More News — April 2-9, 2004

"'I Saw Papers that Show US Knew al-Qa'ida Would Attack Cities with Aeroplanes'" -- Andrew Buncombe in The Independent, 4/2/04:

A former translator for the FBI with top-secret security clearance says she has provided information to the panel investigating the 11 September attacks which proves senior officials knew of al-Qa'ida's plans to attack the US with aircraft months before the strikes happened.

She said the claim by the National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, that there was no such information was "an outrageous lie".

Sibel Edmonds said she spent more than three hours in a closed session with the commission's investigators providing information that was circulating within the FBI in the spring and summer of 2001 suggesting that an attack using aircraft was just months away and the terrorists were in place. The Bush administration, meanwhile, has sought to silence her and has obtained a gagging order from a court by citing the rarely used "state secrets privilege".

She told The Independent yesterday: "I gave [the commission] details of specific investigation files, the specific dates, specific target information, specific managers in charge of the investigation. I gave them everything so that they could go back and follow up. This is not hearsay. These are things that are documented. These things can be established very easily."

She added: "There was general information about the time-frame, about methods to be used ? but not specifically about how they would be used ? and about people being in place and who was ordering these sorts of terror attacks. There were other cities that were mentioned. Major cities ? with skyscrapers."

The accusations from Mrs Edmonds, 33, a Turkish-American who speaks Azerbaijani, Farsi, Turkish and English, will reignite the controversy over whether the administration ignored warnings about al-Qa'ida. That controversy was sparked most recently by Richard Clarke, a former counter-terrorism official, who has accused the administration of ignoring his warnings. . . .

Mrs Edmonds, 33, says she gave her evidence to the commission in a specially constructed "secure" room at its offices in Washington on 11 February. She was hired as a translator for the FBI's Washington field office on 13 September 2001, just two days after the al-Qa'ida attacks. Her job was to translate documents and recordings from FBI wire-taps.

She said said it was clear there was sufficient information during the spring and summer of 2001 to indicate terrorists were planning an attack. "Most of what I told the commission ? 90 per cent of it ? related to the investigations that I was involved in or just from working in the department. Two hundred translators side by side, you get to see and hear a lot of other things as well." . . .

It is impossible at this stage to verify Mrs Edmonds' claims. However, some senior US senators testified to her credibility in 2002 when she went public with separate allegations relating to alleged incompetence and corruption within the FBI's translation department.

Brad DeLong and Stephen Cohen on outsourcing at Brad DeLong's weblog, 4/2/04:

There is nobody in America who in the early 1990s worried more about the impact of trade on the wages of Americans in industries that came under pressure from foreign competition than H. Ross Perot. In his political career as advocate of deficit reduction and foe of NAFTA, there was nobody who clearly and visibly cared more about the long-run economic destiny of average Americans than H. Ross Perot. Yet on February 7, 2004, the Times of India reported that Perot Systems is going to double its employment in Asia from 3,500 to 7,000--which will then be half of Perot Systems' worldwide employment. Remember how H. Ross Perot used to talk about the "giant sucking sound" of U.S. jobs going to Mexico? It's not giant, but it is a sucking sound as people working for Perot Systems process medical bills and design software for other outsourcing operations in India. If the economic logic of "outsourcing" is the overwhelmingly powerful consideration for H. Ross Perot, for what American businesses will it not prove irresistible?

"Ban Is Eased on Editing Foreign Work" -- New York Times, 4/5/04:

WASHINGTON, April 4 ? The federal government has eased a ban on editing manuscripts from nations that are under United States trade embargoes, a move that appears to leave publishers free once again to edit scholarly works from Iran and other such countries.

The Treasury Department sent a letter on Friday to a lawyer for the Institute of Electronic and Electrical Engineers, an international group representing more than 360,000 engineers and scientists, saying the organization's peer review, editing and publishing was "not constrained" by regulations from the department's Office of Foreign Assets Control. The group says its members produce 30 percent of the world's literature in electrical and electronics engineering and computer science.

The letter from the Treasury Department referred specifically to publishing by the institute, but Arthur Winston, the group's president, said he believed the ruling would be "a relief for nearly everyone" in the scholarly publishing community.

"The ruling eliminates potentially disturbing U.S. government intrusions on our scholarly publishing process," Mr. Winston said.

No one at the Treasury Department could be reached for comment Sunday night on the ruling.

The department and publishers have long quarreled over the exemption of "information or informational materials" from the nation's trade embargoes. Congress has generally allowed such exemptions.

Nonetheless, the Treasury Department sent out advisory letters over the past year telling publishers who were editing material from a country under a trade embargo that they were forbidden to reorder paragraphs or sentences, correct syntax or grammar, replace "inappropriate words" or add illustrations.

The advisories concerned Iran, but experts said the ruling seemed to extend to Cuba, Libya, North Korea and other nations with which most trade is banned without a government license.

In theory, even routine editing on manuscripts from those countries could have subjected publishers to fines of $500,000 and 10 years in jail.

"7 U.S. Soldiers Die as a Shiite Militia Rises Up" -- John F. Burns in The New York Times, 4/5/04:

BAGHDAD, Iraq, April 4 ? A coordinated Shiite militia uprising against the American-led occupation rippled across Iraq on Sunday, reaching into Baghdad and the sprawling Shiite slum of Sadr City on the capital's outskirts and roiling the holy city of Najaf and at least two other cities in southern Iraq.

Seven American soldiers were killed in Sadr City, one of the worst single losses for the American forces in any firefight since Baghdad was captured a year ago.

An Iraqi health official in Najaf said 24 people had been killed and about 200 wounded in clashes that ensued when armed militiamen loyal to Moktada al-Sadr, a 31-year-old firebrand Shiite cleric, besieged a garrison commanded by Spanish troops on the road leading into Najaf from neighboring Kufa.

An American military spokesman said one Salvadoran soldier had been killed in Kufa and 13 soldiers wounded, including an American. All the other casualties were said to be Iraqis.

Within hours of a call by Mr. Sadr to his followers to "terrorize your enemy," his militiamen, said to number tens of thousands across Iraq, emerged into the streets of Baghdad, Najaf, Kufa and Amara, a city 250 miles south of Baghdad where four Iraqis were reported killed in clashes with British troops.

Baghdad, 2003

Forbidden to bear arms under a decree issued last year by the American occupation authority, the Sadr militiamen bristled with a wide array of weapons, including rocket-propelled grenades that were fired at American tanks in Sadr City.

Taking advantage of an American policy that has largely kept American and other occupation troops out of volatile Shiite population centers like Sadr City, Najaf and Kufa, the militiamen succeeded in taking control of checkpoints and police stations in all three cities that had been staffed by the new Iraqi-trained police and civil defense force.

Residents in the three centers said the Iraqis had abandoned their posts almost as soon as the militiamen appeared with their weapons, leaving the militiamen in unchallenged control ? and punching a huge hole in American hopes that American-trained Iraqis can be relied on increasingly to take over from American troops in providing security in Iraq's major cities.

The insurrection, which spread across the Shiite heartland in a matter of hours, came five days after the ambush in the predominantly Sunni Muslim city of Falluja, outside Baghdad, in which a mob mutilated the bodies of four American security guards and hanged two of them from a bridge. Together, the events in Falluja and the other cities on Sunday appeared likely to shake the American hold on Iraq more than anything since the invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein's government last April 9.

In effect, the militia attacks confronted the American military command with what has been its worst nightmare as it has struggled to pacify Iraq: the spread of an insurgency that has stretched a force of 130,000 American troops from the minority Sunni population to the majority Shiites, who are believed to account for about 60 percent of Iraq's population of 25 million.

"Private Guards Repel Attack on U.S. Headquarters" -- Dana Priest in The Washington Post, 4/6/04:

An attack by hundreds of Iraqi militia members on the U.S. government's headquarters in Najaf on Sunday was repulsed not by the U.S. military, but by eight commandos from a private security firm, according to sources familiar with the incident.

Before U.S. reinforcements could arrive, the firm, Blackwater Security Consulting, sent in its own helicopters amid an intense firefight to resupply its commandos with ammunition and to ferry out a wounded Marine, the sources said.

The role of Blackwater's commandos in Sunday's fighting in Najaf illuminates the gray zone between their formal role as bodyguards and the realities of operating in an active war zone. Thousands of armed private security contractors are operating in Iraq in a wide variety of missions and exchanging fire with Iraqis every day, according to informal after-action reports from several companies.

In Sunday's fighting, Shiite militia forces barraged the Blackwater commandos, four MPs and a Marine gunner with rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47 fire for hours before U.S. Special Forces troops arrived. A sniper on a nearby roof apparently wounded three men. U.S. troops faced heavy fighting in several Iraqi cities that day.

The Blackwater commandos, most of whom are former Special Forces troops, are on contract to provide security for the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Najaf. . . .

A Defense Department spokesman said that there were no military reports about the opening hours of the siege on CPA headquarters in Najaf because there were no military personnel on the scene. The Defense Department often does not have a clear handle on the daily actions of security contractors because the contractors work directly for the coalition authority, which coordinates and communicates on a limited basis through the normal military chain of command.

"Iraq Better Off under Saddam, Blix Says" -- The Toronto Star, 4/6/04:

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) -- Iraq is worse off now, after the U.S.-led invasion, than it was under Saddam Hussein, Hans Blix told a Danish newspaper today.

"What's positive is that Saddam and his bloody regime is gone, but when figuring out the score, the negatives weigh more," the former chief UN weapons inspector was quoted as saying in the daily newspaper Jyllands Posten.

"That accounts for the many casualties during the war and the many people who still die because of the terrorism the war has nourished," he said. "The war has liberated the Iraqis from Saddam, but the costs have been too great."

"Almost 300 Dead in Falluja Street Battles" -- George Wright in The Guardian, 4/8/04:

The US military admitted today that it had lost control of two cities to Shia militants as fierce fighting continued to rage across Iraq.

Despite attempts by Washington to play down the scale of the uprisings that have swept the country, Lieutenant-General Ricardo Sanchez said today that coalition troops in Najaf and Kut had been fought back by militants loyal to radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

He said coalition soldiers - Ukrainians in Kut and Spaniards in Najaf - had retreated to their bases on the outskirts of the cities, effectively ceding control to the Shia fighters.

He vowed to retake Kut "imminently", while conceding that the presence of large numbers of pilgrims in the holy city of Najaf for a religious festival could hamper any coalition counter-offensive. The coalition denied reports that some of its soldiers had been taken hostage by Shia militants in Najaf yesterday.

In a further setback to the coalition on what has been the bloodiest week since the end of the war on year ago, Al-Jazeera television broadcast footage of three Japanese, including one woman, dressed in civilian clothes it said were taken hostage by an Iraqi group.

The hitherto unknown group - Saraya al-Mujahideen - threatened to kill the captives unless Japan withdrew its troops from Iraq within three days.

Meanwhile, US forces sustained further casualties in fierce hand-to-hand battles with militants on the streets of Falluja, where local doctors said the Iraqi death toll had reached almost 300 in the last three days.

The US assault on Falluja began early on Monday, when marines surrounded the city of more than 200,000 people. Since then, US forces have been waging heavy street battles, using warplanes and tanks against Sunni insurgents in heavily populated districts who have dug themselves in.

Taher al-Issawi, a doctor in the besieged city's hospital, said today that more than 280 Iraqis have been killed and 400 wounded during the offensive. He told the Associated Press there were many more dead and wounded "in various places buried under rubble" who could not be reached because of fighting.

According to a report on Al-Jazeera news, at least 45 Iraqis were killed yesterday - including a family sitting in a car parked behind the Abd al-Aziz al-Samarai mosque compound when it was bombed by a US plane.

Baghdad, 2003

A spokesman for Iraq Body Count criticised the US tactics for putting the lives of civilians in at risk.

"The recent upsurge in violence has emphasised yet again that it is innocent Iraqi civilians who are the main victims of the US-led war and occupation. Up to 11,000 civilians are now reported killed since the invasion. Although we regret the loss of military lives too, military people have chosen to put their lives at risk. Civilians have no choice," he said.

"The US has responded to the deaths of four security contractors in Falluja with the killing of 16 children. This is not the 'winning of hearts and minds' but the destruction of human life and hope. The continuing failure of the USA and the UK to acknowledge the costs of their policies in civilian deaths further undermines the prospects for peace and reconciliation in Iraq."

Despite the air strike and a six-hour gun battle yesterday, insurgents still appeared to be using the area around the mosque as a base today and a fresh assault was under way to uproot them. . . .

In other developments, Iraqi interior minister Nouri Badran, who is responsible for Iraq's hard-pressed security forces, announced his resignation today.

Mr Badran's decision did not appear to be directly related to the turmoil sweeping the country. According to the Associated Press, he stepped down at the request of Iraq's US administrator Paul Bremer to maintain the Shia-Sunni balance in the government.

Mr Badran, a Shia Muslim, said he had been told that the US-led administration believed the defence minister and interior minister should not both be Shia. A new defence minister's position was created this month and filled by a Shia official.

However, critics will point to the fact that Mr Badran may have been forced to leave because the Iraqi police forces he controls have proved wholly ineffective in the face of sustained attacks by insurgents.

"Account of Broad Shiite Revolt Contradicts White House Stand" -- James Risen in The New York Times, 4/8/04:

WASHINGTON, April 7 ? United States forces are confronting a broad-based Shiite uprising that goes well beyond supporters of one militant Islamic cleric who has been the focus of American counterinsurgency efforts, United States intelligence officials said Wednesday.

That assertion contradicts repeated statements by the Bush administration and American officials in Iraq. On Wednesday, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that they did not believe the United States was facing a broad-based Shiite insurgency. Administration officials have portrayed Moktada al-Sadr, a rebel Shiite cleric who is wanted by American forces, as the catalyst of the rising violence within the Shiite community of Iraq.

But intelligence officials now say that there is evidence that the insurgency goes beyond Mr. Sadr and his militia, and that a much larger number of Shiites have turned against the American-led occupation of Iraq, even if they are not all actively aiding the uprising.

A year ago, many Shiites rejoiced at the American invasion and the toppling of Saddam Hussein, a Sunni who had brutally repressed the Shiites for decades. But American intelligence officials now believe that hatred of the American occupation has spread rapidly among Shiites, and is now so large that Mr. Sadr and his forces represent just one element..

Meanwhile, American intelligence has not yet detected signs of coordination between the Sunni rebellion in Iraq's heartland and the Shiite insurgency. But United States intelligence says that the Sunni rebellion also goes far beyond former Baathist government members. Sunni tribal leaders, particularly in Al Anbar Province, home to Ramadi, the provincial capital, and Falluja, have turned against the United States and are helping to lead the Sunni rebellion, intelligence officials say.

The result is that the United States is facing two broad-based insurgencies that are now on parallel tracks.

The spatial decline of political competition in American communities: Articles by Bill Bishop in the Austin American-Statesman, 4/4/04 and 4/8/04.

"The Issue Is Iraq" -- Michael Hirsch in Newsweek (online), 4/8/04:

The 9/11 Commission is a historical inquiry. Yet so much has happened since that dreadful day in 2001 that the commission?s findings are likely to be mere footnotes in future history books, even if they come to any definitive conclusion at all about whether 9/11 was preventable?and that?s an unlikely prospect, frankly. Iraq, on the other hand, will take up whole shelves of libraries in decades ahead. And the pages of that history are being written now, moment by moment.

This was always Richard Clarke?s main point as well. Rice?s former counterterrorism deputy, whose incendiary accusations have framed the entire commission inquiry, made clear that the reason he quit the administration in disgust and turned his back on his former bosses was the decision to attack Iraq. ?Many thought that the Bush administration was doing a good job of fighting terrorism when, actually, the administration had squandered the opportunity to eliminate Al Qaeda and instead strengthened our enemies by going off on a completely unnecessary tangent, the invasion of Iraq,? Clarke writes on the first page of his new book, ?Against All Enemies.?

This week?s headlines in Iraq, coming on top of a year of revelations, seemed to vindicate him. The overwhelming evidence that Iraq was not anything close to an imminent threat, on WMD or anything else; that whatever emerges from that nation now is not going to be a quick fix for America's strategic position; that in fact the terror threat was largely stateless, not state-sponsored; that America did not have the resources or ability to destroy Al Qaeda and transform Iraq at the same time?all this suggests that Clarke's central critique, the one still being shunted aside as we all buzz about Condi's big day, is probably on target.

For too long, official Washington, not to mention the nation?s leading pundits, have been missing the real elephant in the 9/11 hearing room: whether the Bush administration has completely misconceived the war on terror. Even John Kerry, Bush?s rival in November, seems reluctant to come out and say this as forthrightly as Clarke has. Indeed, the public may be getting there ahead of the pundits. The president finds his once-soaring ratings as a ?war president? falling into a growing credibility gap as every day brings fresh evidence that this critique is true.

Something clearly has gone very wrong. Al Qaeda knocked down those buildings on 9/11. And Al Qaeda was, at that time, a unique phenomenon, the only terrorist group of global reach that had declared war on America globally. Hamas, Hezbollah, and Al Qaeda ?franchises? like Jemaah Islamiyah in Indonesia were all local or regional. America, this critique goes, had only one task after 9/11: to destroy Al Qaeda utterly, to cauterize it from the planet and replace its influence and that of its chief political ally, the Taliban, with something more civilized in the region they called home, Afghanistan and Pakistan. That would have really sent a message of American power. Yet we allowed our attention, money and military and intelligence resources to be diverted; worse, we permitted the ?war? on terror to grow into a strategic monstrosity, a lashing-out in all directions with no end to it in sight. We permitted Al Qaeda?and the Taliban?to linger on in the world far past what should have been their meager shelf live, thus inspiring other groups to follow in Osama bin Laden?s footsteps.