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Born at the Crest of the Empire

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Afghani security forces losing ground

Even more so than in Iraq, the undermanned Nato force in Afghanistan relies on local forces.
Over the past six weeks, the Taliban have driven government forces out of roughly half of a strategic area in southern Afghanistan that American and NATO officials declared a success story last fall in their campaign to clear out insurgents and make way for development programs, Afghan officials say.

Now what's likely to happen is that the Canadians will push back into those areas and "retake" them, but with the Taleban seemingly able to return and the Afghani forces now discredited, the locals will be even harder to convince towards cooperation.

(The associated video is worth a watch.)

Also: (Reuters) "British efforts to combat opium production in southern Afghanistan have completely failed, Afghanistan's first vice-president said on Sunday...."

Picture of the Day

(In this photo released by CBS, presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., laughs with host David Letterman on the set of 'The Late Show with David Letterman,' Thursday, Aug. 30, 2007, in New York. (AP Photo/CBS, J.P. Filo))

Maliki rounding up the usual suspects

Following on the Karbala violence that was blamed on the Mahdi, Maliki appears to have ordered nationwide arrests of Mahdi figures, even those unrelated to the Karbala violence.

Also, (AP) In Basra, "gunmen on a motorcycle assassinated Muslim al-Batat, an aide to the country's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, police said." (After years of being off limits, Sistani's aides are becoming targets.)

The malleable metric of bodies.

The AP as a story, "More than 1,800 Iraqis killed in August," Reuters has a story, "Iraqi civilian deaths rise slightly in August," the LATimes has a story, "Iraqi civilian deaths climb again," and the military has a story,
"It's a bit macabre but some areas were literally on fire with hundreds of bodies every week and a total of 2,100 in the month of December '06, Iraq-wide. It is still much too high but we think in August in Baghdad it will be as little as one quarter of what it was," the newspaper quoted Petraeus, who gave no specific figures.

But what I keep thinking through all of this analytical tug, is that these are people we're talking about, not line items from an agricultural production report. These are lives gone. Dreams, laughter, family members.....

(Here's two posts looking at how civilian deaths have been definitionally shifted in the military reporting over the past year to support various claims. TPM, DemocracyArsenal. (and let's remember there was a time when carbombings were not included in "sectarian deaths.))

Why they were in "the tank"

Yesterday, as Bush went to the Pentagon for his Iraq briefing, I joked about why that briefing was taking place in "the tank," the ultratechnological anti-eavesdropping room.

But sleeping on it, now I understand.

The Army really is broken, and its ability to respond is diminished.

The level of that weakness, the inavailability of ground combat troops and lack of equipment reserves, really is a state secret. That's why Pace, Casey, Gates and the rest are pleading for an Iraq drawdown.

Petraeus didn't take part in that meeting, not because of disputes, but because the problems being discussed were beyond his level.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Bush's "Modest Proposal"

I don't know if the AP was having a little fun or if it was accidental, but I can't read this headline and lede without getting an echo of Johnathan Swift.

(AP) Bush unveils modest mortgage proposals

President Bush on Friday announced a set of modest proposals to deal with an alarming rise in mortgage defaults.....

Does Larry Craig matter?

On the GOP as a whole, the Larry Craig thing (on top of the Ted Haggard thing, and the Vitter thing, and the Foley thing...) is largely expected to extend the current disenchantment among the religious right, but I'd like to extend that a bit more specifically.

With the growing perception of a "culture of perversion" (I should trademark that,) I would argue that to some degree a Rudy Giuliani presidential bid may also suffer.

Certainly Giuliani's past is not like any of those listed above, but the more "morals" plays on the GOP mind, the less evangelical enthusiasm will fill the Giuliani sails. Despite all the analysis, the GOP is not at a point where "electability" alone can create enthusiasm. (unlike the Dems.)

The Allawi machine is afoot

As close as Allawi is to the US, and as hard as he's working to curry US support, if this ever does go down, there can be little doubt that it was given White House approval.
A mixed group of moderate Iraqi politicians is trying to rally support in the parliament for a no-confidence vote that would unseat unpopular Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

The effort is led by Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite who served as interim prime minister of Iraq from June 2004 to April 2005. It is unclear whether Allawi, who spends most of his time in Jordan, can muster enough parliamentary votes or popular support to be a viable alternative to al-Maliki.


Picture of the Day - 2

Sen. John Warner doffs his cap as he arrives at the White House in this Jan. 5, 2007 file photo, for a meeting between President Bush and members of Congress to discuss the president's revised Iraq strategy. Warner, 80, said Friday, Aug. 31, 2007, he will not seek a sixth term in 2008. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)

Bad tea leaves for Gonzales.

I'll say it again. Tony Snow resigns, he gets an appearance with the President. Karl Rove resigns, he gets an appearance with the President. Donald Rumsfeld resigns, he gets an appearance with the President. Scott McClellan, Harriet Miers, Andy Card.....

In fact, if you look back at all the major resignations since 2004, the only ones that didn't get a presidential appearance are those where the resignee soon faced criminal charges.

Seriously bad tea leaves for Alberto Gonzales.

The RNC drafts statement to get Craig to resign

(Politico) "The Republican National Committee took the unusual step Thursday of drafting statements calling on Craig to resign, GOP aides said.... But the committee never released its statement to allow Craig more time to announce his own departure."

I've never heard of such a thing. (And notice that Larry Craig qualifies, but not Tom Delay, Bob Ney, Duke Cunningham.....)

Later: The AP is reporting that "Republican officials" are saying that Craig will resign tomorrow. (Saturday of the Labor Day weekend.)

Picture of the Day

Karl Rove leaves today.

(White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, who arrived at the White House on the Marine One helicopter with President Bush, walks on the South Lawn, Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2007, in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta))

Sadr is good

For a very young man, Moqtada al Sadr is remarkably savvy.

After his organization was successfully blamed for the abandonment of the Karbala festival, Sadr took the unprecedented step of "suspending all militia activities" for six months. This move garnered him praise from the desperate Maliki government and the US and had the internal political effect of deflecting the allegations of blame onto "rogue elements" of his organization.

But, when is a six month suspension not six months?
Radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr told his followers Thursday that he would rescind his order "freezing" the operations of his powerful militia if military raids on his offices did not cease in the next few days, according to officials of Sadr's organization.

So, Sadr gets the political benefit of a suspension, and then, within a week or so, has the option of reopening militia operations, re-presenting himself as simply working to protect the Shia.

We are not operating on this level.

(Of course, in a political environment where mistakes equal death, I guess you do get sharp pretty quick.)

The farce continues on the President's Iraq decisionmaking

The White House is once again pressing the idea that Bush is "listening" to all opinions on Iraq policy, "weighing all advice" before deciding on a path forward.

Today's pharisaism is a Bush visit to the Pentagon where he will likely hear Gens. Pace, Casey, SecDef Gates, and Adm. Fallon all recommend an end to "the surge."

The only apparent counter recommendation comes from Petraeus himself who will reportedly say that he, himself is brilliant, and that his brilliant plan should be allowed to continue. (Reuters: Petraeus says Iraq "surge" working.)

This is the exact same Kabuki we went through from November to January around the ISG report. The whole thing is a farce.
Bush in recent public statements has suggested he intends to stick to his Iraq strategy for now.

The one really funny note of it all is this.
Maj. Gen. Richard Sherlock, director of operational planning for the Joint Chiefs, told reporters that Friday's meeting in a secure conference room known as "the tank" would be the Joint Chiefs' opportunity to "provide the president with their unvarnished recommendations and their assessments of current operations" — in particular the situation in Iraq.

If you don't know, "the tank" is one of those supercontrolled rooms with all of the latest technological efforts to eliminate any possibilities of electronic bugging and snooping.

Who do they expect to be listening in on that room? The Islamic Army of Iraq? Mahdi?

It just seems an extreme measure to protect the "unvarnished" opinions of the Joint Chiefs.

(Besides, it's into military politics now. It'll all leak pretty soon.)

US to step into Basra as British pull back?

Hey, guys, there's a turd over there you haven't stepped in yet,
The US military is ready to intervene in southern Iraq to quell any unrest as British forces prepare to pull out from their last base in the oil port of Basra, the Pentagon said Thursday.

As there is no practical available reserve to deploy right now, maybe I should go with the more prosaic, "You and what army?"

The US is barely holding its own in its current deployment structure, and the intraShia war is as complex and incendiary as anything else out there. Badr, SIIC, and Fadhila all have large presences in the various security forces equipped with US supplied weaponry, and now, we're talking about the US fighting its way in.

Basra is a city of 1 million people of whom about 12 want the US there.

Later: The Guardian has a story on the Basra withdrawal with this at the bottom.
The impending withdrawal has been intensively discussed in telephone calls between London and Washington over the last few weeks....

The Pentagon, focused on making its "surge" strategy work, does not welcome the prospect of having to deploy much-needed US troops to the south to prevent fighting and to protect the oil wells and the road from Kuwait to Baghdad.

The Pentagon does not share British optimism about Iraqi forces taking over.....

(Also, this Robert Burns (AP) piece from ten days ago begins to find a little context,
But officials are laying the groundwork for possible overtures to Turkey and Jordan on using their territory to move some troops and equipment out of Iraq, the official said. The main exit would remain Kuwait, but more routes would make it easier and safer for U.S. troops leaving western and northern Iraq.

We could fly the personnel out, but all the heavy equipment and vehicles will have to convoy out (in a million convoys) through some combination of the Shia south, Anbar, or north through Kurdistan into Turkey. (and the Turks are about as willing as they were when we went in.))

How fast can Al Gonzales get out of town?

The Justice Department investigation into whether Al Gonzales committed perjury is still ongoing. (NYTimes, WaPo) The NYTimes obliquely alleges that this is why Gonzales finally left.
It was not clear if the investigation by the inspector general was tied to Mr. Gonzales’s announcement on Monday that he was resigning from the Justice Department, effective next month. He has offered no details for the reasoning behind his resignation or its timing, and his announcement caught top aides by surprise.

(I have a hunch that we won't see a new "independent" AG nominee until after this concludes.)

Also, (WaPo) The DoJ Inspector General seems to be doing a deep investigation into the allegations of political bias in hiring at the Justice Department.

(All of this adds to the recent Kremlinological mystery that Bush did not stand by Gonzales as he resigned.)

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Picture of the Day - 2

Angelina Jolie talks to a wheelchair-bound woman, one of some 1,300 trapped at the makeshift Al Waleed refugee camp inside Iraq, August 28, 2007 in this photo supplied by the UNHCR. (Morris Bernard/Reuters)

Say what you will, she is inside Iraq.


The news is that Fred Thompson will announce today that he will announce his run for the presidency on Sept. 6. This will allow him to skip the New Hampshire debate.

Also, his announcement will be on the web followed by a tour through Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida.

For such a late campaign announcement, you would think they'd be trying to create the appearance of a mass movement with big cheering crowds, not a Clintonlike announcement video from his living room.

Let's remember what the Thompson "nontraditional" campaign means, appearing on FoxNews, other cable networks, and talk radio to try and minimize his travel and workload.

There's a reason his fundraising totals have been below expectations. He hasn't been doing as many fundraisers as everyone else. (Lazy.)

No written report from Petraeus at all?

On CNN, I think I just heard that Gen. Petraeus will not be supplying a written report at all!!!!

The only written document will be the White House document.

The White House argument is that such a report would be diminished by consensus and not reflect the diversity of opinion the President is receiving from military officials.

Real reason: They don't want anything written down that can be compared to the actual facts in the press, and they don't want anything written down that can be asked about in hearings.

Wouldn't you like to hear Peter Pace under oath explaining in detail on specific elements why he disagrees with the Petraeus recommendation that the President is likely to follow? Or Gen. Casey? Or Bob Gates? Or Adm. Fallon?

Wouldn't you like to hear why every one of Petraeus' superiors disagrees with his stance? And why President Bush is likely to ignore them all?

(Here's my post with details on the GAO report on Iraq and the Pentagon's reporting from last night.)

Later: The Secretary of Defense, Bob Gates, didn't know the White House was going to request an extra $50 billion for Iraq?

So, are we now to the point that the White House and Petraeus are cutting out everyone else? They're not only selectively releasing information to us, but also to Petraeus' superiors?

(And, I still haven't seen confirmation anywhere that Petraeus will not be submitting a written report,)

The Pentagon asks for changes in the GAO report

Notice that they're only asking for "revisions" of the negative items.
Stung by the bleak findings of a congressional audit of progress in Iraq, the Pentagon has asked that some of the negative assessments be revised, a military spokesman said Thursday.

Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said that after reviewing a draft of the Government Accountability Office report — which has not yet been made public — policy officials "made some factual corrections" and "offered some suggestions on a few of the actual grades" assigned by the GAO.....

"We have provided the GAO with information which we believe will lead them to conclude that a few of the benchmark grades should be upgraded from `not met' to `met,'" Morrell said. He declined to elaborate or to spell out which of the benchmark grades the Pentagon was disputing.

Picture of the Day

President Bush, right, helps the White family hang a flag outside their new home during a visit to a mixed income housing development on Wednesday, August 29, 2007, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

(PS. Notice that it's the "White Family." Funny.)

Is Ignatius on the Allawi payroll?

I don't normally talk about editorials, but this one by David Ignatius is jawdropping. It's core allegation is that everything was going just fine in Iraq until the 2005 elections when Condi Rice and Nancy Pelosi refused to let the CIA interfere in the Iraqi elections to counter Iranian involvement.

(Because the US was just "hands off" back then, what with writing the constitution, designing and implementing the elections, advising the political parties, and actually, you know, running the government at the time.)

According to Ignatius' sources, it was the $11 million the Iranians spent (vs. the US $5 billion a month at the time) that swung the election to the Shia in 60% majority Shia Iraq.

This is the Allawi line, the PR angle through which Allawi is trying to persuade the US to put him back in power, and Ignatius is carrying his water. (Notice how this argument also advocates the US interfering in elections - the only way Allawi would ever come to power in Iraq.)

How much do you want to bet that the "former US officials" from whom Ignatius sourced this narrative includes primarily Robert Blackwill, the former White House envoy in Iraq, who has been hired by Allawi as part of the BGR lobbying deal.

(And don't miss the use of "villain" Pelosi's name being tied to the fiasco. Plays very well with his target audience for this piece.)

Also, just for a laugh, take a look back to how Ignatius greeted the Maliki Prime Ministership right after the election.
The most important fact about Maliki's election is that it's a modest declaration of independence from Iran. The Iranians waged a tough behind-the-scenes campaign to keep Jafari in office.

I guess it's just a matter of Ignatius finding the right unethical sourcing to suit the pro-Bush needs of the time.

Later: Newsweek has a pretty long piece on Allawi and the BGR lobying contract. The biggest surprise to me is that the contract was initiated by Blackwill of BGR.

So, either Blackwill is an opportunistic businessman, or somebody sent him to start up the pro-Allawi campaign.


(Telegraph) The US is refusing all British requests for US military witnesses in friendly fire inquests.

(USAToday) The Center for American Progress issued a report saying that most US troops could be withdrawn "safely" from Iraq in about a year. (Remember CAP is the parent of ThinkProgress so there's definitely a political tilt.)

(Reuters) "U.S. analysts see Sadr move aimed at Mehdi Army rogues" (One thing to note in this "Sadr standing down" story is that it's not really been fleshed out what this means. Mahdi will still stand, armed, to protect its neighborhoods and people.)

(Unknown) Two secretaries of Sistani were seized by Mahdi in Karbala? (If true, it has to be a splinter group.)

(CNN) "U.N. reports cholera outbreak in northern Iraq" (Almost inevitable with the water situation.)

And, (Reuters) Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari says things are going just swimmingly in Iraq.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Two bits on the Iraq reporting/recommendations

According the AP, the GAO report on Iraq will say that "the Iraqi government has failed to meet the vast majority of political and military goals laid out by lawmakers to assess President Bush's Iraq war strategy." (Big surprise.)

Meanwhile, McClatchy has a far more interesting piece which implies a rift in the recommendations coming out of the military. It sounds like everyone above Petraeus, Pace, Casey, and Gates, will all recommend some level of tempered troop reductions while Petraeus is fully expected to ask to continue his surge.

So, the data is against the President, and everyone but Petraeus is asking for a change.

Wanna guess what the President's decision will be?

(Later: The WaPo got ahold of a draft of the GAO report. This is pretty close to the AP reporting above, but with a little more detail on the politics.
While it makes no policy recommendations, the draft suggests that future administration assessments "would be more useful" if they backed up their judgments with more details and "provided data on broader measures of violence from all relevant U.S. agencies."....

The person who provided the draft report to The Post said it was being conveyed from a government official who feared that its pessimistic conclusions would be watered down in the final version.

That first paragraph is diplomatic GAO speak saying that the White House's July report was cherry picked.

The White House response by Gordon Johndroe was predictable, "General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker are there on the ground every day in Iraq, and it's important to wait to hear what they have to say." .... "it's not surprising the GAO would make this assessment, given the difficult congressionally mandated measurement they had to follow."

Picture of the Day - 2

"I WILL make the trains run on time."

(Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani emphasizes a point while speaking to a small group in Del Mar, Calif., Wednesday Aug. 22, 2007. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi))

I once heard Larry Craig humming showtunes

As the hunt for "the gay" heats up, notice the stereotyped implication in the repeated reporting that Larry Craig was in "The Singing Senators."

Picture of the Day

"People, People, People. I come today as one of you...."

Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton speaks at the AFL-CIO's Workers for a Better Iowa Hawkeye Labor Council Meeting in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in this Aug. 18, 2007 file photo. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)

Sadr freezes Mahdi Army

Very early, so it's not clear exactly what this means, but this could be a huge development.
Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has ordered a six-month suspension of activities by his Mahdi Army militia in order to reorganize the force, an aide said Wednesday....

"We declare the freezing of the Mahdi Army without exception in order to rehabilitate it in a way that will safeguard its ideological image within a maximum period of six months starting from the day this statement is issued," al-Araji said, reading from a statement by al-Sadr.

Trying to read between these early lines, it sounds like Sadr is ordering his militia to stand down, meaning that any units or subgroups still engaging in activity would be subject to US/Iraqi attack without his political protection.

Certainly, this is his response to the violence in Karbala that led to the "evacuation" of the religious festival. This is the "ideological image" that he is trying to "safeguard."

I find it hard to believe he will not use his militia lever for six full months, but in the interim, there is a window. (Is he ceding the status quo in Basra and southern Iraq to the SIIC?)

It is important to note that he is not disarming his militia. This is a political response to a perception of the militia being out of control.

Related: This takes place as Mahdi elements attack SIIC offices and mosques in Khadamiyah, Qahira, Habibiyah, Amil, and Husseiniyah, all around Baghdad. Many dead and wounded.

(The intraShia violence in Basra is now getting a little more coverage, but I rarely see a breakdown of who controls what among the Shia groups. As a loose rule of thumb, SIIC has majority control of Basra, Karbala, and many of the other traditional Shia power centers whereas Sadr's group flourishes in the more mixed areas where Shia were traditionally poorer and more oppressed. Mahdi is the main presence in Baghdad and surrounding areas.)

US arrests, releases Iranians in Iraq

This sounds like an ugly, politically driven incident.
Four cars carrying the Iranians, as well as seven Iraqis, were stopped at a checkpoint Tuesday evening and then allowed to proceed to the nearby Sheraton Ishtar hotel, where they were later taken into custody and questioned, the military said.

Troops seized three weapons from the cars — an AK-47 assault rifle and two 9mm pistols that had been in the possession of the Iraqis in the group. The Iraqis were serving as a protective detail but had no weapons permits, the U.S. military said.

At the hotel later, U.S. troops confiscated a laptop, cell phones and a briefcase full of Iranian and American money in the hotel, the military said.

So, the sequence appears to be: Iranians (with Iraqi security) were delayed at a checkpoint, then allowed to pass. No big deal. Then, after the local US troops report the incident up the chain, they are ordered to go to the hotel to arrest the Iranians and seize everything they can find.

They were released this morning after the Iraqi government intervened saying they were invited to help with restoring electricity. The US military command called it "a regrettable incident."

All of this just happens to come the day Bush made a speech upping the rhetoric against Iran.

(BBC has video of the arrests. (AFP, NYTimes versions.))

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

MSNBC, CNBC refuse "Freedom's Watch" ads

Although the reasoning isn't altogether clear from this side of the conversation, I would hope that MSNBC/CNBC are refusing the "Freedom's Watch" ads for their use of the visual juxtaposition of the World Trade Center burning and a message supporting the Iraq war clearly intending to assert that Iraq had something to do with 9/11.

Unfortunately, I doubt it's that journalistic.

Please, Tom Cruise, come out of the closet.

I don't think Larry Craig accomplished what he wanted in his press conference.

Picture of the Day - 4

What if the President gave a speech and nobody came?

Bush made a pretty major speech today, the second leg of his Iraq PR, and it's not even a blip on the radar.

(AFP) "The United States demanded Tuesday that Iran end any support for extremists in Iraq "at once" and raised the specter of a "nuclear holocaust" in the Middle East if Tehran gets atomic weapons."

(Speech text) "I want our fellow citizens to consider what would happen if these forces of radicalism and extremism were allowed to drive us out of the Middle East. The region would be dramatically transformed in a way that could imperil the civilized world."

Nobody's listening anymore. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Picture of the Day - 3

I always love a joke with a bitter aftertaste.

(A supporter stands before Democratic presidential hopeful Senator Barack Obama speaks at a fundraiser in the Brooklyn borough of New York August 22, 2007. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton)

Blaming it on the Mahdi

Unbelievably, the Iraqi government is evacuating Karbala in the middle of the giant Shia pilgrimage, and in the process blamed the Mahdi Army.
More than 1 million pilgrims were ordered to leave the Shiite holy city of Karbala on Tuesday and police imposed a curfew after two days of violence — including raging gunbattles between rival militias — claimed at least 35 lives during a religious festival....

Security officials told The Associated Press that Mahdi Army gunmen, loyalists of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, attacked guards around the two Karbala shrines that were under the protection of the Badr Brigade, the armed wing of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council.

Frankly, I don't know what happened, but this smells like a huge PR move by the SCIRI/Badr corps in conjunction with the Iraqi government to tar the Mahdi among the Shia faithful.

Have they ever "evacuated" even much smaller religious events after attacks?

Allawi for Iraq

Americablog has a decent look at the farce that is the Allawi for Prime Minister movement coming out of Washington.

Any doubt about Petraeus' stance?

Petraeus "softened" the NIE judgements?
The NIE.... met with resistance from U.S. military officials in Baghdad, according to a senior U.S. military intelligence officer there. Presented with a draft of the conclusions, Petraeus succeeded in having the security judgments softened to reflect improvements in recent months, the official said."

If he diddled in the NIE, how do you think Petraeus' September report card on his own performance will read?

(By the way, I'd be curious to hear more on this process. It seems a bit out of procedure. We're Petraeus' "softenings" vetted in any way? Were there supporting facts? Were they vetted?

The NIE is a very formal document and process and this seems to go well against the norm.)

Picture of the Day

Politico has piece on the state of the Thompson (non)campaign. Internal problems, more personnel leaving, and, notable to me, a lowering of fundraising expectations and belt tightening.

And then
there's that "lazy" charge again:

"The rumblings are raising questions more broadly among Republican insiders about whether Thompson has the discipline and zeal to wage a winning campaign -- much less craft a message that can distinguish himself from the current crop of GOP contenders."

(Fred Thompson is reflected in the window at a radio station booth as he is interviewed during a visit to the Minnesota State Fair Monday, Aug. 27, 2007. (AP Photo/Jim Mone))


(WaPo) The House has scheduled hearings next week for both the GAO report on Iraq and one by "by an independent commission of military experts." Big surprise, both reports are expected to be dire. (The White House has prepared its ground during the August recess, the Congress is trying to prep the debate in early September.)

(AP) I'm sure Bush will press the latest political developments in today's speech, but if you listen to the Sunni leaders (bottom), the shine may not be there.

(AP) "A call by Puerto Rico's governor for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq earned a standing ovation from a conference of more than 4,000 National Guardsmen."

(BBC) The British have withdrawn their joint presence at the Basra police station. The green Shia flag rose almost immediately over the building.

(McClatchy) The trial of some of Saddam's henchman is "rekindling" Shia memories of US abandonment after 91 war. (There's a reason Saddam was only tried for crimes against the Kurds.)

(WaPo) Pincus writes about a 2006 DoD funded study examining the idea of arming Sunni tribes. "In short, the study's experts pointed toward what has become a short-term U.S. success, while warning more than a year ago -- as the intelligence community did last week -- that it is all temporary."

(McClatchy) "Iraq's deadly insurgent groups have financed their war against U.S. troops in part with hundreds of thousands of dollars in U.S. rebuilding funds that they've extorted from Iraqi contractors in Anbar province."

(WaPo) Many new recruits are taking the $20,000 "quickship" bonus.

(AP) The Army is also using a new recruiting plan, "Active First." Sign up for the Guard and then go active duty.

And, big surprise, Lindsey Graham comes back from Iraq supporting "the surge." My question is, how does he arrange these two week "reserve duty" stints in Iraq that coincide with Congressional breaks?

("Graham, who wore fatigues and was armed with a Beretta pistol throughout his stay, also served a brief reserve duty in Iraq in April.")

Quote of the Day

(From a Reuters article.) "Apart from rare car bombings, Kerbala is one of Iraq's most stable cities."

Musharraf sets the terms

This is what constitutes "power sharing" in Pakistan.
"President Musharraf has offered to doff the uniform even before the presidential elections," the English-language Dawn reported.

"But in the trade off, he wants all political parties to agree to elect him president ..."


Picture of the Day

U.S. soldiers look at the body of an Iraqi soldier near the city of Baqouba on Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2007. Three Iraqi soldiers died after their vehicle hit an improvised explosive device. (AP Photo/Karel Prinsloo)

Monday, August 27, 2007

Gen. Petraeus will not comment on ongoing investigations

We knew it was out there...
Several federal agencies are investigating a widening network of criminal cases involving the purchase and delivery of billions of dollars of weapons, supplies and other matériel to Iraqi and American forces, according to American officials....

One of the investigations involves a senior American officer who worked closely with Gen. David H. Petraeus in setting up the logistics operation to supply the Iraqi forces when General Petraeus was in charge of training and equipping those forces in 2004 and 2005, American officials said Monday.

There is no indication that investigators have uncovered any wrongdoing by General Petraeus, the commander of United States forces in Iraq, who through a spokesman declined comment on any legal proceedings.

Later in the article, Petraeus defends himself by admitting that, to some degree, he may have facilitated some of this by "mak(ing) a decision not to wait for formal tracking systems to be put in place" in a rush to arm the Iraqis he was training.

So, I think the unasked question, separate from any issuess of graft, is how good of a decision was it to abandon the tracking systems to arm Iraqi "soldiers" who rather quickly took their weapons and abandoned the Iraqi forces? We're fighting alot of those guys today.

The reason this is an issue is because the decision to work with the Sunni tribesmen right now is remarkably similar. In a rush to get results, Petraeus is risking far bigger problems downstream.

Pounding to get out of the closet.

It must be hell to be a hypocritical gay Republican. On one hand blasting the lifestyle, on the other hand living it.

I often wonder if some of these guys subconsciously want to get caught.
Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) was arrested in June at a Minnesota airport by a plainclothes police officer investigating lewd conduct complaints in a men’s public restroom, according to an arrest report obtained by Roll Call Monday afternoon.

Craig’s arrest occurred just after noon on June 11 at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. On Aug. 8, he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor disorderly conduct in the Hennepin County District Court. He paid more than $500 in fines and fees, and a 10-day jail sentence was stayed. He also was given one year of probation with the court that began on Aug. 8.

A spokesman for Craig described the incident as a “he said/he said misunderstanding,” and said the office would release a fuller statement later Monday afternoon.

(The Roll Call link is being overwhelmed. Politico has a summary.)

Oh, and while we're talking about weird Republicans, how is it possible that a sitting (now retiring) Republican Congressman, Rick Renzi, has no recorded personal history for two decades?

(Later: A video of Larry Craig endorsing Mitt Romney for their shared "family values" has already disappeared from Romney's YouTube channel. Craig's up for election in '08.)

Picture of the Day - 2

(President George W. Bush comments on the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on the tarmac of the Texas State Technical College Airport in Waco, Texas. (AFP/Mandel Ngan))

Kremlinology - Farewell Fredo.

Hours later, I'm still amazed that they let Gonzales make his announcement alone with Bush following an hour later and 1,500 miles away. They didn't even want the image of the President with a resigning Gonzales.

(There's even the visual separation of Gonzales in front of the perfunctory blue curtain, while Bush made a tarmac appearance with a helicopter backdrop.)

I think back to the fond, tearful farewell appearance with Rove, or the abrupt yet praising farewell ceremony for Rumsfeld.

They wanted no association of any kind between the President and Gonzales.

I'm sure it's a coincidence

While I was listening to President Bush say Gonzales was hounded out of office, it suddenly occurred to me that virtually every administration name that has come up in the US Attorneys' firings has now resigned.

Rove, Sarah Taylor, Gonzales and almost the entire list of top Justice Department appointees.

That's a remarkable coincidence if they did nothing wrong, eh?

Picture of the Day

Chertoff is the rumor. (Do we announce Chertoff before or after the Katrina anniversary?)

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales during a press briefing Aug. 10, 2006 (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)

US forces strike inside Pakistan

Have to wait and see how this plays out.
US-led and Afghan troops struck Taliban posts inside Pakistan, which denied giving permission, as new clashes left more than 30 rebels dead and there were claims Sunday of civilian casualties.

The US says it received permission, the Pakistanis said they didn't give it. (If history is a guide from the past missile attacks, they probably did, but will deny it as long as they can.)

But I think it's notable that the US carried Afghan troops across the border with them.

Allawi as a pawn in crafting reconciliation.

Allawi's push for Prime Ministership push is apparently being funded by Hazem Shaalan, a former INC(Chalabi) associate and $1 billion dollar embezzler of Iraqi military funds. Shaalan stole his fortune while Defense Minister under Allawi's previous government spending the defense budget on crumbling second hand Polish weapons.

Now we have a secondary claim that (from David Ignatius) that Allawi's support is coming from Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

But, in the end, I believe Allawi is a pawn.

The Bush administration has been trying for months to find a pressure point to force Prime Minister Maliki into some move towards reconciliation, and the Sunni withdrawal from the government, coupled with back room communications from the Saudis, suddenly pressed this effort into full drive.

Allawi is the US threat to Maliki, act or else.

And to some degree, it appears to have worked.
Iraq's fractious political leaders squeezed out a broadbrush deal early Monday aimed at bridging the sectarian divide under mounting pressure from Washington.

The problem is that by getting here through the weakening Maliki (and creating Sunni militias,) the Sunnis now hold alot of the cards, and they're no longer playing for crumbs.
However, initial reaction from Sunni parties suggested the deal would not be enough to lure them back to Maliki's government.

The Sunnis have gotten (at least) proposals and language for alot of what they wanted, and yet it's still not enough.

The core problem of this strategy is that it's a gamble. The assumption of these political deals is that a weakened Maliki still speaks for the Shia.

But Maliki has no militia. He has no political sway. He has no real force in Iraq.

So, a statement of political reconciliation has been arrived at, but the question is, is there anything behind it but the shell of a Prime Minister that was? Does this deal make Maliki stronger or weaker as a Prime Minister?

Let's remember where the power resides, with the guns in the street.

(Sadr has not returned to the government. And what do the Iranians want?)

Too funny

Remember just a few weeks ago when all the right wingers were all gaga over the new very right wing French President Nicolas Sarkozy? Well....
In Paris, French President Nicolas Sarkozy called for a clear timetable to be set for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Iraq, in his first major foreign policy address since taking office.

Too funny, eh?

Good Morning

Gonzales resigns.

I guess he wants to spend more time lying to his family.

(And the White House wants the President's "loyalty" to stay intact, "The official said that the decision was Mr. Gonzales's and that the president accepted it grudgingly."

That "loyalty" is intended to be a framing virtue of the legacy.)

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Picture of the Day

Grace Dodd, daughter of Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Christopher Dodd, covers his mouth as they walk off stage after a Democratic presidential debate Sunday, Aug. 19, 2007, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

(Sometimes it's just because I like the picture.)

I'll be out most of the day today.


Don't miss this very important AP article that actually looks at the numbers behind the surge. Short version: "the surge" has pushed the violence out of Baghdad, but overall violence is running about double last year.

Despite the statistics I chopped out last night, I think the key excerpt from the article is this,
However, Brig. Gen. Richard Sherlock, deputy director for operational planning for the Pentagon's Joint Chiefs of Staff, said violence in Iraq "has continued to decline and is at the lowest level since June 2006."

He offered no statistics to back his claim.....

(NYTimes) 85% of the detainees in US custody are Sunni.

(AP) Maliki "lashes back" at Sens. Clinton and Levin by name.

The Sunday Times meets with Ibrahim al-Shammari, a representative of the Islamic Army,
According to Shammari, however, the gains in Anbar will be shortlived. He said the Islamic Army had signed a ceasefire with Al-Qaeda in Iraq. The country was to be carved into spheres of influence where the Islamic Army and Al-Qaeda in Iraq could operate independently of each other. It would represent an enormous setback for the surge.....

(Reuters) "U.S. forces have rebranded one of the main insurgent groups in Iraq and now use the term "concerned local nationals" to refer to a group that once claimed responsibility for killing scores of Americans."

(Time) Joe Klein actually had a decent piece which frames current US efforts as secondary within the context of the Iraqi civil war.

And, as for the overall goals of the war in Iraq, (remember, to combat terrorism, right?)
When the United States struck Afghanistan in 2001, "there were probably 3,000 core Al Qaeda operatives," says Arquilla of the Naval Postgraduate School. "We killed or captured about 1,000; about 1,000 more ended up in distant parts of the world. And about 1,000 ended up in Waziristan. But the great terror university in Afghanistan is gone; they've relied on the Web since. They haven't had the hands-on instruction and the bonding of the camps. That's resulted in low-skill levels. Their tradecraft is really much poorer."

The danger now, says Arquilla, is that the longer the Iraq War goes on, the more skilled the new generations of jihadists will become. "They're getting re-educated," he says. "The first generation of Al Qaeda came through the [Afghan] camps. The second generation are those who've logged on [to Islamist Web sites]. The next generation will be those who have come through the crucible of Iraq. Eventually, their level of skill is going to be greater than the skill of the original generation."

Another attack on India

There were two multiple explosion attacks in Hyderabad, India yesterday targeting an amphitheater in an amusement park and a restaurant. 38 killed and 70 wounded.

Local politicians are blaming Pakistan's ISI, but there's no evidence for that highly inflammatory claim.

Sunday reading

A bit slow this morning, but Newsweek has a giant article on the hunt for Bin Laden. I found it an interesting read.

(Thought experiment: If Bin Laden had been captured at Tora Bora, would the US have invaded Iraq?

All evidence is that the administration still would've wanted to, but would a captured Bin Laden have lessened the public terrorism fears that were employed to sell the war?)