Friday, October 27, 2006

David Letterman and Bill O'Reilly on the Late Show

David Letterman: "The war is not easy for me because I am thoughtful." Oct 27th

If you think like a nut.....

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Official Apologizes For Saying U.S. Has Shown "Stupidity" In Iraq

State Department Official Apologizes For Saying U.S. Has Shown "Stupidity" In Iraq. Will Department Spokesman Apologize For Lying About It?

A State Department official has apologized for telling Al Jazeera that the U.S. has shown "arrogance" and "stupidity" in Iraq.

"We tried to do our best (in Iraq) but I think there is much room for criticism because, undoubtedly, there was arrogance and there was stupidity from the United States in Iraq," senior U.S. State Department official Alberto Fernandez said to Al Jazeera in Arabic.

Immediately after the comments were made, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack blamed Al Jazeera, saying Fernandez' comments were not translated properly.

But today, Fernandez told CNN that the problem was not Al Jazeera's translation, but that he "seriously misspoke." Strangely, he said that his comments Sunday did not represent his views, or those of the Department.

It's a strange comment. If it didn't represent his views, why did he say them? And now that Fernandez has made his strange apology, will McCormack apologize for lying -- blaming Al Jazeera (the "enemy") rather than accept what Fernandez said? "

Truthdig - Reports - After Pat’s Birthday

After Pat’s Birthday

Pat and Kevin Tillman
Courtesy of the Tillman Family

Pat Tillman (left) and his brother Kevin stand in front of a Chinook helicopter in Saudi Arabia before their tour of duty as Army Rangers in Iraq in 2003.

By Kevin Tillman

Editor’s note: Kevin Tillman joined the Army with his brother Pat in 2002, and they served together in Iraq and Afghanistan. Pat was killed in Afghanistan on April 22, 2004. Kevin, who was discharged in 2005, has written a powerful, must-read document.

It is Pat’s birthday on November 6, and elections are the day after. It gets me thinking about a conversation I had with Pat before we joined the military. He spoke about the risks with signing the papers. How once we committed, we were at the mercy of the American leadership and the American people. How we could be thrown in a direction not of our volition. How fighting as a soldier would leave us without a voice… until we got out.

Much has happened since we handed over our voice:

Somehow we were sent to invade a nation because it was a direct threat to the American people, or to the world, or harbored terrorists, or was involved in the September 11 attacks, or received weapons-grade uranium from Niger, or had mobile weapons labs, or WMD, or had a need to be liberated, or we needed to establish a democracy, or stop an insurgency, or stop a civil war we created that can’t be called a civil war even though it is. Something like that.

Somehow our elected leaders were subverting international law and humanity by setting up secret prisons around the world, secretly kidnapping people, secretly holding them indefinitely, secretly not charging them with anything, secretly torturing them. Somehow that overt policy of torture became the fault of a few “bad apples” in the military.

Somehow back at home, support for the soldiers meant having a five-year-old kindergartener scribble a picture with crayons and send it overseas, or slapping stickers on cars, or lobbying Congress for an extra pad in a helmet. It’s interesting that a soldier on his third or fourth tour should care about a drawing from a five-year-old; or a faded sticker on a car as his friends die around him; or an extra pad in a helmet, as if it will protect him when an IED throws his vehicle 50 feet into the air as his body comes apart and his skin melts to the seat.

Somehow the more soldiers that die, the more legitimate the illegal invasion becomes.

Somehow American leadership, whose only credit is lying to its people and illegally invading a nation, has been allowed to steal the courage, virtue and honor of its soldiers on the ground.

Somehow those afraid to fight an illegal invasion decades ago are allowed to send soldiers to die for an illegal invasion they started.

Somehow faking character, virtue and strength is tolerated.

Somehow profiting from tragedy and horror is tolerated.

Somehow the death of tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people is tolerated.

Somehow subversion of the Bill of Rights and The Constitution is tolerated.

Somehow suspension of Habeas Corpus is supposed to keep this country safe.

Somehow torture is tolerated.

Somehow lying is tolerated.

Somehow reason is being discarded for faith, dogma, and nonsense.

Somehow American leadership managed to create a more dangerous world.

Somehow a narrative is more important than reality.

Somehow America has become a country that projects everything that it is not and condemns everything that it is.

Somehow the most reasonable, trusted and respected country in the world has become one of the most irrational, belligerent, feared, and distrusted countries in the world.

Somehow being politically informed, diligent, and skeptical has been replaced by apathy through active ignorance.

Somehow the same incompetent, narcissistic, virtueless, vacuous, malicious criminals are still in charge of this country.

Somehow this is tolerated.

Somehow nobody is accountable for this.

In a democracy, the policy of the leaders is the policy of the people. So don’t be shocked when our grandkids bury much of this generation as traitors to the nation, to the world and to humanity. Most likely, they will come to know that “somehow” was nurtured by fear, insecurity and indifference, leaving the country vulnerable to unchecked, unchallenged parasites.

Luckily this country is still a democracy. People still have a voice. People still can take action. It can start after Pat’s birthday.

Brother and Friend of Pat Tillman,

Kevin Tillman

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Iraq For Sale: documentary about profiteering contractors

HOT TOPIC : Iraq for Sale

Adrianna Huffington on her blog:

Iraq for Sale Update: DVD Becoming a Weapon in 06 Election

A growing number of Democratic leaders are using Iraq for Sale to call attention to the GOP's failure to reign in the contractor abuse and fraud that have been the hallmark of the Iraq war privatization fiasco. It's also allowed them to go on the offensive and reframe the national security debate -- showing how the Republicans sacrificed the well-being of our troops and the Iraqi people on the altar of rewarding their corporate backers. Read the rest

Ted Kennedy's take on the movie:

The Iraq war is one of the greatest blunders in American history. The American people already know that the human and financial cost of the war has been far too great. Nearly 2,800 Americans have been killed and we are spending nearly $250 million on each day on the war in Iraq.

Robert Greenwald's new film, Iraq for Sale, shows how the Bush Administration has been outsourcing this war to corporate America - and how that effort has been mismanaged. His film is a convincing indictment of the Administration's decision to give multi-billion dollar sweetheart deals that have lined contractor's pockets while failing to meet the basic needs of our soldiers. All Americans should be asking how the Bush Administration could have allowed contractors to fail to provide our soldiers with safe food and drinking water. Read more

The Boing Boing Review of the Movie

Boing Boing: Iraq For Sale: documentary about profiteering contractors:

Iraq For Sale: documentary about profiteering contractors

I've just watched Robert "Outfoxed" Greenwald's new documentary, "Iraq For Sale," which documents the disgraceful profiteering of private contractors in Iraq, like Halliburton, CACI and Titan.

Greenwald's film talks with military personnel, past employees of military contractors, and the families of contractors who were killed in Iraq. He builds a compelling, damning case that the use of these contractors is putting American soldiers in harm's way, hurting US military effectiveness in Iraq, bilking the US taxpayer out of billions, and endangering the lives of the ex-military personnel who sign on with contractors on the promise of higher wages than those paid by the US military.

From charging the US military $100 to ineptly wash a bag of laundry (and getting officers to reprimand soldiers who do their own laundry in the sink) to overseeing interrogation at Abu Ghraib, these military contractors are wasteful, undertrained, and grotesquely expensive. Greenwald's film features footage of bonfires built to destroy improperly ordered vehicles, computers and other equipment that the contractors purchased at taxpayer expense -- since these contractors are compensated on a "cost-plus" basis, they get paid more for wasting money than saving it.

Another are where they scrimp is on the safety and training of their own personnel. They hire inept translators who give bad intelligence to the military. They send their front-line workers -- such as truckers recruited from the US -- into battle-zones without military escorts or armor. Meanwhile, the "savings" realized by putting untrained people in charge of interrogation at Abu Ghraib (Greenwald shows a single-page "interrogation manual" that consists of little cartoons with a short sentence under each) are not used to provide better equipment for US soldiers -- they sleep in infectious tents, drink untreated toxic water, and eat improperly prepared food, thanks to the likes of Halliburton, whose stock doubles and redoubles every year the Iraq war goes on.

The frustration of the soldiers is palpable and heartbreaking. From those who bemoan that their comrades get sucked into working for the profiteers by the high salaries, only to be killed in action to the soldiers who are required to train contractors to do their jobs, then are relegated to scut-work while all the skilled labor is taken over by the contractors they trained.

Greenwald is encouraging people to host screenings of Iraq For Sale in their homes, inviting over friends and neighbors to see the movie and discuss the film's content. The site has a list of upcoming screenings around the world, hosted by people, clubs, companies and schools.

"Will things go wrong? Sure they willl, it's a war zone. But when they do, we'll fix it, we always have -- for 60 years, for both political parties."

- David J. Lesar, CEO, Halliburton

Tags: Iraq For Sale, profiteering, contractors, Robert Greenwald, documentary, Iraq, Halliburton, CACI, Titan

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Bill Clinton: The Common Good

"The problem with ideology is, if you got an ideology, you already got your mind made up; you know all the answers. And, that makes evidence irrelevant and argument a waste of time.

So, you tend to govern by assertion and attack.

The problem with that is that discourages thinking and gives you bad results. This new Bob Woodward book, ‘State of Denial' is interes… well-named, but I think it's important to point out that if you are an ideologue, denial is an essential part of your political being. Whichever side. Listen to me. You got to - 'cause, if you are an ideologue, you got your mind made up. So when an inconvenient fact crops up, you have to be in denial. It has to be a less significant fact."

From President Clinton, who gave a speech today hosted by The Center for American Progress at Georgetown University. He's calling it the "Common Good" which articulates the alternative to "compassionate conservative. "In both the civic and faith realms, a commitment to the common good means pursuing policies and community actions that benefit all individuals and balance self-interest with the needs of the entire society."

Democratic State Sen. Candidate Called Up by National Guard

Paul Evans is the real deal. City Councilman in Monmouth, Oregon at age 18, Evans has been twice elected as the city's mayor, served in the Air Force and the Air National Guard and been a teacher at Western Oregon University and Oregon State University. Evans is currently running as a Democrat for the State Senate in Oregon, his campaign representing one of the party's best pick-up opportunities in the chamber this year. And now he has been informed that he will be shipping out for duty in Afghanistan on November 5, as Peter Wong reports for the Salem Statesman Journal.

When Election Day rolls around three weeks from today, Oregon Senate candidate Paul Evans will learn his fate from afar: Afghanistan.

Evans, a veteran of the Air Force and Oregon Air National Guard, will be en route to the nation with the 116th Air Control Squadron.

He is scheduled to leave Nov. 5, 10 days ahead of his original deployment date. His mission will last 60 days -- which means he would be back for the opening of the legislative session on Jan. 8 if he is elected Nov. 7 to the Senate District 10 seat.


In a written statement, he said, "When my commander said I was needed, there was no question of whether or not I would go. Duty calls."


He likely is the nation's only candidate who will be on active duty in the Middle East on Election Day.

This is a great story for the Democrats, one that should garner at least some national coverage in addition to the local coverage. Democratic candidate Paul Evans, one of the few people in the Air National Guard able to perform his specific role as an air-battle manager and who has served multiple tours of duty in Iraq, Kuwait and elsewhere, is selflessly giving up an opportunity to campaign in the waning moments of this election to serve his country. Brigadier General Mike Caldwell, deputy director of the Oregon National Guard, had as much to say in a statement released today (via BlueOregon):

Major Evans has unique skills that are critical to the safety of our troops. I'm grateful that he is willing to ship out to Afghanistan, even in the last few days of a close campaign. He understands the true meaning of service. And as it stands right now, we see no reason why Paul cannot get back in time to serve in the Oregon Legislature as a civilian leader.

Let's show Paul Evans that we will support him and help put him over the top in this election even as he does his duty in Afghanistan. Let's show America how Democrats and progressives feel about our troops. BlueOregon has set up an ActBlue fundraising page for Evans and provides information on how to volunteer if you live in the area.

Update [2006-10-17 15:22:27 by Jonathan Singer]: A commenter writes, "'This [will be] a great story for the Democrats' assuming he survives." Very true. I did not intend to be cavalier in writing about this story. It should be mentioned that Evans faces real danger -- a prospect that we should not overlook. Our hopes for his safe return of course come before our financial support on his behalf.

His homepage:

Can You Tell a Sunni From a Shiite? - New York Times


Back to Complete 
War News Index

October 17, 2006
Op-Ed Contributor

Can You Tell a Sunni From a Shiite?


FOR the past several months, I’ve been wrapping up lengthy interviews with Washington counterterrorism officials with a fundamental question: “Do you know the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite?”

A “gotcha” question? Perhaps. But if knowing your enemy is the most basic rule of war, I don’t think it’s out of bounds. And as I quickly explain to my subjects, I’m not looking for theological explanations, just the basics: Who’s on what side today, and what does each want?

After all, wouldn’t British counterterrorism officials responsible for Northern Ireland know the difference between Catholics and Protestants? In a remotely similar but far more lethal vein, the 1,400-year Sunni-Shiite rivalry is playing out in the streets of Baghdad, raising the specter of a breakup of Iraq into antagonistic states, one backed by Shiite Iran and the other by Saudi Arabia and other Sunni states.

A complete collapse in Iraq could provide a haven for Al Qaeda operatives within striking distance of Israel, even Europe. And the nature of the threat from Iran, a potential nuclear power with protégés in the Gulf states, northern Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, is entirely different from that of Al Qaeda. It seems silly to have to argue that officials responsible for counterterrorism should be able to recognize opportunities for pitting these rivals against each other.

But so far, most American officials I’ve interviewed don’t have a clue. That includes not just intelligence and law enforcement officials, but also members of Congress who have important roles overseeing our spy agencies. How can they do their jobs without knowing the basics?

My curiosity about our policymakers’ grasp of Islam’s two major branches was piqued in 2005, when Jon Stewart and other TV comedians made hash out of depositions, taken in a whistleblower case, in which top F.B.I. officials drew blanks when asked basic questions about Islam. One of the bemused officials was Gary Bald, then the bureau’s counterterrorism chief. Such expertise, Mr. Bald maintained, wasn’t as important as being a good manager.

A few months later, I asked the F.B.I.’s spokesman, John Miller, about Mr. Bald’s comments. “A leader needs to drive the organization forward,” Mr. Miller told me. “If he is the executive in a counterterrorism operation in the post-9/11 world, he does not need to memorize the collected statements of Osama bin Laden, or be able to read Urdu to be effective. ... Playing ‘Islamic Trivial Pursuit’ was a cheap shot for the lawyers and a cheaper shot for the journalist. It’s just a gimmick.”

Of course, I hadn’t asked about reading Urdu or Mr. bin Laden’s writings.

A few weeks ago, I took the F.B.I.’s temperature again. At the end of a long interview, I asked Willie Hulon, chief of the bureau’s new national security branch, whether he thought that it was important for a man in his position to know the difference between Sunnis and Shiites. “Yes, sure, it’s right to know the difference,” he said. “It’s important to know who your targets are.”

That was a big advance over 2005. So next I asked him if he could tell me the difference. He was flummoxed. “The basics goes back to their beliefs and who they were following,” he said. “And the conflicts between the Sunnis and the Shia and the difference between who they were following.”

O.K., I asked, trying to help, what about today? Which one is Iran — Sunni or Shiite? He thought for a second. “Iran and Hezbollah,” I prompted. “Which are they?”

He took a stab: “Sunni.”


Al Qaeda? “Sunni.”


AND to his credit, Mr. Hulon, a distinguished agent who is up nights worrying about Al Qaeda while we safely sleep, did at least know that the vicious struggle between Islam’s Abel and Cain was driving Iraq into civil war. But then we pay him to know things like that, the same as some members of Congress.

Take Representative Terry Everett, a seven-term Alabama Republican who is vice chairman of the House intelligence subcommittee on technical and tactical intelligence.

“Do you know the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite?” I asked him a few weeks ago.

Mr. Everett responded with a low chuckle. He thought for a moment: “One’s in one location, another’s in another location. No, to be honest with you, I don’t know. I thought it was differences in their religion, different families or something.”

To his credit, he asked me to explain the differences. I told him briefly about the schism that developed after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, and how Iraq and Iran are majority Shiite nations while the rest of the Muslim world is mostly Sunni. “Now that you’ve explained it to me,” he replied, “what occurs to me is that it makes what we’re doing over there extremely difficult, not only in Iraq but that whole area.”

Representative Jo Ann Davis, a Virginia Republican who heads a House intelligence subcommittee charged with overseeing the C.I.A.’s performance in recruiting Islamic spies and analyzing information, was similarly dumbfounded when I asked her if she knew the difference between Sunnis and Shiites.

“Do I?” she asked me. A look of concentration came over her face. “You know, I should.” She took a stab at it: “It’s a difference in their fundamental religious beliefs. The Sunni are more radical than the Shia. Or vice versa. But I think it’s the Sunnis who’re more radical than the Shia.”

Did she know which branch Al Qaeda’s leaders follow?

“Al Qaeda is the one that’s most radical, so I think they’re Sunni,” she replied. “I may be wrong, but I think that’s right.”

Did she think that it was important, I asked, for members of Congress charged with oversight of the intelligence agencies, to know the answer to such questions, so they can cut through officials’ puffery when they came up to the Hill?

“Oh, I think it’s very important,” said Ms. Davis, “because Al Qaeda’s whole reason for being is based on their beliefs. And you’ve got to understand, and to know your enemy.”

It’s not all so grimly humorous. Some agency officials and members of Congress have easily handled my “gotcha” question. But as I keep asking it around Capitol Hill and the agencies, I get more and more blank stares. Too many officials in charge of the war on terrorism just don’t care to learn much, if anything, about the enemy we’re fighting. And that’s enough to keep anybody up at night.

Jeff Stein is the national security editor at Congressional Quarterly.

Sunnis constitute the vast majority of the world's Muslims. They believe that the first four supreme religious leaders, or caliphs, were the rightful successors of the Prophet Mohammed. Sunni Islam draws its name from its identification with the importance of the Sunnah, which literally means "the path." The Sunnah is the example set by the life of the prophet Mohammed. The written document based on the teachings and practices of Mohammed, known as the Hadith, serves as a supplement to the Koran.

Understanding Islam

Sunnism is divided into four legal schools: Hanifi, Maliki, Shafi and Hanbali. These four Islamic schools of jurisprudence were established centuries ago as a way of interpreting the Koran and the Hadith.

While most Sunnis fall within the mainstream of Islam, two particular minority Sunni orientations have moved into the spotlight due to the conflict in Afghanistan.

Click on the names Wahhabism and Deobandism to learn more about them.

Shi'a Islam, also Shi'ite Islam, Shiite or Shi'ism (Arabic: شيعة, translit: Shī‘ah) is the second largest denomination of the religion based on Islam. Shi'a Muslims adhere to what they consider to be the teachings of the Islamic prophet Muhammad and the religious guidance of his family whom they refer to as the Ahlul Bayt. Thus, Shi'as consider the first three ruling Sunni caliphs a historic occurrence and not something attached to faith. The singular/adjective form is Shī’ī (شيعي.) and refers to a follower of the Household of Muhammad and of Ali ibn Abi Talib (Imam Ali) in particular.

Shi'a Muslims believe that specific persons from Muhammad's family (the Imams) were the best source of knowledge about the Qur'an, Islam, and Emulation (the best-qualified teachers of Islam after Muhammad), and the most trusted carriers and protectors of Muhammad's Sunnah (traditions).

In particular, Shi'a Muslims recognize the succession of Ali (Muhammad's cousin, son-in-law, the first young man to accept Islam — second person only to Muhammad's wife Khadija —and the male head of the Ahl al-Bayt or "people of the [Prophet's] house") as opposed to that of the caliphate recognized by Sunni Muslims. Shi’a Muslims believe that Ali was appointed successor by Muhammad's direct order on many occasions, and that he is therefore the rightful leader of the Muslim faith pursuant to the Prophet's wishes.

This difference between following either the Ahl al-Bayt (Muhammad's family) or the Caliph Abu Bakr has shaped Shi’ah and non-Shi’ah views on some of the Qur'an, the Hadith (narrations from the prophet) and other areas by extension. For instance, the collection of Hadith venerated by Shi'a Muslims is centered around narrations by members of the Ahl al-Bayt, while some Hadith by narrators not belonging to the Ahl al-Bayt are not included (those of Abu Huraira, for example).

Regardless of the dispute about the Caliphate, Shi'as recognize the authority of the Shi'a Imam (also called Khalifa Ilahi) as a religious authority, though different sects within Shi'a Islam dispute the rightful succession of this Imam and the current rightful successor (Twelvers, Ismalis, and Zaydīs, for instance)

Iraq war -It's about the oil remember

Bush's Petro-Cartel Almost Has Iraq's Oil

By Joshua Holland, AlterNet
Posted on October 16, 2006, Printed on October 18, 2006

Editor's note: This is the first of a two-part series. Go here to read the second installment.

Iraq is sitting on a mother lode of some of the lightest, sweetest, most profitable crude oil on earth, and the rules that will determine who will control it and on what terms are about to be set.

The Iraqi government faces a December deadline, imposed by the world's wealthiest countries, to complete its final oil law. Industry analysts expect that the result will be a radical departure from the laws governing the country's oil-rich neighbors, giving foreign multinationals a much higher rate of return than with other major oil producers and locking in their control over what George Bush called Iraq's "patrimony" for decades, regardless of what kind of policies future elected governments might want to pursue.

Iraq's energy reserves are an incredibly rich prize. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, "Iraq contains 112 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, the second largest in the world (behind Saudi Arabia), along with roughly 220 billion barrels of probable and possible resources. Iraq's true potential may be far greater than this, however, as the country is relatively unexplored due to years of war and sanctions." For perspective, the Saudis have 260 billion barrels of proven reserves.

Iraqi oil is close to the surface and easy to extract, making it all the more profitable. James Paul, executive director of the Global Policy Forum, points out that oil companies "can produce a barrel of Iraqi oil for less than $1.50 and possibly as little as $1, including all exploration, oilfield development and production costs." Contrast that with other areas where oil is considered cheap to produce at $5 per barrel or the North Sea, where production costs are $12-16 per barrel.

And Iraq's oil sector is largely undeveloped. Former Iraqi Oil Minister Issam Chalabi (no relation to the neocons' favorite exile, Ahmed Chalabi) told the Associated Press that "Iraq has more oil fields that have been discovered, but not developed, than any other country in the world." British-based analyst Mohammad Al-Gallani told the Canadian Press that of 526 prospective drilling sites, just 125 have been opened.

But the real gem -- what one oil consultant called the "Holy Grail" of the industry -- lies in Iraq's vast western desert. It's one of the last "virgin" fields on the planet, and it has the potential to catapult Iraq to No. 1 in the world in oil reserves. Sparsely populated, the western fields are less prone to sabotage than the country's current centers of production in the north, near Kirkuk, and in the south near Basra. The Nation's Aram Roston predicts Iraq's western desert will yield "untold riches."

Iraq also may have large natural gas deposits that so far remain virtually unexplored.

But even "untold riches" don't tell the whole story. Depending on how Iraq's petroleum law shakes out, the country's enormous reserves could break the back of OPEC, a wet dream in Western capitals for three decades. James Paul predicted that "even before Iraq had reached its full production potential of 8 million barrels or more per day, the companies would gain huge leverage over the international oil system. OPEC would be weakened by the withdrawal of one of its key producers from the OPEC quota system." Depending on how things shape up in the next few months, Western oil companies could end up controlling the country's output levels, or the government, heavily influenced by the United States, could even pull out of the cartel entirely.

Both independent analysts and officials within Iraq's Oil Ministry anticipate that when all is said and done, the big winners in Iraq will be the Big Four -- the American firms Exxon-Mobile and Chevron, the British BP-Amoco and Royal Dutch-Shell -- that dominate the world oil market. Ibrahim Mohammed, an industry consultant with close contacts in the Iraqi Oil Ministry, told the Associated Press that there's a universal belief among ministry staff that the major U.S. companies will win the lion's share of contracts. "The feeling is that the new government is going to be influenced by the United States," he said.

During the 12-year sanction period, the Big Four were forced to sit on the sidelines while the government of Saddam Hussein cut deals with the Chinese, French, Russians and others (despite the sanctions, the United States ultimately received 37 percent of Iraq's oil during that period, according to the independent committee that investigated the oil-for-food program, but almost all of it arrived through foreign firms). In a 1999 speech, Dick Cheney, then CEO of the oil services company Halliburton, told a London audience that the Middle East was where the West would find the additional 50 million barrels of oil per day that he predicted it would need by 2010, but, he lamented, "while even though companies are anxious for greater access there, progress continues to be slow."

Chafing at the idea that the Chinese and Russians might end up with what is arguably the world's greatest energy prize, industry leaders lobbied hard for regime change throughout the 1990s. With the election of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney in 2000 -- the first time in U.S. history that two veterans of the oil industry had ever occupied the nation's top two jobs -- they would finally get the "greater access" to the region's oil wealth, which they had long lusted after.

If the U.S. invasion of Iraq had occurred during the colonial era a hundred years earlier, the oil giants, backed by U.S. forces, would have simply seized Iraq's oil fields. Much has changed since then in terms of international custom and law (when then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz did in fact suggest seizing Iraq's Southern oil fields in 2002, Colin Powell dismissed the idea as "lunacy").

Understanding how Big Oil came to this point, poised to take effective control of the bulk of the country's reserves while they remain, technically, in the hands of the Iraqi government -- a government with all the trappings of sovereignty -- is to grasp the sometimes intricate dance that is modern neocolonialism. The Iraq oil grab is a classic case study.

It's clear that the U.S.-led invasion had little to do with national security or the events of Sept. 11. Former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill revealed that just 11 days after Bush's inauguration in early 2001, regime change in Iraq was "Topic A" among the administration's national security staff, and former Terrorism Tsar Richard Clarke told 60 Minutes that the day after the attacks in New York and Washington occurred, "[Secretary of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld was saying that we needed to bomb Iraq." He added: "We all said … no, no. Al-Qaeda is in Afghanistan."

On March 7, 2003, two weeks before the United States attacked Iraq, the U.N.'s chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix, told the U.N. Security Council that Saddam Hussein's cooperation with the inspections protocol had improved to the point where it was "active or even proactive," and that the inspectors would be able to certify that Iraq was free of prohibited weapons within a few months' time. That same day, IAEA head Mohammed ElBaradei reported that there was no evidence of a current nuclear program in Iraq and flatly refuted the administration's claim that the infamous aluminum tubes cited by Colin Powell in making his case for war before the Security Council were part of a reconstituted nuclear program.

But serious planning for the war had begun in February of 2002, as Bob Woodward revealed in his book, Plan of Attack. Planning for the future of Iraq's oil wealth had been under way for longer still.

In February of 2001, just weeks after Bush was sworn in, the same energy executives that had been lobbying for Saddam's ouster gathered at the White House to participate in Dick Cheney's now infamous Energy Task Force. Although Cheney would go all the way to the Supreme Court to keep what happened at those meetings a secret, we do know a few things, thanks to documents obtained by the conservative legal group JudicialWatch. As Mark Levine wrote in The Nation($$):

… a map of Iraq and an accompanying list of "Iraq oil foreign suitors" were the center of discussion. The map erased all features of the country save the location of its main oil deposits, divided into nine exploration blocks. The accompanying list of suitors revealed that dozens of companies from 30 countries -- but not the United States -- were either in discussions over or in direct negotiations for rights to some of the best remaining oilfields on earth.

Levine wrote, "It's not hard to surmise how the participants in these meetings felt about this situation."

According to the New Yorker, at the same time, a top-secret National Security Council memo directed NSC staff to "cooperate fully with the Energy Task Force as it considered melding two seemingly unrelated areas of policy." The administration's national security team was to join "the review of operational policies towards rogue states such as Iraq and actions regarding the capture of new and existing oil and gas fields."

At the State Department, planning was also underway. Under the auspices of the "Future of Iraq Project," an "Oil and Energy Working Group" was established. The full membership of the group -- described by the Financial Times as "Iraqi oil experts, international consultants" and State Department staffers -- remains classified, but among them, according to Antonia Juhasz's "The Bush Agenda," was Ibrahim Bahr al-Uloum, who would serve in Iyad Allawi's cabinet during the period of the Iraqi Governing Council, and later as Iraq's oil minister in 2005. The group concluded that Iraq's oil "should be opened to international oil companies as quickly as possible after the war."

But the execs from Big Oil didn't just want access to Iraq's oil; they wanted access on terms that would be inconceivable unless negotiated at the barrel of a gun. Specifically, they wanted an Iraqi government that would enter into production service agreements (PSAs) for the extraction of Iraq's oil.

PSAs, developed in the 1960s, are a tool of today's kinder, gentler neocolonialism; they allow countries to retain technical ownership over energy reserves but, in actuality, lock in multinationals' control and extremely high profit margins -- up to 13 times oil companies' minimum target, according to an analysis by the British-based oil watchdog Platform (PDF).

As Greg Muttit, an analyst with the group, notes:

Such contracts are often used in countries with small or difficult oilfields, or where high-risk exploration is required. They are not generally used in countries like Iraq, where there are large fields which are already known and which are cheap to extract. For example, they are not used in Iran, Kuwait or Saudi Arabia, all of which maintain state control of oil.

In fact, Muttit adds, of the seven leading oil producing countries, only Russia has entered into PSAs, and those were signed during its own economic "shock therapy" in the early 1990s. A number of Iraq's oil-rich neighbors have constitutions that specifically prohibit foreign control over their energy reserves.

PSAs often have long terms -- up to 40 years -- and contain "stabilization clauses" that protect them from future legislative changes. As Muttit points out, future governments "could be constrained in their ability to pass new laws or policies." That means, for example, that if a future elected Iraqi government "wanted to pass a human rights law, or wanted to introduce a minimum wage [and it] affected the company's profits, either the law would not apply to the company's operations or the government would have to compensate the company for any reduction in profits." It's Sovereignty Lite.

The deals are so onerous that they govern only 12 percent of the world's oil reserves, according to the International Energy Agency. Nonetheless, PSAs would become the Future of Iraq Project's recommendation for the fledgling Iraqi government. According to the Financial Times, "many in the group" fought for the contract structure; a Kurdish delegate told the FT, "everybody keeps coming back to PSAs."

Of course, the plans for Iraq's legal framework for oil have to be viewed in the context of the overall transformation of the Iraqi economy. Clearly, the idea was to pursue a radical corporatist agenda during the period of the Coalition Provisional Authority when the U.S. occupation forces were a de facto dictatorship. And that's just what happened; under L. Paul Bremer, the CPA head, corporate taxes were slashed, a flat-tax on income was established, rules allowing multinationals to pull all of their profits from the country and a series of other provisions were enacted. These were then integrated into the Iraqi Constitution and remain in effect today.

Among the provisions in the Constitution, unlike those of most oil producers, is a requirement that the government "develop oil and gas wealth … relying on the most modern techniques of market principles and encouraging investment." The provision mandates that foreign companies would receive a major stake in Iraq's oil for the first time in the 30 years since the sector was nationalized in 1975.

Herbert Docena, a researcher with the NGO Focus on the Global South, wrote that an early draft of the constitution negotiated by Iraqis envisioned a "Scandinavian-style welfare system in the Arabian desert, with Iraq's vast oil wealth to be spent upholding every Iraqi's right to education, health care, housing, and other social services." "Social justice," the draft declared, "is the basis of building society."

What happened between that earlier draft and the constitution that Iraqis would eventually ratify? According to Docena:

While [U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay] Khalilzad and his team of U.S. and British diplomats were all over the scene, some members of Iraq's constitutional committee were reduced to bystanders. One Shiite member grumbled, "We haven't played much of a role in drafting the constitution. We feel that we have been neglected." A Sunni negotiator concluded: "This constitution was cooked up in an American kitchen not an Iraqi one."

With a constitution cooked up in D.C., the stage was set for foreign multinationals to assume effective control of as much as 87 percent of Iraq's oil, according to projections by the Oil Ministry. If PSAs become the law of the land -- and there are other contractual arrangements that would allow private companies to invest in the sector without giving them the same degree of control or such usurious profits -- the war-torn country stands to lose up to 194 billion vitally important dollars in revenue on just the first 12 fields developed, according to a conservative estimate by Platform (the estimate assumes oil at $40 per barrel; at this writing it stands at more than $59). That's more than six times the country's annual budget.

To complete the rip-off, the occupying coalition would have to crush Iraqi resistance, make sure it had friendly people in the right places in Iraq's emerging elite and lock the new Iraqi government onto a path that would lead to the Big Four's desired outcome.

See part two tomorrow.

Joshua Holland is an AlterNet staff writer.

© 2006 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
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Iraq a helluva mess: James Baker

Iraq a helluva mess: Baker | The Daily Telegraph: "FORMER US secretary of state James Baker was visibly shocked when he last visited Iraq, and said the country was in a 'helluva mess', the BBC reported today.

Mr Baker is leading a review of the situation in Iraq by a bipartisan US committee of experts, and is expected to recommend a change in US strategy for rebuilding Iraq.

Citing a unnamed close friend and ally of Mr Baker's, himself a top politician, the BBC reported that Mr Baker said 'there simply weren't any easy solutions'.

Mr Baker was secretary of state to US President George W. Bush's father, president George Bush.

Citing unnamed members of Mr Baker's committee, The Los Angeles Times yesterday said that two options under consideration would represent reversals of US policy - withdrawing American troops in phases, and bringing neighbouring Iran and Syria into a joint effort to stop the fighting.

The BBC also reported that a third possibility was under consideration - to concentrate on getting stability in Iraq, and stop aiming to establish a democracy there.

The 10-member commission has agreed that change must be made, the Times report said.

'It's not going to be 'stay the course,'' the paper quoted one participant as saying. 'The bottom line is, (current policy) isn't working. There's got to be another way."

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Troops 'roll the dice' with push into Triangle of Death -

Troops 'roll the dice' with push into Triangle of Death

By Arwa Damon

In our Behind the Scenes series, CNN correspondents share their experiences in covering news and analyze the stories behind the events.

YUSIFIYA, Iraq (CNN) -- In the distance, explosions are heard -- it could be anything. The American soldiers don't even look up.

Their focus is on reading the land. To the untrained eye it looks benign. But for them it is filled with clues and potentially deadly traps.

Sgt. Joshua Bartlett, 24 and on his second tour here, hacks through weeds with his machete. A few yards away, two other soldiers with sweat pouring down their faces dig away dirt with their knives. (Watch troops comb weeds looking for weapons -- 1:46Video)

"It's like an Easter egg hunt, only you roll the dice every time you do it," 24-year-old Sgt. Frankie Parra says. He's half-joking as he stands over a pile of 60 mm mortar rounds freshly dug from underneath weeds in the fields and farmlands just south of Baghdad.

His deployments aren't getting any easier. On his third tour in Iraq, he's operating -- along with the men of Charlie Company, 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division -- in an area known as the "Triangle of Death."

Four soldiers from this battalion have been killed on this volatile patch of land, just outside Yusifiya and 12 miles (20 kilometers) south of Baghdad, in the two weeks since Operation Commando Hunter began, and another 20 have been wounded.

The troops are pushing into fields and farmlands where there had been no regular U.S. presence for the better part of the last three years. In this same area, two American soldiers were kidnapped in a checkpoint attack in June and then murdered. (Full story)

The insurgency here has literally dug itself in. The soldiers are finding a gold mine of weapons caches 3 to 6 inches below ground. Intertwining canals lined with tall reeds offer insurgents plenty of cover ideal for snipers and ambushes.

"It's OJT -- on the job training," says the 30-year-old company commander, Capt. Shane Finn. On his second tour of duty here, he peers into the tall reeds looking for telltale signs that the enemy may be lurking nearby.

"I know that there is going to be something right around that corner," he says, pointing to the opposite side of the canal where some of the larger caches were found in the last two weeks.

Sure enough, carefully hidden in the weeds, the troops first find an AK-74, slightly smaller caliber than an AK-47, and magazines. "This looks like a spotter's position," Finn says.

Within minutes and a few yards away, the troops uncover mortars. Across the road, they find wiring, an array of crude triggers and, nearby, a "poor man's EFP [explosively formed projectile]." Basically a tube with plastic explosives, the directional charge is lethal.

"It looks like we interrupted someone planning on laying more IEDs [improvised explosive devices]," Finn says.

What they find on this day pales compared to what's been uncovered during the last two weeks. The troops are working on clearing an area no larger than 4 square miles (6 kilometers) and already they have found more than 100 weapons caches with enough material to make at least 1,000 roadside bombs.

The soldiers also discovered anti-aircraft machine guns (the 101st Brigade that previously operated here had at least two helicopters shot down); half a dozen sniper rifles, some with night vision capabilities; crude rocket-propelled grenade launchers and mortar launching tubes; and 55-gallon drums filled with liquid explosives.

All these men -- from the seasoned veterans to the fresh-faced privates -- display an upbeat attitude. One would never think they were operating under circumstances in which a wrong step, an unlucky jab with a knife into the ground or an insurgent attack could cost them a limb or their lives.

In these fields, the troops say they are able to see the difference they are making -- each weapon found is a step in the right direction, each returning family and reopening shop offers hope.

As night falls and the relentless mosquitoes come out, the soldiers head back to their patrol base, a dismal two-story building they now call home.

They dine on MREs (meals ready to eat), read magazines by flashlight and sleep any place they can find a cozy spot on the ground. Sorry, no shower.

They joke, give each other a hard time, and don't complain. In the morning, they will head back out again.

Find this article at:

Sandbox attracting e-mails from U.S. soldiers

Sandbox attracting e-mails from U.S. soldiers:

Sandbox attracting e-mails from U.S. soldiers

Last Updated: Friday, October 13, 2006 | 6:01 PM ET

A new website where U.S. soldiers can e-mail their observations is attracting personal reflections from soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Set up by Garry Trudeau, creator of the cartoon Doonesbury, The Sandbox is a the "forward position" in the war on terror, he wrote on the site. It's supposed to present "the unclassified details of deployment — the everyday, the extraordinary, the wonderful, the messed-up, the absurd."

And soldiers are responding. Capt. Lee Kelley wrote from Iraq that getting mail "becomes a miniature Christmas, a small token or package or gift from a magical land far away that now seems kind of fuzzy in your memory, like Santa and his reindeer through the glass of a child’s globe which has just been shaken."

A captain in Ft. Hood, Texas, wrote about packing up the effects of a 23-year-old soldier who had been killed in Iraq. There were no patriotic materials, no flags or copies of the Constitution.

"She left behind shoes and a television. She was a normal American, or could have been, had she not been killed in Iraq."

A sailor called Tadpole serving in Afghanistan said when war is mentioned in the United States, it's mostly about Iraq.

"Many of us over here feel like the forgotten bastard step-children of war."

"American Soldier," who was wounded in Iraq, met another soldier who had been working on the plane that had taken him from the combat zone.

"I was in and out for the duration of the flight but I remembered his face. What are the chances of that?"

But the crew member was even more pleased. He said he knew what happened to the soldiers in boxes, but was curious about the wounded.

The soldier responded to American Soldier with tears in his eyes: "In the 16 years of my career, I've always wondered about the guys that we flew out. You have made my career come full circle by meeting you."

While The Sandbox is not supposed to be political, observations on U.S. actions do make an appearance.

"But there is no 'winning' here," Staff Sgt. Emily Joy Schwenkler wrote from Baghdad.

"I can see the signs that our government is beginning to realize the same thing," because it's doing the same things the U.S. did when it began to withdraw from Vietnam — training the Iraqi army to defend the country, just as the U.S. tried to get the South Vietnamese army to take over the battle against the communists.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Video :Marines in urban combat

Reality Check

October 12, 2006

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Study: 655,000 Iraqis die because of war on Yahoo! News

Study: 655,000 Iraqis die because of war

By MALCOLM RITTER, AP Science WriterWed Oct 11, 6:09 AM ET

A controversial new study contends nearly 655,000 Iraqis have died because of the war, suggesting a far higher death toll than other estimates.

The timing of the survey's release, just a few weeks before the U.S. congressional elections, led one expert to call it "politics."

In the new study, researchers attempt to calculate how many more Iraqis have died since March 2003 than one would expect without the war. Their conclusion, based on interviews of households and not a body count, is that about 600,000 died from violence, mostly gunfire. They also found a small increase in deaths from other causes like heart disease and cancer.

"Deaths are occurring in Iraq now at a rate more than three times that from before the invasion of March 2003," Dr. Gilbert Burnham, lead author of the study, said in a statement.

The study by Burnham, of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and others is to be published Thursday on the Web site of The Lancet, a medical journal.

An accurate count of Iraqi deaths has been difficult to obtain, but one respected group puts its rough estimate at closer to 50,000. And at least one expert was skeptical of the new findings.

"They're almost certainly way too high," said Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic & International Studies in Washington. He criticized the way the estimate was derived and noted that the results were released shortly before the Nov. 7 election.

"This is not analysis, this is politics," Cordesman said.

The work updates an earlier Johns Hopkins study — that one was released just before the November 2004 presidential election. At the time, the lead researcher, Les Roberts of Hopkins, said the timing was deliberate. Many of the same researchers were involved in the latest estimate.

Speaking of the new study, Burnham said the estimate was much higher than others because it was derived from a house-to-house survey rather than approaches that depend on body counts or media reports.

A private group called Iraqi Body Count, for example, says it has recorded about 44,000 to 49,000 civilian Iraqi deaths. But it notes that those totals are based on media reports, which it says probably overlook "many if not most civilian casualties."

For Burnham's study, researchers gathered data from a sample of 1,849 Iraqi households with a total of 12,801 residents from late May to early July. That sample was used to extrapolate the total figure. The estimate deals with deaths up to July.

The survey participants attributed about 31 percent of violent deaths to coalition forces.

Accurate death tolls have been difficult to obtain ever since the Iraq conflict began in March 2003. When top Iraqi political officials cite death numbers, they often refuse to say where the numbers came from.

The Health Ministry, which tallies civilian deaths, relies on reports from government hospitals and morgues. The Interior Ministry compiles its figures from police stations, while the Defense Ministry reports deaths only among army soldiers and insurgents killed in combat.

The United Nations keeps its own count, based largely on reports from the Baghdad morgue and the Health Ministry.

The major funder of the new study was the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


On the Net:

The Lancet:

Iraqi Body Count:

Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. The information contained in the AP News report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press.

Paper: Detainee Lawyer Must Leave Navy

Paper: Detainee Lawyer Must Leave Navy

The Navy lawyer who led a successful Supreme Court challenge of the Bush administration's military tribunals for detainees at Guantanamo Bay has been passed over for promotion and will have to leave the military, The Miami Herald reported Sunday.

Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift talks to reporters outside the Supreme Court in Washington in this June 29, 2006, file photo. Smith, who led a successful Supreme Court challenge of the Bush administration's military tribunals for detainees at Guantanamo Bay, has reportedly been passed over for a promotion and will have to leave the Navy. (AP Photo/Dennis Cook, File)
Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift, 44, will retire in March or April under the military's "up or out" promotion system. Swift said last week he was notified he would not be promoted to commander.

He said the notification came about two weeks after the Supreme Court sided with him and against the White House in the case involving Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Yemeni who was Osama bin Laden's driver.

"It was a pleasure to serve," Swift told the newspaper. He added he would have defended Hamdan even if he had known it would cut short his Navy career.

"All I ever wanted was to make a difference — and in that sense I think my career and personal satisfaction has been beyond my dreams," Swift said.

The Pentagon had no comment Sunday.

A graduate of the University of Seattle School of Law, Swift plans to continue defending Hamdan as a civilian.

The 36-year-old Hamdan was captured along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan while fleeing the U.S. invasion that was a response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Hamdan has acknowledged that bin Laden paid him $200 a month as his driver on a Kandahar farm, but he says he never joined al-Qaida or engaged in military fighting.

Hamdan turned to civilian courts to challenge the constitutionality of his war-crimes trial, a case that eventually led the Supreme Court to rule that President Bush had outstripped his authority when he created ad hoc military tribunals for prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Swift's supervisor said he served with distinction.

"Charlie has obviously done an exceptional job, a really extraordinary job," said Marine Col. Dwight Sullivan, the Pentagon's chief defense counsel for Military Commissions. He added it was "quite a coincidence" that Swift was passed over for a promotion "within two weeks of the Supreme Court opinion."

Washington, D.C., attorney Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice, said Swift was "a no-brainer for promotion." Swift joins many other distinguished Navy officers over the years who have seen their careers end prematurely, Fidell said.

"He brought real credit to the Navy," Fidell said. "It's too bad that it's unrequited love."

Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press

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