Saturday, May 31, 2008

Key provincial elections split Sunni Arabs in Iraq

BAGHDAD (AP) - Plans for provincial elections in Iraq by the fall have already set Sunni Arabs against each other as factions prepare to compete for control of the local governments that will wield considerable power over security and finances.
The elections will choose governing councils in Iraq's 18 provinces and are seen as a key step in repairing the country's sectarian rifts, particularly by opening the door for greater Sunni Arab political representation.

Many Sunnis boycotted the last provincial balloting in January 2005, enabling Shiites and Kurds to win a disproportionate share of power - even in areas with a substantial Sunni population.

This time, more Sunnis are expected to participate, and UP.S. and Iraqi officials hope the elections will result in greater Sunni representation and provide a more accurate gauge of the popularity of political parties.

The vote, which is supposed to be held by Oct. 1, could also shift the balance of power in the Sunni provinces. Traditional Sunni parties, especially the Iraqi Islamic Party, face tough competition from the "awakening councils" made up of Sunni tribesmen who turned against al-Qaida.

Those councils have proven to be the key to bringing stability to Anbar province and Sunni areas south of Baghdad. Encouraged by their success against the terror network, some councils are now considering fielding their own candidates to compete for political power.

"We are going to enter the next elections as an independent entity. We think that our successes and deeds speak for us. We feel we can serve Anbar province like nobody else," said Rashid Jubeir, a leader of the awakening council in Ramadi.

Many Sunni Arabs complain of poor services in their areas and blame the Iraqi Islamic Party for allegedly paying little attention to their needs. They feel that the Sunni party, led by Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, of putting personal and party interests first.

"The circumstances in 2005 have served the IIP, but now it has little popularity among voters," said Jubeir.

In Ramadi, where the popularity of the Sunni political parties has waned, journalist Khalid Saleh said Sunni parties offered nothing but "false promises" and little work to improve services and the economy in the city.

But Salim Abdullah, a Sunni lawmaker from the Iraqi Islamic Party, said his group is confident and unafraid of competition by the awakening councils.

"We haven no worries about this. We have a lot of supporters all over Iraq. We believe we have done our best to serve our people. Everybody can compete in the elections," he said.

In the Sunni stronghold of Azamiyah in northern Baghdad, the awakening groups are determined to enter the election as independent entities.

"The parties in the current political process have failed to serve the people. The citizens are tired of words and we have proven that we are men of actions," said Bassem Jabar, a leader in Azamiyah awakening council.


I think it more like the sharecroppers against the land lords. I'm rooting for the Sharecroppers. Maybe then we will get a new crop of bloggers too.

French foreign minister arrives in Iraq

NASIRIYAH, Iraq (AP) - The French foreign minister arrived Saturday in the southern city of Nasiriyah for his second visit to Iraq in less than a year as Paris seeks to rebuild ties with the war-torn nation.

Bernard Kouchner was met by the Shiite vice president and the provincial governor after landing at a U.S. base in the city the morning after the base was hit by a rocket or mortar attack.

Kouchner, Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi and Aziz Kadhim Alwan, the governor of Dhi Qar province that includes Nasiriyah, then toured the nearby ancient ruins of the biblical city of Ur.

"This visit ... is a message of peace and cooperation and a chance to discuss any future French contribution to rebuilding Iraq," Kouchner told reporters through an Arabic translator.

He planned to travel to the Kurdish city of Irbil in northern Iraq to open a French consulate in the semiautonomous region, the French Foreign Ministry said.

He was meeting with senior Iraqi officials and representatives of civil society, the ministry said in a statement.

"It will be a chance for the minister to express to the Iraqis the availability of France to work with all Iraqis to promote national reconciliation," the ministry said, adding Kouchner also would express solidarity with Iraqis, particularly in the health field.

Kouchner, a physician, is the co-founder of the Nobel Prize-winning aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres, or Doctors Without Borders, and a former U.N. administrator for Kosovo.

He said four Iraqi children would travel to France to undergo cardiac surgeries.

On Aug. 19, Kouchner became the first senior French official to visit Iraq since the war started, saying Paris - which had been one of the fiercest critics of the U.S.-led invasion - wanted to "turn the page" and look to the future.

Nasiriyah, a predominantly Shiite city about 200 miles southeast of Baghdad, saw fierce clashes during recent fighting between militias and U.S.-Iraqi forces.

The situation has calmed since anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr declared a truce, but sporadic violence continues. The Imam Ali base where Kouchner landed was hit by rockets or mortar shells at about 8:30 p.m. Friday, but no casualties were reported, the U.S. military said.

Kouchner was in Iraq a day after visiting Jordan to sign an agreement to help the Arab kingdom develop its nuclear energy program for peaceful purposes.

In Jordan, he also announced France will try to take in about 500 Iraqi Christian refugees "because of the oppression of some Christians in Iraq."


You know Armageddon must be around the corner if we end up being able to depend more on the French than the Brits..

Sadrists want referendum on US-Iraq pact

BAGHDAD (AP) - Loyalists of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called on the Iraqi government Saturday to hold a public referendum on a long-term security deal with the United States.

Widespread opposition to the deal has raised doubts that negotiators can meet a July target to finalize a pact to keep U.S. troops in Iraq after the current U.N. mandate expires at the end of the year.

The U.S. military, meanwhile, said an American Marine died Friday in a non-combat related incident in Iraq, pushing the number of Americans killed this month to 21 as May draws to a close.

While the number is not final, it would be the lowest monthly death toll since February 2004, when 20 troops died, according to an Associated Press tally based on military figures.

The Iraqi monthly toll also was down, with 516 violent deaths reported to the AP by police and other officials, the lowest since 375 were killed in December 2005.

Senior Sadrists, including lawmakers Falah Hassan Shanshal and Maha Adel al-Douri, met in the cleric's Sadr City office in Baghdad and issued a statement calling on the Iraqi government to stop negotiations with the U.S. and to hold a public referendum on the issue.

Al-Sadr, the hardline Shiite cleric and militia leader whose Mahdi Army battled American troops in Baghdad's Sadr City district until a truce this month, also has called for a referendum along with weekly protests against the deal. And, opposition has been growing among other groups.

U.S. and Iraqi officials began negotiations in March on a blueprint for the long-term security agreement and a second deal, to establish the legal basis for U.S. troops to remain in the country after a U.N. mandate runs out. Few details have been released about the talks.

Although U.S. officials insist they are not seeking permanent bases, suspicion runs deep among many Iraqis that the Americans want to keep at least some troops in the country for many years.

The U.S. military has continued to target what it calls Iranian-backed Shiite militia factions, warning key leaders have fled to other areas as American and Iraqi forces closed in on them in Sadr City.

American troops acting on tips in eastern Baghdad on Saturday captured a suspect believed to be a key assistant to one of the fugitive militia leaders, according to a military statement. The man captured was accused of kidnapping and managing funds for the so-called special groups.

Tensions also rose when Nassar al-Rubaie, the leader of the Sadrist bloc in parliament, was stopped at a police checkpoint outside Diwaniyah, south of Baghdad.

The six-car convoy, en route from Basra to the holy city of Najaf, was held up for nearly two hours without explanation, al-Rubaie told AP in a telephone interview. He called for the government to stop harassing Sadrists and put those responsible on trial.

Police Col. Asaad Ali, the director of the Diwaniyah operations center, said police stopped the convoy because gunmen are not allowed in the city and al-Rubaie was protected by armed guards. He said a patrol was sent to safely escort the convoy on its way out of the province.

Separately, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner expressed renewed commitment to helping the Iraqis rebuild as he made his second visit to the wartorn country in less than a year.


I thought they were threatening all out war, now all they got is a referendum. I say bring it on. Well take a referendum over war anytime. Anyway what the Fuck is wrong with our good friends the Brits. Where are the redcoats when you need one. What the Fuck where they doing down there in Basra for the past four years. Funny how when the Brits had Basra, Sadr yelled "all out war", now that we and Maliki moved in to take back Basra, it's time for a referendum...Could it really be that most if not all of the support for the Shi'a, and Sunnie militias was flowing in to Iraq right under the nose of our friends and allies the Brits? You don't think the Brits were doing it on purpose do you? Or maybe they were just following orders from Bush to help sweeten the bait?

I guess we wont know for some time to come, but I for one will keep and eye out for clues to this, the one big mystery of this long war.

Afghanistan Vignette: On Patrol With U.S. Troops in Kabul

Freelance journalist Doug Grindle was recently embedded with an Army National Guard contingent at the U.S. military base, Camp Phoenix, which lies on the eastern outskirts of Afghanistans capital city of Kabul. He accompanied the troops on some of their patrols in the area, and looked at efforts to provide security for the base.


This is funny, the Afghan kids speak perfect English, but I need an interpreter to make out the different American ascents.

I'm trying to find the link with Adnan Pachachi at the Wilson Center..but having no luck.

Iraq wants refugees to return home – PM

Baghdad, May 30, (VOI)- Iraq wants its refugees to return home and those who do can expect "privileges", Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said during a visit to Sweden on Friday.
"We hope that our children, especially the experts, who are obliged to emigrate, would return," he told reporters at a press conference with Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt.
“He called on the Swedish companies to come and invest in Iraq, considering Iraq as “an open area for the Swedish investments,” according to a statement released by al-Maliki’s office and received by Aswat al-Iraq – Voices of Iraq (VOI).
“The two officials discussed issues of common interest, including the Iraqi refugees issue in Sweden and means to bolster bilateral ties,” the statement added.
“In our constitution, there is no majorities and minorities and Iraqi Christians are part of this country and we are interested in the return of all refugees, including Christians after the security improvement,” the statement quoted al-Maliki as saying.
"We have statistics that say that tens of thousands of refugees wish to return. We welcome them, we will give them privileges," added Maliki the day after he co-hosted a large international conference on Iraq in Stockholm.
The Iraqi government has "a clear strategy" and has earmarked funds "so as to take the necessary preparations for a voluntary return" of refugees, he said.
In 2007, 18,559 Iraqis requested asylum in the Scandinavian country. In total some 100,000 Iraqis currently live in Sweden, making up the second-biggest foreign community behind Finns.
Aswat Aliraqi

Friday, May 30, 2008

Terror and Consent (Hardcover)

"Editorial Reviews

From The Washington Post's Book World/

Reviewed by Daniel Byman

Philip Bobbitt thinks big. His latest book, Terror and Consent, even gently criticizes Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civilizations and Francis Fukuyama's End of History as "not big enough." Bobbitt contends that the world is in transition from nation states to "market states" whose strategic reason for being "is the protection of civilians, not simply territory or national wealth or any particular dynasty, class, religion or ideology." This shift, he argues, has huge implications for counterterrorism, because future terrorists -- particularly if they possess nuclear or biological weapons -- may threaten the legitimacy of the market state. "Almost every widely held idea we currently entertain about twenty-first century terrorism and its relationship to the Wars against Terror," he says, "is wrong."

Bobbitt, a professor at Columbia University who previously wrote The Shield of Achilles, a monumental history of warfare, has held senior positions in several Democratic administrations. Despite his establishment pedigree, he is a thoroughgoing contrarian. Defying the nearly universal criticism among academics of the term "war on terror," Bobbitt embraces it, making a strong case -- better than the Bush administration has -- that the challenge can best be thought of as a series of wars.

His list of erroneous assumptions about terror goes on for two pages, beginning with the idea "that terrorism has always been with us, and though its weapons may change, it will remain fundamentally the same." In reality, he argues, al-Qaeda represents a new form of terrorism that seeks mass casualties, is highly decentralized and, like its market-state enemy, even uses outsourcing. Should Osama bin Laden be defeated tomorrow, Bobbitt says, the kind of terrorism he pioneered is here to stay.

In using the term "war" to describe its counterterrorist activities, the Bush administration has seemed at times to disdain legal constraints on the use of torture and electronic surveillance. But Bobbitt doesn't plead for a return to the status quo of the 1990s. Rather, he calls for public recognition of the need for new tools to fight terrorism and, at the same time, for ensuring their conformity to law. While readers may at first see this as another Democratic critique of Bush, in many ways it is just the opposite: an intelligent embrace of the Bush administration's strategic worldview but not its methods.

Yet some of Bobbitt's arguments fall flat. The very scope of the book detracts from its content, a stark contrast to Fukuyama and Huntington, who each presented one big thesis, tightly constructed and defended. In Terror and Consent, so many arguments are moving at any one time that it is easy to lose the logical thread through 600-plus pages. To liven things up, Bobbitt draws in examples from the Bible, ancient Greek city states, the French Resistance, the Habsburg-Valois wars and (perhaps it goes without saying) homosexual pirates. These historical parallels sometimes amuse and inform; too often they simply distract.

In his effort to show a world transformed, Bobbitt seems at times to contend that everything is new under the sun. He declares Israel's 2006 war in Lebanon to be "unique," despite many historical parallels, including past Israeli operations there. He claims that terrorism in the era of the market state is more theatrical than in the past. Yet one of the pioneering scholars of terrorism, Brian Jenkins, noted in 1975 that "terrorism is theatre." Who can forget the Black September organization's dramatic kidnapping of Israeli athletes during the Munich Olympics? History may not always repeat itself, but, as Mark Twain observed, it often rhymes.

Most interesting, and most arguable, is Bobbitt's assertion that "it hardly matters whether the forces of destruction arise from militant Islam, North Korean communism, or Caribbean hurricanes." He is correct, of course, that natural disasters, like catastrophic terrorist attacks, can kill thousands of people and undermine confidence in governments unless they respond effectively. But lumping together such disparate incidents risks making counterterrorism so broad a term as to be meaningless. Hurricanes are invariable natural disasters; terrorism varies in reaction to the response, and U.S. policy affects the incidence of attacks as well as their severity.

To his credit, Bobbitt offers many policy recommendations. One is for the United States to build an alliance of democracies ready to undertake humanitarian and strategic interventions -- essentially, NATO on steroids. He contends that this intervention doesn't always have to be military. But his book leans heavily on the "hard" side of power, and it isn't clear why his rationale for intervention in Rwanda and Darfur wouldn't apply equally to Afghanistan (pre-Taliban), Algeria, Angola, Congo, Nepal, Somalia, Tajikistan and Yemen, among other places. His doctrine does not tell us when not to intervene or when military action, rather than economic and diplomatic pressure, is necessary. These are the hardest questions.

Readers might also ask whether the Iraq misadventure should make us cautious about interventions elsewhere. Bobbitt dismisses the question, saying it is "too soon to conclude that the removal of Saddam Hussein . . . will prove to be a mistake." But that is not a satisfying argument, given that even if the United States succeeds in Iraq in years to come, the human and financial cost already has been staggering. His dismissal is disappointing in a book that is otherwise quite fair to counterarguments.

My advice is that readers should approach Terror and Consent with a mixture of caution and open-mindedness. Not all of Bobbitt's pronouncements may be convincing. But his book constantly prods us to reexamine our preconceptions about terrorism, which is by itself some preparation for what may lie ahead.


He was on Charlie Rose tonight.

Marine in Iraq Suspended Over Coins Quoting Gospel

BAGHDAD, May 29 -- The U.S. military suspended a Marine on Thursday for distributing coins quoting the Gospel to Sunni Muslims, an incident that has enraged Iraqis who view it as the latest example of American disrespect for Islam.

The Marine, stationed in the western city of Fallujah, handed out silver-colored coins this week that said in Arabic: "Where will you spend eternity? (John 3:36)." The other side read: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16)."

"We are sorry for this behavior," said Mike Isho, a U.S. military spokesman in Anbar province, which includes Fallujah. He said the Marine, whom he did not identify, distributed only a few of the coins and that the episode was under investigation.

"This incident doesn't represent the morals of the Marines," he said.

Mohammed Amin Abdel-Hadi, the head of the Sunni Endowment in Fallujah, an institution responsible for overseeing the sect's mosques, criticized U.S. troops, whom many in the city view as occupiers, for acting like Christian missionaries. He said the coins were part of a pattern of insensitivity toward Muslims, citing the outcry this month over a U.S. sniper in Baghdad who used a Koran, Islam's holiest book, as a target for practice.

"We demand the Americans leave us alone and stop creating religious controversies," Hadi said. "First, they shot the Koran, and now they come to proselytize inside Fallujah."

Mohammed Jassim al-Dulaimi, 43, said a Marine forced one of the coins into his hand Tuesday morning as he passed through a checkpoint at the western entrance to Fallujah. He said he was shocked when he read it.

"The claims that the occupation is a Crusader War make sense now," Dulaimi said.

Police were placed on high alert and deployed around Fallujah's mosques. Officials feared violence after Friday prayers, when imams are expected to rail against the distribution of the coins and the shooting of the Koran, said police Capt. Ahmed al-Jumaili. He added that U.S. troops had reduced their presence on the streets of the city.

A U.S. statement referred to the coin incident as "an allegation" and said "appropriate action" would be taken if the claim was substantiated.

"Regulations prohibit members of the coalition force from proselytizing any religion, faith or practices," said Col. Bill Buckner, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad. "Our troops are trained on those guidelines before they deploy."

The controversy over the coins, which was first reported by McClatchy Newspapers, came as a suicide bomber killed at least 16 people in front of a police station in northern Iraq.

Officials said the bomber detonated explosives among a cluster of poor young men who had been camped out for days to apply for jobs as police officers in Sinjar, a remote village near the Syrian border where hundreds of people were killed last summer in the deadliest suicide attack of the war.

The police had been ordering the men to leave for several days, shooting in the air and blaring on loudspeakers that there were no jobs, residents said. The bomber, a man in his twenties wearing a police uniform, walked into the crowd at 11 a.m., raised his left hand and blew himself up, according to witnesses.

Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani said the Sinjar police chief, Awad al-Sorchi, would be removed from his position and investigated by a panel reviewing the attack, according to Abdul Karim Khalaf, a ministry spokesman.

In other violence, a suicide bomber killed two police officers and wounded 10 other people in the northern city of Mosul, officials said. A roadside bomb in Diyala province, north of Baghdad, killed two Iraqi soldiers and injured a third.

In the holy city of Najaf, Iraqi troops arrested five Bangladeshi men they accused of being terrorists, the military said. Officials said the men, who entered Iraq with a tourist company, were found with rocket-propelled grenades, explosives and CDs from training camps in Afghanistan.


Life is such a bitch, insurgents get pardons for killing troops, and troops get sanctioned for exercising basic rights.


Final Words From the Emerald City

"This deployment has certainly been more interesting than the last two (albeit a lot longer). Primarily because I had access to the internet, and I worked on a staff with many senior officers, which allowed me to fly low on the radar with my relative unimportance. Although, important people frequently counted on me for various pieces of the puzzle in their decision making, and I'll miss that aspect of my existence having a purpose. I also worked with some wonderful people both civilian and military and I wish them the best in their future endeavors. Since I don't have a girlfriend, wife/kids, or any of that other bullshit, I thought it would be interesting to spend all of my free time frantically engaging in an experiment of how America was going about its business while a war went on in Iraq."
LT Nixon Rants

Damn, we're running low on milblogs...

Thanks for a good one!
Maybe I'll get more hits with less competition...

Opposition mounts to US-Iraq security deal

BAGHDAD (AP) - Tens of thousands rallied in several cities Friday against a proposed U.S.-Iraqi security agreement, raising doubts that negotiators can meet a July target to finalize a pact to keep U.S. troops in Iraq after the current U.N. mandate expires.

Although U.S. officials insist they are not seeking permanent bases, suspicion runs deep among many Iraqis that the Americans want to keep at least some troops in the country for many years.

"We denounce the government's intentions to sign a long-term agreement with the occupying forces," Asaad al-Nassiri, a sheik loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, said during a sermon in Kufa. "Our army will be under their control in this agreement, and this will lead to them having permanent bases in Iraq."

President Bush and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki signed a statement last December on the future of U.S.-Iraqi relations, saying they planned to finalize a new security agreement by July 31 - in time for Iraq's parliament to approve the deal before a U.N. mandate expires at the end of the year.

U.S. and Iraqi officials began negotiations in March on a blueprint for the long-term security agreement and a second deal, to establish the legal basis for U.S. troops to remain in the country after the U.N. mandate runs out.

Rallies in Baghdad and several other Iraqi cities followed Friday prayer services and were the first in wake of a call by al-Sadr for weekly protests against the deal, even though few details of the talks have been released.

Most of the protesters appeared to be followers of al-Sadr, the hardline Shiite cleric and militia leader whose Mahdi Army battled American and Iraqi troops in Baghdad's Sadr City district until a truce this month ended nearly seven weeks of fighting.

But opposition to the agreement appears to be growing beyond the Sadrist movement.

A militant Sunni clerical group, the Association of Muslim Scholars, denounced the "ring of secrecy" surrounding the talks and said the proposed deal would pave the way for "military, economic and cultural domination" by the Americans.

On Thursday, the head of the country's biggest mainstream Shiite party, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, said some unspecified points under negotiation "violate Iraq's national sovereignty," adding that a "national consensus" was emerging against the proposed agreement.

Al-Hakim is al-Sadr's main rival in the majority Shiite community and maintains close ties to the country's main Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. Aides to the powerful ayatollah say he also has reservations about the deal.

Some congressional Democrats are also insisting that Congress should authorize any agreement that would obligate the United States to defend Iraq.

Before the Friday protests, al-Sadr's office in Baghdad issued a statement branding the negotiations as "a project of humiliation" aimed at turning Iraq "into a small stooge of the United States."

U.S. officials have declined to comment on the talks until the draft is completed.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said two weeks ago that "we are making progress" although other Iraqi officials acknowledged there were many unresolved issues, including how many Americans would remain and what they would do. American soldiers now enjoy full immunity from the Iraqi legal system.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not supposed to talk about the negotiations.

Rallies against the security deal occurred as the U.S. military was seeking to contain the public relations damage caused by reports that an American Marine handed out coins promoting Christianity to Sunni Muslims in the former insurgent stronghold of Fallujah.

Sunni officials and residents said a Marine distributed about 10 coins at a checkpoint controlling access to the city, the scene of one of the fiercest battles of the war.

One side asked: "Where will you spend eternity?"

The other contained a verse from the New Testament: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. John 3:16."

Mohammed Hassan Abdullah said he witnessed the coins being handed out on Tuesday as he was waiting at the Halabsa checkpoint, although he didn't receive one himself.

The U.S. military responded quickly to the incident, first reported by McClatchy Newspapers, removing a Marine from duty pending an investigation. Military regulations forbid proselytizing any religion.

"Indications are this was an isolated incident - an individual Marine acting on his own accord passing out coins," Lt. Col. Chris Hughes, a spokesman for U.S. forces in western Iraq, said in an e-mailed statement.

Distribution of the coins was the second perceived insult to Islam by American service members this month. A U.S. Army sniper was sent out of the country after using a Quran, Islam's holy book, for target practice in a predominantly Sunni area west of Baghdad.

"This event did not happen by chance, but it was planned and done intentionally," Sheik Abdul-Rahman al-Zubaie, an influential tribal leader in Fallujah, said of the coins. "The Sunni population cannot accept and endure such a thing. I might not be able to control people's reactions if such incidents keep happening."


This must be what The Kid was/has been going, on about.

Some Iraqi insurgents agree to reconcile

BALAD, Iraq (AP) - School teacher Raad Mohammed Mahdi used to take on another role after classes: foot soldier in the Sunni insurgency north of Baghdad.

He grew weary of his double life last year and wanted to lay down his arms. The problem was he didn't know how to surrender formally without facing possible jail time.

Last week, Mahdi entered a U.S. military base and signed a form that amounts to a personal truce. More than 140 other men came the next day after learning that soldiers did not detain Mahdi, whose late brother was an insurgent leader.

It marked some of the first steps in a new U.S.-Iraqi program to offer a way out for those who renounce violence - part of widening attempts at national reconciliation as sectarian violence shows signs of easing.

The latest offer promises a clean slate for fighters if they claim their only targets were American troops. It also pledges a "fair" legal process for those wanted for attacks on Iraqis troops or civilians.

Since the program was expanded this month to Sunni areas near Balad, more than 300 men have surrendered. Most have been released, although 76 were given a court date to face Iraqi charges.

Mahdi was one of the first to take up the offer. On May 21, he signed a cease-fire agreement and pledged to follow Iraqi laws.

"We are tired of raids. We want to protect our area by ourselves," the 31-year-old teacher said during a recent interview at the base in Balad, a mostly Shiite city near a major U.S. air base about 50 miles north of Baghdad.

"The policy of the American forces has changed. Now the American forces are on the right track. We have trust in them," he said.

Not all agree. Some men have refused to participate, saying they feared the Americans and the Iraqis would use the written pledge against them.

U.S. and Iraqi officials, however, are hopeful that the program will stem support for the insurgency by giving former fighters an exit.

"There are a lot of guys who kept fighting simply because they didn't have an out," said Lt. Col. Bob McCarthy, commander of the 1st Squadron, 32nd Cavalry Regiment that operates in the Balad area. "At the end of the day, if they've quit fighting we've got to figure out how to let them move forward."

The new reconciliation program comes several months after the Iraqi parliament passed an amnesty law that could free many of the 27,000 detainees held by Iraqis. It's unclear, however, whether the amnesty will speed the release of some of the detainees in U.S. custody.

The program also is a test for an alternative to the so-called Awakening movements - which brings Sunni armed groups into alliances against insurgents led by al-Qaida in Iraq.

In all, more than 1,000 men have taken part in Operation Musalaha, Arabic for Reconciliation, which was launched in January elsewhere in northern Iraq, the military said.

But geography plays a significant role.

Around Balad, Sunnis have been reluctant to join Awakening bands because of tribal rivalries and a deep distrust of Iraqi troops, many of them Shiites.

But the new program gained momentum in the Balad area in recent weeks after U.S. troops killed three key insurgent leaders, including Mahdi's brother. That removed the intimidation factor that had kept many in insurgent ranks, military officials said.

The military also persuaded prominent local Sunni sheiks to order their men to participate. Those who come forward go through a screening process that includes iris scans and fingerprinting.

Mahdi's resume reads like a history of the Sunni-led insurgency.

He said he took up arms against the Americans after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. He later joined the Ansar al-Sunnah militant group and expanded his enemy list to include the Shiite-dominated Iraqi security forces and Shiite militias.

"Anybody would defend his country if it was occupied," he said.

More recently his targets were rival Sunni groups that joined forces with the Americans against al-Qaida in Iraq.

He says he stopped fighting last year after deciding the group was no longer a resistance movement and the U.S. military had shifted tactics to put Iraqi security forces increasingly in the lead.

"We cut ties with our group. We remained at home. But we were still on the wanted lists of the U.S. and Iraqi forces," he said, wearing a white traditional Arab robe and sandals as he sat in a conference room below a memorial board with the pictures of eight slain U.S. soldiers.

The program, however, faces lingering distrust.

One suspected insurgent in the nearby town of Duluiyah, who would only identify himself by his nickname Abu Mohammed, said he learned for the first time that he was on a most-wanted list when he received an application to participate in the program from local tribal members.

"I never committed any act against U.S. troops, nor against any Iraqi," he said. "In any case, I will not sign a written pledge because this would be a kind of conviction against me for a crime that I never committed."

McCarthy, who is from Mechanicsburg, Ill., estimated that probably less than 20 percent of those who have surrendered were members al-Qaida in Iraq. The others, he said, considered themselves the "honorable resistance" that was "focused on fighting coalition or Iraqi security forces but not wanton mayhem inflicted on civilians."

The U.S. military insists those released will be closely monitored and harshly dealt with if they return to violence.

"A majority of these guys are ones who have taken potshots at U.S. forces or got paid $100 to place an IED (roadside bomb)," Capt. Mike Loveall, a company commander from Nashville, Tenn., who works closely with the outlying villages in Balad.

"That doesn't mean they're waving the American flag or even agreeing with us. They're not cheering us, but they're tired of fighting, tired of sleeping outside."

The dirt roads of Akhbar village, a 10-minute drive from Balad, are now filled with men who used to spend their days in hiding because they feared arrest by U.S. forces - constantly on the lookout for military-age males.

"It would be like a ghost town and only women were there," said Qais Dhiab Ahmed, a tribal leader who has taken the lead in encouraging the surrenders.

But the 38-year-old also warned the recent overtures for peace could unravel without tangible progress on creating jobs and tackling hardships such as electricity shortages.

"I cannot guarantee 100 percent that they won't resort to weapons again," he said. "But if they were employed, I could."


The bitter taste of victory.

U.S. Cites Big Gains Against Al-Qaeda

Less than a year after his agency warned of new threats from a resurgent al-Qaeda, CIA Director Michael V. Hayden now portrays the terrorist movement as essentially defeated in Iraq and Saudi Arabia and on the defensive throughout much of the rest of the world, including in its presumed haven along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

In a strikingly upbeat assessment, the CIA chief cited major gains against al-Qaeda's allies in the Middle East and an increasingly successful campaign to destabilize the group's core leadership.

While cautioning that al-Qaeda remains a serious threat, Hayden said Osama bin Laden is losing the battle for hearts and minds in the Islamic world and has largely forfeited his ability to exploit the Iraq war to recruit adherents. Two years ago, a CIA study concluded that the U.S.-led war had become a propaganda and marketing bonanza for al-Qaeda, generating cash donations and legions of volunteers.

All that has changed, Hayden said in an interview with The Washington Post this week that coincided with the start of his third year at the helm of the CIA.

"On balance, we are doing pretty well," he said, ticking down a list of accomplishments: "Near strategic defeat of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Near strategic defeat for al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia. Significant setbacks for al-Qaeda globally -- and here I'm going to use the word 'ideologically' -- as a lot of the Islamic world pushes back on their form of Islam," he said.

The sense of shifting tides in the terrorism fight is shared by a number of terrorism experts, though some caution that it is too early to tell whether the gains are permanent. Some credit Hayden and other U.S. intelligence leaders for going on the offensive against al-Qaeda in the area along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, where the tempo of Predator strikes has dramatically increased from previous years. But analysts say the United States has caught some breaks in the past year, benefiting from improved conditions in Iraq, as well as strategic blunders by al-Qaeda that have cut into its support base.

"One of the lessons we can draw from the past two years is that al-Qaeda is its own worst enemy," said Robert Grenier, a former top CIA counterterrorism official who is now managing director of Kroll, a risk consulting firm. "Where they have succeeded initially, they very quickly discredit themselves."

Others warned that al-Qaeda remains capable of catastrophic attacks and may be even more determined to stage a major strike to prove its relevance. "Al-Qaeda's obituary has been written far too often in the past few years for anyone to declare victory," said Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at Georgetown University. "I agree that there has been progress. But we're indisputably up against a very resilient and implacable enemy."

A landmark study last August by the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies described the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area as a de facto al-Qaeda haven in which terrorist leaders were reorganizing for attacks against the West. But Hayden said counterterrorism successes extend even to that lawless region. Although he would not discuss CIA operations in the area, U.S. intelligence agencies have carried out several attacks there since January, using unmanned Predator aircraft for surgical strikes against al-Qaeda and Taliban safe houses.

"The ability to kill and capture key members of al-Qaeda continues, and keeps them off balance -- even in their best safe haven along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border," Hayden said.

But terrorism experts note the lack of success in the U.S. effort to capture bin Laden and his top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Intelligence officials say they think both are living in the Pakistan-Afghanistan tribal area in locations known only to a few top aides. Hayden said capturing or killing the pair remains a top priority, though he noted the difficulties in finding them in a rugged, remote region where the U.S. military is officially forbidden to operate.

The Bush administration has been watching political developments in Pakistan with apprehension, worried that the country's newly elected leadership will not be as tolerant of occasional unilateral U.S. strikes against al-Qaeda as was the government of President Pervez Musharraf, a close ally in the U.S. fight against terrorism.

Hayden declined to discuss what agreements, if any, have been brokered with Pakistan's new leaders, but he said, "We're comfortable with the authorities we have."

Since the start of the year, he said, al-Qaeda's global leadership has lost three senior officers, including two who succumbed "to violence," an apparent reference to Predator strikes that killed terrorist leaders Abu Laith al-Libi and Abu Sulayman al-Jazairi in Pakistan. He also cited a successful blow against "training activity" in the region but offered no details. "Those are the kinds of things that delay and disrupt al-Qaeda's planning," Hayden said.

Despite the optimistic outlook, he said he is concerned that the progress against al-Qaeda could be halted or reversed because of what he considers growing complacency and a return to the mind-set that existed before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

"We remain worried, and frankly, I wonder why some other people aren't worried, too," he said. His concern stems in part from improved intelligence-gathering that has bolstered the CIA's understanding of al-Qaeda's intent, he said.

"The fact that we have kept [Americans] safe for pushing seven years now has got them back into the state of mind where 'safe' is normal," he said. "Our view is: Safe is hard-won, every 24 hours."

Hayden, who has previously highlighted a gulf between Washington and its European allies on how to battle terrorism, said he is troubled that Congress and many in the media are "focused less on the threat and more on the tactics the nation has chosen to deal with the threat" -- a reference to controversial CIA interrogation techniques approved by Hayden's predecessors.

"The center line of the national discussion has moved, and in our business, our center line is more shaped by the reality of the threat," Hayden said.

On Iraq, he said he is encouraged not only by U.S. success against al-Qaeda's affiliates there, but also by what he described as the steadily rising competence of the Iraqi military and a growing popular antipathy toward jihadism.

"Despite this 'cause célebrè' phenomenon, fundamentally no one really liked al-Qaeda's vision of the future," Hayden said. As a result, the insurgency is viewed locally as "more and more a war of al-Qaeda against Iraqis," he said. Hayden specifically cited the recent writings of prominent Sunni clerics -- including some who used to support al-Qaeda -- criticizing the group for its indiscriminant killing of Muslim civilians.

While al-Qaeda misplayed its hand with gruesome attacks on Iraqi civilians, Hayden said, U.S. military commanders and intelligence officials deserve some of the credit for the shift, because they "created the circumstances" for it by building strategic alliances with Sunni and Shiite factions, he said.

Hayden warned, however, that progress in Iraq is being undermined by increasing interference by Iran, which he accused of supplying weapons, training and financial assistance to anti-U.S. insurgents. While declining to endorse any particular strategy for dealing with Iran, he described the threat in stark terms.

"It is the policy of the Iranian government, approved at the highest levels of that government, to facilitate the killing of American and other coalition forces in Iraq. Period," he said.


I just happen to watch the evening news tonight and this story was just a blip, blink and you missed it. You would think they would have had enough time to take a better look at this important news. But no, they blipped it so fast the interlace hardly had time to build the screen.

Fmr. Press Sec. Takes Calls

Fmr. White House Press Sec. Scott McClellan, our guest on the Washington Journal this morning, discussed the current Presidential campaign in the light of lessons drawn in his new memoir. The book is called "What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception."


Thursday, May 29, 2008

Michelle Malkin Flips Out Over Dumb Shit

"This might piss off some of my right-of-center readership, but I have to side with GI Kate, Exnicios, and Reason and say that Michelle Malkin's outrage at a keffiyeh in a Dunkin Donuts commercial is pretty damn stupid. Is there any reason to believe that Rachel Ray is a terrorist-sympathizer..."
LT Nixon Rant's

I think so..I mean clearly she's a terrorist sympathizer, I saw her cooking with Spanish sausage just yesterday.

Or we could think about this in terms of how many people are now aware of the jihad porn video industry.

Urgent…..attention required.

"Today I have been an eye witness of one of the cruelest crimes committed against innocent Iraqis…I've seen something very similar to the crimes of Black water….
I was shopping at about 11:30 am from a compound of super markets and I saw the Turks shopping, they have parked their cars (armored navy blue Mercedes A class) and they were on foot; carrying their guns and wearing armors, it's something ordinary to see them there, they always do shopping from there …I was going to that compound when I remembered I want to buy meat so I entered the butcher's shop which is 50 meter away from the supermarkets, after 5 minutes I went out of the shop and as soon as I stepped out of the butcher's shop I noticed that the rifle of one of the Turks shot accidentally (or that's what I think it was) then the other Turks started shooting randomly (I think they though they were attacked), they were shooting at people like they are not humans, they were shooting like they were shooting at dogs…"
Last of Iraqis

Sarafiya Bridge Re-Opened.

" can't believe it, it was as if from a parallel universe ; something actually was accomplished in Iraq - they have actually managed to reopen the Sarafiya Bridge. I am praying at the rate of 1000 prayers/hour that it doesn't prove me wrong and collapse because of cheap materials while some sleazy contractor is laughing his ass-cheeks somewhere far away from Iraq, I remember I was frothing mad when the bridge I passed countless times was destroyed a year ago by a terrorist attack. Shgad 3eb."
The Kid

David Carr Responds!

"David Carr has responded to my call on Monday for a correction or clarification for his Memorial Day piece, The Wars We Choose To Ignore, in the New York Times:

His unedited response:

all do respect, I see nothing to correct. last year was the bloodiest of the war. last month was the bloodiest so far this year. it is still a dangerous place to be a soldier.
My response:"

Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't it you, Jason, who said "more troops mean more targets" words to that effect, in regards to a "surge" debate we had here once..

Needless to say this guys a dick.

Another black day to Iraqi media

"Iraqi fledgling media witnesses today another black day with the death announcement of two local journalists: one in Baghdad and another in Diayala province, Aseel Kami and Khalid al-Ansary report for Reuters.

Wisam Ali Ouda, a 32-year old cameraman for Afaq TV channel, was shot to dead Wednesday in Baghdad's eastern Obaidi district by U.S. soldiers, according to the station's spokeswoman.

"We confirm one of our employees was killed by an American sniper," Bushra Abdul-Amir, head of public relations at the station told Reuters, citing testimonies given by witnesses to the station's managers.

It is an accusation echoed by Hadi Jalu, deputy director of NGO Iraq's Journalistic Freedoms Observatory. "They all said an American soldier killed him," he said.

U.S. army denied any civilians had been killed during military operations in Obaidi on Wednesday.

While the second journalist was Haidar Hashim al-Husseini, a reporter for the local al-Sharq newspaper who was found dumped in a field with nine other corpses in Diyala province, about 60 kilometer northeast of Baghdad, after being kidnapped on Tuesday.

When this ends for God sake?"
Baghdad Kassakhoon

Memorial Day in Mosul

Updated MOSUL – The closest thing to a Memorial Day barbecue for soldiers at Combat Outpost Rabiy came when one of their Bradley fighting vehicles, rumbling along a rubble-strewn street in Mosul, hit a sheep.

Out on the dusty edge of the American deployment here, there was nary a green park or picnic table in sight on the traditional first holiday of summer, the day to honor soldiers who die in war.

As far as the eye could see, they were surrounded by a tableau of up collapsed houses, trash and piles of dirt. They live in a fort of concrete walls that is no larger than a city block, shared with Iraqi Army colleagues; each nationality occupies one-half of a plywood barracks.

Wheeling into the base late last week, the Bradley, a lumbering machine that rolls on tracks like a tank, clipped the leg of a sheep.

The Iraqis caught the bleating, hobbling sheep and killed it. As the muezzin made the call to prayer, and the sun dipped a bloody red in the dusty evening, the Iraqis hung the carcass on a pipe protruding from a wall and went to work.

In a mishmash of camouflage and sweat pants, some older men with pot bellies and mustaches, others wearing flip flops instead of boots, the Iraqi soldiers milled about. One grinning, wiry older man made a rumbling sound, extended his hands like two tank tracks, and mimed the Bradley hitting the sheep.

The Americans grew alarmed at the prospect of a pool of guts in the outpost parking lot. One soldier ran for an interpreter to ask these allies to clean the animal somewhere else, to no avail.

About two dozen soldiers with K Troop in the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment rotate on three-day shifts through the outpost, one of two dozen built in this city’s violent western side since January. Far from the oil resources in the south and the Shiite heartland, the city of Mosul slipped into neglect during the surge last year. While attacks elsewhere fell, here they spiked.

To stem the violence, the U.S. military built forts, about a half mile apart, amid the warren of alleys and trash-filled vacant lots throughout Mosul. It is tough, dirty work.

“We’re cavalry,” Lt. Rusty Morris, the platoon commander, explained. “It’s like the American West. We build forts close enough that one can come to the aid of another.”

On this Memorial Day, though, they faced a different enemy than their predecessors. Insurgents have taken to what the U.S. Army describes as suicide “up-armored” dump trucks. A steel plate is welded across the windshield to allow a driver to survive machine gun fire long enough to reach the wall or gate of a fort, before detonating.

The tactic adopted here, as elsewhere in Iraq, has been closer cooperation with the Iraqi Army; more joint operations, an effort by the Americans to hand over control and planning to the Iraqis. And this has become a large part of the experience of soldiering in Iraq these days.

A New York Times photographer and I spent two days embedded here with soldiers who were a tossed salad of races and backgrounds, most straight out of high school. The American soldiers, surprisingly given the death all around them, spent their down time watching slasher movies on DVD, to the dismay of the Iraqi translators who lived with them.

With the sound of screams and a chainsaw revving in the background on the TV screen, one young interpreter turned his face away and made a show of reading an English dictionary.

To be sure, at the larger Forward Operating Base Marez, commanders staged a Memorial Day ceremony. The chaplain, Maj. Larry Holland, spoke of the distinction between Memorial Day and Veterans Day, and asked soldiers to remember those who were killed.

In the 3rd Armored Cavalry’s latest deployment, 22 soldiers from the regiment and units attached to it have been killed. At Combat Outpost Rabiy, soldiers passed around a book of photographs of Sgt. Chad Caldwell of Spokane, Wash., who died a few hundred yards from here on April 30, at 9:42 p.m., when an I.E.D. detonated as he walked past on patrol.

Out at the outpost, as the Iraqis cleaned the sheep, Lt. Morris heaved on his body armor and headed for the gate with a damage claim form for the shepherd. “Livestock is property,” Lieutenant Morris said, and the man should be paid for the damage caused by the American Bradley.

But this barbecue was not for the Iraqi Army, either. The Iraqi soldiers had volunteered to dress the sheep and return it to the shepherd, as payment, settling the matter in their own manner.

Baghdad Bureau

IRAQ: Bombs and scrap metal

It seems that after five years, car bombs in Baghdad have become an opportunity for scavengers.

On Monday, I saw five men gathered around the remnants of charred car that exploded over the weekend in western Baghdad's Qadisiya district.

The attack had targeted the governor of Hilla, who escaped. But the scavengers didn't seem to care Monday about whether anyone had lived or died.

They had gotten down to work with their wrenches and screwdrivers. They tore the car apart and distributed its pieces among themselves.

Their main argument was over who would get to keep the engine. After a few minutes, the dispute was solved when a man bought the engine from the others.

He loaded the charred engine into the trunk of his old Volkswagen and drove off happily.

He left the chassis of the car for the others.
Babylon & Beyond

Capitalist dogs

IRAQ: Marine freed from jail in Los Angeles

Marine Sgt. Jermaine Nelson, jailed in Los Angeles last week for contempt of court for refusing to testify against his former squad leader, was released Thursday after promising to attend a grand jury session and listen to questions.

Joseph Low, Nelson's attorney, said his client promised U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson that he would attend a June 18 session of a grand jury probing the alleged killing of prisoners by Marines during the fight for Fallouja in late 2004.

But Nelson did not promise to provide information about former Sgt. Jose Luis Nazario, Low said. "I did inform the judge [that] nothing has changed except our willingness to listen," he said.

Anderson had Nelson jailed last week when, despite receiving immunity, he declined to answer questions about "a brother Marine." Low said Nazario had saved Nelson's life in Iraq.

A dozen Marines and other supporters waited outside the courtroom during the closed session.

Marine Gunnery Sgt. James Griffin, stationed at Twentynine Palms, said he was angry that the Marine Corps had not backed Nelson's refusal.

"They teach us 'you never leave your brothers behind,' " Griffin said, "but he's all by himself right now.... We give our lives to the Corps — now this Marine is fighting for his."

Nelson faces charges in the military legal system in Camp Pendleton tied to the alleged killing of prisoners. Nazario is charged in federal court in Riverside, where he was a probationary police officer until he was charged.

Retired Marine Gerald Johnson said charging Nelson and Nazario could make other Marines second-guess themselves during combat.

Court documents suggest that the Marines claim they were faced with a split-second decision: either take time to process prisoners according to the rules, or rush to the aid of Marines pinned down in a firefight.

Another supporter, Joyce Glanza, said it was wrong to pull Nelson into a civilian courtroom. "It's not a jury of your peers anymore; it's a totally different thing."

Babylon & Beyond

Turkey attacks Kurdish rebels in Iraq

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) - Turkish warplanes attacked several Kurdish rebel targets in northern Iraq on Thursday, Turkey's military said. No casualties were immediately reported.
The fighter jets targeted 16 rebel positions in the Hakurk region, just across the shared border, the military said in a statement posted on its Web site. It said the raids were "effective" and "successful" and that an assessment of the damage inflicted on the rebel group was under way.

The Europe-based, pro-Kurdish news agency Firat confirmed the raids Thursday, saying warplanes taking off from a military base in southeastern Diyarbakir had hit villages in the mountainous border region. The agency said there were no immediate reports on possible casualties or damage.

The Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, has been fighting for self-rule in the mainly Kurdish areas of southeastern Turkey since 1984. The violence has killed tens of thousands of people.

Turkey has this year launched several air force attacks and one major ground operation against rebel targets across the border in Iraq to stamp out PKK bases there. Thursday's raid was the first cross-border attack reported since May 12.

The military said Thursday that "necessary sensitivity was shown so that the civilian population and local elements were not negatively affected."

The United States and the European Union consider the PKK a terrorist group, and Washington has been sharing intelligence to help Turkey fight the rebels.

Iraq prime minister calls for debt relief at UN conference

UPPLANDS VASBY, Sweden (AP) - Iraq's prime minister called Thursday for neighboring countries to forgive debts and war reparations that he said hindered his nation's recovery despite a reduction in violence.

Opening a U.N. conference on Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said his government had kept the country from descending into the "abyss of civil war" but needs to shed the burden of reparations and debt in order to move forward with reconstruction and development.

"Iraq has achieved major success in the battle against terrorism with the support of the international community," al-Maliki said in Arabic.

Iraq has at least $67 billion in foreign debt - most incurred during the rule of Saddam Hussein and owed to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

In addition, the Geneva-based U.N. Compensation Commission says $28 billion remains to be paid in compensation for Saddam's 1990 invasion of Kuwait. Iraq gives 5 percent of its oil revenue to meet the compensation claims.

The country is expected to reap tens of billions of dollars in oil revenue this year because of worldwide record-high fuel prices. Oil brought in $16 billion in the first quarter of the year and $5.9 billion last month alone.

But the Iraqi government maintains it should not be obligated to repay debts incurred by Saddam's dictatorship, which denied basic rights to its own citizens, including any say over government policy.

The conference outside Stockholm is the first annual review of the International Compact with Iraq, a sweeping five-year economic and political reform package that Ban helped broker last May in Egypt.

The compact defined international help for Iraq - including debt relief - but also set tough commitments on the Baghdad government, particularly carrying out reforms aimed at giving Sunni Arabs a greater role in the political process.

Iraq's Sunni Arab minority has long felt it is being sidelined by the majority Shiites and Kurds and the largest Sunni Arab political bloc pulled out of the 39-member Cabinet in August. On Wednesday it suspended talks about returning.

Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia announced last year it would forgive Iraq's debt but so far has failed to implement that decision. Sunni-led Kuwait still insists that Iraq pay compensation for damages from the invasion.

Both nations sent midlevel officials to the conference rather than ministers.

More than 500 delegates from dozens of countries and international organizations were attending, including Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

The U.S. military says violence in Iraq is at its lowest level in more than four years, following a series of crackdowns on Sunni and Shiite extremists. But some U.S. politicians have balked at giving more money to Iraq because of the amount of money it is raising from oil revenues.

"The Iraqis don't need large sums of money," Rice told reporters ahead of the conference. "They do need large infusions of technical assistance (and) project support."

Mottaki said the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq was responsible for the "grave" situation, while his country and other neighbors have played a "prominent role" in reconstruction.

"Due to the mistaken policies pursued by the occupiers in Iraq, the situation of security in Iraq is now so grave that it has cast its shadow on life in this country," Mottaki told delegates.

Live TV footage of the conference showed U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice rolling her eyes and smirking as Mottaki was speaking. The U.S. government has repeatedly accused Iran of arming militants for attacks on Americans in Iraq, a charge Iran denies.

Rice urged Iraq's Arab neighbors to support it through official visits and by opening embassies in Baghdad.

"I would hope that the international community would accelerate its efforts to help make Iraq a capable state," she said.

Kuwait last month said it was looking to buy a building for an embassy in Baghdad's U.S.-guarded Green Zone. It would be the first Kuwaiti Embassy in Iraq since the 1990 invasion.


In Miami, Spanish is becoming the primary language

MIAMI (AP) - Melissa Green's mother spoke Spanish, but she never learned - her father forbid it. Today, that's a frequent problem in this city where the English-speaking population is outnumbered.

The 49-year-old flower shop owner and Miami native said her inability to speak "Espanola" makes it difficult to conduct business, seek help at stores and even ask directions. She finds it "frustrating."

"It makes it hard for some people to find a job because they don't speak Spanish, and I don't think that it is right," said Green, who sometimes calls a Spanish-speaking friend to translate for customers who don't speak English.

"Sometimes I think they should learn it," she said.

In many areas of Miami, Spanish has become the predominant language, replacing English in everyday life. Anyone from Latin America could feel at home on the streets, without having to pronounce a single word in English.

In stores, shopkeepers wait on their clients in Spanish. Universities offer programs for Spanish speakers. And in supermarkets, banks, restaurants - even at the post office and government offices - information is given and assistance is offered in Spanish. In Miami, doctors and nurses speak Spanish with their patients and a large portion of advertising is in Spanish. Daily newspapers and radio and television stations cater to the Hispanic public.

But this situation, so pleasing to Latin American immigrants, makes some English speakers feel marginalized. In the 1950s, it's estimated that more than 80 percent of Miami-Dade County residents were non-Hispanic whites. But in 2006, the Census Bureau estimates that number was only 18.5 percent, and in 2015 it is forecast to be 14 percent. Hispanics now make up about 60 percent.

"The Anglo population is leaving," said Juan Clark, a sociology professor at Miami Dade College. "One of the reactions is to emigrate toward the north. They resent the fact that (an American) has to learn Spanish in order to have advantages to work. If one doesn't speak Spanish, it's a disadvantage."

According to the Census, 58.5 percent of the county's 2.4 million residents speak Spanish - and half of those say they don't speak English well. English-only speakers make up 27.2 percent of the county's residents.

In the mainly Cuban city of Hialeah and in the Miami neighborhood of Little Havana, 94 percent of residents identified themselves as Hispanic.

Andrew Lynch, an expert on linguistics and bilingualism at the University of Miami, said that the presence of Spanish-speakers first became an issue in Miami-Dade County in the 1960s and '70s with the arrival of Cuban immigrants and intensified in the '80s with immigrants from not just Cuba, but Argentina, Venezuela and elsewhere in Latin America. The exodus of English speakers soon followed.

James McCleary, his wife and two children left Miami in 1987 for Vermont, where he is now a farmer. McCleary, 58, said his inability to speak Spanish made it difficult for him to find work - it once took seven months to get hired as a cook.

"The job market was very tough. It was very, very difficult," he said.

His wife, Lauren, was born and raised in Miami and they visit at least twice a year, but she feels that it's no longer her hometown.

"I don't like being there anymore. It is very, very different," she said. "I cannot live there anymore, I can't speak their language."

Nevertheless, she likes the diversity of the population of South Florida and regrets not learning Spanish in school.

Librarian Martha Phillips, 61, believes those who speak Spanish will continue to have more opportunities and she doesn't think that's necessarily fair. Phillips said she is sorry to see non-Spanish-speakers abandoning Miami, and said she's concerned that the area "will be like a branch of Latin America."

"I do resent the fact that people seem to expect that the people who live here adjust to their ways, rather than learning English and making adjustments," she said. "Obviously I don't expect an older person to learn to speak English, but younger people come in and they don't seem to make much of an effort to learn to adapt to this country and they expect us to adapt to them."

Some Spanish speakers say they have their own trouble with those who only speak English.

Mary Bravo, a 37-year-old Venezuelan business owner, moved to Miami nine years ago. She understands English but only speaks a little.

"This land is theirs. We should try to speak English," she said, "but they don't even try to understand us."


Today Florida, Tomorrow Washington, Then the world...

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Cat’s Out of the Bag: Onwards to Maysan

"Well I guess enough people are openly discussing this now in Baghdad that it’s okay for me to write about it. Mind you, all the following is classified under the category of gossip:

The Iraqi Army and the Marines are preparing for a major campaign against Mahdi Army and Iranian targets in Maysan Province (‘Amara). Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki may even put the entire elected leadership of ‘Amara—many of whom are Sadrists—out of a job, by flexing his authority under emergency powers. There is even talk of air strikes against military targets—weapons depots, transportation vehicles and individuals—on the Iranian side of the fence; these are targets that are arming and otherwise supporting the Special Groups throughout Iraq."
Talisman Gate

Poland stalls Bush's 'lame duck' deal on missile shield

President George Bush's hopes of sealing agreement to site parts of the Pentagon's missile shield in central Europe before he leaves office are fading fast, according to senior Polish officials who despair of reaching to reach a deal with the United States before the end of the year.

The US has been negotiating with the Polish and Czech governments for five years over deploying missile interceptors in Poland and a radar-tracking station in the Czech Republic - the first elements of the American missile defence programme that would be stationed outside the US.

But while the Americans and the Czechs recently concluded their negotiations, the Polish government has balked at the US terms on offer, insisting on large-scale military aid from the US to modernise its armed forces in return for agreeing to host the silos for 10 interceptor rockets.

"Bush promised us a package, but the US is not delivering," said a senior Polish official. "Bush is a lame duck and the Pentagon is now sabotaging him.

"Why should we do any favours for Bush?"

He indicated that Warsaw had decided to wait until a new US administration is installed in January in the hope that would produce a better deal.

The installations in central Europe are ostensibly aimed at intercepting potential missile attacks from Iran, although Russia contests this and insists that the Polish and Czech deployments are ultimately aimed at the Kremlin's nuclear arsenal.

The new Russian president, Dmitriy Medvedev, used his first foreign visit to China last week to drum up Beijing's support for Russian opposition to the missile shield, one of the key disputes that has led to worsening relations between Russia and the west in recent years.

Poland is keen to host the interceptor rockets because it believes that having American troops and military sites on its territory reinforces its security against its traditional enemy, Russia.

But unless it markedly improves its defences, the Polish government also believes hosting the shield will diminish, rather than enhance national security in the face of a strengthening Russia.

On Monday in Brussels, the Polish defence minister, Bogdan Klich, said Warsaw needed the kind of military aid from the US that Washington supplies to Pakistan or Egypt, indicating that the cost to America could run to billions.

The Bush administration, meanwhile, could yet turn its back on Poland and shift to deploying the interceptor rockets either at sea or in Britain, say senior Nato officials in Brussels.


The Pentagon is sabotaging Bush? That's news to me. You would think something like that would make big news headlines...

Iraqis losing patience with militiamen

BAGHDAD -- Four summers ago, when militiamen loyal to hard-line Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada Sadr were battling U.S. forces in the holy city of Najaf, Mohammed Lami was among them.

"I had faith. I believed in something," Lami said of his days hoisting a gun for Sadr's Mahdi Army militia. "Now, I will never fight with them."

Lami is no fan of U.S. troops, but after fleeing Baghdad's Sadr City district with his family last month, when militiamen arrived on his street to plant a bomb, he is no fan of the Mahdi Army either. Nor are many others living in Sadr City, the 32-year-old said. Weeks of fighting between militiamen and Iraqi and U.S. forces, with residents caught in the middle, has chipped away at the Sadr movement's grass-roots popularity, Lami said.

More than 1,000 people have died in Sadr City since fighting erupted in late March, and hospital and police officials say most have been civilians. As the violence continues, public tolerance for the Mahdi Army, and by association the Sadr movement, seems to be shifting toward the same sort of resentment once reserved for U.S. and Iraqi forces.

"People are fed up with them because of their extremism and the problems they are causing," said Rafid Majid, a merchant in central Baghdad. Like many others interviewed across the capital, he said the good deeds the group performs no longer were enough to make up for the hardships endured by ordinary Iraqis who just want to go to work and keep their families safe.

With provincial elections scheduled for October, a public perception that Sadr loyalists were to blame for the violence could hinder the cleric's hopes of broadening his power and influence in the oil-rich south. It also could extend the violent power struggle between the Mahdi Army and the rival Badr Organization tied to Prime Minister Nouri Maliki -- a conflict that has played out from the southern city of Basra to Baghdad's Shiite neighborhoods.

Lawmakers from Sadr's movement blame the United States and Iraqi forces for the bloodshed that began after the government launched an offensive against Shiite militias in Basra. Sadr representatives insist that, if anything, support has soared as people come to sympathize with the Sadr loyalists.

"Even some Iraqi people who were not sympathizing with us before have now started to feel and identify with the oppression on the Sadr people. It has become clear to them that we are being targeted," said Liqa Yaseen, a parliament member representing the Sadr movement.

But interviews with dozens of Iraqis living in Sadr City and other Shiite militia strongholds in Baghdad suggest otherwise. So do anecdotes from U.S. troops who have met with Sadr City residents and local leaders and who say there has been a shift in the things they hear.

"After March 25 was the first time I had anyone tell us, 'Go in and wipe them out,' " said Sgt. Erik Olson, who spends most of his time visiting residents of Sadr City's Jamila neighborhood gathering "atmospherics," the military's word for figuring out what locals are thinking.

It isn't surprising that people on the front lines of the standoff would lose patience with the warring sides. Their homes and streets have become battlegrounds, making it impossible at times to go to the market, the hospital or work. Military and militia snipers fire from rooftops. Militiamen launch mortar shells and rockets from residential streets. U.S. aircraft respond with devastating airstrikes that often cause casualties and damage beyond their targets.

It's a public relations problem that even some Mahdi Army members acknowledge, and a fragile truce reached by Sadr and the Iraqi government this month, which allowed Iraqi troops to deploy into Sadr City, suggested that at least privately, Sadr's political wing recognized the need to back down from the fighting.

Thousands of Iraqi security forces took up positions in Sadr City starting May 20 and faced no resistance from militiamen.

Ahmed, a 29-year-old Mahdi Army member who did not want his full name used for fear of being arrested or attacked, said the group was the only "honorable resistance" to the U.S. presence. He said people in poor neighborhoods depended on it for handouts of fuel, help with funeral costs, and food distribution. But he acknowledged that as fighting continued, support dwindled.

"Of course some people are expressing their resentment and anger against the Mahdi Army, thinking that without them, they would not be targeted and their lives would not be badly affected," he said.

Another Mahdi Army member expressed anger after Sadr in late April warned of "open war" against U.S. forces if operations targeting Sadr strongholds did not stop.

"Did he mention that the 'open war' . . . will be among the houses or residential areas?" said the man, a Mahdi Army street leader who feared having his name published. "Fight? . . . I will not join the fight."

Some members blame the violence on rogue elements who have ignored truces called by Sadr, but they acknowledge that regardless of whoever is behind the fighting, the mainstream Sadr movement is viewed as the violator. "It takes all the blame for the fight because it started it," said Abu Ali, a Sadr City resident who said he had left the Mahdi Army after becoming disillusioned with its tactics fighting U.S. forces in crowded urban areas.

"We should fight them outside the cities, not among the families," Abu Ali said.

For years, Sadr's militia has been welcomed by many people in exchange for the services the cleric provides. Most important has been the security his fighters offer: Even people who don't relish having masked gunmen on their streets have accepted them in exchange for safety.

But with the recent fighting, that security is gone.

"I don't support them now, but in the past I did," Mohammed Mousawi, a 23-year-old civil servant, said of the Mahdi Army. "They served people a lot and solved problems in the area, but now things are different."

Mousawi said he had to pay 24,000 Iraqi dinars [about $20] a month to the militia to protect a small shop he runs and his home in Hurriya, a Baghdad neighborhood known for its militia presence. When the streets were quiet, he was willing to do so. Now, he resents it.

Hassan abu Mohammed, who has an appliance repair shop in Jamila, said the violence forced him to close his business for nearly two months. Abu Mohammed estimated that he was losing $1,200 a month but said it was worth it if the militiamen could be driven out.

"They used to come and take money on a monthly basis from us," he said, speaking for himself and other local merchants. He said the militiamen would demand to know the details of their businesses, whether their customers were Sunnis, Shiites or Americans, and whom they employed.

Shopkeepers, teachers and homemakers interviewed across Baghdad told similar stories and indicated that goodwill toward the militia was evaporating.

"The people do not support [them] anymore because they are responsible for barricading some areas and preventing people from going on with their lives and jobs," said Ibrahim Ghanim, a merchant in central Baghdad.

Allegations of extortion and abductions are not new, but U.S. military officials say such complaints have picked up. They say Sadr's truce with U.S. forces in August has led to splintering in the organization. Questions about which way Sadr will go, toward sustaining the truce or halting it, have fueled more Mafia-like behavior among his followers as they jockey for power and resources in the face of an uncertain future.

"Everyone is trying to claw their way to the top," said Olson, comparing it to Robin Hood turning into Tony Soprano.

Regardless of whether the Sadr movement agrees that it may have lost some support recently, it clearly was trying to curry favor with the public as the Iraqi army moved into Sadr City.

"There's no problem with the Iraqi forces' operations today," spokesman Saleh Obeidi said, "as long as these forces are taking care of the civilians' rights there."


Iraq: Al-Qaeda releases video of teenage terror cell

Baghdad, 27 May (AKI) - The Islamic State of Iraq, the umbrella name adopted by al-Qaeda groups in the country, has released the first video of the group's new teenage terror cell for those under 16 years of age.

The video of the terror cell known as "Youths of Heaven" is produced by al-Furqan, the media production arm of the Islamic State of Iraq.

The video was aired for the first time on Tuesday on the Arabic satellite television channel Al-Arabiya. It shows a group of young aspiring suicide bombers brandishing Kalashnikovs and promising to blow themselves up against "the crusaders and apostates."

In the first part of the film, six youngsters are seen, with their faces covered, sitting in a circle and shouting "Allah is great".

In the second part, there is a video message recorded by a young suicide bomber on the eve of his attack.

This new al-Qaeda terror cell in Iraq is only open to those under the age of 16.

In an interview with the pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat, Sayd Aziz Salman, the head of the Awakening Council in Taji, north of Baghdad, said that the cell was the latest danger that the country faced.

Awakening Councils are US-allied Sunni militia movements fighting al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Salman said that after al-Qaeda suffered major losses in battles with the Iraqi military and members of his Awakening Council, the terrorist group had decided to reorganise itself in a bid to target senior leaders from the Awakening Councils.

In order to do this, they have formed a cell of aspiring suicide bombers who range in age from 11 to 16 years old.

The young suicide bomber featured in the second part of Tuesday's video could be the same one that carried out an attack in the region of Tarimiya on Monday.


Troops do the dirty work to maintain berm in Mosul

MOSUL, Iraq — As the sun rose Sunday, it found the 43rd Engineer Company’s bulldozers already at work scraping dirt into ever larger piles. East of the engineers, the sun lit up the buildings of Mosul — at about 2 million people, Iraq’s second biggest city. To the west, it shone on the vast emptiness of the desert outside the city.

Mosul has just three main roads going into it, but that desert offers an alternative for anyone who wants to circumvent the checkpoints on the official routes. So Army engineers have built a massive dirt berm around the city to funnel any insurgents through checkpoints, where they have a better chance of being discovered during routine searches.

"There are basically an infinite number of routes if you’re coming in from the desert," said 1st Lt. Ben Weaver, a platoon leader in the company.

Leaders have named this massive berm the "Riyadh Line," after the senior Iraqi commander in the area. The berm is a wall of dirt at least four feet high — but twice that in many places — that almost completely encircles Mosul. The 43rd Engineer Company maintains about 15 kilometers of the berm, essentially the western half of the Riyadh Line.

Similar berms have been built around other Iraqi cities in the past, most notably in nearby Tal Afar. And long concrete blast walls have divided many parts of Baghdad in recent months.

In Mosul, the soldiers built their section of the line over eight freezing days in December. The city was still extremely violent then, so they tried to do as much of their work as possible at night. Still, some of the engineers worked upward of 20 hours a day.

Pvt. Edwin Ocampo drives one of the unit’s armored combat earth movers, a bulldozer built like a tank. He recalled moving dirt for almost three days straight, getting a rest and then working another three days straight.

"It was a long, painful process," he said.

Soldiers anchored the berm to steep ridges and other natural obstacles that surround Mosul, as well as tank ditches from the Saddam regime. The majority of the engineers’ time Sunday was spent just negotiating the rough ground around the perimeter.

Most of the soldiers ride in massive armored trucks over steep ridges that would give many drivers pause even in vehicles with a lower center of gravity. Yet the soldiers doggedly plugged away at their mission, even when one of their bulldozers blew a hydraulic line and had to be towed by another bulldozer.

With no one guarding the Riyadh Line, insurgents can make a hole in the berm and get through, Weaver said. So soldiers with the 43rd Engineer Company must head out about once a week to repair the holes in their section of the line.

Even the holes aren’t completely without merit, though.

"At least we can identify their routes and pick ’em off easier," said Sgt. 1st Class Rodney Lerue, a platoon sergeant in the company.

Like other engineering projects in Iraq, the work has become a chess match with insurgents. Soldiers build the berm. The insurgents make a hole. Soldiers fill the hole. The insurgents plant a bomb in the next hole they make.

The engineers now use an armored truck to run a bomb-detonating device over each hole before they try to fill it with their bulldozers.

Soldiers are mixed in their opinion of the operation’s success. Ocampo credited the berm for reducing the number of attacks around Mosul in recent weeks. Weaver, however, said that although it was important it was just one piece of an overarching strategy that’s also seen success in standing up the Iraqi army and catching insurgents.

Stars & Stripes

Pentagon Audit Finds $15 Billion in Iraq Funds Unaccounted For

The Pentagon cannot account for nearly 15 billion dollars in payments for goods and services in Iraq, according to an internal audit which members of Congress blasted Friday as a "shocking" accountability failure.

Of 8.2 billion dollars in U.S. taxpayer-funded defense contracts reviewed by the Defense Department's inspector general, the Pentagon could not properly account for more than 7.7 billion dollars.

The lack of accountability of the funds, intended for purchases of weapons, vehicles, construction equipment and security services, amounted to a 95 percent failure rate in basic accounting standards, according to the report.

"We estimated that the army made 1.4 billion dollars in commercial payments that lacked the minimum documentation for a valid payment, such as properly prepared receiving reports, invoices, and certified vouchers," Deputy Inspector General Mary Ugone told a Congressional committee Thursday.

"We also estimated that the army made an additional 6.3 billion dollars of commercial payments that met the 27 criteria for payments but did not comply with other statutory and regulatory requirements."

The Pentagon also was found to have given away another 1.8 billion in Iraqi assets "with absolutely no accountability," said Congressman Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

"Investigators examined 53 payment vouchers and couldn't find even one that adequately explained where the money went."

Another five billion dollars spent on supporting the Iraqi security forces could not be properly traced, according to a November 2007 inspector general report.

"Taken together, the inspector general found that the Defense Department did not properly account for almost 15 billion dollars," Waxman said.

The disclosures sparked outrage among legislators and concern that U.S. taxpayers are deeply vulnerable to massive waste and fraud in the Pentagon's contracting system.

"The report has new shocking details of billions of dollars of American taxpayer money unaccounted for and likely wasted, which should be a wake-up call to Congress and the (President George W.) Bush administration that the status quo is unacceptable," Democratic senator and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said in a statement.

"American taxpayers are picking up the tab for Iraqi ministries, coalition governments, U.S. and foreign contractors, Iraqi security forces, and Blackwater and other U.S. security companies," Waxman said.

"In one remarkable instance, a 320-million-dollar payment in cash was handed over with little more than a signature in exchange."

The Pentagon to date has been appropriated 492 billion dollars to support Operation Iraqi Freedom, according to Ugone.


But there is no money to pay for full scholarships for our returning vets? Maybe they should go after this money and use that to pay the GIbill

US makes progress in Iraq's `triangle of death'

ISKANDARIYAH, Iraq (AP) - When the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division arrived in Iraq's once infamous "Triangle of Death," violence there and in neighboring Baghdad was so intense that hundreds were dying every day and the country was virtually in a state of civil war.

Now as the division heads home at the end of May, the region stretching south from Baghdad and across central Iraq has become a showcase for what the U.S. military hoped to achieve in Iraq.

"When we first arrived here 15 months ago there was nothing but sectarian violence, al-Qaida, Shiite extremists," the division commander Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch said as he wrapped up a tour of an industrial complex.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and U.S. officials are likely to tout successes like that here during a U.N. conference that begins Thursday in Sweden, aimed at reviewing political and security progress in Iraq. The gathering will also see pressure on Iraqi leaders to make similar movement on political goals, such as reconciliation between the country's Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds.

The U.S. military says violence across Iraq has reached its lowest level in more than four years after successes this year in breaking al-Qaida's and other Sunni insurgents' hold in western Iraq and - more recently - government crackdowns in the southern city of Basra and northern city of Mosul.

But the success in the Triangle of Death, centered on the town of Iskandariyah, is perhaps the most dramatic. The area's population is mixed between Sunnis and Shiites to a far greater degree than many others, and in 2006 and 2007 militants from each community were killing each other, as well as attacking U.S. and Iraqi forces.

The area has boomeranged to become a bastion of relative peace on the edge of a violent capital, while Sunni militants remain elusive in the north.

One likely reason for the greater success is the logistical support from being close to Baghdad. Mosul, where a major Iraqi military campaign is under way against al-Qaida, is 225 miles northwest of the capital - compared to the 30 miles between Baghdad and Iskandariyah.

Another is the division's success recruiting members of the so-called Awakening Councils, Sunni groups who turned against al-Qaida in Iraq after the terror group began imposing draconian measures to enforce religious discipline in neighborhoods they controlled throughout the Triangle of Death. There are about 36,000 Awakening Council members on the payroll.

A third is a cease-fire ordered last August by radical anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose militia is present in the region far more than areas north of Baghdad.

Battalion commanders in the field also point to new counterinsurgency strategies, where units clear an area of fighters and stay to hold it from slipping back into insurgent hands.

Sunni fighters who swarmed the area are also nearly gone. They have either been killed, or co-opted into Awakening Councils, said Lt. Col. William Zemp, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment based in nearby Mahmoudiya.

"It was a place where they could consolidate, make plans and be put into action," Zemp said. "We have effectively shut that down."

The result is predominantly Shiite areas along the main corridors north into Baghdad.

Most recently, the farmlands south of Baghdad were flooded with U.S. soldiers, and areas once controlled by a single battalion of under 1,000 soldiers are now the responsibility of a brigade of 3,500.

The cigar-smoking Lynch has become a recognizable figure in Iskandariyah. The general often walks the narrow streets of its marketplace, which shows new signs of prosperity amid the greater calm.

Shortly after the 3rd ID arrived, its 20,000 soldiers launched large military operations to quash al-Qaida cells and Shiite militias.

"We focused on establishing security in this area of Iskandariyah, and now that we have the security right, we had to worry about the most pressing need of the people, and that was employment," Lynch said.

Violence in the area, where U.S. troops once traveled only in large numbers, has plunged by 89 percent since last year, according to the military. Mortar and rocket attacks are largely a thing of the past, though some suicide bombings continue, it said.

"I just don't see sectarian violence anymore," Lynch said. "In our area, people kept talking about Sunni versus Shiite. I don't see that now. Everywhere I go, people identify themselves as Iraqi. That is their identification - I am not Shiite, I'm not Sunni, I'm Iraqi."

Lynch and his officers knew they did not have the resources to jump-start the region's economy, so instead they focused on a variety of ventures - a vocational school, the industrial plant and smaller projects such as fish farming.

"Do you remember what this place used to look like 15 months ago?" Sabbah al-Khaffaji, who runs the industrial plant and sits on the city council, asked Lynch. "We hope that the next time, you can come without guns."

Al-Khaffaji's plant, which last year employed a couple hundred people on an intermittent basis, now has nearly 3,000 workers. It has contracts worth more than $6 million.

The vocational school had fewer than 500 students just six months ago; it now has about 1,500, learning generator maintenance, metal work, sewing and other skills needed by the local economy.

But Lynch warns that the fight has not been fully won.

"This is a tenuous security situation," Lynch said. "The enemy could indeed come back, the people could become dissatisfied with their government and as a result could revert back to old ways of doing business."


Rove: McClellan Sounds Like a Left Wing Blogger

A compliment to Left Wing Bloggers the world over.

Oakley Bandits

"As we continued our reign of terror in this big Pleasantville FOB full of M16-toting clerks, I saw a couple of my friends standing by some concrete bunkers, with a group of Air Force MPs.

Apparently, one of the insidious Anaconda Gangs broke into the Oakley shop and stole a bunch of shit, and when some of my friends walked into the shop this morning looking to waste money, they found the door open and a bunch of shit missing. The vendor ran up on them, spazzing out, and the almighty authorities were summoned.

[Sgt BenHur] had been in the PX earlier and had bought a Monster energy drink. The Oakley Shop was his next stop. In all their action-seeking glory, the MPs commanded him, "PUT THE CAN DOWN AND STEP AWAY! STEP AWAY FROM THE CAN!!!"

How in the fuck can you even call a tour of duty on this FOB a deployment?"
The Unlikely Soldier

"Voodoo 1....Out"

"A year in the desert can do an awful lot to change a mans perspective on the world and things around him. Over a year ago my main goal was just to get home to my wife and kids and carry on with my life, maybe try to live the same way I did before the war. Easier said than done, I'm back in the good ol U.S. of A and I gotta admit I'm pretty nervous about going home to my family. Friends ask if I'm different and I always say I'm still the same old me but in a lot of ways I'm not and will never be. Don't get me wrong I don't think I'm suffering from PTSD or anything but I think the years experiences have definetly given me a whole new outlook on life. A lot of Americas young men had it worse than I did out there but, the IED's and small arms fire I recieved were enough to wake me up and realize that I shouldn't take life for granted."
Hard Soldier