May 22, 2006

Baghdad ER: I give it a B- to a B

On May 21, HBO aired its documentary "Baghdad ER" about a U.S. Army combat support hospital (CSH, or "Cash") in Baghdad. For all the hype surrounding the film, it was rather tame.

My take:

I wish they would have been a bit more journalistic or scientific in their methodology. I couldn't tell if this was over a shift, a week, a month, or if they cherry picked cases they thought were interesting.

Also, the Army CSH in Baghdad is not the premier medical facility in country - the Air Force theater hospital at Balad Air Base is. The CSH primarily stabilizes and transports, doing surgery only if necessary. The theater hospital does almost everything.

I would have liked for them to explain why 90 percent of the casualties that make it to the CSH survive - and 96 percent that make it to Balad survive. Is it the battlefield care, better field trauma dressings, better body armor, etc.?

They went to great pains for OPSEC reasons to not say where the CSH was located, except that it was in the Green Zone ("I can't say anything more than that."). Anyone with a computer who does a search on 86th CSH (then) or 10th CSH (now) will locate them at the Ibn Sina* hospital. (Example: Combat Support Hospital Still Saving Lives.) The location of the hospital is well known. Anyone who reads Arabic - and the people we are trying to keep the information from can - would know as soon as they showed the first ten minutes.

I give it a B- to B.

* Ibn Sina (980-1037AD) was a Persian
physician considered by many to be "the father of modern medicine." His most famous works are The Book of Healing and The Canon of Medicine.

May 20, 2006

Israeli Targeted Killing of Ad-Dahduh

On Saturday, May 20, an Israeli air strike killed Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) military leader Muhammad Ad-Dahduh in the Gaza Strip. This is a continuation of Israel's policy to assassinate Palestinian leaders with Israeli blood on their hands. The attack was most likely a Hellfire guided missile strike fired from an AH-64 Apache attack helicopter.

Ad-Dahduh has been the leader of the Saraya Al-Quds, or the Jerusalem Companies, the military wing of the PIJ, since at least September 2005. At that time the Israelis carried out an almost identical operation against the man believed to be Ad-Dahduh's predecessor, Muhammad Al-Khalil; Al-Khalil was killed. This operation was likely in response to the April 17 bus station homicide bomber attack in Tel Aviv, conducted by the PIJ.

The precision of this operation points to the excellent intelligence capabilities in the Israeli security and military services, their ability to get the information into the hands of a shooter, and the political will to do it. Although the missile was fired by a military aircraft, the intelligence that was able to pinpoint a specific car on a specific road at a specific time was likely provided by the ruthless Israeli internal security service, commonly known by its Hebrew initials Shin Bet. To provide this level of detail requires either an Israeli operative on the ground or a well-placed Palestinian reporting asset - either of which are difficult and dangerous, but necessary.

This is how you hunt down and kill the bad guys. CIA, DIA and U.S. Special Operations Command - pay attention.

Iraq's New Government

Iraqis watch as Prime Minister Al-Maliki announces the new government

On Saturday, May 20, the Iraqis swore in a democratically elected government. Finally. We have been waiting for this since the fall of Saddam Husayn in April 2003.

As expected, the majority Shi'a have emerged as the main power brokers in the country. Although the elections were held in December, it has taken these last almost five months to form a government acceptable to all parties.

Good news, but significant challenges lay ahead. Of course,the overriding concern of all Iraqis is security. That is closely followed by the economy, and in Iraq "economy" is synonymous with oil. Thus, the most important portfolios in the government are those that deal with security and oil - the ministries of defense, the interior, national security and oil. These were also the most contentious appointments.

Let's take a look at how prime minister Nuri Al-Maliki has addressed filling these critical positions. Since these are contentious positions, several have been filled by interim ministers.

Oil: The oil portfolio is held by nuclear scientist Husayn Ash-Sharistani. Ash-Sharistani is a fairly devout Shi'a who was imprisoned for ten years by Saddam Husayn for objecting to Iraq's nuclear weapons program in the 1980's and 1990's. Although he is a Shi'a, he is regarded as non-political and acceptable to the two other major factions, the Sunnis and the Kurds. He has his work cut out for him - Iraq's oil production is still below the pre-war level of 2.5 million barrels per day. Much of this is due to the continued attacks on the oil sector infrastructure. Again, security is the issue.

Defense: This is one of the unresolved portfolio assignments. Control of the Iraqi armed forces is a position of tremendous power. The Iraqis are wary of the military since in the past it was used to maintain the regime that oppressed them. The portfolio is temporarily held by Salam Az-Zuba'i, a Sunni. I imagine there will be pressure from the Shi'a to name a Shi'a to this post.

National Security: Barham Salih, a Kurd (and a personal friend of mine), retains this portfolio. This is more of national security advisor rather than a minister. Barham is politically savvy and is in a good position to advice the Shi'a prime minister.

Foreign Affairs: Hoshyar Az-Zabari, also a Kurd (and acquaintance of mine), retains this post. Hoshyar is a capable diplomat for the new government, is respected abroad, and is acceptable to all three factions. Good choice.

Interior: This is undoubtedly the most contentious of the ministerial positions. The Minister of the Interior (MOI) is not anything like the U.S. Department of the Interior, which oversees national lands and parks. The Iraqi MOI is responsible for internal security and oversees the police organs of the state - the border patrol, highway patrol, national police, special police, etc.. People are wary of this ministry, because, like the armed forces, it was the primary source of control under Saddam Husayn. The Sunnis are concerned that a Shi'a-dominated internal security apparatus will mean oppression for them. There are claims of MOI "death squads" extracting revenge for decades of Sunni domination and perceived mistreatment on the part of the Shi'a. For now, Al-Maliki is filling the position himself, probably as a way to get the government up and running. He will then address the sticky issue of who to appoint to this portfolio permanently.

Al-Maliki said his first priority was to address the security situation and having Iraqi security forces take the lead, allowing foreign forces to depart. He's going to have to do just that as American patience runs out and demands the drawdown of U.S. forces.

May 19, 2006

Iran - Badges for Infidels?

According to recent press reports, the Iranian parliament passed a law that would require non-Muslims to wear distinctive colors that identify them by faith. If these reports are true, and the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Ali Khamenei approves the law, Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians will be required to certain items of clothing to identify them as non-believers. Jews would be forced to wear yellow, Christians red, and Zoroastrians blue.

This comes at a time when the new president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has threatened Israel, embarked on what many observers to believe is a nuclear weapons program and acquired long-range ballistic missiles from North Korea.

Let's see. A country whose name translates to "Aryan," whose elected leader is arguably a certifiable mental case, acquiring "super weapons" and now forcing its minority religious groups to wear distinctive clothing - is this conjuring up visions of the 1930's?

May 17, 2006

Saddam Trial - It could get interesting...

Yesterday's Session 25 of the trial of Saddam Husayn and seven co-defendants was rather uneventful. The defense witnesses, if they could be called that, presented very little in the way of convincing exculpatory evidence. As I wrote earlier (Saddam Trial - The Next Phase (May 15)) , the burden of proof has shifted to the defense. Unlike the American system of justice, the defendants in the Iraqi system have to rebut the prosecution and virtually prove their innocence.

Session 26 (May 17) began as a another day of the same, but got ended on an interesting note. In response to a defense request, the judge has decided to allow Saddam Husayn and his seven fellow defendants to testify as defense witnesses for each other. Although it is not clear when Saddam may take the stand, it could be as early as the next session, scheduled for May 22.

Saddam on the witness stand. He has proven to be quite disruptive from the dock, so it will be interesting to see how he handles himself on the stand under oath. At last, hearing testimony from Saddam Husayn. Who would have thought?

May 15, 2006

Saddam Trial - The Next Phase (May 15)

After almost eight months, yet only 24 court sessions, the first trial of Saddam Husayn is entering the next phase - presentation of the defense. The Iraqi judicial system can be confusing, being based on a mixture of French and Egyptian civil law. Here's where we are.

After gathering evidence on his own in his capacity as chief judge, and hearing the prosecution present evidence based on the complaint filed by the chief prosecutor, Chief Judge Ru'uf 'Abd Ar-Rahman decided on which crimes alleged in the complaint the defendants will be formally charged with.

This initial trial deals with the 1982 Dujayl case, specifically the reaction of the regime to an assassination attempt against then-president Saddam Husayn. The judge formally charged Saddam with with the arrest of 399 people in Dujayl, torture of women and children and destruction of farm property. He was not charged with the murder of 148 people who were sentenced to death by the Revolutionary Court, although this was part of the prosecution's complaint. (Note: Saddam's half-brother Barzan Ibrahim At-Tikriti, former head of the Iraqi intelligence service, was charged with the same crimes plus the death of the 148 people.)

Saddam refused to enter a plea and reprised the now-tiresome refrain that he is still the president of Iraq.

Now begins the defense phase. Each defendant will be mounting his own case, since the charges vary from defendant to defendant. However, the defense starts from the disadvantaged position. The judge has already heard evidence, in and out of court. Based on that evidence, he has determined which charges each defendant must answer. This amounts to a presumption of guilt, as opposed to the American system, where innocence is assumed and guilt must be proven.

As an example of where we are, let's take a look at the first defense witness. The man was called by 'Ali Da'im 'Ali, a former Ba'th party official in Dujayl. Under questioning by the judge, the witness stated that he was not in Dujayl at the time of the incident, but at the time he was a fellow teacher with 'Ali and 'Ali was a good man - not exactly exculpatory evidence.

Defense witnesses will continue tomorrow.

The trial is woefully behind schedule, and many Iraqis are tiring of watching it. After the initial fascination with the case, the long periods of time between court sessions and antics of the defense have taken their toll. One Iraqi Shi'a told me that rather than hold a series of trials with multiple guilty verdicts, it would be better to find him guilty and execute him and put all this in the past. The Iraqi government still intends to hold a series of trials to bring out all of Saddam's crimes. The next trial will charge Saddam (and six others) with genocide in the 1988 "Anfal" campaign against the Kurds in which as many as 100,000 were killed.

It will take years at this pace.

May 13, 2006

Iraq: Attack on Shi'a mosque near Ba'qubah

Three months after the attack on the Al-'Askari mosque (also known as the Al-Hadi and Golden mosque) in Samarra' that killed 81 people and ignited sectarian violence between Sunni and Shi'a Iraqi Arabs, another Shi'a shrine was attacked on May 13. The mosque that was attacked is the Imam 'Abdullah 'Ali Al-Hadi Mosque. located in the village of Wajihiyah, about 20 miles from the tense city of Ba'qubah (30 miles northeast of Baghdad).

What is behind this attack, and why is this mosque of significance?

The mosque in Wajihiyah is the tomb of Imam 'Abdullah 'Ali Al-Hadi. Imam 'Abdullah was the son of the 10th imam of the Shi'a, Imam 'Ali al-Hadi. Imam 'Ali Al-Hadi is buried in the mosque in Samarra' that bears his name along with the 11th imam, Imam Hasan Al-'Askari. The mosque in Samarra' is of major significance to the Shi'a; the mosque in Wajihiyah is important.

These attacks on Shi'a holy places are almost certainly the work of the Mujahidin Shura Council (the umbrella organization that now includes Abu Mus'ab Az-Zarqawi). It has been the stated goal of Az-Zarqawi to foment a civil war between the Sunni and the Shi'a. The February attack in Samarra' came close to doing just that. Although no one was killed in today's attack, it could lead to a new round of sectarian violence that has just started to abate.

This area around Ba'qubah is part of the so-called "Sunni triangle," but most of the the cities and towns have Shi'a residents and even some Kurds. The area has been extremely tense following the Samarra' bombing. The Mujahidin Shura Council is no doubt interested in keeping tensions high.

May 9, 2006

Mike Hayden to be Director, CIA?

I am not sure why Mike Hayden would want to be the director of the CIA. Since the reorganization of the community (Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004), the CIA is just another of the 15 agencies – as it should be. They also lost the coveted covert action portfolio to the Pentagon.

I think Hayden might have more power as the Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence, in essence the number two intelligence official in the country. See A Director of National Intelligence? and National Intelligence Director - Addendum that I wrote almost two years when the idea of a DNI was making the rounds.

Soon after the reorganization of the community and establishment of the position of Director of National Intelligence (DNI), Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld appointed an officer to be the liaison officer between the new DNI and all DOD intelligence. Remember that the Department of Defense (DOD) controls about 75 percent of the intelligence community and almost 85 percent of its budget. That move by Runsfeld effectively made the DNI have to go through the Secretary's office to talk to anyone in defense or service intelligence and possibly the National Security Agency (NSA). There did not seem to be an effective challenge by Negroponte. As time went by, DOD expanded their intelligence operations at the expense of CIA domination. Having had to live under the old rules in which CIA ran roughshod over the rest of the intelligence community - often at the expense of effective operations - I think this is great. The CIA has proven itself to be incapable of the changes necessary to operate in the world we live in today. Rumsfeld and the Pentagon have emerged the true winners in the quest for control of the intelligence community.

Many have expressed concern over having a military officer in charge of a civilian agency. Perhaps they should read some history - the OSS, a civilian organization, seemed to run pretty well under General Donovan - I believe that is his statue I walked by everyday I worked at Langley. Mike Hayden is just the guy to turn around the culture of arrogance and failure that has permeated the agency for the last 15 years.

Ramsey Clark on Saddam's Trial

On the eve of the 24th session (scheduled for May 15th) of the first trial of Saddam Husayn, Ramsey Clark, a member of his defense team and a former U.S. attorney general, made some caustic statements about the judicial process. Clark has been an outspoken critic of the trial since it was convened in October.

Clark has a rather sordid past, having served as attorney general under Lyndon Johnson - the Vietnam years - and later as defense attorney to the worst dictators on earth, men such as Charles Taylor (Liberia), Slobodan Milosevic (Yugoslavia) and Elizaphan Ntakirutimana (Rwanda). Quite a resume - now add to that Saddam Husayn.

Let's look at some of his recent blatherings:

- The trial is to "vindicate its invasion, to validate its occupation, and to make the world believe that the Iraqi people demanded that Saddam Hussein and leaders in his government be executed."

Mr. Clark is in the courtroom, so he should be aware of the setting. I have listened to almost the entire trial live. The fact that it is an Iraqi courtroom, an Iraqi judge and an Iraqi tribunal might be the first clue that this is an Iraqi process. If Mr. Clark is of the belief that the Iraqi people do not want Saddam Husayn executed, then he's not reading the editorial pages or listening to the talk shows. Oh, I forgot, he can't. Besides knowing nothing about Iraq, he doesn't speak Arabic.

- The trial of Saddam for crimes against humanity constitutes "a direct threat to international law, the United Nations, universal human rights and world peace...."

Huh? Perhaps the Iraqis would like to try their own criminals. The United Nations? Yeah, they were really helpful - he does remember the "oil for food" scandals?

- He demanded that proceedings be transferred from the Iraqi Special Tribunal to a new court that could work independently, free of prejudice.

What Mr. Clark is saying is to establish a special tribunal in The Hague for these trials, moving it out of Iraq and into a venue that cannot impose the death penalty. It would also give Mr. Clark a platform to continue his grandstanding in defense of the indefensible.

- The judges have either been Kurds or Shi'ites, and the defendants with one or two exceptions Sunnis, he said. "It's a sectarian persecution, if you will."

In case he forgot to read a bit of Iraqi history, the Sunnis were the primary group in charge since the days of the Ottoman Empire, whether the form of government was monarchy, regency, republic, dictatorship, whatever. More importantly, their progress and position was usually at the expense of the Shi'a and Kurds. The fact that the judges are of one sect or another should have no bearing.

- "It is common for the law to require the highest official of a state to approve and sign death warrants. George W. Bush signed 152 such warrants as governor of Texas," he said.

This is actually a point that has been made in court. It's the destruction of property, rape and torture that renders the comparison ludicrous.

Saddam Husayn, like all defendants, deserves a defense. The more and more I read Mr. Clark's remarks, the more I believe he deserves Mr. Clark's defense.