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 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 Heath Druzin, was published in Stars and Stripes, September 19, 2009
BAGHDAD — With more than two years left in the slow, regimented ending to a chaotic war, new rules placing tens of thousands of U.S. combat troops under virtual house arrest on their bases mean the American military increasingly finds itself a symbolic force in Iraq.
Whether it’s symbolic of a problem or a solution depends on whom you ask.
Many inside and outside the U.S. military are now calling for the United States to hasten its withdrawal from this still-fragile country. They point to a newly assertive Iraqi national government that has significantly curtailed the U.S. forces’ mission, an Iraqi public largely hostile to U.S. troops and U.S. commanders in Afghanistan urgently seeking more soldiers to wage the increasingly intractable war there.
About 130,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq — twice the size of the force in Afghanistan — but many have been moved from the combat outposts that were so key to Gen. David Petraeus’ "surge" strategy. Instead, under the terms of a security agreement worked out between the U.S. and the Iraqi government that pulled back American troops from Iraqi cities, the U.S. forces remain largely confined to sprawling bases resembling fortified towns, such as Baghdad’s Victory Base Complex.
Generally forbidden to patrol, the troops fill their days with training, maintaining equipment and packing up unneeded material for shipment out of Iraq.
Iraqi security forces still have the option to conduct joint patrols with Americans or to request their help, but it almost never happens. American troops are almost invisible in Iraqi cities, moving in the dead of night, and then only with Iraqi permission.
The U.S. is providing behind-the-scenes help with intelligence, training and air support, but day-to-day security is almost entirely an Iraqi enterprise.
"The thing is that we don’t really need the Americans to help us in the cities," said Lt. Gen. Ali Qaidan Majeed, commander of Iraqi ground forces.
U.S. Army Col. Timothy Reese, chief of the Baghdad Operations Command Advisory Team, argued in a recent memo titled "It’s Time for the U.S. to Declare Victory and Go Home" that the United States has done all it can for Iraq and should accelerate its scheduled withdrawal from the country to August 2010 — 16 months earlier than now planned.
"As the old saying goes, ‘guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days,’ " Reese wrote. "Since the signing of the 2009 Security Agreement, we are guests in Iraq, and after six years in Iraq, we now smell bad to the Iraqi nose."
Reese continued: "Our combat operations are currently the victim of circular logic. We conduct operations to kill or capture violent extremists of all types to protect the Iraqi people and support the [Iraqi government]. The violent extremists attack us because we are still here conducting military operations."
In Baghdad, many troops echo Reese’s concerns, privately questioning how much more the U.S. can offer the Iraqi security forces. But they say that expressing such views publicly would threaten their military careers.
"I agree with [Reese] 100 percent, but you can’t say that out loud," said one officer who has worked closely with Iraqi security forces and who asked to remain anonymous. ‘Rethink the mission’
Michael O’Hanlon, a military analyst and author of the Brookings Institution’s authoritative Iraq Index, agrees that the U.S. is overmanned for its new, limited missions.
But O’Hanlon does not endorse accelerating the withdrawal as quickly as Reese, citing the U.S. role in bolstering intelligence and training and mediating ethnic tensions in northern Iraq.
"It is true, at the moment we have too many troops for the missions we’re being allowed to perform," O’Hanlon said. "However, the right solution might be to rethink the mission set and consider at least temporarily expanding it somewhat."
U.S. commanders are increasingly walking a political tightrope, praising the competence of Iraqi forces and downplaying their own security role while simultaneously endorsing the decision to keep a mid-sized city’s worth of troops on standby. Some speculate that the troops are being kept as backup for an expected increase in violence during Iraq’s national elections, scheduled for January.
Lt. Gen. Charles Jacoby, commander of Multi-National Corps–Iraq, said at a recent news conference that there are no plans to accelerate the U.S. withdrawal.
"We’re happy with our current schedule; we think our strategy is sound," Jacoby said. "We’re enabling and assisting [the Iraqis] as they ask. They don’t need our combat forces in the city."
Yet, a recent spike in violence, punctuated by devastating truck bombs last month outside two Iraqi ministries in Baghdad that killed about 100 people, has renewed doubts about the ability of Iraqi security forces to deal with an insurgency that appears bent on rekindling sectarian violence.
August was one of the deadliest months for Iraqi civilians in the past year, according to an Associated Press tally.
There is also concern about continuing violence in northern areas claimed by both Kurds and Arabs, where insurgents have staged bombings in Kurdish towns in hopes of triggering ethnic reprisals.
Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, has proposed a more active role for U.S. troops there, including trilateral patrols grouping Kurdish, Arab and American soldiers. But that idea is still in the planning stage and Iraq is not much nearer to solving the territorial dispute than it was at the beginning of the war.
Many U.S. troops who have worked closely with their Iraqi counterparts scoff at the idea that the Iraqis are capable of standing up to the insurgency, citing infiltration, corruption and a general lack of discipline. One lieutenant in Baghdad said his Iraqi counterpart openly skims between 20 and 30 percent of his soldiers’ salaries off the top, a practice difficult to track in Iraq’s cash economy. Slower pullout?
Despite his confidence that his troops can stand on their own, Majeed, the Iraqi ground forces commander, says he still needs U.S. backup, even leaving the door open to a longer-than-planned U.S. commitment if Iraqi forces prove unready by the time remaining U.S. combat forces pull out.
The agreement between Washington and Baghdad calls for the withdrawal of American combat forces by the end of August 2010 and of all U.S. troops by the end of 2011.
"If it doesn’t happen by 2011, we would have to find a new mechanism to work with the Americans," he said.
In the end, the U.S. may not have much say in the matter.
Iraqi voters are scheduled to vote in January whether to rescind the status of forces agreement that allows the U.S. military to operate in the country. The Iraqi parliament would then need to ratify the results of the referendum and order the complete U.S. withdrawal to be sped up by a year.
The outcome of that popular vote is not in much doubt. With the exception of the Kurdish north, anti-American sentiments are widespread in Iraq. Iraqis may be unsure of their country’s fledgling security forces, but they have grown increasingly weary of the U.S. presence, which many remember for heavy-handedness and the daily frustrations of passing through checkpoints and enduring long traffic jams behind slow-moving military convoys.
Parliamentary elections are scheduled for the same time as the January referendum, and candidates are finding anti-occupation platforms popular with Iraqis.
Elected officials and military commanders frequently challenge the Americans. For example, U.S. convoys are now regularly stopped at Iraqi checkpoints, a source of irritation for many American troops.
If Iraqis do decide to boot out the U.S. a year ahead of schedule, it would require a complete focus on the logistics of leaving at the expense of other tasks, such as sharing intelligence and training, said Brig. Gen. Heidi Brown, who is overseeing the exodus of U.S. equipment and troops.
"Is [a rapid redeployment] doable? Yes, but you pay the price," she said.
During a visit to Baghdad on Thursday, Vice President Joe Biden said the U.S. would follow the lead of Iraqi officials regarding the timetable for the pullout.
"Whatever the Iraqi people decide," Biden told reporters, "we will abide by it."
This article, by Oliver August, was posted to Common Dreams, August 19, 2009
The US military plans to send thousands of American soldiers back to the oil-rich north of Iraq to prevent a civil war between Arabs and Kurds.
The emergency move, which partially reverses a recent drawing- down, is the first major sign that President Obama's withdrawal plan may not work. He wants all US combat troops out of Iraq within 12 months.
Kurdish and Arab leaders have agreed in principle to allowing US soldiers into unsettled areas around Mosul and Kirkuk, according to General Ray Odierno, the top US military commander in Iraq. The troops will form joint units with Iraqi counterparts to subdue what has become the most volatile part of the country.
Many leaders in the region disagree about where the border should run between their territories and how oil revenues should be shared. "We have al-Qaeda exploiting this fissure that you're seeing between the Arabs and the Kurds, and what we're trying to do is close that fissure, that seam," General Odierno said.
Despite the developments in Iraq President Obama told a group of US veterans in Phoenix yesterday that he will stick to his plan.
"As we move forward, the Iraqi people must know that the United States will keep its commitments," he said. "And the American people must know that we will move forward with our strategy. For America, the Iraq war will end."
The veterans did not applaud this line in his speech but he was given a warmer reception when he pledged to reform the procurement process so that troops have the best equipment possible.
There was laughter at his example of military waste - a billion- dollar helicopter that would allow the President to cook during a nuclear war: "If the United States is under nuclear attack, the last thing on my mind will be whipping up a snack," he said.
More than 100 people have been killed in mixed Arab-Kurdish areas this month, including car bombings that have destroyed villages near Mosul. Inside the city, armed men killed two policemen and wounded one civilian at a checkpoint yesterday.
"I'm still very confident in the overall security here," General Odierno said. "Unfortunately they're killing a lot of innocent civilians."
In yet another sign of how unstable the region is, the authorities have cancelled a census to determine the division of land and oil. It was feared that it would inflame tensions by revealing which side had the better chance of winning a referendum.
Ali Baban, the Planning Minister, said: "After hearing the fears, concerns and reservations of political groups in Kirkuk and Ninevah, we decided to slow down the process and the census has been postponed indefinitely."
The deployment of the US protection force will start in Ninevah province, which includes Mosul, and extend to Kirkuk. General Odierno discussed the plan, which appears necessary in military terms but unpopular with voters, with officials from Iraq and the Kurdish region on Sunday.
Nouri al-Maliki, the Prime Minister, is trying to win re-election in January on the back of a programme of security improvements.\
Under the plans drawn up by the US, control of the unstable areas would return to the Arab and Kurdish forces. The emergency move, however, has the potential to change the dynamic of the US withdrawal and it will almost certainly require a rewriting of a bilateral se
This article, by Ernesto Londoño, was published in the Wahington Post, August 18, 2009
BAGHDAD, Aug. 17 -- U.S. troops could be forced by Iraqi voters to withdraw a year ahead of schedule under a referendum the Iraqi government backed Monday, creating a potential complication for American commanders concerned about rising violence in the country's north.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's move appeared to disregard the wishes of the U.S. government, which has quietly lobbied against the plebiscite. American officials fear it could lead to the annulment of an agreement allowing U.S. troops to stay until the end of 2011, and instead force them out by the start of that year.
The Maliki government's announcement came on the day that the top U.S. general in Iraq proposed a plan to deploy troops to disputed areas in the restive north, a clear indication that the military sees a continuing need for U.S. forces even if Iraqis no longer want them here.
Gen. Ray Odierno said American troops would partner with contingents of the Iraqi army and the Kurdish regional government's paramilitary force, marking the first organized effort to pair U.S. forces with the militia, known as the pesh merga. Iraqi army and Kurdish forces nearly came to blows recently, and there is deep-seated animosity between them, owing to a decades-long fight over ancestry, land and oil.
If Iraqi lawmakers sign off on Maliki's initiative to hold a referendum in January on the withdrawal timeline, a majority of voters could annul a standing U.S.-Iraqi security agreement, forcing the military to pull out completely by January 2011 under the terms of a previous law.
It is unclear whether parliament, which is in recess until next month, would approve the referendum. Lawmakers have yet to pass a measure laying the basic ground rules for the Jan. 16 national election, their top legislative priority for the remainder of 2009.
Before signing off on the U.S.-Iraqi security agreement last year, Iraqi lawmakers demanded that voters get to weigh in on the pact in a referendum that was to take place no later than last month. Because it did not happen, American officials assumed the plebiscite was a dead issue.
U.S. officials say they have no way to know how the referendum would turn out, but they worry that many Iraqis are likely to vote against the pact. Maliki billed the withdrawal of U.S. forces from urban areas at the end of June as a "great victory" for Iraqis, and his government has since markedly curbed the authority and mobility of U.S. forces.
Senior Pentagon officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that Odierno probably will make an announcement later this week or early next week the accelerating the withdrawal of U.S. forces, which now stand at 130,000, by one or two brigades between now and the end of the year. Each brigade consists of about 5,000 troops. Odierno said Monday that he has not decided whether to speed up the plan, which he said remains on schedule.
The acceleration would still be much slower than if the referendum nullified the agreement.
Still, senior Pentagon officials played down Maliki's announcement, saying it was an expected part of Iraq's political process. Senior Iraqi officials did not raise the possibility of the referendum with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates when he visited the country earlier this month, Pentagon officials said.
Bahaa Hassan, who owns a mobile phone store in Najaf, south of Baghdad, said he would vote for a speedier withdrawal.
"We want to get rid of the American influence in Iraq, because we suffer from it politically and economically," he said. "We will vote against it so Iraq will be in the hands of Iraqis again."But many Iraqis, particularly Sunnis and Kurds, consider the presence of the U.S. military a key deterrent to abuses of power by the Shiite-led government.
"After six years of Shiite rule and struggle, we still have no electricity, so what will happen if Americans leave?" said Dhirgham Talib, a government employee in Najaf. "The field will be left to the Shiite parties to do whatever they want with no fear from anybody."
A poll commissioned by the U.S. military earlier this year found that Iraqis expressed far less confidence in American troops than in the Iraqi government or any of its security forces. Twenty-seven percent of Iraqis polled said they had confidence in U.S. forces, according to a Pentagon report presented to Congress last month. By contrast, 72 percent expressed confidence in the national government.
Zainab Karim, a Shiite lawmaker from the Sadrist movement, the most ardently anti-American faction, said she was pleasantly surprised that the government is backing the referendum.
"I consider this a good thing," she said. "But we have to wait and see whether the government is honest about this or whether it is electoral propaganda."
As the Iraqi government took steps to force U.S. troops out earlier than planned, Odierno said Monday that he would like to deploy American forces to villages along disputed areas in northern Iraq to defuse tension between Kurdish troops and forces controlled by the Shiite Arab-led government in Baghdad.
"We're working very hard to come up with a security architecture in the disputed territories that would reduce tension," Odierno told reporters. "They just all feel more comfortable if we're there."
Scores of Iraqis have been killed in recent weeks in villages along the 300-mile frontier south of the Kurdish region. U.S. military officials say the attacks bear the hallmarks of Sunni extremists, but local leaders have traded accusations to bolster their positions on whether specific areas should be under the control of Baghdad or the autonomous government of Kurdistan.
The pesh merga currently controls some villages that are nominally outside the three-province Kurdish region. The expansion of Kurdish influence in northern Iraq has prompted Maliki to deploy more troops loyal to Baghdad to northern provinces south of Kurdistan. The new provincial leadership in Nineveh province, the most restive among them, has made curbing Kurdish expansion its top priority and has called for the expulsion of pesh merga forces.
The tension, Odierno said, has created a security vacuum that has emboldened al-Qaeda in Iraq, a Sunni insurgent group that he said was almost certainly responsible for recent sensational bombings in the province. The number of civilian casualties in Iraq has increased since the urban pullout, Odierno said, largely as a result of attacks in the disputed territories.
What we have is al-Qaeda exploiting this fissure between the Arabs and the Kurds," he said. "What we're trying to do is close that fissure."