Iraq War

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  'Slain' Al-Qaida Target In Iraq Was FictionalJuly 19, 2007 20:02 In March, he was declared captured. In May, he was declared killed, and his purported corpse was displayed on state-run TV. But Wednesday, Omar al-Baghdadi, the supposed leader of an al-Qaida-affiliated group in Iraq, was declared nonexistent by U.S. military officials, who say he is a fictional character created to give an Iraqi face to a foreign-run terror group.

In reality, an Iraqi actor has been used to read statements attributed to al-Baghdadi, who since October has been identified as the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq, said U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Kevin Bergner.

Bergner said the information came from a man whom U.S. forces captured July 4 and who was described as the highest-ranking Iraqi within the Islamic State of Iraq. The detainee, identified as Khaled Abdul-Fattah Dawoud Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, has served as a propaganda chief in the organization, a Sunni insurgent group that claims allegiance to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida.

According to Bergner, Mashadani helped create Islamic State of Iraq as a "virtual organization" that is essentially a pseudonym for al-Qaida in Iraq, another group that claims ties to al-Qaida. The front organization was aimed at making Iraqis believe that al-Qaida in Iraq is a nationalistic group, even though it is led by an Egyptian and has few Iraqis among its leaders, Bergner told a news conference.

"The Islamic State of Iraq is the latest effort by al-Qaida to market itself and its goal of imposing a Taliban-like state on the Iraqi people," he said.

Islamic State of Iraq had been widely described as an umbrella organization made up of several insurgent groups, including al-Qaida in Iraq.

  U.S. Ambassador: Word In Iraq Is 'Fear'July 19, 2007 19:53 Iraq is a nation gripped by fear and struggling to meet security and political goals by September, U.S. officials cautioned from Baghdad on Thursday, dashing hopes in Congress that the country might turn a corner this summer.

They said not to expect a solid judgment on the U.S. troop buildup until November.

"If there is one word, I would use to sum up the atmosphere in Iraq - on the streets, in the countryside, in the neighborhoods and at the national level - that word would be 'fear,'" Ryan Crocker, the top U.S. diplomat, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

"For Iraq to move forward at any level, that fear is going to have to be replaced with some level of trust and confidence and that is what the effort at the national level is about," he added, speaking by video link from Baghdad.

In briefings given to the news media as well as members of Congress, officials warned that making those strides could take more time than initially thought. One military general said a solid military assessment probably will not happen until November.

Some lawmakers have been hoping that Iraq will show more signs of stability this summer, long before they gear up for the 2008 elections.
  Bush Says Iraq Hasn't Met Any BenchmarksJuly 16, 2007 10:58 The Iraqi government has not yet met any of 18 goals for political, military and economic reform, the Bush administration said Thursday in an interim report certain to inflame debate in Congress over growing calls for a U.S. troop withdrawal.

In an assessment required by Congress, the administration accused Syria of fostering a network that supplies as many as 50 to 80 suicide bombers per month for al Qaeda in Iraq. It also said Iran continues to fund extremist groups.

The report said that despite progress on some fronts by the government of Nouri al-Maliki, “the security situation in Iraq remains complex and extremely challenging,” the “economic picture is uneven” and political reconciliation is lagging.

At a news conference that coincided with the report’s release, President Bush said, “I believe we can succeed in Iraq and I know we must.”

In remarks clearly aimed at his critics, he added, “When we start drawing down our forces in Iraq, it will (be) because our military commanders say the conditions on the ground are right, not because pollsters say it’ll be good politics.”

The report warned of “tough fighting” during the summer, as U.S. and Iraqi forces “seek to seize the initiative from early gains and shape conditions of longer-term stabilization.”

While Bush announced last winter he was ordering thousands of additional troops to the war zone, the full complement has only arrived in recent weeks. “The full surge in this respect has only just begun,” the report said.

In an evident jab at critics of Bush’s war policies, the report also said progress toward political reconciliation was hampered by “increasing concern among Iraqi political leaders that the United States may not have a long term-commitment to Iraq.”

The report was issued in the fifth year of a war that has taken the lives of more than 3,000 U.S. troops, and is costing the United States an estimated $10 billion a month.

  White House Rejects Gop Call On IraqJuly 16, 2007 10:47 The White House on Sunday rejected a call by two leading Republican senators to submit plans to start redeploying U.S. troops from Iraq by year's end, saying that doing so would be premature before military commanders present a major progress report in September.

"They've done a useful service in indicating the kinds of things that we should be thinking about. But the time to begin that process is September," national security advisor Stephen J. Hadley said on ABC's "This Week." "And the opening shot really ought to be heard from the commanders on the ground who can make an assessment of where we are in our current strategy."

Hadley's appearances on four Sunday talk shows demonstrated the difficult task President Bush faces in trying to stem Republican defections on his Iraq policy after last week's congressionally mandated report, which showed that the Iraqi government had failed to make substantial progress on key political goals.

Most Senate Democrats support a plan by Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.) to force Bush to start redeploying U.S. troops within 120 days of its enactment, with only a limited presence remaining after April 30, 2008. Democrats lack the 60 votes needed to move that proposal through the Senate, but more Republicans are publicly questioning Bush's Iraq policy as the violence continues after the troop buildup intended to halt it.

"I think we need a new strategy," Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said on CBS' "Face the Nation." "I think most senators do, and the country does, and I wouldn't be surprised if the president does."

  Bush Says He'd Veto Iraq DeadlineJuly 11, 2007 10:35 President Bush threatened yesterday to veto legislation that would set a date for a troop withdrawal from Iraq, despite growing bipartisan calls in Congress for an end to U.S. participation in the war and sharp criticism of Iraq's government.
U.S. officials, meanwhile, told the Associated Press that the administration, in a 23-page classified report, would point to limited progress being made by the American-backed government in Baghdad while acknowledging benchmarks were unmet.

The interim assessment, which will be presented on Capitol Hill tomorrow, finds the Iraqi government has failed to pass long-promised laws that Washington has called key to national cohesion and economic recovery, such as legislation that would fairly divide Iraq's oil resources.

But in a glass-half-full approach, the report will emphasize that the Iraqi government is making some progress in about half the areas identified earlier this year by Congress. Other areas in which it is not making significant gains will be dismissed as less critical to long-term success in Iraq, the officials said.

One senior administration official who has read the report said it gave Iraq's government a grade of "incomplete."

As the Senate opened a new debate on the conflict, one of Bush's staunchest supporters, Sen. Christopher S. "Kit" Bond (R., Mo.), said the administration had pursued the wrong policy for years after toppling Saddam Hussein.