In my links of the day I try to find the links under the wire, articles all the top blogs miss. I'm not afraid to go to Al Jazeera, Kurd Media or to the Pakistan student movement page to bring the real daily news to you.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Links of the Day 4/9/2008 Watching the Iraq Hearings With Petraeus and Crocker

For you early birds like me Phil Donohue will be on Morning Joe on MSNBC along with Senators Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden. I don’t watch Joe Scarborough but today I will, just to see Phil.

This will be the second appearance of Phil, could MSNBC be sorry they fired him? Will they bring Phil back now that most of us oppose the war? As much as I’d love to see Phil he should tell MSNBC to jump in the lake. But if they give him the early morning show and dumped Scarborough I’d tune in.

I watched the whole Petraeus, Crocker testimony yesterday and I heard nothing new. They want an open ended surge. The time has come to STOP funding the occupation of Iraq.

The hearing goes from the Senate to the House today. This should be good because the House tends to be more open and direct then the more polite Senators.

April 8, 2008, 8:41 am

Watching the Iraq Hearings With Petraeus and Crocker

By Mike Nizza

The Lede is following today’s Petraeus-Crocker hearings live with the help of New York Times reporters inside the hearing room, including Steven Lee Myers and Thom Shanker. Read their coverage of the hearings here.

Live Video

Opening Statements in PDF: Crocker | Petraeus | Charts

Share Your Thoughts

Comment of the Moment

As a Captain in the Army currently working as an advisor to an Iraqi Army Battalion I have grave concerns regarding the current stay the course, "the surge is working", mentality. ”

— MITT TEAM CPT Watching the Iraq Hearings With Petraeus and Crocker

April 8th, 2008 7:09 pm

Petraeus Says Iraq Too `Fragile' for Removing Troops

By Nicholas Johnston and Ken Fireman / Bloomberg

April 8 -- Army General David Petraeus told lawmakers today that progress in Iraq is too ``fragile and reversible'' to allow U.S. troop levels to fall below about 140,000 earlier than September.

Petraeus, testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington, recommended a 45-day evaluation after the final brigade from last year's ``surge'' of troop reinforcements into Iraq is withdrawn in July. Only after that period can officials begin to consider further withdrawals, he said.

``This approach does not allow establishment of a set withdrawal timetable,'' Petraeus, 55, said. ``However, it does provide the flexibility those of us on the ground need to preserve the still-fragile security gains our troopers have fought'' to attain.

Iraq's stability, Iran's influence on the country and the ultimate cost of the occupation to the U.S. in lives, money and military readiness were the major issues lawmakers debated during the hearing and a later session of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Democrat Carl Levin, the Armed Services Committee's chairman, immediately criticized Petraeus's proposal, calling it a ``a plan which has no end.'' Levin, a senator from Michigan, said Iraqis had failed to use the drop in violence attributed to the surge to push toward political unity and away from dependence on American forces and on U.S. reconstruction funding.

Appeals for Time

Richard Lugar of Indiana, the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, echoed Levin's comments later in the day, saying appeals for more time are insufficient.

``We need a strategy that anticipates a political endgame and employs every plausible means to achieve it,'' Lugar said.

Petraeus was asked by Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden to estimate on a scale from 1 to 10 how far the U.S. has progressed toward conditions that would permit a major drawdown of forces. The general answered, ``6 or 7.''

A possible future U.S. commander-in-chief, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, said he is looking for a ``successful'' resolution to the conflict with a specific timetable for withdrawal.

``There's a bipartisan consensus that we have finite resources,'' said Obama, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination who serves on the Foreign Relations Committee. ``Our military is overstretched and the Pentagon has acknowledged that.''

Fewer Troops

Obama said a diplomatic initiative is needed to resolve the issues of Iran's role in Iraq. He asked whether the status quo in Iraq would be sustainable with just 30,000 American troops.

The U.S. currently has more than 150,000 troops in Iraq. As of today, 4,017 U.S. personnel have died in Iraq since the conflict began in March 2003, and 29,676 Americans have been wounded, according to the Defense Department.

Senator John McCain of Arizona, defended President George W. Bush's strategy, saying the U.S. is no longer ``staring'' at defeat in Iraq.

``Today it is possible to talk with real hope and optimism about the future of Iraq,'' said McCain, the top Republican on the panel and his party's presumptive nominee for president.

``An American failure would almost certainly require us to return to Iraq or draw us into a wider and far, far costlier war.''

Outburst at Hearing

McCain's questioning was interrupted by an unidentified man shouting ``bring them home'' seven times before police officers removed him from the room.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton told Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, who sat alongside the general, that the Iraq strategy hasn't produced the ``promised results'' and the U.S. should begin the ``orderly'' withdrawal of forces.

Clinton objected to a Bush administration plan to negotiate a long-term agreement with Iraq on the presence of American troops without submitting the accord to Congress for approval.

Iraq's ambassador to the U.S., Samir Sumaida'ie, said any candidate talking about troop withdrawal will be faced, as president, with the reality that seeing the mission through is in the interests not only of Baghdad but also of Washington.

``This is a long recovery from what was a terminal illness,'' Sumaida'ie said today at a forum in Washington organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Consequences of Invasion

Anthony Cordesman, an analyst at the Washington-based center, said the U.S. has a moral and ethical responsibility for the consequences of its invasion.

About 10 percent of the country's population has come to adulthood in the past five years, and half a generation of Iraqis live with a lack of security and an unemployment or underemployment rate of 50 percent, he said at the forum.

``Regardless of the reasons we went to war or what we may individually think of the war, we cannot afford to ignore the fact that our actions have impacted on an entire nation,'' Cordesman said.

Beginning two days of testimony before Congress, Petraeus said Bush's deployment of about 21,000 more U.S. troops last year helped quell violence in Iraq.

Basra Performance

Under questioning, Petraeus described as disappointing the performance of some Iraqi troops who were sent last month to defeat Shiite militias in the southern city of Basra. The offensive ``could have been better planned'' by the Iraqis, the general said.

Crocker told lawmakers that the trend in Iraq is ``positive'' as Iraqi politicians overcome ``sectarian barriers'' to pass needed legislation, including a budget.

``The strategy that began with the surge is working,'' Crocker said. ``This does not mean, however, that U.S. support should be open-ended or that the level and nature of our engagement should not diminish over time.''

Both Petraeus and Crocker warned lawmakers about Iranian meddling in Iraq. Petraeus said Iranian-backed militia groups ``pose the greatest long-term threat to the viability of a democratic Iraq.''

``The extent of Iran's malign influence was dramatically demonstrated when militia elements armed and trained by Iran clashed with Iraqi government forces in Basra and Baghdad,'' Crocker said.

Oil Prices

Senators criticized Iraq for not taking a greater role in paying for reconstruction, particularly with oil prices near record highs.

``Sky-rocketing oil prices have swelled Iraqi oil revenues beyond all expectations,'' Levin said. ``But Iraqi leaders and bureaucrats aren't spending their funds.''

In response, Crocker pledged that ``the era of U.S.-funded major infrastructure projects is over'' as Iraq begins to use more of its own money to pay for rebuilding.

Iraq's Oil

Iraq pumped 2.38 million barrels of crude a day last month, according to Bloomberg estimates. That output is among the highest recorded since the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Republicans, who generally supported Petraeus at the hearing, expressed some disappointment with the performance of Iraqi forces.

Virginia Republican John Warner, a former chairman of the committee, interrupted Petraeus during a long answer about whether the war was making the U.S. safer.

``My time on the clock is moving pretty quickly,'' Warner said. ``Can you now, just in simple language, tell us, yes, it is worth it and it is making us safer here at home?''

``I do believe it is worth it,'' Petraeus replied.

Attacks in Baghdad spiked in March, U.S. data show

By Michael R. Gordon and Eric Schmitt Published: April 8, 2008

BAGHDAD: After an overall decline in attacks against civilians and American and Iraqi security forces in Baghdad over the past several months, the number more than doubled in March from the previous month, according to statistics compiled by the American military in Baghdad.

The sharp increase in overall attacks, to 631 in March from 239 in February, reflects new strikes against the Green Zone, the heavily fortified headquarters for Iraq's central government and the American Embassy here, as well as renewed fighting in the Sadr City district of Baghdad between Shiite militias and Iraqi government and American forces.

Violence in Sadr City first flared more than a week ago after Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki started a poorly coordinated military campaign to retake the southern port city of Basra from Shiite militias. The fighting has had repercussions in other Shiite enclaves across the country, but nowhere is it as severe as in Sadr City.

Nearly all of the increase came in attacks against American and Iraqi security forces, which rose to 562 in March from 177 in February. Attacks against civilians in the capital remained relatively unchanged: 69 in March from 62 in February.

However, another yardstick, the number of civilian deaths tracked by the Iraqi government, shot up last month after several months of decline. Iraqi officials recorded 472 civilian deaths in Baghdad in March, a 43 percent increase over February. That increase is believed to have been caused mainly by battles between security forces and the Shiite militias.

The attack data, which was prepared by the American military division in Baghdad, indicate that despite those clashes, the sectarian violence between Sunni and Shiite groups is still down considerably from the peak levels last summer.

The latest military statistics are not classified and were provided to The New York Times in response to a request for information about the security situation in the Iraqi capital.

The increased violence in Baghdad is likely to figure in congressional testimony in Washington on Tuesday by General David Petraeus, the top American commander in Iraq, and Ryan Crocker, the American ambassador here.

Critics of the Bush administration's Iraq policy will probably cite the attack data to argue that the American troop increase in Baghdad has not achieved the hoped-for decline in violence. In recent days, Shiite militias have repeatedly struck the Green Zone, killing American soldiers and civilians there.

But proponents of the current strategy may use the new statistics to argue that security is too unsettled to warrant additional American troop reductions. Petraeus is expected to recommend a delay in troop withdrawals to reassess security trends after the number of American combat brigades is reduced to 15 in July from a high of 20 during the troop buildup.

American and Iraqi officials have attributed the reduction in violence to the increased American military presence and counterinsurgency operations in Baghdad, Sunni tribesmen who have turned against the insurgency, and a cease-fire that Moktada al-Sadr, the powerful anti-American Shiite cleric, had observed until the Basra offensive.

While the United States and the Maliki government have achieved success in fighting the insurgents, the recent fighting in Basra and Sadr City underscores the point that Shiite militias remain a significant problem.

Sadr has ordered his militia, the Mahdi Army, not to challenge Iraqi security forces, but American officials say that splinter groups, some backed by Iran, are behind the recent spate of attacks against the Green Zone and American forces. It is not clear if Sadr has influence over these groups.

American military analysts said Monday that continued fighting in Baghdad threatened to weaken the security gains made so far.

"Much will depend on Sadr and whether his growing attacks on the U.S. for supporting Maliki have pushed him toward open confrontation with the U.S.," said Anthony Cordesman, a military specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

"What is clear," he said, "is that the intra-Shiite power struggle has only begun, will be violent to some degree, and is likely to intensify through the fall 2008 local-provincial elections, the 2009 national elections and beyond."

Michael Gordon reported from Baghdad, and Eric Schmitt from Washington.

Quotes From Iraq Hearings

By The Associated Press – 11 hours ago

Some quotes from lawmakers during Tuesday's Senate hearings on Iraq, which featured testimony from Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker:

"This new increase in violence raises questions about the military success of the surge. But, more significantly, the purpose of the surge, as announced by President Bush last year, which was to give the Iraqi leaders breathing room to work out a settlement, has not been achieved."

— Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich.

"Today it is possible to talk with real hope and optimism about the future of Iraq and the outcome of our efforts there. For while the job of bringing security to Iraq is not finished, as the recent fighting in Basra and elsewhere vividly demonstrated, we're no longer staring into the abyss of defeat and we can now look ahead to the genuine prospect of success."

— Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

"As I hear the questions and the statements today, it seems to me that there's a kind of 'hear no progress in Iraq, see no progress in Iraq, and most of all, speak of no progress in Iraq.' The fact is, there has been progress in Iraq."

— Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn.

"You mentioned that the era of our paying for major reconstruction is over. But we're continuing to pay the salaries of the Sons of Iraq in many cases. We're continuing to pay for the training and equipping of Iraqi forces. I'm told that we're even continuing to pay for fuel within Iraq. Isn't it time for the Iraqis to start bearing more of those expenses, particularly in light of the windfall in revenues due to the high price of oil?"

— Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.

"I just want to respond to some of the statements and suggestions that have been made ... that it is irresponsible or demonstrates a lack of leadership to advocate withdrawing troops from Iraq in a responsible and carefully planned withdrawal. I fundamentally disagree. Rather, I think it could be fair to say that it might well be irresponsible to continue the policy that has not produced the results that have been promised time and time again."

— Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y.

"I want to remark how dramatic a difference it is from today and the reports that you bring us, General Petraeus, from what we had seen when we were last together here in September. I think it's undeniable that dramatic and significant progress has been made, particularly as it relates to al-Qaida."

— Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla.

"And 15 months into the surge, we've gone from drowning to treading water. We're still spending $3 billion every week and we're still losing — thank God it's less — but 30 to 40 American lives every month. We can't keep treading water without exhausting ourselves. But that's what the president seem to be asking us to do."

— Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del.

"Today, the questions are whether and how improvements in security can be converted into political gains that can stabilize Iraq, despite the impending drawdown of United States troops. Simply appealing for more time to make progress is insufficient. Debate over how much progress we have made and whether we can make more is less illuminating than determining whether the administration has a definable political strategy that recognizes the time limitations we face and seeks a realistic outcome designed to protect American vital interests."

— Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind.

"The problem I have is if the definition of success is so high: no traces of al-Qaida and no possibility of reconstitution, a highly effective Iraqi government, a Democratic multiethnic, multi-sectarian functioning democracy, no Iranian influence, at least not of the kind that we don't like, then that portends the possibility of us staying for 20 or 30 years. If, on the other hand, our criteria is a messy, sloppy status quo but there's not, you know, huge outbreaks of violence ... that seems to me an achievable goal within a measurable timeframe."

— Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.

"Certainly security is important, we understand that. But how we arrive or the Iraqis arrive at some political accommodation to sort all this out, that should be our focus. And the fact is, by any analysis, we're going to continue to see a bloody Iraq. We are going to continue to see ... an Iraq that will ricochet from crisis to crisis. And I am wondering ... if we are not essentially holding our policy captive to Iraqi developments."

Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb.

I’m no fan of Hillary Clinton but she did demand the withdrawal of the troops.

Clinton demands withdrawal from Iraq

Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton Tuesday poured disdain on assurances by the top US general and diplomat in Iraq that US policy was working and demanded an orderly troop withdrawal.

"For the past five years, we have continually heard from the administration that things are getting better, that we are about to turn the corner," the New York senator told General David Petraeus and US ambassador to Baghdad Ryan Crocker.

"Each time, Iraqi leaders fail to deliver," she said, saying it was time to start an "orderly" US withdrawal from Iraq.

"It might well be irresponsible to continue the policy that has not produced the results that have been promised time and time again."

Clinton, who appeared more disdainful, yet less confrontational than she had been in a previous hearing involving Petraeus in September, instead dwelt on the huge costs to US troops and their family of staying in Iraq.

She said the situation in Iraq was "tenuous" and did not merit the upbeat descriptions of the US administration.

"What conditions would have to exist for you to recommend to the President that the current strategy is not working?" she asked.

"How are we to judge General Petraeus what the conditions are, or should be and the actions that you and the administration would recommend pursing, based on them?"

US ambassador to Iraq admits Qaeda graver threat in Afghanistan

David Edwards and Mike Sheehan

Published: Tuesday April 8, 2008

US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker conceded during Senate hearings today that Afghanistan, and not Iraq, is the main front in the fight against al-Qaeda.

Evading a direct answer to a question from Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) as to whether the focus of the war against the terror network is in Iraq or Afghanistan, Crocker finally said, "I would ... pick al-Qaeda in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border area."

Biden first discussed progress that has been made in Iraq and the potential for troop draw downs with Gen. David Petraeus, commander of coalition forces in Iraq. He then turned to Crocker and the following exchange occurred:

Biden: Mr. Ambassador, is al-Qaeda a greater threat to U.S. interests in Iraq, or in the Afghan-Pakistan border region?

Crocker: Mr. Chairman, al-Qaeda is a strategic threat to the United States wherever it is, in my judgment--

Biden: Where is most of it? If you could take it out, get a choice... [If] the Lord Almighty came down, sat in the middle of the table there and said, 'Mr. Ambassador, you can eliminate every al-Qaeda source in Afghanistan and Pakistan or every al-Qaeda personnel in Iraq,' which would you pick?

Crocker: Well, given the progress that has been made against al-Qaeda in Iraq, the significant decrease in its capabalities, the fact that it is solidly on the defensive and not in a position, as far as I can judge--

Biden: Which would you pick, Mr. Ambassador?

Crocker: I would therefore pick al-Qaeda in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border area.

Biden: That would be a smart choice.

Biden had begun his time with a statement to Crocker tantamount to a scolding: "I would not presume that if the security agreement with Iraq goes beyond a status-of-forces agreement, that you need only inform the Congress. You need to do much more than inform the Congress, you need the permission of the Congress if you're going to bind the next president of the United States in anything you agree to."

Watch the video of Senator Joe Biden

And John McCain is senile! He still confuses Shi’it and Sunnis.

Once again, McCain confuses Sunnis with Shiites

John Byrne

Published: Tuesday April 8, 2008

LA Times blogger: 'Maybe flash cards would help'

John McCain isn't quite sure of himself on Iraq.

Last month, the Arizona senator got a whisper in his ear from Sen. Joe Lieberman, after he said that Iran was providing aid to Al Qaeda in Iraq, a Sunni group. Iran, however, is actually a Shiite nation. On Fox News Sunday, McCain also got wrong the details of an Iraqi ceasefire.

"His friend, Joe Lieberman, who was also on the trip, had to famously whisper in his ear to correct him," the LA Times writes today. "This allowed McCain's two Democratic rivals for the presidency, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to criticize McCain for his mistake, which came in the area that's supposed to be in his wheelhouse: national security and foreign policy."

At today's Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, McCain seems to have gotten it wrong again, when interviewing Iraq commander Gen. David Petraeus.

MCCAIN: "There are numerous threats to security in Iraq and the future of Iraq. Do you still view al-Qaeda in Iraq as a major threat?"

PETRAEUS: "It is a major threat. Though it is certainly as not as major a threat as it was say, 15 months ago."

MCCAIN: "Certainly not an obscure sect of the Shias overall?

PETRAEUS: "No, sir."

MCCAIN: "Or Sunnis or anybody else then?

Watch the video on The Huffington Post here.

"McCain may want to work on this obvious weakness in his Iraq fund of knowledge," the Times blog remarks. "Maybe flash cards would help."

During an appearance on Fox News Sunday Apr. 6, McCain repeated the false claim that Muqtada al-Sadr declared the ceasefire in Basra last week and said he thought the Iraqi army was performing well.

"It was al-Sadr that declared the ceasefire, not Maliki," said McCain. "With respect, I don’t think Sadr would have declared the ceasefire if he thought he was winning. Most times in history, military engagements, the winning side doesn’t declare the ceasefire. The second point is, overall, the Iraqi military performed pretty well. … The military is functioning very effectively."

As the blog, Think Progress notes, "it was members of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government who brokered the ceasefire, to which Sadr agreed. Experts agree that Sadr’s influence was strengthened — rather than diminished — by the Basra battle."

The Democratic National Committee quickly attacked McCain, noting several mishaps in a press release.

March 17, 2008: McCain said on the Hugh Hewitt radio show "As you know, there are al-Qaeda operatives that are taken back into Iran, given training as leaders, and they're moving back into Iraq." [New York Times, 3/19/08 -- Transcript.

March 18, 2008: In Jordan after a trip to Iraq, McCain said a press conference that " 'We continue to be concerned about Iranian [operatives] taking al-Qaeda into Iran, training them and sending them back,' he said in comments after meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah II on Tuesday afternoon. Pressed to elaborate, McCain said it is 'common knowledge and has been reported in the media that al-Qaeda is going back into Iran and receiving training and are coming back into Iraq from Iran; that's well known. And it's unfortunate.' A few moments later, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), standing just behind McCain, stepped forward and whispered in his ear. McCain then said, 'I'm sorry, the Iranians are training extremists, not al-Qaeda.'" [Washington Post, 3/19/08]

March 19, 2008: The next day however, in a press release on the fifth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, McCain said "Al Qaeda and Shia extremists -- with support from external powers such as Iran -- are on the run but not defeated." [McCain Presidential Campaign Press Release via Targeted News Service, 3/19/08]

November 2007: McCain Said that Al Qaeda Is Getting "Supplies and Equipment" From Iran. "Al Qaeda is not defeated," McCain told George Stephanopoulos on ABC's This Week. "They're on the run, but they are not defeated, and they continue to get supplies and equipment through Iran, and they continue to get suicide bombers through Syria." [ABC, This Week with George Stephanopoulos, 11/25/07]

April 8, 2008: McCain Referred To Al Qaeda As A "Sect Of Shi'ites" MCCAIN: Do you still view al Qaeda in Iraq as a major threat? PETRAEUS: It is still a major threat, though it is certainly not as major a threat as it was say 15 months ago. MCCAIN: Certainly not an obscure sect of the Shi'ites overall? [CNN, 4/8/08]

Dems Miss Opportunity to Challenge Surge

By David Corn, Mother Jones. Posted April 9, 2008.

Petraeus' testimony was predictable: Progress is real, we must stay the course. But Democrats missed an opportunity to undercut the White House story

As General David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday and pitched a story of success in Iraq, a news update flashed on the television screen: Sadr threatens to end cease-fire. Meaning that civil war between the Shiite-dominated government of Baghdad and the Shiite movement led by cleric Moqtada al-Sadr could erupt. But Senator John McCain, the senior Republican member at the hearing, seemed unaware of this development. He asked Petraeus, "What do you make of Sadr's declaration of a cease-fire?"

This brief moment underscored a point that war supporters and war critics on the committee kept making throughout the hearing: The ground reality in Iraq is starkly different from how the war is depicted in the United States. Senator Joe Lieberman scoffed at war skeptics for embracing what he called a see-no-progress, hear-no-progress, speak-no-progress view of the war. On the other side, Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) remarked that the testimony from Petraeus and Crocker -- who each claimed there has been significant though fragile progress in Iraq -- "describes one Iraq while we see another."

The main news of the morning -- news that had already leaked -- was that Petraeus has recommended that once the level of the U.S. troops in Iraq is brought down to presurge levels, which is scheduled for July, there be "a 45-day period of consolidation and evaluation" and then "a process of assessment" before any further troop reductions are considered. In other words, 19 months after the so-called surge -- and after all the supposed success of the surge -- U.S. military involvement in Iraq is expected to be what it was at the start of the surge. Under questioning from Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the committee chairman, Petraeus noted that this process of assessment could take months and that additional reductions would only occur as conditions permit, indicating that the pause in the drawdown could be open-ended.

This was hardly a shocker. Petraeus, in keeping with Bush administration policy, refused to say anything concrete about reducing troops (at any time) to presurge levels. Instead, he and Crocker did what they could to keep alive the White House's favorite meme, that the surge is swell. They cited various indicators of what they consider success. "Weekly security incidents" are down to 2005 levels -- at least until last week. Civilian deaths, according to U.S. military figures, have fallen to early 2006 levels. Bombings are down to mid-2006 levels. The number of Iraqi battalions taking the lead in operations is up 20 percent since January 2007. The Sunni opposition to Al Qaeda in Iraq within Anbar province remains strong. Several pieces of legislation important to national political reconciliation have moved forward in the Iraqi parliament. A budget was passed with record amounts of capital expenditures. And, as Crocker noted, Iraq's Council of Representatives approved a redesign of the Iraqi flag. Their message: We must stay the course.

The Democrats on the committee took shots at the the-surge-is-working narrative, but with their 10-minute-long bursts of disjointed questions they were not able to redefine the debate. In his opening remarks, Levin noted that the main purpose of the surge -- to provide Iraqi leaders breathing room to hammer out a political settlement -- "has not been achieved," and he argued that "our current open-ended commitment is an invitation to continuing [Iraqi] dependency." He blasted the "incompetence and excessively sectarian leadership" of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and noted Iraq was not spending the billions of dollars in surplus it has obtained thanks to rising oil prices, leaving the American taxpayers (who are forced to pay up to $4.00 a gallon for gas) paying for tens of billions of reconstruction within Iraq. He cited a State Department report that noted that "the intransigence of Iraq's Shiite-dominated government [is] the key threat facing the U.S. effort in Iraq, rather than al-Qaida terrorists, Sunni insurgents or Iranian-backed militias." And he said that he was recently informed that of 110 joint U.S.-Iraqi operations of company size or greater in Iraq in the first three months of 2008, Iraqi forces assumed the lead in only 10 of those missions. Kennedy wondered when Iraqi forces -- the recipient of billions of dollars in U.S. assistance -- are "ready to fight on their own." Senator Jim Webb (D-Va.) noted that the "awakening" in Anbar started before the escalation of U.S. troops in Iraq, and he shared his concern that the war was producing serious "strain" for the military.

When most of the Republicans questioned (so to speak) Petraeus and Crocker, they praised the pair and hailed recent developments in Iraq. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said he would award Petraeus, a four-star general, a fifth star if that were possible. McCain maintained, "It is possible to talk with real hope and optimism" about Iraq, adding, "success is within reach." The only thing to worry about, McCain suggested, was a lack of spine at home: "Congress must not choose to lose in Iraq." (While questioning Petraeus, McCain once again demonstrated he does not understand that Al Qaeda is a Sunni outfit.)

Republican Senator John Warner (R-Va.) did try to reprise a question he posed to Petraeus when the general testified before the committee last September. At that hearing, Warner asked Petraeus if the Iraq War had made "America safer." And Petraeus had replied, "I don't know, actually. I have not sat down and sorted in my own mind." This time around, Petraeus was obviously prepared for the question. But he did not have much better of a reply. "Is all this sacrifice [in Iraq] bringing about a more secured America?" Warner asked. Petraeus noted he had "thought a bit about it since September." He pointed out that Iraq is now free of a ruthless dictator and that the "seeds of a nascent democracy has been planted." He paused once or twice while answering the query. "The overall weighing of the scales is difficult." He added that only history will be able to judge. Pressed further by Warner -- "it's a fairly simple question," the senator said -- Petraeus remarked, "I do believe [the war] is worth it." Later on, Petraeus, quoting Tom Brokaw, praised the soldiers serving in Iraq as the "new greatest generation."

Free of fireworks -- except for a few outbursts from protesters in the audience -- the hearing was no game changer. Senator Hillary Clinton criticized the Bush administration's "same failed policies" in Iraq. But she did not forcefully challenge Petraeus and Crocker. In a low-key manner, she nudged Petraeus to state under what conditions he would "recommend to the president that the current strategy is not working." The general sidestepped the question. Clinton did not pound him for that.

The committee Democrats missed an opportunity to confront vigorously the front men for Bush's war in Iraq. It was not as if they hoisted a white flag. They did cite facts and figures that undermine the overall thrust of Petraeus' and Crocker's presentations. They raised pointed criticisms. They griped about the costs of the war. But it did not add up to much of an assault on Bush's policies. Given that congressional opposition to the war has lost much steam in the past year, perhaps this was to be expected. After all, Democrats in Congress appear to have given up on passing any legislation that would alter U.S. policies in Iraq. They know the public agrees with them on the war. (Warner noted that up to 80 percent of Americans don't believe the war was worth it.) But the Democrats have been stymied by a president who refuses to pull back in Iraq.

With Petraeus and Crocker spending two high-profile days on Capitol Hill to appear before four committees, the Democrats have a chance to undercut the White House story -- which has gained traction within the media (if not within the public) -- that the surge has been a success. In the opening round, they did not do much to inconvenience Petraeus and Crocker. It was not an entirely triumphant appearance for the pair, but it was good enough for anyone who favors a continuation of the current course in Iraq, and that includes their boss in the White House.

David Corn is the Washington editor of The Nation and the co-author of Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War and is the author of The Lies of George W. Bush. He writes a blog at

McCain AWOL as Petraeus is grilled by Senate panel

From The Nation

Sure, Arizona Senator John McCain's campaign may still be selling him as some kind of "maverick" or "independent thinker" -- and most of the media may still be buying that ridiculous line.

But when it comes to the fundamental foreign policy issue of the 2008 race – whether to continue the war in Iraq, and at what cost – McCain's a yes man.

The surge is prolonging instability

Also in War on Iraq

Exhausted, Overextended Troops Ready to 'Unravel'
Bobby Muller

Don't Betray Us, General: Admit That Iraq Keeps Getting Worse and That the Surge Failed
Tom Engelhardt

Cost of Occupation in Iraq: $3 Trillion Estimate Was Too Low
Joseph Stiglitz, Linda Bilmes

Embarrassed U.S. Tries to Distance Itself from Disastrous Basra Attacks
Gareth Porter

General William Odom on Iraq: Immediate Withdrawal the Only Option that Makes Sense
General William Odom



"Let me be clear: there is no military solution in Iraq, and there never was. The best way to protect our security and to pressure Iraq's leaders to resolve their civil war is to immediately begin to remove our combat troops. Not in six months or one year - now."

-- Sen. Barack Obama,September 12, 2007

"Our message to the president is clear. It is time to begin ending this war -- not next year, not next month -- but today."

-- Sen. Hillary Clinton, July 10, 2007

On the campaign trail, Senator Obama and Senator Clinton both say that the war in Iraq needs to end. Military Families Speak Out has one question for them: what are they doing now as sitting United States Senators, to bring our loved ones home from Iraq?

Military Families Speak Out is an organization of almost 4,000 military families with loved ones who are serving in Iraq, ready to deploy or re-deploy, have been wounded physically and/or psychologically, or have died as a result of the war in Iraq. We know first hand the devastation of this war.

We are more than five years into a war that Clinton and Obama say should never have begun. Over 4,000 U.S. troops and, by some estimates, over a million Iraqi children, women, and men have died in this unjustifiable war. Countless more have sustained devastating life long injuries to their bodies, minds, and spirits. More are killed and wounded every day. The suicide rate among active duty and returned Veterans is skyrocketing. We simply can't wait nine more months for a new President to begin a process for ending this war.

And we don't have to: Congress has the power to end the war in Iraq now. The President can't spend a dime on this war without the approval of both houses of Congress.

A single act of bold leadership by Senator Clinton or Senator Obama could be instrumental in ending this war.

When the Senate takes up the next war funding bill, either one of them could lead a filibuster, refusing to stand down until their colleagues agree to vote against any bill that provides funding to continue the war rather than funding specifically for the swift and safe return of all our troops from Iraq. They wouldn't even need a majority of their colleagues to back them up -- all they need is 40 Senators prepared to unite behind their leadership and block additional funding to continue the war from making it through the Senate.

Democrats and Republicans alike have routinely used filibusters and the threat of filibusters around important issues. What could be more important that ending the war in Iraq?

If Senator Clinton and Senator Obama aren't willing to use the power they have now as U.S. Senators to end the war, what makes anyone think they will exercise bold leadership on January 20, 2009? If they fail to take action to stop funding the war that is killing our troops and the Iraqi people, we can only conclude that when their campaigns talk about ending the war, they are just using the memory of the fallen, the sacrifices of our troops, and the grief and pain of our families, for political gain.

As military families, we appeal to the American people: Call Senator Clinton, Senator, Obama, and your own two Senators and urge them to use the power of the filibuster to block any bill that continues to fund the war in Iraq rather than funding the swift and safe return of our troops. We also call on Congress to appropriate the funds needed for our troops to get the care they need when they return.

Senator Hillary Clinton -- (202) 224-4451

Senator Barack Obama -- (202) 224-2854

Senate Switchboard -- (800) 828-0498

Click here to find out who your Senators are.

Click here to sign our online petition.


Iraqi blogger: Baghdad after Saddam

Iraq's first blogger, Salam Pax, was in Baghdad on April 9, 2003. He watched cautiously as the US military entered the capital and took down Saddam Hussein's government.

But hopes for a better future were soon replaced with fears of looters taking the city apart brick by brick.

Five years later, he recounts the trials and tribulations experienced by Iraqis who woke up for the first time in 24 years without a government led by Saddam Hussein.

The collected weblog has been published by Guardian Books under the title The Baghdad Blog. He also made 19 short documentaries about life in Iraq after the war and was awarded Royal Television Society's award for innovation in 2003.

The events in Baghdad in early April five years ago were so overwhelming that it took three days and a succession of four-hour TV news snippets for the predicament to sink in.

Electricity had been cut off for a couple of days and we had been using a small power generator for four hours during the day and night mainly to check the news.

My uncles and aunts were all staying at our house … we thought that if we were going to be shocked and awed into democracy, we really ought to go through the experience together.

On April 7, my father woke up everyone because he had heard on the radio that the US army had entered Baghdad.

The 15 members of my extended family sat silently in front of the television set and watched a live feed from a US network showing American tanks rolling towards a presidential palace in central Baghdad.

It almost felt like watching an implausible scene in a science fiction film. This was followed two days later by footage of the Saddam statue in Firdous square being pulled down.

No more Saddam

We watched with disbelief.

Could Saddam really be gone now? We stayed home with our doors locked and waited for the retaliation of the Iraqi army, but there was nothing.

Days later we would see Iraqi military uniforms tossed in ditches as if the army just disappeared into thin air.

Then the images of the looting started appearing on all the news channels. This time we watched with anger and my uncles returned to their own homes to make sure their belongings did not get 'liberated' as well.

In rapid succession, we moved within three days from fear of being bombed to hope for a better future and back to fear of the chaos on the street.

We could tell from the events unfolding in the street three days after the coalition forces moved into Baghdad how this invasion would likely conclude.

Iraqis have never really recovered from the chaos of those early days.

But the truth is I chose not to dwell on what was happening in the streets and held on instead to a hope for a better future.

And with every little step forward we would look at each other and say 'it's happening'. But these forward steps were usually just blips of good news in what felt like an endless stream of bad news.


But it has become increasingly difficult today to remember what good I had once been hoping would come out of the war and regime change.

I am left with a lot of bad memories.

There were days when the Red Crescent was begging for volunteers to assist in retrieving the corpses from the streets and giving them proper burial.

The local hospital's garden had to be converted into a makeshift cemetery after the electricity went out; there was no way the bodies could be stored in refrigerated morgues until they were identified by next of kin.

My mother, after going out only once after Baghdad was taken by coalition forces, decided she we would never venture outside her front yard again.

Not until I promised her that stability had returned to the streets.

That never really happened.

Painful memories

Going out in the city became an exercise in blocking out painful images and scenes; in some cases there were areas of the city you plainly avoided.

Have you seen what has happened to Baghdad's book market? I would rather have the image of that street as I remember it in my mind than the reality of what is left of it today.

Eventually, we had to leave our home when my neighbourhood was taken over by Sunni militias - all my Shia uncles and aunts also left their homes with all their belongings. Then came the walls which transformed an ethnically mixed and vibrant city into a series of sectarian ghettos.

And can one ever forget the neverending Iraqi civilian casualties.

To be honest, I still have no idea how to refer to April 9, 2003. For a while, one of our shortlived early governments called it "Baghdad Liberation Day" but that feels like a contradiction in terms as foreign forces stormed the city and that usually is described as an invasion.

On the other hand, I never really could bring myself to describing it as the "Fall of Baghdad".

I thought we were never going to let that happen although after five years of mostly death and bloodshed my beloved city is certainly not what it used to be.

I don't want to say fallen. But Baghdad is unquestionably and deeply hurt.

Salam Pax is and Iraqi documentary film-maker and the author of The Baghdad Blog. He graduated as an architect from Baghdad university but turned to blogging in 2002.

Curfew marks fall of Baghdad

Officials in Baghdad have imposed a curfew as Iraq marks the fifth anniversary of Baghdad's capture by US forces, but fighting continues to plague the city. There were at least three mortar attacks reported on Wednesday morning, with at least one rocket or mortar shell fired into the Green Zone, home to the US embassy, eyewitnesses said.

Baghdad's streets were empty of cars and trucks after the authorities declared a 5am to midnight (0200 GMT to 2100 GMT) vehicle curfew to prevent car bomb attacks. Al Jazeera's James Bays, reporting from Baghdad, said the curfew was in place but that sporadic fighting continued.

"The streets are absolutely deserted," Bays reported. "The current Iraqi government is taking no chances at all - the curfew is in place, but it hasn't stopped the violence."

Clashes were reported between Shia fighters and US and Iraqi forces in Baghdad's Sadr City district, a poverty stricken district with strong support for the al-Mahdi Army, on Wednesday. At least six people were killed, the AFP news agency reported an unnamed medical worker as saying.

In Tikrit, the hometown of Saddam Hussein, the former Iraqi president who was ousted in the US invasion, a day-long curfew was also in place, according to reports from the AFP news agency.

Calls for protest

Muqtada al-Sadr, a populist Shia leader who controls the al-Mahdi Army, had called for a million-strong anti-American demonstration to be held in Baghdad on the anniversary, but later cancelled the protest, saying he feared his supporters might be attacked.

Sadr City has seen clashes between Iraqi security forces and al-Mahdi Army fighters over the past three days, leaving dozens dead and scores wounded. Al-Sadr has also threatened to lift a ceasefire that the al-Mahdi Army has been observing since August.

US commanders acknowledge that the ceasefire was one of the factors behind a drop in violence across Iraq in the second half of last year. Separately, Harith al-Dhari, secretary-general for the Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq, called for demonstrations to take place on Wednesday, saying the US-forces should be pulled out of the country.

Fall of Baghdad

Wednesday marked five years since the US-led invasion of Iraq brought down Saddam's government on April 9, 2003.

It took US invading forces just three weeks to defeat the Iraqi leader's forces, with international media showing a group of Iraqis and US marines toppling a statue of Saddam in Baghdad's Firdoos Square.

Five years later, the American military and Baghdad's new Shia-led government are still battling to curb the bloodshed that has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced more than four million. In Washington, the highest US general in Iraq called for a US troop withdrawals to be frozen for at least 45 days after July, warning military gains remained fragile.

General David Petraeus recommended to US legislators that once the last of the 30,000 extra troops sent to Iraq last year are withdrawn in July "we undertake a 45-day period of consolidation and evaluation".

Nepal police fire on activists

Police have opened fire on protesters in western Nepal, killing at least one person, ahead of landmark elections to choose an assembly that will rewrite the constitution.

Haitians storm president's palace

Haitians stormed the presidential palace in Port-au-Prince to demand the resignation of Rene Preval, the country's president, while going on a rampage in the capital over soaring food prices.

IMF: Sub-prime losses to hit $950bn

Top_news By Agencies

The International Monetary Fund has warned that the sub-prime mortgage crisis could cost the global economy $945bn in financial losses.

Many Wall Street economists had previously put the costs of the residential mortgage meltdown at $400bn to $600bn.

The IMF said on Tuesday that the crisis was spreading beyond the US sub-prime market, into prime residential and commercial real estate as well as consumer credit markets.

And while the US remains the epicentre of the crisis, the body said in its Global Financial Stability Report that financial institutions in other countries had also been affected.

The IMF's nearly $1 trillion figure includes $200bn in losses that banks have already announced, plus an additional $80bn the banks have yet to write down, officials said.

The US economy has been brought to the brink of recession by the crisis that began with lenders getting into trouble by offering loans to higher-risk borrowers who were unable to pay their mortgages when interest rates went up.

The crisis has also affected international lenders, who bought into or offered sub-prime loans in the US and then contributed to bouts of chaos on international financial markets.

Thousands of US citizens have also had their homes foreclosed during the crisis.

"The deterioration in credit has moved up and across the credit spectrum to prime residential and commercial mortgage markets, and to corporate credit markets," said Jaime Caruana, the director of the IMF's monetary and capital markets department.

Europe warning

Caruana said the losses "suggest a potentially large impact on US economic growth", and that Europe may also see tightening conditions and slowing credit growth under the global financial strain.

The IMF releases its biannual World Economic Outlook on Wednesday and already has said it would cut half a percentage point off its forecast of 2008 global economic growth, to 3.7 per cent.

The unusually harsh biannual report, particularly critical of Wall Street, comes ahead of the IMF and World Bank spring meetings in Washington over the weekend.

The IMF, whose stated mission is to maintain global financial stability, said there was a collective failure to appreciate the extent of debt taken on by a wide range of institutions - banks, insurers, government-sponsored entities and hedge funds.

US ups security after Yemen attack

The US embassy in Yemen says it has been ordered by the state department to remove non-essential personnel, following an attack on a residential complex housing Westerners working for the state-owned Safer oil company.

Yahoo demands better Microsoft deal

Yahoo has rejected software giant Microsoft's three week deadline to respond to its offer for the company but said it was not opposed to a better deal.

US jobless numbers reach new high

Unemployment in the US has reached its highest level for two and a half years, as employers said they had cut 80,000 jobs in March.

The national unemployment rate rose from 4.8 per cent to 5.1 per cent, the US Labour department said on Friday, in the clearest signal yet that the battered US economy might already be in recession.

It is the first time the US economy has shed jobs for three consecutive months since a five-month period in 2003, when the economy was still recovering from the 2001 recession.

On Tuesday Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the US central bank the Federal Reserve, admitted for the first time that a recession in the US was possible.

Political woes

Adding to its bleak assessment, the Labour Department said that a combined 152,000 jobs were lost in January and February, sharply above the previous estimate of 85,000.

"We're obviously not happy with today's jobs report - the negative estimate of jobs and the increase in the unemployment rate," Tony Fratto, a White House spokesman said on Friday.

"The weakness in this quarter has been expected with economic growth about flat and a soft jobs market. That's why we quickly pushed for the economic stimulus package," he said.

The figures drew calls from Democratic presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for aid to families facing foreclosure on their homes in the subprime mortgage crisis.

John McCain, the presumptive Republican candidate, said tax cuts and cuts in regulations were needed to foster growth.

Recession fears

Analysts were also pessimistic about the immediate future for the US economy.

"The labour market has indeed turned south," said Joel Naroff, president of Naroff Economic Advisors.

"That was the one last bastion of hope to stay out of a recession. Now the question is: How deep and how long will it last?"

The economy has been battered by the effects of a housing collapse, a credit crunch and a financial system in turmoil.

"There doesn't appear to be any silver lining. It shows that we're right in the middle of a recession," added Carl Lantz, a US interest rate strategist at Credit Suisse in New York.

"Our expectation is that it will be a longer recession than the last two, and we're just in the beginning."

China limiting visas to pre-Olympics visitors

HONG KONG: China has stopped issuing multiple-entry visas to foreigners and has slowed visa processing in Hong Kong, a major gateway for travel to the mainland, in restrictions that will remain in place until after the Olympics, travel agents here said Tuesday.

China detains 953 linked to Tibet unrest

China's Blood-Splattered Olympics

Sarkozy faces down motion of no confidence over US stance

No comments:

Bush' Way of Bringing the Troops Home

Bush' Way of Bringing the Troops Home
If Not Now When?