Wednesday, March 12, 2008

US War Bulletin: More on Removal of Adm. Fallon; Al-Jazeera Interview; Escalating Operations in Northern Iraq

Protest the Fifth Anniversary of the Occupation of Iraq on Saturday, March 15, Downtown Detroit, Noon

PANW Editor's Note: There will be a demonstration in Detroit on Saturday, March 15 to protest the fifth anniversary of the United States invasion and occupation of Iraq. The protest will begin with a gathering at the 'Spirit of Detroit' on Woodward avenue at Jefferson, starting at Noon.

At 1:00pm there will be a march up Woodward avenue to Central United Methodist Church for an anti-war rally.

During the rally there will be reports on the ongoing occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, the escalation of tensions with Iran, the impact of Israeli aggression in Palestine, the effects of US war policy on women as well as the AFRICOM threat to the African continent.

For more information log on to:

Abayomi Azikiwe, PANW

11:20 MECCA TIME, 8:20 GMT

US commander quits 'over Iran'

Fallon became head of US Central Command only a year ago

Admiral William Fallon, the US military commander for the Middle East, has stepped down from his post amid reports he disagreed with George Bush, the US president, over his policies on Iran.

Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, said on Tuesday that Fallon had asked for permission to retire early and he had agreed.

An article in Esquire magazine last week said Fallon was opposed to the US taking military action against Iran over its nuclear programme.

In a statement read by Gates, Fallon said that the recent reports of a rift between himself and Bush "have become a distraction at a critical time and hamper efforts in the Centcom region".

"Although I don't believe there have ever been any differences about the objectives of our policy in the Central Command area of responsibility, the simple perception that there is makes it difficult for me to effectively serve America's interests there."

Fallon, on Wednesday, was Baghdad as part of a surprise Iraq visit, the US military said.

He "is currently in Baghdad", Lieutenant Michael Street, a US military spokesman, told the AFP news agency.

'Considerable credit'

Bush issued a statement on Tuesday praising Fallon despite the reported rift.

"Admiral Fallon's job has been to help ensure that America's military forces are ready to meet the threats of an often troubled region of the world, and he deserves considerable credit for progress that has been made there, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan," he said.

Gates said he approved Fallon's request to retire with "reluctance and regret".

Fallon, 63, who has served in the US navy for 41 years, became head of US Central Command (Centcom) in March 2007, replacing General John Abizaid, who retired.

He was previously head of US Pacific Command.

The Esquire article said Fallon's reported disagreements with Bush over his policy on Iran could lead to his dismissal in favour of someone "more pliable".

It also said that, were this to happen, it could be taken as a sign that Bush and Cheney intended to take military action against Iran "before the end of this year and don't want a commander standing in their way".

The Esquire article quoted Fallon as saying in an interview on Al Jazeera in September last year: "This constant drumbeat of conflict ... is not helpful and not useful. I expect that there will be no war, and that is what we ought to be working for. We ought to try to do our utmost to create different conditions."

But Gates dismissed the magazine's claims as "ridiculous".

He said Fallon had made the decision to retire of his own volition.

"I think this is a cumulative kind of thing," he said in reference to the circumstances around Fallon's decision to quit.

"It isn't the result of any one article or any one issue."

Philip Crowley, a former Pentagon spokesman and defence analyst at the Centre for American Progress, told Al Jazeera the resignation could also be a sign of tensions within the US military.

"Fallon has clashed with General Petraeus [the commander of US forces in Iraq] over the relative importance of Iraq as a mission and Afghanistan as a mission.

"There is tension here. We are out of good options in the Middle East. They can't agree to disagree on where to put the weight of emphasis."

Replacement named

Lieutenant-General Martin Dempsey, Fallon's deputy at Central Command, was named to replace the admiral when he leaves at the end of the month.

Fallon's departure comes as the Pentagon prepares to make recommendations on the scope of any possible reduction in US troop numbers in Iraq.

Gates said the review was "well advanced" and he was confident it would be completed before Fallon leaves, so it "will represent his views".

The US and other Western powers have accused Iran of attempting to develop nuclear weapons, but Iran rejects the accusations, saying their programme is solely for peaceful purposes.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

'Far too much talk of war'

Excerpts from Admiral William Fallon's interview to Al Jazeera in September 2007.

Al Jazeera: Is there a coming war on Iran?

Fallon: No, I certainly hope not. It is my belief that today, there is far too much talk of war and not enough talk about moving things forward in this region and taking care of the many needs of the people that I have seen through my visit here.

This constant drumbeat of conflict is one that strikes me as not helpful, not useful for the people, and I wish we could get moving to things that are more constructive for the region.

Al Jazeera: It's good to hear this from a military man, yet politicians are saying different things.

Fallon: Well, everyone is saying something. There are comments and quotes everywhere. There are things that have been attributed to me when I came to this region to do this job six months ago. There were people who said, Oh we know the reason Fallon is coming ... he's a navy guy ... he is used to flying carrier jets. And that must be the reason.

That is not the reason at all.

My view is that Iran, and the challenge that Iran presents in this region, is just of many things that when taken together, tend to cause conflict and tend to make people feel unsure, nervous, and anxious. This is not the atmosphere that I think we need to have in this region.

It's been my experience throughout the world that people throughout, no matter where they are from, whatever region, despite there skin colour and religion, the vast majority of people want the same thing.

They want stability and security ... they want a better life for themselves ... . They want to be able to raise their children to have things that maybe they don't have.

They really want live in peace with their neighbours. And that is, in fact, the mission of my command. It is to work with other nations in the region to set the conditions for peace and stability so the people can enjoy it.

It's been my experience that to make progress in economic terms, political terms and development you have to have security and stability. That is one thing the military can do; we can help provide this atmosphere of stability.

But what good is it if you do not have the other developments to go with it?

On the other hand, if you do not have stability and security, I find it is mission impossible to build upon something.

Al Jazeera: There are claims that you said 'the war on Iran will not happen during my time'. Does this mean that it will happen after you leave?

Fallon: Well, first of all I did not say that. But as I indicated to you in my first answer, it is certainly my hope and expectation that there is no war and that is what we ought to be working for. We ought to find ways in which we can get countries to sit together for the benefit of everyone involved. So whether now or in the future, war is not a good idea."

From the March 12, 2008 edition -

U.S. sees long fight to oust Al Qaeda in Mosul

American soldiers say the battle for the northern Iraqi city is a complicated mix of counterterrorism, economic incentives, and political solutions.

By Sam Dagher
Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor
Mosul, Iraq

US and Iraqi troops are now repairing breaches in an earthen berm, a 20-foot high barricade built around this northern city in 2004. It's perhaps the most visible part of a grinding fight for control of the last supposed urban stronghold of Al Qaeda in Iraq.

Baghdad and other parts of Iraq still face sporadic insurgent attacks – as they have in recent days. But in Mosul, the thump of explosions is almost as much a part of the daily soundtrack as cars honking. The city averages 60 to 80 roadside bombs – exploded or found – per week.

US officers here acknowledge that security is the No. 1 priority. But they quickly add that talk of a decisive battle in Mosul is misguided. This, they say, will be a protracted struggle in which US soldiers juggle an array of complicated tasks related to counterterrorism, economics, and politics. "In Mosul, based on what we have done in three months, we are at a turning point ... we need to be here long enough to build basic capacity in the government and basic systems in the [Iraqi] military," says Lt. Col. Bob Molinari.

While the US is spending $7 million to repair the Mosul embankment and add checkpoints along the barrier, it also plans more permanent US-Iraqi security stations, or garrisons, inside some of the city's toughest neighborhoods in addition to the 20 that are already in place.

But as Iraqi military and civilian leaders look on, they say that the security improvements alone will not end the cycle of violence in Mosul. A political solution is needed, they say, to end the struggle for power between ex-Saddam Hussein loyalists and newly powerful Kurds and Shiites. It's a solution, many hope, that will ultimately help drive Al Qaeda in Iraq elements from the city.

Political tinderbox

Nineveh Province is home to nearly 3 million people, half of whom live in the capital, Mosul. At least 60 percent are Sunni Arab with the rest divided among Kurds, Kurdish-speaking Yazidis, Christians, and other minorities. One Sunni Arab politician estimates that nearly 100,000 members of the former Iraqi Army are in Mosul.

This ethnic and religious mix continues to fuel Mosul's volatility and has turned the city into a political tinderbox.

Brig. Gen. Noureddin Tatarkhan, a Kurdish leader of the elite peshmerga unit here, now officially part of the Iraqi Army division stationed in Mosul, says Al Qaeda and its affiliate, the Islamic State of Iraq, continue to find a common cause with former regime elements and other insurgent groups like the Islamic Army by lumping the Americans, Kurds, and those supporting the Shiite-led government together as one enemy. He says this message continues to have an impact on many average citizens.

In a statement posted on its website last week, the Islamic Army – believed to be made up mostly of former regime elements – lamented the recent killings of two of its Mosul-based leaders, identified as Abu Fatima and Abu Ibrahim, at the hands of Al Qaeda in Iraq and called on its followers not to be distracted by this and to instead "focus all their energies on hitting the enemy: the Americans and the Shiites and peshmerga forces collaborating with them."

Indeed, the animosity toward Kurds, who some charge are trying to gain a foothold in the city, runs deep among many Sunni Arabs.

Osama al-Nujaifi, a member of the Iraqi parliament who is a Sunni Arab from Mosul, claims that "90 percent of the present resistance would die out if the peshmerga left Mosul," accusing General Tatarkhan's men of "committing unspeakable abuses" against Sunnis. "Kurdish parties want to take over Mosul, and we will confront them."

But Nineveh Province's deputy governor, Khasro Goran, says his fellow Kurds have a historic presence in the city, mainly on the east side. And, he says, nearly 1,600 Kurds in this area alone have been killed since 2003 and an estimated 100,000 have been forced to flee to the neighboring semiautonomous Kurdistan region.

Thafer Issam, a Kurd born in Mosul, fled two years ago to Kurdistan's capital, Arbil, and says he's too "terrified" to return.

Three years ago, mainly Sunni Arab western Mosul was regarded as the most violent part of the city, but many parts of the east side have now matched that description. Several bombed structures are completely on the ground, graffiti glorifying the Islamic State is seen everywhere, and public buildings there are ringed with both concrete and earthen barricades. A major bridge and many streets in the center are cut off to vehicle traffic for fear of car bombings.

In an effort to dispel rumors on the street, especially among Sunni Arabs, that Kurds were behind a high-profile bombing in January that killed almost 60 people, Maj. Gen. Riad Jalal, a Sunni Arab ex-Army officer and ranking member of the former ruling Baath Party, gathered local media to parade in front of them three men who allegedly carried out the attack.

Cameras rolled as the men, including the owner of a popular local teahouse, confessed their guilt and expressed their regret in the presence of General Jalal's US military advisers.

Iraqi reporters seemed skeptical about the men's guilt, but their prodding questions were met with this comment from the general: "Leaders do not bother with details."

When told that Mosul's residents were growing skeptical of his ability to restore security in the city, especially given the fact that the much-touted "decisive battle" against Al Qaeda in Iraq never materialized, he said, "There is no military operation in the traditional sense in Mosul because the enemy is amongst our sons and brothers, taking advantage of social and religious sympathies.... The terrorists are like an octopus."

Despite doubts by residents and political leaders alike about his abilities, the US has embraced Jalal, appointed in January by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to coordinate the activities of the Iraqi Army, police, and border guard in the province, as a "bright hope" in the city.

But the US military says the January explosion, which blew up dozens of 55-gallon drums of ammonium nitrate stored in a warehouse basement here, was an accident, triggered when an Iraqi explosives expert accompanying a contingent headed by Tatarkhan detonated a small amount of explosives at the warehouse, not knowing what was stored in the basement.

Economic development

The US military says another crucial piece of the puzzle in Mosul is employing military-age males and providing basic services to residents.

On Saturday, Iraq's Minister of Planning and Development Ali Baban came to Mosul to survey the province's economic needs. They are staggering and range from chronic power shortages, destroyed highways and roads, overflowing sewers, and insufficient schools. The province does not get its fair share of fuel and food rations from the central government due to chronic inefficiencies and corruption.

Add to this the threat that a major dam in the area is in danger of collapsing and flooding big parts of the province. The cost of repair ranges from $2 billion to $6 billion, according to Mr. Goran.

"There is no question I support the resistance," says Taha Khalaf, a Sunni Arab resident of the violence-ravaged west side.

"I live on 'death road' and my neighborhood looks like it was hit by an earthquake. I do not have a job and the Americans run our provincial government."

The US military is not only having to combat Al Qaeda in what's described as its last urban stronghold, but it's also building residents' trust in their own government and security forces, pressuring Baghdad to spend money on the provision of the most basic services, easing bubbling sectarian and ethnic tensions and preventing the province from bursting at the seams by cracking down on the flow of fighters through the Syrian border and forging alliances with tribes in outlying areas.

All of this takes place in a city where no day goes by without attacks against Iraqi and coalition forces, kidnappings, and assassinations.

On Tuesday nine people including four policemen were killed in an attack on a checkpoint in the city and a prominent academic escaped an assassination attempt. A police station was leveled in a bombing on Friday that killed four, and eight Kurds were assassinated on the city's east side last week.

'Shuttle diplomacy'

The US military has been working on easing political as well as ethnic and sectarian tensions through what it calls "shuttle diplomacy."

It recently flew Goran, who also heads the Nineveh branch of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), and other provincial officials to meet with Sheikh Abdullah al-Yawar, a powerful chieftain from the powerful Shammar tribe at his fiefdom in Rabiah in western Mosul near the Syrian border.

The US needs the sheikh's support to win his people away from Al Qaeda's sway. It also needs to maintain good relations with Kurds. But a bitter disagreement between the two camps illustrates the difficulties that America faces in appeasing all sides in Iraq.

Goran says 90 percent of the residents of the district of Sinjar, nearly 70 miles west of Mosul, are Kurdish-speaking Yazidis who must be given the option to join Kurdistan in a referendum mandated by the Constitution. The Yazidis were victims of devastating bomb attacks in Sinjar that killed nearly 500 people last summer. Tal Afar, halfway between Sinjar and Mosul, has been the scene of bloody sectarian battles between its Sunni and Shiite residents.

The sheikh says the Kurds are "dreaming" if they think they will get Sinjar and he hopes that Sunni Arabs who, in sharp contrast to Kurds, shunned local elections here in January 2005 will have a chance to assert "their rights" in the next round of voting.

Goran, however, is hopeful that the US can help broker some kind of deal. "We must find solutions to these problems and secure everyone's rights. We must not be afraid."

1 comment:

Pan-African News Wire said...

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

U.S. troops among 42 killed in Iraq

3 American soldiers, 16 bus passengers die in blasts on deadliest day in a half-year for military.

Bradley Brooks / Associated Press

BAGHDAD -- Violence killed at least 42 people Tuesday, including 16 bus passengers caught in a roadside bombing in southern Iraq, after the deadliest day for U.S. troops in precisely six months.

The U.S. military said three American soldiers were killed in a roadside bombing north of Baghdad on Monday, bringing to eight the number of troops who died that day. The last time so many U.S. military personnel were killed in Iraq was Sept. 10, when 10 died.

Bloodshed has increased recently, despite what the military said has been a 60 percent drop in attacks across Iraq since June. Last Thursday, two massive bombs killed 68 people in Baghdad's Karradah neighborhood. On March 3, two car bombings killed 24 people in the capital.

According to an Associated Press count, at the height of unrest from November 2006 to August 2007, on average approximately 65 Iraqis died each day as a result of violence. As conditions improved, the daily death toll steadily declined. It reached its lowest point in more than two years on January 2008, when on average 20 Iraqis died each day.

Those numbers have since jumped. In February, approximately 26 Iraqis died each day as a result of violence, and so far in March, that number is up to 39 daily.

These figures reflect the months in which people were found, and not necessarily -- in the case of mass graves -- the months in which they were killed.

Military spokesman Rear Adm. Gregory Smith said Sunday that recent violence should not be taken as evidence of "an increase or a trend of an increase."

"I think we need to continue to look at historically what has happened over the last year to really put in perspective a one-week or two-weeks' worth of activity inside Baghdad," Smith said.

While al-Qaida in Iraq is Sunni, Shiite extremists with alleged ties to Iran are also believed to have carried out attacks.

In an interview with CNN Tuesday, Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said he was in favor of substantive discussions with Iran about what the U.S. claims is Tehran's continued funding and training of extremists in Iraq. Petraeus said he did not meet with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during his visit to Iraq last week.