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Posts by Daniel W. Smith

US Visas for Iraqis that worked with US? Sports woes.
07/25/2008 01:59 AM ET
Gruesome evidence leads to the possibility of another in the chilling trend of female suicide bombers in Diyala, targeting Awakening Council members and policemen. Chances for Iraqis who've worked for Americans obtaining US visas and citizenship are discussed. More disappointments for Iraqi sports fans and, of course, a few more opinions on Obama's visit to Iraq.

From Iraq
The New York Times’ Richard A. Oppel Jr. reports on the latest explosion in Baquba, which killed a “pro-American Sunni militia leader”(Awakening Council leader), an Iraqi police captain, a local politician, and five others. Thirty were wounded. The extent of the damage first led officials to believe that it was caused by a car bomb, but two female legs lying near the site, paired with some characteristics of the blast, suggest that it was in fact the work of a female suicide bomber. The general lack of consistent searching of females has led to a rise in this tactic, thought to be employed by al-Qaeda in Iraq. It was carried out in front of a restaurant popular with policemen. US-backed Awakening (or Sahwa)councils complain of not receiving proper support. In other targeting of Awakening council members, gunmen speeding through Baghdad’s al-Adhamiya district waving machine guns killed at least three of them.

Also in the New York Times, Alissa J. Rubin tells of the American Embassy in Baghdad’s announcement that it had expanded tenfold its program to help Iraqi employees of the American government to obtain visas and ultimately citizenship in the United States. The program was first announced in January, but applications have reportedly been being processed in the past few weeks. Last year, a similar program allowed only 500 Iraqi and Afghan translators to apply, and in 2006 the number was 50. Five thousand per year are slated for the next half decade, which include family members of Iraqis who have worked as translators or in other jobs which served American interests in Iraq, many of whom face threats of violence and death as a result. Rubin gives a good basic explanation of the plan, but Walter Pincus paints a bleaker picture of the situation in the Washington Post, chronicling the US government’s history of failure to help these people, and the continuing obstacles they face.

Iraqi Sports in the News
The Washington Post’s Amit R. Paley and Amy Shipley report that the International Olympic Committee has banned most of the seven Iraqis slated for the upcoming Beijing Olympic Games from participating. Members of Iraq’s disbanded Iraqi Olympic committee had been accused of corruption, rigging elections, and choosing athletes based upon sectarian background. Juliet Macur of the New York Times writes pretty much the same story, but reports that it is only “highly unlikely” that the two remaining candidates (a discus thrower and the much reported-on sprinter Dana Hussein) will be able to attend. More Iraqi hopes dashed.

Joshua Robinson and Ali al-Shouk of the Times report that Iraq’s national football (soccer, to us Yanks) federation is pressing that Qatar should have to forfeit a match four months ago that helped push Iraq’s team out of the World Cup. The argument taken to FIFA, the world governing football body, is that one of Qatar’s players was ineligible to play on their team at the time of the match.

Washington Post Op-ed columnist Charles Krauthammer speaks of Barack Obama and Prime Minister al-Maliki cooperating to mutual benefit, with the oh-so witty title of "Maliki Votes for Obama".

The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page chimes in on Obama’s recent travels, putting it into a historical perspective by comparing it to other American figures' speeches while abroad. Obama is praised for his performances in both Iraq and Europe, but slammed for his unwillingness to admit that everything good in Iraq is due to the “Surge”.

Christian Science Monitor, USA Today no Iraq Coverage.

Restrictions on combat photography: McCain endorses Obama's pullout timetable?
07/26/2008 01:59 AM ET
With the weekend upon us, and everyone with Saturday editions but the New York Times ignoring Iraq it’s pretty much an exclusively Times roundup.

From Baghdad
The New York Times’ Michael Kamber and Tim Arango give the main offering of the day, with a straightforward and effective story about the US military’s increased control over images of dead American servicemen in the war in Iraq. The issue has again come to the forefront in the wake of a freelance photographer named Zoriah Miller being “disembedded” and then forbidden to work in Marine Corps-controlled areas of the country. He has since left Iraq, and he cries "censorship", along with many others. Miller was embedded with a battalion of Marines in Anbar province on July 26, the day that a suicide bomber detonated his vest inside a council meeting in the town of Garma. It killed 20 people, including three marines. Miller was escorted from the scene after taking photographs for ten minutes. Embed rules forbid showing identifiable soldiers killed in action before their families have been notified. Three days after the notification, and after he reportedly showed edited versions of the photos to marines, and was told that the soldiers pictured were in fact not recognizable, he posted the images on his blog. The next morning, high-ranking Marine public affairs officers demanded that Mr. Miller remove the photos. When he refused, his embed was terminated. On July 3, Mr. Miller was given a letter barring him from Marine installations, stating that he had violated publication of any photos that reveal “any tactics, techniques and procedures witnessed during operations,” or that “provides information on the effectiveness of enemy techniques.” The images are close shots of bodies lying on the ground, and make the military’s argument that the shots betrayed security or operational secrets questionable. The current tactics employed by the US military are contrasted with the more open policies in past wars like Vietnam, and the ongoing controversy of the barring of photography from military funerals and of returning coffins are covered. A few other photographers' ordeals are included as well. Kanber and Arango report that only half a dozen Western photographers are covering a war in which 150,000 American troops are engaged, and though more than 4,000 American combat deaths have occurred, searches and interviews turned up fewer than six graphic photographs of dead American soldiers.

Sabrina Tavernise of the New York Times, reports on the growing oil exports from Iraq’s northern Kurdistan region. The Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraqi Reconstruction said in a report for release on Saturday that there had been no insurgent attacks on the pipeline, which exports crude oil from northern Iraq to Turkey, since an American infrastructure project began last July. The report put the revenue of the increased exports at $8 billion. That’s about it for the story, without much analysis. In other news, a member of Parliament, Sheik Jalaladeen al-Sagheer, spoke out against the recent decision to not allow the use of religious symbols or canvass in mosques for Iraq’s upcoming provincial elections. Also, the US military acknowledged that it fired upon a taxi, killing the 14 year old son of an American-financed newspaper in Kirkuk on Thursday, saying the soldiers were returning fire after being shot at from the taxi.

Tom Shanker of the Times writes about Defense Secretary Robert Gates asking Congress for the authority to shift $1.2 billion in Pentagon spending to increase the ability and speed of battlefield surveillance to US troops. It would also pay for what one official called the “technical architecture” that allows surveillance aircraft to send information to ground terminals where it can be stored, sorted and analyzed. “I’ve been wrestling for months to get more intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets into the theater,” says Gates. “Because people were stuck in old ways of doing business, it’s been like pulling teeth.”

There are three reports on John McCain’s comments that seem to somewhat support the concept of the 16 month timetable, or “horizon” endorsed by Barack Obama, and recently reinforced by Prime Minister al-Maliki. Anyone who mentions this topic lately seems to get themselves in trouble, and McCain is no exception. Of course, any specifics are always tempered with a “We’ll wait to see what happens on the ground” qualification. Michael Cooper of the New York Times gives a straight account with all the quotes, but (in its only Iraq reportage of the day) the Washington Post’s Robert Barnes gives more of a McCain update, making it a joint story about both his Iraq statements and his meeting on the same day with the Dalai Lama. Elisabeth Bumiller in the Times also touches on the comments about Iraq being a departure from the policies of the Bush administration. For clarity, here’s McCain’s actual quote. “I think it’s a pretty good timetable, as we should — or horizons for withdrawal. But they have to be based on conditions on the ground. This success is very fragile. It’s incredibly impressive, but very fragile. So we know, those of us who have been involved in it for many years, know that if we reverse this, by setting a date for withdrawal, all of the hard-won victory can be reversed.”

Wall Street Journal, no Iraq coverage.
Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, no Saturday Editions.

Courtroom confrontations with Saddam remembered: How we view Iraq incorrectly
07/27/2008 01:59 AM ET
Not much about Iraq today, but it is Sunday. The Mehdi Army, about whom we haven't heard much lately, are the subject of today's main story.

From Baghdad
Sabrina Tavernise of the New York Times, reports on the diminishing influence of Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army militia. Once a very visible force that exerted far reaching control over many areas in Baghdad, it has gone very quiet since the Prime Minister al-Maliki’s military operations in Sadr City in March and April. Many Mehdi Army leaders and rank-and-file members who once demanded money for protection and services are now flatly denied, something unthinkable just six months ago. Some are even threatened. Tavernise focuses not just on the violence, but uses the stranglehold that the Mehdi Army had on local economies to illustrate the situation, both then and now. Money was extorted from gas stations, private minibus services, electric switching stations, food and clothing markets, ice factories, and even from squatters in houses whose owners had been displaced. The four main gas stations in Sadr City alone were handing over a total of about $13,000 a day, according to a member of the local council. To show how things have changed, a member of the North Baghdad Shuala district council said: “They used to come and order us to give them 100 gas canisters. Now it’s, ‘Can you please give me a gas canister?’ ” Lest anyone gets the idea that the Mehdi Army is something of the past, it is important to note that none of the Sadr City or Shuala civilians interviewed agreed to have their names used in the story, for fear of violent reprisal. The final section of the story is entitled “Lingering Fears”, and lists plenty of them. We’re not likely to have heard the last of the Mehdi Army.

The Washington Post’s Nora Boustany gives us recollections of the trial of Saddam Hussein by Judge Raid Juhi Hamadi al-Saedi, who was the chief investigative judge of the special tribunal that tried Hussein. Judge al-Saedi recounts parts of the year-long trial, mostly verbal exchanges when he got the better of Husssein. In his capacity as the Iraqi High Tribunal's chief investigative judge, indicted the former president and seven other men for crimes against humanity in the killing of 148 men and boys from the Shiite village of Dujail in 1982. He also indicted Hussein and his industrialization minister, known as Chemical Ali, for genocide in the slaughter of 182,000 mostly Kurdish Iraqis in the 1987-88 Anfal campaigns. The trial in the Dujail case opened in October 2005. "As a human being, I was nervous about how to do my job right. I was born in Iraq, during Saddam's regime, finished all my degrees under him, and my responsibility to create new justice was centered on this case. It was huge," he said, and goes on to speak about how important the trial was for him, and Iraq as a whole.

Post Op-ed columnist David Ignatius argues that the US press is looking at the situation in Iraq incorrectly as a primarily American issue, and not an Iraqi one. He begins his column “With characteristic self-absorption, Americans are looking at Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's recent statements about a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troops in terms of our 2008 presidential election. We should see this issue instead in terms of Iraqi history.” It’s not just about the American presence in Iraq, but the British presence in Iraq in the 1920s, and their corresponding lack of popularity. When the British were kicked out, it created a sense of Iraq as a nation. Ignatius sees the brutal rule of Saddam Hussein as having damaged that sense, but that “That nation is now beginning to reassert itself, in demands for sovereignty and an end to American occupation. Maliki makes his bones in this revived Iraq by standing up to Tehran and by standing up to Washington, too.” He asks the reader to see the situation from the point of view of the population most affected by the events in question, which is never too bad of an idea.

Wall Street Journal, Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, no Sunday Editions.

Iraqis, once called "criminals" by US, cleared: More reconstruction problems
07/28/2008 01:59 AM ET
The Washington Post leads the day for Iraq coverage, with scant or no mention in many other papers. A less than favorable light is cast on an incident in which US soldiers killed three Iraqi civilians, and a reconstruction contractor is audited.

From Baghdad
The main story of the day is the admission that three Iraqi civilians killed while driving to their job at a bank in Baghdad International Airport were “law abiding”. This is in sharp contrast to the initial report, which called them “criminals”, and which said that the US military convoy, stopped by the side of the road at the time, had been fired upon by the bank employees. It has taken just over a month for the admission to be issued. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called loudly that the soldiers involved acted “in cold blood” at the time, and demanded they face criminal charges. Sudarsan Raghavan and Qais Mizher of the Washington Post give a slightly more thorough version of the events in question than the New York Times’ Richard A. Oppel Jr., who completely omits any mention of the much-publicized initial claim by the US soldiers that their vehicles sustained damage from small arms fire (something they aren’t really talking about now). A post-incident cover-up can be read between the lines in both articles, and both are worth reading to get a fuller understanding of the incident.

Dana Hedgpeth and Amit R. Paley of the Washington Post report on a California contractor that received $142 million to build prisons, fire stations and police stations in Iraq that were n ever built or completed, according to the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR). Two detailed audits of the work done by Parsons of Pasadena, CA are expected to be released today. "Far less was accomplished under this contract than originally planned," says the inspector general. "Millions of dollars in waste are likely associated with incomplete, terminated and abandoned projects under this contract." Examples are given of incomplete buildings, the main one being a prison in Diyala without a second floor roof and collapsing floors. The U.S. government says it turned this particular project over to the Iraqis in August 2007, but a spokeswoman for the Iraqi Justice Ministry said yesterday that it was not under their control. "It hasn't been completed yet for it to be handed over to us," said spokeswoman Fayhaa Khudir. More money spent. More bleak, unusable concrete structures.

Washington Post staff photographer Andrea Bruce continues her series ‘Unseen Iraq’, which documents the lives of Iraqis. Today’s is called A Baghdad Commuter, and tells the story of Qasim Ali, a government worker in the Ministry of Trade who must commute by public minibus from Sadr City. Though nothing much for newshounds who want to show off their knowledge of the day’s events, Bruce’s brief slice-of-life pieces are interesting, informative, and personal. This installation is no exception.

Juliet Ailperin of the Washington Post reports that John McCain charges Barack Obama with politicizing the Iraq war for his own benefit. The notion that a candidate would do something like this is truly shocking, I know. Nothing too revolutionary in the article, but it has all the latest counter-attacks.

On Television
Brian Stelter of the New York Times writes about a new MTV program called ‘Homecoming’, in which performer Kanye West and correspondent Sway Callaway show up at the homes of three young Iraq veterans, bearing gifts and gratitude.

Wall Street Journal, Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, no Iraq coverage.

Difficulties of US troops returning home: Iraqi government sabotaging elections?
08/15/2008 01:59 AM ET
I would like to begin my tenure at Iraqslogger with a tip of the hat to Chris Allbritton, whose last column was yesterday. He is off for a fellowship at Stanford, and I am left to fill his formidable shoes. May it be a good move for him. Also, a wish for Iraqis and others who find themselves in Iraq: may the news that comes through this column reflect a future with as little bloodshed as possible.

From Iraq
Yet another female suicide bomber struck Thursday, this one 30 miles south of Baghdad in Iskandariyah. The explosion occurred in a tent full of resting Shiite pilgrims, on their way to the holy city of Karbala to commemorate the birth of Shiite Islam’s 12th imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi. Sunni extremists, having employed female suicide bombers frequently in past months, are suspected. At least 18 were killed, and 68 wounded. An identical attack at nearly the same location occurred one year ago. "The army will replace the police in Iskandariyah after this security violation," said Capt. Muthanna Ahmad, a spokesman for the Babil province police. "The police are not capable to deal with the suicide attacks. They don't have detectors and the necessary equipment for these kind of attacks." A roadside bomb in central Baghdad, thought to have targeted the pilgrims as well, killed three and injured six. The Washington Post’s Sudarsan Raghavan and Saad Sarhan have the most information about the incident, but not a whole lot that isn’t in today’s wire stories. Campbell Robertson at the New York Times has an account that is more brief, but includes some tidbits that nobody else has, like the fact that 33 men, thought to have been planning other attacks on the pilgrims were arrested near Iskandariya earlier in the day. 13 of them are reported to be members of Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia. Both articles follow up with mention that the US Navy has charged six sailors with abusing detainees at the U.S.-run Camp Bucca detention Center in southern Iraq. In a statement, the Navy said that two detainees had suffered "minor abrasions" and that eight other detainees were confined overnight in a cell sprayed with a "riot control agent and then the ventilation secured."

USA Today’s Charles Levinson and Ali A. Nabhan cover a disturbing topic that deserves some attention. The chairman of Iraq’s High Electoral Commission, Faraj al-Haydari, is accusing Iraqi security forces of raiding voter registration centers in an attempt to discourage participation in upcoming elections. Opposition parties claim that the current government is trying to sabotage the elections, for fear of losing power. Areas where other blocs (both Sunni and Shiite) have popular support are reportedly being targeted. According to al-Haydari, “Iraqi troops have either removed, or allowed others to destroy, a large percentage of the 2 million posters distributed nationwide to publicize the registration effort." He continues, "We put up posters next to (security) checkpoints and the next day they're gone," "The people don't know that they're supposed to register." A U.S. military spokesman said forces were aware of fewer than five incidents at 565 registration centers since they opened July 15, and that they were "confident in the Iraqi security forces' ability to secure these elections,". Levinson follows up witha related article, citing two examples of intimidation at an elementary school being used as voter registration center, both witnessed by USA Today staff. The school is located in Baghdad's Sadr City, where Prime Minister al-Maliki's ruling party is not exactly popular. On Thursday, the Iraqi officer in charge of protecting the school is reported to have screamed at the center's director, to hand over names and addresses of voters — which are supposed to be confidential. Colin Kahl, an Iraq expert at the Center for a New American Security, a Washington think tank, said the incident at the school and others were the first evidence that elections could be sabotaged by parties in power. Two days earlier, Iraqi troops had also briefly arrested another polling station director at the same school, after he refused to divulge voter data. When a USA Today reporter entered the premises, an officer ordered his soldiers to lock the front gate, preventing anyone from leaving for about 15 minutes. Gen. Aiden Qader, the Interior Ministry's lead official for election security, confirmed the arrest but dismissed the incident as an isolated case. Sadiq al-Riqabi, a spokesman for the Iraqi prime minister's office, declined to comment on Thursday’s incident.

Marilyn Elias from USA Today reports that, according to new findings announced at an American Psychological Association meeting in Boston, multiple combat deployments to Iraq are increasing serious mental health problems among US soldiers. This adds to the recent piles of literature that site high levels of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression among returning vets, as well as rampant drug and alcohol abuse. Repeated tours seem to make the problem much worse.

Veterans in Books and on TV
Jonathan Kay of the Wall Street Journal reviews a new book chronicling the intense experiences of Iraq veterans by Bing West, entitled ‘The Strongest Tribe’. West has traveled with 60 U.S. and Iraqi battalions, has interviewed 2,000 soldiers, and is a Vietnam veteran himself.

Washington Post Style columnist Tom Shales gives what looks at first like less-than-positive grades to the season finale of Bravo’s ‘Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List’. He questions her less-than-delicate approach to wounded veterans at Walter Reed Hospital, but is won over in the end.

Francis Fukuyama, professor of political economy at the John’s Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, writes an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, called ‘Iraq May Be Stable, But the War Was a Mistake’. The title pretty much gives it away and lets you know if you’ll agree with it or not, depending on which side of the aisle you’re on. It mostly deals with the American political discussion of Iraq, and discusses who was right, and when. He gives McCain some credit for supporting the ‘surge’, but says that “Obama was right on the much more important strategic question of whether the war itself was a prudent policy, and here Mr. McCain remains as wrong as ever.”

Christian Science Monitor, no Iraq coverage.

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