Saturday, March 31, 2007

Iraq Endorses Arab Relocation for Kirkuk

BAGHDAD (AP) - Iraq's government has endorsed plans to relocate thousands of Arabs who were moved to Kirkuk as part of Saddam Hussein's campaign to force ethnic Kurds out of the oil-rich city, in an effort to undo one of the former dictator's most enduring and hated policies.

The Interior Ministry, meanwhile, raised the death toll in Tuesday's suicide truck bombing of a Shiite market in Tal Afar to 152, which would make it the deadliest single strike since the war started four years ago.

A spokesman for the Shiite-dominated ministry, Brig. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, said the toll nearly doubled after more bodies were pulled from the rubble in the northwestern city.

The U.S. military and the mayor of Tal Afar kept the death toll at 83. But they acknowledged the figure could rise.

The contentious decision on Kirkuk was confirmed Saturday by Iraq's Sunni justice minister as he told The Associated Press he was resigning. Almost immediately, opposition politicians said they feared it would harden the violent divisions among Iraq's fractious ethnic and religious groups and possibly lead to an Iraq divided among Kurds, Sunni Arabs and Shiites.

The plan was virtually certain to anger neighboring Turkey, which fears a northward migration of Iraqi Kurds - and an exodus of Sunni Arabs - will inflame its own restive Kurdish minority.

Around Iraq Saturday, at least 38 people were killed or found dead in series of bombings and attacks, including nine construction workers who died when gunmen opened fire on their bus south of Kirkuk. The violence capped a week in which more than 500 Iraqis were killed in sectarian violence.

The ancient city of Kirkuk has a large minority of ethnic Turks as well as Christians, Shiite and Sunni Arabs, Armenians and Assyrians. The city is just south of the Kurdish autonomous zone stretching across three provinces of northeastern Iraq.

Iraq's constitution sets an end-of-the-year deadline for a referendum on Kirkuk's status. Since Saddam's fall four years ago, thousands of Kurds who once lived in the city have resettled there. It is now believed Kurds are a majority of the population and that a referendum on attaching Kirkuk to the Kurdish autonomous zone would pass easily.

Justice Minister Hashim al-Shebli said the Cabinet agreed on Thursday to a study group's recommendation that Arabs who had moved to Kirkuk from other parts of Iraq after July 1968 should be returned to their original towns and paid compensation.

Al-Shebli, who had overseen the committee on Kirkuk's status, said relocation would be voluntary. Those who choose to leave will be paid about $15,000 and given land in their former hometowns.

"There will be no coercion and the decision will not be implemented by force," al-Shebli told the AP.

Tens of thousands of Kurds and non-Arabs fled Kirkuk in the 1980s and 1990s when Saddam's government implemented its "Arabization" policy. Kurds and non-Arabs were replaced with pro-government Arabs from the mainly Shiite impoverished south.

After the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, Kurds and other non-Arabs streamed back, only to find their homes were either sold or given to Arabs. Some of the returning Kurds found nowhere to live except in parks and abandoned government buildings. Others drove Arabs from the city, despite pleas from Sunni and Shiite leaders for them to stay.

Adil Abdul-Hussein Alami, a 62-year-old Shiite who moved to Kirkuk 23 years ago in return for $1,000 and a free piece of land, said he would find it hard to leave.

"Kirkuk is an Iraqi city and I'm Iraqi," said the father of nine. "We came here as one family and now we are four. Our blood is mixed with Kurds and Turkmen."

But Ahmed Salih Zowbaa, a 52-year-old Shiite father of six who moved to the city from Kufa in 1987, agreed with the government's decision. "We gave our votes to this government and constitution and as long as the government will compensate us, then there is no injustice at all," he said.

There were fears that a referendum that was likely to put Kirkuk, 180 miles north of Baghdad, under Kurdish control could open a new front in the violence that has ravaged Iraq since shortly after the U.S.-led invasion. On March 19, several bombs struck targets in Kirkuk and killed at least 26 people.

Al-Shebli, a Sunni Arab, also confirmed he had offered his resignation on the same day that the Cabinet approved the plan. He cited differences with the government and his own political group, the secular Iraqi List, which joined Sunni Arab lawmakers Saturday in opposing the Kirkuk decision.

He said he would continue in office until the Cabinet approved his resignation.

The Iraqi List is led by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite. The group holds 25 seats in the 275-seat parliament.

Ali al-Dabbagh, spokesman for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, said al-Shebli quit before he could be fired in a coming government reshuffle. Neither al-Dabbagh nor al-Shebli would say if the minister had resigned over the Kirkuk issue.

In late February, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Iraq should delay the Kirkuk referendum because the city was not secure.

Turkey fears Iraq's Kurds want Kirkuk's oil revenues to fund an eventual bid for independence that could encourage separatist Kurdish guerrillas in Turkey, who have been fighting for autonomy since 1984. That conflict has claimed the lives of 37,000 people.

Al-Shebli said local authorities in Kirkuk would begin distributing forms soon to Arab families to determine who would participate in the relocation program. He said he could not predict how long the process would take.

Planning Minister Ali Baban said the relocation plan was adopted over the opposition of Sunni Arab members of the Shiite-led government, members of the Iraqi List and at least one Cabinet minister loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

"We demanded that the question of Kirkuk be resolved through dialogue between the political blocs and not through the committee," he told the AP earlier this week. "They say the repatriation is voluntary, but we have our doubts."

Osama al-Nujaifi, a Sunni lawmaker with the Iraqi List, also denounced the decision, saying it fails to address key issues, including how to deal with property claims.

"There are more than 13,000 unsolved cases before the commission in charge of this point and it just solved no more than 250 of them," he said of the property claims. "The other thing is the huge demographic change in Kirkuk as more than 650,000 Kurds have been brought in illegally over the past four years. We contest these resolutions and we will raise to the parliament to be discussed."

Also Saturday, figures complied by the AP showed that the U.S. military death toll in March, the first full month of a new security crackdown, was nearly twice that of the Iraqi army, which American and Iraqi officials say is taking the leading role in the latest attempt to curb violence in the capital, surrounding cities and Anbar province.

The AP count of U.S. military deaths for the month was 81, including a soldier who died from non-combat causes on Friday. Figures compiled from officials in the Iraqi ministries of defense, health and interior showed the Iraqi military toll was 44. The Iraqi figures showed that 165 Iraqi police were killed in March. Many of the police serve in paramilitary units.

According to the AP count, 3,246 U.S. service members have died in Iraq since the war began in March 2003.


"Cry 'Havoc'! and Let Slip the Dogs of War."

It can only get interesting from here.

Ex-Aide Details a Loss of Faith in the President

AUSTIN, Tex., March 29 — In 1999, Matthew Dowd became a symbol of George W. Bush’s early success at positioning himself as a Republican with Democratic appeal.

A top strategist for the Texas Democrats who was disappointed by the Bill Clinton years, Mr. Dowd was impressed by the pledge of Mr. Bush, then governor of Texas, to bring a spirit of cooperation to Washington. He switched parties, joined Mr. Bush’s political brain trust and dedicated the next six years to getting him to the Oval Office and keeping him there. In 2004, he was appointed the president’s chief campaign strategist.

Looking back, Mr. Dowd now says his faith in Mr. Bush was misplaced.

In a wide-ranging interview here, Mr. Dowd called for a withdrawal from Iraq and expressed his disappointment in Mr. Bush’s leadership.

He criticized the president as failing to call the nation to a shared sense of sacrifice at a time of war, failing to reach across the political divide to build consensus and ignoring the will of the people on Iraq. He said he believed the president had not moved aggressively enough to hold anyone accountable for the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, and that Mr. Bush still approached governing with a “my way or the highway” mentality reinforced by a shrinking circle of trusted aides.

“I really like him, which is probably why I’m so disappointed in things,” he said. He added, “I think he’s become more, in my view, secluded and bubbled in.”

In speaking out, Mr. Dowd became the first member of Mr. Bush’s inner circle to break so publicly with him.

He said his decision to step forward had not come easily. But, he said, his disappointment in Mr. Bush’s presidency is so great that he feels a sense of duty to go public given his role in helping Mr. Bush gain and keep power.

Mr. Dowd, a crucial part of a team that cast Senator John Kerry as a flip-flopper who could not be trusted with national security during wartime, said he had even written but never submitted an op-ed article titled “Kerry Was Right,” arguing that Mr. Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat and 2004 presidential candidate, was correct in calling last year for a withdrawal from Iraq.

“I’m a big believer that in part what we’re called to do — to me, by God; other people call it karma — is to restore balance when things didn’t turn out the way they should have,” Mr. Dowd said. “Just being quiet is not an option when I was so publicly advocating an election.”

Mr. Dowd’s journey from true believer to critic in some ways tracks the public arc of Mr. Bush’s political fortunes. But it is also an intensely personal story of a political operative who at times, by his account, suppressed his doubts about his professional role but then confronted them as he dealt with loss and sorrow in his own life.

In the last several years, as he has gradually broken his ties with the Bush camp, one of Mr. Dowd’s premature twin daughters died, he was divorced, and he watched his oldest son prepare for deployment to Iraq as an Army intelligence specialist fluent in Arabic. Mr. Dowd said he had become so disillusioned with the war that he had considered joining street demonstrations against it, but that his continued personal affection for the president had kept him from joining protests whose anti-Bush fervor is so central.

Mr. Dowd, 45, said he hoped in part that by coming forward he would be able to get a message through to a presidential inner sanctum that he views as increasingly isolated. But, he said, he holds out no great hope. He acknowledges that he has not had a conversation with the president.

Dan Bartlett, the White House counselor, said Mr. Dowd’s criticism is reflective of the national debate over the war.

“It’s an issue that divides people,” Mr. Bartlett said. “Even people that supported the president aren’t immune from having their own feelings and emotions.”

He said he disagreed with Mr. Dowd’s description of the president as isolated and with his position on withdrawal. He said Mr. Dowd, a friend, has “sometimes expressed these sentiments” in private conversation, though “not in such detail.”

During the interview with Mr. Dowd on a slightly overcast afternoon in downtown Austin, he was a far quieter man than the cigar-chomping general that he was during Mr. Bush’s 2004 campaign.

Soft-spoken and somewhat melancholy, he wore jeans, a T-shirt and sandals in an office devoid of Bush memorabilia save for a campaign coffee mug and a photograph of the first couple with his oldest son, Daniel. The photograph was taken one week before the 2004 election, and one day before Daniel was to go to boot camp.

Over Mexican food at a restaurant that was only feet from the 2000 campaign headquarters, and later at his office just up the street, Mr. Dowd recounted his political and personal journey. “It’s amazing,” he said. “In five years, I’ve only traveled 300 feet, but it feels like I’ve gone around the world, where my head is.”

Mr. Dowd said he decided to become a Republican in 1999 and joined Mr. Bush after watching him work closely with Bob Bullock, the Democratic lieutenant governor of Texas, who was a political client of Mr. Dowd and a mentor to Mr. Bush.

“It’s almost like you fall in love,” he said. “I was frustrated about Washington, the inability for people to get stuff done and bridge divides. And this guy’s personality — he cared about education and taking a different stand on immigration.”

Mr. Dowd established himself as an expert at interpreting polls, giving Karl Rove, the president’s closest political adviser, and the rest of the Bush team guidance as they set out to woo voters, slash opponents and exploit divisions between Democratic-leaning states and Republican-leaning ones.

In television interviews in 2004, Mr. Dowd said that Mr. Kerry’s campaign was proposing “a weak defense,” and that the voters “trust this president more than they trust Senator Kerry on Iraq.”

But he was starting to have his own doubts by then, he said.

He said he thought Mr. Bush handled the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks well but “missed a real opportunity to call the country to a shared sense of sacrifice.”

He was dumbfounded when Mr. Bush did not fire Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld after revelations that American soldiers had tortured prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

Several associates said Mr. Dowd chafed under Mr. Rove’s leadership. Mr. Dowd said he had not spoken to Mr. Rove in months but would not discuss their relationship in detail.

Mr. Dowd said, in retrospect, he was in denial.

“When you fall in love like that,” he said, “and then you notice some things that don’t exactly go the way you thought, what do you do? Like in a relationship, you say ‘No no, no, it’ll be different.’ ”

He said he clung to the hope that Mr. Bush would get back to his Texas style of governing if he won. But he saw no change after the 2004 victory.

He describes as further cause for doubt two events in the summer of 2005: the administration’s handling of Hurricane Katrina and the president’s refusal, around the same time that he was entertaining the bicyclist Lance Armstrong at his Crawford ranch, to meet with the war protester Cindy Sheehan, whose son died in Iraq.

“I had finally come to the conclusion that maybe all these things along do add up,” he said. “That it’s not the same, it’s not the person I thought.”

He said that during his work on the 2006 re-election campaign of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, which had a bipartisan appeal, he began to rethink his approach to elections.

“I think we should design campaigns that appeal not to 51 percent of the people,” he said, “but bring the country together as a whole.”

He said that he still believed campaigns must do what it takes to win, but that he was never comfortable with the most hard-charging tactics. He is now calling for “gentleness” in politics. He said that while he tried to keep his own conduct respectful during political combat, he wanted to “do my part in fixing fissures that I may have been part of.”

His views against the war began to harden last spring when, in a personal exercise, he wrote a draft opinion article and found himself agreeing with Mr. Kerry’s call for withdrawal from Iraq. He acknowledged that the expected deployment of his son Daniel was an important factor.

He said the president’s announcement last fall that he was re-nominating the former United Nations ambassador John R. Bolton, whose confirmation Democrats had already refused, was further proof to him that Mr. Bush was not seeking consensus with Democrats.

He said he came to believe Mr. Bush’s views were hardening, with the reinforcement of his inner circle. But, he said, the person “who is ultimately responsible is the president.” And he gradually ventured out with criticism, going so far as declaring last month in a short essay in Texas Monthly magazine that Mr. Bush was losing “his gut-level bond with the American people,” and breaking more fully in this week’s interview.

“If the American public says they’re done with something, our leaders have to understand what they want,” Mr. Dowd said. “They’re saying, ‘Get out of Iraq.’ ”

Mr. Dowd’s friends from Mr. Bush’s orbit said they understood his need to speak out. “Everyone is going to reflect on the good and the bad, and everything in between, in their own way,” said Nicolle Wallace, communications director of Mr. Bush’s 2004 campaign, a post she also held at the White House until last summer. “And I certainly respect the way he’s doing it — these are his true thoughts from a deeply personal place.” Ms. Wallace said she continued to have “enormous gratitude” for her years with Mr. Bush.

Mr. Bartlett, the White House counselor, said he understood, too, though he said he strongly disagreed with Mr. Dowd’s assessment. “Do we know our critics will try to use this to their advantage? Yes,” he said. “Is that perfect? No. But you can respectfully disagree with someone who has been supportive of you.”

Mr. Dowd does not seem prepared to put his views to work in 2008. The only candidate who appeals to him, he said, is Senator Barack Obama, Democrat of Illinois, because of what Mr. Dowd called his message of unity. But, he said, “I wouldn’t be surprised if I wasn’t walking around in Africa or South America doing something that was like mission work.”

He added, “I do feel a calling of trying to re-establish a level of gentleness in the world.”


It took this guy that long? what a tool

Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army (Hardcover)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly
Scahill, a regular contributor to the Nation, offers a hard-left perspective on Blackwater USA, the self-described private military contractor and security firm. It owes its existence, he shows, to the post–Cold War drawdown of U.S. armed forces, its prosperity to the post-9/11 overextension of those forces and its notoriety to a growing reputation as a mercenary outfit, willing to break the constraints on military systems responsible to state authority. Scahill describes Blackwater's expansion, from an early emphasis on administrative and training functions to what amounts to a combat role as an internal security force in Iraq. He cites company representatives who say Blackwater's capacities can readily be expanded to supplying brigade-sized forces for humanitarian purposes, peacekeeping and low-level conflict. While emphasizing the possibility of an "adventurous President" employing Blackwater's mercenaries covertly, Scahill underestimates the effect of publicity on the deniability he sees as central to such scenarios. Arguably, he also dismisses too lightly Blackwater's growing self-image as the respectable heir to a long and honorable tradition of contract soldiering. Ultimately, Blackwater and its less familiar counterparts thrive not because of a neoconservative conspiracy against democracy, as Scahill claims, but because they provide relatively low-cost alternatives in high-budget environments and flexibility at a time when war is increasingly protean. (Apr. 10)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Book Description

Meet BLACKWATER USA, the world's most secretive and powerful mercenary firm. Based in the wilderness of North Carolina, it is the fastest-growing private army on the planet with forces capable of carrying out regime change throughout the world. Blackwater protects the top US officials in Iraq and yet we know almost nothing about the firm's quasi-military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and inside the US. Blackwater was founded by an extreme right-wing fundamentalist Christian mega-millionaire ex- Navy Seal named Erik Prince, the scion of a wealthy conservative family that bankrolls far-right-wing causes.
Blackwater is the dark story of the rise of a powerful mercenary army, ranging from the blood-soaked streets of Fallujah to rooftop firefights in Najaf to the hurricane-ravaged US gulf to Washington DC, where Blackwater executives are hailed as new heroes in the war on terror. This is an extraordinary exposé by one of America's most exciting young radical journalists.


Friday, March 30, 2007

The Politics of Eurocentrism

"I sat down at my computer yesterday to find a piece of paper from the US Army command resting on the keyboard:
"The US government has received the information below and classified the information as "Unclassified" to ensure the widest dissemination as possible to include NGO's.

Due to the release of the Italian journalist, the US government has credible information that the Taliban, buoyed by their recent success in obtaining the release of five imprisoned Taliban members in exchange for an Italian journalist, will undertake additional kidnappings of foreigners in southern Afghanistan, especially Helmund Province. This threat extends to and includes main highways as well as more rural areas."
KGW Afghanistan Blog


RUBS #2 (Raw, Unedited and Barely Spell-checked)

This is the second installment of RUBS, a new way of posting information on the fly and overcoming obstacles to reporting that arc into the Iraq work space with uncanny timing and targeting. With no photos, and barely time for spell checks, RUBS streams at the speed of consciousness.

Paradoxically, while reporting from Iraq becomes more difficult as the swamp gets deeper, more amenities are piling up on bases while more garbage piles up downtown. Swimming pools pocket larger bases such as Camp Victory, no doubt named on a morning when the sound of birds singing crowded out the crackle of bullets flying. Today when the bullets seem to outnumber the birds, Generals with billions of dollars at their disposal gild their own MOCs (Media Operations Centers) with space-tech broadcasting gear, allowing them to bounce down live to America and the world, while journalists are not permitted to hook their computers into the unsecure “NIPR” internet lines. Public Affairs officers stagger like sway-backed mules with shifting excuses for why media have no secure places to live and work at the major bases, and why every solution for communications is ad hoc.

Journalists are welcome to come here and report. Sort of."
Michael Yon

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Wolves In Attack Dog Clothing

"There's a cable TV show called The Shield. It's about a corrupt police unit that fights crime while generating a murderous crime wave of its own. Sort of The Sopranos meets NYPD Blue. It seems to me that Iraqis could produce such a TV show of its own called, Liwaa al Deeb, "The Wolf Brigade". Actually they already have had that: a Cops-style TV show featuring the Wolf Brigade called Terrorism in the Grip of Justice.

Today, NPR did a report interviewing American US military adviser , Maj. Charles Miller, who worked with the Wolf Brigade. Miller details coerced confessions, selective targeting of Sunnis for crimes, and even a staged ambushed on Miller's unit:"
Iraqi Bloggers Central ~CMAR II

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Winds of Al-Anbar

"The intra-Sunni fighting in Al-Anbar province is continuing, and the violence is rising. Bill Roggio has done a good job gathering the information here, here, here and here.

I'll also try my hand at laying out some of the recent events below, and explain a little bit of how the various elements you may hear about in the news are related. I've distilled a fair bit of material from Bill, other news sources, and personal knowledge. I don't have a lot of time, so this will probably be sloppy and fairly unedited (sounds familiar, right?)."
Acute Politics

Marines ban big, garish tattoos

OCEANSIDE, Calif. - Five tattooed skulls stretch from Marine Cpl. Jeremy Slaton's right elbow to his wrist, spelling out the word "Death." He planned to add a tattoo spelling "Life" on his left arm, but that's on hold because of a Marine policy taking effect Sunday.

The Marines are banning any new, extra-large tattoos below the elbow or the knee, saying such body art is harmful to the Corps' spit-and-polish image.

Slaton and other grunts are not pleased.

"I guess I'll get the other half later," grumbled the 24-year-old leatherneck from Eden Prairie, Minn. "It's kind of messed up."

For many Marines, getting a tattoo is a rite of passage. They commonly get their forearms inscribed to remember fallen comrades, combat tours or loved ones, and often ask for exotic designs that incorporate the Marine motto, Semper Fi, or "Always faithful."

Dozens of Marines from Camp Pendleton, the West Coast's biggest Marine base, made last-minute trips to tattoo parlors in nearby Oceanside before the ban kicked in.

"This is something I love to do," said Cpl. David Nadrchal, 20, of Pomona, who made an appointment to get an Iraqi flag and his deployment dates etched onto his lower leg. "The fact I can't put something on my body that I want — it's a big thing to tell me I can't do that."

Nadrchal said he is unsure whether he will re-enlist: "There's all these little things. They are slowly chipping away at us."

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James T. Conway announced the policy change last week.

"Some Marines have taken the liberty of tattooing themselves to a point that is contrary to our professional demeanor and the high standards America has come to expect from us," he said. "I believe tattoos of an excessive nature do not represent our traditional values."

The ban is aimed primarily at "sleeve" tattoos, the large and often elaborate designs on the biceps and forearms of many Marines. Similar designs on the lower legs will be forbidden as well. So will very large tattoos on the upper arm, if they are visible when a Marine wears his workout T-shirt. Small, individual tattoos will still be allowed on the arms and legs. (The Marines already ban them on the hands.)

Marines already tattooed are exempt from the ban but cannot add to their designs; anyone caught with fresh ink in the wrong places could be barred from re-enlistment or face disciplinary action. Getting a prohibited tattoo could constitute a violation of a lawful order, punishable by up to two years in prison and a dishonorable discharge, Marine spokesman 1st Lt. Brian Donnelly said.

Unit commanders must photograph and document sleeve tattoos to ensure Marines do not add to their ink.

The Marines and the other branches of the military already ban tattoos that could be offensive or disruptive, such as images that are sexist, vulgar, gang-related or extremist.

The Army, which has been doing most of the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan and is struggling to fill its ranks, actually relaxed its tattoo restrictions last year. Soldiers can now get ink on the back of their hands and the lower back of the neck.

The Navy last year decreed that tattoos visible while in short-sleeve uniform cannot be larger than the wearer's hand. The Air Force says tattoos should be covered up if they are bigger than one-quarter the size of the exposed body part.

Tattoo artist Jerry Layton at the Body Temple Tattoo Studio in Oceanside said he was booked up with Marines rushing to beat the deadline.

"These are guys that are dying in the war," Layton said. "They can fight, but they can't get a tattoo? It's ridiculous."


Bush Cites Upbeat Bloggers From Baghdad

WASHINGTON (AP) - To back up his point that pulling out of Iraq would be a disaster, President Bush has quoted opinions from the secretary of defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the top U.S. general in Iraq—and now, two bloggers from Baghdad.
Bush made a surprising reference to the blogosphere during a spirited defense of his war strategy on Wednesday. The mention seemed even more unusual because the president didn't identify whom he was quoting, so he seemed to be leaning on anonymous commentary.

"They have bloggers in Baghdad, just like we've got here," Bush told the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.

Then he began to quote: "Displaced families are returning home, marketplaces are seeing more activity, stores that were long shuttered are now reopening. We feel safer about moving in the city now. Our people want to see this effort succeed."

His point was that Iraqi people are seeing signs of progress—and what better example of their unbridled expression than blogs.

It turns out, the White House made clear hours later, that he was quoting two brothers, Mohammed and Omar Fadhil. They write an English- language blog from Baghdad called Both of them got to meet Bush in the Oval Office in 2004.

In his speech, Bush was pulling select lines from an op-ed that the brothers wrote. It appeared in The Wall Street Journal on March 5.

Blogs are Web sites that tend to be narrow in focus and directed at a niche audience. Most operate without editors and give instant reaction to the news. Their freewheeling, open nature makes them popular but also ripe for unverified statements.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino defended the appearance of blog commentary in a presidential speech.

It is just one more way, she said, to show that positive news is happening in Iraq. But in perspective, she said, the White House cites all kinds of sources. Among the others she mentioned in the same breath: reporting from Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq.

"What the president was doing was taking an opportunity to talk about what one person's expression is," she said. "But that doesn't mean that there aren't other people having the same expression. Certainly, nobody can deny what General Petraeus has been saying."


Well we already knew they were reading, lets just hope that the listen

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Iraq insurgents used children in car bombing: general

Insurgents in Iraq detonated an explosives-rigged vehicle with two children in the back seat after US soldiers let it through a Baghdad checkpoint over the weekend, a senior US military official said Tuesday.
The vehicle was stopped at the checkpoint but was allowed through when soldiers saw the children in the back, said Major General Michael Barbero of the Pentagon's Joint Staff.

"Children in the back seat lowered suspicion. We let it move through. They parked the vehicle, and the adults ran out and detonated it with the children in the back," Barbero said.

The general said it was the first time he had seen a report of insurgents using children in suicide bombings. But he said Al-Qaeda in Iraq is changing tactics in response to the tighter controls around the city.

A US defense official said the incident occurred on Sunday in Baghdad's Adhamiyah district, a mixed neighborhood adjacent to Sadr City, which is predominantly Shiite.

After going through the checkpoint, the vehicle parked next to a market across the street from a school, said the official, who asked not to be identified.

"And the two adults were seen to get out of the vehicle, and run from the vehicle, and then followed by the detonation of the vehicle," the official said.

"It killed the two children inside as well as three other civilians in the vicinity. So, a total of five killed, seven injured," the official said.

Officials here said they did not know who the children were or their relationship to the two adults who fled the scene. They had no information about their ages or genders.

"The brutality and the ruthlessness of this enemy hasn't changed," said Barbero, deputy director of regional operations of the Joint Staff. "They are just interested in slaughtering Iraqi civilians, to be very honest."

Attacks on Iraqi civilians are down by a third and sectarian murders have fallen by 50 percent since mid-February when US and Iraqi forces began moving into Baghdad as part of a new security crackdown, the general said.

On the other hand, there has been no let-up in attacks on US forces by Al-Qaeda in Iraq and other Sunni extremist groups, he said.

The incidence of car bombings and suicide attacks, which are typically carried out by Sunni extremist groups against Shiites, also have gone up even though their effectiveness is down, he said.

"As our checkpoints, and control points have been more effective, as they try to execute these high profile attacks with these vehicle-borne IEDs (improvised explosive devices) in Baghdad, we're stopping a lot of them at these checkpoints and they are not getting to their intended targets," he said.

But he said they will change their tactics.

Barbero pointed to the recent use of chlorine bombs as another example of the shifting tactics.

Three trucks with chlorine were blown up by suicide bombers over the weekend in Al-Anbar province, killing two policemen and releasing toxic fumes that sickened an estimated 350 people.

Barbero said Al-Qaeda in Iraq appeared to be resorting to use of chlorine bombs to intimidate tribal leaders that have turned against them in Al-Anbar.

"We assess those as relatively ineffective. However, that is an emerging tactic that we are seeing."

"We think it will continue to be exercised in Iraq. Chlorine is readily accessible and we've had a number of these," he said.

He said US commanders remain concerned about the Shiite militias led by radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, even though US forces are now operating freely in Sadr City and his Mahdi army militia is quiet.

Sadr is still in Iran but in communication with leaders of his movement in Iraq, he said.

"Where we are with the leaders of his movement is at a pretty delicate point, and I probably don't want to talk any more about his followers, and where we are in our relationship with them," he said.


Monday, March 19, 2007

Presidential candidate bungles speech in Miami

People chuckled when presidential candidate Mitt Romney, a Mormon raised in Michigan and elected in Massachusetts, bungled the names of Cuban-American politicians during a recent speech in Miami.
But when he mistakenly associated Fidel Castro's trademark speech-ending slogan -- Patria o muerte, venceremos! -- with a free Cuba, listeners didn't laugh. They winced.

Castro has closed his speeches with the phrase -- in English, ''Fatherland or death, we shall overcome'' -- for decades.

''Clearly, that's something he was ill-advised on or didn't do his homework on,'' said Hialeah City Council President Esteban Bovo. ``When you get cute with slogans, you get yourself into a trap.''

Romney's fumble demonstrates the potential snags for state and national politicians trying to navigate the Cuban-American community of South Florida.

Ever since Ronald Reagan enthralled exiles by crying, ''Cuba sí, Castro no,'' in a landmark 1983 visit to Little Havana, politicians have clamored, with mixed success, for the Spanish-speaking vote.

It's not so different from the candidates who court Broward County's heavily Jewish retirement condominiums, offering residents a free nosh and delivering their best schtick.

For politicians visiting Miami-Dade, glad-handing with patrons at the coffee window at Versailles has become as compulsory as kissing babies. But sipping café con leche and shouting ''Viva Cuba libre!'' no longer guarantees votes in a community that has moved from the margins of society to the professional and political mainstream.

''Cuban-American voters have reached a level of political sophistication where the empty rhetoric of the past regarding Cuba's liberation is no longer acceptable,'' said state Rep. David Rivera, a Miami Republican. ``Our community now demands specific policy proposals on achieving freedom and democracy for the Cuban people. Anything less is summarily rejected.''

Cuban-American voters want to know: What do candidates think of the trade embargo and travel restrictions? What is their immigration policy? Would they try to indict Raúl Castro for the Brothers to the Rescue attack?

Romney delivered a speech to the Miami-Dade Republican Party March 9 that was heavy on anti-communist rhetoric but light on policy details. He also condemned the Venezuelan president who has embraced Castro. That's when he tripped.

''Hugo Chávez has tried to steal an inspiring phrase -- Patria o muerte, venceremos,'' Romney said. ``It does not belong to him. It belongs to a free Cuba.''

No, it doesn't, said University of Miami Professor Jaime Suchlicki.


''It belongs to Fidel,'' said Suchlicki, an expert on Cuban history. ``I don't know where [Romney] got that.''

The Romney campaign did not explain how the words got into the speech.

''Gov. Romney was trying to make the point that the phrase should not be used by oppressors, but by liberators,'' said campaign spokeswoman Gail Gitcho. ``It was an unfortunate error in the language that certainly wasn't meant to offend.''

Al Cárdenas, a prominent Cuban-American Republican who is advising Romney, said he understood what he meant.

''This is a man who abhors Castro,'' he said. ``From a style standpoint people can say what they want, but on substance he's where he needs to be.''

Romney punctuated his speech with ''Libertad, libertad, libertad!'' to show his support for freedom in Cuba. But to some, he was echoing a line from Scarface, a movie notorious for its stereotyped portrayal of Cuban immigrants.

State Rep. Rene Garcia, for one, said he was ''unimpressed.'' The Hialeah Republican grimaced when Romney called the state House Speaker ''Mario Rubio'' -- his first name is Marco -- and mispronounced the names of U.S. Reps. Mario and Lincoln Diaz-Balart.

''He used the Cuba issue way too much,'' Garcia said. ``I don't want to judge a man based on one speech alone, but it bothered me that he didn't get the names right.''

The gaffes were surprising, considering that Romney has surrounded himself with savvy Florida advisors. He recently hired Alicia Gonzalez, a Cuban-American media consultant.

''He's not one of those politicians who comes down here and says the Cuban vote is important and then when Radio Mambí calls, they can't make time for them,'' said Gonzalez, adding that Romney is scheduled for an interview with the Spanish-language station Monday.

Courting Cuban-American exiles, who have lost their livelihoods and faced jail for political dissent, can be like treading through an emotional minefield. Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry caused a stir in 2004 when he said he favored ''principled travel'' to Cuba. The incident reflects how a candidate's every word on Cuba is scrutinized and potentially exploited by critics eager to hurl the soft-on-communism epithet.

Sometimes a gaffe is more cultural than political. At a 2004 rally in Little Havana, a New York City politician called for ''Latino'' empowerment.

''That's a message that doesn't resonate whatsoever with a Cuban-American audience,'' said political consultant Fred Balsera. ``Miami Cubans call themselves Cuban American or Hispanic.''

Then there's the ultimate question for outsiders who stump in Little Havana: whether to don the traditional guayabera.


Why not, said Rod Smith, who's from a small, rural town in northwest Florida, and wore the trademark Cuban shirt while campaigning for governor in Little Havana last year. His opponent in the Democratic primary, Tampa lawyer Jim Davis, stayed in his blue oxford shirt. ''I am what I am,'' Davis said.

When campaigning for chief financial officer last fall, Tom Lee, a Central Florida developer born in Texas, went so far as to film a spot in Littl Havana's Domino Park. But his lack of familiarity with Cuban-American culture slipped out during an interview with The Miami Herald editorial board when he inadvertently referred to Radio Mambí by another name: Radio Mambo.

His Democratic opponent, Alex Sink, experienced a similar moment of cultural disconnect during a fundraiser at a Little Havana restaurant. When her café con leche arrived -- coffee in one cup, hot milk in the other -- she looked confused and asked why there were two cups. ''Is that the leche?'' she drawled in her North Carolina accent.

Balsera was there and remembered the moment. ''I laughed,'' he said. ``We can't be ethnocentric. We can't expect people who aren't from this community to immediately understand all our traditions and customs.''

Miami Herald staff writer Amy Driscoll contributed to this report.


These people are all clueless

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Dems Seek Maximum Political Gain in Attorneys Uproar

Congressional Democrats are planning a new, two-track strategy for maximizing the political windfall -- and the disclosure of potentially embarrassing information -- from the Bush administration's firings of eight federal prosecutors, according to top party officials.

House and Senate Democrats plan to delve deep into the details of the corruption cases that might have been disrupted by the high-level purge, the officials said. At the same time, top Democrats will escalate the fight for testimony from top White House officials, including Karl Rove.

"I want testimony under oath," Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday. "I am sick and tired getting half truths on this." Some Republicans close to the White House expect the strategy to result in the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

Several Democratic officials were unabashed in discussing the potential political benefits for their party if they can convince voters that President Bush ousted U.S. attorneys for political reasons. Democratic strategists said the controversy is already helping them recruit House and Senate challengers for '08 races. "We know from last cycle that Democrats can win in Republican district where corruption is an issue," one of the officials said.

Democratic officials told The Politico that one of the major questions Congress would like to pose to Rove, a deputy chief of staff to Bush, and other administration officials is the extent of Bush's
knowledge of the impending changes. One of the officials said the questions would concern whether the president "was aware of the changes, gave his okay, or was briefed on them and didn't raise objections."

Democratic pollsters have been asked to research in greater detail the theory of some party strategists that while many swing voters think the mess in Iraq is at least partly beyond the president's control, they can be convinced that the clumsy handling of the prosecutors can be blamed on him directly.

The controversy is expected to intensify this week.

On Monday, the Justice Department is scheduled to send Capitol Hill a massive batch of documents covering such sensitive matters as communications between Justice and the prosecutors after they were fired and communications between Justice and members of Congress before the decisions were made.

"Every time you get more memos, or more communications between the White House and the Justice Department, you get more facts that don't look good," said Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. "The White House either hired a bunch of incompetent U.S. attorneys to start with, or hired a bunch of competent U.S attorneys that were incompetently fired."

On Tuesday, White House counsel Fred Fielding is scheduled to meet with congressional staff members about their demand for testimony from Rove and other presidential advisers. One possible compromise would be to find a way for the officials to give statements on the record without appearing for sworn testimony. A senior administration official said: "Fred's trying to figure out a way to accommodate the Congress and provide them the information they need while also preserving the president's right to get candid advice from his advisers."

Key figures in both parties believe Gonzales, who first went to work for George W. Bush as his general counsel in the Texas governor's office in 1995, will wind up resigning over the imbroglio. "I think he's gone," said a Republican official close to Bush. Gonzales would not be fired, key officials said, and the White House continued to say over the weekend that he has Bush's "full confidence." Republicans point out that Bush may not want to undergo the bloodletting that would be involved in trying to win confirmation of a Gonzales successor. And Democrats admit that even if Gonzales departed, that would not sate their insistence on hearing from Rove and other White House officials who were involved.

Emanuel said his party would continue to focus on the corruption cases that several of the prosecutors had under way when they were fired. "One operative theory, and that doesn't mean that it's right," Emanuel said, "is that if you believe corruption was at the root of the election results, one way to handle that is to get rid of the U.S. attorneys who were pursuing corruption cases."

Another act in the drama opened this weekend with the release of a statement by D. Kyle Sampson, who was chief of staff to Gonzales and resigned effective March 12. Sampson briefly continued to go into his office as part of a transition but left for good on March 14, according to officials familiar with his status.

The statement was issued by his lawyer, Bradford A. Berenson, who had worked for Gonzales in the White House counsel's office for the first two years of Bush's presidency. The statement makes it clear that Sampson does not want to be blamed for the fiasco, and particularly for any incomplete briefing of Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty and Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General William E. Moschella before they testified to Congress about a lack of political influence on the decision to dismiss the prosecutors. Here is the statement in full:

"Kyle did not resign because he had misled anyone at the Justice Department or withheld information concerning the replacement of the U.S. Attorneys. He resigned because, as Chief of Staff, he felt he had let the Attorney General down in failing to appreciate the need for and organize a more effective response to the unfounded accusations that the replacements were improper. The fact that the White House and Justice Department had been discussing this subject since the election was well-known to a number of other senior officials at the Department, including others who were involved in preparing the
Department's testimony to Congress. If this background was not called to Mr. McNulty or Mr. Moschella's attention, it was not because any of these individuals deliberately withheld it from them but rather because no one focused on it at the time. The focus of preparation efforts was on why the U.S. Attorneys had been replaced, not how."

Well Nixon must be happy, there is finally an administration more corrupt than his.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Chlorine Bombers Sicken Hundreds in Iraq

BAGHDAD (AP) - Three suicide bombers driving trucks rigged with tanks of toxic chlorine gas struck targets in heavily Sunni Anbar province including the office of a Sunni tribal leader opposed to al-Qaida. The attacks killed at least two people and sickened 350 Iraqi civilians and six U.S. troops, the U.S. military said Saturday.

There is a mounting power struggle between insurgents and the growing number of Sunnis who oppose them in Anbar, the center of the Sunni insurgency, which stretches from Baghdad to the borders with Syria, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. The Anbar assaults came three days after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, traveled there to reach out to Sunni clan chiefs in a bid to undermine tribal support for the insurgency.

The violence started about 4:11 p.m. Friday when a driver detonated explosives in a pickup truck carrying chlorine at a checkpoint northeast of the provincial capital of Ramadi, wounding one U.S. service member and one Iraqi civilian, the military said in a statement.

Two hours later a dump truck exploded in Amiriyah, south of Fallujah, killing two policemen and leaving as many as 100 residents with symptoms of chlorine exposure ranging from minor skin and lung irritations to vomiting, the military said. Iraqi authorities said at least six people were killed and dozens wounded when the truck blew up in a line of cars waiting at a checkpoint. The U.S. did not confirm the Iraqi report.

Ahmed Kuhdier, a 32-year-old taxi driver, said the blast sent up a plume of white smoke that turned black and blue.

"Minutes later, we started to smell nasty smells. I saw people coming from the explosion site and they were coughing and having trouble breathing," he said.

Another suicide bomber detonated a dump truck containing a 200-gallon chlorine tank rigged with explosives at 7:13 p.m. three miles south of Fallujah in the Albu Issa tribal region, the military said. U.S. forces found about 250 local civilians, including seven children, suffering from symptoms related to chlorine exposure, according to the statement. Police said the bomb was targeting the reception center of a tribal sheik who has denounced al-Qaida.

Four other bombings have released chlorine gas since Jan. 28, when a suicide bomber driving a dump truck filled with explosives and a chlorine tank struck a quick-reaction force and Iraqi police in Ramadi, killing 16 people. The U.S. military has warned that insurgents are adopting new tactics in a campaign to spread panic.

The most recent such attack occurred Feb. 21 in Baghdad, killing five people and sending more than 55 to hospitals, a day after a bomb planted on a chlorine tanker left more than 150 villagers stricken near Taji, 12 miles north of the capital.

A previously unannounced suicide car bombing in Ramadi involving chlorine killed two Iraqi security officers and wounded 16 other people, including 13 civilians, on Feb. 19, the military said Saturday.

The military said last month that U.S. troops found a car bomb factory near Fallujah with about 65 propane tanks and ordinary chemicals it believed the insurgents were going to try to mix with explosives. Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, the chief U.S. military spokesman, called it a "crude attempt to raise the terror level."

Chlorine, which irritates the respiratory system, eyes and skin at low exposure and can cause death in heavier concentrations, is easily accessible. It is used for water purification plants, bleaches and disinfectants.

The primary effect of the chlorine attacks has been to spread panic. Although chlorine gas can be fatal, the heat from the explosions can render the gas nontoxic. Victims in the recent chlorine blasts died from the explosions, and not the effects of the gas.

Friday's strikes underscore the increasingly violent struggle for control of Anbar - a center for anti-U.S. guerrillas since the uprising in Fallujah in 2004 that galvanized the insurgency. In the past year, some major Sunni tribes have broken with the al-Qaida-linked insurgents - a move that has led to a new sense of optimism among U.S. officials in Anbar.

Al-Maliki on Tuesday made his first trip to Anbar province, meeting with influential clan chiefs whom the U.S. and the Iraqi government are cultivating. He expressed optimism the violence could be stopped and promised the area would not be forgotten as U.S. and Iraqi forces focus on a security sweep to stop the sectarian violence in Baghdad.

Bombings and shootings targeted police patrols elsewhere in Iraq Saturday, killing five policemen, including two who died after a suicide car bomber struck the checkpoint they were manning near a Sunni mosque in western Baghdad.

At least 34 other Iraqis were killed or found dead in attacks throughout the country, including five civilians shot to death in separate attacks in Diyala province northeast of the capital. Officials also said the director of the Sunni Endowment for mosques in Diyala, Fouad Mahmoud Attaya, was abducted earlier this week by gunmen in Baqouba and an investigation was under way.

A U.S. soldier was shot to death in fighting in the provincial capital of Baqouba, the military said. On Friday, a roadside bomb killed a soldier and wounded three others on a foot patrol south of Baghdad, the military said.

Gunmen abducted a radio newscaster and his driver in a predominantly Sunni neighborhood in western Baghdad, the station's director said.

Karim Manhal, a newscaster with Radio Dijla, and his driver were seized by four masked men in the Jami'a neighborhood near the station's headquarters, director Karim Yousif said. A female staffer who was with them in the car was released, he said.

Radio Dijla, named after the Arabic name for the Tigris River, was created in 2004 as Iraq's first independent talk radio station.

Protesters angry about U.S. policy in Iraq marched by the thousands in Washington and in smaller numbers in other U.S. cities and overseas ahead of Tuesday's four-year anniversary of the Iraq invasion.

"Too many people have died and it doesn't solve anything," said Ann Bonner, who drove to Washington through snow with her family from Ohio. "I feel bad carrying out my daily activities while people are suffering, Americans and Iraqis."

Australian Prime Minister John Howard, meanwhile, declined to commit to a timeline for withdrawing the country's 1,400 troops from Iraq.

"Great progress has been achieved, but there is still work to be done," Howard said during a news conference with al-Maliki. "As you know, I don't set speculative dates. There is nothing to be achieved by that."

Howard, a staunch U.S. ally, arrived in Baghdad after his plane was forced to make an emergency landing in southeastern Iraq because it filled with smoke, according to the Australian Associated Press. No one was injured.


Friday, March 16, 2007

re: "Planning a war without regard to the enemy"

"TigerHawk takes one of the most legitimate criticisms of pre-invasion planning for the Iraq campaign and points it in a different direction.

Money quote(s):

"The biggest credible indictment of the Bush administration's planning and execution of the invasion and occupation of Iraq is that it failed to imagine the many ways in which the enemy would adjust to each American initiative, whether on the battlefield or in the political reconstruction of the country. It was as if we were planning to fight the war as we imagined or hoped it would be, rather than as it was.""
Consul at Arms

A Leftist with Brains

But how is it possible for us to call ourselves Marxists and support a war waged by a coalition of rich western liberal democracies against the government of a poor “Third World” country? We would turn the question round: how it is possible that Marxism has been so corrupted and distorted that “Marxists” prefer to see thousands more Iraqis die in the torture chambers of the Ba’ath, and millions more suffer under the iniquities excused (not caused) by the UN sanctions, rather than admit that socialists not only can but must support even the worst bourgeois democracy against even the least bad tyranny? For the beginnings of an answer, let us consider just some of the transparent and disgusting lies generated and spread by the western “left” before and during the war."
Well I have been here, maybe nowhere as articulate, nor a "Marxist", just your average lefty, but here non the less

U.S. general feeds sweet tooth in Iraq

RAMADI, IRAQ — The commander of U.S. troops in Iraq wanted some sweets, and nothing was going to stop him. Not even the fact that he was tramping through a neighborhood that only days ago had been teeming with snipers and Al Qaeda fighters who would love nothing better than to say they just shot Gen. David H. Petraeus.

With soldiers casting anxious glances along the desolate dirt road, the four-star Army general made a beeline for a tiny shop and helped himself to a bite-sized, honey-coated pastry proffered by the owner.

Oblivious to the flies buzzing around his head, Petraeus chatted briefly with a man who said his cafe had been damaged in recent battles between U.S. forces and insurgents.

Then, after promising compensation for the cafe owner, Petraeus hiked on. "Tell him the next time I come back to Ramadi, we'll eat his chow," Petraeus said as he headed into the blistering sun.

Days ago, this might not have been possible, but in an effort to show off what they say has been a shift of allegiance among residents in Sunni Arab insurgent territory, U.S. and Iraqi officials Tuesday brought an all-star cast of military and political figures to Ramadi.

While Petraeus did his walkabout, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki visited with regional sheiks, his first stop here since becoming prime minister 10 months ago and part of a campaign to ensure loyalty from powerful Sunnis who once harbored insurgents.

The campaign gained momentum last fall when a group of sheiks from across the western province of Al Anbar, whose capital is Ramadi, met with Maliki in Baghdad.

Just what led to the sheiks' decision to work with the U.S.-backed, Shiite Muslim-dominated government after years of supporting Sunni insurgents depends on whom you ask.

U.S. military officials say the sheiks finally realized that by boycotting the December 2005 elections that eventually brought Maliki to power and refusing to be a part of his government, they were missing out on valuable economic opportunities for their cities and towns.

"This is part of joining the process," said the commander of multinational forces in this region, Marine Maj. Gen. Walter E. Gaskin. "They realize that if they had taken part in the elections, well, perhaps some of these sheiks would be the governor or the provincial chairman."

Sunni leaders here have another version: They simply got fed up with Al Qaeda in Iraq's brutality. They came to see the group, which touts itself as an Islamic force repelling foreign occupiers, as a terrorist organization hell-bent on taking over their lives, even killing innocent civilians.

Maj. Shabah Ahmed, an Iraqi army officer in Ramadi, said the turning point for him, and for many Ramadi residents, came a little more than a year ago, when a suicide bomber walked into an abandoned glass factory that was being used as a police recruiting station and detonated his explosive vest, killing scores of young men.

"That's when we realized that these people don't distinguish between the sons of our city and the soldiers," Ahmed said. "They just have an agenda to destroy."

Whatever the reason, U.S. military officials in Ramadi say the switch has been crucial to enabling U.S. and Iraqi forces to make headway here after years of battling to drive out the Al Qaeda in Iraq militants.

The region is part of what military officials consider the "belt" around Baghdad, and securing it is seen as key to making the latest U.S.-Iraqi security plan a success. "You have to secure some of these belt areas that feed into Baghdad, and the route along the Euphrates River valley is a dagger that goes right to the heart of Baghdad," Petraeus said.

Ahmed spoke while standing in a joint U.S.-Iraqi outpost established in a former high school in Ramadi, a former industrial center on the Euphrates River with a population once estimated at 400,000. Today, there are few traces of its status as a provincial capital. Fighting between U.S.-led forces and Sunni insurgents has sapped the city, and it continues on a regular basis as the American and Iraqi troops try to drive out the insurgents, one neighborhood at a time.

Smashed remains of the government headquarters line the main road leading toward the center of town. Jagged holes from bullets, bombs and rockets pock most buildings. The only thing that appears relatively unscathed is the massive Saddam Mosque, named for Iraq's former leader, Saddam Hussein.

Other than a dog snoozing on the side of the road and cats scavenging for scraps, there were few signs of life as a military convoy rumbled down a main drag Tuesday.

Three weeks ago, troops from the Army's 1st Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, out of Ft. Carson, Colo., mounted an offensive to secure this section of Ramadi, which Lt. Col. Charles Ferry said had been an insurgent safe area. Working with Iraqi troops, Ferry and his soldiers battled for several nights to secure a foothold and move into an abandoned building.

The area was so littered with explosive devices planted along the streets that one Iraqi involved in the fighting called it a "flower garden" of bombs.

The insurgents may have been driven out of this particular neighborhood, but Ferry said they remained in the vicinity, regularly lobbing mortar rounds and firing shots at troops, who Tuesday were filling sacks with dirt to erect barriers around their Spartan housing.

Just outside the walls of the compound, coils of concertina wire crossed the dirt roads to make getaways on foot difficult. Concrete barriers had been erected to deter car bombers.

Although Petraeus was confident that it was safe enough for a foot patrol in this area, it was clear that the troops accompanying him still considered it a dicey proposition. As he walked down the center of roads, they lined the sides and perched on the corners, eyeing the nearby buildings and cross streets.

If Petraeus was concerned, he gave no indication of it, waltzing through a small outdoor market and amiably shouting out greetings. Some people responded by asking when the garbage would be picked up and how they could be sure the area would stay quiet. One man suggested that the military issue identification cards for residents, to prevent outsiders from entering.

Petraeus' patrol went off without incident, and hours later he met up with the same local sheiks who had spent the day with Maliki.

Maliki, accompanied by the ministers of defense and interior, spoke with members of a tribal alliance calling itself the Al Anbar Salvation Council, which has encouraged its followers to join the police and has also formed its own force to fight militant factions. Maliki listened to their security and economic concerns and assured them of his government's help, according to tribal representatives who attended the meeting.

Sheik Abdul-Sattar abu Risha, the head of the council, later told journalists that tribal leaders had turned toward the government and the United States because Al Qaeda in Iraq "was killing everyone."

To Petraeus, he said, "All of Anbar is with you."

"People who tell you Anbar is not with you, they are liars," he insisted, his long, gold-trimmed cloak fluttering in the wind caused by the convoy of helicopters waiting to return the visitors to Baghdad.


H/T Badgers Forward

Where is Bin Laden?

"...There are many other questions about Zawahri himself. Where is he now to be able to send statements from Afghanistan or Pakistan to Al-Jazeera in Qatar? Is Al-Jazeera sharing information about whom and when and where it had the tapes of these statements?

Indeed and until now we can assume, based on the ground facts that the US led war against terrorism has failed so far.

In Iraq there are some news and roamers about imminent major attacks on the same time in the next few weeks or even days. Targets to inflame the situation like religious sites are high on the agenda of the terrorists as well as the use of non-conventional weapons. This may come as part of the terrorists to say that the Baghdad security plan failed."

Insurgents Target Strykers in Iraq

BAQOUBA, Iraq (AP) - Dozens of U.S. Stryker combat vehicles roared into Baqouba at sunrise. The enemy was ready. As the dawn call-to-prayer fell silent, the streets blazed with insurgent fire.

Within minutes of the start of their first mission in Diyala province Wednesday a voice crackled across the radio: "Catastrophic kill, with casualties."

Inside the rear of one Stryker, soldiers shushed one another and leaned closer to the radio. They all knew what it meant. A U.S. vehicle had been lost to hostile fire.

Nearly 100 Strykers, armored troop carriers with 50-caliber machine guns, were called north from Baghdad into the province and its capital to try - yet again - to rout Sunni insurgents, many who recently fled the month-old Baghdad security operation.

The fighters have renewed their campaign of bombings and killings just 35 miles northeast of the capital as the war enters its fifth year. Diyala province is quickly becoming as dangerous as Anbar province, the Sunni insurgent bastion west of Baghdad.

Rocket-propelled grenades pounded buildings Wednesday where U.S. soldiers sought cover. Mortar rounds soared overhead and crashed to earth spewing clouds of deadly shrapnel.

Gunfire rattled ceaselessly - the hollow pop of insurgent AK-47s and whoosh of grenade launchers nearly drowned out by shuddering blasts from the 50-caliber machine guns.

Soldiers screamed into their radios for backup. Apache attack helicopters swooped in, firing Hellfire missiles.

By day's end, one soldier was dead, 12 wounded and two Strykers destroyed. The Americans said dozens of insurgents were killed but gave no specific number.

It was a bloody first day for the 2nd Infantry Division's 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment - the crack Stryker battalion dispatched from Baghdad's northern suburbs.

"They threw everything at us - RPGs, mortars - and a guy even tossed a grenade just in front of my vehicle," said Capt. Huber Parsons, the 28-year-old commander of the 5-20's Attack company. "But the most devastating was the IEDs," the Coral Gables, Fla., native said. He was talking about improvised explosive devices - roadside bombs.

One Stryker was lost in a particularly sophisticated ambush.

Struck head-on by an IED, the rubber-tired armored vehicle was swallowed up in the bomb crater. Insurgents emerged from hiding, firing RPGs in unison.

The Stryker crew was trapped. One U.S. soldier was killed. All nine other crew members were wounded, though six later returned to duty.

The other Stryker was destroyed when a roadside bomb exploded as the armored vehicle drove over it. The nine-man squad got out alive, three with injuries.

"It was quite an introduction to Diyala," said Sgt. William Rose of the 5-20's 3rd platoon, Alpha company. "That was the most contact we've had in weeks, maybe months," said Rose, a 26-year-old Arlington, Mass., native.

"They always say the next place we're going is the worst - the most violent - and it never turns out to be the case," Rose said. "They really meant it this time."

Violence has risen dramatically in Diyala since the Feb. 14 launch of the Baghdad security operation. Insurgents have slowly been taking control for months, however. Attacks on American forces in the province have shot up 70 percent since July, according to military figures.

The Stryker group sent to fight the insurgents was hand-picked by Gen. Ray Odierno, the second in command of all U.S. forces in Iraq. It marked the opening of a new front in the Baghdad security operation, a broadening of the mission for which President Bush has promised more than 20,000 additional soldiers.

The Stryker group came to Baqouba on Tuesday full of optimism about pacifying Diyala, as they did earlier in parts of Baghdad and in the northern city of Mosul.

Confidence faded Wednesday in the hail of insurgent fire and news of casualties among comrades.

"Our first day and we lost one already," said 22-year-old Spc. Jose Charriez of Hermiston, Ore. "You realize how quickly your life can go."

He and his comrades went through names - Jones, Rubenstein, could it be them? - trying to figure out who died. A young private bowed his head in prayer.

"One killed in action and nine casualties. That's basically all of us right here," said Spc. Anthony Bradshaw, a 21-year-old from San Antonio, pointing to the nine men around him.

Hunkered down in their vehicles, the 3rd platoon was itching to get into the fight. They are infantrymen trained for foot patrols, not to ride in armored vehicles, they said. And word of the two lost vehicles fueled their determination.

Then the order came: dismount, clear houses to the north.

At the back of the Stryker, the hatch dropped open, and nine soldiers piled out. They took cover on the front porch of an abandoned house and plotted their path. Explosions rang out to the east, source unknown.

They crouched behind a crumbling cement wall separating overgrown lawns where rusted garbage trucks lay. With large red wire cutters, Spc. Jeremiah Westerfeld, 22, ripped through concertina wire to allow the soldiers to scramble over the wall.

The Batesville, Ind., native bent over and offered a reporter his shoulder as a step to break her fall.

They dropped down into a scruffy yard, thick with foliage and muddy ruts. A dog barked wildly. Smoke grenades were thrown for cover.

Someone shot the dog.

Doors were kicked in, residents questioned. One vacant house was booby-trapped with a trip wire connected to a homemade bomb made from a propane tank.

Throughout the day, soldiers took aim but seldom got a clear shot at the elusive militants, who hid behind rooftop water tanks and vanished in lush palm groves. Gunfire seemed to come from nowhere and from everywhere.

Insurgent fire kicked up pebbles at the Americans' feet as they ran between buildings. Incoming bullets were getting more accurate.

In Baghdad, the 5-20 met little resistance as it scoured suspected insurgent dens in neighborhoods around Sadr City. They often drank tea with residents.

Things were different in Diyala, which could prove far more difficult to tame than Baghdad.

"I think the chai (tea) days - the quiet days - are over," said 24-year-old Pfc. Allen Groth of Winona, Minn.


Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Shell games...

"Oshay, Afghanistan - As the US Apache helicopter flew over head, two other helicopters, a US Blackhawk and a Dutch Cougar touched down on the gravel landing zone on the edge of the fire base. A vehicle was pulled up near by, as several US soldiers quickly unloaded the bags. From the Cougar two Dutch Army personnel from the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Terin Kowt stepped out and were directed towards the entry gate of the fire base, while another US soldier moved to the Blackhawk to greet the representative from the US State Department. Keeping her head low and quickly walking beyond the limit of the rotor blades, she joined up with the two Dutch visitors as the three of them were escorted off of the air field. In the background the two helicopters took flight again disappearing into the valley with the Apache escort close behind."
KGW Afghanistan Blog

Hell hath no fury

"… Like a bloggers scorn.
At least Gen. Pace has learned that today.

More than a few bloggers (here, here, here, here and here just to name a few of the more prominent ones) are jumping up and down on the Chairman for his remarks that “homosexuality is immoral.” He blamed cited his Christian upbringing as the source of his statement.

I am extremely disappointed.

First, I may be wrong (I am Jewish), but I thought I remember that Jesus saying something to the effect of he who is without sin casting the first stone.

Second, since when is it the role of the CJCS to be America’s moral cheerleader? His job is to fight and win wars, not lecture us on morality. If he had a relevant comment about Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and unit cohesion, that is one thing. (Personal aside, I think DADT is stupid and gays should be allowed to serve openly. And my general feeling is that most milbloggers don’t give a damn if there are gays in the military.)"
The D-Ring

TIMZ - Iraq (

Petraeus: Iran Training, Arming Militants

NEW YORK (AP) - The top U.S. commander in Iraq said in an interview released Monday that it's "indisputable" Iran is training and arming militants to fight against U.S.-led troops in Iraq.

Gen. David Petraeus also told ABC News that suicide bombers are streaming across Iraq's border from Syria and making their way into the country's volatile western Anbar province.

His comments follow a harsh exchange of words over the weekend between the U.S. and Iran at a conference in Baghdad on Iraq's security. The U.S. envoy to the talks, David Satterfield, said he had evidence that Iran was arming Shiite Muslim militias in Iraq, which his Iranian counterpart, Abbas Araghchi, vehemently denied. He called such accusations a "cover" for U.S. failures in Iraq.

At the conference, both Iran and Syria pledged to support moves to stabilize Iraq, including reconciliation among Iraq's factions. But U.S. and Iraqi leaders have questioned Iran's commitment to backing such American-led efforts.

In the interview with ABC, Petraeus said cooperation from Iran and Syria would be key to stopping the violence in Iraq.

He said there are elements of Iran's Revolutionary Guards elite Quds Force that are training fighters and sending them into Iraq to fight U.S.-led forces. He said Iran is also sending "rockets, mortars and other explosives and munitions" into the country.

"That's indisputable and again it's a very, very problematic situation four our soldiers and Iraqi soldiers," he told ABC.

"And if it's something that can be brought to a halt through these initiatives of the Iraqi government, we would applaud that vigorously," he said, referring to the talks in Baghdad aimed at bringing security to the country.


The Burning of Mutanabbi Street

"On Monday, a car bomb exploded on Baghdad's Mutanabbi Street, killing 26 people and injuring scores more. Wanton murders like this remain frequent in the capital, with "insurgent" ghouls intentionally blowing up young schoolgirls and women in outdoor markets. Still, there was an extra ache in the terrible news from Mutanabbi Street, an old byway dear to the memory of all Baghdadis for its booksellers, its bookbinders, its stationers, and its cafes. The poignant image of the wrecked street, with countless bits of burning paper floating down on the stunned residents, reflected an attack not only on Baghdad's people, but on the city's heart and memory as well.

Yet all sense of poignancy vanished for me when I saw The Washington Post's account of the bombing, which included the following breathtaking assertion: "When Saddam Hussein was in power, Mutanabi [sic] Street exuded a defiant spirit that reverberated through its bookstores and the famed Shabandar Cafe. Here, intellectuals, over cups of sweet tea, engaged in lively debates.""

New Column: Jihadist Meltdown

"I have a new column out: Jihadist Meltdown. It is my little macabre dance around the expiring corpse of the Iraqi insurgency. Some will take issue with it and point to every suicide bombing as if that's a refutation of the argument; these people are watching the day-to-day ups and downs of the insurgency as if it's the stock market while, in this analogy, I'd be looking at long-term economic trends.

To see me do this dance with sight and sound, check this interview:"
Talisman Gate

Sudden event...

"Fear is the only feeling our kids experience now days under the new democracy, my house was badly damaged by exploded fuel tank close to my house, the suicidal attacked the nearby police station.
As a Muslim I thank Allah that we are unharmed ,and my children did not injured, that was a miracle, we were in the garden at that time, my 3 years old son wasn't out yet ,he was in the hallway, two wooden doors slapped him and many glass splints , he surely got terrified, and panicked but he wasn't even scratched. He is not like ordinary child ,he feel unsecured, he don't play in his room nor sleep in it ,because he don't want to stay alone, he keep following me in the house and refuse to stay alone in any room inside our own house even for few minutes. in the last two weeks four bombed cars exploded in our neighborhood .how can I make my children feel tenable , at least in my house? how can I, if I my self don't feel secured??.."

Monday, March 12, 2007

Failure to Communicate

"A former translator in Iraq, Dustin Langan, wrote me today to tip me off about an interesting read in Radar, about the lack of good translators in Iraq. He was recruited by MZM Inc., one of the companies connected with the “Duke” Cunningham corruption scandal, to work in Iraq from 2003 to 2004, and he has some good points to make.

One that is personally dear to me is the treatment of the Iraqi translators. As he says:"
Back to Iraq

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Top U.S. military doctor in Iraq dies in crash

Army Col. Brian D. Allgood, MD, could have gone into private practice as a surgeon. Instead, he decided to serve his country.

Dr. Allgood, a Colorado Springs, Colo., native, went to Iraq in July 2006. He was the top medical officer, overseeing care of coalition troops. He also was responsible for the coalition's support of Iraqi health care, military officials said.

On Jan. 20, Dr. Allgood, 46, and 11 other soldiers were killed when their helicopter crashed north of Baghdad. He left behind a wife and a young son.

"[Dr. Allgood] was committed to doing what he was doing. He very much knew the risk involved," said Richard Allgood, MD, a thoracic surgeon in Lawton, Okla., and Dr. Brian Allgood's uncle. "He was absolutely doing what he always wanted to do, combining a military and medical career."

Dr. Brian Allgood was the highest-ranking physician to die in Iraq and is one of only two U.S. military physicians among troops in Iraq and Afghanistan to be killed in action, according to the military.

The other physician who died in Iraq was Army Maj. Mark D. Taylor, MD.

Dr. Taylor, 41, of Stockton, Calif., died on March 20, 2004, when the surgeon's living area in Fallujah came under rocket attack.

He had been stationed with the 82nd Airborne Division in Fort Bragg, N.C. He gave his son his dog tags before he left for Iraq and told him to wear them until he returned home.

"He was very intelligent, had a great sense of humor and was a compassionate person," family friend Cathy Conrad told the Associated Press after Dr. Taylor's death. "There were lots of people who just loved him, and he was a very driven individual."


Strange days

Halliburton CEO moves from Houston to Dubai

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Oil services giant Halliburton Co. will soon shift its corporate headquarters from Houston to the Mideast financial powerhouse of Dubai, chief executive Dave Lesar announced Sunday.

"Halliburton is opening its corporate headquarters in Dubai while maintaining a corporate office in Houston," spokeswoman Cathy Mann said in an e-mail to The Associated Press. "The chairman, president and CEO will office from and be based in Dubai to run the company from the UAE."

Lesar, speaking at an energy conference in nearby Bahrain, said he will relocate to Dubai from Texas to oversee Halliburton's intensified focus on business in the Mideast and energy-hungry Asia, home to some of the world's most important oil and gas markets.

"As the CEO, I'm responsible for the global business of Halliburton in both hemispheres and I will continue to spend quite a bit of time in an airplane as I remain attentive to our customers, shareholders and employees around the world," Lesar said. "Yes, I will spend the majority of my time in Dubai."

Lesar's announcement appears to signal one of the highest-profile moves by a U.S. corporate leader to Dubai, an Arab boomtown where free-market capitalism has been paired with some of the world's most liberal tax, investment and residency laws.

"The eastern hemisphere is a market that is more heavily weighted toward oil exploration and production opportunities and growing our business here will bring more balance to Halliburton's overall portfolio," Lesar said.

In 2006, Halliburton — once headed by Vice President Dick Cheney — earned profits of $2.3 billion on revenues of $22.6 billion.

More than 38 percent of Halliburton's $13 billion oil field services revenue last year stemmed from sources in the eastern hemisphere, where the firm has 16,000 of its 45,000 employees.

Cheney was Halliburton's chief executive from 1995-2000 and the Bush administration has been accused of favoring the conglomerate with lucrative no-bid contracts in Iraq.

Federal investigators last month alleged Halliburton was responsible for $2.7 billion of the $10 billion in contractor waste and overcharging in Iraq.

Halliburton last month announced a 40-percent decline in fourth-quarter profit, despite heavy demand for its oil field equipment and personnel.


I guess we wont have to worry about port security anymore.

Al-Baghdadi is still on the loose…

"So we keep hearing that he’d been nabbed, but it turns out that it’s not true. However, these recurrent stories indicate that the Americans and the Iraqis are closing in: it could be a case of releasing false information in order to discern a pattern in the digital communications, which may in turn give an indication as to where Abu Omar al-Baghdadi is hiding out. The reasoning is that the people who have a means of getting in touch with al-Baghdadi would panic upon hearing the news of the arrest and begin to make phone calls or use whatever channels to check if the news is true or not. Eventually the traffic would head to a phone number on al-Baghdadi’s person or near enough to him. Doing this later in the evening, when overall phone or internet communications usage is thinner, would be even more helpful; the latest arrest news was released late at night."
Talisman Gate

Father and Son

"Last Sunday I met D's father. He was visiting C for Charlie Company, talking with Soldiers that had known his son, collecting email addresses and phone numbers, wanting pictures of his boy. SFC Anderson, my longtime friend and platoon sergeant, told me Arnold Sr was outside.
I stood inside the glass doors watching him talk to the company commander, unsure what exactly to do.
Conflicting emotions rose up inside, my chest filling a balloon of pain, throat tight. I felt rooted to the spot, gravity holding me down to the concrete floor. How do I tell this man what I know? What I feel? What I felt that day? "
This is Your War II

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Yep, Still Alive

"I'm on the "weekend" back in Ramadi, doing vehicle maintenance and sleeping a lot. I'm away from my computer and consistent internet here. My apologies for the lack of posting. I'll be writing some more in a few days.

There's an interview with me up on Keep on the lookout for a upcoming interview with BLACKFIVE, as well."
Acute Politics

"It Struck Me Then That We, The American Soldiers, Were The Terrorists"

"Feb 7, 2007 By JOSHUA KEY. Excerpt from The Deserter’s Tale, published by House Of Anansi

Joshua Key, 28, was a poor, uneducated Oklahoma country boy who saw the U.S. army and its promised benefits -- from free health care to career training -- as the ticket to a better life. In 2002, not yet 24 but already married and the father of two , Key enlisted. He says his recruiting officer promised he'd never be deployed abroad, but a year later he was in Iraq."
Citizen of Mosul

Friday, March 09, 2007

Life In Iraq

(a new video)
Sniper Eye

Insurgent Leader Nabbed in Iraq Raid

BAGHDAD (AP) - The shadowy leader of the Islamic State of Iraq, an al-Qaida-inspired group that challenged the authority of Iraq's government, was captured Friday in a raid on the western outskirts of Baghdad, an Iraqi military spokesman said.

Abu Omar al-Baghdadi was arrested along with several other insurgents in a raid in the town of Abu Ghraib, said Brig. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, spokesman for the Baghdad security operation. U.S. officials had no confirmation of the capture and said they were looking into the report.

Al-Moussawi said al-Baghdadi admitted his identity, as did another "of the terrorists" who confirmed "that the one in our hands is al-Baghdadi."

The arrest of al-Baghdadi would be a major victory for U.S. and Iraqi forces in their fight against Sunni insurgents, especially the hardcore religious extremists who have shown no interest in negotiating an end to their struggle.

But some analysts have pointed out that the al-Qaida-linked extremists rebounded following the death last June of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the charismatic al-Qaida in Iraq leader who died in a U.S. airstrike in Diyala province.

The self-styled Islamic State of Iraq was proclaimed in October, when a militant network that includes al-Qaida in Iraq announced in a video that it had established an Islamic state in six provinces including Baghdad that have large Sunni populations, along with parts of two other central provinces that are predominantly Shiite.

Unlike al-Zarqawi, virtually nothing is known of al-Baghdadi, including his real name. It is widely assumed that the name al-Baghdadi was taken as part of a campaign to make al-Qaida appear more of a homegrown Iraqi movement rather than an organization dominated by foreigners.

In a tape released last November, al-Zarqawi's successor, Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, called on Sunni Muslims to pledge their allegiance to this new state and said al-Baghdadi was "the ruler of believers" with al-Qaida in Iraq fighters under his command.

Since then, the trappings of an Islamic shadow state with al-Qaida as its base has been taking shape in some towns and cities of Anbar province where a government presence hardly exists, according to Sunni residents.

Residents of Sunni insurgent areas north and west of the capital have reported seeing handbills posted on walls in the group's name warning against un-Islamic behavior such as drinking alcohol.

Some residents of Anbar say Islamic State members have on occasion publicly flogged men for other offenses such as wearing long hair or harassing women and provided cooking fuel to residents in areas where the Iraqi government has little presence.

In its numerous Web postings, the Islamic State refers to punishment meted out by Islamic courts, although it is uncertain if these meet any standard under Islamic jurisprudence.

Last weekend, the Islamic State posted an online video of the execution-style shooting of 18 Iraqi security troops kneeling on the ground near a citrus grove. The three-minute video claimed the 18 kidnapped government security forces were slain in retaliation for the alleged rape of a Sunni woman by members of the Shiite-dominated police in Baghdad.

A senior adviser to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told The Associated Press that al-Baghdadi had been taken into custody. The adviser spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.

The reported arrest followed rumors this week that al-Baghdadi's brother had been arrested in a raid near Tikrit.

On Friday, the Islamic State of Iraq announced it would soon release a video on the death of a U.S. Air Force pilot whose F-16 jet crashed Nov. 27 north of Baghdad, according to IntelCenter, which monitors insurgent Web sites.

The pilot, Maj. Troy L. Gilbert, was listed officially as "whereabouts unknown" but then reported by the U.S. military as dead following DNA tests from remains at the scene. IntelCenter said it was unclear what the video would show.

The Islamic State has also claimed responsibility for downing several of the U.S. helicopters lost since Jan. 20, including one in Diyala province that killed 12 soldiers and a Sea Knight transport helicopter north of Fallujah that killed seven.

On Wednesday, the group claimed in a Web posting that its members stormed a northern Iraqi prison the previous day and freed 150 inmates there. The statement said the raid was personally ordered by al-Baghdadi.

Iraqi police had said gunmen stormed the Badoosh prison, 15 miles northwest of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, and freed about 140 inmates, going cell to cell, then fled themselves.

The purported arrest comes at a time when the Baghdad security operation is showing early signs of progress in curbing violence. Car bombings have decreased in frequency, despite last Monday's devastating blast that killed 38 and this week's rash of assaults against Shiite pilgrims that claimed more than 340 lives nationwide.

U.S. forces, meanwhile, killed a suspected militant and captured 16 others in raids across Iraq, the military said. Among those detained were a man accused of working in al-Qaida's media wing and another believed to be responsible for kidnappings, beheadings and suicide attacks.

"The terrorist cells are being dismantled and operations will continue until we put an end to this dangerous plight that threatens the unity and the prosperity of the people," al-Maliki said Friday.

South of the capital, Shiite Muslims began holy rites in Karbala at the start of a holiday that marks the end of a 40-day mourning period after the anniversary of the death of the Prophet Muhammad's grandson.

Crowds of pilgrims held their hands in the air and bowed their foreheads to the ground, chanting prayers outside Karbala's Imam Hussein shrine, 50 miles south of Baghdad. Iraqi television channels streamed live video of noontime prayers at the shrine.

Millions of pilgrims have traveled to Karbala over the past week, and more than 350 people have died in violence since Monday - most of them Shiite pilgrims killed in sectarian attacks along the way.

"To the martyrs who were killed during the procession to Karbala ... we offer sympathy to their families," Sheik Ahmed al-Safi said in a sermon Friday at the Iman Hussein shrine.

"I demand the government hit with an iron hand ... the outlaws and terrorists," he said. "All Iraqis should feel safe under the state's umbrella."


When Do You Get the Feeling You're Doing Something Wrong or My Peeps, Yo.

"I love to find useless pieces of Army history. I was just browsing around on the heraldic pages on the Army sites and found a page that gives you the order of medals and ribbons for the last 100 or so years. I found this and Iraq jumped right into my head.

One Hundred years ago American troops occupied Cuba after the Spanish-American War. My Grandfather was 8 years old and a citizen of Spain since he was born in 1895, my Grandmother having been born in 1900 was born an American citizen since Cuba was under American governance at the time."
Candle in the Dark
My Grandmother was born in Cuba in the year 1900, yet I do not think she had US Citizenship. She became a US Citizen in her 60's while living out the remainder of here life here in Miami.

Cubans sneak ashore during U.S. security drill

MIAMI (Reuters) - While hundreds of U.S. law enforcement agents intercepted imaginary Cuban migrants during a massive training exercise in south Florida, two boatloads of actual Cubans sneaked ashore on Miami Beach on Thursday.

Boaters dropped off 21 Cuban migrants at a popular nudist beach and left 19 others on another beach a few hours later, the Border Patrol said. Both vessels escaped.

"It's our belief that they were the result of organized smuggling," Border Patrol spokesman Steve McDonald said.

The Cubans arrived on day two of a training exercise to test "Operation Vigilant Sentry," the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's plan to halt a possible mass migration from the Caribbean. About 325 agents from 85 federal, state and local law enforcement agencies took part in the exercise, which ended on Thursday.

"We're not embarrassed at all," McDonald said. "It's not uncommon for them (Cubans) to have landings."

Thursday's arrivals almost certainly will be granted asylum, like most Cubans who reach U.S. soil. Cubans intercepted at sea are usually returned to their communist homeland.

The training scenario envisioned a mass exodus of Cubans fleeing violence after their government fell, with Florida boaters headed south to pick up relatives and a deadly virus spreading among 2,000 migrants intercepted at sea.

Most of the action was simulated, but the long-planned exercise took on new urgency after Cuban President Fidel Castro temporarily handed power to his brother, Defense Minister Raul Castro, and underwent gastrointestinal surgery in July.


"It's a mass migration plan in general. It doesn't have to be from Cuba," said Coast Guard Rear Adm. David Kunkel, director of the Homeland Security southeastern task force.

"However we do recognize that Cuba is certainly an area where we must be prepared."

Participants at one location pretended to be aboard a command ship at sea, relaying information to those at emergency centers from the Florida Keys to West Palm Beach. On paper, 26 Coast Guard cutters and seven Navy ships took part but the agencies saved fuel and manpower by putting only four helicopters and a dozen small boats into service.

The goal was to get all the agencies and the military working together to interdict at least 95 percent of the migrants before they reached the U.S. shores, and return them to their homeland.

"Since 9/11 it is essential that we work diligently to protect our borders," Kunkel said.

Many in south Florida law enforcement have worked on actual mass migrations in the past as waves of Cubans and Haitians fled violence, poverty and repression. Kunkel was a Coast Guard helicopter pilot in the Florida Keys during the 1980 Mariel boatlift, which brought 125,000 Cubans to southeastern Florida in a chaotic few months.

Since then, he said, "Things have changed. First of all, there is a plan."

The Coast Guard has picked up 637 Cubans at sea since October 1, and 2,810 in the 12 months before that.

The United States has better intelligence-gathering about political and economic conditions that could provoke a mass exodus, and would potentially have some lead time to warn would-be migrants against setting out for Florida, the Coast Guard officers said.

"Our message is, 'Don't take to the sea. It's dangerous,'" Kunkel said.