Wednesday, March 19, 2008


Vice President Dick Cheney is cranking up the war machine again. He has always wanted to go to war with Iran. He wasn't happy just going to war with Iraq.

It is amazing how a man who used six deferments to avoid military service during the Vietnam War is so gung ho to send young Americans off to some distant land to fight in a war that is totally unnecessary

Not only did Cheney use six deferment to avoid the draft during the Vietnam War, but he is quoted as saying he had better things to do than serve in the United States military.

And while in Baghdad this week, Cheney was told the American public wants to pull the troops out of Iraq as soon as possible and his answer to the reporter was, "so." Like in "so what."

Cheney: Iran might be next US target

A senior aide to the US Vice President has reportedly said a military option against Iran over its nuclear program is on the table again. Vice President Dick Cheney is again talking about possible US military action to shut down Iran's nuclear program, the Israeli website DEBKA quoted the aide as saying. The official added Cheney had told US troops in a military base in Iraq that "Iran has got to be very high on that list (of the countries that might be attacked)".

The remarks came ahead of the talks Cheney was to hold during his 10-day tour of the Middle East, which began Monday, March 17 in Iraq. The report added that Cheney is again talking about possible US military action to shut down Iran's nuclear program, citing military and political sources in the region. Cheney stopped over in Oman Wednesday, after two days in Iraq.

He will travel to Saudi Arabia and will be in al-Quds next Saturday. He is also scheduled to visit Ramallah and Turkey. According to the report, Cheney would emphasize the Bush administration's decision to distance itself from the National Intelligence Estimate indicating that "Iran has halted its nuclear arms program in 2003."

The report has undermined the position of hawkish politicians who were beating the drums of war with Iran. Cheney will also underlines that "the administration now buys British, German, French and Israeli intelligence estimates that Iran is indeed pressing forward with programs for building nuclear weapons, warheads and ballistic missiles for their delivery."

The report added the Americans will need the cooperation of Oman, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Turkey to mount a military attacks on Iran. Israel was notified by the White House that the Iranian issue had been added to Cheney's regional agenda at the last minute, DEBKA quoted informed sources as saying.


Expert says women afraid to report sexual harassment for fear of retribution

Story Highlights
Dept. of Veterans Affairs diagnosed 60,000 veterans with PTSD
Women have comprised 11 percent of military force in Iraq and Afghanistan
VA: 22 percent of women, 1 percent of men suffered sexual trauma in military

By Randi Kaye and Ismael EstradaCNN

DENVER, Colorado (CNN) -- On a good day, Keri Christensen spends the day watching her children. She prepares their meals, gets them ready for school and helps them with their homework.

Watch video of CNN's Randi Kaye interview with Keri Christensen here:

But this housewife and mother of two is far different than most of the women living in her Denver, Colorado, suburb.

She's an Iraqi war veteran, among the first women in the United States to be classified as combat veterans.

Even though she's been home from the war for more than 2½ years, she's now fighting another battle -- this one with depression, nightmares, sleeplessness and anger. She says all of it is caused by her time in Iraq.

"I start feeling those feelings of 'I'm not worthy. I can't raise my family,' " Christensen said.
Women have made up about 11 percent of the military force in Iraq and Afghanistan in the past six years, according to the Department of Defense; that's an estimated 180,000 women in the war zone. The figure dwarfs the 41,000 women deployed during the Persian Gulf War and the 7,500 who served during the Vietnam War, mostly as nurses.

Unlike past wars, women are assigned to combat support roles. Many are seeing violence firsthand in an unconventional war. Watch CNN's Randi Kaye report on female veterans »
As a member of the National Guard, Christensen transported tanks in Iraq. She says she was shot at and was nearly a victim of a roadside bomb when a convoy in front of hers was hit.

"You have this fear, 'Oh, my God, I still have to go through there,' " she recalled. " 'Am I going to make it?' "

Christensen says that she was sexually harassed by a superior while serving in Iraq and that the harassment added to the pressure created by just being in a war zone.

"I just know it took a big toll on me because I was trying to deal with it myself. Just trying to be a soldier," Christensen said.

In 2007, the Department of Veterans Affairs found that women are reporting signs of mental health issues when they return home at a higher rate than their male counterparts.

The VA diagnosed 60,000 veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. Of those, 22 percent of women suffered from "military sexual trauma," which includes sexual harassment or assault, compared with 1 percent of men.

Christensen, who has been diagnosed with PTSD, says she doesn't like leaving her comfort zone. She doesn't drive more than two miles from her home.

"When I get outside my familiar safe territory, I start to feel overwhelmed," Christensen said.

"It gets foggy. Not sure where I'm really going. Something comes over me where I don't feel like I have control over it."

"PTSD is actually something that shows up over time, and so the natural recovery process doesn't happen," said Dr. Darrah Westrup, who counsels female veterans at the VA-run Women's Health Clinic in Menlo Park, California.

"So three months out or so, you find yourself still not sleeping, still with nightmares, still having intrusive thoughts," Westrup said.

Westrup says another factor contributing to poor mental health is the high amount of sexual trauma reported by women screened by the Veterans Administration. She says many women have trouble reporting the trauma to their superiors out of fear of retribution.

"When you are in a war zone, your survival depends on people watching your back and on unit cohesion," Westrup said. "The same individuals who attacked you are those who will be protecting you, or you'll be fighting alongside the next day."

Christensen receives counseling and group therapy sponsored by the VA. However, the military has said there is no merit to her claims that she suffered military sexual trauma.

Like many who suffer from post-traumatic stress, Christensen still has her ups and downs. She says she's just working to get past the feelings of guilt, shame, loss of control and low self-esteem.

"I don't think we'll ever be the same. I think that you can learn to cope with it, and that's what I'm learning right now," she said.



Shocked, awed and left to rot By Pepe Escobar

Future non-biased historians may well regard March 19, 2003, as a crucial mark in the annals of Western imperial arrogance. Five years later, the pre-emptive war celebratory fireworks have turned to dust.

For months now Iraq has been an invisible American war. It's seldom on TV. It does not "sell". Thus, it does not exist. US Vice President Dick Cheney, one of its key architects, has just been to a whirlwind Baghdad tour. He said he sensed "phenomenal changes" since his last whirlwind tour 10 months ago. He praised security progress as "dramatic".

The "dramatic" progress was celebrated in style by a Sunni Arab female suicide bomber who managed to detonate her payload under her black abaya near the ultra-protected Imam Hussein shrine in holy Karbala, killing at least 42 Shi'ites and wounding 73.

Cheney did not see the real Baghdad, drowning in sewage, desperate for water and plunged in the dark - lacking 3,000 megawatts of electricity (it may take as many as 10 years before the city gets power 24 hours a day; so much for "reconstruction"). As no US official was suicidal enough to take Cheney, for instance, to a real life suicide bomber-targeted vegetable market in Sadr City - or to Imam Hussein's shrine in Karbala for that matter - these "phenomenal changes" warrant examination.

Cheney seems not to be very fond of the humongous Pentagon study based on more than 600,000 Iraqi documents which proved that there was no link whatsoever between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda.

In a curiously sedate propaganda effort, the report will not be posted online and will not be e-mailed by the Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, Virginia; any reporter who wants it will have to ask it to be sent via CD in the mail. That's quite a "phenomenal change" with regard to the George W Bush administration's hyped 2002 build up towards war.

British agency Oxford Research Business has recently updated its estimate of "additional deaths" caused by the war to 1.3 million Iraqis - not including the top killing fields, the provinces of al-Anbar (Sunni) and Karbala (Shi'ite).

At least 4 million Iraqis have been internally displaced or become refugees, mostly in overburdened Syria and Jordan, now desperately running out of money and resources.

As for any Sunni or Shi'ite proud of his historical memory, the US occupation has been regarded as more devastating than the Mongol invasion of the 13th century. Talk about a historical "phenomenal change". Baghdad - following the strategy of counterinsurgency ace General David Petraeus - has been reduced to a rotten, amorphous, bloody and dangerous stockpile of blast-wall ghettos controlled by local warlords and militias. This "strategy" is being financed by US taxpayers to the tune of billions of dollars a month. Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and co-author Linda Bilmes, in their book The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict, estimate that by 2017, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will cost between $1.7 trillion and $2.7 trillion. Republican presidential contender John McCain wants this to last indefinitely as millions of Americans finally realize this avalanche of funds could instead provide them with better public schools, better health insurance and better projects to repair crumbling US infrastructure. Petraeus' "surge" is gone - replaced by a "pause", defined by the general to the Army Times as "sensible" and "prudent".

Recently resigned Admiral William Fallon, the CENTCOM commander, was dead set against Petraeus' "pause". He wanted to start drawing down troops - immediately. The Bush administration evicted him. Up to the US presidential election, for political reasons, many would be led to believe nothing moves on the US front. At least nothing visible. Because in Kuwait, the Pentagon is busy building, in virtual secret, a mammoth permanent command structure to project "full spectrum dominance" not only in Iraq but all over the arc from the Middle East to Southwest Asia.

Lieutenant General James J Lovelace minced no words to the Middle East edition of Stars and Stripes. It will be a "permanent presence" - of course compounded with all those extra permanent bases in Qatar, Bahrain the United Arab Emirates and Oman. Be it under pro-withdrawal Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, or pro-"surge" McCain, the "war" in and on Iraq will go on - supported from Kuwait and the Gulf petro-monarchies.

It's alright Ma, I'm only dyin' Baghdad is not only the 21st century heart of darkness. It is Fear Central - a desert sand nightmare frozen in fear, a direct consequence of the soggy mix of Petraeus' "surge" profiting from the uneasy Shi'ite Mahdi Army truce and the proliferation of the 80,000-strong anti-al-Qaeda movement dominated by Sunnis, Sahwa (Awakening).

As middle class Shi'ite professionals tell Asia Times Online, rape and pillage and widespread killing is down (65 Iraqis killed daily in August 2007, 26 killed daily in February 2008) because most neighborhoods have been ethnically cleansed. Baghdad is only "safer" - as the current official mantra in Washington goes - if compared to horrific post-February 2006 after the bombing of the Shi'ite shrine in Samarra, during the battle of Baghdad, when as many as 3,000 people were being killed every single month.

The inept Nuri al-Maliki government in Baghdad knows little of what's really going on - as it drags on in imperial seclusion behind the Green Zone, defended by valiant mercenaries from Georgia, Peru and Uganda. If Maliki and his entourage decide to go for an armored convoy stroll in formerly bustling al-Mansur neighborhood, for instance, the area has to be extensively searched as if this was a US presidential visit.

No matter what Washington decides or spins, it won't alter two major facts on the ground. Of all the major overlapping wars in Iraq, the Sunni Arab resistance has for all practical purposes stalemated the US occupation to the edge of defeat. And on a sectarian level, the Shi'ites have defeated the Sunnis as a whole - as they now control, allied with the Kurds, the government, Parliament, the army (13 divisions, half of them militias aligned with Iran) and the police.

Click on link at top of story to read the full story.


Five years ago today President Bush launched the invasion of Iraq.

To mark the anniversary, ThinkProgress has updated its timeline chronicling major events over the course of the past five years. Some highlights from just the last year:

APRIL 1, 2007: McCain strolls through Baghdad market, accompanied by 100 soldiers, 3 blackhawks, 2 Apache gunships. [NBC News,

APRIL 12, 2007: Iraqi parliament bombed inside Green Zone. “An apparent suicide bombing inside the tightly guarded parliament building that killed two Sunni Arab legislators and six other people here Thursday struck at the heart of Iraq’s struggling democracy and the U.S. security plan that is trying to bolster it.” [LAT, 4/13/07]

MAY 9, 2007: Majority Of Iraqi Parliament Calls For Timetable For U.S. Withdrawal [Alternet, 5/9/2007]

SEPTEMBER 11, 2007: Petraeus: ‘I don’t know’ if Iraq war makes America safer. At the Senate Armed Services hearing on progress in Iraq today, Sen. John Warner (R-VA) asked Gen. David Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq, “if we continue what you have laid before the Congress, this strategy, that if you continue, you are making America safer?” “Sir, I don’t know actually,” replied Petraeus. [CSPAN, 9/11/07]

OCTOBER 18, 2007: Iraq to Cheney: ‘Big fat no’ on bases in Iraq. The Iraqi government has “put the U.S. on notice” that they do not want permanent U.S. bases in Iraq, CNN reports today. The message was “delivered directly to Vice President Dick Cheney at the White House” by Iraqi National Security Adviser Mowaffak Al-Rubaie, who told CNN that Iraqis say, “No, big fat no, N-O for the bases in Iraq.” [CNN, 10/18/07]

The timeline catalogues the key events, quotes and pictures of the war. Check out the rest of the timeline here.


'I thought I was setting Iraq on the right path,' says Jawad Rumi Daini, a retired soldier who joined the new force after the U.S.-led invasion, hoping to use his experience.

By Ned Parker, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
From the Los Angeles Times,0,1584725.story

Late at night, when he can't sleep, the Iraqi general paces past the dimly lighted model homes and construction sites of his Cairo neighborhood. He avoids the main streets, crammed with shopping malls and restaurants. He doesn't want to run into other Iraqis. He has enemies.He slips back in after 1 a.m., careful not to disturb his wife, children and grandchildren. But still he can't drift off. It will be close to dawn when finally he shuts his eyes, after exhausting himself thinking about how he will protect his family, how long his money will last. How he fell so far and ended up banished by the Iraqi government and forgotten by the Americans.

The fate of Maj. Gen. Jawad Rumi Daini is more than the story of one man's disgrace.

On the fifth anniversary of the invasion to oust Saddam Hussein, he serves as a singular witness to the hopes and horrors of the last five years: a man haunted by his role in a terrible stampede on a Baghdad bridge that left nearly 1,000 people dead; a man targeted for his involvement in the discovery of a Shiite police torture chamber; a man devastated by the killing of his son.

Some call Daini an honorable officer who sacrificed for his country. Others brand him a coward who accommodated Shiite militias and Sunni fighters alike.In today's Iraq, where nothing is black and white and motives are inscrutable, the answer may be somewhere in between.

Even with fresh talk of reconciliation in his homeland, the 59-year-old has no hopes of returning: He saw too much as the country slid into civil war."I joined the old army and the new," he said, "and lost both."

Return to link to read the rest of the story.


The fifth anniversary of the war with Iraq was marred by continuing violence in Baghdad and all across Iraq. However, we lead off this post on our blog with a report on Sgt. Claude O'Berry, Jr., Bismarck, North Dakota, who received a Purple Heart after his Humvee was struck by a rocket propelled grenade which left him with severe internal injuries and the loss of his right leg.

Bill Corcoran, editor of CORKSPHERE.

Sgt. Claude O'Berry, Jr. earned his Purple Heart on Nov. 23, 2006, on a rough road in Afghanistan. One minute he was on patrol, and the next he was the target of a rescue mission, his armored vehicle torn up by a rocket-propelled grenade.The rocket shot into the Humvee through the door behind O'Berry. Shrapnel pierced his seat and his body armor, coming to rest inside his back, near his right kidney. Another man in the vehicle had his right leg severed in the explosion.A third man, a good man, was dead.


Baghdad:#1: In other violence, a bomb stuck to a taxi exploded in central Baghdad, killing the driver and wounding a passenger and three pedestrians, police said.

#2: U.S. forces killed two suspected al Qaeda insurgents and detained 23 others during operations in central and northern Iraq on Tuesday, the U.S. military said.

#3: Gunmen threw a hand grenade at a checkpoint manned by neighbourhood security members, wounding three members and one civilian, police said.

#4: Gunmen stole $115,000 from a money exchange in Karrada and killed its owner and wounded an employee, police said.

#5: A bomb attached to a car killed a police colonel and wounded another in Karrada district in central Baghdad, police said.At 11:44 a.m. a magnetic bomb attached to Col. Midhat Ali, military intelegince, exploded in Karrada killing Midhat and injuring a colleague in the passenger seat.

Diyala Prv:Balad Ruz:#1: A woman suicide bomber killed four people, including two policemen, and wounded 12 others on Wednesday in restive Diyala province north of Baghdad, police said. The woman approached police guarding the premises of an organisation that arranges religious pilgrimages in the town of Balad Ruz, about 70 km (45 miles) northeast of Baghdad, before blowing herself up, police said.

Iskandariya:#1: A roadside bomb killed a woman and wounded two others in the town of Iskandariya.

#2: A roadside bomb exploded near a police patrol, killing one policeman and wounding two in the town of Iskandariya, 40 km (25 miles) south of Baghdad, on Tuesday, police said.

Mussayab:#1: Militants set fire to a fuel pipeline supplying a power station in the town of Mussayab, about 60 km (40 miles) south of Baghdad, police said.

Basra:#1: Police said Wednesday 17 border guards have been shot dead by gunmen in different areas in the southern Iraqi city of Basra. The killings occurred over the last 24 hours, police sources told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa. The sources did not say whether the killings were carried out by the same gunmen and what the motive behind them was.

#2: A senior police officer from the Basra police survived an attempt on his life on Wednesday afternoon in northern Basra when an explosive charge went off near his motorcade, a police source said. “Colonel Mazen Abdul Wahed survived an assassination attempt when a bomb exploded targeting his motorcade on the commercial street in northern Basra,” the source, who preferred anonymity, told Aswat al-Iraq – Voices of Iraq. “The explosion injured one of his bodyguards and two passing civilians,” he added

Tikrit:#1: Gunmen attacked a checkpoint manned by neighbourhood security members, killing one and wounding two in the city of Tikrit, 175 km (105 miles) north of Baghdad, police said.

Kirkuk:#1: US troops have shot dead three Iraqi policemen by mistake in the northern Iraqi province of Kirkuk. A US military statement described the incident as a tragic accident, which was sincerely regretted. The soldiers are thought to have opened fire after feeling threatened when the police drove at high speed into an area which had been cordoned off.

#2: Two persons were injured on Wednesday by a roadside bomb blast in southwestern Kirkuk, a police source said. “An improvised explosive device went off targeting a car of the Digla constructions company in al-Senaaei neighborhood in southwestern Kirkuk, wounding two of the company’s workers,” the source, who asked for anonymity, told Aswat al-Iraq – Voices of Iraq

Mosul:#1: A suicide car bomb also struck an Iraqi army building in the northwestern city of Mosul, wounding 14 people, police said.A suicide car bomber targeted an Iraqi army checkpoint, wounding 11 soldiers and three civilians in Mosul, 390 km (240 miles) north of Baghdad, police said.

Kurdistan:#1: Iran shelled Iraq's northern Qandil mountains, targeting PJAK Kurdish separatist guerrillas, but there were no casualties or any damage to property, said Azad Wassu, a local mayor in the area

Afghanistan:#1: U.S. forces searching for bomb makers raided Afghan homes near the border with Pakistan early Wednesday, exchanging gunfire with militants. Six people were killed, including two children and a woman, Afghan officials said. The U.S.-led coalition said its forces were searching compounds in Khost province for a militant named Bismullah who organized roadside bomb attacks and smuggled weapons. Militants shot at the troops, who returned fire and killed "several militants," including Bismullah and Rahim Jan, another man suspected of making bombs, the coalition said. The raid began just after midnight and lasted about an hour, said Mirza Gul, a villager from Hom in Khost province. Angry villagers had gathered at daybreak, chanting anti-U.S. slogans, he said.

#2: Taliban militants destroyed another tower of a telecommunication company in their former stronghold of Kandahar province in southern Afghanistan, an official said Wednesday. “The enemies in their subversive activities attacked an antenna of a mobile company in Loya Wala area, five km north of Kandahar city Tuesday night and destroyed it completely,” city official Mohammad Ahsan said.


Today marks the fifth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, a preventative war of choice whose purpose, according to President Bush, was "to disarm Iraq, to free its people, and to defend the world from grave danger."

Five years later, it is clear there were no weapons of mass destruction to disarm in Iraq and no grave danger from which to defend. In 2006, a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) concluded that the war in Iraq had become "the 'cause celebre' for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of U.S. involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement" faster than the United States and its allies can reduce the threat.

The 2007 NIE concluded that "al-Qaeda [had] reorganized to pre-9/11 strength," largely as a result of the United States turning its attention away from Afghanistan and Pakistan in order to focus on Iraq. Also, al Qaeda's association with insurgents in Iraq helped "energize the broader Sunni extremist community, raise resources, and...recruit and indoctrinate operatives." Far from making the United States safer, the Iraq war has made the world much more dangerous.

A FAILED RECONSTRUCTION: A recent World Health Organization and Iraqi health ministry report estimated that 151,000 people were killed between the start of the invasion on March 20, 2003 and June 2006. In a March 17 report, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said that millions of Iraqis are still deprived of clean water and medical care, describing Iraq's health care system as "now in worse shape than ever."

Iraqis endure intense heat in the summer and freezing cold in the winter because of a lack of electricity, even though more than $6 billion, mostly in American money, has been devoted to improving supply. The New York Times reported that "typical daily peaks are around 4,500 megawatts." According to a recent report by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, "that's only about 500 megawatts more than what it was shortly after the start of reconstruction five years ago -- before the completion of thousands of American-supported projects."

Garbage collection is notoriously unreliable, with refuse often piling up "for days, sometimes weeks, emanating toxic fumes." In a new report, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees stated that, five years after the U.S.-led invasion, Iraqis are still fleeing in large numbers.

Iraqis topped the list of asylum seekers in industrialized countries for the second year running, accounting for more than 10 percent of the total with 45,200 applications last year. "It is important to bear in mind, however, that Iraqi asylum seekers in industrialized countries represent only one percent of the estimated 4.5 million Iraqis uprooted by the conflict," the report said. Amnesty International reports that Iraq continues to be "one of the most dangerous countries in the world, with hundreds of Iraqi civilians killed every month."

A FAILING POLITICAL RECONCILIATION: In the latest blow against progress toward political accommodation between Iraq's ethnic and sectarian factions, a conference to reconcile Iraq's political groups began to unravel even before it got under way on Tuesday, as members of the Sunni Iraqi Accordance Front said "they would not participate in the conference until Shiite lawmakers address their political demands."

The Shiite bloc led by cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and some smaller groups also boycotted the conference, revealing the deep and persistent divisions between and within Iraq's main sects. Over the past few months, several legislative accomplishments that were first seen as signs of progress turned out to be much less favorable on closer inspection, or were simply reversed.

In January, a de-Baathification reform law, initially "billed as the first significant political step forward in Iraq after months of deadlock," was "riddled with loopholes and caveats to the point that some Sunni and Shiite officials say it could actually exclude more former Baathists than it lets back in." In February, the passage of a package of three laws (addressing amnesty for detainees, budget allocations, and provincial powers) was hailed by conservatives as a significant political advance. Days later, the provincial powers law was struck down by Iraq's three-member presidency council, breaching the compromise that had enabled the passage of the three laws.

WAR ARCHITECTS STILL IN DENIAL: The individuals who devised and supported the Iraq war still refuse to admit error. President Bush insists that the war was worth the "high cost in lives and treasure." On separate surprise visits to Iraq this week, Vice President Dick Cheney and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) seemed oblivious to the tragedy that their policy had unleashed upon the people of Iraq.

Cheney preposterously claimed that the Iraq war has been a "successful endeavor" and blithely "warned against losing the gains the surge has produced," even as Baghdad was again wracked by explosions.

On the same day that a suicide bomber killed over forty people in the Shia shrine city of Kerbala, McCain repeated his mantra that "the surge is working."

Here at home, the war architects frantically cast blame on each other, and even on the Iraqis themselves. American Enterprise Institute (AEI) scholar Richard Perle still maintains that invading Iraq was "the right decision," but blames Iraq proconsul L. Paul Bremer for "underestimat[ing] the task" of nation-building. Douglas Feith, the former director of the Pentagon's Office of Special Plans, has also blamed Bremer for "mishandling...the political transition" in Iraq. AEI analyst Danielle Pletka blamed the Iraqi people for not embracing the opportunity afforded them by the American invasion and occupation. Alas, Pletka laments, "there is no freedom gene."

A WAY FORWARD: The Iraq invasion has wrought a fractured, dysfunctional government, a disunified largely militia-controlled state closely allied with Iran to the east and in simmering conflict with Turkey to the north, an open-source training ground for terrorists and a cause around which global jihadists have rallied.

American standing is at a low point in the Middle East and Arab world, with Arab democrats and reformers isolated and frustrated. It not enough to simply stay the course. The United States must reset its strategy by looking beyond the deteriorating situation in Iraq in order to counter the threat from global terrorist groups and ensure stability in the entire Middle East and Gulf region, using the credible promise of withdrawal from Iraq to encourage Iraqi leaders to come to a sustainable political accommodation.

This is an essential first step in order to correct the tragic policy mistakes of the last years, of which the decision to invade Iraq is the most obvious and profound.

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The invasion and occupation of Iraq has been been the biggest foreign policy blunder in the history of the United States.

The Bush White House and their parrot FOX NEWS can boast about the success of "the surge" from now until the cows comes home, but Iraq will never become a democracy and that was the stated goal after Saddam Hussein was captured and executed.

Iraq is and will remain a nightmare for the 160,000 U.S. troops in country, and for the Iraqi people who have seen their lives shattered by the U.S. occupation of their country.

As a famous Chicago alderman put it half a century ago: "Chicago ain't ready for reform." The same could be said of Iraq. Iraq is not ready for reform, at least not a reform that is being forced down their throats by the Bush admiistration.

Commentary by Bill Corcoran, editor of CORKSPHERE.

'We can't live like this'

Playgrounds have become cemeteries. Bridges have become battlegrounds. Hopes for freedom and the spread of democracy are dead. Our reporter returns to find a war-torn country fearful that rival Iraqi groups are holding back for the real fight to begin once U.S. troops leave

From Saturday's Globe and Mail
March 15, 2008 at 12:37 AM EDT
BAGHDAD — Five years ago, there was a children's playground on the flat lot between the brown walls of the Abu Hanifa mosque and the even browner waters of the Tigris River, a rare place for families to escape the incessant turmoil that even then defined life in Iraq.

Residents still reminisce about how boys and girls from the surrounding north Baghdad neighbourhood of Aadhamiya would play on the ancient swing set and seesaw, while women would push strollers through a park shaded by palm trees. Older kids played soccer in a nearby field.

But like so much of the old Iraq, the playground is now gone, replaced by long, ragged rows of white tombstones marking the burial places of more than 4,000 Aadhamiya residents who have died since the war for their country began on March 20, 2003.

"I used to take my children here every Friday. It was a place to enjoy life," said Muayad Natiq, a 49-year-old resident who was strolling in the cemetery this week. "Not any more. Most of those buried here are teenagers. First, they came here to play games. Then they came here to shoot [at the Shia neighbourhood of Kadhamiya across the Tigris]. Now they lie dead here."

On April 9, 2003, the same day the United States Army arrived in Baghdad and toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein, residents of mainly Sunni Aadhamiya quietly began burying their dead inside the walls of the Abu Hanifa mosque. But there was only room for 250 bodies.

By July of 2006, as the country descended into all-out sectarian war between the minority Sunnis and the majority Shiites, the neighbourhood's residents moved the now-unused swing set and seesaw aside and converted the playground into a cemetery. Almost every day since, 30-year-old Ahmed Akram has buried fresh corpses under the soil.

At first, the white tombstones were laid in orderly rows. But the rows have since disappeared almost completely as groundskeepers bury bodies wherever they can, sometimes up to two dozen dead each day.

Since the U.S. occupation began, more than 4,330 people — more than 1 per cent of Aadhamiya's pre-war population of 300,000 — are buried here. Now there's no more room, and the bodies keep coming, so the cemetery is expanding to the adjacent soccer field.

"Every time I bury someone here I remember that this was a place that we use to come for enjoyment," Mr. Akram said, leaning on his shovel during a break between digging two fresh graves. "Every time I bury a child, I imagine their face asking me why and for what all this happened."

The overflowing graveyard in Aadhamiya is a microcosm of what has happened across Iraq in the past five years. The lowest-end figure for how many Iraqi civilians have died violent deaths since the U.S. invaded is just over 82,000. Other studies, which include deaths indirectly caused by the war, put the figure as high as 1,185,000. Judging from the Aadhamiya graveyard — one cemetery in one neighbourhood of one city in Iraq — the latter number seems far closer to the mark.

The good news is that violence has fallen in recent months. Sometimes only two or three bodies arrive at the makeshift cemetery during the course of a week.

The bad news is that few here expect the calm to hold. While the U.S. government is taking advantage of the lull to sponsor a rapid-fire series of reconciliation conferences around the country, at street level there's little sense that Sunni and Shiite, Arab and Kurd are ready to patch up their vast differences.

When plans surfaced last month to reopen the Imams Bridge that connects Sunni Aadhamiya to the Shia neighbourhood of Kadhamiya on the other side of the Tigris, residents on both sides protested, demanding it stay closed.

Mr. Akram supported the decision. Last April he buried his 30-year-old cousin, Nabil, who had worked as a translator for the U.S. Army until he was kidnapped by Shia militiamen. The body Mr. Akram buried was mutilated almost beyond recognition. Among other indignities, Nabil's eyes had been torn out and his mouth filled with acid.

"We can never forgive them," Mr. Akram said, his eyes flashing with hate. "Even if we did, they would never forgive us."

Five years ago, I stood in Firdaws Square in the centre of Baghdad with a small crowd of Iraqis who cheered as a U.S. military vehicle yanked the signature statue of Saddam Hussein off its plinth. It was hailed at the time by the Americans as the effective end of the war; U.S. President George W. Bush's famous "mission accomplished" speech came just three weeks later.

Standing at the edge of the crowd that April afternoon, I wondered whether it was the end, or just the end of a phase. While the Iraqis joyously beating Saddam's metal head with their sandals seemed genuinely pleased, I was just as struck by the faces of the Iraqis who instead watched the scene from the balconies of nearby apartment buildings. They clutched their children — relieved, perhaps, that the daily bombing by U.S. warplanes was over — but plainly nervous about what was still to come.

I took a drive around Baghdad that day and got an early taste of how the next few years would go for Iraq's new American conquerors. As we drove through the Shia slum that was then called Saddam City (it has since been renamed Sadr City, after the father of the radical Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr), crowds of seemingly jubilant young men surrounded our car.

Having just come from the happy scene at Firdaws — and having bought into the mainstream wisdom that the Shiites, who had been violently oppressed by the Sunni Mr. Hussein, would be happy to see the Americans — we expected more of the same in Sadr City.

"Yes, Bush!" a few shouted as we scribbled in our notebooks. Just then, the back right window exploded, covering me in shattered glass and opening several cuts on my arm and hands. Someone had shot at us, our driver concluded, and we sped away. As we left Sadr City behind, some of the youths who had greeted us a moment before picked up stones and hurled them at our back window.

Buried in the international news pages this week, behind the New York sex scandal and soaring oil prices, was the less-shocking revelation that American investigators have concluded — five years after the fact — that there was absolutely no link between Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq and Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.

The exhaustive study of some 600,000 official Iraqi documents — everything from tedious cabinet memos to records from interrogations carried out by the dictator's feared mukhabarat secret service — found there was "no smoking gun (i.e. direct connection) between Saddam's Iraq and Al Qaeda." The Pentagon was so ruffled by the findings of its own report that it made sure the document was hard to obtain, only mailing CD copies to those who specifically asked for it, rather than holding a news conference or posting it online.

It may not seem like big news now, but it's worth pausing to reflect that no weapons of mass destruction were ever found and now there's no proof that the regime was ever linked to al-Qaeda. (Al-Qaeda in Iraq, the primary insurgency group, sprang up after the U.S. invaded.) Before the war, then U.S. defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld claimed the evidence of a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq was "bulletproof." Vice-President Dick Cheney touted the risk that Saddam's WMD could find their way into the hands of "terrorists" interested in striking inside the United States, as al-Qaeda had on Sept. 11. It's clear now that none of those risks really existed.

The other, less-frequently stated justification for the war was the widely held belief among neoconservatives in the Bush Administration that invading Iraq and toppling Saddam Hussein would start a chain reaction throughout the region, creating what Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has called a "new Middle East." The idea that liberating Baghdad would trigger a wave of democratic, pro-Western change was a powerful one with many adherents in the White House and the Pentagon.

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So why, exactly, did the U.S. invade Iraq five years ago this week?

By Jim Lobe, IPS NewsPosted on March 19, 2008, Printed on March 19, 2008

The official reasons -- the threat posed to the U.S. and its allies by Saddam Hussein's alleged programs of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and the possibility that he would pass along those arms to al Qaeda -- have long since been discarded by the overwhelming weight of the evidence, or, more precisely, the lack of evidence that such a threat ever existed.

Liberating Iraq from the tyranny of Hussein's particularly unforgiving and bloodthirsty version of Ba'athism and thus setting an irresistible precedent that would spread throughout the Arab world -- a theme pushed by the administration of President George W. Bush mostly after the invasion, as it became clear that the officials reasons could not be justified -- appears to have been the guiding obsession of really only one member of the Bush team, and not a particularly influential one at that: Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz.

Then there's the theory that Bush -- whose enigmatic psychology, particularly his relationship to his father, has already provided grist for several book-publishing mills -- wanted to show up his dad for failing to take Baghdad in 1991. Or he sought to "finish the job" that his dad had begun in 1991; and/or avenge his dad for Hussein's alleged (but highly questionable) assassination attempt against Bush I in Kuwait after the war.

Because Bush was the ultimate "Decider," as he himself has put it, and because no one who ever served at top levels in the administration has ever been able to say precisely when (let alone why) the decision was made to invade Iraq, this explanation cannot be entirely dismissed as an answer.

Then there is the question of oil. Was the administration acting on behalf of an oil industry desperate to get its hands on Mesopotamian oil that had long been denied it as a result of U.N. and unilateral sanctions prohibiting business between U.S. companies and Hussein?
Given both Bush's and Vice President Dick Cheney's long-standing ties to the industry and former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan's assertion in his recent memoir that "The Iraq war is largely about oil," this theory has definite appeal -- particularly to those on the left who made "No Blood for Oil" a favorite mantra at anti-war protests in the run-up to the invasion, just as they did -- with much greater plausibility -- before the 1991 Gulf War.

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The myth of the success of "the surge" continues as Wednesday morning a female suicide bomber blew herself up at a Baghdad bus terminal killing at three and injuring 12 others.

By BUSHRA JUHI, Associated Press Writer 57 minutes ago;_ylt=ApyLZ_0CCC5YjVYp_3Iil4NX6GMA

BAGHDAD - Iraqi police say a woman suicide bomber has killed three people and wounded 12 in an attack near a bus terminal northeast of Baghdad.

A senior police officer says the attack occurred Wednesday morning in a commercial area of Balad Ruz in the Diyala province. The officer spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not allowed to release the information.

Extremists are making greater use of women as suicide bombers. Explosive belts are easier to conceal under women's clothing and they are often not treated with the same suspicion as men.


The real reason Vice President Dick Cheney went to Iraq was to firm up a plan that will keep U.S. forces in Iraq for decades to come.

‘Power broker’ Cheney gets Iraqi pledge for long-term agreement.

The AP reports that “Vice President Dick Cheney played the part of backroom power broker” during his visit to Iraq and “came away” with “pledges from Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds to firm up a new blueprint for U.S.-Iraq relations that will stretch beyond the Bush presidency” and keep U.S. troops in Iraq beyond the U.N. mandate:

Topics ranged from security in Iraq to Iran’s rising influence in Mideast, but a key item was about crafting a long-term agreement between the U.S. and Iraq, plus a narrower deal to define the legal basis for continued U.S. troop presence.

The deal would take the place of a U.N. Security Council resolution that expires in December, the same time Bush will be packing up to leave office.

The Bush administration contends that it has “constitutional authority” to “continue combat operations” in Iraq past December without Congress’s authorization.

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The Washington Post offers a perspective on Wednesday of the Iraq War five years after the U.S. invaded Iraq.

Five Years In Iraqis and Americans Offer Perspectives on the War

By Karen DeYoungWashington Post Staff WriterWednesday, March 19, 2008; A01

For a majority of Americans, today marks the fifth anniversary of the start of an Iraq war that was not worth fighting, one that has cost thousands of lives and more than half a trillion dollars. For the Bush administration, however, it is the first anniversary of an Iraq strategy that it believes has finally started to succeed.

It has been about a year since Army Gen. David H. Petraeus arrived to command U.S. forces in Iraq, Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker took over as the chief U.S. diplomat, and the military deployed 30,000 more troops to protect and rebuild neighborhoods.

Officials now running the U.S. effort express frustration that the gains wrought by their new political, security and economic policies -- in particular, sharply reduced violence -- are continually weighed against the first four years of the war, when Iraq unraveled in insurgency and sectarian strife.

"I came to Washington to describe what we're doing," Charles P. Ries, Crocker's senior deputy in charge of reconstruction and the Iraqi economy, said during a visit last week. "At almost every meeting, somebody wants me to describe what we used to do. . . . I know why people raise these questions, but I don't feel it's something I can speak to. The times were different then."

Today's policy is fundamentally different from the impatient mind-set of 2003, in both lowered U.S. expectations and a less imperious approach to dealing with Iraqi authorities. "In those days," Ries said, "we decided what [the Iraqis] needed, and we built it." Today, he said, Iraqis are asked what they want, and then told that while the United States will help, they will have to pay for most of it themselves.

Yet as the administration requests additional war funding and calls for a pause in promised troop withdrawals, some question its right to a second chance. "Like a tourniquet," the troop increase "has stopped the bleeding," Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), a former Army Ranger and senior member of the Armed Services Committee, reported last week after his 11th trip to Iraq. What he has not seen, Reed said, are the surgery and recovery that would begin to heal the wound that Iraq has become. And even U.S. officials acknowledge that the "surge" has not led to the political reconciliation the administration had hoped for.

Others see the past year's successes as fragile and reversible, and less consequential than the pain that preceded them. "I think they have it righter than they ever have before," Daniel P. Serwer, an Iraq expert with the U.S. Institute of Peace, said of the administration. "But the fact is that those four other years did exist, and they condition a lot of what can and cannot happen now. There's a history here, there's a lot of blood and guts on the floor -- literally."

The White House tends to dismiss such longer memories. While it recognizes the inclination to "relitigate the past" when a milestone such as the fifth anniversary is reached, National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said, "our focus is on the way ahead and making sure that the current situation and the future situation gets better."

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