August 26, 2005

Iraq: Locals Turn In Az-Zarqawi Fighters

Finally, some positive news from the trouble Al-Anbar province in Iraq. American warplanes struck a facility believed to be occupied by as many as 50 members of Abu Mus'ib Az-Zarqawi's Al-Qa'idah in Iraq organization.

The good news, in addition to killing up to 50 of Az-Zarqawi's thugs, is how the information was derived. Local residents alerted American forces to the presence of the mostly foreign fighters in the building in Husaybah. Husaybah is a dusty smuggling town directly on the Syrian border, and as such is a favorite infiltration route for weapons and fighters into Iraq from Syria.

This is the only way the insurgency can be defeated - with the support of the local population in the Sunni-dominated area, often called the "Sunni triangle." Thus far, most of the Sunni population has chosen to remain silent, not providing needed information to the American and/or Iraqi forces. Once the Sunnis decide to support the new government and provide information on the insurgents in their midst, the insurgency will be defeated.

August 25, 2005

Iraqi Draft Constitution - Sunni Displeasure

The draft Iraqi constitution was accepted by the National Assembly on Monday. Although a vote was scheduled for August 25, it has been further deferred. There may be a vote on August 29, however, some Shi'a delegates insist no vote is necessary.

Sunni opposition remains adamant against the draft in its current form. President Jalal Talabani is trying to bring the Sunnis into consensus agreement, but it appears that he has not been successful thus far.

What are the provisions that upset the Sunnis? Primarily, they focus on the diminution of central power in favor of regions and provinces, including distribution of oil revenues.

Here are some specific examples.

Article (7):
1st - Entities or trends that advocate, instigate, justify or propagate racism, terrorism, takfir (declaring someone an infidel), sectarian/ethnic cleansing, are banned, especially the Saddam Ba'th Party in Iraq and its symbols, under any name. It will be not be allowed to be part of the multilateral political system in Iraq, which should be defined according to the law.

Article (9):
1st - (b) Forming military militias outside the framework of the armed forces is banned.

Article (63):
1st - A legislative council called the "Council of Union" will be established and will include representatives of regions and provinces to examine bills related to regions and provinces.

Article (110):
1st - The federal government will administer oil and gas extracted from current fields in cooperation with the governments of the producing regions and provinces on condition that the revenues will be distributed fairly in a manner compatible with the demographical distribution all over the country. A quota should be defined for a specified time for affected regions that were deprived in an unfair way by the former regime or later on, in a way to ensure balanced development in different parts of the country. This should be regulated by law.
2nd - The federal government and the governments of the producing regions and provinces together will draw up the necessary strategic policies to develop oil and gas wealth to bring the greatest benefit for the Iraqi people, relying on the most modern techniques of market principles and encouraging investment.

Article (111): All that is not written in the exclusive powers of the federal authorities is in the authority of the regions. In other powers shared between the federal government and the regions, the priority will be given to the region's law in case of dispute.

Article (112): The following duties will be shared by the federal and regional authorities:
1st - administering and organizing customs, in coordination with the regional government, and this will be regulated by law.
2nd - organizing and distributing the main electrical power resources.
3rd - drawing up environmental policy to guarantee the protection of the environment from pollution and the preservation of its cleanliness, in cooperation with the regions.
4th - drawing up general planning and development policies.
5th - drawing up general health policy, in cooperation with the regions.

6th - drawing up general education and childrearing policy, in consultation with the regions.

Article (113): The federal system in the republic of Iraq is made up of the capital, regions, decentralized provinces, and local administrations.

Article (114):
1st - The regions comprise one province or more, and two regions or more have the right to join into one region.
2nd - One province or more have the right to form a region, based on a request for a referendum, which can be presented in one of two ways: ....

Article (115): The authorities of each region include legislative, executive and judicial authorities.

Article (116):
1st - The governments of regions have the right to practice legislative, executive and judicial powers according to this constitution, except in what is listed as exclusive powers of the federal authorities.
2nd - The regional authority has the right to amend the implementation of the federal law in the region in the case of a contradiction between the federal and regional laws in matters that do not pertain to the exclusive powers of the federal authorities.
3rd - It is permissible to delegate the authorities practiced by the federal government to the regional governments and vice versa, with the approval of both.

4th - A fair share of the revenues collected federally is designated to regions, in a way that suffices their duties and obligations, taking into consideration the (region's) resources and needs.
5th - Offices for regions and provinces are to be established in embassies and diplomatic missions to follow up on cultural, social and local development affairs.

(Note: The entire chapter devoted to the regions and provinces is likely unacceptable to the Sunnis.)

Article (150): Laws legislated in Kurdistan since 1992 remain in effect, and decisions made by the government of the Kurdistan region - including contracts and court decisions - are effective unless they are voided or amended according to the laws of the Kurdistan region by the concerned body, as long as they are not against the constitution.

Usamah Bin Ladin - Wounded in Action?

Translation of an August 24 post on an Al-Qa'idah-related website:

Shaykh Usamah personally participated in the attack on a Spanish base in Afghanistan - Urgent!

One of the brothers in the Al-Qa'idah organization in Afghanistan said Shaykh Usamah personally participated in the "Khalud" raid against the international crusader occupation. The operation took place when a group of mujahidin officially headed by Shaykh Abu 'Abdallah [Usamah Bin Ladin] attacked a Spanish crusader base. Five of the mujahidin were martyred, and sources indicated that the shaykh was slightly wounded, as God knows. The mujahidin announced that they killed 23 Spanish soldiers after abducting them, some of whom were officers. The brothers, thanks be to God, also downed a helicopter of the occupiers with 17 soldiers onboard, thanks be to God.

God is great
Sahab association for media productions



A Spanish helicopter carrying 17 soldiers crashed in Afghanistan on August 16. However, there is no indication of hostile fire, although that cannot be ruled out. As for the claimed attack on a Spanish base, none of this rings true. There are about 350 Spanish soldiers in Afghanistan involved in a reconstruction project near the western city of Herat. The thought that Usamah Bin Ladin, thought to be in frail health, crossed the entire country of Afghanistan from the Pakistan-Afghanistan border are where he is believed to be hiding, and personally led an assault on a Spanish base seems a bit far-fetched.

I suspect this is an attempt to provide a morale booster to the Al-Qa'idah fighters who are being hunted down by American and Afghan troops.

From the NBC Nightly News blog ("The Daily Nightly"):
One, Rick Francona, who had served as military attaché in Baghdad, Dubai and Damascus — and could read the post in its original Arabic — suggested this was “psyops” to improve morale in Afghanistan.

Rick noted that Taliban and al-Qaida forces are on the offensive right now and that nothing would help morale better than reports that their leader “the sheikh” was back in Afghanistan, back in command of operations and putting his own life on the line.

August 24, 2005

MSNBC - Iraqi Prison Camp Escape Tunnel


MSNBC Analyst and retired Air Force Lt. Col. Rick Francona and MSNBC anchor Amy Robach discussed the military's recent find of an extensive tunnel that prevented a massive escape at an Iraqi prison.

Foiled breakout a wake-up call

Francona discusses details behind near prison break in Iraq

On March 24, an informant in America's largest prison in Iraq at Camp Bucca tipped off officials at that facility that a group of prisoners had planned what would have been the largest prison break from a U.S. facility in history.

Wednesday's 'Washington Post,' reports that military guards discovered a fully completed 357-foot tunnel that included ventilation, lighting and cardboard at its exit.

According to MSNBC Analyst and Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Rick Francona, both the thwarted breakout and level of expertise involved in the scheme were astonishing.

"I'm not only surprised that it happened, I'm surprised at the sophistication of this tunnel. If you look at the specifications of what these guys did basically using their hands and tools that they could craft from things that they stole from their American captors," he said. "They moved 100 tons of dirt in 60 days, they were able to hide the dirt. ... They were able to hide it under the barracks, they flushed it down the commodes, It was lighted, ventilated, very well done."

Francona, who said that the population of the prison has almost doubled to nearly 6,000 within the past year because of U.S. counter-insurgency operations, noted Iraq's history of creating architecturally impressive structures.

"The Iraqis have been engineers since time began. They've built wonderful things. If you travel through the country you can see the skill that they have. So to find a few engineers in a group of prisoners shouldn't be surprising," he said.

Since foiling the breakout by analyzing satellite imagery after the tip, Francona said U.S. officials have adjusted their policies.

"There are different procedures in place today, I can tell you that," he said.

"How did it happen? Well, the American guards were naïve when they first got there. They figured 'They're in captivity. The war's over for them.' Not quite," Francona said.

Changes are both structural and managerial.

"They've rearranged the camp now, put solid concrete foundations under all the buildings and moved the buildings so that they're under constant observation," Francona said. "No more than groups of 20 together at one time."

To watch the entire interview with Rick Francona, go to

© 2005 MSNBC Interactive

Assassination - A Foreign Policy Tool?


On August 23, I appeared as a guest on Hardball with Chris Matthews to discuss Reverend Pat Robertson's remarks calling for American covert operatives to assassinate Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. I am not a South American specialist - my comments focus on the use of assassination as a foreign policy tool.

Assassination has been against U.S. policy since it was specifically prohibited in an executive order signed by President Gerald Ford in 1976, again by executive order under President Jimmy Carter and then again with the current executive order in force EO 12333, singed by President Ronald Reagan in 1981. The law not only prohibits the United States government from conducting assassinations, it also prohibits conspiring, supporting, assisting, etc, anyone else from doing it. Oft-heard remarks such as "we'll have the Israelis do it" are nonsense.

The names that usually come up when discussing assassination in this context are Saddam Husayn and Usamah Bin Ladin.

  • Saddam Husayn
During war, the leader of country is the commander in chief of the armed forces and is considered a valid military target. In peacetime, he is not. In the 1990's, it was U.S. government policy to support organizations attempting to overthrow Saddam Husayn - this became the official public position of the government when President Bill Clinton signed the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998. How was Saddam to be treated under this act? At the time, U.S. intelligence agencies had to be careful not to cross the line - we could not support groups who were planning to kill Saddam, only those groups who agreed to take him into custody.
  • Usamah Bin Ladin
After the initiation of the Global War of Terror, Usamah Bin Ladin became a military target, the leader of hostile "armed forces" in a sense.

For more on the Hardball segment:


August 23, 2005

Iraq: Constitutional Issues

On August 22, the Iraqi committee charged with drafting a new constitution for the country presented its draft to the National Assembly. The draft, originally due on August 15, was accepted by the speaker of the assembly, Hajim Al-Hasani. Al-Hasani then made a surprise announcement that the expected vote would be delayed three days to give the assembly time to reach consensus between the three major groups - the Shi'as, Sunnis and the Kurds. The Sunnis have rejected the draft.

The Shi'as and the Kurds crafted the draft document, with some compromise between the two groups. The Sunnis claim they were not consulted in the final stages of the process. The major sticking point in the draft is the actual construct of the federal system. Other issues also remain, but the root of the problems revolve around the nature of the federal structure. It is that federal structure that will determine how much authority provinces and regions have, and more importantly, how Iraq's main source of income - oil revenue - will be managed.

The draft is in itself a compromise between the Kurds and the Shi'as. The two agreed to wording that Islam is to "a source" of the law, but not "the source," and that no laws passed an be in contravention of the tenets of Islam. The Shi'as agreed to this in return for the Kurds withdrawing their right to secede after eight years. The Kurds accepted the modified Islamic legal reference because they realize this is about as good as they are going to get, and anything less Islamic probably will not survive the referendum.

The Shi'as and Kurds have the required votes to pass the draft and trigger the October referendum. The two groups control 215 of the 275 seats - only a simple majority (138 votes) are required to call for the referendum. Doing so without at least attempting to reach some sort of consensus with the Sunnis could lead to a backlash. The Sunnis could throw their lot in with the insurgency, believing that they will get a better deal if the current interim government collapses. Alternatively, they could energize the Sunni population and hope to defeat the draft constitution in the referendum. A two thirds negative vote in three provinces defeats adoption of the constitution and requires another draft be crafted.

The next three days will be interesting. What attempts will be made to bring the Sunnis into the fold? What changes will be offered to address Sunni grievances? In the end, whether or not the Sunnis agree, the Shi'as and Kurds will vote to hold the referendum on the draft constitution on Thursday.

Of interest is the fact that there is no word in the Arabic language for compromise. They use "negotiate" and "consensus" - not quite the same. I doubt we will get to consensus.

August 22, 2005

Saddam Husayn - Martyr for Palestine?

Capture of Saddam Husayn - DOD Photos

This week, a letter from Saddam Husayn surfaced in Jordan. Here is the translated text of the letter:

My greetings to the Arab people of brotherly Jordan and to whoever asks about us in our dignified and glorified nation; my soul and my existence is to be sacrificed for our precious Palestine and our beloved, patient and suffering Iraq.

Life is meaningless without the considerations of faith, love and inherited history in our nation. It is not much for a man to support his nation with his soul and all he commands because it deserves it since it has given us life in the name of God and allowed us to inherit the best.

My brother, love your people, love Palestine, love your nation, long live Palestine.

Saddam Husayn attempting to invoke the name of God and the Palestinian cause is laughable. Saddam Husayn is the antithesis of religion, despite his repeated attempts to wrap himself in the mantle of Islam. This is not new, nor is his attempt to tie his fate to that of the Palestinians.

Soon after the American response to his invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, he changed the Iraqi national flag to include the words "God is Great" (Allahu Akbar). This was a blatant attempt to portray secular, socialist Iraq - a country ruled by the Arab Socialist Renaissance (Ba'th) Party - as an Islamic state. Saddam hoped to rally the Arab and larger Muslim world to his cause. With the exception of Jordan, Yemen and Sudan, it did not work.

Likewise, his commitment to the Palestinian cause is also somewhat suspect. Prior to his invasion of Kuwait, his only commitment to Palestine was a half-hearted and virtually unnoticed contribution to the war effort against Israel. Faced with the American deployment after his invasion of Kuwait, he threatened to launch missile against Israel if he was attacked in Kuwait or Iraq. This he said he would do for the Palestinians. Again, this was an attempt to appeal to the Arab world for support against the American-led coalition.

This attempt, however, it was marginally effective. Jordanians and Palestinians supported Saddam. T-shirts in Jordan showed images of King Husayn, Yasir 'Arafat and Saddam superimposed over an image of the Dome of the Rock, near the site of Islam's third-holiest site, the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. Other T-shirts were emblazoned with the words, "I am an Arab - my birthday is August 2, 1990." August 2 was the date of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.

True to his word, one day after the beginning of air campaign of Operation Desert Storm, Iraqi missiles were launched at Israel. By the end of the war, Saddam had ordered the launch of about 40 missiles at Israel.

Saddam Husayn is committed to the survival of Saddam Husayn. Failing that, he is committed to the legacy of Saddam Husayn. Committed to God and Palestine? Hardly.

August 21, 2005

Iraq: The Chain of Command

From an interview with an Associated Press reporter as reported in today's Washington Post:

"U.S. Army Chief of Staff General Peter Schoomaker said the Army is prepared for the 'worst case' in terms of the required level of troops in Iraq. He said the number could be adjusted lower if called for by slowing the force rotation or by shortening tours for soldiers. Schoomaker said commanders in Iraq and others who are in the chain of command will decide how many troops will be needed next year and beyond. His responsibility is to provide them, trained and equipped."

For those who might be confused as to why the Army's senior officer referred to "commanders in Iraq and others who are in the chain of command," an explanation might be in order. Although Schoomaker is the chief of staff of the Army, he has no command responsibilities. In 1987, the Goldwater-Nichols Act became law and delineated the chain of command for the armed forces.

The President is the commander in chief. He issues orders to the Secretary of Defense, who in turn gives orders to the commander of the combatant command. Most of these commands are organized regionally, although not always (for example, Strategic Command and Transportation Command have worldwide responsibilities). In the case of Iraq, the combatant command is the United States Central Command, or CENTCOM, headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida (in Tampa). The commander* of CENTCOM, General John Abizaid is responsible for conducting operations in the CENTCOM Area of Responsibility, which includes Iraq. In Iraq, General Abizaid issues orders to General George Casey, commander of the Multinational Force-Iraq. All American military personnel and Defense Department civilians answer to General Casey.

Note the absence of several well-known positions. As we said before, the Army chief of staff is not in the chain of command, nor are the Air Force chief of staff, the chief of naval operations and the commandant of the Marine Corps. Also note that the nation's senior military officer, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is not in the chain of command. The Chairman serves as an advisor to the Secretary of Defense and the President. The four service chiefs are responsible (and have been since 1947) for providing trained and equipped forces to the combatant commanders.

* Up until the current administration, the commanders of the combatant commands were called commander in chief of that command, such as CINCCENT. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld changed this with the remark that there is only one commander in chief, the President.

August 20, 2005

Gaza Withdrawal: Mahmud 'Abbas Comments

Mahmud 'Abbas

Over the last few days, the media has covered Israel's unilateral withdrawal from its settlements in the Gaza Strip. Israeli Prime Minister Arial Sharon ordered the controversial withdrawal as part of the Middle East peace process, although some skeptics believe he is doing it more to make peace with the United States rather than the Palestinians. The American administration has put pressure on the Israelis to withdraw what many believe are illegal settlements in Palestinian territory.

Most Middle East specialists are aware that the Gaza Strip was never intended to be part of Israel. It was part of the League of Nations established Palestinian Mandate established after the end of World War I in which the Ottoman Empire was defeated and dismembered. Palestine was administered by the British until the United Nations partition plan of 1947. According to the plan, two states - one Jewish and one Arab/Palestinian - were to be created in the area of the mandate. Gaza was always envisioned as part of the Arab state. After the fighting (or as the Israelis say, the "War of Independence") in 1948, it came under Egyptian governance. It has been in Israeli hands since they captured it (and the entire Sinai peninsula) in the 1967 Six Day War.

As the final stages of the withdrawal are in progress. Palestinian National Authority President Mahmud 'Abbas made some remarks at the reopening of the Gaza International Airport.

His comments, made in Arabic and obviously for local consumption, are not helpful.

Translated and excerpted:

"Today we come to visit our former president Yasser Arafat, and tomorrow we will came to the airport to travel - this airport which has been closed for years will be open for the world. This airport is the Palestinian window to the world.

This [Israeli] withdrawal is a salute to our martyrs; we are enjoying today. This step will be followed by other steps. This is a first step - we will continue in the West Bank and God willing, in Jerusalem. These steps came with the passion of our people, our martyrs and our prisoners."

It only takes a few minutes of watching news coverage of the withdrawal and Palestinian celebration to understand their perception. The Palestinian militant organizations - Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Al-Aqsa Brigades - all feel vindicated. They believe that their guerilla and terrorist operations over the last few decades are finally paying off.

Rather than lessening the violence, the withdrawal may lead to increased violence as the Palestinians (including Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Al-Aqsa Brigades) move toward what 'Abbas has declared "the next step" - the West Bank and Jerusalem.

August 5, 2005

Al-Hadithah - again?

After the loss of two dozen Marines in combat in the Al-Hadithah area, about 1000 Marines and Iraqi special forces supported by airpower are mounting another offensive around the city that straddles the main infiltration route from Syria along the Euphrates River.

This is a necessary action - these pockets of insurgency must be eradicated. The question, though, is why this pocket continues to exist. There was an offensive earlier this year in this region. So what happened? Unfortunately, immediately after successfully conducting the operation, American forces moved to other fights, other areas. When they do this, they cede the territory to the insurgents. Why? Because then, and probably even now, there are not enough American forces to adequately maintain security, nor are there enough trained and capable Iraqi forces to do the job. That day may come, but it does not appear to be imminent.

So, after a few days of searching, arresting and fighting, the Marines will once again withdraw from Al-Hadithah, and the insurgents will return. We have to break this cycle.

A recent AP-Ipsos poll indicates that only about 38 percent of Americans approve of the way President Bush is handling the war in Iraq. I am not in that number. While supportive of the effort in Iraq, I think that the President and Secretary of Defense are pursuing it the wrong way. This strategy only confirms my belief.