They just got a different tool to use than we do: They kill innocent lives to achieve objectives. That's what they do. And they're good. They get on the TV screens and they get people to ask questions about, well, you know, this, that or the other. I mean, they're able to kind of say to people: Don't come and bother us, because we will kill you. Bush - Joint News Conference with Blair - 28 July '06

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Seymour Hersh: A Redirection

New Yorker


In the past few months, as the situation in Iraq has deteriorated, the Bush Administration, in both its public diplomacy and its covert operations, has significantly shifted its Middle East strategy. The “redirection,” as some inside the White House have called the new strategy, has brought the United States closer to an open confrontation with Iran and, in parts of the region, propelled it into a widening sectarian conflict between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.

To undermine Iran, which is predominantly Shiite, the Bush Administration has decided, in effect, to reconfigure its priorities in the Middle East. In Lebanon, the Administration has coöperated with Saudi Arabia’s government, which is Sunni, in clandestine operations that are intended to weaken Hezbollah, the Shiite organization that is backed by Iran. The U.S. has also taken part in clandestine operations aimed at Iran and its ally Syria. A by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to Al Qaeda.

One contradictory aspect of the new strategy is that, in Iraq, most of the insurgent violence directed at the American military has come from Sunni forces, and not from Shiites. But, from the Administration’s perspective, the most profound—and unintended—strategic consequence of the Iraq war is the empowerment of Iran. Its President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has made defiant pronouncements about the destruction of Israel and his country’s right to pursue its nuclear program, and last week its supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said on state television that “realities in the region show that the arrogant front, headed by the U.S. and its allies, will be the principal loser in the region.”

After the revolution of 1979 brought a religious government to power, the United States broke with Iran and cultivated closer relations with the leaders of Sunni Arab states such as Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. That calculation became more complex after the September 11th attacks, especially with regard to the Saudis. Al Qaeda is Sunni, and many of its operatives came from extremist religious circles inside Saudi Arabia. Before the invasion of Iraq, in 2003, Administration officials, influenced by neoconservative ideologues, assumed that a Shiite government there could provide a pro-American balance to Sunni extremists, since Iraq’s Shiite majority had been oppressed under Saddam Hussein. They ignored warnings from the intelligence community about the ties between Iraqi Shiite leaders and Iran, where some had lived in exile for years. Now, to the distress of the White House, Iran has forged a close relationship with the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

The new American policy, in its broad outlines, has been discussed publicly. In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in January, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that there is “a new strategic alignment in the Middle East,” separating “reformers” and “extremists”; she pointed to the Sunni states as centers of moderation, and said that Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah were “on the other side of that divide.” (Syria’s Sunni majority is dominated by the Alawi sect.) Iran and Syria, she said, “have made their choice and their choice is to destabilize.”

Some of the core tactics of the redirection are not public, however. The clandestine operations have been kept secret, in some cases, by leaving the execution or the funding to the Saudis, or by finding other ways to work around the normal congressional appropriations process, current and former officials close to the Administration said.

A senior member of the House Appropriations Committee told me that he had heard about the new strategy, but felt that he and his colleagues had not been adequately briefed. “We haven’t got any of this,” he said. “We ask for anything going on, and they say there’s nothing. And when we ask specific questions they say, ‘We’re going to get back to you.’ It’s so frustrating.”

The key players behind the redirection are Vice-President Dick Cheney, the deputy national-security adviser Elliott Abrams, the departing Ambassador to Iraq (and nominee for United Nations Ambassador), Zalmay Khalilzad, and Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi national-security adviser. While Rice has been deeply involved in shaping the public policy, former and current officials said that the clandestine side has been guided by Cheney. (Cheney’s office and the White House declined to comment for this story; the Pentagon did not respond to specific queries but said, “The United States is not planning to go to war with Iran.”)

The policy shift has brought Saudi Arabia and Israel into a new strategic embrace, largely because both countries see Iran as an existential threat. They have been involved in direct talks, and the Saudis, who believe that greater stability in Israel and Palestine will give Iran less leverage in the region, have become more involved in Arab-Israeli negotiations.

The new strategy “is a major shift in American policy—it’s a sea change,” a U.S. government consultant with close ties to Israel said. The Sunni states “were petrified of a Shiite resurgence, and there was growing resentment with our gambling on the moderate Shiites in Iraq,” he said. “We cannot reverse the Shiite gain in Iraq, but we can contain it.”

“It seems there has been a debate inside the government over what’s the biggest danger—Iran or Sunni radicals,” Vali Nasr, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, who has written widely on Shiites, Iran, and Iraq, told me. “The Saudis and some in the Administration have been arguing that the biggest threat is Iran and the Sunni radicals are the lesser enemies. This is a victory for the Saudi line.”

Martin Indyk, a senior State Department official in the Clinton Administration who also served as Ambassador to Israel, said that “the Middle East is heading into a serious Sunni-Shiite Cold War.” Indyk, who is the director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, added that, in his opinion, it was not clear whether the White House was fully aware of the strategic implications of its new policy. “The White House is not just doubling the bet in Iraq,” he said. “It’s doubling the bet across the region. This could get very complicated. Everything is upside down.”

The Administration’s new policy for containing Iran seems to complicate its strategy for winning the war in Iraq. Patrick Clawson, an expert on Iran and the deputy director for research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, argued, however, that closer ties between the United States and moderate or even radical Sunnis could put “fear” into the government of Prime Minister Maliki and “make him worry that the Sunnis could actually win” the civil war there. Clawson said that this might give Maliki an incentive to coöperate with the United States in suppressing radical Shiite militias, such as Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army.

Even so, for the moment, the U.S. remains dependent on the coöperation of Iraqi Shiite leaders. The Mahdi Army may be openly hostile to American interests, but other Shiite militias are counted as U.S. allies. Both Moqtada al-Sadr and the White House back Maliki. A memorandum written late last year by Stephen Hadley, the national-security adviser, suggested that the Administration try to separate Maliki from his more radical Shiite allies by building his base among moderate Sunnis and Kurds, but so far the trends have been in the opposite direction. As the Iraqi Army continues to founder in its confrontations with insurgents, the power of the Shiite militias has steadily increased.

Flynt Leverett, a former Bush Administration National Security Council official, told me that “there is nothing coincidental or ironic” about the new strategy with regard to Iraq. “The Administration is trying to make a case that Iran is more dangerous and more provocative than the Sunni insurgents to American interests in Iraq, when—if you look at the actual casualty numbers—the punishment inflicted on America by the Sunnis is greater by an order of magnitude,” Leverett said. “This is all part of the campaign of provocative steps to increase the pressure on Iran. The idea is that at some point the Iranians will respond and then the Administration will have an open door to strike at them.”

President George W. Bush, in a speech on January 10th, partially spelled out this approach. “These two regimes”—Iran and Syria—“are allowing terrorists and insurgents to use their territory to move in and out of Iraq,” Bush said. “Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops. We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We’ll interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq.”

In the following weeks, there was a wave of allegations from the Administration about Iranian involvement in the Iraq war. On February 11th, reporters were shown sophisticated explosive devices, captured in Iraq, that the Administration claimed had come from Iran. The Administration’s message was, in essence, that the bleak situation in Iraq was the result not of its own failures of planning and execution but of Iran’s interference.

The U.S. military also has arrested and interrogated hundreds of Iranians in Iraq. “The word went out last August for the military to snatch as many Iranians in Iraq as they can,” a former senior intelligence official said. “They had five hundred locked up at one time. We’re working these guys and getting information from them. The White House goal is to build a case that the Iranians have been fomenting the insurgency and they’ve been doing it all along—that Iran is, in fact, supporting the killing of Americans.” The Pentagon consultant confirmed that hundreds of Iranians have been captured by American forces in recent months. But he told me that that total includes many Iranian humanitarian and aid workers who “get scooped up and released in a short time,” after they have been interrogated.

“We are not planning for a war with Iran,” Robert Gates, the new Defense Secretary, announced on February 2nd, and yet the atmosphere of confrontation has deepened. According to current and former American intelligence and military officials, secret operations in Lebanon have been accompanied by clandestine operations targeting Iran. American military and special-operations teams have escalated their activities in Iran to gather intelligence and, according to a Pentagon consultant on terrorism and the former senior intelligence official, have also crossed the border in pursuit of Iranian operatives from Iraq.

At Rice’s Senate appearance in January, Democratic Senator Joseph Biden, of Delaware, pointedly asked her whether the U.S. planned to cross the Iranian or the Syrian border in the course of a pursuit. “Obviously, the President isn’t going to rule anything out to protect our troops, but the plan is to take down these networks in Iraq,” Rice said, adding, “I do think that everyone will understand that—the American people and I assume the Congress expect the President to do what is necessary to protect our forces.”

The ambiguity of Rice’s reply prompted a response from Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel, a Republican, who has been critical of the Administration:

Some of us remember 1970, Madam Secretary. And that was Cambodia. And when our government lied to the American people and said, “We didn’t cross the border going into Cambodia,” in fact we did.
I happen to know something about that, as do some on this committee. So, Madam Secretary, when you set in motion the kind of policy that the President is talking about here, it’s very, very dangerous.

The Administration’s concern about Iran’s role in Iraq is coupled with its long-standing alarm over Iran’s nuclear program. On Fox News on January 14th, Cheney warned of the possibility, in a few years, “of a nuclear-armed Iran, astride the world’s supply of oil, able to affect adversely the global economy, prepared to use terrorist organizations and/or their nuclear weapons to threaten their neighbors and others around the world.” He also said, “If you go and talk with the Gulf states or if you talk with the Saudis or if you talk with the Israelis or the Jordanians, the entire region is worried. . . . The threat Iran represents is growing.”

The Administration is now examining a wave of new intelligence on Iran’s weapons programs. Current and former American officials told me that the intelligence, which came from Israeli agents operating in Iran, includes a claim that Iran has developed a three-stage solid-fuelled intercontinental missile capable of delivering several small warheads—each with limited accuracy—inside Europe. The validity of this human intelligence is still being debated.

A similar argument about an imminent threat posed by weapons of mass destruction—and questions about the intelligence used to make that case—formed the prelude to the invasion of Iraq. Many in Congress have greeted the claims about Iran with wariness; in the Senate on February 14th, Hillary Clinton said, “We have all learned lessons from the conflict in Iraq, and we have to apply those lessons to any allegations that are being raised about Iran. Because, Mr. President, what we are hearing has too familiar a ring and we must be on guard that we never again make decisions on the basis of intelligence that turns out to be faulty.”

Still, the Pentagon is continuing intensive planning for a possible bombing attack on Iran, a process that began last year, at the direction of the President. In recent months, the former intelligence official told me, a special planning group has been established in the offices of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, charged with creating a contingency bombing plan for Iran that can be implemented, upon orders from the President, within twenty-four hours.

In the past month, I was told by an Air Force adviser on targeting and the Pentagon consultant on terrorism, the Iran planning group has been handed a new assignment: to identify targets in Iran that may be involved in supplying or aiding militants in Iraq. Previously, the focus had been on the destruction of Iran’s nuclear facilities and possible regime change.

Two carrier strike groups—the Eisenhower and the Stennis—are now in the Arabian Sea. One plan is for them to be relieved early in the spring, but there is worry within the military that they may be ordered to stay in the area after the new carriers arrive, according to several sources. (Among other concerns, war games have shown that the carriers could be vulnerable to swarming tactics involving large numbers of small boats, a technique that the Iranians have practiced in the past; carriers have limited maneuverability in the narrow Strait of Hormuz, off Iran’s southern coast.) The former senior intelligence official said that the current contingency plans allow for an attack order this spring. He added, however, that senior officers on the Joint Chiefs were counting on the White House’s not being “foolish enough to do this in the face of Iraq, and the problems it would give the Republicans in 2008.”


The Administration’s effort to diminish Iranian authority in the Middle East has relied heavily on Saudi Arabia and on Prince Bandar, the Saudi national-security adviser. Bandar served as the Ambassador to the United States for twenty-two years, until 2005, and has maintained a friendship with President Bush and Vice-President Cheney. In his new post, he continues to meet privately with them. Senior White House officials have made several visits to Saudi Arabia recently, some of them not disclosed.

Last November, Cheney flew to Saudi Arabia for a surprise meeting with King Abdullah and Bandar. The Times reported that the King warned Cheney that Saudi Arabia would back its fellow-Sunnis in Iraq if the United States were to withdraw. A European intelligence official told me that the meeting also focussed on more general Saudi fears about “the rise of the Shiites.” In response, “The Saudis are starting to use their leverage—money.”

In a royal family rife with competition, Bandar has, over the years, built a power base that relies largely on his close relationship with the U.S., which is crucial to the Saudis. Bandar was succeeded as Ambassador by Prince Turki al-Faisal; Turki resigned after eighteen months and was replaced by Adel A. al-Jubeir, a bureaucrat who has worked with Bandar. A former Saudi diplomat told me that during Turki’s tenure he became aware of private meetings involving Bandar and senior White House officials, including Cheney and Abrams. “I assume Turki was not happy with that,” the Saudi said. But, he added, “I don’t think that Bandar is going off on his own.” Although Turki dislikes Bandar, the Saudi said, he shared his goal of challenging the spread of Shiite power in the Middle East.

The split between Shiites and Sunnis goes back to a bitter divide, in the seventh century, over who should succeed the Prophet Muhammad. Sunnis dominated the medieval caliphate and the Ottoman Empire, and Shiites, traditionally, have been regarded more as outsiders. Worldwide, ninety per cent of Muslims are Sunni, but Shiites are a majority in Iran, Iraq, and Bahrain, and are the largest Muslim group in Lebanon. Their concentration in a volatile, oil-rich region has led to concern in the West and among Sunnis about the emergence of a “Shiite crescent”—especially given Iran’s increased geopolitical weight.

“The Saudis still see the world through the days of the Ottoman Empire, when Sunni Muslims ruled the roost and the Shiites were the lowest class,” Frederic Hof, a retired military officer who is an expert on the Middle East, told me. If Bandar was seen as bringing about a shift in U.S. policy in favor of the Sunnis, he added, it would greatly enhance his standing within the royal family.

The Saudis are driven by their fear that Iran could tilt the balance of power not only in the region but within their own country. Saudi Arabia has a significant Shiite minority in its Eastern Province, a region of major oil fields; sectarian tensions are high in the province. The royal family believes that Iranian operatives, working with local Shiites, have been behind many terrorist attacks inside the kingdom, according to Vali Nasr. “Today, the only army capable of containing Iran”—the Iraqi Army—“has been destroyed by the United States. You’re now dealing with an Iran that could be nuclear-capable and has a standing army of four hundred and fifty thousand soldiers.” (Saudi Arabia has seventy-five thousand troops in its standing army.)

Nasr went on, “The Saudis have considerable financial means, and have deep relations with the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis”—Sunni extremists who view Shiites as apostates. “The last time Iran was a threat, the Saudis were able to mobilize the worst kinds of Islamic radicals. Once you get them out of the box, you can’t put them back.”

The Saudi royal family has been, by turns, both a sponsor and a target of Sunni extremists, who object to the corruption and decadence among the family’s myriad princes. The princes are gambling that they will not be overthrown as long as they continue to support religious schools and charities linked to the extremists. The Administration’s new strategy is heavily dependent on this bargain.

Nasr compared the current situation to the period in which Al Qaeda first emerged. In the nineteen-eighties and the early nineties, the Saudi government offered to subsidize the covert American C.I.A. proxy war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Hundreds of young Saudis were sent into the border areas of Pakistan, where they set up religious schools, training bases, and recruiting facilities. Then, as now, many of the operatives who were paid with Saudi money were Salafis. Among them, of course, were Osama bin Laden and his associates, who founded Al Qaeda, in 1988.

This time, the U.S. government consultant told me, Bandar and other Saudis have assured the White House that “they will keep a very close eye on the religious fundamentalists. Their message to us was ‘We’ve created this movement, and we can control it.’ It’s not that we don’t want the Salafis to throw bombs; it’s who they throw them at—Hezbollah, Moqtada al-Sadr, Iran, and at the Syrians, if they continue to work with Hezbollah and Iran.”

The Saudi said that, in his country’s view, it was taking a political risk by joining the U.S. in challenging Iran: Bandar is already seen in the Arab world as being too close to the Bush Administration. “We have two nightmares,” the former diplomat told me. “For Iran to acquire the bomb and for the United States to attack Iran. I’d rather the Israelis bomb the Iranians, so we can blame them. If America does it, we will be blamed.”

In the past year, the Saudis, the Israelis, and the Bush Administration have developed a series of informal understandings about their new strategic direction. At least four main elements were involved, the U.S. government consultant told me. First, Israel would be assured that its security was paramount and that Washington and Saudi Arabia and other Sunni states shared its concern about Iran.

Second, the Saudis would urge Hamas, the Islamist Palestinian party that has received support from Iran, to curtail its anti-Israeli aggression and to begin serious talks about sharing leadership with Fatah, the more secular Palestinian group. (In February, the Saudis brokered a deal at Mecca between the two factions. However, Israel and the U.S. have expressed dissatisfaction with the terms.)

The third component was that the Bush Administration would work directly with Sunni nations to counteract Shiite ascendance in the region.

Fourth, the Saudi government, with Washington’s approval, would provide funds and logistical aid to weaken the government of President Bashir Assad, of Syria. The Israelis believe that putting such pressure on the Assad government will make it more conciliatory and open to negotiations. Syria is a major conduit of arms to Hezbollah. The Saudi government is also at odds with the Syrians over the assassination of Rafik Hariri, the former Lebanese Prime Minister, in Beirut in 2005, for which it believes the Assad government was responsible. Hariri, a billionaire Sunni, was closely associated with the Saudi regime and with Prince Bandar. (A U.N. inquiry strongly suggested that the Syrians were involved, but offered no direct evidence; there are plans for another investigation, by an international tribunal.)

Patrick Clawson, of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, depicted the Saudis’ coöperation with the White House as a significant breakthrough. “The Saudis understand that if they want the Administration to make a more generous political offer to the Palestinians they have to persuade the Arab states to make a more generous offer to the Israelis,” Clawson told me. The new diplomatic approach, he added, “shows a real degree of effort and sophistication as well as a deftness of touch not always associated with this Administration. Who’s running the greater risk—we or the Saudis? At a time when America’s standing in the Middle East is extremely low, the Saudis are actually embracing us. We should count our blessings.”

The Pentagon consultant had a different view. He said that the Administration had turned to Bandar as a “fallback,” because it had realized that the failing war in Iraq could leave the Middle East “up for grabs.”


The focus of the U.S.-Saudi relationship, after Iran, is Lebanon, where the Saudis have been deeply involved in efforts by the Administration to support the Lebanese government. Prime Minister Fouad Siniora is struggling to stay in power against a persistent opposition led by Hezbollah, the Shiite organization, and its leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah. Hezbollah has an extensive infrastructure, an estimated two to three thousand active fighters, and thousands of additional members.

Hezbollah has been on the State Department’s terrorist list since 1997. The organization has been implicated in the 1983 bombing of a Marine barracks in Beirut that killed two hundred and forty-one military men. It has also been accused of complicity in the kidnapping of Americans, including the C.I.A. station chief in Lebanon, who died in captivity, and a Marine colonel serving on a U.N. peacekeeping mission, who was killed. (Nasrallah has denied that the group was involved in these incidents.) Nasrallah is seen by many as a staunch terrorist, who has said that he regards Israel as a state that has no right to exist. Many in the Arab world, however, especially Shiites, view him as a resistance leader who withstood Israel in last summer’s thirty-three-day war, and Siniora as a weak politician who relies on America’s support but was unable to persuade President Bush to call for an end to the Israeli bombing of Lebanon. (Photographs of Siniora kissing Condoleezza Rice on the cheek when she visited during the war were prominently displayed during street protests in Beirut.)

The Bush Administration has publicly pledged the Siniora government a billion dollars in aid since last summer. A donors’ conference in Paris, in January, which the U.S. helped organize, yielded pledges of almost eight billion more, including a promise of more than a billion from the Saudis. The American pledge includes more than two hundred million dollars in military aid, and forty million dollars for internal security.

The United States has also given clandestine support to the Siniora government, according to the former senior intelligence official and the U.S. government consultant. “We are in a program to enhance the Sunni capability to resist Shiite influence, and we’re spreading the money around as much as we can,” the former senior intelligence official said. The problem was that such money “always gets in more pockets than you think it will,” he said. “In this process, we’re financing a lot of bad guys with some serious potential unintended consequences. We don’t have the ability to determine and get pay vouchers signed by the people we like and avoid the people we don’t like. It’s a very high-risk venture.”

American, European, and Arab officials I spoke to told me that the Siniora government and its allies had allowed some aid to end up in the hands of emerging Sunni radical groups in northern Lebanon, the Bekaa Valley, and around Palestinian refugee camps in the south. These groups, though small, are seen as a buffer to Hezbollah; at the same time, their ideological ties are with Al Qaeda.

During a conversation with me, the former Saudi diplomat accused Nasrallah of attempting “to hijack the state,” but he also objected to the Lebanese and Saudi sponsorship of Sunni jihadists in Lebanon. “Salafis are sick and hateful, and I’m very much against the idea of flirting with them,” he said. “They hate the Shiites, but they hate Americans more. If you try to outsmart them, they will outsmart us. It will be ugly.”

Alastair Crooke, who spent nearly thirty years in MI6, the British intelligence service, and now works for Conflicts Forum, a think tank in Beirut, told me, “The Lebanese government is opening space for these people to come in. It could be very dangerous.” Crooke said that one Sunni extremist group, Fatah al-Islam, had splintered from its pro-Syrian parent group, Fatah al-Intifada, in the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp, in northern Lebanon. Its membership at the time was less than two hundred. “I was told that within twenty-four hours they were being offered weapons and money by people presenting themselves as representatives of the Lebanese government’s interests—presumably to take on Hezbollah,” Crooke said.

The largest of the groups, Asbat al-Ansar, is situated in the Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp. Asbat al-Ansar has received arms and supplies from Lebanese internal-security forces and militias associated with the Siniora government.

In 2005, according to a report by the U.S.-based International Crisis Group, Saad Hariri, the Sunni majority leader of the Lebanese parliament and the son of the slain former Prime Minister—Saad inherited more than four billion dollars after his father’s assassination—paid forty-eight thousand dollars in bail for four members of an Islamic militant group from Dinniyeh. The men had been arrested while trying to establish an Islamic mini-state in northern Lebanon. The Crisis Group noted that many of the militants “had trained in al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan.”

According to the Crisis Group report, Saad Hariri later used his parliamentary majority to obtain amnesty for twenty-two of the Dinniyeh Islamists, as well as for seven militants suspected of plotting to bomb the Italian and Ukrainian embassies in Beirut, the previous year. (He also arranged a pardon for Samir Geagea, a Maronite Christian militia leader, who had been convicted of four political murders, including the assassination, in 1987, of Prime Minister Rashid Karami.) Hariri described his actions to reporters as humanitarian.

In an interview in Beirut, a senior official in the Siniora government acknowledged that there were Sunni jihadists operating inside Lebanon. “We have a liberal attitude that allows Al Qaeda types to have a presence here,” he said. He related this to concerns that Iran or Syria might decide to turn Lebanon into a “theatre of conflict.”

The official said that his government was in a no-win situation. Without a political settlement with Hezbollah, he said, Lebanon could “slide into a conflict,” in which Hezbollah fought openly with Sunni forces, with potentially horrific consequences. But if Hezbollah agreed to a settlement yet still maintained a separate army, allied with Iran and Syria, “Lebanon could become a target. In both cases, we become a target.”

The Bush Administration has portrayed its support of the Siniora government as an example of the President’s belief in democracy, and his desire to prevent other powers from interfering in Lebanon. When Hezbollah led street demonstrations in Beirut in December, John Bolton, who was then the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., called them “part of the Iran-Syria-inspired coup.”

Leslie H. Gelb, a past president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said that the Administration’s policy was less pro democracy than “pro American national security. The fact is that it would be terribly dangerous if Hezbollah ran Lebanon.” The fall of the Siniora government would be seen, Gelb said, “as a signal in the Middle East of the decline of the United States and the ascendancy of the terrorism threat. And so any change in the distribution of political power in Lebanon has to be opposed by the United States—and we’re justified in helping any non-Shiite parties resist that change. We should say this publicly, instead of talking about democracy.”

Martin Indyk, of the Saban Center, said, however, that the United States “does not have enough pull to stop the moderates in Lebanon from dealing with the extremists.” He added, “The President sees the region as divided between moderates and extremists, but our regional friends see it as divided between Sunnis and Shia. The Sunnis that we view as extremists are regarded by our Sunni allies simply as Sunnis.”

In January, after an outburst of street violence in Beirut involving supporters of both the Siniora government and Hezbollah, Prince Bandar flew to Tehran to discuss the political impasse in Lebanon and to meet with Ali Larijani, the Iranians’ negotiator on nuclear issues. According to a Middle Eastern ambassador, Bandar’s mission—which the ambassador said was endorsed by the White House—also aimed “to create problems between the Iranians and Syria.” There had been tensions between the two countries about Syrian talks with Israel, and the Saudis’ goal was to encourage a breach. However, the ambassador said, “It did not work. Syria and Iran are not going to betray each other. Bandar’s approach is very unlikely to succeed.”

Walid Jumblatt, who is the leader of the Druze minority in Lebanon and a strong Siniora supporter, has attacked Nasrallah as an agent of Syria, and has repeatedly told foreign journalists that Hezbollah is under the direct control of the religious leadership in Iran. In a conversation with me last December, he depicted Bashir Assad, the Syrian President, as a “serial killer.” Nasrallah, he said, was “morally guilty” of the assassination of Rafik Hariri and the murder, last November, of Pierre Gemayel, a member of the Siniora Cabinet, because of his support for the Syrians.

Jumblatt then told me that he had met with Vice-President Cheney in Washington last fall to discuss, among other issues, the possibility of undermining Assad. He and his colleagues advised Cheney that, if the United States does try to move against Syria, members of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood would be “the ones to talk to,” Jumblatt said.

The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, a branch of a radical Sunni movement founded in Egypt in 1928, engaged in more than a decade of violent opposition to the regime of Hafez Assad, Bashir’s father. In 1982, the Brotherhood took control of the city of Hama; Assad bombarded the city for a week, killing between six thousand and twenty thousand people. Membership in the Brotherhood is punishable by death in Syria. The Brotherhood is also an avowed enemy of the U.S. and of Israel. Nevertheless, Jumblatt said, “We told Cheney that the basic link between Iran and Lebanon is Syria—and to weaken Iran you need to open the door to effective Syrian opposition.”

There is evidence that the Administration’s redirection strategy has already benefitted the Brotherhood. The Syrian National Salvation Front is a coalition of opposition groups whose principal members are a faction led by Abdul Halim Khaddam, a former Syrian Vice-President who defected in 2005, and the Brotherhood. A former high-ranking C.I.A. officer told me, “The Americans have provided both political and financial support. The Saudis are taking the lead with financial support, but there is American involvement.” He said that Khaddam, who now lives in Paris, was getting money from Saudi Arabia, with the knowledge of the White House. (In 2005, a delegation of the Front’s members met with officials from the National Security Council, according to press reports.) A former White House official told me that the Saudis had provided members of the Front with travel documents.

Jumblatt said he understood that the issue was a sensitive one for the White House. “I told Cheney that some people in the Arab world, mainly the Egyptians”—whose moderate Sunni leadership has been fighting the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood for decades—“won’t like it if the United States helps the Brotherhood. But if you don’t take on Syria we will be face to face in Lebanon with Hezbollah in a long fight, and one we might not win.”


On a warm, clear night early last December, in a bombed-out suburb a few miles south of downtown Beirut, I got a preview of how the Administration’s new strategy might play out in Lebanon. Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader, who has been in hiding, had agreed to an interview. Security arrangements for the meeting were secretive and elaborate. I was driven, in the back seat of a darkened car, to a damaged underground garage somewhere in Beirut, searched with a handheld scanner, placed in a second car to be driven to yet another bomb-scarred underground garage, and transferred again. Last summer, it was reported that Israel was trying to kill Nasrallah, but the extraordinary precautions were not due only to that threat. Nasrallah’s aides told me that they believe he is a prime target of fellow-Arabs, primarily Jordanian intelligence operatives, as well as Sunni jihadists who they believe are affiliated with Al Qaeda. (The government consultant and a retired four-star general said that Jordanian intelligence, with support from the U.S. and Israel, had been trying to infiltrate Shiite groups, to work against Hezbollah. Jordan’s King Abdullah II has warned that a Shiite government in Iraq that was close to Iran would lead to the emergence of a Shiite crescent.) This is something of an ironic turn: Nasrallah’s battle with Israel last summer turned him—a Shiite—into the most popular and influential figure among Sunnis and Shiites throughout the region. In recent months, however, he has increasingly been seen by many Sunnis not as a symbol of Arab unity but as a participant in a sectarian war.

Nasrallah, dressed, as usual, in religious garb, was waiting for me in an unremarkable apartment. One of his advisers said that he was not likely to remain there overnight; he has been on the move since his decision, last July, to order the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid set off the thirty-three-day war. Nasrallah has since said publicly—and repeated to me—that he misjudged the Israeli response. “We just wanted to capture prisoners for exchange purposes,” he told me. “We never wanted to drag the region into war.”

Nasrallah accused the Bush Administration of working with Israel to deliberately instigate fitna, an Arabic word that is used to mean “insurrection and fragmentation within Islam.” “In my opinion, there is a huge campaign through the media throughout the world to put each side up against the other,” he said. “I believe that all this is being run by American and Israeli intelligence.” (He did not provide any specific evidence for this.) He said that the U.S. war in Iraq had increased sectarian tensions, but argued that Hezbollah had tried to prevent them from spreading into Lebanon. (Sunni-Shiite confrontations increased, along with violence, in the weeks after we talked.)

Nasrallah said he believed that President Bush’s goal was “the drawing of a new map for the region. They want the partition of Iraq. Iraq is not on the edge of a civil war—there is a civil war. There is ethnic and sectarian cleansing. The daily killing and displacement which is taking place in Iraq aims at achieving three Iraqi parts, which will be sectarian and ethnically pure as a prelude to the partition of Iraq. Within one or two years at the most, there will be total Sunni areas, total Shiite areas, and total Kurdish areas. Even in Baghdad, there is a fear that it might be divided into two areas, one Sunni and one Shiite.”

He went on, “I can say that President Bush is lying when he says he does not want Iraq to be partitioned. All the facts occurring now on the ground make you swear he is dragging Iraq to partition. And a day will come when he will say, ‘I cannot do anything, since the Iraqis want the partition of their country and I honor the wishes of the people of Iraq.’ ”

Nasrallah said he believed that America also wanted to bring about the partition of Lebanon and of Syria. In Syria, he said, the result would be to push the country “into chaos and internal battles like in Iraq.” In Lebanon, “There will be a Sunni state, an Alawi state, a Christian state, and a Druze state.” But, he said, “I do not know if there will be a Shiite state.” Nasrallah told me that he suspected that one aim of the Israeli bombing of Lebanon last summer was “the destruction of Shiite areas and the displacement of Shiites from Lebanon. The idea was to have the Shiites of Lebanon and Syria flee to southern Iraq,” which is dominated by Shiites. “I am not sure, but I smell this,” he told me.

Partition would leave Israel surrounded by “small tranquil states,” he said. “I can assure you that the Saudi kingdom will also be divided, and the issue will reach to North African states. There will be small ethnic and confessional states,” he said. “In other words, Israel will be the most important and the strongest state in a region that has been partitioned into ethnic and confessional states that are in agreement with each other. This is the new Middle East.”

In fact, the Bush Administration has adamantly resisted talk of partitioning Iraq, and its public stances suggest that the White House sees a future Lebanon that is intact, with a weak, disarmed Hezbollah playing, at most, a minor political role. There is also no evidence to support Nasrallah’s belief that the Israelis were seeking to drive the Shiites into southern Iraq. Nevertheless, Nasrallah’s vision of a larger sectarian conflict in which the United States is implicated suggests a possible consequence of the White House’s new strategy.

In the interview, Nasrallah made mollifying gestures and promises that would likely be met with skepticism by his opponents. “If the United States says that discussions with the likes of us can be useful and influential in determining American policy in the region, we have no objection to talks or meetings,” he said. “But, if their aim through this meeting is to impose their policy on us, it will be a waste of time.” He said that the Hezbollah militia, unless attacked, would operate only within the borders of Lebanon, and pledged to disarm it when the Lebanese Army was able to stand up. Nasrallah said that he had no interest in initiating another war with Israel. However, he added that he was anticipating, and preparing for, another Israeli attack, later this year.

Nasrallah further insisted that the street demonstrations in Beirut would continue until the Siniora government fell or met his coalition’s political demands. “Practically speaking, this government cannot rule,” he told me. “It might issue orders, but the majority of the Lebanese people will not abide and will not recognize the legitimacy of this government. Siniora remains in office because of international support, but this does not mean that Siniora can rule Lebanon.”

President Bush’s repeated praise of the Siniora government, Nasrallah said, “is the best service to the Lebanese opposition he can give, because it weakens their position vis-à-vis the Lebanese people and the Arab and Islamic populations. They are betting on us getting tired. We did not get tired during the war, so how could we get tired in a demonstration?”

There is sharp division inside and outside the Bush Administration about how best to deal with Nasrallah, and whether he could, in fact, be a partner in a political settlement. The outgoing director of National Intelligence, John Negroponte, in a farewell briefing to the Senate Intelligence Committee, in January, said that Hezbollah “lies at the center of Iran’s terrorist strategy. . . . It could decide to conduct attacks against U.S. interests in the event it feels its survival or that of Iran is threatened. . . . Lebanese Hezbollah sees itself as Tehran’s partner.”

In 2002, Richard Armitage, then the Deputy Secretary of State, called Hezbollah “the A-team” of terrorists. In a recent interview, however, Armitage acknowledged that the issue has become somewhat more complicated. Nasrallah, Armitage told me, has emerged as “a political force of some note, with a political role to play inside Lebanon if he chooses to do so.” In terms of public relations and political gamesmanship, Armitage said, Nasrallah “is the smartest man in the Middle East.” But, he added, Nasrallah “has got to make it clear that he wants to play an appropriate role as the loyal opposition. For me, there’s still a blood debt to pay”—a reference to the murdered colonel and the Marine barracks bombing.

Robert Baer, a former longtime C.I.A. agent in Lebanon, has been a severe critic of Hezbollah and has warned of its links to Iranian-sponsored terrorism. But now, he told me, “we’ve got Sunni Arabs preparing for cataclysmic conflict, and we will need somebody to protect the Christians in Lebanon. It used to be the French and the United States who would do it, and now it’s going to be Nasrallah and the Shiites.

“The most important story in the Middle East is the growth of Nasrallah from a street guy to a leader—from a terrorist to a statesman,” Baer added. “The dog that didn’t bark this summer”—during the war with Israel—“is Shiite terrorism.” Baer was referring to fears that Nasrallah, in addition to firing rockets into Israel and kidnapping its soldiers, might set in motion a wave of terror attacks on Israeli and American targets around the world. “He could have pulled the trigger, but he did not,” Baer said.

Most members of the intelligence and diplomatic communities acknowledge Hezbollah’s ongoing ties to Iran. But there is disagreement about the extent to which Nasrallah would put aside Hezbollah’s interests in favor of Iran’s. A former C.I.A. officer who also served in Lebanon called Nasrallah “a Lebanese phenomenon,” adding, “Yes, he’s aided by Iran and Syria, but Hezbollah’s gone beyond that.” He told me that there was a period in the late eighties and early nineties when the C.I.A. station in Beirut was able to clandestinely monitor Nasrallah’s conversations. He described Nasrallah as “a gang leader who was able to make deals with the other gangs. He had contacts with everybody.”


The Bush Administration’s reliance on clandestine operations that have not been reported to Congress and its dealings with intermediaries with questionable agendas have recalled, for some in Washington, an earlier chapter in history. Two decades ago, the Reagan Administration attempted to fund the Nicaraguan contras illegally, with the help of secret arms sales to Iran. Saudi money was involved in what became known as the Iran-Contra scandal, and a few of the players back then—notably Prince Bandar and Elliott Abrams—are involved in today’s dealings.

Iran-Contra was the subject of an informal “lessons learned” discussion two years ago among veterans of the scandal. Abrams led the discussion. One conclusion was that even though the program was eventually exposed, it had been possible to execute it without telling Congress. As to what the experience taught them, in terms of future covert operations, the participants found: “One, you can’t trust our friends. Two, the C.I.A. has got to be totally out of it. Three, you can’t trust the uniformed military, and four, it’s got to be run out of the Vice-President’s office”—a reference to Cheney’s role, the former senior intelligence official said.

I was subsequently told by the two government consultants and the former senior intelligence official that the echoes of Iran-Contra were a factor in Negroponte’s decision to resign from the National Intelligence directorship and accept a sub-Cabinet position of Deputy Secretary of State. (Negroponte declined to comment.)

The former senior intelligence official also told me that Negroponte did not want a repeat of his experience in the Reagan Administration, when he served as Ambassador to Honduras. “Negroponte said, ‘No way. I’m not going down that road again, with the N.S.C. running operations off the books, with no finding.’ ” (In the case of covert C.I.A. operations, the President must issue a written finding and inform Congress.) Negroponte stayed on as Deputy Secretary of State, he added, because “he believes he can influence the government in a positive way.”

The government consultant said that Negroponte shared the White House’s policy goals but “wanted to do it by the book.” The Pentagon consultant also told me that “there was a sense at the senior-ranks level that he wasn’t fully on board with the more adventurous clandestine initiatives.” It was also true, he said, that Negroponte “had problems with this Rube Goldberg policy contraption for fixing the Middle East.”

The Pentagon consultant added that one difficulty, in terms of oversight, was accounting for covert funds. “There are many, many pots of black money, scattered in many places and used all over the world on a variety of missions,” he said. The budgetary chaos in Iraq, where billions of dollars are unaccounted for, has made it a vehicle for such transactions, according to the former senior intelligence official and the retired four-star general.

“This goes back to Iran-Contra,” a former National Security Council aide told me. “And much of what they’re doing is to keep the agency out of it.” He said that Congress was not being briefed on the full extent of the U.S.-Saudi operations. And, he said, “The C.I.A. is asking, ‘What’s going on?’ They’re concerned, because they think it’s amateur hour.”

The issue of oversight is beginning to get more attention from Congress. Last November, the Congressional Research Service issued a report for Congress on what it depicted as the Administration’s blurring of the line between C.I.A. activities and strictly military ones, which do not have the same reporting requirements. And the Senate Intelligence Committee, headed by Senator Jay Rockefeller, has scheduled a hearing for March 8th on Defense Department intelligence activities.

Senator Ron Wyden, of Oregon, a Democrat who is a member of the Intelligence Committee, told me, “The Bush Administration has frequently failed to meet its legal obligation to keep the Intelligence Committee fully and currently informed. Time and again, the answer has been ‘Trust us.’ ” Wyden said, “It is hard for me to trust the Administration.” Link

db: This needs reading a few times to fully grasp the magnitude of Hersh's [always] well sourced allegations. I haven't seen the TV but I guess this piece hasn't been top of the news all week - which it should be. The US are up to old tricks, the corrupt Saudis are too. More blood will spill between Shiite and Sunni if they have their way. It's worth viewing this video - interview with Hersh.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

US spends 41% tax budget on War, folks stay stupid, no medical - military career calls

"War is a way of shattering to pieces, or pouring into the stratosphere, or sinking in the depths of the sea, materials which might otherwise be used to make the masses too comfortable, and hence, in the long run, too intelligent."
George Orwell

(In millions of dollars)

2006 Percent
(Of federal funds budget)

Current Military Spending



Cost of Past Wars



Total Percent


Interest on Non-Military Share of Federal Debt



Health Research & Services



Responses to Poverty



General Government



Community & Economic Development



Social Programs



Science, Energy, & Environment



Non-Military International Programs




Iraq: You bomb people, they hate you

Juan Cole

Late Saturday, the US Air Force launched a series of bombing raids on southeast Baghdad. This is absolutely shameful, that the US is bombing from the air a civilian city that it militarily occupies. You can't possibly do that without killing innocent civilians, as at Ramadi the other day. It is a war crime. US citizens should protest and write their congressional representatives. It is also the worst possible counter-insurgency tactic anyone could ever have imagined. You bomb people, they hate you. The bombing appears to have knocked out what little electricity some parts of Baghdad were still getting. Link

SECRET: 2,000 zombie suicide bombers line up for UK blitz

The terrorist threat facing Britain from home-grown al-Qaeda agents is higher than at any time since the September 11 attacks in 2001, Secret intelligence documents reveal.

The number of British-based Islamic terrorists plotting suicide attacks against "soft" targets in this country is far greater than the Security Services had previously believed, the government paperwork discloses. It is thought the plotters could number more than 2,000.

... Entitled Extremist Threat Assessment, the document, which was drawn up this month, also discloses that Afghanistan, where more than 7,000 British troops will be based by the end of May, is expected to supersede Iraq as the location for terrorists planning Jihad against the West. Link

db: So, Afghanistan is gonna become the new global centre for the planning of terrorist atrocities against 'the west' [may exclude Sweden, Finland, Ireland etc etc]. No wonder Tony Blair is dispatching more troops to kill brown skinned people over there. You gotta ask, how come our stupid NATO allies don't see this? How come it's only the Bush-poodle-bitch who is able to calculate that further British death in Afghanistan is 'worth it'?

It's lucky this SECRET report has been made public. That's despite the fact that it is SECRET and was distributed to a LIMITED group of people: across Whitehall to MI5, Scotland Yard's Counter Terrorist Command, the Home Office, the Cabinet Office and the Ministry of Defence.

Robert Fisk: 27 July 1880. A date Mr Blair should look up

Out of the frying pan, into the historical fire. If only our leaders read history. In 1915, the British swept up from Basra, believing that the Iraqis would reward them with flowers and love, only to find themselves surrounded at Kut al-Amara, cut down by Turkish shellfire and cholera. Now we are reinforcing Nato in that tomb of the British Army, Afghanistan.

Hands up any soldiers who know that another of Britain's great military defeats took place in the very sands in which your colleagues are now fighting the Taliban. Yes, the Battle of Maiwand - on 27 July, 1880 - destroyed an entire British brigade, overrun by thousands of armed Afghan tribesmen, some of whom the official enquiry into the disaster would later describe as "Talibs". The Brits had been trying to secure Helmand province. Sound familiar? Read more

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Iraq: British troops die pointlessly

Revealed: The true extent of Britain's failure in Iraq by Patrick Cockburn

The partial British military withdrawal from southern Iraq announced by Tony Blair this week follows political and military failure, and is not because of any improvement in local security, say specialists on Iraq.

In a comment entitled "The British Defeat in Iraq" the pre-eminent American analyst on Iraq, Anthony Cordesman of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, in Washington, asserts that British forces lost control of the situation in and around Basra by the second half of Mr Cordesman says that while the British won some tactical clashes in Basra and Maysan province in 2004, that "did not stop Islamists from taking more local political power and controlling security at the neighbourhood level when British troops were not present". As a result, southern Iraq has, in effect, long been under the control of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Sciri) and the so-called "Sadrist" factions.

Mr Blair said for three years Britain had worked to create, train and equip Iraqi Security Forces capable of taking on the security of the country themselves. But Mr Cordesman concludes: "The Iraqi forces that Britain helped create in the area were little more than an extension of Shia Islamist control by other means."

The British control of southern Iraq was precarious from the beginning. Its forces had neither experience of the areas in which they were operating nor reliable local allies. Like the Americans in Baghdad, they failed to stop the mass looting of Basra on the fall of Saddam Hussein and never established law and order.

American and British officials never appeared to take on board the unpopularity of the occupation among Shia as well as Sunni Iraqis. Mr Blair even denies that the occupation was unpopular or a cause of armed resistance. But from the fall of Saddam Hussein, mounting anger against it provided an environment in which bigoted Sunni insurgents and often criminal Shia militias could flourish.

The British forces had a lesson in the dangers of provoking the heavily armed local population when six British military police were killed in Majar al-Kabir on 24 June 2003. During the uprising of Mehdi Army militia of Muqtada al-Sadr in 2004, British units were victorious in several bloody clashes in Amara, the capital of Maysan province.

But in the elections in January 2005, lauded by Mr Blair this week, Sciri became the largest party in Basra followed by Fadhila, followers of the Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr, the father of Muqtada al-Sadr. The latter's supporters became the largest party in Maysan.

Mr Cordesman says the British suffered political defeat in the provincial elections of 2005, and lost at the military level in autumn of the same year when increased attacks meant they they could operate only through armoured patrols. Much-lauded military operations, such as "Corrode" in May 2006, did not alter the balance of forces.

Mr Cordesman's gloomy conclusions about British defeat are confirmed by a study called "The Calm before the Storm: The British Experience in Southern Iraq" by Michael Knights and Ed Williams, published by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Comparing the original British ambitions with present reality the paper concludes that "instead of a stable, united, law-abiding region with a representative government and police primacy, the deep south is unstable, factionalised, lawless, ruled as a kleptocracy and subject to militia primacy".

Local militias are often not only out of control of the Iraqi government, but of their supposed leaders in Baghdad. The big money earner for local factions is the diversion of oil and oil products, with the profits a continual source of rivalry and a cause of armed clashes. Mr Knights and Mr Williams say that control in the south is with a "well-armed political-criminal Mafiosi [who] have locked both the central government and the people out of power".

Could the British Army have pursued a different strategy? It has been accused of caving in to the militias. But it had little alternative because of the lack of any powerful local support. The theme of President Bush and Mr Blair since the invasion has been that they are training Iraqi forces.

Police and army number 265,000, but the problem is not training or equipment but lack of loyalty to the central government. Vicious though the militias and insurgents usually are, they have a legitimacy in the eyes of Iraqis which the government's official forces lack. Periodic clean-ups like "Corrode" and "Sinbad" do not change this.

There is no doubt the deterioration in the situation is contrary to the rosy picture presented by Downing Street. Messrs Knights and Williams note: "By September 2006, British forces needed to deploy a convoy of Warrior armoured vehicles to ferry police trainers to a single police station and deliver a consignment of toys to a nearby hospital." Some British army positions were being hit by more mortar bombs than anywhere else in Iraq. There was continual friction with local political factions.

Why is the British Army still in south Iraq and what good does it do there? The suspicion grows that Mr Blair did not withdraw them because to do so would be too gross an admission of failure and of soldiers' lives uselessly lost. It would also have left the US embarrassingly bereft of allies. Reidar Visser, an expert on Basra, says after all the publicity about the British "soft" approach in Basra in 2003, local people began to notice that the soldiers were less and less in the streets and the militias were taking over. "This, in turn, created a situation where critics claim the sole remaining objective of the British forces in Iraq is to hold out and maintain a physical presence somewhere within the borders of the governorates in the south formally left under their control, while at the same minimising their own casualties.' Mr Visser said.

In other words, British soldiers have stayed and died in southern Iraq, and will continue to do so, because Mr Blair finds it too embarrassing to end what has become a symbolic presence and withdraw them. Link

The Calm before the Storm: The British Experience in Southern Iraq
Michaek Knights and Ed Williams

In May 2006, Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki declared a state of emergency in the country's southern Basra province. This status has been maintained ever since, amid spiraling violence and local political troubles. Why has southern Iraq seemingly deteriorated since 2003, when British coalition forces took on the task of bringing law, order, and, eventually, Iraqi self-rule to the area? And what can be done to change the situation on the ground?

In this Washington Institute Policy Focus, Michael Knights and Ed Williams diagnose the many problems afflicting southern Iraq, a key population center and the main source of revenue for the central government. Beginning with prewar realities and the immediate aftermath of the coalition invasion, they discuss the British military and civil plans for the region and how those plans have been challenged -- and often thwarted -- in the years since by rampant disorder, dangerous local political developments, well-organized Islamist movements, outside interference from countries like Iran, and the partisanship and weakness of government security forces. With promising new initiatives balanced against the sober reality of a British troop drawdown, the south's fortunes will have profound implications for the future of Iraq as a whole.

*Includes detailed map of southern Iraq.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Two Brit bases bombarded in 'succesful' Basra

Basra- Two British military bases in Basra were bombarded
with missiles in the past 24 hours, an Iraqi security source
said Thursday.
The two British bases, located in downtown Basra and in the city's
Shat al-Arab hotel, were bombed Wednesday night and early Thursday
morning, the source added.

Basra is located 550 kilometres south of Baghdad. No details of
causalities were immediately available.

The bombings come one day after British premier Tony Blair had
announced the withdrawal of 1,600 British soldiers over the next few
months and that troop levels could fall below 5,000 - from the
present 7,100 - by the end of the summer. Link

Well, I look at it and see it is actually an affirmation that there are parts of Iraq where things are going pretty well," Cheney told ABC News' Jonathan Karl.

"In fact, I talked to a friend just the other day who had driven to Baghdad down to Basra, seven hours, found the situation dramatically improved from a year or so ago, sort of validated the British view they had made progress in southern Iraq and that they can therefore reduce their force levels," -- Dick Cheney

US Precision guided amunitions - Yee-Ha!

U.S. troops battled insurgents in fierce fighting that killed at least 12 people in the volatile Sunni city of Ramadi, the military said Thursday. Iraqi authorities said the dead included women and children.

The six-hour firefight began after the U.S. troops were attacked by insurgents with small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades Wednesday evening in eastern Ramadi, said Marine spokesman 1st Lt. Shawn Mercer.

The fighting ended after "precision guided munitions'' damaged a number of buildings being used by the insurgents, he said. Twelve insurgents were killed and three were wounded, he said, adding that there were no civilian casualties.

However, Dr. Hafidh Ibrahim of the Ramadi Hospital said 26 people, including four women and children, were killed when three houses were damaged in the fighting.

Photographs made available to The Associated Press showed the bodies of two small boys wrapped in one blanket, one with a bloody face, the other ashen and with mud on his mouth, his hands crossed on his chest. Other photos showed four or five bodies covered by blankets, and several men pulling at a pile of rubble and concrete bricks outside, apparently the wreckage of one of the destroyed houses. Link


... most of the tip-offs about supposed secret weapons sites provided by the CIA and other US intelligence agencies have led to dead ends when investigated by IAEA inspectors, according to informed sources in Vienna.

"Most of it has turned out to be incorrect," a diplomat at the IAEA with detailed knowledge of the agency's investigations said.

"They gave us a paper with a list of sites. [The inspectors] did some follow-up, they went to some military sites, but there was no sign of [banned nuclear] activities.

"Now [the inspectors] don't go in blindly. Only if it passes a credibility test."

One particularly contentious issue was records of plans to build a nuclear warhead, which the CIA said it found on a stolen laptop computer supplied by an informant inside Iran.

In July 2005, US intelligence officials showed printed versions of the material to IAEA officials, who judged it to be sufficiently specific to confront Iran.

Tehran rejected the material as forged, and there are still reservations within the IAEA about its authenticity, according to officials with knowledge of the internal debate in the agency.

"First of all, if you have a clandestine programme, you don't put it on laptops which can walk away," one official said. "The data is all in English which may be reasonable for some of the technical matters, but at some point you'd have thought there would be at least some notes in Farsi ..." Link

Neo-Labour Sleaze: Top Blairite quizzed by cops again

TONY Blair's close aide Ruth Turner was questioned a second time yesterday by cops probing the cash for honours scandal.

The senior Downing Street official was re-interviewed when she answered police bail after her arrest last month on suspicion of perverting justice.

She was also questioned over allegations of breaching the Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act, before again being released on bail.

Scottish National Party MP Angus MacNeil, whose complaint last March sparked the investigation, said: "This is another dark day for Tony Blair and his administration.

"What would have seemed inconceivable a year ago, for the Specialist Crime Directorate to be interviewing those in Downing Street, is almost acceptable today. Blair's ship seems to be sinking and he is going to have to search for a life raft."

Miss Turner, 36, is known as the PM's "gatekeeper" and Mr Blair was furious when she was arrested in a dawn raid at her home in south London last month. He broke his silence over the lengthy investigation to leap to her defence, describing her as "a person of the highest integrity". Link

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Iraq: Mission impossible

Blair to Draw Down British Troops

Juan Cole

Tony Blair is taking 1600 troops out of Basra in the next few months and will aim to be down to only 3,000 or so (from 7,100 now) by the end of the year. Denmark is also going home.

This is a rout, there should be no mistake. The fractious Shiite militias and tribes of Iraq's South have made it impossible for the British to stay. They already left Sadr-controlled Maysan province, as well as sleepy Muthanna. They moved the British consulate to the airport because they couldn't protect it in Basra. They are taking mortar and rocket fire at their bases every night. Raiding militia HQs has not resulted in any permanent change in the situation. Basra is dominated by 4 paramilitaries, who are fighting turf wars with one another and with the Iraqi government over oil smuggling rights.

Blair is not leaving Basra because the British mission has been accomplished. He is leaving because he has concluded that it cannot be, and that if he tries any further it will completely sink the Labor Party, perhaps for decades to come. Link

"Well, I look at it and see it is actually an affirmation that there are parts of Iraq where things are going pretty well" Dick Cheney

Royal Marine killed in Afghanistan

A Royal Marine has been killed by a landmine in southern Afghanistan, the Ministry of Defence has said.

The marine, from 45 Commando, was taking part in a routine patrol in the Sangin District of Helmand province when the incident happened. Link

The latest casualty means the number of UK troops killed in Afghanistan since the conflict began is now 47

Iraq: Child-rapist killer tears

A U.S. soldier under court-martial at a Kentucky military base broke down in tears on Wednesday as he described how he and others planned the rape of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl, murdered along with her family.

... Once at the house, Green, the suspected ringleader, took the girl's mother, father and little sister into a bedroom, Cortez said, while he and Barker took the teenager, Abeer Qassim al-Janabi, to the living room. "She kept squirming and trying to keep her legs closed and saying stuff in Arabic," Cortez said. "During the time me and Barker were raping Abeer, I heard five or six gunshots that came from the bedroom. After Barker was done, Green came out of the bedroom and said that he had killed them all, that all of them were dead," Cortez said. "Green then placed himself between Abeer's legs to rape her," Cortez said, sniffing audibly. When Green was finished, he "stood up and shot Abeer in the head two or three times." The entire crime took about five minutes to carry out, he added. Cortez said the girl knew her parents and sister had been shot while she was being raped. He said she screamed and cried throughout the assault. Link

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Senlis Council

Aerial Bombings Deepen the Humanitarian Crisis of Local Population

Nobody knows exactly how many civilians have been killed by bombs dropped by the international community. Given that ‘official’ casualty figures vary widely from source to source, there is a clear need for a transparent and accurate method to keep track of the civilian deaths caused by the international community in Afghanistan. As well as being extremely varied, these official statistics are much lower than the figures cited by Afghan civilians in southern Afghanistan. The lack of reliable official sources for these important figures is playing directly into the hands of the Taliban. Anti-government elements are capitalising on the international community’s ambiguity on the subject. Local and official estimates of the number of Afghans killed and wounded in NATO’s air strikes differ widely. According to research carried out in southern Afghanistan on officially acknowledged civilian deaths-causing bombings, approximately 270 civilians have been killed and another 61 wounded. However, given the problems with accessing bomb sites in the region and the resulting paucity of data, it is likely that the real total is much higher. Locals have reported that in southern Afghanistan, between 2,000 and 3,000 civilians have been killed this year. This figure tallies with those in a recent report from Afghan Government’s Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board, as well as those of a prominent human rights group, which indicate that nearly 5,000 Afghans have been killed in ‘insurgency related violence’ this year, of which over 1,000 were civilians. According to NATO, aerial bombing of southern Afghanistan has resulted in approximately 3,000 Taliban and insurgents fatalities in 2006. Yet this ‘achievement’ has failed to impact positively on the wider conflict situation in the region and guarantee the security of ground troops. Instead, the international community has added a terrifying new dimension to the lives of Afghans in southern Afghanistan. By being given no other choice from its civilian leaders, NATO’s bombing of southern Afghanistan has significantly escalated the horror and terror of Afghans to the extent that suicide bombings are now seen by many as an acceptable form of retaliation. Despite widely publicised figures of Taliban casualties, the relevance of body count remains questionable, primarily because the distinction between civilian and Taliban insurgent casualties is often unclear. As the following diagram illustrates, the term ‘Taliban’ is now being used as a catch-all term for many other groups who would otherwise consider themselves and each other as ‘civilian’ groups.

Who is the Taliban?


Friday, February 16, 2007

"Death to American neoconservative policies, now"

In response to a question regarding the slogan of certain Iranian protesters, "Death to America," the Iranian president said, "There was no cause for anger as they are not addressed to the American nation but to the aggressive, unjust, warmongering and bullying U.S. policies."

Special Relationship: Court won't see "friendly fire" video

Footage of a friendly fire incident in which a British soldier died in Iraq will not be shown in open court at his inquest, the coroner investigating the death said today.

The Oxfordshire assistant deputy coroner, Andrew Walker, said he had made a "pragmatic" decision not to show the cockpit video, taken from one of two US A-10 planes that attacked a British convoy, killing Lance Corporal Matty Hull.

He added that the decision had been taken to ensure continued US cooperation with the inquest.

It comes despite the leaking of the tape to the Sun newspaper last week. The footage has since been shown repeatedly on television, and transcripts of the tape have been published.

The footage will instead be brought to the court by a ministry of defence official and shown in private to the coroner and Lance Corporal Hull's family.

"I can say quite categorically that if it were not for the potential delay and distress this would cause the family, I would not be willing to be bound by an agreement with the US as to use of evidence that I consider crucial to this inquest," Mr Walker told the pre-inquest hearing prior to the full inquest, which begins on March 12.

"I would be wrong to accept that the US are correct in seeking to bind the hands of the coroners' court in this way.

"But in these circumstances I feel that, in order to make progress and provide the family with closure, it seems to me that I must act in this way as far as the copy of that video is concerned." Link

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

UNICEF report ranks well-being of British, U.S. children as last in industrialized world

The United States and Britain ranked at the bottom of a U.N. survey of child welfare in 21 rich countries that assessed everything from infant mortality to whether children ate dinner with their parents or were bullied at school.

The Netherlands, followed by Sweden, Denmark and Finland, finished at the top while the U.S. was 20th and Britain 21st in the rankings released Wednesday by UNICEF in Berlin. Link

db: Remember folks, we are currently at war in order to advance values such as these.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Gen. Pace: No proof of Iran government link

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff says he has seen no intelligence showing that the Iranian government is supplying Iraqi militias with explosives for use against Americans.

Marine Gen. Peter Pace’s comment on Monday could make it harder for the Bush administration, its credibility about Iran questioned because of its false prewar claims about Saddam Hussein, to make its case that Iranian meddling in Iraq is fueling sectarian violence and causing U.S. casualties. Link

Monday, February 12, 2007

Howard: Statesmanlike, never

Sen. Obama dismissed Howard's suggestion that his election would help terrorist groups, noting that even the Bush administration's "own intelligence agencies have indicated that the threat of terrorism has increased as a consequence of our actions over there." Link

"We had a Kurdish speaker out there"

U.S. forces killed eight Kurdish soldiers and wounded nine others at an established checkpoint in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul on Friday, Kurdish officials said.

A U.S. military statement offered a differing account of the incident, saying that U.S. troops killed five Kurdish police officers after the men ignored orders to lay down their weapons and exhibited "hostile intention."

"What the American statement said is not true," said Kabir Goran, deputy director of the Mosul office of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, a Kurdish political party. "They are trying to cover the massacre that they carried out at that military point," he said in a telephone interview.

"It is impossible that we attack the Americans," he said. "Their patrols are passing by that point every day, and we never attack them."

The U.S. statement said the American soldiers were in the al-Karama neighborhood of Mosul early Friday preparing for a raid against members of the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaida in Iraq.

U.S. soldiers saw a group of armed men in a "bunker" near the building where the soldiers suspected insurgents were housed and instructed them to put down their weapons, the statement said.

"They were called out in Arabic and in Kurdish," said Lt. Col. Christopher C. Garver, a U.S. military spokesman. "We had a Kurdish speaker out there."

A U.S. helicopter swooped in to take a closer look, and soldiers on board "observed hostile action from the bunker and exercised proper self-defense measures in response to the assessed threat," the statement said. Link

db:"We had a Kurdish speaker out there"
...... did you kill him and if not why not?

Iran 'Fooling' U.S. Military


Dahr Jamail and Ali al-Fadhily

New evidence is emerging on the ground of an Iranian hand in growing violence within Iraq.

As the United States heads for a confrontation with Iran over allegations of Iranian involvement in bombings, the massacre in Najaf last month indicates that Iran could be working also through the Iraqi government, local leaders in Najaf say.

The slaughter of 263 people in Najaf by Iraqi and U.S. forces Jan. 29 provoked outrage and vows of revenge among residents in and around the sacred Shia city in the south. The killings have deepened a split among Shias.

Iran is predominantly Shia, one of the two main groupings within Islam along with the Sunnis. Iraq has for the first time a Shia-dominated government, comprising groups that have been openly supportive of Iran.

The people killed were mostly Shias from the Hawatim tribe that opposes the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq as well as the Dawa Party. These two pro-Iranian groups control the local government in Najaf and the government in Baghdad.

The Najaf attack has provoked strong reactions among members of the Hawatim tribe and among other Shia groups who are not loyal to Iran - and who became the target in those killings.

An attack on a local tribal leader led to an assault on members of the tribe by U.S., British and Iraqi forces. The tribe was described by government officials as a "messianic cult."

Abid Ali who witnessed the Najaf fighting told IPS that a procession of roughly 200 pilgrims from the Hawatim tribe had arrived in the Zarqa area near Najaf to celebrate the Ashura festival. Following a confrontation over the procession, Iraqi army soldiers at a checkpoint shot dead Hajj Sa'ad Sa'ad Nayif al-Hatemi, chief of the tribe, as he and his wife sat in their car.

Members of the tribe then attacked the checkpoint to avenge the death of their chief.

"It was after this that the Iraqi army called in the Americans, and the planes began bombing civilians," Ali said. "It was a massacre. Now I believe the internal Shia fighting has entered a very dangerous phase."

Ali added that most people in the area believe the U.S. military was told by Iraqi security forces loyal to the pro-Iranian government in Baghdad that "terrorists" or the "messianic cult" was attacking Najaf. They say the misinformation was intended to mislead occupation forces into attacking the tribe.

Many Shias in the southern parts of the country and in Baghdad now say they had been fooled earlier by U.S. promises to help them, but that the Najaf massacre has dramatically changed their views.

Significantly, the Association of Muslim Scholars, a group of Sunni Muslims headed by Dr. Harith al-Dhari, issued a statement condemning the Iraqi-U.S. military attack in Najaf against the Hawatim tribe. The statement, which seeks to bridge a Shia-Sunni divide, denounced the killing of dozens of women and children and added, "It was an act of vengeance and political termination."

"They (the United States) were misled, and their last move in Najaf shows how the smart Iranians are leading the Americans deeper into Iraqi sands," Jaafar al-Jawadi, a political analyst from Baghdad told IPS.

"I really admire the way Iranians are dealing with the situation in a professional way while the Americans are walking with their eyes closed. They are losing the last Iraqi fort they were hiding behind, and that was the peaceful way Arab Shias were dealing with occupation."

Jawadi who is also a former Shia politician says he once believed in U.S. promises of liberation for Iraqis, particularly the Shia population. Like many other Iraqis, he now believes that the United States has been used by the pro-Iranian government in Baghdad to carry out attacks against Shia tribes in southern Iraq who have recently become more and more anti-occupation.

"I do not really understand what those Americans are doing because now they are just like an elephant in a china shop, and everything they do is terribly wrong as if they are committing suicide," Talib Ahmad, a lawyer and human rights activist in Najaf told IPS.

"Iran is benefiting from that for sure. Americans are simply fighting for Iran who appears to be the winner in Iraq after all."

Many Iraqis are amazed at the unlimited support the U.S. administration has been presenting to what many now call an Iranian-Iraqi government. The new U.S. condemnation of Iran could be a first sign that the United States is getting wise to the fact that it is being fooled by Iran.

The U.S. administration is, however, pointing the finger at Iran, and not at the government in Baghdad that it props up. Link

Official Lies over Najaf Battle Exposed

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Putin Accuses U.S.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday blamed U.S. policy for inciting other countries to seek nuclear weapons to defend themselves from an "almost uncontained use of military force'' - a stinging attack that underscored growing tensions between Washington and Moscow.

``Unilateral, illegitimate actions have not solved a single problem, they have become a hotbed of further conflicts,'' Putin said at a security forum attracting senior officials from around the world.

``One state, the United States, has overstepped its national borders in every way.'' Read more

Iraq: Troops still die in 'Snatch' Land Rover Death Trap

A roadside bomb killed a British soldier and three were seriously injured in a separate attack yesterday in southern Iraq.

The dead soldier was travelling in a lightly-armoured "snatch" Land Rover about three miles south-east of Basra when the device exploded. Link

Land Rover Snatch Vehicle - Britain's Unprotected Troops

The mother of a soldier killed in Iraq plans to take legal action against the Ministry of Defence over its failure to protect combat troops with the right equipment.

Sue Smith, whose son Phillip Hewett was killed near Basra in July 2005, says military commanders are exposing soldiers to unnecessary danger by continuing to use ageing "Snatch" Land Rovers instead of armoured vehicles. "I want them to accept that Snatch Land Rovers should not be used on patrol. These vehicles are death traps," she said yesterday.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Iraq: US Alienating Everybody

The United States is stepping up the war in Iraq. For almost four years, it has been fighting the Iraqi Sunni community. Now it has started to confront the followers of Muqtada al-Sadr, the nationalist Shia cleric who leads the powerful Mehdi Army militia.

It is a very dangerous strategy for the US. It risks alienating the Shia without gaining the support of the Sunni. It brings it into conflict with the democratically elected Iraqi government in Baghdad, whose views and interests are ignored by Washington.

US and Iraqi soldiers yesterday kicked in the door of the Iraqi deputy minister of health, Hakil al-Zamili, a Sadr supporter. He was led away in handcuffs, accused of being implicated in the deaths of several government officials in Diyala province, and siphoning off money to the Mehdi Army. Employees of the Health Ministry fled in panic as troops stormed their headquarters.

In June 2004, the US and Britain solemnly returned sovereignty to an Iraqi government. It was always a deception, since real power remained with the US. But in the last few weeks, Washington has increasingly treated the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as an irrelevant pawn which it now humiliates on an almost daily basis. In January, eight US helicopters swooped on the long-established Iranian office in Arbil, the Kurdish capital, and arrested five officials. President Bush has announced that Iranians in Iraq deemed a threat to US personnel can be killed. This seems to open the door to an assassination campaign. On Sunday, soldiers from an Iraqi commando unit in Baghdad under strong US influence kidnapped an Iranian diplomat. Read more

U.S. airstrike kills 5 Kurds in Iraq

Get those Kurds too ... Yee-ha!

Fisk: Iraqi insurgents offer peace in return for US concessions

For the first time, one of Iraq's principal insurgent groups has set out the terms of a ceasefire that would allow American and British forces to leave the country they invaded almost four years ago.

The present terms would be impossible for any US administration to meet - but the words of Abu Salih Al-Jeelani, one of the military leaders of the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Resistance Movement show that the groups which have taken more than 3,000 American lives are actively discussing the opening of contacts with the occupation army.

Al-Jeelani's group, which also calls itself the "20th Revolution Brigades'', is the military wing of the original insurgent organisation that began its fierce attacks on US forces shortly after the invasion of 2003. The statement is, therefore, of potentially great importance, although it clearly represents only the views of Sunni Muslim fighters. Read more

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Des Browne kicks US Arse for Britain

Defence Secretary Des Browne said that the American decision to release secret film of British troops being attacked by poorly trained Americans was "good news".

"The release of classified information, even for the closest of allies, is never straightforward, but this is the right thing to do," he said.

Oh Des, you came through for Britain. You walloped the yanks and they ran scared. They're going to hand over their 'secret' film because YOU big fella - no doubt authorised by your boss Tony Blair - demanded that they do so. God knows what you threatened them with. You make me proud. Salute!

United States forced to declassify video after UK coroner insists that he will use it anyway in 'friendly fire' inquest