Iraq War

  Civilian Casualties of War on TerrorSeptember 29, 2007 21:45 The US military Saturday put down to its "war on terror" the deaths of civilians in a series of airstrikes in Baghdad and southern belts this week that also killed a senior Al-Qaeda leader in Iraq.

"We regret when civilians are hurt or killed while coalition forces search to rid Iraq of terrorism," US military spokesman Major Brad Leighton told AFP.

Iraqi officials claimed that 13 civilians died in an air strike by US helicopters early Friday on a building in Baghdad's southwestern Dora district, a hotbed of Sunni insurgency.

Among the dead pulled from the rubble of a building in the Al-Saha neighbourhood of sprawling Dora were seven men, two women and four children, according to a medic at Baghdad's Al-Yarmuk hospital where the dead and injured were brought after the 2.00 am air strike.

Leighton said the target of the air raid had been a group of men lobbing mortars into a belt of mixed Shiite and Sunni neighbourhoods north of Dora.

"We targeted men firing mortars. Surveillance elements saw the group firing their weapons. Responding to this hostile action, coalition forces called for air support and engaged the men," he said.

"We do not know how many were killed or wounded, though we assess possibly two or three were killed or wounded. We were not able to get an accurate assessment because the bodies were recovered prior to the ground force arriving."

The US military on Thursday had announced an inquiry into claims by Iraqi police that five women and four children were killed in an air raid in Babahani, near the town of Musayyib, about 50 kilometres (30 miles) south of Baghdad, on Tuesday.

  Bush, Maliki Hold Sensitive TalksSeptember 26, 2007 20:49 President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki met Tuesday to discuss broad issues related to the war, but were forced to confront the latest irritant in their relationship: a deadly shooting last week involving employees of Blackwater USA, a U.S. security firm protecting American diplomats.

The talks between the two leaders took place during the meeting of the U.N. General Assembly and came as the Iraqi Interior Ministry prepared legislation that would strip local and foreign security companies of immunity from prosecution.

During a 75-minute meeting Tuesday in a suite at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, Bush and Maliki talked gingerly around the sensitive question of the role of private security companies in Iraq, according to a description by U.S. officials. A spokesman for Maliki, confirming the conversation, said the Iraqi leader cautioned against U.S. violations of Iraqi sovereignty.

"The forces operating in Iraq, including the security companies, should respect the sovereignty of Iraq," Maliki's spokesman, Ali Dabbagh, said by telephone in New York. "This is an issue which must be addressed in order to make the long-term relations between the U.S. and Iraq workable."

The controversy stemmed from the shooting deaths of at least 11 Iraqis in Baghdad on Sept. 16, in which Blackwater employees were accused of firing without provocation. Bush had said last week that he would discuss the matter with Maliki when the two attended the United Nations meeting.
  Iraq, Afghanistan Wars To Cost U.S. $190 Bln In 2008September 26, 2007 20:46 The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will cost at least $190 billion in 2008, the Pentagon said on Wednesday, making it the most expensive year in the conflicts since they were launched by President George W. Bush.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates asked Congress to approve the funding after Bush this month beat back demands from Democrats for a quick end to the Iraq war and said the U.S. presence there would go on after he leaves office in 2009.

Gates said he hoped longer-term for a much smaller U.S. force than the 165,000 troops currently in Iraq. He added that "I don't see" any of the requested money being used for preparing a military attack on Iran, which Pentagon officials say is supplying weapons used against U.S. soldiers in Iraq.

But Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert Byrd told Gates not to presume the Pentagon would get the money.

"We cannot create a democracy at the point of a gun" in Iraq, Byrd, a West Virginia Democrat, warned Gates in a hearing often interrupted by the shouts of anti-war protesters. "Sending more guns does not change that reality."

The Pentagon's request was made as senators reached a rare -- but symbolic -- consensus on a proposal on how to proceed in Iraq, passing a non-binding resolution calling for the creation of separate Sunni, Shi'ite and Kurdish "federal regions" with a weak central government in Baghdad.
  US Snipers 'Bait' Iraqis: ReportSeptember 24, 2007 19:58 US military snipers in Iraq are "baiting" Iraqis by scattering items such as detonation cord, plastic explosives and ammunition, and then ambushing and killing those who pick them up, The Washington Post reported Monday.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman declined to comment on the Post story, which reported such actions were being taken at the urging of Pentagon experts on special operations.

But Whitman did say the US military rules of engagement "certainly recognize and reflect the values of this nation."

An army official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of secrecy rules, said he could not rule out that snipers were using bait such as detonation cords or blasting camps to lure out and kill suspected insurgents.

"This is not indiscriminate and there are rules of engagement," the official told AFP.
  Blackwater Investigation ExpandsSeptember 22, 2007 10:56 Iraq's probe into a deadly shooting by Blackwater USA in Baghdad last weekend has expanded to include allegations about the security firm's involvement in six other violent episodes this year that left at least 10 Iraqis dead.

Iraqi officials say these violent encounters have made them increasingly frustrated with Blackwater's conduct in Iraq, but the government backed away Friday from its attempt to expel the company. Blackwater has said its guards acted appropriately in the weekend incident, but it did not respond to requests for comment Friday on the other episodes.

Brig. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, chief spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said the ministry's findings would be referred to court for possible criminal prosecution.

On Friday, Blackwater-protected convoys resumed leaving the Green Zone, three days after the U.S. Embassy froze such travel amid Iraqi declarations that the company would be expelled. Mirembe Nantongo, a U.S. Embassy spokeswoman, said the convoys had resumed "on a limited basis" after "consultation with Iraqi authorities."

The North Carolina-based company, with an estimated 1,000 employees in Iraq, protects virtually every senior American diplomat and civilian official here.

Meanwhile, federal prosecutors are investigating whether Blackwater employees illegally smuggled weapons into Iraq that may have been sold on the black market and ended up in the hands of the PKK, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization fighting on the Turkish-Iraqi border for an independent Kurdistan, officials said Friday.

In today's editions, The News & Observer of Raleigh reported that two former Blackwater employees — Kenneth Wayne Cashwell, of Virginia Beach, Va.; and William Ellsworth "Max" Grumiaux, of Clemmons, N.C. — are cooperating with federal investigators.
  US Senate Rejects Measure To Cut Off Funding For Iraq WarSeptember 20, 2007 16:06 The U.S. Senate has rejected, by a 28 to 70 vote, a Democratic-sponsored measure to withdraw troops from Iraq and cut funding for the war. VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.

The measure, proposed as an amendment to a defense bill, called for most U.S. troops to withdraw from Iraq by next June and cutting off financing for military operations.

Senator Russ Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat who sponsored the legislation, argued the war in Iraq is taking attention and resources away from the larger global war on terrorism.

"What I am concerned about is that a continued effort in Iraq could lead to the ultimate failure to fight against those who attacked us on 9/11. It could lead to a surrender, a true surrender, against those who declared war on us on September 11th, 2001," he said.

Senator John McCain of Arizona, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, argued strongly against the proposal, which he said would result in defeat for the United States. He said President Bush's troops surge in Iraq should be allowed more time to work, noting that the top U.S. commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, told Congress last week that the surge has been making progress.

"Should the United States Congress succeed in terminating the new strategy by legislating an abrupt withdrawal on a transition to a new, less effective and more dangerous course, should we do that, then we will fail for certain," he said.
  Tug-Of-War Over Iraq Intensifies In CongressSeptember 18, 2007 19:40 The tug-of-war over Iraq policy intensified in the U.S. Congress on Tuesday, as Democrats renewed their efforts to step up troop withdrawals while an influential Republican senator offered a compromise.

A week after Iraq commander Gen. David Petraeus announced gradual troop reductions in Iraq through next summer, Senate Democrats seeking a faster pullout pledged to hold a vote soon on a proposal they think is their best chance to influence the course of the war.

Sen. James Webb, a Virginia Democrat, is proposing that U.S. troops should spend as much time at home as they did abroad on their previous tour of duty in Iraq or Afghanistan.

It is just one of several initiatives on Capitol Hill aimed at pressing President George W. Bush into changing his war strategy and Petraeus' report seems to have done nothing to discourage their proliferation.

Ohio's Republican Sen. George Voinovich, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, announced a possible compromise plan that would not set a deadline for the end of the Iraq mission, as many Democrats want, but it would not leave it open-ended either.

  Greenspan Memoir Links Iraq War To US Thirst For OilSeptember 17, 2007 07:08 Former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan, for years an inscrutable seer on the economy, is causing a stir by alleging in his new memoir that "the Iraq war is largely about oil."

Greenspan, who as head of the US central bank was famous for his tight-lipped reserve, is uncharacteristically direct, also accusing President George W. Bush of abandoning Republican principles on the economy.

"I'm saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows -- the Iraq war is largely about oil," he wrote in reported excerpts of "The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World," which is set for release on Monday.

However in an interview with The Washington Post, Greenspan clarified that while securing global oil supplies was "not the administration's motive," it had presented the White House with an opportunity to make the case that removing Saddam Hussein was important for the global economy.

"I was not saying that that's the administration's motive," he said in the interview. "I'm just saying that if somebody asked me, 'Are we fortunate in taking out Saddam?' I would say it was essential."

Greenspan's memoir appears 18 months after he left the Fed, following a career that spanned 1987 to 2006, with the US economy at a crossroads and ahead of a critical central bank meeting under the chairmanship of his successor, Ben Bernanke.

The man dubbed "The Oracle" tells his own tale of nearly two decades at the helm of one of the world's most powerful financial institutions and includes surprising swipes at the Bush administration.
  Petraeus Encounters Opposition Even Among Some SuperiorsSeptember 16, 2007 09:43 For two hours, President Bush listened to contrasting visions of the U.S. future in Iraq. Gen. David Petraeus dominated the conversation by video link from Baghdad, making the case to keep as many troops as long as possible. Adm. William Fallon, his superior, argued instead for taking more risks to have enough forces available to confront other potential threats.

The discussion this month masked a sharper clash over the U.S. venture in Iraq, one that has been building since Fallon, chief of U.S. Central Command, which oversees the Mideast, sent a rear admiral to Baghdad this summer to gather information. He soon began developing plans to redefine the U.S. mission and radically draw down troops. One plan, according to a Centcom officer, involved slashing U.S. forces in Iraq from 169,000 to about 35,000 by 2010.

In an interview, Fallon disputed that description but declined to offer details. Nonetheless, his efforts offended Petraeus' team and exacerbated a schism between the two.

"Bad relations?" a senior civilian official laughed. "That's the understatement of the century. ... If you think Armageddon was a riot, that's one way of looking at it."

The Bush administration has presented a united front, but senior officials remain split over whether Bush's strategy will work in the long term.

Fallon worries that Iraq is undermining the military's ability to confront other threats, such as Iran. "When he took over, the reality hit him that he had to deal with Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa and a whole bunch of other stuff besides Iraq," a top officer said.
  Bush-Linked Texas Company Signs Oil Deal With Iraqi KurdsSeptember 15, 2007 11:10 Earlier this month, the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq announced that it had signed a production-sharing deal with Texas-based Hunt Oil. The move is an indication that Western oil companies, frustrated over the delay in the passage of a national oil law by the Iraqi government, are moving to make deals with regional bodies to get access to Iraq’s vast oil reserves.

As significant as the deal itself is the identity of the company involved. Ray Hunt, the CEO and president of privately held Hunt Oil, is a close confidant of President Bush and a prominent figure in the US political and intelligence establishment.

To what extent the policy of the Bush administration is motivating the deal—and to what extent it is motivated by purely profit interests—cannot be determined with precision. However, the announcement comes at a time of growing strains between the Iraqi national government, led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and the Bush administration. Many commentators have noted that the moves by Kurdish authorities to establish autonomy in the control of the region’s oil resources could contribute to a fracturing of the Iraqi state along sectarian lines.

Hussain al-Shahristani, the Iraqi oil minister in the Maliki cabinet, denounced the agreement, saying, “Any oil deal has no standing as far as the government of Iraq is concerned. All these contracts have to be approved by the Federal Authority before they are legal. This [contract] was not presented for approval. It has no standing.”
  Iraqi Government Has Made No Progress, Us ConcludesSeptember 14, 2007 20:51 The White House yesterday issued a new report admitting Baghdad had made almost no new progress in achieving stability and reconciliation between the country's feuding factions, just hours after President Bush argued on national television for a continuing massive US troop presence in Iraq.

The report suggests that over the last two months the Iraqis had advanced on just two of the 18 so-called "benchmarks" to that end. As such, the document underlines how difficult it will be for Mr Bush to convince Americans that political progress is being made in Iraq – claims already undermined by the murder, shortly before he spoke, of a prominent tribal leader in Anbar province allied with the US against al-Qa'ida.

The pacification of Anbar had been trumpeted by the administration as proof that local Sunnis in Iraq were turning against the extremist insurgents. But yesterday more than 1,500 mourners attended the funeral of Abdul Sattar Abu Risha, killed when a bomb exploded outside his house. Government officials described his death as "a national Iraqi disaster".

For Mr Bush, it was a setback that partly overshadowed his prime time address on Thursday evening, capping a spell of frantic activity to show his Iraqi policies were working. During the last fortnight, the president paid an unannounced trip to Iraq 12 days ago, during which he met Sheikh Abu Risha, while earlier this week General Petraeus, the top US commander in Iraq, and the American ambassador Ryan Crocker, testified for two days before Congress. But the exercise has been only a limited success at best. By general consent, the promised withdrawal of over 21,000 troops by next summer has bought Mr Bush another six months to prove the current surge is working, at least in military terms. The force reduction appears to have persuaded wavering Senate Republicans not to desert Mr Bush – thus ensuring that Democrats will not be able to send him legislation demanding a firm timetable for a pullout. But it is unclear how much longer the White House will be able to hold the line if no tangible further improvement is evident by next March, when General Petraeus is due to give another progress report.

The reductions announced by Mr Bush mean that, despite everything, at least 130,000 US combat troops will still be in Iraq in summer 2008 – and that 100,000 or more will probably be there when a new President is elected next November.

  A Bush Speech That Could BackfireSeptember 14, 2007 20:49 President George W. Bush's decision to give a major speech on Iraq in prime time Thursday night made sense on one level. The news has been relatively positive for a change, what with the stabilization in Anbar province and parts of Baghdad. Earlier in the week, Bush and the Congress got a cautiously upbeat report from Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker that recommended a drawdown of some troops over the next nine months. So after months of asking Americans for patience, the President could finally tell them "that conditions in Iraq are improving, that we are seizing the initiative from the enemy," and that, in turn, he can "begin bringing some of our troops home."

But Bush's trumpeting of what he called a "return on success" could end up backfiring. Bringing the war into America's living rooms is never a safe political bet. And if news of a slow drawdown may be popular, Bush himself still is not. Some key Hill Republicans, in fact, were upset that he returned front and center on the issue at a time when the White House had so carefully ceded the selling of the surge to Petraeus and Crocker. "Why would he threaten the momentum we have?" says one frustrated Capitol Hill Republican strategist with ties to the G.O.P. leadership. "You have an unpopular President going onto prime time television, interrupting Americans' TV programs, to remind them of why they don't like him."
  Bush To Adopt Petraeus' Troop Withdrawal RecommendationsSeptember 12, 2007 15:37 President George W. Bush will tell the nation this week he plans to reduce the American troop presence in Iraq by about 30,000 by next summer, but will condition those and further cuts on continued progress, the Associated Press has learned.

In a prime-time television address, probably Thursday, Bush will endorse the recommendations of his top general and top diplomat in Iraq, following their appearance at two days of hearings in Congress, administration officials said. The White House plans to issue a written status report on the so-called “surge” on Friday, they said.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because Bush’s speech is not yet finally drafted. White House officials were preparing the address even as the U.S. commanding general, David Petraeus, and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker were presenting arguments to stay the course in Iraq in a second day of testimony on Capitol Hill.

The reductions envisioned by the White House mirror those proposed by Petraeus and would leave approximately 130,000 U.S. troops on the ground by August, roughly the level at which they were before Bush ordered the buildup early this year, the officials said.

In the speech, the president will say he understands the deep concerns Americans have about U.S. involvement in Iraq and their desire to bring the troops home, they said. Bush will say that after hearing from Petraeus and Crocker, he has decided on a way forward that will reduce the number of troops but not abandon Iraq, they said.
  Petraeus, Crocker Reports Fuel DebateSeptember 11, 2007 14:03 The reports by the top U.S. military officer in Iraq and the U.S. ambassador provided fuel to both supporters of the current policy and its opponents. VOA Pentagon Correspondent Al Pessin spoke to some of them and filed this report.

General David Petraeus said he needs to keep nearly all the 160,000 U.S. troops he has in Iraq until next spring, but probably can move forward with reductions at that time. Ambassador Ryan Crocker said there has been progress among Iraqi politicians, but some of the most promising developments may not be visible from Washington.

They recommended continuing the current military and diplomatic strategy at least for another six months, and making a new assessment in March.

"These reports are not going to convince anybody," said Marina Ottaway.

Analyst Marina Ottaway at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace is among those not convinced.

"When Ambassador Crocker said we are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel even if the benchmarks have not been met, I think he's expressing a wish and not a hard fact," said Ottaway.

  Us Advised To Reduce Number Of Iraq TroopsSeptember 06, 2007 15:08 An independent commission has recommended that the US withdraw some troops from Iraq despite concluding that the Iraqi security forces will not be able to operate independently over the next 18 months.

Led by retired General James Jones, the panel of 20 former senior military and police officers concluded that the level of US forces and military installations in Iraq, particularly in Baghdad, created the impression of a permanent occupation.

"What is needed is the opposite impression: one that is lighter, less massive and more expeditionary," the commission concluded in a report on the Iraqi security forces released on Thursday.

Carl Levin, the Democratic chairman of the Senate armed services committee, welcomed the recommendation, saying it was "long overdue that we cut the cords of [Iraqi] dependence" on the US. But Gen Jones, testifying before the committee on Thursday, made clear that the commission was not advocating a timeline for withdrawal, which he said would be counterproductive.

President George W. Bush, visiting Iraq this week, suggested that he might reduce troop numbers, but did not make clear whether the cuts would be beyond the reduction that will naturally come when the "surge" ends in April. General David Petraeus, the top US commander in Iraq who will provide Congress with his assessment of the surge next week, this week said his recommendations would have to take account of the fact that the military was already overstretched.