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History > 2008 > USA > Wars > Iraq (IV)




Family members of a victim in front of a hospital

after a car bomb killed

as many as 53 people in Baquba, Iraq, on Tuesday.


Photograph: Adem Hadei/Associated Press


Dozens Killed in Bombings in Four Iraqi Cities


















Trial Opens for Hussein Aide;

28 Dead in Sadr City


April 30, 2008
The new York Times


BAGHDAD — Tariq Aziz, who for years was the public diplomatic face of Saddam Hussein’s regime, went on trial in Baghdad on Tuesday facing charges over the execution of Iraqi merchants during the Baathist era.

Mr. Aziz, 72, who was deputy prime minister under Mr. Hussein, looked frail as he entered the court carrying a walking stick. It was the first time he has appeared to answer charges since he surrendered to American forces on April 25, 2003, two weeks after the invasion.

The case centers on the execution in 1992 of more than 40 Iraqi merchants who were accused by the regime of price-gouging in contravention of strict state controls during the era when Iraq was subject to United Nations sanctions.

If convicted Mr. Aziz faces the death penalty. Among the other defendants are Mr. Hussein’s half-brother Watban Ibrahim al-Hassan and his cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid, who is known as Chemical Ali.

Mr. Majid did not attend on Tuesday because of ill health after suffering a heart attack in custody. He has already been sentenced to death in another case for war crimes over his involvement in killing tens of thousands of Kurds, including by poison gas. Judge Raouf Abdul-Rahman adjourned Tuesday’s hearing until May 20, citing Mr. Majid’s absence.

Speaking from Jordan by telephone, one of Mr. Aziz’s lawyers, Badie Arif, said: “It is not a solid case. They don’t even have enough to bring him to trial in the first place.”

A graduate of Baghdad University, Mr. Aziz was born in Mosul into a Chaldean Christian Arab family, and later changed his name from Michael Yuhanna.

He lived in a magnificent villa on the banks of the River Tigris, in which looters found boxes of his trademark Romeo y Julieta ‘Churchill’ cigars, bottles of Chivas Regal scotch whisky, Pierre Cardin shoes and books including biographies of Saddam Hussein and Colin Powell, and “Shakespeare’s Lessons in Leadership and Management.”

The house is now headquarters of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, a Shiite Islamist party that was one of Mr. Hussein’s principal internal foes and is now a significant force in the country’s Shiite-led government.

Elsewhere in Baghdad on Tuesday, heavy fighting erupted in the Shiite district of Sadr City as American and Iraqi troops continued efforts to curb rocket and mortar attacks on the capital’s protected Green Zone. Many of these are launched from nearby Sadr City, a stronghold of the radical cleric Moktada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army.

The American military said it had killed 28 gunmen during one prolonged clash on Tuesday morning after a patrol was attacked with small arms, roadside bombs and rocket-propelled grenades. A military statement said American troops fought back, using rocket launchers.

Doctors in Sadr City hospitals told Reuters news agency that they received the bodies of 21 people, including women and children.

In the central province of Diyala, police in Balad Ruz said that they found the bullet-riddled corpses of six academics who were kidnapped last week. Their families had paid $15,000 each, but the kidnappers still executed the hostages, Iraqi security officials said.

    Trial Opens for Hussein Aide; 28 Dead in Sadr City, NYT, 30.4.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/30/world/middleeast/30iraq.html






Civilians Suffer

in Sadr City’s Daily Gun Battles


April 21, 2008
The New York Times


BAGHDAD — Ayman, bleeding profusely from his arm, was rushed to Company B’s stronghold in Sadr City late Sunday afternoon.

A bullet had carved a bloody groove near his left elbow as he was going to fetch some bread from a market.

Seven children had been struck by a burst of gunfire from militia fighters who have been roaming through the streets near the American positions, his distraught father said.

But Ayman, 11, was one of the lucky ones. Four of the children, his father said, were dead.

With no functioning police force and the streets a battle zone, it could not be determined if the children had been caught in cross-fire or had been deliberately shot at by militia fighters, as Ayman’s father suggested.

The militias have concentrated their fire on Iraqi and American forces and generally avoided shooting at civilians, whom they have sought to use as their power base. But as the fighting has intensified, civilian casualties have increased.

Sgt. Kevin Stine, the senior medic for the company, which is part of the First Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, cleaned and bandaged the boy’s wound before telling the father to take him to a hospital for further treatment.

Capt. Logan Veath, the company commander, tried to give the boy a packet of M&Ms, but Ayman turned it down. He wanted a soccer ball. The medic rummaged through the Stryker vehicle until he found one.

In a neighborhood in which gun battles are a daily occurrence, Sunday was just another day. A threat by the cleric Moktada al-Sadr to wage “open war” on the Iraqi government unless it promised not to crack down on his followers heightened tensions. But fighting has raged through this impoverished section of Sadr City for almost a month.

At Company B’s headquarters, the sounds of battle were close at hand. A team of heavily armored American “route clearance” vehicles that was searching for roadside bombs struck two on a nearby street and was then attacked by militia fighters equipped with small arms and rocket-propelled grenades. None of the Americans were killed or seriously wounded, but one of the vehicles had to be towed away.

Militant fighters attacked an Iraqi police station on the same street, prompting an appeal for Iraqi T-72 tanks. Two rockets whooshed as they were fired into the Green Zone. A large mortar blast and other mysterious explosions resounded through the neighborhood.

Company B’s medics were kept busy through the day. Two Iraqi soldiers were brought in the morning after being wounded by the backblast of one of their own rocket-propelled grenades. A third was wounded by a round from an M-16, a weapon recently provided to Iraqi troops.

An hour after the medics treated Ayman, the violence crept closer to Company B’s base. A militia fighter heaved a grenade over the wall into the parking area for the Strykers. The explosion reverberated through the structure, raising a cloud of dust but causing no casualties.

“There were a few rounds, like there is all the time, and then an explosion,” said Staff Sgt. Austin Boots, with the company’s Second Platoon. “You could see the smoke billowing up right in a corner of the compound.”

The platoon ran into the street, only to find that the assailants had vanished.

Civilians who witnessed the episode described how two men had sneaked into an alley. While one threw the grenade, the other one, armed with a pistol, approached a group of people who live nearby.

According to an American military interpreter who spoke to them afterward, the assailant’s warning was direct.

“You did not hear anything,” he told them. “If you talk to coalition forces, we will kill you.”

    Civilians Suffer in Sadr City’s Daily Gun Battles, NYT, 21.4.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/21/world/middleeast/21sadr.html






Message Machine

Behind TV Analysts,

Pentagon’s Hidden Hand


April 20, 2008
The New York Times


In the summer of 2005, the Bush administration confronted a fresh wave of criticism over Guantánamo Bay. The detention center had just been branded “the gulag of our times” by Amnesty International, there were new allegations of abuse from United Nations human rights experts and calls were mounting for its closure.

The administration’s communications experts responded swiftly. Early one Friday morning, they put a group of retired military officers on one of the jets normally used by Vice President Dick Cheney and flew them to Cuba for a carefully orchestrated tour of Guantánamo.

To the public, these men are members of a familiar fraternity, presented tens of thousands of times on television and radio as “military analysts” whose long service has equipped them to give authoritative and unfettered judgments about the most pressing issues of the post-Sept. 11 world.

Hidden behind that appearance of objectivity, though, is a Pentagon information apparatus that has used those analysts in a campaign to generate favorable news coverage of the administration’s wartime performance, an examination by The New York Times has found.

The effort, which began with the buildup to the Iraq war and continues to this day, has sought to exploit ideological and military allegiances, and also a powerful financial dynamic: Most of the analysts have ties to military contractors vested in the very war policies they are asked to assess on air.

Those business relationships are hardly ever disclosed to the viewers, and sometimes not even to the networks themselves. But collectively, the men on the plane and several dozen other military analysts represent more than 150 military contractors either as lobbyists, senior executives, board members or consultants. The companies include defense heavyweights, but also scores of smaller companies, all part of a vast assemblage of contractors scrambling for hundreds of billions in military business generated by the administration’s war on terror. It is a furious competition, one in which inside information and easy access to senior officials are highly prized.

Records and interviews show how the Bush administration has used its control over access and information in an effort to transform the analysts into a kind of media Trojan horse — an instrument intended to shape terrorism coverage from inside the major TV and radio networks.

Analysts have been wooed in hundreds of private briefings with senior military leaders, including officials with significant influence over contracting and budget matters, records show. They have been taken on tours of Iraq and given access to classified intelligence. They have been briefed by officials from the White House, State Department and Justice Department, including Mr. Cheney, Alberto R. Gonzales and Stephen J. Hadley.

In turn, members of this group have echoed administration talking points, sometimes even when they suspected the information was false or inflated. Some analysts acknowledge they suppressed doubts because they feared jeopardizing their access.

A few expressed regret for participating in what they regarded as an effort to dupe the American public with propaganda dressed as independent military analysis.

“It was them saying, ‘We need to stick our hands up your back and move your mouth for you,’ ” Robert S. Bevelacqua, a retired Green Beret and former Fox News analyst, said.

Kenneth Allard, a former NBC military analyst who has taught information warfare at the National Defense University, said the campaign amounted to a sophisticated information operation. “This was a coherent, active policy,” he said.

As conditions in Iraq deteriorated, Mr. Allard recalled, he saw a yawning gap between what analysts were told in private briefings and what subsequent inquiries and books later revealed.

“Night and day,” Mr. Allard said, “I felt we’d been hosed.”

The Pentagon defended its relationship with military analysts, saying they had been given only factual information about the war. “The intent and purpose of this is nothing other than an earnest attempt to inform the American people,” Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, said.

It was, Mr. Whitman added, “a bit incredible” to think retired military officers could be “wound up” and turned into “puppets of the Defense Department.”

Many analysts strongly denied that they had either been co-opted or had allowed outside business interests to affect their on-air comments, and some have used their platforms to criticize the conduct of the war. Several, like Jeffrey D. McCausland, a CBS military analyst and defense industry lobbyist, said they kept their networks informed of their outside work and recused themselves from coverage that touched on business interests.

“I’m not here representing the administration,” Dr. McCausland said.

Some network officials, meanwhile, acknowledged only a limited understanding of their analysts’ interactions with the administration. They said that while they were sensitive to potential conflicts of interest, they did not hold their analysts to the same ethical standards as their news employees regarding outside financial interests. The onus is on their analysts to disclose conflicts, they said. And whatever the contributions of military analysts, they also noted the many network journalists who have covered the war for years in all its complexity.

Five years into the Iraq war, most details of the architecture and execution of the Pentagon’s campaign have never been disclosed. But The Times successfully sued the Defense Department to gain access to 8,000 pages of e-mail messages, transcripts and records describing years of private briefings, trips to Iraq and Guantánamo and an extensive Pentagon talking points operation.

These records reveal a symbiotic relationship where the usual dividing lines between government and journalism have been obliterated.

Internal Pentagon documents repeatedly refer to the military analysts as “message force multipliers” or “surrogates” who could be counted on to deliver administration “themes and messages” to millions of Americans “in the form of their own opinions.”

Though many analysts are paid network consultants, making $500 to $1,000 per appearance, in Pentagon meetings they sometimes spoke as if they were operating behind enemy lines, interviews and transcripts show. Some offered the Pentagon tips on how to outmaneuver the networks, or as one analyst put it to Donald H. Rumsfeld, then the defense secretary, “the Chris Matthewses and the Wolf Blitzers of the world.” Some warned of planned stories or sent the Pentagon copies of their correspondence with network news executives. Many — although certainly not all — faithfully echoed talking points intended to counter critics.

“Good work,” Thomas G. McInerney, a retired Air Force general, consultant and Fox News analyst, wrote to the Pentagon after receiving fresh talking points in late 2006. “We will use it.”

Again and again, records show, the administration has enlisted analysts as a rapid reaction force to rebut what it viewed as critical news coverage, some of it by the networks’ own Pentagon correspondents. For example, when news articles revealed that troops in Iraq were dying because of inadequate body armor, a senior Pentagon official wrote to his colleagues: “I think our analysts — properly armed — can push back in that arena.”

The documents released by the Pentagon do not show any quid pro quo between commentary and contracts. But some analysts said they had used the special access as a marketing and networking opportunity or as a window into future business possibilities.

John C. Garrett is a retired Army colonel and unpaid analyst for Fox News TV and radio. He is also a lobbyist at Patton Boggs who helps firms win Pentagon contracts, including in Iraq. In promotional materials, he states that as a military analyst he “is privy to weekly access and briefings with the secretary of defense, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other high level policy makers in the administration.” One client told investors that Mr. Garrett’s special access and decades of experience helped him “to know in advance — and in detail — how best to meet the needs” of the Defense Department and other agencies.

In interviews Mr. Garrett said there was an inevitable overlap between his dual roles. He said he had gotten “information you just otherwise would not get,” from the briefings and three Pentagon-sponsored trips to Iraq. He also acknowledged using this access and information to identify opportunities for clients. “You can’t help but look for that,” he said, adding, “If you know a capability that would fill a niche or need, you try to fill it. “That’s good for everybody.”

At the same time, in e-mail messages to the Pentagon, Mr. Garrett displayed an eagerness to be supportive with his television and radio commentary. “Please let me know if you have any specific points you want covered or that you would prefer to downplay,” he wrote in January 2007, before President Bush went on TV to describe the surge strategy in Iraq.

Conversely, the administration has demonstrated that there is a price for sustained criticism, many analysts said. “You’ll lose all access,” Dr. McCausland said.

With a majority of Americans calling the war a mistake despite all administration attempts to sway public opinion, the Pentagon has focused in the last couple of years on cultivating in particular military analysts frequently seen and heard in conservative news outlets, records and interviews show.

Some of these analysts were on the mission to Cuba on June 24, 2005 — the first of six such Guantánamo trips — which was designed to mobilize analysts against the growing perception of Guantánamo as an international symbol of inhumane treatment. On the flight to Cuba, for much of the day at Guantánamo and on the flight home that night, Pentagon officials briefed the 10 or so analysts on their key messages — how much had been spent improving the facility, the abuse endured by guards, the extensive rights afforded detainees.

The results came quickly. The analysts went on TV and radio, decrying Amnesty International, criticizing calls to close the facility and asserting that all detainees were treated humanely.

“The impressions that you’re getting from the media and from the various pronouncements being made by people who have not been here in my opinion are totally false,” Donald W. Shepperd, a retired Air Force general, reported live on CNN by phone from Guantánamo that same afternoon.

The next morning, Montgomery Meigs, a retired Army general and NBC analyst, appeared on “Today.” “There’s been over $100 million of new construction,” he reported. “The place is very professionally run.”

Within days, transcripts of the analysts’ appearances were circulated to senior White House and Pentagon officials, cited as evidence of progress in the battle for hearts and minds at home.


Charting the Campaign

By early 2002, detailed planning for a possible Iraq invasion was under way, yet an obstacle loomed. Many Americans, polls showed, were uneasy about invading a country with no clear connection to the Sept. 11 attacks. Pentagon and White House officials believed the military analysts could play a crucial role in helping overcome this resistance.

Torie Clarke, the former public relations executive who oversaw the Pentagon’s dealings with the analysts as assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, had come to her job with distinct ideas about achieving what she called “information dominance.” In a spin-saturated news culture, she argued, opinion is swayed most by voices perceived as authoritative and utterly independent.

And so even before Sept. 11, she built a system within the Pentagon to recruit “key influentials” — movers and shakers from all walks who with the proper ministrations might be counted on to generate support for Mr. Rumsfeld’s priorities.

In the months after Sept. 11, as every network rushed to retain its own all-star squad of retired military officers, Ms. Clarke and her staff sensed a new opportunity. To Ms. Clarke’s team, the military analysts were the ultimate “key influential” — authoritative, most of them decorated war heroes, all reaching mass audiences.

The analysts, they noticed, often got more airtime than network reporters, and they were not merely explaining the capabilities of Apache helicopters. They were framing how viewers ought to interpret events. What is more, while the analysts were in the news media, they were not of the news media. They were military men, many of them ideologically in sync with the administration’s neoconservative brain trust, many of them important players in a military industry anticipating large budget increases to pay for an Iraq war.

Even analysts with no defense industry ties, and no fondness for the administration, were reluctant to be critical of military leaders, many of whom were friends. “It is very hard for me to criticize the United States Army,” said William L. Nash, a retired Army general and ABC analyst. “It is my life.”

Other administrations had made sporadic, small-scale attempts to build relationships with the occasional military analyst. But these were trifling compared with what Ms. Clarke’s team had in mind. Don Meyer, an aide to Ms. Clarke, said a strategic decision was made in 2002 to make the analysts the main focus of the public relations push to construct a case for war. Journalists were secondary. “We didn’t want to rely on them to be our primary vehicle to get information out,” Mr. Meyer said.

The Pentagon’s regular press office would be kept separate from the military analysts. The analysts would instead be catered to by a small group of political appointees, with the point person being Brent T. Krueger, another senior aide to Ms. Clarke. The decision recalled other administration tactics that subverted traditional journalism. Federal agencies, for example, have paid columnists to write favorably about the administration. They have distributed to local TV stations hundreds of fake news segments with fawning accounts of administration accomplishments. The Pentagon itself has made covert payments to Iraqi newspapers to publish coalition propaganda.

Rather than complain about the “media filter,” each of these techniques simply converted the filter into an amplifier. This time, Mr. Krueger said, the military analysts would in effect be “writing the op-ed” for the war.


Assembling the Team

From the start, interviews show, the White House took a keen interest in which analysts had been identified by the Pentagon, requesting lists of potential recruits, and suggesting names. Ms. Clarke’s team wrote summaries describing their backgrounds, business affiliations and where they stood on the war.

“Rumsfeld ultimately cleared off on all invitees,” said Mr. Krueger, who left the Pentagon in 2004. (Through a spokesman, Mr. Rumsfeld declined to comment for this article.)

Over time, the Pentagon recruited more than 75 retired officers, although some participated only briefly or sporadically. The largest contingent was affiliated with Fox News, followed by NBC and CNN, the other networks with 24-hour cable outlets. But analysts from CBS and ABC were included, too. Some recruits, though not on any network payroll, were influential in other ways — either because they were sought out by radio hosts, or because they often published op-ed articles or were quoted in magazines, Web sites and newspapers. At least nine of them have written op-ed articles for The Times.

The group was heavily represented by men involved in the business of helping companies win military contracts. Several held senior positions with contractors that gave them direct responsibility for winning new Pentagon business. James Marks, a retired Army general and analyst for CNN from 2004 to 2007, pursued military and intelligence contracts as a senior executive with McNeil Technologies. Still others held board positions with military firms that gave them responsibility for government business. General McInerney, the Fox analyst, for example, sits on the boards of several military contractors, including Nortel Government Solutions, a supplier of communication networks.

Several were defense industry lobbyists, such as Dr. McCausland, who works at Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, a major lobbying firm where he is director of a national security team that represents several military contractors. “We offer clients access to key decision makers,” Dr. McCausland’s team promised on the firm’s Web site.

Dr. McCausland was not the only analyst making this pledge. Another was Joseph W. Ralston, a retired Air Force general. Soon after signing on with CBS, General Ralston was named vice chairman of the Cohen Group, a consulting firm headed by a former defense secretary, William Cohen, himself now a “world affairs” analyst for CNN. “The Cohen Group knows that getting to ‘yes’ in the aerospace and defense market — whether in the United States or abroad — requires that companies have a thorough, up-to-date understanding of the thinking of government decision makers,” the company tells prospective clients on its Web site.

There were also ideological ties.

Two of NBC’s most prominent analysts, Barry R. McCaffrey and the late Wayne A. Downing, were on the advisory board of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, an advocacy group created with White House encouragement in 2002 to help make the case for ousting Saddam Hussein. Both men also had their own consulting firms and sat on the boards of major military contractors.

Many also shared with Mr. Bush’s national security team a belief that pessimistic war coverage broke the nation’s will to win in Vietnam, and there was a mutual resolve not to let that happen with this war.

This was a major theme, for example, with Paul E. Vallely, a Fox News analyst from 2001 to 2007. A retired Army general who had specialized in psychological warfare, Mr. Vallely co-authored a paper in 1980 that accused American news organizations of failing to defend the nation from “enemy” propaganda during Vietnam.

“We lost the war — not because we were outfought, but because we were out Psyoped,” he wrote. He urged a radically new approach to psychological operations in future wars — taking aim at not just foreign adversaries but domestic audiences, too. He called his approach “MindWar” — using network TV and radio to “strengthen our national will to victory.”


The Selling of the War

From their earliest sessions with the military analysts, Mr. Rumsfeld and his aides spoke as if they were all part of the same team.

In interviews, participants described a powerfully seductive environment — the uniformed escorts to Mr. Rumsfeld’s private conference room, the best government china laid out, the embossed name cards, the blizzard of PowerPoints, the solicitations of advice and counsel, the appeals to duty and country, the warm thank you notes from the secretary himself.

“Oh, you have no idea,” Mr. Allard said, describing the effect. “You’re back. They listen to you. They listen to what you say on TV.” It was, he said, “psyops on steroids” — a nuanced exercise in influence through flattery and proximity. “It’s not like it’s, ‘We’ll pay you $500 to get our story out,’ ” he said. “It’s more subtle.”

The access came with a condition. Participants were instructed not to quote their briefers directly or otherwise describe their contacts with the Pentagon.

In the fall and winter leading up to the invasion, the Pentagon armed its analysts with talking points portraying Iraq as an urgent threat. The basic case became a familiar mantra: Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons, was developing nuclear weapons, and might one day slip some to Al Qaeda; an invasion would be a relatively quick and inexpensive “war of liberation.”

At the Pentagon, members of Ms. Clarke’s staff marveled at the way the analysts seamlessly incorporated material from talking points and briefings as if it was their own.

“You could see that they were messaging,” Mr. Krueger said. “You could see they were taking verbatim what the secretary was saying or what the technical specialists were saying. And they were saying it over and over and over.” Some days, he added, “We were able to click on every single station and every one of our folks were up there delivering our message. You’d look at them and say, ‘This is working.’ ”

On April 12, 2003, with major combat almost over, Mr. Rumsfeld drafted a memorandum to Ms. Clarke. “Let’s think about having some of the folks who did such a good job as talking heads in after this thing is over,” he wrote.

By summer, though, the first signs of the insurgency had emerged. Reports from journalists based in Baghdad were increasingly suffused with the imagery of mayhem.

The Pentagon did not have to search far for a counterweight.

It was time, an internal Pentagon strategy memorandum urged, to “re-energize surrogates and message-force multipliers,” starting with the military analysts.

The memorandum led to a proposal to take analysts on a tour of Iraq in September 2003, timed to help overcome the sticker shock from Mr. Bush’s request for $87 billion in emergency war financing.

The group included four analysts from Fox News, one each from CNN and ABC, and several research-group luminaries whose opinion articles appear regularly in the nation’s op-ed pages.

The trip invitation promised a look at “the real situation on the ground in Iraq.”

The situation, as described in scores of books, was deteriorating. L. Paul Bremer III, then the American viceroy in Iraq, wrote in his memoir, “My Year in Iraq,” that he had privately warned the White House that the United States had “about half the number of soldiers we needed here.”

“We’re up against a growing and sophisticated threat,” Mr. Bremer recalled telling the president during a private White House dinner.

That dinner took place on Sept. 24, while the analysts were touring Iraq.

Yet these harsh realities were elided, or flatly contradicted, during the official presentations for the analysts, records show. The itinerary, scripted to the minute, featured brief visits to a model school, a few refurbished government buildings, a center for women’s rights, a mass grave and even the gardens of Babylon.

Mostly the analysts attended briefings. These sessions, records show, spooled out an alternative narrative, depicting an Iraq bursting with political and economic energy, its security forces blossoming. On the crucial question of troop levels, the briefings echoed the White House line: No reinforcements were needed. The “growing and sophisticated threat” described by Mr. Bremer was instead depicted as degraded, isolated and on the run.

“We’re winning,” a briefing document proclaimed.

One trip participant, General Nash of ABC, said some briefings were so clearly “artificial” that he joked to another group member that they were on “the George Romney memorial trip to Iraq,” a reference to Mr. Romney’s infamous claim that American officials had “brainwashed” him into supporting the Vietnam War during a tour there in 1965, while he was governor of Michigan.

But if the trip pounded the message of progress, it also represented a business opportunity: direct access to the most senior civilian and military leaders in Iraq and Kuwait, including many with a say in how the president’s $87 billion would be spent. It also was a chance to gather inside information about the most pressing needs confronting the American mission: the acute shortages of “up-armored” Humvees; the billions to be spent building military bases; the urgent need for interpreters; and the ambitious plans to train Iraq’s security forces.

Information and access of this nature had undeniable value for trip participants like William V. Cowan and Carlton A. Sherwood.

Mr. Cowan, a Fox analyst and retired Marine colonel, was the chief executive of a new military firm, the wvc3 Group. Mr. Sherwood was its executive vice president. At the time, the company was seeking contracts worth tens of millions to supply body armor and counterintelligence services in Iraq. In addition, wvc3 Group had a written agreement to use its influence and connections to help tribal leaders in Al Anbar Province win reconstruction contracts from the coalition.

“Those sheiks wanted access to the C.P.A.,” Mr. Cowan recalled in an interview, referring to the Coalition Provisional Authority.

Mr. Cowan said he pleaded their cause during the trip. “I tried to push hard with some of Bremer’s people to engage these people of Al Anbar,” he said.

Back in Washington, Pentagon officials kept a nervous eye on how the trip translated on the airwaves. Uncomfortable facts had bubbled up during the trip. One briefer, for example, mentioned that the Army was resorting to packing inadequately armored Humvees with sandbags and Kevlar blankets. Descriptions of the Iraqi security forces were withering. “They can’t shoot, but then again, they don’t,” one officer told them, according to one participant’s notes.

“I saw immediately in 2003 that things were going south,” General Vallely, one of the Fox analysts on the trip, recalled in an interview with The Times.

The Pentagon, though, need not have worried.

“You can’t believe the progress,” General Vallely told Alan Colmes of Fox News upon his return. He predicted the insurgency would be “down to a few numbers” within months.

“We could not be more excited, more pleased,” Mr. Cowan told Greta Van Susteren of Fox News. There was barely a word about armor shortages or corrupt Iraqi security forces. And on the key strategic question of the moment — whether to send more troops — the analysts were unanimous.

“I am so much against adding more troops,” General Shepperd said on CNN.


Access and Influence

Inside the Pentagon and at the White House, the trip was viewed as a masterpiece in the management of perceptions, not least because it gave fuel to complaints that “mainstream” journalists were ignoring the good news in Iraq.

“We’re hitting a home run on this trip,” a senior Pentagon official wrote in an e-mail message to Richard B. Myers and Peter Pace, then chairman and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Its success only intensified the Pentagon’s campaign. The pace of briefings accelerated. More trips were organized. Eventually the effort involved officials from Washington to Baghdad to Kabul to Guantánamo and back to Tampa, Fla., the headquarters of United States Central Command.

The scale reflected strong support from the top. When officials in Iraq were slow to organize another trip for analysts, a Pentagon official fired off an e-mail message warning that the trips “have the highest levels of visibility” at the White House and urging them to get moving before Lawrence Di Rita, one of Mr. Rumsfeld’s closest aides, “picks up the phone and starts calling the 4-stars.”

Mr. Di Rita, no longer at the Defense Department, said in an interview that a “conscious decision” was made to rely on the military analysts to counteract “the increasingly negative view of the war” coming from journalists in Iraq. The analysts, he said, generally had “a more supportive view” of the administration and the war, and the combination of their TV platforms and military cachet made them ideal for rebutting critical coverage of issues like troop morale, treatment of detainees, inadequate equipment or poorly trained Iraqi security forces. “On those issues, they were more likely to be seen as credible spokesmen,” he said.

For analysts with military industry ties, the attention brought access to a widening circle of influential officials beyond the contacts they had accumulated over the course of their careers.

Charles T. Nash, a Fox military analyst and retired Navy captain, is a consultant who helps small companies break into the military market. Suddenly, he had entree to a host of senior military leaders, many of whom he had never met. It was, he said, like being embedded with the Pentagon leadership. “You start to recognize what’s most important to them,” he said, adding, “There’s nothing like seeing stuff firsthand.”

Some Pentagon officials said they were well aware that some analysts viewed their special access as a business advantage. “Of course we realized that,” Mr. Krueger said. “We weren’t naïve about that.”

They also understood the financial relationship between the networks and their analysts. Many analysts were being paid by the “hit,” the number of times they appeared on TV. The more an analyst could boast of fresh inside information from high-level Pentagon “sources,” the more hits he could expect. The more hits, the greater his potential influence in the military marketplace, where several analysts prominently advertised their network roles.

“They have taken lobbying and the search for contracts to a far higher level,” Mr. Krueger said. “This has been highly honed.”

Mr. Di Rita, though, said it never occurred to him that analysts might use their access to curry favor. Nor, he said, did the Pentagon try to exploit this dynamic. “That’s not something that ever crossed my mind,” he said. In any event, he argued, the analysts and the networks were the ones responsible for any ethical complications. “We assume they know where the lines are,” he said.

The analysts met personally with Mr. Rumsfeld at least 18 times, records show, but that was just the beginning. They had dozens more sessions with the most senior members of his brain trust and access to officials responsible for managing the billions being spent in Iraq. Other groups of “key influentials” had meetings, but not nearly as often as the analysts.

An internal memorandum in 2005 helped explain why. The memorandum, written by a Pentagon official who had accompanied analysts to Iraq, said that based on her observations during the trip, the analysts “are having a greater impact” on network coverage of the military. “They have now become the go-to guys not only on breaking stories, but they influence the views on issues,” she wrote.

Other branches of the administration also began to make use of the analysts. Mr. Gonzales, then the attorney general, met with them soon after news leaked that the government was wiretapping terrorism suspects in the United States without warrants, Pentagon records show. When David H. Petraeus was appointed the commanding general in Iraq in January 2007, one of his early acts was to meet with the analysts.

“We knew we had extraordinary access,” said Timur J. Eads, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and Fox analyst who is vice president of government relations for Blackbird Technologies, a fast-growing military contractor.

Like several other analysts, Mr. Eads said he had at times held his tongue on television for fear that “some four-star could call up and say, ‘Kill that contract.’ ” For example, he believed Pentagon officials misled the analysts about the progress of Iraq’s security forces. “I know a snow job when I see one,” he said. He did not share this on TV.

“Human nature,” he explained, though he noted other instances when he was critical.

Some analysts said that even before the war started, they privately had questions about the justification for the invasion, but were careful not to express them on air.

Mr. Bevelacqua, then a Fox analyst, was among those invited to a briefing in early 2003 about Iraq’s purported stockpiles of illicit weapons. He recalled asking the briefer whether the United States had “smoking gun” proof.

“ ‘We don’t have any hard evidence,’ ” Mr. Bevelacqua recalled the briefer replying. He said he and other analysts were alarmed by this concession. “We are looking at ourselves saying, ‘What are we doing?’ ”

Another analyst, Robert L. Maginnis, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who works in the Pentagon for a military contractor, attended the same briefing and recalled feeling “very disappointed” after being shown satellite photographs purporting to show bunkers associated with a hidden weapons program. Mr. Maginnis said he concluded that the analysts were being “manipulated” to convey a false sense of certainty about the evidence of the weapons. Yet he and Mr. Bevelacqua and the other analysts who attended the briefing did not share any misgivings with the American public.

Mr. Bevelacqua and another Fox analyst, Mr. Cowan, had formed the wvc3 Group, and hoped to win military and national security contracts.

“There’s no way I was going to go down that road and get completely torn apart,” Mr. Bevelacqua said. “You’re talking about fighting a huge machine.”

Some e-mail messages between the Pentagon and the analysts reveal an implicit trade of privileged access for favorable coverage. Robert H. Scales Jr., a retired Army general and analyst for Fox News and National Public Radio whose consulting company advises several military firms on weapons and tactics used in Iraq, wanted the Pentagon to approve high-level briefings for him inside Iraq in 2006.

“Recall the stuff I did after my last visit,” he wrote. “I will do the same this time.”


Pentagon Keeps Tabs

As it happened, the analysts’ news media appearances were being closely monitored. The Pentagon paid a private contractor, Omnitec Solutions, hundreds of thousands of dollars to scour databases for any trace of the analysts, be it a segment on “The O’Reilly Factor” or an interview with The Daily Inter Lake in Montana, circulation 20,000.

Omnitec evaluated their appearances using the same tools as corporate branding experts. One report, assessing the impact of several trips to Iraq in 2005, offered example after example of analysts echoing Pentagon themes on all the networks.

“Commentary from all three Iraq trips was extremely positive over all,” the report concluded.

In interviews, several analysts reacted with dismay when told they were described as reliable “surrogates” in Pentagon documents. And some asserted that their Pentagon sessions were, as David L. Grange, a retired Army general and CNN analyst put it, “just upfront information,” while others pointed out, accurately, that they did not always agree with the administration or each other. “None of us drink the Kool-Aid,” General Scales said.

Likewise, several also denied using their special access for business gain. “Not related at all,” General Shepperd said, pointing out that many in the Pentagon held CNN “in the lowest esteem.”

Still, even the mildest of criticism could draw a challenge. Several analysts told of fielding telephone calls from displeased defense officials only minutes after being on the air.

On Aug. 3, 2005, 14 marines died in Iraq. That day, Mr. Cowan, who said he had grown increasingly uncomfortable with the “twisted version of reality” being pushed on analysts in briefings, called the Pentagon to give “a heads-up” that some of his comments on Fox “may not all be friendly,” Pentagon records show. Mr. Rumsfeld’s senior aides quickly arranged a private briefing for him, yet when he told Bill O’Reilly that the United States was “not on a good glide path right now” in Iraq, the repercussions were swift.

Mr. Cowan said he was “precipitously fired from the analysts group” for this appearance. The Pentagon, he wrote in an e-mail message, “simply didn’t like the fact that I wasn’t carrying their water.” The next day James T. Conway, then director of operations for the Joint Chiefs, presided over another conference call with analysts. He urged them, a transcript shows, not to let the marines’ deaths further erode support for the war.

“The strategic target remains our population,” General Conway said. “We can lose people day in and day out, but they’re never going to beat our military. What they can and will do if they can is strip away our support. And you guys can help us not let that happen.”

“General, I just made that point on the air,” an analyst replied.

“Let’s work it together, guys,” General Conway urged.


The Generals’ Revolt

The full dimensions of this mutual embrace were perhaps never clearer than in April 2006, after several of Mr. Rumsfeld’s former generals — none of them network military analysts — went public with devastating critiques of his wartime performance. Some called for his resignation.

On Friday, April 14, with what came to be called the “Generals’ Revolt” dominating headlines, Mr. Rumsfeld instructed aides to summon military analysts to a meeting with him early the next week, records show. When an aide urged a short delay to “give our big guys on the West Coast a little more time to buy a ticket and get here,” Mr. Rumsfeld’s office insisted that “the boss” wanted the meeting fast “for impact on the current story.”

That same day, Pentagon officials helped two Fox analysts, General McInerney and General Vallely, write an opinion article for The Wall Street Journal defending Mr. Rumsfeld.

“Starting to write it now,” General Vallely wrote to the Pentagon that afternoon. “Any input for the article,” he added a little later, “will be much appreciated.” Mr. Rumsfeld’s office quickly forwarded talking points and statistics to rebut the notion of a spreading revolt.

“Vallely is going to use the numbers,” a Pentagon official reported that afternoon.

The standard secrecy notwithstanding, plans for this session leaked, producing a front-page story in The Times that Sunday. In damage-control mode, Pentagon officials scrambled to present the meeting as routine and directed that communications with analysts be kept “very formal,” records show. “This is very, very sensitive now,” a Pentagon official warned subordinates.

On Tuesday, April 18, some 17 analysts assembled at the Pentagon with Mr. Rumsfeld and General Pace, then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

A transcript of that session, never before disclosed, shows a shared determination to marginalize war critics and revive public support for the war.

“I’m an old intel guy,” said one analyst. (The transcript omits speakers’ names.) “And I can sum all of this up, unfortunately, with one word. That is Psyops. Now most people may hear that and they think, ‘Oh my God, they’re trying to brainwash.’ ”

“What are you, some kind of a nut?” Mr. Rumsfeld cut in, drawing laughter. “You don’t believe in the Constitution?”

There was little discussion about the actual criticism pouring forth from Mr. Rumsfeld’s former generals. Analysts argued that opposition to the war was rooted in perceptions fed by the news media, not reality. The administration’s overall war strategy, they counseled, was “brilliant” and “very successful.”

“Frankly,” one participant said, “from a military point of view, the penalty, 2,400 brave Americans whom we lost, 3,000 in an hour and 15 minutes, is relative.”

An analyst said at another point: “This is a wider war. And whether we have democracy in Iraq or not, it doesn’t mean a tinker’s damn if we end up with the result we want, which is a regime over there that’s not a threat to us.”

“Yeah,” Mr. Rumsfeld said, taking notes.

But winning or not, they bluntly warned, the administration was in grave political danger so long as most Americans viewed Iraq as a lost cause. “America hates a loser,” one analyst said.

Much of the session was devoted to ways that Mr. Rumsfeld could reverse the “political tide.” One analyst urged Mr. Rumsfeld to “just crush these people,” and assured him that “most of the gentlemen at the table” would enthusiastically support him if he did.

“You are the leader,” the analyst told Mr. Rumsfeld. “You are our guy.”

At another point, an analyst made a suggestion: “In one of your speeches you ought to say, ‘Everybody stop for a minute and imagine an Iraq ruled by Zarqawi.’ And then you just go down the list and say, ‘All right, we’ve got oil, money, sovereignty, access to the geographic center of gravity of the Middle East, blah, blah, blah.’ If you can just paint a mental picture for Joe America to say, ‘Oh my God, I can’t imagine a world like that.’ ”

Even as they assured Mr. Rumsfeld that they stood ready to help in this public relations offensive, the analysts sought guidance on what they should cite as the next “milestone” that would, as one analyst put it, “keep the American people focused on the idea that we’re moving forward to a positive end.” They placed particular emphasis on the growing confrontation with Iran.

“When you said ‘long war,’ you changed the psyche of the American people to expect this to be a generational event,” an analyst said. “And again, I’m not trying to tell you how to do your job...”

“Get in line,” Mr. Rumsfeld interjected.

The meeting ended and Mr. Rumsfeld, appearing pleased and relaxed, took the entire group into a small study and showed off treasured keepsakes from his life, several analysts recalled.

Soon after, analysts hit the airwaves. The Omnitec monitoring reports, circulated to more than 80 officials, confirmed that analysts repeated many of the Pentagon’s talking points: that Mr. Rumsfeld consulted “frequently and sufficiently” with his generals; that he was not “overly concerned” with the criticisms; that the meeting focused “on more important topics at hand,” including the next milestone in Iraq, the formation of a new government.

Days later, Mr. Rumsfeld wrote a memorandum distilling their collective guidance into bullet points. Two were underlined:

“Focus on the Global War on Terror — not simply Iraq. The wider war — the long war.”

“Link Iraq to Iran. Iran is the concern. If we fail in Iraq or Afghanistan, it will help Iran.”

But if Mr. Rumsfeld found the session instructive, at least one participant, General Nash, the ABC analyst, was repulsed.

“I walked away from that session having total disrespect for my fellow commentators, with perhaps one or two exceptions,” he said.


View From the Networks

Two weeks ago General Petraeus took time out from testifying before Congress about Iraq for a conference call with military analysts.

Mr. Garrett, the Fox analyst and Patton Boggs lobbyist, said he told General Petraeus during the call to “keep up the great work.”

“Hey,” Mr. Garrett said in an interview, “anything we can do to help.”

For the moment, though, because of heavy election coverage and general war fatigue, military analysts are not getting nearly as much TV time, and the networks have trimmed their rosters of analysts. The conference call with General Petraeus, for example, produced little in the way of immediate coverage.

Still, almost weekly the Pentagon continues to conduct briefings with selected military analysts. Many analysts said network officials were only dimly aware of these interactions. The networks, they said, have little grasp of how often they meet with senior officials, or what is discussed.

“I don’t think NBC was even aware we were participating,” said Rick Francona, a longtime military analyst for the network.

Some networks publish biographies on their Web sites that describe their analysts’ military backgrounds and, in some cases, give at least limited information about their business ties. But many analysts also said the networks asked few questions about their outside business interests, the nature of their work or the potential for that work to create conflicts of interest. “None of that ever happened,” said Mr. Allard, an NBC analyst until 2006.

“The worst conflict of interest was no interest.”

Mr. Allard and other analysts said their network handlers also raised no objections when the Defense Department began paying their commercial airfare for Pentagon-sponsored trips to Iraq — a clear ethical violation for most news organizations.

CBS News declined to comment on what it knew about its military analysts’ business affiliations or what steps it took to guard against potential conflicts.

NBC News also declined to discuss its procedures for hiring and monitoring military analysts. The network issued a short statement: “We have clear policies in place to assure that the people who appear on our air have been appropriately vetted and that nothing in their profile would lead to even a perception of a conflict of interest.”

Jeffrey W. Schneider, a spokesman for ABC, said that while the network’s military consultants were not held to the same ethical rules as its full-time journalists, they were expected to keep the network informed about any outside business entanglements. “We make it clear to them we expect them to keep us closely apprised,” he said.

A spokeswoman for Fox News said executives “refused to participate” in this article.

CNN requires its military analysts to disclose in writing all outside sources of income. But like the other networks, it does not provide its military analysts with the kind of written, specific ethical guidelines it gives its full-time employees for avoiding real or apparent conflicts of interest.

Yet even where controls exist, they have sometimes proven porous.

CNN, for example, said it was unaware for nearly three years that one of its main military analysts, General Marks, was deeply involved in the business of seeking government contracts, including contracts related to Iraq.

General Marks was hired by CNN in 2004, about the time he took a management position at McNeil Technologies, where his job was to pursue military and intelligence contracts. As required, General Marks disclosed that he received income from McNeil Technologies. But the disclosure form did not require him to describe what his job entailed, and CNN acknowledges it failed to do additional vetting.

“We did not ask Mr. Marks the follow-up questions we should have,” CNN said in a written statement.

In an interview, General Marks said it was no secret at CNN that his job at McNeil Technologies was about winning contracts. “I mean, that’s what McNeil does,” he said.

CNN, however, said it did not know the nature of McNeil’s military business or what General Marks did for the company. If he was bidding on Pentagon contracts, CNN said, that should have disqualified him from being a military analyst for the network. But in the summer and fall of 2006, even as he was regularly asked to comment on conditions in Iraq, General Marks was working intensively on bidding for a $4.6 billion contract to provide thousands of translators to United States forces in Iraq. In fact, General Marks was made president of the McNeil spin-off that won the huge contract in December 2006.

General Marks said his work on the contract did not affect his commentary on CNN. “I’ve got zero challenge separating myself from a business interest,” he said.

But CNN said it had no idea about his role in the contract until July 2007, when it reviewed his most recent disclosure form, submitted months earlier, and finally made inquiries about his new job.

“We saw the extent of his dealings and determined at that time we should end our relationship with him,” CNN said.

    Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon’s Hidden Hand, NYT, 20.4.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/20/washington/20generals.html?hp






U.S. Begins Erecting Wall in Sadr City


April 18, 2008
The New York Times


BAGHDAD — Trying to stem the infiltration of militia fighters, American forces have begun to build a massive concrete wall that will partition Sadr City, the densely populated Shiite neighborhood in the Iraqi capital.

The construction, which began Tuesday night, is intended to turn the southern quarter of Sadr City near the international Green Zone into a protected enclave, secured by Iraqi and American forces, where the Iraqi government can undertake reconstruction efforts.

“You can’t really repair anything that is broken until you establish security,” said Lt. Col. Dan Barnett, commander of the First Squadron, Second Stryker Cavalry Regiment. “A wall that isolates those who would continue to attack the Iraqi Army and coalition forces can create security conditions that they can go in and rebuild.”

On Wednesday night, huge cranes slowly lifted heavy concrete blocks into place under a moonless sky. The barriers were implanted on Al Quds Street, a major thoroughfare that separates the Tharwa and Jamilla districts to the south from the heart of Sadr City to the north.

The avenue was quiet except for the whirring sound of the cranes and thud of the barriers as they touched the ground. Contractors operated the cranes, but American soldiers transported the barriers on trucks and directed their placement.

The team building the barrier was protected by M-1 tanks, Stryker vehicles and Apache attack helicopters. As the workers labored in silence, there was a burst of fire as an M-1 tank blasted its main gun at a small group of fighters to the west. An Apache helicopter fired a Hellfire missile at a militia team equipped with rocket-propelled grenades, again interrupting the night with a thunderous boom. A cloud of dark smoke was visible in the distance through the Stryker’s night-vision system.

Concrete barriers have been employed in other areas of Baghdad. As the barriers were being erected in other neighborhoods, some residents said they feared being isolated. But walls have often proved to be an effective tool in blunting insurgent attacks.

American and Iraqi forces here say they have been battling Iranian-backed groups and militia fighters who support Moktada al-Sadr, the anti-American cleric. Much of Sadr City has become a sanctuary for such militias. Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s recent offensive in Basra led to an increase in rocket attacks on the Green Zone.

Many of the Shiite militias that the American and Iraqi forces have been battling in the Tharwa area of Sadr City in the past several weeks have been infiltrating from the north. Al Quds Street has become a porous demarcation line between the American- and Iraqi-protected area to the south and the militia-controlled area to the north.

The avenue has been filled with numerous roadside bombs that American teams in special heavily armored vehicles have sought to clear. The militias have stacked tires on the road and turned them into burning pyres to hamper the American infrared surveillance and targeting systems or to soften the concrete to make it easier to bury bombs.

With a sandstorm hampering reconnaissance drones and grounding helicopters, work on the barrier was suspended Thursday, but the military intends to resume work as the weather improves.

The swirling dust storm, which turned the sky into a gritty beige, proved to be a boon to the militias. Calculating that they would ground the Americans helicopters and interfere with the reconnaissance drones, militias assaulted the northernmost Iraqi Army positions.

Iraqi troops, who are manning strongholds hundreds of yards ahead of the American positions, reported that they had run desperately low on ammunition, according to tactical radio reports.

American commanders were eager to avoid a repeat of the setback Tuesday evening when one Iraqi company abandoned its position to the front of American forces. That area was reclaimed the next day by a different Iraqi unit, but the episode gave militias temporary control of a critical stretch of road and a fresh opportunity to plant roadside bombs.

The militias’ main effort on Thursday was focused on dislodging Iraqi forces from a police station. American advisers took up positions with the Iraqi unit.

As the fighting intensified and there were reports that militia fighters had closed to within 100 yards, Colonel Barnett moved tanks into position so they could rush to the Iraqis’ aid. Stryker vehicles also moved forward.

But two Iraqi T-72s and four other Iraqi armored vehicles arrived on the scene before the American tanks were needed. The Iraqi Army has rushed ammunition to Sadr City, including machine-gun rounds and rocket-propelled grenades to give its units more firepower and address complaints of shortages.

Three Iraqi soldiers were reported killed Thursday when a militia fighter sneaked up close enough to a position they were guarding to lob a grenade, American officers said. There was such a heavy volume of Iraqi Army fire, however, that American commanders were not able to determine the scale of the attacks and whether they were as severe as the Iraqi forces had reported.

While the American military hopes to turn the southern portion of Sadr City into a protected enclave so that reconstruction can proceed, there has been no indication that the Iraqi government has mounted such efforts in recent days.

During a joint patrol conducted by Iraqi Army soldiers and American troops from the First Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division on Tuesday, residents complained vociferously about stagnant pools of water, downed power lines and piles of garbage.

The Americans sought to persuade the Iraqis that they were just as eager for the Iraqi government to fix the infrastructure and restore water and electricity.

“We are not stopping governmental services from coming in here,” Lt. Matthew Schardt, the commander of First Platoon, Company B, sought to assure one distressed woman. “We want them to come in here.” The American military plans to hire 200 Sadr City residents to clean up trash for a 75-day period. So far, it has hired about 90, Colonel Barnett said. But the program is seen as a stopgap effort.

    U.S. Begins Erecting Wall in Sadr City, NYT, 18.4.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/18/world/middleeast/18sadrcity.html?hp






Bomb Kills Dozens at Iraqi Funeral


April 18, 2008
The New York Times


BAGHDAD — A suicide bomber blew up a funeral gathering for the nephews of a prominent local American-backed Sunni chieftain in northern Iraq on Thursday, killing 30 people and wounding six others, according to the local police.

The attacker struck inside a tent full of mourners for the funeral of the two nephews of the chieftain, Sheik Ibrahim Arif Al-Azawi, who were slain by unidentified attackers earlier in the week.

Police said the chieftain was a local organizer of the Sunni Awakening Council, a group of largely Sunni militias that with American help have turned against Sunni extremists in Iraq. It was unclear whether he was among the victims of the suicide attack, but another senior chieftain, Sheik Jasim Wihaib Al-Azawi, was killed, the police said.

The attack happened at around 10 a.m. in a village about 20 miles north of Baquba, the capital of Diyala Province. Baquba, which American forces say they had largely taken back from Sunni insurgents, was the scene of a another deadly attack on Tuesday, when a suicide car bomber killed at least 40 people.

Tuesday’s car bomb in Baquba was just one of four attacks in Iraq on that day, which in total killed at least 54 people.

The bombings this week provided a reminder that American and Iraqi forces are still fighting a war on two fronts.

While the militaries battle Shiite militias in the south and in Baghdad, the attacks further north suggest that Sunni extremists are trying to show that despite those efforts they can still strike at civilians.

Erica Goode reported from Baghdad and Graham Bowley from New York. A reporter for The New York Times in Diyala contributed to this report.

    Bomb Kills Dozens at Iraqi Funeral, NYT, 18.4.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/18/world/middleeast/18iraq.html?hp






Dozens Killed in Bombings

in Four Iraqi Cities


April 16, 2008
The New York Times


BAGHDAD — Insurgents armed primarily with car bombs struck in four cities in Iraq on Tuesday, killing at least 66 people and wounding dozens more. The most lethal attack was in the troubled provincial capital of Baquba, a city the Americans believed they had largely taken back from Sunni extremists last summer.

At least 40 people died in the Baquba suicide car bomb attack, according to the chief of security operations for the city, but the police and emergency workers removing the bodies said they counted 53.

A suicide bomber also struck in Ramadi in Anbar Province, killing 13 people. In Baghdad, one civilian was killed in a bombing that was aimed at a police major and his bodyguards. In Mosul, a car bomb exploded in a neighborhood close to the university, previously a peaceful area despite the turbulence that has rocked much of the rest of the city.

Although there were no deaths in the Mosul attack, it appeared to have been well planned. An initial bomb was aimed at an American military convoy and a second exploded a few minutes later when Iraqi police officers arrived at the scene. Four police officers were wounded, as well as eight Iraqi civilians.

It was not immediately clear whether the attacks, particularly the two largest bombings in Baquba and Ramadi, were intended to be synchronized. The two cities are not close by, but in the past Sunni extremists have carried out coordinated bombings.

Baquba is the capital of Diyala Province and is about an hour’s drive northeast of Baghdad. Twelve children were among those killed in the explosion, which occurred in a central part of the city, near a government building and a courthouse.

Baquba had become considerably more stable in recent months, but the surrounding area remains among the most dangerous in Iraq.

Restaurants, shops and several cars were destroyed in the blast. Of the dead, 15 bodies were severely burned, making it impossible to identify them. Seventy people were wounded, 34 of them seriously. The attack was carried out by a suicide bomber, according to Staff Maj. Gen. Abdul Karim al-Rubaie, the Iraqi operations chief for Diyala.

Four police officers were among those killed in Ramadi, and 15 people were wounded, according to the local police.

Ramadi is about an hour’s drive west of Baghdad. The suicide attacker walked into the Al Sahl Al Akhdar restaurant wearing an explosive belt and blew himself up, the local police said. The restaurant is often used by police officers, and students from a nearby university were also among the wounded, the police said.

There was some confusion about the nature of the attack, with The Associated Press reporting that the explosion was caused by a bomb in a car parked outside the restaurant.

The situation in Anbar and Diyala had stabilized somewhat recently after local tribal groups joined in an alliance with the American forces to turn against the insurgents.

    Dozens Killed in Bombings in Four Iraqi Cities, NYT, 16.4.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/16/world/middleeast/16iraq.html?hp






Bush Signals No Further Reduction of Troops in Iraq


April 11, 2008
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — President Bush said Thursday that the senior United States commander in Iraq could “have all the time he needs” before reducing American forces there any further, but he promised shorter tours for troops and longer breaks for them at home.

Democrats responded by saying that no end was in sight to the American troop commitment.

Mr. Bush defended the costs of the war, in lives and money, declaring that his decision to order more troops to Iraq last year had averted potential defeat there and that withdrawing would be catastrophic to American interests. Speaking at the White House to a small audience that included Vice President Dick Cheney, the secretaries of State and Defense and representatives of veterans’ organizations, he signaled that an American force nearly as large as at any other point in the last five years would remain in Iraq through his presidency. He left any significant changes in policy to the next president.

“Fifteen months ago, Americans were worried about the prospect of failure in Iraq,” he said, sounding a triumphant note about his decision last year to send 30,000 additional troops. “Today, thanks to the surge, we’ve renewed and revived the prospect of success.”

As was the case during two days of Congressional testimony this week by the American commander, Gen. David H. Petraeus, the Democratic presidential candidates offered assessments that diverged sharply from Mr. Bush’s. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York said the president “refuses to face the reality that we are confronted by in Iraq.”

“It’s time for the president to answer the question being asked of him,” she said while campaigning in Pittsburgh. “In the wake of the failed objectives that were laid out to be met by the surge, what is the exit strategy in Iraq?”

Senator Barack Obama of Illinois echoed her comments. “We have a blank check strategy in Iraq that is overstretching our military, distracting us from the other challenges we face, burdening our economy and failing to pressure the Iraqi government to take responsibility for their future,” he said in a statement.

With only nine months left in his presidency, Mr. Bush has begun making the case for a war that will continue, one way or another, under another commander in chief. He flatly restated his views on the war that will most define his legacy, and set the terms of the debate over Iraq for the coming presidential election.

“Iraq is the convergence point for two of the greatest threats to America in this new century: Al Qaeda and Iran,” Mr. Bush said.

“If we fail there, Al Qaeda would claim a propaganda victory of colossal proportions, and they could gain safe havens in Iraq from which to attack the United States, our friends and our allies,” he said. “Iran would work to fill the vacuum in Iraq, and our failure would embolden its radical leaders and fuel their ambitions to dominate the region.”

Mr. Bush’s focus on Iran, while not new, reflected deepening concerns in the administration and the Pentagon about suspected Iranian support for some extremists. They say that support became increasingly evident late last month during the indecisive Iraqi operation to wrest control of Basra from Shiite militias and more recently in a spate of rocket attacks on the Green Zone in Baghdad.

Iran and Al Qaeda represent different threats, though they share a common purpose: weakening the United States. Iran has supported Shiite groups — and Iraq’s government itself — to expand its influence in the region, using overt and covert means. Al Qaeda, by contrast, is a Sunni group that has no base in Iraq but that has embraced an indigenous Sunni insurgent group. In effect, in Mr. Bush’s view, the American effort in Iraq faces attacks from both sides.

Mr. Bush declared that the Iranian government had a choice: to live peacefully with Iraq or to continue arming, financing and training what he called “illegal militant groups.”

“If Iran makes the right choice, America will encourage a peaceful relationship between Iran and Iraq,” he said. “Iran makes the wrong choice, America will act to protect our interests and our troops and our Iraqi partners.”

Mr. Bush sought to reassure lawmakers in both parties that Iraq was increasingly paying for reconstruction and security with its own revenues, flush now because of the high price of oil.

As expected, he announced that American troops headed to Iraq after Aug. 1 would deploy for 12 months, instead of 15. He imposed the hugely unpopular extension last year as part of the buildup in Iraq.

He also said that troops would remain at home at least a year for each year spent in the field, a requirement that many lawmakers had wanted to codify in legislation but failed to accomplish in the face of opposition by Mr. Bush and Republicans.

“I think it should not be lost on anyone that this suggestion the president is making now is long overdue and something the Republicans in Congress and the president of the United States have rejected over and over again,” the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, said on Capitol Hill.

The shortened deployments were a major recommendation of the armed services and of Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who worried about the strain on military readiness related to the war in Iraq.

At the same time, though, Mr. Bush endorsed General Petraeus’s recommendation to suspend any more withdrawals for at least 45 days after the departure in July of the last of the additional units ordered into Iraq last year.

At that point the United States will have just under 140,000 troops in Iraq, slightly more than were in early 2007, when sectarian violence verged on all-out civil war.

Mr. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Senate panel on Thursday that they expected the level of American forces in Iraq to drop further this year if conditions on the ground improved.

“I do not anticipate this period of review to be an extended one, and I would emphasize that the hope, depending on conditions on the ground, is to reduce our presence further this fall,” Mr. Gates said.

But he acknowledged that he had abandoned a hope that American troop levels could drop to 100,000 by the end of the year.

Senator Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who is chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said he heard a clear contradiction in the comments by Mr. Gates and Admiral Mullen — who expressed desires for a brief pause followed by further troop reductions. He contrasted that with the projections by Mr. Bush and General Petraeus, who in testimony before Congress this week spoke about no specific timetable for ending the pause.

Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary, responded, saying, “We would encourage members not to get caught up in semantic differences between those who have testified before them because, substantively, all of the president’s top military leaders and advisers are in the same place when it comes to the way ahead in Iraq.”

But that was not sufficient explanation for Mr. Levin.

“I think there clearly is a conflict here, at least in their description of what they recommend,” Mr. Levin said after the hearing. “This is not parsing words. These are words that are very, very different, and clearly in conflict with each other.”

Admiral Mullen said the Joint Chiefs supported General Petraeus’s proposals to Mr. Bush.

“It’s not a blank check,” Admiral Mullen said. “It’s not an open-ended commitment of troops. It’s merely recognition of the fact that war is unpredictable.”

In his testimony this week, General Petraeus said he needed time to assess security in Iraq once the added brigades left; he declined, despite persistent questioning, to commit to any additional withdrawals at the end of that review period. He said any reductions would be based on conditions that he did not clearly define.

Nor did Mr. Bush in his statement. That left him vulnerable to Democratic attacks about how the United States would end its involvement in Iraq.

“General Petraeus says he’ll need time to consolidate his forces and assess how this reduced American presence will affect conditions on the ground before making measured recommendations on further reductions,” Mr. Bush said. “And I’ve told him he’ll have all the time he needs.”

With the war now in its sixth year, Mr. Bush appeared to acknowledge the criticism that no end was in sight. He said that as a democratic Iraq strengthened, Iraqi political leaders and security forces would shoulder more of the responsibility of governance and allow additional American troops to return home. He also called on neighboring Arab states to do more to support Iraq, beginning by reopening their embassies in Baghdad.

“And while this war is difficult,” he said, “it is not endless.”

Julie Bosman contributed reporting from Pittsburgh.

    Bush Signals No Further Reduction of Troops in Iraq, NYT, 11.4.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/11/washington/11prexy.html?hp






General Resists Timetable for Withdrawal of Troops in Iraq


April 9, 2008
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — The senior commander of multinational forces in Iraq warned Congress Tuesday against removing “too many troops too quickly” and refused under stiff questioning to offer even an estimate of American force levels by the end of this year.

Those comments from Gen. David H. Petraeus were met by sharp criticism from a senior Democrat, Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, that the Bush administration had adopted “a war plan with no exit strategy.”

As hearings to define the future course of American strategy in Iraq opened Tuesday morning, General Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker, the American envoy to Baghdad, described an Iraq that is the scene of significant, if still-fragile, progress in security and politics. But they made that case without reference to Congressionally mandated benchmarks that defined their testimony last September.

General Petraeus said that security progress has been “significant but uneven.” Under questioning, he declined to estimate American troop levels beyond the withdrawal by July of five additional combat brigades sent to Iraq last year. And he acknowledged that the government’s recent offensive in Basra was not sufficiently well-planned.

The security situation remained in flux, General Petraeus said, in part because of the “destructive role Iran has played,” and he said that “special groups” of Shiite radicals supported from Tehran posed the greatest immediate threat to security. Ambassador Crocker added, “Iran has a choice to make.”

The general told senators that he was recommending a 45-day pause — which he defined as a period of “consolidation and evaluation” — before reviewing once again whether there should be further troop reductions.

“This process will be continuous, with recommendations for further reductions made as conditions permit,” General Petraeus said. “This approach does not allow establishment of a set withdrawal timetable. However, it does provide the flexibility those of us on the ground need to preserve the still-fragile security gains our troopers have fought so hard and sacrificed so much to achieve.”

The lethality of terrorists within Iraq who say they are aligned with Al Qaeda has been “reduced significantly,” General Petraeus said, but they continue to pose a worrisome threat. Only “relentless pressure” will guarantee that terrorists cannot regroup, he added.

“Countless sectarian fault-lines still exist in Baghdad and elsewhere,” General Petraeus said, but he noted that Sunni leaders, who were marginalized by early efforts of the majority Shiite government, had joined the security over recent months, with important successes.

In stating the Democratic Party’s case against administration war policy, Senator Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said that Mr. Bush’s goal of creating “breathing room” for political progress by sending five additional combat brigades last year “has not been achieved.”

“That reality leads many of us to once again challenge President Bush’s policies,” Mr. Levin said as the general and the ambassador sat motionless at the witness table. Senator Levin said the current Shiite-led government in Baghdad has shown “incompetence” and “excessive sectarian” policies.

Senator John McCain of Arizona, poised to become the Republican Party presidential nominee, argued against what he described as “reckless and irresponsible” calls for rapid withdrawal from Iraq, and said a premature departure of American troops would be “a failure of moral and political leadership.”

The group of female protesters arrived wearing traditional Muslim clothing, with ghostly makeup. Some held bloodied dolls, and some had red-stained hands. Their signs read, “Surge of Sorrow” and “Endless War.”

As he spoke, a protester stood up with a banner saying, “There’s no military solution.”

Senator McCain criticized early American efforts after the invasion of 2003, saying that “four years of mismanaged war had brought us almost to the point of no return.” But he said that with the addition of five extra combat brigades last year, “this improved security environment has led to a new opportunity.”

Today, Mr. McCain said, “it is possible to talk with real hope and optimism about the future of Iraq and the outcome of our efforts there.”

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, who is competing for her party’s presidential nomination, brought applause from some in the audience when she declared, “I think it’s time to begin an orderly process of withdrawing our troops.”

Mrs. Clinton said the large, continued American deployments have meant lost opportunities in Afghanistan, as well as in the broader fight against terrorist networks elsewhere — and has also come at a great “cost to our men and women in uniform.”

General Petraeus sat before the senators in his Army uniform with four stars on each shoulder and a 101st Airborne patch to represent his time of division command during the invasion of Iraq. Ambassador Crocker, in a dark suit and red tie with light stripes, spoke after the general’s opening statement.

Ambassador Crocker said he viewed the recent government offensive against Shiite militia’s in the southern Iraqi oil center of Basra as a success.

“One conclusion I draw from these signs of progress is that the strategy that began with the surge is working,” the ambassador said. “This does not mean, however, that U.S. support should be open-ended or that the level and nature of our engagement should not diminish over time.”

Yet, under sharp questioning from Senator Levin, General Petraeus acknowledged that the Basra operation “could have been much better planned. It was not adequately planned or prepared.”

To that point, Mr. Crocker warned that “Iraq’s political progress will not be linear,” and said he remained “convinced that a major departure from our current engagement would bring failure, and we have to be clear with ourselves about what failure would mean.”

Both sides in the morning debate seem to have come armed for the question of American financial assistance, and the need for Iraq to start footing the bill.

“The era of U.S.-funded major infrastructure projects is over,” Mr. Crocker said. He also discussed the status of U.S.-Iraqi talks on a new “strategic framework” to cement official ties between the two nations.

The agreement will define “basic authorizations and protections” for American forces in Iraq, but it will not establish either permanent American bases there or long-term troop levels, he said.

The agreement will not tie the hands of future administrations, but will provide “a stable foundation” for the next president. He stressed that Congress would be kept informed about the talks.

For weeks, General Petraeus, as well as senior administration and Pentagon officials, have been dropping clues about their plans.

It has been widely anticipated that American troop levels in Iraq would be held steady for some weeks after the departure by July of five extra brigades ordered to Iraq last year by President Bush. There would be 15 combat brigades and close to 140,000 troops remaining in Iraq.

Given the time required to remove troops from Iraq or to halt departures of heavy equipment from the United States, senior officials have said that even under the best of circumstances no more than two or three more brigades could be brought home before Mr. Bush leaves office in January.

Even if all goes well, more than 100,000 troops would probably remain in Iraq into next year, leaving any decision on major reductions to the next president.

Senior Pentagon officials and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, worried about strains on the services, have received assurances that there would be more frequent reviews — roughly once a month — after the pause to see when withdrawals might resume. That would be more frequent than the major reviews that took place last September and in the past month or two.

After this morning’s appearance at the Armed Services Committee, General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker are scheduled to appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the afternoon, where the chairman, Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, is expected to focus his questioning on the stated purpose of the surge: to bring violence down so Iraqi leaders could come together politically.

Senator Biden is expected to acknowledge that violence has come down, but that the Iraqis “have not come together,” according to aides to the senator. And he will press for a timetable for progress in the months ahead.

The daylong hearings also offer an opportunity for three presidential candidates espousing two very different views to be on display.

The trio of senators running for president — Mr. McCain, Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois — serve on the committees calling the general and the ambassador to testify; all will have a chance to make their own political views known to a larger audience during the question-and-answer periods.

    General Resists Timetable for Withdrawal of Troops in Iraq, NYT, 9.4.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/09/world/middleeast/08cnd-petraeus.html?hp






Army Worried by Rising Stress of Return Tours to Iraq


April 6, 2008
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — Army leaders are expressing increased alarm about the mental health of soldiers who would be sent back to the front again and again under plans that call for troop numbers to be sustained at high levels in Iraq for this year and beyond.

Among combat troops sent to Iraq for the third or fourth time, more than one in four show signs of anxiety, depression or acute stress, according to an official Army survey of soldiers’ mental health.

The stress of long and multiple deployments to Iraq is just one of the concerns being voiced by senior military officers in Washington as Gen. David H. Petraeus, the senior Iraq commander, prepares to tell Congress this week that he is not ready to endorse any drawdowns beyond those already scheduled through July.

President Bush has signaled that he will endorse General Petraeus’s recommendation, a decision that will leave close to 140,000 American troops in Iraq at least through the summer. But in a meeting with Mr. Bush late last month in advance of General Petraeus’s testimony, the Joint Chiefs of Staff expressed deep concern about stress on the force, senior Defense Department and military officials said.

Among the 513,000 active-duty soldiers who have served in Iraq since the invasion of 2003, more than 197,000 have deployed more than once, and more than 53,000 have deployed three or more times, according to a separate set of statistics provided this week by Army personnel officers. The percentage of troops sent back to Iraq for repeat deployments would have to increase in the months ahead.

The Army study of mental health showed that 27 percent of noncommissioned officers — a critically important group — on their third or fourth tour exhibited symptoms commonly referred to as post-traumatic stress disorders. That figure is far higher than the roughly 12 percent who exhibit those symptoms after one tour and the 18.5 percent who develop the disorders after a second deployment, according to the study, which was conducted by the Army surgeon general’s Mental Health Advisory Team.

The Army and the rest of the service chiefs have endorsed General Petraeus’s recommendations for continued high troop levels in Iraq. But Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the Army chief of staff, and their top deputies also have warned that the war in Iraq should not be permitted to inflict an unacceptable toll on the military as a whole. “Our readiness is being consumed as fast as we build it,” Gen. Richard A. Cody, the Army vice chief of staff, said in stark comments delivered to Congress last week. “Lengthy and repeated deployments with insufficient recovery time have placed incredible stress on our soldiers and our families, testing the resolve of our all-volunteer force like never before.”

Beyond the Army, members of the Joint Chiefs have also told the president that the continued troop commitment to Iraq means that there is a significant level of risk should another crisis erupt elsewhere in the world. Any mission could be carried out successfully, the chiefs believe, but the operation would be slower, longer and costlier in lives and equipment than if the armed forces were not so strained.

Under the drawdown already planned, the departure of five combat brigades from Iraq by July should allow the Army to announce that tours will be shortened to 12 months from 15 by the end of summer.

Even so, senior officers warn that time at home must be increased from the current 12 months between combat tours. Otherwise, they say, the ground forces risk an unacceptable level of retirements of sergeants — the key leaders of the small-unit operations — and of experienced captains, who represent the future of the Army’s officer corps.

The mental health study conducted by the Army was carried out in Iraq last October and November, and does not represent a purely scientific sampling of deployed troops, because that is difficult to accomplish in a combat environment, the authors of the study have said. Instead, the study was based on 2,295 anonymous surveys and additional interviews from members of frontline units in combat brigades, and not from those assigned primarily to safer operating bases. Since the study was distributed last month, it has become a central topic of high-level internal discussions within the Army, and its findings have been accepted by Army leaders, senior Pentagon and military officials say.

The survey found that the proportion of soldiers serving in Iraq who had encountered mental health problems was about the same as found in previous studies — about 18 percent of deployed soldiers. But in analyzing the effect of the war on those with previous duty in Iraq, the study found that “soldiers on multiple deployments report low morale, more mental health problems and more stress-related work problems.”

By the time they are on their third or fourth deployments, soldiers “are at particular risk of reporting mental health problems,” the study found.

The range of symptoms reported by soldiers varies widely, from sleeplessness and anxiety to more severe depression and stress. To assist soldiers facing problems, the Army has begun to hire more civilian mental health professionals while directing Army counselors to spend more time with frontline units.

Senior officers at the Pentagon have tried to avoid shrill warnings about the health of the force, cognizant that such comments might embolden potential adversaries, and they continue to hope that troop levels in Iraq can be reduced next year. Still, none deny the level of stress on the force from current deployments.

Admiral Mullen spoke broadly to those concerns last week, saying at a Pentagon news conference that the military would have already assigned forces to missions elsewhere in the world were it not for what he called “the pressure that’s on our forces right now.”

He added that the military would “continue to be there until, should conditions allow, we start to be able to reduce our force levels in Iraq.”

One example of the pressure has come in Afghanistan, where the Pentagon has been unable to meet all of the commanders’ requests for more forces, in particular for several thousand military trainers.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told reporters on Friday that he expected that the United States would be able to add significantly to its deployments in Afghanistan in 2009. But to do that — and to increase time at home for soldiers between deployments — probably would require further reductions in troop levels in Iraq, Pentagon planners said.

Members of the Joint Chiefs also acknowledge that the deployments to Iraq, with the emphasis on counterinsurgency warfare, have left the ground forces no time to train for the full range of missions required to defend American interests.

    Army Worried by Rising Stress of Return Tours to Iraq, NYT, 6.4.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/06/washington/06military.html?hp






Op-Ed Contributor

Iraq’s Sunni Time Bomb


April 3, 2008
The New York Times



WHILE the recent fighting in Basra and Baghdad has alerted many Americans to the danger that Shiite-on-Shiite violence poses to our goals in Iraq, it should not divert our focus from another looming threat: that the Sunni tribesmen who have sided with the American-led coalition may turn against us.

Perhaps the biggest reason for the drop in violence during the second half of 2007 was the coalition’s hiring of some 90,000 men, mostly Sunnis, to protect critical government properties like pipelines and to take part in neighborhood-watch systems. The decision to support these so-called Sons of Iraq — armed, many times, with the same AK-47’s that had been pointed at our troops just months earlier — was always viewed as risky, but few options were available to us at the time to reduce violence. So far, the gamble has paid off.

The Sons of Iraq program was at the heart of what the United States military called its “bottom-up reconciliation movement,” intended to get Iraqis to stop fighting the government and one another at the local neighborhood and village level. But use of the term “reconciliation” may be misleading. The word conjures images of forgiveness and repentance. That’s not what the Sons of Iraq idea was about — the coalition set out simply to neutralize a large swath of rogue fighters, often with money, with the hope of finding ways to reconcile in the future.

This is not to say that reconciliation is not possible; I believe it is. And by this I don’t mean reconciling Sunni and Shiite Islam — 1,300 years of history are unlikely to be resolved in a relative instant. What we can do is help shift the debate inside Iraq so that it doesn’t rest on how one sect relates to another but how individual Iraqis relate to their government.

While the Sons of Iraq movement has been a leading contributor toward the reduction of violence against American troops, it remains highly fragile. Some of its groupings are nationalist, some are Islamist, many are tribally rooted and some may, unfortunately, be composed of hard-line Sunnis intent on restoring their sect’s domination over Shiites. Thus, unsurprisingly, the group is viewed with great skepticism by many Shiites in the Baghdad government.

With each passing day, the amount of influence American officials have with the Iraqi government dwindles, while the list of objectives we wish to achieve grows. We need to pick our priorities now — and at the top of that list must be finding a productive future role for the Sons of Iraq.

First, we must take a look at who the Sons of Iraq are and what motivates them. They are not a monolith; members come from more than 125 political and tribal groups holding differing aspirations and influenced by numerous entities, some of which have goals contrary to those of the Americans and the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. Thus there is no single solution to all 90,000 potential problems.

The leading idea so far is to fold a fraction of them, about 20,000, into the Iraqi security forces. The remainder would be accommodated in civilian job-placement and training programs. But this will be far harder than it looks.

For political and sectarian reasons, the (mostly Shiite) ministers and officials who oversee the security forces are unenthusiastic about bringing in Sunnis. In addition, the government doesn’t have the bureaucratic efficiency to handle such a large influx of people easily. Aside from those problems, we’d need to come up with a way of deciding which men are qualified for security duty — a screening method to marginalize hard-liners and co-opt less ideologically driven members.

But the American leadership must press the Iraqis to overcome those obstacles. As we look to transform the Sons of Iraq, we are talking about more than just a venue to redirect insurgents from violence. This is also an opportunity to encourage engagement by Sunnis, many hailing from oft-ignored western Iraq and who have no real voice in the political system, in the new nation.

As for the American stake in this, the future drawing down of forces will be largely determined by the commitment of Iraqi factions to reach local political and security compromises. If we can’t help find a way to integrate the Sunnis into the state, many Sons of Iraq could revert to the insurgency. (This is another reason that it’s prudent to put a pause on further American troop reductions.)

By better understanding the objectives of this diverse group we can more efficiently create postwar employment, promote acceptance within the government, foster local security solutions and improve the chances of sustained success against the insurgents. Failure to find a new role for the Sons of Iraq, however, will result in the deterioration of government authority, an inability to draw down our own forces, and a return to militia rule for much of Iraq.

Matt Sherman has spent more than three years as a civilian official in postwar Iraq, most recently in 2007 as the political adviser to the First Cavalry Division in Baghdad. He is a principal with SCI Consulting, a senior adviser with the Scowcroft Group and an adjunct with the RAND Corporation.

    Iraq’s Sunni Time Bomb, NYT, 3.4.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/03/opinion/03sherman.html






Married Troops Can Live Together in Iraq


April 1, 2008
Filed at 5:12 a.m. ET
The New York Times


BAGHDAD (AP) -- When American soldiers get off duty in Iraq, the men usually return to their quarters, the women to theirs. But Staff Sgt. Marvin Frazier gets to go back to a small trailer with two pushed-together single beds that he shares with his wife.

In a historic but little-noticed change in policy, the Army is allowing scores of husband-and-wife soldiers to live and sleep together in the war zone -- a move aimed at preserving marriages, boosting morale and perhaps bolstering re-enlistment rates at a time when the military is struggling to fill its ranks five years into the fighting.

''It makes a lot of things easier,'' said Frazier, 33, a helicopter maintenance supervisor in the 3rd Infantry Division. ''It really adds a lot of stress, being separated. Now you can sit face-to-face and try to work out things and comfort each other.''

Long-standing Army rules barred soldiers of the opposite sex from sharing sleeping quarters in war zones. Even married troops lived only in all-male or all-female quarters and had no private living space.

But in May 2006, Army commanders in Iraq, with little fanfare, decided that it is in the military's interest to promote wedded bliss. In other words: What God has joined together, let no manual put asunder.

''It's better for the soldiers, which means overall it's better for the Army,'' said Command Sgt. Maj. Mark Thornton of the 3rd Infantry.

Military analysts said this is the first war in which the Army even gave the idea any serious consideration -- a reflection not only of the large number of couples sent to war this time, but also of the way the fighting has dragged on and strained marriages with repeated 12- and 15-month tours of duty.

While some couples were also sent into the 1991 Gulf War, the fighting was over before their living arrangements became an issue, said Lory Manning, a retired Navy captain who studies how military policies affect women for the nonprofit Women's Research and Education Institute.

More than 10,000 couples are in the Army. Exactly how many are serving in the war zone, and how many of those are living together, are not clear. The Army said it does not keep track.

But Frazier and his wife, Staff Sgt. Keisha Frazier, are among about 40 married Army couples living together on ''Couples Row'' at Camp Striker, which is on the oustkirts of Baghdad and is one of more than 150 U.S. military camps in Iraq. Similarly, a Couples Row opened in October at nearby Camp Victory, though it has trailers for only seven of the many couples who have requested them.

Husbands and wives are still prohibited from public displays of affection, under the same strict regulations that govern unmarried men and women in uniform. Holding hands and kissing, whether on duty or in the chow hall, are against the rules.

''It's rough on marriages when, over the course of years, you don't see each other,'' Manning said. ''It would make sense, certainly from a morale perspective and for the Army, to try to preserve marriages.''

The only downside of married soldiers sharing sleeping quarters, she said, would be an increased risk of pregnancies.

Whether the policy applies to troops in Afghanistan is unclear. Pentagon officials said that decision is up to individual commanders, but they did not return repeated calls for comment.

John Pike, director of the military think tank Globalsecurity.org., said: ''I think they are looking under the sofa cushions for anything they can do to improve retention. They spend a lot of money getting these people trained up.''

After spending the first five months of their 15-month deployment on separate bases in tents with up to 15 other soldiers, all of the same sex, the Fraziers prize the small degree of privacy and intimacy they gained after moving in together in October.

Still newlyweds, Sgt. Amanda Christopher, 25, and her husband, Sgt. Matthew Christopher, 22, said the change in rules has been a blessing for their nearly year-old marriage, four months of which has been spent in Iraq.

Both work at the military hospital in Baghdad's fortified Green Zone, where Amanda is a licensed practical nurse and Matthew is in patient administration, which can include mortuary duties.

''Some of the stuff I've seen, if she weren't here, I'd be a lot less cool about it,'' Matthew said as the pair sat inside their potpourri-scented living quarters -- a mere 120 square feet, with a TV set atop two black lockboxes, an impressive collection of stuffed animals and a Chicago Bears plaque. ''There was one night in particular, I saw something and I just thought, 'Oh, God.' I came in here, talked to her for a few minutes, went outside, took a deep breath and I was good to go.''

Because of the prohibition on public displays of affection, the Christophers declined even to put their arms around each other for a photo.

''It's not like in the civilian world where if you see your boyfriend at work you can just go, 'Oh, hi, Babe,''' Amanda said. ''We're in uniform, and we have to maintain a professional demeanor at work.''

Capt. Jessica Hegenbart and her husband, Chief Warrant Officer Brian Hegenbart, had to live separately for two months when they arrived at Camp Striker because all the trailers for couples were full and were mostly allotted by rank. They finally moved in together in June.

''It's nice to come back to our trailer. I just feel bad for all those guys who don't have that to come home to every day,'' said Brian, a 32-year-old Black Hawk helicopter pilot.

Living together, however, doesn't stop the Hegenbarts from worrying about each other's safety. Sometimes, it can make it harder.

''Because we're so close out here, we know to the hour when our loved one's supposed to be home from a mission,'' Jessica said. ''So if they're late, our brains starts going to that place where you start to wonder what went wrong. That happens more often than I'd like to admit.''


Associated Press writer Russ Bynum reported from Savannah, Ga. AP writer Bradley Brooks reported from Baghdad.

    Married Troops Can Live Together in Iraq, NYT, 1.4.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/us/AP-Combat-Marriages.html






Iraq Seems Calmer

After Cleric Halts Fighting


April 1, 2008
The New York Times


BAGHDAD — Militiamen with the Mahdi Army, the followers of the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, mostly vanished from the streets of Basra on Monday, a day after he ordered them to lay down their arms and also insisted that the Iraqi government grant a general amnesty for his followers, and made other demands.

Iraqi Army and police forces immediately moved into Basra neighborhoods abandoned by the Mahdi Army, which is the armed wing of Mr. Sadr’s political movement, setting up checkpoints and searching for roadside bombs. As helicopters continued buzzing overhead, shops began to reopen and residents ventured out into the streets. The southern Iraqi city had been a battleground since Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki ordered federal forces to begin an assault on the city a week ago.

Mr. Maliki had vowed that he would see the Basra campaign through to a military victory, and the negotiated outcome was seen as a serious blow to his leadership.

The uncertainty over Mr. Sadr’s statements was underlined at a news briefing in Baghdad on Monday, where Ali al-Dabbagh, a government spokesman, dodged questions about whether Mr. Maliki would honor Mr. Sadr’s demands. When asked if the government would release Mahdi Army detainees who had not been accused of a crime, for instance, Mr. Dabbagh said there had long been plans to let some of them go.

He said the government would “look into” Mr. Sadr’s concerns.

Mr. Maliki had said the operation in Basra was meant to root out only criminals, rather than any particular political or military group. But nearly all the fighting involved the Mahdi Army, which gave up little or no ground and essentially fought the federal forces to a standstill.

The streets remained extremely tense on Monday in both Basra and Baghdad.

As a dark Toyota sedan approached an Iraqi Army checkpoint on Monday afternoon just outside Sadr City, the huge Baghdad slum that is Mr. Sadr’s power base, a soldier in fatigues and a mask that covered most of his face pointed his weapon and shouted, “Get out of the car!”

The occupants, including a reporter for The New York Times, quickly complied. It turned out that the soldier suspected them of being members of the Mahdi Army, which tends to prefer black Toyotas.

“The Americans will shoot this kind of car, especially if it’s full of men,” said the soldier, referring to the American military, after checking identification cards and waving the car through.

Rockets and mortar shells again fell on the fortified Green Zone in central Baghdad, as they have for the past week, and the American military said a soldier died on Monday in northeast Baghdad when his vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb. Another American soldier died of wounds in a bomb attack south of Baghdad on March 23, the military said. But traffic in Baghdad was brisk as the government lifted a curfew put in place during the fighting in Basra.

Within impoverished Sadr City itself, the markets were full. Even as sporadic gunfire could be heard in the distance, people took care of chores that had been suspended during the curfew: a woman in a black abaya, a head-to-toe overgarment, carried cardboard and wood on her head, presumably fuel for a fire; a man hosed off the crumbling sidewalk in front of his shop; two friends chatted at a dingy tire shop.

Levels of violence elsewhere in the country also appeared to be down, at least for a day. Tahseen al-Sheikhly, spokesman for the Baghdad security plan, who had been abducted from the Mahdi-dominated Amin neighborhood on Thursday, was released Monday afternoon, an official at the Interior Ministry said. The widespread clashes that had agitated Iraq’s Shiite south were largely absent on Monday.

But officials in several cities assessed the toll of a week of fighting. Leaders in Nasiriya, the site of intense battles between militias and government forces, said 165 people had been killed and 300 wounded.

The police chief in the holy city of Karbala said 12 people had been killed and 500 arrested as a result of the fighting there.

And at a news briefing in Basra, Maj. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, asserted that in nearly a week of fighting, government security forces had killed 215 members of the Mahdi Army, wounded 600 and arrested 155. He did not give casualty tolls for the government forces.

Another Interior Ministry official said that in the aftermath of the failed assault, the government had dismissed 150 police officers and 400 policemen for refusing to fight in the conflict. And as his government’s forces took up abandoned positions in Basra after failing to take them by force, Mr. Maliki gave a speech saying he had obtained evidence that the violence in Basra was a result of the interference of neighboring countries.

“We will try to check this evidence and announce it to the public,” Mr. Maliki said.

Last week, Iraq’s defense minister, Abdul Kadir al-Obeidi, conceded that the government’s military efforts in Basra met with far more resistance than expected. Many Iraqi politicians say that Mr. Maliki’s political capital has been severely depleted by the Basra campaign and that he is in the curious position of having to turn to Mr. Sadr, a longtime rival, for a way out.

Senior political leaders involved in the negotiations that led to Mr. Sadr’s statements on Sunday indicated that Mr. Maliki had been directly involved, essentially agreeing to Mr. Sadr’s demands in advance. But the picture was considerably muddied by Mr. Dabbagh, the government spokesman, who praised Mr. Sadr but gave little indication that his demands were being taken seriously.

Mr. Dabbagh asserted that “the Iraqi government was not part of the negotiations,” although he thanked members of Parliament, tribal leaders and others, who, he said, had been. At the same briefing, Maj. Gen. Abdul-Aziz Arrawi, commander of operations for the Ministry of Defense, said over and over again that the Basra operations would continue, with government forces going after criminals with weapons, but that the operations would not specifically be aimed at the Mahdi Army.

General Arrawi said he could not predict the “exact timing” of how long the operations in Basra would go on.

It was also unclear how long the lull in fighting in the streets of Sadr City would last. At its Imam Ali Hospital, the rooms were filled with people grievously wounded in the fighting there over the past week.

One Sadr official, Shiek Amar Asad, 31, said he understood that Mr. Sadr’s order to prohibit fighting applied only to Iraqi security forces. When Americans came into Sadr City, he said, the militia fighters could begin shooting.

“Maybe our case with the government is over,” he said. “But not with the occupiers.”

Reporting was contributed by Hosham Hussein,

Mudhafer al-Husaini, Erica Goode and Qais Mizher

in Baghdad and employees of The New York Times

in Basra and Nasiriya.

Iraq Seems Calmer After Cleric Halts Fighting, NYT, 1.4.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/01/world/middleeast/01iraq.html




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