Contents: The Sir! No Sir! blog is an information clearing house, drawing on a wide variety of sources, to track the unfolding history of the new GI Movement, and the wars that brought the movement to life.
Where applicable, parallels will be drawn between the new movement and the Vietnam era movement which was the focus of the film Sir! No Sir!
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This article, by Saad Shalash and Waleed Ibrahim, was distributred by Reuters, October 25, 2009
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Two suicide bombs tore through Baghdad on Sunday, killing 132 people, wounding more than 500 and leaving mangled bodies and cars on the streets in one of Iraq's deadliest days this year.
The two blasts shredded buildings and smoke billowed from the area near the Tigris River. The first bomb targeted the Justice Ministry and the second, minutes later, was aimed at the nearby provincial government building, police said.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's office said that the bombs were meant to sow chaos in Iraq similar to attacks on August 19 against the finance and foreign ministries, and were aimed at stopping an election in January.
"It is the same black hands who are covered in the blood of the Iraqi people," a statement from Maliki's office said. "They want to cause chaos in the nation, hinder the political process and prevent the parliamentary election."
U.S. President Barack Obama said the bombings were outrageous and the White House said he had called Maliki and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani to pledge to "stand with the Iraqis."
"These bombings serve no purpose other than the murder of innocent men, women and children, and they only reveal the hateful and destructive agenda of those who would deny the Iraqi people the future that they deserve," Obama said in a statement.
Violence has fallen since U.S.-backed tribal sheikhs helped wrest control from al Qaeda and Washington sent extra troops.
But attacks are still common in a nation trying to rebuild from years of conflict and prepare for the election at the same time as U.S. forces start to withdraw.
Officials have blamed unnamed neighbours for not stopping the attacks -- a reference to Iraqi complaints that Syria provides a safe haven for former Baathists while citizens of other Sunni Muslim states help fund the insurgency in Iraq. Iran, meanwhile, has been accused of funding and arming Shi'ite militia.
"The neighboring and distant countries should immediately refrain, forever, from harboring, financing and facilitating forces that openly proclaim their hostility to the Iraqi state," Talabani said in a statement.
Attacks could rise in the run-up to the election -- the second national vote since U.S. troops invaded in 2003 -- as forces in and around Iraq jockey for influence over the world's third largest oil reserves.
Some lawmakers criticized the security forces for failing to stop the attack. Government officials blamed the bombings on al Qaeda or remnants of former leader Saddam Hussein's Baath party. "Big Failure"
The area near the provincial building was flooded and fire fighters pulled charred and torn corpses off the streets. Burned cars piled up nearby. Workers on cranes combed the broken facade of the Justice Ministry, pulling out bodies wrapped in blankets.
"I don't know how I'm still alive. The explosion destroyed everything. Nothing is still in its place," shop owner Hamid Saadi told Reuters by telephone from near the Justice Ministry.
U.S. forces provided forensics teams and bomb experts.
Police sources said the bombs were carried in vans driven by suicide bombers while others said a truck and car were used.
The al-Mansour hotel, which houses the Chinese embassy and several foreign media groups, was also damaged.
U.S. officials say the attacks are aimed at reigniting the sectarian conflict that gripped Iraq after the U.S.-led invasion that deposed Saddam, or at undermining confidence in Maliki before the parliamentary poll.
Maliki is widely expected to campaign on improved security. The attacks were launched as his government tries to sign multi-billion dollar crude deals, expected to turn Iraq into the world's third largest oil producer.
The bombings raise doubts about the Iraqi forces' ability to take over overall security from U.S. soldiers who pulled out of Iraqi city centers in June ahead of the complete withdrawal from the country by the end of 2011.
"This breach is a big failure of the security forces who are responsible, along with the security officials, for what happened," said Jalal al-Din al-Sagheer, who heads the parliamentary bloc of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, one of Maliki's main Shi'ite rivals in the coming election.
This article, by Gareth Porter, was posted to ipsnews.net, October 15, 2009
WASHINGTON, Oct 15 (IPS) - A veteran Army officer who has served in both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars warns in an analysis now circulating in Washington that the counterinsurgency strategy urged by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal is likely to strengthen the Afghan insurgency, and calls for withdrawal of the bulk of U.S. combat forces from the country over 18 months.
In a 63-page paper representing his personal views, but reflecting conversations with other officers who have served in Afghanistan, Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis argues that it is already too late for U.S. forces to defeat the insurgency.
"Many experts in and from Afghanistan warn that our presence over the past eight years has already hardened a meaningful percentage of the population into viewing the United States as an army of occupation which should be opposed and resisted," writes Davis.
Providing the additional 40,000 troops that Gen. McChrystal has reportedly requested "is almost certain to further exacerbate" that problem, he warns.
Davis was a liaison officer between the Combined Forces Command - Afghanistan (CFC-A) and the Central Command in 2005, just as the Afghan insurgency was becoming a significant problem for the U.S. military. In that assignment he both consulted with the top U.S. officers and staff of the CFC-A and traveled widely throughout Afghanistan visiting U.S. and NATO combat units.
He also commanded a U.S. military transition team on the Iraqi border with Iran in 2008-09.
In the paper, Davis suggests what he calls a "Go Deep" strategy as an alternative to the recommendation from McChrystal for a larger counterinsurgency effort, which he calls "Go Big".
The "Go Deep" strategy proposed by Davis would establish an 18-month time frame during which the bulk of U.S. and NATO combat forces would be withdrawn from the country. It would leave U.S. Special Forces and their supporting units, and enough conventional forces in Kabul to train Afghan troops and police and provide protection for U.S. personnel.
The forces that continue to operate in insurgent-dominated areas would wage "an aggressive counterterrorism effort" aimed in part at identifying Taliban and al Qaeda operatives. The strategy would also provide support for improved Afghan governance and training for security forces.
Davis argues that a large and growing U.S. military presence would make it more difficult to achieve this counterterrorism objective. By withdrawing conventional forces from the countryside, he suggests, U.S. strategy would deprive the insurgents of "easily identifiable and lucrative targets against which to launch attacks".
Typically insurgents attack U.S. positions not for any tactical military objective, Davis writes, but to gain a propaganda victory.
The "Go Deep" strategy outlined in the paper appears to parallel the shift in strategy from counterinsurgency to counterterrorism being proposed by some officials in discussions in the White House in recent weeks.
After reading Davis's paper, Col. Patrick Lang, formerly the defence intelligence officer for the Middle East, told IPS he regards the "Go Deep" strategy as "a fair representation of the alternative to the one option in General McChrystal's assessment".
Lang said he doubts that those advising Obama to shift to a counterterrorism strategy are calling specifically for the withdrawal of most combat troops, but he believes such a withdrawal "is certainly implicit in the argument".
Davis told IPS he was surprised to hear from one official in a high position in Washington whose reaction to his paper was that what he is proposing in place of the "Go Big" option is still "too big".
Davis said his views on U.S. strategy in Afghanistan have been shaped both by his personal experiences traveling throughout Afghanistan during his 2005 tour of duty and by conversations with U.S. military officers who have recently returned from Afghanistan.
"Mostly it was guys who've been out there in the field," said Davis. "They have a different view from those who work in the headquarters."
"I think there's a whole lot of folks out there who agree with this," he said.
He was flown out of Iraq for medical treatment in early June after suffering a partial loss of vision, and has been temporarily reassigned to the Defence Intelligence Agency. However, Davis said he was not assigned to work on Afghanistan and did the work on his Afghanistan strategy paper entirely on his own.
Davis said he had received permission from his immediate supervisor at DIA to circulate his personal analysis and recommendations on Afghanistan on the condition that he used only unclassified, open source information.
In the paper, Davis argues that the counterinsurgency strategy recommended by McChrystal would actually require a far larger U.S. force than is now being proposed. Citing figures given by Marine Corps Col. Julian Dale Alford at a conference last month, Davis writes that training 400,000 Afghan army and police alone would take 18 brigades of U.S. troops – as many as 100,000 U.S. troops when the necessary support troops are added.
The objective of expanding the Afghan security forces to 400,000, as declared in McChrystal's "initial assessment", poses other major problems as well, according to Davis.
He observes that the costs of such an expansion have been estimated at three to four times more than Afghanistan's entire Gross Domestic Product. Davis asks what would happen if the economies of the states which have pledged to support those Afghan personnel come under severe pressures and do not continue the support indefinitely.
"It would be irresponsible to increase the size of the military to that level," he writes, "convincing hundreds of thousands of additional Afghan men to join, giving them field training and weapons, and then at some point suddenly cease funding, throwing tens of thousands out of work."
The result, he suggests, would be similar to what followed the U.S. failure to reassemble the Iraqi Army after the invasion of March 2003.
Davis also cites "growing anecdotal evidence" that popular anger at the abuses of power by the Afghan National Police has increased support for the insurgency.
He calls for scaling back the increase in Afghan security forces to the original targets of 134,000 Army troops and 80,000 national police. The crucial factor in determining the future of the country, he argues, is not the numbers of security personnel but whether they continue to abuse the population.
If that pattern of behaviour were to change dramatically, Davis says, "the number of Taliban fighters will dwindle to manageable numbers as those presently filling their ranks will no longer be motivated to fight".
Davis challenges two arguments now being made in support of the counterinsurgency war in Afghanistan based on the Iraq experience: that a troop surge would help establish security and that the U.S. military can reduce insurgency by replicating the "Sons of Iraq" programme of bringing insurgents into militias that oppose their former allies.
The "surge" in Iraq was successful for a variety of reasons peculiar to Iraq and not duplicated in Afghanistan, Davis argues. And the "Sons of Iraq" was primarily the result of the alienation of the Sunni population by al Qaeda, which trumped Sunni opposition to the U.S. presence.
"[T]here is little to suggest," he writes in reference to the areas where the Taliban has gained power, "that the population as a whole has reached a tipping point whereby they are ready to support the coalition against the Taliban."
Challenging the argument of supporters of a larger war effort that it is necessary to avoid an increased risk of new terrorist attacks, Davis argues that being "myopically focused" on Afghanistan "at the expense of the rest of the world" increases the likelihood of an attack.
The present level of U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan, he writes, will "make it more likely that terrorist organizations will take advantage of the opportunity to plan and train elsewhere for the next big attack."
This article, by Oliver Augiust, was posted to the Times Online, October 20, 2009
President Obama’s pledge to withdraw US troops from Iraq and end combat operations there by September 2010 is under threat because of increased levels of violence and bickering within the Iraqi parliament, the top US general in the country has told The Times.
General Ray Odierno said that militant groups were likely to conduct a bloody campaign in the months ahead, as Iraqis prepare for national elections at the beginning of next year.
“It’s clear that al-Qaeda and other groups do not want the elections to occur,” he said in an interview. “What I think they will try to do is discourage people from voting by undermining the authority of the Government of Iraq with attacks, so that people lose faith in the democratic process.”
The Iraqi parliament has failed repeatedly to pass a new election law because of arguments over whether ballot papers should give the names of candidates, or of parties only. MPs are now talking about delaying the election, planned for January 16.
The prospect was causing the US serious concern, said General Odierno. “I worry that it calls into question the Iraqi commitment to this form of government. If the parliament doesn’t pass the election law and they delay the elections, that violates their own constitution, which says they have to have elections in January.”
A postponement would almost certainly affect the US President’s pledge to end combat operations in Iraq by August 31 next year and to withdraw all US troops by the end of 2011.
General Odierno said he had hoped to send as many as 70,000 soldiers home between March and August, but would keep troop strengths at current levels until 30 to 60 days after elections to ensure a safe transfer of power.
This timetable gave him little room for manoeuvre, he said. “We would have to make a decision on whether we continue to draw down on the current timeline or delay it. Obviously that’s a decision made by the President, but I’d certainly have to provide recommendations on what our position should be.
“Our plan here will influence how they decide to implement what decision they make on Afghanistan,” he said of a possible second surge being debated by the White House. If troop levels in Iraq remain higher than planned, freshly trained US brigades will be needed to replace those finishing their tours of duty, and would not be available for Afghanistan.
General Odierno, who commands 120,000 troops from one of Saddam’s old palaces near Baghdad airport, highlighted the Kurdish regions in the north as being particularly vulnerable to insurgents. “Al-Qaeda is trying to re-establish a foothold in the north and then extend out,” he said. Since early summer, the ethnically mixed areas around the cities of Mosul and Kirkuk have seen countless attacks.
“We are trying to find solutions for how we can reduce the tensions between Kurds and Arabs. Al-Qaeda is trying to exploit the fissures.”
In addition, he said, Anbar province — where US forces fought some of the most bitter battles early in the occupation — was again showing signs of terrorist activity. “The last ten days have gotten my attention,” General Odierno said of the province, which is the centre of the Sons of Iraq alliance between Sunni tribes and the Americans. Last week there were several attacks on urban areas and bridges.
“We believe we have some cells that are starting to re-emerge in Anbar and we are watching closely. We will work very hard to eliminate those cells.”
This article, by Jeremy Scahill, was published by The Nation, October 22, 2009
On Wednesday, a federal judge rejected a series of arguments by lawyers for the mercenary firm formerly known as Blackwater seeking to dismiss five high-stakes war crimes cases brought by Iraqi victims against both the company and its owner, Erik Prince. At the same time, Judge T.S. Ellis III sent the Iraqis' lawyers back to the legal drawing board to amend and refile their cases, saying that the Iraqi plaintiffs need to provide more specific details on the alleged crimes before a final decision can be made on whether or not the lawsuits will proceed.
"We were very pleased with the ruling," says Susan Burke, the lead attorney for the Iraqis. Burke, who filed the lawsuits in cooperation with the Center for Constitutional Rights, is now preparing to re-file the suits. Blackwater's spokesperson Stacy DeLuke said, "We are confident that [the plaintiffs] will not be able to meet the high standard specified in Judge Ellis's opinion."
Ellis's ruling was not necessarily a response to faulty pleadings by the Iraqis' lawyers but rather appears to be the result of a Supreme Court decision that came down after the Blackwater cases were originally filed. In a 5-4 ruling in May 2009 in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, the court reversed decades of case law and imposed much more stringent standards for plaintiffs' documentation of facts before going to trial. According to Ellis's ruling, which cites Iqbal, the Iraqis must now file complaints that meet these new standards.
Judge Ellis, a Reagan appointee with a mixed record on national security issues, rejected several of the central arguments Blackwater made in its motion to dismiss, namely the company's contention that it cannot be sued by the Iraqis under US law and that the company should not be subjected to potential punitive damages in the cases. The Iraqi victims brought their suits under the Alien Tort Statute, which allows for litigation in US courts for violations of fundamental human rights committed overseas by individuals or corporations with a US presence. Ellis said that Blackwater's argument that it cannot be sued under the ATS is "unavailing," adding that corporations and individuals can both be held responsible for crimes and torts. He said bluntly that "claims alleging direct corporate liability for war crimes" are legitimate under the statute.
Ellis also rejected Blackwater's argument that "conduct constitutes a war crime only if it is perpetrated in furtherance of a 'military objective' rather than for economic or ideological reasons." Ellis said that under Blackwater's logic "it is arguable that nobody who receives a paycheck would ever be liable for war crimes. Moreover, so narrow is the scope of [Blackwater's] standard that it would exclude murders of civilians committed by soldiers where there was no legitimate 'military objective' for committing the murders."
"What is important here is that the judge is saying that violations of war crimes can be committed by private people or corporations," says Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights. He said Ellis's ruling is "an affirmation of the precedent set by CCR thirty years ago" when it brought the first successful Alien Tort suit in 200 years "that those who engage in violations of fundamental human rights abroad can be held liable in the US." Ellis's ruling, he says, "is sympathetic to the idea that the Blackwater case is an appropriate use of the law."
But Ellis also ruled that the Iraqi plaintiffs failed to provide sufficient specific details linking Blackwater's owner Erik Prince to the alleged murders and other crimes in Iraq. In order for the case to proceed against Prince, Ellis wrote, "the complaints must state facts that would allow a trier of fact plausibly to infer that Prince intentionally killed or inflicted serious bodily harm on innocent civilians during an armed conflict and in the context of and in association with that armed conflict." The plaintiffs, Ellis ruled, "have failed to meet this burden."
In a hearing on August 28, Burke said that she has evidence that Prince ordered or directed the killings of innocent Iraqis and at that time asked Judge Ellis permission to later amend her cases if Ellis ruled that, in light of the Iqbal decision, such information was necessary for the cases to proceed. In his ruling, Ellis granted Burke's request in four of the five cases. In one case, involving the alleged murder of a bodyguard for the Iraqi vice president by a drunken Blackwater operative, Andrew Moonen, on Christmas Eve 2006 inside the Green Zone, Ellis found that there was insufficient evidence to suggest Prince "intentionally killed" the bodyguard or that his "conduct proximately caused the decedent's death."
In the four other cases, which include 18 Iraqi civilians allegedly killed by Blackwater, Ellis ruled that Burke could refile her claim with more details about Prince's alleged involvement and the role of the Blackwater corporation in the killings. Ellis found that the cases "could be amended to add factual allegations that would permit plausible inferences that Prince and Xe [Blackwater] defendants ordered killings of innocent Iraqi civilians...and that defendants' conduct proximately caused the injuries or deaths to plaintiffs."
Ellis rejected Burke's allegation that Blackwater engaged in summary executions, saying that under the law such classification of killings "require[s] state action, and none is alleged here." Blackwater also made an argument that the cases should have been tried in Iraq--or that the Iraqis' lawyers should have exhausted that possibility before filing their cases in US courts. Ellis shot down that argument and pointed out that Blackwater's own lawyers admitted that under the Paul Bremer-era Order 17 in Iraq, Blackwater would have immunity for its crimes under Iraqi law. Ellis also rejected Blackwater's claim that punitive damages are not allowed in these types of cases. As Ellis wrote, Blackwater's lawyers "offer no support" for this argument "in the case law or from recognized international treatises."
One of the central thrusts of the Iraqis' suits against Blackwater is that Erik Prince is the head of an organized crime syndicate as defined by the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. RICO is a federal statute permitting private parties to seek redress from criminal enterprises who damage their property. Burke and CCR decided to sue Prince and his companies directly rather than his individual employees because they say Prince "wholly owns and controls this enterprise." They allege that Prince directed murders of Iraqi civilians from Blackwater's headquarters in Virginia and North Carolina. Ellis dismissed the claims that the Iraqis have standing under the RICO Act, but ruled that they can file an amended complaint that "Prince ordered or directed the killings allegedly committed in Iraq from within the United States, and that such conduct proximately caused the damage allegedly suffered by the RICO plaintiffs." In one of the cases, Ellis ruled that the four-year statute of limitations had expired for a RICO claim.
On August 3, lawyers for the Iraqis submitted two sworn declarations from former Blackwater employees alleging that Prince may have murdered or facilitated the murder of individuals who were cooperating with federal authorities investigating the company. One former employee alleged that Prince "views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe," and that Prince's companies "encouraged and rewarded the destruction of Iraqi life." What role, if any, these allegations will play in the amended complaints is unclear, but Burke insists she has evidence to back up all of her allegations.
Burke's case is also bolstered by the evidence the US government will present in its criminal case against Blackwater forces. On September 7, federal prosecutors in Washington, DC, submitted papers in the criminal case against five Blackwater operatives for their alleged role in the 2007 Nisour Square shooting in Baghdad that killed seventeen Iraqi civilians and wounded more than twenty others. Burke is representing many of these families in her civil case. Blackwater forces "fired at innocent Iraqis not because they actually believed that they were in imminent danger of serious bodily injury and actually believed that they had no alternative to the use of deadly force, but rather that they fired at innocent Iraqi civilians because of their hostility toward Iraqis and their grave indifference to the harm that their actions would cause," the acting US Attorney in DC, Channing Phillips, alleges in court papers submitted by Kenneth C. Kohl, the lead prosecutor on this case. "[T]he defendants specifically intended to kill or seriously injure the Iraqi civilians that they fired upon at [Nisour] Square." The government also alleges that one Blackwater operative "wanted to kill as many Iraqis as he could as 'payback for 9/11,' and he repeatedly boasted about the number of Iraqis he had shot," while "several of the defendants had harbored a deep hostility toward Iraqi civilians which they demonstrated in words and deeds."
In its motion to dismiss, Blackwater also argued that to allow the company to be sued for alleged crimes in a war zone would violate the rights of the president of the United States under the "political question doctrine" to not have a "second-guessing of the battlefield decisions of the U.S. government." Ellis rejected that outright and noted: "The United States has appeared as an interested party and argues that if defendants committed the alleged conduct, they were not acting as employees of the United States when they did so. Moreover, the government states that its contracts with defendants 'provided for multiple layers of [Xe defendants'] management to oversee the day-to-day operations' of its employees and that the employees were under the direct supervision of Xe defendants' management when the alleged conduct occurred."
Judge Ellis's ruling only relates to the charges that Blackwater and Prince violated federal laws and not to the additional allegations that they also violated state laws. Even if Judge Ellis ultimately rejects all of the federal arguments made by Burke and CCR, which is a big if, the cases can still proceed under "common law," as has happened in other torture and war crimes cases. Ellis has not yet ruled on those charges
This articl;e, by Jane Arraf, was published by the Christian Science Monitor, October 14, 2009.
BAGHDAD - The crisis between two of the Middle East's most powerful countries deepened Wednesday as Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said talks with Syria over suicide truck bomb attacks had failed and the United Nations would appoint a special envoy to investigate the violence.
"After four meetings the government realized that these meetings are pointless and they have not produced any ... tangible results or any movement," said Mr. Zebari, speaking from a Foreign Ministry still being rebuilt after two tons of explosives were detonated outside the building on Aug. 19.
Zebari said Wednesday he had just been informed that several senior officials were being put forward as candidates within the UN to respond to Iraq's request for a formal investigation into the attacks on the Foreign and Finance ministries. Almost 100 people were killed and 800 wounded in the twin attacks – the first to strike at the heart of the Iraqi state.
"These names are being circulated and discussed so I am hopeful, I am optimistic that soon we would have an investigator or an international envoy to look at this," Zebari told reporters in his first press conference since he stood in the ruins of the bombed ministry the day after the attack. UN spokesman Farhan Haq said Wednesday morning that while no decision had been taken on a possible envoy, the secretary-general was "looking into how best to respond to the government's request in consultation with Iraq and other stakeholders." Investigation would focus on Syria The request for an investigation into foreign interference in Iraq would also include Iran and other neighbors but the Iraqi government has focused on the suicide truck bombs which Iraq has blamed on Baath Party extremists living in Syria. Forty-three Foreign Ministry employees, many of them young diplomats, were killed and 508 injured, more than 100 of them seriously, in the August attack.
Syria, which is on the US State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism, has denied that it was involved in any way in the bombings or that it harbors the suspects Iraq has asked it to extradite. US officials have said that Damascus had curbed the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq over the past two years but has been unwilling to completely crack down on anti-Iraq extremists in an apparent attempt to maintain leverage over Iraq.
"We are asking to extradite two Iraqis whom we believe are responsible for the attacks of Aug. 19. They lived, worked, and operated in Syria and this is a fact," says Zebari, who heads the Iraqi commission investigating the attacks. He said after the press conference that Iraq was "every day uncovering more and more evidence" of Baathist extremist activity in Syria.
"They are unwilling to help or assist in that in any way.... I personally do not believe there will be a quick resolution. I hope there will be – this is my job, my work, to resolve crises not to galvanize crises. But the prospect so far does not look good for instant and immediate resolution." Debate about role of Baathists Iraq has not released evidence to back its claims of Syrian complicity, but US military commanders and intelligence officials in Iraq over the past year have pointed to Saddam Hussein loyalists as a top threat in Iraq and have said that Syria has a track record of refusing to hand over those suspects wanted for attacks in Iraq. The extent to which Al Qaeda operatives have formed an alliance with Baath Party extremists loyal to Mr. Hussein has been a subject of debate, but American and Iraqi officials describe it as a marriage of convenience – although the two have differing ideologies, Al Qaeda in Iraq is believed to have supplied the suicide bombers while the Baathist extremists provided the logistics and planning.
Some Iraqi politicians, particularly Sunni leaders, have cast doubt on the largely Shiite Iraqi government's effort to lay the blame on Baathists in Syria, with some saying they believe Al Qaeda in Iraq carried out the attacks on its own.
Zebari said that if the appointment of the special UN envoy did not move forward, Iraq was prepared to take the issue further by forcing a special meeting of the UN Security Council in which all the member states would have to make public statements about Iraq's claims. Fallout from the Aug. 19 bombings Iraq and Syria each recalled their ambassador after the bombing. Iraq is one of Syria's biggest export markets and Iraqi officials have not ruled out closing its borders to Syrian products. Such a move could have repercussions on an estimated 1 million Iraqi refugees still living in Syria.
In a tour for a small group of reporters, Zebari showed off floors of the foreign-designed ministry which are being entirely rebuilt by Iraqi engineers and laborers working around the clock. He stopped to greet a ministry worker on crutches who had just come back after being treated for her injuries.
Many of the diplomats and consular employees resumed work at the Foreign Ministry just days after the bombing on the few floors that had not been damaged by the bomb.
"This building was a piece of rubble," Zebari said, pointing to the rebuilt walls and new floors in a building where every piece of glass had been shattered. "But it will take time to be completely fixed."
This article, by Rebecca Santana, was posted to After Downing Street, October 14, 2009
BAGHDAD – Iraq's government said at least 85,000 people were killed from 2004 to 2008, officially answering one of the biggest questions of the conflict — how many perished in the sectarian violence that nearly led to a civil war.
What remains unanswered is how many died in the 2003 U.S. invasion and in the months of chaos that followed it.
A report by the Human Rights Ministry said 85,694 people were killed from the beginning of 2004 to Oct. 31, 2008 and 147,195 were wounded. The figures included Iraqi civilians, military and police but did not cover U.S. military deaths, insurgents, or foreigners, including contractors. And it did not include the first months of the war after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
The Associated Press reported similar figures in April based on government statistics obtained by the AP showing that the government had recorded 87,215 Iraqi deaths from 2005 to February 2009. The toll included violence ranging from catastrophic bombings to execution-style slayings.
Until the AP report, the government's toll of Iraqi deaths had been one of the war's most closely guarded secrets. Both supporters and opponents of the conflict have accused the other of manipulating the toll to sway public opinion.
The 85,694 represents about 0.3 percent of Iraq's estimated 29 million population. In a sign of how significant the numbers are, that would be akin to the United States losing about 900,000 people over a similar period.
The ministry's report came out late Tuesday as part of a larger study on human rights in the country. It described the years that followed the invasion, which toppled Saddam Hussein's regime, as extremely violent.
"Through the terrorist attacks like explosions, assassinations, kidnappings and forced displacements, the outlawed groups have created these terrible figures," it said.
Violence in Iraq has declined dramatically since the height of the fighting but almost every Iraqi family has a story of relatives killed, maimed or missing. One Baghdad resident, Ali Khalil, 27, from the Sadr City neighborhood whose father was shot in late 2006 by gunmen said he was not surprised by the government's figures.
"I expect that the real numbers of the people killed are higher than this," Khalil said. He added that he did not think the country would return to the high numbers of dead in the future because security has improved. "We have already lost dear ones, and we hope that our sadness and losses will cease."
Iraq's death toll continued to climb on Wednesday when three near simultaneous blasts struck the southern Shiite holy city of Karbala, killing at least six people.
According to the ministry's report, the dead included 1,279 children and 2,334 women. At least 263 university professors, 21 judges, 95 lawyers and 269 journalists were killed — professions which were specifically targeted as the country descended into chaos.
According to the report, 2006 was the deadliest year with 32,622 killed or found dead. The toll for 2004 was 11,313, rising to 15,817 the next year. The second deadliest year in the period covered was 2007 with 19,155 killed or found dead. The toll fell to 6,787 in 2008, the lowest yearly count for the period.
The count also included 15,000 unidentified bodies that were buried after going unclaimed by families. An additional 10,000 people were also listed as missing although Human Rights Ministry official Kamail Amin said it was not known whether there was overlap between the missing and unidentified counts.
Amin said the missing figures were based on people who came to the ministry to report a missing relative, something that many Iraqis, who feared reprisals and were hesitant to draw attention to themselves, were loathe to do.
Significantly the report does not contain figures from 2003, a period during which there was no functioning Iraqi government.
"The situation was chaotic and there was an absence of government institutions. The whole country was in total anarchy," Amin said.
The violence that has gripped Iraq made it increasingly difficult after 2003 to independently track death figures. Records were not always compiled centrally, the brutal insurgency sharply limited on-the-scene reporting. The U.S. military never shared its data.
At best, the numbers released by the Human Rights Ministry and those obtained by the AP are a minimum of the number who died.
Emmanuel d'Harcourt from the New York-based International Rescue Committee, who's participated in mortality surveys in such places as Sudan and Sierra Leone, said the figures are undoubtedly low and that considering the challenges associated with counting those killed in the Iraq conflict, a true figure might never be reached.
"I would think that Iraq would be one of the most difficult places on Earth to count the dead," he said.
The official who provided the data to the AP at the time estimated the actual number of deaths was 10 to 20 percent higher.
Combined with tallies based on hospital sources and media reports since the beginning of the war and an in-depth review of available evidence by the AP, the figures showed that more than 110,600 Iraqis had died in violence since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and up through early 2009.
The most recent numbers from Iraq Body Count, a private London-based group that has tracked civilian casualties since the war began, puts the number of civilian casualties as of Oct. 14 at 93,540.
The toll released Tuesday was based on death certificates issued by the Health Ministry. The tolls measure only violent deaths — people killed in attacks such as the shootings, bombings, mortar attacks and beheadings that have ravaged Iraq. They exclude indirect factors such as damage to infrastructure, health care and stress.
Some experts favor cluster surveys, in which conclusions are drawn from a select sampling of households. The largest cluster survey in Iraq was conducted in 2007 by the World Health Organization and the Iraqi government. It concluded that about 151,000 Iraqis had died from violence in the 2003-05 period, but that included insurgents.
A more controversial cluster study conducted between May and July 2006 by Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and Al-Mustansiriya University in Baghdad, published in the Lancet medical journal, estimated that 601,027 Iraqis had died due to violence.
Critics argue that such surveys are flawed in Iraq because the security situation prevents a proper sampling. They also have margins of error that could skew the numbers by the tens of thousands.
While the Pentagon maintains meticulous records of the number of American troops killed — at least 4,349 as of Wednesday — it does not publicly release comprehensive Iraqi casualty figures. American units around the country do compile figures, drawing them mostly from the Iraqi military. They are not released publicly but are used to determine trends.
This documentary was released in six parts, between February and August 2009, by Robert Greenwald. As the President considers his options, following a blatantly fraudulent Presidential election and an ever increasing US/NATO/Afghan death toll, the same group of chicken hawks (the Project for a New American Century and their Coterie of neo-conservative war-mongering fools and high ranking brass who were responsible for the Iraq war are now calling for a massive increase in US troops beyond the 17,000 mentioned in the film, the questions and issues raised in this film are brought into sharp focus.
Part One: Afghanistan + More Troops = Catastrophe
President Obama has committed 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan. This decision raises serious questions about troops, costs, overall mission, and exit strategy. Historically, it has been Congress' duty to ask questions in the form of oversight hearings that challenge policymakers, examine military spending, and educate the public. After witnessing the absence of oversight regarding the Iraq war, we must insist Congress hold hearings on Afghanistan.
Part Two: Pakistan: "The Most Dangerous Country"
The war in Afghanistan and its potentially catastrophic impact on Pakistan are complex and dangerous issues, which further make the case why our country needs a national debate on this now starting with congressional oversight hearings.
Part Three: "Cost of War"
As we pay our tax bills, it seems an appropriate time to urge everyone to Rethink Afghanistan, a war that currently costs over $2 billion a month but hasn't made us any safer. Everyone has a friend or relative who just lost a job. Do we really want to spend over $1 trillion on another war? Everyone knows someone who has lost their home. Do we really want spend our tax dollars on a war that could last a decade or more? The Obama administration has taken some smart steps to counter this economic crisis with its budget request. Do we really want to see that effort wasted by expanding military demands?
Part Four: "Civilian Casualties"
When foreign policy is well-reasoned, we see attention given to humanitarian issues like housing, jobs, health care and education. When that policy consists of applying a military solution to a political problem, however, we see death, destruction, and suffering. Director Robert Greenwald witnessed the latter during his recent trip to Afghanistan--the devastating consequences of U.S. airstrikes on thousands of innocent civilians.
The footage you are about to see is poignant, heart-wrenching, and often a direct result of U.S. foreign policy.
We must help the refugees whose lives have been shattered by U.S. foreign policy and military attacks. Support the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, an organization dedicated to helping women and children, human rights issues, and social justice. Then, become a Peacemaker. Receive up-to-the-minute information through our new mobile alert system whenever there are Afghan civilian casualties from this war, and take immediate action by calling Congress.
Part Five: "Women of Afghanistan"
Eight years have passed since Laura Bush declared that "because of our recent military gains, women are no longer imprisoned in their homes" in Afghanistan. For eight years, that claim has been a lie.
The truth is that American military escalation will not liberate the women of Afghanistan. Instead, the hardships of war take a disproportionate toll on women and their families. There are 1,000 displaced families in a Kabul refugee camp, and they're suffering for lack of food and blankets. A few weeks ago, you generously gave $6,000 to help and $9,000 more is needed to take care of all 1,000 families. Thats a donation of $15 per family to provide the relief necessary for their survival.
Here's what your money will buy:
Part Six: "How much security did $1 trillion buy?"
The war in Afghanistan is increasing the likelihood that American civilians will be killed in a future terrorist attack.
Part 6 of Rethink Afghanistan, Security, brings you three former high-ranking CIA agents to explain why.
There is no "victory" to be won in Afghanistan. It is the most important video about U.S. Security today.