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Born at the Crest of the Empire

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Sadr provokes?

Moqtada al Sadr has called on his followers and fellow Shiites to make a pilgrimmage to the again damaged Askariyah shrine in Samarra.

This has all sorts of complications as these (mostly fighting age, mostly Sadr loyal) Shia would be passing en masse through some deeply Sunni territory. The probability of incidents would seem high. So, what's the idea here? What's he trying to accomplish?

Israel plans an invasion of Gaza

On items like this you never know how real the threat is. It would certainly be surprising if Israel wasn't working on plans to "retake" Gaza, but whether that means an attack like this will actually come to pass is another matter entirely.
ISRAEL’s new defence minister Ehud Barak is planning an attack on Gaza within weeks to crush the Hamas militants who have seized power there.....

The raid would be triggered by Hamas rocket attacks against Israel or a resumption of suicide bombings.

I would put this as another possibility of many. How is it that both the Israeli and US policy apparatus seem to be surprised by this? Isn't it their job to plan for contingencies?

What about the "hold"?

Thinking about the article referenced below that the US controls 40% of Baghdad, I got to wondering what's next?

If the Iraqi forces can't, or won't "stand up" to "hold" as in "clear/hold/build" there will never be more than that 40% control.

The BBC reports on just how bad things really are, and just how deep the Iraqi forces are penetrated.
Why isn't the surge working? The strategy is to clear, hold and build. The Americans are clearing, but - they will tell you privately - the Iraqi security forces are failing to hold.

A Western company recently brought a new generator by truck up from an industrial estate in southern Baghdad. They had no paperwork for it but it sailed through 12 checkpoints with the driver paying small bribes. No-one looked to see if it was a bomb.

A US general told about this said: "Our working assumption is that if there are only Iraqis on a checkpoint, you have no checkpoint at all."

And, take just a minute to notice,
One measure of how bad things have become is that Western diplomats will no longer visit the Iraqi Defence ministry, even though it is inside the Green Zone.

In fact, militia infiltration is believed to be such that no-one walks anywhere in the Green Zone for fear of being snatched off the street.

If this is true, I would have thought we'd have heard of this somewhere else by now. So judge the veracity for yourself.

Maliki objects to the US arming the Sunnis

From an article where Gen. Odierno says the US controls 40% of Baghdad.
In Baghdad, aides to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told The Associated Press that talks Saturday between the U.S. defense secretary and the Iraqi leader were difficult.

Two top advisers to the prime minister said al-Maliki, a Shiite, objected vigorously to the new U.S. policy of arming and training Sunni militants in the fight against al-Qaida.

I think the key question is, does Maliki object to arming the Sunnis as a Shiite factionalist, Iranian associate, or as a governmental figure?

The reason I bring this up is that there are persistent rumors from the Shia factions that the US is arming the Sunnis not to fight Al Qaeda, but instead to counterbalance Iranian shipments, to placate Sunni regional powers like Saudi Arabia, or to arm the Sunnis for a coup or civil war.

I don't put much stock in those rumors as I don't think the US is working at that level, but those rumors are out there, and they are certainly coming to Maliki from his supporters, and thus, impacting the politics.

What are the larger political dynamics of the US arming the Sunnis? Does it make Maliki less willing to work with the US? More so? Does it undermine him?

Picture of the Day - 2

Muslim worshipers pray in the street after they were prevented from entering the Al Aqsa Mosque compound, outside Damascus Gate in Jerusalem's Old City, Friday, June 15, 2007. Israel imposed restrictions on Friday prayers in the Al Aqsa Mosque, allowing only men over 45 and women over 35 enter the compound. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

A timeline on Iran

The NYTimes has a lengthy piece on the two sides of the Iran debate within the administration, Rice vs. Cheney, diplomacy vs. attack, and a vague talk of "some yet-undefined milestones" that the Iranians will not be allowed to cross.

We've heard all that before.

I found this Tapped post far more interesting. It represents the situation not as a debate about strategy within factions, but as a clock running out on diplomacy.
So a new timeline would appear to be emerging: if the current route of multilateral diplomacy and economic pressure hasn't achieved a change in Iran's behavior on the nuclear front by the end of the year, there is likely to be renewed and concerted pressure on the Bush administration to contemplate military action.

The thing to watch for is whether the hawks try to subvert diplomacy in the interim to leave "no choice" but an attack.

Where next on Palestine?

Just two articles that came together in my mind. NYTimes:
With the two Palestinian territories increasingly isolated from each other by a week of brutal warfare between rival factions, Israel and the United States seem agreed on a policy to treat them as separate entities to support Fatah in the West Bank and squeeze Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

The idea is to concentrate Western efforts and money on the occupied West Bank, which Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah faction control, in an effort to make it the shining model of a new Palestine that will somehow bring Gaza, and the radical Islamic group Hamas, to terms.

And from Haaretz.
The American embarrassment provides a convenient backdrop for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's visit to the White House on Tuesday. Worrying rumors about Bush's expected June 25 speech marking five years since he announced his now-moldy vision of a two-state solution were circulating in Jerusalem. Israeli officials spoke of America's "new ideas," a phrase that in Israel always ushers in the desire to run to a bomb shelter. ....

What will they discuss? The Hamas victory bolsters Israel's unstated policy of dividing the Palestinian Authority into two states - Gaza and the West Bank. Israel cannot say this out loud in front of the Americans, who are committed to a single Palestinian state, so Olmert will have to speak in code. ....

The Americans, meanwhile, are not rushing to switch gears. They still believe that strengthening Abbas is the only solution left, and that's what they'll tell Olmert. Some American officials listened skeptically this week to talk of handing Gaza over to a multinational force.

Update: The US adds "US backed" to the new Fatah West Bank government. U.S. plans end to Palestinian embargo (for the West Bank only.)

Petraeus wants more

Certainly, he's right. I'm sure he'd rather have Shinseki's "several hundred thousand."
Petraeus, who met with Defense Secretary Robert Gates at a morning breakfast, also said that while he doesn't have all the American troops he might want, he knows he's got all he's going to get.

"There's never been a military commander in history who wouldn't like to have more of something or other — that characterizes all of us here," he told reporters traveling with Gates. "The fact is frankly that we have all that our country is going to provide us in terms of combat forces. That is really it right now."

I wish I could hear the tone of this.

Related: The WaPo has a huge frontpager on contractors.
Private security companies, funded by billions of dollars in U.S. military and State Department contracts, are fighting insurgents on a widening scale in Iraq, enduring daily attacks, returning fire and taking hundreds of casualties that have been underreported and sometimes concealed, according to U.S. and Iraqi officials and company representatives.....

The security industry's enormous growth has been facilitated by the U.S. military, which uses the 20,000 to 30,000 contractors to offset chronic troop shortages.


Friday, June 15, 2007

Picture of the Day - 3

"Hello, Condoleezza Rice?" one masked gunman joked into the president's telephone. "You have me to deal with now." (Reuters)

(A Hamas fighter poses in Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' personal office after they captured it in Gaza June 15, 2007. (Suhaib Salem/Reuters))

Political bits

(Politico) Romney at the National Right to Life convention. "I know that it is not time but conviction that unites us." (What an eloquent way to hide a "flip flop" on a passionate issue.)

(Politico) McCain wasn't at the NRLC convention after being punked by a Romney advisor working there.

(CNN) One of the complications is that McCain was in a "mad dash" for fundraising. (Oh no, McCain didn't just use the word "benchmarks" in describing his fundraising.)

(HuffPo) "If (Bill) Kristol says what I'm doing is right, it must be right," from Joe "I'm so glad he's no longer a Democrat" Lieberman.

(TPM) Charges that Bradley Schlozman was trying to clear the DoJ Civil Rights division of Democrats so that he could replace them with 'good Americans.'

(TPM, NYTimes) Everyone is just shocked that the Obama campaign engages in opposition research.

And, I don't know if I agree with all the assumptions and conclusions, but a very interesting question about the relative strength of the netroots/bloggers versus the newer MySpace model for political candidates.

And, not that I would encourage it, but Michael Moore's Sicko has hit the filesharing services.

Later: Mike Elston, chief of staff to Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty has resigned. "He confirmed his plans to leave but declined further comment." (Doesn't he have a family he can "spend more time with?")

By the way, that's the top five people under Gonzales who have all resigned.

Picture of the Day - 2

(Iraqslogger) "Insurgents disguised themselves as cameramen so as not to raise suspicion while planting explosives at a major Sunni mosque near Basra early Friday morning. They detonated the bombs shortly after they left, destroying the mosque, and raising fears that sectarian fallout from Wednesday's Samarra mosque bombing is stretching deep into southern Iraq."

(AL-ZUBAIR, IRAQ: A general view of the destruction inflicted to a Sunni mosque that was attacked in the city of Al-Zubair near the southern city of Basra, 15 June 2007. (AFP/Getty))

Gates is fighting PR at the top of the US command.

The interesting thing to me about this is that Peter Pace's office is the one distributing this idea that he didn't quit or step aside. Pace wants it on the record that he didn't quit.

Also of interest, a day after Gen. Petraeus got blasted over his seemingly overoptimistic comments, ""astonishing signs of normalcy" in half, perhaps two-thirds of Baghdad," Sec Def Gates is in Baghdad trying to temper those comments, "It's a very mixed picture," Gates told reporters.

Picture of the Day

President Bush greets attendees after speaking about immigration reform at the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast in Washington, Friday, June 15, 2007. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

A path to citizenship through the Army?

I often wonder about this idea.
A senior defense official expressed hope today that a provision in the stalled immigration bill that would have allowed some undocumented aliens to join the military won’t fall off the radar screen.

In one regard, in a best case sense, it allows a path to citizenship while serving the country.

On the other side, the volunteer Army becomes populated by people who don't really want to be there, undermining effectiveness and morale.

How afraid should I be?

I am not an economics expert, but this,
Consumer prices shot up at the fastest pace in 20 months in May, fueled by a surge in gas prices, although inflation pressures were moderate in most other areas.

and this,
The percentage of U.S. mortgages entering foreclosure in the first three months of the year was the highest in more than 50 years, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

do not sound good.

(Is this creeping reality the final nail in the Bush "legacy?" How much is this guy gonna cost me?)

"The surge is just starting."

The last US troops in "the surge" are finally posted, and man, am I getting tired of the spin.
"The strategic movement of forces into the theater is complete, and the surge is just starting," said U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Garver. "Now that the force is here, we'll see the counterinsurgency start in full swing, and we'll be able to execute the strategy as it was designed."

That's right. The hundreds of US troops and thousands of Iraqis that have died over the last months don't count because the full force wasn't in. Just because we've had a three month presence in some of these neighborhoods as violence and killings have continued, that doesn't count.

With the full deployment in Diyala for two months, that didn't count either, because it's that last neighborhood in Baghdad that is causing the killings in Diyala.

I guess it's officially starting now because the early report card was so bad.
The final contingent of US troops in the "surge" against Iraq's resistance deploys today amid deepening gloom in Washington at the military's failure to reduce violence and defeat the insurgency.

(Oh, and please ignore the political and reconstruction elements of "the surge". Apparently, we told the Iraqis to hold off on these until we were able to "execute the strategy as it was designed.")

In a broader sense, it is becoming far more clear exactly who is in charge in this war. As the US initially deployed in "the surge," combatant groups from all sides pulled back to view the new US positioning. Violence went down.

Now, with a larger US force in place, they have decided to return to previous activities, and the violence has risen again.

Perhaps the best example is the first day after the Askariyah shrine bombing where there was relatively little retributional violence. Many may try to credit that to the US presence, but I think it points more towards the level of control of the insurgent and militia leaders.

The lesson is that they can turn it on and off like a faucet, no matter how US troops are arrayed.

They're in control, not us.

(Friday prayers today.)

(By the way, what ever happened to the 5 captured Britons? Or the two missing US soldiers?)

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Picture of the Day - 4

A Palestinian woman hugs her son, after being evacuated from Nahr al-Bared refugee camp, at the Palestinian Beddawi refugee camp in northern Lebanon June 14, 2007. The army has been battling al Qaeda-inspired Islamist militants at a Palestinian refugee camp in the north for more than three weeks. Sporadic clashes continued on Thursday, with troops pounding Fatah al-Islam positions in Nahr al-Bared. REUTERS/Loay Abu Haykel

Picture of the Day - 3

(Reuters) "Militants ambushed a vehicle on Thursday, killing six soldiers and three other people in the southwest Pakistan city of Quetta, hours after a visit by a senior U.S. official, Pakistani military officials said."

(Medics move wounded soldiers inside a hospital after an ambush in Quetta June 14, 2007. (Rizwan Saeed/Reuters))

Political bits

(WaPo) Gonzales is being investigated by his own DOJ for seeking to influence the testimony of Monica Goodling.

(ThinkProgress) The missing RNC emails have been recovered. (They will be a tough executive privilege claim, as they were deliberately kept out of the White House system.)

(TPM) Giuliani deliberately left Iraq out of his "12 commitments." (But, of course, he's open to sending more troops.)

(Politico) McCain's campaign bought the URL "MittvsFact.com." "A McCain aide confirmed today that they secured the site last month and indicated that they would use it as a sort of one-stop shop "to brand" Romney. "

And, if you didn't see this, it's interesting. From Politico, excerpts (.pdf) from the NSRC guide on how to exploit the blogosphere.

Later: Ex-Rove aide, now Arkansas US attorney Tim Griffin "chokes up" in an interview saying "his experience as U.S. attorney had not been worth the criticism he and his wife have endured." (Yeah, it's hell to have it pointed out that you got a patronage job that you're not qualified for.)

Libby ruling - It rhymes with "hison"

If you're jonesing for info on the Libby ruling today, Firedoglake's liveblogging is unquestionably the best source.

UPDATE: Judge Walton will not allow Libby to remain free pending appeal. "No date was set for Libby to report to prison but it's expected to be within six to eight weeks." (AP) (WaPo)

UPDATE: From CNN, the White House statement.

If Libby is going to prison during his appeal, and the White House "will continue not to intervene in the judicial process," that would seem to mean that Scooter will not be pardoned before he goes into prison.

Buying bullets for the Iraqis

I don't know what the ratio should be, but reading this Iraqslogger piece about the US buying ammo for the Iraqis makes me wonder.

170,000,000 rounds of ammunition for the Iraqi forces.

That's about 6.5 rounds for every man, woman, and child in Iraq.

Picture of the Day

Democratic Presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama, listens as Sen. Charles Schumer testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, June 7, 2007, before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on legislation to prevent voter fraud. (AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke)

Quickhits and Iraq

(AP) The next enemy: US military prepared for 'worst' with China.

(The Age) "About one in six Iraqi policemen trained by US-led forces were killed, wounded, deserted or just disappeared, a US military official says."

(StarsandStripes) US soldiers express their frustrations of an unclear mission as they escort a sewage truck in Hillah.

(WaPo-Ignatius) Pressure between the US and Iranians over the competing Iraqi intelligence agencies.

(ABCBlotter) The terror watchlist is now over 500,000 names.

And, if I remember right, Scooter Libby has his hearing today to decide whether he goes to prison soon or remains free during his appeals. (Any chance I'll get to see him crying and screaming "Mom, help me?")

Questions on polling, immigration, and legacy

Is this new NBC/WSJ poll showing Bush at 29% approval a "shock value" outlier or part of a broader trend? Over the last few weeks, the Bush approval number has been hitting new lows in several polls, but I don't have a sense whether this is the normal ebb and ebb of the Bush presidency or part of something larger.

For almost a year, Bush approval has been dancing around in the 30's, sustained almost entirely by self identified Republican support. I have been watching for an erosion in that support because of Bush's immigration proposal. As yet, that hasn't really happened.

Are these latest polls beginning to show Bush losing Republicans over immigration? Will that be a substantial loss?

(And, maybe we should question the political decision of this White House to chase its version of immigration reform at all. The political upside is almost entirely related to "legacy," while the downsides are all likely to be felt over the next 18 months.

They're risking/losing what little support and influence Bush has among Congressional Republicans which effects not only legislative items, but also the defensive oversight measures like fighting subpoenas and investigations.

In this gamble for immigration, they've risked not only the domestic agenda part of the Bush legacy, but also ceded alot of ground to the Congressional Dems who will now play a much larger "oversight" role in defining the history and actions of the Bush presidency.)

Last: I maintain that a President's legacy is primarily written by his defenders and loyalists. as they're the ones that fill the media with positive recollections of a president, reframing his specific actions and intiatived to construct a broader theme of a presidency.

Will this perceived "betrayal" on immigration stay with them? Will it diminish their passion as they try to reframe Iraq as courageous a decade from now?

Maybe I'm reading too much into the current passionate resistance to Bush's immigration proposal, I don't know, but reading the comments and opinions of the rank and file, I find it hard to believe this will be forgotten.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Picture of the Day - 3

Iraq rests on a knife's edge. Lebanon steps closer to collapse. The Palestinians are in a civil war, and where is Bush tonight?

He's rubbing shoulders at The President's Dinner, the top NRCC/NRSC fundraiser of the year.

(President Bush waves after speaking at the 2007 President's Dinner, Wednesday, June 13, 2007, in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta))

(PS. The take from the dinner was way down. $15.4 million vs. $27 million last year.)

Tony Snow's "successes" just keep piling up.

To see why these are called "successes" see the next post.
Violence in Iraq, as measured by casualties among troops and civilians, has edged higher despite the U.S.-led security push in Baghdad, the Pentagon told Congress on Wednesday....

Wednesday's broader report, the eighth in a series, said that while violence fell in the capital and in Anbar province west of Baghdad during the February-May period, it increased in other areas, particularly in the outlying areas of Baghdad province and in Diyala province northeast of Baghdad and in the northern province of Nineva.

Later: For more detail, check the WaPo version.

Spinning disaster

On ABCNews tonight, they interviewed Gen. Petraeus about the Samarra mosque bombing today. (Loosely transcripted by me)
"General, so much has been made, and you have emphasized, the need the need for the Iraqis to provide their own security, and they can't protect the holiest of their shrines, what can they protect?"

Petraeus: "Well, they can protect a vast number of locations as they are at this time. There are many more holy shrines...."

(Petraeus: Why aren't you asking about the shrines that didn't blow up today?)

Or perhaps you prefer Tony Snow's particular rose tint. Terrorism is a sign of success. (Video)
MR. SNOW: Well, I think, again -- a couple of things. It does fit a pattern that we see throughout the region, which is that when you see things moving towards success, or when you see signs of success, that there are acts of violence. We saw that, certainly -- we've seen that in Lebanon, once again, today, tragically. We also saw it earlier in Lebanon. We have seen it on a number of occasions where, when Israel and the Palestinians seem to be getting close to a deal, there are kidnapings and acts of violence.

Well, Tony, judging from the State Department's reports, there's a rapidly increasing number of successes around the world, and Iraq is literally exploding with successes every day.

Picture of the Day - 2

A Palestinian man wounded during clashes between Fatah and Hamas is driven on the hood of car to hospital in Gaza City, Wednesday, June 13, 2007. (AP Photo/Wissam Nassar)

The middle east is on fire....

In Lebanon, an anti-Syrian lawmaker was killed in a massive carbombing. "Lebanon has been hit by a wave of assassinations targeting anti-Syrian figures.... Eido was the seventh anti-Syrian politician to be killed since Hariri."

In the Palestinian territories, the violence between Hamas and Fatah has significantly escalated across the Gaza strip with Hamas "seizing a major Fatah security base and control of main roads." CNN is reporting that Fatah is retaliating in the West Bank.

(Later: (AP) "Hamas pounded Gaza City's three main security compounds and President Mahmoud Abbas' headquarters with mortars, grenades and assault rifles Wednesday, calling on beleaguered Fatah forces to surrender in an apparent attempt to take control of the entire Gaza Strip.")

Why has De-Baathification reform failed?

Buried deep in the Damien Cave NYTimes article on failing benchmarks,
Sunnis supported the overhaul, and Shiites and Kurds were expected to fall in line after the Shiite prime minister and the Kurdish president announced the plan on March 26.

But the law was stymied by Ahmad Chalabi, who headed Iraq’s de-Baathification commission. Mr. Chalabi, the former Pentagon protégé, relies on the commission for an official role in Iraq’s government. Having just renovated a spacious office in the Green Zone, he has strongly opposed any effort to weaken his position or the country’s policy on former Baathists.

According to a senior official with the commission, Mr. Chalabi and members of his organization sabotaged the American-backed plan by rallying opposition among Shiite government officials in southern Iraq, then taking their complaints to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s most powerful Shiite cleric.


A thought on the Askariyah mosque bombing in Samarra

Take a second and step back to look at the motivation behind today's inflammatory attack in Samarra.

For a couple weeks, the US has been managing a loose cooperation with local Sunni nationalists and ex-Baathists in an effort to drive Al Qaeda from some key neighborhoods in Baghdad and Diyala.

Suddenly, with this bombing, those local Sunni groups will have to abandon that effort, turning from attacking Al Qaeda to protecting their neighborhoods from a likely Shia response. They may even look to Al Qaeda for help.

If there is no response, Al Qaeda, at the very least, bought themselves some "breathing space" through this bombing.

There may be some chaos tonight, but we'll have to wait a day or two to see if there's any authorized militia response.

Just some stray thoughts.

Subpoenas for Harriet Miers, and Sara Taylor

Let the executive privilege battles begin.
Two congressional committees are issuing subpoenas for testimony from former White House counsel Harriet Miers and former political director Sara Taylor on their roles in the firings of eight federal prosecutors, according to two officials familiar with the investigation......

Not yet on the subpoena list is President Bush's top political adviser, Karl Rove, but only because Democrats have not yet finished interviewing those below him, the officials said.

Also: Leahy will likely issue a subpoena for the legal opinions that were used to justify warrantless wiretapping.

Picture of the Day

A man carries a portrait of most influential Shiite cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in the holy city of Najaf, Wednesday, June 13, 2007, as Iraqi Shiites protested a bombing of a holy Shiite shrine in Samarra earlier in the day. Suspected al-Qaida insurgents on Wednesday destroyed the two minarets of the Askariya Shiite shrine in Samarra. (AP Photo/Alaa al-Marjani)

(AFP/Dia Hamid)

Askariyah mosque attacked in Samarra

The Askariyah mosque has been attacked again. Two minarets at the mosque have been brought down. From early eyewitness accounts, it sounds like a demolition rather than a car bomb as they were brought down seven minutes apart. Early reports don't seem to indicate any gunfire around the attack. Where were the security forces?

Samarra has been locked down. There's a vehicle and "large gathering" ban in Baghdad. Sadr, Sistani, and other major Shia figures are calling for calm.

(AP) "Just before the curfew was to take hold, Shiite militiamen carrying light weapons fanned out across Jihad, a mixed neighborhood in western Baghdad, police said. No violence was immediately reported.

The 30-member bloc loyal to Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr suspended its membership in parliament Wednesday, saying they will stay away from the 275-seat house until the government takes "realistic" steps to rebuild the Askariya shrine."

(Reuters) "Police and the senior government official said the Shi'ite-dominated Interior Ministry had been responsible for security at the mosque. Police said the ministry took over from local security forces in April.

"We know that two weeks ago there was an attempt to also target it, but it was foiled," the official said."

(WaPo) "In response to Wednesday's attack, the entire Iraqi security force responsible for guarding the mosque, the 3rd Battalion of the Salahaddin Province police, was detained for investigation, Iraqi law enforcement officials said. The collapse of the two minarets appeared to have been caused by explosive charges placed at their bases."

(More as it comes in.)

CNN reports gunfire before the demolitions. "The blast followed clashes between gunmen and Iraqi National Police, who were guarding the holy site. During the firefight, the insurgents entered the mosque, also known as the Golden Dome, planted explosives around the minarets and detonated them."

(NYTimes) "Since the attack in 2006, the shrine had been under the protection of local — predominantly Sunni — guards. But American military and Iraqi security officials had recently become concerned that the local unit had been infiltrated by Al Qaeda forces in Iraq.

A move by the Ministry of Interior in Baghdad over the last few days to bring in a new guard unit — predominantly Shiite — may have been linked to the attack today."....

"Iraqi police reported hearing two nearly simultaneous explosions coming from inside the mosque compound at around 9 a.m. today."

(AP) "Al-Maliki met with the U.S. commander in Iraq to ask that American reinforcements be sent into Samarra to help head off new violence... al-Maliki's office said.

(AP) "A Shiite shrine was also blown up north of Baghdad, while two Sunni mosques were bombed south of the capital, police said. One was destroyed and the other lost its minaret."


The NYTimes reports in some detail what you already knew. The "benchmarks" won't likely be accomplished this year, and even if one or two are, they still won't make a difference.

(Watch for this future argument: If "the surge" is failing, the only option is to continue "the surge.")

(NYTimes) Negroponte follows Fallon in urging Maliki to pass benchmarks.

(WaPo) Lt. Gen. Dempsey says the Iraqi Army and Police need to be expanded and that, because of the slow progress on "standing up" the Iraqis, the US will have to keep supplying basic security for years.

(AP) A fourth bridge was blown up in four days.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

"Former" administration official Sara Taylor

Sara Taylor, a top Rove aide, resigned suddenly last month. Now we know why.

It's funny. If you went by the use of the phrase "former administration official," you might think nobody ever did anything illegal in this White House at all.

Picture of the Day - 3

(President George W. Bush accompanied by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Sen. Trent Lott, and Sen. Jon Kyl makes remarks to the media after the Senate Republican Policy Lunch on Capitol Hill in Washington June 12, 2007. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas)

Notice that after this meeting, the photo op is only Bush and the leadership. No big group photo showing support, only three measly Senators who already supported him.

From the AP, "I don't think he changed any minds," conceded Sen. Mel Martinez R-Fla.

Isn't that RNC chair Mel Martinez? Wouldn't you expect something nicer, or at least more diplomatic, from the party chair?

(And, Dana Rohrbacher gets in a shot later in the day.)


Very sketchy here, but take a look at this,
They (Cheney, Abrams, et al) have, however, suffered a recent setback in what we have described as their “Sunni strategy” to build support from the US’ conservative Sunni Arab allies (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf States) for a belligerent approach to Iran. This strategy was based on the Sunni fear of an ascendant Iran and of an Iraq falling into the Iranian sphere as another Shia major oil producer. Abrams worked closely with Prince Bandar bin-Sultan, the Saudi National Security Adviser, to push this plan forward. We hear that this has now been shelved at the insistence, we are told, of Saudi King Abdullah. The latter has distanced himself from Bandar who is spending much of his time outside Saudi Arabia at his homes in London and the US.

Now, go back and revisit the recent disclosure of Prince Bandar "pocketing" $2 billion in questionable payments from British arms contractor BAE.

Bandar is working with Cheney, Abrams, et al, to push a more "militaristic" policy in the mideast, and in the midst of this, he receives $2 billion off the books? Where did that money go?

Was it just a payoff and bribery scheme to get Bandar to work his influence on the former Saudi king, or was it the tail of a larger money operation to channel funds to someone else "off the books"?

(And, if you were receiving $2 billion in kickbacks, would you have it paid to a US bank rather than an offshore banking haven? You would if you knew the authorities wouldn't look into it.

The bank in question was the Riggs Bank which shut down after questionable practices regarding the Augusto Pinochet, Eq. Guinea, the Saudis, and (allegedly) US intel agencies.)

I don't know, just speculating out loud.

Picture of the Day - 2

A US soldier and a private security contractor pull out a wounded Iraqi from the rubble of a bridge destroyed by an apparent suicide vehicle bomber on Sunday, June 10, 2007,outside Mahmoudiya. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

Clinton and the talking heads

After reading this useful piece on Hillary Clinton's polling strength among women, I got to thinking about "the political discourse."

With white men uniformly dominating and overrepresenting on the talk show circuit (name one major politics talk show hosted by anything else,) is Clinton getting a short deal?

How big is bias?

(As example, three white men. Or maybe these two.)

What are the long term impacts of a "Korea like" presence in Iraq?

One of the fascinating things to me about the discussion of a permanent/long term "Korea like" presence in Iraq is that all the arguments on both sides seem to look at Iraq as if it is in a vacuum. Yes, the arguments are made about Iran and the Saudi oil fields, but very little deference is paid to the larger problem of "hearts and minds," the root and soul of America's terror problem.

While an extended presence in Iraq may in fact allow a launch point against both state actors and non-state movements in the region, at the same time, the US presence will generate the perception of an imperial power imposing itself on the Islamic world which will create more anti-American sentiment from which more terrorists will grow.

I guess the question is, how do you balance that equation? Is that forward presence worth an increase in the number of Al Qaeda members? Which is a greater national security interest, an ascendant Iran, or more terrorists focused on the US? In the broader terrorism balance sheet, is the payoff worth the cost?

This president often likes to say that he wants to take the fight to the terrorists, that he wants to be "on the offense," but there's a backside to that strategy. Teams that focus on offense often give up goals, and in this game that could mean American lives on American soil.

I don't have an answer to this. I just wanted to broaden the discussion a little. For all the talk of Iraq being a part of the war on terror, there seems to be very little appreciation of the broader resonances.

Picture of the Day - 2

President Bush suffers two more key defections on his Iraq policy.

(REUTERS/Yuri Gripas)

Gordon Brown obliquely charges Tony Blair

This is a pretty big indictment of Blair.
Gordon Brown has promised to prevent the "party political" use of intelligence material so that he would never repeat Tony Blair's mistake in taking Britain to war on a flawed prospectus.....

Mr Brown said he had already begun discussions with Sir Gus O'Donnell, the Cabinet Secretary, to ensure security and intelligence material was collected "free of the party political process" and was " fully verified" if it was to be made public. "That is learning the lessons from things that happened in the past, and we should make sure that we can do things better in the future," he said.

It should be noted though, that "Mr Brown rejected growing demands for an immediate inquiry into the mistakes made before and since the invasion...."

("The Chancellor, who heard nine mortar shells land near by during his Baghdad visit....")

Picture of the Day

(AP) "Lines of police barred opposition voters from some polling stations Monday, and violence erupted between supporters of rival candidates, killing one person and marring the elections for Egypt's upper house of parliament."

(An Egyptian veiled woman stands in front anti-riot policemen who block the entrance of Manshiyat al-Qanater polling station in Giza, Egypt, Monday, June 11, 2007. AP Photo)

Monday, June 11, 2007

Another plea for Iraqi progress

Because toothless deadlines have worked so well in the past.....
The top American military commander for the Middle East has warned Iraq’s prime minister in a closed-door conversation that the Iraqi government needs to make tangible political progress by next month to counter the growing tide of opposition to the war in Congress.

Look, Maliki knows he has the Americans trapped in Iraq for at least the remainder of the Bush presidency. These "deadlines" are meaningless to him. He faces far larger and more direct threats from inside his own country.

And, why do Fallon and the other administration officials see this urgency as a priority? Is it because they see this act as a beginning of reconciliation, a turning point in the dynamics of the conflict?

No. It's for the report.
In the meeting, Admiral Fallon focused on Iraq’s oil law, assuming it was closest to completion. “Is it reasonable to expect it to be completed in July?” he asked. “We have to show some progress in July for the upcoming report.”

Later: (Reuters) John Negroponte held a separate "hurry up" meeting with Maliki earlier in the day.


As you read about the bridge and infrastructure bombings, remember that we fight a "thinking enemy."
The latest attack, a parked truck bomb, blew apart the bridge that carries traffic over the Diyala River in Baqouba, police said on condition they not be identified by name because they feared retribution. There were no casualties, but motorists and truckers now must use a road that runs through al-Qaida-controlled territory to reach important nearby cities.

Some of the earlier bridge bombings limited and altered access routes for the Shia militias into and around Baghdad. They're shaping the battlefield.

Picture of the Day - 2

An Iraqi boy reacts by a burning patrol car in Samarra, Monday, June 11, 2007. A roadside bomb went off Monday morning next to a police commando patrol, killing two commandos and injuring three others, police said. (AP Photo/Hameed Rasheed)

Crazy Joe

On the bright side, now when Joe Lieberman makes one of his crazy Joe "attack Iran now" kinda comments, he's referred to as the independent Senator Joe Lieberman.

I swear he's given up on politics and is now shopping for a retirement job as the token Dem in a hawkish Republican think tank.

Speaking of which, did we know Fred Thompson was taking checks as a fellow of the AEI while he was doing his critical national security work on Law and Order?

Picture of the Day

First Lady Laura Bush reacts during the program for the partners of the G8 leaders in Wismar on Thursday, June 7, 2007. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

The US military confirms it is arming Sunni militants in Baghdad

The NYTimes has a story confirming that the US military is arming Sunni militants in Baghdad in an effort to foment their fight with Al Qaeda. (I would recommend Saturday's WaPo story on the topic.)

The open question on this strategy is what happens after these groups have been armed, trained, and worked with US units and tactics. The Anbar "coalition" on which this Baghdad strategy is modelled is already beginning to come apart.

The useful fear of Islamofascists

I ran across this idea in two places this morning.
Egypt's dissidents were upset, too. "I feel disappointed and betrayed by George Bush," former political prisoner Saad Eddin Ibrahim told journalists in Prague. "He said that he is promoting democracy, but he has been manipulated by President Hosni Mubarak, who managed to frighten him with the threat of the Islamists."

"Musharraf keeps telling the United States that if he stepped aside, the terrorists would capture power in Pakistan," says Roedad Khan, author of Pakistan: A Dream Gone Sour, a critical account of the country's leadership since independence in 1947. "It's a bogey(man). … The religious groups have no chance of capturing political power at the ballot box."

The religious parties fared poorly in a spring poll by the Washington-based International Republican Institute...

•Just 8.4% of Pakistani adults favored religious parties.

• Secular democratic parties got 38.9% backing.

Now, I don't know if the "Islamists" really represent as small of a threat as presented by these governmental dissidents, but I do believe that these governments benefit from a hyped presentation of the threat.

(Probably should add Saudi Arabia and a few others to the list.)

Related, The LATimes reports on US "soft pedaling" on Sudan in exchange for information about Al Qaeda in Iraq and elsewhere.
Sudan has secretly worked with the CIA to spy on the insurgency in Iraq, an example of how the U.S. has continued to cooperate with the Sudanese regime even while condemning its suspected role in the killing of tens of thousands of civilians in Darfur.

President Bush has denounced the killings in Sudan's western region as genocide and has imposed sanctions on the government in Khartoum. But some critics say the administration has soft-pedaled the sanctions to preserve its extensive intelligence collaboration with Sudan.

The relationship underscores the complex realities of the post-Sept. 11 world, in which the United States has relied heavily on intelligence and military cooperation from countries, including Sudan and Uzbekistan, that are considered pariah states for their records on human rights.....

This is a long article, but it's well worth a read.

Democrats Say They May Revisit Immigration Bill

I'll bet the Dems want to revisit immigration, over and over.

How long has it been since the Dems had an issue that rips the Republicans in half?

Dear Washington Post

Once he became a vocal and enthusiastic proponent of torture, Alan Dershowitz gave up all claim to the descriptor "noted civil libertarian Alan Dershowitz."

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Picture of the Day - 2

President George W. Bush reacts to a question as he and Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha speak to reporters after their meeting at the Council of Ministers in Tirana June 10, 2007. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Duck and Cover

We need to get alot more detail, but....
A British company has been closed down after being caught in an apparent attempt to sell black-market weapons-grade uranium to Iran and Sudan, The Observer can reveal.

Anti-terrorist officers and MI6 are now investigating a wider British-based plot allegedly to supply Iran with material for use in a nuclear weapons programme.....

.....a group of Britons was tracked as they obtained weapons-grade uranium from the black market in Russia. Investigators believe it was intended for export to Sudan and on to Iran.....

If weapons grade uranium is successfully coming out of Russia, we've got big problems. How much was involved?

It is unconscionable that this administration cut funding for Nunn-Lugar to help secure Russian nuclear material.

The AP calls Gingrich out

Now, this happens all the time, but no politician wants to see it actually reported.
Potential GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has promoted public policy positions that closely track the financial interests of companies that underwrite a think tank he founded.....

Among his ideas is a health system that lets consumers, not health maintenance organizations, choose the best doctors, medical treatments and hospitals. Such a goal would be accomplished with health savings accounts, which are sought by companies that fund Gingrich's think tank....

A second idea, electronic records to keep better track of people's medical care, is a potential boon to technology companies that underwrite the center.

Rarely does Gingrich acknowledge his opinions would benefit the drug makers, insurers and others who each pay the center up to $200,000 annually.....

Gingrich, through a spokesman, declined to be interviewed.

I have to wonder who spawned this story. It smacks of "opposition research." (Maybe someone who doesn't want him in the '08 race? Or was it McCain's campaign firing back?)

Obama and Colin Powell do a little dance?

An interesting article on Obama seeking advice from Colin Powell. It's not so much that Powell is advising Obama, but the odd little quotes.
While Powell served in the administrations of two Republican presidents, he said Sunday it was too early in the 2008 race to say whether he would back a GOP nominee.

"I'm going to support the best person that I can find who will lead this country for the eight years beginning in January of 2009," Powell said....

Powell said he does not want to serve in elected office but was less certain about a return to some government post.

"I would not rule it out. I am not at all interested in political life if you mean elected political life. That is unchanged. But I always keep my eyes open and my ears open to requests for service," he said.

It may just be the diplomatic language Powell's known for, but I find it interesting that he's not committing to the GOP and more or less asking for a government post in the next (Democratic?) presidency.

Picture of the Day - Except in Albania

All around Europe and the world, the arrival of President Bush evokes anger and protests, except for Albania.

(AP) "President Bush, getting a hero's welcome as the first American president to visit Albania.... Albania has such an affinity for America that it issued three postage stamps with Bush's picture and the Statue of Liberty and renamed a street in front of parliament in his honor."

(Reuters) "The streets were nearly empty as almost everyone stayed inside to watch day long "Bush Special" live coverage on television.....

The United States won Albania's unquestioning loyalty in 1999 when then president Bill Clinton pushed reluctant European allies to intervene in Kosovo 1999, ordering NATO bombing to stop Serbia's brutal crackdown on Albanian separatists province."

(Albanians pick up top hats fitted with American flags to celebrate the visit of the U.S. President George W. Bush in Tirana June 10, 2007. REUTERS/Arben Celi )

The Mahdi returns

Since Sadr's reemergence a few weeks ago, the activity of the Mahdi Army has been on the rise with increased activity in Baghdad and increased conflicts with the US.
In the past 10 days, the fiery Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's militia has resurfaced in force, making a push to roust Sunnis from Baghdad and to isolate Sunni enclaves in the west of the capital from their brethren in the south.

Mahdi Army militiamen in the Shiite dominated neighborhood of Bayaa were reinforced by other Shiite fighters and men in civilian clothes with weapons have cordoned off the area. In the past 10 days Mahdi Army activity has escalated, intensifying in the past two days with the capture of two Sunni mosques, residents and police said.

Also, increasing conflicts with the US,
In Baghdad, police and witnesses in Baghdad said overnight clashes between U.S. troops and Shiite militiamen left at least five people dead and 19 wounded in an eastern district. The U.S. military said it was looking into the reports.

The fighting in the predominantly Shiite Fidhiliyah area on the Baghdad's outskirts broke out after a U.S. military convoy came under attack near the local offices of Muqtada al-Sadr.

With "the surge" failing in the eyes of Baghdad residents, the Mahdi appears to be trying to step forward to assert its control.

Iraq forever

Thomas Ricks has a major front page story on the emergence of a partial withdrawal/long term presence in Iraq.
U.S. military officials here are increasingly envisioning a "post-occupation" troop presence in Iraq that neither maintains current levels nor leads to a complete pullout, but aims for a smaller, longer-term force that would remain in the country for years.....

Such a long-term presence would have four major components. The centerpiece would be a reinforced mechanized infantry division of around 20,000 soldiers assigned to guarantee the security of the Iraqi government and to assist Iraqi forces or their U.S. advisers if they get into fights they can't handle.

Second, a training and advisory force of close to 10,000 troops would work with Iraqi military and police units. "I think it would be very helpful to have a force here for a period of time to continue to help the Iraqis train and continue to build their capabilities," Odierno said.

In addition, officials envision a small but significant Special Operations unit focused on fighting the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq. "I think you'll retain a very robust counterterror capability in this country for a long, long time," a Pentagon official in Iraq said.

Finally, the headquarters and logistical elements to command and supply such a force would total more than 10,000 troops, plus some civilian contractors.

This is a fairly responsible way forward (remarkably similar to the ISG,) however, I wonder about the practical application of this.

The real underlying question is left unanswered. Would US troops really sit on the sidelines as Shia militia and death squad groups coupled with Iraqi police sweep through neighborhoods? Would this president (or the next) allow American forces to "guard the borders" as a civil war reopens to take tens of thousands of lives?

The only real way "out" is to accept the civil war.

(I also don't like the seamless way this can (and probably will) be concerted into a permanent, longterm military presence similar to the "Korea model" the administration has been floating.

Because of the politics of this poorly executed war, so long as US troops remain on Iraqi soil, that presence will continue to generate both insurgents in Iraq and terrorists across the broader Muslim world.)

Later: One point of this continued presence is also probably a concession to the Saudis and other Sunni regional powers. Will they similarly sit back and allow a Shiite domination?

"The other war" ain't going so great either

(AP) "Taliban militants fired rockets near a school yard where President Hamid Karzai was meeting with local leaders and residents on Sunday in central Afghanistan in an apparent assassination attempt, but no one was hurt, officials and witnesses said."