Thursday, September 30, 2004

WSJ reporter Fassihi's e-mail to friends
What it's really like in today's Iraq

From: [Wall Street Journal reporter] Farnaz Fassihi
Subject: From Baghdad

Sept. 29, 2004

Blog editor's note: It's ironic that on the eve of the first presidential debate the most candid journalistic appraisal of what's really going on in Iraq comes in a private email by a Wall Street Journal reporter to friends that has been published by the Poynter Institute. Not only does it give a detailed and frightening view of what it's like to report an insurgency, it provides a view of Iraq that too often is missing from airbrushed mainstream journalism and is directly contrary to the optimistic pronouncements of the White House.

Being a foreign correspondent in Baghdad these days is like being under virtual house arrest. Forget about the reasons that lured me to this job: a chance to see the world, explore the exotic, meet new people in far away lands, discover their ways and tell stories that could make a difference.

Little by little, day-by-day, being based in Iraq has defied all those reasons. I am house bound. I leave when I have a very good reason to  and a scheduled interview. I avoid going to people's homes and never  walk in the streets. I can't go grocery shopping any more, can't eat in restaurants, can't strike a conversation with strangers, can't look for stories, can't drive in any thing but a full armored car, can't go to scenes of breaking news stories, can't be stuck in traffic, can't speak English outside, can't take a road trip, can't say I'm an American, can't linger at checkpoints, can't be curious about what people are saying, doing, feeling. And can't and can't. There has been one too many close calls, including a car bomb so near our house that it blew out all the windows. So now my most pressing concern every day is not to write a kick-ass story but to stay alive and make sure our Iraqi employees stay alive. In Baghdad I am a security personnel first, a reporter second.

To read the rest of this remarkable narrative, see Poynteronline. You may also be interested in several comments written by subscribers that can be read at Letters to Romenesko

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

U.S. Prewar Intelligence Saw Possible Iraq Insurgency

September 28, 2004

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. intelligence report before the Iraq war warned that an American invasion could lead to rogue elements fighting the new Iraqi government and U.S. forces, sources familiar with the report said on Tuesday.

While the classified report did not call it an insurgency, it raised the possibility of guerrilla warfare in a postwar Iraq, sources said.

Intelligence reports compiled in January 2003 predicted that an American invasion would result in a divided Iraq prone to internal violence, and increased sympathy in the Islamic world for some terrorist objectives, the New York Times reported on Tuesday.

The assessments were compiled from the views of various intelligence agencies by the National Intelligence Council which reports to the CIA director.

There was a ``big stack'' of prewar intelligence reports that said there was a high degree of possibility of insurgency and unrest, and that ``winning the peace will be harder than winning the war,'' one source familiar with the reports said on condition of anonymity.

To read the rest of this report, see The New York Times

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

So who are the "stoned slackers" watching Jon Stewart?

By David Bauder,
Associated Press  
September 27, 2004

NEW YORK --The folks at Comedy Central were annoyed when Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly kept referring to "The Daily Show" audience as "stoned slackers."

So they did a little research. And guess whose audience is more educated?

Viewers of Jon Stewart's show are more likely to have completed four years of college than people who watch "The O'Reilly Factor," according to Nielsen Media Research.

To read the rest of this dispatch, see

If America were Iraq, What would it be Like?

Juan Cole
Informed Comment
Sept. 22, 2004

Blog editor's note: Prof. Cole is a leading authority on Iraq and the region and a professor of history at Univ. of Michigan. The essay that follows is posted on his widely read blog, "Informed Comment."

President Bush said Tuesday that the Iraqis are refuting the pessimists and implied that things are improving in that country.

What would America look like if it were in Iraq's current situation? The population of the US is over 11 times that of Iraq, so a lot of statistics would have to be multiplied by that number.

Thus, violence killed 300 Iraqis last week, the equivalent proportionately of 3,300 Americans. What if 3,300 Americans had died in car bombings, grenade and rocket attacks, machine gun spray, and aerial bombardment in the last week? That is a number greater than the deaths on September 11, and if America were Iraq, it would be an ongoing, weekly or monthly toll.

And what if those deaths occurred all over the country, including in the capital of Washington, DC, but mainly above the Mason Dixon line, in Boston, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City, and San Francisco?

What if the grounds of the White House and the government buildings near the Mall were constantly taking mortar fire? What if almost nobody in the State Department at Foggy Bottom, the White House, or the Pentagon dared venture out of their buildings, and considered it dangerous to go over to Crystal City or Alexandria?

To read the rest of this speculative comparison, see Informed Comment

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

President Bush's Lead Balloon

New York Times
September 22, 2004

We did not expect President Bush to come before the United Nations in the middle of his re-election campaign and acknowledge the serious mistakes his administration has made on Iraq. But that still left plenty of room for him to take advantage of this one last chance to appeal to an increasingly antagonistic world to help the Iraqis secure and rebuild their shattered nation and prepare for elections in just four months. Instead, Mr. Bush delivered an inexplicably defiant campaign speech in which he glossed over the current dire situation in Iraq for an audience acutely aware of the true state of affairs, and scolded them for refusing to endorse the American invasion in the first place.

Even when he talked about issues of common agreement, like the global fight against AIDS and easing the crushing third-world debt, Mr. Bush seemed more interested in praising his own policies than in assuming the leadership of an international effort. The speech would have drawn cheers at an adoring Republican National Convention, but it seemed to fall flat in a room full of stony-faced world leaders.

To read the rest of the editorial, see The New York Times

Saturday, September 18, 2004

If This Is What Passes For Considered Judgment,
No Wonder Americans Are Confused....And the Polls
Still Show Bush Ahead

(Blog editor's note: The excerpt below is from a Sunday, Sept. 19, editorial in the Washington Post. To the degree it accurately reflects the received journalistic wisdom in the U.S., it is no mystery at all why so many Americans are confused about the Bush administration's conduct of Iraq policy.)

...Too often American soldiers and commanders have been flung into the breach between illusion and reality. Many have responded with great courage and creativity, and they can point to many accomplishments that receive little attention back home. But more than 1,000 have died, thousands more as well have paid a terrible cost and no end to these losses is in sight.

Whatever his rhetoric, Mr. Bush deserves to be judged by this record. In our view, it is one of courage in setting goals and steadfastness in sticking to them but also one of extraordinary recklessness and incompetence in execution.

To read the entire Post editorial, see The Washington Post

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Far graver than Vietnam
Most senior US military officers now believe the war on Iraq has turned into a disaster on an unprecedented scale

Sidney Blumenthal
September 16, 2004
The Guardian

'Bring them on!" President Bush challenged the early Iraqi insurgency in July of last year. Since then, 812 American soldiers have been killed and 6,290 wounded, according to the Pentagon. Almost every day, in campaign speeches, Bush speaks with bravado about how he is "winning" in Iraq. "Our strategy is succeeding," he boasted to the National Guard convention on Tuesday.

But, according to the US military's leading strategists and prominent retired generals, Bush's war is already lost. Retired general William Odom, former head of the National Security Agency, told me: "Bush hasn't found the WMD. Al-Qaida, it's worse, he's lost on that front. That he's going to achieve a democracy there? That goal is lost, too. It's lost." He adds: "Right now, the course we're on, we're achieving Bin Laden's ends."

To read the rest of this analysis, see The Guardian

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

U.N. chief says U.S.-led Iraq war, with no Security Council approval, was ''illegal''

By Associated Press,

UNITED NATIONS (AP) The U.S. decision to go to war in Iraq without the approval of the U.N. Security Council was ''illegal,'' Secretary-General Kofi Annan told the BBC on Wednesday.

''I hope we do not see another Iraq-type operation for a long time without U.N. approval and much broader support from the international community,'' he said in an interview with the BBC World Service.

The U.N. Charter allows nations to take military action with Security Council approval as an explicit enforcement action, such as during the Korean War and the 1991 Gulf War.

But in 2003, in the build-up to the Iraq war, the United States dropped an attempt to get a Security Council resolution approving the invasion when it became apparent it would not pass.

To read the rest of this story, see Boston

A Quiet Strategy Shift
Administration Reprograms Billions in Iraq Aid — And Tacitly Recognizes Its Failures

By Anthony H. Cordesman
ABCNEWS Military Analyst

Blog editor's note: Cordesman is a highly regarded authority on military affairs, particularly as they affect the Middle East, at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)

Sept. 14, 2004— Virtually without fanfare, the Bush administration has reprogrammed some $3.5 billion in aid funds to Iraq in ways that mark a fundamental shift in its strategy in Iraq, and a recognition that much of the U.S. effort during the first year of occupation was a failure.

The administration today sent a proposal to Congress to reprogram $3.46 billion from Iraqi water, power and other reconstruction projects to short-term expenditures designed to provide better security, secure and boost oil exports, and provide immediate aid benefits of the kind that can support the elections scheduled for January 2005.

To read the rest of this analysis, see

Monday, September 13, 2004

Preventive War: A Failed Doctrine

The New York Times
Sept. 12, 2004

If facts mattered in American politics, the Bush-Cheney ticket would not be basing its re-election campaign on the fear-mongering contention that the surest defense against future terrorist attacks lies in the badly discredited doctrine of preventive war. Vice President Dick Cheney took this argument to a disgraceful low last week when he implied that electing John Kerry and returning to traditional American foreign policy values would invite a devastating new strike.

So far, the preventive war doctrine has had one real test: the invasion of Iraq. Mr. Bush terrified millions of Americans into believing that forcibly changing the regime in Baghdad was the only way to keep Iraq's supposed stockpiles of unconventional weapons out of the hands of Al Qaeda. Then it turned out that there were no stockpiles and no operational links between Saddam Hussein's regime and Al Qaeda's anti-American terrorism. Meanwhile, America's longstanding defensive alliances were weakened and the bulk of America's ground combat troops tied down in Iraq for what now appears to be many years to come. If that is making this country safer, it is hard to see how. The real lesson is that America dangerously erodes its military and diplomatic defenses when it charges off unwisely after hypothetical enemies.

To read the rest of the editorial, see The New York Times

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Four Day War
The Iran/Israel conflagration, a history

By Claude Salhani
The American Conservative
September 13, 2004 issue

Blog editor's note: For a truly chilling scenario of how nuclear war could easily come to the Middle East, this speculative piece lays out the possibilities and makes a compelling case for the need for (1) serious negotiations between Israel and its foes, and (2) between the U.S. and Iran. Such negotiations have for all intents and purposes been sidetracked in my view by the Iraq war on the one hand and on the other, by the Bush administration's reliance on sheer unilateral power in the region rather than diplomacy.

A number of analysts believe that Iran will reach a critical stage in its pursuit of nuclear capability sometime within the next few months. This is a terrifying new development, far more worrisome than the wars and uprisings that have plagued the Middle East to date.

Indeed, as Ray Takeyh, director of studies at the Near East and South Asia Center at the National Defense University, said at a recent Washington conference, Iran may have already passed the point of “political no return” in its bid for nuclear competence. If the Islamic republic has already passed that political landmark, then the actual point of no return cannot be far away.

...What follows is the unfolding of a worst-case scenario, an imaginary yet all-too-possible depiction of how events might develop if Israel were to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities.

To read the rest of this essay, see The American Conservative

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Report: Civil war most likely outcome in Iraq
Major British institute says breakup of Iraq is a likely scenario

by Tom Regan
Christian Science
September 6, 2004

While America's attention was focused last week on the Republican National Convention in New York, and the world was watching the hostage tragedy unfold in the small Russian town of Beslan, the prestigious British Royal Institute of International Affairs (known as Chatham House) issued a report saying a major civil war that would destablize the entire Middle East region is the mostly likely outcome for Iraq if current conditions continue. Reuters reported Friday that the report said the best outcome Iraq can hope for is "to muddle through an 18-month political transition that began when Washington formally handed over sovereignty on June 28."

To read the rest of this article, see