October 31, 2007

What is the favorite wine over at State Department?

Sorry, I meant “whine.” This year, it’s probably “I don’t want to go to Iraq….” Following an announcement from the Director of the Foreign Service that officers may be assigned to Iraq whether or not they are volunteers, there was a hue and cry from the pinstripe set.

If it wasn’t so pitiful, it would be comical. Here we have well-paid, well-treated (some would say coddled) government employees who don’t want to serve in areas that are dangerous.

In the words of Jack Crotty, described as a senior Foreign Service officer who once worked as a political adviser with NATO forces:

"Incoming is coming in every day; rockets are hitting the Green Zone. It's one thing if someone believes in what's going on over there and volunteers, but it's another thing to send someone over there on a forced assignment. I'm sorry, but basically that's a potential death sentence and you know it. Who will raise our children if we are dead or seriously wounded? You know that at any other (country) in the world, the embassy would be closed at this point."

I would describe Crotty as a coward. What do you think, Jack, you only get to take the good assignments, and you only have to serve where you “believe in what’s going on over there?”

The gratuitous comment about “who will raise our children…” is insulting to the memory of the over 3,800 American soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines who have given their lives in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Are your children more special than those of our fallen troops?

It’s called the foreign “service” for a reason – I think you and your whining, sanctimonious colleagues have lost sight of that. If you have objections and do not wish to “serve” anymore, resign. We as a country are undoubtedly better off without you representing us.

October 25, 2007

Memo to Baghdad: The Turks are serious now

This article appeared on MSNBC.com

Memo to Baghdad: The Turks are serious now
Threats nothing new, but Iraq's recent activities may have consequences

By Lt. Col. Rick Francona
Military analyst

Turkish threats to invade northern Iraq are nothing new. The last threat of attacks was in July, when Turkey amassed 140,000 troops along the border with Iraq. The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a Turkish Kurd separatist movement designated by the United States as a terrorist organization, stopped their cross-border operations from Iraq into Turkey, successfully warding off that attack. But in recent weeks, the PKK has restarted attacks into Turkish territory; last week alone PKK fighters killed a dozen Turkish soldiers and took eight more as captives

This may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. The Turks were smart to go to Parliament and get a one-year approval for a military incursion into Iraq to end the PKK’s ability to use Iraq as a sanctuary haven. In light of increased border attacks and numerous Turkish deaths, it was an easy approval to get, but important politically. That vote sent a message to both Washington and Baghdad: The Turks are serious this time. We will no longer remain on the sidelines as PKK guerrillas, terrorists if you will; we will cross into Turkey from safe havens inside Iraq and kill our people.

The message was not lost in either capital. Washington has called for restraint on both sides and has pressured the Iraqi government to control the action of the PKK along the border. The PKK, probably at Iraqi urging, has declared a unilateral “ceasefire” with the Turks, but the Turks refuse to acknowledge a ceasefire with a terrorist organization.

The Iraqi government will have to take immediate steps to defuse the situation and the Turks appear unwilling to back down this time. What will happen to the American-Turkish relationship? Why does Washington lack the influence to restrain its NATO ally? It’s really simple because America’s relationship with Turkey has been fragile since at least 2003.

Turkey’s failure to honor a commitment to allow the U.S. to use Turkish territory to attack Iraqi forces from the north during the 2003 invasion caused weeks of delays getting necessary American troops into combat. The U.S. hoped to get forces into the Sunni triangle early on and neutralize the Sunni heartland. It was only after the Army’s 4th Infantry Division was off-loaded and spread out on Turkish highways en route to northern Iraq that Turkey reneged on its promise to Secretary of State Colin Powell. That forced the U.S. Army to recall the entire division, re-load it onto ships and ferry it through the Suez Canal, the Red Sea, around the Arabian Peninsula into the Persian Gulf, off-load it in Kuwait and move it overland into the battle from the south. These were not viewed in Washington as the actions of an ally.

That said, Turkey is now supporting our efforts in the region. American access to Turkish airspace and ports directly supports our troops in Iraq. The use of the Turkish port at Iskenderun provides an alternate to the use of the ports of al-Basra (Iraq) and Kuwait, which require convoys to pass through Shiite areas of southern Iraq, potentially vulnerable to attack if there is an escalation in the current U.S.-Iran relationship from rhetoric to violence. Use of Turkish airspace shortens the air bridge distance from European bases into the region. The U.S. probably needs it relationship with Turkey more than Turkey needs its relationship with the U.S.

What can Iraq do? First, it can cool off the rhetoric coming from the two senior Kurdish members of the government, President Jalal Talabani and Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari. Talabani’s statement “The handing over of PKK leaders to Turkey is a dream that will never be realized…” and Zebari’s “…the perfect solution is the withdrawal of the Turkish forces from the borders” does not advance the issue.

Secondly, Iraq should attempt to control its borders better. Granted, the Iraqi government exercises little control over this mountainous and rugged part of the country and it is mostly outside the area populated by Iraq’s Kurds. The Iraqis need to assure the Turks that they are at least trying to prevent the cross-border raids. That will be difficult. Given Turkey’s history with its large Kurdish population (seven percent of the population), Ankara has reached the conclusion that its Kurds have designs on forming a greater independent Kurdish with the Kurds in Iraq. Although the Kurds in Iraq speak a distinctly different Kurdish dialect (as far apart as German and English), they only encourage Turkish concerns when they refer to the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq as “Southern Kurdistan.”

Baghdad, the message is clear. If you fail to try to stop the PKK from conducting cross border raids into Turkey, the Turkish army will.

The California National Guard could have prevented fire damage…

…if only they hadn’t been diverted to Iraq.

That’s what California Lt Gov John Garamendi, Senator Barbara Boxer and Senator Chris Dodd would have you believe.

Let’s put this into perspective. Since the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001 and Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, thousands of California Army National Guardsmen and have served on deployments in support of those efforts. Right now, 2000 troops out of a total of 20,000 authorized in the California National Guard are serving overseas. It is these 2000 Guardsmen that Garamendi and Boxer want returned from Iraq. If California cannot manage its Guard requirements with 90 percent of its forces on hand, the state leadership needs some management training.

Here’s a reality check. Governor Schwarzenegger pulled 800 National Guardsmen from the Mexican border for duty in support of the current wildfire crisis. By today, many of them have redeployed to the border because they were no longer needed. Just what are the 2000 in Iraq going to do?

A real problem is that California has not recruited enough personnel to fill its Guard units. It is not the war - enlistments and retention began to decline 20 years ago, and more noticeably 10 years ago. That is before the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began. Most of the personnel in the California guard either enlisted or stayed in after the beginning of the conflicts.

The reason California is behind other states in enlistment and retention? California is the only state in the country that does not provide college tuition assistance for its guardsmen. Maybe Garamendi should focus on treating California’s veterans properly and spending less time showing his face on television. Statements like, “What we really need are those firefighters, we need the equipment. We need frankly -- we need our troops back from Iraq….” only highlight his irrelevance. Stick to representing the governor at mall openings.

Then we have that other bright light chiming in – Chris Dodd: “You saw it in Kansas not long ago, you’ve seen it in other jurisdictions here, where because we’ve got men and women in Iraq in the National Guard, we don’t have them back in these states doing the kind of jobs they can do when these tragedies occur. As you know, Governor Schwarzenegger has had to ask other states for help because so many of California's National Guard, who provide critical support to the citizens while you are fighting the fires, were deployed to Iraq. In a Dodd Administration, never again will our houses be on fire because our troops are taking fire in Iraq….”

Let me repeat that Dodd-ism again – “…never again will our houses be on fire because our troops are taking fire in Iraq….” I didn’t realize that the presence of National Guard troops deterred houses from catching on fire. Is it any wonder that no one takes this guy seriously? A Dodd Administration? A frightening thought.

Bottom line: The deployment of 2000 California National Guardsman to Iraq has no impact on this crisis. Garamendi, Boxer and Dodd are merely playing political games - and not very well - when they should be assisting the victims of the fires.

October 19, 2007

Pete Stark is a disgrace - hold him accountable

What a juxtaposition of events. There are days when it is hard to find something in the news on which to comment. Then there are the days that things just fall into place, usually because someone who should know better has diarrhea of the mouth. Yesterday and today were almost nirvana - not only do we have the nonsensical rant of Congressman Pete Stark, we get another dose of the delusions of Senator Harry Reid. I'll forego commenting on Reid taking credit for penning a letter attempting to intimidate the media - has he forgotten freedom of the press and freedom of speech?

However, I cannot pass up the arguably insane remarks by Stark. If you did not see or hear the Congressman, here are his words:

Stark - the disgrace"Republicans sure don't care about finding $200 billion to fight the illegal war in Iraq. Where are you going to get that money? Are you going to tell us lies like you're telling us today? Is that how you're going to fund the war? You don't have money to fund the war or children. But you're going to spend it to blow up innocent people if he can get enough kids to grow old enough for you to send to Iraq to get their heads blown off for the President's amusement."

I once attended a decoration ceremony for members of our armed forces, decorations for feats of valor in the face of odds that defy comprehension. Among the comments of the presenter was a phrase that has stuck with me: "Where do we find such men?" When I heard the inane remarks of Representative Stark, I thought the same - where do we find such men....

The most offensive of his remarks is not the part about the President - most people will dismiss that as idiocy. Unfortunately, Stark is such a small man that he cannot now find it in himself to admit a mistake and apologize. Instead, he foolishly clings to his original statement. The remark that troubles me most is his assertion that we are spending money to kill innocent people. Hey Stark, in case you have gone so far around the bend that you have forgotten the makeup of Congress, it is your party that has authorized the money for the war. The insulting part, however, is his accusation that the members of our armed forces are commiting murder.

Stark is a disgrace. He should be held accountable.

October 18, 2007

Benazir Bhutto’s return to Pakistan – a crisis or the solution?

Benazir BhuttoRadical Islamists attacked the motorcade of returning former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, killing more than a hundred people lined up to see what many believe is the great hope for political reconciliation in the country. The Islamists have made no secret that they are against any role for Bhutto in the government, citing her pro-American stance and support for the war on terror. The fact that she is a woman seeking political power in a Muslim country, actually an Islamic Republic (Jamhuryat Islami Pakistan), exacerbates the issue.

One of the biggest issues we need to consider as we prosecute the war on terror is the future stability of Pakistan. Pakistan is a country with a nuclear weapons arsenal (thanks to the AQ Khan network) and capable delivery systems – having a radical fundamentalist Islamist government take charge is about as bad a scenario that can be imagined. If you are concerned about Iran with nuclear weapons or the security of existing Russian weapons, this should be even more alarming.

The return of Mohtarma (Lady) Benazir Bhutto may usher in a new era of democratic rule in the country. Her father was the first elected prime minister in the new parliamentary government following the dissolution of West Pakistan and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). She is the chairwoman of the Pakistan Peoples Party (founded by her father), enjoys great popularity and could serve as a counterbalance to the hugely unpopular regime of military strongman Pervez Musharraf. That’s the hope of many Pakistanis.

It’s not the hope of others in Pakistan. Islamist groups, including al-Qa’idah sympathizers and the transplanted Taliban (there are no shortage of other groups as well), have already vowed to attack Bhutto. We saw the evidence of that today.

Opposition to Bhutto, however, goes beyond the Islamists. There are many in the military and intelligence service – the Inter-Service Intelligence Directorate (ISID) – that are opposed to any leader, be it Bhutto or Musharraf, who cooperates with the West. When Musharraf changed the direction of the country after the September 11 attacks, many senior officers in the ISID and military began to distance themselves from the president. In fact, the sophistication of some of the assassination attempts against Musharraf hint at either military or intelligence training. If I was investigating today’s attacks, I would want to know how the perpetrators knew the exact motorcade route.

Back to the nuclear weapons issue. The big fear is that an Islamist government takes over. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that under a Bhutto-Musharraf power-sharing arrangement, Pakistan will retain its nuclear arsenal. Some background on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program - the program was started by Benazir’s father in 1972. By 1988, they had perfected a weapon design and began work on delivery systems. It was during Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s tenure that Pakistan developed two delivery systems – ballistic missiles and modifications to the American-made F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter-bomber.

Pakistan is and will be a nuclear power. Let’s hope it is a responsible democracy with nuclear weapons and continues to be a partner in the war on terrorism. The other option is too frightening to contemplate.

October 17, 2007

Resolution on 1915 Genocide - A Bad Idea

Several Armenian-American groups, with the surprising support of Jewish organizations, have pressured enough Congressional representatives and Senators into passing a non-binding resolution condemning Turkey's actions in 1915 against the Armenian community as genocide. While almost no one in their right mind questions the events of 1915, they should question the purpose and timing of this resolution.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer was interviewed about this resolution on the weekend talk shows. He maintains that it is necessary to pass this resolution so that we do not have more genocide in the future. Perhaps they should be doing something constructive about ongoing problems – Darfur comes to mind. This appears to be a partisan political ploy to make things difficult for the Pentagon.

Anyone who has heard me comment on the Turks knows my views on Turkey. Turkey’s failure to honor a commitment to allow the United States to use Turkish territory to attack Iraqi forces from the north during the 2003 invasion caused weeks of delays getting necessary American troops into combat. The United States hoped to get forces into the Sunni triangle early on and neutralize the Sunni heartland. It was only after the Army's 4th Infantry Division (Mechanized) was off-loaded and spread out on Turkish highways en route to northern Iraq that Turkey reneged on its promise to Secretary of State Colin Powell. That forced the Army to recall the entire division, re-load them onto ships and ferry them through the Suez Canal, the Red Sea, around the Arabian Peninsula into the Persian Gulf, off-load them in Kuwait and move them overland into the battle from the south. These were not the actions of a reliable ally.

That said, Turkey remains an ally and is now supporting our efforts in the region. This resolution is a bad idea, and the timing is equally questionable. Why now? What is driving the urgency to pass a resolution that will not only jeopardize support from Turkey, but put at risk future support we (and others) may need.

There are several considerations Mr Hoyer and his colleagues should consider. First and foremost is American access to Turkish airspace and ports. This access directly supports our troops in Iraq. The use of the Turkish port at Iskenderun provides an alternate to the use of the ports of al-Basrah and Kuwait, which require convoys to pass through Shi’a areas of southern Iraq, which might be vulnerable to attack if there is an escalation in the current U.S.-Iran relationship from rhetoric to violence. Use of Turkish airspace shortens the air bridge distance from European bases into the region. Insulting a NATO ally also might cause loss of leverage in trying to prevent a Turkish incursion into northern Iraq to rout out PKK training camps.

The support of Jewish groups for the resolution is interesting. Perhaps these groups should consider that an insult to Turkey by Jewish groups could very well jeopardize Israeli access to Turkish airspace. That might be critical in the future if Israel decides it needs to conduct another strike on Syria or mount an operation against Iranian nuclear facilities.

So, again, Mr Hoyer, what’s the point?

October 16, 2007

Gen. Sanchez should place the blame on himself

This article appeared on MSNBC.com

Gen. Sanchez should place the blame on himself
Francona: He set the wheels in motion for failure at Abu Ghraib

By Lt. Col. Rick Francona
Military analyst

Now that Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez has retired, he has come out swinging at his former bosses, blaming senior officers and other government agencies for the problems in Iraq, including those during the period when he was in command of U.S. and coalition forces in the country. He cited errors that were made, including the disbanding of the Iraqi army, clearly the biggest mistake of the effort in Iraq. Sanchez called Iraq a “nightmare with no end in sight” and seemingly blamed everyone but himself.

This is truly disingenuous. Sanchez presided over arguably one of the biggest debacles of Operation Iraq Freedom — the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal. The name itself has become synonymous with all that has gone wrong with American foreign policy in the area, and Sanchez must bear some, if not most, of the responsibility. He set the wheels in motion for the failure at the prison.

Army doctrine is clear about how to run an enemy prisoner-of-war facility. Abu Ghraib housed suspected insurgents, so the same rules should have been applied. Overall operation of the facility, per doctrine, should have been the purview of the military police. The MPs are responsible for security and day-to-day operations, while an attached military intelligence organization is in charge of interrogations and the production and dissemination of any intelligence obtained from the detainees. Since the major issue at a prison facility is security, placing the MPs in charge makes sense.

At Abu Ghraib, however, Sanchez placed the military intelligence unit in overall command of the facility, including responsibility for daily operations and security. This unusual arrangement caused confusion between the MPs and the intelligence personnel, many of whom were contractors, about who was supposed to do what. The confusion resulting from the decision to ignore Army standard operations protocols directly led to the breakdown of the chain of command at the prison. Officers and NCOs who normally should have prevented the problem behavior did not and those who should have been in charge were not, and those who were in charge should not have been.

The resulting public relations nightmare ended whatever short grace period American forces were going to have with the Iraqi population. As the photos of Iraqi detainees being abused and humiliated spread like wildfire through the Arab and Muslim world, the reputation of America and Americans suffered, likely for decades to come. Not even the rumors of abuse and ill treatment at Guantanamo have had as much impact as the damage done by a handful of poorly supervised soldiers at Abu Ghraib. Those soldiers were under the command of Sanchez.

Some of those soldiers are serving prison sentences, and a senior officer, the commander of the military police unit responsible for detention facilities in Iraq under Sanchez, was reduced in grade from brigadier general to colonel. Some of the field-grade officers were reprimanded. As for Sanchez, he never received his fourth star and his career pretty much ended — and rightfully so.

According to the general, “There is nothing going on today in Washington that would give us hope.” He criticizes the “surge” operation, calling it a desperate act to salvage a situation created by misguided policies. That’s true because the surge is an attempt to salvage a situation that in part Sanchez created by his misguided policy at Abu Ghraib. Sour grapes, general.

Sanchez has found retirement work as a consultant training America’s new generals. Perhaps he begins the class with: “Here’s what not to do.”

© 2007 MSNBC Interactive

October 12, 2007

Iraq trivia – the white Oldsmobile Cutlass

An interesting piece of trivia from Iraq.

The recent news story about two Iraqi women who were killed in Baghdad by employees of a private security firm included a description of the car involved. It was a white 1988 Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera.

What is a white 1988 Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera doing in Baghdad? Oldsmobiles are not exactly hot sellers in this part of the world. Granted, there were a lot of Chevrolet Caprices in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s – their reputation for excellent air-conditioning systems made them big sellers in the desert states.

Here’s the explanation:

During the Iran-Iraq war that lasted from September 1980 to August 1988, Iraq lost hundreds of thousands of soldiers. In the early years of the war, the families of those killed did not receive compensation from the government. The Iraqis researched how other countries, including the United States, compensate the families of the fallen, and came up with a uniquely Iraqi solution.

The family of an enlisted soldier or noncommissioned officer was given a red Brazilian-made Volkswagen Passat. When I was in Baghdad in 1987 and 1988, I saw thousands of them everywhere – easily the most common vehicle on the road. The family of an officer killed in the war was given a white Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera. There were a lot of them on the roads as well.

The vehicle involved in this incident was probably one of the death gratuity vehicles from that war.

October 11, 2007

Ex-Saddam defense minister set to be executed

An article by NBC News Senior Investigative Producer Bob Windrem

Did Saddam minister help the U.S.?
Why a former CIA officer says he should not be killed
By Robert Windrem
Senior Investigative producer
NBC News

For more than a year, Rick Francona, then an Air Force lieutenant colonel, was part of a secret CIA task force working to overthrow Saddam Hussein, the Clinton administration’s failed attempt at regime change in Iraq.

Now an NBC News analyst, Francona is talking for the first time about his role in recruiting generals for that mission seven years before the US invasion, and laying out why he thinks the US should try to stop the hanging of former Iraqi Defense Minister Sultan Hashim Ahmed, one of the generals recruited in that effort.

Hashim has been convicted of war crimes by an Iraqi court and is scheduled to hang in the next few days, unless the US military can quietly get the Iraqi government to commute his sentence.

“I moved in and out of northern Iraq, as well as the countries bordering Iraq,” says Francona. “We were involved in what was known inside the Agency as “
DBACHILLES” – the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

“We at CIA had tried to contact and co-opt as many Iraqi military officers as we could, hoping to convince them that they should not fight when and if an invasion or coup attempt occurred. That program had some successes.”

Francona says that he does not know what help Hashim provided, but notes that there is ample evidence he offered to help and that he was told that Hashim even volunteered to have communications gear hidden at his estate north of Baghdad in preparation for a coup attempt. Moreover, Jalal Talabani, the man who brought Hashim to the CIA’s attention, and now President of Iraq, has said publicly that the defense minister “cooperated” in the effort, Francona notes.

“DBACHILLES”--the DB was the CIA designator for Iraqi operations—was based on what the agency thought was the dictator’s Achilles’ heel: a military whose loyalty even Saddam questioned. Saddam understood the professional military was more loyal to the nation than it was to him. That was one reason why he had set up the Republican Guard and the Special Security Organization as well as a host of intelligence and counter intelligence organs. They were loyal to him personally. Better paid and better equipped than the military, the Guards and SSO were Saddam’s last line of defense. The military, the CIA believed, was vulnerable to recruiting pitches that played on their patriotism.

So during 1995-96, Francona was temporarily assigned from his role as a Defense Intelligence Agency officer to the CIA. He was uniquely equipped for the duty. Fluent in Arabic, Francona had worked out of the defense attaché office in Baghdad at the end of the Iran-Iraq War. As a Defense Intelligence Agency official, he had worked as America’s liaison officer to Iraq’s Directorate of Military Intelligence. He traveled extensively observing Iraqi combat operations against Iranian forces, and even flying sorties with the Iraqi air force. It was Francona, in fact, who had shown Iraqi intelligence officials US satellite photos of the Iran-Iraq battlefield and it was Francona who first gathered the proof that Iraq had used nerve gas on Iranian troops in 1988.

Then, he got another view of Iraq’s military during the Gulf War. He served as General Norman Schwarzkopf's translator, reading intelligence reports, briefing Schwarzkopf, and ultimately translating Schwarzkopf's commands to defeated Iraqi generals, one of whom turned out to be Hashim.

The agency set him up in Kurdistan, the northern section of Iraq no longer under Saddam’s control. Working out of a heavily sandbagged house in Sal-ah-din, Francona worked with Kurdish officials and ran several operations, training Kurdish pershmerga militants, extricating the family of an Iraqi nuclear scientist who had defected and meeting regularly, even daily, with Kurdish leaders, including Talabani. At the time, Talabani was head of the PUK, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the main Kurdish opposition group. He is now President of Iraq.

“I met with Talabani on numerous occasions. I was a guest in his home, we had professional meetings almost daily,” says Francona. “In 1996, we were involved in supporting the Kurds and other opposition groups operating out of northern Iraq, also other countries in the region.

“Part of that was cooperating with the PUK, and Jalal Talabani, in a meeting told us he had taken steps to contact people in the Iraqi administration, and one of them being Sultan Hashim.”

Francona explained that during a meeting with “Mam Jalal”, Talabani’s nickname in Iraq, he revealed that he had made contact with a “senior member of the Saddam regime” who was willing to work with the CIA to remove Saddam. Francona asked who he was talking about…”Obviously this was of great interest to us.”

Talabani explained that he was working with Hashim on the overthrow of Saddam. Francona understood instantly the importance of . He had been the Deputy Director of Operations of the Iraqi armed forces in March 1991, the man who had surrendered to Schwartzkopf at Safwan in southern Iraq.

"Talabani told us, the Central Intelligence Agency, that he had been in contact with Sultan Hashim Ahmed, and that Sultan Hashim was willing to cooperate with us in removing Saddam Hussein from power,” says Francona.

The recruiting of Hashim was kept separate from the recruiting of lesser Iraqi generals. Still, at one point, Hashim’s name was entered into a CIA database as an “agent of influence.” An operation was approved. Francona says he does not know for certain what happened after that. Talabani was handling Hashim. But Francona says he was told: “There was a meeting between an intermediary and Sultan Hashim at a farm…we would call it an estate. My recollection is that we could hide some communications gear there and would be used to communicate with Sultan Hashim”.

Did he help? Francona says he doesn’t know. Officially, the CIA declines comment. A former CIA official says he doesn’t think Hashim did much if anything, but Talabani said last month that he cannot morally sign an execution order for Hashim’s hanging as President of Iraq, stating bluntly, “He used to cooperate”.

"I had known him. He had relations with us during Saddam's regime," Talabani told a press conference in the Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah. "We were urging him to revolt against Saddam. How can I today sign his execution order when I was the one who provoked him then to rebel against Saddam. No, No, No. I will not do it. I used to urge him to rebel against the government and he used to cooperate so how can I now authorize his execution? I just cant."

Francona says that Talabani has a problem with the death penalty in general. He wouldn’t sign Saddam’s execution order, letting a deputy do it. But the case of Sultan Hashim is different.

"Talabani hasn't signed anybody's death warrant,” says Francona. “He's designated that responsibility to somebody in his office, but he does not want Sultan Hashim executed, he's tried to get clemency for him. So, he's not going to sign any death warrant.”

Talabani can’t issue a clemency order. Only Nouri al Maliki and the Iraqi courts have that right. Now, the question is whether the US military can convince them to commute the death penalty to life in prison. Time is short. Hashim could be hanged in the next few days.

If he is, says Francona, it will not be a good thing for US intelligence, even if Sultan Hashim’s cooperation was minimal.

“If Sultan Hashim was willing to cooperate with us, if he did cooperate with us, now he finds himself facing Iraqi justice - it just doesn't seem right to me,” he says. “I think we owe him the benefit of the doubt, and at least get his sentence commuted to life imprisonment. But to have him executed really does us no good.

“This sets a really bad precedent for people who are willing to cooperate with the United States. If they're willing to cooperate with the United States, and then, they find themselves justice in their own country, why would anybody cooperate with us in the future?”

© 2007 MSNBC Interactive

NBC Worldblog - from Ally to Adversary

Richard Engel, NBC Middle East Bureau Chief writes:


To survive under Saddam Hussein, you had to feign loyalty and turn on your friends. To survive after Saddam, you had to cooperate with Saddam's enemies. It's a reality that has left so many in Iraq with checkered pasts.

Some former spies have done well and reinvented themselves. Others have been forgotten and disavowed.

Saddam's final defense minister Sultan Hashim says he is one of the betrayed.

I met Hashim in Baghdad during the 2003 invasion. He was gruff, portly, and abrupt and ended up looking somewhat foolish. I was in the Palestine Hotel, holed up with a few journalists still in Baghdad, taking shelter from the rain of bombs and rockets. Hashim had come to give a statement to the tiny Baghdad press corps.

VIDEO: U.S. goes to bat for a former Saddam aide who also worked for the CIA

He sat at a table set up on a little stage in the Palestine's main conference room. A giant map of Iraq was pinned to the wall behind him. Hashim’s main message was that American troops were bogged down in southern Iraq and were not advancing toward Baghdad as quickly as American commanders claimed. Hashim wasn't fooling anyone. As he spoke, the map behind him shook like paper in the wind as American JDAMs (joint direct attack munitions) and cruise missiles exploded outside. Nope, no Americans here. It was almost funny.

But it turns out Hashim wasn't working only for Saddam. He'd also volunteered to work for the CIA to overthrow the dictator.

Saddam’s Achilles’ heel

According to Rick Francona, an NBC News analyst who worked in northern Iraq for a secret CIA task force code named Achilles, Hashim reached out to the CIA in 1996 through the former Kurdish rebel leader Jalal Talabani.

Francona and his team were trying to overthrow Saddam. Talabani said Hashim wanted to help.
The CIA, Talabani, Ayad Allawi, Gen. Abdullah Shawani and several Iraqi officers were all deeply involved. Their names have been previously published. The plot was called "Achilles" for "Achilles' heel," the weak spot that ultimately brought down the fabled hero. The army officers and insiders, men like Hashim, were meant to be that weak spot, the Achilles' heel.

It's unclear exactly how much Hashim actually did for the CIA. He certainly was helpful to Talabani, who in turn was helpful to the CIA. Talabani said Hashim "made calls," "communicated" and "helped rebel against (Saddam's) government."

But the CIA's 1996 coup never materialized. Saddam infiltrated the conspirators and executed as many as 200 of the plotters, including two of Shawani's sons.

The survivors, however, would get their chance again when the U.S. took a more direct approach to toppling Saddam, invading the country in 2003.

The class of 1996 did well by the invasion.
· Talabani became president.
· Allawi became Iraq's first prime minister.
· Shawani became intelligence chief.

But what happened to Sultan Hashim?

Eight of hearts in U.S. deck of cards
He was sentenced to death in June, convicted as a war criminal.

A U.S.-funded Iraqi court convicted Hashim of involvement in the murderous campaign against Kurds in northern Iraq known as the Anfal. Kurdish officials say an estimated 160,000 Kurds were killed by Saddam's forces, some with chemical weapons. Hashim was a commander in northern Iraq at the time. He may very well have been guilty of war crimes. But it seems by 1996, he wanted to be OUR war criminal.

It didn't work out that way. After U.S. forces toppled Saddam's government, Hashim suddenly found himself on the run, listed as the eight of hearts on the U.S. "deck of cards" of Iraq’s most wanted former leaders.

Hashim escaped to Mosul, where he has many supporters and relatives. That's where he came into contact with Gen. David Petraeus, now commanding general in Iraq. At the time Petraeus was the commander of the 101st Airborne Division. Petraeus wanted Hashim to surrender and sent him a letter, a copy of which was provided to NBC News by Hashim's former aides.

In the letter, Petraeus wrote:

"... I offer you a simple, yet honorable alternative to life on the run from Coalition Forces in order to avoid capture, imprisonment, and loss of honor and dignity befitting a General Officer. I officially request your surrender to me. In turn, I will accept this from you in person. You have my word that you will be treated with the utmost dignity and respect, and that you will not be physically or mentally mistreated while under my custody."

A spokesman for Petraeus, who was forwarded the letter by e-mail, said it "appeared to be an authentic copy."

The spokesman said Hashim "was treated with respect while in American custody. But there was never any promise of amnesty."

That's not how Hashim's family says the defense minister saw it. His son, brother and former chief of staff tell NBC News Hashim was promised protection and that intermediaries negotiating for Petraeus even suggested the former defense minister would be able to assume a prominent role in the new Iraqi armed forces. Petraeus’ spokesman said the general never had made any promise other than a dignified surrender. Intermediaries might have gone further.

Hashim did surrender to Petraeus, and his aides say he was treated with respect by the American commander. Hashim's aides, however, said they were shocked that the U.S. military handed him over to an Iraqi court that swiftly sentenced him to death.

Will he or won’t he?
Now here's the real twist.

According to Iraqi law, as president, Talabani must sign Hashim's death sentence. He must approve the execution of a man with whom he conspired against Saddam, a man he introduced to the CIA.

Last month, Talabani told a press conference that he will not do it.

"I used to urge him to rebel against the government, and he used to cooperate," Talabani said last month."So how can I now authorize his execution? I just can’t."

So Talabani, a Kurd, is in the bizarre position of defending one of Saddam's top generals convicted of war crimes against Kurds.

For now, there's a deadlock over Hashim's execution. Quietly some American officials here are working for some sort of compromise. CIA officials tell us they are not trying to commute Hashim's sentence.

Read more about Sultan Hashim's involvement with the CIA from NBC News' Senior Investigative Producer Robert Windrem: Did a former Saddam Minister help the U.S.?

It's time for Blackwater to leave Iraq

This article appeared on MSNBC.com

It's time for Blackwater to leave Iraq
Francona: Private security company is a problem the U.S. doesn't need

By Lt. Col. Rick Francona
Military analyst


The killing of two Iraqi women in Baghdad by an Australian private security contractor has again highlighted the ongoing debate about the role of private security companies in Iraq.

Although there are numerous contract security firms in Iraq, one name always comes to mind, Blackwater USA. One of Blackwater’s major contracts is to provide security, mostly convoy security, for members of the American Embassy in Baghdad as they travel around the area.

It was such a mission that has led to the current scrutiny. On Sept. 16, there was an incident in which 17 Iraqis were killed by Blackwater employees and the Iraqi government believes Blackwater is at fault. The Iraqi government is demanding not only $8 million compensation per victim, but that the United States also hand over Blackwater employees involved in the shootings to face Iraqi justice.

The U.S. government's use of contractors is not unique to the Iraq war nor to the present. It goes back to the Civil War and the push west under Manifest Destiny. Sutlers provided rations and supplies as the U.S. Army moved west. In World War II, contractors were a common sight on military installations, and have always been considered a “force multiplier.” Why use trained soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines to do routine, non-military type functions when you can contract them out? Duties such as cooking, cleaning, construction, maintenance, supply, etc. can all be done more effectively by contractors, freeing up trained military personnel for direct combat, combat support and combat service missions.

As the size of American military forces became an issue and troop ceilings were mandated, the use of contractors became even more important. Contractors normally do not count against troop strength. When the Department of Defense is ordered to station only a finite number of troops in a particular area, the use of contractor support allows that lower number to be met more easily. You can maintain a larger force with contractors than without. The advantage is a more potent military force with fewer active troops.

In recent years, the role of contractors has changed, by necessity. With the drawdown of the U.S. military to about one-half of one percent of the population, coincident with a two-front war and our existing global commitments, there are not enough combat forces to meet all the requirements. To meet the demand, contract personnel have moved into roles formerly reserved for military personnel.

Increased contractor roles have provided lucrative opportunities for people with the right skills, including Arabic linguists, interrogators and, of course, former members of elite combat forces, specifically the Navy SEALs and Army Special Forces. The use of contractor linguists and interrogators became an issue during the Abu Ghraib scandal and at Guantanamo.

Why? The problem is accountability and the ambiguous legal status of contractors. At the Abu Ghraib prison, because they possessed skills critical to the mission, contractors operated outside the normal chain of command and in conditions conducive to abuse. Their status was never officially defined and their legal status not negotiated by the organization sponsoring the contract. What we have seen also is a fundamental change in the use of contractors.

In the past, they provided support and now they have become an integral part of the mission. It is hard to imagine a deployed U.S. military force operating without contractors. This may not sound like a good idea, but with the size of the U.S. military, we have little choice.

The issue at hand is the use of private security companies in Iraq. For the most part, these companies provide a necessary service, guarding supply convoys and protecting infrastructure. Unfortunately, the highly visible presence of companies like Blackwater on the streets of Baghdad has made their name almost a household word. In Baghdad it evokes the same negative psychological response as Abu Ghraib.

Fair? Maybe not, but that is not the issue. The issue is perception, and in the Middle East the perception quickly becomes the reality. Blackwater, once an asset to the U.S. Embassy for protection of its diplomats has become a liability for the overall mission of the United States. This comes at a time when there are some positive results in American military operations.

The Blackwater issue is a distraction we don’t need. The State Department needs to cancel that contract, then enter into another contract but this time with better oversight by the Diplomatic Security Service and well-defined legal parameters.

© 2007 MSNBC Interactive

October 4, 2007

Keep U.S. troops in Iraq for the long haul

This article appeared on MSNBC.com

Keep U.S. troops in Iraq for the long haul
Forces need to stay — with correct mission — to protect interests in region

By Lt. Col. Rick Francona
Military analyst


In the last Democratic candidate debate, neither of the two front-runners would pledge that by the end of his or her first term there would be no U.S. troops in Iraq. Sen. Barack Obama said he would “drastically reduce our presence there to the mission of protecting our embassy, protecting our civilians and making sure that we’re carrying out counterterrorism activities there.”

There are two separate but related issues here, the continued presence of American forces in Iraq and the definition of their mission. First, let’s look at the definition of the mission. Limiting the troops to the three specific missions articulated by Sen. Obama is not only unrealistic, it’s virtually impossible. If there are American troops in Iraq, they will have to address any and all threats, be they from Iraqi insurgents, Shiite militias or al-Qaida terrorists. Are the troops supposed to ask the affiliation of a threat prior to taking action? Does the senator propose to restrict the military with impossible rules of engagement such as, “Determine that the opposing forces are in fact members of al-Qaida in Iraq before commencing hostilities

The senator should have added to his list of missions “protecting America’s vital interests in the region.” In real terms, that means protecting access to Persian Gulf oil — yes, it’s about oil — and maintaining the security of the state of Israel. These have been our interests for years, and adequate protection of those interests requires the presence of American military forces in the region.

American troop presence in the region is nothing new. The U.S. Navy has maintained a continuous presence in the Persian Gulf since World War II. The headquarters of the Navy’s forces in the region, now called the Fifth Fleet, is in Mina Sulman, Bahrain. Air Force units began deployments to Saudi Arabia soon after the 1979 Iranian revolution — those units are now located in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Although the U.S. Central Command tried to get a land force presence in the region, it was unsuccessful until the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Since the liberation of Kuwait, American ground forces have maintained a facility there for storage of equipment called prepositioning, or “PREPO” in military parlance, and staging of units entering Iraq. The United States now has defense pacts with several gulf countries, and many of these states regard the United States as a counterbalance to increasing Iranian power and influence in the region.

I don’t believe Sen. Obama would disagree with the premise that we need to keep troops in the Persian Gulf region to protect our national interests. Just as we have had troops in Europe and Asia since the end of World War II, we need to maintain a military presence in the Middle East. Our interests there are no less vital than our interests elsewhere and are likely more at risk. The rhetoric of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during his visit to New York and the Israeli airstrike on a possible North Korean nuclear-related facility in northeast Syria underscore the point.

If we can divorce the emotion over the war from the argument, Iraq is an ideal location to project U.S. power throughout the region. It is centrally located and home to excellent facilities such as the sprawling air base at Balad. If we assume that the two primary threats to security in the region are Iran and Syria, an American military presence in Iraq places our forces in a central position to counter those threats with military force if necessary. Combined with effective diplomatic initiatives that have virtually surrounded Syria and almost surrounded Iran, the United States can leverage military presence to bring pressure on these two rogue states.

Iraq is not only centrally located, but it is more accessible via sea, air and land than the other options. The Persian Gulf provides sea access via the newly upgraded ports of al-Basrah and Umm Qasr. Land access from Kuwait and Turkey can be complemented by access from Jordan, whose port at al-Aqaba was Iraq’s proxy port when its access to the Persian Gulf was blocked by Iran during the Iran-Iraq War. Air access via NATO ally Turkey provides excellent access to American military facilities in Europe and Central Asia.

The debate over whether we should have invaded Iraq has become a historical argument. Now that we have forces there, we need to make sure we can address future threats in the region effectively. Troops in Iraq — a stable Iraq, I hope — will give us that ability.

© 2007 MSNBC Interactive