.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Born at the Crest of the Empire

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Picture of the Day - 2

(I chose this picture for the Ramones shirt.)

(Protesters and police in Rome June 9, 2007. REUTERS/Dario Pignatelli)

You really have to wonder how these governments feel about having Bush visit. It's a guaranteed riot.

Building a Sunni militia

The WaPo has a GREAT article outlining the fighting in Amiriyah between the Sunni nationalists and Al Qaeda. It's free of the cheerleading and overblown optimism in alot of the coverage, and in the second page gives a really good look at how the US is acting to back what is essentially a Sunni militia force.

It's a good thing that these groups are fighting Al Qaeda across Iraq, but once they've been armed, trained, and worked with US units and tactics, it's likely they're going to turn those weapons on the Shia government or the US. The Maliki government cannot be happy about the US taking this course.

This is such a shift from the previous in theater personnel trying to bring the Sunnis into the political process first. Ryan Crocker and Gen. Petraeus are way out on a counterinsurgency limb here.

It's all Al Qaeda in Iraq

I thought this was an interesting argument from an AP article asking why the Bush administration "highlights" Al Qaeda in Iraq.
Bush's warning about al-Qaida and Iraq "serves mostly to buttress the administration's claim that Iraq's problems are the work of outsiders, and not the result of the administration's mismanagement of the occupation and internal Iraqi factionalism," said Steven Simon, a Middle East expert at the Council on Foreign Relations.

(Apparently, I'm doing quotes today.)

You can lie to the press, but don't lie to the pope?

Snapshot of your president.
The pope also asked the president about his meeting in Germany with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has expressed opposition to a U.S. missile shield in Europe.

"The dialogue with Putin was also good?" the pope asked.

Bush, apparently eyeing photographers and reporters who were about to be escorted from the room, replied: "Umm. I'll tell you in a minute."

Picture of the Day

(CNN) Tancredo regarding McCain and immigration. “I think that the silver lining in this bill and the fact that we’ve debated this bill and the fact that he’s pushed it so hard, it probably means there will never be a President John McCain,” Tancredo said in the interview.

(ABC) " Newt Gingrich predicts John McCain will never be the Republican nominee for president. And McCain concedes he might be right."

The McCain campaign claims they will raise $12.5 million this quarter. Novak says he'll have trouble reaching $10 million.

Regardless, he's still a league behind the frontrunners at around $20 million, and it's not like he can expect a groundswell of support to carry him through.

About three months ago, I wrote to a friend of the sinking McCain whale, floating on an ocean of expectation with holes being poked in it as everyone waited for the body to sink...

(Republican presidential hopeful U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., speaks during a town hall meeting, Friday, June 8, 2007, in Pella, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall))

Friday, June 08, 2007

He's big in Albania

(NYTimes) "But here in Albania, which has not wavered in its unblinking support for American policies since the end of the cold war, Mr. Bush can do no wrong. While much of the world berates Mr. Bush for warmongering, unilateralism, trampling civil liberties and even turning a blind eye to torture, Albania still loves him without restraint."

Oh, Snap!

For those of you concerned that Judge Reggie Walton might go soft on Scooter Libby at the hearing (next Thursday?) to determine whether Libby goes to jail in a month or remains free during his appeals, take a look at Judge Walton's respect for the stature of Libby's supporters.
It is an impressive show of public service when twelve prominent and distinguished current and former law professors of well-respected schools are able to amass their collective wisdom in the course of only several days to provide their legal expertise to the Court on behalf of a criminal defendant. The Court trusts that this is a reflection of these eminent academics' willingness in the future to step to the plate and provide like assistance in cases involving any of the numerous litigants, both in this Court and throughout the courts of our nation, who lack the financial means to fully and properly articulate the merits of their legal positions even in instances where failure to do so could result in monetary penalties, incarceration, or worse. The Court will certainly not hesitate to call for such assistance from these luminaries, as necessary in the interests of justice and equity, whenever similar questions arise in the cases that come before it.

Scooter is going to prison.

Picture of the Day - 3

Two men hold flags and a sign expressing their feelings outside the Cathedral of St. Patrick in Norwich, Conn., as the funeral procession for 1st Lt. Keith Heidtman arrives Friday, June 8, 2007. Heidtman was killed May 28 when his helicopter was shot down in Iraq. (AP Photo/Bob Child)

(With wall to wall Paris Hilton coverage, I thought we might need a reminder.)

Gen. Peter Pace out as Chairman of Joint Chiefs

I think the explanation given by Robert Gates is pretty poor, that Pace is being let go to avoid a "contentious" reconfirmation hearing.

Pace was a holdover from Rumsfeld(yes man,) not a Gates choice.

Interesting that the replacement is another Navy man. I know nothing about Adm. Mike Mullen, but following on the installation of Adm. Fallon as Centcom chief, that puts two Navy men in key supervisory spots in the middle of two nasty ground wars and looking up at the rebuilding and increasing the size of the Army.

Picture of the Day - 2

President George W. Bush looks toward Chinese President Hu Jintao during a group photo at the G8 Summit in Heiligendamm, Germany June 8, 2007. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

I don't know why this picture is so funny to me.


(Gallup) "Bush's approval rating has not been above 40% in more than nine months (since September 2006), and has not been at 50% in more than two years (since May 2005.)"


Take a look at all the ugly things in just this one AP catchall.
Carloads of attackers descended on a police chief's house northeast of Baghdad at dawn Friday, killing the official's wife, two brothers and 11 guards, and kidnapping three of his grown children, Diyala provincial police reported....

two suicide bombers struck a Shiite mosque and a nearby police station near the oil-rich city of Kirkuk (25 killed)....

a parked minibus exploded at a bus terminal in the town of Qurnah, and a hospital director said at least 16 people were killed and 32 wounded.... a minibus loaded with rockets, ammunition, C4 explosives and benzene....

Iraq's bombings, shootings, mortar attacks and execution-style killings left at least 63 Iraqis dead nationwide Thursday. They included 32 unidentified men who were handcuffed, blindfolded and shot to death in Baghdad....

In another development Thursday, the radical Shiite Muslim leader Muqtada al-Sadr, in a rare televised interview, blamed the United States for Iraq's woes.....

"We are now facing a brutal Western assault against Islam," he said on Iraqi state television. "This agenda must be countered with a cultural resistance."

(BBC) A Shia group attacked a two Sunni mosques in Baghdad.

(McClatchy) A longer story on the Al Sadr interview. (Iraqslogger has excerpts.)

(Reuters) "On Friday, security sources said border authorities had arrested nine Iraqis trying to enter Lebanon from Syria with forged Romanian passports. It was not known why they wanted to come to Lebanon."

(Iraqslogger) "The Iraqi military has surrounded striking oil workers in southern Iraq...."

(USAToday) US military commanders say they are negotiating with tribal leaders in Diyala.

And, everybody's talking Turkey (Reuters, NYTimes, AFP) but they're not reporting anything new.

The Europeans want answers.

(WaPo) "A European investigator (Dick Marty) said he has "factually established" that Poland and Romania allowed the CIA to operate secret prisons where alleged al-Qaeda operatives were detained and interrogated."

(AP) "The first trial involving the CIA's extraordinary rendition program opened in Italy on Friday in the absence of all 26 American defendants accused of kidnapping an Egyptian terrorist suspect."

A hammer blow to McCain

It's not so much the departure of long time McCain friend to Fred Thompson as it is that it's taking place on the front page of the WaPo.
"I am very sorry to see what's happened to John," Dowd said in an interview. "I don't think his campaign is being well run. It's been over-managed. He blew through $8 1/2 million. It's a difficult thing to leave a friend and go to another friend. But we lost the John McCain I knew."

Not only does he leave, but he guts the man on his way out.

Picture of the Day

Miraculously recovered after his "sickness."

(U.S. President George W. Bush laughs with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin during a group photo at the G8 Summit in Heiligendamm, Germany June 8, 2007. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

Dick Cheney is gonna plotz

After all the reports that the US has told Israel not to negotiate with Syria,
An Israeli newspaper said on Friday that Israel has told Syria it is prepared to withdraw from the Golan Heights in return for lasting peace, adding to growing signals that Israel is looking to resume negotiations....

Israel's price for handing back the Golan would likely be very high. Yedioth said the Israeli message to Damascus was that Syria must abandon its alliances with Iran, Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon and Palestinian militants.

That sounds like a pretty unverifiable deal, and giving up Golan is not popular in Israel, so this may not come off, but, after all the US warnings, to have something this big on the table from the Israelis would mark a serious departure from the US's "no talks without concessions" diplomatic strategy.

(Oh, and it was brokered through the Germans and Turks.)

Bush takes "ill."

As he met with new French President Sarkozy in his room, I doubt this is anything more than politics, but the irony of this occurring the day after that first public picture of Bush drinking a beer (next) is just too good to pass up. Was it the antabuse?
A stomach ailment forced President Bush to miss some meetings at an international summit on Friday, but after resting in his room, he rejoined the gathering and prepared for talks in Poland on a missile defense system....

The president was already dressed when he began feeling ill in the morning, Bartlett said. The aide said Bush's illness was "probably more viral in nature" and did not appear to be the result of anything he ate.

Bush stayed in bed for several hours to rest and recuperate.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Picture of the Day - 3

Diplomatically referred to as a "cold drink" by the captioner.

U.S. President George Bush, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Premier Tony Blair and Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi enjoy a cold drink on the patio in Heiligendamm, Germany, Thursday, June 7, 2007. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

Jack Reed gets to the heart of the "War Czar"

RI Sen Jack Reed got the heart of the "War Czar" charade.
"I'm afraid that your position will be someone who's there to take the blame," Rhode Island Democratic Sen. Jack Reed told Army Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute at a confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee.....

"I mean, frankly, Afghanistan, Iraq, and, related to that, Iran, are the most critical foreign policy problems we face. And the national security adviser to the United States has taken his hands off that and given it to you? Well, then he (Hadley) should be fired," Reed declared.

The only criticism I would add is that this three star general would have frighteningly little influence over those he is supposedly controlling, Rice, Gates, Pace, etc, not to mention the root problem,
When Lute responded that he would "work with" Cheney, Clinton, a New York Democrat, said, "Well, I wish you well. Because certainly that's turned out to be a difficult situation for many. And I don't know quite how we ever really determined what the chain of command inside the White House is."

Later: Here's a video of the Reed questioning of Lute. It's far longer than the above excerpt and worth watching.

Sure it was about immigration, Lindsey

Apparently Lindsey Graham is cracking under the immigration pressure. There have been a number of articles about the calls and letter to his office, and he even got roundly booed at his own state party convention.

So, as you read about this "heated exchange" about the immigration bill, keep in mind what's really eating Graham.
Pacing the Senate floor and waving Obama's amendment, Graham loudly accused Obama of undermining a delicate agreement whose advocates have shown political courage.

Issues that require bipartisanship often fail, Graham said, "because some people, when it comes to the tough decisions, back away." Obama's amendment, he said, would destroy the bill's prospects and bring special woe to Republicans — such as himself — who have endured conservatives' searing criticism for backing it.

It would undercut "everybody over here who's walked the plank and told our base, 'You're wrong,'" Graham said.....

Almost immediately, the two men continued the argument in a hall just outside the chamber. "They were going at it," said Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla. "We could hear them inside."

Why do I think that Obama might not care about Lindsey's relationship with his base?

Later: ThinkProgress has some edited video.

(While I'm doing political, Thompson might face heat on past lobbying, Giuliani takes heat for Bracewell/Giuliani's lobbying for stem cell research, and Sen. Ted Stevens has been told to "preserve records" by the FBI.)

Picture of the Day - 2

First Lady Laura Bush delivers her speech during the opening of 'America@Your Library' at the public library in Schwerin, Germany, on Wednesday, June 6 , 2007. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

Things we don't talk about

Nothing's inspiring me this morning, so I thought I'd update the "talk about" list.

Things we don't talk about.
  1. Drunk driving deaths.
  2. Uneven application of justice against minorities.
  3. Poverty/hunger.
  4. Pay equity for women.
  5. Rape and Domestic violence.

Things we do talk about.
  1. Missing white women.
  2. Trapped Bears/cats/whales, etc.
  3. Overblown terror/TB threats.
  4. Movie Box Office.


John Edwards in a speech to be made later today.
"Today, we know two unequivocal truths about the results of (President) Bush's approach" to confronting terrorism -- "there are more terrorists and we have fewer allies."

Edwards has been successfully trapped in the semantics of his "war on terror" critique. I assume this speech is designed to try and reclaim the argument.

Picture of the Day

Republican presidential hopeful former Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson answers a questing during the Republican presidential primary debate hosted by Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., Tuesday, June 5, 2007. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

And, no, I don't know what he was doing.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Political bits - In no particular order

(AP) "House Democrats are expanding their investigation into ties between jailed GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff and the White House and have contacted several Abramoff associates recently about testifying to Congress."

(NYTimes) At the UN, everyone's complimenting new US Ambassador Khalilzad for not being John Bolton.

(AFP) Giuliani and McCain to skip Ames straw poll in Iowa. (So, Giuliani is skipping so he doesn't lose, and McCain is skipping to save money?)

(RockyMountainNews) Tom Tancredo gives up on winning the presidency, but will keep his presidential campaign going to "pressure GOP incumbents in their own back yards, threatening to work for their defeat unless they help block the immigration reform bill now pending in the U.S. Senate." (That should be popular.)

(NYTimes) Alaskan Republican Rep. Don Young is patently dirty, taking fundraisers for road funding in Fort Myers, Fla.

(HuffPo) Obama to beat Clinton in second quarter fundraising. (The NYTimes also has details of the Clinton's fundraising. I'd be curious who is pushing this around.)

(WaPo) "Comey said that Cheney's office later blocked the promotion of a senior Justice Department lawyer, Patrick Philbin, because of his role in raising concerns about the surveillance." (Warrantless wiretapping.)

And, don't miss this from Monica Goodling. In an email exchange regarding essential DoJ business, Goodling writes, "Send Directly Up To Me, Outside The System."

(But I though the use of the political emails was accidental.)

Picture of the Day - 3

Bert and Georgine Smykowski, from Cleveland, Ohio, embrace during the funeral services for Cpl. Joseph John Anzack, Jr. of Torrance, Calif., Wednesday, June 6, 2007, at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va. The Smykowski's were visiting the grave of their son, Marine Sgt. Mark T. Smykowski on the one-year anniversary of his death at the same time Anzack's funeral was nearby. Anzack was one of three soldiers were missing, whose the body was found in the Euphrates River in late May. Smykowski was killed in Iraq when a roadside bomb detonated near his vehicle. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

My first encounter with Traumatic Brain Injury

I was at a local grocery store checking out, and was laughing with the girl behind the register as she talked about going to Dallas for some Sci Fi convention or something. Periodically, she would lean over to her left, and put her hand on the bagger's hand and gently say, "Alan, Alan... put that in a separate bag."

Inevitably, my attention shifted to Alan as he seemed to be having great difficulty. On one overfull bag, he kept trying to put more and more in the top until she stopped him. At another point, he was just staring blankly at some broccoli unsure of what to do with it. She was so gentle with him it was touching.

Now, it's not uncommon in Houston for the local grocery stores to hire the mentally disabled, and I applaud them for that, but there was something different about this guy. It wasn't like he was slow, it was like he'd been through a lobotomy or shock treatment.

It was then I noticed the military tattoo on his forearm. As I walked out to the car, I remembered months, maybe a year ago at the same store, the happy little posterboard with red, white and blue ribbons with a big smiling picture right in the middle wishing National Guardsman _____ good luck as he was deploying to Iraq.

I don't know if that was the same guy I saw today, but I'm pretty sure it was.

I cried all the way home.

Peace in Iraq, but not the good kind

The (Sunni) Islamic Army in Iraq and Al Qaeda have come to a ceasefire, ending their widely reported conflict mostly in Amariyah.

No indication of the conditions, but the implication is that Al Qaeda in Iraq will be allowed to continue to operate out of the Sunni neighborhood. IAI will likely turn its guns back on the US and Iraqi Police.

The Turks try a test case on the Iraqi border

The Turks have long maintained their right of "hot pursuit" allows them to follow PKK members into Iraq. This has gone largely without challenge by the US, and with relatively minor complaint from the Iraqi government and the Kurdish authorities in Iraq.

But at what point does it stop being pursuit?
Several thousand Turkish troops crossed into northern Iraq early Wednesday to chase Kurdish guerrillas who attack Turkey from bases there, two Turkish security officials said. Turkey's foreign minister denied its troops had entered Iraq.....

One official said the troops went less than two miles inside Iraq and were still there in late afternoon. "It is a hot pursuit, not an incursion," one official said.

Maybe I'm wrong, but "several thousand troops" targeting bases not individuals does not constitute pursuit. This is an incursion, and, I would argue, a test case for future operations.

I would bet the Turkish military is watching the reactions of the US, Iraqis, and Kurds far more closely than the results of this operation.

(The Turkish PM denies this has taken place. Pentagon officials say they have seen nothing yet, and the White House said there has been "no new activity" to justify the press reports.)

Later: The Kurdish regional authority denies any incursion.

So, we have Turkish security officials anonymously telling the AP an incursion took place, but everyone else says it didn't. Even if there was no incursion, these statements could still constitute a Turkish "test case" to guage reaction.

It's extremely fuzzy what's going on.

Later Update: A newer AP version has the incursion at "hundreds." Three different Turkish officials, three different reports, "several thousand," "not in the tens of thousands," and "600 commandos.... backed up by several thousand troops along the border."

"The officials stood by their statements despite denials from Turkish and Iraqi officials."

Maybe the last update: From yet another later AP version:
An Iraqi Kurd security official in the Shanzinan area said 150 Turkish soldiers occupied a mountain about a half mile inside Iraq for an hour and then left. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said 200 other Turks staged a similar cross-border operation around the same time in the nearby Sirzeri area.

And, "Turkish authorities rarely acknowledge such military operations against the PKK, but the army has conducted brief raids across the border in the past."

Last One: From Reuters: "Jabar Yawir, deputy minister for Peshmerga Affairs in Kurdistan, said: "This afternoon 10 Turkish helicopters landed in a village in Mazouri, which is ... 3 km (2 miles) inside the Iraqi border. They landed with around 150 Turkish special forces."

Okay, one more: From an Iraqi source via Iraqslogger: "a group of Turkish military leaders made a “reconnaissance” flight into Iraq.

Elaph published a statement by Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan stating that 10 Turkish choppers made a landing inside Iraqi Kurdistan, then flew back north. The helicopters carried top military officials, the statement claimed, including the head of the Turkish land forces. Eyewitnesses in the area also said that large concentrations of Turkish troops are massing across from the Iraqi borders, especially in the area facing the province of Dahuk, which would be the likely route for a Turkish invasion, Elaph claimed.

Treat this last one as rumor, but it is the statement by the PUK.

Picture of the Day - 2

A woman kisses the forehead of her son, who was wounded during an air strike, in a hospital in Baquba June 2, 2007. Five civilians were killed and three others were wounded while inside their houses during an air strike by the U.S. military in Baquba on Friday, residents and police said. REUTERS/Helmiy al-Azawi


(Alternet) The Iraqi parliament has passed a binding resolution requiring any extension of the UN mandate to allow US forces to stay in Iraq must be approved by parliament. Imagine the politics when the next renewal is in December. Maliki may veto the bill.

More detail from an AP version. The legislation was led by Sadr's bloc. It passed 85 to 59, barely a quorum with 144 of the 275 lawmakers present. Opposition from the Kurds and SIIC. (So, Sadr worked with the Sunnis. Interesting.)

The LATimes has a long piece looking at the schism between Maliki and Tariq al-Hashemi, the top Sunni leader. The hopes for any reconciliation look impossible. Also in this article,
Even Maliki's top political advisor, Sadiq Rikabi, says he doubts the prime minister will be able to win passage of key legislation ardently sought by U.S. officials, including a law governing the oil industry and one that would allow more Sunni Arabs to gain government jobs.

"We hope to achieve some of them, but solving the Iraqi problems and resolving the different challenges in the [next] three months would need a miracle," Rikabi said.

(Reuters) "The bodies of 33 people were found in various parts of Baghdad in the past 24 hours, police said." (That number is climbing.)

It was six months ago today that the ISG report was released.

One US soldier died yesterday.

No pardon editorials for Libby

Maybe it's just too early, maybe they'll come tomorrow, but I must admit to being surprised that there are no "Free Libby" editorials in the WaPo or NYTimes. (The only one I see is a NYTimes board editorial calling it "an appropriate and necessary punishment for his obstruction of justice.")

I know there are a few outside the mainstream, like Kristol at the Weekly Standard or National Review, but, as the previous public defense of Libby has been so well coordinated, where is the queued up response?

(There is a Peter Baker front page piece discussing the arguments around the White House, but really, there's nobody in major ink calling for pardon. I'm just surprised.)

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Picture of the Day - 3

Former White House aide I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby walks towards his car outside federal court in Washington, Tuesday, June 5, 2007, after he was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison for lying and obstructing the CIA leak investigation. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Did you know that it was prayer that brought down the Berlin wall?

Anonymous described it as "evangelical democracy" in commments below, but what a bizarre interpretive history must President Bush embrace to say something like this in a prepared statement.
In East Germany, families came together for prayer meetings -- and found the strength to tear down a wall. Soon, activists emerged from the attics and church basements to reclaim the streets of Bulgaria, and Romania, and Albania, and Latvia, and Lithuania, and Estonia. The Warsaw Pact was dissolved peacefully in this very room. And after seven decades of oppression, the Soviet Union ceased to exist.

See, it was protestantism that brought down the Soviet Union. Good old, old fashioned Jesus. If he believes that, it's no wonder he believes the misbegotten idea of a "clash of civilizations."

Political bits

Would you rather be in the Republican debate tonight on CNN, or, like Fred Thompson, on FoxNews' Hannity and Colmes right afterward?

Giuliani's campaign sent out an email pointing to this story about some wild assed Mormon prophecy regarding Mitt Romney "saving the Constitution." Magically, the article made it near the top of Drudge. Dirty pool. Giuliani's campaign has apologized.

(Rawstory) No matter how hot the back and forth got today at the Schlozman hearing today, the real story has to be his admission to "boasting" about hiring Republican career employees. Hiring career employees on party affiliation is a crime.

Did Fred Thompson "have to" get married?

Trading comments with EPM below, I got to wondering about this.

Fred Thompson got married at 17, did he have to get married?

As far as I have been able to determine, Thompson was married on September 19, 1959. His first child was born in April of 1960.

By my count, that's seven months.

(Also, as far as I can tell, Thompson's current wife Jeri (Kehn) Thompson was born in January 1967. His three children by his first wife were born in 1960, 1963, and 1965.

So, the answer is yes. His second wife was younger than his children when he married her.)

I don't know, but I'd like to hear about those moral values again.

Libby sentenced to 30 months, $250K fine.

Not really a surprise. There will be a hearing Thursday to decide whether Libby will be allowed to remain free pending appeal.

Picture of the Day - 2

"Yeah, they don't like me sometimes, too..."

(U.S. President George W. Bush holds the hand of four year-old Baron Mosima Loyiso Tantoh after presenting the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington May 30, 2007. REUTERS/Larry Downing)

The Turks, the Kurds, and echoes through Iraqi politics

(USAToday) "Turkey's foreign minister asserted his country's right to act against Kurdish guerrillas in northern Iraq on Monday..."

(Same Article) "In southeastern Turkey, a lone Kurdish rebel rammed a vehicle into a military outpost and threw a hand grenade in a daylight attack that killed three soldiers and injured eight others, local authorities said."

(Reuters) "Turkey will deliver a report to the United Nations this week spelling out its concerns about militant Kurdish separatists in Iraq and reaffirming its legal right to take action against them, an official said on Monday."

Now to Iraq: (ATimes) One of Asia Time's really long deep analysis pieces on the Iraqi political reaction to the Turkish threat. Maliki is embracing the Kurds to hold together his government, but by offering Kirkuk, he is losing the Sunnis.

Allawi is attempting to to use this space to pull the Sunnis into his new coalition to challenge Maliki. Also,
For the past three months in particular, Allawi has been active in drumming up anti-Maliki sentiment in Iraq, talking with former enemies such as Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army, in hope of bringing down the increasingly unpopular prime minister.

Allawi, and those around him, believe that Maliki has been presented with an ultimatum from the US to end sectarian violence, disarm the militias, conclude rapprochement with the Sunnis, and bring security to the country. This is meant to happen this month, or the US will withdraw the unconditional support it has given Maliki since he was elected to office in May 2006, although his constitutional mandate lasts until 2010.

(If true, I would certainly expect that to be a soft deadline.)

(Iraqslogger) All of this would help explain why the Kurds have suddenly started attacking Allawi's list.
Talabani and Barazani released a statement accusing the new coalition of being designed by “foreign intelligence services.” The statement expressed dismay that the Islamic Party and 'Allawi’s list decided to ally themselves with “notorious traitors of the Kurdish people, orphans of the butcher Saddam, and chauvinistic elements who are opposed to the rights and aspirations of the Iraqi people with its two main nationalities, Arab and Kurdish.....

Several days ago, Iraqi papers reported that Maliki visited Kurdistan, held a joint press conference with Barazani and announced his support for the Kurdish position on the issue of Kirkuk, asking for the application of the 140th constitutional article, which Kurds believe will lead to Kirkuk being officially annexed to Kurdistan. Maliki also supported the Kurdish parties against the latest threats by Turkey, affirming that the government opposes any Turkish incursions into Kurdistan.”

Make of all this what you will, but it appears the Turkish threat has acted to force a "picking of sides" which will echo forward in Iraqi politics, hastening the challenge to Maliki's government.


(AP) No one even expects the benchmarks to be met anymore. Where was the coverage of this?
"He (Robert Gates) noted that the Iraqis had missed a May 31 deadline for passing a hydrocarbons law — one of many political obstacles yet to be overcome."

(CNN Video) Barbara Starr follows up on the NYTimes' report that the surge is "behind schedule." It's a jolt back to reality.

(WaPo) "One of our planning assumptions was that the Iraqi security forces would be able to hold [territory] in all areas, and we are finding that is not always the case," said Lt. Col. Scott Bleichwehl, a spokesman for the U.S. military command in Baghdad. "We are having to go back in and re-clear some areas," he said, adding that "slow progress is still progress."

(Iraqslogger) "In a rare interview last Friday the Shia Cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr rejected direct talks with the US, threatened a new uprising and revealed that he fears the US will kill him."

(Iraqslogger) "Military chiefs have drawn up plans to withdraw all British troops within a year or less, a number of UK newspapers report."

(McClatchy) The US is replacing the Iraqi Army's AK's with M-16's in an effort to gain some control of the weapons flow.

(USAToday) "The U.S. military will continue searching for two missing American soldiers despite a video posted Monday on militant websites that claimed the men were dead."

(WaPo) An interesting deconstruction of that video.

(FoxNews) The US embassy in Iraq is being expanded.

Picture of the Day

An Albanian man looks at the picture of U.S. President George W. Bush at Tirana's International Culture Centre, in Tirana May 31, 2007. Bush is planning to visit Tirana on June 10 as part of a regional tour. REUTERS/Arben Celi

Monday, June 04, 2007

A thumb in Putin's eye

The Russians are understandably upset about the US's abandonment of nuclear control treaties in the placement of missile defense sites in the Czech Republic and Poland.

But, while the White House is trying to sound publicly amiable,
In a diplomatic poke in the eye at Putin, Bush bracketed the summit with stops in the Czech Republic and Poland — the two countries where the United States wants to build a missile defense system for Europe.

Later: Bush is planning a "democracy" speech in Prague that is expected to further upset the Russians. He's going to talk about democracy in the former Soviet bloc states, but more significantly,
"He'll talk a little bit about the challenge of promoting democracy in countries -- big countries, in particular, where we have a complex relationship and a number of interests -- countries like China and Russia," Hadley said.

They seem to want this enemy.

Later: And a very interesting criticism in the NYTimes piece.
Critics of the administration, including Mr. Brzezinski, say the decline in American-Russian relations is a byproduct of Mr. Bush’s heavy emphasis on building a personal relationship with Mr. Putin, instead of a strategic one.

“My message will be Vladimir — I call him Vladimir — you shouldn’t fear a missile defense system,” the president said.

It gets worse on the Turkish/Kurdish border. 7 Turks killed.

If the Turks are looking for a reason, seven soldiers killed in a rocket attack is as good as any.
Kurdish rebels fired rockets and grenades at a Turkish military outpost Monday, killing seven soldiers in an attack that heightened tension at a time when Ankara has threatened military action against the rebels in northern Iraq.....

Abdul-Rahman al-Chadarchi, a spokesman for the Kurdish rebel group PKK, told The Associated Press by telephone that there had been artillery shelling from Turkey into Iraqi territory at dawn, and that there had been simultaneous shelling from the Turkish and Iranian sides on Sunday night.

I probably should relink to the recent warning from the Turkish army on Friday that came in response to a checkpoint incident.
The Turkish army on Friday warned Kurds in control of neighbouring northern Iraq that Ankara would respond "at the highest level" if its soldiers in the autonomous region are treated badly or harmed.

(On the charge that Iran was shelling, too, I'd like to wait and see a source other than the PKK spokesman, but at this point treat it as a real possibility.)

Anonymous pointed me to this article in comments below.

Picture of the Day - 2

Seriously, that's not his daughter.

(Actor and former senator Fred D. Thompson escorts his wife, Jeri, at a GOP fundraiser in Richmond. Several hundred attended the event, scheduled before Thompson's moves toward a presidential candidacy. (AP/Steve Helber))

(Joe Scarborough on his radio show, Friday: "You think she works the pole?")

Later: EPM points out in the comments that Fred Thompson has three kids all older than this, his second, wife. (I can't verify that, but in 1964 he had three children by his first wife.)

EPM also points to this creepy "hitting on the cheerleader" photo.

Political bits

(WaPo) Rep. William Jefferson, D-La., has been indicted. Good.

(WSJ) One of the criticisms I've heard about Fred Thompson is that he's a "less than active" campaigner. His campaign is trying to claim that it will be adopting "an unconventional campaign style" relying on activists, online activity, etc, but really, it's all about this. "He has suggested he isn't enamored of leaving his family for long stretches of campaign travel."

The WSJ asks the right question. How will his fundraising go if he's not willing to do the work? (Do they really expect the rich, old, white guys to go online?)

(Newsweek) The price of a picture with George Bush just keeps going down. At the 2004 fundraisers, that picture moment cost $25,000 to the RNC. In 2006, it cost $10,000. In New Jersey last week, it was down to $5,000. (Sell when it gets to $2,500.)

(Rawstory) Congress appears to have come to an agreement on the RNC emails. The Republican issue was that they did not want to release daily tallies by White House employee of how many emails were sent by day via the RNC servers. Why? (Tons of political activity on what should be national security days?)

What's going on at Guantanamo?

A military judge presiding over a tribunal at Guantanamo threw out the case today of one of the detainees over the definition of his status. (NYTimes, AP)

Frankly, I'm not entirely clear on the significance of the status definitions. I'm assuming that "unlawful" enemy combatant marks a higher and substantially more difficult to prove standard.

However, this decision has extremely broad ramifications as all of the detainees currently facing tribunals share the same status. In other words, the whole system just ground to a halt.

Oh, and then there's this.
Under the new war-crimes trial system, the prosecution has 72 hours to appeal, but the court designated to hear the appeal _ known as the court of military commissions review _ doesn't even exist, Sullivan noted.

(I'm sure somebody out there will background the status definitions. If I see it, I'll link it here.)

The Turks fire across the Iraqi border

Tensions increase on the northern Iraqi border
Iraq said Turkish forces shelled a mountain stronghold of Turkish Kurd rebels in the north of the country on Sunday, a day after it urged Turkey to use diplomacy to resolve rising tensions in the region.

While residents say Turkey shells the area almost daily, the latest attack came days after Turkey moved tanks to its border and speculation mounted that Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's government is planning a military incursion.

The Turks seem to be inviting "an incident" that would give them cause to enter Iraq.

(And, I want to point out again that the Kurds have a substantial number of their official forces deployed way down south assisting US forces in Baghdad. Would the Turks view this as a window? Will the Kurds pull them back from "the surge?")

Picture of the Day

The Lebanese army shell a position being used by a militant sniper in the besieged Nahr el-Bared refugee camp near the city of Tripoli in Lebanon Sunday, June 3, 2007. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

(AP) Fighting breaks out at 2nd Lebanon camp.

But this time, Cheney and the hawks are leaving footprints

Over the weekend, stories were coming out that Dick Cheney and the collective neocon hawks have repeatedly worked to undermine US policies.

There was the leak on Friday ahead of the Putin meeting which amplified a small speech by a third tier official to a front page NYTimes story.

On Friday night, we got another front page NYTimes story which contained complaints from the State Department that David Wurmser, one of Cheney's hawkish allies, was running around trying to undermine support for diplomacy with Iran.

Then, on Saturday, there was a look back at the neocons in the Defense Department who attempted to undermine US policy on China back when Colin Powell was Secretary of State.

I offer this roundup not only as catchup for non-weekend readers, but also as a bit of an evidentiary preface for this:

Front page WaPo story on Sunday.
Iran has increased arms shipments to both Iraq's Shiite extremists and Afghanistan's Taliban in recent weeks in an apparent attempt to pressure American and other Western troops operating in its two strategic neighbors, according to senior U.S. and European officials.

Sounds unequivocal, right? But wait buried in the wires....
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Monday the United States has no evidence Iran's government is behind a flow of weapons from Iran to Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan.....

"We do not have any information about whether the government of Iran is supporting this, is behind it, or whether it is smuggling, or exactly what is behind it."

"But there clearly is evidence that some weapons are coming into Afghanistan destined for the Taliban, but perhaps also for criminal elements involved in the drug trafficking coming from Iran," he said.

But you see, that is exactly the difference. While Condoleeza Rice and Robert Gates are relating facts, Dick Cheney's cadre is conducting a campaign. The hawks' strategically leaked allegations get huge, above the fold placements, while Condi Rice's and Robert Gates' factual rebuttals are buried on the wires.

And, as a final tie in on Iran-Taleban, from Newsweek:
And NEWSWEEK has learned that the veep's team seems eager to build a case that Iran is targeting Americans not just in Iraq but along the border of its other neighbor, Afghanistan.

In the last few weeks, Cheney's staff have unexpectedly become more active participants in an interagency group that steers policy on Afghanistan, according to an official familiar with the internal deliberations. During weekly meetings of the committee, known as the Afghanistan Interagency Operating Group, Cheney staffers have been intensely interested in a single issue: recent intelligence reports alleging that Iran is supplying weapons to Afghanistan's resurgent Islamist militia, the Taliban, according to two administration officials who asked for anonymity when discussing internal meetings.

So, over the coming week, as you read the breathless revelations that Iran is arming the Taleban, keep in mind what's really going on. Cheney's team is engaging in another Iraq-like "information" campaign to force associations that aren't there.

(Sorry for the long post, but this is important.)

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Water is wet.

If you're a regular reader, this will not come as a surprise.
Three months after the start of the Baghdad security plan that has added thousands of American and Iraqi troops to the capital, they control fewer than one-third of the city’s neighborhoods, far short of the initial goal for the operation, according to some commanders and an internal military assessment.....

When planners devised the Baghdad security plan late last year, they had assumed most Baghdad neighborhoods would be under control around July, according to a senior American military officer, so the emphasis could shift into restoring services and rebuilding the neighborhoods as the summer progressed.....

September is now the goal for establishing basic security in most neighborhoods, the same month that Bush administration officials have said they plan to review the progress of the plan.

The militias still infiltrate the Iraqi Police. They assist the Shia militants in the placement of IEDs. Ethnic cleansing and civil war are still taking place. US and Iraqi civilian casualties are up. Death squad killings are climbing, and we're being told once again to put off judgement for just a little longer.

Water is wet. Carry on.

Picture of the Day - 2

Members of the Patriot Guard Riders make their way to the football field during a public memorial service for Cpl. Joseph Anzack at the South High Football Stadium in Torrance June 1, 2007. Anzack, who graduated from South High in 2005, will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. His unit was ambushed while patrolling south of Baghdad. His body was later found floating in the Euphrates River on May 23, 11 days after he was first missing in action. REUTERS/Gus Ruelas

Members of the football team line the way as Cpl. Joseph Anzack's casket arrives at South High Football Stadium in Torrance June 1, 2007.

Sister of Cpl. Joseph Anzack, Casey, 16, and his mother Teresa kiss Anzack's casket during a public memorial service at South High Football Stadium in Torrance June 1, 2007. REUTERS/Gus Ruelas

Iraq keeps getting worse

(Reuters) "Seven U.S. soldiers were killed in six separate attacks across Iraq on Saturday..... All but one of the soldiers were killed by roadside bombs."

(WaPo) "Iran has increased arms shipments to both Iraq's Shiite extremists and Afghanistan's Taliban in recent weeks in an apparent attempt to pressure American and other Western troops operating in its two strategic neighbors, according to senior U.S. and European officials."

(WaPo) "The intensity of combat and the greater lethality of attacks on U.S. troops is underscored by the lower ratio of wounded to killed for May, which fell to about 4.8 to 1 -- compared with a (previous) average of 8 to 1."

(WaPo) Before War, CIA Warned of Negative Outcomes. (The first three paragraphs outline the CIA's prewar predictions. Frighteningly accurate, and, of course, ignored.)

(Iraqslogger) The "metrics" on the surge show increasing violence. "Every indication seems to point to dramatically increased levels of violence and capability amongst violent groups inside and outside iraq."

(NYTimes) "The number of unidentified corpses discovered in Baghdad soared more than 70 percent during May, according to new statistics from the Iraqi Ministry of Interior, an indication that sectarian killings are rising sharply as militias return to the streets after lying low during the first few months of the troop “surge.”"

(Iraqslogger) It appears that no one has spoken to Maliki about a permanent "Korea-style" US presence in Iraq.

(ATimes) A long and thorough look at the Shia politics as the SIIC and Sadr anticipate the fall of Maliki's government.

(WaPo) Insurgents "systematically" targeting bridges.

(WaPo) "West of the capital, American troops killed three children near Fallujah when a U.S. tank fired on suspected insurgents believed to be planting roadside bombs, the U.S. military said in a statement late Friday night. The children were 7, 9 and 11 years old, the statement said."

Later: This certainly makes it sound like Sadr has (at least) contacts with the captors of the five Britons. "private talks were reported between al-Sadr's Mahdi militia and Iraqi government officials to win the release of five Britons kidnapped last Tuesday."

It is possible that the kidnappers are unaffiliated and Sadr's negotiating to stop the attacks on Sadr City, but this does make it sound like there's some level of involvement or control.
London's Sunday Times, quoting an unidentified senior Iraqi government official, said al-Sadr's representatives were demanding an end to assassination attempts against militia leaders, an end to British army patrols in the southern Shiite city of Basra, and the release of nine Mahdi officials from British and U.S. custody.

Al-Sadr's office denies involvement in the kidnappings — of four security guards and a computer consultant. But the Times reported a al-Sadr official visited Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to tell him the men were "safe and sound" but would not be free until the demands were met.

No matter what happens, though, the US cannot touch al-Sadr.

Picture of the Day

Relatives grieve around the coffin of a man who was killed during a joint raid by the U.S.-Iraqi forces in Baghdad's Sadr City June 1, 2007. The number of civilians killed in Iraq jumped to nearly 2,000 in May, according to figures released on Saturday. (Kareem Raheem/Reuters)