Thursday, March 30, 2006


"That's right. has now gone blogging and I have added a link under "Blogs." The old site is still available and is an excellent resource for doza me in general and doza me under Turkish-occupation in particular. For that reason, I am keeping the old link under "Links." For those of you who don't know, doza me means "our cause."

Berxwedan already has a couple of posts up, here, and I recommend a regular read. If you're not careful, you will learn a lot. I should know, since I consider Berxwedan one of my teachers."

Impossible dreams of Arabs

"I must admit that I nearly fell out of my chair when I read this in the New York Times report about the Arab summit in Khartoum:

"Analysts in the region feel that Iran is being rewarded for adopting a confrontational approach. Even though Iran has supported terrorist groups and defied the West's admonition to abandon its nuclear program, Arab countries fear that the United States may cut a deal with Iran that further weakens Arab influence in Iraq.""

Political Gridlock Continues

"Charles Levinson gives us the details and the people behind the numbers. We know from opinion polls that half of Iraqis think it is all right to attack US troops (more like 80 % among Sunni Arabs) and 72% of the US troops in Iraq believe the US military should get out of Iraq within a year. Levinson in Mosul quotes a US soldier: ' "I don't want to stay here too much longer. The Iraqi Army is getting to where they can get a hold of things now," says Clevenger. "The longer we're here and the more times they attack us, the more they're going to figure out how to better their attacks." ' And he quotes an Iraqi father whose house US troops have temporarily taken over: ' "What can I do?" he wonders. "We adapt and we survive and we give tea to our guests. But I would like an option beside the murderer Saddam Hussein or the lawlessness and humiliation of foreign occupation." '"
Juan Cole

Husseiniya Bombed at Guray'at

"I'm not sure if it's an ill-fated omen or something else, but random violence seems to follow me wherever I go in Baghdad. Just 2 hours ago, an ear shattering blast rocked the Guray'at area, north of Baghdad, most likely caused by a BMW vehicle rigged with explosives. The target was the Ali Bash husseiniya, right next door to the popular riverside Al-Ballaam restaurant.

We counted 5 ambulances racing away, sirens wailing, and full of casualties from the scene. Residents with AK-47s immediately poured on the narrow main street firing in the air while firefighters extinguished the flames. "
Healing Iraq

The Day I Tried To Go Home...

"And so here I am, back home after one of the most troublesome days I've yet met - made more intense by JIDIDA's incessant fears and nagging.Today I was utterly and truly convinced of the helplessness of the political game, I lost faith again in keeping interest, true, I love my coutnry and I wish the best for it, and I may have been more optimistic in the past - much to the admiration of those stupid clueless Americans who just want someone to assert their legality of the war - FUCK THE EXCUSE, the country is falling apart, people, it takes strong strong wills to have more faith in this country, look everywhere on the blogosphere, hope is quickly dying...I just wanna swear my ass off at this horrible mess we've deteroriated into, it is now impossible, I tell you, impossible not to think of sectarian terms, as people are being divided into Sunni and Shiite territories, things do not look very promising. Six months earlier, I didn't even know what the word 'sectarian' meant in English, after a death of a close family friend by Badr, I became aware of the danger, but I shrugged it off as something that cannot ferment a long-standing unity, but today, it is amazing how little evil work can change a belief so quickly - these days, every person I meet, there's a little voice inside me that wants to know if he's Sunni or Shiite, I've become hatefully familiar with all the discrmiminations between Sunni and Shiite and how to tell who's who (names, areas, clothings, rings, vocal intonations)...All out Brother-against-brother Civil War? why the hell not...."
Eject: IKKK

Politics in Iraq, a Mexican series!

"There's a great deal of mysteriousness shrouding the government-formation talks between the political blocs in a way that makes these already lengthy talks and meetings seem to be taking forever in the eyes of the average Iraqi citizen.
"All they care about is getting more power for their parties" or "No one trusts nobody" is the most common remarks people here use whenever words like government or parties are spoken.

What's even more confusing to the 'street' here is the contradiction between statements of various politicians and officials and this disturbing contradiction can be even seen among spokesmen of the same party that a firm stance spoken of in the morning gets denied in its entirety in the evening by the words of another spokesman from the same party. This had given a strong impression that the negotiators themselves are so lost and confused and with them, the people find themselves lost, scattered and confused as well."

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

GOP Obsession with the Borders

"Yes, secure the borders, by all means. We must prevent terrorists from infiltrating this country. Use the Army if necessary. But, need I remind Republicans that the 9/11 hijackers flew into this country. It was a bureaucratic and intelligence failure, not a breach in border security.

There very well may be legitimate reasons for GOP congressmen to raise objections to President Bush's immigration proposal. But many - especially the Southeners (yes, that's stereotyping at its best) - just seem to be using the issue for political posturing, and to advance certain racist and bigotted agendas."
Yoan Hermida
OK at least one Cuban that don't suck

US admits attack target contained a mosque

Iraqi and American special forces who attacked an insurgent headquarters in Baghdad were not aware that their target contained a mosque until after the battle, America's most senior soldier said yesterday.

General Peter Pace, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, was responding to 48 hours of unremitting criticism over the controversial raid, which Iraqi radicals claim resulted in the deaths of 21 unarmed worshippers and an imam.

The admission that US and Iraqi forces had entered a compound housing a religious site will stoke Arab fury.

But America's defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, branded accusations of a massacre "a lie" and said the operation had resulted in the freeing of a hostage and the capture of weapons including rocket-propelled grenades. "Those are not religious instruments," he commented.

Gen Pace said that the operation had been led by Iraqi special forces, although it included American special forces seeking to track down a Shia terrorist base where kidnap victims were held.

As they approached a large rectangular building they came under heavy fire. "The Iraqi forces themselves went into the main target areas. This is the building inside of which, once they got in there, they found a small minaret and a prayer room … [which] some people are calling a mosque," Gen Pace said.

Pictures issued by Moqtada al-Sadr's radical Shia militia purported to show bodies lying on the floor of the room. Gen Pace said he did not know if American forces had fired during the operation, or whether the dead were killed in the room.

The new version of events appeared to contradict earlier US military accounts that suggested that Sadr's men had moved corpses to make it appear that the Americans had desecrated a religious site. But Mr Rumsfeld was unapologetic about the hesitant and belated account.

"The US government has not got to the point where we are as deft and clever and facile and quick as the enemy that is perfectly capable of lying, having it printed all over the world, and there's no penalty for having lied."

Pictures of the corpses temporarily stalled talks on forming a new Iraqi government.

President Jalal Talabani has demanded that those "responsible" be punished and the governor of Baghdad said he had cut all ties to US forces.

The walled compound is a former Ba'ath party building, known to have been taken over by radical militiamen.

A call to action.


The situation in Baghdad is deteriorating from day to day. I have warned about this long ago. The "insurrection" is lead by the Baathists, without any doubt, and they are converging on Baghdad and seriously bent on taking over. They are creating havoc in in the capital. Very soon, if this situation continues like this the city is going to be brought to a complete standstill and paralysis. The confusion and conflict between the Americans, the army and the Ministry of interior is producing a situation where the citizens don't know anymore whether the security personel in the street are friends, enemies, terrorists or simply criminals and thieves. Everybody is wearing the same uniforms. Whole sections of the city have virtually fallen to gangs and terrorists, and this is sepecially true for the "Sunni" dominated neighborhoods. People and businesses are being robbed and the employees kidnapped en mass in broad daylight and with complete ease as though security forces are non-existent, although we see them everwhere.

I don't know anymore what can be done to rescue the situation. At least, those who are supposed to be in positions of responsibility should stop lying and painting a false picture. It has to be admitted that the city is under siege and has become the front battle line. Emergency measures have to be put in place immediately, otherwise as everbody in Baghdad knows, the whole city is going to fall soon. I regret sounding so pessimistic, but the alarm must be sounded with the loudest volume possible, since what is happening is Baghdad is something really awful.

Regarding the latest developements connected to the relations between the Americans and the Shiaas, things are getting even more confused. If I have time and inclination I might post about this "weekend".

Regards to all my friends.
The Mesopotamian

I posted this in full because my friends this is a call for help. Put down the partisan hats and step up to the plate. Now is the time for action.

We Cuban's suck

I have said it before we Cubans are spineless shitbags. The whole nation has witness the immigrant communities of this country rise up to be counted, yet here in Miami and throughout all the other Cuban colonies in this country, which are vast, not one word. Not one Cuban community has stood up with our brother immigrant communities. Why you might ask If you did not know we Cubans, the spineless shitbags that we are get a special deal, currently known as wet foot dry foot. That's right all we have to do is put a foot on dry US land and we're in, wait one year and one day turn in your paperwork and a green card is on the way. So I guess we did not want to rock the boat, and maybe screw our great deal. But what spineless shitbags we are to turn our backs on the rest of the world, as long as we're doing fine.

madtom (with a big bag over his head)

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

My Gun is My Law

"I thought I was having a nightmare of someone shooting outside my house. “Wake up,” my mother shook me off. “Don’t panic,” she said. “Some one is shooting at the corner of the street.” I then realized that it wasn’t a nightmare; it was real.

In my night clothes, I ran grapping my jeans pants and my cell phone. I thought I may need them in case we run away from the house. In these few moments dozens of thoughts came to mind. I first thought these were the “men in black” breaking into the houses of my Sunni neighbors trying to kill them, then I thought these might be Sunni insurgent trying to break into the houses of the few Shiite families that live in the same street, including ours. In all cases, we were scared but calm. Well, of course, we are used to these things."
Treasure of baghdad

Another Day, Another Sorrow

"Two years ago, my friend and fellow Iraqi blogger Al-Baghdadi packed his bags and moved his family to Jordan. The least he knew at the time is that sadness will follow him to Jordan. Last June, thugs roaming streets of Baghdad kidnapped his younger brother and killed him afterward. Yet, that wasn't the end of his sorrows.

Yesterday morning, I received an e-mail from Al-Baghdadi to inform me of more bad news:"
Fayrouz in Beaumont
Yes it would seem that there is a very large appetite for revenge, and nothing is going to stop them from taking their share.

Following yesterday's raid...

"The Iraqi government, or more precisely the UIA part of it is obviously so outraged by the joint US-Iraqi army raid on al-Mustafa husseiniya that took place in eastern Baghdad yesterday.

Actually the reactions to this incident are so intense compared the reactions when 30 or 40 beheaded or strangled bodies are found on nearly daily basis in Baghdad in a way that it makes me question the intentions of this part of the government even more; this incident has received more attention and was met by more objections that it deserves, or to be more accurate; other more worrisome and tragic deaths in Iraq are receiving far less attention that they should be. Everyday there are new dead bodies found in and around Baghdad yet no one bothers to open an investigation. Why is this one receiving special treatment?"

Badr Demands Khalilzad's Expulsion

"Some Shiites, according to al-Hayat, are saying that the US is deliberately attempting to provoke a civil war in Iraq. Among their concerns was the US military's announcement that the attack on the Mustafa Husayniyah in Ur was the work of an Iraqi military unit. Which unit? Where? To whom does it report? Is it little more than a death squad? Is it commanded by the Americans? Why didn't the Prime Minister know about this attack, which spilled over on Dawa Party offices? PM Jaafari is a member of the Dawa Party.

The Badr Organization, a political party that represents the paramilitary Badr Corps, the Shiite militia of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, demanded Monday that Zalmay Khalilzad, the US ambassador to Iraq, be expelled from that country"
Juan Cole

The Iraq box

"As a boy, I visited my grandfather’s childhood through his box of memories. Stowed underneath his bed, grandpa pulled out the “box” every Christmas. We gathered around our wise hero and listened as he spoke of his first horse; his mean uncle who road with the bank-robber “Pretty Boy Floyd;” and of course, his days in the military, which consumed most of the stories.

I didn’t realize how influential that box had been on my life until I returned home from Iraq. As the months went by, I felt the need to create my own box. I call it my “Iraq box.” Here’s what’s inside:"
In Iraq for 365

The crime against the worshipers in Almostafa mosque

"Below is some pictures from the ugly crime against Almostafa mosque during the sunset prayer in Baghdad."

My Translations and commentary on the Iraqi papers. Enjoy!

"The Iraqi TV, al-Iraqiyya, continues its coverage of the raid on the mosque in Sadr City as the number of deaths went up from 17 to 20. The problem is that Iraqi "main stream" religious leaders are in rage. Of course this will help them exploit the situation to their political advantage. The have been given the short end of the stick lately and such incident immediately after the Samarra shrine bombing and the continued violence against the Shia by terrorists will make it very hard to ask the Shia to give any concessions (not that they should more than they have in the ideal world).
When the normally patient politicians like Jawad al-Maliki speak about the operations by American forces as "criminal" we should be alarmed. The TV showed graphic pictures of dead people whose bodies have sustained more than just bullets. Eye witnesses claim they were tortured before they were killed.

I am not vouching for the truth in this news. The role of this blog is to tell you what Iraqis are told and how this will affect the public opinion."
Abbas Kadhim

Monday, March 27, 2006

Pentagon report on Iraq intelligence politically motivated - FM

MOSCOW, March 27 (RIA Novosti) - Russia's foreign minister said Monday that a Pentagon report alleging Russia passed intelligence to Iraq during the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of the country was politically motivated.

"The way it was done suggests that there is a political subtext to this, and that this could be linked with the situation in Iraq," Sergei Lavrov said.

Lavrov said the United States had made no official approaches to Moscow over the issue.

"I have read about the publications and about official statements connected with the publication," he said. "More than that I don't know, because no American officials have approached us."

Lavrov said he was puzzled that the media rather than official channels had been used in the affair.
RIA Novosti

Marines helping to line up Sunnis for Iraq's army U.S. military seeks to diversify a mostly Shiite fighting force

Qaim, Iraq -- They came by the hundreds. Iraqi men, mostly young but a few graybeards, milling about the desert or squatting in the sand with their robes tucked between their legs and turbans fluttering in the breeze.

It's recruiting day. These men have come to join the Iraqi army.

They are Sunni Arabs from tribes that populate the vast desert region to the west along the Syrian border.

No one looks very happy. Some have come from many miles away. Some have never left home before. They are joining an army that is often attacked by insurgents. Some may very well die in the coming weeks, months, years.

"They come out here at great personal risk," said Capt. John Black of Stockton, an officer with 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment out of Twentynine Palms (San Bernardino County). "They can't find jobs around here, so this is the best they can do."

The 1st Battalion controls this area of Anbar province and helped with the recruiting drive, which was coordinated by the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force headquarters based in Fallujah.

It's part of the U.S. military effort to get more Sunni Muslims into the Iraqi army. The idea is to make the army more representative of Iraq's ethnic makeup than the overwhelmingly Shiite force that it now is.

To that end, U.S. military recruiting teams have been going around the province passing out flyers, making announcements over radio stations and coordinating with various tribal sheikhs and city officials.

Lt. Col. Nick Marano, 1/7 battalion commander, said the sheikhs from the Qaim region had promised to send about 1,500 men to join the army. On Saturday, nearly 400 showed up. It was the first of several recruiting days the Marines planned to conduct.

"A lot of these guys were insurgents," Marano said with a smile. "It wasn't long ago we were shooting at them. But that's OK. If they're here, they're ready to join the army. They can make some money and stay out of trouble."

It was cold when the Iraqis arrived early in the morning. The surrounding countryside is mostly desert, bisected by the Euphrates River. The recruits gathered in a taped-off square in an open field, about a quarter-mile off the main highway that runs into Qaim, and eventually to Syria, though the border is currently closed.

A gruff Iraqi sergeant major passed a handheld metal detector over each man's body. He occasionally spoke softly, appearing to offer encouragement or welcoming the volunteers to his world.

"These men good, very good," he said, a grin cracking his leathery face. "My cousin, my cousin, my cousin."

The gathering area was adjacent to a vehicle checkpoint operated by the Iraqi army and protected by a full-time Marine contingent with armored vehicles and heavy weapons.

An M1 Abrams tank stood watch, its big gun pointed in the direction of the highway where cars lined up while drivers waited for their turn to pass through the checkpoint.

Marano acknowledged he brought a lot of firepower to the site.

"This is a juicy target for the insurgents," he said. "You've seen what they do in Baghdad, drive a car bomb into these kinds of crowds. We're not going to let that happen."

It was a simple and quick recruiting drive.

The Americans taped off a pathway that led from the open field to the Marine compound, where tents were set up for the screening process. Inside, Iraqi translators checked each potential recruit. The men stripped down to their boxer shorts so they could go through rudimentary physicals. And they were given a brief literacy test.

Those who passed got an A on the back of their hands. Those who failed got an X.

About half the men were rejected. One was sent home because he had tried to scratch off his tattoos. The screeners said he had engaged in self-mutilation. They said he had a "personality abnormality." Nearly all the rest were sent away because they could not read or write.

A lot of the men who were rejected responded angrily. A number of them tried to wash away the X and get back into the recruitment line. Finally, they walked away, shouting in Arabic back to the other men who were still waiting.

Maj. Timothy Burton, who works for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, the highest Marine headquarters in Anbar, shook his head while he talked about the rejections.

"I think we need to look at schooling these guys," he said. "Maybe the solution is to make basic training a little longer for the ones who can't read. We can teach them to read there. Otherwise, we just make them more resentful. A lot of these men came a long way to join and then got turned away."

No one standing in line spoke English. A couple of men said through a translator that they were joining to help their country and help their families.

One said he joined because his brother had been killed by an insurgent bomb.

"I want to shoot terrorists," he said, his face tightening into a hard scowl.

After a long morning of screening, those who passed were loaded onto 7-ton trucks and taken to the Marine base outside Qaim to await transportation to basic training.

Later, they were loaded aboard big CH-53 helicopters. For most of them, it was the first time they'd ever been in an aircraft.

It was a rude awakening. Many needed help just putting on the seat belt. Although it flies fast, it's a bumpy ride, almost an hour, to the air base at Al Asad. A lot of Iraqi recruits threw up into plastic bags as the heavy helicopter pitched and rolled with the wind.

Finally, they were down, waiting for another leg of a trip that would take them to Habbaniya, where the Iraqis have a basic-training facility.

They will be there for five weeks. Then, it's on to an army unit, and the war.


Female Iraqi blogger nominated for UK book prize

LONDON (Reuters) - The anonymous female author of an Iraqi "blog", whose Web site entitled "Baghdad Burning" mixes humour, despair and acerbic political commentary, has been nominated for a major literary prize in Britain.

Known only as Riverbend, the self-styled "Girl Blog from Iraq" has been sending regular dispatches since August 2003.

In her first entry, she wrote: "I'm female, Iraqi and 24. I survived the war. That's all you need to know. It's all that matters these days anyway".

Soon afterwards she explained how she lost her job in a computer software company when it was deemed too dangerous for her to go to work.

The online diary was collected and issued by Marion Boyars Publishers in 2005, and that book has made it on to the longlist of the annual Samuel Johnson Prize for contemporary non-fiction, the winner of which wins 30,000 pounds.

A spokeswoman for the publisher, which knows Riverbend's identity, said a second edition of "Baghdad Burning" was due to be released in paperback in April or May this year.

In her latest entry on dated March 18, 2006, Riverbend reflects on how Iraq has changed since the U.S.-led invasion in March, 2003.

Like many others, she is most concerned about the growing divide between the Sunni and Shi'ite sects of Islam, a divide she says barely existed in her childhood. It is now fuelling violence that has been described by some as civil war.

"The thing most worrisome about the situation now, is that discrimination based on sect has become so commonplace," Riverbend wrote.

"Even the most cynical war critics couldn't imagine the country being this bad three years after the war ... God protect us from the fourth year."

Also on the longlist of 19 titles are Alan Bennett's "Untold Stories", "Bad Faith" by Carmen Callil, "The Cold War" by John Lewis Gaddis and Jane Glover's "Mozart's Women".

The winner of the BBC Four Samuel Johnson Prize will be announced in London on June 14.


Gear Adrift…

"…is a gift, or so the saying goes. In the Marine Corps we live in a strange world of absolute integrity alongside the knowledge that anything not locked up or on your person could be ganked at any time. It is never permissible to steal. Never. But if someone’s belongings have been left so as to leave open to question the intent of the owner to retain those belongings, that gear may very well be adrift…and, consequentially, be a gift to whoever might find it. Let me explain.

My roommate had been lacking a wall locker since we moved into our trailer. He had tried repeatedly to procure one through the proper means, all to no avail. Finally, as I walked to our trailer one day to change into PT clothes, I struck gold. By the beard of Zeus, a wall locker and a mini-frig were conspicuously sitting outside a seemingly abandoned trailer! It appeared the trailer was being cleaned after the previous inhabitants had vacated it. I immediately rushed to my trailer to inform my roommate. He was nowhere to be found. I decided to go ahead and carry on my routine in order to give the owners of this equipment time to claim it, should they desire."
Midnight in Iraq

69 Killed in Separate Outbreaks of Violence

"All hell broke loose in Iraq on Sunday, but I'm darned if I can figure out most of what happened or why. It seems possible that the US committed two major military blunders that will worsen its relationship with Iraqi political forces.

So they found 30 decapitated bodies near Buhriz, an old Baath stronghold in Diyala northeast of Baghdad. Those killed were a mix of Shiites and Sunnis.

Then a mortar shell landed near the house in Najaf of Muqtada al-Sadr, the nationalist Shiite cleric whose followers are already upset with Sunnis over the blowing up of the Askariyah Shrine in Samarra. There were casualties, but Muqtada wasn't harmed. Everyone just dodged a bullet along with Muqtada, since if the mortar had killed him, Iraq would have been thrown into even greater chaos."
Juan Cole
Damn just when a mortar could have come in handy the damn thing missed!

American forces crime against the worshipers

"The American forces in Baghdad committed a criminal act by a raid on a mosque (Al-Mostafa Hussiayniyah) in Ur district in Baghdad. These forces invaded the mosque during the Sunset prayer. The worshipers were armless doing their prayers. The American forces were heavily armed and supported by helicopters. They collected the worshipers in one room and open fire on them!

At least 37 worshipers were instantly killed by the American soldiers while arresting others.

For the last 3 years Iraq became a place for death, torture, disappearances, kidnapping, lack of security, and no progress to rebuild what was destroyed by the war."
We are slowly loosing even our best supporters in Iraq, very soon there will be no one left in Iraq that supports our actions. We will be forced to turn our guns on the people themselves if nothing is done. Something must be done, someone need to step up to the challenge and bring order back to the streets.

Iraq is under control... but by whom?!

"For Khidhr Mahallawi, the chalk and the blackboard were his only friends. He didn’t know they will be the reasons behind his murder.

Mahallawi, a 35-year-old teacher of English was a resident of Ramadi, a restive city west of Baghdad. He wasn't able to stop ten armed men who broke into the classroom. “Your teacher is an agent to the CIA,” the terrorists told the students whose eyes were staring.

Panicked by the scene, the students hurried away from the classroom except some who were not able to. They saw their teacher beheaded in front of them. The terrorists used one of the desks as their altar.

Mahallawi "looked at us just like he was telling us that we do not have to be scared. Even as we were running out of the door, his looks were still telling us that nothing will happen and we do not have to be scared," the Washington Post quoted a student, whose father asked that his name not be used. "I heard him screaming for a few seconds, then stop screaming."

Later, the group Al-Qaeda in Iraq, which is responsible for most of the brutal attacks here, issued a statement considering the beheaded teacher a “CIA and occupation agent.” Their statement which was signed by “The Mujaheddin Shura”, a recently formed council of terrorist groups believed to be led by al-Qaeda in Iraq was hanged of a Ramadi local mosque. “The Mujahideen warned him several times. He claimed he stopped working with them but he continued,” the statement read."
Treasure of Baghdad

Americans Clash with Mahdi Miltiamen

"American forces clashed with Mahdi army militiamen at the Ur district (Hayy Ur), west of Sadr city in Baghdad. It seems an American force attempted to raid a husseiniya in the area and was resisted by militiamen inside.

Between 18 and 21 militiamen have been killed, and the Al-Mustafa Husseiniya was reported to be badly damaged in the ensuing firefight"
Healing Iraq
Thanks Zeyad this insident was already being packaged as another American slaughter

Fukuyama at the Crossroads

"The historian Francis Fukuyama has attracted a lot of attention because of the shift of his position on the war on terror. I have yet to read his latest book, "America at the Crossroads," which was reviewed in both the Washington Post and the New York Times today. But I am already alarmed by some of the ideas under discussion. For example, according to the Post essay,"

Abbas responds

"The Iraqi official TV (al-Iraqiyya) displayed some carnage in a Shi'i mosque (husayniyyat al-Mustafa) where the men inside claim that US and Iraqi forces attacked the place during a service held for the anniversary of the Prophet's death. A man said that the attacking forces used excessive force and killed many people, including the custodian and some worshippers."
Abbas Kadhim
Abbas has also answered my comments on his last post
Hi Tom,
Glad that you continue to check in often.

I talk about oranges and you talk about apples. I do agree with your point on the repressive nature of the state in Saddam'e days. I lived through that and know it first hand. but let me remind you that Iraqis are losing up to 100 people a day as we speak. If this rate continues in the same random manner, Saddam's days will look like a piece of cake. I am sure you agree.

The point of this war -- according to the latest given rationale -- is to make things better for Iraqis. Iraq now has the same level of corruption, if not more than what was in Saddam's days; the same level of loss in Iraqi lives, if not more; and, yes, I stand by my statement: in the 24 years I lived in Iraq I never feared to be attacked on the street, kidnapped, or harmed in anyway in a day or a night at the hands of terrorists, foreign fighters or common criminals.

It seems that we told Saddam: We see your corrupt government and raise you complete chaos and lawlessness.

I don't understand, nor do I accept, the mindset that considers criticizing the current disgraceful conditions in Iraq as a tribute to Saddam's time. Far from it. The first step toward making a difference in Iraq is to rise above any comparison with Saddam, no matter what the outcome of such comparison might be.

p.s. I am interested to see that you focused on the quote from the minister of interior (a Shi'i) and ignored the similar quote from the minister of defense who is a Sunni and is not accused of abuses. He said the same thing."
Abbas Kadhim
My first comment is that I was not chastising him about the criticizing the current situation, nor was it my intent to accuse him of "tribute to Saddam's time.". After reading the comments and thinking about the current state of affairs here in the US, I think I understand why he took it that way, but that was never my intent. When I said "

"If I did not know better I would swear Abbas has been reading my blog. :) needless to say I agree with much of what he said, not all mind you"

I was agreeing with his criticisms of the current situation on the ground "complete chaos and lawlessness." does not seem strong enough to characterize what Iraq is going through now. My objections come from the fact that your essay was for a ME audience and was published in a ME paper were the readers are regularly treated to pieces like This brought to us through the work of another great Iraq blogger IraqiPundit and where you would seem to be adding to the dictator worship of the region. This was what I took from your piece and this mindset was what I was trying to oppose.

PS wouldn't it be easier if you just open you comments again

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Personal Iraq Diary: 4 September 2004.

"Yesterday we gave a right-seat ride to 5-20 to show them around the city since we are going down south. Before going out we collected all the candy and what-nots from the care packages sent to us and put it in a trash bag. While out on the patrol we threw it out to all the kids we saw. They lost their minds. "
Candle in the Dark

Rehearsing Hell In A Baghdad Street!

"It is a perfect example of the traditional image of Hell we have in our minds. Five-foot height flaming fire spots a few yards apart from each other lightning up the dark and quiet street. In front of you, only the small red lights of cars. They look like demons’ eyes gazing at you through a curtain of smoke. Every time you ignore them and your mind leaves the scene, they come closer to you. You hit the brakes in panic."
24 Steps to Liberty

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Iraq hostages 'were saved by rift among kidnappers'

The British hostage Norman Kember and his two Canadian colleagues owe their freedom to a rift among their Iraqi kidnappers, a western security source close to the rescue operation said yesterday.
The source said their guards got cold feet when more senior and ruthless members of the group turned up at the house in Baghdad and took away a fourth hostage, Mr Kember's American colleague, Tom Fox, and shot him dead.

Mr Kember, 74, a Christian peace activist, is due to arrive home in Britain today. He was transported from the British embassy in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone yesterday to catch a plane from the international airport.

Before leaving, he said: "I have had the opportunity to have a shave, relax in a bath and have a good English breakfast. I'm very much looking forward to getting home to British soil and to being reunited with my family."

However, the head of the British army, General Sir Mike Jackson, expressed disappointment last night that Mr Kember, an avowed pacifist, did not thank those who had saved him.

The general told Channel 4 news he was "saddened that there does not seem to have been a note of gratitude for the soldiers who risked their lives to save those lives".

Mr Kember and the two Canadians, who are also due to fly home today, were found bound in a house in western Baghdad on Thursday morning in an SAS-led operation, part of Task Force Black, which is made up of SAS troops and MI6 officers hunting hostages and Iraqi war criminals. The kidnappers had fled.

Although Tony Blair, the defence secretary, John Reid, and the foreign secretary, Jack Straw, praised the bravery of the British forces and months of intelligence work required to secure their release, the source said it was nervousness on the part of the guards that led to a tip-off to the British authorities and the peaceful end to the three men's ordeal. The source said Mr Kember and his colleagues were well treated throughout. "They were able to watch TV and movies, were given writing materials, were well fed, and encouraged to exercise and keep in shape," the source said.

Six Iraqis are in custody, accused of being in the gang, and are being interrogated by British intelligence to try to find clues which might help locate other hostages, including the American Jill Carroll and two Germans, Thomas Nitzschke and Rene Braeunlich. A British official said there was no direct link between Mr Kember's kidnappers and those holding Ms Carroll, but "it is possible the information might lead to other networks".

The more senior members of the gang responsible for Mr Fox's murder were part of one of the Islamist insurgent groups, either Jaish al-Mujahideen or al-Jabha al-Islamiya. The group made a series of political demands, in particular that the US and Britain release all prisoners held in Iraq. They threatened to kill the hostages if their demands were not met.

But the guards holding Mr Kember and his colleagues were part of a cell motivated by money rather than politics. "It's a bit absurd that they consider themselves innocent, even though they were looking for money. They don't see themselves as criminals," the source said. "The guards were involved, which is why it was a soft operation. They played a significant role in allowing the authorities to find the hostages."

He added: "The death of Fox changed the whole thing. Someone higher up the chain took him away. Because the ante had gone up and it had become more serious, it's quite possible that the operation began to open up and they got nervous about the repercussion." He said the "higher-ups" who took Mr Fox did not initially intend to kill him. Examination of his body found dumped by a road two weeks ago did not show signs of torture, as first reported, the source insisted. Nor did he seem to have been killed execution-style. It was more likely that there was a scuffle or an attempt to run away which led to his death.

Mr Kember and his colleagues did not know until they were freed that Mr Fox was dead. Peggy Gish, of the Christian Peacemakers Team, said yesterday that the three hostages had not seen Mr Fox since February 12. British officials said MI6 and military intelligence officials had debriefed Mr Kember to try to find clues to the location of other hostages, and about the tactics, weaponry and other details of the insurgent group. A more thorough debriefing will take place in Britain.


Iraq Qaeda Chief Seems to Pursue a Lower Profile

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian terrorist and the head of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, has sharply lowered his profile in recent months, and his group claims to have submitted itself to the leadership of an Iraqi.

In postings on Web sites used by jihadi groups, Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the terrorist network's arm in Iraq, claims to have joined with five other guerrilla groups to form the Mujahedeen Shura, or Council of Holy Warriors. The new group, whose formation was announced in January, is said to be headed by an Iraqi named Abdullah Rashid al-Baghdadi. Since then, Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia has stopped issuing its own proclamations.

The Mujahedeen Shura, which continues to call for attacks against American and Iraqi forces, has stopped taking responsibility for large-scale suicide attacks against civilians, and it has toned down its fierce verbal attacks against Iraq's Shiite majority.

Mr. Zarqawi's group also appears to have stopped, at least for now, the practice of beheading its captives. Since last summer, the group has begun to carry out attacks outside Iraq.

The activities seem to follow closely the advice in a letter believed to have been written last year by Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al Qaeda's second in command.

Previously, Mr. Zarqawi's group celebrated large-scale civilian massacres, and often made videos of the attacks and of beheadings and posted the videos on jihadi Web sites. Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, which is dominated by followers of Islam's Sunni sect, also boasted of the mass killing of Shiite civilians, whom it labeled derogatorily as "converters."

While it is impossible to verify the claims on the Web sites, experts believe it significant that Mr. Zarqawi apparently feels the need to send such signals, which offer clues about what he and other senior jihadi leaders might be thinking and doing.

Since the announcement of the Mujahedeen Shura in January, Mr. Zarqawi has stayed largely out of view. His last public statement, released a few days before the announcement, ranted in typical fashion against Americans and Jews but gave no sign that changes were afoot.

American and Iraqi officials, as well as independent terrorism experts, are divided on the signals from Al Qaeda. Most believe that Mr. Zarqawi is alive, in Iraq, and still in charge of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. They say the group remains the leading suspect in the Feb. 22 attack against the Shiite shrine in Samarra, which set off a wave of sectarian violence. No group has taken responsibility for that attack.

Sectarian attacks have helped bring Iraq to the brink of full-scale civil war. A document obtained by the Americans in January 2004, and believed to have been written by Mr. Zarqawi, calls for attacks on Shiites in order to bring about a sectarian bloodbath.

American and Iraqi officials concede that they know little about the Mujahedeen Shura or of Mr. Baghdadi or, indeed, whether they exist at all. The officials say the proclamations by Al Qaeda and the Mujahedeen Shura, as well as the claim that an Iraqi is in charge, are probably ploys to give the illusion of changes that have not taken place.

"Propaganda is a critical component of his efforts, and that's what's involved here," said an American intelligence official. "It's a shift in tactics, not a real change."

In the letter thought to have been written by Mr. Zawahiri, an Egyptian physician believed to be hiding along the mountainous border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, Mr. Zarqawi was told that he needed to cultivate local support in Iraq to ensure the survival of his movement. The letter was captured by the Americans last summer.

The letter suggested a role for a council that would unite the various insurgent groups and help lay the political groundwork for the day the Americans depart.

It also questioned Mr. Zarqawi's emphasis on killing Shiites, suggesting that such killings alienated Iraqis and detracted from the larger goal of driving out the Americans. For the same reasons, the letter said, it was not necessary to cut off the heads of captives. "We can kill the captives by bullet," the letter said.

The letter also called for Mr. Zarqawi to "extend the jihad to secular countries neighboring Iraq." In recent months, Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia has taken responsibility for a number of attacks outside the country, including the suicide bombing of three hotels in Amman, Jordan, in November, which killed more than 57 people. The group has also said it fired rockets from Lebanon into Israel last December, and a pair of missiles at American naval vessels in Aqaba, Jordan, last August.

"Zarqawi wanted to hand over Al Qaeda to the Iraqis so he could move on to the next phase of jihad," said Rita Katz, the director of the SITE Institute, which tracks violent Islamist groups. Ms. Katz recently made such an argument in an opinion article in The Boston Globe.

Bruce Hoffman, a terrorist expert at the Rand Corporation's Washington office, said he believed that the Mujahedeen Shura and Mr. Baghdadi were real, but was unconvinced that Mr. Zarqawi had ceded control of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. Having brought the country to the brink of civil war, Mr. Zarqawi may have decided that it was a good time to step back as events in Iraq unfold, Mr. Hoffman said, "like a poker player."

There are other reasons why Mr. Zarqawi might want to take a less prominent role in Iraq. As a Jordanian, Mr. Zarqawi is a foreigner in Iraq, where family and blood lines count for a lot. In recent months, evidence has surfaced that Iraqi guerrillas resent the dominance of foreigners in the insurgency.

In addition, there have been growing indications that the large-scale suicide bombings directed at civilians were alienating Arab backers outside the country as well as ordinary Iraqis. Mr. Zarqawi is believed to depend heavily on money provided by Arabs from outside of Iraq.

The suicide attacks on the three Jordanian hotels set off a wave of popular anger so furious that Mr. Zarqawi released an audio tape to explain his actions. Mr. Zarqawi did not apologize for the attacks — far from it — but he was clearly stunned by the vehemence of the reaction. "As for those Muslims who were killed," Mr. Zarqawi said on the tape, "we have not thought for even one moment about targeting them, even if they are sinful people."

Ms. Katz, the director of SITE, which provided the translations of his statements, said that even if he had stepped back, Mr. Zarqawi was probably still the dominant force in Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia.

Mr. Zarqawi has long made it clear that he sees Iraq as a stepping stone to the larger goal of overthrowing what he believes to be corrupt and secular regimes across the Arab world and re-establishing the Islamic Caliphate that reigned over the Middle East for centuries.

Whatever Mr. Zarqawi is up to, the successor organization, the Mujahedeen Shura, has lost no vehemence. In one of its most recent communiqués, it celebrated an attack on an American Humvee it claimed to have carried out this week in Miqadadiya, Iraq.

"A car bomb was detonated on a Crusader support patrol, resulting in the destruction of the Humvee and all who were in it," the statement said. "Thanks unto God."


Update 7: Senators Pressure Iraq As Gunbattle Rages

As a gunbattle raged south of Baghdad Saturday, two key U.S. senators told Iraqi leaders that American patience was growing thin and they needed to urgently overcome their stalemate and form a national unity government.

Seven people died and 24 were wounded in the clash between forces of the Shiite Mahdi Army militia and Sunni insurgents near Mahmoudiya, about 20 miles south of the capital, according to police and doctors.

The delegation led by Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican who supported the invasion of Iraq, was the second group of top American politicians in less than a week to journey to Baghdad to pressure Iraqi leaders to speed the process of forming a government.

"I come away with the impression that the Iraqi leaders understand the sense of urgency we have conveyed to them. We all know the polls show declining support among the American people," McCain said at a news conference. "So I am guardedly optimistic that this will happen within weeks."

Wisconsin Democrat and war opponent Sen. Russell Feingold joined McCain in pressing for the quick formation of a government, but he also declared his concern that the continued presence of American forces was prolonging the conflict.

"It's the reality of a situation like this that when you have a large troop presence that it has the tendency to fuel the insurgency because they can make the incorrect and unfair claim that somehow the United States is here to occupy this country, which of course is not true," Feingold said.

Before speaking with reporters in the heavily fortified Green Zone, the American politicians met with President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, who has formed a coalition of with Sunni and secular politicians against a second term for Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari.

The move deepened the stalemate more than three months after the Dec. 15 parliamentary elections.

The U.S. politicians met separately with Talabani and al-Jaafari as well as the U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. George Casey.

Earlier Saturday, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad told assembled Iraqi athletes assembled at a community sports center that the country was at a "defining moment."

"As I speak Iraqi leaders are struggling to form a government of national unity. This is a critical step for the future of Iraq, it's a defining moment," Khalilzad said.

The main challenge, the U.S. envoy said, was "to overcome the strife that threatens to rip apart Iraq."

On Tuesday, Sen. John Warner, R-Va., who is chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and Michigan Sen. Carl Levin, the ranking Democrat on the panel, delivered the same tough message to Talabani and al-Jaafari.

They too warned that Americans were running out of patience and could force U.S. leaders to decrease troop strength if the delays in forming a government continued.

In other violence Saturday, a female teacher was killed by Iraqi soldiers as she drove past their convoy, police said.

Gunmen also killed a Sunni mosque preachers when he stopped to have his car repaired in west Baghdad.

Earlier, a bomb exploded in a traffic police hut in north Baghdad, killing four civilians. Five people, including a traffic policeman, were wounded in the attack near the Iraqi Finance Ministry, police said.

Three people in a car were killed by gunmen in the northern city of Mosul and two were wounded, one critically police said.

In Balabroz, 55 miles northeast of Baghdad, two men were killed and three wounded when a roadside bomb exploded near a police checkpoint, authorities said.

Iraqi police also found two more bodies, with their hands and legs tied and shots to the head. One was in southeastern Baghdad; the second was floating in the Tigris River, 55 miles south of the capital.

On Friday, at least 51 other people were reported to have died in violence, including two U.S. soldiers killed in western Anbar province.

Perhaps anticipating the meeting with the American delegation, Talabani on Friday issued a highly optimistic report on progress toward hammering out the shape of a new unity government.

He said the government could be in place for parliamentary approval by the end of the month, though he acknowledged "I am usually a very optimistic person." He spoke to reporters after a fifth round of multiparty talks among the country's polarized political factions.

Khalilzad brokered the sessions, with the Bush administration applying extreme pressure on Iraqi politicians to form a government. Washington hopes to begin withdrawing troops this summer, banking on a decrease in violence once a national unity government is in place.

A less optimistic al-Jaafari has said a Cabinet list could be ready by the end of April, a full month beyond the Talabani estimate


Russia Denies Giving Intelligence to Iraq

MOSCOW -- Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service on Saturday denied that Moscow provided information on U.S. troop movements and plans to Baghdad during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

The statement came a day after the release of an unclassified Pentagon report that cited two captured Iraqi documents that say the Russians collected information from sources "inside the American Central Command" and that battlefield intelligence was provided to then-Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein through the Russian ambassador in Baghdad.

The report also said the Russian government had sources inside the American military command as it planned and executed the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

"Similar, baseless accusations concerning Russia's intelligence have been made more than once," Foreign Intelligence Service spokesman Boris Labusov said, according to a duty officer in his department. "We don't consider it necessary to comment on such fabrications."

The unclassified report does not assess the value or accuracy of the information Saddam got or offer details on Russia's information pipeline. Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for Russia's U.N. mission in New York, also said Friday the allegations were false.

"To my mind, from my understanding it's absolutely nonsense and it's ridiculous," she said, adding that the U.S. government had not shown Russia the evidence cited in the report. "Somebody wants to say something, and did _ and there is no evidence to prove it."

Pavel Felgenhauer, a respected independent Moscow-based military analyst, said Friday that the report was within the realm of possibility.

"It's quite plausible," he told The Associated Press.

He said a unit affiliated with the Defense Ministry's Main Intelligence Department, known by its abbreviation GRU, was actively working in Iraq at the time of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The unit apparently was shut down after the fall of Baghdad.

He said at that time a Russian Internet site called "The Ramzay Files" was causing a stir in Moscow's military and diplomatic community. The site, which was shut down after the invasion, posted striking insights, predictions and analysis into U.S. military activities as well Iraqi military and intelligence activities, he said.

He said former GRU officials told him that the type of information that was being posted _ both on the Iraqis and on the Americans _ appeared to be the kind of information that only highly placed Russian intelligence officials in Iraq would have had access to.

Russian intelligence officials repeatedly have denied having any links with Iraqi spy services.


U.S. envoy urges crackdown on Iraq militias

BAGHDAD, March 25 (Reuters) - The U.S. ambassador urged Iraq's divided leaders to rein in militias on Saturday as political blocs failed again to break a deadlock on forming a unity government that they hope can avert civil war.

Zalmay Khalilzad, who is pressing hard for a government more than three months after elections, issued a tough warning about the militias, many of which have ties to powerful Shi'ite leaders and are entrenched in Iraqi security forces and police.

"More Iraqis are dying from the militia violence than from the terrorists," he told reporters during a visit to a Baghdad youth centre newly renovated with U.S. funds.

"The militias need to be under control."

Iraq's Shi'ite, Kurdish and Sunni leaders held another round of talks aimed at resolving differences holding up formation of post-war Iraq's first full-term government.

Politicians told a news conference they were optimistic about forming a government.

Sunni politician Tareq al-Hashemi said talks focused on ways of building a solid political foundation for the new government.

The destruction of a Shi'ite shrine a month ago sparked a wave of reprisals that raised the prospect of pro-government Shi'ite militias pushing Iraq into civil war, nearly three years after insurgents from the once-dominant Sunni Arab minority began a campaign against the U.S.-backed authorities.

The crisis has increased pressure to form a cabinet that can avert an all-out sectarian conflict.

Police found 10 more bodies, apparent victims of sectarian violence, in different parts of Baghdad on Saturday. Many of them showed signs of torture, including some that were garrotted.

Gunmen killed a traffic policeman in central Baghdad then placed a bomb inside his booth which killed four civilians in a minibus and wounded four others, police said.

In Mahmudiya, south of Baghdad, mortar bombs hit houses, killing four people and wounding 13, police said.

Khalilzad said the government would face the daunting task of easing a Sunni Arab insurgency while dealing with militias, which have flourished since Saddam Hussein's fall in 2003.

Shi'ite militias have melded into Iraqi security forces and police and they are unlikely to want to give up their weapons at a time of raging sectarian violence.

Khalilzad renewed accusations on Friday that Iran is training, supplying and funding Shi'ite violence in Iraq.


Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Friday the United States -- probably Khalilzad -- will talk to Iran about Washington's accusations of Iranian destabilisation of Iraq, in the first public acceptance of an Iranian offer to meet.

In Tehran, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said he supported talks with the United States about Iraq but was suspicious of U.S. motives.

Washington is eager for Iraqi leaders to stabilise Iraq so that U.S. troops can go home. But a withdrawal is contingent upon the performance of Iraqi troops, who have watched Sunni insurgents kill thousands of their comrades.

Several U.S. senators visiting Iraq on Saturday said U.S. patience was running thin over Iraq, with some suggesting a continued military presence would only fuel the insurgency.

Senator John McCain, the head of the delegation, said he was guardedly optimistic that a new government would be formed "in weeks". But he suggested the conflict would drag on.

"We all acknowledge, particularly after visiting here, that this is a very long, tough enterprise and challenge that we are facing and I think the best way to treat it is to tell the American people exactly that," he told reporters.

Some Sunni Arabs have started forming organised forces as a counterweight to the likes of the Badr organisation and the Mehdi Army, both powerful Shi'ite militias, putting Iraq on the brink of full-blown civil war.

Washington is eager to see Iraqi Shi'ite, Kurdish and Sunni politicians reach a deal on a unity government that can deliver stability and enable U.S. troops to go home.

Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari said on Friday he believed the parties were now willing to compromise and urged speed.

Parliamentary polls were held in December but a row over the prime minister and sectarian violence have delayed the formation of Iraq's first full-term government since Saddam was toppled.

Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari has said he will not step down, despite pressure to do so, and is confident of the backing of his Shi'ite Alliance bloc, despite opposition from other parties. (Additional reporting by Suleiman al-Khalidi in Khartoum, Writing by Michael Georgy)


Hey someone agrees with me.

Afghan Christian convert

"Astaghfirullah, Astaghfirullah. This is misinterpretation of Sharia at its worse. There are certain criteria for a judgment concerning the death penalty and this case is extremely questionable.

The Quran does not given any orders for punishment in this world. This is up for God to decide, and it is based on many factors, including recognizing the People of the Book. This man does not threaten or belittle Islam so it would not fall under any other category. Furthermore the man has until judgment day to return to Islam and this issue is private, between him and Allah. It is not for humans to condemn, now or ever, for they do not have access to the Absolute Truth and the inner soul of this man, Abdul Rahman. It is said, if he reverts back, they will forgive him, it is not between him and them, it is between him and God."
Pearls of Iraq

Martyr of Good and Bad.......

"We are back in Baghdad or actually the Green Zone for a few days now. R&R wasnt bad, gave us some time to relax and reflect on what we wanna do. We both decided its time to leave. HUBBY feels betrayed, angry and deflated. He really has put his heart into his program, yet he was betrayed by all those around him and now he is convinced that there is nothing more for him to do here.

While on R&R, we got to watch what has been happening in Iraq...Something we dont really hear or see while being physically present. Thats why we dont consider ourselves being in the real Baghdad. The Green Zone is a far far place....far from reality....

We were actually missed around here...Colleagues were glad to see us back...some of them even hinted that they thought we were gone for good...hmm a thought that didnt escape our mind...I asked my Iraqi colleagues who live in the red zone about the situation. They said ever since the 22nd of Feb when the 2 shrines were hit things have become really bad...the explosions have become worst and the killings is now a mayhem....I ask if its civil war...some of them say yes others say no...the latter say now, be it a sunni or a shia you get killed...there is no difference. The former on the other hand, says dont believe that there isnt a civil war, there is and this current government failed. Failed with all the meaning of the word. Majority of people want Allawi, which to me is not a surprise. When I say but he is an ex baathist, their response "we would rather have someone who knows how to rule with an iron fist rather than someone who has no care in the world about the people"...."
Neurotic Iraqi Wife

I love Google Reader

"The internet Nazis that lord over our net connection have been hard at work lately, thwarting morale by blocking access to certain sites. While some restrictions like pornography and gambling sites are reasonable, their recent crusade has attacked web mail, gaming, and my personal blog. That’s right. It’s been several weeks since I viewed my own blog in its native form. It’s also prudent to point out that “gaming” sites doesn’t just include sites with online games, but sites that merely discuss video games like,, and Not viewing my blog doesn’t prevent me from posting, as long as I have email, but I cannot add reply comments, nor view comments."
Midnight in Iraq
I find this fucking amazing, not that the military is blocking site, I knew that, but that he would come out and say it after responding the way he did last week to a question from a reader:

Q: What is your opinion about the Pentagon’s decision to control every new milblog?

A: I am unaware of any such decision by the Pentagon and would have to read the details before commenting.

I guess he's become intimately aware of the details

The case of the threatening ringtones

"Those who have high hopes for a prosperous Iraq led by Moktada Al Sadr might consider re-examining their view of the future.

This story says that Al Sadr's Mahdi thugs have waged war on music, musicians, singers and cellphone ringtones. The story, out of Basra, points out that Al Sadr's gangsters have attacked singers and musicians of both sexes. During their campaign, the Mahdi thugs also have attacked shops that sell music tapes, CDs, cellphones etc."

Iraqis in Tal Afar question Bush's optimism

TAL AFAR, Iraq – U.S. President George W. Bush held up the northern town of Tal Afar this week as an example of progress being made in Iraq but many residents find it hard to share his optimism.
Bush said this week that Tal Afar has become 'a free city that gives reason for hope for a free Iraq' after U.S.-led forces freed it from al Qaeda militants in a 2005 offensive.
Although townspeople say there has been less violence since the assault, they share many of the complaints of other Iraqis watching sectarian violence tearing their country apart.

These days it is Iraq's security forces, drawn heavily from the Shi'ite majority, not Sunni Arab al Qaeda militants from nearby Syria, that make many people in Tal Afar nervous.

'When we stop at a checkpoint they ask us whether we are Sunni or Shi'ite. That is worrying. We are one people and were never divided before,' said Fatma Mohammad Ali, 38, a teacher who is a member of Tal Afar's ethnic Turkmen Shi'ite minority.

U.S. and Iraqi forces said Tal Afar was used as a conduit for smuggling in equipment and foreign fighters from Syria on the way to cities across central Iraq. In doing so, they subjected many townspeople to violence and intimidation.

Al Qaeda and other Sunni Arab insurgent violence has eased in Tal Afar since September's offensive but sectarian violence elsewhere in Iraq after the bombing of a Shi'ite shrine in Samarra last month raised fears among many people of civil war.

'I say that Bush is 100 percent a liar because the city of Tal Afar has become a ghost town rather than the example Bush spoke about,' said Ali Ibrahim, a Shi'ite Turkmen laborer.

It is hard to be sure who is behind violence that still troubles Tal Afar, 420 km (260 miles) northwest of Baghdad. A mortar round wounded six children playing in a street on Friday. Police said it was not clear who fired it.

Bush has been trying to convince a sceptical American public that he has a winning strategy for Iraq to counter fears that violence is spiralling into an all-out sectarian conflict.

'Thanks to coalition and Iraqi forces, the terrorists have now been driven out of that city,' he said of Tal Afar.

'Iraqi security forces are maintaining law and order, and we see the outlines of a free and secure Iraq that we and the Iraqi people have been fighting for,' he said. 'The success we're seeing in Tal Afar gives me confidence in the future of Iraq.'

Market bombings, roadside blasts and explosions are no longer the constant threat they were a year ago in Tal Afar. But there is still danger and the mood of many residents is grim.

A comprehensive sounding of local opinion was not possible.

But more than a dozen local people who spoke to a Reuters reporter on Friday said they had little faith in the future of their town, where the offensive fuelled sensitivities in an ethnically and religiously mixed region.

Sunni Turkmen Rafat Ahmed, 35, a shop owner said: 'As I'm talking now the Americans and the Iraqi army are surrounding my neighbourhood. If we leave our houses we could be arrested.'

The town's population of some 250,000 is dominated by Turkish-speaking ethnic Turkmen, about half Sunni Muslims and half Shi'ites. Most of the remaining 20 percent are Sunni Arabs.

The deployment last year of Iraqi troops, who were widely perceived locally as Shi'ite Arab outsiders, prompted the Sunni mayor of Tal Afar to tender his resignation in protest at what he described as a sectarian operation. The involvement of ethnic Kurdish forces was also a source of tension, local people said.

'Anyone who says Tal Afar is good and safe actually knows nothing because the reality is we are unsafe, even inside our houses, because we don't know when we'll be arrested,' said pensioner Abdul Karim al-Anizi, 60, a Shi'ite Turkmen

Some of the anger is being directed back at the U.S. forces that pushed out the militants.

'The situation in Tal Afar is deteriorating and the smell of death is everywhere. People never know why they are killed. They only know that the Americans are the cause of their agonies,' said Hussein Mahmoud, a Shi'ite Turkmen university professor.


A different view from Tal Afar

Liberation or Ransom

"The liberation of the three kidnapped westerners (Norman Kimber and his two Canadian colleagues) in Iraq remained vague.

The Iraqi official sources stated that the kidnapers have been arrested however the MNF in Iraq denied any arrest.

It is good that the kidnapped men are now free.

The operation to rescue them seems to be nothing other than a paid ransom and the concerned forces faked an operation to lift the morals and to cover the real agreement.

We are happy for the freed men and hope that the operation was real which seems not to be so."
Oh oh, maybe I spoke to soon. I'll have to keep an eye out for any news on this. If the US or Canada did pay a ransom we will hold those responsible feet to the fire.

What Do You Mean No Progress?!

"You know, I’m tired of the naysayers, the liberals, the anti-war zealots, the idiots who continue to tell me that the reason they are so focused on keeping a count of the dead is because “until we see progress, death seems to be [unfortunately] the singular tangible outcome at this point”. What a crock of shamalamalinglong!!

This is what I don’t understand about these people. You don’t have to look far to see “progress”. I talk about progress all the time. Why don’t they see three elections as progress?"
A Soldier's Perspective
Well that's an easy one. The elections don't result in a government, and they don't seem to result in a government based on the results of the election. Even the US is seeking to nullify the election by forming what they call a "unity government". You call that progress?

Covert ops team worked for months in Iraq

OTTAWA — The work of a secret team of Canadian soldiers, police officers, spies and diplomats in Baghdad came to a successful conclusion yesterday in a raid that rescued two Canadians and one Briton who had been held hostage for almost four months, federal officials say.

Mounties and members of a Canadian special forces unit joined British and U.S. troops, who led in the rescue.

The entire Canadian team, numbering at times more than 20, has been on the ground in Baghdad, working quietly since shortly after the kidnappings on Nov. 26

In addition to members of the RCMP and the military's special forces, the team included diplomats and intelligence officers, Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay said.

"We were there with our very best," Mr. MacKay said in an interview. "We had everyone fully engaged in this operation from Day 1."

The extraordinary effort, he said, sends a message: "Canada should not [be], and is not passive when it comes to its own citizens and the protection of their lives."

British troops led the final phase of the delicate operation that unfolded yesterday morning in a neighbourhood in Baghdad.

The international team found Canadians James Loney, 41, Harmeet Singh Sooden, 33, and Briton Norman Kember, 74, in a building. They were bound. Their captors were not around.

Mr. MacKay said joy at the rescue was tempered by the fact that the operation came too late to save the life of one of the hostages, American Tom Fox. His body was found two weeks ago.

All four men came to Baghdad last year to work for a pacifist organization, the Christian Peacemakers Team. They were taken hostage by a group demanding the release of Iraqi prisoners held by U.S. forces.

Mr. MacKay said yesterday's rescue involved close co-operation between the governments of Britain, the United States and Iraq. The final raid was led by the British.

Canadian intelligence officers involved at various times included specialists from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the Communications Security Establishment, a secretive branch of the Defence Department that intercepts international telecommunications.

The Foreign Affairs Department combed its ranks to find staff who had experience with these types of situations, The Canadian Press reported. They dispatched a team in early December that included foreign officers, workers from the Jordanian embassy and some RCMP officers.

That team stayed in Baghdad through Christmas and into this year.

Liberal MP Dan McTeague, a former parliamentary secretary responsible for Canadians abroad, said the group discreetly made inquiries around Baghdad about the disappearance.

They also communicated again and again that the hostages were Canadian, they were humanitarian workers and that Canada was not party to the war.

"This was a remarkable international effort involving our allies, the Americans, the British and the Iraqis," Mr. MacKay said. "This is certainly a great day for Canadians."

But the new Conservative government is keeping a tight lid on operational details on the advice of federal security experts. They warn that talk of Canadian military activity in Iraq can make Canadians targets for terrorists.

The security experts also say that they want to keep techniques secret that might be needed again if another rescue operation ever has to be mounted.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper hinted broadly at Canadian military involvement at a news conference earlier in the day. "I'm not free to say more than that because of national security." He also denied a suggestion that any ransom had been paid. "Not that I'm aware of."

Now that the hostages are free, the Canadians will pack up and leave the Iraqi capital, he said.

U.S. military officers in Baghdad said the big break in the case came when the coalition got information early yesterday from a prisoner about the location of the hostages. The raid took place three hours later.

Mr. Harper said that with the time differences, he got a call in the early morning hours in Ottawa that the hostages were free. He spoke with the two Canadians by phone and they were elated. The men have obviously been through an ordeal and are going to continue to face post-traumatic difficulties, he said. Mr. Harper said he suggested to the men that they get a hot bath and lots of sleep in the next few days.

The Christian Peacemakers Team was operating in Baghdad despite travel warnings from Ottawa and other governments that Iraq is a war zone that is not safe for foreigners.


It's good to know that the Canadians weren't stupid enough to try and pay off the kidnappers like Italy, France and Germany. They sent in the Mounties. Good for them.

Friday, March 24, 2006


"Following a death-to-gays fatwa issued last October by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani (left), death squads of the Badr Corps have been systematically targeting gay Iraqis for persecution and execution, gay Iraqis say. But when they ask for help and protection from U.S. occupying authorities in the “Green Zone,” gay Iraqis are met with indifference and derision."

You Gotta be Kidding Me

"So this is why we're still in Afghanistan? I mean, I was all for kicking some Taliban ass and going after al-Qa'eda and its commanders, but it seems to me that we need to be making it clear to those backward morons that as long as we're there, nobody is getting prosecuted for converting religions. And if they don't like it, tough. This isn't the 12th century. I mean, damn, their freaking constitution guarantees freedom of religion."
Yoan Hermida
My question is, did you bother to read the constitution, or did you take the administrations word that that constitution guaranteed rights like religious freedom to the people of Afghanistan?
If you would have bothered to read the thing you would not be asking this now. And by the way did you notice who was put as the supreme court? No you took the administrations word again. Next time I would suggest that you inform yourself and not just take whatever the administration says as gospel.

U.S. Hiring Hong Kong Co. to Scan Nukes

WASHINGTON (AP) - In the aftermath of the Dubai ports dispute, the Bush administration is hiring a Hong Kong conglomerate to help detect nuclear materials inside cargo passing through the Bahamas to the United States and elsewhere.

The administration acknowledges the no-bid contract with Hutchison Whampoa Ltd. represents the first time a foreign company will be involved in running a sophisticated U.S. radiation detector at an overseas port without American customs agents present.

Freeport in the Bahamas is 65 miles from the U.S. coast, where cargo would be likely to be inspected again. The contract is currently being finalized.

The administration is negotiating a second no-bid contract for a Philippine company to install radiation detectors in its home country, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press. At dozens of other overseas ports, foreign governments are primarily responsible for scanning cargo.

While President Bush recently reassured Congress that foreigners would not manage security at U.S. ports, the Hutchison deal in the Bahamas illustrates how the administration is relying on foreign companies at overseas ports to safeguard cargo headed to the United States.

Hutchison Whampoa is the world's largest ports operator and among the industry's most-respected companies. It was an early adopter of U.S. anti-terror measures. But its billionaire chairman, Li Ka-Shing, also has substantial business ties to China's government that have raised U.S. concerns over the years.

"Li Ka-Shing is pretty close to a lot of senior leaders of the Chinese government and the Chinese Communist Party," said Larry M. Wortzel, head of a U.S. government commission that studies China security and economic issues. But Wortzel said Hutchison operates independently from Beijing, and he described Li as "a very legitimate international businessman."

"One can conceive legitimate security concerns and would hope either the Homeland Security Department or the intelligence services of the United States work very hard to satisfy those concerns," Wortzel said.

Three years ago, the Bush administration effectively blocked a Hutchison subsidiary from buying part of a bankrupt U.S. telecommunications company, Global Crossing Ltd. (GLBC), on national security grounds.

And a U.S. military intelligence report, once marked "secret," cited Hutchison in 1999 as a potential risk for smuggling arms and other prohibited materials into the United States from the Bahamas.

Hutchison's port operations in the Bahamas and Panama "could provide a conduit for illegal shipments of technology or prohibited items from the West to the PRC (People's Republic of China), or facilitate the movement of arms and other prohibited items into the Americas," the now-declassified assessment said.

The CIA currently has no security concerns about Hutchison's port operations, and the administration believes the pending deal with the foreign company would be safe, officials said.

Supervised by Bahamian customs officials, Hutchison employees will drive the towering, truck-like radiation scanner that moves slowly over large cargo containers and scans them for radiation that might be emitted by plutonium or a radiological weapon.

Any positive reading would set off alarms monitored simultaneously by Bahamian customs inspectors at Freeport and by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials working at an anti-terrorism center 800 miles away in northern Virginia. Any alarm would prompt a closer inspection of the cargo, and there are multiple layers of security to prevent tampering, officials said.

"The equipment operates itself," said Bryan Wilkes, a spokesman for the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration, the agency negotiating the contract. "It's not going to be someone standing at the controls pressing buttons and flipping switches."

A lawmaker who helped lead the opposition to the Dubai ports deal isn't so confident. Neither are some security experts. They question whether the U.S. should pay a foreign company with ties to China to keep radioactive material out of the United States.

"Giving a no-bid contract to a foreign company to carry out the most sensitive security screening for radioactive materials at ports abroad raises many questions," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.

A low-paid employee with access to the screening equipment could frustrate international security by studying how the equipment works and which materials set off its alarms, warned a retired U.S. Customs investigator who specialized in smuggling cases.

"Money buys a lot of things," Robert Sheridan said. "The fact that foreign workers would have access to how the United States screens various containers for nuclear material and how this technology scrutinizes the containers - all those things allow someone with a nefarious intention to thwart the screening."

The Hutchison deal in the Bahamas was flagged in a report in October by ATS Worldwide Services, a Florida firm that identifies potential risks for private-sector and government clients. Company officials said they shared the report with some officials in Congress, the military and law enforcement.

Other experts discounted concerns. They cited Hutchison's reputation as a leading ports company and said the United States inevitably must rely for some security on large commercial operators in the global maritime industry.

"We must not allow an unwarranted fear of foreign ownership or involvement in offshore operations to impair our ability to protect against nuclear weapons being smuggled into this country," said Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., a member of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. "We must work with these foreign companies."

A former Coast Guard commander, Stephen Flynn, said foreign companies sometimes prove more trustworthy - and susceptible to U.S. influence - than governments.

"It's a very fragile system," Flynn said. Foreign companies "recognize the U.S. has the capacity and willingness to exercise a kill switch if something goes wrong."

A spokesman for Hutchison's ports subsidiary, Anthony Tam, said the company "is a strong supporter in port security initiatives."

"In the case of the Bahamas, our local personnel are working alongside with U.S. customs officials to identify and inspect U.S.-bound containers that could be carrying radioactive materials," Tam said.

However, there are no U.S. customs agents checking any cargo containers at the Hutchison port in Freeport. Under the contract, no U.S. officials would be stationed permanently in the Bahamas with the radiation scanner.

The administration is finalizing the contract amid a national debate over maritime security sparked by the furor over now-abandoned plans by Dubai-owned DP World to take over significant operations at major U.S. ports.

Hutchison operates the sprawling Freeport Container Port on Grand Bahama Island. Its subsidiary, Hutchison Port Holdings, has operations in more than 20 countries but none in the United States.

Contract documents, obtained by The Associated Press, indicate Hutchison will be paid roughly $6 million. The contract is for one year with options for three years.

The Energy Department's National Nuclear Security Administration is negotiating the Bahamas contract under a $121 million security program it calls the "second line of defense." Wilkes, the NNSA spokesman, said the Bahamian government dictated that the U.S. give the contract to Hutchison.

"It's their country, their port. The driver of the mobile carrier is the contractor selected by their government. We had no say or no choice," he said. "We are fortunate to have allies who are signing these agreements with us."

Some security experts said that is a weak explanation in the Bahamas, with its close reliance on the United States. The administration could insist that the Bahamas permit U.S. Customs agents to operate at the port, said Albert Santoli, an expert on national security issues in Asia and the Pacific.

"Why would they not accept that?" said Santoli, a former national security aide to Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif. "There is an interest in the Bahamas and every other country in the region to make sure the U.S. stays safe and strong. That's how this should be negotiated."

Flynn, the former Coast Guard commander, agreed the Bahamas would readily accept such a proposal but said the U.S. is short of trained customs agents to send overseas.

Contract documents obtained by the AP show at least one other foreign company is involved in the U.S. radiation-detection program.

A separate, no-bid $4 million contract the Bush administration is negotiating would pay a Manila-based company, International Container Terminal Services Inc., to install radiation detectors at the Philippines' largest port.

The U.S. says the Manila company is not being paid to operate the radiation monitors once they are installed. But two International Container executives and a senior official at the government's Philippine Nuclear Research Institute said the company will run the detectors on behalf of the institute and the country's customs bureau. U.S. officials said they will investigate further how the Filipinos plan to use the equipment.


How many lies can one president tell in a month?

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Breaking the Silence

March 22, 2006 - Andrew Natsios has taken a lot of flak over his role in Iraq. The longtime director of America's foreign-aid program has been pilloried for his April 2003 remark, in an ABC News interview, that the U.S. government would spend no more than $1.7 billion to rebuild Iraq. In the ensuing three years, Natsios, a lifelong Republican, has played the loyal soldier for the administration. He regularly defended the U.S. reconstruction effort in Iraq even as he was lumped with other errant prognosticators like Paul Wolfowitz (That's “wildly off the mark") and Dick Cheney ("We will be greeted as liberators"). After Natsios resigned in January to take a teaching post at Georgetown University, he maintained his silence about Iraq.

But this week, for the first time, Natsios publicly gave vent to his long-suppressed frustrations over the Bush administration's handling of the Iraq occupation. In an interview with NEWSWEEK on Tuesday, he harshly criticized the Coalition Provisional Authority led by L. Paul Bremer III for botching the reconstruction effort and allowing ill-qualified or corrupt contractors to dominate it. "They didn't have [monitoring] systems set up. They were very dismissive of these processes," he said. His U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) was marginalized despite its expertise, and the CPA "didn't hire the best people," he said. "We were just watching it unfold. They [the CPA] were constantly hitting at our people, screaming at them. They were abusive."

Natsios's low-cost estimate from April 2003, he made clear, was not based on the kind of chaotic, top-heavy occupation that he says Bremer eventually installed in Iraq but on the more traditional, streamlined U.S. aid effort that Natsios had urged.

Dan Senor, former spokesman for Bremer’s CPA, dismissed Natsios’s criticisms, saying the insurgency in Iraq made ordinary contracting procedures impossible. "I'm not familiar with the traditional USAID program that was recommended,” Senor told NEWSWEEK. “If it was traditional and conventional, it may have made sense for the reconstruction of Switzerland. But it sounds like it was completely irrelevant to the facts and conditions on the ground that we found in Iraq.” Senor added that the CPA had "recruited some of the top career Foreign Service officers from the State Department to serve in the CPA's management roles. We would have welcomed suggestions—from Andrew or anyone else—of who would have been better experienced.”

Natsios, who served as USAID director for nearly five years and was considered one of the top development and aid experts in Washington, says that his advice was largely ignored. Other administration officials, usually speaking anonymously, have backed Natsios's dim view of the CPA's competence level. The conventional wisdom today is that while most CPA officials were enthusiastic and brave, too many were inexperienced and second-rate.

Natsios’s criticisms mark another significant milestone in the great Republican crackup over Iraq—especially since they came on the same day that President Bush reiterated, at a news conference, that he would not ask any senior staff to resign in connection with the mess in Mesopotamia. The president’s refusal to consider replacing senior officials, especially Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, has angered many Republicans, as well as Democrats, who say the administration needs to show a sense of accountability for its many mistakes in Iraq. At the very least, Natsios’s criticisms represent the latest effort by a Bush supporter to distance himself from America's new quagmire. Bremer himself, in his new book, "My Year in Iraq" (Simon and Schuster), blames Rumsfeld for many of his problems as viceroy, while other notable GOP stalwarts such as William F. Buckley have emerged as critics of the war.

And there is much more to come, especially on the little-noticed issue of contracting in Iraq, which the watchdog group Transparency International last year warned could become “the biggest corruption scandal in history." The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction is expected to issue a harshly critical report in May concluding that the CPA did not have disciplined contracting procedures in place, according to several people involved in drafting the report. If the Democrats manage to get control of the House later this year, it's all going to come in an avalanche of subpoenas and new investigations. Not that the Republicans have been entirely sitting on their hands. When Rep. Christopher Shays, a Connecticut Republican, agreed to subpoena records of funds transmitted to Iraq, his House Government Reform Subcommittee learned that nearly $12 billion in U.S. currency was shipped to Iraq from the Federal Reserve Bank in New York, much of it with little accountability.

Shays is also conducting hearings on the administration's efforts to silence whistle-blowers who ferret out corruption and other problems. "The administration seems to have a deaf ear to this issue," Shays told NEWSWEEK. "I would like to hear a little outrage on the part of the administration. I don't hear that outrage. Because you don't hear that outrage you then feel the administration doesn't care about these issues … It needs to come from the secretary [of Defense]. When you have men and women dying on the battlefield and you have corruption, then you've got a problem."

But the Defense Department has avoided conceding this point, just as Rumsfeld himself has testily rejected responsibility for such critical errors as misreading the number of troops needed for the occupation and downplaying the insurgency.

The Pentagon has consistently declined to send a permanent auditing team to Iraq despite prodding from Congress. “We do not have auditors on the ground in Iraq,” acting Pentagon Inspector General Thomas Gimble admitted in testimony late last year before Shays’s subcommittee. (“I don't understand why,” retorted Shays.) The Defense Department argued that its IG team was not needed because Congress had set up its own auditing arm for Iraq called the Special Inspector General for Iraqi Reconstruction. But that congressionally authorized IG was only supposed to be looking at reconstruction contracts, not security, fuel or other Pentagon contracts. In his testimony last fall, Gimble said his office was acting in a support role from Washington to help the special inspector general, Stuart Bowen. But Special Inspector General spokesman Jim Mitchell told NEWSWEEK. “That wasn’t the case.”

In response to the criticism from such Republicans as Shays, Sen. Charles Grassley and others, the Pentagon IG finally opened an office in Qatar—earlier this month. IG spokesman Gary Comerford says Gimble made the move after he went to the region and talked with CENTCOM commander Gen. John Abizaid, among others. “They said primarily what we need down there are auditors, not only for Iraq, but Afghanistan and for DoD assets in Kuwait,” Comerford said. For many critics, the move came far too late. “Their answer to the criticism is to open an office within a thousand miles of Baghdad,” cracked one U.S. official involved in the auditing process who spoke on condition of anonymity.

At the same time critics of the contracting morass in Iraq—which former CPA advisor Franklin Willis once called a “free-fraud zone”—have raised serious issues about conflicts of interest in Iraq. These questions also have gone largely unanswered. Late last year, the Defense Department’s IG, Joseph Schmitz, resigned and took a senior position with Blackwater USA, one of the private companies contracted to handle security in Iraq. Because the CPA in Iraq fell under the Pentagon’s authority, a company like Blackwater would nominally be under the IG’s purview. In a series of articles last year, the Los Angeles Times suggested that Schmitz, a conservative Republican, had gone out of his way to protect John A. (Jack) Shaw, a deputy undersecretary of Defense involved in Iraq contracting who was later fired by the Pentagon. Another government department is conducting a separate investigation of Schmitz’s tenure as IG as well.

Asked to respond, IG spokesman Comerford noted that Schmitz had signed a letter recusing himself from Blackwater-related business while still at the Pentagon. Comerford also said the IG had done 33 audits during Schmitz’s tenure, and he noted that each of the military services has its own Inspector General’s office. Comerford told NEWSWEEK there were presently audits under way of two Iraq contractors connected with public relations in the global war on terror, the Lincoln Group and the Rendon Group.

Both were also requested by Congress, the former by Sen. Ted Kennedy and the latter by yet another skeptical Republican, Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina. Despite those ongoing audits, the Pentagon has determined that the Lincoln Group did not violate policy in planting propaganda in Iraqi newspapers, The New York Times reported Wednesday. A Rendon Group official told NEWSWEEK: "As we understand it, the IG investigation was requested by Congress in response to media reports that wrongly characterized the Rendon Group as having a role in public-relations work in the leadup to the war in Iraq. We expect the IG report will clear up the confusion." Lincoln Group president Paige Craig initially told NEWSWEEK that he believed there was no audit, only a “special review.” Craig later called back to confirm that his firm was being audited.

On yet another front, the Justice Department continues to decline to join a whistle-blower case against a security contractor called Custer Battles, despite a March 9 jury verdict that found the company had defrauded the U.S. government out of millions of dollars in Iraq. In a statement issued after the verdict, Senator Grassley noted that “war profiteering is what led President Lincoln to support the original False Claims Act,” under which the Custer Battles case was pursued. Typically, the U.S. government will back the efforts of whistle-blowers—in this case two former executives of Custer Battles who were appalled by the fraud—but the Bush administration has maintained its silence. “I remain concerned as to why the Justice Department chose not to join this case,” Grassley said. Justice Department spokeswoman Cynthia Magnuson, asked to respond, said, “I don’t have anything immediately for you.”

It will take a long time for the contracting mess in Iraq to be sorted out, if it ever is. Natsios says he warned about what might happen if standard procedures, known as Federal Acquisition Regulations, were ignored. "I told Bremer and the CPA that we were following federal law and we were going to implement according to federal statutes so there weren't any scandals. And there weren't any with USAID. But we were criticized for following federal law." Regarding firms like Custer Battles, Natsios added: "The contractors they chose weren't the best people. I heard lots of stories. The staff would come in and say a group of retired officers has set up a business and they got this contract, and they didn't have any qualifications for it."

Jim Mitchell, the spokesman for the special Iraqi inspector general, says his office is currently looking at 57 possible cases of corruption and fraud, and he expects more arrests in coming days. But only four contractors and officials have been arrested so far. That's not a lot, considering the potential size of the Iraq corruption problem. Maybe it really is a free-fraud zone.