"This is the Army, son. Your opinion doesn't matter.
- Roger. Acknowledged. I'd figure I'd proffer it, just in case." ~LT G ...Famous last words of a Milblog.
Thursday, January 31, 2008
Are they trying to kill us, or what?
"From the Soldier Side: Ok, what was my last mission I wrote about in Iraq? See, I forget stuff because I suffer from C.R.S. The VA doc said that there's nothing they can do for it....so if you know anyone who has C.R.S....help them remember stuff. After our job in Mosoul/Telafar we got to hang out at the big PX in Baghdad and goof off for a few weeks. Did you know they have a Burger King there? Wow!
I didn't ask about any more missions so I think they forget we were there, until one day my Dumbass assistant team leader asked the boss: "Hey, when are we going on another mission?" I could have kicked him. The next day, we were on a Black Hawk to FOB Kalsu. Now, a FOB is a Forward Operating Base....which made no sense to me, since there was no "Front" in Iraq, we got hit from all directions...
So, FOB Kalsu sucked. There would only be one place I'd go later that sucked worse. The place had been run by the USMC, but a few weeks before we got there the Miss National Guard took over. I hope nobody from that unit reads this, but what a bunch of Knuckelheads (actually I don't give a shit if anyone from that unit reads this...it's the truth) " Soldier and Cop
"I reclined in the driver's seat, listening to the occasional boom of a controlled detonation as we were out and about, cleaning bad shit out in some area. Y'know, good shit, throwing a wrench in the Bad Guys' plans and whatnot. Felt pretty damn good about it. I wasn't doing shit, mind you, but I was there, involved in SOMETHING other than a goddamn meeting. And I started thinking.
Yeah, I hate Iraq. I hate being here. This place is one big long shit-smear if you ask me. But let's look beyond my simple opinion and look at this whole mess for what it is.
"I hate our President."
But you elected him. One way or another.
"I hate this war and I think it's not solving anything."
But it's already well underway, with no sign of stopping. We're COMMITTED now. You can't keep debating it. Once you commit to something like this, you have to see it through. It's like everyone WANTS us to just say, "Fuck it," and quit. Throw in the towel. Oh well, we tried." The Unlikely Soldier
""We are fighting these terrorists with our military in Afghanistan and Iraq and beyond so we do not have to face them in the streets of our own cities," Bush said in 2004. If the strategy was to use the war in Iraq as flypaper to attract terrorists, it seems to have worked well. Hardcore jihadis from all over the wide Arab "watan" (nation) left their countries, flying right over occupied Palestine, or in some cases leaving their home towns that were just miles from occupied Palestine, ostensibly to fight the American infidel invaders in Iraq. Unfortunately Iraqi civilians have suffered the brunt of this war. Suicide bombers, about half of them Saudi, have murdered many more Iraqi civilians than American soldiers. As an Arab, I am saddened that so many Arabs have murdered Iraqis. I have learned to swallow the bitter truth and realized some time in 2004 that Arab nationalists and fundamentalists seem more interested in defeating America than helping Iraqis. Some of them would murder 34 Iraqi children just to kill one American soldier." Iraqi Mojo
"Well, I'm going back in time a little bit to talk about a few events that happened several patrols ago. The reason for this is the damn internet is down in my building again, and ever since I got internet in my room it is almost like getting the motivation to go to the dentist when it comes to heading down to the MWR computers. But now the internet has been down for a while and I have no clue when it will be getting fixed so I'm finally putting together a post to take down to the computers and upload. From what I hear the computers are running really slow so I may or may not get to put up pictures that I am wanting to include with this. Guess we'll see.
The first significant event deals with the CLC or civilian armed guards that we have in some of the neighborhoods in our sector. I've talked about them many times, especially when it deals with running in to one of their armed dismount patrols at night or the weapons caches that these guys find for us from time to time. Although I disagree with the decision to allow them to have free roam, especially with weapons, they have actually proven to be a big help in assisting us in finding these caches and catching some of the bad guys around the area." On the Loose in Iraq
"Well, apparently the secret is out, although I'm kind of out of the loop and not sure whether it was ever really a secret.
I will be headed to Afghanistan in April with my unit. Like I said, being in sniper school I haven't really heard anything straight from the horses mouth, but from what I have gathered, we are headed there to help supplement the NATO forces in the southern regions of the country which have seen a huge resurgence in Taliban violence." Jake's Life
"On the morning of 28 September 2007, the moon was still large as it descended to the horizon. 4 Rifles folded camp and by the time the sun was up, they were ready. At 0800 an “op order” was issued. The G-2 (intelligence) officer named Andy said that the COB (Basra Airport) had been hit with 2 IDF (mortars or rockets) the night before. There was increasing activity around 4 Rifles, and the F-18s had detected hotspots, which might be bombs planted for us. 4 Rifles launched a “trigger op” later that night, a simple operation designed to interdict smugglers. The vast area is so heavily mined that going just a few feet off the road can be fatal. Much of the smuggling is apparently happening on the nearby Shat al Arab River, the seizure of which had been one of Saddam’s prime excuses for launching one of the largest and longest-running conventional wars in a century." Michael Yon
"Last November marked the 1245th anniversary of the construction of modern Baghdad by the Abbasid caliph Al-Mansur. During the last 13 centuries, Baghdad had been occupied 20 times before the U.S. army became its 21st foreign invader.
During the last few weeks, the U.S. government has finally announced its plans to maintain long term foreign intervention in Iraq, including leaving permanent military bases for decades to come. The majority of the Iraqi public, including myself, suspected this would happen all along. A poll conducted by World Public Opinion last year showed that 77 percent of Iraqis believe that the U.S. government is planning to leave permanent military bases in Iraq. But while the plans for leaving military bases haven’t changed during the last years, the reasons and excuses have shifted from protecting the world from W.M.D.s, to protecting Iraqis’ human rights, to protecting Kurds from Arabs, to protecting Iraqis from “foreign Jihadists”, to protecting Shias from the evil Sunni Baathists, to protecting the Iraqi democracy from insurgents, and now it is about preventing a full scale sectarian civil war where “the Sunnis” will be murdered in a horrible genocide once the U.S. troops pullout from Iraq. " Raed in the Middle
"Sometimes here in Iraq things go boom, or "boomba" as our Iraqi Jundees say.
Yes, I am overdue. Some of you even chose to use your potty-mouth words to tell me so. I could respond with a few choice Iraqi put-downs, which are very colorful, and more poetically constructed than in English. But, suffice to say I have been damn busy. Just getting done for the day now, and of course, by the time I get all my kit off and put away, vehicles ready to go, people "talked to" as 'D' calls it, and get settled down, the fucking morning call to prayer starts (yes, it is actually called the "fucking morning call to prayer", or it least it is on this side of the wall.)" Sergeant Grumpy
"Baghdad,Voices of Iraq – (VOI). New reports of Iraqi Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs released in 16 January, 2008 with new disaster numbers of children situation in Iraq. This report was declare that in Iraq now 4.5 millions Iraqi orphans with 500 000 living in streets without any home or family care about thier, as well as there are only 459 orphans in governmental houses of orphans.
The dramatic facts in this report also, there are 800 Iraqi orphans in American Iraqi prisons until January 2008 (700 orphans in Iraqi prisons and 100 another orphans in American prisons." Tell Me a Secret
Then they wonder why they have so many orphans. Change or Die my friends
"A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day...so check back often.
*Ed Note: Its official...my brain is gone. I just spent all morning putting 02/01/2008 on everything I've done only to have to go back and correct it all. Since correcting it now will screw up return links I'm not going to edit the title of the post for today, and I'll come up with a seperate title for tomorrow the real 02/01/2008! *Sheesh!*" The Thunder Run
"Someone pokes me in the back until I wake up and I roll over.
I fucking hate this place.
All I do is lay there, for about ten minutes or so, until I know that I can't spare another minute without being late. Late to wait. Late to be a presence on a truck for a day and come back having accomplished nothing.
Shouldn't have believed the commercials, there, stud.
The wind chills the back of your neck while you stand in the air guard hatch watching shitty cars pulled over to the side of the road as you pass. You're going to go somewhere and wait. There is absolutely no question about it. You'll probably be back sometime during dinner time." The Unlikely Soldier
"Barack Obama won a key endorsement today. The 80 plus lawyers who are representing the Gitmo Jihadists for free are endorsing the O-Man!
WASHINGTON -- More than 80 attorneys who have been offering free-of-charge legal services to Guantánamo detainees issued a statement Monday supporting Democrat Barack Obama's presidential bid.
''We are at a critical point in the presidential campaign, and as lawyers who have been deeply involved in the Guantánamo litigation to preserve the important right to habeas corpus, we are writing to urge you to support Senator Obama,'' the lawyers said in an open letter dated Monday.
Lawyers signing it included partners from major U.S. law firms and small-town practitioners as well as Michael Ratner, whose New York Center for Constitutional Rights has for years coordinated legal efforts to provide representation to each of the men held without charge at the offshore prison compound in southeast Cuba.
The prisoners at Gitmo are not American citizens. They are not law breakers. They are enemy combatants and if given half a chance, they would kill you just as soon as look at you. These are the worst of the worst. These are not innocents accidentally caught in some kind of police action serving a warrant. These guys are fresh off the battlefield or were caught in the act." The Violence Worker
"Goodbye Iraq... two words I sometimes thought I would never say soon enough. A couple nights ago, as we lay around the tent watching movies and playing games a large boom echoed across the base. We all whooped and hollered. Shortly after, the alarms went off we heard the Giant Voice proclaim, "Exercise, Exercise... this is only a drill."
Relieved that we were completely safe, we went back to our movies and games as a few more booms shook the ground beneath us... I don't think they told Hadji is was just a drill.
Last night I was awoken at 2am and told we were leaving a full day earlier than expected. I got up a few hours later, crammed all my clothes, sleeping bag and computer into my bags and tossed them into the back of the 5-ton and walked to the air terminal for out processing." This War and Me
"It’s a frigid morning. The roar of the generators powering the combat outpost recedes into the back of my head as a constant, persistent hum. Flashing intermittent lights from FOB Loyalty’s Aerostat are a constant reminder that big brother is always watching. The moon has perched itself amongst the rooftops in hide; waiting patiently for the sun to break the horizon and assume its duties. The embers glow bright as the smoke slowly escapes from the end of my cigarette. The exhale waits in calm serenity as the slim fog rolls to camouflage the little bit of death exhumed from my lungs. It’s only 2 minutes off my life per smoke, right? That’s much better odds than an IED or 7.62mm sniper round. The “bombs and bullets factor” is what I call it. It’s just the start of another day boring in Baghdad. The platoons on mission cycle are slowly waking up, piecing together at the briefing room. Faces are still half asleep, still coming to the realization that yes, they are still here – still in Iraq. " Tragically Famous
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) - Iran's chief judge has ordered that executions will no longer take place in public, the official IRNA news agency reported Wednesday.
Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, a moderate conservative cleric, also banned publishing pictures and broadcasting video footage of executions, the report said.
Executions can now only be carried out in public after special approval by the head of the judiciary, the report said.
Since the start of this year, Iran has hanged more than 20 people convicted of murder, rape and drug smuggling. In the second half of last year, it executed more than 55 people, mostly in the open.
On Monday, state television broadcast footage showing two men after their hanging in the central Iranian city of Arak. It said they were convicted of serial rape and murder of women.
Shahroudi has made other surprising decisions in the past. In 2004, he ordered a ban on the use of torture in obtaining confessions - a decision widely seen as the first public acknowledgment of the practice of torture in Iran.
He also opened the doors to Iran's infamous Evin prison in 2006, That offered international media their first glimpse inside the compound where torture, forced confessions and floggings have reportedly taken place. MyWay
CAIRO, Egypt (AP) - Abu Laith al-Libi, a top al-Qaida commander in Afghanistan who was blamed for bombing a base while Vice President Cheney was visiting last year, has been killed, according to a militant Web site.
Al-Libi was a key link between the Taliban and al-Qaida and was one of the Americans' 12 most-wanted men with a bounty of $200,000 on his head.
The Web site, which frequently carries announcements from militant groups, said al-Libi had been "martyred" but did not say where he was killed.
"We congratulate the Islamic nation for the martyrdom of the sheik, the lion, Abu Laith al-Libi," said a banner which appeared in a section of the Web site reserved for affiliated militant groups and not open to public posting.
Earlier, there had been reports of an attack on militants in a Pakistani village. Pakistani intelligence officials and local residents said a missile hit a compound about 2.5 miles outside Mir Ali in North Waziristan late Monday or early Tuesday, destroying the facility.
Residents said they were not allowed to approach the site of the blast and the Pakistan government and military said they did not know who fired the missile. Local officials said foreigners were targeted in the attack.
One intelligence official in the area, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the bodies of those killed were badly mangled by the force of the explosion and it was difficult to identify them. The official estimated 12 people were killed, including Arabs, Turkemen from central Asia and local Taliban members.
Two top officials of Pakistan's Interior Ministry said they could not confirm al-Libi's death and were still trying to gather details on the missile strike. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the attack.
A knowledgeable Western official said that "it appears at this point that al-Libi has met his demise," but declined to talk about the circumstances. "It was a major success in taking one of the top terrorists in the world off the street," the official said. He added that the death occurred "within the last few days."
U.S.-led coalition and NATO-led force in Afghanistan could not confirm al-Libi's death. An official with the NATO-led force said they were picking up some signals from the Web, but could not confirm whether al-Libi was dead.
"There is no confirmation from our side," said a NATO official in Kabul on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the issue.
Pakistani counterterrorism officials say he was an al-Qaida spokesman and commander in eastern Afghanistan.
The U.S. says al-Libi - whose name means "the Libyan" in Arabic - was likely behind the February 2007 bombing at the U.S. base at Bagram in Afghanistan during a visit by Cheney. The attack killed 23 people but Cheney was deep inside the sprawling base and was not hurt.
The bombing added to the impression that Western forces and the shaky government of President Hamid Karzai are vulnerable to assault by Taliban and al-Qaida militants.
Al-Libi also led an al-Qaida training camp and appeared in a number of al-Qaida Internet videos.
Maj. Chris Belcher, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan, said last year that al-Libi was a guerrilla fighter "knowledgeable about how to conduct suicide bombing missions and how to inflict the most civilian casualties." He had probably directed "one or more terror training camps," Belcher said.
Belcher said al-Libi had been the subject of "especially close focus" by U.S. intelligence since 2005, when U.S. forces destroyed a militant training camp believed set up by al-Libi in the eastern Afghan province of Khost. That was an admission that terror camps continued to operate on Afghan soil since the Taliban regime's ouster more than five years ago.
Belcher described al-Libi as "transient," moving where he thinks he can count on support.
"Terrorists like al-Libi use the rugged terrain of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border to conceal themselves while they plan violent insurgent activities. Our sources indicate that Abu Laith al-Libi favors tribal regions, including North Waziristan," Belcher said.
North Waziristan is a lawless enclave in neighboring Pakistan where last year the Pakistani government reached a peace deal with pro-Taliban militants. U.S. officials have since expressed concern that al-Qaida could be regrouping in Pakistan's border zone.
Mir Ali is the second largest town in North Waziristan and has a strong presence of foreign militants, mostly Uzbeks with links to al-Qaida who fled to Pakistan's tribal regions after the fall of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in 2001.
A Pakistani intelligence official said that al-Libi had stayed until late 2003 in the North Waziristan village of Norak, about three miles outside Mir Ali, where he had several compounds. Norak is about nine miles from where the missile struck this week.
Al-Libi shifted inside Afghanistan after he took charge of al-Qaida operations on both sides of the border area, but retained links with Norak, the official said. MyWay
This is just a short post to say thank you. Thank you to everyone who has bought the book. With the recent royalties received, we have been able to go to over $1000 donated to Fisher House. It's a small amount, maybe not as much as Gary Trudeau or Denzel Washington have given, but if that little sum helps even one family of a wounded soldier, it is worth it. A special thank you from me because the timing is so helpful. After coming home from deployment where I help troops every day in a concrete way, I always feel a little troubled that I am suddenly doing nothing for injured troops. Giving royalties to Fisher House makes me feel like we are doing our small part.
In e-mails, a wife struggles with husband's alleged thefts in Iraq
Army officer Curtis Whiteford was warned by his wife against taking unearned cash from a contractor in Iraq, and he promised her in an e-mail that he would end his part in the corruption, according to documents filed earlier this month in federal court.
But prosecutors allege Whiteford, a former Riverton resident, continued to accept thousands of dollars in gifts including several unauthorized trips home to Utah. He also tried to get a contractor to buy him a sports car and authorized the purchase of weapons, using U.S. government funds, on behalf of a private security company he planned to run with other conspirators.
Whiteford, who was indicted one year ago Friday, faces with four others charges of rigging bids on contracts being awarded by the Coalition Provisional Authority, which at the time was the U.S.-led interim government of Iraq, directing $8.6 million to companies owned and operated by American businessman Philip Bloom.
Whiteford has pleaded not guilty and jury selection for the case is scheduled to begin March 11 in United States District Court in New Jersey. Meanwhile, defense attorneys are attempting to have the case dismissed, arguing that the indicted persons were not acting as "public officials" as defined by federal statute, at the time of the alleged offenses.
The case is just one of dozens of similar stories unveiled by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, which investigates fraud, waste and abuse in Iraq rebuilding projects.
But the Whiteford e-mails, which show a family struggling over the consequences of involvement in allegedly illegal acts, offer a rare glimpse into the human element of the inspector general's cases, which have involved scores of soldiers and contractors and cost the U.S. and Iraqi governments billions of dollars.
Whiteford resigned from the Utah National Guard in 2002 after an investigation of his pay records revealed "an extraordinary number of days with additional pay." But although Whiteford left the Guard under fire, he didn't resign his Army commission - and that allowed him to transfer into a job with the Army Reserve's California-based 91st Division.
Within a year, he was back in uniform and stationed in Iraq, where he was given the authority to authorize up to $500,000 at a time in expenditures without higher permission, according to court documents.
Following one trip home, allegedly paid for by Bloom, Whiteford received an e-mail from his wife in which she expressed grave reservations about his conduct.
"I may be paranoid but I sometimes feels like every communication we have is being monitored," Carol Whiteford wrote. "The fact is that you work for the Army and are only entitled to that which you earn."
In the letter, Carol Whiteford appears to refer to the Olympic pay scandal that cost her husband, a former senior aviation administrator, his National Guard career. Whiteford was accused of, but never prosecuted for, claiming too many days of additional compensation from the Guard, even though he already had been paid in full for work he had done.
"I asked you about your comp time all the time and you said that it was OK," but, she wrote, "it was questionable. . . "I am tired of having my gut in a knot and I figure that I have been right before," she continued. "I just don't want to be left alone to figure out how to house feed and clothe all these kids with you in the klink. I scares me to death."
The Whitefords, who at the time had been married for nearly 30 years, have eight children.
In response, Curtis Whiteford wrote to his wife that there was "no need to fear," according to the court documents. "After being home with you and discussing the situation I decided on my own to not use any unearned [dollars] again."
But prosecutors allege that through much of the following year, Whiteford continued to help steer contracts to Bloom, worked to procure licenses for Bloom to open a new Baghdad airline and used U.S. funds to purchase weapons, including several rocket launchers, for the security company he planned to open which was to be called "Anaconda."
The "key objectives of the company," Whiteford allegedly wrote in an e-mail to the others involved in the case, "are making money while allowing us to look cool and have cool stuff."
A woman who answered the phone at Whiteford's listed number in Box Elder County said Whiteford was not available and said that information about the case that previously had been reported was untrue. She declined to cite specifics, however and would not provide her name. The Salt Lake Tribune
Lack of policy behind snub of Iraq veterans at airport
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Miscommunication was one of the factors that led to an incident in which U.S. troops returning from Iraq were not allowed to enter an airport passenger terminal, according to a report released Wednesday.
The 204 soldiers and Marines, who were on a two-hour layover, were let off their plane in a remote field at Oakland International Airport in California and were not permitted access to the terminal -- a perceived snub that resulted in a firestorm of criticism on the Internet, in hometown newspapers and in the halls of Congress.
A government auditor said Wednesday that the incident last September was the result of a combination of factors, including concerns that the soldiers might be armed, miscommunication and a lack of coordination between government agencies.
One leading theory about the soldiers' mistreatment was that it stemmed from a dispute between Oakland International Airport and the military over nonpayment of airport fees.
But in his report released Wednesday, Department of Transportation Inspector General Calvin L. Scovel III said the primary reason was the airport's concern that Hilltop Aviation, the ground handler of the flight, "could not provide an adequate level of escort and control" at the gate.
"The payment or non-payment of airport fees played no role in this decision," Scovel wrote.
The report says if the troops had gone into the terminal, they would have required boarding passes to go through security screening and reboard the aircraft, which would have been a problem in the two-hour time frame.
Exacerbating the situation, Scovel said, was the lack of coordination between the Defense Department and the Department of Homeland Security over whether the soldiers' screenings at military bases prior to departure were sufficient to meet the Transportation Security Administration's standards.
At John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York -- one of several stops the plane made while flying from Kuwait to the soldiers' home base in Hawaii -- TSA officials told Scovel's auditors that they accept screening done at military bases.
At Oakland, the airport did not ask for TSA approval because the airport and Hilltop could not determine that the military personnel would have been screened according to TSA standards prior to arrival, Scovel said.
An official at TSA headquarters, consulted after the incident, agreed with Oakland's decision not to allow the soldiers into the terminal because the airport could not confirm that prior screening had occurred "in accordance with TSA standards and protocols," he said.
Scovel recommended the DOT and DHS develop protocols to deal with such situations.
He also said there was miscommunication about the storage of the soldiers' weapons.
"Hilltop Aviation could not confirm that weapons on Flight 1777 would be secured and safeguarded ... and that the Marines and soldiers would leave their weapons on board," the report says.
Rep. John L. Mica, R-Florida, who along with Rep. Tom Petri, R-Wisconsin, asked for the investigation, said the lack of protocols was "no excuse for the poor treatment of these brave men and women."
"I believe Oakland airport made an error in judgment by preventing these Marines and soldiers from entering the terminal. What is even more concerning is the lack of TSA and government policy in treatment of our returning military at our nation's airports," Mica said.
Scovel's report concludes that the airport broke no federal laws or regulations.
He recommended creation of a task force of airline, airport and government personnel to develop a uniform process for handling military charter flights. CNN
I thought I had seen it all, but this takes the cake. Sure why not, after a long flight why not just dump them out on a field. If you tried to do this to some dogs, PETA would have a field day.
"I've got a cold. It's a rather strong one too. I've got a runny nose nearly all the time. I feel lazy and a little dizzy too. I'm doing my best to enjoy that high. Rather than rot in a pile of wet tissues today, Nahida's brother came over this morning and we went to get my car fixed some more. There's still that gaping hole in the back. So we dropped off my car at the repair shop and it should be ready on Sunday. I just have one more exam tomorrow and I can't be bothered to study for it. I'm planning to study the material on my way to college. I should be fine." Baghdad Bacon & Eggs
This is a new Iraqi blogger I found over at IBC. Looks like a collage age kid.. He talks about a farm and farmers, so they may have sharecroppers working land they own..
I have never heard of anyone jacking off with a condom, fruit flavored or otherwise. I guess there is a first time for everything
Military Doctors misdiagnose a Marine serving in Iraq, leading to death
The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric will have a report this Thursday about how military medical malpractice killed Sgt. Carmelo Rodriquez, a marine who served in Iraq. CBS News Bryon Pitts investigates in a heart wrenching extensive story, how military doctor's misdiagnosed melanoma to be a harmless wart. Pitts met the marine, child and family by his side, 8 minutes before his death caused by Stage 4 melanoma.
His family insisted to be interviewed instead because they say Sgt. Rodriguez "...said don't let this be it. Don't let this be it. Fight! That's what we're doing. We're going to fight for him." Laws prohibit the family to sue the military and his family had to pay for the funeral.
According a veterans group that track soldiers who are misdiagnosed. There are hundreds of misdiagnosed cases across the country.
The full story will broadcast Thursday on the CBS Evening News at 6:30 EDT. It will reveal startling details about how family members of deceased servicemen and women have no legal recourse when malpractice among military medical doctors leads to irrevocable harm - and even death.
QARRAYA, Iraq (AP) - The head of an Iraqi electricity plant ranted about lack of help from officials in faraway Baghdad. The local governor grumbled about being ignored on project planning.
The four-hour meeting at a U.S. military base in northern Iraq was full of gripes, bitterness and blame trading.
But it was just the sort of encounter Washington hopes will eventually jump-start jobs and public works to regions long neglected by Baghdad - and, along the way, possibly undercut the insurgency by showing that better days could be ahead.
With Iraq's national leadership moving slowly - if at all - on political and economic reforms, the United States is carving out a higher profile for a network of little-heralded groups, known as provincial reconstruction teams, that serve as a mix of business matchmakers, political counselors and deep-pocket donors.
The teams offer an easy way to bypass the political logjam in Baghdad and - in Washington's view - can work on local levels to spark economic growth and bridge Iraq's ethnic and sectarian divides on common issues such as schools, roads and water.
The timing also is right for the groups, called PRTs. As violence ebbs around the country, more attention is shifting to rebuilding and reconciliation.
"Nobody is under the illusion that a single meeting can achieve complete and lasting organizational change. But it can be one step," said Michael Hankey, the economics section chief for the PRT branch in the northern Nineveh province, whose capital, Mosul, is considered the last major urban stronghold for al-Qaida in Iraq and its backers.
Hankey received a firsthand lesson in the frustrations and challenges of grass-roots outreach. He was the pointman on a meeting last week to bring together the provincial governor and heads of local industries. Because of security concerns, the gathering took place at a base on the outskirts of Qarraya, about 45 miles south Mosul.
The session - which also included about a dozen Iraqi officials, along with U.S. soldiers and diplomats - opened with energy plant manager Abdulwahid Ahmed Sulaiman complaining bitterly about the lack of government support to build a new power station. Without it, he said, there's little chance to expand the industrial base in Nineveh, about 200 miles northwest of Baghdad.
As Sulaiman made his case - growing more animated and agitated with each breath - the governor of the province, Durayid Kashmoula, did not even bother to look up. He was clearly uncomfortable being told what was wrong in his province by someone far lower on the pecking order.
Instead, he picked his teeth with a toothpick, twirled a foam coffee cup around on the table, chatted with aides and rested his chin on his hands, eyes upward.
After 10 minutes of listening to Sulaiman's lament, the governor finally turned to him and spoke up loudly.
"What do you want me to do?" Kashmoula said.
"To put pressure on the central government to help build the plant," Sulaiman responded.
"Why are you blaming us?" Kashmoula said. "You've never explained to us what is going on. You only talk to the Americans and to Baghdad. You never talk to us. If you talk to us, we could solve the problem."
Coordination between the military and the 25 PRTs around Iraq also is being strengthened as part of a broader strategy to battle insurgents. U.S. commanders acknowledge - some critics say belatedly - that military might must be joined with political and economic incentives to chip away at insurgent support.
The teams are becoming one of the "most important" elements to stabilize Iraq, said Maj. Gen. Mark P. Hertling, the top U.S. commander in northern Iraq, where al-Qaida in Iraq retains its strongest presence.
"Having interagency coordination is the way we should always do things," said Hertling.
"We didn't plan or coordinate that very well" in Iraq until recently, he added
But it takes more than just piles of economic development schemes and flow charts. The Nineveh PRT leader, Jason Hyland, said it requires a break from old habits formed under Saddam Hussein.
"Iraq went through decades of dictatorship and a lot of these connections between the provincial and central government, or between provinces and local authorities, really didn't exist," he said. "A lot of this is developing those connections, those ways of solving problems, for the first time."
After the gathering in Qarraya, the plant manager Sulaiman was unconvinced that any breakthrough occurred. But he called it a nudge in the right direction - the first time he had met directly with the governor.
The PRTs also have the money to step in and help local officials directly, without interference from the central government.
In Nineveh, for example, Hankey said the U.S. had purchased some equipment for three agricultural cooperatives. The equipment will be rented to members, with the proceeds being reinvested to buy seed and other farm supplies.
A lot is riding on the success of such efforts.
Lt. Col. Nathan Hines III, a barrel-chested regimental deputy commander for the 3rd Armored Cavalry out of Forward Operating Base Marez outside Mosul, said political and economic progress are among the best tools for weakening the insurgency.
"The bottom line is, like any man in the world, an Iraqi wants his family to have a place to live, food to eat and a future. That's just basic," said Hines, the military's liaison with the Nineveh PRT. "So I believe the people here, if you give that opportunity to them, they'll be like any other people in the world." MyWay
You just have to wonder, what took them so long? Then you realize it's not a dream, Bush really is the president.
"Dec 20 – Jan 6 They say home is where the heart is. Yes, definitely Abu dhabi is my home, there is no doubt about that. My heart is always with my parents, my siblings, and ofcourse HUBBY. It really was good to just relax and switch off. And switch off I did. Even though I’d check my work email from time to time, but there was no yearning nor that weird sense of missing that I used to feel before.
We also managed to attend two weddings. I usually decline all sort of invitations due to the constant feelings of guilt. But this time I said to hell with it. I cant lock myself up anymore. It aint doing any good to me, nor is it doing any good to anyone. It was also the first time HUBBY and I go to a social gathering together as a married couple which was fun cuz almost 4 years of marriage later, we still had people coming over and congratulating us. I also came to realize when youre stuck in the GZ prison for a substantial amount of time, you become devoid of all the social skills you came to master in adulthood. Except for one topic, yup, Iraq. In every Iraqi gathering, be it a party, a meeting, even a funeral, we Iraqis can never have enough of the political BS talk. And BS we did..." NIW
* Any tribe sheltering Taliban will be fined Rs 10m, have 100 houses burnt down * Jirga decides to temporarily end mutual enmities
Daily Times Monitor
LAHORE: After the killing of three levies personnel by local militants in Orakzai Agency on Saturday night, 18 tribes of the agency have decided to form a Lashkar (tribal army) against the Taliban to flush them out of the area, reported BBC Urdu on Tuesday.
A grand jirga of the 18 tribes was held in Ghuljoo, Orakzai Agency headquarters, on Monday morning, which was attended by around ten to fifteen thousand armed men.
Talking to BBC, head of Rabiakhel tribe Malik Zaman Shah said all tribes had unanimously decided not to give shelter to any militant in the area and any tribe breaching the pledge would be punished with Rs 10 million in fine and a hundred houses of the tribe would be burnt down.
End to fight: He said the jirga had also settled ‘Islam Zona’ to temporarily end mutual enmities between the local tribes. The local tribes will, according to the decision, not fight each other until the area is cleared of militants.
Thousands of Pakistani forces are battling suspected militants in the tribal region bordering Afghanistan, where scores of militants and troops have died in clashes in recent weeks. Militants have stepped up attacks against government troops there. DailyTimes
RUSH: No, no, no, no. No. Thank you. Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, to all of those gathered here -- my loyal staff, my enthusiastic supporters, those of you who spread the word to every neighborhood, every precinct -- thank you. Thank you so much for all of your tireless hard work. We all work tirelessly, even I. I personally travel from my home to my studio, and back -- and I travel from my Florida studio to my New York studio. But, alas, we did not win. Now, I know that there are reports of campaign irregularities, but I want to point out to all of you: This is no time to quit. This is no time to feel down. This is no time to feel defeated. (wild applause and cheers) Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. The same media... (boos) The same media that could not call New Hampshire right still... (boos) Ladies and gentlemen, please. The same media that couldn't call New Hampshire right still shamelessly in the prediction game, is predicting my demise and your demise. (boos) But I say, "Bah!" The same media that's losing circulation and readers and viewers and respect (applause) is predicting my demise. Rush Limbaugh
Thank God, Praise be to Allah, and thank the Lord, that the Rush Limbaugh wing of the republican party is finally on the road. They have been at it for the better part of the last 20 years and the American people have, I think, finally seen past their smoke screen of sound bites and empty slogans.
All I have to say is, Don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out. Good riddance
"I wanted to place a coupla pictures I have taken of the children of A-Stan since I have been here in country. Not only are they insatiably curious but they happen to be the future of this country.
This is one of my favorites taken at the Herat boys school. There are 3,500 boys ages 6-16 here trying to get an education despite the conditions under which they have to study. The main building is an empty windowless shell givin to the kids by the Afghan national police. Behind it you can see the tomb of Alexander's daughter dating back to the second century with it's minerets stretching to the sky." My War Stories
"Note: I began keeping a journal of things that crossed my mind because my posts here for the most part are recollections of things I had going through my mind at the time, we all can tell from my posts that my mind travels at a billion miles an hour so you often times get a distorted and partial picture of what is truly on my mind. So I began to write, this first entry is titled "Contemplation"." False Motivation
"Well, my dreams of being a rock star are dead—we broke a couple guitar strings and one of the guitar pedals got fried from our jacked up electrical system here on the FOB…there is no way to get any of the new stuff in the area, it will take too long to get it thru the mail and the other guys have to start mailing their stuff home soon…so, there will be no concert thing…oh well, it was fun while it lasted …everything else is same ol stuff around here…oh yeah, the other day when we went out to the ceremony to announce the proclamation of the place being a “peaceful district” or whatever it was, they got blasted by RPGs and the bad guys came in and robbed a few houses…I guess they didn’t want to mess around while all the US forces were around—they know they’d get their asses kicked—so they waited till we left and went in shooting things up and denying the government it’s “peaceful” existence…that’s the way things go around here…" Desert Consciousness
I think I just heard Sen. Leahy ask the Attorney General a line of questioning that the administration can not claim privilege to sidestep. He asked about payments made to the telecommunications companies for their cooperation in the wire tapping. The administration my be able to call those payments state secret, but he can not claim privilege.
This is the first time I hear about any payments to the telecomm, but surly all moneys paid fall squarely under the legislatures Article I powers and no administration can claim executive privilege as to the details. Not to mention that by receiving payment the telecomm have engaged in a business practice which may violate their service agreements and be liable for those breaches.
I'll put up the C-SPAN video as soon as it's available.
Sen. Judiciary Cmte. Hearing on Justice Dept. Oversight (January 30, 2008)
Attorney General Michael Mukasey testifies at a Justice Dept. Oversight hearing. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) chairs this Senate Judiciary Cmte. proceeding.
" I’ve been away for a long time. A really long time. Almost a year, non-stop.
A YEAR in the wastelands. A year in a place that only exists in headlines for the rest of the world. A mythical terrible place where all kinds of horrific things happen. But you know, this place isn’t so horrific to me. Nah, this is normal. All of it. Me looking the same as everyone else. All of us, wearing the exact same thing. The only caste system is the rank system. There’s no rich or poor among us, not visibly. We all have jack shit.
None of us are driving nice cars. None of us are well dressed or eating at expensive restaurants. None of us are getting into the exclusive clubs. NONE OF US ARE ON YOUR FUCKING A-LIST. None of us blow coke with the Brat Pack. Apparently we compete for headlines though.
Nah, we’re all a step above transient, and we’ve pretty much forgotten that.
We aren’t stuck in traffic like you. We aren’t wearing suits and ties. We aren’t carrying briefcases.
The food at dining facilities at the larger military bases in Iraq tastes pretty much the same from camp to camp, like restaurants from the same franchise.
But the quality at lesser outposts, where preparation is done by troops rather than the Halliburton offshoot KBR, can vary widely. Which explains why food preparation specialists like Marine Gunnery Sgt. Benny Fontenot at the Haditha Dam become minor celebrities among their customers.
Troops stationed at the dam disagree what which of his recent spreads was best: Christmas, Thanksgiving or the Marine Corps Birthday (Nov. 10). To a certain degree that's an unfair comparison because beer was served at the birthday bash, along with turkey, ham and prime rib.
Some votes might go for Fontenot's barbecued lamb, done in honor of the South African security guards, or his Iraqi recipes with goat and beef, or maybe his meal done to please the Azerbaijani soldiers stationed at the dam. They're big on beans, rice and potato salad.
Outside the spot on the 7th-story landing where troops line up cafeteria-style is a sign that proclaims it: "The Best Dam Chow Hall In Iraq." Babylon & Beyond
"After Iran, Syria and others it's now Libya's turn to sponsor terrorism in Iraq. The news popped up for a second then it vanished; Gaddafi's son is accused by senior awakening officials in Anbar of funding and sending a group of foreign terrorists to Iraq. This particular group, awakening leaders believe, was responsible for the explosives cache that caused the devastating explosion in Mosul last week.
Col. Jubair Rashid Naief, who also is a police official in Anbar province, said those attacks were carried out by the Seifaddin Regiment, made up of about 150 foreign and Iraqi fighters who slipped into the country several months ago from Syria. Naief said the regiment, which is working with al-Qaida in Iraq, was supported by Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, 36, the eldest son of the Libyan leader. "I am sure of what I am talking about, and it is documented," Naief said, adding that he was "100 percent sure" of the younger Gadhafi's role with the terror group.
Does this not deserve thorough investigation?" ITM
The U.S. Air Force Declares War! (On the Army, the Marines, and the Navy)
Good to know that with the U.S. locked into two ground battles with Islamist insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. Air Force doesn't take its eye off the ball: the budget. And here we were, thinking "strategic communication" meant the effort to win hearts and minds. Apparently it does, but those "hearts and minds" belong to Congressmen and defense contractors. (Click image to enlarge, and, if you have relatives who deployed to Iraq without proper body armor, prepare to be sickened by the winner-takes-all sentiment you encounter.) There is just so much going on here, but following the USAF's unique understanding of strategic communication, how about let's start with the phrase "Returning the Air Force to Prominence in the National Security Arena." Well now there's a worthy goal! Throw out your copies of Clausewitz, because apparently national defense institutions have a new, more noble purpose: to ensure their own success in winning a slice of the budget. What really matters is not defeating the enemy fighting force or accomplishing policy objectives through the application of force but rather making sure that your branch is most favored in the Department of Defense budget.
Jesus Nuts, we deserve to lose every war we fight. Some guys living in caves in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas or sleeping on the floors of apartments in Baghdad and Karachi are laughing their asses off right now.
Update: Abu Muqawama should have mentioned, as one of his readers did, that the flyer spoke of the "Budget Battle" being a "Zero Sum Gain." Whatever the hell that is. We can guess, anyway, what they mean. Somehow, Bill Chambers rose to be a Major General in the U.S. Air Force. It certainly wasn't due to his mastery of the English Language. Or by being a team player.
In signing statement, Bush looks to bypass four laws
WASHINGTON - President Bush this week declared that he has the power to bypass four laws, including a prohibition against using federal funds to establish permanent US military bases in Iraq, that Congress passed as part of a new defense bill.
Bush made the assertion in a signing statement that he issued late Monday after signing the National Defense Authorization Act for 2008. In the signing statement, Bush asserted that four sections of the bill unconstitutionally infringe on his powers, and so the executive branch is not bound to obey them. "Provisions of the act...purport to impose requirements that could inhibit the president’s ability to carry out his constitutional obligations to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, to protect national security, to supervise the executive branch, and to execute his authority as commander in chief," Bush said. "The executive branch shall construe such provisions in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President."
One section Bush targeted created a statute that forbids spending taxpayer money "to establish any military installation or base for the purpose of providing for the permanent stationing of United States Armed Forces in Iraq" or "to exercise United States control of the oil resources of Iraq."
The Bush administration is negotiating a long-term agreement with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The agreement is to include the basing of US troops in Iraq after 2008, as well as security guarantees and other economic and political ties between the United States and Iraq.
The negotiations have drawn fire in part because the administration has said it does not intend to designate the compact as a "treaty," and so will not submit it to Congress for approval. Critics are also concerned Bush might lock the United States into a deal that would make it difficult for the next president to withdraw US troops from Iraq.
"Every time a senior administration official is asked about permanent US military bases in Iraq, they contend that it is not their intention to construct such facilities," said Senator Robert P. Casey Jr., Democrat of Pennsylvania, in a Senate speech yesterday. "Yet this signing statement issued by the president yesterday is the clearest signal yet that the administration wants to hold this option in reserve."
Several other congressional Democrats also took issue with the signing statement.
"I reject the notion in his signing statement that he can pick and choose which provisions of this law to execute," said Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California. "His job, under the Constitution, is to faithfully execute the law - every part of it - and I expect him to do just that."
Bush's signing statement did not explain the specific basis for his objection to the prohibition on establishing permanent military bases in Iraq. But last year, the White House told Congress that a similar provision in another bill "impermissibly infringes upon the president's constitutional authority to negotiate treaties and conduct the nation's foreign affairs."
Some legal specialists disagreed with the administration's legal theory.
"Congress clearly has the authority to enact this limitation of the expenditure of funds for permanent bases in Iraq," said Dawn Johnsen, an Indiana University law professor who was the head of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel during the Clinton administration.
Bush's frequent use of signing statements to advance aggressive theories of executive power has been a hallmark of his presidency. Previous presidents occasionally used the device, but Bush has challenged more sections of bills than all his predecessors combined - among them, a ban on torture.
Bush signing statements prompted widespread controversy when his record came to light in 2006. After Democrats took over Congress in 2007, Bush initially issued fewer and less aggressive signing statements. But his new statement returned to the previous approach, observers said.
The signing statement also targeted a provision in the defense bill that strengthens protections for whistle-blowers working for companies that hold government contracts. The new law expands employees' ability to disclose wrongdoing without being fired, and it gives greater responsibility to federal inspectors general to investigate complaints of retaliation.
In addition, Bush targeted a section that requires intelligence agencies to turn over "any existing intelligence assessment, report, estimate or legal opinion" requested by the leaders of the House and Senate armed services committees within 45 days. If the president wants to assert executive privilege to deny the request, the law says, White House counsel must do so in writing.
Finally, Bush's signing statement raised constitutional questions about a section of the bill that established an independent, bipartisan "Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan" to investigate allegations of waste, mismanagement, and excessive force by contractors. The law requires the Pentagon to provide information to the panel "expeditiously" upon its request.
The signing statement did not make clear whether Bush is objecting to the creation of the commission because some of its members will be appointed by Congress or whether he is reserving the right to turn down its requests for information - or both.
Phillip Cooper, a political science professor at Portland State University, noted that Bush's statement does not clearly spell out the basis for any of his challenges. Cooper, who has been a pioneer in studying signing statements, said the vague language itself is a problem.
"It is very hard for Congress or the American people to figure out what is supposed to happen and what the implications of this are," Cooper said.
The White House did not respond to a Globe request to explain the objections in greater detail. But the Bush administration has repeatedly insisted that its use of signing statements has been both lawful and appropriate.
Still, the signing statement makes one thing clear, according to David Barron, a Harvard law professor. The White House, he said, is pressing forward with its effort to establish that the commander in chief can defy laws limiting his options in national security matters. The administration made similar assertions in recent disputes over warrantless wiretapping and interrogation methods, he said.
"What this shows is that they’re continuing to assert the same extremely aggressive conception of the president's unilateral power to determine how and when US force will be used abroad, and that's a dramatic departure from the American constitutional tradition," said Barron, who was a Justice Department official in the 1990s.
In 2006, the American Bar Association condemned signing statements as "contrary to the rule of law and our constitutional separation of powers." The ABA called on presidents to stop using the device and to limit themselves either to signing a bill and then obeying all of it or vetoing the bill if they consider it unconstitutional.
Among the leading candidates in the 2008 presidential primary elections, Republican Mitt Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts, has said he would issue signing statements if he is elected, while Senator John McCain of Arizona has said he would never issue one.
The two leading Democrats, Senators Hillary Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois, have both said that they would issue signing statements if elected, but that they would do so much less frequently than Bush Boston.com
WASHINGTON (AP) — Weapons the U.S. provides to Iraqi security forces may still be ending up in the hands of terrorists, insurgents and criminals, the Defense Department inspector general told Congress on Tuesday.
While U.S. commanders have made progress in controlling the flow of tens of thousands of munitions into Iraq, "there still remains work to be accomplished," Claude Kicklighter said in prepared remarks obtained by The Associated Press.
Appearing behind closed doors for a briefing before the House appropriations defense subcommittee, Kicklighter said his office received complaints nearly a year ago from Turkish officials that weapons intended for Iraq's growing military and police forces were being used by militant groups in Turkey.
"We were also beginning to find some weapons that the U.S. had supplied to (Iraqi security forces) were in the hands and control of insurgent groups and U.S. contractors in Iraq," he said.
Investigators found that a contractor implicated in a bribery scheme in Kuwait had a contract to run a warehouse where weapons for Iraq's police force were stored, Kicklighter said.
Based on that information, Defense Secretary Robert Gates directed Kicklighter to examine how much oversight U.S. authorities had over the weapons bought with U.S. tax dollars.
In a July report, the Government Accountability Office said that until December 2005, U.S. commanders in Iraq had no centralized set of records for the shipping of weapons to Iraqi forces.
The Multinational Security Transition Command-Iraq 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 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.
As of last September, the Defense Department still had not settled on how the security transition command should track weapons.
Kicklighter's prepared testimony does not mention specific weapons or the steps the military has taken to ensure the firepower gets to the right places.
A multi-agency assessment team that includes representatives from the inspector general's office, U.S. Central Command, and the State and Justice departments plans to return to Iraq in March for a follow-up review.
Beyond tightening the delivery of pistols and rifles, the United States needs to expand a more formal process for selling larger pieces of battle gear to the Iraqis, Kicklighter told the subcommittee. Known as "foreign military sales," this is a more regimented and transparent system used with other U.S. allies who spend their own money for American-made aircraft, tanks and ships.
In December, the Defense Department began adding dozens of personnel to a badly understaffed office in Baghdad to speed Iraq's requests for weapons, which have increased from $200 million to more than $3 billion over the past year.
Kicklighter also said Iraq's logistics chain needs improvement. Without a better way to store and issue gear, Iraqi authorities won't be able to outfit their forces properly, he said.
Reforming Iraq's antiquated system for supporting combat and police units is expected to take at least another year, however. In September, an independent commission chaired by retired Marine Corps Gen. James Jones called logistics "the Achilles' heel of the Iraqi ground forces." AP
WASHINGTON — While trumpeting progress on the ground in Iraq and projecting the gradual reduction of troops over the next several months, administration officials and commanders in Iraq have started to signal that U.S. troop levels in Iraq could remain above the presurge level beyond the summer.
In his State of the Union speech Monday, President Bush defended his decision last January to send more than 28,000 additional U.S. soldiers and Marines to Iraq and increase the overall U.S. presence to more than 163,000 troops. It was a decision that many Democrats and other war critics, the president noted, greeted with skepticism and concern "that containing the violence was impossible."
There has been a steep reduction in violence in Iraq since the last elements of the surge arrived on the ground last summer, when bombings and sectarian bloodletting were an everyday occurrence.
Bush said in his speech that one Marine expeditionary unit and an Army combat brigade team has already come home and will not be replaced and more than 20,000 troops in all could be returning home by July without replacements.
But although the number of U.S. troops in Iraq is being reduced over the next several months, the drawdown could be suspended this summer as Defense Department officials and top commanders gauge whether they can make do at a presurge posture.
Troops for training Pentagon officials said Gen. David Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq, might recommend keeping the roughly 8,000 support troops sent as part of the surge to provide training and other logistical support to the fledgling Iraqi security forces that are expected to fill the void as U.S. forces step back.
"I think Gen. Petraeus has been trying to determine … how many of those forces he needs to retain to do the rest of his job," Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said Tuesday. "It may well be that he comes back and says, 'I'm going to need to retain those support forces, those enablers longer.' He may choose otherwise."
Last month, Defense Secretary Robert Gates indicated there could be as few as 10 brigades, or about 100,000 U.S. troops, in Iraq by the time a new administration inherits the war next January. But in more recent comments, Gates and other administration officials have stepped back and placed the onus on Petraeus' recommendation.
Petraeus and other commanders have repeatedly stressed that they worry a quick drawdown could negate any gains made by the surge—a position repeated by Bush on Monday.
Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, the No. 2 commander in Iraq who is wrapping up his tour of duty, cautioned earlier this month against predicting pullouts beyond the four additional combat brigades that are expected to be sent home without replacements by this summer.
"If we continue to see Iraqi security force capacity, then we will decide whether we can reduce further," Odierno said. "But to ask me that question now, it's very, very difficult for us to determine, and I think it's unfair, frankly."
Petraeus is expected to testify before Congress in April and he could make a recommendation then on a possible further drawdown, Morrell said. But the general has tended toward caution.
Speaking on CNN on Sunday, Petraeus suggested he may wait until the current phase of reductions is completed in July before deciding whether to call for further withdrawals.
"We will, though, need to have some time to let things settle a bit, if you will, after we complete the withdrawal," he said. "We think [it] would be prudent to do some period of assessment, then to make decisions."
Boost for critics But a slowing or an end to U.S. troop reductions in Iraq could bolster critics of the surge who say the Iraqi government has done little to take advantage of the troop buildup and remains far from being able to defend itself.
The president met Tuesday at the White House with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and combatant commanders. While Bush has indicated he would look to Petraeus before reducing force levels, Morrell said the president would also weigh the views of Gates, the Joint Chiefs and the chief of Central Command, Adm. William Fallon, before making any decision. ChicagoTribune
The tendency of some troops in Iraq to add patches and other unofficial adornments to their uniforms, and to carry non-standard gear, has gotten on the nerves of other troops.The annoyance is greater when the troops seeking to make macho fashion statements are those who spend most, if not all, of their deployment inside the forward-operating base (FOB), rarely venturing outside the wire.
A kind of backlash has occured. At the the Haditha Dam, where Marines, sailors, and soldiers are assigned, a satiric drawing has appeared of Fad Man with the caption "Dressing for Success On the FOB." It is followed by a critique of various doo-dads. Among them:
"Nothing says 'I'm a walking safety hazard" quite like wearing a bad...knife on your belt. Fad Man will only end up cutting himself while he's playing with it."
And, "Nothing says 'I've got money to burn' quite like sporting a $150 brand-name protective eyewear. Sure, they're just like the standard issue $7.95 models but these are 'laser protective.' You never know when the insurgents will start using lasers." Babylon and Beyond
" Few Days ago, the “Iraqi” parliament passed a law to change the Iraqi Flag. The presidency council ratified that law today and it will become valid starting from the day it is published in the Iraqi Gazette.
I will review with you the history of this particular flag and the reasons behind changing it and also behind my own reservation over that particular change.
If you have read previous posts on this blog you will see that I have mentioned more than once that the Kurds refuse to raise the Iraqi flag over their “region” under the pretext that the Iraqi Army was carrying that flag when they attacked the Kurds. " Great Baghdad
An American Builder’s Failures in Iraq Are Found to Have Been More Widespread
Rebuilding failures by one of the most heavily criticized companies working in Iraq, the American construction giant Parsons, were much more widespread than previously disclosed and touched on nearly every aspect of the company’s operation in the country, according to a report released Monday by a federal oversight agency.
Previous reports by federal inspectors and by news organizations identified numerous examples of construction failures in Parsons Corporation projects in Iraq, including dozens of uncompleted or shoddily built health care clinics and border forts, as well as disastrous sewage and plumbing problems at the Baghdad police academy that left parts of it unusable.
But the new report, by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, an independent federal agency, examined nearly 200 Parsons construction projects contained in 11 major “job orders” paid for in a huge rebuilding contract. There were also three other nonconstruction orders. The total cost of the work to the United States was $365 million.
The new report finds that 8 of the 11 rebuilding orders were terminated by the United States before they were completed, for reasons including weak contract oversight, unrealistic schedules, a failure to report problems in a timely fashion and poor supervision by the United States Army Corps of Engineers, which managed the contracts.
“There was a confluence of shortfalls here,” said Stuart W. Bowen Jr., who leads the inspector general’s office. “It was obviously an unworkable plan.”
In response to the report, a spokeswoman for the company, Amber Thompson, released a statement saying, in part, that “Parsons put forth its best efforts to simultaneously build or refurbish hundreds of facilities across Iraq.”
“We did so under an extremely hazardous security environment while simultaneously contending with constantly changing demands by government officials regarding what they wanted, where and for how much,” Ms. Thompson said.
The work, Ms. Thompson said, was carried out with other challenges, such as a United States requirement to work with Iraqi contractors whose capabilities often fell short. “Despite the challenges we faced, Parsons completed many of the required facilities” and completed most of the work on many others, Ms. Thompson said.
But William L. Nash, a retired Army major general who is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said the report filled out a tapestry of failure illustrating that American military and civilian officials in Iraq failed to absorb lessons learned in the 1990s about how to carry out rebuilding in conflict zones.
“To me,” Mr. Nash said, “it further illustrates the disconnect between the military and the C.P.A.,” or the Coalition Provisional Authority, the American administrative authority after the 2003 invasion.
Congress has asked the inspector general’s office to look at all of the major contractors that worked in Iraq and assess their work. A previous assessment found that another major American construction company, Bechtel National, had successfully completed 10 of 24 job orders for rebuilding water, sewage and electricity plants in a huge contract.
Mr. Bowen had no specific explanation why Parsons’s rate of success was much lower than that of the other company he has closely examined so far, saying only that each set of contracts was “its own study.”
But earlier, more limited examinations of Parsons’s work in Iraq had already suggested serious shortcomings. Mr. Bowen’s office had previously found, for example, that Parsons had completed just 6 of 141 primary health care clinics called for in one of the contracts and that urine and fecal matter leaking from poor plumbing had made major portions of the Baghdad police academy unusable.
Last fall, more than a year after the first federal inspections, a reporter from The New York Times again visited the academy, the Baghdad Police College, and found that many of the problems persisted. Parsons has said that it did everything required in its contract to carry out the construction and fix the problems.
Mr. Bowen said his latest information indicated that the Army Corps was still trying to complete the clinics left unfinished by Parsons. It is expected that only 130 of the 141 clinics will actually be completed and turned over to the Iraqis; of those, work is continuing on 56.
The Parsons contracts that are the subject of Monday’s report called for reconstruction of major government buildings along with the health care facilities and certain housing projects. The report said Parsons had successfully completed several ministry buildings in Baghdad and a number of maternity and pediatric hospitals in what has been the relatively placid northern part of Iraq.
Of the projects that Parsons did not complete, a majority of the planned work had been carried out on a number of them, although many were also behind schedule, the report found.
Mr. Bowen’s office itself has recently been the focus of an investigation based on accusations of mismanagement by former employees who left his office on unhappy terms. The investigation is being carried out by the President’s Council on Integrity and Efficiency, an office associated with the White House.
Mr. Bowen’s investigations have repeatedly embarrassed an administration that has sought to portray the Iraq rebuilding effort as successful. On Monday, Mr. Bowen said he believed that the investigation of his office continued but had no new information on its focus. NYTimes
"The arrest of Riad Seif, the recently leader of Syria’s largest opposition coalition, earlier today by security officers, in face of continued international protestations against the regime’s worsening human rights record, and despite continuing efforts at engagements and continued promises of normalization, support for the peace process, and even an indirect acknowledgment of the regime’s interests in Lebanon, comes as a clear sign that the Assads, once engaged and afforded any sense of legitimacy, tend to misbehave even more not less. The continued bombings and the recent riots in Lebanon are clear testaments in this regard as well. And the worst is yet to come. " Amarji
Iraqis mock US soldiers and themselves on You Tube
US soldiers are lampooned, policemen are shown as buffoons and Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr is irreverently cheered by penguins... Iraqis are turning more and more to You Tube to express their dark-edged humour. The main butt of send-ups posted by Iraqis on the popular Internet video site is, as one might expect, the US military.
With around 160,000 troopers scattered across the country there is clearly no dearth of subjects -- nor lack of innovative video makers.
One video shows a large-mouthed soldier repeating Arabic phrases told to him by a group of locals.
"Bring us back to our family, bring us home. Bring us some bread, any bread, hot or cold," he says, seemingly unaware of what he is repeating.
"The salary is not that good either," he adds as the camera zooms closely onto his face.
Another video shows a group of Iraqi soldiers speaking to a female American trooper, who clearly knows a smattering of Arabic.
They ask her name, and she replies "Sarah." They ask her questions and she replies in Arabic. She is from Alabama -- she does not like New York.
The walkie-talkie strapped near her shoulder crackles and she bends her head towards it to answer.
She speaks for a minute or two, bending her head forward each time she answers.
"Shaar (hair)," the soldiers say suggestively, enticing her to break out into a sensual Iraqi dance during which unveiled women throw their heads forward to send their hair flying upwards.
Many videos show male US soldiers dancing clumsily with their Iraqi counterparts or with people in the streets.
One hilarious minute-long segment captures an American military policeman, complete with flak jacket and weapon, spinning round and round while a group of Iraqi policemen cheer him on.
With dancing in public such an integral part of Iraqi culture, it is little wonder that the funnier side of this practice has been captured on video.
People fall, lurch into one another, and in one featuring Iraqi policemen they even drop their trousers.
Away from the dance floor, two policemen are shown in one clip stopping a truck. As the edgy pair bend down to inspect the underside of the vehicle the driver toots his horn, giving both such a fright that they fall over backwards.
But little appears sacred for Iraqis caught up in brutal sectarian violence and harsh living conditions, proof of the maxim that populations in high stress situations or oppressive environments use dark humour to help them survive.
One of the main targets in the highly religious country is Moqtada al-Sadr, the powerful Shiite cleric whose thousands-strong Mahdi Army militia is known to hero-worship him.
One video clip shows a colony of penguins, led by a large male with distinctive orange markings on his neck, swaggering around the ice chanting "Moqtada, Moqtada, Moqtada!"
The 66-second segment, its soundtrack clearly recorded at a Mahdi Army gathering engaged in rowdy praise of the cleric, shows the penguins raising their flippers heavenwards, beaks wide open as they become more and more enthusiastic about Sadr.
The video, clearly doctored electronically, ends with the penguins forming a large heart-shaped gathering around their leader who stands bellowing in the middle.
More controversial in a country divided by sectarianism are clips showing Shiites in mosques during Ashura ceremonies when devotees beat their chests -- set to Iraqi pop music.
One video shows earnest devotees raising their hands, beating their chests and chanting in anguish as a popular song called "Orange" plays on the soundtrack.
The song features a lover who pours out his tender devotion for his girlfriend and her favourite colour.
Not all Iraqis approve of their leaders being belittled in this way, and comments posted on the site beneath the videos reflect the wide divergence of opinion that characterises the country's political landscape.
"Shame on you to liken Moqtada al-Sadr to a penguin and humiliate him in front of all the world," says "Wisam" beneath the penguin clip.
"It is indeed a shame," agrees "Abdul." "He and his donkeys are far worse than penguins." BreitBart
I don't know, this story makes it sound as if it was against the law or something to make fun of soldiers..And when you watch the videos they are harmless, cultural exchange, and even funny. I only wish there were much more funny videos and much less ied's. Anyway this last video in the bunch linked at the story, is not an Iraqi video, One of the milblogger put this out a few years ago, but I am embarrassed to admit I don't remember the blog...
In his later years, George Habash, who has died of a heart attack aged 81 or 82, was often known as "the conscience of the Palestine revolution". He had been one of the very earliest founding fathers of that movement, which pioneered armed struggle and revolutionary violence as the sole means of liberating Palestine. Since it first emerged, in the 1960s, as a potent new force on the Middle East stage, the movement suffered all manner of vicissitudes, and its ambitions were eventually reduced, almost out of recognition, to an endless series of surrenders to the exigencies of Pax Americana. But, out of sincerity, rather than the opportunism which has tainted lesser radicals of his kind, "Al Hakim" (the doctor or wise man), remained faithful to his original conviction that it was by force - and force alone - that the Palestinians could recover their rights. In 1967 he had been the founder of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and he was to be faithful to his conviction that the rights he was fighting for included the recovery of the whole of original, pre-1948 Palestine, not just the territories the Israelis conquered in 1967.
Born in Lydda, coastal Palestine, now part of Israel's second city, Tel Aviv, to a family of Greek Orthodox grain merchants, Habash became a supreme example of that disposition, always latent in the Christian minority in those days, to display a greater militancy than the Muslim majority. There was already an idealistic strain in his choice of careers: like many others, he was a doctor before he was a politician. It was his personal experience of the Palestinian disaster involved in the creation of Israel that, more than anything else, fired in him a determination to devote himself to the politics of struggle.
In 1948, as a 22-year-old undergraduate in medicine at the American University of Beirut, he rushed back to Lydda to serve as a medical orderly as the Zionists advanced on the town and drove out its inhabitants. Within three years, he and fellow students from various parts of the Arab world founded the Arab Nationalist Movement, which believed that the Arabs should find the strength through unity to throw off western domination: that, in turn, would be the key to the liberation of Palestine. He graduated from university in 1951, first in his class.
In the first of many exiles, Habash settled in Amman, Jordan, where he opened a people's clinic and a school for refugees. Accused of involvement in an attempt to overthrow King Hussein, and driven underground with a 33-year prison sentence hanging over his head, he fled to Syria, where, by a very natural transition, he became an ardent supporter of Egypt's President Nasser, the pan-Arab hero of the times. But if the price of sincerity can be a certain dogmatism, it was this that - so typically of his subsequent career - brought Habash into collision with mainstream sentiment in the still clandestine revolution. Tiring of Arab inaction, Yasser Arafat and his Fatah guerrilla organisation had already embarked on their popular liberation war. Ironically, Habash at first opposed them, believing that Nasser should be permitted to make conventional war against Israel at a time of his own choosing. In a sense, the shattering Arab defeat in the six-day war of 1967 proved him right.
But then, converted to armed struggle himself, Habash characteristically took it to those extremes which marked him, ever after, as one of the great patrons of international terrorism - though he was never to take on the demoniacal stature of the Venezuelan, Carlos the Jackal (Ilyich Ramirez Sanchez), or his fellow-Palestinian, Abu Nidal. But for a brief, heady span, Habash and his newly formed PFLP held the world in thrall.
A series of hijackings came to a spectacular climax at Dawson's Field in September 1970. Two airliners, from Trans-World Airways and Swissair, were hijacked to a former RAF base in the Jordanian desert, while the abortive take- over of an El Al airliner by the Nicaraguan Patrick Argüello and the Palestinian Leila Khaled ended with Arguello dead and Khaled being held at Ealing police station, west London. A Pan Am jumbo jet was then hijacked to Cairo, via Beirut, and a BOAC VC10 to Dawson's Field to pressurise the British into freeing Khaled. This outrage helped precipitate Black September, King Hussein's assault on the guerrilla state-within-his-state, which ended with the king's victory, the first great strategic reverse in the fortunes of the Palestine "revolution". An exchange deal at the end of the month followed, freeing the remaining hostages, Khaled, and three other PFLP members.
Moving to Beirut, along with the rest of the PLO, Habash persisted in some of the more spectacular, publicity-seeking acts of violence - with the 1972 massacre of tourists at Lod (once Lydda and now Ben Gurion) airport by Japanese Red Army terrorists as perhaps the most successful, if ignoble, of them - but to less and less effect. The whole guerrilla movement was moving away from random terrorism of that kind, and, at the same time, looking more and more to diplomacy, first as a supplement to, then as substitute for, military action. Habash, the radical, made it his business to resist every new stage of this growing moderation. But when, at the Palestine National Council (PNC) meeting in 1988, Arafat made his historic offer of a two-state solution to the Palestine problem, Habash did not walk out of the PLO altogether. Nor did he, three years later, when the PNC agreed to go to the 1991 Middle East peace conference in Madrid.
He said he would respect the will of the majority, however fiercely he opposed it. That loyalty to Palestinian national unity, along with his personal modesty and simplicity, made him perhaps the most liked of the small, still surviving band of the revolution's original chiefs. He stood down as PFLP leader in 2000, four years before the death of Arafat, and six years before the Islamicists of Hamas won their electoral victory. Pax Americana, meanwhile, continues to make paltry progress in its regional diplomacy, and many of those who now so grudgingly support it may well in due course conclude that the "conscience of the revolution" had always been right in opposing it - and the whole concept of Palestinian moderation.
Habash married his wife Hilda in 1961. They had two daughters, Mesa, a doctor, and Lama, an engineer.
· George Habash, doctor and revolutionary, born 1926; died January 26 2008 Guardian
MOSCOW (AP) - The Kremlin is tired of Western criticisms - that Russia is becoming more authoritarian, human rights are violated, journalists are at risk and elections are rigged. Now the Kremlin is trying to turn the tables on the West, setting up a think tank its founders say will expose the flaws of Western democracies.
With offices in New York and Paris, the Institute of Democracy and Cooperation will study democracy and human rights in Europe and the United States.
Anatoly Kucherena, the organization's founder, told reporters Monday the institute will help Russia have a say in the global discussion about democracy.
"No country can monopolize the definition of standards of democracy and human rights," said Kucherena, a pro-Kremlin lawyer.
The Kremlin approved the creation of the institute but is not funding it, said Andranik Migranian, a political analyst who will head its New York office. It will be funded through donations from private businesses. Neither Migranian nor Kucherena would identify the funders.
In the eight years that President Vladimir Putin has been in power, the Kremlin has tightened its grip on the country's politics, making it more difficult for opposition groups to compete.
Independent news organizations, particularly broadcast media, have been squeezed and human rights groups and international election monitoring groups have increasingly criticized Putin's government.
Russia last month ordered the closure of the two regional offices of the British Council, a nonprofit organization that acts as the cultural arm of the British Embassy, saying they were operating illegally.
British officials dispute that claim, but the council said earlier this month it was suspending operations in the cities of St. Petersburg and Yekaterinburg and accused Russian authorities of harassing its staff.
The Kremlin has worked aggressively to restore Russia's international clout and has become less tolerant of outside criticism. It has become even more hostile to Western attempts to promote democracy in Russia since the uprisings that ousted unpopular governments in the former Soviet republics of Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan.
Pro-Kremlin lawmakers and activists have charged that the United States was plotting similar unrest in Russia.
Natalia Narochnitskaya, who will be the center's representative in Paris, accused the West of turning human rights into a tool for political pressure. And she criticized the United States for its large prison population and for what she said was a high number of police abuse cases.
The institute "will allow us to show that the sun has spots too," she said
Among the reports that gall the Kremlin most are the annual "free-not-free" rankings published by Freedom House, a Washington-based non-governmental organization. The group runs on private and foundation funds as well as grants from the U.S. Agency for International Development, the State Department and some European governments.
One of its recent reports called Russia a country "with entrenched authoritarian leadership" and said Putin's rule is "a model of governance that denies basic political rights and shuns democratic accountability." MyWay
Poor fools, they have already lost, and don't know it yet.
I'll take a "Democracy race" to an arms race any day. And you can never know, we might just learn something.
Ducted-fan unmanned aerial vehicles are making their way to Iraq to help spot improvised explosive devices. These new drones, which can hover in place, have been under development as part of the Army's massive Future Combat Systems, but it's actually the Navy that plans to deploy them, reports Flight International:
The US Navy will usher Honeywell's unmanned ducted-fan technology into operational service later this year, after disclosing a surprise order for 372 vehicles. All 186 two-vehicle RQ-16A Micro Air Vehicle systems, which includes 93 ground stations, will be delivered between June and November, as the USN rapidly deploys the new hover-and-stare asset to help explosive ordnance disposal teams search for improvised bombs "That's fast and, based on our experiment with supporting an in-theatre assessment, we have been standing up a production capability to meet those kinds of demands," says Vaughn Fulton, Honeywell's MAV programme manager.
The 11kg (25lb) RQ-16A will join the USN's growing fleet of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). Although the slowest of the US services to embrace unmanned aviation, the USN plans to acquire a portfolio of five classes of UAS. But its newest priority should not displace a pending decision to buy a Broad Area Maritime Surveillance system, or a long-term plan to acquire a fleet of small tactical vehicles. "The planned RQ-16A acquisition will not result in any changes to plans for other UAS procurements," says the US Naval Air Systems Command.
The Honeywell-developed Micro Air Vehicle, funded by DARPA, have been one of the more successful UAV projects under FCS, surviving cuts that killed two of the four classes of UAVs envisioned for the massive Army modernization program.
A reader e-mailed me to say: "MAV was developed as part of a joint ACTD, that started in the beginning of CY 2002. The program was well under way before FCS reared its head. The MAV is not part of FCS. FCS is developing a CL I UAS and it is not MAV. FCS has continuously tried to claim success by taking credit for other people's programs. GAO is right on track on uncovering the truth about FCS." Wired
"I couldn’t see the makeshift dip cup PV2 Van Wilder spat into, but I heard his deposit splash into the pool of tobacco brown before he answered my question.
“No worries, Sir, we’re doing fine.”
In the limp, ambiguous darkness of the hours between midnight and dawn, I could only make out the outline of my soldier’s shape three feet away from me. We were on the roof of the American combat outpost, overwatching Hell’s ghetto, making small talk to disrupt the brittle chill in the night. I smirked back at PV2 Van Wilder, whose grin I could feel penetrating the black. Due to his contagious good nature and experience with the more jovial moments life can offer those of us willing to play the clown, he had become a leader for the Joes from the day he showed up to our unit. So, doing whatever decent lieutenant would do when making the rounds to check on his guys on guard, I had hurled the awkwardly vague blanket question of “how are things going in the platoon, from your perspective?” at him. His quick reply had been what I should’ve expected – brief and upbeat." Kaboom: