Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Bush on Iraq

A rare interview with President Bush will air on ABC News tonight. Here are the remarks on Iraq:
VARGAS: Let's move to Iraq. This has been a rough few days in Iraq since the bombing of the mosque in Samarra. There's been a lot of sectarian violence. We heard fresh reports of violence again today and reports from Baghdad that the violence in these past three days has been the worst since the U.S. invasion of Iraq. There was a lot of criticism from both the Shi'ites and the Sunnis of the U.S. military for standing back and not doing enough to stop the violence.

What is the policy if, in fact, a civil war should break out or the sectarian violence continues? Are you willing to sacrifice American lives to get the Sunnis and the Shi'ites to stop killing each other?

BUSH: I don't buy your premise that there's going to be a civil war. There's no question that the bomber of the mosque is trying to create sectarian violence, and there's no question there was reaction to it. On the other hand, I had the duty, which I did, to call these leaders, Shi'a and Sunni leaders, as well as Kurdish leaders.

And the response was that we understand this is a moment that we've got to make a choice if we're going to have sectarian strife or whether or not we're going to unify. And I heard loud and clear that they understand that they're going to choose unification, and we're going to help them do so.

The presence of the U.S. troops is there to protect as many Iraqis as we possibly can from thugs and violence, but it's also to help the Iraqis protect themselves, and we're making progress in terms of standing up these Iraqi troops so they can deal with, deal with these incidents of violence.

VARGAS: But what is the plan if the sectarian violence continues? I mean, do the U.S. troops take a larger role? Do they step in more actively to stop the violence?

BUSH: No. The troops are chasing down terrorists. They're protecting themselves and protecting the people, and—but a major function is to train the Iraqis so they can do the work. I mean the ultimate success in Iraq — and I believe we're going to be successful — is for the Iraqi citizens to continue to demand unity.

And remember, one of the things that's lost during this troubled week — and there's no question it's a troubled week — was the fact that 11 million Iraqis, about 2 months ago, went to the polls and said, "We want to have a democratic government." So there's still a will of the people there that are interested in a unified government.

Secondly, we're working with the leaders to form this unity government, and we'll see how it goes. We're making pretty good progress though. And I think the bombers really caused the leaders to say, "Wait a minute. We now have got to project civil war, or civil strife, or sectarian violence."

And the other side of the equation has got to be to train the Iraqis to fight, so that the people feel like there is a unified security force that's interested in protecting them from a few people that are trying to sow violence and discord.

VARGAS: But there is a concern that when you talk to these political leaders that they don't wield the real power in Iraq, that it's the clerics that wield the power and the clerics who are controlling these militias, the militias who were responsible for most of the violence in the last few days.

BUSH: Well, Ayatollah Sistani, who is by far — not by far — is one of the most revered clerics, has made it very clear that this type of violence is not acceptable, and that he calls for a unified government. And matter of fact, many of the clerics have spoken out for a peaceful unified future for Iraq.

And there's no — look, these are — there are people that don't want to see democracy, and the reason why is because it defeats their vision of a totalitarian type government from which they can launch either attacks on America or future instability in the Middle East. You're witnessing this ideological struggle that's taking place, and Iraq happens to be the battlefront for that struggle right now.

And I believe we're — we will prevail, and the definition of prevailing is Iraq that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself, an Iraq that is not a safe haven for people like Zarqawi or al Qaeda and its affiliates, an Iraq which becomes an ally in the war on terror.

VARGAS: So let me make sure I understand you. No matter what happens with the level of sectarian violence, the U.S. troops will stay there?

BUSH: The U.S. troops will stay there so long as—until the Iraqis can defend themselves. I mean, my policy has not changed. To summarize it, as the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down.

And as you know, we've reduced troop levels this year, and that's because our commanders on the ground have said that the security situation in Iraq is improving because the Iraqis are more capable of taking the fight.

VARGAS: And if in fact the violence continues, will the Americans be forced to take a more active role in suppressing it?

BUSH: Well, the Americans are very active right now taking a role in suppressing it.

VARGAS: But as I said at the beginning, there's a lot of criticism from both the Sunnis and the Shiites that they weren't doing enough to stop the killing, and it was a lot of killing that happened after the upset attack.

BUSH: Well, I understand the criticism. It's also difficult sometimes to stop suicide bombers, and—but the Americans are—as well as Coalition forces, and more importantly, the Iraqis themselves are patrolling and trying to keep neighborhoods safe.

Attacks continue in Iraq

The President's analysis, via A.P.:
WASHINGTON - President Bush on Tuesday decried the latest surge in sectarian violence in Iraq and declared that for Iraqis "the choice is chaos or unity."
Andrew Sullivan:
"And they say there is no sectarian war? What do you call this?" - an Iraqi, reacting to the massive casualties of the past few days. 1300 dead in a few days is not a portent of civil war. It is civil war. The question is whether it can now be stopped. Imagine if 16,000 Americans had been slaughtered in a few days in sectarian conflict. Would you call it peace?
Zeyad has another must-read update:
A few months ago, when Baghdad was ripe with news of Interior ministry's death squads raiding Sunni neighbourhoods at night, the local National Guard commander in our area started touring mosques to warn them from uniformed security forces operating at night. The commander's own words were "Never, never open your doors to security forces after dark. If they attempt to force their way in, be prepared to defend yourselves." That was the time when people started forming neighbourhood watch teams again.

But I digress.

The Defense Ministry spokesman also stated that orders have been issued to arrest 'anyone who carries weapons, regardless of their religious or political backgrounds.' A committee was formed to place a mechanism to disarm militias and to ban armed demonstrations on the street. The Interior Ministry also formed a committee to incorporate the militias in the armed forces, except the Peshmerga. Now, that is deeply troubling.

General Rasheed Flayih, commander of Interior Ministry forces, stated to Al-Mada newspaper that his forces have the authority to conduct raids and detentions in any area of Iraq, without returning to the Multinational Forces or the Defense Ministry. He also mentioned that several units from his ministry have been assigned to police stations, and at 18 'hot' districts of Baghdad as undercover agents, named 'Field Intelligence units.' He announced that a new department called the 'Department of Night Patrols' has been formed, and that it would start operating night patrols in several areas of Baghdad on March 15. I sense major trouble coming.

News roundup 02.28.2006

(Yes, new format.)

Iran's nuclear ambitions

The fits and starts diplomatic process continues. CNN reports:
Iran's foreign minister has said his country's "final target" is to enrich uranium on its own soil -- even if it accepts a Russian proposal to enrich Iranian uranium there, according to Japan's Kyodo News Agency.
Iran vowing self-contained enrichment is contrary to the diplomatic efforts of Europe and America. Self-contained enrichment means that the uranium is mined, processed and enriched entirely by the Iranians. It is an important aspect of a nuclear weapons program -- to be armed by a self sufficient process.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports:
Talks between Russia and Iran over the weekend appeared to have made no major progress on a proposal to have Russia be the site of a joint venture that would produce low-enriched uranium for Iranian power plants.

Two very different headlines.

CNN: "More than 370 Iraqis killed since Golden Mosque attack"

The Guardian (derived from the Washington Post's reporting): "'1,300 dead' in Iraq sectarian violence"

The Los Angeles Times on the potential to not drawdown troops:
"One perspective certainly is that with so much turmoil, how can you possibly think about drawing down at this point?" said a senior Defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

For nearly a year, senior commanders have said that political progress in Baghdad and the development of new Iraqi army units could lead to a substantial U.S. troop reduction this year. They have pointed to mid-2006 as a pivotal period, making the decisions on troop levels a telling indicator of progress.
Port security

Story was, the Coast Guard had concerns about the Dubai port deal. The New York Times:
After an excerpt of the document was released Monday at a Senate briefing on the port deal, however, an official at the Department of Homeland Security and a Coast Guard admiral told senators that the concerns were addressed before the deal was approved. They did not provide details about how the issues were resolved, and the Bush administration did not provide further clarification on Monday night.
Rick Klein of the Boston Globe on the politics of port security:
Democrats see the issue as a way to strike back at Republicans, who have been merciless in their characterizations of Democrats as permissive on national-security issues. ''Republicans Have Pre-9/11 World View," read a statement issued yesterday by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, echoing a charge recently leveled at Democrats by the top Bush political adviser, Karl Rove.
The Philadelphia Inquirer on a related story:
More than four years after 9/11, the maritime industry is still waiting for the federal government to deliver on its promise of an identity card for port workers.

The Homeland Security Department's Transportation Security Administration has spent $70 million on developing a card, including $24 million on a prototype project that cost twice what was planned.

Two years behind schedule, the TSA does not have a vendor for rolling out the card nationally, and it estimates that a system won't be in place across the country until the spring of 2007 - or maybe the summer.

The Hill reports:
Senate Democrats have declined to support legislation proposed by Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) to reform lobbying, even though he is their point man on the issue.

Good-government groups have made enforcement of the ethics and lobbying rules their top priority, and they consider Obama’s proposal the strongest means of enforcement. But lawmakers appear to view the medicine as too strong.
The Washington Post:
The Senate Rules Committee plans today to draft legislation that would make it harder for lawmakers to win narrowly focused appropriations and tax breaks called earmarks and to compel lawmakers to quickly disclose any meals they accept from lobbyists.
2020 today

The New York Times reports on a more confident India. The world's largest democracy will be incredibly important. Let's hope Bush does pretty OK.

Fred Thompson

ABC's News radio division has hired the former Senator (and Supreme Court nominee assistant, and actor, etc).

Monday, February 27, 2006

Sistani and the protests that turned violent

Mohammed at Iraq the Model has interesting analysis. I have taken just an excerpt, and recommend reading it all:
Ayatollah Sistani issued a fatwa on Wednesday that sounded peaceful and normal from the first look but if you look closer at each word you will find that the "safety valve" became the igniter this time.

Two years ago the shrine of Imam Ali in Najaf was attacked and although this is the holiest shrine for Shia Muslims the incident wasn't met with that much angry reactions instead we heard soothing statements like "these are mere stones and we can rebuild them and make them even better than before".
This time things were different because the political situation is different; the Ayatollah called for nationwide protests (and not to attack Sunni mosques) and a week of mourning. Now let's examine the part that said "do not attack Sunni mosques"…the sentence openly accuses the Sunni of being behind the attack or why would their mosques be mentioned in the first place?

In the government statements the term "Takfiri terrorists/Saddami Ba'athists" is the one commonly used but in the Ayatollah's fatwa this was replaced by "Sunni".
This fatwa which is sugar-coated with tolerance and restraint is actually pointing at the perpetrator that we-should-not-punish-because-we-are-merciful.

So…the protests were not spontaneous like clerics want us to think; in fact the only spontaneous protest was the one in Samarra itself!
I live here and I've seen the whole thing. The demonstrations in Baghdad began after the fatwa and I saw how shop keepers unwillingly closed their shops when the men in black with their arms and loudspeakers ordered them to do so "in the name of the Hawza" and I saw the sad look on the faces of people abandoning their only source of income for a time that could go indefinitely.

Drawing DeLay back onto the map?

Jeffrey Toobin has an interesting article in the New Yorker about the upcoming challenge to the redistricting of Texas:
Still, there is one way for the Court to stake out a middle ground. Instead of striking down all partisan gerrymandering, thus sowing chaos in dozens of states shortly before the 2006 congressional elections, the Justices could simply say that a politically inspired mid-decade redistricting violates the Constitution. “We’re simply asking for them to go back to the map the courts approved in 2001, and that Texas used in the 2002 election,” Sam Hirsch, another lawyer for the Democrats, says. “It takes care of the worst of the problems, it’s neat and simple, and there’s no need for the courts themselves to draw district lines.”

This option, which would be a major loss for the Texas Republican Party, might mean a win for Tom DeLay. Instead of running against DeLay, Nick Lampson could run in the district where he won as an incumbent in 2002. “That could certainly happen,” Lampson told me. “I will have to make that decision when it actually becomes a reality.” DeLay, in turn, would lose a well-financed challenger in the new district, and return to his old district, which was more Republican anyway. (DeLay declined to comment.)

Afternoon copy 02.27.2006

The state of Iraq

Reports are optimistic. (Also cautious.)

Borzou Daragahi of the Los Angeles Times: "Violence Subsides Across Iraq"

Reuters: "Iraqis Optimistic on Kidnapped US Reporter: US Amb"

Edward Wong of the New York Times:
BAGHDAD, Iraq, Feb. 27 — Leaders of the main Sunni Arab political bloc have decided to return to suspended talks over the formation of a new government, the top Sunni negotiator said Sunday. The step could help defuse the sectarian tensions that threatened to spiral into open civil war last week after the bombing of a Shiite shrine and the killings of Sunnis in reprisal.
Dan Murphy of the Christian Science Monitor:
BAGHDAD – After a weekend of sleepless nights, emergency meetings, and an unprecedented three-day curfew, Iraq has managed to stave off its worst fear after last week's destruction of a major Shiite shrine: That the country's small-scale civil conflict was about to bloom into a bloody and wide-ranging war between its sects.

But disturbing signs are emerging that Iraq's sectarian powder-keg is still highly volatile.
Michael Gordon of the New York Times:
WASHINGTON, Feb. 27 — Two German intelligence agents in Baghdad obtained a copy of Saddam Hussein's plan to defend the Iraqi capital, which a German official passed on to American commanders a month before the invasion, according to a classified study by the United States military.

In providing the Iraqi document, German intelligence officials offered more significant assistance to the United States than their government has publicly acknowledged. The plan gave the American military an extraordinary window into Iraq's top-level deliberations, including where and how Mr. Hussein planned to deploy his most loyal troops.

The Washington Post:
MOSCOW, Feb. 26 -- The head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization said Sunday that his country had agreed in principle to set up a joint uranium enrichment project with Russia, a potential breakthrough in efforts to prevent an international confrontation over Iran's nuclear ambitions.
The A.P.:
KUWAIT CITY (AP) — Iran's president said Monday that his country supports calls for making the Middle East a nuclear arms-free zone, but he also urged the United States and Russia to give up all their atomic weapons as a threat to the region's stability.
Domestic politics

Katrina relief

The Washington Post: "Two-Thirds of Katrina Donations Exhausted"

NSA Spying

The A.P.:
WASHINGTON (AP) — The attorney general would have to get approval from a secretive intelligence court every 45 days to preserve the Bush administration's controversial surveillance program, according to a draft bill from the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman.

The proposal being developed by Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., would require the Justice Department to ask the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to determine whether the program is constitutional. The court also would have to certify the government is collecting information when there is probable cause to believe the program "will intercept communications of the foreign power or agent of a foreign power."

Called National Security Surveillance Act, the draft measure is the first Republican legislation to surface publicly since the program was disclosed two months ago.
Schwarzenegger and the GOP

George Skelton of the Los Angeles Times:
But Schwarzenegger, preparing for a tough reelection race, doesn't seem to care much about Republican grumbling, as evidenced by his comment Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press":

"I am there to govern and to serve the people of California, meaning Democrats and Republicans — even though there are some on the right wing that are not happy about that, that think I should only govern for Republicans. But that's not what I promised the people."

That's hard to argue with, but the party faithful do occasionally need to be rallied. Schwarzenegger tried only halfheartedly in a convention speech, and many "right-wingers" left supporting him just halfheartedly, if at all.
Sainthood for justice?

The Chicago Tribune:
WASHINGTON -- The late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall has been proposed for sainthood by the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, with his feast day on May 17, the day of the landmark 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education school desegregation ruling.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

The real port issue (and it's not Dubai)

Steve Kroft of 60 Minutes had an excellent story on the real trouble with port security:
It's companies like Dubai Ports World, the United Arab Emirates firm that hopes to manage container terminals at six ports on the East Coast, and has caused such a scandal in Congress this past week.

But Stephen Flynn thinks the scandal is not the nationality of owners, but rather the lack of rules and regulations that would govern them.

"Yeah, isn't it outrageous that we're basically delegating this job of policing this critical national asset to a terminal operator without much checking?" said Flynn. "We have one company out here now in the crosshairs. But we have a system wide failure. We are protecting this critical asset with rent-a-cops determined by all private operators, whether they're American owned or foreign owned, without setting the bar very high. That's crazy. And we're doing it without givin' the Coast Guard adequate resources to police it or enough customs agents to make sure that proper inspections are done. Those are the problems that I hope Washington gets around to debating."
Meet the Press gave this issue some coverage, but not enough:
MR. RUSSERT: I—gentlemen, the Democrats have—are saying very loudly that they have tried repeatedly to put more money into port security. Benny Thompson, Democrat on your committee, Congressman, he tried to increase spending by a billion dollars, he wanted to double the number of oversea port inspectors, he wanted to put radiation portal monitors. And every time, the Republicans said no, you voted no. Do you regret now opposing some of those measures to improve port security?

REP. KING: Tim, we have voted to increase port security dramatically, it’s gone up almost $2 billion since four years ago. Almost 100 percent is screened, it’s not actually examined. But even, you know—people use a number that only 5 percent of the cargo is actually examined. Even Senator Clinton the other day, said 15 is maximum. So it’s between 5 and 15, we do have to do more. I support doing more. In fact, my committee is holding hearings next month, Congressman Lundgren, Congresswoman Harman are holding hearings on the issue of port security. More does have to be done, but a lot has been done also.

MR. RUSSERT: So the Democrats were right?

REP. KING: No, we—no, a lot more has to be done. The fact is you don’t just throw money at it, you do it in a way that works. Well, half this technology the people are talking about doesn’t work that well, and the idea is how do you do it? You can’t be examining every piece of cargo that comes in, it’s to do it effectively and also to do it in a way that doesn’t stop world commerce. Having said that, we realize more has to be done. But their idea, in all due respect, often is throw money into it. And you—again, the idea is to do it in an effective, smart way. I think more should be done, and I’ve said that all along. I had hearings last year as subcommittee chairman, having hearings now that I’m full chairman, and we are going to move forward. I think Susan Collins is really moving the right direction.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator...

SEN. WARNER: If there’s one good thing that can come out of this, it is compelling us to go back and review this whole question about port security and the funding levels, and I...

MR. RUSSERT: It may take more money.

SEN. WARNER: It’s going to take a lot more money.

Iraq and logistics

The latest quarterly assessment by the Pentagon on the status of the Iraq military stated that more units are at combat level 2 (capable to take the lead in combat operations) but the one unit at level 1 was downgraded. The report is available here (.pdf). An A.P. story highlighted the downgrade. The big question is left unanswered by a vague remark, which is somewhat troubling (my emphasis):
At the top level, level one, the unit is fully independent and requires no Coalition assistance. Considering the need for further development of Iraqi logistical elements, ministry capacity and capability, intelligence structures, and command and control, it will take some time before a substantial number of units are assessed as fully independent and requiring no assistance.
Whatever develops in Iraq in the coming weeks will require honest analysis by the administration as it decides the proper course to pursue. As we cannot trust them to do this, we will therefore need Congressional oversight to conduct that analysis.

It seems, based on this report, that if Iraq were to devolve into a substantial civil conflict -- larger than what is evident today -- there would be few or no Iraqi formations capable of planning, equipping and executing military operations. The question may then be: is the government and that army legitimate (enough) for the United States to continue acting as logistician and planner?

With the present Interior Ministry, I would say clearly not.

A debate may spark up on this topic at the Atlantic Review.

Morning copy 02.26.2006


The Washington Post: "Shiite Militias Roam Free Despite Curfew, Occupy Sunni Mosques"

Zeyad has an update:
An armed Sunni group was able to retake the Salman Al-Farisi shrine from elements of the Mahdi militia at Madain (Salman Pak), southeast of Baghdad, this evening. It was reported that they have seized a large amount of weapons and ammunition from the periphery of the shrine. It should be mentioned that there is a huge presence of Interior ministry forces in Madain, namely the Al-Karrar and the Al-Hussein brigades.

In Baghdad, 15 mosques were retaken, but no details on locations.
Knight Ridder Newspapers:
BAGHDAD - Fear of full-scale civil war continued to mount Saturday as Iraq's minority Sunni Muslim population lashed back in a bloody campaign of retaliation after three days of Shiite Muslim militiamen and mobs killing Sunnis and attacking their mosques.
Al Jazeera:
Iraqi political leaders have agreed to push ahead with US-sponsored efforts to form a government and condemned sectarian violence in an attempt to ease the gravest crisis in postwar Iraq.
BBC News: "Iraq leaders see hope of progess"

The Observer:
Iraq's leading Sunni political bloc said yesterday it would rejoin talks to form a government of national unity if the prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, followed through on measures designed to banish the prospect of religious war between Shia and Sunni communities.
AFP: "Iraq's Sunnis and Sadr's movement make peace"

Juan Cole points to this New York Times story and says:
In some of the best reporting on the role of the Shiite clerics in this crisis, Robert Worth and Ed Wong of the NYT reveal that the Americans in Iraq initially were powerless when the crisis broke out on Wednesday, and could only hope that the Shiite clerics would calm people down. They only gradually realized that the clerics were equally capable of stirring people up, and that the clerics themselves were under enormous pressure from enraged followers to do something.

This last point is why it is so dangerous for Sistani to form his tribal levies into a militia. He will be hostage in some ways to their enthusiasms.
Steve at The News Blog sees this as the rise of Sadr. His points on Sadr are all interesting and valid, but Sadr could never take power in opposition to Sistani -- unless Sistani is widely viewed as incapable. Sistani's move to augment his influence with a militia could be a check, in this regard. Or, Sistani may now genuinely feel that the government is not a viable first option for security.

None of those explanations, nor the point raised by Professor Cole, are good signs.

The Washington Post:
Current U.S. military commanders say they have come to understand that they are fighting within a political context, which means the results must first be judged politically. The pace and shape of the war also have changed, with U.S. forces trying to exercise tactical patience and shift responsibilities to Iraqi forces, even as they worry that the American public's patience may be dwindling.
The Los Angeles Times: "Analysts See Lebanon-ization of Iraq in Crystal Ball"

MikeVotes has this interesting observation:
Over the last few weeks, it's become apparent, if you look at the bylines, that the wire services have started employing Iraqis to go out and get photographs. Interestingly, this has resulted in a very different composition. Just looking tonight on the Yahoo Iraq tab, there are four pictures of injured small children and several bodies in the most recent 30 pictures or so whereas before you would rarely see one a week. The US and European photographers had been taking alot more pictures of US and British soldiers because that was who they were travelling with.

Previously, almost all the Iraqis pictured were insurgents or townspeople talking with US soldiers, whereas now, with the far greater mobility of local photographers, we're seeing the rest of the people. I don't know what impact it will have; it's just an observation.
Port security

The New York Times:
WASHINGTON, Feb. 25 — After two days of behind-the-scenes negotiations with the Bush administration and Congress, the Dubai company seeking to manage terminals at six American ports is expected to announce by Monday a deal inviting the government to conduct a broad new review of security concerns, senior administration officials and a company adviser say.
TIME Magazine:
If approved by all parties, the new deal would allow Bush to avert a GOP-driven bill to overturn the Dubai deal with enough votes to override Bush's threat of his first veto. Republican sources tell TIME that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee proposed the basic terms of a deal designed to give the White House a graceful way out, while also allaying the concerns of the many lawmakers in both parties who have said the deal could be a threat to our security. Under the Frist plan, the deal could stand a good chance of ultimately going through after the extended review. Frist aides apparently proposed the terms to representatives of the company and the White House late Friday. Neither has formally responded but both seemed interested in the idea, according to a Senate Republican aide. "This avoids a direct clash," the aide said. "It solves everyone's problem. The President doesn't have to cancel the deal or veto anything."
A.P.: "Homeland Security protested ports deal"

Best pun of the day goes to the Washington Times: "Strategy on ports gets sea change"

The Baltimore Sun headlines with "Ports deal puts focus on vetting" and:
Now that a United Arab Emirates company is poised to assume some operations at six U.S. ports, including Baltimore's, the resulting surge of criticism has cast a glaring light on a process so enigmatic that it gives the tight-lipped National Security Agency a run for its money.

"Clearly," said Peter Morici, a University of Maryland business professor who once worked for the U.S. International Trade Commission, "it's too secretive."
The New York Times (the really important port story lost in the hullabaloo):
“We’re not really debating whether the ports are secure,” said Thomas H. Kean, the group’s chairman. “We’re debating who should be running them. It’s the wrong question.”

The right question, in the view of Mr. Kean and his vice chairman, Lee H. Hamilton, is whether oceangoing cargo is adequately screened for bombs. They grade the effort so far a near-failure.
Also in the New York Times:
In short, even at this model port, the security regimen set up in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, largely at the request of the United States government, is far from enough to address the vulnerabilities that make ports still such an attractive terrorist target.

It explains why so many port experts consider as misplaced the furor that erupted this week over whether Dubai Ports World, the government-owned company that operates this port, should be allowed to take over management of terminals in six American cities.
Rep. Peter King (R., NY) will be on Meet the Press today, and his political capital could not be higher. Here's hoping that Russert steers King to more port security topics.

Al Qaeda

Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani journalist, writes the following about Osama bin Laden in the Washington Post:
What's left is the question: What are the United States and its ally, Pakistan, doing about it?

Not enough, according to high-ranking Afghan, Pakistani and Western officials I've spoken to here. Indeed, the disastrous policies of the United States and Pakistan, starting with the aftermath of the war in 2001, have only hastened the radicalization of northwest Pakistan and made it more hospitable to bin Laden and his Taliban allies. The region has become a haven for bin Laden and a base for Taliban raids across the border back into Afghanistan which they had fled.

Not that you'd be able to tell any of that from what Bush administration officials have been saying. Almost everything the administration claims about the al Qaeda leader is tinged with bravado and untruthfulness. "We are dealing with a figure who has been able to hide, but he's on the run," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said earlier this month. Here in Pakistan, however, the view is different. Bin Laden is not considered to be on the run, but well protected by friends who are making his life as comfortable as possible.

After all, his number two, the Egyptian doctor Ayman al-Zawahiri, appears to have a busy social calendar in Pakistan's Pashtun belt. U.S. missiles narrowly missed him at a dinner party held in his honor on Jan. 13.
The Times of London also has a very important Op-Ed:
Last week’s desecration of a Shi’ite shrine moved Iraq towards civil war. Abdel Bari Atwan, who has had unique access to Osama Bin Laden, explains why Al-Qaeda wants to divide Islam
From Russia with Scrutiny

The Washington Post tells us that the Bush administration is finally getting wise to the Kremlin:
The Bush administration is quietly exploring ways of recalibrating U.S. policy toward Russia in the face of growing concerns about the Kremlin's crackdown on internal dissent and pressure tactics toward its neighbors, according to senior officials and others briefed on the discussions.

Vice President Cheney has grown increasingly skeptical of Russian President Vladimir Putin and shown interest in toughening the administration's approach. He summoned Russia scholars to his office last month to solicit input and asked national intelligence director John D. Negroponte to provide further information about Putin's trajectory, the sources said.
I hope no one has told Dick Cheney about Russia's nuclear weapons program.

Domestic politics round up at the end because I am tired

The New Orleans Times Picayune:
The construction of sector gates to keep storm surges out of the Industrial Canal, and permanent backflow protection to stop inland flooding through pump stations in Orleans and Jefferson parishes, are among $1.46 billion in hurricane protection improvements the Bush administration is asking Congress to authorize and finance.
The Hartford Courant:
By lining up early endorsements from Democratic leaders and organized labor, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman signaled Thursday he is taking seriously the anti-war candidacy of Ned Lamont.
Robert Novak:
A prominent anti-abortion Catholic legislator in New Hampshire on Feb. 17 sent a ''confidential invitation for addressee only'' to a meeting with Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney at 3 p.m. March 17 at the Upham-Walker House in Concord, N.H.

Republican state Rep. Maureen C. Mooney said the meeting would be ''private'' and ''closed to the press.'' She added Romney would answer questions from a ''small group of conservatives.''
The Houston Chronicle:
WASHINGTON - Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, is trailing his potential Democratic opponent, former Rep. Nick Lampson, in fundraising and cash in the bank, according to new financial reports that covered the first six weeks of the year.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Zeyad's latest post

Zeyad's latest post provides more useful information. I am profoundly troubled how the American media has covered Iraq. MSNBC is essentially an Olympics infomercial, which is of course futile at this point. Fox News has done a tremendous disservice to our presitge. CNN is running a typical Saturday program, which discounts the actual impact of these developments -- though that network has also had some impresive roundtables during their normal newscasts. Meet the Press will feature Arnold Schwarzenegger, though it will also have Senator John Warner -- so perhaps 7 to 15 minutes of useful discussion.

Zeyad has been working hard on frequent posts with his own experiences, news reporting and even an important map. An excerpt:
Both ministers downplayed the significance of the violence over the last three days. Interior minister, Baqir Solagh described the armed demonstrations and mob attacks as 'natural' reactions to 'let off steam' building up by the Shia masses over the last two years. The Defense minister, Sa'doun Al-Dulaimi released some numbers on the attacks against Sunni mosques and civilians:

"Out of a total of 51 mosques reported to be attacked by small fire arms and RPGs, only 21 mosques were verified by our units to have been attacked. 23 mosques were reported to have been badly damaged or burned down, but only 6 were verified. Only one mosque was verified to have been occupied, and it was evacuated later today. 183 civilians were reported to be killed in the violence, but the verified number is actually 119."

The minister went on to explain that most of the 'attacks' were actually drive-by shootings or rocket-propelled grenades from a distance. He also mentioned that a mosque cannot really be occupied by anyone, since they are 'houses of Allah' and were open to all Muslims, including, I assume, armed gangs. I can only guess this means none of the attackers will be apprehended or arrested.

However, both ministers had a strong warning for Iraqi media outlets that "tend to exaggerate the news, or to report unverified attacks and incidents," threatening extreme punishment against them. He did not mention Iraqi bloggers in name though, so it probably means we are exempt from punishment.

The Defense minister strongly reminds me of an old Iraqi information minister who once said "I have detailed information about the situation... which completely proves that what they allege are illusions... They lie every day."

Personally, I'm not sure which is better. Should we all stay quiet and pretend things are 'not that bad' for fear of exaggerating, or blowing things out of proportion, or should we just continue to report what we see and hear around us?

"God help us all"

How Fox News (and much of the U.S. Media) lost the war

I have seen several Iraqi blogs with this photo this morning. Overly patriotic Fox News outdoes itself with its overly stupid tendencies. In modern warfare, media matters:

Iraq in turmoil

Truth about Iraqis (blog):
Breaking: Sunni neighborhood of Aadhamiya is now under attack:

قبل كم ساعة هجمو مسلحين على حي الاعظمية

Several families have apparently sought refuge in a mosque. No Iraqi troops, police, or US forces have tried to prevent any of the attacks.

Updated: The Sunni Neighborhood Watch - if you want to call them that - have managed to repel attacks by men clad in black, that's the information I am getting. I do not know if all of Aadhamiya is secure right now.

Meanwhile, curfew extended for a second day, but that's a crock of shit, because Sadrists and Badrists are roaming free despite the curfew. I wonder if the curfew is to ensure freedom of movement for them.
A.P. (alas, via Fox News): 14 [Police, read Shiite] Commandos Bodies Found

The New York Times:
"Anybody who has a militia now has power," said Adnan Pachachi, a former foreign minister and member of the newly elected Parliament. "The Mahdi Army, Badr, the insurgents, these are the ones who wield power. They have weapons, they can move around and they are determined. It's not a question of political personalities, but of arms and weapons."
A.P. (via the Southern Illinoisan):
BAGHDAD, Iraq - A car bomb exploded in a Shiite holy city and 13 members of one Shiite family were gunned down northeast of the capital Saturday in a surge of attacks that killed at least 30 people despite heightened security aimed at curbing sectarian violence following the bombing of a revered Shiite shrine.
The New York Times: "Muslim Clerics Call for an End to Iraqi Rioting"

The Los Angeles Times:
Police said a 30-minute gunfight between members of Shiite cleric Sadr's Al Mahdi militia and suspected Sunni militants erupted after noon prayers in a southern Baghdad neighborhood. No casualties were reported.

Gunmen in the northern city of Kirkuk shot dead Khlail Ibrahim Mohammed, a leader of a Shiite militia.

In Samarra, two police officers were killed and two civilians were injured in street clashes, and a key oil pipeline was set on fire. Hundreds of worshipers tried to gather near the destroyed shrine for prayers but were turned back.

At mosques where prayer services were held, sermons calling for peace mingled with flashes of anger. Sunnis and Shiites blamed each other for strife.

Shiite leaders called for street protests Sunday in the southern provinces. Tens of thousands marched in Basra holding banners that simultaneously called for avoiding civil war and the death of Saddam Hussein.
The Washington Post:
In one encouraging political development, the main Sunni political bloc, the Iraqi Accordance Front, signaled it could come back to talks on forming a new government if the present government takes steps to ease the sectarian crisis.

The Front issued a statement welcoming the government's promise to rebuild the Shiite shrine in Samarra and Sunni mosques that were damaged in reprisal attacks afterwards.

The Sunnis suspended talks with the Shiites and Kurds on Thursday following attacks against more than 180 mosques in retaliation for the Samarra bombing.

Despite the conciliatory announcement, on Saturday there were signs the Sunnis were conducting their own offensive. In the morning, gunmen burst into a Shiite house and killed 13 members of one family living near the predominantly Sunni Arab town of Baqubah, north of Baghdad. The victims, all men, consisted of three generations of one family, the Associated Press reported.
Al Jazeera's story.

CBC News: "Iraq extends curfew until Monday"

Jim Lobe of IPS has interviewed a number of prominent analysts.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Shrine attack part 4: Long time before we know the true impact

UPDATE 1900 EST Zeyad's neighborhood is safe. (For now.):
UPDATE: Apparently, the attackers were fended off in our neighbourhood. The fight ended about 2 hours ago, about the same time electric power returned to our area. Now we are only hearing sporadic gunshots here and there. To have an idea of what was going on, listen to these small audio files I recorded using a cell phone.

News are conflicting. Some say the local National Guard unit (its commander is from our own area) helped repel the assailants. Others say the neighbourhood watch teams clashed with an armed group in several unmarked vehicles.

The same situation occured in both Adhamiya and Al-Khadhraa'. In Adhamiya, armed groups in black crossed the river in boats from neighbouring Kadhimiya and took over the Nu'man hospital.

In Khadhraa', a combined force of Interior ministry forces and men dressed in black are surrounding 2 mosques with several families inside, threatening to burn them down on the occupants. Baghdad TV (the Islamic party's channel) is updating on the situation through telephone calls from inside the mosque. The families are crying for outside assistance.

Other bits from here and there:
An armed group in 10 vehicles with no number plates entered the Al-Iskan Al-Sha'bi district in Dora, and attempted to enter mosque, but was turned back by the residents. Eyewitnesses claim that as many as 40 bodies and 5 burnt vehicles are still in the area. 3 attackers were also killed in Dora when they attempted to enter the Al-Kubaisi mosque.

Another group dressed in black in one Daewoo and two Opel vehicles passed the Interior ministry forces' checkpoint at Abu Dshir square, south of Dora, with no resistance and entered the Yassin mosque with explosives in tin containers. The keeper was killed and the mosque blown up.

a Shi'ite armed group carried Sheikh Ghazi Al-Zoba'i in a pickup truck around Sadr city, shouting that they have a Wahhabi terrorist with them, before he was lynched on the streets by the angry mob.

Government officials and spokespersons are deliberately suppressing any news of these ongoing attacks on Sunni neighbourhoods and mosques. The official Al-Iraqiya channel is playing a historical movie, while other channels are playing Shi'ite mourning and Quran. The Interior ministry says it only has reports of 19 mosques attacked and one cleric killed. Go figure.


It is my sincere hope that someone in CENTCOM reads Andrew Sullivan and has a clue where Zeyad resides:
Fierce streetfighting at my doorstep for the last 3 hours. Rumor in the neighbourhood is that men in black are trying to enter the area. Some armed kids defending the local mosque three blocks away are splattering bullets at everything that moves, and someone in the street was shouting for people to prepare for defending themselves.

There's supposed to be a curfew, but it doesn't look like it. My net connection is erratic, so I'll try to update again if possible. The news from other areas in Baghdad are horrible. I don't think it's being reported anywhere.

My father and uncle are agitatedly walking back and forth in the hallway, asking me what we should do if the mob or Interior ministry forces try to attack us in our homes? I have no answer for them.
This would have been posted at about 3pm EST.

My original post:

The consensus seems to be that Iraq has calmed down and the curfew today kept the peace. However, the real impact of the attack on the Samarra shrine will not be discernable for some time. Optimism is extremely unwarranted even though Friday was a calm day and calls for peace and unity are prevalent. Pessimissm is an understandable reaction, but gauging the direction of Iraqi affairs now is too complex.

What is clear is that the government -- and the occupation by the coalition -- of Iraq has sustained a significant hit in prestige and legitimacy.

Today's optimism seems to stem from the apparent unity displayed by Hakim and the SCIRI, Sistani and Sadr. A closer examination of that unity would indicate that it disparages the government -- which is a very worrisome sign.

Juan Cole quotes Sadr:
“If the government had real sovereignty, then nothing like this would have happened,” al-Sadr said in a statement. “Brothers in the Mahdi Army must protect all Shiite shrines and mosques, especially in Samara.”
Borzou Daragahi notes the momentous speech from Grand Ayatollah Sistani:
Few Iraqis paid attention to Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari and other leaders of political parties who called for calm. But many winced or smiled as the office of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the paramount Shiite leader here, issued an unusually bellicose statement suggesting it was time for "the faithful" to protect religious sites — an apparent endorsement of militias.
Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, via CNN, condemned the bombers as "Takfiris" -- a loaded expression in Islam that could signal further violent reprisals:
Al-Hakim blamed the Golden Mosque bombing not on Iraqi Sunnis, but "takfiris," or extremists, who don't represent Islam, and he cited people such as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the head of al Qaeda in Iraq.
The Times of London also quotes Hakim:
Other Shia leaders joined in the calls for calm. Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), the most powerful organisation in the Shia United Iraqi Alliance and which runs its own Badr militias, said that the bombing in Samarra was "not an act of the Sunnis of Iraq, but the Zarqawists and the Saddamists".
The Daily Times has a prominent Sunni (IAF) reaction:
"The leadership of the Iraqi Accordance Front has sent its apologies to the president to say they will not attend today’s meeting,” senior Front official Iyad al-Samarrai told Reuters.

“The government neglected to provide security for our sites ... They did not condemn these acts of aggression.”
CNN provides one Sunni reaction to the protests:
"We point the finger of blame at certain Shiite religious authorities calling for demonstrations, while they know Iraq cannot control the streets," said Sheik Abdul Salam al-Qubaisi.
The curfews were largely ignored in Sadr City, al Jazeera, but are another indication as to the government's inability to secure the country. The New York Times:
Across Iraq today, people walked through quiet streets to attend weekly prayer service at neighborhood mosques. Traffic was light because of a rare daytime curfew that the government had put in place to try to prevent worshippers from attending Friday Prayers, out of fear that imams would incite more violence. The groups that did gather appeared to do so in a largely peaceful manner, though.
Not only are bloggers dwelling in a land of farcical optimism, but (not surprisingly) the spin-crazy U.S. government shows a complete lack of understanding, the New York Times:
Top aides at the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department all expressed the hope that the new violence did not portend civil war in Iraq. They found it in evidence that all sides were appealing for restraint, even the firebrand Moktada al-Sadr in Baghdad.

"Rather than see a collapse or a setback, I think in some ways, you can see an affirmation that the approach we've been taking has worked," said Adam Ereli, a State Department spokesman. "You've got political leadership acting together on behalf of the common good, and you've got security forces demonstrating that capability and a responsibility as a national entity that we've been working to develop and that has now been put to the test and, I think, is proving successful."
Ereli has clearly no idea what is going on, or at the very least he does not want to admit it. The militias ran rampant on Wednesday and Thursday. The most effective Iraqi government formations remain uniformed militia formations. As for the political process, it has been undermined, perhaps fatally, by this attack and the reprisal riots. Sistani's remark endorsing the militias has been developing for some time -- as he has grown impatient with the security situation.

In fact, Ereli's remarks are now irrelevant. CNN has updated their story with Secretary of State Condi Rice's remarks:
BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Friday that sectarian violence in Iraq has hurt the formation of a national unity government and that foreign terrorists may try to stoke clashes throughout the region.

"I think it's not surprising that people who don't want the political process to go forward are going to try and find some way in the 11th hour to set Iraqis against themselves," she said.

" ... this makes it harder today and perhaps tomorrow," Rice said, "but I'm confident that the Iraqis are devoted to, dedicated to, the formation of a national unity government and I think they will get back to that process very shortly."
At the very least, Rice admits the peril of the moment. However, it requires a stiff dose of eternal optimism to believe that the political process will return and a positive, constructive settlement will be reached between the Shiite and the Sunni.

Moreover, and perhaps the most troubling, Rice is using the same playbook that the administration has used throughout this long insurgency: the enemies of democracy and unity are at the last of their rope -- the 11th hour. On a twelve hour clock, Iraq may be at 3 or 4. Perhaps.

The Sunni and Shiite (and of course the Kurds) must feel that the "unity government" can protect them. Based on the curfews and the reinforced role of the militias in Iraqi society, this is not the case. If there really is a narrow window for some form of success, it has lost a great deal of open space with this attack and the reprisals. What was clear in Iraqi society, a low-grade civil war, has been made more visible this week.

No political figure of any note has stepped forward and called for a civil war. This is, necessarily, a good thing -- or perhaps it is necessarily not a bad thing. However, the political establishment that matters, the religious/political leaders, have inched toward the militias. Sadr was there. Hakim was there. Sistani is on his way.

The only government in Iraq that could maintain a militia based defense structure would be a loose confederation, or exactly what the Sunni nationalist insurgents do not want.

UPDATE 1700 EST. Fine reporting by Borzou Daragahi (My bolding):
By Borzou Daragahi
Times Staff Writer

12:47 PM PST, February 24, 2006

BAGHDAD — Political and religious leaders in Iraq scrambled today to halt the country's slide toward sectarian civil war, renewing for tomorrow an extraordinary daytime curfew that was temporarily relaxed to allow a small measure of respite for the country.

But Iraqi police today found at least 29 bodies scattered in Baghdad. Each corpse was handcuffed and had single gunshots to the head, in the style often attributed to Shiite death squads believed attached to the Ministry of Interior.

Violent protests sparked by the destruction of an important Shiite holy site Wednesday have left nearly 200 people dead in the country's worst spasm of inter-communal violence since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that ended the rule of former President Saddam Hussein. The curfew was extended until late Saturday afternoon, according to Iraqi television reports.

"This attack has had a major impact here, getting everyone's attention that Iraq is in danger, that the terrorists are trying to provoke a civil war," U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said in a telephone conference with reporters in Iraq.

Clerics held joint Sunni-Shiite prayer services broadcast on television, and security forces flooded the streets and beefed up protection of mosques and religious sites. U.S. military forces stepped up patrols around the volatile parts of the country. Politicians also held a series of emergency meetings meant to stave off more violence.

"There are meetings and meetings over and over again trying to put this crisis down," said Basam Redha, an aide to Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari. "We have a lot of heated and steamed and upset people. We are calming down what we call the hotblooded young men in the Shiite community."

Still, Sunni Arab political parties refused to meet with their Shiite counterparts who control the government, blaming them for escalating tensions.

Although the day was calm for the most part, violence broke out in Samarra, home of the destroyed Shiite shrine. Two police officers were killed and two civilians injured in clashes and a vital oil pipeline set ablaze by saboteurs.

Calls for peace were also were tinged with anger. Sunnis and Shiites alike blamed each other for escalating sectarian strife. Clerics managed to deliver volatile prayer sermons today despite a security lockdown in four volatile provinces meant to forcibly cool passions. Shiite leaders called for street protests Saturday in the southern provinces.

"Why do they call demonstrations? What do they expect from demonstrators?" the prayer leader at the Ibn Tamiya mosque told followers in a speech broadcast throughout the neighborhood. "The Shiite clergy have to stop their foolish and silly people from attacking Sunni mosques."

The Mahdi army, a militia loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr, demanded that it be given more authority in the streets and that Sunnis more vehemently denounce the bombing of the shrine.

"We are asking the government to give us the chance to protect the sacred symbols," the militia said in a statement released in shrine city of Najaf. "We are asking the Muslims of a united stance toward the [Sunni religious extremists], and the ones who keep silent will be considered the same."

Despite the curfew, huge crowds gathered today for prayers in the swaths of Baghdad and cities in the south controlled by Sadr loyalists. Prayer leader Salah Obeidi urged followers to hold funeral processions to honor the two saints buried in the Samarra holy site.

"We are brothers in the religion of Islam and in peace," he said of Shiites and Sunnis. "I am calling on you to love each other and not attack each other."


Wikipedia for Takfiris. Some cautious optimism, though it would be a grave error to think that this is a positive sign for George W. Bush's stated objectives with Iraq. CNN:
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- A top Shiite political figure has joined the top Shiite cleric in Iraq in urging unity and self-restraint among citizens, an effort to calm sectarian hostilities before they degenerate into a full-blown civil war.

Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, the head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), Friday called the bombing of the Al-Askariya "Golden Mosque" in Samarra a strike against all Iraqis.

The attack on Wednesday triggered Shiite reprisals across Iraq, including the killings of Sunni Arabs, attacks on their mosques and institutions, and mass protests.

Al-Hakim blamed the Golden Mosque bombing not on Iraqi Sunnis, but "takfiris," or extremists, who don't represent Islam, and he cited people such as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the head of al Qaeda in Iraq.

And, he said, Iraqis must unite to fight them.
The major question remains: will the Sunnis return to the political process and will the Shiite make it worth their while?

Morning copy 02.24.2006

Lock down in Iraq (for some)

An extended curfew was in place today to keep Sunni and Shiite from mixing after Friday prayers.

The Times of London:
"So civil war is a possibility, but it's far from certain. The majority of Iraqis, Sunni and Shia, don't hate each other. If you look at the amount of provocation that Iraqis have suffered over the past three years, it would have catapulted most countries into a civil war ages ago.

"There are a lot of very positive influences in Iraq that are putting the brakes on war happening, but then civil war has never been the desire of the majority: it's something that happens when unbearable pressures on society coincide, and right now Iraq is in a very pressured state.
The Guardian:
The curfew will prevent people from attending the week's most important prayer services, which officials said they feared could be targets for further attacks as concerns over civil war grew.

"This is the first time that I have heard politicians say they are worried about the outbreak of civil war," the Kurdish elder statesman Mahmoud Othman told the Associated Press.
The Los Angeles Times:
BAGHDAD — Rarely since the U.S.-led invasion have Iraq's politicians appeared so insignificant and its religious leaders loomed so large as in the 48 hours since the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra.
Professor Cole:
Sunni Arabs in Iraq blamed US troops for not protecting Sunni mosques and worshippers from violence. The US military ordered the US soldiers in Baghdad to stay in their barracks and not to circulate if it could be helped. This situation underlines how useless the American ground forces are in Iraq. They can't stop the guerrilla war and may be making it worst. Last I knew, there were 10,000 US troops in Anbar Province with a population of 1.1 million. What could you do with that small force, when the vast majority of the people support the guerrillas? US troops would be useless if they hcad to fight in alleyways against sectarian rioters. If they tried to guard the Sunni mosques, they'd have to shoot into Shiite mobs, which would just raise the level of violence they face from Shiites in the south.
Port security

The Baltimore Sun:
WASHINGTON // Taking a cue from the White House, a United Arab Emirates company announced late last night that it would postpone part of a deal to take over some operations at the port of Baltimore and five other major seaports.
Bloomberg News:
The decision to turn over the port facilities to a company owned by the United Arab Emirates, a country that was home to two of the Sept. 11 hijackers, ``is clearly an issue where Democrats see an opportunity to take advantage of a weakness in what has been a Bush strength: keeping us safe and being tough on terrorism,'' said Anita Dunn, a strategist for Democratic Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana, who is exploring a presidential run in 2008.
Manchester Union Leader:
Sununu also criticized the Department of Homeland Security for not communicating with Congress regarding purchase of six U.S. ports by a company in the United Arab Emirates, but stressed that the U.S. should not discriminate.

“I am disappointed that the President wasn’t informed, I am disappointed that Congress wasn’t informed,” he said. “Providing information to Congress is something that Homeland Security needs to address immediately. We should honestly look at the security issues, but just because a company has Arab roots rather than European roots doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do business with them.”
The Phila. Inquirer:
WASHINGTON - Former New Jersey Gov. Jim Florio, who as a congressman crafted the law to prevent foreign investments deemed security threats, says the controversy over a United Arab Emirates-owned company managing U.S. ports might have been avoided had Congress exercised more scrutiny.
Health Care

It doesn't get the press it deserves, because there is so much going on in Foreign affairs.

Bloomberg News:
Feb. 24 (Bloomberg) -- President George W. Bush's proposal to expand health savings accounts, intended to help contain spiraling medical costs, may prove a tax-free boon for the nation's rich.

Both supporters and opponents of the proposal said the enhanced HSAs offer unprecedented tax advantages and may become more attractive than 401(k)s or Individual Retirement Accounts as a way for the richest and healthiest Americans to build savings.

The proposal would create ``the mother of all tax shelters,'' said Paul Caron, a professor at the University of Cincinnati College of Law.
Isn't that nice of the Prez???

John Kerry (confuses me)

Now he's going to be pro-life sort of. The Denver Post:
U.S. Sen. John Kerry said Wednesday that Colorado Democrats should keep an open mind when it comes to supporting candidates such as gubernatorial hopeful Bill Ritter who don't support abortion rights.
The Governator

The Los Angeles Times:
Schwarzenegger's most immediate challenge is to tamp down the revolt among his party's conservative base, which he will face tonight at the state GOP convention in San Jose.

But his difficulties are far broader, as illustrated by a poll released this week by the Public Policy Institute of California.

His popularity ratings among men, women, whites, Latinos, Republicans, Democrats, independents and other key groups fall short of what he needs to win in November. Overall, only 40% of voters approve of his job performance, well below the 50% benchmark for an incumbent seeking reelection.

"He's got a lot of work to do with a lot of different groups," said Mark Baldassare, statewide survey director of the institute.
The Russian military

MOSCOW - The Russian military got an unpleasant surprise on the eve of its only holiday.

Dozens of posters plastered across Moscow screamed the military salute "Congrats to the Russian Soldiers," but depicted the American warship USS Missouri.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Shrine attack part 3

This is the most significant event since the invasion of Iraq.

It comes at a difficult time, with sectarian security formations, powerful militias, insurgents, terrorists and coalition forces tugging at one another or a combination of the groups.

I am exacerbated that the media seems to "ho hum" and say "well, one step closer to civil war, now let's talk about those lotto winners and Torino."

The destruction of the Shrine that housed the remains of the 10th and 11th Imam was a catastrophic blow to the entire Muslim world (all religions, in fact) and could particularly inflame the majority Shiite Iraqis to exert control over as much of the country as possible.

Healing Iraq has another blog entry that is a must read. It provides some incredible detail:
So far, there has been no retaliation by any Sunni groups. There was news of a bombing at a small Shi’ite shrine in the Karrada district called Maqam Sayyid Edriess, but no details on that. A couple of insurgent groups with ties to Al-Qaeda in Iraq, notably the Mujahideen Council, have denied any responsibility of the Samarra attack. This leads us to wonder, if the Sunni groups have been planning to start a civil war all along, as many analysts have claimed, why are they so silent now? Where is Zarqawi? I am actually baffled by the lack of reprisals or any other response from the Sunni community. That could be the only glimmer of hope we have now. For how long, though? Friday prayers are tomorrow, and that is bad. But then again, maybe there won’t be any Friday prayers, as it looks like most of the mosques are either closed or taken over by Mahdi militiamen, at least in Shi’ite and mixed areas.

The timing of this incident is very ominous. Just as pressure was being mounted on the UIA to form a more inclusive government, and to disband its sectarian militias, we have this. I normally don’t resort to conspiracy theories, and I don’t like the ‘Who gets to benefit from this?’ explanations. People often commit stupid actions for stupid reasons, and lashing out in violence is also a very human reaction. But still, the extent and the spontaneity of the violence are deeply troubling.
Prominent blogger Greg does not have a complete grasp of the situation, like many I have read today. He begins:
This was a big deal, but it hasn't inexorably opened up the gates of hell (ie, full blown civil war) in Iraq. Still, this was a seminal event in the narrative of post-Saddam sectarian tension, and it was timed well given the fragile state of politicking generally as between the different factions. Another major shrine or two destroyed, a particularly grisly series of mass ethnic killings--how much more can Iraq take before degenerating into more significant sectarian conflict? Still, leaders are pledging to rebuild the shrine asap, Sistani (and Sadr) are calling for restraint, national days of mourning will help cool the situation. But, make no mistake, we are dancing at a knive's edge in Iraq. It's an even bet whether the project is salvageable, if by salvageable we mean securing a viable, unitary quasi-democratic Iraq.
I am not certain how we can dance on a knives edge and have an even bet of success at the same time. Sounds to me like dancing on a knives edge would result in lesser odds, it would be a mistake to go in there and do that -- catch my drift?

But, even odds? That is insane. My comments (edited because I screwed up some alphabet soup, as you can see):
The gates of hell may not yet be open, but a few people are hanging around them and they look like they are up to something.

A government must preserve the peace and exercise force in a legitimate way. In the attack on this sacred shrine and the numerous and ongoing reprisal strikes, the Iraqi government has achieved neither. The argument can be made that both the IAF and Sistani have arrived at the same conclusion. I see far too many media and bloggers out there quoting Sistani as if he called for peace.

He did. He also, and much more importantly, chided the government of Iraq for being stronger than it has been in years and yet unable to prevent this from happening. He then said that if the government could not preserve the holiest of places, the faithful could. This is a major change in his point of view and public direction to the country. He has already limited his support to the existing government in the elections, which was probably a warning because they have been ineffective or at the least not effective enough, and now he is raising the specter of militias protecting the faithful and their shrines.

The IAF in the meantime pulled itself out of government formation talks and demanded a full investigation of the reprisal attacks, while they were still going on.

Before the terrible destruction of this shrine, I could see one major event leading to the total destruction of the Iraqi government, and that would have been the Interior Ministry not reforming and sectarian security formations remaining in effect. That would have undermined any peace efforts and sent the Sunnis back to the arms of the insurgents (troubling enough, the ones with the most bucks and the least scruples would be a prime draw).

That may or may not still happen, but the ball is rolling in a very negative direction. Tomorrow is Friday. What will the local clerics say in their sermons and what will the faithful do when they are walking into or out of prayers?

The gates of hell have not yet opened, but do not for a second underestimate the impact that this could have. Iraqis have called it the worst day since the invasion.

The aftermath of the Shrine attack

Al Jazeera reports a toll of 130 killed, including more than two score in what is described as an artificial checkpoint used by some insurgent/terrorist force. The Sunni break from government talks is described in some detail as well:
With tensions escalating, a crisis summit called by President Jalal Talabani was thrown into turmoil when the biggest Sunni political group, the Iraqi Accordance Front, boycotted the meeting in protest at what it called the government's failure to protect Sunni mosques.

"The government neglected to provide security for our sites," Iyad al-Samarrai, a front official said, announcing the boycott. "They did not condemn these acts of aggression."

Another Front official said it would suspend participation in US-sponsored talks to form a national unity coalition.
Reuters reports on some of the same stories:
The U.N. envoy also stepped in, asking Iraqi leaders to join him in a meeting. "I have invited political, religious and civil leaders to discuss confidence-building measures to ensure the situation remains under control," Ashraf Qazi told Reuters.

But the main Sunni political group said it pulled out of U.S.-backed talks on forming a coalition after December's parliamentary election and leading clerics traded unusually frank sectarian criticisms that may do little to calm passions.

President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, pressed ahead despite the Sunni boycott with a meeting that he had called to avert a descent toward a civil war. After discussions with Shi'ites, Kurds and leaders of a smaller Sunni group, he told a televised news conference that if all-out war came "no one will be safe".

Among the dead were 47 people, apparently both Sunnis and Shi'ites, whom gunmen dragged from vehicles after they attended a demonstration to show cross-sectarian solidarity near Baghdad.
CNN lists the Sunni demands to return to government-construction talks:
In a letter to the president's office, the Iraqi Accordance Front said it wants:

Condemnation by the government and all parties of the attacks against Sunni mosques and locations.

Investigation into the attacks.

Compensation for all damages sustained.
These demands could be a nonstarter, as the retaliation attacks were extensive and no doubt involved many militia members.

These attacks leave America in a difficult position, the Los Angeles Times:
"The Americans also abandoned us extremely. They could have put some of their vehicles to protect the mosques; they have the forces to do that," said Khalaf al-Hayan, general secretary of the Sunni Iraqi National Dialogue Council. "How does a civil war start? It starts like this."
American military hegemony carries with it the perception of more capability than actually exists, this applies to both the neoconservatives and the common man-on-the-street. In Iran and among some in Iraq, there has been a boogeyman reaction that pits blame on the "zionist" and American forces. However, this quote in the Los Angeles Times shows a perception that America could have and should have done more to prevent these attacks. In hindsight, that may be an accurate analysis. However, it also is analysis derived from an overestimation of American control in the region. Substantial damage is done, because American forces have been unable to protect one of the most holy spots in the country -- a religious center of gravity. Similarly, Iraqi forces -- most of the Shiite -- have failed in the same charge. Hence, we see comments from Sistani stating that the faithful (militias) may have to augment or replace the government sources of protection.

A successful government must preserve and maintain the legitimate use of force in order to sustain its control of the territory. When a government fails to do this, its very existence is called into question. Even in the best case scenario, this has already occurred in Iraq -- and a difficult situation has become a great deal worse.

Mohammed of Iraq the Model:
The situation is still very tense but the good thing is that the Sunni have not returned the attacks and I hope the Shia have satisfied their vengeance by now because I don't want to even think of what can happen if this situation lasts longer than this.

Morning copy 02.23.2006

The situation in Iraq

The destruction of the shrine housing the 10th and 11th Imams continues to escalate sectarian tensions in Iraq.

Iraq's main Sunni Muslim bloc pulled out on Thursday of negotiations for the formation of a new government, blaming the ruling Shi'ite alliance for sectarian violence that has killed dozens of Sunnis in the past 24 hours.
The Independent:
In a number of respects civil war in Iraq has already begun. Many of the thousand bodies a month arriving in the morgues in Baghdad are of people killed for sectarian reasons. It is no longer safe for members of the three main communities ­ the Sunni and Shia Arabs and the Kurds ­ to visit each other's parts of the country.

"Iraq is in a Weimar period like Germany in the 1920s which will either end with the country disintegrating or in an authoritarian government taking power," said Ghassan Atiyyah, an Iraqi political commentator.
Dan Murphy in the Christian Science Monitor:
"The war could really be on now,'' says Abu Hassan, a Shiite street peddler who declined to give his full name. "This is something greater and more symbolic than attacks on people. This is a strike at who we are."
The Boston Globe:
Near Basra, mobs set fire to the seventh-century tomb of Talha bin Obeid-Allah, companion of the Prophet Mohammed.

''Their blood will not go in vain," said Tariq al-Hashemi, head of the main Sunni political party, the Iraqi Islamic Party, referring to Sunnis who were killed. ''We will punish and pursue those who committed the aggression."
Port security

The New York Times:
It is clear that the questions involving the Dubai company, Dubai Ports World, have become a proxy for long simmering debates about security and a battleground for resurgent tensions between the White House and Congress. In the end, as Mr. Bush has discovered, the politics of globalization are local and emotional.
The New York Times: "U.S. Sees Emirates as Both Ally and, Since 9/11, a Foe"

The Baltimore Sun: "Fears are misplaced, security experts say"

The Los Angeles Times:
An Arab company's bid to take over management of cargo terminals at half a dozen U.S. ports has become a rallying point for critics seeking tougher port security and greater scrutiny of foreign investment.

But trade and security experts said criticism of the deal involving government-owned Dubai Ports World was misguided because the U.S. government, not terminal operators, was responsible for security at the ports. In addition, they said, foreign companies already control a large share of the U.S. cargohandling business.
The Washington Post: "Ports Debate Reawakens Foreign-Investment Jitters"

The New York Times: "Dubai Sees Bias Behind Storm"

The Baltimore Sun: "Bigotry seen in opposition to deal"

The Washington Post:
The U.S. government reviews business transactions with national security implications and decided after a 23-day review by mid-level officials that Dubai Ports World posed no threat . McClellan said Bush learned about the sale in recent days, after it had been widely reported.
The Los Angeles Times:
The White House failed Wednesday to placate its Republican critics, who pressed ahead with legislative plans to delay — and perhaps thwart — the port deal. Their efforts are a direct affront to Bush's vow to veto such a measure and a sharp departure from the unity that has typified relations between the administration and GOP congressional leaders.
The Baltimore Sun (Very interesting point):
The virulence of the reaction to the deal, criticized by top Republicans and Democrats in Congress and elsewhere, is in large part a product of Bush's success at hammering his opponents as weak on national security, say strategists and analysts.

The president's approach has left other politicians - especially those running for re-election this year - scrambling to display their anti-terrorism credentials
The A.P.:
The administration did not require Dubai Ports to keep copies of business records on U.S. soil, where they would be subject to court orders. It also did not require the company to designate an American citizen to accommodate U.S. government requests. Outside legal experts said such obligations are routinely attached to U.S. approvals of foreign sales in other industries.

"They're not lax but they're not draconian," said James Lewis, a former U.S. official who worked on such agreements. If officials had predicted the firestorm of criticism over the deal, Lewis said, "they might have made them sound harder."
Hamas, the U.S. and democracy

The New York Times: "Iran Pledges Financial Aid to Hamas-Led Palestinians"

The A.P.
: "Saudis refuse to join U.S. isolation of Hamas"

Bloomberg News:
Feb. 23 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice chastised her Egyptian hosts when she visited Cairo eight months ago, saying democracy advocates ``are not free from violence'' in a country ruled since 1981 by President Hosni Mubarak.

In the Egyptian capital this week, Rice told reporters: ``We can't tell Egypt what its course can be or should be.''

The shift in tone signals that the U.S. is in a bind. Its immediate need is to blunt the power of Hamas, the foe of Israel that triumphed in Palestinian elections last month, and ensure that Hamas's patron Iran doesn't meddle in the Palestinian territories. The U.S. wants Egypt's help and is easing demands on the 77-year-old Mubarak for more democracy in the most populous Arab country.
Disaster response

The Washington Post:
The White House is scheduled to release a report today calling for the military to be more closely involved in handling large natural disasters as part of a plan to improve the government's emergency response operations, which were exposed as fatally flawed after Hurricane Katrina.
The New York Times:
WASHINGTON, Feb. 22 — The nation must revamp the way it responds to major disasters or terrorist attacks, according to a new White House report that calls for more stockpiling of emergency supplies, a better-defined role for the military and a more concerted push to evacuate hospitals and nursing homes.
Domestic politics

The Washington Post:
South Dakota lawmakers yesterday approved the nation's most far-reaching ban on abortion, setting the stage for new legal challenges that its supporters say they hope lead to an overturning of Roe v. Wade.
The Boston Globe:
WASHINGTON -- Senator John McCain, the rebellious Republican and leading 2008 presidential prospect, kicks off a national campaign in Miami today promoting an issue that is likely to further alienate him from his party's conservative voters: allowing illegal immigrants to stay in the country legally as ''guest workers" who could earn US citizenship.
Bob Novak:
The cream of Washington's lobbyists gather next Monday evening on Capitol Hill, paying at least $1,000 apiece, to listen to Sen. Ted Stevens, the doughty and defiant president pro tempore of the Senate. In the climate of lobbyist and earmark reform, they will hear plenty.
The Hartford Courant:
Should Gov. M. Jodi Rell accept deeply discounted heating oil for Connecticut's poor if it comes - via a gubernatorial rival - from the government of Venezuela's socialist president, Hugo Chavez?

It is a delicate question that Rell soon must answer thanks to a deal arranged by one of her Democratic opponents, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Shrine attack

The attack on the Shrine of the 10th and 11th Imams, and in Shiite religion the epicenter for the return of the Mahdi, is a major story and has not received sufficient coverage or understanding in the West. Here are two excerpts that underscore the potential for harm.

The Los Angeles Times:
At least 10 Sunni mosques throughout Baghdad were attacked in apparent reprisals, some of them torched or shot at with rocket-propelled grenades, police said. Government officials and powerful clerics called for calm, but their statements were tinged with anger. Even Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, long a voice of restraint in the face of violence against his Shiite followers, hinted that the attack on the shrine required a militant response.

"The Iraqi government now is supported more than ever, and if its security apparatuses are not able to offer the required security, then the faithful must be able to do it, with the help of God," according to a statement released by Sistani's office in Najaf.
This is a seachange in Sistani's subtle leadership of the country.

The A.P.:
BAGHDAD, Iraq - A Shiite political leader said Wednesday that U.S. Zalmay Khalilzad shares some of the responsibility for the bombing of a major Shiite shrine because of his criticism of Shiite-led security forces

Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, cited Khalilzad's statement at a press conference Monday that America would not continue to support institutions run by sectarian groups with links to armed militias.

"For sure, the statements made by the ambassador were not made in a responsible way and he did not behave like an ambassador," al-Hakim told reporters. "These statements were the reason for more pressure and gave green lights to terrorist groups. And, therefore, he shares in part of the responsibility."

Khalilzad has urged the Iraqis to form a unity government in which nonsectarian figures control the ministries of Defense, which runs the army, and Interior, which is responsible for the police.