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Born at the Crest of the Empire

Saturday, June 02, 2007

More on the Turks and Kurds.

In this Iraqslogger piece on metrics, Robert Pelton makes a very interesting point. With all the tensions between the Turks and Kurds, the Kurds in Iraq have a substantial number of troops (2 brigades?) out of the Kurdish region participating in "the surge" in Baghdad.

If the Turks do want to go into Kurdish Iraq, they have about a three month window while those troops are in Baghdad.

And, what would happen to "the surge" if those Kurdish troops were suddenly pulled back north?

Again, I don't think the Turks are planning to invade at this point, but with all the tension along the border, an incident could change the dynamics rapidly.

Later: (IHT) Iraqi PM warns Turkey against military incursion into northern Iraq.

(AP) Gates warns Turkey not to invade Iraq

(AP) The PKK vows to resist invasion.

An interesting point

This rather lengthy govexec.com article points out an interesting problem. All of the first and second tier individuals at the Department of Homeland Security are Bush political appointees.

This article asks the question, "what happens to our security in Jan. '09?," but I would argue the problems will start to appear earlier than that as DHS personnel begin to take jobs in the private sector starting in '08.

Certainly, there will be people holding over, but the continuity of knowledge will be severly impaired in a transition. Just interesting.

Picture of the Day - 2

Pictures from outside the G-8 Summit in Rostock, Germany.

"Some 146 police were hurt, 18 of them seriously." (AP)

Neocons tried to undermine China policy

For the last two days, I've been talking about efforts by the Vice President and his allies to subvert presidentially approved foreign policy decisions by trying to scupper diplomatic efforts. In the current, it is Russia and Iran, but also today, we have a rather major historical precedent.
The same top Bush administration neoconservatives who leap-frogged Washington’s foreign policy establishment to topple Saddam Hussein nearly pulled off a similar coup in U.S.-China relations—creating the potential of a nuclear war over Taiwan, a top aide to former Secretary of State Colin Powell says....

The top U.S. diplomat in Taiwan at the time, Douglas Paal, backs up Wilkerson’s account, which is being hotly disputed by key former defense officials.

Coming back to the present problems, for some reason I feel the need to point out that the political infighting skills of Condoleeza Rice appear to be the main hope for staving off military conflict with Iran.

That's a pretty thin reed.

The Turk-Kurd situation is a powderkeg.

All the elements are lining up for a major blowup between the Turks and Kurds. The Turks have poured troops into the mountainous regions that border Iraq, and this small incident at a Kurdish checkpoint rockets to the top of the Army.

The Israelis are fearing a war with Syria

I wouldn't think the Syrians would want this war, but, apparently the Israelis are taking the contingency seriously enough to let it shape their policy. From Haaretz:
The main reason why the Israel Defense Forces is currently not recommending a large-scale ground operation in the Gaza Strip is not talked about much publicly: It is the apprehension that this summer Israel is liable to be engaged in a different war - against Syria....

The intelligence assessments in the northern sector don't appear to have changed radically. As far as is known, the Israeli intelligence community does not have information pointing to clear intentions on the part of Syrian President Bashar Assad to launch a war. However, there are intelligence reports about the preparations Syria is making for such a possibility: training, exercises, major arms deals. Intelligence personnel are finding it difficult to formulate a bottom line: whether Assad truly intends to go to war or whether he is merely taking measures to be on the safe side, while seeking to exert pressure on Israel to renew peace negotiations.

The only circumstance for war I could see would be if the US or Israel attacked Iran and the whole region became unglued.

Picture of the Day

From the NYTimes: "The total of American deaths in April and May was the highest of any two-month period since the war began, and the 80 percent ratio caused by makeshift explosives is higher than it has ever been, up from 50 percent in January."

Friday, June 01, 2007

Cheney charts a course to (the next) war

Earlier today, I posted on what appeared to be hawkish elements within the administration (read: Cheney) trying to subvert US-Russia policy, now we have this.
Ms. Rice’s assurance on U.S. strategy came as senior officials at the State Department are expressing fury over reports that members of Vice President Cheney’s staff have told others that Mr. Cheney believes the diplomatic track with Iran is pointless, and is looking for ways to persuade Mr. Bush to confront Iran militarily....

But, the official said, “the vice president is not necessarily responsible for every single thing that comes out of the mouth of every single member of his staff.“ The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about any divide within the administration.

(As opposed to the officials who are "authorized to speak publicly about any divide within the administration?")

According to the NYTimes, Wurmser is one of those making the comments against the diplomatic track.

This is pretty strong reinforcement for the Steve Clemons report last week.
This White House official has stated to several Washington insiders that Cheney is planning to deploy an "end run strategy" around the President if he and his team lose the policy argument.

The thinking on Cheney's team is to collude with Israel, nudging Israel at some key moment in the ongoing standoff between Iran's nuclear activities and international frustration over this to mount a small-scale conventional strike against Natanz using cruise missiles (i.e., not ballistic missiles).

This strategy would sidestep controversies over bomber aircraft and overflight rights over other Middle East nations and could be expected to trigger a sufficient Iranian counter-strike against US forces in the Gulf -- which just became significantly larger -- as to compel Bush to forgo the diplomatic track that the administration realists are advocating and engage in another war.

We're talking about the Vice President of the United States coordinating an effort to subvert policies approved by the President for the purpose of starting a war.

Picture of the Day - 3

(US Vice President Dick Cheney waves while holding a gift from the class of 2007 after he delivered the commencement speech at the US Military Academy at West Point, New York.(AFP/Getty Images/Stephen Chernin))

Iraq forever

UPDATE: ABCNews has scrubbed this article from its site. No explanation as to why.

This is an interesting contrast. Last week, Bush administration was floating talk of a drawdown. Then, there was the bizarre shift to the "like Korea" idea.

Now, the military commanders in Iraq offer their ideas.
But that does not imply an immediate drawdown. Officials tell ABC's Martha Raddatz the senior commanders in Iraq -- Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno and Gen. David Petraeus -- want the surge to continue until at least December, and expect to report enough progress by September to justify the extension....

Plan one, which officials say is being pushed by Odierno, calls for a reduction in troops from roughly 150,000 today to 100,000 by December of 2008.

Petreaus champions a slightly different approach that would be to cut the troops down to roughly 130,000 by the end of 2008, with further reductions the following year.

The administration is floundering for what comes next. Shouldn't they have been already known that before "the surge" began?

You could make the argument that they're simply responding to the facts on the ground, but shouldn't the contingencies have already been planned?

Are we again at the point where nobody planned for failure?

Political bits

The right wing is bailing on Bush. Check out the names claiming permanent estrangement. (ThinkProgress, NewsHoggers.) After everything we've been through, they're bailing over immigration.

(I'll be very curious to watch the Bush approval number in the weeks ahead to see if immigration eats into that last 30%.)

(DKos) The new Surgeon General nominee ran a church that "minister(ed) to people who no longer wish to be gay or lesbian."

(Time) "A longtime Republican lawyer in Alabama swears she heard a top GOP operative in the state say that Rove "had spoken with the Department of Justice" about "pursuing" Siegelman (the Democratic governor,) with help from two of Alabama's U.S. attorneys." (TPM has alot more, and more, and more.)

(WaPo) Boehner is trying to lead a "rebranding" effort for the Republican House. (Someone needs to tell him it's not the brand, it's the product line.)

(Politico) The American Petroleum Institute takes to the airwaves with a series of ads aiming to stave off legislation eyeing their practices and profits.

Judge Reggie Walton said he would soon make public all the letters written in support of Scooter Libby at his sentencing.

And, if you didn't see it, that's some typo by Rep Wayne Allard.

On the missing Britons

From a Channel 4 news piece on the 5 kidnapped Britons.
"Channel 4 news has learned from a senior source within the Iraqi government that yesterday's kidnap was a suspected inside job by, and I quote, people closely linked to the leadership of the Finance Ministry."

Picture of the Day - 2

Republican Senator from Arizona and presidential hopeful John McCain smiles as Democratic Senator from New York and presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton reacts to him getting on the same elevator after a vote at the US Capitol in March 2007. (AFP/Getty Images/ Chip Somodevilla)

Sunnis battling Al Qaeda

But before you get too excited by the media presentation of the Sunnis in Amariyah fighting Al Qaeda, put this in a little context. (WaPo)
Abdul Khaliq said he hoped U.S. forces would stay out of the fight. "But if the Americans interfere, it will blow up, because they are the enemy of us both, and we will unite against them and stop fighting each other," he said.

Or maybe you prefer the NYTimes version,
Witnesses and an Interior Ministry official said the battle reflected a fight for control that began three weeks ago after the two groups met and could not agree on a strategy for resistance to American troops.

Look. If Al Qaeda in Iraq were minimized that would be an unquestionably good thing, but trumpeting this as victory is remarkably simplistic.

The Sunni insurgent groups initially embraced Al Qaeda in Iraq because they needed them. Now, the Sunnis have reached a point where they are capable enough to fight and supply themselves without Al Qaeda in Iraq.

(On the plus side, the local Iraqi Sunni groups are far more likely to be reached through negotiations as they have a longer term interests. See post below.)

Later: (NYTimes) "It remained unclear whether the fighting was driven by differing ideologies and broad objections to Al Qaeda’s tactics, or was merely a battle for control in Amariyah."

McCain's problems

Oh, this will not help McCain.
Two former aides hired to spearhead religious outreach for presidential candidate John McCain say that they were virtually ignored by the campaign and that McCain's top campaign strategists are intent on winning votes of religious voters without having to develop serious ties to faith communities.....

"In the end, you came away with the strong sense that they had contempt for the faith-based community," says Marlene Elwell, one of those fired staffers.

So, let's review the McCain positions: An over the top Iraq war supporter, he spearheaded an immigration effort that is hated by the vast majority of his party, and is now accused by staffers of not embracing the "faith-based" community.

Wow. How did it go so wrong?

Later: "The campaign plan to get the [religious] vote is to rape and pillage the church [membership] lists, and we didn't want to do that," said Judy Haynes, the other fired staffer.

The US reaches out in Iraq

Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno said yesterday that the US is reaching out to any and all groups who want to negotiate.

There's no sense of how "real" these negotiations are with the major groups, but if any were to actually come off, it would be a really good thing.

(Interesting the US is working around the Iraqi government on this one, no?)

Picture of the Day

After their meeting yesterday, Bush and Talabani took no questions.

(U.S. President George W. Bush listens to his Iraqi counterpart Jalal Talabani talk during their meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington May 31, 2007. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

Is the White House is losing control?

As I was reading this front page NYTimes piece on a new, very hostile speech delivered yesterday against Russia by second tier employee at the State Dept, I was struck by this.
An advance copy of the speech was provided by an administration official who wanted to make sure Mr. Kramer’s remarks received broad attention.

What is that? It was made clear in the article that the White House "approved" the comments, but reading that odd sourcing I'm left wondering. Is this a sanctioned action, or has someone in the White House promoted this beyond the profile it was intended to get?

It seems to me that this speech was supposed to be a bit of quiet, back and forth diplomacy before the Putin meeting in Kennebunkport, but suddenly, it's front page and high profile, complicating the efforts of others in the administration who want to run a softer line.
At the same time, these officials said, the administration wanted to make clear that the meeting would be an opportunity for the two sides to improve their relations.

What is important about this relatively minor incident is that the hawkish side of the White House schism is breaking discipline to advance its aims. Coupled with the recent Iran talks, this tells me two things. 1) That the Cheney-led bloc within the administration is losing some of the internal battles, and 2) That they're willing to play dirty to advance their causes.

I recognize I'm building all of this on a tiny little mention, but if this is what's going down, it has big implications. Diplomacy and Real Politik are very delicate and subtle things that can be easily derailed if that's the hawks' intention.

If this is now the game, it has implications for Iraq, but, probably more importantly, for the policy on Iran.

(And notice that this took place on Russia, Condi Rice's one guaranteed area of expertise.)

All speculation.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

RNC grass roots revolt on immigration

I hadn't even thought about this.
The Republican National Committee, hit by a grass-roots donors' rebellion over President Bush's immigration policy, has fired all 65 of its telephone solicitors, Ralph Z. Hallow will report Friday in The Washington Times....

There has been a sharp decline in contributions from RNC phone solicitations, another fired staffer said, reporting that many former donors flatly refuse to give more money to the national party if Mr. Bush and the Senate Republicans insist on supporting what these angry contributors call "amnesty" for illegal aliens.

Now, corporate donors may will probably make up the difference, we're not talking huge money here, but this does serve as a bit of a barometer on grassroots and volunteer support.

Picture of the Day - 3

It's good to know they're doing all they can for the war effort.

(Jenna and Barbara Bush, the daughters of U.S. President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush, kiss Elmo, a Sesame Street character, at the Fifth Annual Sesame Workshop Benefit Gala in New York May 30, 2007. (REUTERS/Theo Wargo))

Quote of the Day - Take your choice

1) “I believe that Gen. Eisenhower didn’t have a Plan B at Normandy, and I don’t think that Gen. Grant had a Plan B when he decided to take Richmond,” McCain told The Associated Press on Sunday. (Politico)

2) Joe Klein in a piece eviscerating Romney, "Interesting: Romney takes postures, not positions."

3) "Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye..." reportedly sung in the halls of the World Bank the day Wolfowitz resigned.

(And, while we're having fun, don't miss this "Separated at Birth" comparison on Politico. Fred Thompson and the evil Vigo painting from Ghostbusters II.)

Bush wild-eyed

Second hand, so treat this with skepticism, but if you're prone to believe this, you'll believe it.
But by all reports, President Bush is more convinced than ever of his righteousness.

Friends of his from Texas were shocked recently to find him nearly wild-eyed, thumping himself on the chest three times while he repeated "I am the president!" He also made it clear he was setting Iraq up so his successor could not get out of "our country's destiny."

(ThinkProgress reminds us of this Nelson Report description of what is presumably the same meeting.)

Is Maliki undermining the Iraqi forces?

Here's an interesting question.

If Nouri al-Maliki is worried that the Iraqi Army might turn against him in a coup, aren't Maliki's interests better served by keeping the Iraqi forces incapable and in disarray?

If he feels he's safer dealing with the Shia leaders, isn't it in his interest to maintain, if not increase, the militia infiltration into the Iraqi forces?

Picture of the Day - 2

Hey, Joe, Lindsey Graham told me there's a killer bargain on rugs over at Shorja.

(In this image released by the US Army U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman pays an Iraqi vendor for a pair of sunglasses at a market in the New Baghdad neighborhood Wednesday, May 30, 2007. Lieberman toured the market for nearly an hour along with American and Iraqi soldiers.(AP Photo/Sgt. Curt Cashour, US Army, HO))

Not good.

Housing slump, rising gas prices. This isn't good.
The economy nearly stalled in the first quarter with growth slowing to a pace of just 0.6 percent. That was the worst three-month showing in over four years.

The new reading on the gross domestic product, released by the Commerce Department Thursday, showed that economic growth in the January-through-March quarter was much weaker. Government statisticians slashed by more than half their first estimate of a 1.3 percent growth rate for the quarter.


The Wall Street Journal has a good article looking at "the surge," its prospects, and what could possibly come next. Short version: It wasn't going well with Sadr on the sidelines, and now that Sadr's back and militia attacks are rising, it looks even worse.

(USAToday) The new MRAP vehicles that are now being hurried through production are effective against simple IED's but aren't strong enough to withstand the newer and proliferating EFP's.

(AFP) "The Pentagon admitted Wednesday that May has been "tough" for US forces in Iraq, with no fewer than 113 soldiers killed over the course of the month."

(AP) "Almost daily, rockets and mortar shells hit the Green Zone -- the fortified district protecting the US embassy and Maliki's administration."

(AP) The Sunni police chief who was praised for his successful efforts with the US in Hit has been removed and arrested "following an investigation into alleged murder, corruption and crimes against the Iraqi people."

Iraqslogger has a video of Iraqi forces and apparent militia members fighting together outside the Sunni Fadhil neighborhood.

There's alot of coverage from the lefty blogs about this McClatchy piece on Joe Lieberman's visit to Iraq and his meeting with soldiers, but I wanted to point to this reality.
"We're not making any progress," Hedin said, as he recalled a comrade who was shot by a sniper last week. "It just seems like we drive around and wait to get shot at."

But as he waited two chairs down from where Lieberman would sit, Hedin said he'd never voice his true feelings to the senator.

"I think I'd be a private if I did," he joked. "It's just more troops, more targets."

Is it any wonder that the pro-war politicians come back spouting nonsense?

(And, the President seems to have gotten his bar lowering wish. The daily bombings that kill 25 no longer get top coverage (one in Fallujah today.) 23 bodies found scattered around Baghdad, not mentioned, and anything less than 6 US soldiers killed no longer makes a story. (3 soldiers killed yesterday.))

Picture of the Day

Sgt. Tawan Williamson uses crutches following physical therapy at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Tuesday, May 8, 2007. Williamson's left leg was shredded in Iraq when a bomb blew up under his Humvee in June 2006. Less than a year after the attack, Williamson is running again with a high-tech prosthetic leg and plans to take up a new assignment, probably by the fall, as an Army job counselor and affirmative action officer in Okinawa, Japan. In an about-face by the Pentagon, the military is putting many more amputees back on active duty, even back into combat, in some cases. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Associated AP article: Amputee soldiers return to active duty.

(Assuming this is voluntary, and the soldiers are carefully assessed both physically and mentally, I say go for it.

Allowing these soldiers to maintain a sense of purpose, worth, and belonging can only help their recovery. )

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

"The surge" is in place.

It's official.
The comparison was offered as the Pentagon announced the completion of the troop buildup ordered by Bush in January. The last of about 21,500 combat troops to arrive were an Army brigade in Baghdad and a Marine unit heading into the Anbar province in western Iraq.

Are we allowed to judge it now, or is there some other delay?

Picture of the Day - 3

Cameron Dostie, 8, of Ft. Campbell, Ky. places memorial stones on the grave of his father, Sgt. 1st Class Shawn Dostie, after soldiers placed flags at graves in honor of upcoming Memorial Day at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va. Thursday, May 24, 2007. Shawn Dostie was killed in Iraq Dec. 30, 2005.

(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

So, what's the 38th parallel?

So, the White House is now taking the line that the US should maintain a permanent military presence in Iraq similar to that in Korea.

So, what is the "front line" the US is to be supporting? Is it the metaphorical line behind the Iraqi security forces or is it the very real border between a "democratic" Iraq and Iran that the US will be manning for the next 50 years?

And, if you think the next administration from either party is going to give up this lure of permanent bases, I've got a bridge to sell you. It's a fixer upper that crosses the Tigris, but I can give it to you at a great price because of the neighborhood.

(Also, Notice how this story is coming out. "President George W. Bush would like to see.... the White House said."

This did not come out directly in a presidential statement, but is instead being soft released. I guess they don't want Bush on the record calling for permanent bases.)

The legend of Fred Thompson

I'm absolutely fascinated with the way Fred Thompson is being portrayed as the "conservative" candidate. He may be, I really don't know his politics, but that's exactly my point.

Thompson is polling very well, being cited as "a conservative," but really, how many of those polled know anything at all about him? If I were to cherry pick another one term Senator from "not your state" would you be able to tell me his politics?

Fred Thompson is nationally known as a conservative because he plays one on TV. Fred Thompson is nationally known as a conservative because the media calls him that.

The American mind is being made up, and we haven't even met the man.

Pretty bizarre.

(Oh, and while I'm at it, some of the "true conservatives" today, blasted the entire Cheney family for the new baby, and threatened, if Giuliani were nominated, to form a third party and actively work for his defeat.)

Quote of the Day

Tom Delay compares his adultery to Newt Gingrich's.
He added that the impeachment trial was another of his “proudest moments.” The difference between his own adultery and Gingrich’s, he said, “is that I was no longer committing adultery by that time, the impeachment trial. There’s a big difference.” He added, “Also, I had returned to Christ and repented my sins by that time.”

See, adultery is only wrong in relation to its timing.....

Picture of the Day - 2

"Fred Dalton Thompson is planning to enter the presidential race over the Fourth of July holiday, announcing that week that he has already raised several million dollars and is being backed by insiders from the past three Republican administrations, Thompson advisers told The Politico."

(Actor and Former Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., and his wife, Jeri, arrive for a party at the Macedonian Embassy in Washington following The White House Correspondents' Dinner on Saturday, April 29, 2006. (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf))

Iraq metastasizes into Algeria and Al Qaeda expands its influence

The NYTimes had a recent major article outlining the spread of terrorists "trained" in Iraq spreading to other countries in the region representing a very real terror threat in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.

The WaPo adds to that geography today with an article on an Al Qaeda-Iraq nexus settling in Algeria.

The "fight them there so we won't have to fight them here" argument was never more than empty rhetoric designed to block opposition by implying that those who stood against the Iraq war were willingly inviting Al Qaeda attacks against Americans.

Meanwhile, Al Qaeda was using Iraq as a training ground.

Also today, the highest profile American in Al Qaeda, Adam Gadahn, appeared in a tape threatening attacks.

(But, we're fighting in Iraq so they can't "attack us here," right?)

Turkish buildup along Iraqi border

It could be bluster related to domestic politics, it could be further operations right along the border, but the Turkish buildup along thier border with Iraq is big enough it's starting to get mainstream coverage.

(Reuters) Turkish army build-up fuels anxiety on Iraq border

(AP) Turkey builds up forces on Iraqi border

(Related, (at least to the Turks,) U.S. ready to yield security responsibilities in three provinces to Kurds.)

US, Europeans pushing for Chapter 7 on Hariri tribunal?

As the Lebanese government has been unable to establish an official mechanism to try the individuals implicated in the assassination of Rafiq Hariri, the US and allied Europeans have been pushing to create an external, UN based tribunal. The politics of this are complicated because of charges that the Syrian government is behind the assassination, but that Syrian involvement is the reason the US is pushing so very hard on this.

However, you have to wonder about the construction of the proposed US backed UN measure under the contentious Chapter 7.
The resolution would create a tribunal outside Lebanon with a majority of international judges and an international prosecutor under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which makes the measure unambiguously binding and allows enforcement, including the possibility of military action.

The Russians, Chinese and South Africans argue the Chapter 7 reference is unnecessary....

The US is pushing for a very hard for this version of the resolution which could include authorized measures of force of force by UN members to carry out the tribunal. (Would that include an operation, sanctions, or other measures against Syria?)

Picture of the Day

U.S. President George W. Bush looks at the media after arriving back at the White House aboard Marine One on the South Lawn in Washington May 29, 2007. REUTERS/Larry Downing

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Interrogation experts fault current interrogation policies

A fascinating article in the NYTimes on torture and interrogation.
As the Bush administration completes secret new rules governing interrogations, a group of experts advising the intelligence agencies argue that the harsh techniques used since the 2001 terrorist attacks are outmoded, amateurish and unreliable.

A bit of history and a very interesting read.

Picture of the Day - 5

A private security company helicopter flies past heavy smoke from clashes in downtown Baghdad. (AFP/Ahmad al-Rubaye)

Details and speculations about the 5 British citizens abducted today in Iraq

We're beginning to get some details about the attack on the Iraqi Finance Ministry where 5 Britons were abducted earlier today.
In the Finance Ministry attack, about 40 heavily armed men snatched the five Britons from an annex and sped away in a convoy of 19 four-wheel-drive vehicles toward Sadr City according to the British Foreign office in London and Iraqi officials in the Interior and Finance ministries.

Joe Gavaghan, a spokesman for Montreal-based security firm GardaWorld, confirmed that four of its security workers and one client were kidnapped. All four GardaWorld workers are British citizens, he said, declining to provide more details.

19 vehicles? That's a pretty big operation taking place in the center of Baghdad with no substantial witnesses.

Now for the speculations in the article,
The Finance Ministry kidnappings, if the work of the Mahdi Army as asserted by Iraqi officials, could be retaliation for the killing by British forces last week of the militia's commander in Basra....

The Mahdi Army, which is deeply embedded in the Iraqi security forces, also was believed looking for a way to avenge the recent killing by U.S. forces of a top operative. He was said to have been the author of an attack in the holy city of Karbala in January.

Also: Two big mosque bombings in two days inside Baghdad. One targeting the Sufi al-Gailani mosque which is internationally significant, and another today targeting a Shia mosque in Amil.

Outside of Baghdad:
Of the 120 reported killed or found dead nationwide on Tuesday, 35 were bodies dumped or buried in a newly dug mass grave in Diyala province.....

In other violence, gunmen in Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad, set up fake checkpoints on the outskirts of the city and abducted more than 40 people, most of them soldiers, police officers and members of two tribes that had banded together against local insurgents.

Quickhits - Oddities that didn't warrant a full post

(Reuters) Turkey asks U.S. not to violate its airspace again

(AP) The bizarre story of Jack Idema continues. Idema is the American who was captured in Kabul running a private prison and torture facility. He claimed he was working as a US contractor, but that has always been denied. Now he remains in a prison cell in Afghanistan where he's being treated like a prince. Just very weird.

(Newsweek) Isikoff has an odd little blurb naming Department 9000 which is supposedly the cut out organization between Iran's Quds force and the armed factions in Iraq.

(CSMonitor) An article outlining a failed Pakistani raid in the tribal regions that was foiled by thousands of local supporters rallying to their cleric's defense.

And, from Iraqslogger, definitely treat this as rumor,
In other news, Sadrist leaders denied yesterday’s rumors claiming that a former Sadrist minister “defected” to the US and received asylum in the United States, after briefing the American Army on the “secrets” of the Sadr movement.

Salih al-'Aqili, a Sadrist depute, told Az-Zaman that the allegations regarding the defection of 'Ali al-Shammari (ex-minister of health) are “fabricated” and “spread to defame the Sadrist Current.”


Picture of the Day - 4

Democratic presidential hopeful U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, talks with Dr. Mark Anderson while touring a cardiology research lab before speaking about his health care plan, Tuesday, May 29, 2007, at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

There's a joke for this picture, but I just can't seem to find it.

Political bits

(CNN) Romney has a run in with a crazy man.

The USAToday used corporate accounting methods on the US government and figured out your household's share of the liabilities are $516,328. $11,434 per household added last year.

(Bloomberg) Mitch McConnell "said the controversial immigration bill in Congress won't cost ``a single member of either party'' at the polls next year."

(WashTimes) "Students for Obama" is booming on college campuses. (Now, if he can just get them to vote....)

(Politico) Pointless Republican '08 horserace polling. McCain up in all 3, Thompson falling.

(WaPo) Obama unveils his healthcare plan.

(NewYorker) Newt Gingrich tears into Karl Rove. (Is he really going to try to run for President after pissing on the President, the Vice President, and Rove?)

And, who knew The Onion was doing videos? Try these two as a taste. Frankly, it's better than their written work.

Picture of the Day - 2

After a Memorial Day ceremony, Vietnam veteran Peter Wymes touches the name of one of five Philadelphians from his unit that were killed in Vietnam, at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Philadelphia, Monday, May 28, 2007. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)


(AP) "Ten American soldiers were killed in roadside bombings and a helicopter crash on Memorial Day, the military reported Tuesday, making May the deadliest month of the year for U.S. troops in Iraq....

The Americans — all from Task Force Lightning — were killed Monday in Diyala..."

Picture of the Day

(Memorial Day)

Caution: Bar Lowering

Just a bit of realism.

No matter what the facts are, when September rolls around and Petraeus makes his now overly awaited report, there will be no clear answers. It will simply be another round of "despite the many challenges, we see good signs of progress."
U.S. military leaders in Iraq are increasingly convinced that most of the broad political goals President Bush laid out early this year in his announcement of a troop buildup will not be met this summer and are seeking ways to redefine success.....

Enactment of a new law to share Iraq's oil revenue among Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish regions is the only goal they think might possibly be achieved in time, and even that is considered a long shot. The two other key benchmarks are provincial elections and a deal to allow more Sunni Arabs into government jobs.

With overhauls by the central government stalled and with security in Baghdad still a distant goal, Petraeus' advisors hope to focus on smaller achievements that they see as signs of progress, including deals among Iraq's rival factions to establish areas of peace in some provincial cities.

"Some of it will be infrastructure that is being worked, some of it is local security for neighborhoods, some of it is markets reopening," said a senior military official in Baghdad who spoke on condition of anonymity in discussing military tactics.

This overemphasis on Petraeus' report allows Republicans two opportunities. It allows them to put off a decision now, and it allows them a "decision point" at which they can change their stance with the appearance of an evaluative judgement of facts rather than political pressure or agreeing with the Dems.

There will be no clear answer in September, at least not any clearer than it is today, but still, we're going to have to go through a "bloody -- it could be a very difficult" summer.

Related: Jennifer Loven writes for the AP on Bush's misstatements that the American people agree with him, comparing Bush's statements to polling which contradicts him.

'Westerners' abducted from Iraqi Finance Ministry

The details are still very sketchy at this point, but it appears that between 1 and 4 German lecturers were abducted from the Iraqi Finance Ministry today. As bad as that is, the details of the "how" are just as troubling,
They were snatched when a 40-strong convoy of police vehicles surrounded the information office on Palestine Street in the heart of Baghdad and a squad of men in police uniforms stormed the building, the Iraqi official said.

The four men were taken out at gunpoint and driven off by men wearing the recently-issued newly designed fatigues of the National Police, a heavily-armed paramilitary unit under the interior ministry, he added....

In 2006, Baghdad went through a rash of kidnappings by large numbers of men wearing military-style uniforms, particularly those of the national police. The units were then issued new uniforms to distinguish them from criminals.

This is a big operation using IP uniforms and vehicles in the heart of Baghdad. (I'm assuming it's 40 men, not 40 vehicles.)

No reports of fire by the Finance Ministry security, and apparently, no early call to the Iraqi Forces or Americans for help. (NYTimes version.)
The Interior Ministry official said that the abducted lecturers were German citizens, that there was no resistance and that the gunmen fled quickly with their captives.

These are early reports, so we'll have to wait and see.

(Iraqslogger has some equally uncertain reports from other sources.)

Update: From AP: "five Britons were kidnapped Tuesday from an Iraqi Finance Ministry office in Baghdad, according to Britain's Foreign Office."

But in the same article: "Britain's Foreign Office declined to confirm reports that British citizens were involved, but a government's crisis committee was to meet Tuesday in response to the reported incident, the Cabinet Office said."

Monday, May 28, 2007

Picture of the Day - 4

(Photo: Washington Post)

Did Sara Taylor resign over "caging?"

Sara Taylor's sudden departure (another Rove aid,) is getting a fair amount of blogger ink today with the news that "Taylor cleared out her office early last week."

There are alot of reasons she could have left. She was a figure in the Republican strategy of the 2006 elections. She might be cashing in while she still can. The House and Senate Judiciary Committees have approved subpoenas for her testimony.

But I want to offer one other speculative possibility, "caging" which involves removing specific voters from voter roles by race, income, or whatever. (I'm not a big Greg Palast linker as he's often hyperbolic, but this is a decent, if stilted, description of caging charges against the Bush administration in 2004.)

Now, take a look at this section of Monica Goodling's testimony just this week.
GOODLING: Ok, and the last thing was the voter — the caging issue, which was a reference to Tim Griffin.

SANCHEZ: Can you explain what “caging” is? I’m not familiar with that term.

GOODLING: My understanding — and I don’t actually know a lot about it — is that it’s a direct-mail term, that people who do direct mail, when they separate addresses that may be good versus addresses that may be bad. That’s the best information that I have, is that it’s a direct mail term used by vendors in that circumstance.

Remembering that Karl Rove came out of direct mail, and Monica Goodling is implicating top Rove aide Tim Griffin in what may be illegal "caging," I find myself wondering about this,
Sara M. Taylor, the White House political director and microtargeting guru who has been with George W. Bush from the outset of his first presidential campaign, is the latest staff member to leave the president's employ.

If there was "caging" going on at Tim Griffin's level, wouldn't you expect the "White House political director and microtargeting guru" to be deeply involved?

Just speculation. Odds are it's the imminent subpoena in the US Attorneys case, but something about this just popped out at me.

Extreme makover: Sadr edition

In a further development indicating Sadr's shift since his return,
Radical Iraqi cleric Muqtada Al Sadr met his top lieutenants yesterday to discuss a new direction for his movement after his return to public life following a mysterious seven-month disappearance.....

"The Sadr movement is going to appear in a new form and with a new style on the Iraqi scene," said the movement's spokesman Sheikh Salah Al Obeidi.....

Also note that this comes shortly after Iraq's other main Shia movement SCIRI (now SIIC?,) underwent its own makeover trying to hide its historical ties to Iran.

The politics are on for the next round of Iraq. I think it's telling that both movements appear to be working to develop their Iraqi nationalist, political first images. I don't think this speaks well for the mid term future of the Maliki regime.

Picture of the Day - 3

An unidentified boy stands near the casket of Marine Corps Maj. Douglas A. Zembiec during funeral services at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., Wednesday, May 16, 2007. Zembiec, 34, of Albuquerque, N.M., died May 11 while conducting combat operations in Baghdad, Iraq. (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf)

US-Iran meeting

The US Iran meeting went down today, and it sounds like it went reasonably well. Nothing concrete emerged, but both sides came out talking cooperation which is a big step forward.

But, as I'm prone to do, I fixated on this weird little section.
The talks were held at Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Green Zone office.

Al-Maliki did not attend the meeting, but the prime minister greeted the two ambassadors, who shook hands, and led them into a conference room, where the ambassadors sat across from each other.

Before leaving the room, al-Maliki told both sides that Iraqis wanted a stable country free of foreign forces and regional interference. The country should not be turned into a base for terrorist groups, he said. He also said that the U.S.-led forces in Iraq were only here to help build up the army and police and the country would not be used as a launching ground for a U.S. attack on a neighbor, a clear reference to Iran.

Maliki said welcome, laid out the groundwork positions for both sides, then left while the fate of his country was being discussed in the next room.

Picture of the Day - 2

Sallie Stubenhofer says she continued sending e-mails to her son Mark after he died in Iraq. (Carol Guzy/ Washington Post)


So far, most of the threats by the Turks have been inflated by the bluster of their political campaign, but as we know, that can, rather quickly, turn into the real. So, when I see something like this, it grabs my attention.
The incursion occurred amid intensified debate in Turkey about whether to conduct a cross-border operation into northern Iraq to pursue separatist Kurdish rebels who stage attacks inside Turkey from bases there.

Turkish media have been reporting that the army was massing troops along the border, including in Uzumlu.

With enough weight on that border, an incident of some type is inevitable, and once that happens, events could escalate quickly.

Picture of the Day

(Reuters) "Thirteen people were killed and 35 wounded in Afghanistan on Monday when police opened fire to break up a violent protest against a provincial governor, witnesses said."

(Photo: AFP/Emmanuel Dunand)

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Iraq metastatizes

The NYTimes has an article tomorrow discussing the outflow of Al Qaeda and other foreign fighters from Iraq into surrounding countries.

For quite awhile, the theory has been around that Iraq would serve as a training ground for the next generation of terrorists, (those too young to have fought in the Afghanistan/Russian war.) Well, here we are.
The Iraq war, which for years has drawn militants from around the world, is beginning to export fighters and the tactics they have honed in the insurgency to neighboring countries and beyond, according to American, European and Middle Eastern government officials and interviews with militant leaders in Lebanon, Jordan and London.....

Estimating the number of fighters leaving Iraq is at least as difficult as it has been to count foreign militants joining the insurgency. But early signs of an exodus are clear, and officials in the United States and the Middle East say the potential for veterans of the insurgency to spread far beyond Iraq is significant.

At this point, the numbers appear to be relatively small and the destinations largely neighboring countries who have been US allies (Jordan, Saudi Arabia,) but the expectation is that both the numbers and the geography will broaden.

What's particularly frightening about this is that these are not neophyte, green kids being lured into setting off suicide belts, these are battle hardened killers coming out with training, technology, and tactics.

This is not just a threat right now or tomorrow. These guys will be a threat for a decade.

Picture of the Day - 2

(At the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Rev. Jim Warren with the Nam Knights motorcycle club touches the name of high school friend Stanley Reed, who died at 19. Warren is among thousands of people, including members of the Rolling Thunder organization, observing Memorial Day in Washington. (Carol Guzy -- The Washington Post Photo))

The WaPo has a nice article on Rolling Thunder.

Pre-game on the Iran meeting.

The Wapo has a pretty good analysis of what's expected at the US-Iran meeting tomorrow.
The United States intends to lay out a comprehensive account of Iran's growing military role in Iraq -- including the array of arms provided to both Shiite and Sunni militias -- during critical talks between U.S. and Iranian diplomats scheduled for tomorrow in Baghdad, according to senior U.S. officials.

Ryan C. Crocker, the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad, will also outline steps Iran could take to help stabilize war-ravaged Iraq, both politically and militarily. Any subsequent meeting will depend on the quality of the dialogue and Iran's cooperation in the coming weeks, the sources added.

"If the meeting is productive and there's a promise that these meetings will be worthwhile, we'll agree to a second meeting," said a senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicate diplomacy.

However, the Bush administration enters the dialogue with limited leverage, analysts said.

"Iran has every advantage in these talks -- in geography, demography and time -- and they know it. Iran has better relations with every political party, militia and warlord in the Shiite and Kurdish communities than we do. It has the best intelligence apparatus in Iraq. And it has the advantage of a religious relationship with the majority population that is unique," said Bruce Riedel, a Middle East expert at the Brookings Institution.

Negotiations are not about facts, they are about leverage.

Two other notable moves from the US side coming into this meeting.

1) The "leak" of a presidential finding authorizing nonlethal covert efforts to destabilize Iran.

2) The dismantling of the Iran-Syria operations group.

Reading between the lines, it sounds like the Bush administration wanted the Iranians to know that the Iran hawks were no longer running the show.

Also: The US and British conduct more very public operations against Moqtada al Sadr's Mahdi Army.

Picture of the Day

A photo of and boots representing Private Sean Silva sit among more than 3,400 pairs of combat boots, one pair for every U.S. soldier killed in the Iraq War, displayed as part of "Eyes Wide Open: An Exhibition on the Human Cost of the Iraq War" in Chicago, May 25, 2007. (REUTERS/John Gress)