The contours of the response to the Gaza flotilla fiasco are now coming into sharper public view: the Israeli government will significantly ease the blockade of Gaza in exchange for American support for a whitewash of the investigation of the flotilla incident. As I’ve said many times on Twitter, this is a good deal. No investigation was ever going to produce anything of any particular value, but easing the blockade of Gaza could have significant positive effects for the people of Gaza, the prospects of Palestinian reconciliation, the peace process, and American credibility in the region. None of those will happen on their own, of course. And nobody is likely to be fully satisfied with the new measures. I’ve been quite critical of how the Obama team has handled the Israeli-Palestinian track, and particularly the Gaza situation — and if they had moved strongly to resolve the Gaza blockade a year ago, the issue wouldn’t have been there now to exploit. But now, I think they deserve some real credit for nudging Israel towards finally making a move which could over time open up some real new possibilities for progress.
I know a lot of people won’t agree with me on this, but trading off the investigation for the blockade was the right move. It is difficult to imagine what value even a real, independent international investigation of the flotilla incident would possibly have. The incident itself was only a minor one in the longer, deeper story of the Gaza blockade — a fiasco waiting to happen, not a bolt from the blue. An investigation narrowly focused on the flotilla and what happened during the Israeli boarding would be of only marginal value, while the process itself would be hopelessly politicized. The Israeli self-study seems designed to be self-discredting. By appointing David Trimble, founder of a “Friends of Israel” group, as one of the two international observers, they have more or less guaranteed that the results will be pleasing to their sympathizers and totally discredited in the eyes of everyone else. So be it.
But it is far from clear what this “liberalisation” will entail, or how fast it will happen. The statement also says that Israel would continue to implement the “existing security procedures to prevent the inflow of weapons and war materials” and that it will decide in the coming days how it will implement this decision. Some items banned from Gaza, mainly construction materials, are forbidden on the basis that they are “dual-use”—they might be used to build houses but they might also be for building bombs, says Israel.
The ultimate victory for the Mavi Marmara: Israel has decided to ease the blockade of Gaza, shifting its policy closer toward what supporters of the blockade said it was always supposed to accomplish, preventing Hamas from stockpiling weapons. We’ll have to wait to see how much so-called ‘dual use’ material — stuff that could have both civilian or military application — Israel will actually continue to exclude before we can really determine whether the easement even remotely approaches the “fundamental change” that Robert Gibbs said in a statement Gaza needs. But any relaxation of collective punishment is a positive sign. And whatever you think of the Mavi Marmara, it’s impossible to deny that the flotilla’s mission of concentrating international attention on the immiseration of Gaza succeeded.
If it was only interdiction of military supplies to Hamas, they would allow building materials and other civilian goods through to Gaza. But an ancillary goal of the blockade is to make life so difficult for Gazans that they overthrow or vote out Hamas. It’s not working at this point so a relaxation of some of the blockade’s strictures might generate a little international goodwill while still maintaining the main reason for having the blockade in the first place.
Those predisposed to see Israel as the villain won’t be swayed. But on another level, this move makes sense if you consider that these small concessions to American and European sensibilities makes it easier for them to support Israel at the UN and elsewhere.
The NGO Save the Children e-mailed reporters to praise the decision, but said “simply easing the blockade by allowing more goods in is not enough.” Oxfam called it a “baby step.”
Reaction from Washington was slightly more positive, but still quietly urged Israel to loosen the blockade further. The subject came up very briefly during yesterday’s White House briefing, where press secretary Robert Gibbs said the president “welcomed” the move.
Look, I think that we welcome the principles that were announced by the Israeli government today. They’re a step in the right direction. We will continue to work in the coming days with our Israel friends to continue to improve a humanitarian situation in Gaza that the President has said is unsustainable.
At the State Department briefing, spokesman Mark Toner said the Israeli decision was consistent with US requests for a looser blockade.
Well, we welcome the general principles announced earlier today by the Israeli Government. They reflect the type of changes we’ve been significant with our Israeli friends. And Senator Mitchell, who was in the region, will continue working on them in the coming days.
As the President has said, the situation in Gaza is unsustainable. And as these principles get further developed and implemented, we’re hopeful that the situation in Gaza will improve. Meanwhile, we just would also reiterate our call for the unconditional release of Corporal Shalit.
The language about “further developed and implemented” is the State Department’s way of very quietly urging Israel to loosen the blockade further. Toner later said the US wants a “further expansion of the scope” of goods allowed into Gaza.
At least 75 people have died in attacks today in Iraq, the Associated Press reports, making it the nation’s “bloodiest day of the year so far.”
The most carnage occurred at a textile factory in Hillah. After two car bombs were set off and a crowd gathered to help victims, a suicide bomber walked into the scene and set off explosives strapped to his belt. At least 40 people died there and another 135 or so were wounded. Hillah is 60 miles south of Baghdad.
According to the BBC, more than 20 people were also killed “in a series of attacks which included drive by shootings and suicide bombings on police checkpoints and a market.”
From Baghdad, NPR’s Peter Kenyon reports that “the spike in violence is adding to the anxiety in Iraq as the U.S. military prepares to reduce its presence dramatically, and as Iraqi politicians struggle to form a new government in the wake of inconclusive elections back in March.”
There’s little to say about the violence, honestly. We’ve assembled a list of the attacks, and the casualty counts, after the jump. The scope is stunning: A dozen attacks on police and army checkpoints in Baghdad; coordinated car and suicide bombings in Hilla, Suweira and Fallujah; and other brazen attacks against security and political officials.
Iraq’s political class — distracted by the government formation process — hasn’t said much about the violence. Prime minister Nouri al-Maliki hasn’t released an official statement on the violence, and I haven’t seen him (or any other Iraqi officials) quoted in the Iraqi/Arabic press.
Ali al-Dabbagh, Maliki’s spokesman, did say tonight (عربي) that the attacks “have the hallmarks” of Al-Qaeda in Iraq.
Al-Qaida is trying to … use some gaps created by some political problems,” Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, spokesman for Baghdad’s security operations center, told Arabiya TV. “There are well-known agendas for the terrorist groups operating in Iraq. Some of these groups are supported regionally and internationally with the aim of influencing the political and democratic process inside Iraq.”
More than two months after the March 7 election, Iraq’s main political factions are still struggling to put together a ruling coalition. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Shiite bloc has tried to squeeze out election front-runner Ayad Allawi – a secular Shiite who was heavily backed by Sunnis – by forging an alliance last week with another religious Shiite coalition. The union, which is just four seats short of a majority in parliament, will likely lead to four more years of a government dominated by Shiites, much like the current one.
Sunni anger at Shiite domination of successive governments was a key reason behind the insurgency that sparked sectarian warfare in 2006 and 2007. If Allawi is perceived as not getting his fair share of power, that could in turn outrage the Sunnis who supported him and risk a resurgence of sectarian violence.
The relentless cascade of bombings and shootings – hitting at least 10 cities and towns as the day unfolded – also raised questions about whether Iraqi security forces can protect the country as the U.S. prepares to withdraw half of its remaining 92,000 troops in Iraq over the next four months.
BAGHDAD (AP) — A suicide bomber blew himself up outside a textile factory Monday in a crowd that gathered after two car bombings at the same spot in the worst of a series of attacks that killed at least 84 people across Iraq, the deadliest day this year.
its interesting to compare the murdering competence of these Iraqis against the clown that hit us in Times Square. What Iraq experienced today is about equal to the OKC bombing. I’m not sure America could handle a wave of these. We’ve come to expect some sort of exemption from the world’s violence
None of the members of the group were taking hostile action, contrary to the Pentagon’s initial cover story; they were milling about on a street corner. One man was evidently carrying a gun, though that was and is hardly an uncommon occurrence in Baghdad.
Reporters working for WikiLeaks determined that the driver of the van was a good Samaritan on his way to take his small children to a tutoring session. He was killed and his two children were badly injured.
In the video, which Reuters has been asking to see since 2007, crew members can be heard celebrating their kills.
“Oh yeah, look at those dead bastards,” says one crewman after multiple rounds of 30mm cannon fire left nearly a dozen bodies littering the street.
A crewman begs for permission to open fire on the van and its occupants, even though it has done nothing but stop to help the wounded: “Come on, let us shoot!”
Two crewmen share a laugh when a Bradley fighting vehicle runs over one of the corpses.
And after soldiers on the ground find two small children shot and bleeding in the van, one crewman can be heard saying: “Well, it’s their fault bringing their kids to a battle.”
The helicopter crew, which was patrolling an area that had been the scene of fierce fighting that morning, said they spotted weapons on members of the first group — although the video shows one gun, at most. The crew also mistook a telephoto lens for a rocket-propelled grenade
Soldiers are trained to kill and sometimes in the heat of combat they will engage in killings that are not strictly justified, for example, at Haditha. But this — all of it — was simply gratuitous and the killing of the wounded journalist and the shooting up of the minivan trying to pick him up to save his life went beyond gratuitous and was just plain sadistic murder.
Forty years ago, when Charlie Company went into My Lai to inflict some collective punishment, a helicopter pilot watching from above saw the carnage and did something to stop it. Nowadays, helicopter pilots make movies of their killings and beg a wounded man to make a suspect move so they can pump more 1 1/4″ rounds into him. How completely depraved.
I served four years in the Armed Forces of the United States and was always proud of my service. Not anymore.
They engaged several Reuters photographers, claiming the cameras were weapons, giggling the whole time. Then, when a van came to pick up the wounded, they claimed they were going for weapons and got permission to shoot the people picking up victims.
I will definitely be using this film in my class next year. But as an example of what I haven’t decided.
The disjuncture between the images captured by the camera and the information being verbally reported by the helicopter crew is striking. (For example, the crew reports that they are seeing adult males armed with AK47s, but the men on the ground appear unarmed.) Could the film be a fake, and how would we know? (Wikileaks has provided almost no information on its website about the video’s source other than a non-working link. The big “Click here to donate” link above the video on the Wikileaks site works fine, which is troubling.)
I am not saying I don’t believe some Apache gunners made gross errors and the military covered it up, only that user-generated content should always be verified before conclusions are drawn, and Wikileaks’ confidentiality policies make that difficult.
If the footage is completely genuine, what cognitive process is at work here that is leading the pilots to so drastically misinterpret what they are seeing? Or are they in fact wilfully mischaracterizing it and why?
What fascinates me the most is the almost relaxed professionalism with which the chopper crew and ground troops are operating. Does this allow us to infer anything about the rules of engagement US troops were operating with around that time? What can we infer from such footage that can help us in other low-intensity conflicts?
One thing is certain: this doesn’t look like a “firefight with insurgents” that the DoD claimed. BBC has a story about the video with some useful links. Michael Collins at The Agonist has more.
After initially denying involvement or any cover-up in the deaths of three Afghan women during a badly bungled American Special Operations assault in February, the American-led military command in Kabul admitted late on Sunday that its forces had, in fact, killed the women during the nighttime raid.
The admission immediately raised questions about what really happened during the Feb. 12 operation — and what falsehoods followed — including a new report that Special Operations forces dug bullets out of the bodies of the women to hide the nature of their deaths.
A NATO official also said Sunday that an Afghan-led team of investigators had found signs of evidence tampering at the scene, including the removal of bullets from walls near where the women were killed. On Monday, however, a senior NATO official denied that any tampering had occurred.
The disclosure could not come at a worse moment for the American military: NATO officials are struggling to contain fallout from a series of tirades against the foreign military presence by the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, who has also railed against the killing of civilians by Western forces.
When one hears about something like this, it forces one to think about what the essential character of the American intervention in Afghanistan is. It’s possible to contextualise this sort of slaughter of innocents and subsequent mendacity as accidental collateral violence, followed by terrified stupidity. Perhaps these kinds of incidents are inevitable in war, and should not undermine America’s dedication to the overall effort. Or perhaps they can be prevented through technical measures; as Spencer Ackerman points out, General Stanley McChrystal has curtailed night-time raids and taken closer personal control over special-forces operations precisely to avoid any further such mistakes.
Or, on the other hand, this kind of unfortunate waste of human life may be the basic shape of the NATO intervention, while the noble mission of beating back misogynistic theocracy and building a stable, reasonably democratic government is in fact a fantastical utopian sideshow. This was the fundamental shape of the moral argument that rent American politics in two during the Vietnam war. The men who could never forgive John Kerry for his testimony before Congress were infuriated because he treated the war’s pointless slaughter and periodic atrocities as its essential character. In the view of many who fought, including many South Vietnamese, those things were collateral damage; most of those who fought were honourable, and the fundamental cause was just. But history has sided with Mr Kerry: the pointless slaughter was the essence of the Vietnam war, while the cause of a free and democratic South Vietnam was a weird fantasy.
The statement has a vague explanation for the February report about the women being bound and gagged: “this information was taken from an initial report by the international members of the joint force who were not familiar with Islamic burial customs.” Presumably that means the women were shrouded, but that’s hard to square with U.S. forces being responsible for the actual killing. Additionally, The New York Times further reports that the “lack of forensic evidence” about those dead women civilians may be attributable to Special Operations Forces digging “bullets out of the bodies of the women to hide the nature of their deaths.”
Last month, McChrystal, himself a former Special Operations commander, took greater control over the Special Operations chain of command in Afghanistan. McChrystal’s move was an attempt to end a semi-autonomous war effort that can too often place a giant asterisk on his strategy of prosecuting the war through protecting the civilian population. One area he apparently left untouched is detention operations. Will there be further clarifications in the future about ultimately-untrue statements about the treatment of detainees in Afghanistan?
What is clear — yet again — is how completely misinformed and propagandized Americans continue to be by the American media, which constantly “reports” on crucial events in Afghanistan by doing nothing more than mindlessly and unquestioningly passing along U.S. government claims as though they are fact. Here, for instance, is how the Paktia incident was “reported” by CNN on February 12:
Note how the headline states as fact that the women were dead as the result of an “honor killing.”
All of this is a chronic problem, not an isolated one, with war reporting generally and events in Afghanistan specifically. Just consider what happened when the U.S. military was forced in 2008 to retract its claims about a brutal air raid in Azizabad. The Pentagon had vehemently denied the villagers’ claim that close to 100 civilians had been killed and that no Taliban were in the vicinity: until a video emerged proving the villagers’ claims were true and the Pentagon’s false. Last week, TPM highlighted a recent, largely overlooked statement from Gen. McChrystal, where he admitted, regarding U.S. killings of Afghans at check points: “to my knowledge, in the nine-plus months I’ve been here, not a single case where we have engaged in an escalation of force incident and hurt someone has it turned out that the vehicle had a suicide bomb or weapons in it and, in many cases, had families in it. . . . We’ve shot an amazing number of people and killed a number and, to my knowledge, none has proven to have been a real threat to the force.” And as I documented before, the U.S. media constantly repeats false Pentagon claims about American air attacks around the world in order to create the false impression that Key Terrorists were killed while no civilians were.
In the video, starting at the 3:50 mark, one member of this group starts preparing what clearly looks like an RPG launcher, as well as some individuals with AK-47s. The launcher then reappears at the 4:06 mark as the man wielding it sets up a shot for down the street. In 2007 Baghdad, this would be a clear threat to US and Iraqi Army ground forces; in fact, it’s difficult to imagine any other purpose for an RPG launcher at that time and place. That’s exactly the kind of threat that US airborne forces were tasked to detect and destroy, which is why the gunships targeted and shot all of the members of the group.
Another accusation is that US forces fired on and killed rescue workers attempting to carry one of the journalists out of the area. However, the video clearly shows that the vehicle in question bore no markings of a rescue vehicle at all, and the men who ran out of the van to grab the wounded man wore no uniforms identifying themselves as such. Under any rules of engagement, and especially in a terrorist hot zone like Baghdad in 2007, that vehicle would properly be seen as support for the terrorists that had just been engaged and a legitimate target for US forces. While they didn’t grab weapons before getting shot, the truth is that the gunships didn’t give them the chance to try, either — which is exactly what they’re trained to do. They don’t need to wait until someone gets hold of the RPG launcher and fires it at the gunship or at the reinforcements that had already begun to approach the scene. The gunships acted to protect the approaching patrol, which is again the very reason we had them in the air over Baghdad.
War correspondents take huge risks to bring news of a war to readers far away. What this shows is just how risky it is to embed with terrorists, especially when their enemy controls the air. War is not the same thing as law enforcement; the US forces had no responsibility for identifying each member of the group and determining their mens rea. Legitimate rescue operations would have included markings on the vehicle and on uniforms to let hostile forces know to hold fire, and in the absence of that, the hostile forces have every reason to consider the second support group as a legitimate target as well. It’s heartbreaking for the families of these journalists, but this isn’t “collateral murder” — it’s war.
Worst case scenario this is a few innocent being accidentally killed in the fog of war.
But the video doesn’t even appear to be worst case scenario. It appears, in fact, that the video shows armed insurgents engaging or about to engage US troops. The Reuters camera men had embedded themselves with the insurgents. This makes them enemy combatants themselves and should have been shot.
Anything less than this understanding is purposeful naivite about “objective journalism”. In war there can be no objective journalism. You’re either with us or the enemy. If you want to stay neutral stay out of the war zone.
As for those who went in to pick up the bodies? Perhaps they were innocents. I’ve no idea.
But you drive your van into an active military engagement? What the hell were you thinking?
You are stupid. Innocent, but stupid. You’re asking to be killed.
And if you brought children into the midsts of an ongoing military engagement that makes you more than stupid: it makes you criminally negligent.
“It’s their fault for bringing their kids to a battle,” says one of the Americans on the video. Indeed it is.
People, this is war. This happens in war. It can’t be avoided. If you want to end civilian casualties then end war. Start by asking armed Islamists to put down their weapons. But you won’t do that because your real objection isn’t war, it’s America. Which is why anti-war activists around the globe never protest al-Qaeda, only America.
There are really two separate issues connected to this incident. One is the cover-up — opening fire on the ambulance, the Pentagon’s refusal to divulge how these people were killed, or to release the video — which is simply inexcusable.
And the attack itself? If you watch the entire video, one or two of the men in the square certainly appear to be armed (though it’s hard to tell from low-resolution gunsight video). Chmagh and Noor-Eldeen presumably knew the risks of standing with armed men in a public square in Baghdad in 2007, and the pilots presumably were on edge (east Baghdad was the site of a major coalition offensive at the time).
None of the men move to engage the helicopter, though; they’re not “committing hostile acts” or “exhibiting hostile intent,” the two conditions under which U.S. forces were authorized to use lethal force in 2007.
Clearly the second condition includes a lot of wiggle room — but I’ve watched the video twice, and I’m hard-pressed to identify anything in the video that appears to be hostile intent. The Apache also made no attempt to “use graduated measures of force” — warning shots, for example — as required by the rules of engagement that were in effect in 2007.
In January 16, two days after a killer earthquake hit Haiti, a team of senior military officers from the U.S. Central Command (responsible for overseeing American security interests in the Middle East), arrived at the Pentagon to brief JCS Chairman Michael Mullen on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The team had been dispatched by CENTCOM commander David Petraeus to underline his growing worries at the lack of progress in resolving the issue. The 33-slide 45-minute PowerPoint briefing stunned Mullen. The briefers reported that there was a growing perception among Arab leaders that the U.S. was incapable of standing up to Israel, that CENTCOM’s mostly Arab constituency was losing faith in American promises, that Israeli intransigence on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was jeopardizing U.S. standing in the region, and that Mitchell himself was (as a senior Pentagon officer later bluntly described it) “too old, too slow…and too late.”
The January Mullen briefing was unprecedented. No previous CENTCOM commander had ever expressed himself on what is essentially a political issue; which is why the briefers were careful to tell Mullen that their conclusions followed from a December 2009 tour of the region where, on Petraeus’s instructions, they spoke to senior Arab leaders. “Everywhere they went, the message was pretty humbling,” a Pentagon officer familiar with the briefing says. “America was not only viewed as weak, but its military posture in the region was eroding.” But Petraeus wasn’t finished: two days after the Mullen briefing, Petraeus sent a paper to the White House requesting that the West Bank and Gaza (which, with Israel, is a part of the European Command – or EUCOM), be made a part of his area of operations. Petraeus’s reason was straightforward: with U.S. troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military had to be perceived by Arab leaders as engaged in the region’s most troublesome conflict.
The Mullen briefing and Petraeus’s request hit the White House like a bombshell. While Petraeus’s request that CENTCOM be expanded to include the Palestinians was denied (“it was dead on arrival,” a Pentagon officer confirms), the Obama Administration decided it would redouble its efforts – pressing Israel once again on the settlements issue, sending Mitchell on a visit to a number of Arab capitals and dispatching Mullen for a carefully arranged meeting with Chief of the Israeli General Staff, Lt. General Gabi Ashkenazi. While the American press speculated that Mullen’s trip focused on Iran, the JCS Chairman actually carried a blunt, and tough, message on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: that Israel had to see its conflict with the Palestinians “in a larger, regional, context” – as having a direct impact on America’s status in the region. Certainly, it was thought, Israel would get the message.
What’s the meta here? The alleged views of two of the biggest guns in the U.S. military, who command wide respect in GOP and Washington hawk circles, on the imperative of the peace process to advance U.S. security interests in the region are being telegraphed as Israeli leaders may be feeling out a campaign to beat up on the American administration for calling Israel on perceived provocations that would set back fledgling peace talks. Some Israeli leaders, for their part, tend to believe the Arab states respect force and power and are more prepared to make peace with Israel and work with it because Israel is strong, not because it’s willing to come to the peace table. And one suspects Mullen’s alleged message is one they have heard variations of from their American friends many times before, although perhaps not with the same sense of urgency given the international and regional alliance the U.S. is trying to bolster to pressure Iran, the 200,000 plus U.S. troops the U.S. has in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the paralyzed state of the peace process for most of the past year.
What’s the meta meta? There seems to be more in the ether in recent days suggesting a diverging of perceived U.S. and Israeli interests in the region, even as much of the region shares panic at Iran. See this in the Washington Post yesterday, and Tom Friedman’s New York Timescolumn today.
What’s more noteworthy is that Petraeus would consider it a military problem — and his military problem. For background: Central Command, which Petraeus helms, is responsible for all U.S. military forces in and security relationships with the Middle East and South Asia. Except for Israel. European Command (which is dual-hatted with the NATO military command) has the Israel portfolio. That’s for a variety of diplomatic sensibilities, all of which reduce to “it’s not worth the headache of getting Central Command embroiled in the Arab-Israeli conflict.”
Petraeus apparently wanted the headache. Put differently, according to Foreign Policy, he recognized that it doesn’t make any sense for the senior U.S. military commander with responsibilities for the Middle East not to be involved in the number-one security problem in the Middle East. And so — I should mention I can’t vouch for this report’s accuracy; but wow — Petraeus recommended giving Central Command responsibility for the West Bank and Gaza. In the real world, that’s a sensible recommendation. In the world refracted through the prism of a conflict that makes everyone who encounters it more than a little irrational, it was never ever going to be adopted, because it opens the door for American military involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which is a taboo subject (until it isn’t). And so it wasn’t.
This is why Generals are supposed to stay out of politics. What did Petraeus think the Arabs would say if he asked them the question? They will be satisfied with nothing short of the end of the Jewish state.
And why did Petraeus repeat what the Arabs said at face value without trying to analyze it?
Sorry, but Israel is not going to roll over and die because the Arabs are unhappy with us.
The Pentagon has a considerable role in Israel (joint training, military aid, intelligence-sharing, etc.), but that role is of course subordinated to civilian policy. CENTCOM “engagement” with the Israeli-Arab conflict won’t do anything to change the issues that matter most to Arab governments. Petraeus can’t slash military aid or order Netanyahu to stop building in East Jerusalem.
So perhaps this was purely a political gambit — an effort to light a fire under civilian policymakers. (Perry calls the U.S. military the most powerful lobbying group in the country.) Indeed, the Obama administration decided to “redouble its efforts” on the Israeli-Arab conflict after receiving the briefing.
That’s not at all an appropriate role for a general to play — even though I agree with the arguments Petraeus made. The U.S. needs a strong counterweight to the Israel lobby, but I’m not sure it should come from the Pentagon.
Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. military commander in the Middle East, did not formally request that the West Bank and Gaza be placed under his command’s domain, he told a Senate panel Tuesday.
Petraeus was reacting to an article onForeign Policy‘s Middle East Channel last week reporting that he briefed the Joint Chiefs of Staff about his concerns over how a lack of progress in the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians could jeopardize U.S. national security interests. The article originally stated that Petraeus followed up with a white paper sent to the White House that recommended the Palestinian territories be taken out of European Command’s area of responsibility and placed with his own Central Command.
But in testimony today before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Petraeus denied that he made such a request and downplayed the discussions that he and other senior military leaders have had over the issue.
“Although some staff members have, various times, and I have discussed and you know, asking for the Palestinian territories or something like that to be added … I have never made that a formal recommendation for the Unified Command Plan, and that was not in what I submitted this year,” Petraeus said. “Nor have I sent a memo to the White House on any of this.”
The article was updated to say that CENTCOM did in fact recommend that the Palestinian territories be added to its portfolio, but made that recommendation to the Joint Chiefs, not the White House.
On Tuesday, a senior military official close to Joint Chiefs Chairman Michael Mullen emailed Foreign Policy to say that “while the Chairman certainly did receive a briefing by Gen. Petraeus’ team, he was not ‘stunned’ by it. Indeed, he found it somewhat out of date.”
Iraqi militants have stepped up their game in anticipation of Sunday’s national elections, The New York Times reports, with twice as many people dead from violence in February as in the previous month. On Wednesday, a series of three bomb blasts killed at least 30 people and wounded 45 in the city Baquba, northeast of Baghdad. At least 15 of the victims were members of security forces. The attacks included two car-bombs aimed at government buildings, and one attack on a hospital where victims of the earlier blasts were being treated. On election day, officials plan to stem potential violence by banning cars and issuing curfews.
Two car bombs went off simultaneously this morning, around 9:30 local time, at the provincial government’s main building in Baquba (the capital of Diyala) and in a nearby intersection. A third bomber, reportedly wearing a police uniform with the rank of lieutenant, blew himself up at Baquba’s main hospital — as casualties from the first two bombings began arriving for treatment.
The third bomber reportedly tried to kill the provincial police chief, Maj. Gen. Abdul-Hussein al-Shimari, who was visiting the wounded in the hospital. Shimari wasn’t harmed in the explosion. At least 12 of the casualties were members of Baquba’s police force.
Talib Mohamed Hassan, the head of Diyala’s provincial council, blamed the attacks on foreign fighters.
“Even if such attacks continue on election day, people will vote. It has become a challenge,” he said.
I don’t know if foreign fighters or homegrown insurgents are responsible — Diyala has a sizable Sunni population and a long-running Sunni insurgency — but the timing of the attacks seems linked to the election. But I also doubt attacks like this have any strategic significance vis-a-vis the elections. The insurgency hasn’t mounted any kind of coordinated campaign — indeed, another Sunni group announced yesterday that it would not target polling places — and isolated bombings aren’t likely to change the outcome of the vote.
As deadly as today’s attacks were, and even though there have been some other similar attacks in recent weeks, Quil reports that violence in Iraq has not been as bad as some authorities had feared in the run-up to this coming Sunday’s national elections. Quil also notes that this will be Iraq’s fifth nationwide poll since American forces entered the country in early 2003, but is the first election in which Iraqi forces will be in charge of security.
I am sorry to see the three bombings that killed at least 29 people in Baqubah today, but I am not using the “unraveling” title on this because I think the current bombings in Iraq are simply an attempt to scare people before this Sunday’s election. They may get media attention but don’t seem to me necessarily to represent any long-term trend.
The big question in my mind is what happens in the three months after the election. How long will it take to form a government? And will that process exacerbate ethnic and sectarian tensions? If we don’t see an Iraqi government by June 1, I will be very concerned.
It isn’t a “dark victory,” either. For fun, read aloud this Newsweekpiece and substitute “Vietnam” and “Saigon” for Iraq and Baghdad. Reads like a Luce product circa 1967. Or maybe China 1946, for that matter. Funny how a Western symphony orchestra and a store selling Johnny Walker are such perennial signs of a breakthrough in a land war in Asia. All we need is a scholarly Asian president who enjoys reading Shakespeare in his rare moments of relaxation. Speaking of the Lucites, Time magazine does a much better job of describing the outlines of post-occupation Iraq. And the AP reports that a new warrant for the arrest of Mookie has been issued. Interesting timing.
Petraeus Hits The White House With A Bombshell, But Not In The Way You Think
Mark Perry at Foreign Policy:
Laura Rozen at Politico:
Gregg Carlstorm at The Majlis:
UPDATE: Josh Rogin at Foreign Policy:
UPDATE #2: Joe Klein at Swampland at Time
Max Boot at Commentary
Spencer Ackerman here and here
UPDATE #3: Philip Klein at AmSpec
Noah Pollak at Commentary
UPDATE #4: Daniel Larison
UPDATE #5: Andy McCarthy at The Corner
UPDATE #6: Jeffrey Goldberg
Filed under GWOT, Israel/Palestine, Military Issues
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