Saturday, September 29, 2007


"OK so with my leave coming up just right around the corner, I figured I would talk about a phenominon of paranoia that seems to go around right before people get ready to head home on leave. Its something that I always laughed about, and even though I know its wrong, slightly played on peoples fear during this time! I know, Im a horrible person, but I guess Karma is a bitch and has come to stake its claim on me."
On The loose in Iraq
This reminded me how much I love my dad. made me cry.

Wounded vets from Iraq, and families, now suffer economically

TEMECULA, California (AP) – He was one of America’s first defenders on Sept. 11, 2001, a Marine who pulled burned bodies from the ruins of the Pentagon. He saw more horrors in Kuwait and Iraq.

Today, he can’t keep a job, pay his bills, or chase thoughts of suicide from his tortured brain. In a few weeks, he may lose his house, too.

Gamal Awad – the American son of a Sudanese immigrant – exemplifies an emerging group of war veterans: the economic casualties.

More than in past wars, many wounded troops are coming home alive from the Middle East, a triumph for military medicine. But they often return hobbled by prolonged physical and mental injuries from homemade bombs and the anxiety of fighting a hidden enemy along blurred battle lines.

These troops are just starting to seek help in large numbers, more than 185,000 so far. The cost of their benefits is already testing resources set aside by government and threatening the future of these wounded veterans for decades to come, say economists and veterans’ groups.

“The wounded and their families no longer trust that the government will take care of them the way they thought they’d be taken care of,” says veterans advocate Mary Ellen Salzano.

How does a war veteran expect to be treated? “As a hero,” she says.


In Awad’s case, he needs to think of a reason each morning not to kill himself.

He can’t even look at the framed photograph that shows him accepting a Marine heroism medal for his recovery work at the Pentagon after the terrorist attack.

It might remind him of the burned woman whose skin peeled off in his hands when he tried to comfort her.

He tries not to hear the shrieking rockets of Iraq either, smell the burning fuel, or relive the blast that blew him right out of bed. The memories come steamrolling back anyway.

“Nothing can turn off those things,” he says, voice choked and eyes glistening.

He stews alternately over suicide and finances, his $43,000 in credit-card debt, his $4,330 in federal checks each month. They bring the government’s compensation for total disability from post-traumatic stress disorder. His flashbacks, thoughts of suicide, and anxiety over imagined threats – all documented for six years in his military record – keep him from working.

The disability payments don’t even cover the $5,700-a-month cost of his adjustable home mortgage and equity loans. He owes more on his house than its market value, so he can’t sell it and may soon lose it to the bank.

“I love this house. It makes me feel safe,” he says.

Awad could once afford it. He used to earn $100,000 a year as an experienced Marine with a master’s degree in management who excelled at logistics. Now, he can’t even manage his own life.

There’s another twist. This dedicated Marine was given a “general” discharge 15 months ago for an extramarital affair with a woman, also a Marine. His military therapists blamed this impulsive conduct on PTSD aggravated by his Middle East tours.

Luckily, his discharge, though not unqualifiedly honorable, left his rights intact to medical care and disability payments – or he’d be in sadder shape.

Divorced since developing PTSD, Awad has two daughters who live elsewhere.

He spends much of his days hoisting weights and thwacking a punching bag in the dimness of his garage. He passes nights largely sleepless, a zombie shuffling through the bare rooms of his home in sunny California wine country, not too far from his old base.


Few anticipated the high price of caring for Awad and other Middle East veterans with deep, slow-healing wounds.

Afghanistan seemed quiet and Saddam Hussein still ruled Iraq one year after the Sept. 11 attacks. That’s when the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs guaranteed two years of free care to returning combat veterans for virtually any medical condition with a possible service link.

Later, few predicted such a protracted war in Iraq, one in which Iraqi insurgents would rely on disfiguring bombs and bombardment as chief tactics. Better armor and field medicine have kept U.S. soldiers alive at the highest rate ever, according to one study based on government data. However, many are returning with multiple amputations or other disabling injuries.

The Pentagon counts more than 29,000 combat wounded in the Middle East since the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. Tens of thousands more got hurt outside of combat or in ways that only surface later.

There was no mistaking the injuries of Cambodian-American Sgt. Pisey Tan. Eight months into his second tour in Iraq, a makeshift bomb blasted his armored vehicle and took both his legs.

Still, Tan has had to rely on private donations and family, as well as government. The government treated him and paid for his artificial legs. But his brother, Dada, left college to live with him at a military hospital for almost a year.

“That’s how our family is,” says the Woodlyn, Pa., veteran. “We always take care of our own.”

The government says it does too, and with some truth. Of 1.4 million U.S. forces deployed for Iraq and Afghanistan, more than 185,000 have sought care from the VA – a number that could easily top 700,000 eventually, predicts one academic analysis.

But many also need to help themselves. Iraq veteran John Waltz, of Hebron, Ky., sought treatment for PTSD but ran up about $12,000 worth of medical bills while his condition and claim were evaluated, he says.

“We have to be really frugal, as far as what groceries we buy,” Waltz says. “I think we’re down to just a couple dollars now, until the next time we get paid.”

On a national scale, the costs of caring for the wounded certainly won’t crush the immense American economy or the VA. But the price tag will challenge budgets of governments and service agencies, adding another hungry mouth within their nests.

Economic forecasts vary widely for the federal costs of caring for injured veterans returning from the Middle East, but they range as high as $700 billion for the VA. That would rival the cost of fighting the Iraq war. In recent years, the VA has repeatedly run out of money to treat sick veterans and had to ask for billions more before the next budget.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if these costs per person are higher than any war previously,” says Scott Wallsten, of the conservative think tank Progress and Freedom Foundation.

Federal officials generally defend the quality of care. At a recent ribbon cutting, the Army’s vice chief of staff, Gen. Richard Cody, trumpeted a new rehab center for amputees as “proof that when it comes to making good on such an important promise, there is no bottom line.”

White House budget spokesman Sean Kevelighan says medical spending for all veterans has risen by 83 percent during President Bush’s time in office. “The president has made his dedication very clear to troops in the field and after,” Kevelighan says.

The VA didn’t respond to several requests for comment. Recently, though, outgoing chief Jim Nicholson acknowledged trouble keeping up with the pace of disability claims.

But earlier this year, he also insisted that veterans “will invariably tell you they are really getting good care from the VA.”

Not invariably.

The VA takes the lead in treating wounds and paying for disabilities of veterans. And it usually does a good job of handling major, known wounds, especially in the early months, by many accounts.

However, many veterans and families say the VA often restricts rehabilitation or cuts it off too quickly.

Denise Mettie, of Selah, Wash., says she fought successfully for VA funds to rehabilitate her brain-damaged son, an Iraq veteran, in a private hospital where he was given five times more therapy. But she’s been living “paycheck to paycheck” to cover travel to his bedside and other costs of his care.

A presidential commission has also recommended broader disability compensation for lost quality of life.

Some wounded veterans turn to private health insurance and other programs outside the federal government, swelling costs also for states and towns. Service nonprofits also pay for housing, food, clothing and transportation for wounded veterans.

Veterans groups sued the VA a few months ago, saying the agency has descended into a “virtual meltdown.”

Many recommendations for fixes involve quicker and heftier disability benefits. And nearly everyone begs for more VA money and staff for medical treatment.

But it may be too late for veterans like Awad, as he nervously awaits the approach of imagined enemies around what was once his castle.


Iraq Wiretap Delay Not Quite as Presented

Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell told Congress last week that a May wiretap that targeted Iraqi insurgents was delayed for 12 hours by attempts to comply with onerous surveillance laws, which slowed an effort to locate three U.S. soldiers who had been captured south of Baghdad.

But new details released this week portray a more complicated picture of the delay, which actually lasted about 9 1/2 hours and was caused primarily by legal wrangling between the Justice Department and intelligence officials over whether authorities had probable cause to begin the surveillance.

Justice officials also spent nearly two hours trying to reach then-Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales to authorize the emergency wiretap. He was in Texas appearing before a gathering of U.S. attorneys.

Earlier, the DNI's attorney had determined that legal requirements for surveillance had been met, but Justice lawyers and intelligence officials spent four hours debating that issue and obtaining more evidence, according to officials and a summary of events provided to the House intelligence committee Thursday. Justice officials say the lengthy deliberations were necessary to ensure that the surveillance was legal.

The delay in obtaining a wiretap in the Iraqi case has been a central argument in the debate over the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which had been interpreted to require warrants for foreign telephone calls passing through U.S. exchanges. Congress stripped that requirement under temporary legislation approved last month that amended FISA.

McConnell has been criticized by Democrats for selectively disclosing classified information and for claiming that "some Americans are going to die" because of public debate over surveillance laws. Earlier this month, McConnell retracted Senate testimony that the new intelligence legislation had helped lead to the capture of terrorism suspects in Germany.

Many Democrats and civil liberties advocates have complained that McConnell and other administration officials exaggerated or misrepresented the Iraq wiretapping episode to score political points, largely by playing down how bureaucratic problems contributed to the delay.

"The idea that this incident has something to do with these soldiers getting killed is just outrageous," said Michael German, a former FBI counterterrorism agent who now works as policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. "This is all internal bureaucracy. It has nothing to do with the law."

But DNI spokesman Ross Feinstein said yesterday that the delays were caused by unnecessary legal restrictions, which have since been removed as part of the changes approved by Congress last month.

"There shouldn't be any delay in focusing on foreign-to-foreign communications for Iraqi insurgents," Feinstein said. "It should take a matter of seconds, not hours."

Justice spokesman Dean Boyd said the case "presented novel and complex issues that we had to resolve" before approving the surveillance. "When the intelligence community presented the request for surveillance to the Department of Justice, these issues were not addressed."

The debate centers on the boundaries of FISA, which requires a special court to issue orders for surveillance of foreign intelligence targets inside the United States. The attorney general can authorize an emergency FISA order for as much as 72 hours without the court's approval, but Justice officials say he must have the necessary probable cause.

The intelligence court ruled earlier this year that warrants were required for foreign communications that passed through telephone or Internet exchanges inside the United States, even if both parties were overseas, according to administration officials. That led to the requests for FISA orders in the Iraqi case, officials said.

Administration officials began highlighting the Iraqi case as a problem in classified briefings with lawmakers over the summer, officials said. McConnell elaborated on the episode on Sept. 20 when he testified before the House intelligence committee. He said that it took "in the neighborhood of 12 hours" to obtain the emergency surveillance order.

"So we had U.S. soldiers who were captured in Iraq by insurgents, and for the 12 hours immediately following their captures, you weren't able to listen to their communications," asked Rep. Heather A. Wilson (R-N.M). "Is that correct?"

"That's correct," McConnell answered.

In fact, the timeline released this week shows that officials in Washington did not begin seeking the warrant until 10 a.m. on May 15 -- more than 86 hours after the three soldiers from the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division were reported captured. Authorities had already received approvals for other wiretaps in the case, the timeline shows.

Four U.S. soldiers and an Iraqi interpreter were found killed after the ambush on May 12, and the body of another soldier who was captured in the attack was found on May 23 in the Euphrates River several miles south of the site.

Two other soldiers believed to have been captured have not been found, but a militant group has claimed they are dead.

Maj. Webster M. Wright III, public affairs officer for the 10th Mountain Division, said in an e-mail that he was unaware of the wiretap discussions that occurred in Washington.

"We were given everything at the tactical level that we asked for, to include extra troops, intel assets, aviation, CID investigators, analysts and [human intelligence] specialists," Wright said.


Lying son's of Bitches. Even if you were to strip all the provision some other safuu would pop up in the bureaucracy. No amount of security and be bought using freedom as the currency. You would think all the wing nuts would get that.

Iraq Wants Security Deal With U.S.

BAGHDAD (AP) - Iraq wants the U.N. Security Council to extend the mandate of the 160,000-stong U.S.-led multinational force in Iraq only through the end of 2008, then replace it with a long-term bilateral security agreement, Foreign Ministry officials said Saturday.

Aides to Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said the mandate extension for the U.S.-led coalition, due to be discussed at the end of this year, would be "the last extension for these forces."

Iraq would then seek a long-term, bilateral security agreement with the United States like the ones Washington has with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar and Egypt, he said.

"Iraq needs a new resolution to determine the shape of the relationship between the two countries and how to cooperate with the U.S. forces," said Labid Abawi, a deputy foreign minister.

Zebari first disclosed the plan in an interview with the London-based Saudi-owned newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat that was published Saturday.

A resolution adopted unanimously by the U.N. Security Council on June 8, 2004, said the U.S.-led multinational force would remain in Iraq at the request of the interim government that was about to assume control of the country from the United States and Britain.

The resolution, drafted by the United States, authorizes a review of the mandate at the request of the Iraqi government every six months. The mandate last was extended for one year on Dec. 31 and expires at end of this year.

"We will ask the council to extend the mandate for another year...then our negotiations with the Security Council will be kicked off," Zebari was quoted as saying.

"We will ask the council to include an article that allows Iraq to enter into negotiations with the United States to reach long term security agreements to meet Iraq's security needs bilaterally," Zebari added.

"The negotiations and talks over the security agreements will take a long time as they will cover the issues of sovereignty and immunity, the mission of these forces, Iraq's security needs and the role of the U.S. forces in training (Iraqi forces)," he said.

Zebari said the bilateral agreement would "not set a timetable (for withdrawal of U.S. forces) ... but could include an article calls for decreasing their numbers."

Abawi told the AP this would depend "on the situation on the ground and the readiness of the government and the army to deal with this situation."

Last June, Iraqi legislators led by followers of a radical anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr passed a resolution requiring the government to seek parliamentary approval before asking the United Nations to extend the U.S. mandate.

The measure was approved along party lines - with Sunnis joining the bloc loyal to al-Sadr and another disaffected Shiite party to support it - and Shiite and Kurdish backers of al-Maliki's government in opposition.

The parliamentary move could snarl the mandate renewal, as Iraqis and their legislative representatives grow increasingly disenchanted with the U.S.-backed government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.


Iraq Struggles to Overcome Diyala Divide

GUBA, Iraq (AP) - A convoy of strangers rumbled into this quiet Sunni village on a riverbed north of Baghdad, their armored vehicles enveloping the town in a cloud of dust. Peeking out from mud brick homes, suspicious residents tried to get a glimpse at the intruders.

It was their governor - a man this poor farming village had never seen in his nearly three years in office.

Under protection of U.S. soldiers, Gov. Raad Rashid al-Tamimi - a Shiite - sat atop a child's desk in a dilapidated schoolhouse early last week and goaded a dozen of Guba's tribal elders to join a reconciliation effort that has so far enticed 19 of the province's 26 major tribes.

A day later, a suicide bomber ravaged another such reconciliation meeting in al-Tamimi's hometown of Baqouba, killing at least 15 people and lightly wounding the 52-year-old governor, who was believed to be the target. Two U.S. soldiers were wounded in the bombing.

Such is the ebb and flow of reconciliation and violence in Diyala province, a battered landscape of warring tribes, fertile valleys and pockets of al-Qaida fighters. The sectarian and tribal chasms are wide here, and elected officials - who are mostly Shiite - cannot safely travel the province's sectarian patchwork.

"The governor wouldn't come here alone, and I wouldn't let him. This has been a very dangerous place," said Col. David Sutherland, the top U.S. commander in Diyala, who escorted al-Tamimi on his weekend tour along with about 20 U.S. soldiers.

Despite threats on his life, American forces have stepped up pressure on al-Tamimi to bring together tribal leaders, after a series of military offensives launched earlier this summer sought to clear the province of al-Qaida in Iraq militants.

The U.S. blames the terrorist group for exacerbating tribal fights in the province, where dozens of U.S. soldiers have died in a bid to pacify tribal conflict and chase out or kill foreign fighters linked with al-Qaida.

Thousands of U.S. and Iraqi forces stormed the provincial capital of Baqouba in June, targeting suspected militant cells and sending civilians into hiding for weeks during the fighting. Three months later, traffic floods the downtown area, where bags of fresh bread are piled high outside newly reopened food markets. Construction workers stack cement blocks to repair a house pockmarked with bullets.

U.S. military officials say they want to capitalize on these signs of progress, by engaging tribal leaders who were too scared to come forward before.

Monday's brazen bombing, which bore the hallmarks of al-Qaida in Iraq, was just one of several attacks apparently calculated to thwart those efforts. Among the dead were Baqouba's police chief, Brig. Gen. Ali Dalyan, and the Diyala provincial operations chief, Brig. Gen. Najib al-Taie. The province stretches north and east of Baghdad to the Iranian border.

Still, nearly one million of Diyala's 1.6 million residents are followers of sheiks who have signed a U.S.-sponsored reconciliation agreement in recent months, U.S. military officials said.

But policing the pledge is difficult, and U.S. officials acknowledge that some sheiks may renounce violence in front of U.S. commanders, but succumb to sectarian pressure afterward.

In the reconciliation agreement, leaders swear on the Quran to support the elected Iraqi government and to refuse to allow al-Qaida and other militant groups safe haven in their tribes. Thirteen of the 19 tribes involved are Sunni; six are Shiite.

The effort is loosely modeled on an alliance of Sunni tribes which banded together last year to fight al-Qaida in Anbar province. The leader of that group, Sheik Abdul-Sattar Abu Risha, was killed in a bombing Sept. 13.

In Diyala, the challenge is not only to get Sunnis to deny al-Qaida refuge in their ranks. It is also to unite Sunni and Shiite factions that have fought generations-long battles that were made worse by the U.S.-led war and influx of foreign fighters.

"Reconciliation here has to penetrate tribe, sect, family and geography," said Sutherland, who is from Toledo, Ohio. "These are the fault lines, and they're much more complex here."

Among the villages al-Tamimi visited last Sunday were the Shiite enclave of Abu Sayda and neighboring Mukisha, a Sunni area. Sheiks from both villages have pledged their support for provincial reconciliation, but town elders continue to bicker over access to shared roads and irrigation canals.

"For some of these village elders, it has nothing to do with al-Qaida. In some places, they're not fighting al-Qaida - they've been fighting each other, tribe versus tribe," al-Tamimi said after huddling with officials in both villages.

In Mukisha, he sat under a lemon tree with Sunni townspeople, as curious bystanders slowly filled the courtyard. Listening to the governor, men in white Muslim robes circulated a ghastly photo of a 5-year-old boy, partly decapitated in an al-Qaida attack.

"Why are we divided? We have lived here for generations, but some people have taken advantages of our differences," al-Tamimi told them.

He wore a crisp Western-style suit, with a tie showing above his bulletproof vest. He quickly removed a camouflage helmet upon entering a tribal leader's sparse home.

The governor's tribe, al-Tamimi, has both Sunni and Shiite members. His brother, Sheik Mazin Rashid al-Tamimi, has spearheaded reconciliation efforts in the province.

"When something happens to you or your country, you can see the character of a man," Mazin said. "If you're not brothers in religion, you can still be brothers in cooperation," the 56-year-old Shiite said, flanked by U.S. soldiers.


Iran Labels CIA 'Terrorist Organization'

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) - Iran's parliament voted Saturday to designate the CIA and the U.S. Army as "terrorist organizations," a largely symbolic response to a U.S. Senate resolution seeking a similar designation for Iran's Revolutionary Guards.

The parliament said the Army and the CIA were terrorists because of the atomic bombing of Japan; the use of depleted uranium munitions in the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq; support of the killings of Palestinians by Israel; the bombing and killing Iraqi civilians and the torture of imprisoned terror suspects.

"The aggressor U.S. Army and the Central Intelligence Agency are terrorists and also nurture terror," said a statement by the 215 lawmakers who signed the resolution at an open session of the 290-member Iranian parliament. The session was broadcast live on state-run radio.

The resolution, which urges Ahmadinejad's government to treat the two as terrorist organizations, would become law if ratified by the country's hardline constitutional watchdog but probably would have little effect as the two nations have no diplomatic relations.

Ahmadinejad's government was expected to wait for U.S. reaction before making its decision. The White House declined to comment Saturday.

The U.S. Senate voted Wednesday in favor of a resolution urging the State Department to designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization. Charged with defending the system put in place after Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution, the Guards answer to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and are revered by many for their defense of the country during the 1980s war with Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

The terrorist designation, the first such move against a foreign government entity, would cut the Revolutionary Guards off from the U.S. financial system and freeze the assets of its members or subsidiaries have in U.S. jurisdictions. It would also allow the Treasury to move against firms subject to U.S. law that do business with the Guards, which have vast business interests at home and abroad.

While the proposal attracted overwhelming bipartisan support, a small group of Democrats said they feared that labeling the state-sponsored organization a terrorist group could be interpreted as a congressional authorization of military action in Iran.

Back home after a tour of the U.S. and Latin America, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the hostile reception he received at Columbia University failed to damage Iran's image and instead hurt America's prestige abroad.

University President Lee Bollinger said before an Ahmadinejad speech at his university that the hard-line leader exhibited "all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator" who was "brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated" for his denials of the Holocaust.

Ahmadinejad, who appeared shaken and irate but did not reciprocate the insult, said that the world had witnessed "the greatness of the Iranian nation" in the face of "insults" by its American host.

"With the grace of God, the Columbia University issue revealed their aggressive and mean-spirited image. ... It backfired. What happened was exactly opposite of what their shallow minds had presumed," Ahmadinejad said late Friday in comments broadcast Saturday on state television. "I believe they made a big mistake. ... They sacrificed the prestige of their whole system."

The harsh reception boosted Ahmadinejad's image at home during a time of high tensions with Washington over U.S. allegations that Iran is secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons and supplying Iraq's Shiite militias with deadly weapons that have killed U.S. troops. Iran denies both claims.

After Ahmadinejad told world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly in New York that his country would defy attempts to impose new sanctions by "arrogant powers" seeking to curb its nuclear program, accusing them of lying and imposing illegal penalties on his country.

Iran and the U.S. have not had diplomatic ties since Iranian students took American diplomats hostage in Tehran following the 1979 overthrow of U.S.-backed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

Iranians have a long list of grievances against the United States, including a CIA-backed coup in 1953 that overthrew democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh and put Pahlavi back on the throne.

More recently, there are fears in Iran that either the U.S. or Israel will carry out a military strike against it - something Iranian officials have said would provoke retaliation against Israeli or U.S. bases in the region.

Washington has said it is addressing the situation through diplomacy but refuses to rule out the use of military action.


Tell us something we did not already know. At least the building is labeled clearly, CIA.

Small Wars are Still Wars

"In the Armed Forces Journal, Lt. Col. Gian P. Gentile published an article entitled Eating Soup with a Spoon. The entire article is highly recommended reading, but the quotes below fairly well capture the mood as Gentile responds to current counterinsurgency doctrine published in FM 3-24. He argues that the revised doctrine:"
The Captain's Journal

Hezbollah's 'Show of Force'

"BEIRUT – Hezbollah is rehearsing for something big here. Not sure what or when. But a few days ago, between 4,000 and 5,000 HezB gunmen deployed to the Christian areas of Beirut in an unsettling “show of force,” positioning themselves at road intersections and other key points throughout the city. Two additional objectives were achieved: First, the operation served as a probing action to determine local reaction. Second, it served as an exercise to gauge the time required (speed, synchronization, etc.) to achieve the key points and intersections."
The Tank


"US media has handed Iran's President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, an unbelievable PR victory. Instead of refusing him the press time he was looking for, we have played right into his hands. This is especially true of the students at the supposedly "liberal" institution of Columbia. We can be sure the applause they gave him will be replayed on Iranian TV ad-nauseam."
Sergeant Grumpy
"Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more." "thus simultaneously awarding the gift of flight to pigs while sending the temperature in Hell into an irrecoverable nosedive."

A light that beckons in the darkness.

The Words of War

This interview is an hour 1/2 long so wait till you have the time.

I want to thank Bill Putnam for bringing us this great interview with Scott Kesterson which all the readers of TFW should know well as the blogger at KGW Afghanistan Blog

Follow the link to see the updated trailers for the up-coming film "At War"

Friday, September 28, 2007

New Piety Squad Patrols Ramallah

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) - A new squad of morality police has begun detaining Palestinians who eat or drink in public during Ramadan in the West Bank, where the Islamic month of daytime fasting was always widely observed but never imposed.

The 12-member squad appears to be an attempt by President Mahmoud Abbas' West Bank government to challenge the monopoly on religious righteousness claimed by the militant group Hamas, the rival ruler of Gaza.

The sudden deployment of Ramadan police was unexpected in Ramallah, the seat of Abbas' government and the most cosmopolitan and well-to-do of the Palestinian cities. Ramadan squads have not been set up in other West Bank towns.

Watching observers arrive at one of the town's main mosques one recent afternoon, vice squad Lt. Murad Qendah got a radio call telling him a suspect has been spotted in the street imbibing "karoub" - a local soft drink made from carob pods. He ordered his six-man squad to seize the man's papers pending investigation. Police say violators are usually held for 24 hours.

"If anybody violates respect for Ramadan in the street, we take their identity papers and hold them for investigation," said Qendah, 27, whose officers wear red shoulder badges reading "morality police."

Police spokesman Adnan al-Damari said police have arrested at least 50 alleged public morality offenders in Ramallah since the start of Ramadan, but would not be going after people who break the fast in their own homes.

"The duty of the morality police is to preserve public manners in public places, and to preserve the feelings of the people who are fasting," he said. "Violating the holiness of Ramadan is a violation of people's freedom. "

Islamic custom demands that believers fast and refrain from self-indulgence between sunrise and sunset during Ramadan, which began Sept. 13 in the West Bank this year. The fast is largely observed across the Muslim world; voluntarily in some countries and under strict enforcement in others such as Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

Writer Hassan Dandees, 58, said the government was right to seek to uphold religious standards.

"This is not a violation of anybody's freedom," he said. "Ramadan has a holiness every person should respect."

But Ruba el-Mimi, 21, said she opposes the police action.

"It interferes with the privacy of the individual. People are free to fast or not," she said. "If somebody is not fasting, he's not doing harm."

In addition to booking smokers, snackers and carob juice drinkers, Qendah is also on the alert for young men whistling at girls or drivers playing their car stereos too loud.

Although the piety squad has government sanction, Cabinet minister Ashraf al-Ajrami, said he is uncomfortable with the operation and the impression that the government was trying to be more zealous than Hamas.

"We are studying this issue, and there's a possibility we shall end it," he said. "We don't want to change the order of things and appear as if we are following in the footsteps of somebody or imitating somebody."

Hamas rode support for its pious and incorruptible image to a landslide parliamentary election victory in 2006, then ran Fatah out of the Gaza Strip by force in June.

The religious party has imposed no Ramadan patrol of its own in Gaza, where the population is overwhelmingly conservative and social pressure alone is enough to stop public violations of the fast. Even members of the strip's small Christian community are careful not to cause offense by breaching the Ramadan code in front of their Muslim neighbors.


Sure, they did not have enough repression, and those places that did were so much better off, that we need to copy their methods. That's the Ticket

Iran Invites Bush to Speak at University

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad invited President Bush to speak at an Iranian university if the American leader ever traveled to the Islamic Republic, state-run television reported Friday.

Ahmadinejad caused an uproar during his visit to New York this week when he spoke at Columbia University. He faced tough questioning and the university's president introduced him by saying Ahmadinejad exhibited "all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator."

"If their president plans to travel to Iran, we will allow him to make a speech" at a university, Ahmadinejad told state TV earlier this week before leaving New York to travel to South America. He was in New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly.

The comments were aired on state TV Friday and signaled an unusual readiness by Iran to receive an American president after more than a quarter century with no diplomatic ties.

The harshness of Monday's introduction at Columbia prompted complaints in Iran and elsewhere that Ahmadinejad had been blind-sided by his host. Ahmadinejad complained that Columbia University President Lee Bollinger's speech had contained "many insults" and amounted to "unfriendly treatment," but he otherwise appeared to take the comments in stride.

Back home, Iranians also were dismayed by Bollinger's introduction and said his words only added to their image of the United States as a bully.

Tensions are high between Iran and the U.S. over Washington's allegations that Tehran is secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons and supplying Shiite militias in Iraq with deadly weapons that kill U.S. troops. Iran denies both claims.

Iran and the U.S cut off diplomatic relations in 1979 after Iranian militant students seized the U.S. Embassy and took 52 Americans hostage for 444 days.

Ahmadinejad left New York on Wednesday and traveled to friendlier ground in South America, first stopping in Bolivia - where he pledged $1 billion in investment - and then visiting Venezuela to meet his ally President Hugo Chavez on Thursday.


I guess the "free" universities of Iran don't have a say in who speak there or not. They'll hear Bush (the great satan himself) whether they like it of not. And that's the way it is.

Rare Tour Reveals Lebanon Camp's Ruin

NAHR EL-BARED REFUGEE CAMP, Lebanon (AP) - Shopping lists scribbled in a notebook, a blue doll's hat, a Valentine's Day card - these are some of the small pieces of Palestinians' shattered lives left behind in the rubble of this refugee camp.

Scenes of devastation - destroyed homes, blackened shops, burned vehicles, scorched tree trunks - greeted journalists allowed into the camp Friday for the first time since the Lebanese army defeated al-Qaida-inspired Fatah Islam militants 26 days ago after more than three months of fighting.

Reporters were able to inspect a stretch of about 500 yards of the camp's northern section. Army officers said the area beyond that was still riddled with mines and unexploded ordnance.

The northern district was once the better-off commercial area of the camp - a rare pocket of relative prosperity among Lebanon's 12 impoverished Palestinian refugee camps. But on Friday, bulldozers were removing debris and mounds of earth from the main road, lined with burned shops and multistory apartment buildings reduced to their concrete skeletons, the rubble of their walls piled at their bases.

Soldiers, many wearing surgical masks against the dust and smell of decaying bodies, flashed "V for victory" signs as they rode by in military trucks and armored personnel carriers that kicked up heavy dust.

Soldiers said the stench was overpowering from the corpses - apparently of militants - still lying in the heart of the camp.

The devastation underlined how far authorities have to go to rebuild the camp to allow the return of the 30,000 residents who fled in the first week of fighting. Most of them are now packed into a nearby camp and fear the promises of return will never be fulfilled.

Officials of Palestinian factions in Lebanon, who are generally seen by the refugees to be out of touch with their plight, gave speeches in the rubble to a frenzied group of reporters about the need to quickly rebuild.

"Nahr el-Bared camp didn't fall. What fell was terrorism," said PLO envoy Abbas Zaki, wearing a gray suit and tie and standing underneath an empty flower pot on the twisted balcony railing of a heavily damaged two-story building.

Osama Hamdan, the representative of the Palestinian Hamas group, said he hoped more than 1,000 families could return in the next few weeks to the camp's northern section, where he claimed 60 percent of the buildings were safe.

The Lebanese government has estimated that $249 million would be needed to rebuild the seaside camp just outside the northern Lebanese port city of Tripoli. At a donor's conference in Beirut earlier this month, Prime Minister Fuad Saniora said another $55 million was needed for emergency relief for the camp, and a further $28.5 million for nearby communities affected by the fighting.

The prolonged battles, which ended Sept. 2 with the collapse of Fatah Islam and the army's takeover of the nearly destroyed camp, left 164 soldiers dead and dozens of militants killed.

According to Zaki, the fighting also claimed the lives of 47 Palestinian civilians. About 310 others were injured.

Before the battle, Nahr el-Bared was a sprawling densely built town of low-built houses and taller buildings in the northern section - referred to as the new camp - along the Mediterranean coast. It was known for its businesses, where even neighboring Lebanese sometimes came for bargains at the shops of relatively well-off merchants - unlike other Palestinian camps in the country, most of which are impoverished and avoided by the Lebanese.

The months of fighting saw Lebanese troops that ringed the camp pound it with artillery and tank shells in prolonged bombardments, as the Fatah Islam militants holed up inside responded with rockets and mortars.

Now many of the tall buildings were shattered, with holes near the top and twisted steel reinforcement bars sticking out of chunks of mangled concrete.

Graffiti by the troops on what remained of the camp's walls and shutters included obscenities against Fatah Islam leader Shaker al-Absi and his deputy Abu Hureira, who was killed in a shootout with security forces after he fled the army's siege of the camp before the battles ended. Al-Absi, a Jordanian of Palestinian origin, fled the camp hours before the army took over and is believed to still be at large.

"Al-Absi under the boots of army commandoes," says one scrawl on a shuttered shop. Other graffiti boasted of the army's valor, patriotism and dedication.

"We sacrifice our lives for the homeland," said one yellow slogan.


Army Sniper Acquitted of Murder in Iraq

BAGHDAD (AP) - A military panel acquitted U.S. Army Spc. Jorge G. Sandoval of two counts of murder Friday, apparently swayed by testimony from fellow Army snipers that two Iraqi men were killed on orders from a higher ranking soldier.

Sandoval was convicted of a less serious charge of planting detonation wire on one of the bodies to make it look like the victim was an insurgent. As a result, he still could face five years in prison. The seven-member jury deliberated less than two hours in clearing him of all but one charge.

Sandoval, 22, of Laredo, Texas, had faced five charges in the deaths of the two unidentified Iraqi men. In dramatic testimony during the two-day court-martial, Sandoval's colleagues testified they were following orders when they shot the men during two separate incidents, on April 27 and May 11. The shootings took place near Iskandariyah, a volatile Sunni-dominated area 30 miles south of Baghdad.

Spc. Alexander Flores, of Hayward, Calif., who was in the same squad as Sandoval on the day of the April killing, testified their platoon leader said the suspect was "our guy" and ordered them to "move in," which they interpreted as "take the target out."

The suspect, who wore dark clothing and used a sickle to cut grass in a field, matched the general description Iraqi soldiers had given the Americans of one of two insurgents they had faced earlier in the day, according to testimony.

After the killing, Flores said Staff Sgt. Michael Hensley told him (Flores) to place the detonation wire on the body and in the man's pocket, which he said he did.

But prosecutors cited an interview with Sandoval immediately after his arrest in which he said he planted the wire. Outside court, Flores stood by his testimony.

"He was just doing his job, as he was told. It's not his fault," said Flores, who, along with the rest of Sandoval's sniper platoon, greeted him with hugs and well wishes.

In the May shooting, Sgt. Evan Vela said Hensley told him to shoot a man who had stumbled upon their snipers' hideout, although he was not armed and had his hands in the air when he approached the soldiers.

"He (Hensley) asked me if I was ready. I had the pistol out. I heard the word shoot. I don't remember pulling the trigger. It took me a second to realize that the shot came from the pistol in my hand," Vela testified, crying.

Vela said as the Iraqi man was convulsing on the ground, "Hensley kind of laughed about it and hit the guy on the throat and said shoot again."

"After he (the Iraqi man) was shot, Hensley pulled an AK-47 out of his rucksack and said, 'this is what we are going to say happened,'" said Vela, who testified on Thursday under a deal that bars his account of events from being used against him when he goes to trial. Sandoval, who was charged with murder because prosecutors said he did nothing to stop the killing, also was acquitted Friday of charges he planted the weapon on the second man's body.

Vela of Rigby, Idaho and Hensley of Candler, N.C., are both charged in the case and will be tried separately. All three soldiers are part of the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, based at Fort Richardson, Alaska.

Lawyers for Sandoval urged on Friday that he be sentenced only for misplacement of public or private property, which carries no more than six months in prison. The prosecution argued Sandoval should be punished for obstruction of justice, which carries a maximum five-year sentence. The same military panel that reached a decision on his guilt will sentence Sandoval early Saturday.

"Anyone who has been charged with murder for their first kill on the battlefield on the order of his superior and is found not guilty is happy," Capt. Craig Drummond, a defense attorney, said outside court after the verdict. "Today, what the panel concluded, was justice. This soldier is not guilty."

Vela's lawyer Gary Myers claimed this week that Army snipers hunting insurgents in Iraq were under orders to "bait" their targets with suspicious materials, such as detonation cords, then kill those who picked up the items. He said his client was acting on orders.

Asked about the existence of the "baiting program," Drummond, Sandoval's military defense attorney, said it was unclear "what programs were going on out there and when," especially "if there were things that were done that made the rules of engagement not clear."


Troops Take Back Control in Myanmar

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) - Soldiers and police took control of the streets Friday, firing warning shots and tear gas to scatter the few pro-democracy protesters who ventured out as Myanmar's military junta sealed off Buddhist monasteries and cut public Internet access.

On the third day of a harsh government crackdown, the streets were empty of the mass gatherings that had peacefully challenged the regime daily for nearly two weeks, leaving only small groups of activists to be chased around by security forces.

"Bloodbath again! Bloodbath again!" a Yangon resident yelled while watching soldiers break up one march by shooting into air, firing tear gas and beating people with clubs.

Thousands of monks had provided the backbone of the protests, but they were besieged in their monasteries, penned in by locked gates and barbed wire surrounding the compounds in the two biggest cities, Yangon and Mandalay. Troops stood guard outside and blocked nearby roads to keep the clergymen isolated.

Many Yangon residents seemed pessimistic over the crackdown, fearing it fatally weakened a movement that began nearly six weeks ago as small protests over fuel price hikes and grew into demonstrations by tens of thousands demanding an end to 45 years of military rule.

The corralling of monks was a serious blow. They carry high moral authority in this predominantly Buddhist nation of 54 million people and the protests had mushroomed when the clergymen joined in.

"The monks are the ones who give us courage. I don't think that we have any more hope to win," said a young woman who had taken part in a huge demonstration Thursday that broke up when troops shot protesters. She said she had not seen her boyfriend and feared he was arrested.

Anger over the junta's assaults on democracy activists seethed around the globe. Protesters denounced the generals at gatherings across the United States, Europe and Asia.

The White House urged "all civilized nations" to pressure Myanmar's leaders to end the crackdown. "They don't want the world to see what is going on there," White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said.

But analysts said it was unlikely that countries with major investments in Myanmar, such as China and India, would agree to take any punitive measures. The experts also noted that the junta has long ignored criticism of its tough handling of dissidents.

Defiant of international condemnation, the military regime turned its troops loose on demonstrators Wednesday. Although the crackdown raised fears of a repeat of a 1988 democracy uprising that saw some 3,000 protesters slain, the junta appeared relatively restrained so far.

The government has said police and soldiers killed 10 people, including a Japanese journalist, in the first two days of the crackdown, but dissident groups put the number as high as 200.

Diplomats and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Friday the junta's figure probably was greatly understated, based on the reports of witnesses and others. They provided no estimates of their own and cautioned that witness reports had not been verified.

Getting accurate casualty figures has been difficult, with many residents too afraid to speak out and foreign journalists barred from openly entering Myanmar. Soldiers and police were going door-to-door at some hotels in Yangon looking for foreigners.

Violence continued Friday, but there no immediate reports of deaths from the government or dissident groups.

Just a few blocks from the Sule Pagoda in downtown Yangon, some 2,000 protesters armed only with insults and boos briefly confronted soldiers, wearing green uniforms with red bandanas around their necks and holding shields and automatic weapons.

As the crowd drew near, the soldiers fired bullets in the air, sending most of the protesters scurrying away. A handful of demonstrators still walked toward the troops but were beaten with clubs and dragged into trucks to be driven away.

"Why don't the Americans come to help us? Why doesn't America save us?" said an onlooker. who didn't want to be identified for fear of reprisal from the junta.

In other spots, riot police chased smaller groups of die-hard activists, sometimes shooting their guns into the air.

"The military was out in force before they even gathered and moved quickly as small groups appeared, breaking them up with gunfire, tear gas and clubs," Shari Villarosa, the top U.S. diplomat in Myanmar, told The Associated Press.

"It's tragic. These were peaceful demonstrators, very well behaved," she said.

Authorities also shut off the country's two Internet service providers, although big companies and embassies hooked up to the Web by satellite remained online. The Internet has played a crucial role in getting news and images of the democracy protests to the outside world.

At the Shwedagon Pagoda, Myanmar's most important Buddhist temple, about 300 armed policemen and soldiers sat around the compound eating snacks while keeping an eye on the monks.

"I'm not afraid of the soldiers. We live and then we die," said one monk. "We will win this time because the international community is putting a lot of pressure."

Condemnation of the junta has been strong around the world. On Friday, people protested outside Myanmar embassies in Australia, Britain, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand and Japan.

The United Nations' special envoy to Myanmar, Ibrahim Gambari, was heading to the country to promote a political solution and could arrive as early as Saturday, one Western diplomat said on condition of anonymity.

While some analysts thought negotiations an unlikely prospect, the diplomat said the junta's decision to let Gambari in "means they may see a role for him and the United Nations in mediating dialogue with the opposition and its leaders."

World pressure has made little impact on the junta over the years. Its members are highly suspicious of the outside world, and they have shrugged off intense criticism over such actions as keeping pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest.

Much of the regime's defiance - and ability to withstand economic sanctions imposed by the West - stems from the diplomatic and financial support of neighboring China. Another neighbor, India, also has refrained from pressuring the junta.

Analysts say that as long as those two giant countries remain silent and other Southeast Asian countries keep investing in Myanmar, it is unlikely the junta will show any flexibility. Every other time the regime has been challenged by its own people, it has responded with force.

Still, China has been urging the regime in recent months to get moving with long-stalled political reforms, and on Friday the Chinese government told its citizens to reconsider any trips planned to Myanmar.

Myanmar's fellow members in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations expressed "revulsion" over the crackdown and told the junta "to exercise utmost restraint and seek a political solution." Officials in neighboring Thailand said planes were on standby to evacuate ASEAN citizens in case the situation deteriorated.



U.S. missile defense test successful

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. - A ground-based missile successfully intercepted a target missile Friday in a test of the nation's defense system, the Missile Defense Agency said

An intercontinental ballistic missile interceptor blasted out of an underground silo at Vandenberg Air Force Base shortly after 1:15 p.m., and tracked a target missile that had lifted off from the Kodiak Launch Complex in Alaska, the Boeing Co. said in a statement.

The Missile Defense Agency said initial results show the interceptor's rocket motor system and kill vehicle performed as planned. Boeing said the warhead was tracked, intercepted and destroyed.

Boeing is the prime contractor for what is formally known as the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense system.

The MDA expects to invest $49 billion in ballistic missile defense development and fielding over the next five years.

Two operational interceptor missiles are currently based at Vandenberg and there are 11 deployed at Fort Greely, Alaska.


Good to know that that satellite that crashed in Peru was not needed, or redundant, for this test.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Phony Soldier?

Dear Friend,

You've heard a number of times from Jon Soltz of Do you consider him a phony soldier?

According to Rush Limbaugh, Jon Soltz, an Iraq war veteran, is a phony soldier. Today, Media Matters reports that Rush Limbaugh said that those troops who come home and want to get America out of the middle of the religious civil war in Iraq are "phony soldiers."1

The question is, would Rush make these outrageous and offensive comments to Jon's face?

Take action now. Email Rush Limbaugh and urge him to invite Jon Soltz onto his radio show!

Rush Limbaugh has never worn the uniform in his life, yet he's got the moral standing to pass judgment on the men and women who risked their lives for this nation?

Polls have shown that the majority of troops on the ground in Iraq, and those who have returned, do not back the President's failed policy.

Does Rush believe, then, that the majority of the US Armed Forces are "phony?"

Major Generals John Batiste and Paul Eaton left the military and have spoken out against the Bush Administration's failed policies. These are former commanders in Iraq, and they have challenged the Administration for its stubborn refusal to listen to those commanders on the ground who have sent up warning after warning.

Does Rush believe that highly decorated Major Generals are "phony soldiers?"

Finally, recall the members of the 82nd Airborne in Iraq who wrote a New York Times op-ed, urging for a change in course in Iraq, and suggesting it was time to figure out the exit strategy. Two of them just died.

Does Rush believe these young troops are "phony soldiers?"

My challenge to you is to force Rush to invite Jon Soltz onto his show and say all of this again, right to the face of someone who served in Iraq.

Click here to email Rush now!

Democracy demands discussion, disagreement, and dissent. It is the natural expression of our freedom. To dishonor the service of our troops because they have a different viewpoint is unconscionable. Thank you for speaking out.


Wes Clark

1. "Limbaugh: Service members who support U.S. withdrawal are 'phony soldiers'"

Click Here To Email Rush Now!

Iraq Can't Spend Its Own Money

The money is Iraqi. The workers are Iraqi. But on the smattering of reconstruction projects across the country -- including military bases, schools, water and power infrastructure and roads -- management is still mostly American. It's further evidence of the failure, four years into the occupation, to stand up competent, professional Iraqi mid-level leadership.

U.S. Navy Captain Joe Hedges is the Assistant Chief Of Staff of the coalition training command's Engineering Directorate. He oversees $1.5 billion in Iraqi funds on behalf of the Ministries of Defense and Interior, i.e. the army and the cops.

“We take Iraqi money and apply it through our acquisitions and oversight processes in order build and support useable facilities,” he says, adding that his troops are currently managing a dozen different projects. “Everything from bases, to new barracks schools, airfields and even a hospital.”

The ultimate goal, Hedges says, is "not to do this for them, but to help them start doing it themselves." To that end, Hedge's team convenes U.S.-Iraqi working groups, brings Iraqi engineers along on site visits and incorporates Iraqi ideas in project designs. One example: sinks are now reinforced to support Iraqi troops who use them to wash their feet.

“Every day, we see the Iraqis get a little bit stronger, better and more organized. They're building capacity in the ministries. Eventually they’ll be self-sufficient."

Sure, but WHEN?

Danger Room

A soldier in Iraq

After spending 2006 in command of an armor reconnaissance squadron in some of West Baghdad's toughest neighborhoods, I learned to be very humble when linking causes to the effects I thought my unit produced.

I learned that as I used military force to solve certain problems the results often came about from many different factors. Many times the results had nothing to do with the military force that I applied.

During the second half of 2006, as civil war in Iraq grew and sectarian violence soared, my squadron was given the mission of pacifying the Sunni district in West Baghdad known as Ameriyah.

In early August, I took part in an operation ordered by the Iraqi government called "Operation Together Forward II." In Ameriyah, I essentially surged my squadron with the purpose of protecting the people and breaking the cycle of violence so that the Iraqi government could get some breathing space to function on its own.

My first task was to clear Ameriyah. To "clear" as defined by American Army tactical doctrine is to remove by destruction and capture or force all enemy fighters in a given area.

Although my squadron, along with other American combat units and Iraqi Army units, spent weeks clearing the area, the effect that our applied military force produced did not equate to the Army definition of "clear." Some fighters left temporarily but then returned; many simply stayed and hid among the people of the area; some we did capture or kill.

After "clearing" Ameriyah, and as we worked at holding it, a key indicator of success was a reduction in sectarian killings, manifested by the number of dead bodies showing up daily on the streets. I increased the number of patrols in the area, gained the confidence of the local sheiks and imams, picked up garbage off of the streets to improve the lives of the locals and conducted more raids to capture insurgents whom we thought were taking part in the sectarian killings. Early perceived results of my unit's efforts appeared encouraging: the number of dead bodies on the streets declined significantly.

Initially I thought my squadron's military actions had produced the decline. However, as I learned more about the area, I came to realize that the reduction of bodies on the streets was due not so much to my unit's military actions but to the simple fact that most of the minority Shia who had lived in Ameriyah had either been killed or had fled the area. Fewer Shia bodies were showing up on the streets because there were fewer Shia for the local Sunnis to kill.

To build on the tenuous security successes, I decided to attempt to open up the shops on Ameriyah's main market street.

When I first arrived in Ameriyah in January 2006, the street was bustling with economic activity. All of the sidewalk stores were open. But over the course of the next six months, as the civil war intensified, the shops closed because local Sunnis either threatened or killed the Shia shopowners.

When we focused our efforts on the market road, shops did begin to reopen. But they were now run by local Sunnis. The vibrant road that previously drew Sunnis, Shiites and Christians from all over Baghdad was now only used by the locals in Ameriyah.

Just as Sunnis from Ameriyah were afraid to venture out of their protected district, non-Sunnis from other areas in Baghdad were afraid to venture in.

Another important goal for me was to reduce enemy attacks on my own unit. I carried out raids to capture insurgents who were attacking us. The simple cause-and-effect logic was that the more insurgents I captured, the fewer would attack me.

I was able to reduce the number of attacks against my soldiers. But I concluded that the result was more due to my squadron changing its tactical movement techniques and patterns than to the number of enemy I captured or killed.

When I did take casualties, I wanted to inject positive action into my subordinate units and give them the sense that they had the initiative and to maintain their morale.

But the longer we stayed in Iraq and the more casualties we took, my efforts to instill initiative in my squadron became less and less effective. Every casualty chipped away at morale, and I could not regain those morale chips no matter how many offensive operations I conducted or how many pep talks I gave my squadron.

The American Army's new counterinsurgency doctrine told me to attack the root problems that allowed the insurgency to exist in my area. But some roots were impossible to get at.

There were thousands of unemployed young men in Ameriyah. I had much commander's emergency reconstruction money to spend on endeavors like trash removal and street repair to employ these young men. But they were the Sunni children of the former Baathist elite. Rather than picking up the garbage, they wanted to go to college and become computer engineers, college teachers, doctors or lawyers.

They could not do this, however, out of fear of leaving Ameriyah and being kidnapped or killed at the checkpoints run by the Shiite militia and Iraqi security forces that surrounded their district. I would have needed the wisdom of Solomon and the power of Franklin D. Roosevelt to solve the economic and employment problems of Ameriyah.

By the end of 2006 I had became wary of some cocksure commanders who exuded the sense that they had mastered their area of responsibility. It seemed to me that these commanders had in their own minds become smarter than the war that they were fighting.

I was always humbled by it and chose to operate and act within it with trepidation, humility and an appreciation for the limits that my military force could achieve. I learned that there was only so much that I could do in the middle of a civil war. I often wonder if Iraq has changed much since I left.


Sistani speaks of 'pain' in first talks with Iraqi VP

The spiritual head of Iraqi Shiites, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, expressed "pain" on Thursday at the violence in Iraq during a first meeting with the Sunni vice president, the latter said.

"I found (Sistani) has good knowledge of all the issues Iraqis are suffering from," Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi told reporters after their talks in the holy city of Najaf, south of Baghdad.

"He told me, 'my heart is burning from the pain of the troubles in Iraq'," the vice president said.

The meeting between Sistani and Hashemi comes amid reconciliation efforts by religious and political leaders in the face of rampant sectarian violence that has killed thousands of people in nearly two years.

"I found he cares very much for Iraq and all Iraqis. From now on I will inform (Sistani) about everything happening in my office... I found he has good knowledge and knows everything that is going on in Iraq," Hashemi said.

The vice president heads the Iraqi Islamic Party, and is one of the most respected Sunnis in Iraq, while Sistani is the most influential Shiite cleric in the country's majority Shiite population.

Hashemi recently launched his Iraqi National Compact, a list of 25 principles that aim to serve as the basis for reconciliation efforts between the different sides in Iraq.

"I showed him the document and Sistani took the version that I had in my pocket. He told me that he had read it and supported it in general," Hashemi said after the meeting.

IC Publications

All they really needed was something compatible to the First Amendment.

US soldiers charged with murder over baiting of Iraqis

Three US soldiers have been charged with premeditated murder for engaging in a baiting practice allegedly ordered by the US military in Iraq.

Snipers were allegedly ordered to kill Iraqis who fell for the trap, in which ammunition and explosives were planted on the street.

The three soldiers facing court are also accused of planting weapons on the Iraqis they killed.

Defence lawyers and the soldiers' families say the men were simply following orders.

The court martial, being held at a US army base in Baghdad, is unlikely to help the Pentagon's efforts to win and the hearts and minds of war weary Iraqis.

Army specialist Jorge Sandoval appeared before a military judge overnight, accused of the premeditated murder of two Iraqi men and then trying to cover-up the shootings by planting weapons on the bodies.

He is one of three army snipers at the centre of a brewing controversy over a new tactic allegedly being used to kill insurgents.

It has been revealed that the Pentagon's secretive asymmetrical warfare group has been providing sniper units in Iraq with items such as weapons and detonation wire to be used as bait.

In a sworn statement to the court martial, Captain Matthew Didier, the leader of one the sniper units, says his men were told to shoot anybody who picked up the items.

The weapons were also to be placed on the bodies of those killed.

The accused soldiers all say the killings were authorised by their superiors but the Pentagon is refusing to confirm or deny whether the 'baiting' policy exists.

Major General Richard Sherlock, the director of operational planning at the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says US soldiers are not trained to kill indiscriminately.

"Any program, whether it was a secret program or an overt program, would have to abide by the laws of land warfare," he said.

"The laws of land warfare do not include engaging someone simply for picking something up on the battlefield."

Human rights groups are concerned that weapons and explosives material allegedly used as bait could be picked up by civilians, especially curious children.

Gates asks for funding boost

The row over tactics on the ground came as US Defence Secretary Robert Gates faced another hostile reception from anti-war protesters gathered for a congressional hearing on the war.

The subject today was the Pentagon's request for another $217 billion to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mr Gates has told a Senate Committee more money is needed to train Iraqi forces and produce new armoured vehicles that offer greater protection against roadside bombs.

The committee's chairman, Democrat Senator Robert Byrd, has expressed horror at the increasing burden being placed on US taxpayers.

"If the congress were to approve the President's revised budget request, total funding for the war in Iraq will exceed $600 billion," he said.

That said, the Democrat-controlled committee is expected to give the President what he wants.


Do Iraq documentaries get it right?

If Vietnam was the first "television war," Iraq is the first major conflict of the personal-video age. Iraqi civilians wield cellphone cameras at the scene of car bombings. Soldiers carry camcorders on patrol (and upload the images to their blogs). Even newspaper reporters such as myself shoot clips to run alongside their stories. Together, more people have shot more hours of video footage of Iraq than of any other news event in history.

But despite this wealth of raw material, until recently, most documentaries emerging from the war fell short of capturing its complexity and drama. That's changed with four films released since last year, each of which plumbs a single aspect of the US experience in Iraq. Together, they tell a comprehensive – and infuriating – narrative of the war.

"No End in Sight"

First-time filmmaker Charles Ferguson's slickly produced video essay "No End In Sight" – the most acclaimed of this group – argues that American officials bungled the post-invasion period with a string of bad decisions. A former academic and dotcom multimillionaire, Ferguson first proposed the project years ago, but was told that someone, somewhere must be making such a movie. No one was, so he did. Through compelling characters – such as a frustrated army officer, a defiant bureaucrat, and an Iraqi reporter – Ferguson weaves explications of one mistake after another into a coherent case that reckless naiveté turned an already difficult mission into a quagmire. His best examples are widely known (like the decisions to disband the Iraqi Army and to bar former Baathists from government).

But rendered together on film for the first time, the argument is persuasive and devastating.

"The War Tapes"

"The War Tapes" is the film for those frustrated by what they perceive as biased reporting on Iraq (and judging by the flooded inboxes of most Iraq correspondents, there are many).

Filmmaker Deborah Scranton was invited to "embed" with the New Hampshire National Guard during a yearlong deployment. She had a better idea: give soldiers their own cameras and have them shoot the footage themselves. Scranton, meanwhile, focused on their families back home and eventually the soldiers' return.

The result is as unvarnished as a documentary gets, taking viewers beyond the firefights and explosions (though there's plenty of that) to the barrack-room banter often muted when outsiders are around. "We're not supposed to talk to the media," one soldier says, early in the film. The answer from behind the camera: "I'm not the media."

"The Ground Truth"

"The Ground Truth" is a raw and gritty window into minds and bodies broken by combat. Soldiers are initially shown from the neck up, meaning viewers only later learn that many are missing hands and feet, bear shattered spines, or suffer psychological wounds that may never heal.

The overall impression (correct, in my view) is that the challenges facing those fighting in Iraq are almost unimaginably daunting. One recounts his split-second decision to shoot an old woman ignoring shouts to stop walking toward a checkpoint, only to learn she was reaching for a white flag. The parents of another describe with searing reserve how he hung himself at home upon his return.

One shortcoming: The film, directed by Patricia Foulkrod, depicts not a single soldier who believes in the Iraq mission. Including such views would have made it seem less like a polemic.

"Iraq for Sale"

Five years ago, few Americans had heard of the large companies whose lucrative contracts in Iraq have made them household names. Robert Greenwald's "Iraq for Sale" places them in the category Lincoln once referred to as "worse than traitors in arms," namely those that profit unjustly from war. It is a tale of no-bid contracts and torture perpetrated with impunity by private interrogators.

Heavily criticized is Blackwater USA, the security firm assigned to protect American diplomats. Among the thousands of hired guns riding roughshod over Iraqi highways, they were recently singled out for the allegedly unprovoked killing of eight civilians. In interviews, relatives of four Blackwater employees killed in 2004 accuse the firm of negligent disregard for their safety. Their families have now filed suit. Left largely unsaid, surprisingly, is that far greater numbers of Iraqis have died at the hands of such contractors and rarely have any recourse at all.


Fore! Students collect golf balls for US soldiers in Iraq

WASHINGTON (AFP) — Students at a Washington high school have collected thousands of golf balls for US soldiers in Iraq, who reportedly use a desert driving range to unwind, a local television station reported Thursday.

Pupils at Gonzaga College High School have collected around 14,000 golf balls for the troops in the "Balls for Baghdad" project launched earlier this year by physics teacher and golf coach, Rob Theriaque, a report on WJLA television said.

According to WJLA, US troops in Iraq like to unwind by teeing off, but there is a constant need for new balls: because it is too dangerous for the soldiers to recover the balls once they are hit hundreds of yards (meters) out into the Iraqi desert, the soldiers can only use each golf ball once.

The problem the Gonzaga students face now is how to get the balls to Iraq: the balls collected so far weigh 1,000 pounds (around 450 kilos), and shipping them would cost 70 dollars per box of 400 balls, according to WJLA.

Comments posted on the WJLA website praised the students' "admirable but odd" initiative, but called it "misguided."

Another comment-poster urged the students to sell the golf balls on e-Bay and send the soldiers money.

"What are they going to do with the balls? Play the Country Club of Fallujah? The Links of Anbar Province?" the poster wondered.

Iraq's top Shi'ite cleric meets Sunni leader

BAGHDAD, Sept 27 (Reuters) - Iraq's top Shi'ite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani met the country's Sunni vice president on Thursday for the first time to discuss a new initiative aimed at uniting feuding politicians.

Deep sectarian rifts in Iraq have stymied decision making and hampered progress on key laws that Washington wants passed to help reconciliation between warring majority Shi'ites and minority Sunni Arabs.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has lost around a dozen Sunni and Shi'ite Arab ministers from his cabinet and has been left relying on a coalition of Kurdish parties in parliament.

Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, who heads the Sunni Islamic Party, met the reclusive Sistani in the holy Shi'ite city of Najaf in southern Iraq where he lives.

Sistani rarely leaves his home and makes few public statements. But Sistani sponsored Maliki's Shi'ite alliance and is hugely influential among Iraq's Shi'ites.

Hashemi stressed he had not asked Sistani to put pressure on any Shi'ite group to return to cabinet, saying the purpose of the meeting had been to discuss the new initiative, known as the Iraqi National Compact.

"The meeting was profound and many issues related to the political process were discussed," Hashemi told reporters after his meeting with the highly influential Shi'ite cleric.

"I briefed his eminence on the Iraqi National Compact and he informed me he had already seen a copy and read, analysed and expressed his remarks on the initiative," he said.

Sistani's office declined to comment on the meeting.

The Iraqi National Compact is a set of 25 political principles unveiled by Hashemi's party on Wednesday aimed at removing deep mistrust among politicians.

The compact is being distributed to political parties, senior clerics and neighbouring countries. Hashemi said he had asked Sistani for detailed comments on the principles.


Roots of Iraq Weapon Probes Date to 2004

WASHINGTON (AP) — As President Bush and Democratic challenger Sen. John Kerry clashed in late 2004 over the direction of the Iraq war, a rising Army star joined the debate.

Then-Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, head of a new command overseeing the training and equipping of Iraq's security forces, said headway was being made.

Tens of thousands of rifles, pistols, body armor, vehicles, and radios, along with millions of ammunition rounds, had been delivered to Iraqis over a three-month period, he wrote in a commentary for The Washington Post six weeks before the presidential election.

The weapons and countless pieces of other gear, paid for with tens of millions of U.S. tax dollars, were indeed flowing — but as it turns out, not always to the right places or into the right hands.

In the rush to arm Iraqi forces against a violent insurgency, U.S. military officials did not keep good records. About 190,000 weapons weren't fully accounted for, according to one audit.

The accounting failures are at the heart of a broad inquiry by the Pentagon's inspector general, sharp questions from Republicans and Democrats in Congress, and complaints from officials in Turkey who claim that pistols used in violent crimes in their country came from U.S.-funded stocks.

Retired Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, who preceded Petraeus as the officer in charge of training Iraq's forces, said he expects the inspector general will find there were too few people to handle the enormous influx of weapons and money into the country.

"One of the greatest irritants to me was watching the Pentagon cooking along at full strength while we in Iraq were running on a very thin personnel shoestring," said Eaton, a critic of the Bush administration's handling of the war.

"There have never been enough people, and there has never been enough bureaucratic support and effort to do this thing properly," Eaton told The Associated Press.

Peter Velz, a Pentagon official specializing in Iraq issues, said Petraeus' command was operating under "extremely difficult, Spartan conditions" and was in need of more personnel experienced in contracting and materiel management.

The training command had about 900 people in 2004, according to a command spokesman, and it now has 1,100.

There is no evidence of any wrongdoing by Petraeus, now a four-star general and the top American officer in Iraq. And there is no indication that he is the subject of any of the inspector general's inquiries.

His commentary, however, is a reminder of how even cautiously optimistic assessments of the war in Iraq can turn with time.

In June 2004, Petraeus took over the just-formed Multinational Security Transition Command-Iraq, more commonly known by the acronym MNSTC-I (pronounced "min-sticky"). The organization's job is to train Iraqi army and police units so they are capable of operating on their own.

Petraeus has likened the experience to "building an aircraft that was already in flight."

Given the rising strength of the insurgency at the time, Petraeus felt it was more important to get weapons and ammunition to troops in the fight "than to wait for a signature on a hand receipt," Army Col. Steven Boylan, Petraeus's top spokesman, said Tuesday by e-mail.

Petraeus left the post in September 2005.

Since then, audits have cited the Iraq transition command for lack of oversight.

An October 2006 audit by the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction said there was "questionable accuracy" and "incomplete accountability" in the way MNSTC-I managed weapons.

In one case, 751 assault rifles were purchased, but there is no record of their delivery to Iraq's ministries of defense and interior.

More recently, the U.S. Government Accountability Office said until December 2005, MNSTC-I had no centralized set of records for the shipping of weapons to Iraqi forces.

The command said 185,000 Russian-designed AK-47 rifles, 170,000 pistols, 215,000 sets of body armor, and 140,000 helmets had been issued to Iraq troops by September 2005, according to the July GAO report.

But due to incomplete record-keeping, the command couldn't be certain if the Iraqis received 110,000 of the rifles, or 80,000 of the pistols. More than half of the body armor and helmets couldn't be tracked.

Military officials in Washington and Baghdad still have not settled on which, "if any," accountability procedures apply to the train-and-equip program, the GAO said.

Velz, who works for the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Middle East, said oversight continues to be a subject of debate inside the Pentagon.

"There clearly has been a lack of guidance to MNSTC-I on what accountability requirements apply to them," Velz said at a House Armed Services Committee hearing last week.

Federal investigators are also examining whether employees for Blackwater USA, one of the largest private security firms in Iraq, played a role in the loose arms problem by selling weapons on the black market that ended up in the hands of a U.S.-designated terrorist organization.

Turkish officials have complained to the United States that they had seized weapons from the PKK, a Kurdish militant group, with markings matching those intended for Iraqi forces.

Blackwater has denied any involvement in weapons smuggling and called the allegations "baseless."

Lawmakers who received a classified briefing from the inspector general last week expressed concern that U.S. troops might be injured or killed by firepower the United States purchased.

If "there is a wholesale movement of weapons that U.S. taxpayers have paid for into the hands of those who would do us harm or further destabilize the region, we must make resolving this problem one of our top priorities," Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., said at the Sept. 20 House Armed Services hearing.

Thomas Gimble, the Pentagon's deputy inspector general, said his office has 90 open investigations stemming from nearly $6 billion in contracts for supplies and equipment needed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Gimble said his staff also is auditing $88 billion in wartime expenditures to see if further investigation is warranted. Since 2003, more than $19 billion has gone to build up Iraq's security forces.

Army Lt. Col. Levonda Joey Selph, a former assistant to Petraeus during 2004 and 2005, is a target of one of the investigations.

Selph served as the U.S. commander of a large depot north of Baghdad that was responsible for outfitting Iraq's military.

On Wednesday, Selph told AP a gag order prevents her from commenting. But before hanging up, she called press reports about her "freaking lies."


Aren't we lucky to have Bush on our side.

France says Russia wants to delay Iran sanctions

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Russia is unlikely to support new U.N. sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program until after the U.N. atomic watchdog's latest study of Iran's activities, which may not be completed until December, the French foreign minister said on Thursday.

"I think it would very difficult to convince the Russians and the Chinese before (then)," French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said at a breakfast with reporters.

"For the time being it is difficult to foresee," said Kouchner, who said he had spent hours trying in vain to persuade Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to join western states in a new round of tighter sanctions against Iran.

Iran last month agreed to explain the scope of its nuclear program to the International Atomic Energy Agency, but critics say the deal allows Tehran to address issues one by one in a long-drawn-out process which could last until December.

The United States, France and other allies want the U.N. Security Council to agree tougher sanctions against Tehran over its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment, which the West suspects is cover for bomb making. Iran says its program is for generating nuclear power.

Russia and China previously voted for two sets of punitive measures, but Lavrov told two reporters earlier in the week that "the third track" of fresh sanctions was an invention "by the Americans and the French, not us."

Russia, backed by China, has not flatly refused to allow the issue to return to the Security Council but diplomats said Lavrov has not engaged in any of the discussions this week on what a new set of sanctions would entail. Both Russia and China have veto power in the Security Council.

British Foreign Minister David Miliband, in briefing reporters, stressed the importance of unity among the major powers, the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany, which would negotiate a resolution.

"The most important thing is that the unanimity of the international community is valued by all six (powers) and sends a very clear signal to Iran and we need to keep that going."

Asked about U.S. and French calls for sanctions outside the Security Council, Miliband said: "It's already the case that European Union countries have taken greater action than was required by the Security Council. That is healthy and good."

He said companies and banks were making their own decisions about investment based on the political risk.

"The figures on the fall in European investment in Iran in the first 6 months of this year are spectacular," he said, citing a 40 percent decrease. "There is evidence of sanctions having an effect."

But Lavrov, speaking at a meeting of major powers alongside the General Assembly, on Wednesday condemned Western moves to take unilateral sanctions outside the U.N. framework if the Security Council was deadlocked, meeting participants said.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told the Assembly on Tuesday that the issue of his country's nuclear ambitions was "closed" and was now to be handled by the IAEA.


Tension between Sunnis & Shiites in USA

"By Cathy Lynn Grossman, USA TODAY
When Muslim journalist S. Hussain Zaidi toured the USA recently, he was stunned by what he saw: Shiite and Sunni Muslims, whose conflicts have fueled the war in Iraq and tension in the Middle East and beyond, were praying together in U.S. mosques.
"It is something we never see at home," says Zaidi, of India. "They want to kill each other everywhere except in the USA.""
Iraqi Mojo

The Anbar Narrative: Part 2

"In The Anbar Narrative: Part 1, I provided an excerpt from a speech by Major General John Kelly on the counterinsurgency campaign in Anbar. By all accounts, it was a magnificent, well-executed and hard fought campaign, with each city and area of operation being slightly to significantly different from the others. Adaptability and improvisation have marked the effort all across the province. Like I have argued before concerning the necessity for a military blow to al Qaeda to enable the awakening, while pointing to the significance of the population turning against al Qaeda, he also sets the necessary backdrop for this.
… by relentless pursuit by a bunch of fearless 19 year olds with guns who never flinched or gave an inch, while at the same time holding out the carrot of economic development, they have seen the light and know AQ can’t win against such men. By staying in the fight, and remaining true to our word, and our honor, AQ today can’t spend more than a few hours in Fallujah, Ramadi, or the Al Anbar in general
There is no question that the campaign was a military victory, but it is helpful to hear all perspectives, even contrary viewpoints. In The Daily Star, Muhammad Abu Rumman published a commentary entitled “Deconstructing Iraq’s Sunni armed groups,” in which he gives an alternative perspective."
The Captain's Journal
My vote is with the alternative narrative, with the relentless pursuit as a backdrop. In other words, there is never a simple answer.

My Bodyguards and House Resolution 548

"BEIRUT (an undisclosed neighborhood) – Lebanon is extremely dangerous for Americans right now. In fact, some top officials within the 1559 Committee (essentially the heart and soul of the Cedars Revolution ... for a free Lebanon) believe some sort of dramatic terrorist event is going to take place here in Lebanon between now and mid-October. This is not a gut feeling, but a calculation based on intelligence analysis and chatter from the street.

Tony Nissi, the 1559 Committee chief here in Beirut (whom you'll recall from previous entries), has reason to believe Hezbollah knows who I am. So I am deliberately not staying in hotels: Instead, I'm spending nights in friends' houses — safe houses if you will — and always with bodyguards."
The Tank

What can YOU do to help?

"One of my friends is the commander of a unit in Afghanistan and they are winning hearts and minds of the locals by being compassionate and caring. They have identified a group of Afghan children who are in dire need of winter clothing. I am including his info in the hope that some of you might understand that this is how we win. When we help a child they remember and maybe, just maybe, one of these children can make a difference in the future. Please help and while these children are Muslim the clothing is a fine, fine Christmas gift. There are 43 kids lsited here. You may not be able to help them all but i am sure you can help 1."
Those Wack Iraqis

Iran shelling targets deeper inside northern Iraq: mayor

ARBIL, Iraq (AFP) — Iranian forces have shelled deeper into northern Iraq than previously, hitting targets in an area northeast of the city of Arbil, a local official said Thursday.

"The Iranian forces began their bombardments again on Wednesday evening targeting far away from the border," said Abdul Wahid Koani, mayor of the Kurdish Iraqi border town of Joman.

"This time the Iranian bombardment was different as it targeted a town deep inside Iraqi territory," Koani told AFP.

Iranian artillery shells landed in the Haj Umran area, hitting targets on two mountains and villages abandoned from earlier attacks, he said, adding that they reached as far as 17 kilometres (10.5 miles) into Iraqi territory.

Iran confirmed for the first time on Sunday that it had been shelling camps of Kurdish militants inside northern Iraq, saying the local authorities had not listened to its warnings.

The militant Kurdish separatist group PJAK -- linked to Turkey's outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) -- has been behind a string of deadly attacks on security forces in northwestern Iran in recent months.

Iraqi Kurdish officials said last month that hundreds of Iraqi Kurds had fled remote mountain villages near the country's eastern frontier after Iranian gunners targeted separatist guerrilla bases.


I guess this is an example of what president NutJob meant when he went on ranting about peace.

Iran Reformist Warns Democracy at Stake

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) - One of Iran's top reform politicians said Wednesday that demonizing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - such as in this week's Columbia University forum - only strengthens hard-liners' hand as Iranians rally around their otherwise unpopular leader.

Even more damaging would be a military strike against Iran, which Mohsen Mirdamadi said would set back democracy a decade or more.

Mirdamadi leads Iran's largest pro-reform party, which has been working to make a comeback after being forced from power by hard-liners like Ahmadinejad who are close to the country's Islamic clerical leadership.

He told The Associated Press that Ahmadinejad should have little chance of re-election in two years because of increasing criticism that he has failed to fix the economy and has hurt Iran on the world stage.

But sharp criticism of the hard-line leader this week in New York - including during his appearance at Columbia - boosts his popularity, Mirdamadi said in an exclusive interview.

"The remarks by the Columbia University president were like an indictment against the Iranian president. Ahmadinejad's opponents don't support this," he said.

"The blistering speech against Ahmadinejad only strengthened him back home and made his radical supporters more determined," Mirdamadi said during the hour-long interview in his central Tehran office.

During Monday's question-and-answer session, Columbia University President Lee Bollinger gave a tough introduction to Ahmadinejad, including telling him that he resembles a "petty and cruel dictator."

Many Iranians found the comments insulting, particularly because in Iranian traditions of hospitality, a host should be polite to a guest, no matter what he thinks of him. To many, Ahmadinejad looked like the victim, and hard-liners praised the president's calm demeanor during the event, saying Bollinger was spouting a "Zionist" line.

Tensions are high between Washington and Tehran over U.S. accusations that Iran is secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons and arming Shiite militias in Iraq that target U.S. troops. Iran has denied both claims.

Fears are high in Iran that the U.S. or Israel will carry out a military strike on the country, which Iranian leaders have warned would spark retaliation against Israel and U.S. bases in the region. Washington has said it is addressing the Iran situation diplomatically, but U.S. officials also say that all options are open.

Mirdamadi said Western powers have to stop any talk of war if they want democracy to succeed in Iran. The threat of an attack "helps Ahmadinejad's political agenda," he said.

"Any U.S. military action against Iran will only boost radicals within Iran ... Military action will set back democracy in Iran for a decade or two," Mirdamadi warned.

Mirdamadi, leader of the Islamic Iran Participation Front, was a top lawmaker among the democracy activists who held a majority in parliament under Ahmadinejad's predecessor, pro-reform President Mohammad Khatami, from 1997-2005.

But in 2004, hard-liners in the unelected clerical bodies that oversee Iran's political system barred him and other reformists from seeking re-election, putting conservatives back in control.

The following year, Ahmadinejad was elected president. Reformists - who want to loosen Iran's social and political restrictions and favor better relations with the U.S. - were left demoralized and divided.

Since then, Ahmadinejad's star has fallen at home. Elected on a populist agenda, he failed to keep campaign promises to bring oil revenues to every family, eradicate poverty and tackle unemployment.

Housing prices in Tehran have tripled, and prices for fruit, vegetables or other basic commodities have more than doubled since last summer. Inflation further worsened after a 25 percent increase in fuel prices in May.

Last December, Ahmadinejad's allies were humiliated in municipal elections, with some reformists gaining seats. He was dealt another blow when a rival, former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, was chosen as chairman of the Assembly of Experts, a powerful clerical body, over a close Ahmadinejad ally.

Conservatives who once supported the president have increasingly joined in the criticism, saying he needs to pay more attention to the economy and that his inflammatory rhetoric has needlessly stoked tensions with the West.

Mirdamadi said democratic reforms still have a chance of success.

"Ahmadinejad's popularity has declined. Those who voted for him expected improvement in their living standards but it didn't happen. The honeymoon is over," he said. "If this trend continues, he will have no chance for re-election."


Right, the fake reform party is worried about their fake democracy, and harm done by shining a little light on their fake positions. These fake reform parties are the flip side of the same coin. If they really wanted reform they would take this opportunity to challenge the hard liners head on. Hiding in the shadows and toying with useless reforms that have no effect whatsoever will never achieve anything. If there really interested in any type of meaning reform they could start stating publicly that there is no democracy in Iran, nothing even remotely close.