Friday, March 28, 2008

US War Bulletin: Who Dies in Iraq?; Patraeus Lies Collapse; No Water in Basra; Curfew Imposed in Capital; NATO Bombs Afghans, etc.

US death toll in Iraq is 'mostly white and poor'

By Ian Bruce

Mar. 27- The 4000 US soldiers killed in Iraq in the past five years were predominantly white and more than one in three came from poor southern states, according to a casualty analysis carried out by The Herald.

Almost one in 10 of the dead were officers, with a heavy toll of captains and lieutenants leading their men from the front. Overall, 97% of them died after the official "end" of hostilities in May 2003.

The fatalities also included 40 Native American tribesmen and 44 Pacific islanders.

The 36% of southern boys came from small towns such as Bauxite, Arkansas. There were also losses from Glasgow, Kentucky, and Midlothian, Virginia.

Texas was hardest hit of the old Confederate states, losing 371 dead and 2840 wounded, but California suffered 429 deaths, the highest number of fatalities from any home state.

By ethnic group, the dead were 75% white, 11% Latino and 9% black. Between 40% and 55% were killed by roadside bombs, although rocket-propelled grenades and gunfire accounted for many of the 137 who fell during the assault on the insurgent-held city of Falluja in November 2004.

US special forces also took heavy losses. Although the Pentagon does not comment on clandestine operations, two naval commanders, five lieutenant-commanders and 52 petty officers -- most believed to be members of the US Navy Seals -- have been killed.

Four colonels and 14 lieutenant-colonels from the army and Marine Corps were the most senior officers to die, joined by 36 majors and several hundred platoon and company commanders.

The vast majority of losses were in the 20 to 30 age group, with just 83 of the total aged over 45 and only 33 aged 18.

Despite the prohibition on women in combat, there were 98 female deaths, mainly in support units. The mortality rate for women soldiers is 2% of those given Iraq duty.

A US officer with Iraq experience said on Mar. 26: "You'll find that the backbone of the US Army has long been poor, white and southern. Small-town rural Dixie has always been a prime recruiting area because there's a shortage of jobs and southerners have a proud military tradition. Sadly, that translates into casualties."

Source: Herald (UK)

Sadr offensive shows failure of Petraeus strategy

By Gareth Porter

Mar. 26- The escalation of fighting between Mahdi Army militiamen and their Shiite rivals, which could mark the end of Moqtada al-Sadr's self-imposed ceasefire, also exposes Gen. David Petraeus's strategy for controlling Sadr's forces as a failure.

Petraeus reacted immediately to Sunday's rocket attacks on the Green Zone by blaming them on Iran. He told the BBC the rockets were "Iranian provided, Iranian-made rockets," and that they were launched by groups that were funded and trained by the Quds Force of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Petraeus said this was "in complete violation of promises made by President [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad and other most senior Iranian leaders to their Iraqi counterparts."

Petraeus statement was clearly intended to divert attention from a development that threatens one of the two main pillars of the administration's claim of progress in Iraq -- the willingness of Sadr to restrain the Mahdi Army, even in the face of systematic raids on its leadership by the US military and its Iraqi allies.

The rocket attacks appear to have been one of several actions by the Mahdi Army to warn the United States and the Iraqi government to halt their systematic raids aimed at driving the Sadrists out of key Shiite centers in the south.

They were followed almost immediately by Mahdi Army clashes with rival Shiite militiamen in Basra, Sadr City and Kut and a call for a nationwide general strike to demand the release of Sadrist detainees.

Even more pointed was a strong warning from Sadr aide Abdul-Hadi al-Mohammedawi to the United States as well as to the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), whose Badr Organisation militiamen, in the uniforms of Iraqi security forces, have targeted the Madhi Army throughout the south.

"They don't seem to realize that the Sadrist trend is like a volcano," he told worshippers Friday in Kufa. "If it explodes, it will crush their rotten heads."

The signs that the Madhi Army will no longer remain passive mark a major defeat for the US military command's strategy aimed at weakening the Mahdi Army.

When he took command in Iraq in early 2007, Petraeus recognized that the US occupation forces could not afford to wage a full-fledged campaign against the Mahdi Army as a whole. Instead it adopted a strategy of dividing the Sadrist movement.

Petraeus and the ground commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, hoped that there were leaders in the Sadrist movement who would be willing to give up further military resistance and accept the US occupation and the existing government.

For months, the command tried to generate a "dialogue" with "moderates" in the Sadrist camp. It issued a series of statements hailing Sadr's willingness to change the purpose of his movement.

Most recently, on Jan. 17, Odierno said, "I believe he is trying to move forward with more of a religious organization and get away from a militia type-supported organization." But he admitted, "That could change."

Meanwhile, Petraeus targeted selected elements of the Mahdi Army in raids in Sadr City and the Shiite south, portraying its targets as "criminals" and "rogue elements" which had broken away from Sadr and were armed, trained and financed by Iran. Odierno suggested in his Jan. 17 press briefing that such renegade groups were causing "the majority of the violence."

But the "moderate" Sadrists who would be willing to make a deal with the US never materialized. Last July, a US commander in Baghdad claimed that Sadrist representatives had initiated "indirect" talks with the US military.

But in January, Odierno would say only that they had been meeting with "local leaders" in Sadr City, not with representatives of the Sadrist movement.

The Mahdi Army's blunt warnings of military countermeasures followed months of raids against Sadr's political-military organization by both US forces and the Badr Organization. According to a senior Sadrist parliamentarian, between 2,000 and 2,500 Mahdi Army militiamen had been detained since Sadr declared a ceasefire last August.

The raids have been aimed at weakening the Madhi Army's political hold on Shiite cities in anticipation of eventual provincial elections.

During 2007 there were signs of strong support for Sadr in Najaf, Basra and Karbala, as Sudarsan Raghavan reported in the Washington Post last December. In Najaf, portraits of Sadr and his father, Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq Sadr, who was assassinated by Saddam Hussein's security forces in 1999, had "mushroomed defiantly in the streets."

Sadr's image had also been "pervasive" in Karbala, according to Raghavan, until security forces loyal to the ISCI arrested more than 400 of Sadr's followers in an obvious effort to destroy its organization in the city.

For months Sadr had refrained from authorizing a full-fledged response to such attacks on his forces. But Tuesday an officer at Sadr's headquarters in Najaf said the Mahdi Army should be prepared to "strike the occupiers" as well as the Badr Organization.

Revealing the contradictions built into the US position in Iraq, even as it was blaming Iran for the alleged renegade units of the Mahdi Army, the US was using the Badr Organization, the military arm of the ISCI, to carry out raids against the Mahdi Army.

The Badr Organization and the ISCI had always been and remained the most pro-Iranian political-military forces in Iraq, having been established, trained and funded by the IRGC from Shiite exiles in Iran during the Iran-Iraq War.

It was the ISCI leader Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim who had invited two IRGC officers to be his guests in December 2006, apparently to discuss military assistance to the Badr Organization. The Iranian officials were seized in the home of home of Hadi al-Ameri, the leader of the Badr Organization and detained by the US military. The Bush administration continued throughout 2007 to cite those Iranian visitors as evidence of the IRGC's illicit intervention in Iraq.

But the Badr Organization had become the indispensable element of the Iraqi government's security forces, who could be counted on to oppose the Mahdi Army in the south. And in a further ironic twist, it was the leaders of the ISCI and of the Nouri al-Maliki government, which depended on Iranian support, who insisted last summer and fall that the United States should credit Iran with having prevailed on Sadr to agree to a ceasefire. The close collaboration of the US command with these pro-Iranian groups against Sadr appears to be the main reason for the State Department's endorsement of that argument last December.

The Petraeus assertion that the rocket attacks on the Green Zone were Iranian-inspired strongly implied that Iran is still providing arms to Shiite militias. However, Odierno told a press briefing in mid-January, "We are not sure if they're still importing [sic] weapons into Iraq."

That admission came only after many months in which US officers in the border provinces were unable to find any evidence of arms coming across the border from Iran.

Those officers also found no trace of the alleged presence of the IRGC personnel in Iraq. Last November, the French weekly news magazine Le Point quoted Maj. Scott A. Pettigrew, the military intelligence chief in Diyala province on the Iranian border, as saying, "I have never seen any activity or presence of the Quds Force. I see nothing here that resembles a proxy war with Iran."

Source: Inter Press Service

Basra crisis leaves British withdrawal in ruins

By James Hider, Michael Evans and Richard Beeston

Mar. 28- Plans to bring home 1,600 troops from Iraq this spring are in disarray, British Ministry of Defense (MoD) officials said on Mar.27.

The admission came as the Iraqi government's offensive against Shia militias in Basra appeared to be failing.

The rebels ignored a deadline to disarm and intense fighting in the city raised the possibility that British forces could be asked to re-engage on the front line.

Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi Prime Minister, had flown to Saddam Hussein's former palace in central Basra to take personal control of the offensive, led by 30,000 Iraqi troops backed by paramilitary police.

But reports from the city suggested that the Iraqi forces had failed to make any significant inroads. As the deadline for disarmament passed, Iraqi police were defecting to the militia ranks.

The Iraqi government's difficulties leave Britain facing one of its toughest challenges since the invasion five years ago.

British MoD officials admitted that they were no longer thinking about cutting troop numbers to 2,500 from the spring, as had been outlined by Prime Minister Gordon Brown in a statement to the Commons last October. "Any plans for a reduction of British troops is off the table for the time being," a senior Whitehall source said.

Officials insisted that so far British forces were providing support only in the form of air cover and logistics support—including 19 liaison officers in Basra city — but did not rule out sending a small force to help the Iraqis if requested by the authorities in Baghdad.

Al-Maliki had hoped to lead his army to victory in Shia militia strongholds in Basra, Iraq's oil city in the south. Instead, Iraq's Shia prime minister was left with the prospect of disaster as district after district of his own capital fell to the rival Mahdi Army.

Residents of Basra complained that water and electricity had been turned off in the three main areas besieged by the Iraqi Army. Estimates of the death toll in Basra are as high as 200, with hundreds more wounded.

Under present strategy, the 4,100 British troops still in Iraq are supposed to remain at their base at the airport northwest of Basra and join the Iraqi forces in a security operation only when requested.

No such request has been made and a source in Basra said there was not expected to be any call for help during the present operation.

Source: Times (UK)

Iraqi police in Basra shed their uniforms, kept their rifles and switched sides

By James Hider

Mar. 28- Abu Iman barely flinched when the Iraqi government ordered his unit of special police to move against al-Mahdi Army fighters in Basra.

His response, while swift, was not what British and US military trainers who have spent the past five years schooling the Iraqi security forces would have hoped for. He and 15 of his comrades took off their uniforms, kept their government-issued rifles and went over to the other side without a second thought.

Such turncoats are the thread that could unravel the British Army's policy in southern Iraq. The British military hoped that local forces would be able to combat extremists and allow their army to withdraw gradually from the battle-scarred and untamed oil city that has fallen under the sway of Islamic fundamentalists, oil smugglers and petty tribal warlords. But if the British taught the police to shoot straight, they failed to instill a sense of unwavering loyalty to the state.

"We know the outcome of the fighting in advance because we already defeated the British in the streets of Basra and forced them to withdraw to their base," Abu Iman told The Times.

"If we go back a bit, everyone remembers the fight with the US in Najaf and the damage and defeat we inflicted on them. Do you think the Iraqi Army is better than those armies? We are right and the government is wrong. [Nouri al] Maliki [the Iraqi Prime Minister] is driving his government into the ground."

The reason for his apparent switch of sides was simple: the 36-year-old was already a member of the al-Mahdi Army which, like other militias, has massively infiltrated the British-trained police force in the southern oil city. He claimed that hundreds of others from the 16,000-strong force have also defected to the rebels' ranks. Abu Iman joined the new Iraqi police force after the invasion, joining the Mugawil, a special police unit infamous for brutality, kidnapping and sectarian murders.

"We already heard two weeks ago that we were going to attack the Mahdi Army, so we were ready," he said. "I decided to take off my uniform and join my brothers and friends in the Mahdi Army. All these years, we were like a scream in the face of the dictator and the occupation."

He said: "I joined the police because I believed we have to protect Basra and save it with our own hands. You can see we were the first fighters to take on Saddam and his regime, the best example being the Shabaniya uprising."

Abu Iman said that the fighting raging in Basra was intense because the al-Mahdi Army was operating on its own turf. He was confident that the Shia militia would prevail because its cause was just.

"The Iraqi Army is already defeated from within. They come to Basra with fear in their hearts, knowing they have to fight their brothers, the sons of Iraq, because of an order from Bush and his friends in the Iraq government. For this reason, all of the battles are going in the Mahdi Army's favor."

Major-General Abdelaziz Moham-med Jassim, the director of operations at the Ministry of Defense, played down reports of defections in the Basra police force. "The problem of one policeman doesn't make up for the whole of the force," he said.

In recent months Major-General Abdul Jalil Khalaf, Basra's police chief, has tried to shake up the force and drive out militia infiltrators, who have wrought havoc in the past, often turning police stations into torture cells in which factions settled vendettas and power struggles with murder and abuse. But he only narrowly escaped an assassination attempt on Mar. 27 when a suicide car bomb attack in Basra killed three of his policemen. A local tribal leader said the police directorate building was later gutted by fire.

Source: Times (UK)

'Pressing need' for drinking water in Basra as curfew bites

Mar. 26- Life in Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, has been paralyzed by a large-scale government military operation against militiamen of the Mahdi Army led by Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, Mahdi al-Tamimi, head of the city's Human Rights Office said on Mar. 25.

The Iraqi government imposed an indefinite curfew at dawn that day. No one is allowed between neighborhoods and there are checkpoints in place to ensure this.

"The most pressing need is drinking water, as Basra residents depend on bottled mineral water because they do not drink tap water -- first because of contamination and second because of its high salinity," al-Tamimi said.

"This is a catastrophe that could lead to a huge problem as we are entering summer and, of course, if it continues like this, it will lead to waterborne diseases including diarrhea," he said.

"All aspects of life have been paralyzed with the closure of schools, government offices and markets due to clashes that have forced people indoors with not enough food as there was no prior notice for this operation," said al-Tamimi.

IDPs affected

Al-Tamimi said the curfew and continuing street clashes meant residents could not get to hospitals for treatment and aid operations had been suspended, especially for internally displaced persons (IPDs).

Basra is home to 5,707 displaced families, about 34,172 individuals, most of whom live in makeshift camps, according to figures from the Iraqi Red Crescent Society (IRCS) on Jan. 27.

"I call upon the government to allow our teams at least to help distribute drinking water and to help and protect all humanitarian teams to do their normal work in helping displaced families," Al-Tamimi said.

On Feb. 22, al-Sadr announced a six-month extension to his militia's unilateral cease-fire in a move that was widely seen as designed to improve security in war-torn Iraq.

"This [the military crackdown] could break the cease-fire," said Hazim Yassin al-Saffar, a Basra-based political analyst. "It is clear the government has not realized that this [Sadrist] trend has deep roots in Iraqi society and cannot be treated like this," said al-Saffar, who lectures in international law at the University of Basra.

Source: UN Integrated Regional Information Networks

NPR News: National Pentagon Radio?

By Norman Solomon

Mar. 27- While the Iraqi government continued its large-scale military assault in Basra, the NPR reporter's voice from Iraq was unequivocal this morning: "There is no doubt that this operation needed to happen."

Such flat-out statements, uttered with journalistic tones and without attribution, are routine for the US media establishment. In the "War Made Easy" documentary film, I put it this way: "If you're pro-war, you're objective. But if you're anti-war, you're biased. And often, a news anchor will get no flak at all for making statements that are supportive of a war and wouldn't dream of making a statement that's against a war."

So it goes at NPR News, where — on "Morning Edition" as well as the evening program "All Things Considered" — the sense and sensibilities tend to be neatly aligned with the outlooks of official Washington. The critical aspects of reporting largely amount to complaints about policy shortcomings that are tactical; the underlying and shared assumptions are imperial. Washington's prerogatives are evident when the media window on the world is tinted red-white-and-blue.

Earlier this week — a few days into the sixth year of the Iraq war — "All Things Considered" aired a discussion with a familiar guest.

"To talk about the state of the war and how the US military changes tactics to deal with it," said longtime anchor Robert Siegel, "we turn now to retired Gen. Robert Scales, who's talked with us many times over the course of the conflict."

This is the sort of introduction that elevates a guest to truly expert status — conveying to the listeners that expertise and wisdom, not just opinions, are being sought.

Siegel asked about the progression of assaults on US troops over the years: "How have the attacks and the countermeasures to them evolved?"

Naturally, Gen. Scales responded with the language of a military man. "The enemy has built ever-larger explosives," he said. "They've found clever ways to hide their IEDs, their roadside bombs, and even more diabolical means for detonating these devices."

We'd expect a retired American general to speak in such categorical terms — referring to "the enemy" and declaring in a matter-of-fact tone that attacks on US troops became even more "diabolical." But what about an American journalist?

Well, if the American journalist is careful to function with independence instead of deference to the Pentagon, then the journalist's assumptions will sound different than the outlooks of a high-ranking US military officer.

In this case, an independent reporter might even be willing to ask a pointed question along these lines: You just used the word "diabolical" to describe attacks on the US military by Iraqis, but would that ever be an appropriate adjective to use to describe attacks on Iraqis by the US military?

In sharp contrast, what happened during the "All Things Considered" discussion on Mar. 24 was a conversation of shared sensibilities. The retired US Army general discussed the war effort in terms notably similar to those of the ostensibly independent journalist — who, along the way, made the phrase "the enemy" his own in a follow-up question.

It wouldn't be fair to judge an entire news program on the basis of a couple of segments. But I'm a frequent listener to "All Things Considered" and "Morning Edition." Such cozy proximity of world views, blanketing the war maker and the war reporter, is symptomatic of what ails NPR's war coverage — especially from Washington.

Of course there are exceptions. Occasional news reports stray from the narrow baseline. But the essence of the propaganda function is repetition, and the exceptional does not undermine that function.

To add insult to injury, NPR calls itself public radio. It's supposed to be willing to go where commercial networks fear to tread. But overall, when it comes to politics and war, the range of perspectives on National Public Radio isn't any wider than what we encounter on the avowedly commercial networks.


In Iraq, jailed women tell of abuse

Mar. 22- Sad, tired eyes peer out from behind the bars of Kadhimiya Prison. The pleas are desperate: "I swear I am innocent." "The criminal investigators raped us." "I have been here eight months and I have not seen a judge."

Nearly 200 women, some with their toddlers and infants living with them in their cells, are imprisoned in Baghdad's only detention facility for women. Suspected killers bunk with women charged with petty crimes. Some don't know why they were arrested.

"We consider all of them innocent--innocent until proven guilty," said Abdul Qadir, legal advisor to Iraqi Vice President Tariq Hashimi. "They have constitutional rights that should uphold their treatment."

But in a country mired in corruption, the protection of constitutional rights is elusive. Some women report that their lawyers have been shot and killed en route to the prison. Others say judges have been bribed.

A Los Angeles Times review of nearly three hours of video-- shot inside the prison and provided by Hashimi, who is leading a call for protecting prisoners' rights and establishing a credible justice system--suggests the problems are deep-rooted and systemic.

Tales of injustice and inhumane treatment are plentiful in letters from female inmates, and evidence gathered by members of parliament and human rights activists indicates that the problems begin from the moment a woman is detained.

"This is not acceptable in any war in any time," inmate Suad Aziz Abbas, a former elementary school principal with 30 years of government service, says in one of the videos.

She and her daughter, a college student and newlywed, were charged with murder, convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Their arrests came as Abbas was searching for her only son, an oil engineer, who went missing in 2004. She had sought help from the Human Rights Ministry and elsewhere, she said, to no avail.

One woman told Hashimi she confessed to murder because she was tortured by investigators. "They threatened to rape me," she said. "They stripped me naked and they tortured me with electricity and other devices. I admitted it after all this torture."

More often than not, the women have little recourse, said Hania Mufti of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq. "There are numerous complaints and little action," she said. "There still remains very little political will to hold people criminally liable on torture."

In the rare cases in which action is taken, Mufti said, the punishment is administrative, not criminal, such as a suspension or termination of police officials or prison guards.

Under the Iraqi Constitution, detainees must see a judge within 24 hours of their arrest. During that hearing, a judge determines whether to move forward with the charges and the investigation process begins. But it is routinely months or longer before a woman faces a judge to learn her charges, and there are no consequences for missing the 24-hour window.

One detainee said she had been imprisoned for four years without her case going to court, said Amal Qadhi, a member of parliament.

"Her case was theft," Qadhi said. "She was about 25 years old and she committed five suicide attempts because she had been waiting there for far too long."

Source: Los Angeles Times

Terrified Afghanis flee NATO bombings

By Anand Gopal

Mar. 26- Jumakhan Said Muhammad was working on his land when he first heard the planes. "I looked up," the farmer from Musa Qala, in the southern Helmand province, says. "Suddenly a plane flew by and I saw smoke rising from my house, which was down the road."

Muhammad ran towards his home, where dozens of villagers were shouting his name as they surrounded his house. "The house was split in half by the bomb," he recalls. "The walls were collapsed and crumbled. Blood was pouring from my nephew [seven-years-old] like it was water. He had shrapnel in his brain and stomach. I then saw my sister's headscarf peeking out from underneath the rubble and so we raced desperately to save her. When we pulled her out from the wreckage I saw her body -- she was cut completely in half. I started to scream."

Muhammad's sister and nephew are among a steady flow of civilian casualties caused by NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) bombardment, residents say. When such casualties started to rise last year -- bombers destroyed Muhammad's house in November -- coalition forces pledged to change their tactics and ensure that civilians were not caught in such attacks.

But Helmand residents say that they are often still caught in the crossfire and that fighting has been particularly intense in March -- locals claim that aerial bombing killed over 40 civilians in the last two weeks alone.

Helmand residents allege that 13 civilians were killed two weeks ago in a NATO air-strike, and last week lawmaker Nasima Niyazi claimed that dozens of civilians were killed when coalition forces bombed a popular picnic spot in the Sangin district. US-led forces recently admitted to killing six civilians in a house raid in eastern Afghanistan, including two children.

Last week, close to 400 demonstrators gathered near Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand, to protest civilian killings. Protesters claim that NATO soldiers raided a house and killed two people, including a child. One protester asked a local news agency, "We are poor people with no links to militants. Why are troops killing us?"

Fighting has raged in Helmand province for more than two years and has produced a steady exodus of injured and terrified civilians.

Tauskhan Palwesha arrived in Kabul three days ago from the Sangin district, where last year a fire fight broke out between coalition forces and the Taliban. "Bullets were flying past our home," he recalls. "Suddenly a plane flew by and dropped a bomb -- I heard a loud noise and everything around me burst into flames. I looked for my wife and saw that a beam had gone right through her head, spilling her brains onto the floor. My nine-year-old daughter had burns all over her body. When I picked her up I noticed that she was missing an arm."

A leading Afghan NGO reports that close to 2,000 civilians were killed by the fighting and estimates coalition air strikes are responsible for nearly a tenth of these. Analysts say possibly many more deaths go unreported because of the poor security conditions that prevail in the southern provinces. Overall, aid agencies estimate that more than 12,000 people, at least a quarter civilians, have been killed since the start of the war in 2001.

The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), a coalition over 40,000 troops and 40 countries headed by NATO, maintains that it does not deliberately target civilians. "ISAF goes to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties, unlike the Taliban, who have no apparent regard for neither life nor truth," the coalition said recently in a statement.

However, observers say that whether civilians are deliberately targeted or not, the continued civilian killings threaten to alienate Afghans who previously stayed neutral in the fight between ISAF and the Taliban. "There's mounting anger against NATO and US forces," journalist Hamed Asir says. "This will drive people into the hands of the Taliban."

"I never supported the Taliban before," Palwesha says, his face cherry red with anger. "But now I've lost everything. The foreign troops killed my family and destroyed my house."

Palwesha carries with him a wrapped blanket, speckled with faded maroon stains that he says are his daughter's dried blood. Unwrapping the cloth, he unveils a charred stump. "This was part of her bone," he says. "I'm going to take this and drop it on [Afghan President Hamid] Karzai's desk. He has to help me. If he ignores me, I will go to the Taliban. I am ready to die. I am ready to become a suicide bomber because I have nothing left to live for."

Sadeq Mudaber, a senior government official and policy director, says that Karzai recently met with top ISAF commanders to address the issue. Without a good-faith effort to avoid civilian casualties, he says, NATO and the US run the risk of alienating large sections of the population.

"I'm so angry," Muhammad says. "I am angry at the world. NATO should be bringing peace and security. If they can't do that they should leave."

"Otherwise," he adds, "they will become just like the Russians."

Source: Inter Press Service

US gave $300 million Afghan arms contract to 22-year-old with criminal record

By Suzanne Goldenberg

Mar. 28- The Pentagon entrusted a 22-year-old previously arrested for domestic violence and having a forged driving license to be the main supplier of ammunition to Afghan forces at the height of the battle against the Taliban, it was reported on Mar. 28.

AEY, essentially a one-man operation based in an unmarked office in Miami Beach, Florida, was awarded a contract worth $300 million to supply the Afghan army and police in January last year. But as the New York Times reported in a lengthy investigation, AEY's president, Efraim Diversoli, 22, supplied stock that was 40 years old and rotting packing material.

"Much of the ammunition comes from the aging stockpiles of the old communist bloc, including stockpiles that the state department and NATO have determined to be unreliable and obsolete, and have spent millions of dollars to have destroyed," the paper said.

The report on AEY was the latest instance of private firms securing lucrative defense contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan under the Bush administration's policy of privatizing growing aspects of the military.

The army suspended AEY from future contracts during the course of the investigation -- although it continues to fill existing orders.

Diversoli told the newspaper his firm had won contracts worth at least $200 million each year since 2004. AEY also supplied weapons to US agencies, and rifles to Iraqi forces.

In 2006, AEY was among 10 firms bidding on a contract to supply 52 kinds of ammunition for the Afghan security forces. But while his business was taking off, Diversoli was accused of violent behavior involving two girlfriends and the parking attendant at his apartment building. In December 2006, Diversoli was charged with battery after beating up the parking attendant, according to the newspaper. Police recovered a forged driving license from Diversoli's flat which led to a separate charge. He entered a program for first time offenders to avoid trial.

AEY's contract was approved weeks later in January 2007, and Diversoli began scouring the globe for suppliers. Diversoli turned to Albania, which had large weapons dumps. However, the New York Times reported that the firm ended up paying for Kalashnikov rounds that were so obsolete that the US and NATO funded programs to see them safely destroyed.

AEY also purchased 9 million cartridges from a Czech citizen who had been linked to illegal arms trafficking to Congo.

At first, the Pentagon defended its contractor. "AEY's proposal represented the best value to the government," the Army Sustainment Command wrote to the New York Times. Henry Waxman, the member of congress from California who heads the committee on government oversight, said he would conduct hearings into the contract next month.

Source: Guardian (UK)

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