When mentioning, three days ago, the voodoo metrinomics touted by the woebegone G. Walker administration, ye old scribe alluded to the frantic dance to not mention Saudi Arabia. Now the media has brought forth some harder statistics.
Although Bush administration officials have frequently lashed out at Syria and Iran, accusing it of helping insurgents and militias here, the largest number of foreign fighters and suicide bombers in Iraq come from a third neighbor, Saudi Arabia, according to a senior U.S. military officer and Iraqi lawmakers.
About 45% of all foreign militants targeting U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians and security forces are from Saudi Arabia; 15% are from Syria and Lebanon; and 10% are from North Africa, according to official U.S. military figures made available to The Times by the senior officer. Nearly half of the 135 foreigners in U.S. detention facilities in Iraq are Saudis, he said.
Fighters from Saudi Arabia are thought to have carried out more suicide bombings than those of any other nationality, said the senior U.S. officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the subject’s sensitivity. It is apparently the first time a U.S. official has given such a breakdown on the role played by Saudi nationals in Iraq’s Sunni Arab insurgency.
He said 50% of all Saudi fighters in Iraq come here as suicide bombers. In the last six months, such bombings have killed or injured 4,000 Iraqis.
Iraqi Shiite lawmaker Sami Askari, an advisor to Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, accused Saudi officials of a deliberate policy to sow chaos in Baghdad.
“The fact of the matter is that Saudi Arabia has strong intelligence resources, and it would be hard to think that they are not aware of what is going on,” he said.
Askari also alleged that imams at Saudi mosques call for jihad, or holy war, against Iraq’s Shiites and that the government had funded groups causing unrest in Iraq’s largely Shiite south. Sunni extremists regard Shiites as unbelievers.
Other Iraqi officials said that though they believed Saudi Arabia, a Sunni fundamentalist regime, had no interest in helping Shiite-ruled Iraq, it was not helping militants either. But some Iraqi Shiite leaders say the Saudi royal family sees the Baghdad government as a proxy for its regional rival, Shiite-ruled Iran, and wants to unseat it.
With its own border with Iraq largely closed, Saudi fighters take what is now an established route by bus or plane to Syria, where they meet handlers who help them cross into Iraq’s western deserts, the senior U.S. military officer said. Article
Over 160 Saudis were tried in Iraq and hundreds are still awaiting trial, Iraqi National Security Advisor Muwafaq al-Rubaie said in an interview with the Jeddah-based Okaz newspaper.
On the official number of Saudis in Iraq, al-Rubaie revealed that hundreds of Saudis have entered Iraq after the U.S-led invasion in 2003.
“Many of them were killed in suicide operations and others are still being held in Iraqi prisons and detention camps, in addition to those killed during the past four years,” he added.
“The issue was open for discussion with Saudi officials and we set up a hotline with them to follow up on developments,” al-Rubaie said in reference to Saudi prisoners in Iraq. Article
And a topically related piece from Saudi Arabia:
Every day we read in local newspapers reports about Saudi citizens arrested for involvement in acts of terrorism or getting killed in Iraq, Afghanistan or Lebanon. It is as though we’re a nation driven by the love of war or adventure.
Is it true we’re a nation of vicious thinking? If not, then what could we possibly be?
Why do hundreds of our children compete to die in unjustified wars?
Many have discussed and written about this, blaming it on the deficiencies of our educational system – a system that fills the minds of young men with dangerous ideas and encourages them to sacrifice their lives. It’s perplexing to see how easily such ideologies influence the minds of our younger generation and drive them into the arms of extremists.
Shorn of all exaggeration, the matter is way too big to be underestimated. It’s not confined to a certain group of people. Nor does it move in a certain direction. It mirrors the community’s culture and the nation’s education system and the inherited concepts that live in our minds leading us to a particular way of thinking.
People may be receptive to these ideas in varying degrees, but there is always someone driven by the urge or passion to die for the sake of jihad and Allah. There are people who sympathize with the murderers and those accused of terrorism and idolize them as heroes and there are also those who might think of covering for them or helping them to escape the long arm of law or justice.
The most dangerous are those who feed into the brains of young children the ideas of expiation and induce them to run after illusions.
There are also those who provide rationale to naïve individuals for their decision to leave the country and enroll themselves in criminal or terrorist groups abroad.
In spite of all this, some people grumble at any suggestion of revising our educational curriculum and reject strongly any thought of reviewing and correcting fatwas that have led to so many tragedies.
The truth is that the problem is connected to the entire educational system and not merely the curriculum. It is also related to the social system and the chaotic disturbances and disunity and contradictions it suffers from. Article
First, this screams “target of opportunity.”
Second, inquiring minds want to know about the funding, and if, should even one penny of U.S. funding, subsidy, no-bid contract, sweetheart deals or guaranteed loans — from the Pentagon, the CIA or anywhere else in the U.S. government — is in play, why that is and under what (and whose) authority?
A new no-frills airline that begins weekly flights between Baghdad and Amman, Jordan, in August will only accept certain passengers _ U.S. and Western citizens.
Iraqis, Indians, Pakistanis and other non-Westerners need not apply.
Expat Airways, looking to capitalize on the thousands of contract workers in Iraq, is believed to be the world’s only commercial airline to blacklist such a large swath of nationalities.
Company officials say they believe the carrier’s 8 a.m. flights out of Baghdad beginning Aug. 7 will help speed U.S. and Western contractors through Baghdad International Airport where daylong delays, overbooking and no-show planes are common.
Despite fares of $450 each way, the 500-mile jaunt aboard a 42-seat Russian Antonov turboprop is strictly no frills.…
“Seats cannot be reserved,” the e-mail stated, “so it will be on a first-come first-served basis and (seats) will not be numbered.”
Expat planes won’t even have a logo painted on them. Article
As there is no formal embassy from which to dress down or expel diplomats, this comes across as a tit-for-tat measure, but still there may well be some meat beyond that involved.
The tension between Turkey and Iraq’s central government seems to be continually escalating, with the latest source of uneasiness being a note from Iraq accusing Turkey of having sent rotten material in the food and drug aid it donated.
Relations between Turkey and neighboring Iraq are tense over Ankara’s mounting concerns over presence of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) camps in northern Iraq. The central Iraqi government is changing its attitude towards Turkey and becoming much more critical of its warning over a possible cross-border operation to hit the PKK camps there. The tension over the alleged bad food and drugs adds a new twist to the deteriorating rhetoric between the two countries.
A note sent to the Foreign Ministry from the Iraqi Embassy in Ankara informed Turkish authorities that medicine and food sent to Iraq had turned out to be rotten, and that Iraq would like to send a delegation to Turkey to discuss the matter between July 20 and July 23. The Foreign Ministry, in return, asked the Health Ministry to investigate the issue. Article
“Pushing” — or walking the plank?
[U.S. National Security Adviser Stephen] Hadley admitted the Bush administration has had limited success getting the Iraqi lawmakers to put in more time. So far, the best it’s been able to do is get the lawmakers to agree to work six days a week until they go on vacation.
“I think the important thing is look, we have been pushing on them,” he said. Article
Ramping up the air war. No matter the demurrals, an increase in civilian death, deprivation and injury will follow, as night follows day. Dropping death from the skies on a populace (and in crowded urban environments as well) by an occupation force (let’s ditch the niceties, that’s what is going on) is an egregious war crime.
The airplane is the size of a jet fighter, powered by a turboprop engine, able to fly at 300 mph and reach 50,000 feet. It is outfitted with infrared, laser and radar targeting, and with a ton and a half of guided bombs and missiles.
The Reaper is loaded, but there is no one on board. Its pilot, as it bombs targets in Iraq, will sit at a video console 7,000 miles away in Nevada.
The arrival of these outsized U.S. “hunter-killer” drones, in aviation history’s first robot attack squadron, will be a watershed moment even in an Iraq that has seen too many innovative ways to hunt and kill.
That moment, one the Air Force will likely low-key, is expected “soon,” says the regional U.S. air commander. How soon? “We’re still working that,” Lt. Gen. Gary North said in an interview.
The Reaper’s first combat deployment is expected in Afghanistan, and senior Air Force officers estimate it will land in Iraq sometime between this fall and next spring. They look forward to it.
The Associated Press has learned that the Air Force is building a 400,000-square-foot expansion of the concrete ramp area now used for Predator drones here at Balad, the biggest U.S. air base in Iraq, 50 miles north of Baghdad. That new staging area could be turned over to Reapers.
It is another sign that the Air Force is planning for an extended stay in Iraq, supporting Iraqi government forces in any continuing conflict, even if U.S. ground troops are drawn down in the coming years.
At five tons gross weight, the Reaper is four times heavier than the Predator. Its size – 36 feet long, with a 66-foot wingspan – is comparable to the profile of the Air Force’s workhorse A-10 attack plane. It can fly twice as fast and twice as high as the Predator. Most significantly, it carries many more weapons.
While the Predator is armed with two Hellfire missiles, the Reaper can carry 14 of the air-to-ground weapons – or four Hellfires and two 500-pound bombs.
“It’s not a recon squadron,” Col. Joe Guasella, operations chief for the Central Command’s air component, said of the Reapers. “It’s an attack squadron, with a lot more kinetic ability.”
“Kinetic” – Pentagon argot for destructive power – is what the Air Force had in mind when it christened its newest robot plane with a name associated with death.
The British also are impressed with the Reaper, and are buying three for deployment in Afghanistan later this year. The Royal Air Force version will stick to the “recon” mission, however – no weapons on board. Article
Away from the headlines and debate over the “surge” in U.S. ground troops, the Air Force has quietly built up its hardware inside Iraq, sharply stepped up bombing and laid a foundation for a sustained air campaign in support of American and Iraqi forces.
Squadrons of attack planes have been added to the in-country fleet. The air reconnaissance arm has almost doubled since last year. The powerful B1-B bomber has been recalled to action over Iraq.
The escalation worries some about an increase in “collateral damage,” casualties among Iraqi civilians. Air Force generals worry about wear and tear on aging aircraft. But ground commanders clearly like what they see.
“Night before last, we had 14 strikes from B-1 bombers. Last night, we had 18 strikes by B-1 bombers,” Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch said approvingly of air support his 3rd Infantry Division received in a recent offensive south of Baghdad.
Statistics tell the story: Air Force and Navy aircraft dropped 437 bombs and missiles in Iraq in the first six months of 2007, a fivefold increase over the 86 used in the first half of 2006, and three times more than in the second half of 2006, according to Air Force data. In June, bombs dropped at a rate of more than five a day.
Early this year, with little fanfare, the Air Force sent a squadron of A-10 “Warthog” attack planes – a dozen or more aircraft – to be based at Al-Asad Air Base in western Iraq. At the same time it added a squadron of F-16C Fighting Falcons here at Balad. Although some had flown missions over Iraq from elsewhere in the region, the additions doubled to 50 or more the number of workhorse fighter-bomber jets available at bases inside the country, closer to the action.
The reinforcement involved more than numbers. The new F-16Cs were the first of the advanced “Block 50″ version to fly in Iraq, an aircraft whose technology includes a cockpit helmet that enables the pilot to aim his weapons at a target simply by turning his head and looking at it.
The Navy has contributed by stationing a second aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf, and the reintroduction of B1-Bs has added a close-at-hand “platform” capable of carrying 24 tons of bombs.
Those big bombers were moved last year from distant Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean to an undisclosed base in the Persian Gulf. Since February, with the ground offensive, they have gone on Iraq bombing runs for the first time since the 2003 invasion.
Iraq Body Count, a London-based, anti-war research group that monitors Iraqi war deaths, says the step-up in air attacks appears to have been accompanied by an increase in Iraqi civilian casualties from air strikes. Based on media reports, it counts a recent average of 50 such deaths per month.
The Air Force itself does not maintain such data.
The Air Force’s four-month Iraq tours and extensive use of volunteer pilots from the Reserve and National Guard contrast sharply with an Army whose 15-month tours are sapping energy and morale.
In the Air Force, Iraq duty can even be cut to two months. Lt. Col. Bob Mortensen’s 457th Fighter Squadron – F-16Cs from Fort Worth, Texas – managed it by working a deal with another Reserve unit to share one four-month rotation. Article
The Antiquities Department has included an ancient synagogue where Biblical prophet Nahum is purportedly buried in its 2008 renovation plans.
“The Antiquities Department has added the tomb of Prophet Nahum, peace be on him, to its 2008 preservation plan,” said department’s chief, Abbas al-Hussaini.
The synagogue and the tomb are situated in the northern Christian Iraqi town of al-Qoush, 40 kilometers north of Mosul.
Al-Qoush, a major Christian center in northern Iraq, had a large Jewish community before the Jewish exodus to Palestine in 1948.
Scientists accompanying the renovation team will examine the tomb to determine its age. The earliest traces of the synagogue itself are believed to be more than 400 years old. Article
Analysis and venting du jour:
The latest whoppers from the White House’s fib factory came this week as President George W. Bush (A) claimed U.S. forces in Iraq are fighting “the same people” who staged 9/11, and, (B) withdrawing U.S. forces means “surrendering Iraq to al-Qaida.”
These absurd assertions mark the latest steps in the administration’s evolving efforts to depict the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as battles against al-Qaida.
After six years of conflict, 3,600 dead and 25,000 wounded American soldiers, expenditure of $610 billion, tens of thousands of dead Iraqis and Afghans, collapse of Mideast peace efforts, and a Muslim World enraged against the U.S., nothing positive seems to have been accomplished.
As the White House ponders an attack on Iran, recall the famed words of King Pyrrhus of Epirus, “one more such victory and we are ruined.” Article