Guardian : No U-turn. Obama's stance on Iraq is chillingly consistent

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

No U-turn. Obama's stance on Iraq is chillingly consistent

The presidential hopeful has been accused of flip-flopping over the occupation, but he was never for full withdrawal

by Sami Ramadani | The Guardian | July 22, 2008

As November's American presidential elections approach, Barack Obama's message on Iraq is being widely interpreted as "flip-flopping" and a "retreat" from a previously unequivocal stance of fully withdrawing the US occupation forces. This is to misunderstand Obama, who is not someone who shoots from the hip. There is much more to his words than cursory reading could unravel.

His remarks before the 2003 invasion resonated well within the American antiwar movement. His scathing references to the Bush administration's folly and his demands for "ending the war" were probably decisive in winning him the Democratic party nomination against Hillary Clinton, whose vote for war in 2003 ultimately crippled her credibility as the commander-in-chief who would bring it to an end.

Obama himself has reacted angrily to claims of a policy U-turn: "For me to say I'm going to refine my policies is I don't think in any way inconsistent with prior statements and doesn't change my strategic view that this war has to end and that I'm going to end it as president." Earlier this month he resorted to an op-ed article in the New York Times to emphatically state: "On my first day in office, I would give the military a new mission: ending this war."

As always in examining the words of politicians, let alone Obama (who now has 300 foreign policy advisers), the devil is in the details. Here, Obama's "ending the war" declarations begin to look far from reassuring, even before he "refines" his line after meeting the US commander, General Petraeus, in Iraq.

Obama sees Iraq as part of a wider theatre of war and potential wars engulfing the entire Middle East, where US strategic goals and interests are at stake. So his obvious shift on the "surge" operations in Iraq (underlined by deleting criticisms of it from his website last week) is strengthening his call for "redeployment" from Iraq to Afghanistan. His current strategy could be summed up as: de-escalate the war in Iraq, escalate it in Afghanistan, and talk to Iran. On Iran, his offer of talks was coupled with an alarming, Bush-style threat. "I'll do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Everything," Obama told a gathering of the pro-Israel lobby group, Aipac, in April. He is echoing the sentiments of his famous anti-Iraq war speech in 2002, in which he repeatedly stressed that he was not opposed to all US wars.

It is worth noting that the term withdrawal, let alone a full unconditional withdrawal that will satisfy most of the Iraqi people, has never been part of Obama's vocabulary. His first carefully considered statement on Iraq was made in January last year, when he introduced the Iraq war de-escalation act to Congress. It was then that he envisaged stationing troops in Iraq on a longer-term basis: "A residual US presence may remain in Iraq for force protection, training of Iraqi security forces and pursuit of international terrorists." Using similar phrases, this is what he outlined in the New York Times last week.

To distinguish his policy from that of his rival for the White House, Obama declared: "Unlike Senator McCain, I would make it absolutely clear that we seek no presence in Iraq similar to our permanent bases in South Korea." But it doesn't require rocket science to know that keeping "residual" forces requires heavily fortified areas, installations and a state of readiness to go to war. Unless Obama has discovered something new, such areas are known as military bases. So it is the word "permanent" that separates the two, as McCain may want to stay "100 years" in Iraq. The comparison with South Korea is not heartening, considering massive US bases have been in that country for over half a century.

Obama has even pre-empted a possible line of attack from hawks by chillingly suggesting he would possibly invade Iraq again if necessary. His website states: "He would reserve the right to intervene militarily, with our international partners, to suppress potential genocidal violence within Iraq." The word potential is worth pausing over; it is salutary to remember Bush and Blair occupied Iraq and caused the death of perhaps hundreds of thousands of innocent people for "humanitarian" reasons.

Neither is Obama opposed to signing a military treaty with Iraq. He has two conditions to make Bush's current attempts to impose a pact acceptable: the pact should get Congressional approval, and renounce "permanent" military bases. However, leaked drafts of this colonialist-style pact do not mention the word "permanent" at all. And his "benchmarks" for continued support for the corrupt Iraqi politicians protected by US forces in Baghdad's Green Zone are strikingly similar to those of the Bush administration.

Tactical differences and issues of style aside, Obama's message on occupied Iraq is deeply troubling - not because it has U-turned but because it has been consistent. His 300 foreign policy advisers are making sure that he will not stray from protecting US imperialist interests, even if it does mean launching new wars and bolstering puppet regimes and corrupt dictatorships throughout the "greater Middle East".

Sami Ramadani, a political exile from Saddam's regime, is a senior lecturer at London Metropolitan University

NYT : In Iraq, Affection for Obama ... but His Proposal?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

In Iraq, Affection for Obama ... but His Proposal?


BAGHDAD — A tough Iraqi general, a former special operations officer with a baritone voice and a barrel chest, melted into smiles when asked about Senator Barack Obama.

“Everyone in Iraq likes him,” said the general, Nassir al-Hiti. “I like him. He’s young. Very active. We would be very happy if he was elected president.”

But mention Mr. Obama’s plan for withdrawing American soldiers, and the general stiffens.

“Very difficult,” he said, shaking his head. “Any army would love to work without any help, but let me be honest: for now, we don’t have that ability.”

Thus in a few brisk sentences, the general summed up the conflicting emotions about Mr. Obama in Iraq, the place outside America with perhaps the most riding on its relationship with him.

There was, as Mr. Obama prepared to visit here, excitement over a man who is the anti-Bush in almost every way: a Democrat who opposed a war that many Iraqis feel devastated their nation. And many in the political elite recognize that Mr. Obama shares their hope for a more rapid withdrawal of American forces from Iraq.

But his support for troop withdrawal cuts both ways, reflecting a deep internal quandary in Iraq: for many middle-class Iraqis, affection for Mr. Obama is tempered by worry that his proposal could lead to chaos in a nation already devastated by war. Many Iraqis also acknowledge that security gains in recent months were achieved partly by the buildup of American troops, which Mr. Obama opposed and his presumptive Republican opponent, Senator John McCain, supported.

“In no way do I favor the occupation of my country,” said Abu Ibrahim, a Western-educated businessman in Baghdad, “but there is a moral obligation on the Americans at this point.”

Like many Iraqis, Mr. Ibrahim sees Mr. Obama favorably, describing him as “much more humane than Bush or McCain.”

“He seems like a nice guy,” Mr. Ibrahim said. But he hoped that Mr. Obama’s statements about a relatively fast pullout were mere campaign talk.

“It’s a very big assumption that just because he wants to pull troops out, he’ll be able to do it,” he said. “The American strategy in the region requires troops to remain in Iraq for a long time.”

It is not certain exactly when Mr. Obama will arrive here or whom he will meet. Such official trips are always shrouded in secrecy for security reasons.

But as word spread of the impending visit — Mr. Obama’s first as the presumed Democratic nominee for president — there were fresh reminders of the country’s vulnerability. In the past two days, around 70 Iraqis were killed in suicide bomb attacks, despite recent gains in safety that Mr. Obama uses as one argument for withdrawal.

And despite those improvements, street interviews remain risky in Iraq. For this article, 18 people were interviewed about their opinions of Mr. Obama, in Baghdad, in the northern city of Mosul, in the holy Shiite city of Najaf, and in the Sunni suburb of Abu Ghraib, west of Baghdad.

Even as some Iraqis disagreed about Mr. Obama’s stance on withdrawal, they expressed broad approval for him personally as an improvement over Mr. Bush, who remains unpopular among broad portions of Iraqi society five years after the war began. No one interviewed expressed a strong dislike for Mr. Obama.

Saad Sultan, an official in an Iraqi government ministry, contended that Mr. Obama could give a fresh start to relations between the Arab world and the United States. Mr. Obama has never practiced Islam; his father, whom he barely knew, was born Muslim, but became a nonbeliever. Mr. Sultan, however, like many Iraqis, feels instinctively close to the senator because he heard that he had Muslim roots.

“Every time I see Obama I say: ‘He’s close to us. Maybe he’ll see us in a different way,’ ” Mr. Sultan said. “I find Obama very close to my heart.”

Race is also a consideration. Muhammad Ahmed Kareem, 49, an engineer from Mosul, said he had high expectations of Mr. Obama because his experience as a black man in America might give him more empathy for others who feel oppressed by a powerful West. “Blacks suffered a lot of discrimination, much like Arabs,” Mr. Kareem said. “That’s why we expect that his tenure will be much better.”

But Mr. Obama also frames the sometimes contradictory feelings Iraqis have about America as the withdrawal of troops has moved closer to the political mainstream in both countries. Already, the units brought in for the so-called surge last year have left, and the Bush administration has in recent days acknowledged the need both to transfer troops from Iraq to an ever-more-volatile Afghanistan and to recognize that a broader withdrawal is an “aspirational goal” for Iraqis.

Mr. Obama has advocated a withdrawal that would remove most combat troops from Iraq within 16 months of taking office. Despite some fears about such a departure, that stance is not unpopular here. Many Iraqis hate American forces because soldiers have killed their relatives and friends, and they say they want the troops out.

“Of course I want the American forces to leave Iraq,” said May Adnan Yunis, whose sister was killed, along with a female and a male co-worker, when they were gunned down by American soldiers while driving to work at Baghdad International Airport three weeks ago. “I want them to go to hell.”

After the killings, a statement by the American military describing the three employees as “criminals” who shot at the soldiers inflamed Iraqi officials even more. In a rare public rebuke of the American military, the Iraqi armed forces general command described the American soldiers’ actions as crimes “committed in cold blood.”

For General Hiti, who commands a swath of western Baghdad, the American military is a necessary, if vexing, presence. He ticks off the ways it helps: evacuating wounded Iraqi soldiers, bringing in helicopters when things go wrong, defusing bombs, getting detailed pictures of areas from drone planes.

But the issue of withdrawal is immensely complex, and some of the functions mentioned by General Hiti would not be affected under Mr. Obama’s plan. The senator is calling for the withdrawal of combat brigades, but has said a residual force would still pursue extremist militants, protect American troops and train Iraqi security forces.

In negotiations on the future troop presence, both sides were initially focused on concluding a long-term security agreement. But the Iraqi government is now rejecting that and has focused solely on a temporary agreement to begin next year after the United Nations mandate that serves as the legal basis for the American military presence expires.

For weeks American officials had insisted that widespread Iraqi objections to the long-term pact were merely overheated words from Iraqi politicians. Now, they acknowledge that they underestimated Iraqis’ fears of acquiescing to what the Iraqis see as a colonial relationship that would allow American forces to indefinitely operate permanent bases under special laws.

“The Iraqis have a real political issue here,” said one American official, who said the Iraqis viewed any deal that would replicate the broad powers Americans now have “as a scarlet letter.”

But for some Iraqis the American presence remains the backbone of security in the neighborhood. Saidiya, a southern Baghdad district, was so brutalized by violence a year ago that a young Iraqi television reporter who fled thought he would never come back. But a telephone call from his father in December persuaded him to return. An American unit had planted itself in the district, helping chase away radicals. The family could go out shopping. They could drive their car to the gas station.

“The Americans paved the way for the Iraqi Army there,” said the young man, who married this year. “If they weren’t there, the Iraqi forces could not have taken control.” Even so, he agreed with Mr. Obama’s plan for a faster withdrawal. American forces “helped the Iraqi Army to get back its dignity,” he said. “They are qualified now.”

But Iraq is now a complex landscape. Some areas are subdued, and others are still racked by violence and calibrating troop presence will be tricky.

Falah al-Alousy is the director of an organization that runs a school in an area south of Baghdad that was controlled by religious extremists two years ago. Former insurgents turned against the militant group, but local authorities still rely heavily on Americans to keep the peace; the Iraqi Army, largely Shiite, is not allowed to patrol in the area, Mr. Alousy said.

“Al Qaeda would rearrange itself and come back, if the Americans withdraw,” he said. As for Mr. Obama’s plan for withdrawal, “It’s just propaganda for an election.”

Most Iraqis dislike the fact that their country is occupied, but a few well-educated Iraqis who have traveled abroad say they would not oppose a permanent American military presence, something that Mr. Obama opposes. Saad Sultan, the Iraqi government official, said his travels in Germany, where there have been American bases since the end of World War II, softened his attitude toward a long-term presence. “I have no problem to have a camp here,” he said. “I find it in Germany and that’s a strong country. Why not in Iraq?”

Reporting was contributed by Alissa J. Rubin, Mohammed Hussein, Riyadh Muhammad, Anwar J. Ali and Suadad al-Salhy from Baghdad, and an Iraqi employee of The New York Times from Mosul.

NYT : Op-Ed Contributor: Between Presidents, a Dangerous Gap

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Op-Ed Contributor: Between Presidents, a Dangerous Gap


NOW that we have presumptive presidential nominees from the two major political parties, we need to turn our attention to the transition that will take place six months from now. One of the observations of the 9/11 commission was that the deeply flawed presidential transition of 2000 and 2001 created a dangerous period of vulnerability.

As always, the crowd coming in was dismissive of the concerns of the crowd going out. There was a mismatch between the concerns of the Clinton national security team and those of the incoming Bush team. While there were briefings between the election and the swearing-in, there was no trust — and thus no effective dialogue — between the members of the two administrations.

In addition, President Bush took too long to set priorities and direction for his national-security team. This was a result partly of the prolonged battle over the 2000 election, but it also reflected a basic problem in how we populate our government agencies — we do so much too slowly. Neither nominations nor confirmations come fast enough.

The 9/11 commission worried that terrorists would take advantage of our weakness during transitions, just as Al Qaeda did when it attacked Madrid just before Spain’s elections in 2004.

The lessons learned from the Clinton-Bush transition should inform what the candidates and the president do right now. The only way for a new administration to make important decisions in a fully informed way is to organize the transition into office very differently. The campaigns of both John McCain and Barack Obama are reported to be compiling lists of potential national-security nominees to speed the confirmation process next year, but that is just the beginning of what needs to be done.

First, the information given to the nominees must change drastically. It is customary to extend to nominees a daily intelligence briefing similar to the one the president receives, but we need to go well beyond that norm. To be ready to make the crucial decisions next Jan. 20 — and to take sensible positions in the debate about our national security in 2008 — both candidates (and a knowledgeable assistant) should be given full access, not just to the daily intelligence brief but to all the sensitive programs that we have in place to protect this nation. Either Mr. Obama or Mr. McCain will have to decide whether and how to continue the intelligence programs and other practices that are now in place. They should have knowledge of how they are working well in advance.

Second, the best transitions are led by those who would take over the federal government’s departments and agencies. Too often, an administration’s appointees are being selected as the transition is happening. That is ineffective and dangerous. The president-elect should be in a position to name his national security cabinet right after the election. To do so, he needs to be able to vet candidates now. We need to give the candidates the full resources — including F.B.I. background checks — they would otherwise get after the election to make their selections before November.

Traditionally, politicians, the news media and voters have been critical of a nominee “presuming” his election by identifying cabinet members before November, so the examination of possible leaders has been done in secret, undermining its effectiveness. When a campaign is worried that consideration of a possible nominee will become public, it refrains from fully vetting the person, to reduce the chances that the name will leak to the press. Our political culture needs to agree collectively that it would be good for the country for the candidates to vet their nominees now.

Third, prospective agency heads should begin meeting with those they would succeed immediately after the November election. The world has changed considerably over the past eight years — and our government has changed with it. We have an entirely new Department of Homeland Security and a director of national intelligence. One of the critical flaws in the Clinton-Bush transition was that the incoming administration discounted the concerns expressed by the outgoing administration, in part because the new administration had a dated view of which problems were most important.

It is extremely difficult for anyone outside the government, even the most avid students of public policy, to fully understand the challenges being faced inside government every day and what is being done to respond to them. The transmission of that information to a new administration is vital.

Current officials should share not just what is happening today but why they made the decisions they made. And during the transition they should share their thoughts on current decisions with those who will soon have to make them.

Fourth, the incoming administration cannot afford a “not invented here” attitude. However much this election is about change, there will be elements of the current team’s policies that are worth building on and continuing. The new president must be able to make informed decisions about what to continue and what to change.

Fifth, Congress must be involved. The Senate should be prepared to change its process for confirming nominations to deal with the heightened vulnerability during a transition. The Senate leadership, on a bipartisan basis, should pledge right now that hearings for national security and other key cabinet and sub-cabinet members will be held in early January and that votes to confirm or reject nominees will be scheduled for Jan. 20, the same day that the president takes office. Confirmation hearings for the other nominees should be concluded within three weeks of receiving nominations.

Our presidential transition process needs to adjust to the threats the United States faces. Improving the process will strengthen our ability to respond to those threats — and it might even result in better decisions in the early weeks and months of the next presidency.

Jamie Gorelick, a deputy attorney general from 1994 to 1997, and Slade Gorton, a Republican senator from Washington from 1982 to 2000, were members of the 9/11 commission.

NYT : Barack Obama: My Plan for Iraq

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

My Plan for Iraq

By BARACK OBAMA | July 14, 2008

CHICAGO — The call by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki for a timetable for the removal of American troops from Iraq presents an enormous opportunity. We should seize this moment to begin the phased redeployment of combat troops that I have long advocated, and that is needed for long-term success in Iraq and the security interests of the United States.

The differences on Iraq in this campaign are deep. Unlike Senator John McCain, I opposed the war in Iraq before it began, and would end it as president. I believed it was a grave mistake to allow ourselves to be distracted from the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban by invading a country that posed no imminent threat and had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks. Since then, more than 4,000 Americans have died and we have spent nearly $1 trillion. Our military is overstretched. Nearly every threat we face — from Afghanistan to Al Qaeda to Iran — has grown.

In the 18 months since President Bush announced the surge, our troops have performed heroically in bringing down the level of violence. New tactics have protected the Iraqi population, and the Sunni tribes have rejected Al Qaeda — greatly weakening its effectiveness.

But the same factors that led me to oppose the surge still hold true. The strain on our military has grown, the situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated and we’ve spent nearly $200 billion more in Iraq than we had budgeted. Iraq’s leaders have failed to invest tens of billions of dollars in oil revenues in rebuilding their own country, and they have not reached the political accommodation that was the stated purpose of the surge.

The good news is that Iraq’s leaders want to take responsibility for their country by negotiating a timetable for the removal of American troops. Meanwhile, Lt. Gen. James Dubik, the American officer in charge of training Iraq’s security forces, estimates that the Iraqi Army and police will be ready to assume responsibility for security in 2009.

Only by redeploying our troops can we press the Iraqis to reach comprehensive political accommodation and achieve a successful transition to Iraqis’ taking responsibility for the security and stability of their country. Instead of seizing the moment and encouraging Iraqis to step up, the Bush administration and Senator McCain are refusing to embrace this transition — despite their previous commitments to respect the will of Iraq’s sovereign government. They call any timetable for the removal of American troops “surrender,” even though we would be turning Iraq over to a sovereign Iraqi government.

But this is not a strategy for success — it is a strategy for staying that runs contrary to the will of the Iraqi people, the American people and the security interests of the United States. That is why, on my first day in office, I would give the military a new mission: ending this war.

As I’ve said many times, we must be as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in. We can safely redeploy our combat brigades at a pace that would remove them in 16 months. That would be the summer of 2010 — two years from now, and more than seven years after the war began. After this redeployment, a residual force in Iraq would perform limited missions: going after any remnants of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, protecting American service members and, so long as the Iraqis make political progress, training Iraqi security forces. That would not be a precipitous withdrawal.

In carrying out this strategy, we would inevitably need to make tactical adjustments. As I have often said, I would consult with commanders on the ground and the Iraqi government to ensure that our troops were redeployed safely, and our interests protected. We would move them from secure areas first and volatile areas later. We would pursue a diplomatic offensive with every nation in the region on behalf of Iraq’s stability, and commit $2 billion to a new international effort to support Iraq’s refugees.

Ending the war is essential to meeting our broader strategic goals, starting in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the Taliban is resurgent and Al Qaeda has a safe haven. Iraq is not the central front in the war on terrorism, and it never has been. As Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently pointed out, we won’t have sufficient resources to finish the job in Afghanistan until we reduce our commitment to Iraq.

As president, I would pursue a new strategy, and begin by providing at least two additional combat brigades to support our effort in Afghanistan. We need more troops, more helicopters, better intelligence-gathering and more nonmilitary assistance to accomplish the mission there. I would not hold our military, our resources and our foreign policy hostage to a misguided desire to maintain permanent bases in Iraq.

In this campaign, there are honest differences over Iraq, and we should discuss them with the thoroughness they deserve. Unlike Senator McCain, I would make it absolutely clear that we seek no presence in Iraq similar to our permanent bases in South Korea, and would redeploy our troops out of Iraq and focus on the broader security challenges that we face. But for far too long, those responsible for the greatest strategic blunder in the recent history of American foreign policy have ignored useful debate in favor of making false charges about flip-flops and surrender.

It’s not going to work this time. It’s time to end this war.

Barack Obama, a United States senator from Illinois, is the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.

BBC : Afghan survivors tell of wedding bombing

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Afghan survivors tell of wedding bombing

July 13, 2008

The BBC's Alastair Leithead is the first journalist to reach the scene of a US air raid which Afghan authorities say killed about 50 civilians in the east of the country on 6 July. He reports on what he found:

On a hillside high in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan there are three charred clearings where the American bombs struck.

Scattered around are chunks of twisted metal, blood stains and small fragments of sequinned and brightly decorated clothes - the material Afghan brides wear on their wedding day.

After hours of driving to the village deep in the bandit country of Nangarhar's mountains we heard time and again the terrible account of that awful day.

What began as celebration ended with maybe 52 people dead, most of them women and children, and others badly injured.

The US forces said they targeted insurgents in a strike. But from what I saw with my own eyes and heard from the many mourners, no militants were among the dead.

Bombing children

A big double wedding was taking place between two families, with each exchanging a bride and a groom.

So Lal Zareen's son and daughter were both getting married on the same day.

He gave the account with his son, a 13-year-old groom, sitting at his feet.

"This is all the family I now have left," he said in a disturbingly matter of fact sort of way.

From his story and from those of other survivors, it appears the wedding group was crossing a narrow pass in the mountains which divides the valleys where the two families live.

From nowhere a fast jet flew low and dropped a bomb right on top of the pass near a group of children who had impatiently rushed ahead and were resting, waiting for the women to catch up.

Lal Zareen was waiting expectantly for the guests to arrive when he heard the explosion and began to climb up the steep mountain track to the pass.

Shah Zareen was part of the group up on the path - he had narrowly escaped being caught in the first bomb and told the women to stay where they were as he rushed to help the children.

Second blast

Shah Zareen picked up one of the injured, ran down to the village and on his way was calling his local member of parliament on a mobile phone to say they had been attacked.

But then he heard the second blast - the bomb had been dropped on top of the women and almost all of them had been killed.

Three girls escaped, among them the bride, but as they ran down the hillside a third bomb landed on top of them.

Shah Zareen explained to me how one of the many new graves contained just body parts of two or three people and the graves that had been dug and not filled were for those still missing - once their remains had been found.

The BBC team I was with were the first outsiders to see where the bombs hit - even the Afghan investigators did not climb up the steep mountainside - and there was much evidence to support the story.

The fact we could travel to the area in local cars was proof that Taleban insurgents, al-Qaeda operatives or foreign fighters were not present in the valley.

The local people said they had not seen militants, but admitted there could have been people crossing the high pass as the next ridge along leads to Tora Bora, the notorious insurgent area.

Costly mistakes

The US military says it is investigating the incident and it is understood they may have some aerial footage from hours earlier showing insurgents moving nearby.

But it is obvious a huge mistake was made on 6 July. A US statement about the bombing said "any loss of innocent life is tragic".

"I assure you we do not target civilians and that our forces go to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties," said Lt Nathan Perry.

The US no longer insists the dead were insurgents, as it did for two days after the bombing, but it could be some time before the investigation is complete.

Civilian casualties are not new to Nangarhar province - last year a convoy of US Marines was hit by a bomb attack and in the chaos they opened fire in a bazaar killing 19 people.

They were sent home and their officers charged, but a subsequent ruling cleared them of any responsibility for the deaths.

Mirwais Yasini, a local MP and the deputy speaker of Afghanistan's lower house, made the point that civilian casualties widen the gap between the people and the government, and the international forces.

As another memorial service took place in the mountains, Lal Zareen told me: "I want President Karzai to make sure the people responsible for this face justice."

That will depend on the US findings and how the Afghan government acts.

These mistakes are incredibly costly in a counter-insurgency campaign which relies on winning people over, not forcing them against the authorities.

I wonder how many enemies have been created in Nangarhar as a result of the latest bloodshed?

WaPo : Spending Bill Suggests Long Stay in Afghanistan

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Spending Bill Suggests Long Stay in Afghanistan

By Walter Pincus | July 14, 2008

Congress has quietly used fiscal 2008 legislation on military construction to signal that it plans on a long-term military presence in Afghanistan.

In the recently approved supplemental funding bill for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, legislators approved construction of a $62 million ammunition storage facility at Afghanistan's Bagram Air Base, where 12 planned "igloos" will support Army and Air Force needs.

"As a forward operating site, Bagram must be able to provide for a long term, steady state presence which is able to surge to meet theater contingency requirements," the Army said in requesting the money.

When he initially sought the funds last year, Adm. William J. Fallon, then commander of U.S. Central Command, described Bagram as "the centerpiece for the CENTCOM Master Plan for future access to and operations in Central Asia."

In another sign that U.S. troops will be there a long time, the Army requested, and Congress provided, $41 million for a 30-megawatt power plant at Bagram. It is capable of generating enough electricity for a town of more than 20,000 homes.

On the other hand, Congress eliminated the Army's request for $184 million to build power plants at five bases in Iraq. Those are to be among the final bases and support locations where troops, aircraft and equipment will be consolidated as the U.S. military presence is reduced.

In his testimony last year, Fallon said: "As smaller contingency operating sites are closed and forces are consolidated on contingency operations bases, the latter will need significantly more electricity." At present, the military uses diesel generators to power the bases.

But Congress "did not want to do anything in Iraq that seemed long-term, and the power plants would have taken up to two years to complete," said one Senate staff member familiar with the decision who spoke on the condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak for lawmakers.

The funding plan also shows preparations to shut down Iraqi military facilities. Money was approved to build landfills, at $880,000 apiece, at five forward operating bases scheduled to be closed, including ones at Fallujah and Ramadi.

"These landfills are required to ensure we meet environmental, base camp closure, and property disposal procedures," the Army said in asking for the money.

Congress did approve $11.7 million to build a facility for juveniles held by the United States at an Iraqi army base on the outskirts of Baghdad, called Camp Constitution. A former U.S. forward operating base, it has been turned over to the Iraqi Army, which uses it as an adult detention center. Within it, however, the United States will run what it calls a Theater Internment Facility Reintegration Center for the juveniles.

Marine Maj. Gen. Douglas M. Stone, who until recently ran the U.S. detention program in Iraq, told reporters last June 9 that he separated the younger detainees at Camp Cropper each day and bused them to Camp Constitution, where they were provided schooling and athletic opportunities. That took them away, for a time, from the hardened fighters who had recruited them.

National security and intelligence reporter Walter Pincus pores over the speeches, reports, transcripts and other documents that flood Washington and every week uncovers the fine print that rarely makes headlines -- but should. If you have any items that fit the bill, please send them to

Raw Story : Report: Bush administration milked untruths about Tillman, Lynch during sour times

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Report: Bush administration milked untruths about Tillman, Lynch during sour times

Nick Juliano | July 14, 2008

The Bush administration willfully pushed fictional portrayals of Pat Tillman's death in Afghanistan and Jessica Lynch's capture in Iraq to create "compelling public narratives" at times when public opinion was starting to sour on the wars, Congressional investigators have found.

The House Oversight Committee on Monday released a draft report on the sagas of Tillman and Lynch. The public did not learn that friendly fire had killed Tillman, a former NFL player, until more than a month after his death, and an apocryphal tale of Lynch bravely battling her Iraqi captors circulated for more than two months before key aspects of it were revealed to be false.

"Our nation also has an inviolate obligation to share truthful information with a soldier’s family and the American people should injury or death occur.... That standard was not met in either Corporal Tillman’s or Private Lynch’s cases," the report says.

"Neither case involved an act of omission. The misinformation was not caused by overlooking or misunderstanding relevant facts. Instead, in both cases affirmative acts created new facts that were significantly different than what the soldiers in the field knew to be true. And in both cases the fictional accounts proved to be compelling public narratives at difficult times in the war."

The committee reviewed scores of e-mails and interviewed officials at all levels of the government. When their inquiry took them inside the White House though, it was stymied by a spate of faulty memories.
The Committee’s investigation adds many new details to the Tillman story. But on the key issue of what senior officials knew, the investigation was frustrated by a near universal lack of recall. The Committee interviewed several senior officials at the White House, including Communications Director Dan Bartlett, Press Secretary Scott McClellan, and chief speechwriter Michael Gerson. Not a single one could recall when he learned about the fratricide or what he did in response.

Similarly, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told the Committee: “I don’t recall when I was told and I don’t recall who told me.”

The highest-ranking official who could recall being informed about Corporal Tillman’s fratricide was former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard Myers, who said, “I knew right at the end of April, that there was a possibility of fratricide in the Corporal Tillman death.” General Myers testified that it would have been “logical” for him to pass this information to Secretary Rumsfeld, but said “I just don't recall whether I did it or not.”
Regarding Tillman's death, which came toward the beginning of President Bush's re-election campaign, the report found the White House was eager to portray the former Arizona Cardinal who joined the Army Rangers as a hero.

The apparent desire within the White House was so strong that they did not bother to even verify Tillman's death with the Pentagon before commenting, nor did Bush administration officials recognize a standard 24-hour delay the military observes before commenting on a soldiers' death to give families time to grieve privately.

Bush/Cheney campaign advisers also were eager to help with the response, the committee found.
Several high-level staff members of President Bush’s reelection campaign contacted White House officials to suggest public responses to Corporal Tillman’s death. Matthew Dowd, the campaign’s chief strategist, sent an e-mail to Mr. Bartlett, writing, “You hear about pat tilman? Potus should call his family or go to Arizona or his hometown.”

Mark McKinnon, the campaign’s media advisor, also e-mailed Mr. Bartlett, saying: “Realize President really shouldn’t do anything that he hasn’t done for any other soldier killed in the military, but certainly think he could say something about he exemplifies the ultimate in humility, heroism and sacrifice.

Harper's : Six Questions for Jane Mayer, Author of The Dark Side

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Six Questions for Jane Mayer, Author of The Dark Side

By Scott Horton | July 14, 2008

In a series of gripping articles, Jane Mayer has chronicled the Bush Administration’s grim and furtive dealings with torture and has exposed both the individuals within the administration who “made it happen” (a group that starts with Vice President Cheney and his chief of staff, David Addington), the team of psychologists who put together the palette of techniques, and the Fox television program “24,” which was developed to help sell it to the American public. In a new book, The Dark Side, Mayer puts together the major conclusions from her articles and fills in a number of important gaps. Most significantly, we learn the details on the torture techniques and the drama behind the fierce and lingering struggle within the administration over torture, and we learn that many within the administration recognized the potential criminal accountability they faced over these torture tactics and moved frantically to protect themselves from possible future prosecution. I put six questions to Jane Mayer on the subject of her book, The Dark Side.

1. Reports have circulated for some time that the Red Cross examination of the CIA’s highly coercive interrogation regime—what President Bush likes to call “The Program”—concluded that it was “tantamount to torture.” But you write that the Red Cross categorically described the program as “torture.” The Red Cross is notoriously tight-lipped about its reports, and you do not cite your source or even note that you examined the report. Do you believe that the threat of criminal prosecution drove the Bush Administration’s crafting of the Military Commissions Act?

Whether anyone involved in the Bush Administration’s interrogation and detention program will be prosecuted is as much a political question as a legal one. Right now in Italy the CIA agents involved in the rendition of Abu Omar are facing criminal charges, which is obviously an unmitigated nightmare for the Bush Administration. But to get that far it took an extraordinarily independent and politically fearless local prosecutor, Armando Spataro. I may be wrong, but I personally doubt there will be large-scale legal repercussions inside America for those who devised and implemented “The Program.” Activists will be angry at me for saying this, but as someone who has covered politics in Washington, D.C., for two decades, I would be surprised if there is the political appetite for going after public servants who convinced themselves that they were acting in the best interests of the country, and had legal authority to do so. An additional complicating factor is that key members of Congress sanctioned this program, so many of those who might ordinarily be counted on to lead the charge are themselves compromised.

Much will depend on who the next president and attorney general are, and how much pressure they feel. At the very least, as a journalist, I hope that the records are opened, and all the legal memos released (several crucial ones remain secret) so that the country can learn its own history here. My guess is that the real accountability for President Bush will be in the history books, not the court room.

As for the damning Red Cross report, as I make clear to readers in the book, I have not personally read it, because as you say, it is very closely held. I have instead relied upon multiple sources who are knowledgeable about it. Adding to the confidence I have concerning it is the specificity, and consistency of the details, as well as confirmation I was able to get from additional independent sources familiar with the treatment of the detainees. For instance, Abu Zubayda claimed to have been locked in a tiny cage, in which he had to remain doubled up for long periods of time, prior to the period when he was waterboarded. This account—which he gave to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)—was confirmed to me independently by a former CIA officer familiar with his interrogation. It also is consistent with the chronology of legal actions taken inside the Justice Department. Incidentally, being caged only made him angry, according to the former CIA source. The sadistic treatment of Abu Zubayda also seems to have affected him psychologically in bizarre ways. Two sources said that he became sexually obsessive, masturbating so much his captors feared he would injure himself. One described him as acting “like a monkey at the zoo.” A physician was called in for consultation—one of many instances in which health professionals have played truly disturbing roles in this program. (I personally feel that the medical and psychological professionals who have used their skills to further a program designed to cause pain and suffering should be a high priority in terms of accountability. It has long been a ghastly aspect of torture, worldwide, that doctors and other medical professionals often assist. The licensing boards and professional societies are worthless, in my view, if they don’t demand serious investigations of such unethical uses of science.)

The reaction of top Bush Administration officials to the ICRC report, from what I can gather, has been defensive and dismissive. They reject the ICRC’s legal analysis as incorrect. Yet my reporting shows that inside the White House there has been growing fear of criminal prosecution, particularly after the Supreme Court ruled in the Hamdan case that the Geneva Conventions applied to the treatment of the detainees. This nervousness resulted in the successful effort to add retroactive immunity to the Military Commission Act. Cheney personally spearheaded this effort. Fear of the consequences of exposure also weighed heavily in discussions about whether to shut the CIA program down. In White House meetings, Cheney warned that if they transferred the CIA’s prisoners to Guantanamo, “people will want to know where they have been—and what we’ve been doing with them.” Alberto Gonzales, a source said, “scared” everyone about the possibility of war crimes prosecutions. It was on their minds.

2. You have patiently traced the torture techniques used by the CIA back to two psychologists, James Mitchell and John Bruce Jessen—you describe them as ”good looking, clean-cut, polite Mormons”—who reverse-engineered their techniques out of the SERE (survival, evasion, resistance, escape) program used to train U.S. pilots in self-defense. In Dark Side, you identify an approach called “Learned Helplessness” as the model they used, and you note that its author, Prof. Martin Seligman, made a visit to the SERE school and spoke with Mitchell and Jessen as the program was being formed. Seligman is a former president of the American Psychological Association (APA), which is the sole association of health care professionals to buck condemnation of “The Program” and to resist calls that its members not be involved in it. Do you believe that Seligman’s proximity to the torture program helps explain the difficulty that APA has in rejecting it?

Central… was the work of one of America’s best-known and most successful psychologists, Martin Seligman, the former president of the American Psychological Association… Seligman and colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania pioneered work on a theory he called “Learned Helplessness.” He did experiments with dogs in which he used electric shocks to destroy their will to escape… In the spring of 2002, the period during which the CIA was probing what it could do to Zubaydah, Seligman was invited by the CIA to speak at the Navy’s SERE school in San Diego. According to… and Air Force colonel… “Learned Helplessness was his whole paradigm… It starts with isolation. They they eliminate the prisoner’s ability to forecast the future… It creates dread and dependency. It was the KGB model.”
—From The Dark Side

It was completely fascinating to me to learn that Martin Seligman, one of the most esteemed psychologists in the country, a former head of the APA, was connected to the CIA after 9/11. Seligman is known for work he did back in the 1960’s at the University of Pennsylvania in a theory he called “Learned Helplessness.” He and colleagues conducted experiments on caged dogs, in which they used electric charges to shock them randomly. He discovered that the random mistreatment destroyed the dogs emotionally to the point where they no longer had the will to escape, even when offered a way out. Seligman confirmed for me, by email, that in the spring of 2002, as the CIA was trying to figure out how to interrogate its first major high-value detainee, Abu Zubayda, he was brought in to speak about his theories to a high-level confab apparently organized by CIA officials, at the Navy’s SERE School in San Diego. He said his talk lasted some three hours. Seligman said his talk was focused on how to help U.S. soldiers resist torture—not on how to breakdown resistance in detainees.

But, according to numerous sources (who are quoted on the record in The Dark Side), Seligman’s theories were cited admiringly soon after by James Mitchell, the psychologist whom the CIA put on contract to advise on its secret interrogation protocol. Eyewitnesses describe Mitchell as quoting Seligman’s theories of “Learned Helplessness” as useful in showing how to break the resistance of detainees’ to interrogation. One source recounts Mitchell specifically touting the experiments done on dogs in the context of how to treat detainees.

Through a lawyer, Mitchell has denied that these theories guided his and the CIA’s use of such coercive measures as close confinement, psychological manipulation, and calibrated pain. But Mitchell confirmed, when I spoke to him, that he admired Seligman’s work.

Among the U.S. Government’s interrogation techniques that seem to echo these experiments are the uses of random maltreatment—taking away any predictable schedule from detainees so that they have no idea what time it is, no sense of when meals are delivered, no idea if it is day or night, as well as manipulating temperature, sound, sleep, and using isolation, all of which are meant to cause psychic stress that would erode a prisoner’s resistance to being interrogated and foster total dependency upon an interrogator. Perhaps just coincidentally, the detainees have described other ways in which they were treated like dogs—the use of dog cages and of a collar and leash.

3. This week Scott McClellan, Bush’s press secretary, so famous for pronouncing that “we do not torture,” issued a retraction in an interview with ABC’s Jake Tapper, admitting that he could not “honestly deny” the Administration’s acceptance and use of torture techniques. President Bush has specifically defended the program with a series of claims concerning Abu Zubaydah. Do his claims stand up to scrutiny?

President Bush has repeatedly defended the need to use “enhanced interrogations” in order to get life-saving intelligence, and has pointed to Abu Zubayda’s case as an example. I went over the claims in this case carefully, and found them highly dubious. Bush claimed three breakthroughs from coercive tactics used on Abu Zubayda.

First, he said, Abu Zubayda told the CIA that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was the terrorist behind the 9/11 plot. But, if one reads the 9/11 Commission’s detailed report on what information had reached the CIA prior to the 9/11 attacks, it is clear that the CIA already had this information.

Second, President Bush said that Abu Zubayda revealed that an American-born Al Qaeda figure was on his way to attack America. This is widely understood to be a reference to Jose Padilla. But numerous published accounts indicate that Abu Zubayda gave this information to interrogators prior to being physically coerced. So it’s not accurate to describe it as an argument for coercion.

Third, the President said Abu Zubayda gave up information leading to the capture of another top Al Qaeda terrorist, Ramsi Bin Al Shibh. But circumstantial evidence, as well as previously published accounts, suggest that Bin Al Shibh was more likely located by the United States as the result of an interview he gave to Al Jazeera.

Meanwhile, although President Bush has argued that “enhanced” interrogation had led to numerous breakthroughs he has never publicly acknowledged the false and fabricated intelligence it has yielded, too. One former top CIA official told me, “Ninety percent of what we got was crap.”

4. You spend more time showing how the torture process compromised lawyers than how it compromised health care professionals. One of the more revealing cases involves Jessica Radack, a young career attorney in the Justice Department’s Honors Program, who dispensed ethics advice concerning plans for the interrogation of John Walker Lindh. It seems that her advice was contrary to the ethical views of senior Bush Administration lawyers, and you note that when a federal judge demanded to see the internal Department of Justice records relating to the matter, all of Radack’s emails, including the advice actually dispensed, had been deleted and the hard copies removed, and none of this was furnished to the court. Did the Justice Department ever undertake an internal probe into the obstruction?

Radack was in some ways an early guinea pig showing how high the costs were for anyone—including administration lawyers—who dissented from the Bush Administration’s determination to rewrite the rules for the treatment of terrorists. Her job in the department was to give ethical advice. She was asked whether an FBI officer in Afghanistan could interrogate John Walker Lindh and use his statements against him in any future trial. By the time she was asked this, however, as she knew, Lindh’s father had already hired a lawyer to represent him. So she concluded that it would not be proper for the FBI to question him outside the presence of his counsel.

To her amazement, the FBI agent went ahead and did so anyway, and then the prosecutors in the Justice Department proceeded to use Lindh’s statements against him in their criminal prosecution. She told me, “It was like ethics were out the window. After 9/11, it was, like, ‘anything goes’ in the name of terrorism. It felt like they’d made up their minds to get him, regardless of the process.” Radack believed that the role of the ethics office was to “rein in the cowboys” whose zeal to stop criminals sometimes led them to overstep legal boundaries. “But after 9/11 we were bending ethics to fit our needs,” she said. “Something wrong was going on. It wasn’t just fishy—it stank.”

What happened next was truly scary. She tried to ensure that a judge overseeing the case, who asked for all information regarding the Department’s handling of Lindh, was given the full record, including her own contrary advice. But instead, she said she found that her superiors at Justice sent the judge only selective portions of the record, excluding her contrary opinion. Her case files, she said, were tampered with, and documents missing. Among the senior Justice Department officials who were sent her files, she said was Alice Fisher, a deputy to Michael Chertoff who followed him as head of the Department’s Criminal Division.

Michael Chertoff, who was the head of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division when Zubayda was caught, downplayed his role… But according to a top CIA official directly involved at the time, as well as a former top Justice Department official involved in a secondhand war, Chertoff was consulted extensively about detainees’ treatment. The former senior Agency official said with disgust, “Chertoff, and Gonzales, and all these other guys act like they know nothing about this now, but they were all in the room. They’re moonwalking backwards so fast, Michael Jackson would be proud of them.”
—From The Dark Side

Radack complained about what she thought were serious omissions of the record being withheld from the judge. Within weeks of disagreeing with the top Justice Department officials, Radack went from having been singled out for praise, to being hounded out of the department. Radack got a job in private practice, but after her story appeared in Newsweek, with copies of some of her emails, the Justice Department opened a leak investigation. The U.S. Attorney then opened a criminal investigation. Radack has since become an advocate for whistle-blowers’ rights. But the episode served as a warning to anyone in the government who stood in the way of the so-called, “New Paradigm.” It is unclear to me what sort of investigation, if any, there has been of this case, including of the potential obstruction.

5. In a recent speech in Boston, Attorney General Mukasey tried to excuse John Yoo, David Addington, and other key players in the Bush Administration torture team by arguing they were operating under intense pressure and were motivated only by a desire to protect the country. But isn’t it obvious that the “War Council” seized upon 9/11 and the war mood that prevailed in its wake as an opportunity to test-pilot their constitutionally-untenable views of presidential power and authority and the irrelevance of international law?

After interviewing hundreds of sources in and around the Bush White House, I think it is clear that many of the legal steps taken by the so-called “War Council” were less a “New Paradigm,” as Alberto Gonzales dubbed it, than an old political wish list, consisting of grievances that Cheney and his legal adviser, David Addington, had been compiling for decades. Cheney in particular had been chafing at the post-Watergate reforms, and had longed to restore the executive branch powers Nixon had assumed, constituting what historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. called “the Imperial Presidency.”

Before September 11, 2001, these extreme political positions would not have stood a change of being instituted—they would never have survived democratic scrutiny. But by September 12, 2001, President Bush and Vice President Cheney were extraordinarily empowered. Political opposition evaporated as critics feared being labeled anti-patriotic or worse. It’s a familiar dynamic in American history—not unlike the shameful abridgement of civil liberties represented by FDR’s internment of Americans of Japanese ancestry. One of the strongest quotes in the book, I think, comes from Philip Zelikow, the former executive director of the 9/11 Commission, former counselor to Secretary of State Condi Rice, and a historian who teaches at the University of Virginia. He suggests in time that America’s descent into torture will be viewed like the internment of the Japanese, because they happened for similar reasons. As he puts it, “Fear and anxiety were exploited by zealots and fools.”

6. One of the lingering mysteries in Washington has been what happened to the CIA internal probe into homicides involving the program. You note that CIA Inspector General (IG) John Helgerson undertook a study and initially concluded, just as the Red Cross and most legal authorities in the United States and around the world, that the program was illegal and raised serious war crimes issues. Helgerson was summoned repeatedly to meet privately with Vice President Cheney, the man who provided the impetus for the program, and it appears as a result of these meetings the IG’s report was simply shut down. Would those probes have brought into question the Justice Department’s specific approval of torture techniques used by the CIA–approval that involved not just John Yoo, but much more specifically Michael Chertoff and Alice Fisher, the two figures who ran the criminal division?

The fact that John Helgerson—the inspector general at the CIA who is supposed to act as an independent watchdog—was called in by Cheney to discuss his tough report in 2004 is definitely surprising news. Asked for comment, Helgerson through the CIA spokesman denied he felt pressured in any way by Cheney. But others I interviewed have described the IG’s office to me as extremely politicized. They have also suggested it was very unusual that the Vice President interjected himself into the work of the IG. Fred Hitz, who had the same post in previous administrations, told me that no vice president had ever met with him. He thought it highly unusual.

Helgerson’s 2004 report had been described to me as very disturbing, the size of two Manhattan phone books, and full of terrible descriptions of mistreatment. The confirmation that Helgerson was called in to talk with Cheney about it proves that–as early as then–the Vice President’s office was fully aware that there were allegations of serious wrongdoing in The Program.

We know that in addition, the IG investigated several alleged homicides involving CIA detainees, and that Helgerson’s office forwarded several to the Justice Department for further consideration and potential prosecution. The only case so far that has been prosecuted in the criminal courts is that involving David Passaro—a low-level CIA contractor, not a full official in the Agency. Why have there been no charges filed? It’s a question to which one would expect that Congress and the public would like some answers. Sources suggested to me that, as you imply, it is highly uncomfortable for top Bush Justice officials to prosecute these cases because, inevitably, it means shining a light on what those same officials sanctioned. Chertoff’s role in particular seems ripe for investigation. Alice Fisher’s role also seems of interest. Much remains to be uncovered.

Reuters : U.S. visit feeds Pakistani worry over U.S. attack

Sunday, July 13, 2008

U.S. visit feeds Pakistani worry over U.S. attack

By Robert Birsel | July 13, 2008

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - The Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, visited Pakistan on the weekend, fueling speculation that the United States was about to take action against militants in northwest Pakistan.

Pakistan has been a close U.S. ally in the global campaign against terrorism but the United States has become increasingly frustrated at what it sees as insufficient effort by Islamabad to fight militants on the Afghan border.

A U.S. embassy spokeswoman confirmed that Mullen had made a one-day trip to Pakistan on Saturday, but said she had no details about his meetings. Pakistani military and government spokesmen were not available for comment.

Pakistani newspapers said Mullen, in talks with Pakistani military commanders and leaders of a new government, had expressed deep frustration with growing cross-border militant attacks and had called for decisive action to stop it.

"Sources quoted Mullen as complaining that militants were moving across the border with greater liberty now than during the previous government," the Dawn newspaper said.

Pakistan's semi-autonomous ethnic Pashtun tribal belt on the border has became a sanctuary for al Qaeda and Taliban militants fighting Western soldiers in Afghanistan and against security forces in Pakistan where 15 soldiers were killed on Saturday.

The U.S. Pentagon said last month insurgent havens in Pakistan were the biggest threat to Afghan security.

Pakistan has ruled out allowing foreign troops onto its soil although U.S. pilotless drones have been increasing their flights, and attacks, over the Pakistani side of the border.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi sought in talks in Washington on Friday to assure the United States his country was doing all it could to fight militants on the border.


What Pakistanis see as a more aggressive U.S. action on the border has fueled speculation of a U.S. thrust.

Last month, 11 Pakistani border soldiers were killed in a U.S. air strike as U.S. forces battled Taliban militants.

On Saturday, Pakistan lodged a protest with the United States over fire from Afghanistan on Thursday that wounded six Pakistani soldiers. Afghanistan's NATO force blamed militants for the fire saying they were trying to "spark a border incident".

Feeding the worry, some U.S. politicians, including presidential candidate Barack Obama, have said the United States could attack al Qaeda inside Pakistan without Pakistani approval.

A new government took power after President Pervez Musharraf's allies were defeated in February elections, vowing to negotiate an end to violence, but U.S. commanders in Afghanistan say such peace efforts have led to more militant attacks there.

Many Pakistanis oppose the U.S. campaign against militancy and blame Musharraf's cooperation with the United States for inciting violence. Any U.S. action in Pakistan would only exacerbate the problem, they say.

The News newspaper said Mullen was accompanied by officials of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency: "Apparently the Americans were quite aggressive in their claims," it said.

NATO commanders in Afghanistan have said there mandate goes only as far as the border and their troops would go no further but such statements have done little to dampen speculation of a

U.S. attack into Pakistan.

"Newspapers keep reporting this but there is an understanding between the government of Pakistan and the NATO and U.S. forces which I don't think the U.S. would violate," said a senior Pakistani official, who declined to be identified.

But an analyst said limited U.S. strikes were possible.

"I would not say that they would come with full ground forces because they understand that would be a great folly," said security analyst and retired general Talat Masood.

"But it is possible that if they find that there is a cluster of militants which has to be dealt with, they might land some commandos," he said.

(Additional reporting by Augustine Anthony; Editing by David Fox)

© Thomson Reuters 2008 All rights reserved

Reuters : U.S. and Iraq scale back security deal plans: W.Post

Sunday, July 13, 2008

U.S. and Iraq scale back security deal plans: W.Post

By Dean Yates | July 13, 2008

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - U.S. and Iraqi negotiators have ended efforts to reach a formal security pact before President George W. Bush leaves office in favor of an interim deal, the Washington Post said on Sunday, citing senior U.S. officials.

The two sides had been negotiating a Status of Forces Agreement that would provide a legal basis for U.S. troops to remain when a U.N. mandate expires at the end of the year.

But in the past week Iraqi leaders have spoken of only agreeing what they call a memorandum of understanding. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has also raised for the first time the prospect of setting a timetable for U.S. troops to leave Iraq.

The Washington Post quoted one U.S. official close to the negotiations as saying "we are talking about dates", even though Bush has previously rebuffed calls for a timetable.

Iraq is a major issue in November's presidential election battle between Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama. McCain supports the Bush administration's current strategy, while Obama has called for a timetable for withdrawal.

The Post said the "bridge" security document would be limited in both time and scope and would allow basic U.S. military operations to continue once the U.N. mandate ended.

Iraq has rejected a number of Washington's demands, insisting they infringe on the country's sovereignty.

The document now under discussion with Iraq was likely to cover only 2009, the Post said.

Negotiators expected it to include a "time horizon", with specific goals for a U.S. troop withdrawal from Baghdad and other cities and installations, it added.

The fixed dates are likely to include caveats referring to the ability of Iraqi forces to take over security. Some Iraqi officials themselves have said any timetable would be determined by security conditions on the ground.


There is strong domestic pressure in Iraq to set dates for a withdrawal of U.S. forces, especially with violence at a four-year low and with Iraqi security forces getting larger and taking the lead in more security operations.

Maliki's political opponents would also likely try to exploit the issue of an undefined U.S. troop presence in provincial elections later this year.

The most contentious unresolved issue was the legal immunity of U.S. troops in Iraq, the Post reported.

U.S. officials have said this is non-negotiable. But Iraq's deputy parliament speaker has said lawmakers would probably veto any deal that gave U.S. soldiers immunity from Iraqi law.

The Bush administration has always opposed setting any withdrawal timetable, saying to do so would allow militant groups to lie low and wait until U.S. troops in Iraq have left.

U.S. troop levels are already being cut, with the last of five additional combat brigades Bush deployed last year expected to pull out this month. That will leave 15 combat brigades in Iraq, or around 140,000 soldiers.

Washington was considering withdrawing additional troops beginning in September, The New York Times reported on Sunday, citing administration and military officials.

The withdrawal stemmed partly from the need for more U.S. troops in Afghanistan to fight the rising insurgency by the Taliban and other fighters.

No final decisions had been made, but up to three combat brigades in Iraq could be withdrawn, or slated for withdrawal, by the end of the administration in January, the Times said.

The White House declined to discuss the withdrawals, but spokesman Gordon Johndroe told the newspaper that while Bush hoped to bring more troops home, he would await recommendations in September from General David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq, the Times said.

(Additional reporting by Christopher Michaud in New York; Editing by Catherine Evans)

© Thomson Reuters 2008 All rights reserved

NYT : Obama Supporters on Far Left Cry Foul

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Obama Supporters on Far Left Cry Foul

By WILLIAM YARDLEY | July 13, 2008

PORTLAND, Ore. — In the breathless weeks before the Oregon presidential primary in May, Martha Shade did what thousands of other people here did: she registered as a Democrat so she could vote for Senator Barack Obama.

Now, however, after critics have accused Mr. Obama of shifting positions on issues like the war in Iraq, the Bush administration’s program of wiretapping without warrants, gun control and the death penalty — all in what some view as a shameless play to a general election audience — Ms. Shade said she planned to switch back to the Green Party.

“I’m disgusted with him,” said Ms. Shade, an artist. “I can’t even listen to him anymore. He had such an opportunity, but all this ‘audacity of hope’ stuff, it’s blah, blah, blah. For all the independents he’s going to gain, he’s going to lose a lot of progressives.”

Of course, that depends on how you define progressives.

As Ms. Shade herself noted, while alarm may be spreading among some Obama supporters, whether left-wing bloggers or purists holding Mr. Obama’s feet to the fire on one issue or another, the reaction among others has been less than outrage.

For all the idealism and talk of transformation that Mr. Obama has brought to the Democratic Party — he managed to draw a crowd of more than 70,000 here in May — there is also a wide streak of pragmatism, even among many grass-roots activists, in a party long vexed by factionalism.

“We’re frustrated by it, but we understand,” said Mollie Ruskin, 22, who grew up in Baltimore and is spending the summer here as a fellow with Politicorps, a program run by the Bus Project, a local nonprofit that trains young people to campaign for progressive candidates. “He’s doing it so he can get into office and do the things he believes in.”

Nate Gulley, 23, who grew up in Cleveland and is also here as a Politicorps fellow, said too much was being made of Mr. Obama’s every move.

“It’s important not to get swept up in ‘Is Obama posturing?’ ” Mr. Gulley said. “It’s self-evident that he’s a different kind of candidate.”

Bob Fertik, president of, a progressive Web site, started asking his readers last month to pledge money to an escrow fund for Mr. Obama, as opposed to contributing to him outright. The idea was to make Mr. Obama rethink his decision to support the Bush administration’s wiretapping measure.

Mr. Obama initially said he would try to filibuster a vote, but on Wednesday he was among 69 senators who voted for the measure, which to many liberals represents a flagrant abuse of privacy rights. The legislation grants legal immunity to telecommunications companies that cooperated with the wiretapping program.

So far, 675 people have pledged $101,375 to Mr. Fertik’s escrow fund, money that theoretically would be donated to Mr. Obama once he showed a firm commitment to progressive values, Mr. Fertik said.

But Mr. Fertik also said that while Mr. Obama’s change on the spying issue upset some supporters, it was not necessarily emblematic of a troubling shift to the center. He said he continued to support the senator, though he added, “We don’t see the need to close our eyes and hold our noses until November.”

Still, others warned that Mr. Obama risked being viewed as someone who parses positions without taking a principled stand.

“I’m not saying we’re there yet, but that’s the danger,” said David Sirota, a liberal political analyst and author. “I don’t think there’s disillusion. I think there’s an education process that takes place, and that’s a good thing. He is a transformative politician, but he is still a politician.”

Joe McCraw, 27, a video engineer from San Carlos, Calif., who writes three liberal blogs, said Mr. Obama’s shift on the domestic spying measure was a watershed moment.

“This is the first time I’ve ever seen him lie to us, and it makes me feel disappointed,” Mr. McCraw said. “I thought he was going to stand up there, stand by his campaign promises like he said he would, and it turns out he’s another politician.”

Many Obama supporters said the most vocal complaining about various policy positions was largely relegated to liberal bloggers and people who might otherwise support Ralph Nader, the Green Party candidate, or Dennis J. Kucinich, the liberal Ohio congressman who dropped out of the presidential race earlier this year.

“I think it’s accentuated by the fact that Obama’s appeal is an appeal to idealism,” said Kari Chisholm, who runs a blog,, and does Internet strategy for Democratic candidates. “They believe their ideology is the only idealism and Obama’s is very mainstream. I’m not surprised they’re getting a little cranky. They’ve always been kind of cranky. A mainstream Democrat has always been too mainstream for them.”

Some of Mr. Obama’s supporters say he is less vulnerable to accusations of flip-flopping on issues because his campaign ultimately has been built on his biography and philosophy.

“I don’t think the test on him is in an explicitly narrow set of check boxes that have to get filled,” said Kevin Looper, executive director of Our Oregon, a liberal advocacy group. “I think it’s about do his campaign and his message embody serious changes for the direction of the country?”

Mr. Looper and many other supporters said Mr. Obama was solid on core Democratic concerns like the environment, social and economic justice and how to balance taxes among economic groups. Of course, his stands on more specific issues appeal to many supporters, too.

Rhys Warburton, a 25-year-old Brooklyn resident who teaches earth science at a public high school, said he supported Mr. Obama because he thought the senator was more likely to end the Iraq war. If Mr. Obama takes a few steps to the center that will not change his opinion, he said, and “it doesn’t make the others any better or more attractive to vote for.”

Before the Oregon primary in May, Mr. Obama held a rally here in Portland that made news not for what the senator said but for what he saw: more than 70,000 people came to hear him speak on a bright Sunday along the Willamette River.

The startling size of the crowd, followed by Mr. Obama’s resounding win here on May 20, helped cement his status as the presumptive nominee. And for some, even far beyond Oregon, it confirmed what Mr. Obama had been telling voters from the start: that he really is different.

“Seventy-five thousand people do not attend political rallies unless something truly magical is happening,” Bob Blanchard wrote on May 18 in the comment section accompanying an account of the rally on the New York Times’s Web site. “Our great country will soon close the book on ‘government by division,’ and embrace ‘government by inclusion.’ ”

Asked last week whether Mr. Obama’s vote on the surveillance law or any other recent statements or actions had altered how he felt about the candidate, Mr. Blanchard, of North Smithfield, R.I., said “absolutely not.”

“When are these people going to go, anyway?” Mr. Blanchard said of left-wing critics he believes have hurt Democrats in past elections. “My attitude is lighten up on the guy. We want to win. Moving to the center is not a crime in this country.”

Ms. Shade, the Green-turned-Democrat-returned-Green voter, spoke about Mr. Obama while leaning out her second-floor apartment window, where she has placed homemade signs urging the impeachment of President Bush. Others say “Free Gaza” and “Occupation is Terrorism.” She said twice that the American political system was “rotten.”

“You realize,” Ms. Shade said, her voice fading with resignation, “that you’re talking to somebody who’s pretty far out of the mainstream.”

Dan Frosch contributed reporting from Denver, Andrew Tangel from New York and Katie Zezima from Boston.

NYT : Tony Snow, Former White House Press Secretary, Dies at 53

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Tony Snow, Former White House Press Secretary, Dies at 53

By SHERYL GAY STOLBERG | July 13, 2008

WASHINGTON — Tony Snow, the conservative columnist and television commentator who relished sparring with reporters during a 17-month stint as President Bush’s press secretary, died Saturday of colon cancer, the White House said. He was 53.

Mr. Snow’s tenure was interrupted by a recurrence of his cancer, and he was quite public about his battle with the disease, saying he wanted to offer hope to other cancer patients. His message to them, he once said, was: “Don’t think about dying. Think about living.”

Dana Perino, who succeeded Mr. Snow as press secretary, said Mr. Snow’s family informed her of the death early Saturday morning. Mr. Bush received the news from his chief of staff, Joshua B. Bolten.

“It was a joy to watch Tony at the podium each day,” Mr. Bush said in a statement. “He brought wit, grace and a great love of country to his work. His colleagues will cherish memories of his energetic personality and relentless good humor.”

With his tall, lanky frame, his thick head of gray hair (it thinned, but never disappeared, during chemotherapy) and his showman’s style, Mr. Snow, who joined the White House in April 2006, helped reinvigorate a press operation that many Republicans believed had been lacking. He loved serving at the White House, once calling it “the most exciting, intellectually aerobic job I’m ever going to have.”

Before becoming the chief spokesman for the president, Mr. Snow was a television commentator for Fox News. He was also host of the network’s Sunday public affairs program “Fox News Sunday.” Before joining Fox, Mr. Snow was a syndicated columnist for the Detroit News and USA Today.

At the White House, he turned the daily press briefing into something of a one-man show, challenging reporters’ questions and delivering hard-hitting answers, even when he was occasionally short on the facts. More than once, Mr. Snow was forced to apologize, as he did shortly after taking the job when he erroneously said Mr. Bush viewed embryonic stem cell research as murder.

“He’s velvet glove and iron fist,” Jim Axelrod, the CBS White House correspondent, once said in describing Mr. Snow.

Coming into the job, Mr. Snow had credibility with the media because as a commentator, he had often been critical of Mr. Bush. But the transition from pundit to mouthpiece proved a tad complicated for him, as he struggled to rein himself in.

“Tony Snow broke the mold — he was a completely different kind of press secretary,” said Ann Compton of ABC News, who has covered six presidents. “For one thing, he would give you his own opinion and you’d have to say, ‘Tony, wait, I asked what the president thought.’ “

His snappy sound bites made Mr. Snow an instant hit among Republicans — and he was not shy about breaking barriers. “It’s like Mick Jagger at a rock concert,” Karl Rove, the president’s former political strategist, once said in describing him.

During the 2006 midterm election campaign, Mr. Snow raised eyebrows by using his celebrity to raise money for Republican candidates — something that by Mr. Snow’s own admission, other press secretaries had declined to do for fear of seeming too partisan.

Mr. Snow said simply that his job was to serve the president, and that is what he intended to do.

Ms. Compton, who had been in touch with Mr. Snow in recent months, said his condition took a turn for the worse after the White House correspondents’ dinner in April. “He had a front-row seat and he looked wonderful,” at the event, she said.

But he later e-mailed her to say that he had been suffering intestinal problems — “a bump in the road,” she said he called it — and was having a harder time than expected recovering. On June 13, while traveling in Paris with Mr. Bush, Ms. Compton received another unexpected electronic missive from Mr. Snow, who by then was quite sick, she said.

He had heard that Helen Thomas, the 87-year-old veteran White House correspondent with whom he had had some of his most pointed exchanges, was ill. “If in touch, would you please pass on my love,” Mr. Snow wrote.

Ms. Perino said Mr. Snow was the inspiration for her 2008 New Year’s resolution, which was always to take her husband’s telephone calls, no matter how busy she was at work. “We learned a lot from him — most importantly how we should love our families and treat one another,” she said. “The White House has lost a great friend.”

Robert Anthony Snow was born in Berea, Ky., on June 1, 1955, and grew up in Cincinnati. After graduating from Davidson College in North Carolina in 1977, he spent his early career in print journalism, writing editorials for such newspapers as The Greensboro Record in Greensboro, N.C., and The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va. He eventually became the editorial page editor of The Washington Times.

In 1991, he left newspapers to work as a speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush. During the Clinton administration, he went back into journalism, and he served as the first host of the television news program “Fox News Sunday” from 1996 to 2003. He was the host of a Fox News radio show when he was brought in by the current administration to replace Scott McClellan as press secretary.

Mr. Snow often said that he felt stalked all his adult life by the threat of colon cancer; his mother died of the disease when he was 17. By the time he joined the White House, he had already been treated for it; in 2005 he received a diagnosis of Stage 3 colon cancer, meaning the disease had spread to the lymph nodes but not to other organs. At that time, he underwent surgery to have his colon removed.

When he joined the White House, he said he believed he had beaten his cancer, but that he always knew a recurrence was possible. At his first White House briefing, he wore a yellow bracelet from the Lance Armstrong Foundation “because I had cancer last year,” he said, choking back tears.

The cancer recurred in March 2007, less than a year after Mr. Snow had taken the White House job. He underwent surgery again, took five weeks off, and returned. But he announced in September 2007 that he was resigning his $168,000 a year job — not because of the cancer, he said, but because he wanted to make more money to support his family.

He is survived by his wife, Jill, and their three children, Kendall, Robbie and Kristi.

Reuters : Iran to "hit Tel Aviv, U.S. ships" if attacked

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Iran to "hit Tel Aviv, U.S. ships" if attacked

By Parisa Hafezi | July 8, 2008

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran will hit Tel Aviv, U.S. shipping in the Gulf and American interests around the world if it is attacked over its disputed nuclear activities, an aide to Iran's Supreme Leader was quoted as saying on Tuesday.

"The first bullet fired by America at Iran will be followed by Iran burning down its vital interests around the globe," the students news agency ISNA quoted Ali Shirazi as saying in a speech to Revolutionary Guards.

The United States and its allies suspect Iran is trying to build nuclear bombs. Tehran says its program is peaceful.

"The Zionist regime is pressuring White House officials to attack Iran. If they commit such a stupidity, Tel Aviv and U.S. shipping in the Persian Gulf will be Iran's first targets and they will be burned," Shirazi was quoted as saying.

Shirazi, a mid-level cleric, is Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's representative to the Revolutionary Guards.

"The Iranian nation will never accept bullying. The Iranian nation is a nation of believers which believes in jihad and martyrdom. No army in the world can confront it," he added.

In Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's spokesman, Mark Regev, declined to comment on the threat to hit Tel Aviv, saying only: "Shirazi's words speak for themselves."

Israel, believed to be the Middle East's only nuclear-armed power, has vowed to prevent Iran from acquiring an atomic bomb. The United States says it wants to resolve the dispute by diplomacy but has not ruled out military action.

In April, Israel's Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, who is a former army general and defense minister, told Israeli media: "An Iranian attack will prompt a severe reaction from Israel, which will destroy the Iranian nation."

Shirazi's comments intensified a war of words that has raised fears of military confrontation and helped boost world oil prices to record highs in recent weeks.

"We will make the enemy regret threatening Iran," Mohammad Hejazi, deputy commander of the Revolutionary Guards, was quoted as saying by the semi-official Mehr news agency on Tuesday.


Tel Aviv is an Israeli coastal metropolis of about 2 million people. It was hit in 1991 by Scud missiles launched by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein during a U.S.-led war with Baghdad.

Unlike other major Israeli cities such as Jerusalem and Haifa, it is home to relatively few Arabs.

The latest Iranian threats had little immediate impact on financial markets in Israel.

"This has no relevance on dollar-shekel trade. I assume if we see a strike, there will be a reaction," said Neil Corney, treasurer for Citigroup's Israel office in Tel Aviv.

"All this is sabre-rattling and Israel is trying to pressure the world to put some serious economic sanctions on Iran."

Joel Kirsch, head of equities trading at the Leader Capital Markets brokerage in Tel Aviv linked a market drop on Tuesday to banks selling off in Asia, not tension with Iran. "The conflict with Iran is somewhat priced into the market," he said.

Iran has previously threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz if it comes under attack. About 40 percent of globally traded oil moves through the Gulf waterway.

The Revolutionary Guards' commander of artillery and missile units, Mahmoud Chaharbaghi, said 50 brigades of his forces had been equipped with what he called smart cluster munitions.

"All our arms, bullets and rockets are on alert so that we would defend the Islamic Republic's territory," Hemayet daily quoted him as saying.

Senior officials from six world powers held a conference call on Monday to discuss the response Iran delivered on Friday to a revised package of incentives to curb its nuclear work.

The United States, France, Britain, China, Russia and Germany offered the package last month and said Iran must suspend its uranium enrichment work before formal talks on implementing it.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Monday his country would not stop enriching uranium and rejected as "illegitimate" a demand by major powers that it do so.

© Thomson Reuters 2008 All rights reserved

NYT : Iraqi Officials Still Insisting on Timetable to Withdraw

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Iraqi Officials Still Insisting on Timetable to Withdraw


BAGHDAD — Iraqi officials continued to insist Tuesday that a timetable for the withdrawal of coalition troops must be included in any security agreement with the United States.

Meanwhile, in western Anbar Province, 22 bodies were found at a Ramadi elementary school that was undergoing construction, 20 of them buried in the playing fields, apparently over a lengthy period, the local police said.

Mowaffak al-Rubaie, the national security adviser, said the government would reject any security agreement that did not include a schedule for the departure of foreign troops.

“We will not accept a memorandum of understanding without having timeline horizons for the cessation of combat operations as well as the departure of all the combat brigades,” Mr. Rubaie said in a telephone interview. However, he declined to offer specifics on a timeline, suggesting that the Iraqi government itself was not yet sure how quickly it wanted the United States to withdraw.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Rubaie was in the holy city of Najaf meeting with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s most senior Shiite religious leader. The ayatollah has not expressed an opinion on the specifics of the negotiations, emphasizing only that Iraq must protect its sovereignty.

Mr. Rubaie’s remarks came a day after Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki confirmed that his government was considering a short-term pact with the United States that would extend the presence of American troops but also include a timetable for withdrawal.

The insistence on withdrawal is a popular position for many Shiites, and has been championed by one of Mr. Maliki’s chief rivals, the rebel Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr. With provincial elections expected before the end of the year, Mr. Maliki is said to be eager to demonstrate his independence from the United States while undercutting Mr. Sadr.

The Bush administration has consistently opposed a timetable, arguing that it would only embolden insurgents. Gordon D. Johndroe, a White House spokesman, reiterated that argument on Tuesday in Japan, where President Bush was attending the Group of 8 summit meeting.

“Negotiations and discussions are ongoing every day,” Mr. Johndroe said. “It is important to understand that these are not talks on a hard date for a withdrawal, but are discussions on a security horizon that reflect the Iraqis’ increasing capacity, as well as improved conditions on the ground that should allow for a further reduction of U.S. forces.”

In Ramadi, at an elementary school that was being renovated, an excavator uncovered 20 corpses buried in the volleyball and soccer fields, said Tariq Yousif, a provincial police commander. Two bodies were also discovered in cisterns at the school.

Local mosques are asking families with missing relatives to come to the school to try to identify the bodies. One woman recognized the body of her husband, who was an imam at the nearby Gailani Mosque and a professor at a local Islamic college.

At noon on Sunday, a senior adviser at the Ministry of Justice was shot as he was driving on a Baghdad highway, and a woman who worked for Iraqi Airways was killed by a gunman on a city bridge, according to the Ministry of the Interior.

Riyadh Muhammad and Abeer Mohammed contributed reporting from Baghdad, and an Iraqi employee of The New York Times from Ramadi.

NYT : Iraqi Favors Short Security Pact With U.S.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Iraqi Favors Short Security Pact With U.S.


BAGHDAD — Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki publicly confirmed Monday that his government was leaning toward concluding a short-term security pact with the United States instead of a broader agreement that would last for years.

The legal authority for American troops in Iraq is now provided by a United Nations mandate that expires at the end of the year. Iraq and the United States have been negotiating details of a broad new agreement that would formalize the security relationship, but with elections nearing in both countries and opposition likely from the Iraqi Parliament, Iraqi leaders seemed to be opting for a narrower and short-term pact.

Mr. Maliki’s office said in a statement that the “current trend is toward reaching a memorandum of understanding” that would extend the presence of American troops for a period of time. While the statement used the words “scheduled withdrawal” about American troops, it did not seem to mean that a precise timetable for troops to depart was being negotiated.

Ali al-Adeeb, a prominent leader in Mr. Maliki’s political party, said in a telephone interview that while there were many options for withdrawal and several end points under discussion, “We think that what is suitable for withdrawal is when our soldiers are ready and well armed to take the responsibility.”

The issues being negotiated are prickly: How much control, if any, should Iraqis have over American security operations? Should American soldiers have the right to detain suspects without Iraqi approval?

Iraq’s Parliament said Monday that it would vote next Tuesday on a law to authorize and set rules for provincial elections this year. Lawmakers agreed to resolve by a simple majority vote several troublesome issues, like whether there should be a minimum quota for women in the legislature and whether parties should be allowed to use religious symbols.

In other developments, a crackdown continued against members of the political party of the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, as Iraqi authorities arrested Salam Abdulwahed Jubara, the manager of the education department in al-Majar al-Kabeer, a village in southern Iraq.

The governor of Maysan Province, where the village is located, is Adel Muhoder, whose arrest has been ordered by Iraqi authorities. He is Mr. Jubara’s uncle, a security official said.

In Diyala Province, near the Iranian border, an improvised explosive near Mandali killed a family of four. The four, who were ethnic Kurds, were traveling in a vehicle when the explosion occurred. In the same province, a bomb exploded in the Mafraq market in Baquba, killing a woman and wounding 14 others. Two more women were killed in an explosion on a farm north of the city, an Iraqi official said.

A bomb attack on a convoy south of the northern city of Mosul killed four contractors and wounded eight others, the American military said in a statement.

Riyadh Muhammad and Mohamed Hussein contributed reporting from Baghdad, and Iraqi employees of The New York Times from Baquba and Amara.