the residents have left our area, it’s completely empty,” said one of her daughters, Noor, 20. Nodding in agreement the other daughter, Sura, 23, said she was afraid to admit at checkpoints that she is Sunni. “Shias are trouble,” she said, heedless of her mother sitting opposite her. “They kidnap Sunnis at checkpoints.”

Wincing slightly, Sahira rallies but has caught the gloomy mood.

“They can’t control Dora, despite the existence of the American bases,” she said. For now, the fight has simply moved to Saydia — another example of the whack-a-mole problem that the American military has struggled to overcome in Iraq since 2003.

Qassem Hussein Jasem, a 40-year-old Sunni who fled Saydia two months ago, laid the blame for his neighborhood’s collapse squarely on the surge.

“It was a good area until Operation Imposing the Law began to chase the terrorists and outlaws and they started infiltrating from Dora and Bayaa,” he complained.

It was here that Mr. Jasem watched as Sunni extremists sprayed graffiti on the walls threatening, “Leave the Neighborhood.” In response Shiite slogans sprang up, including, “Long Live the Wolf Brigade,” a National Police unit widely feared by Sunnis.

No one is more aware of the police’s sectarian reputation than the American military transition teams that advise them. They are frank about infiltration by the Mahdi Army, known as Jaish al-Mahdi or JAM.

“Because the National Police are influenced or afraid to stop JAM, they will basically turnstile them and let them drop down, conduct any Sunni missions, and then come back,” said Maj. Andy Yerkes, an American adviser of the Iraqi police. “We know it happens.”

There are successes. Some Iraqi commanders instill pride and discipline in their units, the Americans say. In July, one Saydia policeman, Capt. Mushtaq Hassan, rescued a 9-month-old girl from a house where a death squad had just killed her family.

This week in Washington, a 20-member commission on Iraq’s security forces harshly condemned the country’s uniformed protectors.

Captain Mushtaq dismissed Sunni accusations of killings and torture as the smears of enemies “trying to ruin our reputation because the Iraqi National Police has eliminated two-thirds of the terrorists.”

Pressed, the most he would concede was that some “individuals” had done “bad things” but he insisted that they were exceptions.

Few are convinced. First Sgt. Timothy Johnson’s experience of the National Police is particularly stark. Driving in mid-June past a National Police checkpoint, Sergeant Johnson, a 43-year-old from El Paso, waved at the smiling Iraqis he knew well, and received friendly waves back.

Barely 50 feet later a sophisticated roadside bomb known as an explosively formed penetrator hit the rear of his Humvee, missing the crew but blowing his luggage out into the road. The same smiling police officers promptly stole his computer, mobile phone and camera and demanded a $40 bribe to give the computer back.

“I don’t trust them. They will smile in your face and stab you in the back,” he said “They were just too close to that E.F.P. not to have known.”

Asked if things have improved since then, he shook his head emphatically.

“No, they are the same,” he said. “It’s bad and it’s not going to get better. We’re not going to make a difference, not in the short term. Maybe if we stayed here forever.”

Reporting was contributed by Ahmad Fadam, Karim Hilmi, Ali Hamdani, Mudhafer al-Husaini, Wisam A. Habeeb, Sabrina Tavernise, Diana Oliva Cave, Johan Spanner, James Glanz, Michael R. Gordon, Khalid al-Ansary, Ali Fahim, Ali Adeeb, Qais Mizher, Hosham Hussein and Sahar Najeeb.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Right Wing Attacks Zakaria For Stating Facts About Ethnic Cleansing In Iraq

Right Wing Attacks Zakaria For Stating Facts About Ethnic Cleansing In Iraq

On ABC’s World News with Charles Gibson on Wednesday, Newsweek International editor Fareed Zakaria said that fears of genocide in Iraq after an American withdrawal are misplaced because large-scale ethnic cleansing has already occurred:

One of the dirty little secrets about Iraq is that Iraq has increasingly been ethnically cleansed. It’s sad to say, but the American Army has presided over the largest ethnic cleansing in the world since the Balkans. When people say bad things are going to happen if we leave, bad things have already happened. Where were you for the last four years?

Retired Gen. Jack Keane, one of the architects of Bush’s escalation plan, attacked Zakaria’s fact-based assertion. “You are really not describing what’s happening in Iraq. I mean, you’re in the past, to be quite frank about it,” said Keane before claiming the “surge” is working.

Keane’s response to Zakaria has been heralded by the right wing. NewsBusters championed the “rebuke.” The Media Research Center, NewsBuster’s parent organization, approvingly reprinted the post in a cyber alert. The Washington Times’ Greg Pierce highlighted the exchange today.

None of Keane’s supporters note, however, that Zakaria is correct on the facts when he says “Iraq has increasingly been ethnically cleansed.”

Since the initial invasion of Iraq, more than 4.2 million Iraqis have left their homes, with roughly 2.2 million internally displaced while more than 2 million have fled to neighbouring states. Bush’s escalation, which Keane calls “very very encouraging,” has actually increased the pace of ethnic cleansing.

As the Center for American Progress’ Brian Katulis and Anita Sharma write today, the situation in Iraq now comprises “the biggest refugee crisis in the middle east since 1948.” But you won’t learn that reading right-wing diatribes against Zakaria.

Bush: OPEC or APEC?

Bush: OPEC or APEC?

SYDNEY, Australia — President Bush had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day at the Sydney Opera House.

He'd only reached the third sentence of Friday's speech to business leaders, on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, when he committed his first gaffe.

"Thank you for being such a fine host for the OPEC summit," Bush said to Australian Prime Minister John Howard.

Oops. That would be APEC, the annual meeting of leaders from 21 Pacific Rim nations, not OPEC, the cartel of 12 major oil producers.

[Living Now: Majority Of Mentally Ill Go Untreated]

Bush quickly corrected himself. "APEC summit," he said forcefully, joking that Howard had invited him to the OPEC summit next year (for the record, an impossibility, since neither Australia nor the U.S. are OPEC members).

The president's next goof went uncorrected _ by him anyway. Talking about Howard's visit to Iraq last year to thank his country's soldiers serving there, Bush called them "Austrian troops."

That one was fixed for him. Though tapes of the speech clearly show Bush saying "Austrian," the official text released by the White House switched it to "Australian."

Then, speech done, Bush confidently headed out _ the wrong way.

He strode away from the lectern on a path that would have sent him over a steep drop. Howard and others redirected the president to center stage, where there were steps leading down to the floor of the theater.

The event had inauspicious beginnings. Bush started 10 minutes late, so that APEC workers could hustle people out of the theater's balcony seating to fill the many empty portions of the main orchestra section below _ which is most visible on camera.

Even resettled, the audience remained quiet throughout the president's remarks, applauding only when he was finished.

A logistical glitch added to the woes.

APEC security workers would not allow the members of the media who travel in Bush's motorcade to enter the Opera House along with him. This even though the journalists allowed into the president's entourage are extensively screened and guarded by the Secret Service, which has more stringent security standards than about any operation in the world. And even though they always accompany him into public events.

As a result, while Bush spoke, the traveling media cooled its heels outside the landmark Opera House, shooting pictures and watching boats in the harbor.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Bush knew Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction

Bush knew Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction

Salon exclusive: Two former CIA officers say the president squelched top-secret intelligence, and a briefing by George Tenet, months before invading Iraq.

By Sidney Blumenthal

Sep. 06, 2007 | On Sept. 18, 2002, CIA director George Tenet briefed President Bush in the Oval Office on top-secret intelligence that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction, according to two former senior CIA officers. Bush dismissed as worthless this information from the Iraqi foreign minister, a member of Saddam's inner circle, although it turned out to be accurate in every detail. Tenet never brought it up again.

Nor was the intelligence included in the National Intelligence Estimate of October 2002, which stated categorically that Iraq possessed WMD. No one in Congress was aware of the secret intelligence that Saddam had no WMD as the House of Representatives and the Senate voted, a week after the submission of the NIE, on the Authorization for Use of Military Force in Iraq. The information, moreover, was not circulated within the CIA among those agents involved in operations to prove whether Saddam had WMD.

On April 23, 2006, CBS's "60 Minutes" interviewed Tyler Drumheller, the former CIA chief of clandestine operations for Europe, who disclosed that the agency had received documentary intelligence from Naji Sabri, Saddam's foreign minister, that Saddam did not have WMD. "We continued to validate him the whole way through," said Drumheller. "The policy was set. The war in Iraq was coming, and they were looking for intelligence to fit into the policy, to justify the policy."

Now two former senior CIA officers have confirmed Drumheller's account to me and provided the background to the story of how the information that might have stopped the invasion of Iraq was twisted in order to justify it. They described what Tenet said to Bush about the lack of WMD, and how Bush responded, and noted that Tenet never shared Sabri's intelligence with then Secretary of State Colin Powell. According to the former officers, the intelligence was also never shared with the senior military planning the invasion, which required U.S. soldiers to receive medical shots against the ill effects of WMD and to wear protective uniforms in the desert.

Instead, said the former officials, the information was distorted in a report written to fit the preconception that Saddam did have WMD programs. That false and restructured report was passed to Richard Dearlove, chief of the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), who briefed Prime Minister Tony Blair on it as validation of the cause for war.

Secretary of State Powell, in preparation for his presentation of evidence of Saddam's WMD to the United Nations Security Council on Feb. 5, 2003, spent days at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., and had Tenet sit directly behind him as a sign of credibility. But Tenet, according to the sources, never told Powell about existing intelligence that there were no WMD, and Powell's speech was later revealed to be a series of falsehoods.

Both the French intelligence service and the CIA paid Sabri hundreds of thousands of dollars (at least $200,000 in the case of the CIA) to give them documents on Saddam's WMD programs. "The information detailed that Saddam may have wished to have a program, that his engineers had told him they could build a nuclear weapon within two years if they had fissile material, which they didn't, and that they had no chemical or biological weapons," one of the former CIA officers told me.

On the eve of Sabri's appearance at the United Nations in September 2002 to present Saddam's case, the officer in charge of this operation met in New York with a "cutout" who had debriefed Sabri for the CIA. Then the officer flew to Washington, where he met with CIA deputy director John McLaughlin, who was "excited" about the report. Nonetheless, McLaughlin expressed his reservations. He said that Sabri's information was at odds with "our best source." That source was code-named "Curveball," later exposed as a fabricator, con man and former Iraqi taxi driver posing as a chemical engineer.

The next day, Sept. 18, Tenet briefed Bush on Sabri. "Tenet told me he briefed the president personally," said one of the former CIA officers. According to Tenet, Bush's response was to call the information "the same old thing." Bush insisted it was simply what Saddam wanted him to think. "The president had no interest in the intelligence," said the CIA officer. The other officer said, "Bush didn't give a fuck about the intelligence. He had his mind made up."

But the CIA officers working on the Sabri case kept collecting information. "We checked on everything he told us." French intelligence eavesdropped on his telephone conversations and shared them with the CIA. These taps "validated" Sabri's claims, according to one of the CIA officers. The officers brought this material to the attention of the newly formed Iraqi Operations Group within the CIA. But those in charge of the IOG were on a mission to prove that Saddam did have WMD and would not give credit to anything that came from the French. "They kept saying the French were trying to undermine the war," said one of the CIA officers.

The officers continued to insist on the significance of Sabri's information, but one of Tenet's deputies told them, "You haven't figured this out yet. This isn't about intelligence. It's about regime change."

The CIA officers on the case awaited the report they had submitted on Sabri to be circulated back to them, but they never received it. They learned later that a new report had been written. "It was written by someone in the agency, but unclear who or where, it was so tightly controlled. They knew what would please the White House. They knew what the king wanted," one of the officers told me.

That report contained a false preamble stating that Saddam was "aggressively and covertly developing" nuclear weapons and that he already possessed chemical and biological weapons. "Totally out of whack," said one of the CIA officers. "The first [para]graph of an intelligence report is the most important and most read and colors the rest of the report." He pointed out that the case officer who wrote the initial report had not written the preamble and the new memo. "That's not what the original memo said."

The report with the misleading introduction was given to Dearlove of MI6, who briefed the prime minister. "They were given a scaled-down version of the report," said one of the CIA officers. "It was a summary given for liaison, with the sourcing taken out. They showed the British the statement Saddam was pursuing an aggressive program, and rewrote the report to attempt to support that statement. It was insidious. Blair bought it." "Blair was duped," said the other CIA officer. "He was shown the altered report."

The information provided by Sabri was considered so sensitive that it was never shown to those who assembled the NIE on Iraqi WMD. Later revealed to be utterly wrong, the NIE read: "We judge that Iraq has continued its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs in defiance of UN resolutions and restrictions. Baghdad has chemical and biological weapons as well as missiles with ranges in excess of UN restrictions; if left unchecked, it probably will have a nuclear weapon during this decade."

In the congressional debate over the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, even those voting against it gave credence to the notion that Saddam possessed WMD. Even a leading opponent such as Sen. Bob Graham, then the Democratic chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who had instigated the production of the NIE, declared in his floor speech on Oct. 12, 2002, "Saddam Hussein's regime has chemical and biological weapons and is trying to get nuclear capacity." Not a single senator contested otherwise. None of them had an inkling of the Sabri intelligence.

The CIA officers assigned to Sabri still argued within the agency that his information must be taken seriously, but instead the administration preferred to rely on Curveball. Drumheller learned from the German intelligence service that held Curveball that it considered him and his claims about WMD to be highly unreliable. But the CIA's Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control Center (WINPAC) insisted that Curveball was credible because what he said was supposedly congruent with available public information.

For two months, Drumheller fought against the use of Curveball, raising the red flag that he was likely a fraud, as he turned out to be. "Oh, my! I hope that's not true," said Deputy Director McLaughlin, according to Drumheller's book "On the Brink," published in 2006. When Curveball's information was put into Bush's Jan. 28, 2003, State of the Union address, McLaughlin and Tenet allowed it to pass into the speech. "From three Iraqi defectors," Bush declared, "we know that Iraq, in the late 1990s, had several mobile biological weapons labs ... Saddam Hussein has not disclosed these facilities. He's given no evidence that he has destroyed them." In fact, there was only one Iraqi source -- Curveball -- and there were no labs.

When the mobile weapons labs were inserted into the draft of Powell's United Nations speech, Drumheller strongly objected again and believed that the error had been removed. He was shocked watching Powell's speech. "We have firsthand descriptions of biological weapons factories on wheels and on rails," Powell announced. Without the reference to the mobile weapons labs, there was no image of a threat.

Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, Powell's chief of staff, and Powell himself later lamented that they had not been warned about Curveball. And McLaughlin told the Washington Post in 2006, "If someone had made these doubts clear to me, I would not have permitted the reporting to be used in Secretary Powell's speech." But, in fact, Drumheller's caution was ignored.

As war appeared imminent, the CIA officers on the Sabri case tried to arrange his defection in order to demonstrate that he stood by his information. But he would not leave without bringing out his entire family. "He dithered," said one former CIA officer. And the war came before his escape could be handled.

Tellingly, Sabri's picture was never put on the deck of playing cards of former Saddam officials to be hunted down, a tacit acknowledgment of his covert relationship with the CIA. Today, Sabri lives in Qatar.

In 2005, the Silberman-Robb commission investigating intelligence in the Iraq war failed to interview the case officer directly involved with Sabri; instead its report blamed the entire WMD fiasco on "groupthink" at the CIA. "They didn't want to trace this back to the White House," said the officer.

On Feb. 5, 2004, Tenet delivered a speech at Georgetown University that alluded to Sabri and defended his position on the existence of WMD, which, even then, he contended would still be found. "Several sensitive reports crossed my desk from two sources characterized by our foreign partners as established and reliable," he said. "The first from a source who had direct access to Saddam and his inner circle" -- Naji Sabri -- "said Iraq was not in the possession of a nuclear weapon. However, Iraq was aggressively and covertly developing such a weapon."

Then Tenet claimed with assurance, "The same source said that Iraq was stockpiling chemical weapons." He explained that this intelligence had been central to his belief in the reason for war. "As this information and other sensitive information came across my desk, it solidified and reinforced the judgments that we had reached in my own view of the danger posed by Saddam Hussein and I conveyed this view to our nation's leaders." (Tenet doesn't mention Sabri in his recently published memoir, "At the Center of the Storm.")

But where were the WMD? "Now, I'm sure you're all asking, 'Why haven't we found the weapons?' I've told you the search must continue and it will be difficult."

On Sept. 8, 2006, three Republican senators on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence -- Orrin Hatch, Saxby Chambliss and Pat Roberts -- signed a letter attempting to counter Drumheller's revelation about Sabri on "60 Minutes": "All of the information about this case so far indicates that the information from this source was that Iraq did have WMD programs." The Republicans also quoted Tenet, who had testified before the committee in July 2006 that Drumheller had "mischaracterized" the intelligence. Still, Drumheller stuck to his guns, telling Reuters, "We have differing interpretations, and I think mine's right."

One of the former senior CIA officers told me that despite the certitude of the three Republican senators, the Senate committee never had the original memo on Sabri. "The committee never got that report," he said. "The material was hidden or lost, and because it was a restricted case, a lot of it was done in hard copy. The whole thing was fogged up, like Curveball."

While one Iraqi source told the CIA that there were no WMD, information that was true but distorted to prove the opposite, another Iraqi source was a fabricator whose lies were eagerly embraced. "The real tragedy is that they had a good source that they misused," said one of the former CIA officers. "The fact is there was nothing there, no threat. But Bush wanted to hear what he wanted to hear."

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Bush Success Rating at Historic Low

Bush Success Rating at Historic Low

By CQ StaffTue Sep 4, 10:25 AM ET

By Bart Jansen, CQ Staff

President Bush’s success rating in the Democratic-controlled House has fallen this year to a half-century low, and he prevailed on only 14 percent of the 76 roll call votes on which he took a clear position.

The previous low for any president was in 1995, when Bill Clinton won just 26 percent of the time during the first year after Republicans took control of the House. If Bush’s score holds through the end of the year, he will have the lowest success rating in either chamber for any president since Congressional Quarterly began analyzing votes in 1953.

A study of House and Senate floor votes, compiled by CQ over the August recess, also showed that House Democrats have backed Bush’s legislative positions this year only 6 percent of the time, making for the strongest opposition from either party against a president in the 54 years CQ has kept score.

• CQ Party Unity Scores | Presidential Support Scores

A separate analysis of so-called party unity votes, in which a majority of one party votes against a majority of the other, showed the possibility of another historic first for House Democrats. So far this year, Democrats have backed the majority position of their caucus 91 percent of the time on average on such votes. That marks the highest Democratic unity score in 51 years.

Although any president can count on a certain amount of discontent from the opposing party — especially one that controls Congress — Bush’s low success rating and his low support scores among House Democrats are a direct result of disagreements with him over the Iraq War and spending priorities, according to a review of votes.

By comparison, House Democrats supported President Richard Nixon 46 percent of the time in 1974, the year he resigned. Nixon prevailed on votes 68 percent of the time that year, despite the Watergate fallout. And House Republican support for President Lyndon B. Johnson stood at 51 percent in 1968, during the height of the Vietnam War. Johnson succeeded 84 percent of the time on votes that year.

Bush has fared better in the Senate this year than in the House, though his success rate also has declined there. He was successful on 40 of 55 Senate votes on which he took a clear position. His success score of 72 percent is still the lowest since Bush took office. Clinton’s Senate success rates under GOP control were lower than Bush’s every year, and his 42 percent score in 1999 was the lowest since 1953.

Of the Senate votes so far this year on which Bush took a position, 22 were on nominations. He was successful on all of them, which helped elevate his score considerably.

But it was the high-profile conflicts over Bush’s Iraq policy, which played out in both chambers on individual bills and on amendments to the fiscal 2008 defense authorization (HR 1585) and the fiscal 2008 Defense appropriations (HR 3222) bills, that dragged his scores down. All the appropriations bills were flash points, and Bush has threatened to veto nine of the 12 annual spending bills passed by the House.

Some of the policy disputes that divided the parties — and pitted congressional Democrats against the president — included bills for expanding embryonic stem cell research (HR 3), negotiating Medicare drug prices (HR 4) and enhancing punishments for hate crimes (HR 1592). Differences over proposed cuts in subsidies for student lenders (HR 2669), a five-year farm programs reauthorization (HR 2419) and children’s health coverage (HR 3162) also affected the scores.

Bush’s flagging success resulted partially from Republicans parting company with him. House Republicans have supported Bush on the floor an average of 74 percent of the time this year, while Senate Republicans have supported him 81 percent of the time. Both scores are the lowest of his presidency.

Similarly, Republicans have been less unified than in the recent past on votes that feature a majority of one party facing off against a majority of the other. In the House so far this year, 526 of the 839 roll call votes have met that definition. The same is true for the Senate, where the parties have divided on 193 votes out of 310 cast.

House Republican unity this year has ebbed to 85 percent, and Senate GOP unity slumped to 81 percent. Both averages are the lowest since 1994.

That has come as the majority Democrats became more unified. The average House Democratic unity score of 91 percent matches the high-water mark that Republicans scored three times: in 1995, 2001 and 2003.

The average Senate Democratic unity score so far this year is similarly high at 88 percent, almost reaching the party’s peak score of 89 percent posted twice: in 1999 and 2001.

This story originally appeared in CQ Today.;_ylt=Ag2.GTtxNTZeCAbMT3LIn675R9AF

Bush 'worst president', say 52 per cent of Aussies

Bush 'worst president', say 52 per cent of Aussies

September 04, 2007 12:00am
Article from: AAP

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MORE than half of all Australians believe George W. Bush is the worst president in American history, a new poll shows.
The Galaxy poll, commissioned by the Medical Association for the Prevention of War (MAPW), found 52 per cent of Australians believed Mr Bush was the United States' worst-ever president.

Just 32 per cent said he was not, while the remainder were undecided.

MAPW spokesman Robert Marr said it was timely for gauging the Australian public's view of the US president, who will arrive in Sydney for the APEC summit today.

"We thought it was important to get an accurate opinion of Australians' views towards President Bush," Dr Marr told ABC radio today.

"And whether they agree with former president Jimmy Carter that George (W.) Bush was actually the worst president of US history.

"The result was there is a clear majority of Australians who believe George (W.) Bush is the worst ... and that is based primarily on his Iraq war policy."

Dr Marr also said similar polls in the United States showed it was not anti-American to be anti-Bush.

"George Bush is not representing American views these days, as over 60 per cent of Americans disagree with his policy in the Iraq war," he said.

"We don't have to go along with every hare-brained military action that he suggests, and unfortunately (Prime Minister John) Howard didn't have the courage to stand up against George Bush and not get involved in the Iraq war.",23599,22360162-2,00.html