Monday, August 20, 2007


Muqtada al-Sadr: The British are retreating from Basra

By Nizar Latif in Kufa, Iraq and Phil Sands in Damascus

Published: 20 August 2007

The British Army has been defeated in Iraq and left with no option but to retreat from the country, claims radical Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Violent resistance and a rising death toll among UK troops has forced a withdrawal, he said in an interview with The Independent.

"The British have given-up and they know they will be leaving Iraq soon," Mr Sadr said. "They are retreating because of the resistance they have faced. Without that, they would have stayed for much longer, there is no doubt."

The young nationalist cleric heads Iraq's largest Arab grassroots political movement, and its powerful military wing, the Mehdi army. It has clashed frequently with British forces in southern Iraq, most recently in the battle for power over the oil-rich port city of Basra. Scores of British soldiers have been killed and wounded by Sadrist militants.

"The British have realised this is not a war they should be fighting or one they can win," Mr Sadr said. "The Mehdi army has played an important role in that." He also warned that Britain's involvement in the invasion of Iraq had made the UK a less safe place to live. "The British put their soldiers in a dangerous position by sending them here but they also put the people in their own country in danger," he said. "They have made enemies among all Muslims and they now face attacks at home because of their war. That was their mistake." His comments came during two separate meetings with The Independent at the Sadr movement's headquarters in Kufa, a holy Shia city, 100 miles south of Baghdad, and site of the Grand Mosque where Mr Sadr often preaches fiery Friday sermons. The streets were eerily devoid of cars, which are, in effect, banned in an effort to prevent bombings. Senior Shia leaders are high on the list of targets for Sunni extremists.

Only two guards with AK-47 assault rifles appeared to be protecting Mr Sadr in his office, a clear sign that Kufa and the surrounding area is firmly under the control of Sadr loyalists. It is not patrolled by US troops and access is policed by Iraqi security at heavily armed roadblocks.

Mr Sadr's remarks echo those of senior British military commanders who have come to view the mission of UK forces in Iraq as finished. They have reportedly told the Prime Minister Gordon Brown there is nothing more to be achieved in southern Iraq and that troops should be redeployed to Afghanistan.

At the beginning of the year, Britain had just over 7,000 troops in two provinces of southeastern Iraq. Current force strength is down to 5,500, confined to two main bases, Basra airport and the Basra Palace, which is under siege. Another reduction to 5,000 is expected this summer. Any additional cuts would be part of a complete withdrawal. Defence secretary Des Browne said last week that further reductions had not been decided upon and would only take place in agreement with the Americans.

As the force has dwindled, losses among British troops have accelerated. So far this year, 41 servicemen and women have died, compared to 29 in the whole of 2006. Their area of operations has, in effect, been taken over by three competing militia groups, the Mehdi army, SCIRI and Fadhila, all of which are heavily implicated in oil smuggling, intimidation and death squad activity.

But Basra would be a safer place once the British military presence had ended, Mr Sadr insisted. "There will still be some problems in southern Iraq, there will be violence because some countries are trying to influence the situation," he said in apparent reference to Iran. "But with the occupation of southern Iraq finished we will be freer to live our lives as brothers."

Throughout last week a series of influential Iraqi sheikhs, including at least one senior Sunni tribal leader, visited the Sadrist headquarters as part of an effort to heal the rift between Sunnis and Shias. Aides to Mr Sadr said it was a priority to form a united nationalist front against all "foreign elements" in Iraq, with the Americans and al-Qa'ida to be considered equally as enemies.

Mr Sadr praised Iraqi Sunnis who had begun to fight against al-Qa'ida and religious extremists guilty of targeting Shia civilians. "Proud Iraqis in Ramadi have stood against al-Qa'ida and against the Americans and they have written their names into our history books," he said.

Shrugging off recent rumours that he had fled to Iran - he dismissed them as American propaganda designed to discredit him - Mr Sadr denied US claims his forces were armed by Iran.

"We are at war and America is our enemy so we are entitled to take help from anyone," he said. "But we have not asked for Iran's help." The cleric also said he "welcomed" a recent decision by the UN to expand its role in Iraq. "I would support the UN here in Iraq if it comes and replaces the American and British occupiers," he said.

"If the UN comes here to truly help the Iraqi people, they will receive our help in their work. I would ask my followers to support the UN as long as it is here to help us rebuild our country. They must not just be another face of the American occupation."

The Sadr movement pulled its 32 elected MPs out of Iraq's parliament earlier this year, ending its nominal support for Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki.

Other factions have since followed suit, bringing the government to the brink of collapse. Despite recent efforts by the Prime Minister to shore up his power base, his days as Iraq's elected leader were numbered, Mr Sadr said.

"Al-Maliki's government will not survive because he has proven that he will not work with important elements of the Iraqi people," the cleric said.

"The Prime Minister is a tool for the Americans and people see that clearly. It will probably be the Americans who decide to change him when they realise he has failed. We don't have a democracy here, we have a foreign occupation."


U.S. Army resources are nearly exhausted

Units would be tapped out by an extended war in Iraq

By Lolita C. Baldor
the Associated Press
Tucson, Arizona | Published: 08.20.2007
WASHINGTON — Sapped by nearly six years of war, the Army has nearly exhausted its fighting force and its options if the Bush administration decides to extend the Iraq buildup beyond next spring.
The Army's 38 available combat units are deployed, just returning home or already tapped to go to Iraq, Afghanistan or elsewhere, leaving no fresh troops to replace five extra brigades that President Bush sent to Baghdad this year, according to interviews and military documents reviewed by The Associated Press.

That presents the Pentagon with several painful choices if the United States wants to maintain higher troop levels beyond the spring of 2008:

● Using National Guard units on an accelerated schedule.

● Breaking the military's pledge to keep soldiers in Iraq for no longer than 15 months.

● Breaching a commitment to give soldiers a full year at home before sending them back to war.
In Iraq, there are 18 Army brigades, each with about 3,500 soldiers. At least 13 more brigades are scheduled to rotate in. Two others are in Afghanistan, and two additional ones are set to rotate in there. Also, several other brigades either are set for a future deployment or are scattered around the globe.

The few units that are not at war, in transformation or in their 12-month home time already are penciled in for deployments later in 2008 or into 2009. Shifting them would create problems in the long-term schedule.
Most Army brigades have completed two or three tours in Iraq or Afghanistan; some assignments have lasted as long as 15 months.

The 2nd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, has done four tours.
Two Marine regiments — each roughly the same size as an Army brigade — also are in Iraq, bringing the total number of brigades in the country to 20.

When asked which units will fill the void next spring if any need to be replaced, officials give a grim shake of the head, shrug of the shoulders or a palms-up, empty-handed gesture.

"The demand for our forces exceeds the sustainable supply," Gen. George Casey, the Army chief of staff, said last week. "Right now we have in place deployment and mobilization policies that allow us to meet the current demands. If the demands don't go down over time, it will become increasingly difficult for us to provide the trained and ready forces" for other missions.

Casey said he would not be comfortable extending troops beyond their 15-month deployments.

Pinning hopes on progress
Pentagon leaders hope there is enough progress in Iraq to allow them to scale back at least part of the nearly 30,000-strong buildup when soldiers begin leaving Iraq around March and April.

There are 162,000 U.S. troops in Iraq now, the highest level since the war began in 2003. That figure is expected to hit 171,000 in the fall as fresh troops rotate in.

Gen. David Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq who will deliver a much anticipated progress report to Congress in September, said Wednesday that he is considering possible troop cuts, and he believes the United States will have fewer forces in Iraq by next summer.

Other commanders have said the security situation is improving, which would allow U.S. troops to be shifted from combat and lead to an eventual force reduction.

Still, Petraeus and other military leaders have warned against drawing down too quickly. In fact, an upbeat progress report in September may solidify arguments that additional troops should stay longer to ensure that positive changes stick.

"The longer that you keep American forces there, the longer you give this process to solidify and to make sure that it's not going to slide back," said Frederick Kagan, an American Enterprise Institute analyst who recently returned from an eight-day visit to Iraq.

Kagan, a leading supporter of the current buildup strategy, said any decision to maintain force levels would have to take into account the effects on the Army. That would include, he said, the strains of sending Guard units back to Iraq more rapidly than Pentagon policy allows or keeping active-duty units there longer than 15 months.

Pentagon officials, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates, have said they have no plans to extend tours in Iraq beyond 15 months.


ANOTHER U.S. WAR BREWING IN MIDEAST - Ex-aide to Dick Cheney spills the beans

- By Richard Walker – American Free Press

An insane plan authorized by President Bush to join Turkey in a covert war to assassinate leaders of a Kurdish rebel group in northern Iraq was exposed after a former Dick Cheney aide briefed lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

Within days of the visit to the Hill by Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Eric Edelman, columnist Robert Novak got wind of the plan and made it public. It transpired that Edelman boasted that the plan involved U.S. Special Forces helping their Turkish counterparts “behead” the leadership of the Kurdish guerrilla group the PKK, also known as the Kurdistan Workers Party, in its hideout in mountains bordering northern Iraq and Turkey.

When lawmakers questioned the sanity of the United States getting caught up in yet another guerrilla war, Edelman assured them it would be a success. The U.S. role would be hidden and vigorously denied if made public. Some members of Congress thought the strategy was risky, especially at a time when the United States was bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Edelman’s response was that the plan was a “slam dunk” and that it would not take long to accomplish.

Some lawmakers also raised concerns that doing Turkey’s dirty work could have unforeseen consequences and could only add to further isolation of the United States around the world.

The Turks have long argued that the PKK, which wants Kurds within Turkey to be granted autonomy, has been aided by Iraqi Kurds who have been staunch American allies. Iraqi Kurds have no love for Turkey but deny involvement with the PKK. Nevertheless, they will not look kindly on U.S. involvement in a campaign against fellow Kurds.

Several months ago, Turkey, which is a NATO member, alarmed the EU and the United States by massing large numbers of troops on the border. At the time, Turkish generals talked openly of invading Iraq with over 200,000 troops.

The reaction from the Iraqi parliament, as well as from the regional Kurdish government in northern Iraq, was swift. They warned an invasion by Turkey would not only be a breach of Iraqi sovereignty but would be repulsed. It now seems the United States has encouraged Turkey to jettison its invasion plans in return for a joint U.S.-Turkish dirty war against the PPK, using U.S. air power and hi-tech surveillance.

The PKK is regarded as a terrorist group by many western nations and has been a thorn in Turkey’s side because it has caused unrest among Turkey’s large Kurdish minority. The group’s supporters have demanded that parts of Turkey and Iran be annexed to northern Iraq to form a united Kurdish state.

Turkey is not without blame. Some 30,000 Kurds have been killed during several decades of fighting between the PKK and the Turkish military. The Turks have been accused of carrying out assassinations, rapes, torture and the kidnapping of large numbers of Kurdish nationals. During the Cold War the PKK’s Marxist-Leninist leanings made it an enemy of the West and the United States. The CIA even went so far as to train Turkish assassination squads and militias to track down PKK members and sympathizers.

U.S. involvement in that secret war is rarely discussed but lawmakers who may be aware of it would certainly not wish a repeat of American participation in what could turn out to be a dangerous game.

There is yet another aspect to the Bush plan that may concern some on the Hill. Turkey has its own agenda in respect to how it would like to see the Iraq conflict resolved. The Turks have never been happy about America’s closeness to the Kurds who helped the United States bring down Saddam Hussein. But, they are more concerned about those Iraqi Kurds sitting on huge oil reserves around Kirkuk. Therefore, if Iraq descended into all-out civil war, Kurdistan in northern Iraq could become a totally separate and very rich entity on Turkey’s border.

The problem is even more complicated than that. Israel is supportive of Iraqi Kurds and has gone out of its way to train militias under the control of the Kurdish regional government. Israel may well see the Kurds as an ideal bulwark against fundamentalist Iran and a Turkey with the potential to move in the future from a secular region to a state controlled by Islamic radicals.

Still, there is a more troubling connection between the United States and the PKK. The PKK no longer sees itself as a Marxist-Leninist organization
and accuses Turkey of denying Kurds within its borders the same human rights as the rest of the Turkish population. The PKK’s opposition to Turkey is matched only by its hatred of Iran because of Iran’s treatment of Kurds within its borders.

In the past year, evidence has mounted that the CIA and the Israelis have been encouraging, if not actively supporting, PKK attacks within Iran in an effort to destabilize the Iranian government.

Taking all that into consideration, there’s no wonder some lawmakers are jittery about the Cheney- Bush tendency to think foreign policy is best served by secretive, but very bloody military actions.

Richard Walker is the nom de plume of a former mainstream news producer who now writes for AFP so he can expose the kinds of subjects that he was forbidden to cover in the controlled press.

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