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Born at the Crest of the Empire

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Picture of the Day - 3

A man carries a wounded victim of a blast to Imam Ali hospital in Baghdad's Sadr City February 3, 2007. A suicide bomber killed 135 people on Saturday in the deadliest single bomb blast in Baghdad since the 2003 war when he drove a truck packed with one tonne of explosives into a busy market in a mainly Shi'ite area. (Kareem Raheem/Reuters)

(AP) "It was the fifth major bombing in less than a month targeting predominantly Shiite districts in Baghdad and one provincial city to the south.....

Suspected Sunni attackers have appeared emboldened in recent weeks after radical anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, under pressure from fellow Shiites who dominate the government, ordered the thousands of gunmen in his Mahdi Army militia to avoid American attacks in the coming assault."

(I warned of this three weeks ago. These attacks have the specific goal to draw Mahdi back out onto the streets and they will continue until that is achieved. It's all outlined here.)

Hadley's bigass whoops. - Disregard. Correction at bottom.

At a press conference yesterday, Stephen Hadley made a very indelicate "mistake" by referring to Abd al Madhi as the Prime Minister of Iraq. (Abd al Madhi is actually a Deputy President.)

Why is this worth mentioning? Because one of the many rumors spawned by the Hadley Memo a couple months ago was that Maliki might have to be replaced as Prime Minister by a representative from Sciri.

The representative most frequently mentioned to replace Maliki was the same Abd al Madhi.

A slip of the tongue? A slip of the plan? I don't know. But you know Maliki heard it. Maybe that was the intention.

Later Correction: I'm very sorry. Much like Hadley, I seem to have gotten my Iraqi politicians confused. The man often rumored to take replace Maliki is not Adb Madhi, but Abdul Madhi. Again, very sorry.

Picture of the Day - 2

Recruits of PEJAK, the Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan, a splinter group of the PKK, take defensive positions near the PEJAK training camp in the Qandil mountain range, northern Iraq, Sunday, Dec. 10, 2006. Recruits are training to fight Iran, one of the four countries that rule the fractured Kurdish people. And although they belong to an organization officially outlawed as terrorist by Washington, they appear to be operating unhindered from Iraqi territory controlled by U.S. forces. (AP Photo/Yahya Ahmed)

(The US is threatening Iran for interfering in Iraq but is having trouble coming up with evidence. Meanwhile, an AP photgrapher/reporter is able in one day to gather evidence that the US is allowing safe haven for Kurds training to work violence in Iran. (Associated AP article))

Iraqi "surge" units only at 55-65%

Slipping notice yesterday beneath the NIE, the Iraqi forces showing up for "the surge" are coming into Baghdad at 55 - 65% according to Sec Def Gates and General Casey.
Gates said the extra troops that Iraq promised to send into Baghdad as part of a new U.S.-Iraqi military buildup are arriving in insufficient numbers. His outgoing commander in Baghdad, Gen. George Casey, has said the arriving Iraqi units have only 55 to 65 percent of their intended troops.

"Fifty-five percent probably isn't good enough," Gates said.

But the plan to distribute US troops in small clusters around Baghdad is still on.

Drawing the Kurds in

These attacks were not particularly "deadly," killing four, but by setting off seven bombs across Kirkuk, two of them carbombs aimed at the two Kurdish party headquarters, the intent seems clear.

Somebody is trying to draw the Kurds and Kirkuk into the war.

(It's interesting that these bombs weren't paticularly "effective," which tells me it's probably not the usual suspects. AP version.)

McClatchy looks at the numbers on Iran and finds the lies

Again, McClatchy, at the time Knight-Ridder, was the only major news organization in the country to actually examine the pre-Iraq intel. That should not be forgotten.

They now seem to be applying the same standard to the administration's claims regarding Iran, and like the Iraq intel, there is no "there" in the administration's contentions.
A new U.S. intelligence estimate on Friday, however, concluded that Iranian and other outside meddling is "not likely" a major cause of the bloodshed in Iraq, and a new McClatchy analysis of U.S. casualties in Iraq found that Sunni Muslim insurgents, not Iranian-backed Shiites, have mounted most - but not all - of the attacks on American forces.....

The fact that some Iranian weaponry is flowing to the Mahdi Army, and that Mahdi Army fighters have attacked Americans, doesn't prove that the Iranians are targeting Americans, said a second U.S. intelligence official, who also agreed to speak only on condition of anonymity.

Plenty of Iranian weapons are also "floating around" because the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps created the militia of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), and forces loyal to the Dawa party of U.S.-backed Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, the official added.

Further compounding the problem, the three U.S. intelligence officials said, is that the Bush administration supports not only Dawa's Maliki, but also two major SCIRI leaders, Abdul Aziz al Hakim and Abdul Adel Mahdi, who are also in the government.

"So what do we do?" said one of the officials. "Accuse the Iranians of supporting the same guys we support? That's awkward."

Also: (LATimes) U.S. can't prove Iran link to Iraq strife. "Bush administration officials acknowledged Friday that they had yet to compile evidence strong enough to back up publicly their claims that Iran is fomenting violence against U.S. troops in Iraq."

Picture of the Day

Residents push a cart with the bodies of victims after a bomb attack in a market in Baghdad January 27, 2007. At least 13 people were killed in the attack, police said. REUTERS/Erik de Castro

Friday, February 02, 2007

If we do go to war with Iran, it will be the media's fault.

Look at the way this is constructed. It is intentionally misleading.
(AP) Iraqi insurgents have used heavy machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and shouldered-fired SA-7 anti-aircraft missiles throughout the Iraq conflict. U.S. officials believe Iran is supplying Shiite militias with new weapons including more powerful roadside bombs, Katysuha rockets and a newer class of rocket-propelled grenades.

Some of those weapons could have found their way into the hands of Sunni insurgents, who operate around Taji.

Insurgents (Sunnis) have fired on US helicopters using a variety of armaments. Iran is supplying a different kind of armaments the Sunnis rivals in the civil war.

The AP then intentionally includes the unlikely possibility implying a connection between the Iranians and Sunni insurgents.

(I feel obliged once again to point to this AP article outlining shaky statements that the Saudis are shipping in big money to the Sunni insurgency with which they supposedly bought SA-7 (Strela) AA missiles, and this recent observation that "far more" than 100 foreign Jihadis enter Iraq through Saudi and Jordan each month.

But, the AP says Iran is arming the Sunni militants.)

We're looking at the real possibility of a "shooting war" with Iran, and the major media are unquestioningly spreading the propaganda for it.


How in the world does Drudge not mention the NIE?

(AP) The US is tearing down houses across Baghdad as it prepares the two dozen joint security stations.

(SavannahNow) Despite Gates' recent statements, it sounds like almost the entire 3rd Infantry Division has been stop-lossed.

(McClatchy) The "cult" involved in the Najaf clash had $10 million stashed in their compound(in US dollars?)

(AFP) "The United States believes that Somali Islamists who had, until recently, been running parts of the country, are regrouping in Saudi Arabia and Eritrea."

(NYTimes) Charles Stimson, the douchebag top military legal official over "detainee affairs" who recently tried to destroy lawfirms doing pro bono work in Guantanamo, has resigned.

And, Obama is a freakin' rockstar. Look at the way he yanks the audience around with him. He is a brilliant public speaker.

Picture of the Day - 3

"The only answer is to bomb Cambodia...."

At this hearing, Kissinger implied that Bush has a secret plan for Iraq. "I am convinced, but I cannot base it on any necessary evidence right now."

(Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger answers a question while testifying on Capitol Hill, Jan. 31, 2007 before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Iraq. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh))

Iraq is worse than a civil war

Many have made these arguments in the past, but having it included formally in the NIE should have more force. (NIE in .pdf)
"Nevertheless, even if violence is diminished, given the current winner-take-all attitude and sectarian animosities infecting the political scene, Iraqi leaders will be hard pressed to achieve sustained political reconciliation in the time frame of this Estimate." (12-18 months.)....

The Intelligence Community judges that the term “civil war” does not adequately capture the complexity of the conflict in Iraq, which includes extensive Shia-on-Shia violence, al-Qa’ida and Sunni insurgent attacks on Coalition forces, and widespread criminally motivated violence. Nonetheless, the term “civil war” accurately describes key elements of the Iraqi conflict, including the hardening of ethno-sectarian identities, a sea change in the character of the violence, ethno-sectarian mobilization, and population displacements.

I'm sure the White House takeaway will be this part,
If Coalition forces were withdrawn rapidly during the term of this Estimate, we judge that this almost certainly would lead to a significant increase in the scale and scope of sectarian conflict in Iraq, intensify Sunni resistance to the Iraqi Government, and have adverse consequences for national reconciliation.

Take the five minutes to read the whole key judgements section(starts page 6.)

(I'm really surprised this wasn't a 4:30PM Friday release. I guess it's big enough they can only sort of hide it.)

The early administration defense seems to be, "Yes, we agree with the NIE that there is only a slight chance that the surge will work, but that's better than the alternatives." (Later: Hadley making this case on video.) (More Hadley "not a a civil war.")

Picture of the Day - 2

If Dick Cheney sees his shadow on the walls of the AEI, it means six more years of war.

Happy Groundhog Day.

Bush's way out

Sometimes I wonder if the Bush administration doesn't secretly want the Congress to defund the war or take some other enforceable action so that the blame can then be passed on.

He's doing everything he can to pressure them, forcing the unpopular escalation which the Dem base is almost unanimously against, dropping a $245 billion request right into the middle of the congealing Senate debate, all the while almost daring them to do something.

I don't know, but he does seem to be dangling it out there.

First thoughts on the NIE

I'm sure there will be alot written about the Iraq NIE today (unclassified version to be released after lunch,) but in reference to this first WaPo report my question is: Who leaked?

My fear in this process was that the NIE would be supplied to the Congress and then any leaks of the document would be blamed on them, justifying limiting their future intelligence flow, but it didn't even get that far. (A Congressional aide is cited, but he hasn't even seen the report yet.)

So, were the leaks from the intelligence community, or is the White House trying to put forth a "softer" preemptive view?

The two important points I see in this first look: 1) The civil war is a far greater threat than Al Qaeda, and 2) Iran is "mentioned, but not a focus."

For years, the administration has been trying to externalize the Iraq failure by blaming outside actors, but this formal document collecting the views of all 16 intelligence agencies doesn't support that view.

It carefully avoids the politically loaded phrase "civil war," but how else am I to interpret sectarian "Iraqi on Iraqi" violence as the primary threat?

(More later, I'm sure.)

30 minutes later: The AP has a slightly different spin that sounds like the White House interpretation/response:
The general conclusion was that the biggest security problem is of a sectarian nature but that outside Iranian involvement makes the situation worse. Similarly, it said that Syria's failure to control its borders has allowed foreign jihadists to enter Iraq.

The administration said the document provided clear and compelling evidence of why the U.S. strategy in Iraq had to be changed. Bush, in a policy reversal, announced on Jan. 10 that he was sending an additional 21,500 U.S. troops to Iraq.

(I just see Hadley pulling up on a street corner with his driver and government issued black sedan, "Hey, little reporter boy... Do you want some candy?)

Through a sectarian lens, darkly

Look at how the "cult" battle story in Najaf is spinning out within the sectarian politics of Iraq. It's the Sunnis fault.

In Friday prayers,
Shiite cleric Sadralddin al-Qubanji, a member of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, said the cult leader was a member of Saddam Hussein's feared security agency, the Mukhabarat.....

"What happened in Najaf represented an attempt to bring down the new situation in Iraq by occupying and bringing down the religious capital," al-Qubanji said during his Friday sermon in Najaf. "The Baath Party has been saving this person in order to create a Shiite-Shiite sedition."

Also: Reports of another US helicopter down in Iraq near Taji.

Picture of the Day

A resident gestures next to a burning minibus shortly after a suicide bomb attack in Baghdad February 1, 2007. Some six people were killed and 12 wounded when a suicide bomber blew himself up in a minibus in the central Baghdad district of Karrada. REUTERS/Ceerwan Aziz

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Big Credit Again to Tom Lasseter

Tom Lasseter of McClatchy, formerly Knight-Ridder, was the only major newsman to actually examine the elements of the pre-Iraq intelligence. That should not be forgotten.

Today, he is stepping on another recent media taboo, reporting that the US's training program has trained and equipped half of Sadr's Mahdi militia. (The media memo this week said to blame everything on Iran. CNN and the NYTimes got that memo.)
The U.S. military drive to train and equip Iraq's security forces has unwittingly strengthened anti-American Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia, which has been battling to take over much of the capital city as American forces are trying to secure it.

U.S. Army commanders and enlisted men who are patrolling east Baghdad, which is home to more than half the city's population and the front line of al-Sadr's campaign to drive rival Sunni Muslims from their homes and neighborhoods, said al-Sadr's militias had heavily infiltrated the Iraqi police and army units that they've trained and armed.

"Half of them are JAM. They'll wave at us during the day and shoot at us during the night," said 1st Lt. Dan Quinn, a platoon leader in the Army's 1st Infantry Division, using the initials of the militia's Arabic name, Jaish al Mahdi. "People (in America) think it's bad, but that we control the city. That's not the way it is. They control it, and they let us drive around. It's hostile territory."

(One more gripe while I'm here. New Iraq commander Petraeus is being hailed as the new saint and messiah, but wasn't training the Iraqis his baby for awhile? How'd that go?)

As always from Lasseter, it's a good article worth a full read.

Big news tomorrow - The Iraq NIE

No telling how stripped down it will be, but the unclassified version of the Iraq NIE is due to be released tomorrow at 12:30PM. (Unsurprisingly, a Friday release.)

Expect the public version to be blunted.

Picture of the Day - 3

(WSJ blog) "Early in the morning, the Bushes attended the 55th Annual National Prayer Breakfast. Bush garnered big laughs when, apparently in need of coffee, stood from his seat, walked to Gen. Peter Pace’s seat, grabbed a silver coffee urn from in front of the general and brought it back to his seat to fill his cup. He then returned with the urn and poured Pace a cup. Pace stood and shook Bush’s hand in exaggerated and humorous gratitude.

The keynote speaker, Francis Collins, director of the Human Genome Project, spoke of science and faith being “wondrously complementary,” then pulled out an acoustic guitar to lead everyone in the hymn “Praise the Source of Faith and Learning.” (Photo: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)


Not feeling great, but there's a bunch of interesting topics today:

Vanity Fair has a long article backgrounding the Iran push.

In Iraq: FoxNews is reporting that two senior Iraqi generals are being interrogated for possible knowledge of the Karbala attack.

Kuwaiti News is reporting that the US found a warehouse full of "uniforms identical to those worn by the US marines." (A battalion's worth.)

(TPM, DefenseTech) The CBO estimates that "the surge" will be more than 21,500 because of support troops.

(AP) All of this despite the fact that the actual "commander on the ground," General Casey said that he would want, at most, half the number the President is sending.

And, Mary Cheney said, “This is a baby. This is a blessing from God. It is not a political statement. It is not a prop to be used in a debate by people on either side of an issue. It is my child.” (So, her dad and his friends can use other people's baby's as political props, but hers.....)

Question: How does McCain only have $492,487 in his campaign funds? Senators are able to transfer their Senate monies over. (Look at the Dems.) It's not like he didn't know he was running. (Giuliani is allowed to sit on $2 million from a failed 2000 Senate campaign?) (A different look here.)

Down the spiral....

I don't know why, but I feel like crap today. So, just a question:

How long until US and Iraqi government forces end up in a firefight?

Losing the battle, losing the war

Has anyone else noticed that the increased rhetoric and hostility towards Iran is beginning to undermine the diplomatic efforts aimed at the Iranian nuclear program?

Is the international community looking at the Bush policy as a bigger threat than letting Iran proceed for a couple more years?

Is that part of the administration plan?

Picture of the Day - 2

A man searches for missing relatives among bodies lying in the Yarmouk hospital morgue compound in Baghdad January 14, 2007. REUTERS/Ali Jasim

A rambling post on the building of hostilities against Iran

Josh Marshall on the effort to build hostilities against Iran:
I've said this before. But perhaps it seems like hyperbole. So I'll say it again. The president's interests are now radically disjoined from the country's. We can handle a setback like Iraq. It really is a big disaster. But America will certainly surive it. President Bush -- in the sense of his legacy and historical record -- won't. It's all Iraq for him. And Iraq is all disaster. So, from his perspective (that is to say, through the prism of his interests rather than the country's -- which he probably can't separate) reckless gambits aimed at breaking out of this ever-tightening box make sense.

The Bush administration has postponed plans to offer public details of its charges of Iranian meddling inside Iraq amid internal divisions over the strength of the evidence, U.S. officials said.

U.S. officials promised last week to provide evidence of Iranian activities that led President Bush to announce Jan. 10 that U.S. forces would begin taking the offensive against Iranian agents who threatened Americans.

But some officials in Washington are concerned that some of the material may be inconclusive and that other data cannot be released without jeopardizing intelligence sources and methods. They want to avoid repeating the embarrassment that followed the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, when it became clear that information the administration cited to justify the war was incorrect, said the officials, who described the internal discussions on condition of anonymity.

Perhaps the fear is that the British will not go along this time,
Senior British officials, citing mistakes over Saddam Hussein’s alleged weapons of mass destruction, are voicing scepticism about US efforts to build an intelligence-based case against Iran.

Sources in London and Washington suggest that the British Government has been “badly scarred” by its Iraq intelligence dossiers. Amid signs of a concerted American operation to prove that Iran is threatening US troops in the region, British officials say that they are “not aware of a smoking gun” that would justify taking military action against Tehran.

So, instead of proof, the Bush administration will simply continue to send out official after official to repeat the publicly unsubstantiated charges.

The bottom line is, the Bush administration does not actually have to offer proof. All they have to do is create an impression of proof strong enough to influence the politics, and with the media fully complicit, like the unforgivable "reporting" the other day claiming to tie Iran to the Karbala killings, that may not be as hard as it should be.

Fortunately, thus far, the American people aren't buying.

(Truthiness - "the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wishes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true")

Also, I should probably add this:
The US was drawing up plans to attack sites where Iran is believed to be enriching uranium before President George W. Bush's candidacy comes to an end, the UK-based Times reported on Wednesday.

According to the Times, the Bush government has been inviting defense consultants and Middle East experts to the White House and Pentagon for tactical advice.

Later: One more. From the same guys who brought you Al Qaeda as an effort to stave off the Soviets...
Prof. Gary Sick, a leading authority on Iran, believes the U.S. is seeking to divert world attention from the crisis in Iraq and organize a coalition of Israel and conservative Sunni Arab states to confront Iran.

"I see this as a very dangerous long-term policy because it promotes the idea that Sunnis and Shiites should be distrustful of each other, and I think that could come back and bite us later on," he said.

Always be leery of those who profit from war

(AP) "Oil giant Exxon Mobil Corp. on Thursday posted the largest annual profit by a U.S. company — $39.5 billion — even as earnings for the last quarter of 2006 declined 4 percent."

(Independent) "Royal Dutch Shell today reported another profits record, after higher oil prices lifted its annual earnings to 25.36 billion US dollars (£12.94bn)."

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Did anybody else feel that?

Democrats and Republicans working together to pull the rug out from under the Bush administration. Wow.

All that's left is the filibuster. I say, make them do it.

Picture of the Day - 3

He prefers the term Idiot-American.

(Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden listens during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, January 31, 2007. REUTERS/Jim Young)

Marketing 101 - Know Your Audience.

Just a brief word of praise for whoever it was that planted the idea in George Bush's mind that Switch Grass could be turned into alternate fuels. Really, it was a stroke of brilliance to tie that program to Bush's arch-nemisis in Crawford, brush.

He's still talking about it even today, "We're spending money on cellulosic ethanol -- that's a fancy word for saying some day we're going to be able to convert switch grass into energy that powers your cars."

That program will have funding as long as Bush is in office.

Political bits

As Atrios said, Joe Biden may have just completed the shortest Presidential campaign in history.

Within hours of actually declaring his intentions for the presidency, Joe Biden says this in an interview with the NY Observer, “I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy,” he said. “I mean, that’s a storybook, man.” (if overloaded, try TPM.)

(Joe Biden is scheduled to be on The Daily Show tonight.)

Meanwhile, in a WaPo blog, "Sources tell The Sleuth that the Obama camp has "frozen out" Fox News reporters and producers in the wake of the network's major screw-up in running with the erroneous Obama-the-jihadist story reported by Insight magazine."

And, just as a personal thought, if the Republicans want to filibuster the Senate resolutions on Iraq, I say make them.

The image of Mitch McConnell or whoever standing on the Senate floor reading from a phonebook to avoid debating Iraq would say more about the Republicans and Iraq than a nonbinding resolution ever could.

Later: Audio of Biden's comment: Listen and judge for yourself.

Picture of the Day - 2

A US soldier sits in front of a sign that reads, "We love our soldiers" at her forward operating base on the outskirts of Baghdad. US forces in Iraq are targeting Iranian agents there for capture or killing under a tough new policy aimed at starving sectarian violence of outside support, US and Iraqi officials said.(AFP/David Furst)

Iraq border security by the Air Force?

This seems like a bad plan on so many levels.
The Air Force is preparing for an expanded role in Iraq that could include aggressive new tactics designed to deter Iranian assistance to Iraqi militants, senior Pentagon officials said.

The efforts could include more forceful patrols by Air Force and Navy fighter planes along the Iran-Iraq border to counter the smuggling of bomb supplies from Iran, a senior Pentagon official said.

This is about the least effective way to do this; Patrolling a border is definitionally a ground troop endeavor.

How many "mistakes" will there be? How does the Air Force know which trucks to hit? How many non-combatants will be killed exacerbating anti-US sentiment in Iraq?

The only logical purpose I can see for implementing this is to exacerbate tensions with Iran.

(I frequently find myself wondering how the Iraqis must feel as the US tries to play out its own Iran conflict in their sandbox. Don't they have enough to worry about without this? (Maliki quote.))

Also, how much pressure for "engaging" Iran is coming from "the Gulf states," Saudi, Kuwait, etc?)

With one hand tied behind their back

(BusinessWeek) The Inspector General for the Defense Dept. is concerned that the U.S. military has failed to adequately equip soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, especially for nontraditional duties such as training Iraqi security forces and handling detainees, according to a summary of a new audit obtained by BusinessWeek.....

The Inspector General found that the Pentagon hasn't been able to properly equip the soldiers it already has. Many have gone without enough guns, ammunition, and other necessary supplies to "effectively complete their missions" and have had to cancel or postpone some assignments while waiting for the proper gear, according to the report from auditors with the Defense Dept. Inspector General's office. Soldiers have also found themselves short on body armor, armored vehicles, and communications equipment, among other things, auditors found. "

As a result, service members performed missions without the proper equipment, used informal procedures to obtain equipment and sustainment support, and canceled or postponed missions while waiting to receive equipment," reads the executive summary dated Jan. 25. Service members often borrowed or traded with each other to get the needed supplies, according to the summary.

(This is a less covered part of the same report that outlines contractor waste and fraud.)

It's not just Italy.....

A German court has obtained warrants for the arrest of 13 CIA agents involved in the "rendition" of Khaled al-Masri, a Lebanese born German who was snatched up, illegally taken to Afghanistan where he claims he was tortured. (BBC, NYTimes, WaPo)

(If you're looking for some background on the Masri "mistake," this WaPo article from Dec 2005 has some (Bottom page 3.))

Picture of the Day

Residents gather at the scene of car bomb attacks in Baghdad January 27, 2007. (Namir Noor-Eldeen/Reuters)

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

In Karbala attacks, predictable suspects

First off, let me say clearly that the indications in the recent Karbala raid definitely shade towards the possibility of militants trained in Iran, but me saying it here, and the NYTimes headlining a story with it, when "Officials provided no direct evidence of a connection," are very different things.

Let's dig into the way the connection to Iran is made by the NYTimes. 4 suspects were detained after the raid.
The suspects have also told investigators that “a religious group in Najaf” was involved in the operation, the Iraqi said, in a clear reference to the Mahdi Army, the militia controlled by the breakaway Shiite cleric, Moktada al-Sadr. If that information holds up, it would dovetail with assertions by several Iraqi officials that Iran is financing and training a small number of splinter groups from the Mahdi Army to carry out special operations and assassinations.

So, the suspects have told investigators that the attack may be tied to Mahdi, but made no mention of Iran.

BUT, several Iraqi officials (surely not Sadr's Sciri rivals) have made allegations that Mahdi receives support from Iran. Therefore, in the NYTimes' representation, Iran ran this operation.

That's pretty slippery to run this storyline.

(Again, I certainly believe this is plausible, maybe even likely, but the facts aren't there to support this story the way it's written.)

Later: CNN is reporting "unnamed officials" saying, "We believe it's possible the executors of the attack were Iranian or Iranian-trained."

(For a "villain test," ask yourself this: Is there any other nation in the world against whom the press would reprint these allegations with no corroborating proof? The villainization is working.)

Later Still: Josh Marshall has a post talking about what the Iran/Gulf of Tonkin incident might look like.

And, "A plan by the Bush administration to release detailed and possibly damning specific evidence linking the Iranian government to efforts to destabilize Iraq have been put on hold, U.S. officials told FOX News."

It's building.....

So, is the Admiral the right man for the job?

I didn't watch the Fallon confirmation hearing today, but there were a number of quotes out of it that really set me to wondering. Remember, this man is seeking the top Centcom post with overview/control of both Afghanistan and Iraq.
(NYTimes) "Asked to give his assessment about the flow of additional American troops into Iraq, and whether it would actually prevent Iraqis from doing more, Admiral Fallon said it was his assessment that current efforts have not been working, but he added that he has not been involved in the details of how the additional troops would be used.

“As you know, I’ve got a full-time job in Pacific Command, and I’ve tried to stay away from the detail of Central Command until such time as I might be confirmed,” he said. “Then I intend to dive into it.”

(AP) "And it seems to me that one of the things in the back of my mind that I'd like to get answered is to meet with the people that have been working this issue, particularly our ambassadors, our diplomats, to get an assessment of what's realistic and what's practical.

"And maybe we ought to redefine the goals here a bit and do something that's more realistic in terms of getting some progress, and then maybe take on the other things later." — Fallon.

This guy, self admittedly, has no fucking idea what's going on in Iraq. He doesn't know the players, has yet to speak with significant US personnel in theater, and has done this willfully.

He has intentionally buried his head in the sand before taking on this post.

This is the same guy who is scheduled to preside over "the surge" when he takes his new command in less than a month.

(Later: Maybe he's engaging in this willfull ignorance so he can later disown the failure? If so, is that the guy we want in charge of 160,000 soldiers in Iraq?)

Later Still: Thinking back over those articles, Fallon never seems to explicitly endorse "the surge," and, frankly, seems to lay the groundwork to blame others. (Even Later: ThinkProgress highlights Fallon's refusal to endorse "the surge.")

Picture of the Day - 3

"You have to stop bombing people..."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice talks with E.U. foreign policy chief Javier Solana at the start of a NATO foreign ministers meeting at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels January 26, 2007. (Thierry Roge/Reuters)


(TPM) Obama has just submitted legislation calling for a full US withdrawal from Iraq beginning May1, 2007.

(TPM) Paul Bremer has confirmed for Waxman's hearing.

And, I don't normally do stories like this, but this one..... A woman in Tampa was raped, taken to the hospital, then handcuffed and taken to jail for an arrest warrant stemming from a juvenile crime.

While in jail, "the medical staff at the jail refused to give her the Morning After Pill even though it had been prescribed at the hospital. "The medical supervisor would not allow her to take the pill because she said it was against the supervisor's religion.""

Republican '08 candidates? "They all suck." - Republicans

I thought this piece at Politico was pretty funny. "True Republicans" go on the record to trash all their '08 contenders.

Negroponte on the Hill

Negroponte was singing for his confirmation before the Senate today.
To back up claims of Syrian meddling in Iraq, Negroponte said that U.S. intelligence had tabulated that Damascus was allowing from 40 to 75 “foreign fighters” a month to move into Iraq — a startlingly low figure. Experts say that far more than that move into Iraq every month from Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

I know I've been pounding this White Hat/Black Hat presentation of Saudi and Iran that the administration is trying to push, but it really does matter.

Also, Negroponte said the Iraq NIE, delayed until after "the surge" was begun, is due to hit Congress next week. (How long until it's leaked to the press?)

Picture of the Day - 2

Anastacia Fuller, 19, who is expecting her first child in April holds a photo of her husband U.S. Army Sgt. Alexander Fuller, 21, who died Thursday, Jan. 25, 2007, when the Humvee he was riding in struck an improvised explosive device in Baghdad, the Department of Defense said Monday, Jan. 29, 2007. (AP Photo/Vince DeWitt)

In Iraq, each outrage supercedes the last

As we sit and watch the media going crazy over this "millenarian cult" battle in Najaf, I find my mind slipping backwards. Wasn't it just a week ago that US troops were kidnapped and killed in Karbala? Do we have any answers as to who was behind that?

How about the bombing of Al-Mustansiriya University two weeks ago or the Shia market bombing that killed 200 a month ago?

What about the carbomb last Thursday that killed three? Or the daily execution of dozens in the streets?

None of these attacks is ever resolved.

The pace of the violence is now coming so quickly that each act of violence is superceded by the last. The hospitals are choked with wounded and the morgues are overflowing with dead.

If a Shia dies in a bombing, then all Sunnis are responsible. If a Sunni body is dumped in garbage along the side of the road, all Shia must pay.

Truth no longer matters. No one really knows who is behind any of the attacks anymore. It is no longer about individual culpability. The Iraqis now simply blindly blame the other side.

This is the nature of civil war.

(Reuters) - Bombers killed 36 people in two attacks on majority Shi'ite worshippers marking the religious ritual of Ashura on Tuesday amid heightened tensions between Iraq's Shi'ites and once politically dominant minority Sunnis.....

Also in Baghdad, mortars rained down on the mainly Sunni district of Adhamiya, killing 17 and wounding 72, a police source said.

(Reuters) TUZ KHURMATO - Five worshippers were killed when a rocket propelled grenade hit a Shi'ite mosque in the town of Tuz Khurmato, 70 km south of Kirkuk, police said.

BAGHDAD - Three mortars killed 11 people and wounded 28 more in Zaafaraniya, southeast of Baghdad, a police source said.

BAGHDAD - A car bomb killed one person and wounded three others in al-Baladiyat district in eastern Baghdad, police said.

BAGHDAD - A car bomb in Hurriya, a mainly Shi'ite neighbourhood in northwest Baghdad, killed one person and wounded 14 more, a police source said. Another police source said five were in killed in the attack and 25 wounded.

BAGHDAD - A bomb planted inside a minibus killed four people and wounded five others near al-Mustansiriya Square in northeastern Baghdad, police said.

BAGHDAD - A car bomb killed one person and wounded three others near a square in Sadr City district in eastern Baghdad, police said.

BAGHDAD - A roadside bomb targeting a police patrol wounded two policemen near Qahtan Square in Qadisiya district in southwestern Baghdad, police said.

BAGHDAD - Three university professors and a student were kidnapped in the Khadimiya district in northern Baghdad when they were on the way home from a seminar at a law college on Sunday, a Higher Education Ministry official said.

Ill prepared for "the surge"

(WaPo) Short on equipment, trucks, and Humvees the US military rushes brigades into Iraq.

(Most troubling to me is the fear they may be short certain specialties, a shortage that may be horrifically exposed as US soldiers are scattered in smaller concentrations around Baghdad.)

Picture of the Day

US Soldiers from the 887th Engineer Company install cement barriers to fortify a Joint Security Station, where American and Iraqi troops will stage during upcoming security operations in Baghdad, Iraq, Sunday, Jan. 28, 2007. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

Monday, January 29, 2007

Brookings says it's over in Iraq, deal with it.

According to the Saban Center at Brookings,

The US must draw up plans to deal with an all-out Iraqi civil war that would kill hundreds of thousands, create millions of refugees, and could spill over into a regional catastrophe, disrupting oil supplies and setting up a direct confrontation between Washington and Iran.

This is the central recommendation of a study by the Brookings Institution here, based on the assumption that President Bush's last-ditch troop increase fails to stabilise the country.....

Everywhere looms the shadow of Iran. In a "war game" testing US options, the Saban Centre for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution found that, as the descent into civil war gathered pace, confrontation between the US and Iran intensified, and Washington's leverage on Tehran diminished. Civil war in Iraq would turn Iran into "the unambiguous adversary" of the US.

Indeed, everything indicates that that is already happening. The study appeared on the same day as the Iranian ambassador in Iraq told The New York Times that Tehran intended to expand its influence in Iraq. US commanders now claim that thousands of Iranian advisers are arming and training Shia militias.

Also: I don't know if I fully agree with this SF Chronicle piece challenging the "nightmare scenario" of regional war that is presumptively going to occur if the US were to withdraw from Iraq, but it did spawn some interesting thoughts.

Picture of the Day - 3

Look at this picture carefully. This man is leaving the hospital. No bandages. Nothing.

An injured man walks out from a hospital after receiving treatment in Baghdad, January 25, 2007. A car bomb that ripped through a market in the Karrada district in central Baghdad killed 20 people and wounded 18 more on Thursday, a police source said. REUTERS/Mahmoud Raouf Mahmoud

They're gonna need a bigger shovel

If there's one thing people say about Dick Cheney, it's that he's an optimist, right?

(Remember the optimism of The One Percent Doctrine?)

More media crit

Web front page, big type "Kentucky Derby Winner Barbaro Euthanized": (NYTimes, WaPo, AP, Reuters.)

Buried down in the bottom paragraphs of stories on Najaf, "The U.S. military announced the deaths of three U.S. service members Saturday." (NYTimes - 25th paragraph, WaPo - 21st paragraph)

A goddamned horse.

But who is arming the Sunnis?

CNN just did a pretty good piece dutifully outlining the evidence provided by the Bush administration and the military that Iran is supplying the Shia militias, but, still, I wanted to scream.

Where is the other side of that key story? Who is arming the Sunnis?

There's floating evidence in the public space that the Sunni are being funded armed by elements in Saudi, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and Pakistan. Certainly by now, after fighting almost four years in Anbar, the US military has come across more than a bit of hard evidence that the Sunni weapons and money are coming in from abroad, and yet, that's not being reported.

(There isn't a little elf workshop in Ramadi churning out RPG's, machine guns, and AA missiles.)

I think this bothers me so much because it goes to the very nub of media manipulation. The US government is selectively releasing information to force stories and shape perception, and this time, I'm afraid that it's going to work.

Most Americans don't pay enough attention to know that the vast majority of dead US soldiers are being killed by Sunni insurgents, but supplied with this inflammatory partial view, they will make the unjustified connection that the Bush administration is trying to shape, that Iran is responsible for the US deaths in Iraq.

The beauty of this media campaign is that the administration never has to explicitly make the argument that Iran is killing US soldiers. They make their case in the conditional, "If Iranians are found trying to kill US troops," and then supply the supporting evidence of Iran supplying arms. The direct connection of these two elements are left to the viewer. (Roughly a third of America still believes that Saddam was behind/involved in 9/11.)

It's all part of a very clever effort to displace blame from the administration to an outside villain.

And, if there's one truism about America, it loves to have a villain.

(Sorry, if this is rough or makes no sense. I'm in a hurry, but am so mad I had to post something. I may reedit later.)

Picture of the Day - 2

Campaign buttons for U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., are seen in a plastic bag on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2007 at East High School in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Iraq - Worse than advertised?

(Cleveland Plain Dealer) "Officially, more than 23,000 U.S. troops have been wounded in combat in Iraq. But more than double that number have fallen ill or been injured in what the Pentagon considers "nonhostile" action, a way of counting that critics say hides the war's full toll.

If the Pentagon also counted soldiers who were hurt in crashes or circumstances not directly involving skirmishes with the enemy, and those so sick that they required air transport, the figure would come to about 50,000, the Pentagon's own figures show."

Quotes, Iraq and other

Maybe I've caught the stupid bug, but I'm not seeing "the deep" today, so just an odd collection of quotes that caught my eye.

(LATimes) After meeting with Pelosi, Murtha: "I see that the Democratic ideas are more related to reality," said Ammar Tuma, a lawmaker who serves in Maliki's ruling Shiite coalition. "They talk about the real problems that the Iraqis are facing every day.".....

"Before, Bush used to order Iraqi officials to do this and that," said one member of Maliki's Islamic Dawa Party, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "The Republicans were dictating the political process in Iraq. With the Democrats in control of Congress, the Republicans are now less influential than before. It helps us in a sense to breathe a bit more and to have more freedom."

(LATimes) (From the "nonsectarian" Iraqi forces) "Although Iraqi officers emphasized their support for the U.S. forces' methodical approach to clearing villages, many of their men grew impatient. They repeatedly asked in broken English, "When we kill Wahhabis?," a reference to adherents of the fundamentalist form of Sunni Islam practiced by many Al Qaeda members.

(AP) ""The new Iraq is one that hopes to be at peace with itself and at peace with its neighbors," he said from a gilded chair in the ornate entrance hall of his Green Zone office compound."

(Guardian) (From an admitted Shia death squad member) "In this case, he said, the men were taken to Sadr City, the Shia slum to the north-east of Baghdad, where they were interrogated by a "committee" which ordered their execution. "We ask the families of the terrorists for ransom money," said Fadhel. "And after they pay the ransom we kill them anyway."

(NYTimes) "When American officials were debating whether to send more troops in December, I went to see an Iraqi government official. The prospect of more troops infuriated him. More Americans would simply prolong the war, he said.

“If you don’t allow the minority to lose, you will carry on forever,” he said.

(AFP) (Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov) "I have not seen any change in the rather aggressive rhetoric from Washington. It continues, as does the growing military presence in the region. This will be one of the questions that we want to clear up in Washington."

(LATimes) (From a list of "battlefield slang" from Iraq.) "Embrace the suck. Translation: The situation is bad, but deal with it. "

Surprises in Najaf

So, the militants in Najaf were an apocalyptic Shia cult targeting the symbols of the mainline Shia? (Reuters)

And, this fractious Shia group had "shoulder-fired rockets, antiaircraft guns and Katyusha rockets?" (WaPo)

What next?

(This would explain why the Shia dominated government took on this fight, eh?)

Picture of the Day

U.S. Army Master Sergeant Daniel R. Robles is helped out of his wheelchair by his wife, Ernestine , and U.S. Army Vice Chief of Staff General Richard Cody as Robles' daughter Mary, 5, watches, shortly before being awarded the purple heart at the Center for the Intrepid in San Antonio, Texas January 28, 2007. Robles was injured in Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) explosion in Iraq and lost both of his legs below the knee. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi

Sunday, January 28, 2007

It's only a general rule at Fox News

I don't know what it is about this that made me laugh.
And in an interview, John Moody, a senior vice president at Fox News, said its commentators had erred by citing the Clinton-Obama report. “The hosts violated one of our general rules, which is know what you are talking about,” Mr. Moody said. “They reported information from a publication whose accuracy we didn’t know.”

Is it that knowing what you're talking about at Fox News is a "general rule" subject to exceptions, or that they need to discuss such a rule at all?

Picture of the Day - 3

A wounded Iraqi recieves first aid on the way to a hospital in Baghdad's impoverished district of Sadr City. (AFP/Wissam al-Okaili)

Another US helicopter brought down by Sunni insurgents

During the fighting in Najaf, another US helicopter went down, 2 crewman killed.
A McClatchy Newspapers correspondent from Najaf, Qasim Zen, observed the helicopter lose control and crash to the ground in flames after it appeared to have been struck by rocket fired from the ground.

This is the third US helicopter possibly shot down in eight days.

If you want to go back even further, three aircraft were possibly shot down in Anbar in late November and early December.

The US command has been very poor in putting out information as to exactly what is bringing these aircraft down, but all of them have taken place over Sunni territory and several have unconfirmed reports of rocket fire.

So, with at least six aircraft down in seven weeks, maybe it's time to go back and revisit the report that "our allies" the Saudis are allowing private citizens to ship money and weapons (including Strela AA missiles) to the Sunni insurgency.
(AP)Private Saudi citizens are giving millions of dollars to Sunni insurgents in Iraq and much of the money is used to buy weapons, according to Iraqi officials and others.....

In one recent case, an Iraqi official said $25 million in Saudi money went to a top Iraqi Sunni cleric and was used to buy weapons, including Strela, a Russian shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missile.

(I'm still treating this as rumor at this point, but as the airframes and bodies continue to mount, I'm beginning to give it more credibility. If this is true, it is a very, very big deal. As the roads of Iraq become increasingly dicey, helicopters have taken on a significant amount of the transport and quick response role.

I keep thinking back to the parallels of the Soviets in Afghanistan who were treading water until the appearance of US supplied Stinger AA missiles, or of Somalia, where fighters pinned down US forces to lure a Blackhawk in to shoot it down.)

But Iran is the problem, right?

UPDATE: (AP) Provincial Gov. Assad Sultan Abu Kilel, "They are well-equipped and they even have anti-aircraft missiles," the governor said. "They are backed by some locals" loyal to ousted dictator Saddam Hussein."

Increasing unit size in Iraq?

I've often been amazed at the ability of the Taleban in Afghanistan to repeatedly mount large unit operations, 100-300 militants, despite the 20-50% casualty rates these operations incur.

In Iraq, with a far greater US presence, more air coverage, and the complicating factor of the civil war, unit operations in Shia and mixed areas have generally been limited to 20-50 with an occasional mount by the Shia militias up to 100. So, when I read this out of Najaf today, it caught my attention.
For the past several weeks, Sunni insurgents, including Arab fighters from outside Iraq, have stockpiled weapons and dug trenches amid the orchards in apparent preparations to attack the thousands of Shiite Muslim travelers observing the religious holiday of Ashura, Iraqi officials said.

Iraqi police stormed the Zarqaa area early Sunday morning, but took heavy gunfire from the orchards, where an estimated 350 to 400 fighters were entrenched, according to Col. Majid Rashid of the Iraqi army in Najaf.

Now, I don't know if this is a one off operation by the Sunnis to strike Najaf at Ashoura, but the ability to stage that size operation over that period of time in Shia territory doesn't seem to indicate a situation coming under control.

On CNN they said the target of the effort of these Sunnis deep in Shia territory was to kill a number of influential Shia religious leaders.

I would guess that the Shia faithful are wondering today, "Where were the Mahdi?" and "Why is Maliki's government taking away our protection?"

(On the bright side, this Ashoura attack does seem to have been circumvented by government forces.)

Later: Iraqi officials say 250 killed, and it sounds like a oneoff. CNN also just reported that Sistani was the ultimate target, and, per Iraqi officials, that the insurgents were a collection of Sunnis and Shia(?).

Picture of the Day

An Iraqi student walks past a pool of blood at the entrance of her school in Baghdad's al-Adel neighborhood after it was targeted by a mortar attack which killed one girl. (AFP/US Army/Wisam Sami)

The money flows in Afghanistan

I just want to put two articles together. Telegraph:
Corrupt police and tribal leaders are stealing vast quantities of reconstruction aid that is intended to improve the lives of ordinary Afghans and turn them away from the Taliban, The Sunday Telegraph has learnt.

In some cases, all the aid earmarked for an area has ended up in the wrong hands. Defence officials in the United States and Britain estimate that up to half of all aid in Afghanistan is failing to reach the right people.

Washington Post:
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Friday offered the Bush administration's proposal of $10.6 billion in new aid to Afghanistan as a challenge to NATO and European allies to bulk up their contributions of money and manpower.

Starving Iran

One of the big debates is whether the Saudis will keep oil prices low in an attempt to starve the Iranians of cash. The NYTimes says "no, of course not. The Saudis are keeping oil prices low for their own benefit." Suuurrreee. What really grabbed me in the article was this:
How much influence the United States has exerted is an open question. Vice President Dick Cheney met with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia in Riyadh in November, but his office would not say if oil was discussed.

Dick Cheney goes to Saudi and the word "oil" never comes up?