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Conflict with Iraq


Battle Lines
Tom Brown
Tom Brown
Battle Lines is an ongoing Web log (blog) dedicated to providing a broad perspective on the latest news and developments from the war in Iraq. Response and suggestions are welcomed.

Tom Brown has been an editor, reporter and software analyst for The Seattle Times for 20 years.

March 31, 2003

Where's Geraldo?

This may not be a question of such gravity as, say, "Where's Saddam?" or "Where's Osama?" but we feel compelled to alert you anyway that Geraldo Rivera's continued assignment as a correspondent for Fox News in Iraq is somewhat tentative.

A Pentagon spokesman said the military has asked Fox to remove him from Iraq for "compromising operational security." That probably means he described a unit's location too closely.

Geraldo, apparently unfazed, says he's staying.

Stay tuned.

Posted by tbrown at 12:38 PM


Quotes of the day

"You don't start a military campaign and then call it off after 12 days simply because you have not achieved all your objectives in that time period."
-- Tony Blair's spokesman

"When it is over, if it is over, this war will have horrible consequences. Instead of having one (Osama) Bin Laden, we will have 100 Bin Ladens."
-- Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak

Posted by tbrown at 12:08 PM


Bombing fallout

During the weekend, John F. Burns, whose reporting from Baghdad for the New York Times has been superlative, filed a thorough, and wrenching account of the explosion that ripped through a Baghdad marketplace on Friday, killing between 35 and 55 people.

Iraqis -- and Arabs elsewhere -- are convinced a U.S. bomb or missile caused the damage. The U.S. command says it is not sure what caused the blast. Burns reports that it's impossible to determine the cause.

Posted by tbrown at 09:15 AM


Peter Arnett fired by all

Earlier today I noted that Peter Arnett had described the U.S. war plan as a failure on Iraqi TV, which was likely to cause him some problems.

It did. NBC, MSNBC and National Geographic Explorer all fired him.

Arnett later apologized for his "misjudgment."

Mac Owens of the National Review describes Arnett as Iraq's "weapon of last resort" and also tries to lend some perspective about the U.S. war plan and the situation on the ground in Iraq.


Posted by tbrown at 08:47 AM


Reality check

"Support for Saddam, including within his military organization, will collapse after the first whiff of gunpowder."
-- Richard Perle, then-Pentagon Defense Policy Board chairman, July 11

A little good news

Before we dive into the latest round of finger-pointing, let’s enjoy a piece of good news. The Washington Post details how one Marine unit is trying to build bridges to Iraqi civilians – and is getting some promising responses.

Now, about our war plan …

We just don’t have enough troops on the ground in Iraq to wrap up this conflict quickly. So how did that happen?

Some of the trouble appears to have begun last summer at elaborate war games that were two years in the making, cost $250 million to stage and were fought in a fictional country resembling Iraq. The respected former Marine general who headed the "Red," or opposition force says the exercises were rigged to guarantee that U.S. forces won.

This is particularly disturbing because the purpose of the games was to test the radical new concepts we are now employing in Iraq.

These complaints are not being lodged with the benefit of hindsight. The "Red" general, Paul Van Riper, got so frustrated he quit halfway through the exercises.

High-ranking officers who helped plan the games and who participated in them said they were "free play" in which either side could win.

Van Riper disagreed: "They had a predetermined end, and they scripted the exercise to that end."

All of which could help explain Lt. Gen. William Wallace's observation last week that, "The enemy we're fighting is different from the one we'd war-gamed against ..."

Fred Kaplan at Slate has a fine exposition, with numerous other links.

Then there’s the recurring question of whether Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld cut in half the forces that top commanders wanted assigned to the invasion. Runsfeld denies that, as do the top-level Pentagon brass and the theater commander, Gen. Tommy Franks. Other present and former military officers, including retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey, who commanded the 24th Mechanized Infantry Division in the Gulf war, say troop requests were cut and that Rumsfeld "micromanaged" the war buildup.

The top leadership from Rumfeld on down insists that the plan was sound and as executed is going according to schedule. The New York Times (free registration required) sums up their positions.

Peter Arnett, probably the best-known correspondent of the Gulf War and a Pulitzer Prize winner in 1966 for his Vietnam coverage, has never shied from controversy. He told Iraqi TV in an interview that the U.S. war plan had failed because of Iraqi resistance and that the Pentagon was trying to write a new one.

Arnett drew government fire in ther 1991 Gulf War for staying in Baghdad and reporting what was going on there. It looks like we're in for a repeat.

The Los Angeles Times suggests time may be the real enemy of the U.S. because the longer the war continues the heavier the fallout will be.

Muslim rage intensifies

In the Muslim world, TV coverage of the civilian victims of the war, of which Americans see only the most fleeting glimpses, has raised outrage to new and unprecedented levels.

Basra is still a tough nut

Basra, the second-largest city in Iraq, hasn't fallen despite a week-long siege by British troops. Nothing suggests this will change soon, despite incursions by the British and bombing by the U.S. And this was where the repressed Shiites were supposed to throw flowers in front of our tanks, as if this were Paris in War II.


Saddam’s irregulars

During the sandstorm that slowed U.S. troops down outside Baghdad last week, there were reports that a huge Republican Guard column was moving toward U.S. positions. Later, it was downplayed as "troops in SUVs."

In retrospect, it seems likely that these were Fedayeen Saddam or other irregular forces that have been harassing our supply lines. And their mode of transport dovetails nicely with an item in DEBKAfile, which says Saddam’s son Udai, who commands the Fedayeen, ordered 7,500 four-wheel-drive pickups, which were then mounted with heavy machine guns.

More disturbingly, DEBKA claims Udai* Hussein has spent the last year bulking up Iraq’s irregular forces to a staggering 800,000. If these numbers even approach reality, the administration’s suggestion of "difficult days ahead" will prove a major understatement.

Details of all this are in DEBKA's War Diary below the headlines.

*Note: Udai’s name also is spelled Odai (the form used in The Seattle Times). I use the form of the sites I link to in order to avoid further confusion in an already confusing picture.

Is our strategy unworkable?

Shekar Gupta, writing in the Indian Express, tackles the U.S. and British military’s modern approach to war.

"One look at an allied soldier and you’d suspect the war is not so much about fighting and winning as about marching into Baghdad without paying any price for it," he says.

What’s wrong with that? Gupta argues that it seeks to eliminate direct contact with enemy troops, without which no major conflict can be won.

Adapting and moving ahead

Mac Owens at the National Review Online argues calmly that U.S. commanders are adapting to changing circumstances and moving ahead.


Posted by tbrown at 07:40 AM


March 28, 2003

Does Saddam have a Syrian rabbit-hole?

Saddam Hussein is a long-term survivor in an incredibly brutal world of his own making. It has been widely speculated that he’ll fight to the death in Baghdad in order to cement – at least in his mind – his stature as a new Saladin, vanquisher of Crusaders and heretics.

But what if that’s all bogus? The London Daily Telegraph, without substantiation, claims he and top advisers have already set up an escape route to Syria. Maybe he still wants to survive.



Posted by tbrown at 07:37 PM


Quote of the day

"The enemy we're fighting is different from the one we'd war-gamed against ... "
-- Lt. Gen. William S. Wallace of V Corps

A bloody day in Baghdad

It's been a bloody day in Baghdad, and many of those killed have been civilians, reports from the Iraqi capital say.

Dr. Osama Sakhari at Baghdad's Al Noor Hospital said he had counted 55 dead and 47 wounded in an attack on a market Friday, Reuters reported.

Al Jazeera aired pictures of the bodies, including those of two children.

Abu Dhabi TV speculated that U.S. cruise missiles might have hit the market. The U.S. command said it was looking into the report. It blamed an earlier market explosion, which killed 15, on an errant Iraqi missile.

Earlier Friday, Iraq said eight members of Saddam's Baath Party died in a raid on party headquarters.

A U.S. Stealth bomber also dropped two 4,700-pound "bunker buster" bombs on a Baghdad communications complex. They were the largest bombs yet used on Baghdad.

Marines in house-to-house fighting in An Nasiriyah

The battle for control of An Nasiriyah, a city of about 500,000 that sits at the junction of roads from Kuwait to Baghdad, has raged for five days now between U.S. Marines and Iraqi militia. Four Marines are reported missing.

“It’s a big surprise,” said Capt. Lauren Edwards, a U.S. Marine stationed at a desert camp four miles from the city. “I don’t think we expected so much resistance. They’re fighting hard and they’re fighting dirty.”

Iraqi militia fires on civilians at Basra

British troops trying to root Iraqi militia out of Basra said the Iraqis fired on fellow citizens who were trying to escape the city toward British lines.

About 1,000 civilians, mostly women and children, were fired on by mortars and machine guns as they tried to cross a bridge toward British positions. The civilians scattered in panic, with 200 to 300 running back into Basra. Most of the rest made it across the bridge.

Once the civilians were out of the line of fire, a British tank took out a truck on which a machine gun was mounted, killing three Iraqis.

First relief ship reaches Umm Qasr

A British ship carrying nearly 200 tons of relief supplies for Iraqi civilians arrived Friday at Umm Qasr, the only major town the coalition forces have secured so far.

CNN's Christiane Amanpour reported that coalition forces want to get the aid to the people of Umm Qasr, several towns along the Iraqi border and eventually up to Basra. She said the "strategic aim" is to win the confidence and trust of the civilian population. The plan is to get the people to separate from the political leadership and give them space to "rise up" against that leadership.

U.S. and Britain hate Al Jazeera TV, but the Arabs love it

The coalition has blasted Al Jazeera for biased, gory and sensationalist coverage. But those seem to be just the qualities that make it popular in the Arab world.

Day 9: Now what?

Instead of "shock and awe" we now hear about "hard days ahead."

The administration says everything is fine and there’s nothing wrong with its war plan. That may prove true, eventually. But it’s also clear that the war was launched without enough force available to get the job done quickly.

So it’s going to take somewhat longer to end this conflict than it might have otherwise.

This is a big problem. A longer mission will be less safe for coalition troops and Iraqi civilians and better for Saddam Hussein. Every day that U.S. and British troops are under fire risks higher casualties. Every day we bomb risks more civilian casualties. And every day we pound Iraq fuels the growing rage in the Arab world.

No one wants to be the scapegoat for this, so the newest war front is bureaucratic finger-pointing.

A particular sore point is the "unexpected" guerilla tactics employed by Saddam’s regime. They have essentially slowed the advance on Baghdad by badgering our long, lightly defended supply lines. The CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency are in full CYA mode on this. Wednesday, there was some whining from unnamed CIA sources. By Thursday afternoon the content of a classified CIA report, dated Feb. 3, was making the rounds.

It predicted just what we’re seeing – a serious guerilla threat to the fuel, water, food and ammunition that our troops need. The report seems to have been given little credence by top-level planners.

How did we arrive at this juncture? Well, it wasn’t only U.S. intelligence that the administration slighted. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his closest advisors don’t seem to have paid much attention to the country’s top military leadership either.

Here’s Joe Galloway, one of the best reporters of the Vietnam War, who’s now directing Iraq coverage for Knight Ridder papers:

"Not since (Vietnam) have a secretary of defense and his closest civilian advisers demonstrated so thorough a contempt for the counsel of America's military leaders, who incidentally are the last generation still wearing the uniform to have served in Vietnam. The last who know the true price of failed and flawed political leadership in war.

"If there is any small group that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his closed circle of advisers -- none of whom have worn a uniform since Boy Scouts -- ought to be listening to, it is the four-star generals and admirals of the Joint Chiefs of Staff."

The whole concept of this war, we’ve been told repeatedly, is revolutionary. Nothing like it before, ever. At Slate, Fred Kaplan details how notions underlying this idea were born, nurtured and came to dominate the administration's thinking.

History will settle who was right. Until then, we’ll be endure not only by the fog of war but the fog of bureaucratic politics.

Mac Owens of National Review Online points out, importantly, that "the Iraqis seem to be incapable of anything beyond a static defense and guerilla operations by the Iraqi equivalent of the Gestapo and SS. Patience is a virtue at all times, but especially in time of war."

Still, at the end we may face a battle bloodier than anything since Vietnam. Saddam is intent on dragging us into house-by-house urban street fighting. His defense minister promised it to us at a news conference Thursday. The U.S. will continue to do all it can to avoid this. But the possibility raises questions we all should be thinking about now. As noted, casualties only go up with time. Are we prepared?

And, especially, are we steeled for urban combat?

Blame Saddam

Civilian casualties are a commonplace in any war. One of the reasons the U.S. was sure it could win this war without excessively offending Muslim sensibilities was the unprecedented precision of its current stock of weapons.

Still, accidents happen. But if any do, don’t blame us:

"Any casualty that occurs, any death that occurs, is a direct result of Saddam Hussein's policies ," Rumsfeld’s flack said yesterday.

This is a position that is unlikely to withstand much scrutiny.

Interested in enemy TV?

You can watch Iraqi TV via the Internet if you have a DSL connection. It does require a little technical savvy. Slate outlines the procedure.


Posted by tbrown at 11:35 AM


March 27, 2003

Quote of the day

"Getting shot at wasn't really that bad. It was the getting shot part that sucked."
-- Staff Sgt. Jamie Villafane, recuperating from a shrapnel wound after single-handedly capturing four Iraqis.

Posted by tbrown at 01:08 PM


Iraqi defense minister promises a bloody battle in Baghdad’s streets

Iraq seems intent on forcing the one battle the U.S. doesn’t want.

Sultan Hashem Amed, Saddam Hussein’s defense minister, said Thursday that, “The enemy must come inside Baghdad, and that will be its grave. … We feel that this war must be prolonged so the enemy pays a high price.” The U.S. war plan calls for avoiding prolonged urban street fighting.

President Bush said at a joint press conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair that the U.S. was prepared to fight “however long it takes.” Neither he nor Blair would estimate how long that might be.

The Iraqi health minister, Omeed Medhat Mubarak, claimed the U.S. was “ … targeting the human beings in Iraq to decrease their morale. Then are not discriminating, differentiating.” He claimed Wednesday’s civilian death toll in Baghdad was 36, and put the total number of civilian deaths at 350 since the U.S.-led war on Iraq began a week ago. (A site called Iraq Body Count, run mostly by academics, estimates Iraqi civilian deaths at between 227 and 307.)

The U.S. says it has scrupulously tried to avoid civilian casualties by using guided weapons that are the most accurate ever built.

The U.S. command also sought to shift blame for yesterday’s explosion on a busy market street that killed some 15 people.

“We think it is entirely possible that this may have been an Iraqi missile that went up and came down, or, given the behaviors of the regime lately, it may have been a deliberate attack inside of town,” said Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks.

There have been widespread reports from the battlefield of Iraqi troops and militia using civilians as human shields.

Russian missiles may be killing our tanks

In fighting at Najaf, two tanks and one Bradley fighting vehicle with the division's Third Squadron, Seventh Cavalry were destroyed or damaged by antiarmor missiles. All of the crew members managed to get out safely, although the driver of one tank at first had to stay inside his shielded driver's compartment as some of the tank's own ammunition exploded around him.

U.S. officers believe that the missiles may have been a new Russian type known as a Cornet, purchased despite United Nations sanctions on arms sales to Iraq, the New York Times reports.

Posted by tbrown at 11:56 AM


Republican Guard convoy plastered

That convoy of Republican Guard troops that was moving south from Baghdad toward U.S. positions turned out to be much smaller than originally thought. It's now a lot smaller still. During the night B-52s bombed the convoy "almost into oblivion," according to one U.S. spokesman.

Activist group organizes a media-watch campaign

MoveOn.org, an activist group that says it now has 1.3 million members in the U.S. and another 750,000 overseas, is organizing a media-watch campaign to monitor how U.S. journalists are covering the war.

In an e-mail to members, one of the group's organizers, Eli Pariser, writes:

"American media outlets have chosen to stifle or simply not show the most terrible and saddening aspects of this war. They are reluctant to air the voices of critics who are raising important questions about its effectiveness and purpose.  And they appear to have acceded to the Bush Administration's desire to black out pictures or footage of civilian casualties.
       
"Now more than ever, it's important that the media report the full story, unvarnished and unspun.  But all we see on TV are retired military officers and Administration officials narrating a clean and precise war that bears little resemblance to the chaos, bloodshed, and tragedy on the ground."
       
You can check it out here

More chemical-protection suits found

British military officials said troops found chemical-weapons protection suits when Iraqi infantry abandoned a headquarters facility in the oil fields of southern Iraq, CNN reports.

Adm. Sir Michael Boyce, the chief of British Defense Staff, said in London that coalition forces would "have to ask themselves why Iraqi commanders felt that infantry in this part of Iraq should be issued with weapons of mass destruction equipment and protection."

Posted by tbrown at 07:45 AM


March 26, 2003

No hearts and minds won here

The U.S. didn’t win any friends in Baghdad Wednesday. Two blasts, which Iraq said were from U.S. missiles, devastated a busy Baghdad street, killing up to 15 people.

Crowds of enraged Iraqis carried bloody bodies away, yelling slogans in support of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and denouncing President Bush.

“We will sacrifice our blood and souls for you, Saddam,” they chanted. “Down with Bush!”

Bodies were littered on the ground and in the smouldering wreckage of mangled cars. A pregnant woman was among the dead.

Haneed Dulaimi, head of the Iraqi defense unit for the district, said there were no military facilities in the area. But some locals said there was a military compound nearby.

The U.S. said Thursday that after analyzing the damage it not believe it was caused by U.S. bombs. The only U.S. air attack at around the time the market street was hit was aimed at a military target in another area of the city. The bombs used in that attack were 2,000-pounders. If they had hit the street there would have been no buildings left standing near the impact area.

The Pentagon suggested that the damage more likely was caused either by an Iraqi weapon -- perhaps a surface-to-air missile -- that fell back into the city and exploded or, perhaps, Iraqi sabotage aimed at its own people but blamed on the U.S.

Who we’re fighting

The Republican Guard and the Fedayeen Saddam have been getting a lot of ink and air time, so let’s take a step back and consider who these guys are.

First, the Fedayeen, who we’ve heard little about. Thankfully. They are the worst of the worst, and if we’re looking for suspects in the apparent executions of seven American soldiers who were trying to surrender, I’d start here.

This group of government enforcers is run, no surprise, by Saddam’s older son, Uday. He’s the one Sports Illustrated fingered this week for torturing and murdering Iraqi athletes who failed to perform to his expectations. A special unit of the Fedayeen, called the Fidayi, has a particularly grotesque specialty: they behead prostitutes in front of their husbands and children.

It’s unclear how many Fedayeen there are; estimates run from 18,000 to 40,000. Given their role as extra-legal enforcers of Saddam's edicts it’s a safe bet that many of them are in the towns along the U.S. route of march, making sure residents stay “loyal.” They also are likely some of the ununiformed “irregulars” that have been making life difficult for coalition troops in Basra and Nasiriyah.

The Republican Guards, on the other hand, are the cream of the Iraqi army. They emerged as elite units after the bloody Iraq-Iran war in the early 1980s. They, too, have done much of the regime’s dirty work, such as brutally suppressing insurrections.

How do we end this war?

One easy way for this war to end would be for Saddam to suddenly topple. That appears increasingly unlikely, however, raising the question of alternative endings.

Fred Kaplan at Slate asks what our Plan B is.

Mark Erikson at Asia Times Online ponders the Gotterdammerung scenario.

Another solution would be peace

A quicker, less bloody ending would be a peaceful resolution of the conflict. Saudi Arabia says it has sent a peace proposal to the U.S. and Iraq, though no details are available yet.

The British newspaper The Guardian has compiled a very useful list of anti-war sites in the U.K., North America and elsewhere.

A real win-win situation for some Arabs

The U.S. invasion of Iraq has turned into an odd sort of win-win situation for Arabs in other countries. Most of them hate Saddam. At the same time, they’re gleeful that he’s making life difficult for the U.S.

BBC = Baghdad Broadcasting Corp.?

The BBC has been taking a lot of heat over an anticoalition slant in its reporting. Some have taken to calling it the Baghdad Broadcasting Corp. Is it that bad? Well, I don't read it every day, but here's a story that recounts a memo from one of the BBC’s own correspondents to the brass in London.

And here a bunch of bloggers berate the Beeb. These particular bloggers are, as you might expect, generally pro-war.

A bunch of Labor members of Parliament are also griping, but I’ll spare you those.

However, the BBC does have a good war blog site.

If you really want to know what people elsewhere are thinking …

This site displays 221 newspaper front pages from 27 countries every day. Included are my parent paper, The Seattle Times, and that other one. But you can see those anytime. How about Le Monde in Paris, An-Nahar in Beirut, the Jerusalem Post, the Times of India or Asahi Shimbun in Japanese or English.

Note the mouse-over feature that gives you a small view of the page. Also note that if you want to view a page at a readable size you have to download a pdf file, which can be time-consuming (especially on a dial-up connection).

Peter Arnett, back in Baghdad

I don’t normally link to PR handouts, but I’m making an exception for Peter Arnett.

Arnett is a journalistic legend. He’s covered 19 wars during his 40 years in the business and won a Pulitzer Prize in 1966 for his Vietnam coverage. He stuck it out in Baghdad during the 1991 one Gulf War and is back in Baghdad now for National Geographic Explorer and MSNBC. This Q&A shares some insights about the Iraqi capital and its people from someone who’s been there for both wars.

Posted by tbrown at 06:22 PM


The headlines, day 7

The Bush administration’s battle plan for Iraq may not be unravelling, but it’s got a couple of loose seams.

The house-of-cards collapse of the Iraqi government that the U.S. had hoped for didn’t happen and apparently isn’t going to happen. There is little remaining doubt that Saddam Hussein is still alive and directing operations of his military.

Today, that includes the movement of at least 5,000 Republican Guard troops, supported by hundreds of tanks, directly toward U.S. forces south of Baghdad. In other words, the beginning of what appears to be an Iraqi offensive.

On the surface, this appears to make no sense, as the 7th Cavalry and 1st Marine Expeditionary Force will make hash of the RG – unless they are able to make contact with U.S. forces before the current sandstorm blows out or unless, perhaps, they plan to use chemical weapons.

Continued sandstorms are limiting the ability of U.S. aircraft to slow the advance. Stay tuned.

A quarter of the coalition forces are still bogged down around Basra, where events remain confusing. Reports of a popular uprising there spurred coalition hopes yesterday, but today it’s unclear whether it really happened. British troops on the outskirts of the city continue to slug it out with elements of three Iraqi regular army divisions and some of the Saddam Fedayeen.

The fight took another turn Wednesday, when a column of about 120 Iraqi tanks and armored personnel carriers broke out of Basra south toward the Al Faw Peninsula. They were engaged by U.S. forces and hit hard by air strikes.

These developments, plus widespread harassment of U.S. supply lines, argues that we don’t have enough troops on the ground to end the conflict quickly.

So where’s the 4th Infantry Division?

In Saudi Arabia, unfortunately This is the heavy armored division that the U.S. planned to move through Turkey to open a second front to the north of Baghdad. But the Turks didn’t cooperate.

So the 16 freighters carrying the division’s tanks had to steam through the Suez canal and around the Arabian Peninsula to Saudi Arabia. The tanks should be there today. However, the division won’t be in a position to fight until, probably, the middle of next week.

Retired Gen. Wesley Clark, who was allied supreme commander of NATO forces from 1997-2000 and now provides military analysis for CNN, said that Turkey's "failure to permit the 4th Infantry Division to go through was a significant problem, not an insignificant problem."

Despite difficulties, no nightmare scenarios yet

U.S. forces have hit some potholes on the road to Baghdad, but there is no reason to suspect they won't get there eventually. In the meantime, this piece argues, we can be happy that none of the nightmare scenarios have occurred.


Civilian casualties mount

Civilian casualties are beginning to mount. Two missiles fell on a market in Baghdad today, killing at least 15 people, the Iraqi government said. At a Pentagon briefing, U.S. officials said they had conducted no attacks in the explosion are and suggested that anti-aircraft shells or a surface-to-air missile might have caused the damage.

In Nasiriya, scene of some of the heaviest fighting of the war, Iraq said 500 civilians had been injured.

U.S. soldiers may have been shot as they tried to surrender

The U.S. command said it was reviewing a report that when Iraqi forces ambushed a supply convoy Sunday seven soldiers killed were shot as they got out of their trucks with their hands up to surrender.

First relief supplies arrive in south

The first trucks of relief supplies arrived at the port town of Umm Qasr and were mobbed by hungry Iraqis.

E-bomb takes out Iraqi TV

Wednesday dawn raids over Baghdad knocked out the Iraqi satellite television and communications center with our new wonder weapon, the E-Bomb, which is designed to disable computers, radar and transmitters. TV was back on the air after several hours.

Posted by tbrown at 11:47 AM


If we catch Saddam, what do we do with him?

Saddam Hussein seems to have set the all-time record among paranoid leaders for employing body doubles to obscure his whereabouts. He’s up to 16 now by one count.

Though the battle in Iraq may ebb and flow for a while, there’s no doubt that U.S. forces will be in Baghdad before too long.

This raises the interesting question of what we would do with Saddam if we’re successful in finding the right one.

Many may prefer the Gen. George Patton option: just shoot him. Author Joshua Greene cautions against this because it violates the ideals the U.S. stands for. He offers some other options.

Thanks Vladimir

Those Kornet anti-tank missiles that the U.S. asserts Russia has sold to Iraq? Here’s what they look like.

And they're as dangerous as they look. They have a range of about three miles and can penetrate 120 mm (about 5 inches) of armor, making both the front and side armor of U.S. M1A1 Abrams tanks vulnerable.

No WMDs yet, but plenty of gas masks

One of the big unknowns is whether Saddam will authorize the use of chemical or biological weapons against coalition troops.

So far we haven’t found definitive evidence that those weapons exist. However, British troops in the Basra area found a number of gas masks abandoned by fleeing Iraqi troops. Then U.S. Marines at An Nasariyah found 3,000 chemical suits with masks, containers of atropine, an antidote for nerve gas, plus Iraqi munitions. At the airport there, U.S. forces sealed off 36 bunkers as possible sites of chemical weapons. No word yet on what was found.

The U.S. command says it believes Saddam may have drawn a “red line” around the city and authorized his commanders to use banned weapons when coalition forces cross it.

Jihad volunteers flocking to Iraq?

In a little-noticed development, volunteers – many of them suicide volunteers – are flowing into Iraq to help the regime’s “holy war” against coalition troops.
Their numbers are not significant enough to affect the war in any material way. But they could cause a lot of mischief behind the lines.

The jihadis are said to include 2,500 Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon and 700 Algerians.

The U.S. -- perhaps with an assist from Israeli intelligence -- seems to be on to this. See yesterday's posting on how that "stray" missile that blasted a Syrian bus near the border with Iraq may have been intentional.

Washington war links

On the other side of the state, our colleagues at the Spokane Spokesman-Review are doing some good war blogging.

When I started this blog, I made special mention of a military wife named Michelle, whose writing I found particularly interesting. She’s still posting daily.

U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, a Democrat who represents the state’s 9th District, which includes Fort Lewis and McChord Air Force Base, has set up an Iraq information page for constituents.

Could this be a contrary indicator?

The French are convinced the war, which they refer to as the “Anglo-Saxon” conflict, is going badly for the coalition. They couldn’t possibly be wrong, could they?

What it takes to supply an army

Military folks talk a lot about lines of communication and logistical support, terms that make civilian eyes glaze. What they mean is getting fuel, food, water, ammunition and all the other stuff it takes to keep troops war-worthy to those who need it. And it does take a lot of stuff: 20 to 30 gallons of fuel per soldier per day plus 100 to 200 pounds of supplies (most of the weight is ammunition).

Posted by tbrown at 08:17 AM


March 25, 2003

Running battle along Euphrates leaves up to 300 Iraqis dead

The U.S. 3rd Squadron of the 7th Cavalry Regiment fought a running battle with Iraqi troops and militia that lasted nearly 24 hours and left as many as 300 Iraqi dead.

Though it lost three Abrams tanks, a Bradley fighting vehicle and several trucks, no Americans were seriously injured.

The engagement was the fiercest of the war to date. U.S. forces were under attack almost constantly as they moved north along the Euphrates river southwest of Baghdad.

Posted by tbrown at 04:13 PM


Do we need more troops to end this thing?

Today's must read is a posting on another war blog site, dailyKOS. It is a memo purportedly written by "a fairly well known military officer and commentator who under the circumstances is going to have to remain unidentified, other than to say that he is fairly well known military officer and commentator."

The memo is dense with military acronyms, but it makes the case that the so-called "shock and awe" campaign failed and that the U.S. command may have erred by not bringing in enough troops to end the war quickly.

Against this must be set the fact that the U.S. has been able to push ahead rapidly with few casualties despite the Iraqi resistance, while air strikes undoubtedly have "degraded" the Iraqi defenders and will do so further in the days ahead.

Mac Owens, makes the opposing argument -- that the push to Baghdad is a bold plan being implemented boldly and so far is furthering the goal of quickly toppling the Saddam regime.

Posted by tbrown at 02:02 PM


Bulletins from Basra

Two reporters with British forces at Basra, Iraq’s second-largest city, report that a Shiite Muslim militia there has started a popular uprising against the Iraqi regime.

British troops continue to slug it out with the Iraqi 51st division, which has dug into residential neighborhoods in the city of 1.7 million.

The British also repelled the first major Iraqi counter-attack of the war southeast of Basra. A British military spokesman said British forces clashed with a battalion-sized Iraqi unit and destroyed about 20 tanks.

A British raid also bagged a high-ranking member of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party who was in political control of Basra.

The Shiite militia inside Basra was supported by British and American warplanes and helicopters in armed clashes with Iraqi units in city. The militia is said to number about 3,000.

The Flipper factor

The Navy has deployed some of its trained dolphins to help locate mines off southern Iraq so ships carrying relief supplies can enter the harbor there.


Posted by tbrown at 11:38 AM


A decisive battle shapes up at Karbala

The U.S. 3rd Infantry Division and the Medina Division of the Iraqi Republican Guard are nose to nose at Karbala, a strategic crossroads 60 miles south of Baghdad.

"This engagement will determine if this is a long or short war," an Army officer at the Pentagon told the Washington Post’s Thomas Ricks.

If Iraq plans to use chemical weapons, this is likely to be the engagement they’ll choose.

U.S. forces are continuing to push forward into the "Karbala gap," a 20-mile stretch separating the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division and the entrenched positions of the Medina Republican Guard Division. Fierce sandstorms, which are forecast to last another two days, slowed progress and hampered some air operations.

American troops reported fierce fighting along their route of advance.

Decisive action probably will not occur until this weekend.

The Iraqis no doubt will take advantage of the weather to resupply troops and perhaps reposition some of their armor. When the skies clear, we probably can expect at least a couple of days of intense air activity before any ground combat.

From Basra, good news …

Two Red Cross engineers are working on the city’s water-treatment plant and hope to have water service restored to parts of the city today. The city's 1.7 million inhabitants have been without water since lasts Friday.

… and bad

The urban street fighting the U.S. and Britain have wanted to avoid seems all but certain now.

The British, whose forces have surrounded Basra, say that the city is now “a legitimate military target” because the Iraqi 51st Division has dug in there. A military spokesman said there will be no indiscriminate bombardment of the city, but that British troops will target Iraqi forces. How this plays out could give a small-scale picture of the likely nature of the coming battle for Baghdad.

Bus bombing may not have been an accident

On Monday, a “stray” U.S. missile destroyed a Syrian bus near the border with Iraq. The U.S. promptly apologized. But according to DEBKAfile, “The missile was no stray. It was deliberately fired from an F-15 fighter-bomber at a bus carrying armed Palestinian volunteers to join up with Iraqi forces, in order to make sure this was the last such Palestinian group of volunteers for Iraq. That F-15 made a piece of history; it carried out the first American air attack on a combatant Palestinian group. More will certainly be heard of this episode.”

Poof!

The U.S. command said all six GPS-jammers, sold to Iraq by Russia in a deal that has plunged relations between Washington and Moscow to a new depth of chilliness, have been destroyed.

What newspapers are saying

The British newspaper The Guardian rounds up opinion and analysis on the war.

Posted by tbrown at 09:23 AM


Al Jazeera in English

Al Jazeera, which has become the most popular TV station in the Arab world, has put up an English-language web site.

Right now it's very spare and very slow. Trying to follow links from the home page proved futile for me.

However, it is a site to watch to get a sense of what the Arab world is being told about the war in Iraq.

Posted by tbrown at 08:15 AM


March 24, 2003

TV and the war

In wartime the media become part of the story. Sometimes they’re accused to disloyalty. Sometimes they’re accused of parroting government propaganda. Rarely are they patted on the back for doing a good job. This war will be no exception.

One stark contrast that is emerging now is the difference between TV coverage in the U.S. and TV coverage elsewhere. As your faithful web logger, I watch U.S. TV out of the corner of my eye to to catch any important breaking news. So far I’ve had a hard time keeping that eye open. The TV coverage we’re getting is numbingly somnolent. Standup after standup by “embedded” reporters with, usually, little to report.

How many more hours of bomb blasts in Baghdad and green night-scope shots do we need?

TV abroad – especially in the Arab world, but not only there – is startlingly different.

While our talking heads were babbling about the rapid advance on Baghdad (undeniably a piece of military history, since it seems to be the quickest armored advance in ever), Arabs were seeing footage of the war in all its ugliness.

Arab stations – particularly Al Jazeera of Osama bin Laden notoriety – showed civilian dead, including a 12-year-old girl with half her head blown off. Since part of the emerging Iraqi strategy is placing civilians within the ranks of its Republican Guard troops, 300 million Arabs are likely to be seeing a lot more of this.

I'm not advocating a wave of gore on U.S. TV. However, I do think it's important that Americans understand a) what our attack is doing, even unintentionally, to Iraqi civilians, and b) what the world of Islam is seeing about this war. Americans certainly aren't finding out from our networks.

Stations elsewhere also showed the tape of five U.S. POWs, which U.S. TV (with the exception of CBS) declined to air – and which seems to me to be news. I don’t like seeing Americans who have been scared out of their wits by thugs any more than the next guy, but I do believe that such footage tells us quite a bit about what we’re up against in Iraq. And that’s something we ought to know.

You didn’t have to go to Arab stations to see the POW tape, either. Canadian stations ran it.

I agree with the decision by U.S. networks not to air the disgusting display in an Iraqi morgue of dead Americans, some of whom appeared to have been executed. But in a larger sense, U.S. TV needs to start making decisions based on news value, not squeamishness. We’re all in this together and Americans need to know what this is.

When is it OK to show photos of the dead?

Here's a closely related problem, not only for TV but for newspapers and magazines: When is it appropriate to show pictures of the dead. War is, after all, about lethal force.

From the Poynter Institute’s Aly Colon (a former Seattle Times reporter and editor), comes this timely and thoughtful exploration of that question.

The Geneva Conventions, 2

While journalists wrestle with what to air or print, nations have to deal with the much larger question of how to treat prisoners of war. Real human beings, not pictures of them.

This has been such a thorny issue for so long that it makes the term “war crime” seem almost redundant. Torture, starvation and execution of prisoners have been common in most conflicts. This no doubt helps explain why the 3rd Geneva Convention on prisoners of war consists of no fewer than 143 articles and numerous annexes.

Still, decent treatment is something we always hope will be extended to our POWs. Iraq, unfortunately, has a particularly awful record in this area, and the U.S. decision to declare all captives from the Afghanistan invasion “illegal combatants” not subject to the Geneva protocols has done nothing to strengthen our case.

Russian – and French – weapons are in Iraq, but so far no WMDs

The Bush administration says our supposed friends in Moscow have tolerated the sale Komet anti-tank missiles to Iraq and that a team of Russians is in Baghdad right now trying to help the Iraqis install and operate a system designed to incapacitate the global positioning system signals that guide our bombs to their targets. If they're successful, it won't be the Russians who are blamed when one of our bombs plasters a residential neighborhood.

The State Department lodged a formal protest with Russia over these illegal sales last week, to no avail.

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov denied that his country had done anything wrong. "We did not send any goods, including military ones, that violated the sanctions," he told reporters. "No fact supporting the Americans' anxiety has been found."

Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the issue Monday and Russia has vowed to look into the U.S. allegations, which it continues to deny. Putin also called for a halt to military action in Iraq to avert a humanitarian disaster.

As noted here earlier, William Safire of the New York Times has detailed illegal French weapon sales to Baghdad.

Meanwhile, U.S. officials are downplaying the significance of that suspected chemical weapons factory discovered in southern Iraq. Apparently there was no evidence it had been used to produce weapons, at least recently.

What’ll it cost?

After much prodding, the Bush administration estimated the war will cost $75 billion for a 30-day war.

Poll check

Three-quarters of the American people support the war, now that it has started, new polls show. A majority of Britons now also support the conflict, a significant shift in Prime Minister Tony Blair’s direction. Some numbers:

CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, conducted Thursday night: 76 percent of U.S. adults, ages 18 and over, approve of the decision to go to war against Iraq, up from 66 percent before the war started.

ABC News/Washington Post, also conducted Thursday night: 72 percent of those surveyed support the war.

"We're basically experiencing the rallying effect that we always see — at least for the short term — when America goes to war," Frank Newport, editor in chief of the Gallup Poll, said.

Ditto in Britain. An ICM poll for Tuesday’s edition of the Guardian newspaper says 54 percent of Britons said they support a military campaign to remove Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, compared with 38 percent in a previous March 16 poll.

And ditto in Australia, which also has sent troops to the conflict. A poll there found that for the first time supporters of the conflict outnumber those who oppose it (50 percent to 42 percent).

Just ducky

“Cowardly French sailors are enjoying a holiday on the Thames — while our brave boys and girls risk their lives to topple Saddam,” ranted the rabidly pro-war London tabloid the Sun.

Most papers would have stopped there and moved on to another topic. Not these guys. They hired a 38-foot yacht and attacked the French coastal patrol vessel FS Flamant with a blizzard of white feathers, a symbol of cowardice.

“First, we hoisted up the Red Ensign flag as we left St Katharine’s dock,” the Sun valiantly reported.

“Then we circled the ship and shouted to the crew: ‘We have le feather blanc for you grands poulets.’ (That would be “big chickens” in English.)

“We sounded our horn and then moved into position.

“As the rattled French seamen looked on in amazement, we bombarded them with the feathers — which showered their deck.

“Sailors ran for a hose and sounded the ship’s booming horn to warn us off.

“A senior officer wagged his finger and shouted ‘No, no’. “

Then, according to the Sun, the French called the cops, who issued a “friendly warning” to cut it out.

Too bad these guys weren't around for the Spanish Armada.

Posted by tbrown at 07:05 PM


Iraqis repel copter attack, show two more POWs

U.S. Apache helicopters searching for Republican Guard tanks near Karbala, about 50 air miles southwest of Baghdad, ran into heavy ground fire today and one was shot down. The Iraqi government said a second copter had been downed, but the U.S. commander, Gen. Tommy Franks, denied it.

A few hours later, Iraqi TV showed tape of two of the U.S. fliers, who were dressed in flight suits and appeared to be in good condition. Unlike the five POWs shown Sunday, they were not questioned on camera. The U.S. had complained that questioning them on TV violated Article 13 of the Geneva Convention on prisoners of war. The second crew was unaccounted for.

Military analysts had said that today -- the first day of long-distance contact between U.S. troops and the Iraqi Republican Guard, would tell much about Iraqi determination.

The message the Iraqis delivered was not the one coalition forces had hoped for. All 32 helicopters in the attack were damaged. They were forced to withdraw, though they did take out several tanks and shot up infantry positions.

The U.S. continued massive air strikes on Republican Guard divisions before a frontal assault on their positions.

When that assault will come is unclear. The level of Iraqi resistance will be one factor. The weather may be another: sandstorms are forecast.

Posted by tbrown at 03:08 PM


The battle for Basra gets ugly

The struggle for control of Basra, Iraq’s second-largest city, is turning ugly, just as Saddam Hussein had hoped.

Civilian casualties are mounting, according to Arab accounts, which are denied by the British. The Iraqi information minister, Mohammed Saeed al Sahaf, claimed that 77 civilians had been killed and 366 wounded in Basra, mainly by cluster bombs.

Al Jazeera, an influential TV channel in the Arab world, put the number of civilian dead at 50. It televised a picture of an Iraqi child with the rear of its head blown off. Several Arab news outlets called events in Basra a “massacre.”

The British, whose 7th Armored Regiment is the main coalition unit involved in the battle, denied the Iraqi claim of major civilian casualties. U.S. spokesmen declined comment.

The exact number of dead may be less important than how the battle will be interpreted in the Arab world, where anti-American sentiment is already rabid.

Elements of the Iraqi 51st Division – that’s the one that was supposed to have either surrendered or “melted away” the other day – have dug into residential districts, greatly complicating the efforts of the British 7th Armored Brigade to dislodge them.

Street fighting in congested cities is something the U.S. has urgently wanted to avoid because it will lengthen the conflict and inevitably lead to more civilian deaths.

"It's not the blitzkrieg everybody thought it would be," Chris Atkinson, a British fusilier, said in the Washington Post’s account of the fighting. "I think it's for public opinion and not wanting to kill any civilians."

Not far away, on the Al Faw Peninsula, a group of Iraqi troops were acting more as the U.S. and Britain had hoped and predicted before the war.

After a ragtag group of Iraqis surrendered, rather than fight Royal Marine commandos and U.S. Navy Seals, the Brits found that the Iraqi conscripts had herded their officers into a bunker and executed them.

No electricity or water

Basra also has had no water or electricity for the last two days and the Red Cross warned that a major humanitarian crisis may develop in the city of 1 million.

How bad is Uday Hussein?

Very bad. Sports Illustrated has an amazing story about the torture and murder of Iraqi athletes who fail to perform to the expectations of Uday Hussein, the dictator’s son.

Uday began accompanying his father to Iraq’s torture chambers when he was 10 and at 16 bragged of committing his first murder, SI reports.

Raed is back

One of my favorite blogs, "Where is Raed," is back online after a two-day hiatus. The author, who goes by the pen name Salam Pax, is the only known Iraqi blogger who is actually in Baghdad. His latest posting includes his usual potpourri of observations about life in the besieged capital and also some observations about U.S. bombing:

"1) the attacks are precise. 2) they are attacking targets which are just too close to civilian areas in Baghdad."

Pax opposes the U.S. invasion, but also berates Saddam Hussein's regime.

He was offline because of too much traffic at his server site, so it may best to try to view his work at a new mirror site.

One constant question is the real identity of Salam Pax. We're unlikely to find out until the war is over, and perhaps not then. But The Guardian concludes that whoever he is, he really is in Baghdad.

Also see this Washington Post story about how bloggers are covering the war.

Posted by tbrown at 02:41 PM


U.S. POWs murdered?

It appears that Iraq may be extending one of the commonplace occurrences in its treatment of its own citizens – summary execution – to U.S. prisoners of war.

Iraqi TV, as relayed by Al Jazeera TV, the Bahrain-based station known for airing Osama bin Laden’s pronouncements, showed four or five uniformed bodies in a morgue that it said were Americans. I have not seen this tape, and it’s important to remember that we’re deep into the "fog of war," where few things are immediately clear. But people who have seen it, including those in the Pentagon, say that at least some of the soldiers appeared to have been shot in the forehead – that is, executed.

So we’re going to be hearing a lot about the Geneva Convention on prisoners of war. The Geneva Convention is lengthy, but this passage from Article 3 sums up some crucial provisions:

" … the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever ... :

"(a) violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture; (b) taking of hostages; (c) outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment; (d) the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples."

For what it’s worth, Al Arabiya, an Arabic-language news network based in Dubai, reported that Iraq has agreed to respect the Geneva Conventions in its treatment of prisoners of war.

The Bush administration has been talking all along about trying Saddam and his upper leadership for war crimes. Killing POWs, an act one would think has to have been authorized from fairly high on the food chain, gives them one more motivation.

The problem for the U.S. is that it is quite unlikely to get much sympathy outside the small circle of its closest allies. Many people in many lands think the U.S. invasion is itself a violation of international law. Furthermore, the U.S. policy in Afghanistan, another Muslim nation, was that the Geneva Convention did not apply to any of our adversaries there.

Another blog, dailyKOS, puts it this way:

"The U.S. has made a mockery of the Geneva Conventions in its prosecution of the war in Afghanistan. With this administration, international law only applies to others. Be it Turkey ('no unilateral attack of Iraq, please!'), or Iraq -- who is now violating the conventions by showing American POWs on television.

"The US won't get much sympathy in the world. It so blatantly outclasses Iraq's defenders, in a war without legal sanction, that no one will be too outraged at this turn of events. Indeed, it's clear that the world is rooting for Iraq. Bush has turned the US into the 'bad guy'. I'm not used to having my country play that role."

The right or wrong of the war

History will judge whether the conflict in Iraq was justified or not, legal or not and successful or not, based largely on how things look five or 10 years from now.

Meantime, we are left with opinions. Lots of them. Some of them even worth reading. Here are are two:

Victor Davis Hanson writes in the National Review that, "We are presently watching the last hand in a long-drawn-out poker game. All the chips — the EU, NATO, the U.N., European anti-Americanism, French chauvinism, domestic opposition, the future of a democratic Iraq, the very nature of the Middle East, and of the war against terror itself — are now stacked on the table, up for grabs."

Jonathan Schell says in The Nation that, "The tragedy of America in the post-cold war era is that we have proved unequal to the responsibility that our own power placed upon us."

The mood in Baghdad

Newsweek’s Melinda Liu has a highly readable piece about the mood in Baghdad since just before the war broke out.

Posted by tbrown at 07:47 AM


March 23, 2003

How the war might look to Saddam

From the U.S. perspective, the war appears to be going about as expected. Advance elements of regular forces were within 100 miles of Baghdad by Saturday night and special forces reportedly had entered the city. Devastating air strikes have slammed Saddam Hussein’s military infrastructure and communications. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld says Saddam is losing his grip on his country.

Mac Owens, the dispassionate military professional who is analyzing the conflict for the National Review Online, sees reason for cautious optimism.

Still, I have to wonder how the war appears to the Iraqi dictator.

Obviously, I’m assuming he is still alive. Saddam may have been hurt or killed on the first night of the war but U.S. officials say they can’t be sure. John Burns of the New York Times provides perhaps the most compelling argument that things are not well with Saddam: " … Mr. Hussein, normally inclined to issue long, discursive, grandiose philippics at times of crisis, has simply disappeared. All he has left to Iraq's 24 million people at a time of major crisis is Thursday's five-minute, disjointed denunciation of the ‘criminal little Bush,’ and his vow to Iraqis that ‘these days will add to your glorious history.’ "

Still, Saddam may have simply decided that lying low is the only way to stay alive. And if he is alive, the war is probably going about as he expected, too, with the exception of that little unpleasantness the first night. His strategy from the beginning has been to concede the desert to coalition troops and make his stand in Baghdad, as Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution outlines in this analysis.

Once U.S. troops reach Baghdad, he hopes to bog them down in bloody house-to-house fighting with the Republican Guard. If that’s still his plan, there have been a couple of developments that he might view favorably.

For example, though allied forces have taken the southern port city of Umm Qasr, they were still being harassed by pockets of Iraqi troops on Saturday.

Col. Chris Vernon, a British Army spokesman, described Umm Qasr as a "difficult operation" because some Iraqi troops, armed with assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades pulled civilian clothes on over their uniforms. Distinguishing them from civilians was difficult – and could be far more so in Baghdad.

More significantly, coalition forces were encountering serious resistance at Basra, Iraq’s second-largest city. They halted outside the city in hopes that pressure on the Iraqis might get them to surrender and avert urban combat. The odds of such an outcome presumably will be slim in Baghdad as long as Saddam is around.

Then there’s the situation in northern Iraq, where the U.S. is scrambling to head off a potential sideshow dust-up between Turkish troops and Kurds. The Turks have repeatedly said they need troops in northern Iraq to keep Kurdish refugees from entering Turkey. The U.S. has been actively trying to dissuade them, especially after Turkey’s refusal to let the U.S. move troops through its territory to open a second front in northern Iraq.

For their part, the Kurds, a stateless ethnic group who have been oppressed by Turkey, Iraqi and Iran, effectively have established a self-governing enclave in the Northern No-Fly Zone. They like their independence and have said they’ll attack Turkish troops who enter their territory.

The U.S. now is preparing to fly troops into the north via Jordan to keep the peace there and open a second front as quickly as they can.

None of this is significant enough, yet, to have any major impact on U.S. plans, but it does underscore that there are reasons the conflict could stretch from the several days most Americans hope for into several weeks. And there is no doubt that the longer it goes on the more it plays to Saddam's hand.

However, there also are aspects of this campaign that Saddam will not like. The opinion in the antiwar movement that the U.S. is inflicting a civilian bloodbath on the Iraqis -- one of Saddam's trump cards to increase international pressure on the U.S. -- seems plainly wrong. Casualties, yes. Bloodbath, no. Nate Thayer of Slate captures the atmosphere: a mix of increasingly Anti-Saddam sentiment combined with the Iraqis' intensely conflicted emotions toward Americans. Love and hate. It all depends on who they are.

Perhaps coalition forces will find Saddam if he is still alive or undermine his increasingly fragile and beat-up regime enough that no climactic battle is necessary after the dangerous drive to Baghdad. But it will take a while yet before we’ll know about that.

Liberators or villains?

It must gall the Gauls (and doctrinaire war protesters, too), but some ordinary Iraqis are, indeed, welcoming coalition troops as liberators.

A trip to Iraq also proved eye-opening to one opponent of the war. Kenneth Joseph, a young American pastor, said visiting Iraq "shocked me back to reality." Some of the Iraqis he interviewed on camera "told me they would commit suicide if American bombing didn't start. They were willing to see their homes demolished to gain their freedom from Saddam's bloody tyranny…" It is, as we have noted before, difficult to overstate the appalling brutality of Saddam’s rule. Sometimes we just need to hear about it from those who have borne the burden.

Demonstrations continued unabated Saturday. Supporters and opponents of the conflict rallied across the U.S.

Overseas, the sentiment continued to be overwhelmingly antiwar, especially in Arab countries.

Posted by tbrown at 10:00 AM


March 22, 2003

War sparks hack attacks on the Web

The invasion of Iraq has spawned a wave of attacks on web sites and the three new viruses.

The Finnish internet security firm F-secure says more than 1,000 web sites have been hit. It divides the hackers into three main groups:

-- Americans who support the war and who may attack the e-mail systems of Iraqi diplomatic missions and companies.
-- Islamic extremist groups, who are striking back against the war by attacking U.S. sites, particularly .mil sites.
-- Peace activists who are using viruses to spread anti-war messages.

The site includes enlargeable screen shots of several hacked sites.

F-secure also lists these new viruses:

Lioten, a Windows network worm spread through shared folders.

Prune, a Visual Basic script worm spread by e-mail and other means.

Ganda, an e-mail worm.

Wired News recounts the stories of two women with loved ones in the military whose computers were trashed by Ganda.

New poll shows U.S. support for war

A new poll by the New York Times and CBS News shows Americans strongly support the war, but not by the overwhelming majority by which they supported the 1991 Gulf War.

The Times found 62 percent thought the U.S. was right to start the war, while 35 percent thought U.N. weapons inspectors should have been given more time to complete their work.

In 1991, 79 percent thought the U.S. was right to attack Iraq after it invaded Kuwait, while only 16 percent thought we should have waited to see if a trade embargo worked.

The first war casualties: UN and NATO

The U.S. decision to forge ahead with the Iraq conflict has seriously damaged the United Nations, to the evident glee of some in the Bush administration (see yesterday’s posting on Richard Perle).

This even-handed analysis argues that the more serious damage is to NATO, which has been the cornerstone of Atlantic security strategy for the last half-century.

Posted by tbrown at 12:22 AM


March 21, 2003

Perle celebrates the end of the U.N.

Richard Perle, an influential Pentagon adviser and one of the key shapers of Bush administration foreign policy, celebrates the end of the United Nations in an article in British newspaper The Guardian.

Some U.N. functions will continue, Perle says, such as peacekeeping activities.

“What will die is the fantasy of the UN as the foundation of a new world order. As we sift the debris, it will be important to preserve, the better to understand, the intellectual wreckage of the liberal conceit of safety through international law administered by international institutions.”

He argues that the notion that wars can only be authorized by the U.N. Security Council is “dangerously wrong.”

On other side

Slate’s Michael Kinsley argues that, “ … Bush is asserting the right of the United States to attack any country that may be a threat to it in five years. And the right of the United States to evaluate that risk and respond in its sole discretion. And the right of the president to make that decision on behalf of the United States in his sole discretion. In short, the president can start a war against anyone at any time, and no one has the right to stop him….

“In terms of the power he now claims, without significant challenge, George W. Bush is now the closest thing in a long time to dictator of the world ...”

Days in the life of the tyrant

The Atlantic illuminates Saddam Hussein’s character by examining the details of his daily life. The piece, by Mark Bowden, also examines Saddam’s history. Lengthy but well worth the time.

In the mail: Perle factually challenged?

A reader named Bill has this to say about Richard Perle:

You mention Richard Perle's remarks on the UN, so I took a look. He says, "The 'good works' part will survive, the low-risk peacekeeping bureaucracies will remain, the chatterbox on the Hudson will continue to bleat." I remember the UN being on the East River, not the Hudson. A look at a map confirms this. What should we think of a man who does not get the little facts right? Do only big facts interest him, and does he get those right? Or do facts not matter, only his fact-free opinions?

Posted by tbrown at 01:39 PM


Iraq may hold the only American still missing in the Gulf War

In the early morning hours of Jan. 17, 1991, the first day of the Gulf War triggered by Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, Lt. Cmdr. Michael Scott Speicher’s F/A-18 Hornet was shot down, apparently by an air-to-air missile from an Iraqi MiG-25.

Speicher was the first American casualty of the war. Now, the U.S. government believes, he is probably alive and being held captive somewhere in Iraq. He should be the object of a widespread search as the U.S. tightens its grip on Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Speicher’s story is both amazing and disturbing.

Other pilots saw the explosion as his plane was hit. He initially was listed by the military as killed in action/body not recovered. After the war, the U.S. asked Iraq to provide information about Speicher’s fate. From the beginning, there were questions.

Iraq turned over human remains it said were Speicher’s, but DNA tests showed they were those of someone else.

A U.S. investigation team that was allowed into Iraq brought back photos of the crash site and other information that also raised questions.

As the years passed, clues kept popping up indicating that Speicher might have ejected and survived the crash of his plane. The evidence was pulled together in this unclassified intelligence assessment.

U.S. officials stepped up pressure on Iraq, which claimed Speicher was dead, to provide conclusive information of his fate, but essentially were stonewalled.

Then in 1999, an Iraqi defector said he had taken an injured American to Baghdad about six weeks after the Gulf War began. He identified a photograph of Speicher as that man.

In January 2001, the Navy changed Speicher’s status from killed to missing in action, citing a lack of evidence that he had actually died. Similarly, there was no conclusive evidence that he was alive either.

However, last year British intelligence passed on to the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency information from a source who had been in Iraq and had seen an American who was being held there. He said only two Iraqis were allowed to see the man, the head of Iraqi intelligence and Uday Hussein, Saddam’s son.

Based on this and the other information that had accumulated over the years, the Navy last fall revised Speicher’s status as missing/captured – in other words, a prisoner of war. Secretary of the Navy Gordon England said that, "While the information available to me now does not prove definitively that Captain Speicher (Note: he has been promoted twice since he was shot down) is alive, and in Iraqi custody, I am personally convinced the Iraqis seized him sometime after his plane went down."

Speicher had married his college sweetheart before becoming a pilot. She remarried while he was listed as killed and has refused all comment.

This is the short version of Speicher’s story, which was told at length in a series of articles in the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot.

If you’re interested in issues regarding Speicher or Americans missing or captured in other wars, one of the best sites is maintained by Dolores Apodaca-Alfond of Bellevue.

The many, many faces of Saddam Hussein

After U.S. cruise missiles and stealth planes blasted that "target of opportunity" in southern Baghdad early Thursday morning, Saddam Hussein quickly appeared on Iraqi TV to prove he was OK. Or did he?

Saddam has body doubles who have undergone surgery to make them look like him. They’ve also learned his mannerisms. It’s all part of Saddam’s paranoia about being bumped off by his own countrymen (killing about 1 million people can lead to grudges), if not by the U.S. American officials said they were studying the tape of Saddam to determine if it really was him. That could all be part of the psychological warfare that underlies the real fighting. But maybe not. He looked, somehow a little ... goofy.

Thanks to a guy named Sam Sloan, we can now all play Who’s the Real Saddamon his slightly, um, eccentric web site. See if you can figure it out.

But seriously, how can we tell?

Here’s how the CIA does its assessments of Saddam sightings and Osama bin Laden tapes.

Time for some humor

There’s nothing funny about war. Or about terrorism. But there’s always something funny to be said about bureaucracy.

Wired News has rounded up some satire, most of it directed at some not-so-helpful homeland security information dished out by the government.

Be forewarned: if you dig deeply enough, some content is rated R.

Enough funny stuff, let’s get back to WMDs

Those, of course, are weapons of mass destruction. Just before the war broke out, the Washington Post reports, U.S. agents confronted a number of Iraqi spooks and scientists who were working outside Iraq and gave them a stark choice: Fess up or face some unpleasant consequences when "regime change" is complete. Some, apparently, did fess.

Posted by tbrown at 07:45 AM


March 20, 2003

A guide to talking heads

Who are all those people on TV babbling on about Iraq? Slate has provided a handy guide to gurus.

The Decapitation gambit

"Decapitation" dominates the news right now. It sounds nasty, like French revolutionaries forcing their victims up the steps to the guillotine.

But decapitation has had a different meaning in U.S. security policy in recent decades. Beginning at least 25 years ago, one of the major objectives of U.S. nuclear deterrence was the ability "decapitate" the leadership of the Soviet Union, should nuclear war erupt. That meant killing them in their leadership bunkers.

The idea then was basically the same as the one tried early Thursday morning in Baghdad -- a bunker-piercing explosive designed to kill the top leadership where they stood or slept.

The difference is that nuclear decapitation called for ICBMs armed with penetrating thermonuclear warheads that could pierce 50 or 100 feet of earth before exploding. When they did explode, their destructive power, measured in millions of tons of explosive, could fuse any underground structures within a quarter-mile of the impact zone into molten rock. That can make up for quite a bit of targeting error. Since employing this strategy was only foreseen as retaliation for a Soviet first strike, there wasn't a whole lot of concern about collateral damage.

That was then, with a very different adversary.

Thursday morning, when our forces blasted bunkers in Baghdad, we used conventional explosives. They are more precisely targeted than the nukes of a few decades ago and their prime objective is to kill only leadership figures we despise, not to spread nuclear radiation and blast destruction around a city of six million people whose favor we hope to curry in the future.

So instead of nukes, we use conventional bunker-busting bombs. They are precise, we are told, but also much less powerful than the weapons available at the the dawn of the decapitation strategy. Will they do the job?

We'll see. If they don't, we'll eventually have troops, not to mention special operations commandos, on the ground in Baghdad to finish things off, which we never would have had in a nuclear exchange with the Soviets.

Posted by tbrown at 11:20 AM


March 19, 2003

Good reading from Baghdad

There’s a fascinating blog from Baghdad, called “Where is Raed?”

The blog is written by someone calling himself Salam Pax. If you want some insight into the atmosphere in Baghdad at the outset of war, pay a visit. It's compelling stuff. The writer also shares some nuggets of news. In Wednesday’s posting, he reports:

“It is being said that Barazan (Saddam’s brother) has suggested to him that he should do the decent thing and surrender, he got himself under house arrest in one of the presidential palaces which is probably going to be one of the first to be hit. Families of big wigs and ‘his’ own family are being armed to the teeth. More from fear of Iraqis seeking retribution than Americans.”

Good gossip, even if there’s no way of verifying it. The site is anti-regime (but also anti-war), and there has been some chit-chat about its authenticity. But it has a graininess of detail and observation that speaks strongly for its veracity.

This site is sometimes down – scarcely surprising – and could soon disappear. Take advantage of it while it’s still around.

Delta Force is stalking Saddam

Ever since “regime change” in Iraq became a goal of the Bush administration not long after 9/11, the subtext has always been the assassination of Saddam Hussein.

Bush signed an intelligence order directing the CIA to employ covert operations to topple Saddam – and to kill him if necessary. In February 2002, at about the time the Bush gave the CIA its marching orders, U.S. Sen. Peter Fitzgerald caused a minor storm when he said:

“I have personally talked to the President about this and if we had intelligence on where he (Saddam) was now, and we had a clear shot to assassinate him, we would probably do that.”

Now the killing of Saddam is an openly expressed goal. Capture is still possible, of course. Teams of commandos from the secret Delta Force are on their way to Baghdad to try to hunt down Saddam, his sons and other high-ranking Iraqis.

Wholesale Iraqi desertions reported by British intelligence

The U.S. has been papering Iraq with millions of air-dropped leaflets like those in this CNN slide show advising Iraqi troops to surrender when the invasion begins in earnest. According to a British intelligence report seen by the Times of London, thousands of Iraqis are heeding the warning and deserting their units.

More on our sci-fi bomb

A couple of days ago, in “Our sci-fi weapon,” I wrote about the new secret bomb we may try in Iraq. It’s a microwave device that can knock out virtually any electronic equipment and leave humans unharmed. We think.

Since that posting, I’ve reviewed information about the so-called E-bomb at a number of sites. It turns out, unfortunately, that while it is difficult to design sophisticated microwave bombs it’s both easy and cheap to make crude versions, which are remarkably simple.

This opens the possibility that terrorists or rogue governments could create such weapons, which could be capable of incapacitating U.S. electronics systems. Needless to say, we, and our main European and Asian allies would be far more vulnerable to these weapons than low-tech countries like Iraq and North Korea.

GlobalSecurity.org soberly discusses the weapon, its effects, and the problems with designing and deploying it.

Popular Mechanics has a more entertaining scare story about what an attack on a U.S. city with an E-bomb might be like. The mag also points out how simple and cheap it is to make crude forms of this weapon.

Will Saddam use chemical and biological weapons?

A lot of ink has been spilled on this question. We’ll know soon. Until then, here’s a useful discussion of the drawbacks of these devices and why Saddam might choose not to use them.


Posted by tbrown at 08:15 PM


Rumors swirl like the sand

The invasion of Iraq may already be underway. There’s been no official announcement of it, but rumors are rife. It’s night time in Iraq, the U.S. military’s preferred time for attack.

The London Evening Standard says flatly that the war has started and that U.S. and British forces were involved in a firefight near Basra in southern Iraq.

From DEBKAfile comes this report:

“US war commanders grabbed the element of surprise after all. While most analysts and forecasters predicted a mighty aerial-missile blitz over Baghdad as the war’s opener, the campaign began Wednesday, March 19, with a lighting advance by Marine forces into southern Iraq along the Shatt el Arab River towards the big naval base and town of Umm Qasr.

“Fighting alongside the Americans are two brigades of the British 1st Armored Division and naval vessels landing Marine units south of Basra. The first clash of the war occurred shortly after in the mouth of the Khawr al-Zubayr river, a few miles south of Umm Qasr.

“The US-UK column is heading at top speed for the oil fields of southern Iraq which have been surrounded by American and British special forces since earlier this month. DEBKAfile’s military experts view this first major military move in the war as a bold tactic to prevent the sabotage of the oil fields, with the largest field in southern Iraq, Rumailah, at highest risk.

“A second column of US 3rd Infantry Division troops crossed into the demilitarized zone on the Iraqi border with Kuwait accompanied by thousands of tanks, combat vehicles and fuel trucks. “

DEBKA’s report could not be independently confirmed.

Earlier, near the Iraq-Kuwait border, 16 Iraqi soldiers surrendered to U.S. troops. U.S. planes have dropped millions of leaflets advising Iraqi troops to surrender rather than resist and giving them instructions on how to proceed.

A rumor that Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz had fled Iraq and captured by Kurds in Northern Iraq was squelched when Aziz went on TV in Baghdad and said he was prepared to die for his country if necessary.

In Washington, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer warned that Americans should be prepared for casualties when the conflict begins. He also said the invasion would not necessarily begin precisely when President Bush’s 48-hour deadline expires later today, but when military conditions were right.

Over at Slate, Fred Kaplan offers a scorecard for the first few days of the war to tell if we're winning.

Humanitarian aid stands by

There is widespread concern that the Iraq conflict will trigger a new humanitarian crisis. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis could be displaced from the cities and left in a hot, harsh environment without adequate food, water, or medicines.

World Vision, based in Federal Way, and Mercy Corps, in Portland, have active Iraq relief programs

Relief rally on Wall Street?

The second most common question after "When will the war start?" has been "When will the stock market recover?" We confess no special insight into this question. However, it's worth recalling that the stock market's situation was in some respects similar during the Gulf War in 1991. The U.S. had been in recession and the market was considerably down from its peak (though nowhere near as deeply in the tank as it is today). It's also worth noting that the market has bounced somewhat as war has become imminent.

This chart shows what happed to small-company stocks, large-company stocks, gold, gold- and silver-mining stocks and oil prices and oil stocks before, during and after the Gulf War.


Posted by tbrown at 12:28 PM


Saddam’s war plan

We’ve heard a lot about the U.S. war plan for the Iraq conflict, but not a lot about Saddam’s. There are unsettling indications that he may not be the only one feeling "shock and awe" when the shooting starts.

Iranian-born author and commentator Amir Taheri says that at a meeting of his commanders Sunday, Saddam outlined three main objectives (the quotes are from Taheri, not Saddam):

-- Slow the advance of coalition forces by creating a "tidal wave of refugees" whose only escape route will be to the south, toward advancing U.S. and British forces.

-- Shield his best forces, the Republican Guard, behind regular army troops, who will be, in effect, "cannon fodder."

-- Maximize civilian casualties "in an effort to shock world opinion, especially in the United States."

In addition, U.S. officials say that Republican Guard troops south of Baghdad may now have munitions containing VX nerve gas and mustard gas, a chemical agent that inflicted thousands of deaths in World War I.

Ali Hassan Al-Majid, Saddam’s cousin, is in charge of Iraqi forces in the southern area. He is known as "Chemical Ali" for gassing thousands of Kurds in Northern Iraq.

Of course, Saddam’s ability to carry out any coherent plan, diabolical or otherwise, depends on his ability to stay in touch with his commanders – and his communications are a critical link that the U.S. hopes to take out in the early hours of the war.

Saddam is made more vulnerable than national leaders normally are by his own paranoia. His four sector commanders are all either relatives or flunkies and none of them have genuine military experience. The entire upper command structure of the Iraqi armed forces, from the defense minister down through the top 20 generals has been sidelined in order to prevent any coup attempts, Taheri says.

This is a flimsy command structure and if just one or two of its links are broken, Saddam could find himself out of options in a hurry.

How bad is Saddam, really?

If you have lingering doubts, read this brief, but gruesome account by a British member of parliament whose committee has been investigating human rights abuses in Iraq.


Despite his horrors, Saddam is Iraq to many of his people

It’s a sad fact that many tyrants, by force of personality, become inseparably linked with their country’s identity. If you doubt this, look up the stories from Russia on the recently observed 50th anniversary of Josef Stalin’s death. Saddam appears to be another such, according to this Los Angeles Times account. This may make replacing him with a kinder, gentler government more difficult than it might seem.

Another piece from the Times reminds us why it is quite unlikely that Saddam will leave Iraq at the last minute, as demanded by Bush.

Rachel in her own words

Rachel Corrie, the Evergreen State College student who was crushed by an Israeli bulldozer, died very young for her beliefs. She was just 23. Much has been written about the incident. Her e-mails home tell her story in her own words.

Part 1

Part 2

Hot new war diary

DEBKAfile, the Israeli intelligence and military news site run by two journalists, has started a daily war diary and if the first entry is any indication it’ll be a good spot to check for fresh information.

The diary reports that a sandstorm halted movements of U.S. troops in Kuwait Tuesday, but that it should blow out by Wednesday, opening a window of three or four days before the next one arrives. Also, the site says, Turkey has agreed to allow U.S. troops to pass through its territory to northern Iraq (though there has been no public announcement yet) and that troops of the 4th Cavalry Division from Fort Hood, Texas, are en route.

The diary begins on the DEBKA home page below the news headlines.

French flip-flop ahead?

France’s ambassador to the U.S. says his country might change its position and help America and Britain out if Saddam uses weapons of mass destruction.

Whether the U.S. would welcome the French back into the fold is another question. At presidential spokesman Ari Fleischer’s briefing, this exchange took place:

Q. And your reaction to the French Ambassador's statement to CNN this morning. He was saying that if Saddam Hussein were to use chemical and biological weapons, this would change the situation completely and immediately for the French government, suggesting that the French military could assist the U.S.-led coalition. Is this a sign, perhaps, of a change in point of view?

FLEISCHER: One, I thought it was a notable statement. Two, let us hope it never has to come to pass.

Fleischer refused to be pinned down on whether the U.S. would be interested in any assistance from France.

Posted by tbrown at 07:38 AM


March 18, 2003

Not quite alone

Here’s a list of countries the U.S. State Department says are publicly supporting the American position on Iraq:

Afghanistan, Albania, Australia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Colombia, Czech Republic, Denmark, El Salvador, Eritrea, Estonia, Ethiopia, Georgia, Hungary, Italy, Japan (post conflict), South Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Philippines, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Turkey, Britain, Uzbekistan.

In addition, another 15 countries are said to have offered their support privately.

Posted by tbrown at 05:21 PM


Polls show strong support for Bush – and some concern

Polls done just after George Bush’s speech last night show about 65 to 70 percent support for either for a military attack to depose Saddam Hussein or for the president’s ultimatum to Saddam to leave Iraq within 48 hours.

These numbers are a bounce up from the roughly 60 percent level, which had been stable for some weeks.

While all the polls show some undercurrents of concern – as well as outright opposition to conflict by a minority – there is widespread belief that the U.S. will prevail, probably pretty swiftly.

Here are four polls, which differ slightly in their approach to the subject:

Gallup/CNN/USA Today

The Washington Post

MSNBC

CBS

What they said

Here are the texts of President Bush's speech to the nation Monday night and British Prime Minister Tony Blair's address to Parliament.

Bush

Blair

Posted by tbrown at 11:10 AM


March 17, 2003

Our new sci-fi weapon

Talk about killer apps. The U.S. now has a microwave weapon that is described as having near-magical powers: it can disable virtually any electronic system while leaving humans unharmed. It does this by shooting a surge of microwave radiation through any nearby electronic systems, essentially frying their circuitry. It apparently would work even on deeply buried bunkers, because the charge can follow phone lines or other communications cables wherever they go.

U.S. strategy in the impending Iraq conflict is aimed at cutting Saddam Hussein off from his military commanders. The new high-powered microwave, or HPM, would seem ideal for the purpose.

“The virtue of high-power microwave weapons is that they can shut down virtually any military electronics system while producing no casualties and minimal physical damage,” says Loren Thompson, a military analyst for the Lexington Institute, a think tank. “What that means is that the enemy can’t see you coming, they can’t hear themselves talking and they can’t find their friendly forces. They are essentially deaf, dumb and blind. But they’re alive.”

Here’s a weapon that might be able to achieve one of the military’s key goals and could be used in densely populated areas, such as Baghdad, without killing anyone. What could be better?

Whether the HPM will be employed in Iraq is not known, however, because the decision is more complex than it might seem.

For one thing, at this stage of its development, HPMs would have to be delivered by cruise missile. Unfortunately, cruise missiles do go astray, and a major Pentagon fear is that one might fall into the hands of unfriendly forces who might then be capable of reproducing it and turning it against the U.S. – which would be far more vulnerable to its effects than a low-tech country like Iraq.

Some U.S. officials also fear use of the weapon could trigger the biggest arms race since the development of the A-bomb.

Why did they do it?

French President Jacques Chirac and his foreign secretary, Dominque de Villepin, seem to be driven by a sense of historical destiny that sounds similar to that of the Bush administration, according to this assessment by the Los Angeles Times.

We also learn that de Villepin is author of a book called, "The Cry of the Gargoyle." Must sound better in French.

With the photographers

There are a number of good photo presentations on both Iraq and American troops at the web sites of major U.S. papers.

Here’s a sampling:

At the New York Times, veteran reporter John F. Burns narrates his observations about Baghdad to accompany some striking photos by Tyler Hicks.

Boston Herald photographer Kuni Takahashi brings home the reality of life in the desert for U.S. trooops.

The Los Angeles Times also has some compelling photos from Iraq.

Will Bush policy hurt world trade?

Much has been said about U.S. “unilateralism” – the Bush administration’s determination to act in what it thinks are the country’s best interests regardless of other considerations.

Now the director general of the World Trade Organization has raised the possibility that Washington’s go-it-alone attitude, which has been evident in trade matters as well as on the security front, could fracture the laboriously built structure of global trade.

Posted by tbrown at 04:52 PM


Up front

Wars always raise the question of how they’ll be covered journalistically.

During the last Gulf War, reporters were pretty much confined to the rear, where they were briefed on what the U.S. military decided should be the day’s news. The result was little insight into what was happening until it was over.

This time may be different. The Pentagon is busily “embedding” more than 600 U.S. and foreign reporters with American forces on the ground and at sea. In this arrangement, the reporters are assigned to specific units and, in theory at least, will follow them wherever they go. This certainly will give them greater access to U.S. troops and to the battlefield than they had last time, though to tag along they have to agree to work under some Pentagon restrictions -- including a possible news blackout during the opening hours of conflict.

Part of the Pentagon's motivation for sending reporters with the troops appears to be to get first-hand reporting on Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, which many of those opposed to war doubt exist. As one officer put it, the public might not believe the Army if it said it found some of those WMD, but would believe reporters and photographers who saw and depicted them.

In the background there also is the fear that Saddam may well use those weapons against American troops. One hell of a story, if the reporters are alive to tell it.

One reporter for The New Yorker decided the risk wasn’t worth it and powerfully conveys the prewar atmosphere in Kuwait.

The Boston Herald is getting some good writing from the front by Jules Crittenden.

Some reporters have decided to go it alone, though it’s likely to be more dangerous than accompanying U.S. troops.

Few debates about journalism ethics are more complex than those about war coverage. Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter looks at some of the issues.

Going foreign

Wired reports that Americans are increasingly turning to foreign web sites for coverage of the Iraq crisis. The article includes some links and I will be posting others later.

The Washington Post offers some clues as to why this is happening: major differences between U.S. and foreign media on what the news is.

Invective

Hell hath no fury like a London tabloid. As we know, these have been unhappy times between Britain and France (not to mention the U.S.). Here, The Sun morphs French President Jacques Chirac into Saddam Hussein.


Posted by tbrown at 01:48 PM


Will Saddam be assassinated?

There now appear to be only two ways of avoiding war, both probably unlikely.

One would be for Saddam Hussein to take President Bush up on an offer of safe passage out of the country, to some place willing to take him, for himself and his family. It could happen, but the chances are probably slim. Saddam has said, “I was born in Iraq and I will die in Iraq.” He sees himself as a historical figure for his nation and is probably unlikely to flee at the last moment.

That leaves assassination. Bush has said he would welcome it. Saddam lives in constant fear of it. His brutal rule has left him with no friends and few assistants he can trust. And there have been assassination attempts against his sons Uday (at least twice) and Qusay.

The most recent attempt against Uday occurred March 8 at the Al-Jadariya Boating Club on the Tigris River in Baghdad, according to Iraqi underground sources of DEBKAfile. “He is believed to have escaped with injuries … but his three bodyguards were killed,” Debka reports.

Uday was seriously wounded in a 1996 assassination attempt and reportedly has been in poor health since. Qusay was unhurt in an assassination attempt last summer.

Since Saddam makes a point of not appearing in places deemed unsafe, assassination is probably less likely, even, than flight.


What they said

With war seeming very near, here are some contemporary documents on the U.S. position:

Text of statement on Iraq issued at the Azores summit.

Transcript of the Azores news conference by President Bush, British Prime Minister Blair and Spainish Prime Minister Aznar.

Transcript of Vice President Dick Cheney’s appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Posted by tbrown at 11:16 AM


March 14, 2003

France's game

The line seems to be visible in the sand now, no matter how you bend, stretch and walk around it. It's still a line. We, the Brits, the Spanish and a couple of other stalwart allies (about whom more later today) are on one side. On the other are Saddam Hussein and most of the members of the European Union. An odd alliance, it might seem, except that it has existed for much longer than our problems with Saddam, which are little more than a decade old.

The Azores summit made clear only that we are committed to war come what may. There will be a speech by our president, and an ultimatim. Then the fireworks.

Saddam is threatening to make this a world war, one more example of megolomania. There are few powers -- yet -- capable of triggering armaggedon, and Iraq is not one of them. There may well be terror attacks by Iraqis against our forces abroad and, perhaps, against us at home. They will not, however, be decisive.

One major casualty of this war, however, is likely to be our relationship with the two major powers of continental Europe, France and Germany. Especially France. It is now transparently clear that one of French President Jacques Chirac’s main objectives is to set his country up as a global counterweight to American power.

This may seem absurd on its face, but France is the major diplomatic power of the burgeoning European Union, it has Germany, in its camp, and there are plenty of other countries, among them Russia and China, that have heard enough about America’s supposed dominance of world affairs.

Here are three views of the issue:

From Jane’s, an analysis of Chirac’s thinking.

From the Times of London, a British perspective on the feud.

From the New York Times, a column on another of France’s possible motives: the desire to conceal illegal arms sales to Iraq.

Cloaks and daggers

The backdrop to crisis always includes stories of spying, defection and betrayal. The confrontation with Iraq is no exception. It’s just that these tales pale in comparision with the larger issues at stake and get lost in the news avalanche.

Nonetheless, some of them bear telling.

From DEBKAfile, an Israeli site with unusually good connections, comes a story of the likely sad end of the highest-ranking would-be Iraqi defector to date, Adib Shaaban. He was the closest aide of Saddam’s son Uday and could have been a potential intelligence goldmine if he’d made it to the U.S.

A footnote: Last week, the web site of the United States Committee for a Free Lebanon reported that Shaaban was returned to Iraq. “Chances are by the time you read this, Shaaban will be dead or wish he was,” the site said.

The shadow land of “black” operations also is frequently controlled by people with strange agendas. This is certainly true of Kim Jong-Il, the “dear leader” of North Korea. His agents brazenly kidnapped Japanese citizens and spirited them to North Korea at Kim’s whim. As might be expected, many of these incidents ended unhappily.

How the U.S. paved the way for Saddam

Seattle author Roger Morris, who served on the National Security Council under Presidents Johnson and Nixon until resigning over the invasion of Cambodia, reminds us that the U.S. relationship with Saddam Hussein is longer, more complex, and more problematic than most of us recall. Part of this history is his observation that “regime change” in Iraq is nothing new for the U.S. We’ve arranged it twice before.

Posted by tbrown at 04:50 PM


On the edge of war

DEBKAfile, an Israeli news site with good intelligence and military sources, has this terse report today:

“U.S. special forces have crossed the Kuwait-Iraq frontier and occupied some of the southern oil fields. U.S.-British special forces have moved into western Iraq. U.S. warplanes are up to 600 sorties a day.”

The U.S. has acknowledged having a small number of special forces and CIA agents in Iraq for several months. There also have been earlier reports of stepped up bombing, mostly aimed at Iraqi air defense sites. And a week ago, UN peacekeepers who patrol the Iraq-Kuwait border complained to the Security Council that U.S. Marines were cutting gates in the electrified fence that marks the border.

But Debka’s report indicates an increase in U.S. activity. Particularly striking is the reported 600 air sorties a day (a sortie is one flight by one plane).

Seizure of key Iraqi facilities and resources, such as oil fields, before the main offensive is part of the U.S. strategy that has been disclosed publicly.

On the Iraqi side, Debka reports, “ … Iraqi combat forces pulled out of West Iraq and Kuwait border region in South Iraq to join buildup in central Iraq around Baghdad and Tikrit. Elite Special Republican Forces fighting division Tewekalna (Trust in Allah) brought over from southern oil fields.”

Regardless of what happens at Sunday’s summit meeting of the U.S., Britain and Spain in the Azores, or in the U.N. Security Council next week, the slide toward war seems to be quickly reaching the point of no return.

The geography of battle

When the war begins in earnest, the movement of allied forces will, as always, be dictated in part by geography. In this article, an expert outlines the geography of Iraq and the likely routes of U.S. troops.

Moran quits Demo leadership position

U.S. Rep. James Moran of Virginia quit his post as Democratic regional whip in the fallout from his "insensitive" remarks that Jews were responsible for pushing the U.S. toward war with Iraq.

Weapons ...

... their "Weed Whacker."

... our "mother of all bombs."

Posted by tbrown at 11:24 AM


March 13, 2003

Saddam and 9/11

In the days immediately following the destruction of the World Trade Center, few Americans thought Iraq had anything to do with it. When asked who they thought was responsible, only 3 percent mentioned Iraq or Saddam.

In a New York Times/CBS News poll earlier this week, 45 percent said they believed Saddam Hussein was “personally involved” in the 9/11 terror attack.

What happened between then and now? The Bush administration has repeatedly hinted, implied or asserted that there is a connection between Saddam and Al-Qaeda, whose suicide pilots flew airliners loaded with Americans into the twin towers. It has yet to produce convincing evidence.

The Christian Science Monitor makes the connections in a story for Friday’s paper. The Monitor also provides other useful links on the topic.

Osama watch

The hunt for Osama bin Laden has gained greater urgency because of fears in the U.S. intelligence community that he is obsessed with the goal of detonating an A-bomb somewhere in America, the New York Daily News reports.


Moran update

U.S. Rep. James Moran, the Virginia congressman who triggered a Trent Lott style furor by suggesting America would not be near war in the Mideast were it not for the influence of American Jews, is still taking heat. Some of his Democratic colleagues are calling for him not to run again. Moran says he’s running anyway.

Regardless of how this works out, Moran’s outburst has generated some interesting reading.

Slate’s Michael Kinsley doesn’t exactly defend Moran, but notes that one prominent Jewish organization openly brags about its influence in Washington.


Over at the National Review, Jonah Goldberg writes that like any other large group of Americans, Jews are all over the map in their feelings about the war. This may be obvious, but Goldberg makes the case engagingly and with just a bit of sarcastic humor.


News from the front

An unidentified soldier is writing a weblog from somewhere in the Middle East (he declines to identify himself, his unit or his location for the usual military security reasons). If you want a taste of one soldier’s view from the front, click here.


Posted by tbrown at 05:26 PM


Psywar in high gear

The shooting war in the Middle East is still on hold, and could remain that way into next week, but the psychological war against Iraq is proceeding full throttle.

The Long Island newspaper Newsday reports that the U.S. is using the news media to further intimidate Iraqis and, commanders hope, soften them up for quick surrender when the war starts.

PsyWar.org in Britian provides good background on psychological warfare in previous conflicts and against Iraq.

Psywar against the media

Iraq isn't the only target of Bush administration psychological attention. Slate has a good read on how the White House toyed with the media at Bush's press conference last week and, in particular, how it pulled the plug on press corps grande dame Helen Thomas. The mutual distaste between her and Bush is visceral.

For a totally over the top rant about the limp performance of reporters at the Bush news conference, check this out.

So when’s the next UN vote?

Tomorrow, maybe. Next week, maybe. Or, maybe, never.

Britain is still trying to line up a nine-vote majority in the UN Security Council for its resolution that would set specific disarmament benchmarks Iraq would have to meet to avoid invasion.

The prospects of that outcome seemed dim, though, after France, Germany and Russia rejected the British proposal out of hand, infuriating British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said, “The president is willing to go the extra mile for a diplomacy. There is a limit on how far he’s willing to do.”

Fleischer had some particularly harsh words for France and discussed the dwindling diplomatic options.

Posted by tbrown at 11:41 AM


March 12, 2003

Let's get Saddam, but ...

Friends, I need some help. I’ve been reading the polls about war with Iraq, and my fellow Americans have been sending some oddly mixed messages. Here’s what I mean:

A majority favors a U.S. attack to oust Saddam Hussein. The major polls I’ve seen agree on this and the Gallup web site has a nice chart tracking this question since President Bush raised it last summer. Gallup’s last snapshot was taken the weekend before Bush’s press conference last Friday, and found 59 percent favored an attack, while 37 percent opposed it.

A New York Times/CBS News poll taken after the press conference reported that 55 percent of Americans would favor an attack even if it was in defiance of a UN Security Council vote, sentiment in line with Gallup’s findings.

Here’s the part that puzzles me. The Times poll also reports that a majority of the people it polled said the White House has failed to give them enough information about the justification for a pre-emptive war.

So it seems most of us favor the war, but don’t know why.

Similarly, the Times poll reported that 58 percent said the UN is doing a poor job in managing the Iraq crisis, but that 52 percent think the UN’s inspectors should be given more time to search for any weapons of mass destruction that Iraq may have.

What’s going on here? Are we really ready for war though we don’t know enough about it? Are we tired of all the international bickering and just want something to happen? Are we rallying around the president in a time of crisis, as Americans almost always do?

E-mail your thoughts on all this to tbrown@seattletimes.com and I’ll report them here.

Across the pond

Unfortunately for our staunchest ally, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, sentiment in the isles remains steadfastly against a war at this time. The numbers, and the emotions underlying them, are so dramatic that the U.S. administration fears he might not be able to commit British troops to battle without a new UN resolution authorizing force against Iraq (Blair has promised some 40,000 British troops for the effort). Wednesday, though, there were signs things might be beginning to turn his way.

Labor Party loyalists, distressed by increasingly personal attacks on Blair, threw their support behind him.

Junior Foreign Minister Mike O’Brien said Blair received strong support at a meeting of Labor lawmakers. Many Labor lawmakers were supportive of Blair later in Parliament.

“Today was the day that the tide turned,” O’Brien said.

A new Times of London poll reported that by a two-to-one margin the British public believes Washington and London have failed to make the case for war.

Some 52 percent say Britain should join in military action only if there is a new UN resolution authorizing it. But here, too, there has been a shift in Blair’s direction in the last month, with 19 percent of Britons (up from 11 percent) saying their country should join the U.S. in an attack regardless of whether there’s a new resolution. “But this is a small comfort for Mr. Blair given the much larger number still offering only conditional support,” the Times concludes.

Where do they keep the spare?

Maybe the pressure is getting to Saddam. Consider these paragraphs from a New York Times story this week:

“President Saddam Hussein, cigar in hand, is addressing a small auditorium filled with commanders from the Republican Guard, belittling the deployment of American aircraft carriers to the Persian Gulf.

“He reels off statistics about how each is nine stories high and serves 20,000 meals a day. ‘But in the end, does this aircraft carrier have wheels that enable it to come to Baghdad?’ he says to the commanders, led by his son Qusay, a younger, stockier version of himself, seated in the front row.

" ‘The decisive factor in battle will be a soldier marching on his feet and tanks and mobile or fixed artillery,’ " says Mr. Hussein, speaking from behind a long dais with an Iraqi flag off to his right. ‘All this talk about what America has is nonsense.’ "

Reassuring words for the commanders no doubt.

Photos of Baghdad

The Washington Post web site has some fine pictures of life in Baghdad. Go here. Look for the “On Assignment” window and click “enter gallery.”

E-mail call

“As a veteran, I spent 19 months in Vietnam, including the1968 Tet Offensive,” wakonnie@aol.com tells Battle Lines. “I feel fortunate that I came back alive. Some of my friends didn't.

“I believed in what we were doing...trying to stop the spread of communism into South Vietnam. We could have easily done that, but the politics of McNamara, Pres. Johnson and many others in government cost us the lives of more than 50,000 young men for no reason. It still angers me…

“Frankly, I don't know of anyone who wants war, but sometimes you have to fight for freedom. People like Saddam and others of his ilk spread like cancer if they're not stopped. So I see war as necessary, but only if we go to win; otherwise it means nothing.”

Ratcheting up in Korea?

The U.S. is dispatching six F-117 stealth bombers to South Korea, but says they are going for joint military maneuvers with the South and have no connection to North Korea’s nuclear and missile provocations.

The Pentagon last week also sent 12 B-52 and 12 B-1 bombers to Guam, where they would be in easy striking distance of North Korea.

Posted by tbrown at 04:31 PM


March 11, 2003

Elsewhere on the Axis of Evil

Let’s turn down the volume on Iraq for just a moment and consider a more dangerous problem. We could be closer to war with North Korea than most people suppose.

In his “Axis of Evil” speech, President Bush named Iraq, Iran and North Korea as international pariahs that would have to be dealt with, by preemptive strikes if necessary. That seems to have set off alarm bells in the paranoid councils of Kim Jong-II, leader of the isolated, destitute, hungry – but heavily armed – Stalinist enclave on the northern half of the Korean peninsula.

Kim is scary, but perhaps not nuts.

Some of the contingency plans being formed to deal with him also are spooky.

Unlike Iraq, North Korea is thought to already have two atomic bombs, though as far as we know they’ve never tested one. North Korea also has an operating nuclear reactor that can produce plutonium for weapons and it has a reprocessing plant to extract that plutonium from the reactor’s used fuel rods. For a detailed estimate of North Korea’s nuclear capabilities, click here.

It also has an ICBM (still not fully tested) that the CIA has said could deliver one of those warheads right here to the Northwest.

A more likely, but hardly comforting, possibility is that the North Koreans will try to crank out enough nukes to forestall any U.S. first strike, then put additional ones on the market to other rogue states or terrorist groups like Al Qaeda. Weapons are virtually the only thing North Korea has to trade and its willingness to sell dangerous things to just about anyone is well documented. It has sold some of its best rocket technology to Iran, which is now just short of being able to build its own A-bombs.

North Korea has staged one bellicose provocation after another since last fall in an apparent attempt to force the Bush administration into one-on-one negotiations, which the administration is resisting because they would “reward bad behavior.” One of its demands is a nonaggression treaty with the US.

Here are two views of the situation, from The New Republic and from Commentary.

One major concern is that North Korea will begin reprocessing fuel rods to retrieve plutonium as soon as we attack Iraq. The experts say they probably can recover enough plutonium for one bomb every month.

The Bush administration has said North Korea’s activities do not constitute a crisis. Let’s hope this is so. The last time we went to war in Korea, when the North invaded the South in the summer of 1950, 36,940 Americans, 175,000 South Korean troops and more than 2 million Korean civilians died. (The U.S. casualty figure was lowered two years ago from the previously accepted 54,246 when the Pentagon discovered a clerical error had led to an incorrect count.)

A contemporary war could be more horrific. Seoul, the South Korean capital, which was leveled during the Korean War, is now a densely populated modern megalopolis of 21 million people. But it lies only 30-odd miles from the Demilitarized Zone that divides the two Koreas. U.S. estimates are that the North could rain 400,000 to 500,000 artillery rounds per hour on the city and its suburbs, some of them containing nerve gas and anthrax.

Some analysts, however, believe that North Korea is in such horrible shape economically that with just a little outside pressure it would collapse like a house of cards.

We will probably know more about all this by summer.

A Democratic Trent Lott?

U.S. Rep. James Moran, a Virginia Democrat, told a disappointed group of anti-war constituents that even though he’s opposed to attacking Iraq he’s not going to push the point because it might endanger his re-election chances. Then he launched a tirade that could mean he won’t even be a candidate, blaming American Jews for the impending conflict with Iraq.

"If it were not for the strong support of the Jewish community for this war with Iraq we would not be doing this," the local newspaper quoted him as saying. "The leaders of the Jewish community are influential enough that they could change the direction of where this is going and I think they should."

When these sentiments began to back up on him, Moran issued this apology: "I should not have singled out the Jewish community and regret giving any impression that its members are somehow responsible for the course of action being pursued by the Administration, or are somehow behind an impending war."

Some are calling for Moran’s resignation. The congressman and his background are detailed in The Jerusalem Post.

Let them eat “freedom bread”

French President Jacques Chirac’s opposition to attacking Iraq apparently will not be swayed by any amount of diplomacy.

"Our position is no matter what the circumstances, France will vote 'no,' " he said. Asked if this would hurt relations between the U.S. and France, Chirac said, “I am totally convinced of the opposite.“

Maybe he should check this with Capitol Hill. As reported here, House of Representatives cafeterias are now serving “freedom fries” and “freedom toast” rather than the French kinds.

The French Embassy’s only comment was that french fries actually came from Belgium.

Our new superbomb

The military is calling it “the mother of all bombs.” Its acronym is MOAB, for “massive ordnance air burst.” It packs 21,000 pounds of explosive, making it the most powerful non-nuclear weapon in the U.S. arsenal. And It was successfully tested Tuesday on a remote corner of Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.

Posted by tbrown at 04:37 PM


March 10, 2003

The final days

The waiting is about over. President Bush says Saddam Hussein has missed his final opportunity to disarm. So perhaps as early as next week we can expect Bush to act on his pledge to disarm Iraq by force.

That makes me nervous. Not about the military outcome -- that's preordained.

No, I'm nervous about how our pre-war diplomatic failures will affect our standing in the world. About the new wave of terrorism this war could unleash. About the reconstruction of Iraq and the stabilizing of whatever government winds up running it. And about what will happen when the administration gets around to focusing on the far greater potential menace of North Korea. That one makes the back of my neck prickle.

If a war is to be fought, I also hope it can generate some helpful results beyond removing Saddam's weapons. The Iraqi people are almost certain to be better off under any new government than they are now under the iron rule of a tyrant who has plundered his own country and abused its citizens ruthlessly. And a successful new government in Iraq might, as Bush has suggested, lead to a more modern and democratic Mideast.

This is my first weblog, but I bring to it journalistic experience that dates to 1962. There were plenty of crises between then and now, and I covered some of them while living and working in London, Helsinki and Moscow and reporting from another two dozen or so countries, including Japan, Korea, China and Taiwan.

In the days and weeks ahead I will sort through developments in Iraq and elsewhere and locate for you some of the best reporting and opinion on the web from the thousands of compelling postings out there. We'll look for many different points of view. I'll also offer a forum for the voices of people from the Puget Sound region to express their concerns and hopes.

One such voice belongs to a woman named Michelle. She is married to a career soldier and lives on base here in the Northwest. War tends to reduce issues and emotions to black and white. The middle tones, the important ones, get lost. Michelle avoids this trap and writes forthrightly and touchingly about what the war buildup means to her family.

Michelle has no glib answers, just some heartfelt thoughts. It's all too easy to think of an Army as a faceless mass. That is how administrations - all administrations - want you to think about it. In fact, what we have in the Middle East today is some 250,000 individual human beings with a common mission but also each bearing his or her own opinions, hopes and fears. Michelle helps us remember that. Since making this posting late last month, she has learned that her husband will be deployed March 15.

It is, of course, possible that some last-minute breakthrough will avoid a conflict. But most Americans seem to believe war is inevitable. A poll taken just before the president's news conference last Friday showed 68 percent of Americans believed he had already made up his mind to attack Iraq.

Slate.com's Saddameter, which has been attempting to gauge the prospects for war for several months, is locked at a 99 percent likelihood that our troops soon will break out for Baghdad.

It appears that it'll be us and the Brits, going it pretty much alone among major nations, and the British prime minister, Tony Blair, is encountering stiffer opposition on the homefront. There is no indication that the huge rift between the U.S. and some of its oldest allies (France) and some of its most important ones (Germany and Russia) will narrow.

So this is an anxious time for many people, regardless of whether they support or oppose the war. (Another poll shows that support or opposition breaks down pretty much along party lines.)

One particular concern of mine is that the new Bush doctrine of preemptive attack is a radical departure from the traditions of U.S. defense strategy. Our policy since World War II has been containment and deterrence. Now, suddenly, it's preemption. The president says the change is needed because of the altered circumstances brought on by terrorism and ever-proliferating wepons of mass destruction in the hands of rogue governments. He may be right. Nontheless, it’s a huge change, with consequences we can only surmise.

The president also says he needs no further UN resolutions to go to war. But if there is no UN approval, many people here and abroad will consider a U.S.-led blitz of Iraq a violation of international law.

House Majority Leader Dick Armey, a fellow Texas Republican ally of the president, issued just such a warning.

As tensions rise, people are increasingly turning to web sites like this one for breaking news and reliable background information. We'll do our best to bring you the best we can find.

We also welcome your opinions and suggestions for topics. Your taxes will pay for this war, your family members or friends will fight it, and perhaps die in it. We will all pay for the tidying up afterward. Your thoughts on this are important.

Meeting up

A new, free web service called Meetup.com, is promoting face-to-face gatherings of people of all viewpoints to discuss the Iraq crisis in many of the 545 communities it serves around the globe. The Seattle meetings are scheduled for the first Friday of each month. Meetup also helps arrange meetings on just about any other topic you can think of. Check it out here.

Posted by tbrown at 01:49 PM


Tom Brown Katherine Long, research editor at the Seattle Times and 18-year editor and reporter, substituted for Tom Brown the week of April 14.

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