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 22, 2007

The REAL Story of Blackwater's Bloody Sunday in Baghdad

The REAL Story of Blackwater's Bloody Sunday in Baghdad
by markthshark (dailykos)

Sat Sep 22, 2007 at 10:39:51 AM PDT

Six days ago, at least 28 civilians died in a shooting incident involving the US security company BlackwaterUSA. But what actually happened? Since the Baghdad incident, details emerging from the scene have been sketchy at best. Until now, that is.

Writing for the Independent, U.K. reporter Kim Sengupta journeyed to Baghdad and returned with a bone-chillingly realistic story of a suburban center caught up in a lawless, "wild-west" atmosphere, overflowing with weapons and dubious non-law enforcers alike.

What follows is Kim’s recap of what occurred that particular bloody Sunday.

The eruption of gunfire was sudden and ferocious, round after round mowing down terrified men women and children - slamming into cars as they collided and overturned - with drivers frantically trying to escape. Some vehicles were set alight by exploding petrol tanks. A mother and her infant child died in one of them, trapped in the flames.

Last Sunday’s deadly shootout in a Baghdad neighborhood involving the American private security firm, BlackwaterUSA, plunged into sharp Western focus the often violent conduct of U.S. private armies operating in Iraq since the 2003 invasion. Armed with automatic weapons and virtually immunity from scrutiny and prosecution, the alpha mercs from Blackwater have acquired a notorious reputation across Iraq as a deadly, apathetic even anarchistic force. Surprisingly, Blackwater’s henious reputation has been reiterated by other private security companies as well.

The latest incident has sparked one of the most bitter, public disputes ever between the Maliki regime and American occupiers. Accusations are stark and aimed exclusively at BlackwaterUSA. In short, they’re accused of going on an unprovoked killing spree in a recently stabilized Baghdad neighborhood, and it was not the first time or place it’s happened.

The U.K’s Independent has the story:

Hassan Jabar Salman, a lawyer, was shot four times in the back, his car riddled with eight more bullets, as he attempted to get away from their convoy. Yesterday, sitting swathed in bandages at Baghdad's Yarmukh Hospital, he recalled scenes of horror.

"I saw women and children jump out of their cars and start to crawl on the road to escape being shot," said Mr Salman. "But still the firing kept coming and many of them were killed. I saw a boy of about 10 leaping in fear from a minibus, he was shot in the head. His mother was crying out for him, she jumped out after him, and she was killed. People were afraid."

At the end of the prolonged hail of bullets, Nisoor Square was a scene of carnage with bodies strewn around smouldering wreckage. Ambulances trying to pick up the wounded found their path blocked by crowds fleeing the gunfire.

Yesterday, the death toll from the incident, according to Iraqi authorities, stood at 28. And it could rise higher, say doctors, as some of the injured, hit by high-velocity bullets at close quarter, are unlikely to survive.

Blackwater and the US State Department maintain that the guards opened fire in self-defence as they reacted to a bomb blast and then sniper fire. Amid continuing accusations and recriminations, The Independent has tried to piece together events on that day.

The reports we got from members of the public, Iraqi security personnel and government officials, as well as our own research, leads to a markedly different scenario than the American version. There was a bomb blast. But it was too far away to pose any danger to the Blackwater guards, and their State Department charges. We have found no Iraqi present at the scene that saw or heard sniper fire.

Witnesses say the first victims of the shootings were a couple with their child, the mother and infant meeting horrific deaths, their bodies fused together by heat after their car caught fire. The contractors, according to this account, also shot Iraqi soldiers and police and Blackwater then called in an attack helicopter from its private air force, which inflicted further casualties.

Blackwater disputes most of this. In a statement, the company declared that those killed were, "armed insurgents and our personnel acted lawfully and appropriately in a war zone protecting American lives."

The day after the killings, Mirenbe Nantongo, a spokeswoman for the US embassy, said the Blackwater team had " reacted to a car bombing". The embassy's information officer, Johann Schmonsees, stressed " the car bomb was in proximity to the place where State Department personnel were meeting, and that was the reason why Blackwater responded to the incident."

Not surprisingly, those on the receiving end of the violence tell a completely different story. Mr. Salman said when the shooting began, he had turned into the Nisoor Square right behind the Blackwater convoy:

"There were eight foreigners in four utility vehicles, I heard an explosion in the distance and then the foreigners started shouting and signaling for us to go back. I turned the car around and must have driven about a hundred feet when they started shooting. My car was hit with 12 bullets. It turned over. Four bullets hit me in the back and another in the arm. Why they opened fire? I do not know. No one, I repeat, no one, had fired at them.

The foreigners had asked us to go back and I was going back in my car, so there was no reason for them to shoot."

Muhammed Hussein lost a brother in the shooting and narrowly escaped death himself.

"My brother was driving and we saw a black convoy ahead of us. Then I saw my brother suddenly slump in the car. I dragged him out of the car and saw he had been shot in the chest. I tried to hide us both from the firing, but then I realised he was already dead."

Another resident, Jawad Karim Ali was on his way to pick up his aunt from Yarmukh Hospital when the shooting started. His windshield was blown out by the percussion of gunfire, chards of glass cutting his face:

"Then I was hit on my left shoulder by bullets, two of them another one went past my face. Now my aunt is out of hospital and I am sitting here. There was a big bang further away but no shots before the security people fired, and they just kept firing."

Incidents such as last week’s Baghdad "Bloody Sunday" have been happening in Iraq for years with most of the smaller shootings usually going unreported. However, due to the high number of victims in this latest episode, the Nisoor Square incident has morphed into a test of sovereignty between the powers of the Iraqi government and the U.S. occupiers. The Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, said: "We will not tolerate the killing of our citizens in cold blood." The shooting was, he said, the seventh of its kind involving Blackwater.

These days, Blackwater’s reputation precedes their arrival wherever it goes. Its recognizable caravans are known afar by children and senior citizens alike. Even outside of their vehicles, Blackwater personnel are recognizable from their "uniform" of wraparound sunglasses and body armour over dark coloured sweatshirts and helmets. Employees are thought to earn about $600 (£300) per day.

It was the lynching of four of the company's employees in 2004, which led to the bloody confrontation in Fallujah. The men's bodies were set on fire, dragged through the streets and then hung from a bridge.

Nisoor Square is located in the Mansour District of Baghdad, once one of the most fashionable districts of Baghdad, with roads flanked by shops selling expensive goods, restaurants and art galleries. In the midst of sectarian bloodletting between Shias and Sunnis earlier this year, dead bodies would be regularly strewn in the streets. Since that time, a semblance of safety has returned, and Mansour was recently held up by the Bush regime as an example of how the US military "surge" was cutting the violence.

Now... not so much. That erroneous theory garners little credence in Baghdad.

Asked about the witness accounts, Ali al-Dabbagh, an Iraqi government spokesman, confirmed:

"The traffic policemen were trying to open the road for them. It was a crowded square and one small car did not stop, it was moving very slowly. They started shooting randomly, there was a couple and their child inside the car and they were hit."

To the depths of my darkest nightmares could I ever envision living in what has literally become the bloodiest place on Earth. I haven’t a doubt in my mind that for the Iraqi people, the pre-invasion days of living under Saddam Hussein's iron fist, in tragic irony, are now looked upon as the proverbial good ol’ days.

And, this apocalyptic hell on earth is inflicted upon these innocents; in our names, as I speak.

Impede, impeach and imprison.


Feds target Blackwater in weapons probe

Feds target Blackwater in weapons probe

By MATTHEW LEE, Associated Press WriterSat Sep 22, 11:59 AM ET

Federal prosecutors are investigating whether employees of the private security firm Blackwater USA illegally smuggled into Iraq weapons that may have been sold on the black market and ended up in the hands of a U.S.-designated terrorist organization, officials said Friday.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Raleigh, N.C., is handling the investigation with help from Pentagon and State Department auditors, who have concluded there is enough evidence to file charges, the officials told The Associated Press. Blackwater is based in Moyock, N.C.

A spokeswoman for Blackwater did not return calls seeking comment Friday. The U.S. attorney for the eastern district of North Carolina, George Holding, declined to comment, as did Pentagon and State Department spokesmen.

Officials with knowledge of the case said it is active, although at an early stage. They spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, which has heightened since 11 Iraqis were killed Sunday in a shooting involving Blackwater contractors protecting a U.S. diplomatic convoy in Baghdad.

The officials could not say whether the investigation would result in indictments, how many Blackwater employees are involved or if the company itself, which has won hundreds of millions of dollars in government security contracts since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, is under scrutiny.

In Saturday's editions, The News & Observer of Raleigh reported that two former Blackwater employees — Kenneth Wayne Cashwell of Virginia Beach, Va., and William Ellsworth "Max" Grumiaux of Clemmons, N.C. — are cooperating with federal investigators.

Cashwell and Grumiaux pleaded guilty in early 2007 to possession of stolen firearms that had been shipped in interstate or foreign commerce, and aided and abetted another in doing so, according to court papers viewed by The Associated Press. In their plea agreements, which call for a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, the men agreed to testify in any future proceedings.

Calls to defense attorneys were not immediately returned Friday evening, and calls to the telephone listings for both men also were not returned.

The News & Observer, citing unidentified sources, reported that the probe was looking at whether Blackwater had shipped unlicensed automatic weapons and military goods to Iraq without a license.

The paper's report that the company itself was under investigation could not be confirmed by the AP.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ordered a review of security practices for U.S. diplomats in Iraq following a deadly incident involving Blackwater USA guards protecting an embassy convoy.

Rice's announcement came as the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad resumed limited diplomatic convoys under the protection of Blackwater outside the heavily fortified Green Zone after a suspension because of the weekend incident in that city.

In the United States, officials in Washington said the smuggling investigation grew from internal Pentagon and State Department inquiries into U.S. weapons that had gone missing in Iraq. It gained steam after Turkish authorities protested to the U.S. in July that they had seized American arms from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, rebels.

The Turks provided serial numbers of the weapons to U.S. investigators, said a Turkish official.

The Pentagon said in late July it was looking into the Turkish complaints and a U.S. official said FBI agents had traveled to Turkey in recent months to look into cases of missing U.S. weapons in Iraq.

Investigators are determining whether the alleged Blackwater weapons match those taken from the PKK.

It was not clear if Blackwater employees suspected of selling to the black market knew the weapons they allegedly sold to middlemen might wind up with the PKK. If they did, possible charges against them could be more serious than theft or illegal weapons sales, officials said.

The PKK, which is fighting for an independent Kurdistan, is banned in Turkey, which has a restive Kurdish population and is considered a "foreign terrorist organization" by the State Department. That designation bars U.S. citizens or those in U.S. jurisdictions from supporting the group in any way.

The North Carolina investigation was first brought to light by State Department Inspector General Howard Krongard, who mentioned it, perhaps inadvertently, this week while denying he had improperly blocked fraud and corruption probes in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Krongard was accused in a letter by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, of politically motivated malfeasance, including refusing to cooperate with an investigation into alleged weapons smuggling by a large, unidentified State Department contractor.

In response, Krongard said in a written statement that he "made one of my best investigators available to help Assistant U.S. Attorneys in North Carolina in their investigation into alleged smuggling of weapons into Iraq by a contractor."

His statement went further than Waxman's letter because it identified the state in which the investigation was taking place. Blackwater is the biggest of the State Department's three private security contractors.

The other two, Dyncorp and Triple Canopy, are based in Washington's northern Virginias suburbs, outside the jurisdiction of the North Carolina's attorneys.


Associated Press writers Mike Baker in Raleigh and Desmond Butler and Lara Jakes Jordan in Washington contributed to this report.;_ylt=AiBc3kGxDqD1QqTgdmYQJjmMwfIE

Collecting of Details on Travelers Documented

Collecting of Details on Travelers Documented
U.S. Effort More Extensive Than Previously Known

By Ellen Nakashima
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 22, 2007; A01

The U.S. government is collecting electronic records on the travel habits of millions of Americans who fly, drive or take cruises abroad, retaining data on the persons with whom they travel or plan to stay, the personal items they carry during their journeys, and even the books that travelers have carried, according to documents obtained by a group of civil liberties advocates and statements by government officials.

The personal travel records are meant to be stored for as long as 15 years, as part of the Department of Homeland Security's effort to assess the security threat posed by all travelers entering the country. Officials say the records, which are analyzed by the department's Automated Targeting System, help border officials distinguish potential terrorists from innocent people entering the country.

But new details about the information being retained suggest that the government is monitoring the personal habits of travelers more closely than it has previously acknowledged. The details were learned when a group of activists requested copies of official records on their own travel. Those records included a description of a book on marijuana that one of them carried and small flashlights bearing the symbol of a marijuana leaf.

The Automated Targeting System has been used to screen passengers since the mid-1990s, but the collection of data for it has been greatly expanded and automated since 2002, according to former DHS officials.

Officials yesterday defended the retention of highly personal data on travelers not involved in or linked to any violations of the law. But civil liberties advocates have alleged that the type of information preserved by the department raises alarms about the government's ability to intrude into the lives of ordinary people. The millions of travelers whose records are kept by the government are generally unaware of what their records say, and the government has not created an effective mechanism for reviewing the data and correcting any errors, activists said.

The activists alleged that the data collection effort, as carried out now, violates the Privacy Act, which bars the gathering of data related to Americans' exercise of their First Amendment rights, such as their choice of reading material or persons with whom to associate. They also expressed concern that such personal data could one day be used to impede their right to travel.

"The federal government is trying to build a surveillance society," said John Gilmore, a civil liberties activist in San Francisco whose records were requested by the Identity Project, an ad-hoc group of privacy advocates in California and Alaska. The government, he said, "may be doing it with the best or worst of intentions. . . . But the job of building a surveillance database and populating it with information about us is happening largely without our awareness and without our consent."

Gilmore's file, which he provided to The Washington Post, included a note from a Customs and Border Patrol officer that he carried the marijuana-related book "Drugs and Your Rights." "My first reaction was I kind of expected it," Gilmore said. "My second reaction was, that's illegal."

DHS officials said this week that the government is not interested in passengers' reading habits, that the program is transparent, and that it affords redress for travelers who are inappropriately stymied. "I flatly reject the premise that the department is interested in what travelers are reading," DHS spokesman Russ Knocke said. "We are completely uninterested in the latest Tom Clancy novel that the traveler may be reading."

But, Knocke said, "if there is some indication based upon the behavior or an item in the traveler's possession that leads the inspection officer to conclude there could be a possible violation of the law, it is the front-line officer's duty to further scrutinize the traveler." Once that happens, Knocke said, "it is not uncommon for the officer to document interactions with a traveler that merited additional scrutiny."

He said that he is not familiar with the file that mentions Gilmore's book about drug rights, but that generally "front-line officers have a duty to enforce all laws within our authority, for example, the counter-narcotics mission." Officers making a decision to admit someone at a port of entry have a duty to apply extra scrutiny if there is some indication of a violation of the law, he said.

The retention of information about Gilmore's book was first disclosed this week in Wired News. Details of how the ATS works were disclosed in a Federal Register notice last November. Although the screening has been in effect for more than a decade, data for the system in recent years have been collected by the government from more border points, and also provided by airlines -- under U.S. government mandates -- through direct electronic links that did not previously exist.

The DHS database generally includes "passenger name record" (PNR) information, as well as notes taken during secondary screenings of travelers. PNR data -- often provided to airlines and other companies when reservations are made -- routinely include names, addresses and credit-card information, as well as telephone and e-mail contact details, itineraries, hotel and rental car reservations, and even the type of bed requested in a hotel.

The records the Identity Project obtained confirmed that the government is receiving data directly from commercial reservation systems, such as Galileo and Sabre, but also showed that the data, in some cases, are more detailed than the information to which the airlines have access.

Ann Harrison, the communications director for a technology firm in Silicon Valley who was among those who obtained their personal files and provided them to The Post, said she was taken aback to see that her dossier contained data on her race and on a European flight that did not begin or end in the United States or connect to a U.S.-bound flight.

"It was surprising that they were gathering so much information without my knowledge on my travel activities, and it was distressing to me that this information was being gathered in violation of the law," she said.

James P. Harrison, director of the Identity Project and Ann Harrison's brother, obtained government records that contained another sister's phone number in Tokyo as an emergency contact. "So my sister's phone number ends up being in a government database," he said. "This is a lot more than just saying who you are, your date of birth."

Edward Hasbrouck, a civil liberties activist who was a travel agent for more than 15 years, said that his file contained coding that reflected his plan to fly with another individual. In fact, Hasbrouck wound up not flying with that person, but the record, which can be linked to the other passenger's name, remained in the system. "The Automated Targeting System," Hasbrouck alleged, "is the largest system of government dossiers of individual Americans' personal activities that the government has ever created."

He said that travel records are among the most potentially invasive of records because they can suggest links: They show who a traveler sat next to, where they stayed, when they left. "It's that lifetime log of everywhere you go that can be correlated with other people's movements that's most dangerous," he said. "If you sat next to someone once, that's a coincidence. If you sat next to them twice, that's a relationship."

Stewart Verdery, former first assistant secretary for policy and planning at DHS, said the data collected for ATS should be considered "an investigative tool, just the way we do with law enforcement, who take records of things for future purposes when they need to figure out where people came from, what they were carrying and who they are associated with. That type of information is extremely valuable when you're trying to thread together a plot or you're trying to clean up after an attack."

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff in August 2006 said that "if we learned anything from Sept. 11, 2001, it is that we need to be better at connecting the dots of terrorist-related information. After Sept. 11, we used credit-card and telephone records to identify those linked with the hijackers. But wouldn't it be better to identify such connections before a hijacker boards a plane?" Chertoff said that comparing PNR data with intelligence on terrorists lets the government "identify unknown threats for additional screening" and helps avoid "inconvenient screening of low-risk travelers."

Knocke, the DHS spokesman, added that the program is not used to determine "guilt by association." He said the DHS has created a program called DHS Trip to provide redress for travelers who faced screening problems at ports of entry.

But DHS Trip does not allow a traveler to challenge an agency decision in court, said David Sobel, senior counsel with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has sued the DHS over information concerning the policy underlying the ATS. Because the system is exempted from certain Privacy Act requirements, including the right to "contest the content of the record," a traveler has no ability to correct erroneous information, Sobel said.

Zakariya Reed, a Toledo firefighter, said in an interview that he has been detained at least seven times at the Michigan border since fall 2006. Twice, he said, he was questioned by border officials about "politically charged" opinion pieces he had published in his local newspaper. The essays were critical of U.S. policy in the Middle East, he said. Once, during a secondary interview, he said, "they had them printed out on the table in front of me."

Researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.

Friday, September 21, 2007

How Bush Became The New Saddam

Its strategies shattered, a desperate Washington is reaching out to the late dictator's henchmen.

Patrick Graham | Sep 20, 2007 | 10:04 am EST
Maclean's (Canada)

It was embarrassing putting my flak jacket on backwards and sideways, but in the darkness of the Baghdad airport car park I couldn’t see anything. “Peterik, put the flak jacket on,” the South African security contractor was saying politely, impatiently. “You know the procedure if we are attacked.”

I didn’t. He explained. One of the chase vehicles would pull up beside us and someone would drag me out of the armoured car, away from the firing. If both drivers were unconscious—nice euphemism—he said I should try to run to the nearest army checkpoint. If the checkpoint was American, things might work out if they didn’t shoot first. If it was Iraqi . . . he didn’t elaborate.

Arriving in Baghdad has always been a little weird. Under Saddam Hussein it was like going into an orderly morgue; when he ran off after the U.S.-led invasion of March 2003 put an end to his Baathist party regime, the city became a chaotic mess. I lived in Iraq for almost two years, but after three years away I wasn’t quite ready for just how deserted and worn down the place seemed in the early evening. It was as if some kind of mildew was slowly rotting away at the edges of things, breaking down the city into urban compost.

Since 2003, more than 3,775 U.S. troops have been killed in Iraq, while nearly 7,500 Iraqi policemen and soldiers have died. For Iraq’s civilian population, the carnage has been almost incalculable. Last year alone, the UN estimated that 34,500 civilians were killed and more than 36,000 wounded; other estimates are much higher. As the country’s ethnic divisions widen, especially between Iraq’s Arab Shia and Arab Sunni Muslims (the Kurds are the third major group), some two million people have been internally displaced, with another two million fleeing their homeland altogether. Entering Baghdad I could tell the Sunni neighbourhoods, ghettos really, by the blasts in the walls and the emptiness, courtesy of sectarian cleansing by the majority Shias. The side streets of the Shia districts seemed to have a little more life to them.

As soon as I arrived, I tried calling old acquaintances. Many of these were from Falluja and Ramadi, and had once been connected to the insurgency that had raged across the Sunni Arab province of Anbar since 2003. In the past few years, though, many in the insurgency had become disillusioned with the direction of the anti-occupation fight—and concerned over the future of Arab Sunnis in Iraq. In Anbar, the terrorist group al-Qaeda in Iraq, initially a partner in the Sunni insurgency, had alienated many by trying to overthrow traditional tribal and power structures to impose an alien interpretation of Islam, a Salafist fundamentalism that had few adherents before the arrival of the Americans. In Baghdad, the militias supporting the Shia-dominated central government—in effect a sectarian regime—were cleansing Arab Sunni neighbourhoods. Now, Anbari Sunnis view the government as deeply infiltrated by their traditional enemy, Shia Iran. So with few allies left in Iraq, they began allying themselves with their former enemies, the U.S. Army—which also seems to be running out of friends.

This “Anbar Awakening” has been a slow process, beginning long before the recent U.S. “surge” that increased the number of American troops in Iraq by 30,000, to 180,000. But it is still a shaky union, a desperate marriage of convenience based on shared enemies: Iran, and the Sunnis’ former-friend-turned-foe al-Qaeda. Many of America’s new allies are former insurgents and Saddam Hussein loyalists (Saddam was a Sunni) who only a short while ago were routinely called terrorists, “anti-Iraqi fighters,” and “Baathist dead-enders.” They are suspicious of one another and strongly anti-American, although willing to work, for the moment, with the U.S. The leader and founder of the Anbar Awakening Council, Sheik Abdul-Sattar Abu Risha, was recently killed by a roadside bomb outside his house in Ramadi, clearly an inside job of some kind for which al-Qaeda claimed credit. Only 10 days earlier, Abu Risha had met with George W. Bush during the President’s visit to Iraq, the photo op of death, apparently.

I kept phoning Iraqis but few answered. When I told a friend in Baghdad that no one was taking my calls, he suggested that people didn’t answer unknown numbers because they were afraid of threats. Apparently, according to Arab custom, if you warn your victim before an attack, it’s not a crime. Perhaps—but you can read too much ancient custom into Iraq. My suspicion was that they were dead. My hope was that they were avoiding embarrassing calls from girlfriends when they were with their wives. Iraqis’ love lives can be as complicated as their politics.

When I finally got through to one friend, he was in Damascus, along with several million of his countrymen. “Come to Falluja,” Ahmed said. “You can kill al-Qaeda with my troop.” It wasn’t clear how I was supposed to get to Falluja from Baghdad, although it is only 50 km west of the capital. Ahmed wasn’t sure it was a good idea to try. Passing through Abu Ghraib, a large suburban area outside the capital where Saddam and then the Americans ran a notorious prison, could be a real problem, he said. There, both insurgents and Shia militias often set up checkpoints and kidnap travellers. The Americans, mind you, have a more optimistic view of the Abu Ghraib situation. A few weeks later, I would watch Ambassador Ryan Crocker tell Congress of a real milestone in co-operation between former Sunni insurgents and their enemies in the Shia-dominated administration: over 1,700 Sunni tribesmen in Abu Ghraib were officially hired by the government as security forces. Ambassador Crocker may have been accurate—it’s just that the positive steps happening in Iraq shouldn’t be called milestones. They are more like yard-pebbles. Or even inch-dust.

“Come to Damascus—we can drive from here and the road is safe,” Ahmed said. He listed the various tribal militias controlling the 450-km road through Anbar province from the Syrian border to Falluja that could protect us. It seemed to be typical of the recent over-hyped success of the Anbar Awakening that you would have to fly from Baghdad to Damascus, and then drive six hours back across the desert, to get only 40 minutes outside Baghdad in order to see it for yourself (you could go with the U.S. Army as well, but you learn mostly about Americans if you are with Americans and end up sounding like a visiting columnist for the New York Times). Ahmed said that when he and his “troop” (his quaint word for what sounded death-squadish to me) captured al-Qaeda fighters around Falluja, they shipped the leaders to the border for interrogation by Syrian intelligence. So far, he’d sent 12. You can’t blame him—even the Americans send suspects to Syria when they want them tortured. Just ask Maher Arar.

I first met the tribal militias that make up the Anbar Awakening during the U.S. invasion of Iraq, when a family I knew smuggled me out to a small village between Ramadi and Falluja. Saddam’s army had virtually disappeared from the countryside, and these militias, trusted by Saddam’s regime and at the time still loyal to it, controlled the roads and villages of Anbar just as they do today. I spent a lot of 2003 and 2004 around Falluja and Ramadi, getting to know a group of insurgents fighting the U.S. occupation. I’m fairly certain that if the tribal militias had been intelligently treated—i.e. paid US$10 each per day the way they are now—and the U.S. Army hadn’t driven around Ramadi and Falluja shooting wildly in the spring of 2003, many would have been American allies from the beginning. Instead, a lot of them became insurgents, hooked up with their cousins from Saddam’s former security services, and eventually allied themselves with the Iraqi branch of al-Qaeda. That relationship was symbiotic at first, but al-Qaeda soon became destructive parasites, jihadi body snatchers who killed anybody opposed to their control and strict Islamic codes.

When Gen. David Pet­raeus, commander of the multinational force in Iraq, appeared before Congress with Ambassador Crocker to testify about the results of President Bush’s “surge” strategy, he talked a lot about these tribal militias and the success of Anbar. It is the only progress the U.S. has made in Iraq for years. It’s unclear whether the additional 30,000 troops that make up the surge have had much effect on the Anbar Awakening. But watching Gen. Petraeus, I was struck by how familiar his words sounded. The general talked like every Sunni I’ve ever met in Iraq—hell, he sounded a bit like Saddam. The old tyrant would have had one of his characteristic chest-heaving guffaws watching Petraeus as he intoned the old Baathist mantra about the dangers to Iraq: Iran, Iran, Iran. Bush took up Gen. Petraeus’s views a few days later in a nationally televised speech about Iraq, in which he talked about the threat Tehran posed. It seems that Petraeus and Bush have come to the same conclusion as Saddam: the main enemy is Iran, and you can’t govern Iraq without the Sunni Arab tribes, even as you encourage anti-Iranian nationalism among the Shia. This is what Saddam did during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, and what Washington is trying to do now. One of the main problems with this strategy is that both the Sunni tribes and Shia nationalists are profoundly anti-American and don’t trust each other—a potential recipe for further disaster.

Going back to Iraq is like sitting through a depressing Scheherazade, 10,001 Nights of Horror Stories. Everybody had them. Do you want to see a picture of someone’s 10-year-old boy, chopped up in pieces and put in a cooking pot because his parents couldn’t pay the Shia militia’s ransom? Here, look at the burns on my body, inflicted by the bodyguards of the Sunni politician who sold my eight-year-old son and me to al-Qaeda. Let me tell you about being kidnapped in Falluja by a gang that pretended to be al-Qaeda—they made me drink urine and had a fake beheading studio where they set up mock video executions to scare us into raising ransoms. As a friend of mine kept saying over and over—“Where do they get these people? What kind of a person does this? Where do they get them?”

Sadly, these stories are true, while so much that is said about Iraq is myth and delusion. As the famous American war correspondent Martha Gellhorn wrote about armed conflict, there is “the real war and the propaganda war.” During the congressional hearings about the surge, I kept thinking of Tattoo on Fantasy Island, half expecting Ambassador Crocker to tug on Gen. Petraeus’s sleeve and say, “Look, boss, da plane.” Smiles, everyone, smiles! Sometimes I think Iraq doesn’t exist at all. It’s just a series of preconceptions, a country invented to keep the West’s intelligentsia busy arguing and pontificating, fighting over facts about a place that is so clearly a work of fiction. Frankly, I wish it didn’t exist, at least for the sake of Iraqis. First Saddam, now this.

Certainly the notion of there being any cohesive central power in Iraq is a myth. Whatever is running the country, it’s not a government. Iraq’s body politic has some kind of autoimmune deficiency syndrome in which the antibodies designed to defend it have turned on its own organs. It’s a perfect environment for opportunistic parasites, in this case Iraq’s neighbours. So it seems almost unfair to criticize Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s failure to govern, as if somehow he was in charge of anything that could be called a state.
In many ways, this is Saddam’s fault. Like most tyrants, he turned the Iraqi government into a series of fiefdoms loyal only to him. That’s why it was called a regime. But today, it’s really a set of regimes. Each of the ministries is controlled by a sectarian or ethnic group and, like Saddam, they hire people mostly loyal to themselves (although some are fought over by competing factions). The ministries are important because that’s where the money is—apart from oil, Iraq has no industries, unless you consider murder a job, and that is a heavy industry at the moment. As an Iraqi doctor who left medicine to work for one of the many foreign companies losing money in Iraq (most of them are) said to me: “There are only two ways to make money in Iraq—working for the ministries, or working for the U.S. Army.”

The level of corruption in the ministries is astonishing, but according to U.S. government reports they are often “untouchable” because the prime minister’s office protects allies from investigation. The Ministry of Finance is run by Bayan Jabr, the former minister of the interior who hired thousands of Shia militiamen as police and set up death squads and torture prisons. His successor had to fire 10,000 employees, and today various factions fight for control of each floor of the Interior Ministry building.

At least US$10 billion has been embezzled, according to Iraq’s Commission on Public Integrity, which is itself underfunded (12 of its members have been murdered). After a U.S. report surfaced detailing how the prime minister blocked the commission’s investigations of corrupt officials, Maliki accused the head of the commission of corruption and threatened him with arrest. Luckily the man was already out of the country. Corruption in the Oil Ministry—Iraq’s nationalized energy sector is its only real source of revenue—has resulted in shortages that have only increased the long lineups for gasoline in a country brimming with oil. Senior Iraqi army officers complain that when they organize raids on Shia militias, they are stopped on orders from the prime minister’s office. Iraq was a disaster under Saddam, but it has turned into Nigeria.

Maliki has been accused of running an “ethno-sectarian” government, but accusing him of running a pro-Shia government is like accusing Bush of running a pro-Republican administration. Like Karl Rove, who hoped to make the Republican party supreme, Maliki seems to want to set up Shia-dominated rule that will control Iraq for generations. And like Rove, he focuses on his base, with little regard for any other point of view unless the U.S. pressures him (even then he pouts and makes vague threats about looking for other allies—by which he obviously means Iran).

Instead of polls and data mining, the governing Shia parties have taken control by using militias to “sectarian cleanse” Baghdad, a retaliation against al-Qaeda’s spectacular car bombing campaign. By one estimate, Baghdad was once 65 per cent Sunni; today it is 75 per cent Shia. Deaths from sectarian killings are reportedly down, in large measure because there are few mixed neighbourhoods left. Almost the entire Sunni middle class lives in Jordan or Syria. If you are named Omar, a traditional Sunni name, chances are you are dead or living abroad. Under Saddam, no one on the streets of the capital ever uttered the word mukhabarat, mean­ing the feared security police. Today, no one says maktab, meaning “office,” but in fact referring to radical Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army’s bases from which members control neighbourhoods. Their preferred method of torture is the electric drill.

The great irony of Maliki is that under other circumstances a government like his—one that is: a) accused by the U.S. of close relations with an American enemy (Iran); b) running a strategically important country (like Iraq); c) involved in the oppression and murder of one of its minorities (the Sunnis), which is closely linked to an important U.S. ally (the Saudis)—is an administration that many Americans would want to eliminate. There is a good chance that if the U.S. Army wasn’t there already, Washington would have invaded to get rid of Maliki. But having toppled Saddam, lost thousands of soldiers, and so far spent some US$500 billion on combat operations alone, the U.S. is now in too weak of a position to do much.

Maliki, though, might fall of his own accord. In the end, having alienated Sunnis and secular Iraqis, his unwieldy coalition government will probably be brought down as a result of the growing rift between Shia parties that are now fighting for control of southern Iraq and Baghdad. (On Sept. 15, Muqtada al-Sadr’s movement withdrew from the ruling coalition because Sadr had been frozen out of power.)

One of the problems outsiders have in criticizing the present Iraqi government for its appallingly sectarian policies is that there is a tendency for people to think: “Well, what do you want—Saddam?” That’s absurd, of course, like criticizing Russian President Vladimir Putin and being accused of wanting a return of the Soviet Union. And the group in Iraq that seems to be most critical of this government—other than the Sunnis—is the U.S. Army.

U.S. soldiers have been up to their knees in the blood of Shia militia killings, as well as insurgent death squads and car bombs, and have few illusions about this government’s intentions. You can tell the military’s views not just by its enthusiasm for its new Sunni tribal allies, but the vehemence with which American politicians who have come through Iraq on this summer’s army-organized tours have come out against Maliki. Senators Carl Levin, a Democrat, and Jack Warner, a Republican, could barely contain their contempt for Maliki when they left Iraq in late August. Neither could the refreshingly undiplomatic French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, an outspoken advocate of human rights who supported the original invasion. It must drive him mad to see what Maliki is doing now, helping to destroy Kouchner’s robust, pro-human rights Western foreign policy model that was supposed to make the world unsafe for tyrants.

We all understand, in a very basic way, that a settling of scores by the Shia is impossible to avoid, especially with the car bombs and insurgent attacks on their neighbourhoods since 2003. But after a few years of patience, the Shia parties have shown themselves to be particularly motivated by revenge. Take Bayan Jabr. I met him before the war in Syria, when he was the representative of the Iranian-based Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (now SIIC, formerly SCIRI), and was struck only by his blandness. When the interview was over, I asked him how many members of his family had been killed by Saddam. Thirty-two, he said, shaking my hand. As minister of the interior, Jabr was responsible for at least as many deaths as the 148 people Saddam was convicted of killing after an assassination attempt outside the village of Dujail in 1982, murders for which the dictator was hanged. That doesn’t mean Jabr is as bad as Saddam, but I wouldn’t want to be his enemy.
Revenge is deeply woven into the foundations of this war, and not just on the Iraqi side. I remember looking inside the lead Humvee coming into downtown Baghdad on the day the Americans took the city on April 2003. Inside was an “I Love NY” sticker. How much of the American motivation for the war was payback for 9/11 is a question that can be asked every time Bush is quoted, as he was recently in Australia, saying “we’re kicking ass.” Misplaced payback, perhaps, but revenge is rarely rational.

Just as one is accused of being a pro-Saddam, Baathist sympathizer if you crit­icize the government in Baghdad, so one is accused of being a neo-con if you point out how deeply in­­volved Iran has become in Iraq. The role Iran plays is as complex and shady as can be expected in a situation that is so murky on so many different levels, from neighbourhood turf wars to world oil strate­­gies and a proxy war with America. But the U.S. government is right to be concerned, al­though it’s not clear they can do much except protest, threaten loudly, and fight a secret, dirty war.

Iraq, Iran’s neighbour to the west, is Tehran’s self-declared security zone. Iran has already been attacked once from Iraq—by a then-American ally, Saddam—and won’t let it happen again. Nor do the Iranians want, as the West does, a secular Iraqi government that could destabilize their own theocracy. For them, Iraq is a survival issue. U.S.-led invasions have conquered not only Iraq but Afghanistan on Iran’s eastern flank. The U.S. Navy is floating off Iranian shores. Every few weeks, Washington debates whether to bomb Iran. How could Iran afford not to be involved in Iraq? Following the American example, the Iranians have learned that it’s bet­­­ter to fight the U.S. on the streets of Baghdad than the streets of Tehran.

The real question is, what are Iran’s objectives in Iraq, and how will Iraqis react? If Iran wants economic, political and military domination, the problems are long-term. If Iran is in Iraq to fight a proxy war against the United States, then presumably it will leave when the U.S. does. In general, I have found Iraqis to be extremely suspicious of the Iranian government and its involvement in their country—not just the Sunnis, but the Shias and Kurds as well. But then again, even Iranians are suspicious of their own government.
Iran has a number of interests in Iraq that go beyond security. The most obvious is religious—Iraq contains some of the holiest sites of Shia Islam that have been cut off from Iranian pilgrims for decades. The other is economic. With a population of over 65 million people, Iran views itself as a regional superpower and expects the financial rewards that come from that position. And like any other superpower, it creates economic problems for its neighbours. When I was in Baghdad in August, people complained that Iraqi farm produce was being driven off of the market by Iran, which is dumping its fruit and vegetables in Iraq. This is a disaster for Iraqi agriculture, one of the few areas of employment in the country.

The actual influence of Iran on the Iraqi government is hard to gauge. The present administration is made up of mainly Shia parties, some of which are very nationalistic and anti-Iranian, like the Fadhila party, while others, like the SIIC, that was formed as an anti-Saddam party in Iran in 1982, are very close to Tehran. For the U.S., the most worrying Iranian influence is the authority that Iranian security services have over militias like the SIIC’s Badr Organization, which was based in Iran for 20 years until the fall of Saddam. Even Muqtada al-Sadr’s militia, the Mahdi Army, is thought to have one wing controlled by Iran.
These days, though, the biggest concern on the highways of Baghdad is not Sunni insurgent bombs, but the explosively formed penetrators that fire a molten copper slug through even American heavy armour. According to U.S. intelligence, they are provided by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps to Shia militias. Of course, U.S. intelligence accusations are now as suspect as the Iranian government denials that they provoke.

America’s other main enemy is al-Qaeda in Iraq, which is to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda what a cheap watch is to a Swiss timepiece—effective, easily reproduced, and disposable. Al-Qaeda did not exist in Iraq before the invasion, but today it, along with Iran, are the two strongest arguments the U.S. makes for “staying the course.” Al-Qaeda in Iraq is essentially a religious criminal gang that kills anyone who threatens its power or differs from its Salafist views on establishing a perverse form of an Islamic state. Its death squads and enormously destructive truck bombs have killed thousands of Shias, but Sunnis, too, have suffered al-Qaeda’s violent nihilism. Car bombs, assassinations and “religious punishments,” including decapitations and cutting off the fingers of smokers, have put Sunni Iraq under a Mordor-like shadow of terror and justified collective punishment from the Shias. In his testimony to Congress, Gen. Petraeus pointed out the lethal threat of al-Qaeda. But this should come as no surprise to an American general—because the U.S. Army helped create al-Qaeda in Iraq.

The American role in the promotion of the terrorist organization is not some mad conspiracy theory, but a well-documented attempt by the U.S. government to demonize the insurgency and make it appear to be the central front in the war on terror. This was as great a mistake as disbanding the Iraqi army, which the U.S. did in May 2003, or perhaps even greater, since it led to the sectarian downward spiral that has destroyed the country.

When the insurgency started in the summer of 2003, it was made up primarily of the same class of alienated Sunnis who are now part of the tribal Anbar Awakening. The insurgents I spent time with in 2003 and 2004 were, in essence, nationalists who didn’t like the U.S. Army driving around their villages, kicking down their doors and shooting their cousins at checkpoints. They were also deeply suspicious of American plans for democracy, because they feared it would lead to Iran taking over the government. Some hated Saddam, some liked him, but Saddam wasn’t the issue. For want of a better term, they are the equivalent of rednecks who believe in God, their country, and the right to bear arms.

But rather than come up with an intelligent counter-insurgency policy, reach out to traditional tribal social structures and try to understand why American soldiers were getting killed, U.S. military leaders did what Americans have gotten very good at doing in the last few years. They made up a story, which they repeated on the news for U.S. domestic consumption—and then started to believe themselves. In this story, evil foreign terrorists led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a chubby Jordanian freelance terrorist, were setting upon the popular U.S. Army. AMZ, as the U.S. Army jauntily called him, existed, but he was a minor figure unlikely to get much of a following on his own in Iraq. Jordanians are not greatly respected by Sunni tribal Iraqis, who tend to view them as the metrosexuals of the Middle East. I used to watch the nightly news with insurgents—they called themselves the “resistance”—and they would laugh at what U.S. spokesmen were saying about the insurgency and Zarqawi’s prominence. But from the U.S. perspective, “tribal freedom fighter,” as the former Sunni insurgents are described today, does not sound as good as “foreign terrorist” or “anti-Iraqi fighter” when you are trying to demonize people fighting your occupation.

The ploy backfired. As AMZ (he was killed in June 2006) got more and more airtime, he gained more and more legitimacy, money and volunteers. It was as if Japanese whalers were mounting a “Save The Whales” campaign on television. Thanks to the Americans, al-Qaeda in Iraq became the Greenpeace of the jihadi world.

AMZ’s foreign fighters were never more than a tiny percentage of the insurgency, but they got all the credit, especially when their car bombs began killing civilians. Al-Qaeda in Iraq also had a tremendous appeal among the Sunni Iraqi underclass, just as Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda appeals to poor, angry Muslims the world over. Provinces like Anbar are very poor and very hierarchical, with a large and resentful social stratum at the bottom. Local Iraqis were drawn to al-Qaeda’s Salafist fundamentalism because it freed them from the conservative, tribal oppression that governed their lives. Al-Qaeda was able to take over some of the insurgency—and still controls chunks of Iraq—precisely because it was revolutionary, not conservative, and offered poor people in An­­bar a chance to kick some rich sheik and Baathist ass, as well as kill Americans and Shias. In part, al-Qaeda was part of a class war fuelled by profound anger and so­­cial resentment.

When my friend Ahmed, the grandson of an important sheik, invited me to “come kill some al-Qaeda” around Falluja, he didn’t mean hunt down Saudis who had trained in Afghanistan under bin Laden. He meant, “Let’s go shoot the uppity trash who took over my village.” Ahmed comes from an area outside Falluja where the same people who are now called al-Qaeda briefly kidnapped me in the spring of 2004. They would have shot my three Iraqi friends—one of whom was a sheik—and me if the U.S. Marines hadn’t attacked their checkpoint. After these people have kidnapped you, you understand where Ahmed is coming from.

The insurgents whom I knew at first tolerated al-Qaeda and its foreign volunteers, even though Salafism was alien to their beliefs in local Islamic traditions and their affinity toward the more mystical branch of Islam, Sufism, both anathema to Salafists. But al-Qaeda eventually turned against the other insurgent groups to consolidate its power, demanded their allegiance, and began killing anyone who opposed it or whom it thought might be a threat. In doing so, al-Qaeda extremists became like the Khmer Rouge, murdering any tribal sheik or former Iraqi military office or educated person not on their side (al-Qaeda’s attacks on the Sunni elite make many Sunnis believe that Iran, along with Syria, is funding the organization).

By 2005, the insurgents and their families, whom I had gotten to know, were fighting al-Qaeda as well as attacking the Americans. Today, they are working with the U.S. Army in the various tribal militias of the Anbar Awakening. But this recent success in Iraq is really just the proverbial “one step forward” following two earlier steps backwards. The former insurgents’ loyalty is not to the U.S. —the same people who make up the tribal militias probably killed the majority of American soldiers who have died in Iraq—nor can they tolerate the government in Baghdad. Now that there are Sunni militias to balance the Shia militias, the question is whether the Iraqi government will be forced to reconcile with the Sunnis—or turn up the volume in the civil war.

One of the worst things to happen to Iraq was the war in Bosnia, a misleading precedent of civil strife and international intervention that taught all the wrong lessons. The conflict in the former Yugoslavia gave the West the false impression that we could successfully interfere in complex disagreements because we were on the side of justice and immensely powerful.

We subsequently saw Iraq through a Yugoslav lens, but Iraq is not Yugoslavia. Instead, it has been balkanized by many of the journalists, intellectuals and diplomats who cut their teeth during the “invade and aid” strategies of the 1990s. Western journalists and intellectuals love a three-way civil war. It is a deeply satisfying morality play and makes everything simple—Bad Serbs, Good Bosnians, and Croats allied with the West. Or in Iraq’s case, Bad Sunnis, Good Shias, Kurdish allies. The easy trinitarian logic of the Balkans was applied to Iraq, even before the invasion, by advocates for the war on both the right and the left of the political spectrum.

But Iraq is not a collection of European nation-states, and sectarian identity here is far more complex than in the Balkans, too subtle for foreigners to easily grasp and yet easily exploited to justify invasions in bumper-sticker phrases (although Yugoslavs also endured a great deal of moralistic simplifications themselves). Iraq is like a French cheese that can’t be pasteurized for the palates of a reading public that has grown up on Kraft slices of Good Guy/Bad Guy. Of course, Iraq has good guys and bad guys; they just switch roles a lot depending on our perspective.

It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that some of the most sectarian people in Iraq are the foreign journalists, intellectuals and diplomats paid to interpret what is happening in the country. The Kurds were the first to find enthusiastic backers like Michael Ignatieff, who felt that their suffering under Saddam justified the invasion. The Shias, too, have their supporters. For a while after the invasion in 2003 there was a great deal of sympathy among foreigners in Iraq for their point of view after the decades they suffered under Saddam. But once elected, the Shia parties’ policies—militia infiltration of the security services, death squads, torture prisons, contempt for secular values and women, embracing Iran—have encouraged cynicism.

In the past, few outsiders have expressed much sympathy for the Sunnis, those Saddam-loving authoritarians, but that has recently begun to change. Now that the White House has la­­belled the Anbar sheiks “heroes,” and the Shia government is described as pro-Iranian and anti-American, we are beginning to see a sudden outpouring of sympathy for Sunnis in the Western press. This will probably be short-lived, because the Sunnis have a talent for mak­­ing themselves de­­­­spised. But intellectuals and journalists are, to an astonishing degree, sentimental, and fawn over cultures like high school kids with a new crush. If you protect us and tell us your story, we like you and are very sympathetic—for a while. If you try to kill us or, worse, treat us with contempt, we’ll demonize you. The Sunnis treated Westerners with contempt un­­­­­der Saddam, tried to kill us during the insurgency, and were vilified. Now they are weak and friendlier. It is the Shia government that is contemptuous, and its militias life-threatening, so journalists aren’t quite so enthusiastic anymore.

An enduring myth about Iraq is that it can be split into “nation” states based on ethnicity or sectarian differences, with a Shia south, a Sunni middle and a Kurdish north. But Arab Iraqis are far more nationalistic than you would guess from all the discussions of “ethno-sectarian” differences. Indeed, many Iraqis are astonished by the sudden emergence of Sunni and Shia divisions. As one Iraqi American said to me: “We never used to talk about it, but the other day a stripper asked me if I was Sunni or Shia.” And that was in California.

It’s true that many Kurds are keen on partitioning Iraq, but they are also keen on taking chunks of Iran, Syria and Turkey to make a Kurdish homeland. And at least some members of one Shia party, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, promote a very decentralized federalism. But, for the most part, the vast majority of Arab Iraqis see Iraq as a strongly unified state. Shias and Sunnis may be chauvinists, violently so in some cases, but that doesn’t mean they don’t see Iraq as a nation.

If you look at recent polls, Shia support for partition runs around two per cent, while the majority, 56 per cent, support a strong centralized state. Some Shias in the south may want to create regional blocks, but this is more an expression of regional culture than sectarianism—they just don’t like Baghdad, the way western Canadians don’t like Ottawa. The Sunnis, for their part, want a unified, centrally controlled government because they view themselves as the country’s natural governing class. In fact, many Sunnis don’t view themselves as Sunni, just Iraqi. This is especially true in Baghdad, where every Sunni I know has a Shia parent or grandparent—until recently class was the primary division in Baghdad, not sect. The Sunnis think of themselves as Iraqi in the way that Torontonians think of themselves as Canadian, not English-Canadian—it’s the other guys who are hyphenated.

The much-repeated line that Iraq is a phony country made up by colonial powers is itself a myth. Indeed, I’m always amazed by the extent of Iraqi nationalism in Arab Iraq, a nationalism that coexists with sectarian suspicions but which is very real. The historian Reidar Visser has written extensively about this, especially the diverse Shia sense of being Iraqi, and the long history of Iraq as a governed unit. But it is too complex an argument to be put forward in the media, and blaming previous colonial governments is easy. As Visser points out, U.S. Democratic party supporters have found the argument for partition to be a convenient solution for a problem they have no clue how to solve, but which makes them sound less clueless and cruel than saying, “Forget the Iraqis, let’s leave.”

But foreign interference in Iraq has greatly exacerbated the divisiveness among the various groups, which were already suffering years of grinding dictatorship under which citizens and sect were played off against each other. The process that began during the Saddam era has now turned into civil war—with outside help. Early on, the American-controlled occupying government created a “Governing Council” organized on sectarian lines, with money being funnelled through various groups according to their “ethno-sectarian” divisions. This only increased existing divisions, and once an actual Iraqi government was elected it governed purely along sectarian lines.

Ironically, the recent American support for Sunni militias is itself a classic Balkan solution to an Iraqi problem. In 1994, the U.S. quietly helped to build up the Croatian army, allowing the Croats to sweep through Serb-held Krajina the following year, viciously cleansing it of the Serbs. The newly pumped-up Croats then acted as a counterbalance to Serbian power; this, in turn, brought Slobodan Milosevic to the table and led to the signing of the Dayton peace accord. Today, the Sunni tribes are the Croats, backed by the U.S. and presenting an increasing military threat to the Shia government, which at some point may have to rely on Iran to defend itself.

To call this “Yugoslav solution” a risky strategy in Iraq is an understatement. Once the Sunnis are free of their own civil war with al-Qaeda, and are no longer wasting their strength fighting U.S. forces, you will see the re-emergence of the same coalition of Sunnis that supported Saddam, but which is increasily allied with the U.S. military. And then? My guess is that there will be a series of well-orchestrated assassinations of Shia government officials, especially in the Interior Ministry, who are viewed as responsible for killing Sunnis and the ethnic cleansing of Baghdad. The U.S. will be unable to stop this, just as in the aftermath of the invasion it was unable to stop the Shia parties from hunting down and killing former Baathists. Nor will there be much incentive for the Americans to step in, since the Sunnis will also target anyone in the government or government-sponsored militias who have close ties to Iran. When Prime Minister Maliki says he’s reluctant to have the tribal militias gain too much power, he knows that the old Saddam cadres of Republican Guards and intelligence officers with a base among the tribal militias in Anbar will be coming into Baghdad for a little payback. It will be a proxy war against Iran, masked by warring sectarian militias. And this is just the kind of problem partitioning the country cannot solve.

A few years ago, I was asked to speak about Iraq at a conference on insurgencies. At the end of the day, participants were asked to guess what might happen in five years. I said I thought the U.S. would be allied with the Sunnis and fighting Iran. In a limited way, that has turned out to be the case. To some degree, the military has switched sides in the middle of the fight.

So far, the plan has not been as successful as its proponents maintain. But it isn’t entirely a failure, either. It is probably the only major military strategy that has had any real effect since the original invasion. I’ve now been invited to “hunt al-Qaeda” in two other areas outside Anbar, which means there has been a ripple effect in the Sunni areas. But in the end, it may not matter much. The discussion in Washington and New York has always drowned out the reality of Iraq. One of the terrifying aspects of the war is the monumental failure of analysis and action on the part of America’s political, military, journalistic and even business elites.

That problem may be systemic—the result of a “fact-based” America confronting a society it did not understand and simply making up an alternate reality, guns ablaze. So far, the Republicans have done an impressive job at failing in Iraq. Soon it may be the Democrats’ turn to fail, albeit in a different way. It’s a shame because Iraqi political parties are perfectly capable of doing that on their own. Indeed, they seem to be going out of their way to compete with the Americans on that score.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

U.S. military cemetery running out of space

U.S. military cemetery running out of space
Thu Sep 20, 2007 11:57am EDT

OVERLAND PARK, Kansas (Reuters) - A Kansas military cemetery has run out of space after the burial of another casualty of the Iraq war, officials said on Thursday.

"We are full," said Alison Kohler, spokeswoman for the Fort Riley U.S. Army post, home of the 1st Infantry Division.

U.S. Sens. Sam Brownback and Pat Roberts, both Kansas Republicans, on Thursday sent a letter to William Tuerk, the under secretary for memorial affairs at the Department of Veterans Affairs, urging for full funding for a new cemetery for Fort Riley.

"While a new cemetery would not be completed in time to alleviate this situation immediately, it is vitally important," Roberts and Brownback, a Republican presidential candidate, said in their letter.

"We truly owe our military members a debt of gratitude and the least we can do is provide them with an honorable burial ground," the senators wrote.

Since the 2003 beginning of the war in Iraq, Fort Riley has lost 133 soldiers and airmen, though not all are buried in the Fort Riley cemetery. Sgt Joel Murray, who died September 4 in Iraq, took the last available plot, said Kohler.

Fort Riley can bury bodies on top of other bodies if family members want to share a plot, said Kohler.

© Reuters 2006. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of Reuters content, including by caching, framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Reuters. Reuters and the Reuters sphere logo are registered trademarks and trademarks of the Reuters group of companies around the world.

The Filibuster: now painless and more convenient than ever!

The Filibuster: now painless and more convenient than ever!
by Kagro X
Thu Sep 20, 2007 at 07:22:43 AM PDT

Senator Jim Webb's "dwell time" amendment failed yesterday by a vote of 56-44.

Yes, it failed by garnering 12 more yes votes than no votes.

By now, though, most of us are used to seeing this sort of thing. "Everyone knows" that it takes 60 votes to pass anything in the Senate. Because that's how many votes it takes to invoke cloture, and cloture is how you break a filibuster. Right?


But that ain't what's happening.

And it's why you're not seeing headlines today declaring that Senate Republicans cravenly filibustered legislation that would have required that troops deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan get recovery time at home equal to the time spent in combat.

Such a requirement, by the way, is already a tremendous compromise. The Pentagon brass usually requires twice as much rest as deployment. But Webb's compromise required only half that much rest. Still, Republicans said no. Our troops -- including our "one weekend a month" National Guardsmen -- must be required to spend more time in combat than out. So that the rest of us can all shop, watch TV, cut taxes, or take a "wide stance" if we feel like it.

So why aren't the papers reporting on the Republican intransigence in the Senate? Why aren't they telling everyone how they're ordering troops stressed to the breaking point back into combat while they busy themselves smoothing their pocket squares? Why aren't they publishing screaming headlines about the sheer gall of yesterday's Republican filibuster?

Because there was no Republican filibuster. That's why.

Instead, the reason the Webb amendment failed even though it got 56 votes was that Senators agreed by unanimous consent that the amendment should have to get 60 votes to pass, even without a filibuster.

But why would anyone agree to allow Republicans, who are already on pace to shatter all previous filibuster records, to stop an amendment this important and this sensible without even lifting a finger? And the question here is not just why anyone would allow it, but why everyone did. A single Senator could have put a stop to this simply by saying, "I object" when the unanimous consent request was made. Just one Senator.

Yet none did.

Not Harry Reid. Not Russ Feingold. Not Bernie Sanders.


And so the Webb amendment died quietly yesterday, allowing Republicans to enjoy all the obstructionist benefits of a filibuster, without having to stand up and tell Americans and their fighting men and women in the military exactly what they were doing. And not a moment was "wasted" on the "extended debate" that's supposed to make up a filibuster.

Everyone just politely agreed that 56-44 would be a losing vote for America's sons and daughters wearing the uniform in Iraq and Afghanistan. And they did it on national television. And America yawned, hit the snooze button, and slept in.

In the coming days, the Congress will be dealing with the appropriations bills for fiscal year 2008. President Bush has threatened to veto almost every single one of them, which would leave the United States without any spending authority come October 1. That's ten days from now. The president says he's going to veto everything, and we have ten days to see if he's serious, decide what to do in case he is, and then figure out a way to get funding passed.

But hey, since those veto threats are pending, why not just agree to unanimous consent requests in both the House and the Senate that the appropriations bills will require a 2/3 vote to pass? Since they're going to be vetoed, why not just spare poor President Bush the trouble and the wear and tear on his veto crayon, and agree up front that if a bill doesn't pass with a veto-proof majority, it shouldn't be considered passed at all?

Because that's the logical extension of what happened yesterday. And the truth is, it makes no less sense. We don't know that Bush has the will to veto these bills any more than we knew that Republicans had the will to filibuster the Webb amendment. And I mean really filibuster. Not wait out a one-day cloture petition, beat it, and then break for lunch. But really stand on their feet day in and day out, live on C-SPAN2, and tell America they think our troops should spend more time in combat, and their families should just shut up about it.

Until recently, cloture votes were the easy way out of a filibuster. Forty-one Senators had only to make their protest last long enough to make it to the cloture vote, beat it, and then bask in their victory as the majority pulled the "defeated" legislation from the floor and slunk away. But believe it or not, Senate Democrats have found an easier way to do this, and begin slinking even earlier.


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Bush fulfills H.L. Mencken's prophecy

Bush fulfills H.L. Mencken's prophecy

By Joseph L. Galloway

It took just eight decades but H.L. Mencken's astute prediction on the future course of American presidential politics and the electorate's taste in candidates came true:

On July 26th, 1920, the acerbic and cranky scribe wrote in The Baltimore Sun: "...all the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre — the man who can most easily (and) adeptly disperse the notion that his mind is a virtual vacuum. The presidency tends, year by year, to go to such men. As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day, the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron."

My late good buddy Leon Daniel, a wire service legend for 40 years at United Press International dredged up that Mencken quote several years ago and found that it was a perfect fit for George W. Bush, The Decider. MSNBC's Keith Olberman highlighted the same quote this week. A tip of the hat to both of them, and to Mencken.

The White House is now so adorned by Mencken's downright moron, and has been for more than six excruciatingly painful years. It wouldn't be so bad if the occupant had at least enough common sense to surround himself with smart, competent and honest advisers and listen to them. But he hasn't.

We inflicted George W. Bush on ourselves — with a little help from Republican spin-meisters, slippery lawyers, hanging chads and some judicial jiggery pokery — and he has stubbornly marched to the beat of his own broken drum year after year, piling up an unparalleled record of failures and disasters without equal in the nation's long history.

He inherited a balanced budget and a manageable national debt, and in just over six years has virtually bankrupted the United States of America and put us in hock to the tune of nine trillion dollars — sum larger than that accumulated by all the 42 other Presidents we had in two and a quarter centuries.

The man from Crawford, Texas, stood Robin Hood on his head almost from Day One, robbing the poor and the middle class so he could give to the rich and Republican. When the bills for those selective tax cuts, and his war of choice in Iraq, began coming due our President simply signed IOU's for a trillion dollars, with those markers now held by our traditional ally Communist China.

Although he titillated the Republican conservative base with talk of his opposition to big government Bush has presided over a far more grandiose expansion of government than even Franklin D. Roosevelt with his New Deal.

Faced with the tragedy of the 9/11 terror attacks — due in part to a dense and impenetrable federal bureaucracy which didn't know what it knew and wouldn't have shared it if it had known — the President created a far denser, far less efficient and far more expensive mega-bureaucracy, the Department of Homeland Security.

Having made one good move, attacking and toppling the Taliban and running al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden out of Afghanistan in retaliation for 9/11, the President and his crowd then turned away, half-finished with Job One, and decided to "preemptively invade" Iraq which had precisely nothing to do with the attacks on America.

In one stroke of George W. Bush's pen America went from being a nation that distrusted foreign entanglements and fought wars only when grossly provoked to a nation that attacked first and without credible reason.

That same stroke — and the ensuing five years of war in Iraq — wiped out whatever remained of our reservoir of good will with the rest of the world. The shining city on the hill donned camouflage paint and went to war in the wrong place at the wrong time against the wrong people.

Now George Bush could posture and strut as a wartime President; could style himself The Decider, and could decide which parts of the Constitution and Bill of Rights bought so dearly by generations of Americans he would give or take away.

The mills of the military-industrial complex went into high gear, as the defense contractors jostled for their place at a trough filled each year with half a trillion dollars of taxpayer money. The Republican political operatives milked them all like so many Holstein cows and the Republican lobbyists romped over to Capitol Hill buying Congressmen by the baker's dozen to keep the pumps primed.

When one raison du jure for the war in Iraq failed — and all have failed — resident Bush and his general-of-the-month could always came up with another to appease the Gods of War and keep the machinery turning.

Throughout this ongoing national catastrophe Bush has kept close around him a coterie of incompetents and ideologues always on guard to defend the indefensible and justify the unjustifiable. They brush the lapels of the emperor's suit of gold and whisper that he is right and God will make him shine in American history.

Perhaps the crowning blow came when it was revealed that The Decider is now getting his strategic advice and counsel from none other than Henry Kissinger, the author of genocide in Cambodia; wholesale slaughter in Chile; abandonment of American POWs in Laos; betrayal of South Vietnam, and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

God help us.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Murtha’s Remarks to the National Press Club

Murtha’s Remarks to the National Press Club

(Washington D.C.)- Congressman John P. Murtha, Chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, delivered the following remarks today at the National Press Club:

Last week Americans heard the testimony of General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker. General Jones and the GAO have reported their findings to us. Americans listened to the President’s prime time address. Despite the mixed reports, moving benchmarks and morphed messaging, this Administration remains committed to U.S. troops in Iraq for an indefinite period. Rather than taking ownership of its own failed policy, this Administration asks our military to carry the full burden and now to defend it politically. Rather than taking immediate corrective action, this Administration now appears content with running out the clock.

On November 17, 2005, I said that the President’s war in Iraq is a “flawed policy wrapped in illusion.” Although his slogans might have changed, the President’s most recent appeal is still more of the same. More flawed policies and more illusions.

I joined the Marine Corps as a private in 1952. It was the middle of the Korean War, but also towards the end of the Indochina war. In 1953, as the Korean War ended, General Navarre, commander of French Forces in Indochina said, “A year ago none of us could see victory. There wasn’t a prayer. Now we can see it clearly – like light at the end of a tunnel.”

A year later, in 1954 at Dien Bien Phu the French were ignominiously forced out of Indochina.

In 1966, I went to Vietnam. At that time, President Johnson said, “most of all, we must give them (the Vietnamese) our understanding, our support, and our patience.”

When I left Vietnam in 1967 General Westmoreland said, “the morale of the South Vietnamese forces is better than ever. They are improving the quality of their force and they are fighting better than they did 2 years ago.”

At the same time, President Johnson said, “I believe that we are making progress.”

Two years later, President Nixon said, “As our commanders in the field determine that the South Vietnamese are able to assume a greater portion of the responsibility for the defense of their own territory, troops will come back.”

When I came to congress in 1974, I believed General Westmoreland. The first speech I made on the floor of the House was in support of the appropriations to the South Vietnamese.

It took me a long time to recognize that a military solution could not work in Vietnam.

We learned the lessons of Vietnam and applied what we learned to Desert Storm under Bush I: the execution of a limited military mission, with a well-defined strategy that would lead to a clear-cut and achievable outcome. The mission, then, was to diminish Saddam’s power, while maintaining a buffer between Iran and Syria.

In Afghanistan, during the 1980s, the Soviet Union stated that it “would fulfill to the end its duty of providing assistance to friendly Afghanistan.”

And at that time, even their Communist allies criticized Soviet officials for not having a timeline for withdrawal. My point here is that even the military strength of superpowers has limitations.

If you look back at what Napoleon learned in Spain, what the French learned in Indo-China and Algeria, what the Soviets learned in Afghanistan, and what the U.S. learned in Vietnam, the lessons of history are clear: there is a limitation to military power. Economic, political and diplomatic challenges must be solved. They can’t be solved by military means and they shouldn’t be distorted by rhetoric.

Rhetoric, spin and slogans do not win wars. Likewise, the war in Iraq will not be won with charts, projections or sound bytes saying, “we will return on success.”

The Administration claims we are witnessing another turning point in Iraq. They claim progress is being made and now depending upon the “conditions on the ground,” more troops will come home.

But we have heard this before. The same predictions were made with Saddam’s capture, the adoption of the constitution, with national elections, and with the capture and killing of several terrorists in Iraq.

A week ago on a Sunday talk show, a reporter expounded on a personal moment with the President in the White House when she asked him, “Mr. President, how do you continue to press forward when the war is so unpopular and things seem to be going so wrong in Iraq?” The President responded, “Because I am right.”

Right about what Mr. President?

Right about weapons of mass destruction?

Right about Saddam’s involvement in 9-11?

Right about mission accomplished?

Right about thinking he could fight this war on the cheap?

Right at the ease at which Iraq could be transformed into a pillar of democracy?

We’ve heard the rhetoric, now let me talk about the facts.

To date, there have been more than 3,700 Americans killed in Iraq. For every American soldier that dies, 9 are wounded, many with catastrophic trauma with long term effects. This translates into an additional expenditure of $350 to $700 billion in medical and disability costs to veterans, not to mention the suffering of countless thousands of American families for years to come.

We on the appropriations committee required the Defense Department to submit status reports on Iraq beginning in the fall of 2003. From these reports, I have seen no progress. At least 70,000 Iraqi civilians have died since the beginning of the war, with many believing the numbers are actually in the hundreds of thousands. Two million Sunni Arabs have left the country, mostly to Jordan and Syria and many of them members of the educated middle-class. An additional two million have been internally displaced in what I believe is ethnic cleansing.

Oil production has never been above pre-war level. What does oil production mean? Oil production is financial capital their government uses for its own revenue. Oil is their cash crop. It represents 95% of their national income.

Electricity production is 2 to 6 hrs a day in Baghdad when the temperature is 130 degrees. 30% of Iraq’s population lives in Baghdad. Imagine what summer would be like in Washington D.C. without refrigeration or air conditioning. Only 30% of homes and businesses in Baghdad are connected to water lines. By most reports, 50% of Iraqis remain unemployed with no benefits from the government. 61% of Iraqis say their lives are going badly, and more than 60% say they want us out of their country.

Finally, the United States military is viewed as occupiers by the Iraqis. Our Headquarters are in Saddam Hussein’s Palaces and we have our own city in the Green Zone where we protect their legislators. As the Times of London said during the British occupation of Iraq in 1920, “How much longer are valuable lives to be sacrificed in the vain endeavor to impose on the Arab population an elaborate and expensive administration which they never asked for and do not want?” Nearly a century later we are struggling with the same questions.

47 months ago I spoke on the Floor of the House and said that “we need either more active-duty troops or we need to find a way to have foreign troops, Coalition forces, to replace our troops” in Iraq. I wrote in my additional views to the supplemental spending report in October 2003, just seven months after the initial invasion, that “the United States, the Iraqi people, and the international community must work to undo the damage done by the architect’s miscalculations and quickly stabilize Iraq.” And, I concluded that, “we could face a long and more costly guerrilla war -- a heavy price for our soldiers and their families to pay.”

Almost two years ago, I publicly voiced my concerns about the U.S. policies in Iraq -- concerns I started having from visiting the region five months after the initial invasion. I wrote to Secretary Rumsfeld on the urgent need for body armor, electronic jammers, Kevlar blankets for humvees, and a severe shortage of vehicle spare parts. I sent a letter to the President saying that we “severely miscalculated the magnitude of the effort we are facing, and that we must Energize, Iraqatize, and Internationalize our efforts.” I told him I agreed with an assessment completed by former Deputy Secretary of Defense John Hamre that said we have a narrow window of opportunity to deliver progress in terms of economic infrastructure, security and basic services.

Seven months later I received a reply from a Deputy Under Secretary at the Department of Defense who ignored my concerns and told me that, “we have made substantial progress in the very ways that you suggest.”

In the next two years I made additional visits to the region and again came home and reported to my colleagues and the Administration what I found to be the facts on the ground. I watched in disbelief as the pictures of abuse and torture began surfacing from Abu Ghraib in 2004. To this day we have not recovered the international credibility that we lost because of these heinous and disgraceful acts.

After having no success privately voicing my concerns and suggestions to the Administration, I publicly stated in November 2005 that the war in Iraq was a “flawed policy wrapped in illusion.” In that speech I said that “our military and their families are stretched thin” and that the “burden of this war has not been shared equally – the military and their families are shouldering this burden” not most Americans. Our military has accomplished its mission, and as I had been saying for over a year before this speech, “Iraq can not be won militarily.”

21 months ago I spoke about my concerns of an overstretched Army that had to lower recruiting standards to meet its recruiting goals. I concluded that “it would be almost impossible for the U.S. to meet the current military strength deployment schedule without sending combat units back to theater with less than one year of rest.”

19 months ago I wrote a letter to the President outlining my plan to redeploy, replace, reallocate, and reconstitute. “The longer our military stays in Iraq, the more unwelcome we will be. We will be increasingly entangled in an open-ended nation building mission, one that our military can not accomplish amidst a civil war.”

16 months ago I said that “we must change direction because the nature of the war has changed. We have gone from fighting Saddam’s army, to fighting insurgents, to being caught in the middle of a growing civil war.” I also noted that, “Although the President touts the political milestones as a success in Iraq, in reality we have not made the progress we anticipated nor have we met the high expectations of the Iraqi people. Indeed when it comes to this war, we have lost the hearts and minds of both the Iraqi people and as polls indicate, the American public.”

14 months ago I held a press conference with Chairman Dave Obey and outlined the deterioration of our Army’s readiness. We discovered that non-deployed units here in the United States “are critically short of equipment and personnel” and “most of the Army units here in the U.S. don’t have the right equipment and ammunition to train on before going to war.”

10 months ago the American people rejected this Administration’s argument for a strategy of “stay the course” and elected Democrats to change the direction of the war in Iraq.

When letters go unanswered, when suggestions go ignored, when the pleas of the public fall on deaf ears, how are the American people expected to continue to support flawed policies and undefined missions? Today we have a clear choice between responsible Congressional oversight and this Administration’s blindness.

There’s a real difference between strategy and tactics. The President touts the surge as a long-term strategy while many of our military commanders recognize the surge to be a temporary tactic.

But this war will not be won by a boatload of patchwork tactics presented without a definite and achievable strategy for guiding the boat. That leaves me with two questions: If we don’t know where we’re going, how can we get there? And, how long does this administration expect to continue this disastrous voyage?

The purpose of the surge was to provide enough security for political progress to be made by the Iraqis. Unfortunately this has not been the case. When the Iraqis don’t perform, what happens – we step forward and take their place. As the Jones Commission recently reported, “There is a fine line between assistance and dependence.” I believe that we have crossed that line and the Iraqis have become far too reliant on U.S. forces.

I am convinced that nothing in Petraeus’s testimony, nor the Jones Report, or the President’s speech will change the way the American public feels about this war. They want this war to end. Yes, many Iraqis consider us the occupier, but it is also true that Iraq is occupying us. We are bleeding money at a rate of twelve billion dollars a month.

We hear talk today about a national mortgage crisis, yet we are mortgaging our future with this war. This war is warping our priorities, disfiguring our national debates, shortchanging health care – 1,500 Americans die every day from cancer, yet the NIH only spends $5.5 Billion per year on cancer research. This war is shortchanging education – 33% of people in our nation’s capital are classified as functionally illiterate, and China is graduating 600,000 engineers per year while we graduate only 70,000. And this war is shortchanging our infrastructure – there are more than 70,000 structurally deficient bridges throughout our nation

I frequently visit our military hospitals and bases throughout the world and speak in detail with our troops and their families. In doing so, I have come to the conclusion that our involvement in Iraq can be described as the tale of one America with two families:

The military family, stressed to the limits, who have gone without their loved ones for far too long, whose children are suddenly performing poorly in school, who live everyday in fear of that dreaded phone call or knock at the door that could forever change their lives.

Then there is the other family, clearly a majority of America. They support the troops, they display yellow ribbons, they are patriotic Americans, but they have not been asked to make the same blood sacrifice.

For the past six years, this country has funded this President’s war on credit. Down the road, both families will feel the pain when these enormous payments finally come due.

Today we have over 160,000 U.S. servicemen and women serving in Iraq, not to mention thousands more serving in Afghanistan. Almost 40% of our active ground forces are deployed, many for the second, third, and even fourth time. This is the first conflict in my lifetime that we have not surged our force structure to fight a protracted war.

In the 2008 House Appropriations mark-up for Defense, the committee I Chair set a new course for the Department of Defense.

In the introduction to the report I stated, “Our national conscience is justifiably focused on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Committee and the country are deeply grateful and inspired by the dedication, service, and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform, their families and those who support them. Yet, we cannot let this concentrated national focus distract our attention from the needs of our service members and their families here at home, and the imperative to prepare our forces for current and future conflicts.”

I believe more than ever that our national security interests are not being served while our military remains over 160,000 strong in Iraq. We do not have the force available to confront other potential threats in the region or the world.

We are faced with growing threats in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Africa and South and Central America. In Africa, we have significant strategic interests, but no influence. Russia, China and India are advancing their global interests while we are bogged down in Iraq. There is uncertainty with respect to future energy supplies and those who control the world’s supply of these resources. China’s military might is expanding and we need to be continually watchful of the nuclear ambitions of rogue states, like North Korea and Iran. Just because this Administration wears blinders, we cannot afford the limitations of their short-sighted world view.

Our military is stretched thin today policing the streets of Baghdad. In this one year alone, the American taxpayer will contribute over $1 trillion in defense spending, and by the end of this year, we will have provided $750 billion for this war. While we continue to spend at this colossal rate in Iraq, with questionable results, our Military Chiefs advise that as a nation we must be concerned about the eroding strength of our military. They estimate it will take 100s of billions of dollars to rebuild our capability to deter and prevail in future conflicts.

As a trustee of the American people, I cannot defend spending another $750 billion of our nation’s treasure nor can I tolerate the loss of thousands more of our sons and daughters to a war without end and to a war that only the Iraqi people can resolve.

In the end, what the President asks is for our military to be committed to an open-ended Iraqi civil war. Let us not forget that over 35,000 troops died in Vietnam after General Westmoreland stated, “Backed at home by resolve, confidence, patience, determination, and continued support, we will prevail in Vietnam.”

The longer our military remains in Iraq, policing their streets, providing weapons, training and funds to whoever our alliances are for the moment, the longer and bloodier their war will be. If security and stability is the final goal, it will never be accomplished under continued U.S. occupation, the continued propping up of a paralyzed Iraqi government or the continued dependence on the Iraqis for U.S. military support.

Many have threatened that there will be chaos, a bloodbath, when the United States redeploys from Iraq, and this in fact may be the case. But it will not happen as a result of U.S actions, but rather as a result of Iraqi inaction. It is up to the Iraqis to decide. If they continue to choose to spill blood it will not be on the conscience of the U.S. and its heroic military. It will instead be a continuation of decades of its own conflicts, which they and they alone can solve.

This Administration has again given the American people a false choice: EITHER we stay in Iraq indefinitely OR, they say we face chaos, genocide, and an Iraq whose biggest export is terror not oil. There are many other choices that haven’t been tried, such as concerted regional diplomacy coupled with strategic redeployment of troops. I believe redeployment is the way forward. They say, ‘what happens if we leave?’ and I say ‘what happens if we stay?’

Paul Krugman - Sad Alan’s Lament

Sad Alan’s Lament


When President Bush first took office, it seemed unlikely that he would succeed in getting his proposed tax cuts enacted. The questionable nature of his installation in the White House seemed to leave him in a weak political position, while the Senate was evenly balanced between the parties. It was hard to see how a huge, controversial tax cut, which delivered most of its benefits to a wealthy elite, could get through Congress.

Then Alan Greenspan, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, testified before the Senate Budget Committee.

Until then Mr. Greenspan had presented himself as the voice of fiscal responsibility, warning the Clinton administration not to endanger its hard-won budget surpluses. But now Republicans held the White House, and the Greenspan who appeared before the Budget Committee was a very different man.

Suddenly, his greatest concern — the “emerging key fiscal policy need,” he told Congress — was to avert the threat that the federal government might actually pay off all its debt. To avoid this awful outcome, he advocated tax cuts. And the floodgates were opened.

As it turns out, Mr. Greenspan’s fears that the federal government would quickly pay off its debt were, shall we say, exaggerated. And Mr. Greenspan has just published a book in which he castigates the Bush administration for its fiscal irresponsibility.

Well, I’m sorry, but that criticism comes six years late and a trillion dollars short.

Mr. Greenspan now says that he didn’t mean to give the Bush tax cuts a green light, and that he was surprised at the political reaction to his remarks. There were, indeed, rumors at the time — which Mr. Greenspan now says were true — that the Fed chairman was upset about the response to his initial statement.

But the fact is that if Mr. Greenspan wasn’t intending to lend crucial support to the Bush tax cuts, he had ample opportunity to set the record straight when it could have made a difference.

His first big chance to clarify himself came a few weeks after that initial testimony, when he appeared before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs.

Here’s what I wrote following that appearance: “Mr. Greenspan’s performance yesterday, in his first official testimony since he let the genie out of the bottle, was a profile in cowardice. Again and again he was offered the opportunity to say something that would help rein in runaway tax-cutting; each time he evaded the question, often replying by reading from his own previous testimony. He declared once again that he was speaking only for himself, thus granting himself leeway to pronounce on subjects far afield of his role as Federal Reserve chairman. But when pressed on the crucial question of whether the huge tax cuts that now seem inevitable are too large, he said it was inappropriate for him to comment on particular proposals.

“In short, Mr. Greenspan defined the rules of the game in a way that allows him to intervene as he likes in the political debate, but to retreat behind the veil of his office whenever anyone tries to hold him accountable for the results of those interventions.”

I received an irate phone call from Mr. Greenspan after that article, in which he demanded to know what he had said that was wrong. In his book, he claims that Robert Rubin, the former Treasury secretary, was stumped by that question. That’s hard to believe, because I certainly wasn’t: Mr. Greenspan’s argument for tax cuts was contorted and in places self-contradictory, not to mention based on budget projections that everyone knew, even then, were wildly overoptimistic.

If anyone had doubts about Mr. Greenspan’s determination not to inconvenience the Bush administration, those doubts were resolved two years later, when the administration proposed another round of tax cuts, even though the budget was now deep in deficit. And guess what? The former high priest of fiscal responsibility did not object.

And in 2004 he expressed support for making the Bush tax cuts permanent — remember, these are the tax cuts he now says he didn’t endorse — and argued that the budget should be balanced with cuts in entitlement spending, including Social Security benefits, instead. Of course, back in 2001 he specifically assured Congress that cutting taxes would not threaten Social Security.

In retrospect, Mr. Greenspan’s moral collapse in 2001 was a portent. It foreshadowed the way many people in the foreign policy community would put their critical faculties on hold and support the invasion of Iraq, despite ample evidence that it was a really bad idea.

And like enthusiastic war supporters who have started describing themselves as war critics now that the Iraq venture has gone wrong, Mr. Greenspan has started portraying himself as a critic of administration fiscal irresponsibility now that President Bush has become deeply unpopular and Democrats control Congress.