Friday, February 2, 2007

Iraq In Chaos; Iran In The Crosshairs

Iraq is a much more tangled mess than most of us realize, and that makes Iran more attractive, to a certain small group of very powerful people.

Preparations For War With Iran Are Advancing

Robert Parry
Military and intelligence sources continue to tell me that preparations are advancing for a war with Iran starting possibly as early as mid-to-late February.
There is growing alarm among military and intelligence experts that Bush already has decided to attack and simply is waiting for a second aircraft carrier strike force to arrive in the region – and for a propaganda blitz to stir up some pro-war sentiment at home.

One well-informed U.S. military source called me in a fury after consulting with Pentagon associates and discovering how far along the war preparations are. He said the plans call for extensive aerial attacks on Iran, including use of powerful bunker-busting ordnance.

Another source with a pipeline into Israeli thinking said the Iran war plan has expanded over the past several weeks. Earlier thinking had been that Israeli warplanes would hit Iranian nuclear targets with U.S. forces in reserve in case of Iranian retaliation, but now the strategy anticipates a major U.S. military follow-up to an Israeli attack, the source said.

Both sources used the same word “crazy” in describing the plan to expand the war to Iran.

This Ain't No Foolin' Around

Marc Lord
The USS Dwight Eisenhower is in the Persian Gulf, off Somalia near the Horn of Africa. The USS John C. Stennis should arrive to join it on station in mid-February. The USS Ronald Reagan should arrive in the region at the beginning of March, right after Admiral William Fallon is confirmed as CENTCOM commander. There is no need for 3 aircraft carriers there, except for an attack on Iran; this ain't no party, this ain't no disco.

Iraq Is Worse Than You Think

Robert Parry
Sources with first-hand knowledge of conditions in Iraq have told me that the U.S. position is even more precarious than generally understood. Westerners can’t even move around Baghdad and many other Iraqi cities except in armed convoys.

“In some countries, if you want to get out of the car and go to the market, they’ll tell you that it might be dangerous,” one experienced American cameraman told me. “In Iraq, you will be killed. Not that you might be killed, but you will be killed. The first Iraqi with a gun will shoot you, and if no one has a gun, they’ll stone you.”
The American cameraman said one European journalist rebelled at the confinement, took off on her own in a cab – and was never seen again.
The futility of the Iraq War also is contributing to professional cynicism. Some intelligence support personnel are volunteering for Iraq duty not because they think they can help win the war but because the hazard pay is high and life in the protected Green Zone is relatively safe and easy.
That American officials have come to view a posting in Iraq as a pleasant career enhancer – rather than a vital national security mission for the United States – is another sign that the war is almost certainly beyond recovery.

Security? The Mahdi Army Control The Iraqi Police

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad
Fadhel and his family found themselves in the squatters' compound in east Baghdad. He and his brother joined the Mahdi Army and fought against the Americans in Sadr City and Karbala. Now he lives in a small rented flat in Dora, once a mixed Sunni area but now one of the main battle fronts in this sectarian war. To gather intelligence, he set out to make Sunni friends: "I live with them, pray like them, I even insult the imams and the Mahdi Army."

Fadhel and other Mahdi Army commanders describe an intimate relationship with Iraqi security services, especially the commandos of the Iraqi interior ministry. He says the Mahdi Army often uses these official forces in conducting its own operations against Sunni "terrorists".

"We have specific units that we work with where members of the Mahdi Army are in command. We conduct operations together. We can't ask any army unit to come with us, we just ask the units that are under the control of our men.

"The police are all under our control, we ask them to help or inform them that shooting will take place in a street and it involves the Mahdi Army, and that's it."

Recent Personnel Changes Foreshadow A Widening Of The War

Robert Parry
On Jan. 4, Bush ousted the top two commanders in the Middle East, Generals John Abizaid and George Casey, who had opposed a military escalation in Iraq. Bush also removed Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte, who had stood by intelligence estimates downplaying the near-term threat from Iran’s nuclear program.

Bush appointed Admiral William Fallon as the new chief of Central Command for the Middle East despite the fact that Fallon, a Navy aviator and head of the Pacific Command, will oversee two ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The choice of Fallon makes more sense if Bush foresees a bigger role for the two aircraft carrier groups off Iran’s coast.

Though not considered a Middle East expert, Fallon has moved in neocon circles, for instance, attending a 2001 awards ceremony at the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, a think tank dedicated to explaining “the link between American defense policy and the security of Israel.”

Bush also shifted Negroponte from his Cabinet-level position as DNI to a sub-Cabinet post as deputy to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. To replace Negroponte, Bush nominated retired Vice Admiral John “Mike” McConnell, who is viewed by intelligence professionals as a low-profile technocrat, not a strong independent figure.

McConnell is seen as more likely than Negroponte to give the administration an alarming assessment of Iran’s nuclear capabilities and intentions in an upcoming National Intelligence Estimate. Last year, to the consternation of neoconservatives, Negroponte splashed cold water on their heated rhetoric about the imminent threat from Iran.

“Our assessment is that the prospects of an Iranian weapon are still a number of years off, and probably into the next decade,” Negroponte said in an interview with NBC News in April 2006. Expressing a similarly tempered view in a speech at the National Press Club, Negroponte said, “I think it’s important that this issue be kept in perspective.”

Operation Deathtrap

James Carroll
'Who the hell is shooting at us?" a U.S. soldier yelled last week. His platoon was in a strife-torn part of Baghdad, teamed with an Iraqi Army unit. Gunfire was coming from all directions. "Who's shooting at us? Do we know who they are?"
Just by being in the streets to shoot at, well-armed soldiers empower the gunmen on all sides. Perhaps the most destructive unintended consequence of America's lethal presence has been the way the lethal power of all belligerents has scaled up to match it. America's young people are surrounded now by killers united only in the will to kill them. Operation deathtrap, exactly.

But anguish about the war is equally fueled by what is happening in Washington. After Bush's State of the Union address, antiwar Republicans and Democrats began vying with each other over ways to challenge U.S. policy, even as Vice President Dick Cheney bluntly declared of congressional action, "It won't stop us." And sure enough, the Democrats and Republicans quickly tempered their opposition.

Why Attack Iran? Other Political Considerations

Robert Parry
Bush and his Israeli counterpart, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, also have powerful political motives for ordering air strikes against Iran’s nuclear sites. Both leaders have suffered military reversals – Bush in Iraq and Olmert in Lebanon – and their public approval ratings have plummeted.
Bush and Olmert are two desperate politicians looking for something to put themselves back on top.

It also is conventional wisdom among American neoconservatives – as well as many Israelis – that President Bush may be the only U.S. leader who would countenance a preemptive military strike against Iran.

So, if the bombing raid is going to happen, these neocons believe it must occur within the next two years, preferably as soon as possible.

A Huge Battle In A Small Village: Zarqa, Near Najaf

Dahr Jamail and Ali al-Fadhily
A huge battle broke out around the small village of Zarqa, just a few kilometers northeast of the Shi'ite holy city Najaf, which is 90km south of Baghdad.
More than 200 people lay dead after more than half a day of fighting on Sunday.
Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani announced to reporters at 9am on Sunday that Najaf was being attacked by al-Qaeda. Immediately after this announcement, the Ministry of National Security (MNS) announced that the dead were members of the Shi'ite splinter extremist group Jund al-Sama (Army of Heaven) who were out to kill senior ayatollahs in Najaf, including Sistani.

Iraqi National Security Adviser Muaffaq al-Rubaii said just 15 minutes after the MNS announcement that hundreds of Arab fighters had been killed, and that many had been arrested. Rubaii claimed there were Saudis, Yemenis, Egyptians and Afghans.

"What Can We Do? It's Like Having A Mentally Ill Relative."

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad
The new Bush plan to secure Baghdad gives a major role to the Iraqi army and police units in securing Baghdad. Few in the city expect that these predominantly Shia forces will seriously challenge their fellow Shia.

As the discussions for the new security plan were continuing, an Iraqi Shia official who belongs to another party told me: "We know that Moqtada [al-Sadr] and his men are responsible for all this mess but what can we do? We can't attack them, we can only talk to them. Its like having a mentally ill relative - you can't just throw him in the street."

Fadhel and other Mahdi army officers also describe a complex relationship with Iraq's Shia neighbour. Iran, which backs a rival Shia faction to the Mahdi Army, secured a PR success when Mr Sadr upon his arrival in Tehran last year announced that the Mahdi Army would defend Iran if attacked by the US. One Mahdi Army commander told me: "The Iranians are helping us not because they like us, but because they hate the US."

Not-So-Diplomatic Maneuvering

Robert Parry
There is a sense of futility among many in Washington who doubt they can do anything to stop Bush. So far, the Democratic-controlled Congress has lagged behind the curve, debating how to phrase a non-binding resolution of disapproval about Bush’s “surge” of 21,500 troops in Iraq, while Bush may be opening an entirely new front in Iran.

According to intelligence sources, Bush’s Iran strategy is expected to let the Israelis take a lead role in attacking Iran's nuclear facilities in order to defuse Democratic opposition and let the U.S. intervention be sold as defensive, a case of a vulnerable ally protecting itself from a future nuclear threat.
On Jan. 10, the night of Bush’s national address on the Iraq War, NBC Washington bureau chief Tim Russert made a striking observation about a pre-speech briefing that Bush and other senior administration officials gave to news executives.

“There’s a strong sense in the upper echelons of the White House that Iran is going to surface relatively quickly as a major issue in the country and the world in a very acute way – and a prediction that in 2008 candidates of both parties will have as a fundamental campaign promise or premise a policy to deal with Iran and not let it go nuclear,” Russert said. “That’s how significant Iran was today.”

So, Bush and his top advisers not only signaled their expectation of a “very acute” development with Iran but that the Iranian issue would come to dominate Campaign 2008 with candidates forced to spell out plans for containing this enemy state.

Warplanes Killed The Pilgrims

Dahr Jamail and Ali al-Fadhily
Iraqi government statements over the killing of hundreds of Shi'ites in an attack on Sunday stand exposed by independent investigations carried out by Inter Press Service (IPS).
"We were going to conduct the usual ceremonies that we conduct every year when we were attacked by Iraqi soldiers," Jabbar al-Hatami, a leader of the al-Hatami Shi'ite Arab tribe told IPS.

"We thought it was one of the usual mistakes of the Iraqi army killing civilians, so we advanced to explain to the soldiers that they killed five of us for no reason. But we were surprised by more gunfire from the soldiers."
"American helicopters participated in the slaughter," Jassim Abbas, a farmer from the area, told IPS. "They were soon there to kill those pilgrims without hesitation, but they were never there for helping Iraqis in anything they need. We just watched them getting killed group by group while trapped in those plantations."

Much of the killing was done by US and British warplanes, witnesses said.

How Are Iranians Helping Iraqis?

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad
The help comes in different forms. "We get weapons from them, mortar shells, RPG rounds, sometimes they give us weapons for free sometimes we have to buy. Depends on who is doing the deal," said the same commander.

Fadhel told me that back in November he escorted a small truck filled with weapons from Kut, on the Iranian border, to Baghdad. "We get the weapons in trucks, we take a letter to the Iraqi army checkpoints and it's all fine."

Like many of their Sunni counterparts, the Mahdi commanders boast that they could wipe out the other sect and gain total control over Baghdad if the US left. "We control most of Baghdad, our main enemy is the Americans," said Fadhel. Then he paused for a second and continued: "Also we can't trust the other Shia factions. Imam Ali says 'God please protect me against my friends and I will take care of my enemies.'"

"Public Diplomacy"

Robert Parry
In his prime-time speech, Bush injected other reasons to anticipate a wider war. He used language that suggested U.S. or allied forces might launch attacks inside Iran and Syria to “disrupt the attacks on our forces” in Iraq.

“We will interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria,” Bush said. “And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq.”
However, Bush’s announcement about the installation of Patriot missiles and the deployment of another aircraft carrier attack group suggested he was putting in place a military infrastructure for a regional war.

The Patriots and the aircraft carriers would be useful to deter – or defend against – retaliatory missile strikes from Iran if the Israelis or the United States were to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities or stage military raids inside Iran.

The Kids Are Roaming The Streets Carrying Two Guns Each

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad
Rami was explaining how the insurgency had changed since the first heady days after the US invasion. "I used to attack the Americans when that was the jihad. Now there is no jihad. Go around and see in Adhamiya [the notorious Sunni insurgent area] - all the commanders are sitting sipping coffee; it's only the young kids that are fighting now, and they are not fighting Americans any more, they are just killing Shia. There are kids carrying two guns each and they roam the streets looking for their prey. They will kill for anything, for a gun, for a car and all can be dressed up as jihad."

Rami was no longer involved in fighting, he said, but made a tidy profit selling weapons and ammunition to men in his north Baghdad neighbourhood. Until the last few months, the insurgency got by with weapons and ammunition looted from former Iraqi army depots. But now that Sunnis were besieged in their neighbourhoods and fighting daily clashes with the better-equipped Shia ministry of interior forces, they needed new sources of weapons and money.

He told me that one of his main suppliers had been an interpreter working for the US army in Baghdad. "He had a deal with an American officer. We bought brand new AKs and ammunition from them." He claimed the American officer, whom he had never met but he believed was a captain serving at Baghdad airport, had even helped to divert a truckload of weapons as soon as it was driven over the border from Jordan.

These days Rami gets most of his supplies from the new American-equipped Iraqi army. "We buy ammunition from officers in charge of warehouses, a small box of AK-47 bullets is $450 (£230). If the guy sells a thousand boxes he can become rich and leave the country." But as the security situation deteriorates, Rami finds it increasingly difficult to travel across Baghdad. "Now I have to pay a Shia taxi driver to bring the ammo to me. He gets $50 for each shipment."

Room To Maneuver?

Robert Parry
One way to get around the opposition of the Joint Chiefs would be to delegate the bombing operation to the Israelis. Given Israel’s powerful lobbying operation in Washington and its strong ties to leading Democrats, an Israeli-led attack might be more politically palatable with Congress.
Since 2003 when the WMD justification for the Iraq invasion proved bogus, Bush has suffered from a credibility gap on similar statements about other countries.
Though Israeli spokesmen say Israel has no plans to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities, there appears to be growing public support in Israel for such an operation.

"Don't Look Up. Shia Spies Are Everywhere."

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad
A heated discussion was raging. One of the men, with a very thin moustache, a huge belly and a red kuffiya wrapped around his shoulder, held a copy of the Qur'an in one hand and a mobile phone in the other. I asked him what his objectives were. "We are fighting to liberate our country from the occupations of the Americans and their Iranian-Shia stooges."

"My brother, I disagree," said Abu Omar. "Look, the Americans are trying to talk to us Sunnis and we need to show them that we can do politics. We need to use the Americans to fight the Shia."

He looked nervously at them: suggestions of talking to the Americans could easily have him labelled as traitor. "Where is the jihad and the mujahideen?" he continued. "Baghdad has become a Shia town. Our brothers are being slaughtered every day! Where are these al-Qaida heroes? One neighbourhood after another will be lost if we don't work on a strategy."

The taxi driver commander, who sat cross-legged on a sofa, joined in: "If the Americans leave we will be slaughtered." A big-bellied man waved his hands dismissively: "We will massacre the Shia and show them who are the Sunnis! They couldn't have done anything without the Americans' support."

When the meeting was over the taxi driver went out to check the road, then the rest followed. "Don't look up, we could be monitored, Shia spies are everywhere," said the big man. The next day the taxi driver was arrested.

Exxon-Mobil Posts Record Profits

Exxon Mobil Corp. posted the largest annual profit in U.S. history Thursday, even though fourth-quarter earnings fell on lower natural gas prices and shrinking gasoline margins.

For the year, Exxon Mobil earned $39.5 billion, up from its previous record $36.1 billion in 2005.

Net income in the fourth quarter slipped to $10.25 billion, or $1.76 a share, from $10.71 billion, or $1.71 a share, a year earlier.

Excluding one-time items, Exxon Mobil, the world's largest publicly traded company, earned $1.69 a share.
Earnings from exploration and production activities were $6.22 billion, down $818 million from a year earlier due to the natural gas price drop and decreased volumes driven by lower demand in Europe.

Earnings from refining and marketing operations totaled $1.86 billion, down $430 million due to lower margins.

And The Wind Begins To Howl

Chris Floyd
And, as Parry notes, while all this is going on, the Senate is still dithering over an absolutely toothless, spineless, worthless, non-binding expression of its "displeasure" at Bush's murderous "surge" plan in Iraq. These mighty sentinels of our liberties, these "co-equals in the governance of the United States," have -- as any sentient being could have foreseen -- caved in once again to the radical militarist fringe group that has seized control of the Executive Branch, and rams through its sinister program of loot and dominion without any more pretense about the "consent of the governed." Although poll after poll shows that the Bush gang is one of the most unpopular administrations in American history, that almost two-thirds of the public now oppose the Iraq War, still the Democratic leaders in Congress quail and quiver before the tinpot, dimbulb tyrant. They have the legitimate power and the legal right -- and the popular support -- to end the bloody war crime in Iraq right now, if they had the courage of the American people's convictions.

But they don't. As they have demonstrated over and over and over again, in every situation, in the minority and the majorities they had in 2001-2002 and again in 2007, they are, with very few exceptions, pathetic cowards. Oh, they will talk tough, they will bluster, they will pose, they will preen, but when the deal goes down, they fold.

The Democrats cannot even bring themselves to stand up against a criminal war that has been clearly rejected by the American people, a war bringing nothing but ruin, dishonor and ever-increasing danger to the United States. If they will not act in these entirely favorable circumstances, who in their right mind can expect them to oppose the coming war with Iran -- especially, as we have noted here over and over, the Democrats have been even more bellicose in their warmongering rhetoric about Iran than the Bush gang? (Although that is now changing as the Bushists, having quietly made their logistical preparations, throw the switch on the PR campaign for war).

These are dark days, and they are about to get darker. Yet in this desperate hour, we are led by nothing but fools and cranks and cowards, on every side, as the riders -- the pale riders -- are approaching.
~~~ LINKS ~~~

Reuters via CNN Money: Exxon Mobil sets annual profit record

Robert Parry: The Logic of a Wider Mideast War

Robert Parry: Iran Clock Is Ticking

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad: 'If they pay we kill them anyway' - the kidnapper's story

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad: 'The jihad now is against the Shias, not the Americans'

James Carroll: Operation deathtrap

Dahr Jamail and Ali al-Fadhily: Pilgrims massacred in the 'battle' of Najaf

Marc Lord: Heard of a van that is loaded with weapons

Chris Floyd: All Along the Watchtower: The Firestorm of New War is Almost Upon Us