the american crusade

All Iraqi Groups Blame U.S. Invasion for Discord – gee, you think so?

New York Times in Iraq: "Blackwater shot our dog" – more chaos in iraq

America: We’re the new China! – mark morford is god!

All Iraqi Groups Blame U.S. Invasion for Discord, Study Shows
December 19, 2007
By Karen DeYoung

Iraqis of all sectarian and ethnic groups believe that the U.S. military invasion is the primary root of the violent differences among them, and see the departure of “occupying forces” as the key to national reconciliation, according to focus groups conducted for the U.S. military last month.

That is good news, according to a military analysis of the results. At the very least, analysts optimistically concluded, the findings indicate that Iraqis hold some “shared beliefs” that may eventually allow them to surmount the divisions that have led to a civil war.

Conducting the focus groups, in 19 separate sessions organized by outside contractors in five cities, is among the ways in which Multi-National Force-Iraq assesses conditions in the country beyond counting insurgent attacks, casualties and weapons caches. The command, led by Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, devotes more time and resources than any other government or independent entity to measuring various matters, including electricity, satisfaction with trash collection and what Iraqis think it will take for them to get along.

The results are analyzed and presented to Petraeus as part of the daily Battle Update Assessment or BUA (pronounced boo-ah). Some of the news has been unarguably good, including the sharply reduced number of roadside bombings and attacks on civilians. But bad news is often presented with a bright side, such as the focus-group results and a November poll, which found that 25 percent of Baghdad residents were satisfied with their local government and that 15 percent said they had enough fuel for heating and cooking.

The good news? Those numbers were higher than the figures of the previous month (18 percent and 9 percent, respectively).

And Iraqi complaints about matters other than security are seen as progress. Early this year, Maj. Fred Garcia, an MNF-I analyst, said that “a very large percentage of people would answer questions about security by saying ‘I don’t know.’ Now, we get more griping because people feel freer.”

Iraqi political reconciliation, quality-of-life issues and the economy are largely the responsibility of the State Department. But the military, to the occasional consternation of U.S. diplomats who feel vastly outnumbered, has its own “mirror agencies” in many areas. Officers in charge of civil-military operations, said senior Petraeus adviser Army Col. William E. Rapp, “can tell you how many markets are open in Baghdad, how many shops, how many banks are open. . . . We have a lot more people” on the ground.

On Iraqi politics, “we have four to six slides almost every morning on ‘Where does the Iraqi government stand on de-Baathification legislation?’ All these things are embassy things,” Rapp said. But Petraeus is interested in “his ‘feel’ for a situation, and he gets that from a bunch of different data points,” he added.

Even though members of the military “understand the limitations” of polling data, Rapp said, “subjective measures” are an important part of the mix. In July, the military signed a contract with Gallup for four public opinion polls a month in Iraq: three nationwide and one in Baghdad. Lincoln Group, which has conducted surveys for the military since shortly after the invasion, received a year-long contract in January to conduct focus groups.

Outside of the military, some of the most widespread polling in Iraq has been done by D3 Systems, a Virginia-based company that maintains offices in each of Iraq’s 18 provinces. Its most recent publicly released surveys, conducted in September for several news media organizations, showed the same widespread Iraqi belief voiced by the military’s focus groups: that a U.S. departure will make things better. A State Department poll in September 2006 reported a similar finding.

Matthew Warshaw, a senior research manager at D3, said that despite security improvements, polling in Iraq remains difficult. “While violence has gone down, one of the ways it has been achieved is by effectively separating people. That means mobility is limited, with roadblocks by the U.S. and Iraqi military or local militias,” Warshaw said in an interview.

Most of the recent survey results he has seen about political reconciliation, Warshaw said, are “more about [Iraqis] reconciling with the United States within their own particular territory, like in Anbar. . . . But it doesn’t say anything about how Sunni groups feel about Shiite groups in Baghdad.”

Warshaw added: “In Iraq, I just don’t hear statements that come from any of the Sunni, Shiite or Kurdish groups that say ‘We recognize that we need to share power with the others, that we can’t truly dominate.’ ”

According to a summary report of the focus-group findings obtained by The Washington Post, Iraqis have a number of “shared beliefs” about the current situation that cut across sectarian lines. Participants, in separate groups of men and women, were interviewed in Ramadi, Najaf, Irbil, Abu Ghraib and in Sunni and Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad. The report does not mention how the participants were selected.

Dated December 2007, the report notes that “the Iraqi government has still made no significant progress toward its fundamental goal of national reconciliation.” Asked to describe “the current situation in Iraq to a foreign visitor,” some groups focused on positive aspects of the recent security improvements. But “most would describe the negative elements of life in Iraq beginning with the ‘U.S. occupation’ in March 2003,” the report says.

Some participants also blamed Iranian meddling for Iraq’s problems. While the United States was said to want to control Iraq’s oil, Iran was seen as seeking to extend its political and religious agendas.

Few mentioned Saddam Hussein as a cause of their problems, which the report described as an important finding implying that “the current strife in Iraq seems to have totally eclipsed any agonies or grievances many Iraqis would have incurred from the past regime, which lasted for nearly four decades — as opposed to the current conflict, which has lasted for five years.”

Overall, the report said that “these findings may be expected to conclude that national reconciliation is neither anticipated nor possible. In reality, this survey provides very strong evidence that the opposite is true.” A sense of “optimistic possibility permeated all focus groups . . . and far more commonalities than differences are found among these seemingly diverse groups of Iraqis.”

New York Times in Iraq: "Blackwater shot our dog"
Dec 18, 2007
by Peter Graff

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – The U.S. embassy in Iraq is investigating another deadly shooting incident involving its Blackwater bodyguards — this time of the New York Times’s dog.

Staff at the newspaper’s Baghdad bureau said Blackwater bodyguards shot Hentish dead last week before a visit by a U.S. diplomat to the Times compound.

Blackwater spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell said the dog had attacked one of Blackwater’s bomb-sniffer dogs while a security team was sweeping the compound for explosives.

“The K-9 handler made several unsuccessful attempts to get the dog to retreat, including placing himself between the dogs. When those efforts failed, the K-9 handler unfortunately was forced to use a pistol to protect the company’s K-9 and himself,” she said in an e-mail to Reuters.

The U.S. embassy employs about 1,000 armed Blackwater staff to protect American diplomats in Baghdad.

The firm’s role became a serious issue in Iraqi-U.S. relations when its guards opened fire on a Baghdad street in September, killing 17 people. Blackwater says its employees acted lawfully in that incident, which is under investigation.

State Department investigators have made two follow-up visits to the Times compound to investigate the shooting of Hentish, correspondent Alissa Rubin said.

“They were very solicitous and I thought took the incident very seriously,” Rubin said. “It’s not a dog that everyone’s close to in the compound.

“But it’s a dog that’s been around a long time. It lived its whole life there.”

America: We’re the new China!
Weak, gutless Democrats, sneering, oil-loving Republicans and cars that belch and shrug
December 19, 2007
By Mark Morford

As part of my ongoing effort to save my own soul and avoid repeatedly stabbing myself in the eye with a fork in screaming frustration, and also because it’s Beltway politics and watching it too closely is akin to having your cerebral cortex raped by encephalitic trolls, I’ve only paid cursory attention to the massive, landmark energy bill that’s right now passing like a painful gallstone through Congress and getting snagged here and gutted there and stripped of key provisions over here, all so Dubya won’t veto it, given how it might be just too mean to his fat, piggish pals in Big Energy.

Besides, it’s an energy bill. It’s Congress. It’s like saying “altar boys” and “the Vatican.” What are the odds of something good coming of it?

But oh, there was a glimmer of promise. There was, for the briefest of time, the possibility of a shift, of progress, a bit of light at the end of the bleak, dank Bush tunnel, just enough to maybe let us raise our heads from this seven-year hole of misery and let a tiny drop of hope fall into the collective heart. The bastards.

There was, most notably, the Democrats’ rather astounding provision that dared to rescind a rather disgusting $13.5 billion in corporate tax breaks enjoyed by Bush’s oil cronies, basically a massive government handout to Exxon and Shell and the rest to keep them fat and happy and flush with even more billions in profit because heaven forfend they actually pay their fair share of the tax burden for keeping the nation hooked on its unbelievably destructive brand of heroin.

According to this very newspaper: “The money would have been redirected into tax incentives for solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, wave energy and other renewables. Consumers would have received a $3,000 tax credit for buying an electric plug-in hybrid and a tax credit of up to $4,000 for installing solar panels to power their homes.”

I know, appalling, right? Democratic lawmakers having the sheer gall to try and take all that money away from the most gluttonous, ridiculously greedy corporations in the history of the world, and use it for, you know, something good, healthy, constructive. The f-ing nerve.

Here’s the depressing part: the Dems lost that one by a single vote. And then merely just shrugged it off. “As disappointed as I am and as disappointed as people throughout the country are — what we are going to wind up with is still historic,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., even though you still want to grab him by the lapels and slap him.

Then there was the utterly shocking, hippie-grade mandate that a paltry 15 percent of energy output from public utilities come from renewable resources. Oh my God, you could hear the coal industry hurl their firstborn into the fires of hell over that one, calling their pals in the Republican Party as quickly as possible to tell them to do whatever it takes to kill that sucker dead. And so, the Repubs blasted that provision too, like Dick Cheney blasts lawyers at a canned pheasant hunt. Sure enough, the Dems caved. Again.

Here is your sad, pathetic irony: Both provisions were exactly the kind of changes millions of people, including most moderates, have been hoping to see. They were but two tiny answers to the big screaming question, the one I hear over and over, from teenagers to the elderly, libs to conservatives, dogs to cats: Why oh why can’t we just snip some of those billions we waste so stupidly on war, on bunk Pentagon weaponry, on padding the pockets of corporate titans and instead throw just a tiny handful of it at some new, healthy ideas?

It’s so brutally hypocritical as to be actually rather insane: We’re on track to spend $2 trillion on a failed Iraq war that’s tied directly to our appalling oil dependency, and yet we can’t even allocate the governmental equivalent of pocket change toward encouraging people to install a solar panel on the condo? What kind of nation are we, really?

Well, the Dems tried. And they failed. They failed because they’re not smart enough and they don’t play dirty enough and they’re completely terrified of Dubya’s shiny newfound veto pen, which he apparently just found under his box of Osama finger puppets and private stash of gay stem cells. They failed because, despite their hairbreadth control of Congress, the oil-sucking GOP henchmen are still deeply entrenched and are clinging to their corporate cronyism like a Kentucky teen clings to his meth pipe. Hence, one of the most impressive pieces of legislation in 10 years gets choked to death like a pit bull at Michael Vick’s house. What, too harsh? Not even close.

But wait, it gets better. Because then there’s a big cornerstone of the bill, a sweet little increase in mileage ratings for cars and light trucks that actually did make it through, the first significant jump in fuel efficiency for American vehicles in more than three decades, raising the baseline from the current pathetic 25 mpg to a still incredibly pathetic 35, which is just about exactly what it should have been back in, oh, 1987.

But yes, it passed. Kicker No. 1: It won’t even take effect for another 12 years, just in time for all the snickering and guffaws going on right now over in Detroit to simmer down. A little. Kicker No. 2: This “milestone” legislation finally and at long last raises the fuel efficiency of cars and light trucks to a record high in America, which will still be comfortably well below that of China.

That’s right, China. Yes, it was fully five years ago those pesky commies mandated that every individual car on the road (as opposed to fleet averages, like U.S. automakers get away with) get at least 38 mpg, to be increased to 43 in 2008 — fully 22 percent higher than what our “landmark” achievement won’t accomplish until after the next three presidential administrations, and still far short of what many 50-60 mpg European cars can already achieve and all well short of what modern technology could accomplish if we had the slightest bit of nerve and Big Auto wasn’t so appallingly gluttonous and the GOP didn’t have raw reeking crude where their humanity used to be.

No matter. With Dems caving on every key provision and Republicans giving up exactly nothing, with Big Coal and Big Oil fat and happy and reassured that they can still rape the nation for another generation, this gutted, limp version of the bill sailed right through. And of course, Bush has indicated he might actually sign it. How sweet.

But wait, there’s that damnable glimmer of hope again: Because there’s some winking indication that the Dems are merely being strategic, biding their time and waiting for 2009 and TEOB (The End of Bush) before making any real attempts at serious change, when it will be actually worthwhile to filibuster and force a bill through to a new, remotely intelligent president who isn’t right now already aiming to kill the next 60-70 even remotely Democratic bills slated to come across his desk, as Bush is now doing. And who knows, it just might work. Though I wouldn’t make any bets.

But for now, the Dems are still hailing this truncated bill as a “landmark” achievement, the first major overhaul of U.S. energy policy in decades. Maybe they’re right: Getting anything even remotely progressive past Bush’s little monkey brain is remarkable indeed — provided you ignore that little thing about how our “groundbreaking” achievement can’t even match what China signed into law five years ago.

But the question remains, floating like a curious, fetid ball of gas over the entire political swamp: Does this bill really offer a true glimmer of hope, a meager hint at far bigger and better things to come? Or is it yet another sign of pitiable congressional weakness, a reminder of just how much brutal damage has been done by the Worst President in History? Can it somehow be both?