Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Kurdish Leader Warns of Iraqi Civil War

BAGHDAD (AP) - The leader of Iraq's Kurdish region warned Tuesday of a "real civil war" if the central government does not implement a constitutional clause on the future of Kirkuk, the oil-rich city claimed by the Kurds.

Control over Kirkuk and the surrounding oil wealth is in dispute among the city's Kurdish, Arab and ethnic Turkish populations. Nationally, the dispute pits the Kurds, who want to annex it to their autonomous region in northern Iraq, against the country's Arab majority and its small minority of Turks, known locally as Turkomen.

Massoud Barzani, speaking in an interview with U.S.-funded Alhurra television, complained that the Baghdad government was dragging its feet on holding a referendum that could put Kirkuk under control of the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq.

"There is procrastination (by the government) and if this issue is not resolved, as I said before, all options are open. ... Frankly I am not comfortable with the behavior and the policy of the federal government on Kirkuk and clause 140," he said.

The constitutional clause calls for a referendum in Kirkuk to decide its future status by the end of the year. Before the vote, the clause says Kurds expelled from the city during Saddam Hussein's rule must be allowed to return. A census would then be held to determine which ethnic group was a majority of the population.

Tens of thousands of Kurds have returned to the city since Saddam's ouster in 2003, but a census has not been conducted.

"The Kurds will never relinquish or bargain over Kirkuk, but we accepted to regain Kirkuk through constitutional and legal methods. But if we despair of those constitutional and legal methods, then we will have the right to resort to other means," Barzani warned.

"If clause 140 is not implemented, then there will be a real civil war," Barzani said, promising to visit Baghdad shortly to discuss the matter with the central government.

Barzani's warning was certain to deepen the political instability and further weaken Nouri al-Maliki, the embattled Shiite prime minister who already is fighting for his government's survival.

He is under severe pressure from Washington to take concrete steps to help reconcile Iraq's Shiites, Sunni Arabs and Kurds.

A blueprint for Kirkuk's future was laid out in Iraq's 2005 constitution, but the city is widely viewed as a time bomb that could plunge Iraq deeper into crisis and violence.

Barzani accused unidentified countries of trying to delay a resolution of the Kirkuk issue and urged the Baghdad government not to succumb to regional pressures. It was clear he was referring to Turkey, where separatist Kurdish guerrillas are fighting government forces in the southeast of the country. Al-Maliki is due to visit Turkey in early August.

Adnan al-Mufti, the speaker of the Kurdish parliament, also criticized the central government's handling of the Kirkuk issue, saying it was partly to blame for missing a July 31 deadline to produce lists of eligible voters in the city and its surrounding districts.

The lists were to be compiled by a Baghdad-based government commission that includes Arabs, Kurds and Turkomen officials.

"It is not completely the fault of the federal government because we do understand that the deteriorating security situation in Kirkuk has played a role in this delay," al-Mufti said.

"The census issue is only part of the article and failing to carry it on time does not mean a total failure. We should work hard and fast with the federal government because we have limited time," he told The Associated Press from Irbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Barzani told the television interviewer that Kurdish nationhood was a "reality" rather than a dream. A Kurdish homeland, he said, was a "natural right for a nation of more than 50 million people in the Middle East. Why should we be denied this right?"

He ruled out, however, the use of violence to establish a Kurdish homeland, a prospect that worries Iran, Turkey and Syria because it would set a dangerous precedent for their own restive Kurdish minorities.

"It's a legitimate right but it must be realized at the suitable time," Barzani said of establishing a Kurdish nation.


Was there earth shaking involved?

"Well, we have been on the road for a few days now. Almost a week ago another gun truck from a differant company in my battalion was hit by an EFP. Everybody is o.k., there is this one particular tier one hot spot that keeps giving us problems. We have been getting alot of SAF there as well as the same ol' I.E.D. crap. Today we had to make a security halt because we thought we rolled up on an I.E.D., we were about twenty meters away from it when I saw it. It scared the s--t out of me! Luckly it was just garbage stuck in a bush, everything you drive by looks like it could blow up at anytime. "
"We're really starting to get spoiled with these safe, simple 6 day ops. I'm happy to say that we once again did not get shot at, not even once. That's not to say things are completely safe over here, there's still danger and Marines are still getting hurt. One unfortunate case happened up in Karmah with one of our other companies, Echo. There was a bomb that went off alongside a dismounted patrol, seriously wounding two Marines. One of those Marines happened to be good friends with a few guys in our platoon, and particularly with one guy in my squad. It was a rough time for him when he found out, especially since he's already lost two of his closest friends over here, Howey and Windsor, and now a third friend of his has lost his leg. It really just shows you that not all of the pain guys take away from this place are physical. "
Jake's Life


"I was at the PX today when I heard an explosion, one that was quite obviously a mortar. After it impacted, some automated voice over speakers announced, "Incoming. Incoming." No shit. People scrambled and looked for the concrete bunkers that are few and far between. Meanwhile, I sat almost motionless, completely expressionless, on the bench waiting for the bus. People spazzing out in that self-preservation mode. Apparently they haven't learned this little bit of wisdom (and don't lecture me, I'm using the term loosely and with more than a hint of irony): If you hear the explosion, odds are you're just fine. If you feel it too, might want to think about relocating. The thing about explosions is there IS no before, during, and after. You go straight from ordinary boring what-the-hell-ever STRAIGHT to aftermath. There is no DURING."
The Unlikely Soldier

Generals and Desertion

"30 Jul 07
Adnan was a lieutenant at the end of the first Gulf War. After the war the base was summoned to the south of Iraq to help put down the Shiia uprising. Adnan was left in charge of a small contingent of maintainers. Late one afternoon some 100 villagers from a nearby town attacked “Saddam’s forces” (Adnan’s 15 maintainers). Adnan ordered the men to fire their weapons over the villagers heads to push them back. He didn’t want to shoot the villagers at the risk of angering them and starting a full attack. Adnan fired the first round then the rest followed but every villager stopped and fired on Adnan’s position. “Why me?” he thought. He ducked behind a wall and saw a huge mural of Saddam above his head. Seconds later he fell back to another position."
USAF Guy's Milblog

A War We Just Might Win

VIEWED from Iraq, where we just spent eight days meeting with American and Iraqi military and civilian personnel, the political debate in Washington is surreal. The Bush administration has over four years lost essentially all credibility. Yet now the administration’s critics, in part as a result, seem unaware of the significant changes taking place.

Here is the most important thing Americans need to understand: We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms. As two analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration’s miserable handling of Iraq, we were surprised by the gains we saw and the potential to produce not necessarily “victory” but a sustainable stability that both we and the Iraqis could live with.

After the furnace-like heat, the first thing you notice when you land in Baghdad is the morale of our troops. In previous trips to Iraq we often found American troops angry and frustrated — many sensed they had the wrong strategy, were using the wrong tactics and were risking their lives in pursuit of an approach that could not work.

Today, morale is high. The soldiers and marines told us they feel that they now have a superb commander in Gen. David Petraeus; they are confident in his strategy, they see real results, and they feel now they have the numbers needed to make a real difference.

Everywhere, Army and Marine units were focused on securing the Iraqi population, working with Iraqi security units, creating new political and economic arrangements at the local level and providing basic services — electricity, fuel, clean water and sanitation — to the people. Yet in each place, operations had been appropriately tailored to the specific needs of the community. As a result, civilian fatality rates are down roughly a third since the surge began — though they remain very high, underscoring how much more still needs to be done.

In Ramadi, for example, we talked with an outstanding Marine captain whose company was living in harmony in a complex with a (largely Sunni) Iraqi police company and a (largely Shiite) Iraqi Army unit. He and his men had built an Arab-style living room, where he met with the local Sunni sheiks — all formerly allies of Al Qaeda and other jihadist groups — who were now competing to secure his friendship.

In Baghdad’s Ghazaliya neighborhood, which has seen some of the worst sectarian combat, we walked a street slowly coming back to life with stores and shoppers. The Sunni residents were unhappy with the nearby police checkpoint, where Shiite officers reportedly abused them, but they seemed genuinely happy with the American soldiers and a mostly Kurdish Iraqi Army company patrolling the street. The local Sunni militia even had agreed to confine itself to its compound once the Americans and Iraqi units arrived.

We traveled to the northern cities of Tal Afar and Mosul. This is an ethnically rich area, with large numbers of Sunni Arabs, Kurds and Turkmens. American troop levels in both cities now number only in the hundreds because the Iraqis have stepped up to the plate. Reliable police officers man the checkpoints in the cities, while Iraqi Army troops cover the countryside. A local mayor told us his greatest fear was an overly rapid American departure from Iraq. All across the country, the dependability of Iraqi security forces over the long term remains a major question mark.

But for now, things look much better than before. American advisers told us that many of the corrupt and sectarian Iraqi commanders who once infested the force have been removed. The American high command assesses that more than three-quarters of the Iraqi Army battalion commanders in Baghdad are now reliable partners (at least for as long as American forces remain in Iraq).

In addition, far more Iraqi units are well integrated in terms of ethnicity and religion. The Iraqi Army’s highly effective Third Infantry Division started out as overwhelmingly Kurdish in 2005. Today, it is 45 percent Shiite, 28 percent Kurdish, and 27 percent Sunni Arab.

In the past, few Iraqi units could do more than provide a few “jundis” (soldiers) to put a thin Iraqi face on largely American operations. Today, in only a few sectors did we find American commanders complaining that their Iraqi formations were useless — something that was the rule, not the exception, on a previous trip to Iraq in late 2005.

The additional American military formations brought in as part of the surge, General Petraeus’s determination to hold areas until they are truly secure before redeploying units, and the increasing competence of the Iraqis has had another critical effect: no more whack-a-mole, with insurgents popping back up after the Americans leave.

In war, sometimes it’s important to pick the right adversary, and in Iraq we seem to have done so. A major factor in the sudden change in American fortunes has been the outpouring of popular animus against Al Qaeda and other Salafist groups, as well as (to a lesser extent) against Moktada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army.

These groups have tried to impose Shariah law, brutalized average Iraqis to keep them in line, killed important local leaders and seized young women to marry off to their loyalists. The result has been that in the last six months Iraqis have begun to turn on the extremists and turn to the Americans for security and help. The most important and best-known example of this is in Anbar Province, which in less than six months has gone from the worst part of Iraq to the best (outside the Kurdish areas). Today the Sunni sheiks there are close to crippling Al Qaeda and its Salafist allies. Just a few months ago, American marines were fighting for every yard of Ramadi; last week we strolled down its streets without body armor.

Another surprise was how well the coalition’s new Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Teams are working. Wherever we found a fully staffed team, we also found local Iraqi leaders and businessmen cooperating with it to revive the local economy and build new political structures. Although much more needs to be done to create jobs, a new emphasis on microloans and small-scale projects was having some success where the previous aid programs often built white elephants.

In some places where we have failed to provide the civilian manpower to fill out the reconstruction teams, the surge has still allowed the military to fashion its own advisory groups from battalion, brigade and division staffs. We talked to dozens of military officers who before the war had known little about governance or business but were now ably immersing themselves in projects to provide the average Iraqi with a decent life.

Outside Baghdad, one of the biggest factors in the progress so far has been the efforts to decentralize power to the provinces and local governments. But more must be done. For example, the Iraqi National Police, which are controlled by the Interior Ministry, remain mostly a disaster. In response, many towns and neighborhoods are standing up local police forces, which generally prove more effective, less corrupt and less sectarian. The coalition has to force the warlords in Baghdad to allow the creation of neutral security forces beyond their control.

In the end, the situation in Iraq remains grave. In particular, we still face huge hurdles on the political front. Iraqi politicians of all stripes continue to dawdle and maneuver for position against one another when major steps towards reconciliation — or at least accommodation — are needed. This cannot continue indefinitely. Otherwise, once we begin to downsize, important communities may not feel committed to the status quo, and Iraqi security forces may splinter along ethnic and religious lines.

How much longer should American troops keep fighting and dying to build a new Iraq while Iraqi leaders fail to do their part? And how much longer can we wear down our forces in this mission? These haunting questions underscore the reality that the surge cannot go on forever. But there is enough good happening on the battlefields of Iraq today that Congress should plan on sustaining the effort at least into 2008.


Sunday, July 29, 2007

Operation Iron Blitz: Caches found, car bomb factory located, kidnapping victim freed

CAMP TAJI, Iraq — Multi-National Division - Baghdad Soldiers located multiple weapons and munitions caches, located a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device factory and rescued a kidnapping victim in northwest Baghdad July 26.
While conducting patrols in the area around Tall Yusuf village of Abu Ghraib, Soldiers form Company A, 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment from the 1st “Ironhorse” Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division located five weapons and munitions caches. The caches consisted of mortars, anti-aircraft guns with ammunition, containers filled with high explosives, and other improvised explosive device-making material. The weapons, ammunition, and IED material were destroyed by an explosive ordnance disposal team.

Battery C, 1st Battalion, 37th Field Artillery Battalion conducted an air assault to relieve Co. A, 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment at the cache sites and continued to patrol the area. While conducting their patrol the Soldiers discovered a VBIED factory, which contained several vehicles in different stages of completion.

While searching the building, a kidnapping victim was discovered. The victim claimed he was kidnapped in the Abu Ghraib area after visiting his relatives there. He said the persons responsible were agents of Al Qaeda, and they had kidnapped him because they believed he was a spy for the “1920 Brigade.” The 1920 Brigade is a former Sunni group that had rejected the government of Iraqi, but has recently made overtures to reconcile with the government and the Coalition to defeat Al Qaeda in Iraq. The victim claims he had been kidnapped for almost four days, and that he had been tortured.

After the man had been rescued, Battery C, 1st Battalion, 37th Field Artillery Battalion requested aviation assets destroy the vehicles and the building which was being used as a car bomb factory. Aviators from the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cav. Div., destroyed the vehicles and a fixed-wing aircraft dropped a 500-pound bomb to destroy the building.

Battery C, 1st Battalion, 37th Field Artillery Battalion evacuated the kidnapping victim by helicopter back to Camp Taji where his wounds were assessed by Coalition doctors. Noting that the victim had no serious injuries, Soldiers from the 115th Brigade Support Battalion, convoyed the victim to Camp Liberty. From there, Soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavarly Regiment returned the man to Abu Ghraib to be reunited with his family.

The 1st “Ironhorse” Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division is conducting Operation Iron Blitz, a series of missions in northwest Baghdad, to eliminate the ability of Al Qaeda and rogue Jaysh al Mahdi special groups to use the area as a staging ground for attacks into central Baghdad.


U.S. kills 17 militiamen in Iraq

KERBALA, Iraq (Reuters) - The U.S. military said on Friday it had killed around 17 militia fighters in clashes in Iraq's holy Shi'ite city of Kerbala, but hospital and police sources said some civilians were among the dead.

The clashes broke out at about dawn when U.S. Special Forces and Iraqi soldiers entered Kerbala, 110 km (70 miles) southwest of Baghdad, in search of a Mehdi Army commander accused of heading an assassination cell.

The Mehdi Army is the feared militia of anti-American Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr that the U.S. military says is fuelling Iraq's cycle of sectarian violence.

The military said in a statement that U.S. and Iraqi forces came under fire, including from machineguns and rocket-propelled grenades, as they prepared to withdraw after capturing the wanted Mehdi Army commander and two others.

The troops responded, killing five suspected insurgents. A U.S. helicopter, which was called in to assist the ground forces, also came under fire.

"U.S. Special Forces called in precision aerial fires that resulted in approximately a dozen insurgents killed," the U.S. military statement said, adding that there were no civilians in the area at the time.

However, hospital and police sources said civilians were among the dead and that 25 people were wounded in the fighting.

Reuters pictures showed fighters dressed in black, traditionally the uniform of Mehdi Army fighters, and brandishing AK-47 assault rifles as they stood in the back of a truck beside coffins being taken for burial.

Other pictures showed coffins being held aloft by civilians and Mehdi Army fighters, and a teenage boy lying wounded on a mattress. Walls in several streets were pockmarked by bullet holes, and several cars had shattered windscreens.

The U.S. military accused the detained Mehdi Army commander of organising roadside bomb attacks against U.S. and Iraqi forces and of killing Iraqi civilians.

U.S. soldiers generally stay out of Kerbala, home to one of the holiest Shi'ite shrines in Iraq. Kerbala is one of Iraq's best protected cities because of its holy status, although there have been several large bomb attacks in the city this year.

Insurgents posing as Americans drove into a government compound in Kerbala in January, killing one U.S. soldier and kidnapping four others who were later found dead.


Charmed or cursed, soldier in Iraq survives two attacks

The role of luck is something to worry about in Baghdad, where death seems to come at random.

By Joshua Partlow, Washington Post

Last update: July 28, 2007 – 4:17 PM

BAGHDAD - Pvt. Kodey Briggs slid out from behind the wheel of the Humvee. He looked at what was left of his driver's-side window -- the spider web of cracked armored glass, the layer that didn't break.
His thin chest heaved. His pale hands trembled. Why didn't it break? He lit a cigarette. Then another. He took off his flak vest and helmet, sat down on the ground and leaned against a pile of sandbags. He seemed so fragile in that position: 18 years old, 152 pounds, a fuzz of short blond hair on his head. The other soldiers in his unit approached him deferentially, with pity and wonder.

"Most people don't live through one of those things," said Cpl. Richard Smith. "Briggs has lived through two."

When soldiers die in Iraq, it tends to happen randomly: A single shot from an unseen gunman and someone falls to the ground. A bomb placed by an unknown hand takes out one Humvee from a line of four or five. There are no front lines, no armies to fight, just moments of chaos. Wrong places, wrong times.

So luck is something to worry about, to entreat and to supplicate. But it is not always easy to classify. Is Briggs lucky or unlucky, charmed or marked?

The Army has given this high school dropout a promising new life. A life in which he's almost died twice.

June 14, late afternoon, along a canal in southwestern Baghdad. Briggs sat in the machine-gun turret of the lead Humvee, providing security for the commander of the 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment of the 1st Infantry Division. A blast rang out.

The explosion propelled hot copper slugs over the murky water, piercing the driver's side of the armored truck. This type of bomb, known as an explosively formed projectile, is one of the deadliest weapons U.S. troops face in Iraq. If aimed and fired correctly, it can render any U.S. vehicle defenseless.

A piece of speeding shrapnel stabbed into Briggs's thigh. The chest plate of his flak vest was ripped off his body. The Humvee crashed down into the canal, partially submerged in chest-deep water.

Bullets and grenades volleyed overhead. Briggs looked down at the driver and the blood-darkened water.

"I saw his head bobbing in the water. His legs were gone," Briggs recalled. "I pulled him out of there. He just looked at me and said, 'My legs are gone.' "

The driver survived, left Iraq. For the next 24 days, Briggs recovered, first at the Green Zone hospital and then on his base in southern Baghdad. He endured the pain of physical therapy on his wounded leg and sore back, but his real discomfort was mental. He felt useless, restless. While his unit kept fighting, he lay on his bunk waiting.

He had felt this way before, after leaving school in the ninth grade, wondering what to do besides work at his aunt and uncle's sports bar in Grand Rapids, Mich. "I wasn't going anywhere," he said. "The Army sounded like a good solution."

Solution. When he said it, it sounded like he meant salvation. He enlisted at 17, finished basic training at Fort Benning in Georgia, earned the equivalent of a high school diploma, flew off to the war.

"It's changed me. I think for my whole, like, person. It's been a good thing for me. Made me a better person, I guess," he said.

July 9, late afternoon, next to an empty school on a dusty road in southwestern Baghdad. It was Briggs's first day back. This time he sat in the driver's seat of the last of four Humvees. A blast rang out. Again a copper slug shot across the road and slammed into the driver's side of the armored vehicle.

The first thing Briggs did was look down at his legs. He still had them. Then he started to curse.

As the convoy turned a corner, someone fired a rocket-propelled grenade that skidded along the ground behind Briggs' vehicle. It hit a curb, bounced up into the air and came down about 30 yards behind them. It didn't explode. Pfc. Colin Spangenberg, 21, swiveled his machine gun in the turret and fired off several bursts in response.

Back at Combat Outpost Attack, Briggs pushed open the heavy door and got out.

"Just like last time," he said.

He smoked his cigarettes. He looked miserable. He sat on the ground and wiggled his toes in his boots.

"I might as well give up. Something's going to happen," he said. Several minutes later, Sgt. Ed Herring, 28, approached Briggs.

"Did the doc look at you?" he asked.

"I'm OK," Briggs said.

"That's not what I asked. Have you been looked at?"

Herring held a finger in front of Briggs' eyes and traced it right and left, up and down, as he tested for signs of a concussion. "We know that wherever bad things happen, Briggs will be there," Herring said.

By the next morning, Briggs had a different perspective on his diagnosis.

"If it's your time, it's your time, I guess," he said. "Somebody's been looking out for me, though. I've been lucky."



"Lt Diya (not to be confused with my other friend Dhiaa…we call this one “Diya, Jr”) brought a cake in the other day to announce that he is getting married. A few days later one of our maintenance officers, Lt Ali (also not to be confused with my friend Major Ali), came back from his home town and announced the same. They are both in their late 20s and are very excited about getting married."
USAF Guy's

High-tech ID system sniffs out hidden threats

"From roadside bombs to small arms fire to rocket attacks, Iraq can often be a dramatically unstable and dangerous place where enemy fighters hide amongst innocent civilians.
Marines with 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 6, are letting technology be their guide in the effort to separate the terrorists from the Iraqi innocents.

A key asset in this effort is the Biometrics Automated Toolset. This high-tech system was initially fielded to identify people brought to military detention centers, according to the International Biometric Group in New York, which does work for the Department of Homeland Security and other federal clients. Over time, however, BAT has becoming a valuable and widely-applied system database used every day by many units, including the Camp Lejeune-based “Ready Battalion.”"
Fightin' 6th Marrines

Know Thy Enemy - An Iranian View

"It is always instructional to try to look at things from the point of view of you adversary. In that spirit I have been reviewing the news posted on several Iranian news websites. My interest in Iran should be obvious, and you should be interested too, since, without question the Iranians are deeply involved in Iraq, certainly advising, and almost certainly training and arming insurgents who use that knowledge to kill Americans."
SGT Grumpy


"Hello friends, how are you all?
It's is really upsetting to see the Iraqi families which are known to be well-found of family gatherings. now many family members became in different countries ,in my case I live in Mosul, while my parents in Baghdad and we don't dare to travel to see each other ..my sister is in Dubai and we can't, exchange visits…we are also stuck in our house while the students should be enjoying summer holiday..i.e we are imprison
in our houses for no guilt…"
There is a war raging.
The question of guilt will most likely be written by the victors.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Badge of Military Merit

"Today I was proud and honored to have the chance to decorate three of my fine Soldiers. These three Soldiers, Specialist Nelson Tanner, Specialist Don Smith, and Sergeant Jordan Taylor were all nominated for the Purple Heart over the last several months. Due to an apparent shortage of medals generally we have had to delay the formal presentation of these awards. Today I was finally able to present these Soldiers with their awards."
Badgers Forward
Even the good news is bad.

Sleeping in Hell

"After five days in a row of having the power go out every afternoon around 1 pm, we finally seem to have consistent electricity again. Hopefully the juice stays on- it's hard to stay up on sleep for nighttime missions when the power continually goes out during the hottest part of the day (and during the time we have for sleeping)."
Acute Politics
And according to testimony I saw last night, it's all temporary. God forbid someone build something permanent.

Iraq refuses to take over reconstruction projects

WASHINGTON | Iraq’s national government is refusing to take possession of thousands of U.S.-financed reconstruction projects, according to a report by a federal oversight agency.

The Iraqi government’s action is forcing the United States either to hand the projects over to local Iraqis, who often lack the proper training and resources to keep the projects running, or commit new money to an effort that has already consumed billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars.

The conclusions, detailed in a report released Friday by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, include the finding that of 2,797 completed projects costing $5.8 billion, Iraq’s national government had, by the spring of this year, accepted only 435 projects valued at $501 million. Few transfers to Iraqi national government control have taken place since the current Iraqi government took office in 2006.

The report says that of the 2,797 projects declared completed, besides the 435 projects formally accepted by Iraq’s central government, 1,141 have been transferred to local Iraqi authorities.

Examination by the inspector general’s office, headed by Stuart W. Bowen Jr., has found that a number of individual projects are crumbling, abandoned or otherwise inoperative only months after the United States declared that they had been completed.

Although Bowen’s latest report is primarily a financial overview, he said in an interview that it raised serious questions on whether the problems his inspectors had found were much more widespread in the reconstruction program.

The process of transferring projects to Iraq “worked for a while,” Bowen said. But then the new government took over and installed its finance minister, Bayan Jabr, who has been a continuing center of controversy in his various government posts and is formally in charge of the transfers.

“After Mr. Jabr took over, that process ceased to function,” Bowen said.

In fact, in the first two quarters of 2007, Bowen said, his inspectors found significant problems in all but two of the 12 projects they examined after the United States declared those projects completed.

So far, the United States has declared that $5.8 billion in American taxpayer-financed projects have been completed, but most of the rest of the projects within a $21 billion rebuilding program that Bowen examined in the report are expected to be finished by the end of this year. Some of that money also is being used to train and equip Iraqi security forces rather than finance construction projects.


Heat Rises Between Iraq PM and Petraeus

BAGHDAD (AP) - A key aide says Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's relations with Gen. David Petraeus are so poor the Iraqi leader may ask Washington to withdraw the overall U.S. commander from his Baghdad post.

Iraq's foreign minister calls the relationship "difficult." Petraeus, who says their ties are "very good," acknowledges expressing his "full range of emotions" at times with al-Maliki. U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker, who meets with both at least weekly, concedes "sometimes there are sporty exchanges."

It seems less a clash of personality than of policy. The Shiite Muslim prime minister has reacted most sharply to the American general's tactic of enlisting Sunni militants, presumably including past killers of Iraqi Shiites, as allies in the fight against al-Qaida here.

An associate said al-Maliki once, in discussion with President Bush, even threatened to counter this by arming Shiite militias.

History shows that the strain of war often turns allies into uneasy partners. The reality of how these allies get along may lie somewhere between the worst and best reports about the relationship, one central to the future of Iraq and perhaps to the larger Middle East.

A tangle of issues confronts them, none with easy solutions:

- Al-Maliki, a Shiite activist who spent the Saddam Hussein years in exile, hotly objects to the recent U.S. practice of recruiting tribal groups tied to the Sunni insurgency for the fight against the Sunni extremists of al-Qaida, deemed "Enemy No. 1" by the Americans. His loud complaints have won little but a U.S. pledge to let al-Maliki's security apparatus screen the recruits.

- Aides say the Iraqi leader also has spoken bitterly about delivery delays of promised U.S. weapons and equipment for his forces.

- Petraeus, meanwhile, must deal with an Iraqi military and police force, nominally under al-Maliki's control, that often acts out of sectarian, namely Shiite, interests, and not national Iraqi interests. He faces a significant challenge in persuading al-Maliki to shed his ties to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who runs the Mahdi Army militia.

- On the political front, Crocker is grappling with the prime minister's seeming foot-dragging or ineffectiveness in pushing through an oil-industry law and other legislation seen as critical benchmarks by the U.S. government. Reporting to Congress in September, Crocker may have to explain such Iraqi inaction while U.S. troops are fighting and dying to give al-Maliki political breathing space.

First word of strained relations began leaking out with consistency earlier this month.

Sami al-Askari, a key aide to al-Maliki and a member of the prime minister's Dawa Party, said the policy of incorporating one-time Sunni insurgents into the security forces shows Petraeus has a "real bias and it bothers the Shiites," whose communities have been targeted by Sunnis in Iraq's sectarian conflict.

"It is possible that we may demand his removal," al-Askari said.

A lawmaker from the al-Sadr bloc, who wouldn't allow use of his name because of the political sensitivity of the matter, said al-Maliki once told Petraeus: "I can't deal with you anymore. I will ask for someone else to replace you."

Such a request isn't likely to get much of a hearing in Washington, where the Bush administration presents Petraeus as one general who can improve the Iraq situation.

Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told Newsweek magazine the Petraeus-al-Maliki relationship is "difficult." For one thing, the Americans retain control of the Iraqi military. "The prime minister cannot just pick up the phone and have Iraqi army units do what he says. Maliki needs more leverage," Zebari said.

The prime minister has complained to President Bush about the policy of arming Sunnis, said the Sadrist lawmaker.

"He told Bush that if Petraeus continues doing that, he would arm Shiite militias. Bush told al-Maliki to calm down," according to this parliament member, who said he was told of the exchange by al-Maliki.

In Washington, White House officials who have sat in on Bush's video conferences with al-Maliki denied that exchange took place.

In a public outburst earlier this month, al-Maliki said American forces should leave Iraq and turn over security to Iraqi troops. He quickly backpedaled, but the damage was done.

"There is no leader in the world that is under more pressure than Nouri al-Maliki, without question. Sometimes he reflects that frustration. I don't blame him," Crocker told The Associated Press.

"We are dealing with existential issues. There are no second-tier problems," said the veteran Middle East diplomat. "And we all feel very deeply about what we're trying to get done. So, yeah, sometimes there are sporty exchanges. And believe me, I've had my share of them.

"That in no way means, in my view, strained relations," Crocker said. "Wrestling with the things we're all wrestling with here, it would almost be strange if you didn't get a little passionate from time to time."

Petraeus called his relations with al-Maliki "very good ... and that's the truth." But he acknowledged, "We have not pulled punches with each other."

In an interview with the AP, the U.S. commander noted that more than 3,600 U.S. military personnel have given their lives in Iraq, "and where we see something that could unhinge the progress that our soldiers and their soldiers are fighting to make ... or jeopardize some of the very hard-fought gains that we have made, I'm going to speak up. And I have on occasion. And on a couple of occasions have demonstrated the full range of emotions."


Add one more notch to Petraeus's belt.

Fire From The Skyfrom

"It had to happen eventually. About 1700L we got a barrage of 120mm mortars hitting the FOB, big nasty suckers. The hit several buildings like the PX, and some of the KBR tin cans we live in.
Thank whatever Power you like; none of our people were killed, just several wounded. We did learn that these trailers we're living in catch fire really easily. More of them burned than were directly hit. The smoke from the burning trailers drifted right to our TOC, even more so once the fire trucks managed to douse the flames down to the charred shells. We counterfired, but only with illumination shells. God forbid we hurt anyone. Wait, wasn't that the point of the exercise?"

Friday, July 27, 2007

Audit Office on Iraqi Contracts Probes Bribery Case, Kickbacks

The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction is investigating a $15 million bribery case involving kickbacks that a U.S. Army officer allegedly accepted from contractors doing work in Iraq, in what would be the largest such case involving U.S. efforts to rebuild Iraq.

Maj. John L. Cockerham, a contracting officer, took up to $9.6 million in bribes from at least eight military contractors, according to court documents, and he expected to get at least another $5.4 million for giving them favorable contracts.

"This is the largest bribery case that has come out of Iraq to date," said Stuart Bowen Jr., the special inspector general. Neither he nor officials from the Justice Department would name the contractors.

More arrests of military and civilian personnel involved in similar scams are expected in the coming months, said sources close to the investigation who asked not to be named because the case is ongoing. Bowen said his office has found cases of fraud in the Iraq reconstruction effort that have resulted in 13 arrests, eight cases awaiting trail and 28 cases that the Justice Department is investigating. Of the 13 arrests, five have been convicted and four of those are going to prison.

"We will continue to pursue fraud wherever we find it," Bowen said. "We have found some egregious instances of it. Overall, it is a small component of the U.S. reconstruction effort."

Cockerham, 41, of San Antonio, was arrested Sunday and charged with bribery, money laundering and conspiracy. His wife, Melissa Cockerham, 40, and his sister, Carolyn Blake, a Texas schoolteacher, were also arrested and charged with money laundering and conspiracy, and conspiracy to commit money laundering, respectively. According to court documents, Cockerham joined the Army in 1993 and worked in several jobs as a contracting officer at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait. Starting in 2005, he arranged an elaborate system of taking bribes that involved his family and associates, according to the documents.

In one clandestine case described in court documents, Cockerham took a bribe from Falah al-Ajmi, owner of a contract company called TransOrient for Cockerham agreeing to award a lucrative contract to provide bottled water. Ajmi and Megde "Mike" Ayesh Ismail of Michigan, who was the money conduit, allegedly met Cockerham in a parking lot at Camp Arifjan and showed him a briefcase containing $300,000 in cash. Ismail deposited the money in a Jordanian bank account, the documents said, and gave Cockerham the deposit slip so that he could withdraw the money.

In December 2006, federal agents found handwritten ledgers, some using code names for contractors, in Cockerham's house detailing the amount of money that he, his wife, his sister and others received and the amounts he expected to receive from contractors, according to court papers. Cockerham's wife allegedly told investigators that when she visited her husband in Kuwait in 2004, he called her and said that she would be picked up at her hotel by someone and taken to a bank to make a deposit. The next day, a military contractor to whom Cockerham had given a favorable contract picked up Melissa Cockerham, gave her a bag with $800,000 in U.S. and Kuwaiti currency and drove her to the Commercial Bank of Kuwait, where she put the money in a safe deposit box, investigators said.


US Senators and Generals in Rare Disagreement on Iraq Strategy

The debate over Iraq policy in the U.S. Congress is increasingly revealing a split between some senior senators and generals to whom the senators usually defer on military matters. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon the split shows the depth of feeling on the Iraq issue, and also its politics.

The disconnect between Capitol Hill and Baghdad has been growing for months.

"Baghdad, can you hear the U.S. Senate?," said Senator Joe Biden during a technical glitch in long-distance testimony by the U.S. ambassador to Iraq. As soon as he said it, the senator realized his comment had broader meaning, and many in the room laughed.

Sometimes on a daily basis in recent weeks, members of Congress have called for a withdrawal from Iraq starting almost immediately, while U.S. generals in Iraq have called for more time to implement the strategy President Bush announced in January.

When the technical connection with Baghdad was restored, Senator Biden, a Democrat and presidential candidate, left Ambassador Ryan Crocker with these words.

"I promise you old buddy, forget what Joe Biden says, listen to the Republicans, we ain't staying, we're not staying, we're not staying," he said.

Many senators from President Bush's own Republican party are calling the new strategy a failure and calling for a change of course and a drawdown of U.S. troops. Those senators are not waiting for the Iraq progress report due from the generals and the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad in September. Among them is the senior Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Richard Lugar.

"In my judgment, the costs and risks of continuing down the current path outweigh the potential benefits that might be achieved," said Lugar. "The president and his team must come to grips with the shortened political timetable in this country for military operations in Iraq. Some will argue that political timelines should always be subordinated to military necessity. But that is unrealistic in a democracy."

The members of Congress are focused largely on U.S. military deaths in Iraq, which have been running at about 100 per month during the current offensive, and total more than 3,600. American generals lament the casualties, but the congressional criticism has not changed their view that the new security plan is working.

They say they need more time to finish the job and provide the opportunity for the Iraqi government to pursue national reconciliation. A 'campaign plan' published this week predicts it could take two years to establish full security in Iraq, and the generals say they will need at least until late this year to determine whether their effort is really taking hold.

Lieutenant General Ray Odierno, the number two U.S. commander in Iraq, is among those calling for more time, and at a recent news conference he expressed some frustration that the message is not having much of an impact in the Congress.

"All I can do is tell you what I think is going on. I can not make anybody listen," he said.

Analyst Brian Darling of the conservative Heritage Foundation thinks he knows why many members of Congress are not listening to the generals.

"I think many of these politicians looked at the last election, and the pundits have attributed Republican losses in the last election to the dissatisfaction of the American public [in] proving progress in the Iraq war," said Darling.

Darling says members of congress should leave security policy-making to the generals and their commander in chief, President Bush.

"We do have members of congress that are ignoring what the generals are saying," he said. "Congress is stepping into the role of the commander in chief by tinkering with the president's strategy. It's difficult for members of congress to make these kinds of calls on the war."

Retired U.S. Army reserve colonel Laird Anderson, who is also journalism professor emeritus at American University, agrees with much of the congressional criticism. But he says the generals are in a better position than he is, or than members of congress are, to judge the situation in Iraq.

"I don't think that we can go on the assumption that the surge is failing," he said. "I think it is. I don't think that we're going to come out of this thing looking any better than we entered. But we haven't heard from the generals yet. And until we hear from them, then, I think we'll just have to wait."

But some members of congress and outside analysts question whether the generals, even with all their experience and knowledge, and the best of intentions, can truly be dispassionate in analyzing their own work in Iraq.

Among those experts is Jessica Tuchman Matthews, who was a senior foreign policy and security official in two Democratic Party administrations, and is now president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

"It's not dishonest, but it's a combination of being 'can-do,' which is the core of their training, and supporting the civilian leadership, which is the other core of their training, that I'm not surprised that you're hearing, 'it's working,'" said Matthews.

And Matthews says members of Congress, particularly Republicans with a history of supporting the military, would not ignore the generals for solely political reasons.

"I think what you're hearing is the depth of their conviction that it's not working, that this is not a strategy that is going to ultimately lead to a more positive outcome," said Matthews.

Even though more and more Republicans say they oppose the president's Iraq strategy, they have so far not been willing to vote with the Democrats to demand a withdrawal. And few members of congress are willing to take the only really binding action they could take - the drastic step of voting to cut funding for the war while American troops are in harm's way.

General Odierno hopes that by the time the September report is issued, there will be enough progress to convince enough people to let the new strategy continue.

"I have a lot of confidence that people will listen to what we have to say and make their judgments accordingly," he said. "And the American people will influence their representatives."

So far, there is little evidence of that in public opinion polls or congressional statements.

Reaction to September's report will provide the next indication of whether the connection between Baghdad and Washington has become any better.


In Iraq's Shiite south, warlords slug it out for turf

(CNN) -- The fight between U.S.-led forces and militants in and near Baghdad and the sectarian civil war raging in the capital has overshadowed another grim wartime reality -- the factional strife in Iraq's southern Shiite heartland.

Experts who study the region attribute the instability to turf battles among "warlords" and their fighters in an unstable political and social environment that is coming to resemble a failed state.

"Iraqi politicians are progressively turning into warlords," Peter Harling, senior analyst with the Middle East Program of the Brussels, Belgium-based International Crisis Group. What has been unfolding in the south, he says, is a "very crude struggle over power and resources."

"Violence has become the routine means of interacting with the local population," Harling says of the militias, which have filled the power vacuum after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

"They see no interest in seeing a functional state emerge."

The south has always been relatively quiet compared with the mixed Baghdad and Diyala provinces and the largely Sunni Anbar province, where Sunni militants conducting large-scale terror attacks have emerged as the major foe of the United States.

But fighting has erupted between Shiite political factions in the southern cities of Basra, Diwaniya, Karbala, Nasiriya and Samawa in recent months, and U.S., British and other coalition forces have conducted raids on insurgents in those regions.

Recently, militants thought to be allied with populist Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army militia have tangled with local security forces in Samawa and Diwaniya.

Coalition forces as well have taken on militias. At least 17 people were killed Friday when U.S. and Iraqi forces battled "rogue" Shiite militia members in Karbala after a raid, officials said.

And recently, a coalition airstrike killed five militants planting roadside bombs in Diwaniya.

The major movements in the south are the Sadrists; the Supreme Islamic Council in Iraq, the longtime Shiite group led by Iraqi politician Abdul Aziz al-Hakim; the Dawa Islamic Party, led by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki; and the Fadhila Party, which holds great power in Basra.

And there are fighters, such as al-Sadr's Mehdi Army militia, aligned with such groups. There are splinter and rogue elements among these groups, and there are smaller entities as well.

This factionalism goes against the notion that Shiite communities are united, says Jon B. Alterman, director and senior fellow of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies' Middle East Program.

"They are unified when confronted with Sunni or Kurdish power, but within the Shia community there are a variety of parties, with a range of different leaderships, all competing for power and influence."

Alterman says he sees the emergence of "warlords" who "are staking out their claims to different parts of Iraq."

The government is dominated by the Shiite-led United Iraqi Alliance, which includes the Dawa, the Sadrists and the SICI. Fadhila is represented in parliament by a separate political movement.

But on the ground, Alterman says, "the central government is not central to how politics works anymore. What matters are guns and money and access to resources."

The Sadrists and SICI (formerly SCIRI, once called the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq) both have charismatic leaders tied to esteemed old families, Alterman says, with SICI as an old elite family with a senior leadership, and al-Sadr a young upstart "with street credibility and impressive ground operations."

"My friends in Iraq tell me that when it comes to actually getting guys in the streets, the Sadrist network is probably the most robust of all of them," Alterman says.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has been influential among Shiites, but he is limited in the bread-and-butter sense, Alterman says. He "doesn't have a day-to-day organization that can get things done."

"In a place bereft of services and security, people look to a leadership that can protect them and feed them," Alterman says.

Around 60 percent of Iraqis are Shiites but were oppressed under a Hussein regime dominated by Sunni Arabs. Also, the shadow of Iranian influence looms throughout the south, where there are many links between Iraqi Shiites and their Shiite neighbor.

Christopher Pang, head of the Middle East & North Africa program at the British-based Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies, says the Shiites regarded the post-Hussein era as their time to seize the historical day. But that dream has been elusive.

Pang calls the environment the "militarization of local politics."

"Militias have entrenched themselves into the fabric of the society of the southern region of Iraq. They've assumed control of the oil. They've assumed control of the customs. They've assumed control of the police," Pang says.

Shiites are divided by "competing ideological agendas," he adds.

"Most importantly, we are seeing a fundamental divide," pointing to "competing divisions over how Iraq should appear in the future," particularly regarding its federal shape, Pang says.

Al-Hakim and the SICI have been supportive of a huge Shiite autonomous region in the south that would resemble the Kurdish autonomous region in the north. Fadhila has been supportive of a much smaller region -- Basra and a couple of provinces.

These views reflect the groups' historical power bases, with the SICI claiming support throughout the south and Fadhila in Basra. Any autonomous region with Basra would be rich in oil wealth, and it has the only seaport in Iraq, making autonomy very attractive.

Sunnis have opposed autonomous regions, saying their area lacks the oil wealth in the Kurdish north and the Shiite south.

The Shiite Sadrists share the same position, however. One reason is because the Sadrist political power base is in Baghdad, the center of the country where natural energy resources are lacking.

The Mehdi Army is popular in the densely populated Shiite slum in the city's northeast.

Wherever it is based, the Sadrist movement is politically and socially savvy, providing social services and funding and backing for religious entities.

These networks and their "anti-coalition sentiments" serve to generate support. Al-Sadr has earned himself "a place in the religious minds of the Shiites in the south."

"If you want to succeed, you have to win the hearts and minds of the people," Pang says.


Letters from Iraq land MU alum in a jam

A former University of Missouri-Columbia student stationed in Iraq is at the center of a controversy involving a national magazine.

Army Pvt. Scott Thomas Beauchamp, who was enrolled at MU from August 2002 to December 2004, has written three articles since January for political magazine The New Republic. His articles have included stories of troops mocking a visibly handicapped soldier, picking up a human skull and wearing it as a crown and intentionally running over dogs in a Humvee.
The articles have appeared under "Baghdad Diarist," "The Zombie Dogs of Baghdad" and "Shock Troops," which was published online July 13.

The 23-year-old has written under the pseudonym Scott Thomas, but he revealed his identity yesterday after the Weekly Standard, a conservative newsmagazine, began questioning whether the events he wrote about actually happened.

Kirk Luedeke, a public affairs officer at Forward Operating Base Falcon, told The New Republic that a formal military investigation has been launched to verify the incidents described in Beauchamp’s latest piece, "Shock Troops."

The New Republic has decided to re-report every detail, even though, the magazine said, "the article was rigorously edited and fact-checked before it was published."

Beauchamp, who identified himself yesterday on The New Republic’s Web site, tnr.com, said the controversy has surprised him. "My pieces were always intended to provide my discrete view of the war; they were never intended as a reflection of the entire U.S. Military," he wrote. "I was initially reluctant to take the time out of my already insane schedule fighting an actual war in order to play some role in an ideological battle that I never wanted to join. That being said, my character, my experiences, and those of my comrades in arms have been called into question, and I believe that it is important to stand by my writing under my real name."

While at MU, Beauchamp took creative writing classes and also was editor of a campus publication called "Prospectus." It featured opinions from contributors writing from a left-of-center perspective.

A St. Louis-area native, Beauchamp transferred from MU to the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said Angad Nagra, 22, who described himself as a good friend of Beauchamp’s. Admissions officials at the University of Missouri-St. Louis were unable to find records showing Beauchamp’s enrollment.

Beauchamp later began a courtship with Elspeth Reeve, a graduate of the MU School of Journalism who works as a writer-researcher at The New Republic. Josh Eiserike, 26, who said he is a good friend of Reeve’s, said Beauchamp and Reeve started dating after Reeve began writing at The New Republic. They later married.

At MU, Reeve wrote a September 2004 article for the Columbia Missourian about an MU political activist and quoted Beauchamp, whom she reported had previously campaigned for then-presidential candidate Howard Dean.

Nagra lived across the hall from Beauchamp in Gillett Hall during his freshman year at MU. "I remember him as a very well-intentioned and honest guy," Nagra said. "I went through some difficult personal circumstances while I was in college, and he was always there for me."

On Beauchamp’s blog, ghostson film.blogspot.com, Beauchamp writes, "I know that NOT participating in a war (and such a misguided one at that) should be considered better than wanting to be in one just to write a book...but you know, maybe id rather be a good man than a good artist...be both? Some can and some cant...i guess it all depends on how great an artist, or how great a man they want to be. Sometimes it feels like i have to choose between being totally loyal to thoughts of my future family OR totally loayl to chasing down the muse. must find a middle ground."

Beauchamp also quotes on his blog Vice President Dick Cheney explaining in 1991 why coalition forces did not take Baghdad during the first Persian Gulf War, adding, "we laugh harder at CSPAN than comedy central. Silly republicans."

Messages left for Reeve and Beauchamp were not returned. The New Republic’s editor, Franklin Foer, was unavailable for comment.


State Dept IG Accused of Cover-Up

"This is a cover-up," Rory Mayberry told the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on Thursday, referring to the State Department Inspector General's report that cleared the contractor building the US embassy in Baghdad from allegations of forced labor and human trafficking.

David Phinney first reported on the abuse for Slogger in late May, calling into question the State Department Inspector-General, Howard Kroengard's, conclusions that First Kuwaiti, the company with the $592 million contract to build the embassy in Baghdad, had not violated labor standards.

Mayberry, who worked as a sub-contracted employee for First Kuwaiti, testified to the committee that when he was in Kuwait on his way to Baghdad for the beginning of his contract, First Kuwaiti asked him to accompany 51 Filipinos to the airport and make sure they got on the plane to Baghdad.
When we got to the Kuwaiti Airport, I noticed that all of our tickets said we were going to Dubai. I asked why. A First Kuwaiti manager told me that because Filipino passports do not allow Filipinos to fly to Iraq, they must be marked as going to Dubai. The First Kuwaiti manager added that I should not tell any of the Filipino they were being taken to Baghdad.

As I found out later, these men thought they had signed up to work in Dubai hotels. One fellow I met told me in broken English that he was excited to start his new job as a telephone repair man. They had no idea they were being sent to do construction work on the U.S. Embassy.

Well, Mr. Chairman, when the airplane took off and the captain announced that we were headed for Baghdad, all you-know-what broke lose on that airplane. People started shouting. It wasn’t until a security guy working for First Kuwaiti waved an MP-5 in the air that people settled down.
Mayberry made his views clear, telling the committee, "I believe these men were kidnapped by First Kuwaiti to work on the U.S. Embassy."

According to Mayberry, and reinforced in testimony by a former First Kuwaiti employee, John Owens, the company seized passports so their third-country nationals couldn't leave, forced them to work abusively long hours, and did not have any safety guidelines or proper equipment--some of construction workers did not even have gloves or shoes, regularly leading to injuries.

Kroengard told the committee that he had been aware of these complaints, but had not witnessed anything like the men had described in his four-day visit to Baghdad in September 2006.


I have to wonder, what straw finally broke the camels back on this line of inquiry. What ever it is, I can only hope that they keep at it and look deep into what is going on with construction efforts in Iraq.

Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA (Hardcover)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Is the Central Intelligence Agency a bulwark of freedom against dangerous foes, or a malevolent conspiracy to spread American imperialism? A little of both, according to this absorbing study, but, the author concludes, it is mainly a reservoir of incompetence and delusions that serves no one's interests well. Pulitzer Prize–winning New York Times correspondent Weiner musters extensive archival research and interviews with top-ranking insiders, including former CIA chiefs Richard Helms and Stansfield Turner, to present the agency's saga as an exercise in trying to change the world without bothering to understand it. Hypnotized by covert action and pressured by presidents, the CIA, he claims, wasted its resources fomenting coups, assassinations and insurgencies, rigging foreign elections and bribing political leaders, while its rare successes inspired fiascoes like the Bay of Pigs and the Iran-Contra affair. Meanwhile, Weiner contends, its proper function of gathering accurate intelligence languished. With its operations easily penetrated by enemy spies, the CIA was blind to events in adversarial countries like Russia, Cuba and Iraq and tragically wrong about the crucial developments under its purview, from the Iranian revolution and the fall of communism to the absence of Iraqi WMDs. Many of the misadventures Weiner covers, at times sketchily, are familiar, but his comprehensive survey brings out the persistent problems that plague the agency. The result is a credible and damning indictment of American intelligence policy.

Great show on Charlie Rose. I just finished watching it. Don't miss it.

An Anti-War Pathology

"As a First Sergeant, I know that the kinds of behavior confessed by PVT Beauchamp in his “diaries” for TNR, and described as routine for others in his unit, if true, would represent gross dereliction of duty on the part of his NCOs. Such behavior and practices would certainly reflect very poorly on Beauchamp’s Sergeants, first and foremost, his First Sergeant, known as “Top.”"
That said, how do you parse what follows:
"Unfortunately, the powers that be felt that he was trying to get himself out of deployment (via earlier discipline incidents), and that he needed to stay with us as we deployed. Worse, he was assigned to the only section of ours that underwent combat missions in actual combat conditions. They tried to work with him, grow him, train him, change him. In the end, all they could do was baby-sit him to keep him from hurting himself or others, or jeopardize their missions."
Keep moving, nothing to see here

Look at the worlds greatest Army NOW!

"Well, the meat and potatoes of this post are going to be on what I call, 82nd Airborne Greatest Bloopers. I couldn't believe what had happened and in the end, it ended up being quite hilarious. We were headed out to this one place early in the morning, before sunrise. We were driving through this one neighborhood and we ended up missing our turn. Well we went to loop around to come back to the road that we needed to take, but it wasn't a route that we normally take. It is now, a road we will probably NEVER take.

As soon as we turned on to this road I knew it was going to be trouble."
On the loose in Iraq

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Icons of our war

I know it is early in the game, well in reality it is very late in the game, but for the new management of this war, early it is.

That said and knowing that I have no more with which to judge, and truthfully much less than most, I see something new, something different about the picture that is just starting to emerge from Iraq.

I know not the reasons, and have had too little time to digest properly the workings of his mind, all I have is what little I see.

To that end I would like to remind us all of the iconic images with which we were shackled by the likes of Cheney, Rummy, Rice

Compare that to what is just starting to emerge this week, what may yet become the iconic legacy of Gen. Petraeus

Like I said it's to early, and yet too late. All I can do is post what I see and hope that an informed public will help their elected officials to make the right choice.

U.S. Officials Voice Frustrations With Saudis, Citing Role in Iraq

WASHINGTON, July 26 — During a high-level meeting in Riyadh in January, Saudi officials confronted a top American envoy with documents that seemed to suggest that Iraq’s prime minister could not be trusted.

One purported to be an early alert from the prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, to the radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr warning him to lie low during the coming American troop increase, which was aimed in part at Mr. Sadr’s militia. Another document purported to offer proof that Mr. Maliki was an agent of Iran.

The American envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, immediately protested to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, contending that the documents were forged. But, said administration officials who provided an account of the exchange, the Saudis remained skeptical, adding to the deep rift between America’s most powerful Sunni Arab ally, Saudi Arabia, and its Shiite-run neighbor, Iraq.

Now, Bush administration officials are voicing increasing anger at what they say has been Saudi Arabia’s counterproductive role in the Iraq war. They say that beyond regarding Mr. Maliki as an Iranian agent, the Saudis have offered financial support to Sunni groups in Iraq. Of an estimated 60 to 80 foreign fighters who enter Iraq each month, American military and intelligence officials say that nearly half are coming from Saudi Arabia and that the Saudis have not done enough to stem the flow.

One senior administration official says he has seen evidence that Saudi Arabia is providing financial support to opponents of Mr. Maliki. He declined to say whether that support was going to Sunni insurgents because, he said, “That would get into disagreements over who is an insurgent and who is not.”

Senior Bush administration officials said the American concerns would be raised next week when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates make a rare joint visit to Jidda, Saudi Arabia.

Officials in Washington have long resisted blaming Saudi Arabia for the chaos and sectarian strife in Iraq, choosing instead to pin blame on Iran and Syria. Even now, military officials rarely talk publicly about the role of Saudi fighters among the insurgents in Iraq.

The accounts of American concerns came from interviews with several senior administration officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they believed that openly criticizing Saudi Arabia would further alienate the Saudi royal family at a time when the United States is still trying to enlist Saudi support for Mr. Maliki and the Iraqi government, and for other American foreign policy goals in the Middle East, including an Arab-Israeli peace plan.

In agreeing to interviews in advance of the joint trip to Saudi Arabia, the officials were nevertheless clearly intent on sending a pointed signal to a top American ally. They expressed deep frustration that more private American appeals to the Saudis had failed to produce a change in course.

The American officials said they had no doubt that the documents shown to Mr. Khalilzad were forgeries, though the Saudis said they had obtained them from sources in Iraq. “Maliki wouldn’t be stupid enough to put that on a piece of paper,” one senior Bush administration official said. He said Mr. Maliki later assured American officials that the documents were forgeries.

The Bush administration’s frustration with the Saudi government has increased in recent months because it appears that Saudi Arabia has stepped up efforts to undermine the Maliki government and to pursue a different course in Iraq from what the administration has charted. Saudi Arabia has also stymied a number of other American foreign policy initiatives, including a hoped-for Saudi embrace of Israel.

Of course, the Saudi government has hardly masked its intention to prop up Sunni groups in Iraq and has for the past two years explicitly told senior Bush administration officials of the need to counterbalance the influence Iran has there. Last fall, King Abdullah warned Vice President Dick Cheney that Saudi Arabia might provide financial backing to Iraqi Sunnis in any war against Iraq’s Shiites if the United States pulled its troops out of Iraq, American and Arab diplomats said.

Several officials interviewed for this article said they believed that Saudi Arabia’s direct support to Sunni tribesmen increased this year as the Saudis lost faith in the Maliki government and felt they must bolster Sunni groups in the eventuality of a widespread civil war.

Saudi Arabia months ago made a pitch to enlist other Persian Gulf countries to take a direct role in supporting Sunni tribal groups in Iraq, said one former American ambassador with close ties to officials in the Middle East. The former ambassador, Edward W. Gnehm, who has served in Kuwait and Jordan, said that during a recent trip to the region he was told that Saudi Arabia had pressed other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council — which includes Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman — to give financial support to Sunnis in Iraq. The Saudis made this effort last December, Mr. Gnehm said.

The closest the administration has come to public criticism was an Op-Ed page article about Iraq in The New York Times last week by Mr. Khalilzad, now the United States ambassador to the United Nations. “Several of Iraq’s neighbors — not only Syria and Iran but also some friends of the United States — are pursuing destabilizing policies,” Mr. Khalilzad wrote. Administration officials said Mr. Khalilzad was referring specifically to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Ms. Rice and Mr. Gates, as well as Mr. Cheney and Stephen J. Hadley, the national security adviser, have in recent months pressed their Arab counterparts to do more to encourage Iraq’s Sunni leaders to support Mr. Maliki, senior administration officials said.

“This message certainly has been made very clear in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi,” a senior administration official said. “But there is a deep reserve directed both at the person of the Maliki government but more broadly at the concept” that Iraq’s Shiites are “surrogates of Iran.” Saudi Arabia has grown increasingly concerned about the rising influence of Iran in the region.

A spokesman at the Saudi Embassy in Washington did not return telephone calls on Thursday. But one adviser to the royal family said that Saudi officials were aware of the American accusations. “As you know by now, we in Saudi Arabia have been active in having a united Arab front to, first, avoid further inter-Arab conflict, and at the same time building consensus to move toward a peace settlement between the Arabs and Israel,” he said. “How others judge our motives is their problem.”

Even as American frustration at Saudi Arabia grows, American military officials are still cautious about publicly detailing the extent of the flow of foreign fighters going to Iraq from Saudi Arabia. Earlier this month, for instance, Brig. Gen. Kevin Bergner, the top American military spokesman in Iraq, detailed the odyssey of a foreign fighter recently captured in Ramadi.

In his public account, General Bergner told reporters that the man had arrived in Syria on a chartered bus, was smuggled into Iraq by a Syrian facilitator, and was given instructions to carry out a suicide truck bombing on a bridge in Ramadi. He did not identify the man’s nationality, but American officials in Iraq say he was a Saudi.

The American officials in Iraq also say that the majority of suicide bombers in Iraq are from Saudi Arabia and that about 40 percent of all foreign fighters are Saudi. Officials said that while most of the foreign fighters came to Iraq to become suicide bombers, others arrived as bomb makers, snipers, logisticians and financiers.

American military and intelligence officials have been critical of Saudi efforts to stanch the flow of fighters into Iraq, although they stress that the Saudi government does not endorse the idea of fighters from Saudi Arabia going to Iraq.

On the contrary, they said, Saudi Arabia is concerned that these young men could acquire insurgency training in Iraq and then return home to carry out attacks in Saudi Arabia — similar to the Saudis who turned against their homeland after fighting in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

The Bush administration’s relationship with Saudi Arabia has deteriorated steadily since the United States invasion of Iraq, culminating in April when, bitingly, King Abdullah, during a speech before Arab heads of state in Riyadh, condemned the American invasion of Iraq as “an illegal foreign occupation.”

A month before that, King Abdullah effectively torpedoed a high-profile meeting between Israelis and Palestinians, planned by Ms. Rice, by brokering a power-sharing agreement between the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, and the militant Islamist group Hamas that did not require Hamas to recognize Israel. While that agreement eventually fell apart, the Bush administration, on both occasions, was caught off guard and became infuriated.

But Saudi officials have not been too happy with President Bush, either, and the plummeting of America’s image in the Muslim world has led King Abdullah to strive to set a more independent course.

The administration “thinks the Saudis are no longer behaving the role of the good vassal,” said Steve Clemons, senior fellow and director of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation. The Saudis, in turn, “see weakness, they see a void, and they’re going to fill the void and call their own shots.”


Everyday is a Ground Hog day...

"Coming back is always a challenge. It becomes harder and harder with each R&R. After sleeping for only three hours, I had to wake up to the constant ringing of my mobile phone alarm clock. Yup, I dont own a clock, I rely on my mobile. Ofcourse hitting the snooze button doesnt really help. Instead of waking up at 430 I found myself waking up at 530. I had to rush because my ride to the airport was at 6. HUBBY woke up and with his sleepy voice said "I dont think I will be coming with you". I didnt say much, infact I felt guilty that he had to wake up that early, so I just said, thats ok sweetie, I can go alone, its no problem. Ten minutes later he was already putting his clothes on. I just smiled to myself and said to him, please, you really dont have to come, I mean it. He wouldnt hear it and off we went to the airport."

Bird’s Eye View: The Battle for Baqubah

"A Tactical Operations Center (TOC) is the headquarters for a unit. Company-level TOCs are the smallest I have seen. A typical infantry company has about a hundred or more soldiers. The commander will normally be a captain. A company-level TOC often consists of a radio and a map, and one person on duty 24/7. It might have a coffee maker, too. In fact, there is a company TOC at the other end of the tent in which I now reside with a company called C-52. C-52 is the smallest company with only 54 men, who all live in this tent with a huge amount of weapons, and great combat experience to back them up [to whit: Superman.]"
Michael Yon

"Politicized Intelligence"

"Political operatives at the CIA (with the assistance of State Department allies) continue to wage war against the Bush Administration in the latest anonymously sourced leak, as reported at Raw Story. This time, anonymous “current and former intelligence officials” dismiss the latest National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) as sloppy, politicized, and not to be believed – even if it’s accurate.

Of a piece with previous leaks by oppositional CIA bureaucrats, this latest attack elevates analytic differences, vested bureaucratic interests, crass selfish ambition, and plain old politics above any possible concerns about National Security."

NASA Reports Sabotage of Flight Computer

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) - A space program worker deliberately damaged a computer that is supposed to fly aboard shuttle Endeavour in less than two weeks, an act of sabotage that was caught before the equipment was loaded onto the spaceship, NASA said Thursday.

The unidentified employee, who works for a NASA subcontractor, cut wires inside the computer that is supposed to be delivered to the international space station by Endeavour, said Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA's space operations chief. The worker also damaged a similar computer that was not meant to fly to space.

The sabotage occurred outside Florida. Gerstenmaier did not identify the subcontractor or where the damage took place.

NASA's inspector general office is investigating.

NASA hopes to fix the computer and launch it Aug. 7 as planned aboard Endeavour. The computer is designed for use aboard the space station, not the shuttle, and the damage would have posed no danger to either shuttle or station astronauts, Gerstenmaier said.

psyco, terrorist, or even worst, a rightwing christian nutjob?

AP: New Details on Tillman's Death

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Army medical examiners were suspicious about the close proximity of the three bullet holes in Pat Tillman's forehead and tried without success to get authorities to investigate whether the former NFL player's death amounted to a crime, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

"The medical evidence did not match up with the, with the scenario as described," a doctor who examined Tillman's body after he was killed on the battlefield in Afghanistan in 2004 told investigators.

The doctors - whose names were blacked out - said that the bullet holes were so close together that it appeared the Army Ranger was cut down by an M-16 fired from a mere 10 yards or so away.

Ultimately, the Pentagon did conduct a criminal investigation, and asked Tillman's comrades whether he was disliked by his men and whether they had any reason to believe he was deliberately killed. The Pentagon eventually ruled that Tillman's death at the hands of his comrades was a friendly-fire accident.

The medical examiners' suspicions were outlined in 2,300 pages of testimony released to the AP this week by the Defense Department in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

Among other information contained in the documents:

- In his last words moments before he was killed, Tillman snapped at a panicky comrade under fire to shut up and stop "sniveling."

- Army attorneys sent each other congratulatory e-mails for keeping criminal investigators at bay as the Army conducted an internal friendly-fire investigation that resulted in administrative, or non-criminal, punishments.

- The three-star general who kept the truth about Tillman's death from his family and the public told investigators some 70 times that he had a bad memory and couldn't recall details of his actions.

- No evidence at all of enemy fire was found at the scene - no one was hit by enemy fire, nor was any government equipment struck.

The Pentagon and the Bush administration have been criticized in recent months for lying about the circumstances of Tillman's death. The military initially told the public and the Tillman family that he had been killed by enemy fire. Only weeks later did the Pentagon acknowledge he was gunned down by fellow Rangers.

With questions lingering about how high in the Bush administration the deception reached, Congress is preparing for yet another hearing next week.

The Pentagon is separately preparing a new round of punishments, including a stinging demotion of retired Lt. Gen. Philip R. Kensinger Jr., 60, according to military officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because the punishments under consideration have not been made public.

In more than four hours of questioning by the Pentagon inspector general's office in December 2006, Kensinger repeatedly contradicted other officers' testimony, and sometimes his own. He said on some 70 occasions that he did not recall something.

At one point, he said: "You've got me really scared about my brain right now. I'm really having a problem."

Tillman's mother, Mary Tillman, who has long suggested that her son was deliberately killed by his comrades, said she is still looking for answers and looks forward to the congressional hearings next week.

"Nothing is going to bring Pat back. It's about justice for Pat and justice for other soldiers. The nation has been deceived," she said.

The documents show that a doctor who autopsied Tillman's body was suspicious of the three gunshot wounds to the forehead. The doctor said he took the unusual step of calling the Army's Human Resources Command and was rebuffed. He then asked an official at the Army's Criminal Investigation Division if the CID would consider opening a criminal case.

"He said he talked to his higher headquarters and they had said no," the doctor testified.

Also according to the documents, investigators pressed officers and soldiers on a question Mrs. Tillman has been asking all along.

"Have you, at any time since this incident occurred back on April 22, 2004, have you ever received any information even rumor that Cpl. Tillman was killed by anybody within his own unit intentionally?" an investigator asked then-Capt. Richard Scott.

Scott, and others who were asked, said they were certain the shooting was accidental.

Investigators also asked soldiers and commanders whether Tillman was disliked, whether anyone was jealous of his celebrity, or if he was considered arrogant. They said Tillman was respected, admired and well-liked.

The documents also shed new light on Tillman's last moments.

It has been widely reported by the AP and others that Spc. Bryan O'Neal, who was at Tillman's side as he was killed, told investigators that Tillman was waving his arms shouting "Cease fire, friendlies, I am Pat (expletive) Tillman, damn it!" again and again.

But the latest documents give a different account from a chaplain who debriefed the entire unit days after Tillman was killed.

The chaplain said that O'Neal told him he was hugging the ground at Tillman's side, "crying out to God, help us. And Tillman says to him, 'Would you shut your (expletive) mouth? God's not going to help you; you need to do something for yourself, you sniveling ..."


Beware of that old ragged white flag

"If I were any of the candidates to the Presidency of the United States, well, I would be very cautious.
A mere couple o'days after Obama and Edwards said that they would sit and talk during their first year in "da house" with the enemies of the United States our very own undesirable neighbour raul Caligula Castro had something to say:

"it is up to the new US Administration to decide whether to stick to its hostile policy or talk as equals with Cuba".

Is that the old ragged white flag or is it some sort of diversionistic manoeuvre gambit of warfare?"
Somehow it's always the US fault for not acting or not moving in the direction some tinpot would like us to move. Now if we did make a decision and move to deploy our strategy for the future, them it's the US empire on the move.

It's dammed if you do, and dammed if your don't. But somehow it's all our fault.

But you know me, if it's our fault, them we have the responsibility to make it right...

Army 'succeeded' in southern Iraq

The head of the armed forces has told the BBC that the British military has "succeeded" in its mission objectives in southern Iraq.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup said the army had "very nearly" reached its target of allowing Iraqis to run that part of the country.

Sir Jock also said while the operation in Afghanistan was "entirely winnable" it was "entirely loseable" too.

But he said he thought the armed forces could cope with being stretched.

He told BBC Radio 4's The World at One that opinions on southern Iraq depended "upon what your interpretation of the mission was in the first place".

He said: "I'm afraid people had, in many instances, unrealistic aspirations for Iraq, and for the south of Iraq.

"Our mission there was to get the place and the people to a state where the Iraqis could run that part of the country, if they chose to, and we're very nearly there.

"Our mission was not to make the place look like somewhere green and peaceful, because that was never going to be achievable in that timescale.

"And in any event only the Iraqis can fulfil that aspiration."

Radicalisation effect

Sir Jock also said that he expected the British army would hand over control of Basra to Iraqi forces "in the near future".

He said: "It hasn't been decided yet, it will come up for consideration within the next couple of months, I suspect, but I am fairly confident that we should be able to achieve that position in the second half of the year."

The chief of defence staff also admitted that the conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan "had an effect" on radicalisation of people in Britain, but that it was not the root cause of the issue.

"I think it is likely that there is some effect, but they are not the cause. Radicalisation was there before those conflicts existed.

"Clearly one couldn't deny that there may well be some kind of relationship between the two."


I guess we won, and the war is now over.
No wonder the British fucked the entire world.

Temple of UR!!!

"So we have been on the road for the past couple of days, same ol' stuff here and there. On are way north yesterday we saw an explosion to our three o'clock, we called it up and moved on. Everyone just watched quietly as the smoke from the blast rose into the air. "It's a controlled detenation over" we hear over the radio. Look's like someone found an I.E.D., this is always a welcome thing! We make it camp and decide to make a trip to Tallil. There we visit the temple of UR,"

Horseshit Sandwich

"I'm still being prostituted from vehicle to vehicle, and every time they put me on a new one, I keep finding all kinds of things wrong with it. I swear I see the maintenance guys more than I see my own platoon.

We pull back into the FOB after yet another mission (and yes, I hit things with the stryker, mainly barriers), and we stopped to eat chow. I'm pulling the truck in to the makeshift parking lot and as I take my final turn, the fucking steering wheel comes off in my hands. This shit only happens in cartoons. I bring the truck to a stop and I just stare at the black ring in my hands. I flip it over, astonished and pissed off, inspecting the back. Finally, I stuffed it back onto the column, the way it had probably been for god knows how long, and no one did anything about it."
Unlikely Soldier

Mission First

"Recently we finally received our mission.

For those who haven't served, your mission is what you and your unit's every activity revolves around.

For a while now, we haven't had a mission. Yes, we knew we were being mobilized, and who we were being attached to, and what the general mission was. But there was an ever growing list of what our specific mission might be. In fact that list had grown from 3 to 5, then 7, 8, and finally 9. This is unusual. There certainly was plenty of questioning as to what a Guard unit could handle. Some of us were hoping for a rather sensitive mission, and there was some logic to it - after all none of our Active Duty counterparts are also civilian Police Officers. But the reality is we were never seriously in the running."
SGT Grumpy

1 Day, 2 Flights, 3 Patients

"15th and 16th flights on Monday.
The first flight was a Marine that was shot in the face, but amazingly arrived fully alert and talking. He was intubated to protect his airway and I flew with him to Baghdad, no problems."
Me Over There
"YouTube has permanently suspended my account and deleted all my videos. The reason they gave me was "repeated attempts to upload inappropriate videos." I have been receiving several angry messages from Iraqis who did not like the videos I had published of Mahdi Army militiamen blowing up Sunni mosques in Baghdad and Basrah, and from some Kurds who objected to this video, which I had uploaded two days ago before my account was blocked (mature content):"
Healing Iraq

Scott Thomas Revelaed?

"TNR's blog The Plank has a statement from one Private Scott Thomas Beuachamp.
It's been maddening, to say the least, to see the plausibility of events that I witnessed questioned by people who have never served in Iraq. I was initially reluctant to take the time out of my already insane schedule fighting an actual war in order to play some role in an ideological battle that I never wanted to join. That being said, my character, my experiences, and those of my comrades in arms have been called into question, and I believe that it is important to stand by my writing under my real name.
--Private Scott Thomas Beauchamp
I have verified that there is a Private Beuachamp listed on AKO and he is listed in the listed unit."
Badgers Forward

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

U.S. says Qaeda safe haven may be inaccessible

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Al Qaeda's safe haven in northwestern Pakistan is largely inaccessible to outside forces and unlikely to be eliminated soon by the U.S. or Pakistani military, top intelligence officials said on Wednesday.

At a hearing in the U.S. House of Representatives, Pentagon intelligence chief James Clapper said the United States was not content to sit still while the militant network blamed for the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington regenerated its strength in North Waziristan.

"I think our objective will be to neutralize, not eliminate, but certainly make this safe haven -- as we have the others -- less safe and less appealing for AQ," Clapper told a joint session of the House armed services and intelligence committees.

But Clapper, undersecretary of defense for intelligence, presented the task of eliminating al Qaeda's influence in the region as a long-term project that would hinge on U.S. economic aid to the local populace and contributions of military assistance including sophisticated surveillance equipment to the Pakistani military.

"This is going to be a long-haul process," he said. "I don't think we'll have any demonstrable change within (a) three-year time frame."

Added Clapper, "It's not just ... putting bombs on targets."

He and other administration officials spoke to lawmakers about al Qaeda's emergence in Pakistan after White House homeland security adviser Frances Townsend refused to rule out U.S. military action against al Qaeda.

At a separate hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns reiterated the view that the United States would take unilateral action against al Qaeda in Pakistan under certain circumstances.

But he stressed that Washington's strong preference was to work with the Pakistani government.

Burns also defended Bush's request for $750 million over five years in new aid to help bring jobs and other development to the lawless region. He said the administration would ask Congress to allow duty-free imports from the border region to aid economic development.


The Bush administration released unclassified excerpts of a major intelligence report last week that concluded the United States faces a heightened threat from al Qaeda in part because of the Pakistan safe haven.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has deployed more troops to Waziristan where militant tribesmen, accused of harboring al Qaeda and supporting the Taliban, have stepped up attacks after scrapping a 10-month-old peace deal with the government.

Officials in the House session said Musharraf's accord with tribal leaders in North Waziristan helped al Qaeda build up its safe haven but defended the agreement as a sincere but failed attempt to control militancy.

Mary Beth Long, acting assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, told lawmakers that Pakistan now has 100,000 troops in the area.

But officials appeared to play down expectations that stepped up Pakistani military operations would lead to a full-scale assault on al Qaeda sites in a remote mountainous region populated by hostile and heavily armed tribes.

"Al Qaeda is now in a part of Pakistan that is largely inaccessible to Pakistani forces, the Pakistani government. Always has been. And it is a very difficult operating environment for them," said Edward Gistaro, the top U.S. intelligence analyst on transnational threats.

"It is just a very difficult environment for outside forces to operate in," he added.