Friday, February 22, 2008

Turkey "visits" Iraq

A few tanks does not an invasion make.

Reuters reports:

"Turkish ground troops crossed into northern Iraq in their hunt for Kurdish PKK rebels, the military said on Friday, describing the start of a campaign one report said could last 15 days [or perhaps much longer?] . . . Iraq's government urged Turkey to respect its sovereignty and avoid any military action which would threaten security and stability."

What part of "invasion" doesn't the Iraqi Foreign Ministry not understand?

"'We do not expect these operations will expand because they are against the Iraqi and Turkish desire to have good relations,' spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told Reuters in Baghdad."
OK, you just keep telling yourselves that.

"Turkish TV said 3,000 to 10,000 soldiers had entered Iraq, but several Iraqi officials and a senior military official with U.S.-led coalition forces in Baghdad tried to play down the operation, saying only a few hundred troops were involved."

[Was Mohammad Saeed al-Sahhaf included in the new re-Baathification law, because this sure sounds like his style.]

"A senior military source in southeast Turkey told Reuters: 'Thousands of troops have crossed the border and thousands more are waiting at the border to join them if necessary.'"

Well, as long as the Turks don't go nuts . . . and as long as they've got our back in Kosova if things go south, we'll look the other way for a while. Convincing the Kurds to just allow thousands of Turkish troops to blunder around their autonomous enclave is going to be a bit more tricky than getting the Iraqis to sign off on an all out invasion. They're used to it anyway, right?

Ignore Iraq at your own risk: The good news just keeps coming

More good news from Iraq; it turns out crazy Moqtada al-Sadr has decided to extend his cease-fire another six months. [AP] The cease-fire he called back in August is largely credited with reducing the level of violence in Iraq down to a dull roar. Some would like to say W.'s surge plan is responsible for the lower level of violence, down from the all out blood letting and mayhem of 2006/07, but 30,000 more troops wouldn't have really made that much of difference if one of the main combatants, the 100,000 strong Jaish-i-Mahdi, hadn't exited the battlefield. The standing down of the Mahdi Army and the fact that most of Baghdad has been turned into many little ethnically cleansed Green Zones, ones cordoned off by the US Army or the Iraqi security forces, also has had lot to do with all the "progress" going on in Iraq.

So now we can all turn out attention to other things. Mission accomplished! Nowadays, according to the media, most folks are more focused on the economy or the presidential races to pay much attention to what's going on in Iraq. One might be content to just bask in the good news coming out of Iraq and get on with their lives; just listen to Iraq expert Anthony Cordesman who reports "from the battlefield" for the Center for Strategic Studies:

"No one can spend some 10 days visiting the battlefields in Iraq without seeing major progress in every area. If the U.S. provides sustained support for the Iraqi government -- in security, governance and development -- there is a very real chance that Iraq will emerge as a secure and stable state. "

With good news like that, who would be crazy enough to even think of pulling our troops out? As Cordesman says:

"It will take a strong U.S. involvement throughout the life of the next administration to succeed, and it may well take U.S. aid through 2016."

Who knows, maybe the administration after that, too; so let's all get on board and support the Surge for as long as it takes, even if most of us are dead of old age by the time we're out of there.

Naturally, there are some slight little problems still to work out before Iraq emerges as a secure and stable state. For one thing, one of the major factors involved in making Cordesman's fantasies come true, of Iraq becoming a Western-style democracy -- an America-friendly aircraft-carrier in the Middle East -- is the continuing assistance of the Sunni "Concerned Citizens" in the fight against AQI. (You remember Al-Qaeda in Iraq, right? They're the fly in the ointment that keeps blowing all the good news to bits.)

See, we need the Mahdi Army and the "Concerned Citizens" to play along in order to allow the politicians in Baghdad get on with their work of reaching milestones (Like that'll happen in any of our lifetimes). And just hope the Turks don't go overboard in northern Iraq (They just launched a ground invasion). Cordesman reminds us that "serious threats can still bring defeat or paralysis over the coming years [or decades?], although this seem significantly less likely than in the fall of 2007."

Whew! That's good news.

But there might be a few dark linings in Cordesman's silvery clouds and blue skies. Terry Gross interviewed Patrick Coburn of the Independent yesterday on Fresh Air and he, after spending 22 years visiting the battlefields of Iraq, has come to the conclusion that there has been very little progress made in Iraq.

As he points out, there has been a reduction in violence, but look what these lower figures are being compared with. AQI attacks in Baghdad are down to 12 or so a day, according to the US military (take with a grain of salt), down from 46 a day last year. These days there are only a few dozen bodies appearing in the streets every morning, compared to a hundred or so a year ago. [Gosh, I love the smell of major success and rotting corpses in the morning.]

And ironies of ironies, when he visited Fallujah recently (unembedded), site of two major battles involving the Marines in 2004, he found that the very same people we were fighting back then are back in control of the city. They were insurgents, dead-enders, terrorists then; now they're our good buddies. It's just a love fest going on in Fallujah, but there is the slightest of chance that the Sunni insurgents we're paying and arming with shiny new weapons might be just retooling and biding their time before they renew their fight against us and the Shiites.

Coburn spoke with the local tribal chief (whose brother is the chief of police of Fallujah) who claims he's got 13,000 fighters at his disposal. At the time Coburn talked with him, he was saying he'd about had it with the Americans and was going to go back on the offensive in three months. That was three months ago.

Tensions have been rising over the past month between the former insurgents and the US military. On Feb. 4 a US air strike killed 9 civilians, including a child, in Iskandariyah when a helicopter gunship mistook our good buddies the concerned citizens for insurgents (how could they make a mistake like that?). On the 17 another two Sons of Iraq were killed in a mistaken shoot-out with US troops just south of Baghdad. Col. Tom James of the Army's Fourth Brigade, 3rd ID says "It's a very, very complex environment out there." [LATimes]

Boy, he can say that again.

Another complex issue confronting the US and Iraqi security forces is AQI introducing women suicide bombers, many mentally ill, into the mix. The Iraqis have an answer for that, though, the AP reports:

"The Iraqi Interior Minister ordered police yesterday to begin rounding up beggars, the homeless, and mentally disable people from the streets of Baghdad and other cities to prevent insurgents from using them as suicide bombers. . . Those detained in the Baghdad sweep will be handed over to social-welfare institutions and psychiatric hospitals that can provide shelter and care for them, said and Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman, Maj. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf."

That's very reassuring, I'm sure they'll all be safe and sound in an Iraqi mental hospital. Except for the fact that the AP reports that Iraqi's medical care has fallen to the brink of collapse.

"According to figures the Iraqi Health Ministry released earlier this year, 618 medical employees, including 132 doctors, as well as medics and other health-care workers [like psychiatric workers?] have been killed nationwide since 2003, among the professionals from many fields caught up in Iraq's sectarian violence. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of other medical personnel are believed to have fled to Iraq's northern semiautonomous Kurdistan region and neighboring countries."

How does Anthony Cordesman expect Iraq to "emerge" as a stable state without water, electricity, hospitals, schools and pretty much everything else a country needs to function? Just because two of the three or four sides in Iraq's multi-pronged civil war are taking a breather doesn't mean we're on our way to nirvana on the Euphrates in just eight short years. If we really want to stick this one out, we're talking a few more trillion bucks and a couple more generations of American kids to see it through. Maybe, John McCain is right, maybe we will be there for a hundred years; that's not progress though, that's called bankruptcy.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Utah: the "shoot me" state.

I always knew there was a reason to avoid the state of Utah at all costs. CNN reports that due to a ruling by the State's Supreme Court in 2006, the ban on students carrying weapons on the state's collge campus' has been lifted. CNN interviewed "Nick" a senior at the University of Utah who says he straps on some heat before heading off to class every day.

"[Nick] gets dressed and then decides which gun is easiest to conceal under his clothes. If he's wearing a T-shirt, he'll take a smaller, low-profile gun to class. If he's wearing a coat, he may carry a different weapon, he said."

Like what, an AK-47 or something?

According to the story, the University is appealing the anti-ban ruling but now the state legislature is getting involved, "considering a bill to modify current law to allow people in Utah -- including students -- to carry loaded weapons openly."

Hey, what could be better? Not only would students walking around campus openly carrying weapons make the place look like the Green Zone in Baghdad, it would also allow any potential mass shooter to avoid that person and move on to anyone stupid enough not to be packing.

Utah State Representative Curtis Oda, who is sponsoring the new legislation says, "When you see someone with a gun, you are looking at some of the most law-abiding people in the state."
Right, or you're looking at some lunatic about to blow you away.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A free Kosova forever? Not so much.

This Sunday, the little Serbian province of Kosova declared its independence from Serbia, creating yet another headache for W. & Co., one more they probably won't be able to handle any better than all the others. After some hemming and hawing, the United States recognized the mouse that roared as a sovereign nation and most of the EU did, too, but the heady news of another nation joining the international community hasn't exactly been embraced universally. The countries that don't have separatist problems like Italy, Germany, Britain and France went along, but Spain for instance, which does, decided not to.

Russia reacted badly to the news, as might be expected, and Vlad & Co. are sure to make the lives of any country within range of Gazprom that does go along with Kosova independence a living hell. Angry rumblings from Russian have already begun, with the Georgian provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhasia claiming they have to right to succeed and now even the Moldovan region of Trans-Dniester saying they've got a claim on independence. Of course, if they did that a very convenient smuggling route would be messed up for the Russians, so don't hold your breath on that one. And China isn't about to cheer the news of a small group of splitists going their own way. Next thing you know, the Taiwanese or the Tibetans will be getting dangerous ideas of their own.

Condi says Kosova is a "special case," though, so no one else should get any funny ideas. I'm sure that line of reasoning will go a long way, judging from the high esteem Condi has throughout the world. W. says, "History will prove this to be the correct move to bring peace to the Balkans." (Now he's interested in what history will say!) Such recognition "presents an opportunity to move beyond conflicts of the past and toward a future of freedom and stability and peace."

Uh huh, so what about Kurdish independence? I mean, that's a special case, too, right? Haven't the Kurds suffered enough? Didn't the Sunnis led by another genocidal maniac, Saddam, kill tens of thousands of them, too? And what about the Shiites in the south of Iraq? Didn't Saddam kill thousands of them as well?

I'm of two minds about this issue. One the one hand, I can understand the feelings of the Kosovar Albanians wanting to be free of the Serbs, I fully supported our very late intervention on their behalf against the genocidal Slobodan Milosevic, but on the other hand the only thing Kosova has going for it as far as becoming a viable nation is UN and EU hand-outs and NATO troop to protect them. Just look at the case of Timor-Lest, another small nation created out of good intentions. When, if ever, are the Kosovars going to be able to stand to their own two feet without massive amounts of help from us?

One thing in our favor in support of the Kosovars is that they are a group of secular-leaning Muslims we're actually protecting, not bombing or locking up. That sort of thing flies right in the face of jihadist rhetoric about the West's supposed war against Islam. On the other hand, we're not doing much for the other significant group of secular Muslims, the Palestinians, so it's pretty much of a wash I guess.

I'm still trying to wrap my head around this whole thing, but I think that since the United States has already gone to so much trouble for Kosovars, we have to support them to the hilt when it comes to making sure they're able to make a go of it. If we equivocate now or try to weasel out of our responsibility for encouraging them to take the leap, then we might wind up creating a failed state in the heart of Europe, one that would be populated by a good number of angry, impoverished Muslims who might over time could become prime jihadi recruits. And we can't allow our good friends the Saudis to start building their Wahhabi madrassas in Kosova, like they have in Bosnia, laying the groundwork for al-Qaeda to move right in with ease.

Overall, I guess Kosovar independence is a good thing, as long as Hashim Thaci & Co. remember they have to make nice to the Serbs still living there, especially the ones in Mitrovica, and protect the Serbian churches and historical sites. Because, if they don't do the right thing they'll be giving the Serbs and the Russians the ammunition they need to make the case that they're the injured parties there, not the other way around.

As an indication of the coming "freedom and stability and peace" in the Balkans, AP reports:

"Thousands of Serbs chanting 'Kosovo is Serbia' marched Tuesday to a bridge dividing them from ethnic Albanians while others torched U.N. border checkpoints and cars to protest Kosovo's declaration of independence. . . Smoke billowed from two checkpoints separating Kosovo from Serbia and flames engulfed several U.N. vehicles set ablaze in protest against Kosovo's weekend proclamation of independence and anger over international recognition of the new nation."

In any case, let’s hope the EU is able to keep a lid on the situation after they take over. The fact that the countries of the EU are basically split down the middle over Kosova, doesn't make such an outcome especially fortuitous. It would be nice to think the next administration would continue to fully back Kosova and its aspirations for statehood, but that might be wishful thinking considering all the other problems W. will be leaving it with. With hungry, angry Russian bear breathing down their necks, the Kosovars are setting off down a dangerous path. Let's hope this doesn’t come back to bite us in the ass, too.

Obama and Hillary misfire on guns again!

I just mention in passing that there was another mass shooting last Thursday at a school in Illinois. (What, does that make five in the last week; I've lost count?) This time a former student dressed in a black trenchcoat -- how passé -- emptied an arsenal of weapons into a class of 150 or so graduate students inside a lecture hall at Northern Illinois University in Decalb, Ill, killing 7, wounding 16 and then turning the gun on himself. A student who was in the lecture hall when the shooting began said, "This guy came from behind where the professor was speaking and began shooting. He shot, emptied out the gun, and nonchalantly began reloading." [AP]

The shooter, Steven Kazierczak, apparently had gone off his meds at some point and then bagan to plot the slaughter. As usual, Kazierczak was described by those who knew him as a good kid no one would have ever expected would do such a thing. The University's chief of public safety, Donald Grady, is quoted saying, "There were no red flags, it's unlikely that anyone could have the ability to stop an incident like this from beginning,"[AC] just like all the others.

Of course, there is the possiblilty that if he hadn't been able to amass such a cache of guns, his rampage might have been a lot less deadlier. Before the attack Kazierczak legally purchased two guns; a 12-guage shotgun and a 9mm Glock (if only Shirely Katz had been there!) from a gunshop in Champaign and the other two guns he brought to the party, a 9mm and a .38 caliber, are still being traced. Gun nuts always say that guns don't kill, people do; that a killer will always find a way to kill, but I think he would have had a much tougher time killing and wounding 22 people with a knife or a bow and arrow.

What's really interesting about this story is that the shooting took place just outside of Chicago, a city two of the three leading presidential hopefulls call home. Seems to me we haven't heard too much about all this murder and mayhem going on from Barack or Hillary. Hillary was all over the recall of 143 millon pounds of sketchy meat -- all the result, naturally, of a few bad apples at Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. of Chino Ca. -- she's got a plan, but nothing about a gun massacre in her own neighborhood.

Where are these two change agents on guns?

Here are their strong views on gun violence:


"I am deeply saddened by the senseless crime which took place yesterday at Northern Illinois University. My heart goes out to the victims and their loved ones. As a mother, I cannot begin to imagine the heartbreak and sadness wracking these families. They are in my prayers."

[Naturally, a mother is also concerned about American's Second Amendment rights being protected, I guess.]


"Michelle and I were heartbroken to learn about the terrible tragedy that occurred in DeKalb today, and our thoughts and our prayers are with the victims and their families. While the full details are still unclear, what is clear is that this kind of senseless violence must stop, and all of us have a responsibility to do what we can to stop it."

Right, but let's not go crazy or anything. What we can do "is to provide just some common-sense enforcement." [Obama on the issues]

I feel a lot of real change coming down the pike, don't you?
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