+ From Oct 18th 2005
+ From Jan 19th 2006 -- After the First Full Elections
to DECEMBER 30th -- The Hanging of Saddam Hussein
Updates down the page - latest 31st December 2006
Continued in 2007 at this new location

but summarised here at the end of this file by Ali A Allawi in The Independent
A lot of what he says in retrospect is what I said at the time.
JANUARY 31st 2005
It will not be the purpose of these pages to duplicate the news reports. I think we can now trust the UK media to report the progressive effects of regime change without undermining it by disagreeing with the motives and the methods to the extent that they nullify its intended outcome, which is what they very nearly did and would have done had not the nerve of the people of Iraq and the Coalition forces held firm. So comments will appear here as and when appropriate. Iraq could still tear itself apart. Iraqis will have to make up their minds to share the benefits and responsibilities or suffer the consequences of the failure to do so. It is up to them to choose, between Iraq and a hard place.

Feb 13th 2005
Reuters reports:

While the Shi'ite alliance won most votes, the percentage it received -- 47.6 percent -- was lower than many expected.

A coalition of the two main Kurdish parties won 25.4 percent and a bloc led by Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi got 13.6 percent, figures released by Iraq's Electoral Commission showed.

When in due course a new parliament and government is in place, they will have to decide how to proceed with improving the security situation and eventually enfranchising those who were deterred from voting this time by fear. Some of those abstained because they refuse to take part in elections may change heir mind the next time, but it is essential that general security at the polls is at last as good and hopefully better before a further election is held.

The Shia United Iraqi Alliance party has won a majority of seats in Iraq's new transitional parliament.

The party, which won the 30 January election with 48% of the vote, was allocated 140 seats.

The Kurdish parties, which came second in the poll, have 75 seats and interim PM Iyad Allawi's party gets 40 seats.

The new 275-seat National Assembly will now have to choose a president and two vice-presidents, who will then decide on a prime minister and cabinet.

Since a 2/3 majority is required to pass new legislation, negotiations on policy  and appointments will still be required between the parties.

MARCH 15th 2005
Italy is pulling out its troops, not surprising after the shooting of their secret service hero by trigger-happy US troops. It is no doubt a terrifying business to stand at a checkpoint in the dark while a car speeds towards you. It may well be that communications are cut to a minimum for security reasons when you are not sure if an Iraqi soldier is secretly a rebel paid by insurgent funds. It may be a risk to let your route be known to anyone in advance. But the fact remains that the Bush administration has made an enemy of a majority of Italian voters, and Berlusconi had to take some action to satisfy emotions. Instead of increasing international involvement on the ground we are seeing a decrease. We have moved closer to a hard place. There will have to be moves made in the opposite direction. Tomorrow we may have a new interim government or, in the lack of agreement, a ceremonial only for the start of a new parliament..

MARCH 18 2006
As yet no agreement on power sharing. It was never going to be easy. There can be no date set for withdrawal of coalition troops until power-sharing has not only been achieved but stabilised. It is too soon to say even if Italy will indeed pull out in September once emotions have cooled. Meanwhile at home in the UK there has been a welcome breath of enlightenment with the broadcasting by Channel 4 TV of "The Government Inspector", a drama based on the experiences of Dr David Kelly.

While the film does not claim to be a documentary, in my opinion it was as near to the truth as it is possible to get in spirit and in detail. There is little room for doubt that neither David Kelly nor BBC political analysts appreciated the truth that was made clear on this web site: that Saddam would play the intelligence game with two hands: one for internal use and one for external. He would make sure that he had no WMD to be discovered, while making it quite sure that he convinced those Iraqis who would attempt to remove him that he most certainly did and would use them to put down any insurrection. To that end he would allow inspections while refusing to allow proof of their destruction and without allowing his scientists to speak in public, or indeed anyone to speak about anything to do with internal politics.

But such was Dr Kelly's experience of being lied to about WMD (he had more experience than anybody) and such was his knowledge of Saddam's terror system that he remained convinced until after the invasion that everything he was being told led to the inescapable conclusion that WMD still existed in Iraq and the programmes were ready to continue as soon as coalition forces withdrew from the area. He was a man who liked to deal in truth. When he was suddenly faced with the fact that the Americans, having decided that once they had rolled out their troops there was no way home till Saddam had been removed (a conclusion Kelly concurred with) and that an absence to prove compliance was evidence of non compliance, Kelly was still outraged that any evidence for WMD that was not in his opinion absolutely sound should be used to for public political purposes. Kelly felt reasonably entitled to speak to journalists as this has always been part of his job. The full reason for his suicide was the only point where the film pulled its punches.

The BBC's utter determination to defend the fine detail of Andrew Gilligan's story led to cast iron claims that the Prime Minister knew that the evidence he was using to declare war was untrue. That he knew it was untrue before it was published. The basis for this was claimed by Gilligan to be Dr Kelly. The irony of his situation was unbelievable. The regime change which Kelly above all, who knew what it was like for technicians, government officials and diplomats in Iraq, knew to be essential, was now about to be put at risk by his own criticism of the coalition's careless use of intelligence that had come from unprofessional sources to bolster public opinion, All this had come about because of the unquenchable hubris of the BBC combined with the actions of the ant-war movement within the corporation. It was clear from the start that whoever the unknown 'source' for Gilligan's story was that his life would be ruined by the BBC's stance. The film did not make this point, and did not show any excerpts from such programmes as Question Time where viewers were asked to choose whether the Government or the BBC were fundamentally dishonest. But nevertheless is was a first class summary of all the other parts of the story and from what we saw it is evident.that Dr Kelly saw no way out.

If it turned out there were no WMD he would be blamed, as he had staked his reputation that there were. If there were none, it also meant there were moments toward the end when he had been used by the Americans, who had sent him to examine areas where they had destroyed evidence of old WMD activities to arouse his suspicions. On the other hand if there were WMD, he was now accused of undermining the process of regime change and it would be discovered that may have lied to the select committee examining the case when he had tried to back down. But then journalists apparently have no duty of care, and there employers can escape by dumping them at the end.

UPDATE MARCH 30th 2005
Today's report from the UN on the health of children in Iraq is not good news. Instead of an improvement since the removal of Saddam, there has been a deterioration, with 1 in 4 children now suffering from malnutrition. There is no doubt that the failure of the different factions to work together (they have not yet been able to agree on a speaker for the new parliament, let alone the senior governmental posts) is a contributing factor to the failure to inspire confidence in those who could begin to rebuild the economy and social security systems. For children, Iraq had moved further to becoming a harder place. Iraqis will have to put aside their differences if they are to turn this around.

We have significant progress. A brave man has already accepted the role as speaker.
The BBC's report:
Hajim al-Hassani may have been voted in as speaker of Iraq's parliament more because of who he is not, rather than who he is.

The grey-bearded 50-year-old took the position reserved for a Sunni Arab by a large majority of 215 votes out of 241 deputies present.

He was one of only two Sunni Arab MPs who were acceptable for the high profile, but largely powerless post.

Leading Iraqis have agreed the line-up of a three-man presidency to be submitted to parliament on Wednesday, senior government sources say.

Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani will be nominated as president, while outgoing President Ghazi Yawer will be one of two vice-presidents, the sources said.

They all deserve our respect and best wishes.

Iraqi Shia leader Ibrahim Jaafari has been named prime minister of the country's new interim government.

He was appointed shortly after Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani was sworn in as Iraq's new interim president.

Outgoing Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has resigned, but will continue his work until Mr Jaafari names his government.

The transitional government's main task will be to oversee the drafting of a permanent Iraqi constitution and to pave the way for elections in December.

Mr Jaafari, 58, is seen as one of Iraq's most popular political figures.

The above appointments represent an improvement on Saddam Hussein, I would have thought.

But....on the other hand

APRIL 13th 2005

Wednesday April 13, 05:02 PM

Iraq violence flares as U.S. official visits

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - A second senior U.S. official made a surprise visit to Iraq on Wednesday as Washington sought to play up Iraq's political transition, but the trip was overshadowed by violence and a U.S. hostage's plea for help.

The American, apparently a contractor kidnapped on Monday, appeared in a video and asked the U.S. government to negotiate with his captors to save his life, al Jazeera television reported.

Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick arrived less than a day after U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld made an unannounced visit and warned Iraq's new leaders against any abuse of office.

Shortly after Zoellick's arrival a bomb blew up near the oil city of Kirkuk as a group of Iraqi guards was trying to defuse it, killing nine and wounding four, the local police chief said.

In Baghdad there was a series of explosions, including a bomb that struck an oil tanker. Another bomb detonated on the road to the airport, wounding seven Iraqis.

The attacks again underscored the security challenges facing Iraq's newly-elected leaders, still deliberating over the formation of a government more than two months after the election.

"We are obviously, in the aftermath of this election, in a key period of political formation," Zoellick told reporters earlier on his military aircraft.

"This is a process of political transition, the formation of Iraqi democracy," he said. Shortly after his arrival in Baghdad, Zoellick travelled to Falluja, west of the capital, the site of some of the worst unrest in Iraq over the past two years.

There he discussed reconstruction with U.S. troops helping rebuild the city after a U.S. offensive last November which left much of it in ruins.

Zoellick, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's deputy, was to meet President Jalal Talabani, Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari and other officials in Baghdad's heavily-fortified Green Zone.


Of the four blasts that struck Baghdad, one was a car bomb targeting a joint U.S.-Iraqi military convoy in the Amiriya district. It seriously wounded four civilians, witnesses and hospital officials said. Three other explosions struck convoys in other parts of the city, including an attack on a U.S. convoy near the airport.

The U.S. military hopes to cut troop numbers in Iraq next year but that will depend on the training of Iraqi security forces, which have lost hundreds in bombings and attacks.

Iraqi troops have made progress against the insurgency since the election and violence appears to have eased but millions of Iraqis who defied suicide bombings to vote want to see the new government do more to end the bloodshed.

Iraqi Vice President Ghazi Yawar said it was time to put aside the official government line that U.S. troops will leave only when Iraqi troops are ready and start discussing a mechanism for their departure when the time is right.

"We can't say that when we have security forces then multinational forces would leave and at the same time we don't work on building these forces," he told Reuters. "I think that in a year we can begin gradually decreasing the number of these forces until they leave because it is not an easy process."


Iraq's leaders will also have to confront rampant crime and an economy largely in ruins. Crime is of particular concern, with gangs responsible for hundreds of kidnappings in the past year.

The American contractor was kidnapped from a reconstruction site near Baghdad on Monday. The video showed the man holding up his passport as armed, masked insurgents stood by. Al Jazeera said the hostage "urged the U.S. administration to open a dialogue with the Iraqi resistance ... to save his life".

More than 150 foreigners and thousands of Iraqis have been abducted in the last year and many of them have been killed.

On his visit, Rumsfeld warned corruption and purges of security forces and ministries could sap the credibility of Iraq's new leaders and undermine the battle against insurgents.

Some fear Iraq's new Shi'ite leaders will purge the interior and defence ministries of Sunni Muslims with experience in security and intelligence.

Yawar was concerned that Sunnis, who gained wide experience in the security and intelligence services under Saddam, would be dismissed in a process called de-Baathification.

"Those who did not commit any crimes in the Baath should be allowed to join but not take sensitive positions in the state."

APRIL 30th 2005 - The insurgents mounted many attacks yesterday after " Iraq's first elected government in modern times, put together by new Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari, has been given a big vote of approval in the recently-elected Iraqi parliament."
On June 5th 2003 - that is nearly 2 years ago - I wrote in a log still available on this site ( see postwar.html ) "Contrary to the title of this page and assertions of various protagonists, the war in Iraq is not over. Saddam's plan to stay alive and fund an army of terrorists (or patriots depending on your point of view, mercenaries or thieves anyway in practically any realistic point of view) is still in operation. They are joined by others with nothing to lose and no place to hope for in a new regime. The truth is that for a great many people there is little alternative."

That remains the case. In spite of the fact that Saddam is in gaol (where he should be) there was no doubt a considerable system of financial support that remains the best or only means of alternative survival for those inside and outside Iraq who were once supported by Saddam and his use of oil revenues.

Now we have a new government in Iraq, but it is still interim and still lacking serious Sunni participation. It seems that only the passage of time, with the exhaustion of both animosities and individuals, not to mention the horrific death of many innocent and guilty players, will bring about an improvement. Even this depends on the concerted efforts of the brave and dedicated Iraqis who are determined that tyranny is not the only way they can live in peace. Saddam modelled himself and his regime on Stalin, and he was proud of it. Stalin is gone, but Russia is still with problems. The legacy of such regimes is that the structure of democracy in the grass roots of society takes generations to establish itself to the extent that democracy can be other than centralised and dictatorial. However, violence of the sort that Iraq is suffering from can be reduced if key Sunnis support the new government and take part in further elections.

MAY 11th 2005
Suicide attacks are up to 70 a day, twice the previous monthly averages. This is going to stretch the resolve of Iraqis and call for a proactive approach, with international support, to take tighter control. It should logically lead to developments in strategy, tactics and technology to deal with this type of terrorism, as Iraq is not going to be the only place where these methods, once learned, will be repeated. Wherever there are people without hope, who have lost  their family and property and trade, and there are those to arm them, these attacks can be mounted. At the moment nothing has been discussed in public by way of a solution.

MAY 18th 2005

Robert Scheer Tue May 17, 5:36 PM ET writes in THE NATION:
"A major irony in this tragedy is that, according to a
Washington Post review of Internet postings paying tribute to the suicide-bombing "martyrs" in Iraq, most of the foreign terrorists wreaking mayhem there come from Saudi Arabia, a nation the United States protected from Hussein's army in the Persian Gulf War. Saudi Arabia also was the country of origin of bin Laden and fifteen of the nineteen September 11 bombers."

This is not an irony at all. It was always the aim of these people to overthrow the existing Saudi regime. It was also their aim to oppose American influence in the Middle East. The insurgency is a combination of those with a mission, those full of anger, and those with no other source of employment. The irony is that the US, intending to be the champion of freedom and democracy, for all the right reasons, had a leadership with little knowledge of how freedom and democracy can come about and on what these depend, in the different nations and geographical regions of the world. The New World experience is as far removed from the old as it is possible to get on this planet.

JUNE 6th 2005
The following report from the BBC will, I hope, recall to readers that I tried to explain a year or so back that Hans Blix could wander around Iraq with his team for the rest of their lives without finding WMD unless they were told exactly where they were,  Many people do not understand this because they are not familiar with the mathematics of geography and geometry and human activity, or with the physical and social realities of Iraq. The extent of the latest discovery, one of 50 in recent days, is said to equal several football pitches. Not that anything like this would be needed to store biological weapons. So, as stated at the start of this saga, the only way Saddam could have complied with the UN resolution was by allowing his officials to speak freely.This he specifically, publicly and privately refused to do. It is only the freedom of speech that has revealed these places.They are never  'discoverable'.  Let us hope this will put an end to the argument that Hans Blix should have been given 'more time'.

US finds 'insurgent lair' in Iraq
American troops in Iraq have discovered a series of underground bunkers used by insurgents, the US military says.

A spokesman said the complex in an abandoned quarry in the restive province of Anbar covered an area the size of four football pitches.

The bunkers are said to contain a large stockpile of weapons and living areas with air conditioning and showers.

Meanwhile, Iraqi authorities said they had arrested an insurgency leader and key al-Qaeda figure in Mosul.

The arms cache was one of 50 found in recent days in Anbar province, west of Baghdad, the spokesman said.

Tips from locals and information from detainees had helped to identify the locations uncovered in the ongoing operation, the spokesman said.

He said nobody was in the underground complex near the town of Karma when it was found.

Inside they discovered weapons, ammunition, black uniforms and ski masks, night vision goggles and fully-charged mobile phones.

The complex also contained four furnished living spaces and a kitchen with fresh food, the spokesman said.

US and Iraqi forces continue to battle insurgents in the vast province following a major assault on rebels in Falluja last November.

JULY  12th 2005
This seems to be a suitable moment to summarise the situation. There can be no question of reducing coalition support for the Iraqi government at this time. All sorts of plans must always be ready should circumstances improve and a troop withdrawal be desired by Iraq to respond to a reduction in violence, but that does not indicate any change in policy which remains the same as ever: to ensure Iraq does not return to tyranny or dissolve in anarchy. Many have given their lives already for a democratic future. One day they must be commemorated with respect and pride in a free an peaceful Iraq. A place that could never find it future via the Saddam dynasty or the political philosophy of George Galloway, however great the errors of Bush and is team in their application of international intervention.

JULY 19th
Here are the had facts that cannot be denied. Including casualties during the invasion itself, the US led Armed Forces have been responsible for 37 percent. But I advise caution. Remember, if the operation had been a total success, coalition forces would be responsible for nearly 100%, if law and order had been successfully imposed and there had been no insurgents and suicide bombers. As it is, the statistics below do not go beyond march. The deaths and damage now are being caused by insurgents. Of course it can be argued that the coalition are responsible jointly, with the interim Iraqi government, for preventing this. Now that we have suffered suicide bombers in London there may be an even greater incentive to find an ingenious method to detect them before they carry out their attack.. At the moment there has been no public hint of any method to do this, but then it goes without saying that such methods will not be discussed in public! Anyway, here is the Reuters report of a joint US-British NGO survey.

Tuesday July 19, 06:14 PM
Iraq war takes heavy toll on civilians-survey

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - U.S.-led forces, insurgents and criminal gangs have killed nearly 25,000 Iraqi civilians, police, and army recruits since the war began in March 2003, according to a survey by a U.S.-British non-government group.

Nearly half the deaths in the two years surveyed to March 2005 were in Baghdad, where a fifth of Iraq's 25 million people live, according to media reports monitored by Iraq Body Count.

Of the total, nearly 37 percent were killed by U.S.-led forces, the group said.

The U.S. military and the Iraqi government disputed the findings. The U.S. military said it did not target civilians.

"We do everything we can to avoid civilian casualties in all of our operations," said Lieutenant Colonel Steve Boylan, a spokesman in Baghdad.

"Since the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom until now, we have categorically not targeted civilians. We take great care in all operations to ensure we go after the intended targets."

The Iraqi government said: "We welcome the attention given by this report to Iraqi victims of violence but we consider that it is mistaken in claiming that the plague of terrorism has killed fewer Iraqis than multi-national forces."

Iraq Body Count said its findings provided "a unique insight into the human consequences of the U.S.-led invasion".

"Leaders who commit troops to wars of intervention have diminishingly few excuses for failing to seriously weigh the human costs," it said in a 28-page dossier.

The numbers included civilians, army and police recruits, and serving police. They do not include serving Iraqi military or combatant deaths, for which there are "no reliable accounts ... either official or unofficial".

The group took its data, including figures showing more than 42,000 civilians were wounded in the same period, from an analysis of more than 10,000 press and media reports.

The death toll almost mirrors a U.N.-funded survey conducted last year, which found some 24,000 conflict-related deaths since the U.S.-led invasion.

Another survey, published in Britain's Lancet medical journal last October, found nearly 100,000 deaths in the 18 months after the invasion, more than half due to violence. These findings were contested by U.S. and British officials.

Since the media in Iraq is forced to focus on Baghdad for security reasons, it is likely that Iraq Body Count's death toll throughout the country is under-estimated.


The survey found that almost a third of civilian deaths occurred during the invasion itself, from March 20 to May 1, 2003, when U.S.-led forces carried out their "shock and awe" bombing campaign on Baghdad.

In the first year after the invasion, around 6,000 civilians were killed, a number that nearly doubled in the second year, indicating a general increase in violence. The group said deaths caused by insurgents and criminals had risen steadily.

U.S.-led forces were found to be chiefly responsible for deaths, with criminals a close second at 36 percent, while insurgents accounted for a surprisingly small 9.5 percent.

That would not appear to tally with the situation on the ground, where insurgent violence is rife. The Iraqi government disagreed with the finding.

"The international forces try to avoid civilian casualties, whereas the terrorists target civilians and try to kill as many of them as they can," it said in a statement, which also provided some government statistics on recorded deaths.

Ministry of Health figures showed 6,629 civilians were killed between April 2004 and April 2005. Ministry of Interior figures, which include armed forces casualties, showed 8,175 Iraqis were killed between July 2004 and May 2005.

The Body Count survey would also appear not to capture the full extent of the devastation caused by insurgent car bombings. Over the past 18 months, hundreds of suicide car bombs have exploded around the country, killing well over 2,000 people.

AUGUST 19th 2005
I will let this AFP report speak for itself. Nobody in their right mind can can want anything but success for the new Iraqi constitution, and the abject failure of the UN to back wholeheartedly the removal of Saddam remains the cause of much of the anarchy in Iraq, yet it was clear from the start that Bush and his administration, even when they are right, were so expert at losing the heats and minds of the International Community and so inadequate in their post-war planning ("We don't do peace") that this disaster was Bush made and managed throughout.

Iraq casts darkening cloud over Bush administration

Fri Aug 19, 1:41 PM ET

WASHINGTON (AFP) - With the US death toll climbing, support at home plunging and a stalemate over a constitution stalling the political process, the war is casting a darkening cloud over George W. Bush's presidency.

The failure of Iraqi negotiators to nail down a charter by last Monday's deadline was only the latest bad news for Bush, who is under mounting pressure to set a timetable for withdrawing the 138,000 US troops in Iraq.

Signs of alarm are now starting to surface within Bush's Republican Party, which is fearful that discontent over the war could loosen, if not threaten, its solid hold over Congress in the November 2006 elections.

Party stalwarts such as Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska have become increasingly outspoken about the administration's policy of toughing it out against an insurgency raging 28 months after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

"The casualties we're taking, the billion dollars a week we're putting in there, the kind of commitment we've got, we're not going to be able to sustain it," Hagel told CNN Thursday. "Public opinion won't allow it."

With US deaths in Iraq rising to 1,850 -- with more than 50 in August alone, making it one of the bloodiest months yet for American troops there -- Bush's popularity has continued to slide in the polls.

Fewer than four in 10 Americans approve of the way he is handling Iraq. Fifty-four percent say the war was a mistake, and 56 percent believe some or all US troops should come home, according to a Gallup poll published last week.

Nine months after winning a second term by a surprisingly convincing margin and spearheading a strong Republican showing in legislative elections, Bush has seen his approval ratings sink to around 45 percent.

And if that was not enough, the president was also seeing the first stirring of a popular peace movement personified by the grieving mother of a slain soldier who camped out near his Texas ranch.

Administration officials insist their steadfastness will bear fruit in Iraq. They claim progress in training local security forces and moving toward full self-rule for the Iraqis as a means of draining support from the insurgents.

The Americans remained relentlessly upbeat even after Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni negotiators could not meet the deadline for drafting a constitution and had to ask for a seven-day extension until this Monday.

They hailed the Iraqis' "heroic efforts" and reported "substantial progress" towards finalizing a charter that must be submitted to a referendum on October 15 ahead of elections for a permanent government in December.

"This is really democracy at work in Iraq," gushed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. "And given where they were just a few years ago, having lived in tyranny for all those decades, this is an extraordinary achievement."

But with the Iraqis still struggling with the issues of federalism, the role of Islam and the distribution of oil revenues, US officials acknowledged that another extension of the deadline might be a political non-starter.

In the absence of an agreement, the parties had two alternatives that were equally problematic.

The majority Shiites and the Kurds could push through their own draft and further enrage the Sunni minority that is the major supplier of manpower for the insurgency.

Or they could throw in the towel and, as required by Iraq's interim law, dissolve the transitional assembly and hold elections for a new provisional body that could herald a new round of political turmoil.

Prospects for replacing American forces with homegrown troops were also murky. Senior military officials have said privately it could take two years or more before the Iraqis would be able to tackle the insurgents alone.

Meanwhile, the insurgency shows no sign of abating in a country that the Americans still consider the central front in the war on terror.

Major General David Rodriguez, commander of US forces in northwestern Iraq, concurred Friday with Iraqi reports that some 150 foreign fighters a month were slipping into Iraq.

Speaking to Pentagon reporters via video link from his base in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, Rodriguez was non-committal when asked about the timing of a US withdrawal.

"I think it's been very, very clear that we'll come home as soon as we can, but not too soon," he said.

AUGUST 26th 2005
Tonight we are told that a compromise has been reached on the proposed constitution.
It is now time to review the opening paragraph of this web page:

On JANUARY 31st 2005 I wrote:
> Iraq could still tear itself apart. Iraqis will have to make up their minds to share the benefits and responsibilities or suffer the consequences of the failure to do so. It is up to them to choose, between Iraq and a hard place.

We now witness Sunni supporters so opposed to the constitution suggested by the Shia and Kurds that they openly call for the return of Saddam Hussein. This is 'where we came in' - a tyranny so severe that public assembly and political discussion was forbidden, imposed by the threat of mass repression and wholesale massacre of those who defied the tyrant,  a tyrant who was poised to become the wealthiest individual on the planet, prevented from genocide of those who now oppose the Sunni hegemony only by unsustainable UN sanctions and allied aerial patrols and bombing.
If more Sunnis has taken part in the last elections, they would now be better able to influence the drafting of the constitution. There is no proof, however, that that would not have led to the same impasse that we have now. But neither is there an alternative to the current assembly coming to a compromise that has to be put to the public in what is, in effect, a referendum. If what is proposed is subsequently rejected by referendum, then there is no constitution and no effective Iraqi government. If that happens, through failure and suffering, while good men continue to work for sanity to prevail, time alone will bring a result. That is what time is for.

SEPTEMBER 1st 2005
Yesterday about 1,000 Iraqis. many of them women and children, died in the chaos of a travelling religious assembly targetted by a few insurgent trouble makers. There had been no sensible planning to marshal crowds on their way to a Shia shrine so as to make such a disaster less likely. Everything possible to make such a catastrophe likely, almost inevitable, had been allowed to happen.
Meanwhile there is continuing news that the American troops continue to lose the battle for hearts and minds in Baghdad. The impression grows that leadership of the west has fallen into the hands of actors whose bluff has been called, while in the ranks below them some fine professionals are losing their footing, let down by the lack of credibility of the figureheads at the top, overwhelmed by the failure of discipline and standards in the ranks and moral compasses that spin wildly in a magnetic field of confused media that mixes fact, fiction, entertainment and survivalist opportunism.
Against this background we have the steady hope of Sir Jeremy Greenstock that Iraqis themselves, Shia and Sunni, can and must still talk through their differences to arrive at a constitution that makes sense and makes peace. I agree with him. But if George Bush thinks putting a bust of Winston Churchill in the room he makes international policy is enough to inspire his troops to take their role as ambassadors for civilisation seriously, he is in for a rude awakening.

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - A suicide bomber lured a crowd of Shi'ite Muslim day labourers to his minivan and blew it up in Baghdad on Wednesday, killing 114 people in the bloodiest of a wave of attacks which killed more than 150 across the capital.

The above spate of attacks is claimed by 'Al Qaida Iraq' to be as revenge for a series of attacks days before by Iraq government forces on insurgent bases. The bomber mentioned above drove his car to where Iraqis were assembling for construction work offers, and pretended to be hiring. When he had collected a crowd, he detonated his van full of explosives. The Iraqi government claims that there will now be a period of calm, and that this is the pattern, but it is not a pattern that can bear repeating - as events in Palestine have proved.

The death ratio of 114-to-1, with many others wounded, is not an acceptable ratio. Logically, any ratio of more than 50-50 to the advantage of an enemy is unacceptable unless it is part of a plan to terminate hostilities. Consequently any elected government in Iraq must come up with a survival plan for its electors or abandon hope. At the moment they are doing neither unless they have information and plans they are not revealing. This is perfectly possible, but not known to the writer at this time.

SEPTEMBER 20th 2005
The incident yesterday reveals 2 things. First, that the Iraqi police force may be seriously infiltrated or terrorised. It is important to realise the huge complexity of connections, interests and survival strategies that surround any individual that joins the police. Second, that the British military are probably only too well aware of this and not sitting on their hands. It is no good trying to second guess the situation from a distance. That there has been trouble is unfortunate but not necessarily an indication that it could, or even should have been avoided. Facts must be faced. Diplomacy is ill used if it covered a festering sore which will destroy all if not dealt with.
SEPTEMBER 21st 2005

Here is a comprehensive and impartial report from Reuters which I am including in full.  We will have to wait for further elucidation.

Iraqi PM to meet Reid after raid

Wednesday September 21, 09:56 AM

BASRA, Iraq (Reuters) - Iraq's prime minister was to meet Defence Secretary John Reid in London on Wednesday with both countries working to quell tension caused by a British military raid that freed two soldiers held by Iraqi militiamen.

Iraq issued a statement saying there was no crisis between its government and Britain, but senior Iraqi officials strongly criticised the raid, with the governor of the southern province of Basra calling it a "barbaric act".

"Both governments are in close contact, and an inquiry will be conducted by the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior into the incident," a statement from Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari's office said. It also urged calm on all sides.

Jaafari, returning from New York, was due to meet Reid in London at 1300 GMT (2:00 p.m. British time).

Reid, under pressure at home over the deployment of 8,500 troops in Iraq and facing calls for a withdrawal timetable, told a domestic newspaper Britain would not "cut and run".

"We do not have designs to stay (in Iraq) as an occupying imperial power. Nor are we going to cut and run because of terrorists," he told the Daily Telegraph.

The diplomatic hitch follows a raid by British forces to free two undercover soldiers who were detained by Iraqi security forces in Basra following a firefight on Monday.

In the raid, British armoured vehicles crushed the walls of an Iraqi jail, before troops sprung the men not from the hands of the Iraqi police, but from militiamen hiding out nearby.

Basra, a Shi'ite city in the far south of Iraq, has seen a surge in militia activity over the past nine months, with rival groups loyal to separate Shi'ite political movements fighting for influence in the security forces and the local council.

The militias are also believed to have carried out attacks on British troops, three of whom have been killed by roadside bombs this month, and on journalists exposing their actions.

Iraqi authorities admitted that insurgents, including members of the militia, had infiltrated the police and other security forces in Iraq's second largest city and elsewhere.

"Our Iraqi security forces in general, and these in particular and in many parts of Iraq, I have to admit that they have been penetrated by some of the insurgents, some of the terrorists as well," National Security Adviser Mowaffaq al-Rubaie told the BBC on Tuesday.

He said he did not know the extent of the infiltration, but said new vetting procedures were in place to weed out bad apples.


British commander Colonel Bill Dunham, the chief of staff for the multinational forces based in Basra, also pointed to security force infiltration as a major problem in the city.

"It is something that affects the Iraqi police across Iraq as a whole," he told BBC Radio.

"We are aware of rogue elements in the Iraqi police service. The trick that we have to pull off now with the Iraqi authorities is to identify those elements, to weed them out and to reinforce the good parts of the Iraqi police service.

On Wednesday, police officers who worked in the station crushed by British forces marched through the streets of Basra in protest, calling for the city police chief to be fired.

Britain has spent the past 2-1/2 years securing Basra and building up its security forces in the expectation that Iraqi forces could take over and allow British troops to withdraw.

The acknowledgment that more than two years' work has essentially failed to produce a functioning police force is likely to provoke anger among Iraqis, whose chief concern has always been security and who want foreign troops to leave.

Reid, echoing past comments by Prime Minister Tony Blair, U.S. President George Bush's main ally on Iraq, said the transformation of the country into a democratic society would not be accomplished without great effort.


Southern Iraq is home to several Shi'ite militias, including one loyal to radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr who fiercely opposes the presence of foreign troops and has led uprisings against the U.S. military. Many Iraqis say the heavily armed militias act with impunity and are not answerable to the central government.

Tensions in Basra had risen on Sunday when British forces arrested three leading members of Sadr's Mehdi Army militia.

The tough British response to the arrest of its undercover soldiers is likely to further strain ties with the Iraqis.

Unrest in the Shi'ite south, home to Iraq's biggest oil reserves, would pile more pressure on the Shi'ite- and Kurdish-led Iraqi government, which is already fighting a Sunni Arab insurgency further north.

Elsewhere in Iraq, violence continued in areas controlled by U.S. forces. Nine Americans, including five troops, were killed in separate attacks west and north of Baghdad. The deaths raised to at least 1,907 the number of U.S. troops to have died in Iraq since the war began.

(Additional reporting by Paul Majendie in London)

[End of Reuters report]

This evening, it seems that as far as the Iraqi PM and the UK Minister of Defence are concerned, the incident is over. As to whether the militia from whom the 2 SAS men were retrieved are part of the Iraqi police force, this appears to be a matter of opinion which is not universally shared between the Iraqi regional governor and the British forces. The Iraqi Interior Minister seems to be caught between the two and saying he is of the opinion that the British commander acted on dubious intelligence. It is going to take some time for the political map to become coherent. Since there is a referendum coming before that will be achieved, security is going to be a headache. No change there then. 

There is something here that it is important for all 'westerners' to understand. Unless you have experienced first hand the violence, ruthlessness and terror that can be visited on innocent, civilized and moderate people by fanatical arabs and other middle-eastern and eastern extremists, it may be hard for you to understand the difficulties that beset those who wish with all their heart to assist the arrival of a democratic state, the rule of law, and a state of affairs that would allow the coalition forces to leave. Centuries of extreme history in an extreme climate have forged, amongst these societies, a pitiless and violent strain where peace is rarely maintained other than as the alternative to apocalyptic retribution. Since we have experienced extraordinary cruelty and violence amongst a proportion of our own people in parts of these islands, in our moderate and temperate climate, we should not be too judgmental on the troubles of those in a region that has suffered environmental and political pressures of much greater magnitude.  Coalition forces are owed our unqualified support. The argument that they are not wanted there by the vast majority of civilised Iraqis is false. The  silent majority are silent for a very good reason - they are in fear of their lives from the minority of homicidal extremists.


Thursday September 22, 12:39 PM

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The Iraqi city of Basra will not cooperate with Britain until it receives an apology and compensation after a British raid to free two soldiers, Basra's governor and other senior officials said on Thursday.

"The governing council met yesterday and decided to stop all cooperation with the British until they meet three demands," Basra governor Mohammed al-Waili told Reuters.

"To apologise for what happened, to guarantee that it does not happen again, and third, to provide some compensation for all the damage they did during the operation," he said.

Waili said the 41-member council had reached its decision by a unanimous vote on Wednesday, although he himself and his deputy were not eligible to vote.

He added that he expected the governing council to meet British military officials on Friday or Saturday.

It would seem likely that compensation will be paid for some, probably all, of the damage caused in this operation. As for the rest, this should be the moment to identify all those who took part in the operation and establish the exact sequence of events, who did what, and why. If at the end of this it is evident that mistakes were made, why should there be any difficulty for those who made them to apologise? SEE OCTOBER 11th

As for guaranteeing that such a thing cannot happen again, that depends on establishing what happened this time and on all concerned signing up to an agreed version of events.

The Reuters report has this:

Iraqi police detained the British undercover soldiers after a firefight on Monday and held them at a central jail. British forces mounted a bid to free them, but were initially repelled as a crowd of angry Iraqis petrol-bombed an armoured vehicle.

Later British forces returned and armoured vehicles broke down the walls of the jail. The two soldiers were later freed from a private house nearby.

Police and witnesses said at least two Iraqis were killed in the violence.

The difference of opinion seems to concern the nature of 'the private house nearby', it's connection to the official Iraqi police force, those who detained the British soldiers and their refusal to comply with instructions from Baghdad to release them in compliance with standing orders.

SEPTEMBER 29th 2005
Leaving the above incident to cool down, I would like to comment on two  things.

First, the decision by an American court today to order the release of more pictures of prisoner abuse - that is to say principally sexual humiliation. It is clear, as I suspected when this matter first arose, that this abuse was permitted under instructions from a very high level. Some seriously unqualified people in military intelligence, having been told torture was not allowed but information was to be extracted, had the unbelievably stupid idea that humiliation could be permitted and was publicly deniable, leaving as it did no marks and perhaps, they were told, not something the prisoners would wish to talk about in public later. I was reminded that that when the British were in Aden trying to keep warring factions apart and control insurgents in the Yemen, the solution to extracting information was to take a prisoner with valuable information out into the desert and bury him up to the neck in the sand. He then had the opportunity to spill the beans or be left there, where the local fauna would wander by and eat them before too long. I am reliably informed they always cooperated and were brought home intact.

The second thing to discuss is General Myers' assertion that what is being done in Iraq is difficult "because it has never been done before." Surely this is true of all great enterprise. The difficulty is that it is being done in the teeth of public opposition at home and abroad because the motives were suspect. Personally I think Blair's actions were honest, and America had nothing to gain financially, so the fact that they are both incompetent in this sort of enterprise is no reason to suspect their motives. The difficulties we are in now have indeed been endured before, and a recent BBC programme about the British retreat from Aden told the story (though without mentioning the technique I outlined above). Towards the end of that saga, all the different factions in the Yemen buried their differences in order to terrorise the British forces and civilians. They even booby-trapped children's toys. They were convinces that if the British (who were governing the land as a protectorate and had killed about 40 people during the period of their rule) were to leave, an era of peace, plenty and national pride would follow, supported by the gallant Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. So at last the British Government gave in to the clamour at home and abroad and left. There followed years and years of civil war, insurgency and terrorism in which thousand upon thousand was slaughtered, revolution succeeded revolution until exhaustion and attrition brought, eventually a sort of relative calm.

What the coalition is now trying to do in Iraq, with the approval of the United Nations, is indeed to do something which difficult: to stay the course and leave behind a democratic state with means to protect and police itself and renew itself through free and fair elections. The certain outcome that would result if we abandon this is what makes it important to stay that course. It is difficult it because it has never been done before, but because it has not had the expertise or the control or the global support it should have done.

OCTOBER 3rd 2005

By NICK WADHAMS, Associated Press Writer

UNITED NATIONS -  The United has begun distributing millions of copies of Iraq's draft constitution ahead of an Oct. 15 referendum to approve or reject the document, which was reportedly criticized in a leaked U.N. memo.

U.N. officials on Monday sought to downplay the leaked internal analysis written on Sept. 15 that looked at the document's weaknesses. Newsweek reported that the memo warned that the constitution is a "model for the territorial division of the State."

But the officials said it did not mean the U.N. was backing away from the constitution, which was the result of weeks of intense negotiations.

"As far as the U.N. is concerned, the constitution itself will have to be judged by the Iraqis on the 15th of October during the referendum," U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said. "It should come as no surprise that within the U.N. staff who deal with Iraq there would be papers analyzing latest developments in that country, but it's an internal analysis."

Many officials both inside and outside Iraq have warned that the constitutional process, meant to unite Iraq, instead underscored divisions among Iraq's three main communities. Sunni Arab leaders fear the constitution will fragment Iraq, allowing Shiites in the south and Kurds in the north to form mini-states.

The run-up to the referendum has seen a wave of violence from the Sunni-led insurgency, in which more than 200 people have been killed in the past eight days, including 16 U.S. troops. Late last month, the International Crisis Group said the efforts to push through a constitution so quickly had only exacerbated tensions and could make the insurgency worse.

Nonetheless, the referendum is going ahead, and distribution to all of Iraq has begun, U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said Monday.

Haq said some 4 million copies would be printed in Arabic — at a rate of 250,000 a day — while the Kurdish north will get 1 million. Another 250,000 will be printed in Turkoman, and 150,000 in Syriac languages, modern variants of the Aramaic spoken in Jesus' time.

Iraqi groups are handling most of the distribution, with Baghdad and southern cities such as Basra and Kerbala already receiving copies, Haq said.

"Printing in Arabic started on Sept. 19, the day after the final text was approved, and it's being distributed to all and sundry," Haq said.

Iraq's Council of Ministers will have various Sunni groups distribute the text to the violent Sunni Triangle, after initially failing to find anyone to do the job because of fears of attack.

The forthright approach continues to the problem of infiltrators of the Basra Police who have show their hand as supporters of terrorism, opponents of the democratic process and involvement in attacks on British troops. 12 men have been seized and detained. It is not clear to what extent Shia Cleric Muqtada-al-Sadr's 'Mehdi Army' has sprouted offshoots acting beyond his control or without his tacit approval. He himself is ostensibly now acting within the democratic process. That process nearly got screwed by a change in the rules that would have made it almost impossible for the new constitution to be rejected, but an intervention from the UN appears to have convinced the interim government that twisting the process is not the way to go. Meanwhile a deputation of diplomats from the Arab League has gone to Baghdad in an attempt at reconciliation in a situation they see as headed for civil war. It would appear that as the next moment of truth approaches, reality is being faced up to on all sides. This will be dangerous, but necessary.

A 6,000 word letter from Osama bin Laden's deputy in Iraq, discovered by US troops, dated early July, urges terrorist groups to cease attacks on civilians and revert to attacks on US and British soldiers. The document sets out a strategy for a future empire much like Saddam had no doubt contemplated himself, though this time an Islamic rather than a secular design, for an empire that covers Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt, removes Israel and takes over all Arabia, not by conventional military means but by the methods now being tried and tested.

There has been no British apology for the events of SEPT 22 (see that date above) but a joint expression of regret by both sides and Britain will pay for the repairs. Meantime there is a move to take serious action concerning the embezzlement of a stupendous amount of money by the Iraqi interim administration in the period immediately after the invasion. If it can be traced and recovered, that would be nice.....

OCTOBER 16th - I include this Reuters report in full. Anybody not moved by the progress made here would have to be scarcely human. Behind the bald facts is the the incredible truth for most Iraqis who have defied the threats of terrorists - they were free to vote, in safety, as they wished, on the new constitution, and will be free to discuss it again in future.

 Saturday October 15, 11:20 PM (But Sunday 16th in Iraq) BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi officials counted ballots on Sunday after a historic vote on a U.S.-backed constitution with the fate of the document in the hands of a few provinces where Sunnis may muster enough "No" votes to block it.

A massive security clampdown prevented any serious insurgent attacks on voting day, with only scattered strikes reported around the country after months of Sunni Arab militant bloodshed that has killed thousands.

Election officials said partial results from the vote could be available as early as Sunday, but that it would take several days for the verdict to become clear.

If the constitution passes Iraq will go to the polls again in December to elect a new, four-year parliament in a step that Washington says will mark its full emergence as a sovereign democracy and new Western ally.

A "No" vote would force the country's warring factions back to the drawing board, limiting December's election to a new interim government to redraft the charter.

Most of Iraq's 18 provinces were expected to support the constitution, following Shi'ite and Kurdish government leaders who have tailored many of its provisions to their needs.

But it could still be blocked if two thirds of the voters in at least three provinces reject it.

Electoral officials said as many as 10 million of Iraq's eligible 15.5 million voters cast ballots, which would give a turnout of around 65 percent -- higher than the 58 percent recorded in January when the country went to the polls for the first time since Saddam Hussein's 2003 overthrow.

Despite the uncertainty, Saturday's election won praise from the United Nations and the Bush Administration.

"The vote today is an important milestone. They will have elections in December for a permanent government. Every time the Iraqi people have been given an opportunity to express themselves politically they have taken it," U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told the BBC in an interview.


The White House praised the large turnout in the referendum and the calm relative to the January election of an interim government when more than 40 people were killed in more than 100 insurgent attacks, including suicide bombings.

"It appears that the level of violence was well below the last election," White House spokesman Allen Abney said.

"Today's vote deals a severe blow to the ambitions of the terrorists and sends a clear message to the world that the people of Iraq will decide the future of their country through peaceful elections, not violent insurgencies," he added.

Saturday's ballot came exactly three years to the day after Iraq's last constitutional referendum, which asked voters if they wanted to extend Saddam's rule by seven years. The results gave Saddam 100 percent on a 100 percent turnout in a gesture of defiance towards a U.S. administration set on toppling him.

This year Iraq's sectarian feuds have ruled out such an unambiguous outcome, with many Sunnis fearful Iraq may break up into Shi'ite and Kurdish spheres that will deprive them of both power and oil.

At least two Sunni-dominated provinces -- Anbar to the west and Salahadin around Saddam's hometown of Tikrit -- are all but certain to vote heavily "No". An electoral official in Tikrit itself, Saleh Farah, said votes against the constitution in the city were 43,571 -- or 96 percent of those voting.

The key could lie in the northern province of Nineveh and the city of Mosul. Sitting some 400 km (250 miles) north of Baghdad, Mosul has a volatile mix of about two million Sunni Arabs and Kurds near some of Iraq's richest oil fields.

Arabs accuse Kurdish leaders, whose autonomous region of Kurdistan lies just outside the city, of packing Mosul with Kurds. The Kurds deny this, but it is unclear if Sunni opponents of the constitution can rally the numbers to swing the province to the "No" camp and defeat the constitution nationally.

Few were betting on the outcome, and at least one prominent Sunni leader said that the real answer to Sunni fears may be to seek changes within the new political system.

"If we are certain that no serious infringements or fraud have occurred, then we will deal seriously with the new reality," said Hussein al-Falluji, who negotiated on the current version of the constitution.

"We're focussing on taking part in the coming election at full strength to create a new balance in parliament and then we will act firmly to amend the constitution."

(Additional reporting by Ibon Villelabeitia in Mosul)


We will get the result next week

OCTOBER 18th (Tuesday)
The counting of the votes on the Referendum on the Constitution is delayed by a need for further verification. It is certainly vital that any complaints or doubts about the fairness and security of the vote are examined sooner rather than later and if any areas of failure are detected they should be rectified now. We don't want a later rerun of this election or a result that is challenged.
Meanwhile our media are raising the question of the British troops' morale, pointing to the possible suicide of a key investigating officer in the Military Police, the reluctance of a military hero to return to the fray, and one soldier who refuses to obey orders on the grounds that the war is illegal. Hardly surprising when it is the media who give the platform for people without knowledge or responsibility to say that the war was illegal.
What is certainly true is that the strain on our soldiers in Iraq is terrible. There is nothing that relieves it and, if the cause itself is in doubt, morale will crack. It has been obvious from the start, repeated regularly in these diaries, that the awfulness of this exercise is the fault of those who, unable to prevent it, have undermined it.

OCTOBER 19th 2005
The trial of Saddam Hussein has started. His case in his defense is simply stated: he is above the law because he was chosen by all Iraqis as their leader. The invasion by the coalition countries was illegal, so the court and the trial are illegal and he is still President of Iraq

It will be interesting to see if these claims are to be formally rebutted. It can reasonably be argued that he was never elected by free elections. It can reasonably be argued that the large number of coalition countries who took action to remove him did so at the behest of an overwhelming majority of Iraqis who were absolutely terrified of him and of his WMD which he used to make his overthrow impossible. The fact that he did not leave WMD lying around to incriminate him is not an issue. I assume the legality of the court will be asserted and the trial will proceed. He has pleaded not guilty so far only on the basis of the incompetence of the court. He will have to do better than that as the charges are brought in due course. There is no requirement that he be tried at the International Court - the policy is that criminals should be dealt with in their own countries. However the proceedings will be subject to international public scrutiny and no doubt international judgment.

A member of the team of defence lawyers representing one of Saddam's co-accused was kidnapped yesterday and today found dead. It remains to be seen if the responsible persons and motive can be identified, but since the beneficiary of this event would seem to be Saddam, the obvious suspicion falls on his supporters. Their aim is presumably to call the fairness of the process, in an atmosphere of intimidation, into question. It is also possible to speculate that some of the co-accused may be intending to give evidence against Saddam in their own defence. Saddam's supporters claim that the assassination is the work of those wishing to see him convicted but have not so far produced any logical reasoning to support this theory, even speculatively.

It is assumed by many commentators that Saadoun al-Janabi, the assassinated lawyer defending one of Saddam's judges accused of passing collective death sentences on a town where an attempt on Saddam's life had originated, has been the victim of Saddam's opponents. This makes no sense. Terrorising lawyers or witnesses undermines the credibility of the trial. Only Saddam's supporters stand to gain from that.

78%-22%  in favour of the Constitution is a clear overall result.
The NO vote by the Sunnis in 3 regions was important. It is good that this negative vote was registered. It will give the Sunnis in those regions faith in the process. Never in a million years would they have believed such a democratic expression possible. Now they can take part with more confidence in the Assembly and in the next General Election which will define the government. Modifications to the constitution can still be made, with fuller participation now. Meanwhile we must honour those who have given their lives in recent days as victims of the misguided, misled and desperate who for one reason or another have decided the only way forward is to kill their fellow men and stop the democratic process at all cost, in the name of Allah, revenge or a large sum of money to help their unemployed families from the insurgent war treasury.

The insurgents have persisted in their murderous ways over the past weeks. In America the public are turning away from George Bush because of the casualties of their own troops and of Iraqi civilians. Yet the overwhelming opinion within the military is that it is vital to finish the job, and the majority of Iraqis are clear on the need to keep the coalition forces there to train up their army. A new development has been the declared aim now by the coalition to approve the recruitment of previous members of Saddam's army below a certain rank who are willing to join the Iraqi army. A debate on BBC TV with military and political representatives showed clearly that regardless of anyone's views it is unthinkable to abandon the enterprise at this stage, and ridiculous to specify a date at which coalition troops will leave. Withdrawal must be phased and depend on circumstances and the wishes of the elected Iraqi government.
The debate also clarified publicly what has been obvious for some time: there are different categories of insurgents, some of whom are utterly opposed to the construction of a democratic state of Iraq (federalised or united) and others who are not but for circumstantial reasons have thrown in their lot with the insurgents, often for survival, some for revenge, some for tribal association reasons, some for religious tradition, some for a mix of all these. The way forward must include a way to allow these different categories who accept a democratic outcome to cease insurgency on terms that are possible for them. It is not just Iraq but the whole region that must be stabilised. There has never been an alternative, no matter what hell we go through to get there.

NOVEMBER 11th 2005
I have imported this Associated Press report complete. I am sure they will not mind. Credits are at the end.

Fri Nov 11, 5:32 AM ET

BAGHDAD, Iraq - In the early morning sun, 12-year-old Walid Salim strides to the yard of his school, kisses Iraq's flag and hoists it high. At a lunchtime cafe, three 18-year-old friends gather to eye girls and talk cars.

Free to surf the Web, a university professor gleefully searches for news from afar. In a small house, a mother worries for her sons as news of a suicide bomb flashes across town.

On this typical day in the life of Iraq, shaken as it often is by violence, a whole nation of people get up each morning and try to live normally — going to school, earning a living, getting married, having fun.

Men, women, children and teenagers, Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds, this is the story of one day of their lives.


The sky is still dark when Mohammed Khallaf, his wife Fadhila, and their 12 children begin to stir Thursday in their small house in the Shiite slum of Sadr City. First come the morning prayers, then the dash to school and work.

In the chaos of a big family, the shoes of the youngest boy, 9-year-old Yahya, cannot be found, bringing shouts and suspicions from the father.

Eventually, the boy admits he threw the shoes on the roof. No shoes, no school, he figured. On Thursday, he has science and he does not like his teacher.

With the shoes down, the children finally off to school and the oldest sons — ages 28 and 23 — off to jobs, Fadhila and her older daughters settle into their morning chores: washing dishes, washing clothes, cleaning the house.


At al-Diraya elementary school in Baghdad's Harithya neighborhood, the sun is well up and the air warm by 8 a.m., when 12-year-old Walid raises the Iraqi flag with its red, white and black strips and its words: "Allahu Akbar," "God is Great."

In a small dusty classroom, dirty with mold but brightened by a red plastic flower in a vase, English teacher Azhar Hashim tells a student practicing the words "I'm from Iraq," to raise his voice when he says that.

"We all have to be proud of our country," she says, her black dress stained white with chalk.

In the next room, Thanaa Mohamed asks her students to describe the rights of Iraqi citizens. "Equality and freedom," answers 12-year-old Jiwan Arasin.

"Who can define equality?" Mohamed asks. "All people were born free," answers Esraa Jabbar.

And freedom? "To express your opinion freely," answers Walid Khalid.

The school's biggest problem is parents' fear of attack, which often keeps children home. There also is the disturbing trend of students asking each other if they are Sunni or Shiite, says principal Yasamin Subhi Amin.

The teacher of Islamic education is under orders to tell children they are all Muslim.


Far to the south, it is the freedom to make money that preoccupies Sami Dawoud Ali, a Basra businessman who owns a dock and a warehouse on the Shatt al-Arab river that flows between Iraq and Iran

Ali owns 12 boats himself, and dreams of turning them into a bigger fleet someday. For now, his port takes in large boats loaded with food, used cars and household electronics.

As he chats, Ali must duck away often to check on the 50 workers unloading cargo, or talk by cell phone with shipping agents in bustling Dubai, down the Persian Gulf.

Government has hindered his business, he says: Officials and political parties demand bribes and push him to hire certain people.

But his friends in the government also help cut red tape.

"I am a close friend of the Transportation Minister and this makes my work easier," Ali says, leaning back in his chair, surrounded by faxes and phones. "Otherwise my business would have been much slower."


At an Internet cafe on Baghdad's busy Palestine street, Dr. Sahar Nafi Shakir is checking her e-mail as usual, and surfing the Web for news on international geology conferences.

Shakir, an assistant professor at nearby Mustansiriyah University, first used the Internet in mid-2002. At the time, with Saddam Hussein still in power, she needed special permission from the campus security chief and the approval of her boss.

"You cannot compare these days to those of Saddam, when it comes to the Internet," she said, smiling widely.

Packing up her bag, she rushes off to a class.

"In the past, Iraq was a big prison," she says. "Today it is a jungle, and I love living in a jungle."


Across town, the roar of explosives rings out. In a flash, there is broken glass, shreds of furniture, pools of blood.

A suicide bomber has mingled among the policemen who drop by every day for an early lunch at the Qadouri Restaurant, one of the few remaining restaurants on what used to be a street full.

American soldiers armed with M-16 rifles, in full battle dress, rush to stand guard. The toll: more than 40 dead and two dozen wounded.

Back at her house in Sadr City, Fadhila hears the news and frets: Her sons are out working somewhere in Baghdad.

"Don't worry. Every person will die on the day when God wants him to die," her husband says.

"I will not let them go to work from now on," she answers.

"How are we going to make a living?" her husband asks.

In mid-afternoon, the sons return home, unharmed.


The children of Ibrahim Ali and his wife Fatima Mohammed also come home — to a lunch of soup, rice and bread warmed by their father, and an afternoon of staying indoors.

Ali has converted a small part of his family's house in the market city of Baqouba to a shop selling cigarettes and sweets. His wife works as a clerk in the governor's office.

The oldest, Salam, 12, wants to play soccer with his friends after school. "But my mother won't let me go outside after school," he said, because of fears of attacks.

Instead, in the small house with two rooms, the children do their homework or watch TV.


As the afternoon wears on, three friends watch the crowd filling the rooftop Dream Land Cafe in the upscale Zayouna neighborhood of Baghdad. Sultan Amjad, Harith Muthana and Marwan Walid, all 18, have known each other since grade school.

They spent the early afternoon eyeing girls outside a junior high, trying to attract attention with little luck.

"We will come next Thursday and do it again. We will never give up until we get girlfriends," Walid said.

Cars are their other passion: Amjad's father owns a car shop, and he often regales his friends with photos, snapped on his mobile phone, of fancy cars for sale.

By 4 p.m., the friends are on the street, dickering with a merchant over a pair of flip-flops, then heading for an Internet cafe.

"We'll go online and find some girls to chat with," Walid says.

But the Internet place is packed. Still boasting of their plans, the three head home.


Dusk is falling in Sulaimaniyah as Maliha Mahmoud begins to clean and prepare her family's oil lantern.

Each night, the electricity is cut off, even here in the Kurdish north where violence is lower and the economy better.

She and her husband, Khalid Majid, a teacher, have 10 children. Even with better times, they barely scrape by.

As everywhere across Iraq, the daily electricity blackouts seem to rankle.

"We have some daily hardships," Majid said. Yet despite that, "our life is much better than compared to Saddam time."


Editors: Associated Press reporters Omar Sinan, Qassim Abdul-Zahra, Sinan Salaheddin and Bassem Mroue in Baghdad; Abbas Fayadh in Basra; Hanaa Abdullah in Baqouba; Yahya Barzanji in Sulaimaniyah; and Abdel-Hussein al-Obeidi in Najaf contributed to this report.

A conjunction of events is moving things forward:

Perhaps a combination of pressures can bring realism to the thinking of those in Iraq who, while not terrorists, have still not  realised that the way forward has to be one where support for the Iraqi government and the movement towards an inclusive constitution should be put on the front burner. There is no point in rushing things, but timing is always the essence of initiatives. It is up to the free Iraqi media and media in the rest of the Arab world, to bring out the best.

It is interesting to look back on the situation before the referendum earlier this year 
See also this page  of the US Embassy in Damascus for the timeline as set out some time ago.

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain could start pulling its soldiers out of Iraq next year if local forces are strong enough to keep the peace, Prime Minister Tony Blair said on Monday.

"I think it's entirely reasonable to talk about the possibility of withdrawal of troops next year but it's got to be always conditioned by the fact that we withdraw when the job is done," Blair told reporters after talks with Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdul.

Meanwhile back at the ranch....they seem to have noticed something at last.
Reuters - Mon Nov 14, 3:40 PM ET
WASHINGTON  - The U.S. government is not doing enough to protect nuclear weapons from terrorists and its handling of terrorism suspects is undermining America's image in the Muslim world, members of a commission that investigated the September 11 attacks said on Monday.

Some less than happy revelations coming to light on prisoners being held in secret by the Iraqi interior ministry - but lets face it, they are under incredible pressure from their own citizens to get the insurgents under control. The fact that its a free country and these things come to light is what really counts in the long term. Then there are claims that the US used phosphorous flairs to flush out insurgents in Falluja - there again, as noted here at the time. Falluja was a bloody inhuman fight to the death for both sides, the enemy was utterly ruthless and some civilians may have been unable to leave. The truth is better known and faced. If, as seems possible, influential Sunnis are to come fully into the political process, it is better for all to admit to the realities and the terrible things that have happened. The use of phosphorous flares to flush out insurgents who could have lived unharmed any time they wished by joining a free democratic process is not to be equated with the painful extermination by mustard gas of civilians in towns and villages by Saddam.

The past few days have shown the insurgent suicide bombers in full flood and sophisticated roadside bombs (said to come from Iran) still causing coalition casualties. The effort to discredit the coming election is intensifying. In the US those who thought this was going to be easy are calling for a pull-out.  Most disillusioned are those who see what peace there is in the South being bought by giving in to Shiite militias and fundamentalists backed by Iran.  It is going to take nerve and persistence to see this through and there is no guarantee that the US public have it.

Charles Aldinger writes
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The bitter battle in Washington over whether to withdraw U.S. troops quickly from Iraq  is disturbing but has not damaged U.S. military morale, a senior American Army general in Baghdad said on Tuesday.

"A precipitous pullout, I believe, would be destabilizing," Lt. Gen. John Vines, the second-ranking U.S. commander there, told Pentagon reporters in a teleconference from Iraq. He refused to set any timetable.
"Of course the debate and the bitterness is disturbing. But, after all, we are a democracy, and that is what democracy is about ... people will have differences of opinion," Vines said.
"Certainly, soldiers are concerned about whether or not they enjoy the support of not only their elected representatives but the people. And they know that they have their support," Vines replied when pressed about morale among the 155,000 American troops in Iraq.
Vines, who commands the multinational corps of U.S.-led foreign troops in Iraq, declined to be drawn into the debate over a proposal by Democratic Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania that all of the troops be withdrawn within six months.
That call, issued last week by the decorated retired Marine and longtime supporter of the military, sparked a vitriolic war of words in the U.S. Congress, with some Republicans questioning Murtha's patriotism, at a time when President George W. Bush has suffered declining popularity over the war in Iraq.
Vines said any recommendation from U.S. commanders in Iraq to begin withdrawing forces would be made based on the security situation and not on political considerations.
"I'm not going to get into a timetable. It will be driven by conditions on the ground," he said.

Vines expressed regret over an incident on Monday in which U.S. troops opened fire on a crowded minivan north of Baghdad, killing at least three civilians, including a child. But he said the military would not make any changes in its "rules of engagement" that might endanger troops.
"The loss of any innocent life, indeed any life, is tragic," Vines said. "What we must never do is deprive a soldier in harm's way the ability to protect himself and his fellow soldiers."
How will Americans know, Vines was asked by reporters, that any recommendation by commanders to leave Iraq is based on military judgment rather than political questions over Bush's decision to invade Iraq in 2003 and his subsequent handling of the war?
"I know that our recommendations will be based on conditions here in-country. They will not be based on the things that you allude to," Vines said.
Chief Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita said U.S. military commanders in Iraq are mindful that the very presence of American forces may fuel insurgent violence in parts of that country, adding that this concern factored into decisions about future U.S. force levels.
The intensifying debate at home about the future of U.S. troops in Iraq will not play a role in the decisions being made about future force levels, Di Rita added.

I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that the sooner American forces leave Iraq, the better. The situation is culturally beyond their understanding and organizationally beyond their capability, due in part to mistakes before and immediately after the invasion when their image was lost. Before the operation to remove Saddam, an American general commented "We don't do peace". They have had to do it, and though very well meaning they have managed too often to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, with notable exceptions by some of their most exceptional leaders and troops. They have had a really terrible time, and it is time to plan the handover. I have always said it would be folly to even hint at a date, but now we need a schedule to aim at. If we see down the road that it is not going to be achieved then as soon as we know, this must be acknowledged and another plan proposed. There is more than one way of doing this.

Losses due to suicide bombers continue at an unacceptable level. Losses amongst Americans and Iraqi police and civilians. Hostages have been taken by a new and unknown group of terrorists. But it still has to be admitted that the majority throughout Iraq, much though they would like the foreign presence to come to an end if it would lessen insurgent attacks, they know they are not ready yet to take over civil or military control. The trainee police force in the south needs purging of infiltration by militia, and steps are being taken. Meantime the election preparations continue and Saddam's trial is underway.

The Bush administration is under pressure and Cheney speaks out:

Cheney insists 'steady progress' happening in Iraq

By Patricia Wilson Tue Dec 6,12:56 PM ET

FORT DRUM, New York (Reuters) - Vice President Dick Cheney on Tuesday joined the White House push to counter growing discontent with the Iraq war, acknowledging challenges ahead but insisting "steady progress" had been made on the political and security fronts.

The speech before cheering camouflage-clad soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division and the 42nd Infantry Division, of whom 3,500 returned to Fort Drum from Iraq last month -- marked a change in tone for the vice president.

Cheney had led the White House's fierce counterattack on Democratic critics, calling accusations that U.S. officials manipulated prewar intelligence a "dishonest and reprehensible" political ploy. He suggested that they were providing comfort to the enemy and undermining troop morale.

But Cheney tempered the bitterness of his past rhetoric, making only a passing reference to "some who have advocated a sudden withdrawal of our forces."

"This would be unwise in the extreme," he said. "A victory for the terrorists, bad for the Iraqi people and bad for the United States."

Cheney covered similar ground to President George W. Bush who last week laid out a "plan for victory" in which he asked Americans for patience while Iraqis were trained to take over their own security. He rejected a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq.

"There is still difficult work ahead," Cheney said. "In the war on terror we face a loose network of committed fanatics found in many countries and operating under different commanders."


Citing the stepped-up training of Iraqi security forces, their ability to control more territory and carry out missions on their own, Cheney said: "We have been making steady progress."

On the political side, he said the benchmarks -- from the turnover of sovereignty to national elections and the drafting of a constitution -- had been "met successfully."

"The only way the terrorists can win is if we lose our nerve and abandon our mission," he told the troops.

The White House has held out the possibility of a reduction in U.S. force levels eventually, once Iraqis are able to fight the insurgency on their own and if progress is made on the political front looking ahead to Iraq's December 15 elections.

"To leave that country before the job is done would be to hand Iraq over to car bombers and assassins," Cheney said.

"That nation would return to the rule of tyrants and become a massive source of instability in the Middle East."

Democrats in Congress and some Republicans have questioned the war's origins and progress. Public opinion polls show a majority of Americans souring on the 2003 invasion as the death toll among U.S. troops passed 2,000 and the monthly cost rose to about $6 billion.

On Wednesday, Bush, whose job approval rating is at the lowest of his presidency, will discuss economic progress in Iraq. He is scheduled to make one or two more speeches before Iraqis go to the polls.

The Pentagon plans to shrink the American presence -- now at 155,000 -- to about 138,000 after the December 15 Iraqi elections and is considering dropping to about 100,000 around mid-2006 if conditions allow.

"Any decisions about troop levels will be driven by conditions on the ground and the judgment of our commanders, not by artificial timelines set by politicians in Washington, D.C." Cheney said.

Cheney, who issued dire warnings before the 2003 invasion about the threat posed by Iraqi weapons programs and links to al Qaeda, has said the administration presented the best available intelligence about Iraq's weapons programs. No such arms were found.

Administration officials have acknowledged intelligence on Iraqi weapons was faulty, but say Democrats, Republicans and foreign intelligence agencies all believed Baghdad had deadly weapons before the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

The idea that Abu Qatada or whatever his name is carries any authority to recommend that releasing the British hostages would be an Islamic 'act of mercy' is the biggest load of codswallop (so far - who knows what may come in the next 3 weeks?) of 2005. Mercy in any translation means forgiveness of some crime or error. The people held hostage are social workers, helping people in dire circumstances. To dignify this rubbish by taking it seriously is grotesque.

DEC 09
G.W. Bush:- "There are some who are arguing for a fixed timetable of withdrawal, I think it's a wrong policy, A fixed timetable of withdrawal would embolden the enemy, would confuse the Iraqis and would send the wrong signal to our young men and women in uniform."
I don't advocate a fixed timetable. I advocate a conditional timetable. I think that would send the right signal to all sides.

DEC 14 2005
The election is now Imminent. George W. insists they will build a democracy that will handle the future. Personally I am not sure that this can be completed with a unified Iraq, yet the oil assets will have to be shared in some way to support the whole of what is now Iraq and there are other reasons to conclude that the whole area is a viable unit. The problem lies with tribalism, fundamentalism and movements within Iraq's neighbours - Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia - who are determined that the sectarian structures they hold power in remain in charge of affairs in the region. If those Shia who are not fundamentalist could form an alliance with sensible Sunnis, after the election, there would be a chance.

DECEMBER 15th  This Reuters report included here in totality. Many, perhaps most Iraqis are optimistic about the future and have no doubt that the forcible removal of Saddam was the only way. They have been overjoyed to vote. The underlying tensions are well described below. Nevertheless it was a great day, for which those who worked and fought for it can be immensely proud.

Scattered attacks fail to disrupt Iraq vote

  Thursday December 15, 01:51 PM GMT
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Insurgents made only sporadic attacks on Iraq's election on Thursday as voters turned out in force, joined by disaffected Sunni Arabs determined to win a bigger say in government.

The largely peaceful poll, which will raise U.S. hopes that a stable government can eventually pave the way for American troops to pull out, was a sharp contrast to January's election for an interim assembly, when some 40 people died.

Sunni Arabs largely boycotted that poll but mobilised in large numbers on Thursday, with backing from nationalist rebels who vowed to protect voters in western and northern cities.

"Turnout is much higher than expected," Interior Minister Bayan Jabor said before 10 hours of voting was due to end at 5 p.m. (1400 GMT).

He said Baghdad police killed a suicide car bomber.

"There's more diversity in this election," Election Commissioner Farid Ayar said. "We're delighted."

Two people were killed and three wounded in bomb and mortar attacks on polling stations at Mosul and Tal Afar in the north.

A dawn mortar blast claimed by a Sunni Islamist group wounded three people, one a U.S. Marine, in Baghdad's Green Zone government and diplomatic compound, the U.S. embassy said.

General calm imposed by a three-day traffic ban, sealed borders and heavy security was also broken by mortars in Samarra and nearby Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's home town.

An explosion rocked Ramadi, another bastion of Sunni revolt. But in a turnaround from January, people lined up to vote there for a say in the new fully empowered, four-year parliament.

"I'm delighted to be voting for the first time because this election will lead to the American occupation forces leaving," said Jamal Mahmoud, 21, his finger purple with the dye that prevents double voting and is now a symbol of Iraqi democracy.

U.S. diplomats hope that if Sunnis are drawn into the political process the revolt will be undermined, letting Iraqis gradually take over security without provoking a civil war.


In nearby Falluja, scene of the biggest battle between U.S. forces and rebels a year ago, the worst problems were a shortage of ballot papers and of vehicles to ferry infirm voters.

Eager to weaken the power exercised this year by an interim parliament of Shi'ite Islamists and Kurds, Sunni militants said they would defend polling stations in cities like Ramadi against groups, such as al Qaeda, who vowed to disrupt the vote.

Their truce, combined with tight security and 160,000 U.S. troops discreetly in the background, made for a peaceful day.

"Sunni Arabs made a big mistake in boycotting the last election; it left us out of ... writing the constitution," said Talal Ali, 25, as he voted for the first time in Kirkuk.

He backed one of the main Sunni lists which wants to amend a constitution that Sunnis say may hand Kirkuk's oil to autonomous Kurds and give Shi'ites control over the southern oilfields.

Once a coalition government is formed, which could take weeks, the first task of the new parliament, under pressure from Washington, is to address Sunni grievances over the constitution passed with Shi'ite and Kurdish votes in an October referendum.

"Ballot boxes are a victory of democracy over dictatorship," said Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari as he cast his vote: "They've chosen voting over bombs."

In Baghdad, Shi'ite Hadi Mishaal, wounded in the 1991 Gulf War and forced by the traffic ban to hobble 2 km (over a mile) on a crutch to vote with his wife, said: "I hope we can have a government that will help me and give me my rights."

U.S. President George W. Bush hailed the expected turnout among Sunnis as a sign of the marginalisation of diehard rebels.


"It is the first time I have tasted the freedom to express my view," said 60-year-old Sunni Arab Asmael Nouri in Kirkuk.

For many in the 60-percent Shi'ite majority, oppressed by Saddam, the vote was another chance to seek redress.

Religious voter Kadhmiya Alwan, 55, in Najaf said: "I demand they take my revenge on the regime that killed my two sons."

But there were signs secular parties, notably that of former prime minister Iyad Allawi, were cutting in to the 48 percent vote the Islamist bloc took in January:

"We want freedom ... to drink alcohol, dance and go to nightclubs," said Allawi supporter Jasim Faisal, 34, in the southern city of Samawa.

Yet underlying a vote in which Iraqis can choose from 231 lists, is also widespread sectarian fear and mistrust.

Another Najaf voter, Abdullah Abdulzahra, 40, said he would vote for the ruling bloc "because they'll kill all Baathists".

Unemployed Baghdad shoe salesman Ismail Dulaimi, 25, said: "This time it will be different for the Sunnis. We are voting. Now we have a government that only gives jobs to Shi'ites."

Kurdish voter Hussein Garmiyani recalled repression at Saddam's hands as he smeared his own blood on the ballot paper in Kirkuk. "I signed for freedom with my blood."

Many believe Allawi could lead a broad coalition government, a development Washington could endorse after losing patience with Jaafari, whose term has seen the rise of pro-government militias and warm ties with America's enemies in Shi'ite Iran.

"We hope to see a formation of a strong government that can ... represent the main communities and be a government of national salvation," Allawi said after casting his vote.

Some 15 million Iraqis can vote at over 6,000 poll places.

The United Nations and Washington hope Iraq will serve as an example to other Middle East states moving towards democracy.

(Additional reporting by Ahmed Rasheed, Gideon Long, Alastair Macdonald, Omar al-Ibadi, Waleed Ibrahim, Mariam Karouny, Hiba Moussa and Mussab al-Khairalla in Baghdad, Aref Mohammed and Alister Bull in Kirkuk, Peter Graff in Amara, Fadil al-Badrani in Falluja, Sami al-Jumaili in Kerbala, Twana Osman and Cyrille Cartier in Sulaimaniya, Shamal Aqrawi in Arbil, Abdel-Razzak Hameed in Basra, Ghasawn al-Jibouri in Tikrit, Ammar al-Alwani in Ramadi, Hamed Fadhil in Samawa, Khaled Farhan in Najaf and Deepa Babington in Mosul)

Was it a success? Was it free and fair?
John Simpson's report says it all as concisely as possible:

JANUARY 6 2006
The suicide bombings over the last week have been the worst ever. The Iraqi government has virtually admitted there is no defence against them. As someone who has consistently stated there was no alternative to the removal by force of Saddam, I am perplexed by the realisation that Iraqis have been robbed, it seems, by ages of suppression and tyranny by either Saddam or religious fundamentalism, of the ability to adapt their behaviour to the  circumstances. The fact remains that had I known just how incompetent Rumsfeld and his crew were, and how they would turn a tricky situation into a disaster, it would still not have left the better option as a withdrawal of forces and the leaving of Saddam in power. It would have meant that action to avoid some of the stupidest mistakes could and would have been insisted on.

Bush reaches beyond inner circle on Iraq policy (About time - JB)

By Tabassum Zakaria Thu Jan 5, 9:38 PM ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush reached beyond his tight circle of trusted aides on Thursday to solicit views on Iraq of former secretaries of state and defense, including some who have publicly criticized his policy.

The meeting, part of the president's effort to defend his policies on Iraq and the war on terrorism as he tries to recover from low opinion poll ratings, took place as insurgent violence surged anew this week in Iraq.

"Not everybody around this table agreed with my decision to go into Iraq and I fully understand that," Bush said, adding that he had listened to their concerns and suggestions. "We take to heart the advice."

The former officials who served in administrations dating back to President John Kennedy, met with Bush, current Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

They were briefed by Gen. George Casey, the U.S. commander in Iraq, and Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. ambassador to Iraq.

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, a Clinton administration official who has criticized Bush's Iraq policy, said later she had voiced her concerns during the meeting.

Appearing on CNN, Albright said she told Bush that "we had a long way to go" to succeed in Iraq. She said she suggested creating a "contact group" of regional powers to help and to make clear that the United States did not intend to have permanent bases there.

"I took advantage of the time to say that I was very worried about the position of the United States internationally," Albright added, listing Iran, North Korea and the situation in the Middle East among her chief concerns.

Bush has been emphasizing progress in Iraq after the December elections to an American public that has shown increasing discontent with the war in which more than 2,100 U.S. troops and thousands of Iraqis have died.

Critics have called for a quick withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, but Bush has repeatedly said that he will not set a timetable and U.S. forces would not pull out until Iraqi forces can take over security.

"The main thrust of our success will be when the Iraqis are able to take the fight to the enemy that wants to stop their democracy, and we're making darn good progress along those lines," Bush said.


Alexander Haig, secretary of state for President Ronald Reagan, said Bush was right to say withdrawing troops from Iraq would be determined by conditions on the ground.

"I think the president has taken the absolutely correct position, contrary to a number of Washington politicians," Haig said.

Bush has to address the troop-withdrawal question because many Americans want to know when U.S. forces will pull out, but it can give information to the enemy, Eagleburger said. "Every time we talk about withdrawal you can see the ears of Osama (bin Laden) and his friends perking up," he said.

Among those attending were Colin Powell, Bush's first secretary of state whose tenure was often marked by friction with the White House and the Pentagon on a range of foreign policy issues.

Since leaving the post, Powell has avoided publicly criticizing the president, but several of his aides have lashed out at Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Rumsfeld.

Also at the meeting were William Perry, defense secretary in the administration of President Bill Clinton who was an adviser to Bush's 2004 election opponent, Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts.

Other who attended from Republican and Democratic administration included former secretaries of state James Baker and George Shultz.

Former secretaries of defense included William Cohen, Frank Carlucci, James Schlesinger, Harold Brown, Melvin Laird and Robert McNamara.

McNamara, 89, served under Presidents John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. Although he was a key architect of early U.S. policy in Vietnam, he eventually became disillusioned with the war there

JANUARY 11th 2005
This is not about Iraq. But it is.

Afghans reject bin Laden, want more peacekeepers : poll

Wed Jan 11, 12:42 AM ET

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Huge majorities of Afghans reject Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, approve the US military role in their country and are grateful to international bodies like the United Nations.

The survey by the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland also found strong support for President Hamid Karzai.

"Clearly this (poll) is a positive portent for the struggle against extreme fundamentalism," said Steven Kull, director of PIPA.

Eight-one percent Afghans polled think Al-Qaeda is a negative influence in the world, with only six percent saying Osama bin Laden's terror network has a positive impact.

Osama bin Laden himself, once sheltered by the Taliban militia ousted with the help of a US-led coalition in 2001, has even lower ratings, with 90 percent of those polled saying they had an unfavourable view of him.

Eighty-eight percent said they had an unfavorable view of the Taliban.

The poll, conducted across ethnic groups including Pashtuns, Tajiks, Uzbek and Hazara communities, also found large support for the US military presence in Afghanistan.

Eighty-three percent said they had a favorable view of "US military forces in our country."

International agencies pouring aid into Afghanistan were also popular -- 93 percent gave the United Nations favorable ratings, for instance.

Afghans also appear to favour further expansion of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), with 89 percent of those asked in favor.

The survey was conducted among a sample of 2,089 Afghan adults from between November 27 and December 4.

JANUARY 19th 2006  BBC Report on Election - No call for rerun of ballot despite some problems

Monitors report Iraq vote fraud
International monitors say there were irregularities in last month's general election in Iraq though they do not question the final result.

In their report, they do not make any overall judgment whether the poll was free and fair but there is no call for a repeat of the ballot.

Some 2,000 complaints of fraud, violence and intimidation were noted.

Iraqi officials resolved many problems despite a lack of resources to investigate them, the report adds.

The report, by the International Mission for the Iraqi elections, says only 237 of the 30,000 polling stations failed to open.

There were not enough polling stations because of the security situation, it notes, and some of the polling centres ran out of ballot papers.

Allegations levelled at the conduct of the election include:

  • the stuffing of ballot boxes and theft, tally sheet tampering, incorrect voter lists and multiple voting
  • improper police and military conduct
  • campaigning within polling centres and violations of a pre-election ban on campaigning.

However, the report concludes that "many of the complaints deemed most serious... were properly investigated and judiciously resolved".

And the people of Iraq, it added, were enabled to vote "in numbers that would do credit to democracies in more settled parts of the world".


Shi'ites get near-majority in Iraqi election results

  Friday January 20, 04:18 PM
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq's Shi'ite Islamists were confirmed in power by election results on Friday that gave them a near-majority and opened the way for U.S.-backed negotiations with Kurds and Sunni Arabs on a national unity government.

With Baghdad all but sealed off by security forces on alert for attacks by Sunni rebels who accused the ruling Shi'ite Alliance of cheating in last month's poll, two civilians were killed in one of several bomb attacks on U.S. and Iraqi patrols.

In restive Ramadi, insurgents fired rockets at U.S. bases; there was celebratory gunfire in the holy Shi'ite city of Najaf.

Troops and police blocked off roads between Baghdad and the restive provinces of Anbar, Salahaddin and Diyala and were also hunting kidnappers who threatened to kill an American journalist by a Friday deadline; leading Sunni Arab figures joined Jill Carroll's family and colleagues in calling for her release.

Despite angry reactions to the rejection of their complaints about the December 15 vote, many Sunni political leaders, who boycotted last year's interim assembly but now have a fifth of the 275 seats in the new parliament, are already discussing places in a grand coalition with the Shi'ites, Kurds and others.

"Now that the results are out we're going to start serious talks in Baghdad to form a national unity government based on these results," Alliance official Abbas al-Bayati told Reuters, adding that meetings could begin as soon as Saturday.

Sunni politician Hussein al-Falluji, accusing U.S. officials of pressuring international monitors to cover up massive fraud, said negotiations would be tough but would go ahead.

Hardliner Saleh al-Mutlak, who shares rebel aims, said: "If we can agree with our brothers on a national patriotic project to ensure the unity of Iraq, we will be part of the government."


The U.S. ambassador, who coaxed and cajoled rival factions into a constitutional deal last year, called on Iraq's sectarian and ethnic communities to come together now to form a government that includes all the main groups; Washington hopes consensus can staunch the bloodshed and let it bring its U.S. troops home.

"Iraq's political parties and their leaders must come together to reinforce their commitment to democratic principles and national unity," said President George W. Bush's envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, echoing the U.N. representative in Baghdad.

A major challenge ahead will be making good on a promise, extracted by Khalilzad, that Shi'ites and Kurds will review the new constitution this year to meet Sunni objections to it.

The final results, which parties have two days to challenge, were in line with a profusion of earlier provisional data.

They gave the Alliance 128 seats, 10 short of retaining the slim majority it had in the interim assembly elected a year ago in a vote boycotted by most Sunnis, who won just 17 seats.

The main Kurdish bloc won 53 seats, down sharply on much higher national turnout over 75 percent, compared to 58 percent; two Sunni groups shared 55 seats -- winning 44 and 11 places.

Former premier Iyad Allawi's secular list has 25 seats and seven groups comprising Kurds, Sunnis, Shi'ites, ethnic Turkmen and Christian and Yazidi sects won from one to five seats each.


As her captors' deadline neared, with U.S. forces rejecting their demand that women prisoners be freed, influential Sunni leaders joined Carroll's family in urging her release.

After heavy media coverage in the United States, Adnan Dulaimi called for the release of the 28-year-old Carroll by kidnappers who set a 72-hour ultimatum in a video on Tuesday.

"Release this journalist who strived for Iraq, defended Iraqis and condemned the war in Iraq," Dulaimi, whose office Carroll had just left when she was kidnapped on January 7, told a news conference. Her translator was killed in the ambush.

In Cairo, the influential Muslim Brotherhood also issued a public call for the journalist to be freed.

U.S. officials insist there are no plans to release women, despite remarks to the contrary by the Iraqi Justice Ministry.

The reporter's father, Jim Carroll, addressed her captors on Arabic satellite television Al Jazeera: "My daughter has no influence, she doesn't have the power to free anyone."

There was also no word on the fate of other foreign hostages, among thousands of people abducted for money or political goals since the U.S. invasion of 2003.

The families of two Kenyan telephone engineers seized in a Baghdad ambush two days ago also made an appeal, saying Moses Munyao and George Noballa only went to Iraq to earn a living.

U.S. and Iraqi forces have been bracing for violence around the results, both from local Sunni nationalists who had observed a cease-fire in the hope of a strong showing in the election and from al Qaeda-linked Islamists opposed to U.S.-backed democracy.

A senior Iraq military source told Reuters security forces had foiled an insurgent plot to mount a mass assault on the Baghdad headquarters of Alliance leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, a hate figure for many Sunnis suspicious of his ties to Iran.

(Additional reporting by Ross Colvin, Ahmed Rasheed, Michael Georgy, Hiba Moussa, Omar al-Ibadi and Mariam Karouny in Baghdad and Sami al-Jumaili in Kerbala, Majed Hameed in Ramadi and Abdel-Razzak Hameed in Basra)

January 21 2006   AFP Report

Iraqis prepare for hard talks on cabinet make-up

  Saturday January 21, 07:54 PM
BAGHDAD (AFP) - Iraqi parties were preparing for long and hard talks on forming a coalition government, with the victorious Shiite factions likely to call the shots on how broad based it will be.

The intricate negotiations were expected to take weeks, with one Western observer saying he did not expect a full government to emerge before late March -- more than three months after the December 15 elections.

The conservative Shiite United Iraqi Alliance, which holds the largest bloc in the new parliament, with 128 of its 275 seats, has agreed to a government of "national unity", but it remains unclear to what extent minority Sunni Arabs will be represented.

Sunnis are now major players in the political field after they saw their parliamentary representation triple to a total of 58 seats after community leaders had called for an end to their boycott of elections.

The Kurdish Alliance, the main Shiite partners in the outgoing cabinet, won 53 seats and will certainly also be included in the new government line-up.

But Western officials warned it was not just a matter of arithmetic.

"I think it is much more about negotiating package deals," one official said.

"I could imagine that the second half of February, early March will be spent negotiating that (government) programme before they really get into the business of choosing people for the job" of government ministers, the official said.

"Because if they don't agree on the programme, you may see coalition partners drop out," he said.

Mahdi Hafez, a former minister in the provisional government who joined former prime minister Iyad Allawi's cross-sectarian Iraqi National List, said that Shiites because of their numbers favoured divvying up cabinet seats on a proportional basis.

"It's true that the Shiite Alliance favours a government make-up based on electoral results," he said. "But other parties, starting with the Kurds, no longer accept just a Shiite-Kurdish coalition and that's why the Alliance will have to compromise," he added.

The outgoing government counted a few co-opted Sunni ministers, but their presence failed to alleviate fears within the community that minority rights would be respected.

"Sprinkling a few Sunnis at the last minute, almost like parsley flakes on top of a dinner, is not a way to maximize Sunni Arab community buy-in," a western observer suggested.

Political Sunni engagement is seen as essential to isolating insurgents who derive much of their support from the once-powerful community favoured by ousted dictator Saddam Hussein.

Sunni leaders have decried the election results, claiming fraud, but while Sunni and other parties have said they will register official complaints with the judicial body charged with certifying the elections, none have so far said they would boycott talks on forming a government.

"Despite these facts (of fraud) we will continue to participate in the political process and these results will not affect our activities because we are aware of our national duty," said Adnan al-Dulaimi of the Iraqi People's Conference Party, one of the main Sunni Arab political parties.

"We will coordinate with the political blocs that share our principles and form a national unity government," he told AFP.

"We will work to prevent sectarianism from dominating the political process," he added.

The United States, Britain, Canada, and the United Nations all welcomed the election results with US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack saying Washington wanted Shiites, Kurds, Sunni Arabs and others to "work together in cross-sectarian, cross-ethnic efforts to think about forming a government."

Meanwhile, in the latest violence, rebels killed eight people, including three policemen, in a series of attacks across the country.

This followed a series of attacks on US and Iraqi military bases in the Sunni town of Ramadi, 100 kilometres (60 miles) west of Baghdad, on Friday just as election results were being announced.

A delegation from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) arrived in Baghdad to appeal for the release of American journalist Jill Carroll, abducted in Baghdad on January 7 by gunmen who shot dead her interpreter.

Sunni Arab leaders in Iraq and Muslims around the world have pleaded for her release. A deadline set by her kidnappers, who said they would kill the 28-year-old reporter unless US forces freed Iraqi women detainees, expired late Friday.

End of AFP report

JANUARY 29th 2006

In spite of the report below, I still think Saddam should have a fair trial in Iraq. It will just take time.
However there is room for debate on this and on what the alternative is and what the consequences
of interference by the International Community at this stage would be.
As far as the report below goes I am not sure the interpretation of events is quite right. It seems that
Saddam and his half-brother were dismissed from the court by the judge after they refused to behave
according to the established procedure. After that the case continued without them. It has now been
adjourned till Wednesday. I would not say it was out of control, more likely being put in order.

Saddam storms out of court

  Sunday January 29, 04:34 PM
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The troubled trial of Saddam Hussein collapsed into chaos moments after resuming on Sunday as the former Iraqi president and his defence team stormed out and guards dragged his half-brother from the courtroom.

Saddam's lawyers threatened to boycott future sessions unless the chief judge apologised, and called for the trial to be moved abroad, saying a fair hearing in Iraq was impossible.

The dramatic scenes were played out as a new chief judge, Raouf Abdel Rahman, tried to stamp his authority on the court, telling lawyers he would not allow them to make political statements in the U.S.-backed court.

"I am the judge and you are the defendant," Abdel Rahman told Saddam as he checked an outburst by the former Iraqi president, who complained: "This is an American court and it's rules are American ... you cannot force me to stay in court."

Abdel Rahman is under pressure to deal firmly with Saddam after the government accused his predecessor, who resigned two weeks ago, of being too lenient on the former Iraqi leader. Saddam's courtroom tirades have dominated proceedings.

The walkouts by Saddam, two co-defendants and their legal team after verbally sparring with the no-nonsense Abdel Rahman, and the judge's expulsion of a fourth accused, will raise fresh concerns about the court's ability to stage a fair trial.

Within minutes of the start, Abdel Rahman ejected Saddam's former intelligence chief and half-brother, Barzan al-Tikriti, after he refused to keep quiet and called the trial "a daughter of a whore". Barzan was dragged out by court guards.

"This court is not a place for political speeches," said Abdel Rahman, a 64-year-old Kurd whose hometown is Halabja, where 5,000 people died in a gas attack during an offensive by Saddam's forces in 1988.

The chief of Saddam's legal team, Khalil al-Dulaimi, protested: "this trial is not fair," and the defence lawyers walked out.

"If you leave then you can't come back for future sessions," said Abdel Rahman.

When the judge then tried to impose court-appointed lawyers on Saddam, the former Iraqi leader turned to them, and shaking his finger, said: "I reject you. If you stay here you are evil."

"I want to leave," Saddam, dressed in a dark suit and a white collared shirt, then told the judge.

"Then leave," said Abdel Rahman.

"It is a tragedy. I led you for 35 years. How can you lead me out of court? Shame on you," said Saddam, who is on trial for crimes against humanity.

He then left the courtroom, and was followed by his former vice president, Taha Yassin Ramadan, and Awad Hamed al-Bander, a former chief judge in his Revolutionary Court.


Abdel-Rahman was determined not to allow the walkouts to derail proceedings, calling three new witnesses, two women and a man. They testified from behind a light grey curtain, as other witnesses have done, to conceal their identity.

A senior member of Saddam's defence team, Khamis al-Aubeide, said the lawyers would boycott the next hearing unless the judge apologised for expelling Barzan and one of the defence counsel, who was ejected after questioning the legitimacy of the court.

"Barzan was only explaining the circumstance of his illness, asking for medical care because he has cancer. Does that mean he deserves to be expelled?" said Aubeide.

Saddam would not attend the next session, scheduled for February 1 or February 2, if his lawyers were not present, Aubeide said.

Saddam and seven co-accused are charged with killing 148 men from the Shi'ite town of Dujail after a bid to assassinate him there in 1982.

"In view of the biased policies adopted by the court's chief judge to push for a quick conviction, we are demanding that the trial be moved outside Iraq to put an end to this farce," Saddam chief counsel Duleimi told Reuters.

The court has been in turmoil since Kurdish chief judge Rizgar Amin resigned, complaining of pressure from the Shi'ite-led government to speed up the process and be firmer in his handling of Saddam.

The trial has been marred by delays since getting under way last October. Two members of the defence team have been murdered, and Amin's original replacement was accused last week of being a former member of Saddam's Baath party.

Some human rights groups have criticised the former U.S. occupation authority's decision to try Saddam and his aides in Iraq rather than in an international court. They say subsequent events have reinforced their view that sectarian and ethnic conflict make a fair trial in Baghdad hard to achieve.

Sunday's session was the eighth since the trial began on October 19.

(Additional reporting by Suleiman al-Khalidi in Amman)

FEBRUARY 13th 2006
The video of British soldiers beating up Iraqi youths in 2004 is not good news. What beggars belief is not that a whistle-blower decided that action should be taken to stop this sort of behaviour but that it was given to the press rather than the government and the military authorities. Given the present circumstances and possible outcomes, how could it possibly be in the interests of Iraqis or anyone else to do this?

Action is being taken to identify those concerned in the events videoed and referred to in the preceding paragraph. It won't make life any easier in Basra even though the events did not take place there. There has been a withdrawal of cooperation by the local Iraqi governor with the British forces there. However, the Iraqi leaders will have to make up their mind if playing to the gallery for local political gain is more important than keeping control and building up their own security. We are in Iraq because we were asked to go there and asked to stay there and help establish a sustainable democratic regime. If they are not going to cooperate, there is no reason to stay, so they had better make up their mind. If the youths who were given a beating by the British infantry had tried their grenade-lobbing on any other army they would just have been shot, so while it was a bad mistake made in the heat of the moment, and a bad mistake to film it with a commentary that sounded careless and cruel, the truth is that coalition forces are in Iraq on a long term mission for good. The alternatives have never been thought through. However, it must now be up to the Iraqi government in Baghdad to decide if they can run the country without help or not, and if not to communicate to their compatriots just what the gameplan is. We cannot put our soldiers in an impossible position. Tough, hot, dangerous yes. Impossible - no. This is not an army of occupation. If we are not going to be supported by the Iraqi army and police, it is time to go.

As for the complaints about cartoons of Mohamed, it would make more sense if those complaining focussed on the reasons for the cartoons. When the name of a great, historic figure is taken in vain by homicidal maniacs it is time for Muslims all over the world, to whom his reputation is important, to take the hint. There was a reason for the cartoonist's art. It was clearly not a joke but a serious point masked, as is the cartoonists' way, in humour. There is no point in being offensive just to make a point about freedom of expression - we have freedom. If that had been the case, then Jack Straw's remarks are applicable and the cartoons would have been utterly uncalled for. But we know from historical records that Mohamed was a great man, a civilised man, and would absolutely detest the actions being carried out in his name. How should a cartoonist depict this appalling travesty other than how it was done? Danish troops risk their lives daily for Muslims in their UN duties.

The latest release of photos and videos of the abuse of Iraqi prisoners is a disaster for relations between our countries but it is clearly unavoidable. It brings us back to the point made in this diary when the first abuses were revealed:- the punishment of lower ranks and those directly engaged is not sufficient. There should be conviction and extremely long prison terms for those at the highest level responsible for these abuses. Nothing could possibly be more important when removing an amoral tyrant than setting an example of how to behave towards those who are prisoners. It is now clear that all the photos should have been published at the time or destroyed, and that the most senior personnel responsible or grossly negligent should have been not just demoted but sacked and probably sentenced to imprisonment themselves.

When it comes to Guantanamo Bay, the situation is more complex than some people suppose. I was glad to hear William Haig being circumspect in his criticism on Radio 4 as I drove home tonight. It is fondly supposed that any individual has the right to be either put on trial or released, under both international law and the domestic law of civilised countries. This is no longer the case in a world where we have established a whole lot of conflicting domestic and international rights to citizens of the nations of the UN. The US is not obliged to release onto its soil individuals who have sworn their everlasting hostility to the country, to individuals who live there, to its freedoms and aspirations and indeed vowed vengeance against specific targets; who have declared their suicidal or unlimited intent and who were taken in operations against forces supporting elected governments.persons.  There may, for a number of reasons including the death of witnesses and the inability to use others, be insufficient evidence to charge them in a civil court of law with crimes that could ensure their conviction and detention. It may also be impossible to deport them to any country that would be prepared to admit them; or it may be that there would be a near certainty that they would be tortured, killed or both if this was done. Or it might mean the certainty of releasing them to a state unable to detain them where they would join the forces of international terrorism. None of the UN team who have demanded that Guantanamo be closed has visited the place. The Red Cross representatives who have been there have been more circumspect again in their accusations of mistreatment and have made their main criticisms based on their doubts on the legality of detention without a civil trial. They have not made the case. In the case of Britain, where we have accepted that the British citizens in Guantanamo can be entrusted to us, they have been. Some of those released from Guantanamo have been recaptured in action against democratically elected governments or in terrorist acts. It is not yet proven that the safest place for some of those in Guantanamo is not just where they are, or that the rights of not only potential innocent victims but the lives of the detainees themselves would be served by their release. The current situation is admittedly not satisfactory or desirable, and the world should be given a better accounting by the United States that all the cases of detainees in Guantanamo are reviewed on a regular basis and that inhuman and degrading treatment is not used. In Abu Ghraib we know now that the situation has been rectified. We should be given the more reassurance at Guantanamo. I am sure this can be done. The US administration has been incredibly foolish, a foolishness apparently born of a strange ignorance of the world, but it is not deliberately malign. Some of their critics are also strangely ignorant of the nature of some terrorists and fanatics, and their capability and determination. Kofi Anna wants Guantanamo 'as soon as possible'. We all agree. But that will take time. During hostilities, prisoners may be detained without trial. If hostilities are deemed to be over, then the law and the authority for these trials will need to be established taking into account the realities. But see later entry March 17th below.
And for later news see this specific link at 

FEBRUARY 23 2006
No comments are called for here at this time. There have been monstrous attacks in Shiite Mosques and individuals and they are running out of patience and have counter-attacked. Meanwhile those who are hoping the problems will be blamed on the Americans are claiming not just that they attract the violence and that their security fails but that they are behind the attacks, rather like the 9/11 Twin Towers attack is blamed on Israelis. It is a dark moment indeed, where every event can be used and twisted and every cock-up sold as a conspiracy.

There is some hope, now that all sides have looked into the abyss, that dialogue with the aim of a unified government representing Shia, Sunni, Kurds and others will resume. For the moment, sporadic internecine slaughter, with additional coalition casualties, continues.

MARCH 1st 2006
Nobody should be at all surprised that Saddam Hussein has taken full responsibility for what he considers to be law enforcement under his regime. He may have been a brutal tyrant and a murderer, but he was never a man to shirk responsibility or to fail look life squarely in the eye. On that score he is worth 100 G.W.B's any day. But the case against him is that there was no rule of law, no justice, and that he stood in the way of any society that could have established either. He will claim his actions were legal because those killed were accused of attempted assassination of the head of state. He will have to convince the court, on this and other charges, that those murdered under his regime, with his approval, got the best justice they could expect under the best system of justice he could have been expected to provide. There were many tortured to death and many whose guilt could hardly be said to have been established, so he will need to have some eloquent witnesses for the defence. That is why his supporters are, at the moment, trying to prove that security and the rule of law in Iraq is impossible to establish other than by tyrannical means. It's not rocket science.

MARCH 11th 2006
We are now approaching the moment where there will be a clear separation between those who supported or went to war on the thinking of President G.W. Bush and his so-called right-wing advisors, and those who supported or went to war because it was an awful job that would have to be done sooner or later, and later would have been worse; not just a bit worse, immeasurably worse. They went to war alongside Bush because a coalition without America was unthinkable and Bush was the only president they had. The fact that hawkish advocates now say they were 'wrong' makes no difference - we knew they were wrong anyway. Let us hope they have been taught a lesson they will never forget. There is still a job to do, and just because they have made it very much harder does not mean it can be abandoned. There is despair and chaos in parts of Iraq, and in some hearts and minds; but in others, by far the majority, there is hope and determination.

Many have died. In two world wars many died, among them the young and some of the best. In various genocidal conflicts many die today. The societies of the Western World are flawed as well, as well we know. But still there is no alternative, if we are to transit the phase of globalisation, to supporting all those who wish their homeland to join the international community of nations that operate by rule of law, sustained by freedom of assembly and peaceful expression under that law. Criminality can take hold anywhere unless social institutions are built and constantly maintained and renewed. It can take hold in Europe unless the coming generations are properly educated. But it can take hold particularly in any country emerging from dictatorship where institutions and professions are not embedded in a culture of morality and transparency. Gorbachev's insistence on glasnost and perestroika before freedom could have a foundation was ignored by the US. They never learned the lesson from that. Perhaps the pain of this will bring that lesson home. We will know when George W Bush ceases to use phrases such as 'our strategy will result in victory' (see below). If we wish to talk victory, there has been one so far - the invasion of Iraq and the removal of Saddam - and one possible to come, which will be the victory of Iraqis, with our eventual help, over the mess that invasion and the removal of any sort of government created.

Bush says training of Iraqi forces paying off

By Caren Bohan 

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - With the Iraq war nearly 3 years old and showing no sign of letting up, President George W. Bush said on Saturday he hoped to have Iraqi forces control more territory than U.S. troops by year's end.

Laying the groundwork for a new attempt to bolster support for the war, Bush said in his weekly radio address he could understand why many Americans wonder whether the conflict has been worth it.

"The security of our country is directly linked to the liberty of the Iraqi people," he said. "This will require more difficult days of fighting and sacrifice, yet I am confident that our strategy will result in victory."

The radio address kicked off a series of events Bush plans to promote his call for patience with the Iraq war. The speeches coincide with the anniversary of the March 2003 launch of the war in which more than 2,300 U.S. soldiers have died.

Bush has consistently refused to set a deadline for withdrawing the 132,000 U.S. troops now in Iraq.

"The situation in Iraq is still tense," Bush said. But he offered a glimmer of hope in praising the response of the Iraqi security forces to sectarian violence that erupted after the bombing of a major Shi'ite shrine on February 22.

"The effective performance of the Iraqi security forces during this crisis showed that our hard work to build up and train these forces is paying off," Bush said.


"In the coming months, we will help prepare more Iraqi battalions to take the lead in battle and Iraqi forces will assume responsibility over more territory," he said.

Hundreds have been killed since the destruction of the Golden Mosque in Samarra triggered an outbreak of reprisal attacks.

The crisis has deepened distrust among Iraq's majority Shi'ites and Sunnis, who were politically dominant under Saddam Hussein but now are the backbone of the anti-U.S. insurgency.

Amid fears of an all-out civil war, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said this week the strategy will be to rely on Iraqi forces to deal with such a war if it erupts.

"Our goal is to have the Iraqis control more territory than the coalition forces by the end of this year," Bush said.

Bush said with Iraqi forces taking control over more of the country, U.S. forces would be able to spend more time looking for al Qaeda militants.

Some analysts have questioned how capable Iraqi security forces would be without the aid of U.S. troops, the degree to which they are loyal to the central government and how deeply they have been infiltrated by insurgents.

Discontent with the Iraq war is a major factor in Bush's slumping approval ratings, which are mired below 40 percent.

Bush planned to couple his radio address with a meeting Saturday morning with Rumsfeld and other Pentagon officials to discuss so-called improvised explosive devices, or IEDs. The devices, the deadliest threat posed by Iraqi insurgents, are often planted by insurgents on roads to attack U.S. vehicles.

MARCH 17th 2006
The information coming out about the circumstances of the arrest of the remaining Guantanamo detainees with British connections is far from satisfactory. Little wonder that Blair is now calling for the closing of Guantanamo. We cannot know who is telling the truth here, and there is no reason to believe any particular account, but there seems to have been a crumbling, under the pressure of political imperatives demanded of security services, of reasonable control of the treatment of prisoners. It is of course absurd to expect politicians to have perfect control when institutions themselves are struggling to recruit and train to high standards those who are asked to do relatively tough and poorly paid jobs. But Guantanamo was part of an action taken above all on moral grounds, to purge an intolerable source of hostility. If the UK government is calling for the closure of Guantanamo, we can only conclude they are not content to see it continue under the present circumstances. See entry for June 29th

The new Iraqi parliament has now met for the first time. The members have been sworn in, But it has been a low key occasion as there is little to celebrate across the country just now, with insurgents taking every opportunity to murder both Sunni and Shia in order to frustrate democratic synthesis.

MARCH 19th
Mr Allawi, a man with very considerable knowledge of Iraq at all levels, is of the opinion civil war is now the state of affairs in Iraq. Dr Reid, the UK Minister of Defence, disagrees. It is true that there is no civil war by classical definition. The country is not divided into two camps based on geographic or ethnic or even clear ideological grounds; but this is because the ideological positions are so confused, some of them purely personal. Those who carry out murderous attacks do so for many different reasons. There is unfortunately a Shia/Sunni divide now, however, in the terror attacks, if only because the Supporters of Saddam were mainly Sunni. If the coalition troops were to immediately withdraw, there could be local ethnic cleansing and a civil war on a grand scale. At the moment, there is a state of extreme insecurity, revenge killings and murderous provocation. The position is that which was predicted in these pages as likely the moment it became clear, immediately after the invasion, that George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheyne had absolutely no idea what they were doing. It also bears out the earlier prediction that while George W. Bush would remove Saddam, Saddam would remove George Bush, not from the White House (as it is his last term anyway) but from the position in history he aimed to occupy by his foreign policy initiatives.

The formation of a bipartisan independent congressional committee in the US to examine the options is pretty insulting to the Bush administration.  See

Mr Allawi said Iraq would implode if the violence got much worse.

"It will not only fall apart, but sectarianism will spread throughout the region, and even Europe and the United States would not be spared all the violence that may occur as a result of sectarian problems in this region."

In that case, this built-in intolerance was bound to have emerged at some time and it is just as well we are getting to grips with it now. There is no way that humanity could survive globalisation and the dangers of future technological progress unless the obscurantist religious beliefs of half the world on the one hand, and the fatuous, unbridled self-indulgence of the advocators of freedom without education or self imposed restraint on the other, are brought face to face with reality.

An excellent BBC Panorama filmed report from the South of Iraq shown tonight makes it very clear that while British troops might be able to start to withdraw in a year or so from the active support they provide now, international protection of the oil export routes will go on for years and, in the meantime, we could do with more unequivocal support from the EU for job which is vital for the Iraqis and for the world.

MARCH 24th
A Pentagon report just released in an open and classified version reveals that they now know that Saddam destroyed of buried or removed all WMD in order to satisfy the UN while spreading intelligence both internally and externally that he still possessed them in order to maintain prestige and deter any attack. He was certain that lack of a UN mandate would prevent his removal by military means. Anyone who read this website in the run-up to the war would know that this was obvious at the time and Hans Blix's efforts were a waste of time, not only because he could not have found WMD if they had been there, but because to prove they were not there was impossible whatever the truth.

MARCH 25th
I was hoping to refrain from commenting on the arguments that now rage on a number of recent events, but the level of debate has been so dismal I cannot let it go.

First of all, the case of Mr Norman Kember.

General Jackson himself was extremely hesitant to criticise Mr Kember for undertaking his peace work in Iraq. To be sure he recommended everyone to follow the Foreign Office advice against going to Iraq at this time, and particularly against deliberately exposing themselves to the risk of kidnap. But he made the point that the current  UN approved action in which the coalition is engaged is to bring democracy and freedom to the country and there was no way that an attempt to enforce a travel ban would be sensible.

The recovery of Mr Kember and the other remaining hostages was achieved without bloodshed, and for this reason some people have claimed without danger as their captors had, it transpired, temporarily absented themselves. This could not be further from the truth. The hostages had been allowed to move around in the premises when their captors were present in number. At this time they were absent and had left the hostages securely tied up. The final recovery of the hostages was just the last phase of many weeks of dangerous operations by coalition forces to obtain intelligence and prepare to act on it. US forces captured one of the kidnapp cell who was 'money motivated' rather than an ideologue. That the final steps, taken almost immediately, were successful made them no less risky.

As for the issue of whether Mr Kember was appropriate in expressing his thanks for the rescue, what left General Jackson unimpressed was presumably not so much the lack of an effusive statement but the continuing refusal even now of the organisation for which Mr Kember works to recognise the legitimate role of coalition forces, acting at the request of the UN, the Iraqi Government, and a massive majority of Iraqi citizens.  Mr Kember has now said:

" I do not believe that a lasting peace is achieved by armed force, but I pay tribute to their courage and thank those who played a part in my release."

This debate is as old as time. The evidence of centuries is undeniable: when conflict arises at a physical level, armed force has always proved the first solution, imposing an enforced peace, after which a lasting peace is indeed only achieved by the methods of dialogue in which Mr Kimber claims to be expert. Saddam Hussein's method was to disallow all dialogue and remain at the enforcement stage, with absolute sanction imposed on any dissenters.

The cost of the rescue of the hostages is NOT an issue. It could well have been an operation that has been worthwhile not just for Mr Kimber but for Iraq and for the process as a whole. That is not to say it should be repeated if it can be avoided. There are many other people who have been kidnapped and many murdered. I this case a coalition national was rescued by coalition forces and as General Jackson made clear this would be the case again if intelligence concerning their location was obtained and rescue was assessed as achievable. There is no reason why the same would not apply to Iraqi hostages if their location is revealed.


Flt Lt Malcolm Kendall-Smith, 37, will face trial, ruled a judge advocate at Aldershot Court Martial Centre, Hants.

The officer faces five charges of failing to comply with a lawful order after refusing training and deployment to Basra, southern Iraq, last June.

Based at Kinloss, Moray, he had served in Iraq but would not return after studying legal advice to ministers.

Judge Advocate Jack Bayliss, delivering his ruling, said UK troops had full justification under United Nations resolutions to be deployed in Iraq at the time of the charges against the defendant - June to July 2005.

He added that the question of the legality of the 2003 invasion was not relevant to the court martial because it predated those charges.

It is clear that this man should have resigned his commission. There are those who say if he honestly believes an order to be illegal, he should refuse to obey it. Well, I suppose someone can honestly believe the moon is made of green cheese if they are extremely scientifically challenged. In this case, the Flight Lieutenant could be extremely legally misinformed or just suffering delusions.

The 2003 invasion was legal in any case under International law. The knowledge we now have of the positions of the French and Russian governments, who felt it expedient to frustrate any authorisation by the Security Council to remove Saddam and let Saddam know of their position, puts the latter beyond doubt.  Russia, France and Germany were not burdened with the containment of Saddam or the enforcement of no-fly zones and were not too bothered about the effects of sanctions on Iraq. There being no higher authority or Court of Appeal to the UN Security Council, the obligation to act fell on those carrying the can. That some disreputable opportunists piled in on the back of operations (this happens in most wars including the last 2 world wars) has no bearing. That the US Defence Department, one of whose representatives claimed 'We don't do peace', prevented the State Department from planning for post-war well in advance has no bearing either. In the UK, it was the peace marchers who prevented any planning, as it was 'politically incorrect' while we were giving Saddam a last chance to have planned a post-war scenario.

As for British law, the invasion was by definition legal having been addressed by every appropriate authority. Most of the leading political players were also lawyers. That 2 million people went on a march against intervention has absolutely no bearing on it. But if you are counting, many more did not march. The marchers were not a minority whose way of life needed protecting by the majority, just people who though they could leave Saddam where he was and send all the coalition troops home and bugger the consequences. They also pathetically believed that Hans Blix 'inspecting' Iraq was a reality. As I have pointed out frequently, that belief is for the mathematically challenged and the geographically inexperienced.

The contention that 'regime change' is not an option under International Law is not an excuse. It can be an obligation that is self evident if other parts of the UN Charter are acknowledged. All law is subject to this form of extrapolation in extremis. The Security Council members are obliged to act in certain circumstances and have the duty to exercise this responsibility. We all know that much law is there simply to cover the arses of lawmakers and elected representatives, and those who have ever sat near where the buck stops know it is no protection against reality.

I used to be a Ken Clarke supporter but now I realise he is a fat complacent slob.

MARCH 28 2006 No comment for the moment. The Reuters report is below

Iraq parties demand U.S. cede control

  Tuesday March 28, 12:04 AM
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq's ruling parties demanded U.S. forces cede control of security on Monday as the government launched an inquiry into a raid on a Shi'ite mosque complex that ministers said saw "cold blooded" killings by U.S.-led troops.

U.S. commanders rejected the charges and said their accusers faked evidence by moving bodies of gunmen killed fighting Iraqi troops in an office compound.

It was not a mosque, they said.

As Shi'ite militiamen fulminated over Sunday's deaths of at least 16 people in Baghdad, an al Qaeda-led group said it staged one of the bloodiest Sunni insurgent attacks in months. A suicide bomber killed 40 Iraqi army recruits in northern Iraq.

The Iraqi Defence Ministry said a suicide bomber wearing an explosive belt also wounded 30 at a base near Mosul.

After 24 hours of limited communication, U.S. commanders mounted a media offensive to deny Shi'ite accounts of a mosque massacre and portray instead a bold and disciplined operation by U.S.-trained Iraqi special forces that killed 16 fighters and freed a hapless Iraqi hostage being held to ransom for $20,000 (11,500 pounds).

Three gunmen were wounded and 18 people detained, he added.

"After the fact, someone went in and made the scene look different from what it was," Lieutenant General Peter Chiarelli said of footage aired extensively on state television showing the bodies of apparently unarmed civilians in a mosque.

"There's been huge misinformation," he said. He insisted he did not know the religious affiliation of the group targeted, although the raid was the fruit of lengthy intelligence work.

He did not spell out his criticism of the Shi'ite political groups who made the massacre accusations. Confrontation between the Iranian-linked Shi'ite leaders and U.S. forces comes at a sensitive time when Washington is pressing them to forge a unity government with minority Sunnis to avert civil war.


Iraq's security minister accused U.S. and Iraqi forces of killing 37 unarmed civilians in the mosque after tying them up.

Residents and police, who put the death toll among the troops' opponents at around 20, spoke of a fierce battle between the soldiers and gunmen from the Mehdi Army militia of Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose followers ran the mosque.

Though Chiarelli stressed his forces did not view the site targeted as a mosque, neighbours and clerics insisted it was. It was not, however, a typical religious building but a compound of former Baath party offices converted by Sadr followers.

Despite confusions, one thing was certain: Shi'ite leaders are up in arms against the U.S. forces who brought them to power by ousting Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated Baathist regime.

"The Alliance calls for a rapid restoration of (control of) security matters to the Iraqi government," Jawad al-Maliki, a senior spokesman of the Shi'ite Islamist Alliance and ally of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, told a news conference.

The United States handed over formal sovereignty in 2004 but 133,000 troops in the country give it the main say in security.

Baghdad provincial governor Hussein al-Tahan said he would halt all cooperation with U.S. forces.

Aides to Sadr denied any Mehdi Army fighters were present.

But witnesses spoke of a lengthy gun battle: "The shooting lasted for more than an hour," shopkeeper Ali Abdul Jabbar said.


The fiery young cleric's militia was ordered to disband after U.S. forces crushed uprisings in 2004. But it remains a force in southern Iraq and eastern Baghdad, and is accused by U.S. officials of some of the violence that killed hundreds of Sunnis after last month's bombing of a Shi'ite shrine.

Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, at the centre of urgent U.S. efforts to stem violence by creating a unity government, has said in recent days that the militias must be brought to heel and accused Iran of funding and training some armed groups. He said militias are now killing more Iraqis than the insurgents.

Khalilzad plans ground-breaking talks with Iran to try to break the deadlock over the formation of a unity government.

Iranian backing seems to have been critical in pushing Sadr to kingmaker status within the Alliance and to securing the nomination of Dawa party leader Jaafari to a second term. Sunni and Kurdish opposition to Jaafari is blocking a government deal.

Alliance leaders stayed away from the daily round of talks on the government, saying the mosque incident kept them busy.

President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, who has been hosting the negotiations said: "We have to know the truth about what happened, and we must not be driven by rumours. This is a very dangerous incident which we must investigate."

(Additional reporting by Michael Georgy, Mariam Karouny, Terry Friel, Hiba Moussa and Aseel Kami)

APRIL 2nd 2006
Now is the time to comment on the above. Condoleeza Rice and Jack Straw are in Baghdad. Rice has admitted the US has made "Thousands of tactical errors". Whether the incident above is one or not is not the issue. The point is they cannot leave Iraq until the Iraqis have formed their own government of national unity, which can take control of Iraqi security services, police and army. The operation has cost a lot and is still costing, in terms of lives and funds, to the coalition and to the Iraqis. It is time for them to realise that the next steps have to be completed now.

APRIL 8th 2006
If calling the state of affairs in Iraq civil war helps hem to stop it, I see no harm, but the real problem is so many of the people who should be there, organising and upholding law and order, have left the country over the past 20 years and instead of going back to clean it up are steering well clear.

APRIL 14th 2006
A significant number of recently retired US Army Generals have pointed out in no uncertain terms that Donald Rumsfeld's planning for postwar Iraq was rubbish. Well, we all remember the general who said "We don't do peace", and that explains some of it. The choices were, I assume, between a small but highly trained and expert force of peace-keepers and  trainers, or a massive force to keep law and order till a civilised society gradually emerged. Rumsfeld seems to have assumed the UN would somehow produce the former, but he wasn't even able to protect them. Bush appears to think Rumsfeld is still the man to clear up the mess he is responsible for. I suppose he would find it difficult to lay his hands on a volunteer to take over...

When you know there are things that you don't know you don't know, the sensible thing to do is to find people who might know the things you don't know and ask them what they might be. But we now know that Rumsfeld was told all the things he didn't know and took not a blind bit of notice. That's a known known now, Donald. [see entry 20th April below]

APRIL 16th 2006
This entry may be delayed while I try to connect from Washington. My web site is fussy about secure ftp access dialup criteria and while everything else works through my mobile phone, updating my site will not. This is the Reuters news that needs no comment from me.

Iraq delays parliament over standoff

  Sunday April 16, 08:13 PM
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi officials postponed a parliamentary session set for Monday, further delaying the formation of a coalition government already held up for four months because of wrangling by political groups.

The postponement came after the ruling Shi'ite Alliance, drawn from Iraq's majority community, proposed a new nominee for prime minister to end a deadlock but opposed the main Sunni grouping's candidate for speaker, raising possible new disputes.

Forty-one people, including four U.S. Marines and five insurgents, were killed in weekend violence reported by officials. Washington has blamed the political paralysis for fuelling bloodshed between Sunni Arabs and Shi'ites.

Iraqi leaders promised after national elections in December they would deliver stability, but bickering and infighting have so far dashed hopes for a national unity government, widely seen as the best way to avert a slide to sectarian civil war.

After four months of resisting Sunni and Kurdish opposition to Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari as its nominee for the top government job, the Alliance put forward Dawa party leader Ali al-Adeeb, officials in the Shi'ite bloc said on Sunday.

Although the Alliance has not officially withdrawn Jaafari's name, the new premiership proposal could end the impasse.

Parliament's acting speaker Adnan Pachachi signalled hope, saying the postponement would be just for a "few days".

Earlier, Pachachi told Reuters failure to seal a deal on top government posts before Monday could delay a new government for at least another month and force parties to choose a parliament speaker, a presidential council and prime minister in stages.


But Iraqi leaders could be headed for fresh discord over the Sunni Iraqi Accordance Front's decision to nominate Tareq al-Hashemi as speaker of parliament.

"The Alliance has floated Ali al-Adeeb as its candidate for prime minister. But if the Alliance does not drop its opposition to Hashemi as parliament speaker the parliament session will be delayed," said an Alliance official, declining to be named.

Adeeb is not well known in Iraq but political sources said the Alliance opted for him because, unlike other candidates, he was not considered sectarian.

Even if political obstacles are overcome, no government will have easy solutions to a Sunni insurgency and sectarian bloodshed that have scared away foreign investors from the oil producer's economy.

The months of wrangling have hurt the credibility of Iraqi leaders, who have struggled to keep the country from slipping into civil war since the February bombing of a Shi'ite shrine.

Among the latest guerrilla attacks, a suicide bomber in a car killed 13 people and wounded 19 on Sunday near a market in the town of Mahmudiya, south of Baghdad.

In another incident, guerrillas killed seven men working for the police department in the northern city of Mosul.

The United States has been putting pressure on Iraqi leaders to form a coalition government, which Washington hopes will foster stability and allow it to begin withdrawing troops.

Four U.S. Marines were killed in combat on Saturday in western Anbar province, a rebel stronghold.

Since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003 to topple Saddam Hussein, more than 2,370 U.S. troops have been killed.

The long drawn out trial of Saddam, which began in October, resumes on Monday.

The former Iraqi president is facing charges of crimes against humanity stemming from the 1982 killing of 148 Shiite Muslim men and teenagers after an assassination attempt on him in the town of Dujail.

APRIL 19th 2006
It is increasingly obvious that the main reason for the failure to form a government is the long standing rivalry between two leading Shiite dynasties - the al-Hakim clan of Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim of the clerical 'old guard' (militia: the Mahdi Army), and the family and followers of Moqtada al-Sadr (militia: the Badr Brigade). Al-Sadr draws most support from the poorer parts, is against any division of Iraq, against any foreign involvement. Al-Hakim represents a more advanced political population, not that they wish to split Iraq, but favour a degree of autonomy for Southern Iraq. The differences of opinion within the Shiite community are now manifest in the argument over the choice of Prime Minister. Meanwhile, all Iraqis suffer.

APRIL 20th
The fairest summary on Donald Rumsfeld can be found in USA TODAY at .
There is nothing I can add to that.

APRIL 25th
We now have (since a day or so) an agreement in Baghdad on a nominee for Prime Minister. The response from Al Qaida has been swift:

Iraq al Qaeda chief warns that fight goes on

  Tuesday April 25, 11:05 PM
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Al Qaeda leader in Iraq Abu Musab al-Zarqawi appeared in a rare video on Tuesday to denounce the new government as an American puppet designed to help Washington pull out of its woes in the country.

In the well-produced 35-minute video posted on the Internet, America's most wanted man in Iraq, dressed in black with a green ammunition belt, warned of more attacks: "What is coming is more painful."

The video, which an accompanying statement says is his first after he previously used audio tapes, comes two days after an audio message from Osama bin Laden was aired and a day after a bombing in Egypt killed 18 people.

The Zarqawi video first came on air in Iraq at about the same time Prime Minister-designate Jawad al-Maliki appeared on state television in a taped interview to say he was talking with all political parties to form a government of national unity.

Washington and many others see a coalition grouping majority Shi'ite Muslims, Sunni Arabs and Kurds as the only way to end the insurgency and stem sectarian bloodshed.

"This democratic play which you brought to Iraq after you promised people freedom and ... economic stability has gone with the wind," Zarqawi said.

"Today, you are trying with all means to assemble people who differ among themselves ... and apostates to form a government to save you from your critical situation," he said, at times depicted firing an assault rifle, training soldiers in the desert or consulting masked aides over a map.

Some political leaders have publicly written Jordanian-born Zarqawi off as a spent force, and he has kept a low profile recently.

But Western intelligence sources and most analysts say he remains powerful and has simply switched his sights from the U.S. military to Iraqi soldiers and police.

As Zarqawi's video appeared on television, Maliki, a tough-speaking Shi'ite with four weeks to name a cabinet acceptable to parliament, gave one of the most comprehensive outlines of his vision since President Jalal Talabani asked him to become premier on Saturday.


He urged Shi'ites, Kurds and Sunnis to unite against suicide bombings, shootings and assassinations that have killed many thousands of security force personnel and civilians since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, but warned there was no military solution.

"Force alone will not wipe out terrorism. If it ends in one place it pops up in another. If we are to succeed with all Iraqi people there must be solutions to unemployment and start a process of investment," he said.

Sectarian violence has rocketed since the bombing of an important Shi'ite shrine in February, and Maliki warned failure to disband militias -- linked to major political parties -- threatened to push Iraq into civil war.

"The weapons must be in the hands of the state. Their presence in the hands of others (militias) will be the start of problems that will trigger a civil war," he said.

Late on Monday, Maliki said he planned to deliver his new cabinet and government well ahead of the 30-day deadline:

"God willing, I am setting myself a timetable of 15 days to finish forming the cabinet and deliver it to the parliament."

In Washington, President George W. Bush, whose poll ratings have hit the lowest of his rule amid public disenchantment with the war, has welcomed Maliki's appointment as a historic moment.

U.S. forces are "engaged in heroic efforts" to help Iraq succeed, he said. "We're on our way to victory." There are 130,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.

"We've got more work to do. But the people -- our troops need to know and those working in the field need to know -- that there is a bipartisan desire for us to be successful in this very important theatre in the war on terror."

Washington has said a government of national unity will strengthen Iraq and improve its ability to maintain its own security, paving the way for some U.S. troops to go home.

But U.S. ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad, who led very public U.S. efforts to push politicians into agreement, also warned Americans to prepare for a long engagement in Iraq and the region.

"We must perhaps reluctantly accept that we have to help this region become a normal region, the way we helped Europe and Asia in another era," he told the Los Angeles Times. "Now it's this area from Pakistan to Morocco that we should focus on.

(Additional reporting by Michael Georgy in Baghdad and Heba Kandil in Dubai)

MAY 6th 2006

British helicopter down in Iraq

Tragic though the loss is of British personnel, even worse is the reaction of young Iraqi civilians in the area. Of course the event will have been carefully preplanned and the crowd may have been a rent-a-mob that had assembled deliberately as part of the preparation, rather than a spontaneous reaction of genuine locals. We know that in the UK it is possible to collect thousands, even hundreds of thousands of people who will rampage through London and smash up shops. Such an operation can be carried out in Basra only too easily, funded by by the movements who are desperate to frustrate a successful democratic outcome. Either way it is not good news. It is not acceptable that our troops just hang in there in the hope that the Iraqi government gets its act together. We must now see progress or seek a new game-plan. That plan must include the greater participation by educated Iraqis of good will in the rebuilding of the nation. However, senior British commanders say this is a 'spike' in an otherwise progressive move towards the exit strategy as planned. [See how story changes for the better the next day]

  Saturday May 6, 05:04 PM
BASRA, Iraq (Reuters) - A British military helicopter was brought down in the Iraqi city of Basra on Saturday, killing four people aboard, officials said, sparking clashes between troops and angry, chanting youths hurling petrol bombs.

Britain's government said "a number of" British military personnel were killed and said the cause was unclear. Police said a rocket hit the helicopter and firefighters said they found four charred bodies in the aircraft, which hit a house.

No one on the ground was hurt in the crash, police said. But two Iraqis were killed in clashes after youths chanted victory slogans for the Mehdi Army, a Shi'ite militia opposed to the occupying forces. The British military denied opening fire.

"I can confirm the tragic deaths of a number of British service personnel," said Defence Secretary Des Browne, who was appointed only on Friday in a cabinet reshuffle.

As troops in Warrior armoured battle vehicles, some with riot shields, cordoned off the area, youths chanting "Victory to the Mehdi Army" threw rocks and then petrol bombs. Soldiers used foam to douse fires ignited on their vehicles.

British military spokesman, Squadron Leader Al Green, said troops counted about 60 rounds fired in the air from the crowd -- not uncommon in Iraq -- and said no British shot was fired.

A local journalist said he was hit in the leg by a British plastic round and saw troops aim their ordinary rifles. He said he saw at least one man dead. Witnesses said a second man may have died in a car, the windscreen of which was smashed and bloodied.

Several people, including children, were wounded when a mortar round later struck a house nearby, witnesses said.

Dominated by the Shi'ite Muslim majority now in control in Baghdad, Basra has seen less violence than cities in the north. But friction between the occupying force and militia groups like the Mehdi Army of Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr does flare up.

British military sources confirmed ground fire seemed the likeliest explanation for the crash, near the local governor's office. The make of the helicopter was not clear.

Basra police spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Kareem al-Zaidi said: "A Multi-National Forces helicopter was hit by a rocket."


Sadr, a firebrand in his early 30s, demands an end to the U.S. and British occupation. He is a key figure in the Islamist Alliance bloc that will lead a new Iraqi government.

In September last year, British forces clashed with Mehdi Army militants. The British public was startled by images of a soldier escaping an armoured vehicle, his uniform in flames.

Senior British officers have complained rival Shi'ite militia factions have effectively taken control of different elements of Iraq's second city, close to the Gulf and the border with Shi'ite Iran, 550 km (340 miles) south of Baghdad.

There were signs of agreement among Iraqi leaders that a unity government could be formed soon. Shi'ite Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi said: "I expect the announcement will come in the next few days ... There are no serious complications."

Sectarian blood-letting has increased since the destruction of a major Shi'ite shrine in Samarra in February, prompting warnings of civil war and adding to pressure from Washington and London for Iraqis to settle their differences quickly.

Both the United States and Britain are keen to withdraw as many troops as possible as quickly as possible and are building up Iraq's own army and police to that end.


Three Iraqi Army officers, including a lieutenant-colonel, were killed inside their base by a suicide bomber in Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit on Saturday, police said. The battalion commander, a colonel, was wounded.

It was not the first time an insurgent had dressed in army uniform and evaded identity checks to attack Iraqi soldiers.

Sunni Arab insurgents, including al Qaeda's Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, have said they are taking their battle to the Iraqi forces, targeting recruiting lines and senior officers.

Before Saturday, 104 British troops had died in Iraq. About 8,000 are deployed there, along with 133,000 Americans.

(Additional reporting by Alaa Habib in Basra and Ahmed Rasheed, Lutfi Abu Oun, Ibon Villelabeitia, Mariam Karouny, Terry Friel and Alastair Macdonald in Baghdad and David Clarke in London)

MAY 7th  - The story changes

Updated: Sunday, 7 May 2006, 16:36 GMT 17:36 UK

UK Army fire 'did not hit' Iraqis
Iraqi civilians killed during unrest in Basra could not have been hit by the shots fired by UK soldiers, British Army sources have told BBC News.

Calm has been restored in the southern Iraqi city following unrest after a British Lynx helicopter crashed there.

Five local people - including two children - are believed to have died in the fighting that followed.

British investigators are examining the helicopter's wreckage to find out if it was shot down, as some reports claim.

They removed the remains of the craft and a number of bodies from the crash site on Sunday.

The BBC's Paul Wood visited the crash site and said most Iraqis were friendly and many said they were sorry the helicopter had been shot down.

Our correspondent says the Iraqi authorities are now co-operating with the multi-national forces in Basra.

British commanders say it is another sign of hope and a sign that the exit strategy for Iraq remains on track.

Commons statement

Defence Secretary Des Browne said up to five servicemen died in the helicopter crash. He offered his sympathies to the families of those who died.

He will make a statement to the House of Commons about the incident on Monday.

On the same day, the Ministry of Defence will release the identities of the servicemen who were killed.

British ministers have said it is unclear why the craft went down.

But if enemy fire is confirmed as the cause of the crash, it would be the first time a British military helicopter has been shot down in the area.

The Iraqi president, Jalal Talabani, has sent a message of condolence to UK Prime Minister Tony Blair saying the apparent shooting down was a "hideous crime against the British".

MAY 17th 2006
This is depressing news. Admittedly the journalist has always been pessimistic about Iraq, but things are not going well.
Report from The Independent, March 17th 2006

Basra carnage escalates as one person killed every hour

By Patrick Cockburn in Arbil

Published: 17 May 2006

One person is being assassinated in Basra every hour, as order in Iraq's second city disintegrates, according to an Iraqi Defence Ministry official.

And a quarter of all Iraqi children suffer from malnutrition, a survey of 20,000 households by the Iraqi government and Unicef says.

The number of violent killings in Basra is now at a level close to that of Baghdad, and marks the failure of the British Army's three-year attempt to quell violence there. Police no longer dare go to the site of a murder because they fear being attacked. The governor of Basra, Mohammed Misbahal-Wa'ili, is trying to sack the city's police chief, claiming that the police have not carried out a single investigation into hundreds of recent assassinations.

The collapse of government authority in Iraq is increasing at every level and leaders in Baghdad have yet to form a cabinet, five months after parliamentary elections on 15 December.

Insurgent attacks on American and British troops are also proving more lethal, with 44 US soldiers and seven British killed so far this month, and with daily losses exceeding anything seen for more than a year.

Majid al-Sari, an adviser to the Iraqi Ministry of Defence, describing the situation in Basra to the daily al-Zaman, said that on average one person was being assassinated every hour. Militiamen and tribesmen are often the only real authority. When Sheikh Hassan Jarih al-Karamishi was killed by men dressed in police uniforms at the weekend, Mr Sari said his heavily armed armed tribesmen stormed one police station in south Basra, killing 11 police, and burnt down two other buildings, headquarters for a political party.

Tribes who once lived in the marshlands outside Basra are engaged in constant feuds with other tribes. While militias owe allegiance to Shia parties, they are also suspected of receiving funds from Kuwaiti and Iranian intelligence.

Full article at

MAY 22 2006
So, at last we have a constitutionally agreed government, formed by politicians who have been elected by a large majority of the population. The time taken to arrive at this point has taken a terrible toll. The political status is far from admirable. The status of women is disappointing to say the least. The basis of the state appears to be largely sectarian. But it has to be time for outsiders to restrict their political opinion and to confine their support for the Iraqi government to backing up the enforcement of law and order. We must only hope that law and order means just that rather than religious and tribal dispute or revenge on past tragic killings whether deliberate or accidental.
The UK PM has visited today and given his encouragement.

MAY 24th 2006
So far there is no indication that Iraq will unite around the.government, even though it includes the greatest Iraqi patriots who have risked their lives opposing Saddam. Al-Zarqawi has launched a video warning Sunni's not to co-operate with a Shia-led regime. There is corruption at all levels. Murder and kidnap continue as a way of commerce as well as revenge, quite apart from religious fanaticism. It will need a strong, united government to gradually bring control over time. They don't yet have that in complete form. Yet it is true to say that progress has now been made toward that state.

MAY 26th
Frankness is to be valued, and this from Bush and Blair deserves our respect.

Friday, 26 May 2006, 07:42 GMT 08:42 UK

Bush and Blair admit Iraq errors
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and US President George W Bush have made a stark public acknowledgment that they made mistakes in Iraq.

Mr Bush said the biggest US error was the prison abuse scandal in Abu Ghraib, which it was now paying for.

The two leaders have never admitted their mistakes in such frank terms, the BBC's Jonathan Beale says.

They also called for the international community to give its full support to the new Iraqi government.

In a Washington news conference, the British prime minister said it was important to Iraq's leaders to know that "we will stand firm with them" against "terrorism and violence".

The talks in Washington also focused on Iran, with Mr Bush offering rewards for Tehran if it ends uranium enrichment.

Both men have seen their popularity drop and are keen to ensure a positive legacy as their terms draw to a close, correspondents say.

BBC diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus says Iraq has cast a shadow over the leaders' careers and both were seeking to play up the potential for change afforded by the new democratically-elected government in Baghdad.

'Daunting' challenge

Asked about mistakes in Iraq, Mr Bush brought up the prisoner abuse scandal at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison.

  "I learned some lessons about expressing myself maybe in a little more sophisticated manner, you know "
George W Bush

"We've been paying for that for a long period of time," he said.

He also said he regretted having used unsophisticated language such as "Wanted dead or alive", which had been misinterpreted in some parts of the world.

The BBC's Jonathan Beale in Washington says the US president was full of introspection after frequently being
criticised for lacking powers of self-analysis.

Mr Blair, who held talks with new Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki in Baghdad this week, was also prepared to acknowledge errors, accepting that the exclusion of all of Saddam Hussein's Baath party members from leadership roles may have only fuelled the insurgency.

But both men remained convinced that they had done the right thing in Iraq.

Mr Blair said: "I came away thinking the challenge is still immense, but I also came away thinking more certain than ever that we should rise to it."

That challenge, he said, was "daunting... but inspiring".

Whatever people's misgivings about the 2003 invasion of Iraq, he said, "our duty, but also the duty of the whole international community, is to get behind this government and support it".

However, neither man would set a timetable for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq.

Iran warning

They also discussed Iran's nuclear programme, and its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment. The US suspects Iran of seeking nuclear weapons, although Tehran says its work is for peaceful, energy purposes.

Mr Bush said the US would continue to work with Iran's government despite its "intransigence" but urged it to suspend enrichment to avoid international isolation.

The leaders meet again on Friday after Mr Blair's foreign policy speech at Georgetown University.

In his speech, the UK leader is expected to focus on the values of democracy and reform of the post-World War II institutions, such as the UN and International Monetary Fund.

Mr Blair has pledged to resign before his third term ends, which will be in May 2010 at the latest. Mr Bush leaves office in 2009.

The prime minister was given wholehearted support by the president, however. Asked by a journalist what Mr Bush wanted to see in Mr Blair's successor, Mr Bush replied: "I want him to be here so long as I'm president."

JUNE 02 2006

Terrible stories are coming to light from some time back of the shooting of defenseless Iraqis by US marines who have lost control after being attacked by roadside bombs. There seems little doubt that these incidents were covered up by officers who were aware of the truth. The fact is that US and UK troops are sometimes very young and ill prepared to deal with the incredible stress of the Iraqi post-war environment. They came to liberate the country and give it the chance for democracy and an open society, and they are appalled by some of the hostility they have met. UK soldiers I have spoken to have witnessed attacks from Iraqis who have deliberately used their own children as shields, or have fired and thrown their weapon away to avoid retaliation as they know the British rules of engagement do not allow the shooting of the unarmed. When a roadside bomb is placed near a building, US soldiers may assume it was with the knowledge of those inside. In all situations like this, civilians find themselves caught between activists and insurgents and the forces of control and order. But if terrible mistakes are made they have to be acknowledged straight away. The murdering of unarmed men, women and children is never acceptable. We must assume that the US Defense Secretary had not the slightest idea that his men were going to be faced with this situation as it is clear his forces were not prepared for it, nor were their officers prepared to handle it when the worst happened. As with Abu Ghraib, it is not the men on the front line who are responsible for being in a situation they are not equal to. It is a situation that hardly anyone is prepared for. But the truth must be faced.

JUNE 06 2005

Here is a link to the most concentrated source of BBC info on Iraq

There remain two incontrovertible causes of this disastrous situation: the failure of Bush and his administration to take responsibility for administering postwar Iraq and planning for it, and the failure of Bush and his administration to understand that US support of Israel's policy of the right to land based on both the Bible and post WWII conquests, both in Israel's favour, was not acceptable in law or logic, let alone to a Palestinian nation deprived of statehood and its Muslim supporters. The Bible is not the basis of title in the current millennium, and after WWII the International Community went to some lengths to outlaw further acquisition of land by war. There were two obvious conditions to a successful removal of Saddam Hussein: a sovereign power to take his place and a resolution of the Palestinian question on equitable and legal grounds. Until both conditions are met, chaos will continue.

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is dead. That can't be bad news.
But even more important may be the associated intelligence picked up as a result. This could bring in a lot of others.

NOW that the Iraqi government is fully constituted with the complement of ministers required, including Defence and Interior ministers, the moment has come for serious planning on how they can take control. This is not an easy scenario to manage. While it is vital that Iraqis take charge it is also vital that the coalition offer their very best ideas and capability to back up efforts to reverse the trends of the past months. There is an inbuilt paradox that will need careful handling. But the timing has been chosen by events, so there is no way the challenge can be avoided.

JUNE 13th
So what does George Bush do? He turns up UNANNOUNCED in Baghdad. That is about the stupidest thing he could possibly have done. It seems there is no end to the extent of the idiocy of this man and his advisors.

JUNE 21st
So far, the result of the killing of al-Zarqawi has not produced benign results. He has been replaced by another leader and al-Qaida are going to any lengths to prove they can strike wherever they like, right under the noses of Iraqi and American forces.

JUNE 29th 2006
There has been a US Supreme Court ruling on Guantanamo which has been the subject of gross misreporting in the UK. The court says Bush exceeded his authority in setting up the Guantanamo process.  On the other hand it endorses the general principal of military commissions for the hearing of cases. Apart from that it changes little and does not solve the overall problem of how to deal with these prisoners of war, many of whom cannot be sent home other than to probable torture or death. It makes it clearer that the problem must be solved, however.

JULY 10th 2006
The latest news from Baghdad reveals that sectarian strife is now reaching the level of civil war. Normal life is being brought to a standstill. Not only will those who are required to return to Iraq to help reconstruction be deterred from so doing, all those who can leave Baghdad, no matter what age or education or experience they have, if not kept there for pressing reasons or poverty, are trying to do so.

JULY 18th

The above is a link to an Associated Press report. It is grim reading.
" of Iraq have seen "collusion between criminal gangs, militias and sectarian 'hit groups,' alleged death squads, vigilante groups and religious extremists."

The report from the U.N. Assistance Mission in Iraq describes a wave of lawlessness and crime, including assassinations, bombings, kidnappings, torture and intimidation.

Hundreds of teachers, judges, religious leaders and doctors have been targeted for death, and thousands of people have fled, the report said. Evidence suggests militants also have begun to target homosexuals, it said..


Britain's outgoing ambassador in Baghdad has warned that civil war is the most likely outcome in Iraq, according to a report.

In a confidential memo to ministers, William Patey also predicted the break-up of Iraq along ethnic lines.

The assessment was contained in Mr Patey's final telegram from Baghdad before he left the Iraqi capital last week - details of which were obtained by the BBC.

The diplomatic cable was sent to the Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary, Defence Secretary, Leader of the House of Commons, and senior military commanders in both Iraq and the UK.

Mr Patey wrote: "The prospect of a low intensity civil war and a de facto division of Iraq is probably more likely at this stage than a successful and substantial transition to a stable democracy."

He went on: "Even the lowered expectation of President Bush for Iraq - a government that can sustain itself, defend itself and govern itself and is an ally in the war on terror - must remain in doubt."

But the memo also says that "the position is not hopeless, although it adds Iraq will remain "messy and difficult" for the next five to 10 years.
[end of introduction to the report]

Although much is being made of the 'contradiction' between this assessment and the UK/US government line that steady progress is being made, there is not necessarily a contradiction. Progress in building a new state can nonetheless be targetted by ever more vicious and desperate acts of cruelty and destruction. Nor is the flawed logic of the BBC's John Humphrys to be taken seriously. Supposedly a BBC presenter and seeker of the facts for the British Public, Mr Humphrys, while claiming to 'know nothing' of the reality in Iraq himself announces as fact that if the outcome is not as hoped for by those who backed the removal of Saddam, then the decision to remove him and the entire exercise was a mistake - the wrong thing to do. Mr Humphrys cannot, it seems, imagine that 'the right thing to do' might not turn out as imagined or end in apparent failure. He can only judge with hindsight, and in the short term. While Mao's opinion that it was 'too soon to tell' if the French Revolution has been 'the right thing to do' is the other extreme, the fact that the US made an unutterable mess of the removal of Saddam does not mean it was not a historical inevitability. The 'right' action can end in apparent failure. The 'wrong' action can meet with apparent success. I don't need to spell it out, do I? 

At the start of these Iraq diaries I suggested that Bush would remove Saddam (a necessity) but Saddam would expose Bush as an incompetent failure (indeed I suggested it would lead to his removal from the Presidency, but that was not likely when the mess became so great, so quickly that nobody else would dream of stepping up to clear up the mess).

It has been rightly said that the 'Battle for Baghdad' has now become the 'Battle for Iraq'.
OK, then the battle for Baghdad must be won. But the various enemies will know this and if the battle for Baghdad looks like being won they will make their moves elsewhere. Make no mistake, the champions of freedom and democracy are up against men (not many women, as it happens) whose rage and determination is considerable, who demand that their God-given authority be restored, within their society and within their families. Some have lost everything, and others have access to funds with which to employ the dispossessed. They cannot join in the construction of a new Iraq, so they are bent on destroying all until they can once again rule. A divided free world that is still arguing about decisions taken years ago cannot hope for a victory that would put an end to this. Only a determined and united international community can do that. Mathematically, the odds are overwhelmingly in favour of the free world view, but it is quality, not quantity, and dedication to the cause that will count.

One more point (I am tired of repeating, from before the removal of Saddam): the battle for Iraq cannot be won till a potentially viable Palestinian state is achieved and acknowledged.

AUGUST 9th   - I am utterly disgusted by this. It seems the very people responsible for to appalling mismanagement of a vital part of the postwar situation in Iraq are not to be brought to account. If this is because they were acting under instructions from the top, then the top people themselves should be tried.

US seeks to shield its war interrogators: report

Wed Aug 9, 2:05 AM ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Political appointees CIA officers and former military personnel would not face prosecution for humiliating or degrading wartime prisoners under amendments to a war crimes law drafted by the Bush administration, the Washington Post reported on Wednesday.

AUGUST 10th 2006

Troops in Iraq 'under-equipped'
British troops fighting in Iraq are under-equipped and overstretched, a group of MPs has warned.


White House sees "huge challenges" in Iraq

By Steve Holland Thu Aug 17, 3:32 PM ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Amid a largely bleak picture in Iraq  President Bush received an update on the security situation from top commanders on Thursday and the White House said "huge challenges" remain.

Bush held talks with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and senior advisers. Participating by video link were top generals George Casey and John Abizaid.

White House spokesman Tony Snow said he suspected there could be some discussion about U.S. troop levels in Iraq but he had no details.

"When you're getting a comprehensive review, one of the questions that's going to come up is, what do we need? The president has always said that that's the first question he asks his commanders, and I suspect that it will arise today," said White House spokesman Tony Snow.

Bush is under election-year pressure to start bringing some troops home this year, but a spasm of violence in Baghdad has forced commanders to move some American forces from other parts of Iraq into the capital.

The New York Times reported on Thursday that the number of daily strikes against American and Iraqi security forces has doubled since January.

But Bush says he will not be governed by public-opinion polls or political considerations in making decisions about Iraq, which he calls a central front in the war on terrorism.

The Times quoted an unnamed military affairs expert who briefed at the White House last month as saying senior administration officials "have acknowledged to me that they are considering alternatives other than democracy" in Iraq.


Snow opened his daily briefing by saying, "It's just not true."

The Bush administration is insisting that Iraq is not sliding into a civil war despite weeks of sectarian violence that have killed hundreds of Iraqis.

"The administration continues, though, to take a very close and candid look at what's going on. The security situation in some places is uneven. And it's clear that there are huge challenges that await us," Snow said.

A new poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found Americans significantly more pessimistic about the situation in Iraq now than they were two months ago.

In June, after the killing of Iraq's al Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, 53 percent of Americans thought the situation was going well in Iraq, while only 41 percent believe so now after weeks of sectarian violence, the poll said.

The survey also said that 52 percent of Americans believe there should be a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops, while 41 percent believe there should not be.

Bush's overall job approval rating was at 37 percent, which is in the danger zone for a president whose party is seeking to retain control of the U.S. Congress in the November election.

Democrats accuse Bush of staying the course with a failed policy in Iraq and say the Iraq war is draining resources from fighting the greater threat to U.S. security, al Qaeda.

"We need a new direction. We need to refocus our attention on destroying the enemy that attacked us five years ago, protecting America, and rebuilding our military," said Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada on Wednesday

SEPTEMBER 9th 2006

Iraqi PM takes command of army

Reuters Thursday September 7, 05:36 PM
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The United States formally handed over control of Iraq's new military to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government on Thursday just as rebels unleashed a fresh wave of deadly bomb attacks on Iraqi security forces.

Washington has hailed the handover as a "gigantic" milestone towards the eventual withdrawal of about 150,000 U.S.-led foreign troops in Iraq.

But it coincided with a flurry of violence as insurgents, including three suicide bombers, targeted police across Baghdad in five separate strikes that killed 14 people. Attacks on Iraqi forces are common, but Thursday's barrage was notably intense.

Whether by coincidence or design, the bombs showed that despite the transfer of military control, Maliki's forces have a fragile grip on the capital and will depend on U.S. firepower as they struggle to battle Sunni insurgents and communal bloodshed.

While Maliki was trumpeting a new army "free of sectarianism", Iraq's sectarian faultlines were laid bare in parliament as lawmakers began looking at federalism, a potentially explosive issue in the deeply divided country.

Tempers frayed as several lawmakers from the Shi'ite majority tried to force debate on a Shi'ite-proposed draft law that minority Sunnis fear could break up the country and leave them with little access to its oil wealth.

Sunni politicians, led by the speaker, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, objected, but lawmakers later agreed to look at the draft law on Sunday, ahead of a constitutional deadline.

Maliki, a Shi'ite Islamist who expects his forces to control most of the country's provinces by the end of the year, struck a defiant tone at the handover ceremony at the Defence Ministry.

"This is the message I have for the terrorists: We will see that you get great punishment wherever you are. There is nothing for you but prison and punishment," he said, a day after Iraq executed 27 "terrorists" convicted of murder and rape.

Since the U.S. occupying authority disbanded Saddam Hussein's army in 2003, the U.S. military has been training a new force for nearly two years to take over security so that Washington can begin pulling out its 140,000 troops.

Other ministers are more cautious that Maliki. Iraqi forces remain heavily dependent on U.S. troops for logistical support to quell violence that kills an estimated 100 people a day.

"Today is another important milestone, but we still have a way to go," U.S. commander General George Casey said, after formally handing over control of the 8th Iraqi Army division, and Iraq's small navy and air force.

Nine other army divisions will be transferred in the coming months under a timetable set by Maliki, U.S. officials say. Troops in the restive west are due to move over by April.

The ceremony had been originally scheduled for last week but was delayed after a dispute over the wording of the memorandum stemming from Maliki's demand to have more independence.


Twenty soldiers from the 8th Division were killed in fierce clashes with Shi'ite militia fighters in Diwaniya south of Baghdad last month. Many of them were reported to have been executed by the militias after running out of ammunition.

U.S. troops with tanks have since reinforced the city.

Casey has forecast Iraq will be in charge of its own security within 12-18 months, with "very little help" from U.S- led forces, dismissing suggestions that the Diwaniya battle was a setback to U.S. efforts to stand up the Iraqi army.

But many Sunnis are suspicious of the Shi'ite-dominated army, which now totals about 130,000 soldiers. Analysts say that could undermine the army's effectiveness.

Scores of Iraqi troops from the Shi'ite south recently have refused to be deployed in religiously mixed Baghdad to shore up a U.S.-led security clampdown, raising questions about their loyalties and their willingness to leave their home areas.

Maliki told the military and police on Thursday that they served Iraq, not party or sectarian interests.

"There is a military discipline that you should follow. You have to follow the chain of command," he said.

SEPTEMBER 10th 2006

U.N. and donors prepare road map for rebuilding Iraq

By Daliah Merzaban Sun Sep 10, 6:50 PM ET

ABU DHABI (Reuters) -Iraq, the United Nations and foreign donors met on Sunday to prepare a road map for the reconstruction of Iraq and try to make the country economically self-sufficient within five years.

Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih said that under the initiative, called the International Compact for Iraq, Baghdad would seek aid from governments and multilateral organizations while encouraging private sector investment into its strategic oil industry.

"The compact lays down the road map for what is needed to restore general stability to Iraq. This is not just about throwing money into the pot," Salih said following the meeting in Abu Dhabi attended by senior officials of the U.N., World Bank and representatives of many Arab and Western governments.

The meeting was a precursor to high-level talks scheduled for September 18 at the United Nations in New York, where officials will discuss implementation of the compact within the framework of relevant Security Council resolutions.

Iraq, which sits on the world's third largest oil reserves and is a major producer, had expected billions of dollars in foreign funds after a U.S.-led invasion toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein in 2003.


But instead of rebuilding, foreign companies have largely stayed away due to relentless bombings, shootings and kidnappings.

The beleaguered rebuilding effort has been plagued by "problems of commitment and problems of delivery," U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown told Reuters on the sidelines of the meeting.

Malloch Brown said less than half of the approximately $50 billion in aid the United Nations estimated Iraq would need in the years that followed the Madrid Conference on Reconstruction in 2003 has actually reached the country.

"All of us who have watched Iraq since 2003 have been frustrated that despite the tremendous political progress ... still the country has remained in crisis," he said.

The Iraqi government will be principally responsible for implementing the compact, officials on both sides said. Iraqi Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani said oil revenues were expected to reach $60 billion a year in 2011 and half of this would be reinvested in the economy.

"But there is also a vital role for the international community. Iraq is going to need strategic injections of aid to plug gaps," Malloch Brown added. He did not outline how much international investment would be required.

Salih said the government's efforts to boost transparency and efficiency and clamp down on corruption would encourage foreign private sector investment, particularly in the oil sector.

The oil industry, the lifeblood of the economy, has been crippled by insurgent bombings of crude pipelines.

"We hope the international community will step up in providing for any shortfall that there will be to get us to the point that we become a donor state as opposed to a recipient," Salih said.

There are many who, when they consider the terrible situation in Iraq, believe that had Saddam been left alone the world would be a safer place and Iraq a better future. There is no evidence I have seen that supports this. Hitler could have been left in place and WWII avoided. WWII was truly terrible. But it had to be gone through. Of course the so-called 'War on Terror' is something different, involving complex connections with very different social problems in different parts of the world. It is not something that 'had to be gone through' in quite the way it is now if US foreign policy had been handled differently. But we proceed by trial and error, and to avoid recent errors would needed an adept US president with a knowledge of the world today and a decent understanding of history. 

U.S., British troops "essential" -Talabani

Reuters Friday September 22, 07:12 PM
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said on Friday international forces remain "essential" while Iraq builds an army capable of defending the country.

He told the United Nations General Assembly his people's patience is wearing thin because of the violence and appealed for nearby states to close borders and end support for "terrorist forces" fueling instability in his country.

Thirty-eight bodies were found dumped in the streets of Baghdad on Thursday, a toll that has become almost routine in the capital over the past weeks as death squads roam its streets, dragging victims out of homes and shops, torturing and killing them.

A U.N. report released this week said Iraq was now deadlier than ever, with 6,599 Iraqis dying violently in the last two months, 700 more than in the previous two.

The U.S. and British-led forces "are essential for us in the present circumstances while accomplishing the mission of building our armed forces that are capable of ending terrorism and maintaining stability and security," Talabani said.

"Only then will it be possible to talk about a timetable for the withdrawal of the multinational forces from Iraq." Any withdrawal must be "gradual," he added.

It is getting harder to sustain troop levels. Italy, the last major West European ally of the United States and Britain in Iraq, ended its mission on Thursday, handing the province under its control over to Iraqi troops.

There is political pressure in the United States to begin withdrawing American forces, which now stand at 147,00 troops, the highest since January.

But a senior general said on Tuesday the Pentagon is unlikely to begin cutting its troops until at least mid-2007 as they try to stop sectarian violence from degenerating into civil war.

Talabani, an ethnic Kurd, insisted Iraq's three-year effort at reconciliation after a U.S.-led invasion ousted President Saddam Hussein was "promising."

But "our people's patience is nearing its end, particularly when it sees the blood of its innocent sons and daughters being spilt and defiled, its infrastructure destroyed and its mosques ... ruined and the rebuilding of its armed forces and security services is impeded to prevent completing our sovereignty," he said.

He blamed extremist forces "comprised of regional and Arab elements that export their crises to fight their battles on Iraq's territory." These groups include remnants of the former regime, in league with organised crime, backed by cross-border infiltrators representing al Qaeda and "runaway Saddamists."

Talabani urged Arab and regional parties and unspecified "neighbouring countries" to halt support for these groups and close their borders with Iraq. The United States accuses Iran and Syria of allowing fighter opposed to the Baghdad government cross their borders with Iraq.

Talabani also urged international donors to make good on financial commitments to rebuild Iraq and said U.N. special programs should resume operations in Iraq to assist in the reconstruction process.

OCTOBER 7th 2006
U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner says that Iraq's government has 60 to 90 days to control the violence that threatens civil war or the United States would have to reconsider its options.  Kirkuk seems an odd place to start a search for insurgents, but perhaps they are training. On the other hand Kirkuk is certainly vulnerable and a target for insurgents feeling the pressure in other areas where American and Iraqi forces have had some effect.

Iraqi forces sweep northern oil city

Reuters Saturday October 7, 08:33 PM
KIRKUK, Iraq (Reuters) - Thousands of Iraqi police and soldiers swept through the restive Iraqi oil city of Kirkuk on Saturday, searching homes for weapons and insurgents after all residents were ordered off the streets.

In northern Tal Afar, northwest of Kirkuk, a suicide car bomber killed 14 people in an attack on an Iraqi army checkpoint, the latest in a series of deadly suicide bombings in the town since the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The bloodshed followed a warning by U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner that Iraq's government had 60 to 90 days to control the violence that threatens civil war or the United States would have to reconsider its options.

Other U.S. senators added their own warnings of a possible change of course. " is time for a significant change in our policy in Iraq," U.S. Senator Richard Dubin said in a conference call from Baghdad with U.S. reporters.

"We just can't be content to stay this course when it leads to more violence and uncertainty about our future," said the Illinois Democrat, speaking after meetings with Iraqi officials and U.S. military commanders.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki held talks with Sunni tribal leaders on Saturday and announced plans for reconstruction projects and more representative local government in Anbar province, heartland of the Sunni insurgency.

The region north of Baghdad has also seen a surge of violence.

Kirkuk, 250 km (155 miles) north of Baghdad, is an ethnically mixed city claimed by Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen which has seen an upsurge of violence. A spate of near simultaneous car bombs in the city killed more than 20 people on September 17.

Kirkuk police chief Major General Shirko Shakir said cars and pedestrians had been cleared from the city's streets after an indefinite curfew was imposed on Friday night and Iraqi security forces began sweeping through neighbourhoods.

More than 150 people had been arrested and large quantities of weapons and ammunition seized, he said.

"This operation is an attempt to control the deterioration of the security situation in the city. We will continue it until we clean up the city and end insurgent activity," he said.


Iraqi police Major General Jamal Taher said a 15 km-long trench had been dug south of the city in the last week to try to prevent insurgents and car bombs from entering Kirkuk.

Iraqi forces have beefed up security in many cities, fearing an increase in violence with the start of Ramadan.

Saturday's car bomb attack in Tal Afar was the fourth suicide car bombing on an army or police checkpoint in the town since the start of the holy month two weeks ago.

The town has been largely free of violence since U.S.-led forces drove out al Qaeda militants in a 2005 offensive. In March, U.S. President George W. Bush cited Tal Afar as an example of progress being made in Iraq.

Tal Afar residents said the violence followed an increase in the number of checkpoints set up in the town by the Iraqi police and military, many in residential areas.

"We are living in a state of terror," one resident told Reuters. "My house is near an army checkpoint, which is a target for suicide bombers. If they attack it, the soldiers will be killed and so will we."

Police Colonel Kareem Khalaf said 10 civilians were among the 14 killed in Saturday's attack.

The government has failed to control the violence that has killed thousands of Iraqis, despite a series of plans aimed at ending the bloodshed and reconciling Shi'ites, Sunnis and Kurds.


Gunmen this week abducted and killed a Kurdish lawmaker in the capital, where U.S. and Iraqi forces have launched a major operation to regain control of the streets. He was the first member of the parliament sworn in in March to be killed.

U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and the top U.S. military commander in Iraq General George Casey condemned the killings in a statement on Saturday as an attempt to derail Iraq's progress towards "freedom and prosperity".

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice paid a surprise visit to Baghdad this week and told Iraq's leaders to end their "political inaction" and work faster to end the violence.

U.S. officials say sectarian conflict between majority Shi'ites and minority Sunni Arabs has overtaken the insurgency as the main cause of attacks that kill some 100 Iraqis a day.

But insurgents are still killing U.S. troops. The U.S. military said a soldier was killed in action near the northern oil refinery town of Baiji on Friday, bringing to at least 24 the number of U.S. soldiers killed in the last week.

(Additional reporting by Thaer Ismail in Mosul, Sherko Raouf in Sulaimaniya, Ahmed Rasheed and Mussab Al-Khairalla in Baghdad, and Donna Smith in Washington)

OCTOBER 12th 2006
Two important items today:
  • The publication of the report by a team from the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore of  the estimated number of Iraqi violent deaths since the invasion to remove Saddam. Ths puts the total at about 655,000 and continuing at 1 every 3 minutes.
  • The publication of the opinion of the Chief of Staff of the British Army that our presence in Iraq, while necessary at the moment as we are under an obligation to the Iraqi government and the other members of the allied coalition, should be ended as soon as possible. This conflicts with the politically established position that although British tropps will retire back to barracks as soon as possible they would remain in the country as long as requested and as long as the US troops remained.
With regard to the first, if this is true it is sad news. I would only say this: if, at the moment Hitler invaded Poland, a supernatural entity of accepted authority had stopped conventional time and shown a two hour film of what would happen from 1939 to 1943 to all the politicians of Britain, France and the US, they would all to a man and woman have said "he can keep Poland", with the possible exception of Winston Churchill.

The cost of  war is appalling. The peace we have in Europe was bought with that cost. We had civil war in England. They now have civil war in Iraq. But there is an appalling difference. In classic wafare, battles were won or lost. A kill ratio of 2 to 1 was reckoned a winning ratio. A suicide bomber, financed by a movement bent on defeating a state, can have an average kill ratio of 50 to 1. By that reckoning, any movement who can finance suicide bombers cannot lose in a state with freedom of movement and no remote detection system for armed suicide bombers

With regard to the second - the aim should surely be that we remove our troops completely, as soon as possible. But I don't understand what has caused the publication of these particular views by the head of the British Army at this precise moment.Maybe we shall know more soon.

All is now clear. The Chief of Staff chose the time, as soon as he could after taking up his new appointment, to make it clear that the situation in which our forces operated is well understood. Nobody is 'in denial' or trying justify views on the ease or difficulty of the job held back in 2003, but it still remains a job to be completed, leaving an elected Iraqi government in control, not a dictator who forbade political discussion or assembly, who was unaccountable and murdered his opponents and anyone who raised a criticism, even in his own family. To the extent that the presence of coalition forces in some places leads to violence or the excuse for violence, he wishes to finish te job as soon as possible.

But of course the media put their own simplistic spin to cause the controversy that sells news. The pro- and ant-Blair brigade are all keen buyers. First, here's the Yahoo/ITN version.

It is called 'An unprecedented attack on Government policy' -  which you will see further down it is not.

Friday October 13, 06:53 AM The new head of the British Army has said troops in Iraq are making the security situation worse and that they should be withdrawn "soon".

In an unprecedented attack on Government policy, General Sir Richard Dannatt blames British troop presence in Iraq for turning tolerance there into "intolerance".

And he blames the Iraq war for driving the problems associated with the wider war on terror. He said: "I don't say that the difficulties we are experiencing round the world are caused by our presence in Iraq but undoubtedly our presence in Iraq exacerbates them."

Gen Dannatt, who became Chief of the General Staff in August, said: "We are in a Muslim country and Muslims' views of foreigners in their country are quite clear.

"As a foreigner, you can be welcomed by being invited in a country, but we weren't invited certainly by those in Iraq at the time. The military campaign we fought in 2003 effectively kicked the door in.

"Whatever consent we may have had in the first place, may have turned to tolerance and has largely turned to intolerance."

A Downing Street spokesperson said: "It's important that people remember that we are in Iraq at the express wish of the democratically elected Iraqi government, to support them under the mandate of a UN resolution."

A Ministry of Defence spokesman added: "We have a clear strategy in Iraq.

"We are there with our international partners, in support of the democratically elected Government of Iraq, under a clear UN mandate."


Army chief defends Iraq comments
General Sir Richard Dannatt
General Sir Richard took on his role in August
The head of the British army has defended his call for UK troops to withdraw from Iraq "sometime soon".

General Sir Richard Dannatt told the BBC he aimed to "speak up for what is right for the Army" but denied a "chasm" with government.

The Chief of the General Staff told the Daily Mail the presence of UK troops "exacerbates the security problems".

Downing Street said troops were in Iraq "at the express wish" of the Iraqi government and under a UN mandate.

Meanwhile, anti-war campaigners have welcomed Sir Richard's comments and praised him for speaking out.

Sir Richard told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme his comments in the newspaper interview about Iraq "were neither substantially new or substantially newsworthy".


"It was never my intention to have this hoo-ha which people have thoroughly enjoyed overnight in trying to suggest there is a chasm between myself as head of the Army and the prime minister or between myself as head of the Army and the secretary of state for defence," he said.

Sir Richard also explained what he meant about pulling out of Iraq "sometime soon".

"Given that we've been in Iraq for some three and half years now, quite a long length of time, and that's put a fair pressure on ourselves - as indeed it's putting a pressure on our Coalition partners - then when the mission is substantially done we should leave," he said.

He added: "We don't want to be there another two, three, four, five years. We've got to think about this in terms of a reasonable length of time."

"I don't say that the difficulties we are experiencing round the world are caused by our presence in Iraq but undoubtedly our presence in Iraq exacerbates them
Sir Richard Dannatt

Sir Richard added that UK troops "were making progress", and out of four provinces they had looked after in the south, two had been handed over to Iraqi control.

He said this and progress within the remaining two provinces meant "already our responsibilities are much reduced".

He said the view that the presence of UK troops "exacerbates" the problems was "not right across the country", but in parts of it.

'Presence helping'

For example he said a lot of British soldiers were "doing a really good job" in Basra and trying to improve the situation.

He added: " In that regard their presence is helping - but there are other parts where our mere presence does exacerbate and because we're there, we're attacked," he said.

The remarks had been part of a "general background interview" authorised by the Defence Secretary Des Browne, he added.

In his Daily Mail interview, Sir Richard, who took on his role in August, also said planning for what happened after the initial successful war military offensive was "poor, probably based more on optimism than sound planning".

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said Britain had "a clear strategy" and worked with international partners "in support of the democratically elected government of Iraq, under a clear UN mandate."

He said: "I don't say that the difficulties we are experiencing round the world are caused by our presence in Iraq but undoubtedly our presence in Iraq exacerbates them."

Downing Street issued a short statement in response to the general's comments.

It said: "It's important that people remember that we are in Iraq at the express wish of the democratically elected Iraqi government, to support them under the mandate of a UN resolution."

However, Sir Richard has received praise for coming forward.

Major Patrick Cordingly said: "I think it is a very brave thing for him to say. I do agree. I think there comes a time when you have got to let Iraq get on and look after its own security."

Rose Gentle, whose soldier son was killed in Iraq, said: "I'm just really delighted that Sir Richard Dannatt has stood up and spoken out. He is protecting our boys.

"We have been saying for two years this needed to happen and I think military families have done a good bit."

There are currently more than 7,000 British soldiers in Iraq, based largely in Basra in the south of the country. Since the invasion in 2003, 119 British troops have been killed, most of them in southern Iraq.

There you have it. Personally I would think the PM and his Cabinet are grateful to have had someone tell it how it is rom the military point of view, since whatever emanates from Downing Street these days is classified as spin by media who have spun themselves silly to my certain personal knowledge for the last 60 years, even though we do have some newspapers and broadcasters these days who also publish good, independent journalism and opinion on all sides of contemporary debates.

When I was a young lad during WWII and in the years after, you could get the accurate unvarnished news, spun neither to left or right, with opinion shown as opinion distinct from reporting, only in the tabloid Daily Mirror. I bet that surprises you young readers of today.

The Chief of Staff spoke with the advance knowledge of the Minister of Defence and there are no constituional improprieties at issue.

But the media are still trying to make something out of this. Why do we have to suffer with such small-minded people as our political commentators. Even Michael Portillo, who has some experience and can talk some sense, only grudgingly mentioned as an afterthought that thet Government might quite welcome the obvious independent input of the military, coming as it does with a real recognition of reality, of the problems, and of the clear aims and objects which remain even when the icing has been removed from a cake which, if it was ever to have been a success, would have needed to be removed before beginning from the clumsy hands of George Bush and his ilk.

The idea that Sir Richard Dannatt should be rebuked is ridiculous. That he should resign or be sacked totally absurd.


.A coroner has recorded a verdict of unlawful killing on ITN reporter Terry Lloyd, who was shot dead by US forces in southern Iraq in March 2003.

An inquest heard Mr Lloyd was killed by a US bullet near Basra. His interpreter died and his cameraman is missing.

The US view is that reporters in the war zone, outside the control of the allied forces, were there at their own risk. That is true. But the coroner decided that the actions of the Marine who shot at the vehicle acting as an ambulance, even if not marked as such, was unlawful. A previous US examination of the incident concluded it was lawful. The other significant evidence is that the inquiry by the coroner into the facts was obstructed and misinformed by the US military.

OCTOBER 14th 2006
Here is a short biopic of General Dannatt:

Media commentators who are anti-Blair and 'anti-war' (as if anyone was pro war!) are still pretending Dannatt said something that was not perfectly obvious - i.e. that despite all the good work they were doing the mere presence of the coalition troops, including British troops, exacerbates the violence in certain ways. How anybody could be quite so dim-witted as to think this was not the case is hard to imagine, but then these journalists know there are such people amongst their readers and listeners and they can be used and misled for political purposes.  The other feeling one could detect in the General's remarks was that he sometimes, for a very brief moment, wondered if the UK and its values were still surviving at home, and it was still a country worth fighting for....We are indeed fortunate to have such a man.

This morning we had to listen to Robert Fisk on Desert Island Discs indulging himself by explaining the obvious and pretending he could write a better version of history. The whole world (with painful exceptions) agrees with his view of the situation. I personally take serious offence watching George Bush posing with Winston Churchill's bust in the Oval Office. The mistakes that have been made include the massive and the inexcusable as well as the almost unavoidable and unforeseeable. But Fisk's view of life, where everyone is free to disobey orders and make their own judgements based on their own personal experience and history, however intense, is not one that can be adopted as the rule. He is a valuable exception, a man whose columns I am careful to read when I have time, but he has little idea of the situation Tony Blair found himself in after years of costly containment and counterproductive sanctions on Saddam, with America the only power to change the status quo, and America in the hands of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and their ilk.

I looked at Blair's options at the time, and have looked at them continually ever since. The headline link to this diary since January 2005 is called BETWEEN IRAQ AND A HARD PLACE for good reason. It will be the title of the completed diary as that is where we have been from the very beginning. There was no way the UK could have stood aside as we did in the Vietnam War. Terrible though that war was for Vietnam and for the United States, it was as much a part of history that Fisk would not have written a better version of as any other, and we were well out of it. But there was no way we could or should have taken the position we did in this case, where we were already involved in all aspects of the UN position and the military containment and interdependent with the US to an extent that far exceeded the position in the 1950s and 1960s. Of course all wars are terrible. But the universal enterprise of which our global enterprise is a part is one on a scale of quality as well as quantity that passes Robert Fisk's philosophy by quite a margin.

It is not possible to separate Iraq into ethnically or religiously distinct parts with a federal structure. Some form of law and order must be imposed. But that of Saddam was not acceptable to any majority inside the country or outside. There is no way that truth can be twisted any way to prove that in a dynamic system which our world is, the UN and the major powers that can act in its name, should abandon their responsibility - however terrible the passage and however great the inducements of bribery or an easier existence in the short term.

OCTOBER 17th 2006
Open sectarian warfare in Iraq is now out of control. However...
Andreas Whittam Smith offers no case at all for the sacking of General Dannatt or the resignation of Tony Blair. It is vital that the head of the British Army is able to speak out, when there is doubt, both for the public good and for the morale of his troops. He said absolutely nothing to contradict UK government foreign policy or the government's position on Iraq. It is obvious that in spite of the necessity for our presence there, any foreign military presence can exacerbate violence because it can be used as an incentive by those recruiting the unemployed and recently dispossessed to insurgency. Gen. Dannatt had to speak out largely because of the continual naive bleatings of those who claim that Blair is not aware of this and that errors made in the removal of Saddam make the current UN mandated operations worthless. He also helped to clarify the point that we will not remain in the country as soon as Iraqi forces can handle the job with more remote contingent support. I would imagine the PM was grateful for his independent and authoritative views on this. There is also no doubt that as James Baker has pointed out the 'bottom line is it's not working'. We should welcome this public acknowledgment and be grateful that political leaders are open to constructive input. Mr Whittam Smith's remarks cannot possibly be categorised as such. They are purely self-indulgent.

Thursday, 19 October 2006, 17:07 GMT 18:07 UK

Many killed in Iraq bomb blasts

At least 41 people have been killed in a series of bomb blasts across Iraq.

Most of the deaths occurred in Mosul, where a suicide bomber blew up a lorry at a police station.

A suicide car bomber killed another 12 people in Kirkuk, while bombers also struck in Khalis and Baghdad.

US military spokesman Maj Gen William Caldwell said there was a 22% rise in attacks in the capital during the Muslim festival of Ramadan.

Gen Caldwell said the increase was "disheartening", adding that a two-month campaign against insurgents in the city had "not met our overall expectations".

Meanwhile US President George W Bush has said that the surge in violence in Iraq may be equivalent to America's traumatic experience in the Vietnam War.

But, speaking on ABC News, Mr Bush denied that the rising number of Iraqi and US military deaths meant the Iraq campaign was failing.

Escalating violence

Gen Caldwell said up to six suicide bombers attacked US and Iraqi targets in Mosul.

 Police opened fire on a bomber as he drove an explosives-laden fuel truck towards the Tamam police station in the city.

The driver was shot dead, but the fuel ignited and set off the explosives, police said.

Civilians bore the brunt of the attack, as many of the casualties were motorists waiting to buy fuel at a nearby petrol station.

Shortly after the blast, insurgents fired mortars and small arms and triggered explosions in the city, killing at least three more people.

The violence prompted authorities to impose a six-hour curfew until calm was restored.

Correspondents say Mosul has witnessed a recent escalation of violence, with Sunni Arab insurgents battling US troops and the Shia-led government in Baghdad.

Bank blast

Attackers also struck in Kirkuk, killing 12 more people and wounding 70 when a car bomber targeted a crowded bank in a market area of the oil-rich city.

The blast tore though a crowd of soldiers who had gathered to collect their salaries.

Earlier this month, Kirkuk was placed under a total curfew as Iraqi troops backed by US-led coalition forces searched for insurgents.

Elsewhere, at least 10 people were killed when a roadside bomb ripped through the Shia market town of Khalis.

Meanwhile, police in Baghdad said at least two officers and two passers-by were killed in the south of the city after a double roadside bomb attack on a police patrol.

OCTOBER 21st 2006

Iraqis 'to take charge next year'
The Iraqi army and police should be able to take charge of their own country within a year, Foreign Office Minister Kim Howells has said.

His prediction comes despite British troops being put on standby to help Amara, a city where they have already handed power to Iraqi forces.


OCTOBER 22nd 2006

Here is an interesting report from Reuters which demonstrates the problem of the difference in English and Arabic languages even when we try to be accurate and unemotial in translation.

U.S. official admits "arrogance" and "stupidity" in Iraq

Reuters Sunday October 22, 07:43 AM
LONDON (Reuters) - The Arabic news channel Al Jazeera quoted a senior U.S. official on Sunday as saying that the United States had shown "arrogance" and "stupidity" in Iraq.

Asked about the report, a U.S. State Department spokesman said department official Alberto Fernandez had been misquoted.

"We tried to do our best (in Iraq) but I think there is much room for criticism because, undoubtedly, there was arrogance and there was stupidity from the United States in Iraq," Al Jazeera quoted Fernandez, director of public diplomacy in the State Department's bureau of Near Eastern affairs, as saying.

His comments were published on Al Jazeera's English-language Web site, which said he had made them in Arabic in an interview with the station aired late on Saturday.

Asked about the report, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said: "What he (Fernandez) says is that it is not an accurate quote." Asked whether he thought the United States would be judged as being arrogant, McCormack said "No".

Fernandez was also quoted as saying Washington was ready to talk to any Iraqi group except al Qaeda in Iraq to end violence.

Al Jazeera said a spokesman for ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's Baath Party had earlier said the United States was seeking a face-saving exodus from Iraq and insurgents were ready to negotiate but would not lay down their arms.

The spokesman, Abu Mohammed, outlined a series of conditions he said would have to be met before talks with the Americans could begin, the Web site said.

The demands included the return to service of Saddam's armed forces, the scrapping of every law adopted since his removal from power, the recognition of insurgent groups as the sole representatives of the Iraqi people and a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops.

Al Jazeera said Fernandez had dismissed the Baath Party's conditions.

"There is an element of the farcical in that statement ... They are very removed from reality," it quoted him as saying.

U.S. President George W. Bush, facing public discontent with the Iraq war ahead of November 7 midterm elections, acknowledged in his weekly radio address on Saturday that violence in Iraq had risen sharply.

He met top U.S. military commanders on Saturday to discuss the Iraq war and told them he would make "every necessary change" in tactics to try to reduce the bloodshed.

He insisted, however, he would not abandon his goal of building a self-sustaining democratic government in Iraq.

OCTOBER 22nd 2006

OK - it is now time for me to say what the position is and what can and cannot be done.

Due to the utter failure, particularly in the US Administration, to understand what needed to be done after the successful removal of Saddam, control of law and order in key urban areas of Iraq has been progressively lost. Early attempts to clean out centres of resistance and insurgency such as Fallujah, while successful at considerable cost, had some downside (wheher this was right or wrong) in the battle for for the moral high ground. Guantanamo, while obviously necessary, was indeed a legal anomaly which it has taken too long to deal with. It has unfortunately served as a tool for the criminal community as well as the terrorists to recruit the politically gullible.

I am not saying it would ever have been easy, but the whole Bush approach, where he has borrowed the maxim of Keep It Simple, Stupid (OK as an operational planning rule for when communication is restricted once action has commenced), is disastrous when applied to complex global diplomacy over any extended period.

Tony Benn says: "Now everyine knows the war is a catastrophy" - implying it could have been avoided with better consequences. Ben is as simple-minded as GWB. On the other hand It could have been implemented with far better consequences

Readers of this web site will see absolutley nothing has changed since the opening of the first diary long before the invasion. I stated two conditions for success:
1. That the Israeli Palestinian conflict must be resolved starting as soon as Saddam was removed by a progressive withdrawal by by Israel from all the occupied territories.
2. That the international community (in whatever form present) assured law and order in Iraq until an Iraqi government could take over. With regard to this it was evident immediately after the invasion that the US had absolutely no idea of the economics of Iraqi life, or of the way to avoid crime and violence becoming the survival lifestyle of a growing number of ruthless individuals with nothing to lose.

The religious fanatics are another problem, with tribal power-struggles making the possibility of Iraqis taking control even more unlikely. While they vie for supremacy, criminality flourishes underneath.  We now have Sunni vs Shia, Shia vs Shia, and either vs Kurds who may be one, the other or neither.

Due to all the above, the educated, capable, middle-class Iraqis have progressively been leaving Iraq by any means possible, abandoning even valuable property. Many of the people required for the rebuilding of Iraq no longer live there or have been killed, either deliberately or as casualties of crime or religious fanaticism or political violence.

It is now no longer practical to consider the restoration of law and order by arrest, trial, punishment and imprisonment.
Imprisonment and rehabilitation is proving a problem in the UK - so as for Iraq.....

There has got to be the eqivalent of an end to civil war. A cease-fire, an armisitice, an amnesty, a period of martial law.
There will need to be rationing of certain essentials (yes, sorry, and it won't be perfect but there are ways) until people have been allocated jobs, training, an ID, a regional residence and some basic local social security.

Certain vital priorities can be globally financed, and implementation can be based on high ecological and environmental standards. Finance is not a problem. Control of corruption is the problem.

The bare truth is this: once you have reached a state of affairs as appalling as thee is in Iraq today, you can start from scratch and that is the only way. But to form the task force to do this is not easy as those with the skill and experience are not sitting around doing nothing. What is required is a massive effort to secure the peace militarily and police-wise so that all those talented Iraqis who have fled their counry can return. This will require serious cooperation from all neighbouring countries. That will require some superior diplomacy.

The alternative is to make a desert, call it peace, patrol it with a shoot-to-kill policy and an oil economy and wait till something evolves.

Finally, there can be no question of people calling for 'Justice'. That possibility has been forfeited. Saddam's trial will no doubt continue. He should be given the choice, if found guilty, of life in prison or the death sentence - his choice.

OCTOBER 23rd 2006

We'll hold nerve, PM to tell Iraq
The Iraqi deputy prime minister will be told that Britain intends "to hold its nerve" in Iraq when he meets Tony Blair for talks on the country's security.

Time for a summing up from the BBC's considerable resources. Here are the links:-


General Sir Richard Dannatt Explosive views?
What now the British army chief says UK troops are making Iraq violence worse?






  Tuesday, 24 October 2006, 13:03 GMT 14:03 UK

Timeframe hostage to fortune in Iraq
By Paul Reynolds
World affairs correspondent, BBC News website

The top US general in Iraq George Casey and the US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad have both offered hostages to fortune by predicting an improvement in Iraq in 12-18 months.

US patrol inspect aftermath of a bombing in Baghdad
US troops are more exposed as they try to tackle sectarian strife

From the heart of the "helluva mess" that is Iraq today, in the reported words of former US Secretary of State James Baker, they laid out their security and political cases that better days lie ahead.

"Success is possible", said the ambassador, adding that the Iraqi leadership "must step up to achieve key political milestones".

These "benchmarks" and "milestones" are significant. They are the new sticks to go along with the carrot of support. The line now is that it is up to the Iraqis to sort out their problems. One can foresee that the next stage, if failure follows, would be for the US to start laying the blame.

Iraqi forces

General Casey said that the Iraqi forces were "75%" along the way towards taking over responsibility (with US back-up) and this, he suggested, might be achieved within the 18 month period.

Ambassador Khalilzad, who is more of a player in Iraqi politics than a traditional diplomat, talked of a "national compact" being in place by the end of the year.

He did not say why, with the constitution already approved, a national compact was needed. He did not need to.

But it would contain, he said, a way of sharing oil wealth that "united the country", a constitutional amendment to give better democratic rights (he did not specify how), a reconciliation commission and reform of the interior ministry.

Political leaders, including Moqtada al-Sadr - leader of the troublesome Mehdi army militia - had promised to tackle the violence and an effort was being made to get Sunni insurgents reconciled with the system.

All this did not amount to a change in strategy in Iraq, it seems, but was evidence of a constantly changing shift in tactics.

Incidentally, for those on Mr Baker's Iraq Study Group, which is expected to report its recommendations on Iraq in December, there were harsh words for Syria and Iran. The Iraq Study Group is reported to be suggesting that both be brought in to help but Mr Khalilzad dismissed them and General Casey called them "hostile".


The problem for General Casey is that he has said all this before. In July 2005 he predicted major troop withdrawals by this summer, only to have to accept today that he had had to reverse that trend when summer came because the Iraqis could not cope with the surge of sectarian violence in Baghdad.

He even said today that he would ask for more troops if necessary.

Inter-Iraqi violence appeared to be the main threat identified by both men.

The thrust of the briefing was one of reassurance, perhaps to US voters as they prepare for the mid-term elections in a state of doubt. Whether it convinces is an open question.

And how much the tactical briefing will pre-empt the review of Iraqi policy that the Baker group might precipitate also remains to be seen.

It showed perhaps the limits in the options facing people at the sharp end.

OCTOBER 29th 2006
Reading between the lines of the report below leads one to the conclusion that at least as far as Baghdad and environs are concerned Iraqi troops are not being 'better trained and armed' by the Americans because they are far from sure how the training and arms will be used, and on whose side.

That would appear to be the problem in a nutshell - and I do not have an answer to that other than that I proposed on October 22nd, which would require a substantial global initiative involving the UN, the European Union and Iraq's neigbouring countries. It is hard to see how this could come about without a change of leadership in the United States. It is not even clear that we have national and international organisations with sufficient available staff, clout, coherence and integrity to control the logistics and financial movements required.

So it seems likely we shall proceed for the moment as described below in key urban areas.

Troops kill 17 militants in Iraq, Bush stands firm

Reuters Sunday October 29, 10:31 AM
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - U.S. and Iraqi forces said they killed about 17 guerrillas in a battle north of Baghdad early on Sunday, after President George W. Bush promised Iraq's prime minister more military aid in a bid to soothe recent friction.

"There are no strains in the relationship," White House spokesman Tony Snow said after Bush and Nuri al-Maliki spoke for nearly an hour on Saturday after a week of public skirmishes involving U.S. and Iraqi leaders that have raised questions over Bush's exit strategy ahead of congressional elections on November 7.

"The president is very happy ... with the way the prime minister is working," Snow said.

Maliki's aides say he is furious at American pressure on him, and he and fellow Shi'ite Islamist leaders are concerned at what they see as a rapprochement between Washington and the long rebellious Sunni minority dominant under Saddam Hussein.

In a reminder of the sectarian violence, Interior Ministry sources said Baghdad police found 25 bodies, most tortured by death squads, in the past day. It was typical of the bloodshed that Bush has said is trying U.S. patience.

He has vowed to stand by the Iraqi government -- but only as long as it makes "tough decisions", including clamping down on party militias loyal to rival political leaders. Some analysts see White House criticism of Iraqi leaders as preparing the ground for a U.S. troop withdrawal plan, once voting is over.

"We are committed to the partnership our two countries and two governments have formed," Bush and Maliki said in a joint statement after their talks. Bush said last week, however, he would not leave his troops in the crossfire of a civil war.

Maliki's office said Bush promised more help for the Iraqi forces. The prime minister told Reuters last week he could bring order in six months, half the time U.S. generals estimate, if troops were better trained and armed. He blamed U.S. policy for the turmoil and demanded more power to command his own forces.


No American soldiers were hurt in the overnight battle near Balad, 80 km (50 miles) north of the capital, the U.S. military said in a statement which described air strikes on militants preparing two separate ambushes for ground forces on the move.

So far in October, 99 U.S. troops have died in Iraq, the bloodiest month in nearly two years that has raised the possibility of the monthly toll hitting 100, a week before voting in which polls suggest Bush's Republicans could lose control of Congress.

Aircraft from the U.S.-led Coalition attacked two groups of rebels, armed with rocket-propelled grenades and machineguns as they lay in ambush, the military said. On Saturday, three Iraqi soldiers were killed and four wounded near Balad, police said.

"Coalition aircraft thwarted two separate terrorist ambushes as ground forces moved towards their objective early Sunday morning near Balad," the U.S. military said in a statement, adding four rebels died in one attack and about 13 in the other.

U.S. and Iraqi forces are operating in the region, where Sunni insurgents, some linked to al Qaeda, are fighting townspeople and militiamen from the Shi'ite city.

A Reuters reporter who travelled in the area last week saw the immediate aftermath of a fierce clash involving Iraqi police that blocked Iraq's main highway north from Baghdad to Mosul and the Turkish border. Police quizzed drivers on their religious denomination and advised them not to travel at all near Balad.

Maliki, in office for six months at the head of a national unity coalition of Shi'ites, Sunnis and Kurds, has been struggling to stave off all-out civil war. Violence is killing hundreds a week and political wrangling has stalled reforms.

"We will defeat the enemy in Iraq," Bush told an election rally in Indiana. "We have a plan for victory. Our goal is a country that can sustain itself, govern itself and a defend itself and will be an ally in the war on terror."

(Additional reporting by Ahmed Rasheed)

OCTOBER 29th 2006         
Leaked papers describe an ideal world 10 years from now where UK foreign policy would not fuel Muslim hostility.
This is of course preferable to some of the American backwoods strategist nuts who see the only solution as a preemptive strike to 'take out' the Muslim world. However it does not have much bearing on the situation in Iraq today. The news report following the one below, however, does - and it is a setback.

Iraq war 'fuelling UK terrorism'
Downing Street has distanced itself from leaked papers suggesting Iraq is fuelling terrorism, stressing they were not drawn up by its officials.

The papers demand a "significant reduction in the number and intensity of the regional conflicts that fuel terror activity".

In future Britain should "aim to reduce terror activity, especially that in or directed against the UK," they add.

The Sunday Telegraph says the memo was written by "senior Cabinet officials".

The newspaper says it was put before a Cabinet committee on security earlier this month and was circulated around ministers and security chiefs.

Downing Street stressed the memo was not written by its officials but refused to comment further on its contents, beyond echoing Tony Blair's recent comments on the link between Iraq and terrorism.


A spokesman said: "We recognise that people have used Iraq as an excuse for terrorist activity but clearly plenty of terrorist activity against the UK and its citizens has pre-dated that.

Any remaining deployments of the British armed forces should be seen as contributing to international stability and security
Leaked papers

"Right around the world there are plenty of examples of al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda-style attacks that happened well before 2003."

According to the Sunday Telegraph the documents say that, in an ideal world, "the Muslim would not perceive the UK and its foreign policies as hostile".

They demand a "significant reduction in the number and intensity of the regional conflicts that fuel terror activity".


The papers then set out a list of perfect scenarios in a series of troublespots - including stability for Iraq and Afghanistan -10 years from now.

As well as Israel living in "peaceful coexistence" with its Arab neighbours and Iran devoid of nuclear weapons, they say that there should be "no new failed states, dictatorships or wars" in the Middle East and South Asia.

"If all or most of the above were in place, threats from other sources of Islamic terrorism (eg Indonesia, Philippines, Nigeria) would be manageable or on the way to resolution," they conclude.

"Any remaining deployments of the British armed forces should be seen as contributing to international stability and security." Actions should be designed to reduce terrorism, "especially that in or directed against the UK".


The memo is understood to have originated from the Cabinet Office.

Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett meanwhile played down the suggestion that large numbers of British troops might be returned home soon.

"I think you're perhaps a little impatient to see a huge change, which I don't think we are yet in," she told The Sunday Telegraph.

Labour leadership challenger John McDonnell said it was time to engage with the UN to facilitate the withdrawal of troops from Iraq.

"The issue for us now is to realise we have made a mistake in Iraq," the left-wing MP told BBC One's Sunday AM.

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell told the same programme was it was clear the UK's actions in Iraq had "increased" the risk of terror attacks at home.

He called for a "phased withdrawal" of British troops, adding: "I have no doubt whatsoever that plans are already being drawn up in the ministry of defence for that, because you don't just walk out".

Commons debate

Conservative leader David Cameron said he did not want to set an "artificial timetable" for the withdrawal of British troops from Iraq and the goal remained "stability".

But he said "mistakes" should be admitted and the coalition should show "humility" over "what has been attempted and what may not be achieved".

The first full commons debate on Iraq in the three years since the invasion will be held on Tuesday.

The Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru want a select committee of seven senior MPs to review events leading up to the invasion and since.

The government will oppose any inquiry and with its majority is almost certain to win.

17 Iraqi police killed near Basra
Gunmen have kidnapped and killed 17 policemen near the southern Iraqi city of Basra, police sources have said.

It is believed that 15 of them were trainers instructing new recruits at a police academy in a nearby town.

Their bodies were said to have been found in several locations some four hours after they were taken.

Correspondents say the incident has underlined the challenges the Iraqi government faces as it struggles to boost the country's security forces.

The attack will be seen as a setback for British attempts to pacify southern areas, which have escaped the worst of the country's sectarian violence.

The men were forced off a bus at 1600 (1300 GMT) the Associated Press news agency reported.

They were shot in the head and chest.

The minibus was taking them from the academy, which is under the supervision of British forces to Basra, 12km away, according to Reuters news agency.

Two major attacks on police in the town of Baquba north of Baghdad last week left a total of 41 recruits dead.