Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Watching America

By Arnaud de Borchgrave
The Washington Times
December 26, 2006

In much of the world, friends and foes alike challenge America's pre-eminence. Pakistan's "Frontier Post," reflecting the euphoria of Muslim fundamentalism, asked: "Which country will 'supplant' America? Such an entity must possess a huge population, abundant resources, a universal ideology, and the political will to succeed. The most obvious candidate is the Muslim world under the Caliphate."

"WatchingAmericadotcom" conveys a bleak picture of how the rest of the world views the 79 recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group (ISG). Whichever way you slice 'em and dice 'em, the report's 104 pages spell failure. Some of its harshest critics in America say they're a recipe for surrender. Abroad, they're seen as a tacit recognition of defeat. From Buenos Aires to Berlin and from Brussels to Beijing, ISG was a devastating indictment of a multibillion-dollar boondoggle. In Tehran and Pyongyang, the two remaining capitals in the "axis of evil," and in Damascus, axis of lesser evil, cliches bristled about paper tigers and giants-with-feet-of-clay. That is precisely why President Bush is not about to accept ISG's findings.

Mr. Bush sees himself as a lone Winston Churchill figure from the 1930s railing against his somnolent colleagues as they appeased Adolf Hitler. And like Churchill at the end of World War II, he was not elected to preside over the dissolution of the American empire. Reinforcing Mr. Bush's gut feeling recently was a paper by Gen. Chuck Wald, recently retired as EUCOM commander, and Chuck Vollmer, President of VII Inc, which does strategic analysis for the Pentagon.

"With the entry of Iran into the equation," they wrote, "the next phases of Operation Iraqi Freedom could possibly include... a major invasion of Iran and pro-Iranian forces against Western forces in the region and Israel, and/or a global energy crisis. "

"Rather than planning withdrawal from Iraq," says the Wald-Vollmer paper, "we may be better served to plan for repositioning in this strategically important region. While withdrawal may be necessary in Iraq, withdrawal from the region would precipitate a global balance-of-power shift toward the Iran-Russia-China axis, which would be very detrimental for the energy dependent West."

For international opinion, the now free Iraqi media's description is even bleaker than the hourly recitation of the latest horrors on CNN and FOX. A lawless Baghdad "Descends into Chaos," said the headline in the newspaper Azzaman. "Trust levels between U.S. and Iraqi officers are low," said a Page One story.

"Baghdad is at the mercy of savage militias and gunmen have taken the law into their own hands. Kidnappings and assassinations are now on a scale never seen before. U.S. and Iraqi troops are powerless to restore any semblance of order anywhere in the city. Most of the carnage in the city goes unreported and the world sees only a fraction of the daily atrocities. "Ethnic cleansing of an unheard of scale is under way," Azzaman said.

"Entire neighborhoods are being emptied of members of opposing sects... there are even reports of a few being burned alive. These forced evacuations have resulted in the transfer of hundreds of thousands of people from one neighborhood to another or outside Baghdad. They leave behind their homes, careers and even personal belongings. "Every day, conditions are worse than the day before. And amid this unprecedented surge of violence, Baghdadis have had to cope with chronic shortages of power, fuel, water and other basic essentials. "

"And still there is no light at the end of the tunnel. The city's hapless inhabitants are more pessimistic about the future than ever before."

For Mr. Bush, this was no time to go wobbly, as Margaret Thatcher, when she was prime minister, urged his father not to do after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990. A bigger danger than Iraq is Iran. It would stand to gain most from a U.S. defeat in Iraq. And Iran has also made clear it has no intention of abandoning its nuclear ambitions.

Israel is obsessed about Iran. Acute but understandable paranoia has replaced rational discourse. Lebanon was a disaster for Israel and Iraq a disaster for America. Some political soothsayers in Washington predict Mr. Bush is limbering up for the biggest U-turn in his political life. Think again.

The French have an expression for what will probably come next -- "La fuite en avant." The literal translation doesn't hack it. Loosely interpreted, it means evading an issue with a headlong rush somewhere else.

Israel also has plenty of reasons for alarm in the ISG report. When Baker-Hamilton talk about a Palestinian settlement that includes the "right of return" for millions of Palestinians, this can only mean, in Israeli eyes, the destruction of the purely Jewish state, on par with the bats in President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's belfry when he says the Holocaust never happened and therefore Israel should be wiped off the map.

"Iran is the bully of the neighborhood," Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said last week, "and the international community cannot afford not to stop it."

The major problem with "bombs away" over Iran's nuclear installations is that Mr. Ahmadinejad may be asking Allah for just that. It would coalesce worldwide Muslim opinion behind the latest "victim of Zionist American imperialism." It would also produce the kind of regional mayhem Mr. Ahmadinejad sees as a precondition for the return to Earth of the 12th Imam, the Mahdi. He's the 5-year-old boy who vanished 1,100 years ago who will lead the world back to prosperity under the banner of Islam.

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.

Appeals Court Upholds Saddam's Death Sentence


BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) - An Iraqi appeals court has upheld the death sentence for Saddam Hussein, Iraq's national security adviser said Tuesday. "The appeals court approved the verdict to hang Saddam," said the official, Mouwafak al-Rubaie.

On Nov. 5, an Iraqi court sentenced Saddam to the gallows for the 1982 killings of 148 people in a single Shiite town after an attempt on his life there.

The appeals court also said the sentence, death by hanging, must be carried out within 30 days. The sentence "must be implemented within 30 days," chief judge Aref Shahin. "From tomorrow, any day could be the day of implementation."

U.S. deaths in Iraq exceed 9-11 count

By Christopher Yorchia
Associated Press Writer

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Three more American soldiers were killed in Iraq, officials said Tuesday, pushing the U.S. military death toll to at least 2,975 — two more than the number killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The tragic milestone came wi110th the deaths of the three soldiers Monday in two separate bomb explosions southwest of Baghdad, the military said.

The deaths — announced Tuesday — raised the number of troops killed to 2,975 since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count. The figure includes at least seven military civilians.

The Sept. 11, 2001, attacks claimed 2,973 victims in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. Opponents of President Bush have criticized him for raising the attacks as a justification for the protracted fight in Iraq.

Two of the soldiers were in their vehicle when a roadside bomb went off, the military said in a statement.

"The joint patrol was conducting security operations in order to stop terrorists from placing roadside bombs in the area," it said in a statement on the latest deaths. "As they conducted their mission, a roadside bomb exploded near one of their vehicles."

In a separate incident, another soldier was killed in an explosion while on a foot patrol in the same area, a second statement said. Three soldiers were wounded in the incidents, the military said.

On Monday, the U.S. command announced the deaths of two other soldiers and a Marine. It said one soldier died and two were wounded when a roadside bomb exploded near a U.S. military vehicle in southern Baghdad on Monday. An American soldier and a Marine died Sunday from combat wounds suffered in Anbar province.

Prior to the deaths announced Tuesday, the AP count was 15 higher than the Defense Department's tally, last updated Friday at 10 a.m. EST. At least 2,377 died as a result of hostile action, according to the military's numbers.

The British military has reported 126 deaths; Italy, 33; Ukraine, 18; Poland, 18; Bulgaria, 13; Spain, 11; Denmark, six; El Salvador, five; Slovakia, four; Estonia, Netherlands, Thailand, two each; and Australia, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Romania, one death each.

On Monday, British soldiers backed by tanks raided a police station in the southern city of Basra, killing seven gunmen in an effort to stop renegade Iraqi officers from executing their prisoners, the British military said.

After the British stormed the Basra police station, they removed the prisoners, who showed evidence of torture, then evacuated the building before blowing it up.

The operation showed how closely aligned some police units are with militias and death squads — and the challenges coalition forces face as they transfer authority for security to Iraqis.

In Baghdad, police found 40 bodies, apparent victims of sectarian violence. A car bomb exploded beside a market and a suicide bomber struck a bus in separate attacks that killed 14 civilians and wounded at least 33.

In the Basra raid, the British set out to arrest officers with the station's serious crimes unit who were suspected of involvement with Shiite death squads. Seven members of the rogue police unit were apprehended three days ago in other raids, said a British spokeswoman, Royal Navy Lt. Jenny Saleh.

"We had intelligence to indicate that the serious crimes unit would execute its prisoners in the coming days, so we decided to intervene," Saleh said.

British troops were fired on as they approached the station and their return fire killed seven gunmen, said Maj. Charlie Burbridge, another British military spokesman.

British and Iraqi forces transferred all 76 prisoners at the station to another facility in downtown Basra, he said. Some prisoners had "classic torture injuries" such as crushed hands and feet, cigarette and electrical burns and gunshot wounds in the knees, Burbridge said.

The British demolished the building in an effort to disband the unit. "We identified the serious crimes unit as, frankly, too far gone," Burbridge said. "We just had to get rid of it."

The unit's members, he alleged, were involved in tribal and political feuds in southern Iraq, which is mostly Shiite. They were not, he said, engaged in the kind of sectarian reprisal killings that have terrorized mixed neighborhoods of Baghdad.

Most of Britain's 7,200 troops in Iraq are based in the Basra area.

Mohammed al-Askari, a spokesman for Iraq's Defense Ministry, said the operation was coordinated with the Iraqi government. "Multinational forces got approval for this raid from this ministry and with participation of the Iraqi army," he said.

U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey, who is in charge of training Iraqi forces, said in Washington last week that efforts were under way to weed out Iraqi national police believed to be sympathetic to the militias.

Up to a quarter are thought to be aligned with the militias, which are engaged in sectarian violence.

The establishment of a viable Iraqi police force is vital to the U.S.-led coalition's goal of handing responsibility for security to Iraqis, so foreign troops can return home.

In another sign of lawlessness in Basra, gunmen on Monday robbed $740,000 from a bank about half a mile from the raided police station.

The car bomb in Baghdad, meanwhile, struck a mostly Shiite district to the east that attracts crowds of shoppers and laborers looking for work.

In another part of eastern Baghdad, a suicide bomber exploded in a minibus, killing three people and injuring 19, police said.

Another suicide bomber killed two policemen at a checkpoint at a university entrance in Ramadi, capital of Anbar province, a stronghold of the Sunni-dominated insurgency.

The deaths came a day after Iraq's interior minister said attacks targeting police had killed some 12,000 officers since the 2003 fall of Saddam Hussein.

Christians attended Christmas services in Baghdad and northern Iraq, home to most of Iraq's 800,000 Christians. Some in Baghdad stayed home, however, fearing violence.

Christians are on the fringes of the conflict, which mostly involves Shiite Muslims and Sunni Arabs — but they have been targeted by Islamic militants.

"I hope next year will bring good things and unite all Iraqis because there is no difference between Christians and Muslims," said Abu Fadi, a worshipper who does not use his Christian name because he fears for his safety. "May God bring relief from this."

In another sign of escalating diplomatic tensions between the U.S. and Iran, the White House said Monday that U.S. troops in Iraq detained at least two Iranians and released two others who had diplomatic immunity.

U.S. officials have charged that Iran provides training and other aid to Shiite militias in Iraq — including the equipment used to build roadside bombs. The Tehran regime says it only has political and religious links with Iraqi Shiites.

But Iran is believed to be expanding its shadowy role in Iraq, partly to counter U.S. influence in the region.

In Baghdad, a spokesman for Iraqi President Jalal Talabani confirmed that U.S. troops had detained two Iranians who were in Iraq at his invitation. "The president is unhappy about it," said Hiwa Osman, Talabani's media adviser.

He gave no further details, and the U.S. military said it had no comment.

"We suspect this event validates our claims about Iranian meddling, but we want to finish our investigation of the detained Iranians before characterizing their activities," White House spokesman Alex Conant said Monday. "We will be better able to explain what this means about the larger picture after we finish our investigation."

He said that a routine raid on suspected insurgents netted the Iranians. Two had diplomatic immunity and were released to the Iraqi government, which then released them to Iran, Conant said.

Message From Those Searching For Osama bin Laden in the Tribal Areas of Pakistan

Dear John E. Carey:

I hope you will be in the best spirit of your life. Thank you very much for including my letter in your blog. The people of Bajaur Agency Tribal Areas situated on Pak-Afghan border will never forget your kindness for them. Your kindness will be certainly beneficial for them. The people of Bajaur Agency are very poor and the people may believe it or not, but this is the fact that a large number of people have been dying of starvation and other related problems.

The government of Pakistan rules the areas through a political agent. The political agent is supposed to provide relief to the people, but here the situation is totally different. The political agent forcibly collect money from the people. He do all his illegal activities through local terrorists or Taliban. I have brought this situation into the notice of the officials of the United States based in Islamabad and Peshawar, but it is regrettable they have been giving the funds being provided by the United States to these corrupt officials.

The main reason of terrorism in the tribal areas is the rampant corruption. The corrupt officials have been looting the tribesmen on the hand and on the other receiving the money from the United States and other doner countries. I want to bring in your kind notice that most of the tribesmen are illiterate and totally ignorant. The political agent has been deceiving them. The political agent is responsible for giving shelter to the foreign dreaded terrorists in the tribal areas. The innocent people are being deceived on the name of religion.Again thank you very much for the interest in our affairs.

Yours Truly,

Muhammad Khurshid

Khar, Bajaur Agency,Tribal Areas, Pakistan

Ethiopia Steps Up Attacks on Somalia

Planes Strike Airport; Refugees Flee to Kenya

By Stephanie McCrummen
The Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, December 26, 2006; Page A01

LONDON, Dec. 25 -- Ethiopian warplanes attacked the airport in Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, on Monday in another major escalation of fighting between the Ethiopian-backed Somali government and the Islamic Courts movement that in recent months has taken over much of the country.

In Mogadishu, businesses shut down and thousands of enraged Somalis loyal to the Islamic movement rallied in the streets, once again proclaiming holy war against Ethiopia, a bitter enemy that is widely perceived to be supported by the U.S. government. Witnesses said young Somali men who have grown up in a country awash with AK-47 assault rifles continued to pour into recruiting centers to sign up to fight.

And 150 miles away on the front lines near Baidoa, seat of the fragile interim government, sources said that fighters from Eritrea and Pakistan, among others, had joined the Islamic movement's battle against Ethiopia in a conflict that analysts fear could engulf the Horn of Africa.

"The feelings are very bad, very confusing -- everywhere, it's confusing," said a businessman in Mogadishu who did not want to be identified. "I didn't expect this scale of war, but most Somalis, even if they were fighting each other before on a clan basis, they are united now against Ethiopia. And there's a feeling that the international community is not helping."

Read it all:

Death toll of female troops 'troubling'

By Rowan Scarborough
The Washington Times
December 26, 2006

The number of military service women killed in Iraq and Afghanistan has reached 70, more than the total from the Korean, Vietnam and Desert Storm wars.

"Some have argued that the women who have died are no different than the men," according to a report noting the 70 casualties from the Center for Military Readiness, which opposes women in combat. "But deliberate exposure of women to combat violence in war is tantamount to acceptance of violence against women in general."

The reasons for the historical high casualty rate are multiple. Women now make up more than 14 percent of the volunteer force, performing a long list of military occupational specialties they did not do 50 years ago. Women in earlier wars were mostly confined to medical teams. Today, they fly combat aircraft, drive trucks to resupply fighting units, go on patrol as military police (MPs) and repair equipment.

What's more, the Afghan and Iraq conflicts are lasting longer than the relatively brief Desert Storm, which featured the first large contribution of American women in a war zone.

But the real difference in Afghanistan and Iraq is the battlefield. It is virtually every road, neighborhood and rural village. Insurgents do not just attack front-line combat troops. Suicide bombers and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) strike at any time, meaning that women in support units can be just as vulnerable as men in ground combat.

"What it means is, it's just unprecedented," said Elaine Donnelly, who heads the Center for Military Readiness. "It is something that people are not aware of, for the most part. Some of these stories are incredibly sad."

Her report lists names, ranks and cause of death of eight women killed in Afghanistan and 62 killed in Iraq. The vast majority are enlisted women killed by IEDs or other ambush.

This month, two female officers died in Iraq, including Maj. Megan McClung, 34, a Marine Corps public-affairs specialist. Illustrating there are no firm battle lines, the death happened when Maj. McClung was escorting journalists near Ramadi. Her truck was hit by an IED.

Paul Boyce, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon, said the service has gone to great lengths to field armored Humvees that can blunt the force of an IED, as well as individual body armor.

"Women soldiers are making vital contributions to our efforts to fight and win the war on terrorism," he said. "Recent operations in the war on terrorism consistently show that any soldier, whether performing combat or support missions, could be exposed to combat hazards."

More than half the 70 women killed were victims of hostile fire, as opposed to death by accident, which is added to the war's total casualty count. The 70 represents about 2 percent of the total death count of 3,253 in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mrs. Donnelly said those killed include seven mothers with children 18 or younger.

"I think it's something that is very troubling, because it says that we as a nation are willing to tolerate violence against women as long as it occurs at the hands of the enemy," she said.

Women are barred from land combat under federal law and regulation. But they do serve in units such as military police and combat suppliers that puts them in the bull's-eye for terrorists.
Part of the problem, Mrs. Donnelly says, lies in the Clinton administration's 1994 decision to rescind the so-called "risk rule." It kept females out of support units that would likely expose them to hostile fire or capture. If this rule were still in effect, female casualties would probably be lower, Mrs. Donnelly said. Women remained banned from land combat.

Women have been able to serve as military police for some time. But in Iraq, military police are almost as likely to see combat as an infantryman. Mrs. Donnelly said the MP mission needs to be divided into all-male units, which are the most likely to see combat.