Saturday, December 30, 2006

HAPPY NEW YEAR 2007!!!!!!

U.S. Official Overseeing Oil Program Faces Inquiry

WASHINGTON, Dec. 29 — The Justice Department is investigating whether the director of a multibillion-dollar oil-trading program at the Interior Department has been paid as a consultant for oil companies hoping for contracts.

The director of the program and three subordinates, all based in Denver, have been transferred to different jobs and have been ordered to cease all contacts with the oil industry until the investigation is completed some time next spring, according to officials involved.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation had not been announced publicly, said investigators were worried that senior government officials had been steering huge oil-trading contracts to favored companies.

Any such favoritism would probably reduce the money that the federal government receives on nearly $4 billion worth of oil and gas, because it would reduce competition among companies that compete to sell the fuel on behalf of the government.

If the allegations prove correct, they would constitute a major new blot on the Interior Department’s much-criticized effort to properly collect royalties on vast amounts of oil and gas produced on land or in coastal waters.

The Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service, which oversees royalty collections, is now the target of multiple investigations by Congress and the Interior Department’s inspector general.

Those investigations are focused on allegations that the agency ordered its own auditors to abandon claims of cheating by large oil companies; that the agency’s arcane rules for calculating sales value and royalties make it easier for companies to understate their obligations; and that the agency’s basic sources of data are riddled with inaccuracies and are unreliable.

Interior officials have promoted “royalties in kind” as a much simpler and more efficient way for the government to get its proper share, because it eliminates much of the arcane accounting and reduces the opportunities for sleight-of-hand bookkeeping.

About a quarter of all oil and gas produced in the United States comes from federal property, and the Interior Department collected about $10 billion in royalties last year on about $60 billion in oil and gas.

At issue is the “royalty in kind” program, a fast-growing program under which companies pay their royalties in the form oil or gas rather than in the traditional form of cash.

For the 12 months ending last April, the government collected about $3.7 billion in oil and gas. Until recently, most of the oil simply went to the government’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve. But the strategic reserve was essentially filled this year, so the Interior Department hires private companies to resell the fuel on the open market.

To ensure that it gets the best price, the Interior Department takes bids for contracts in which companies typically offer to pay a specific premium over the daily spot-market prices quoted on the Nymex commodity exchange. The companies offering the biggest premium over the spot market get the contracts.
People familiar with the investigation said it had begun several months ago, but had picked up speed in the last few weeks.

The most prominent figure in the inquiry is Gregory W. Smith, who was director of the royalty-in-kind program at the Minerals Management Service in Denver. Mr. Smith oversaw the entire program, which now covers 75 percent of royalties for all oil and 30 percent of royalties for all natural gas produced in the Gulf of Mexico.

One person familiar with the investigation said it originally had focused on potentially improper social ties between some of Mr. Smith’s subordinates and executives at companies vying for contracts. The subordinates include two women, including one who is said to be in charge of oil marketing, and a second man.

All four people were transferred out of the royalty-in-kind office several weeks ago. Mr. Smith was reassigned as a “special assistant” to Lucy Querques Dennett, associate director of the Mineral Management Service in Washington. He was given strict orders to avoid any contact with industry executives, according to one official.

One official said investigators were now looking at possible consulting arrangements between the Denver officials and oil companies. The official said the most recent information had, if anything, hardened the suspicions of investigators, and said the potential ramifications could turn out to be far-reaching.

Mr. Smith did not return calls to his office in Denver. Spokesmen for the Interior Department in Washington as well as in the inspector general’s office, which began the investigation before referring the matter to the Justice Department, refused to comment on the matter.


Democrats vow to restore political integrity

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A California Democrat newly elected to Congress promised Saturday that his party will restore integrity and civility to the House when it assumes control in January.

"In this election, the American people clearly called for change," Rep.-elect Jerry McNerney said in the Democrats' weekly radio address. "As our first responsibility in fulfilling the mandate of this critical election, House Democrats will restore integrity and civility in Washington in order to earn the public trust."

The effort to build that trust will include bans on gifts from lobbyists, lobbyist-funded travel and use of corporate jets, McNerney said.

The incoming congressman also promised "a new direction in Iraq" and said Democrats would resist any plan to deploy more U.S. troops there. "The Iraqis need to understand that the responsibility for the future of that country is theirs," he said.

McNerney also said Democrats would work to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil "while creating jobs, prosperity and a healthy environment with a new energy technology, including renewable energy and biofuels."

Before running for office, McNerney worked as a wind-energy engineer and consultant. In November, he defeated incumbent Republican Richard Pombo, whose efforts to rewrite the endangered species law and open public lands to energy drilling were frequently criticized by environmentalists when he chaired the House Resources Committee.


Saddam Hussein put to death

Refusing to have his face covered and uttering curses upon his perceived foes, condemned Iraqi ex-dictator Saddam Hussein was executed by hanging early Saturday morning in a Baghdad square outside the Green Zone.

The Associated Press reports that Hussein's half-brother, Ibrahim Barzan al-Tikriti, and the former Revolutionary Court chief justice, Awad Hamed al-Bandar, were also to be hanged, though the exact times for each was unclear.

The deposed strongman's execution, just before 6 AM Baghdad time, came as the Muslim feast of Eid ul-Adha began.

CNN reported "celebratory gunfire" in the Iraqi capital and showed footage of Iraqis in Dearborn, Michigan cheering the demise of the 69-year-old Hussein, who was put to death for the 1982 massacre of 182 Iraqi Shi'ites. There was also a report that Iraqis at Hussein's execution site "were dancing around his body."

Small protests were held by supporters of the former Iraq leader in his hometown of Tikrit, according to Deutsche Presse Agentur.

The White House released a written statement by President Bush in which he said that the death of Hussein "comes at the end of a difficult year for the Iraqi people and for our troops." He acknowledged that "bringing Saddam Hussein to justice will not end the violence in Iraq, but it is an important milestone on Iraq's course to becoming a democracy..."

Reuters reported that the President, vacationing in Crawford, Texas, was asleep at the time of Hussein's execution and was not awakened. He had been informed by his staff earlier in the evening that "the execution would take place in a few hours."

Buildup to dictator's demise

Earlier, the Associated Press reported that U.S. authorities were "maintaining physical custody of Saddam to prevent him from being humiliated before his execution," and will "try to prevent the mutilation of his corpse."

Iraq's national security adviser told CNN's Anderson Cooper that Hussein's body would be prepared according to traditional Muslim rituals, and, despite an expressed desire by his daughter to have him laid to rest in Yemen, could "absolutely" be buried in Iraq if his family requests it, saying "we can agree on the whereabouts."

McClatchy Newspapers said that Hussein was in a "state of shock" and had "come apart" after realizing "he couldn't escape this," according to an Iraqi parliament member present at Friday meetings concerning Hussein's execution. Later, United Press International quoted an Iraqi official who witnessed the execution as saying the deposed dictator was "quiet and obedient" as the noose was placed around his neck. "We were astonished," the official said. "It was strange. He just gave up."

Rumors had flown into the night about the timing of Hussein's hanging, with news agencies reporting conflicting details.

Late Friday evening, the Associated Press reported that the Iraqi government had prepared all necessary documents for the hanging to commence, "including a 'red card' - an execution order introduced during Saddam's dictatorship."

Iraqis gathered in throngs during the early morning leadup to the execution, reports said. Reuters reported that some in the Kurd region of Iraq awaited Hussein's death with "grim satisfaction."

Some U.S. embassies around the world warned American travelers of potential "problems" they might encounter due to Hussein's hanging. The Pentagon stated that U.S. troops were prepared to deal with any increase in violence that could follow the execution.


Friday, December 29, 2006

Hussein transfer to Iraqi authorities questioned, time of execution may depend on religious question

Earlier reports from various news organs that deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein has been transferred from US custody to Iraqi control have now been cast into doubt, according to reports from Agence France Presse and Reuters.

Speculation continued on the timing of the execution, with some sources reporting that Iraq's Prime Minister was seeking a judgment from Shi'ite clerics on when the hanging could go forward.

A breaking report at Reuters said that the deposed Iraqi dictator remained in US custody in Baghdad. Agence France Press also reported that the State Department had announced there was "no change in [Hussein's] status." The news followed up on reports from a variety of sources that Hussein had left US custody and been handed over to Iraqi control. The move would be a prelude to Saddam's hanging by Iraqi authorities.

The most recent report from Reuters has suggested that Saddam's execution may depend on a judgment by Shi'ite clerics. Tomorrow marks the beginning of the Muslim holiday of Eid Al-Adha, a week-long celebration of the beginning of the Hajj in Mecca, which may require delay of the execution. A Shi'ite politican said that Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki "had asked Shi'ite religious leaders and clerics from Saddam's Sunni Arab minority whether Saddam could be executed immediately. He told Reuters they may approve a hanging before noon (0900 GMT), when the festival formally begins, or say it should be delayed."

Saddam Hussein is drawn from the country's Sunni Arab minority, and there has been much speculation that this segment of Iraq's population will be greatly angered by the execution of the country's former dictator.

A senior Bush administration official said earlier that "Hussein's execution by hanging isn't expected to happen in the next 24 hours, though it may take place in the days that follow, the official told reporters yesterday," according to Bloomberg News. Agence France Presse also quoted the official as speculating that it might take another day for an execution order to be carried out.

Meanwhile, according to AFP, an anonymous lawyer for Saddam was now claiming Hussein will be executed on Saturday at dawn.


WH: bin Laden Capture "A Success That Hasn't Occured Yet"

Five years after the Sept. 11 attacks, Osama bin Laden is still at large -- but that's not a failure of White House policy, says Frances Fragos Townsend.

As she explained to CNN's White House correspondent Ed Henry last night:

HENRY: You know, going back to September 2001, the president said, dead or alive, we're going to get him. Still don't have him. I know you are saying there's successes on the war on terror, and there have been. That's a failure.

TOWNSEND: Well, I'm not sure -- it's a success that hasn't occurred yet. I don't know that I view that as a failure.


Thursday, December 28, 2006

Many soldiers say troop surge a bad idea

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Many of the American soldiers trying to quell sectarian killings in Baghdad don't appear to be looking for reinforcements. They say the temporary surge in troop levels some people are calling for is a bad idea.

President Bush is considering increasing the number of troops in Iraq and embedding more U.S. advisers in Iraqi units. White House advisers have indicated Bush will announce his new plan for the war before his State of the Union address Jan. 23.

In dozens of interviews with soldiers of the Army's 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment as they patrolled the streets of eastern Baghdad, many said the Iraqi capital is embroiled in civil warfare between majority Shiite Muslims and Sunni Arabs that no number of American troops can stop.

Others insisted current troop levels are sufficient and said any increase in U.S. presence should focus on training Iraqi forces, not combat.

But their more troubling worry was that dispatching a new wave of soldiers would result in more U.S. casualties, and some questioned whether an increasingly muddled American mission in Baghdad is worth putting more lives on the line.

Spc. Don Roberts, who was stationed in Baghdad in 2004, said the situation had gotten worse because of increasing violence between Shiites and Sunnis.

"I don't know what could help at this point," said Roberts, 22, of Paonia, Colo. "What would more guys do? We can't pick sides. It's almost like we have to watch them kill each other, then ask questions."

Based in Fort Lewis, Wash., the battalion is part of the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team of the 2nd Infantry Division. Deployed in June, its men were moved to Baghdad from Mosul in late November to relieve another Stryker battalion that had reached the end of its tour.

"Nothing's going to help. It's a religious war, and we're caught in the middle of it," said Sgt. Josh Keim, a native of Canton, Ohio, who is on his second tour in Iraq. "It's hard to be somewhere where there's no mission and we just drive around."

Capt. Matt James, commander of the battalion's Company B, was careful in how he described the unit's impact since arriving in Baghdad.
"The idea in calling us in was to make things better here, but it's very complicated and complex," he said.
But James said more troops in combat would likely not have the desired effect.
"The more guys we have training the Iraqi army the better," he said. "I would like to see a surge there."

During a recent interview, Lt. Gen. Nasier Abadi, deputy chief of staff for the Iraqi army, said that instead of sending more U.S. soldiers, Washington should focus on furnishing his men with better equipment.
"We are hoping 2007 will be the year of supplies," he said.

Some in the 5th Battalion don't think training will ever get the Iraqi forces up to American standards.

"They're never going to be as effective as us," said 1st Lt. Sean McCaffrey, 24, of Shelton, Conn. "They don't have enough training or equipment or expertise."
McCaffrey does support a temporary surge in troop numbers, however, arguing that flooding Baghdad with more soldiers could "crush enemy forces all over the city instead of just pushing them from one area to another."

Pfc. Richard Grieco said it's hard to see how daily missions in Baghdad make a difference.
"If there's a plan to sweep through Baghdad and clear it, (more troops) could make a difference," said the 19-year-old from Slidell, La. "But if we just dump troops in here like we've been doing, it's just going to make for more targets."

Sgt. James Simons, 24, of Tacoma, Wash., said Baghdad is so dangerous that U.S. forces spend much of their time in combat instead of training Iraqis.
"Baghdad is still like it was at the start of the war. We still have to knock out insurgents because things are too dangerous for us to train the Iraqis," he said.

Staff Sgt. Anthony Handly disagreed, saying Baghdad has made improvements many Americans aren't aware of.
"People think everything is so bad and so violent, but it's really not," said Handly, 30, of Bellingham, Wash. "A lot of people are getting jobs they didn't have before and they're doing it on their own. We just provide a stabilizing effect."

Staff Sgt. Lee Knapp, 28, of Mobile, Ala., also supported a temporary troop surge, saying it could keep morale up by reducing the need to extend units past the Army's standard tour of one year in Iraq.
"It could help alleviate some stress on the smaller units," he said. "It could help Baghdad, but things are already getting better."

Sgt. Justin Thompson, a San Antonio native, said he signed up for delayed enlistment before the Sept. 11 terror attacks, then was forced to go to a war he didn't agree with.
A troop surge is "not going to stop the hatred between Shia and Sunni," said Thompson, who is especially bitter because his 4-year contract was involuntarily extended in June. "This is a civil war, and we're just making things worse. We're losing. I'm not afraid to say it."


Defense Secretary Is Wary of Adding More Iraq Troops

WASHINGTON — With President Bush leaning toward sending more soldiers to pacify Iraq, his defense secretary is privately opposing the buildup.

According to two administration officials who asked not to be named, Robert Gates expressed his skepticism about a troop surge in Iraq on his first day on the job, December 18, at a Pentagon meeting with civilians who oversee the Air Force, Army, Navy, and Marines.

The view of the new defense secretary appears to be at odds with the leanings of Mr. Bush, who is expected to announce a new troop surge when he unveils his new war strategy next month. Mr. Gates met with Mr. Bush Saturday at Camp David after a trip to Iraq, where the defense secretary met with the commander of American forces there, General George Casey. General Casey said he would be open to an increase in troops, but a spokesman for him told the Christian Science Monitor over the weekend that the general had not formally requested more troops.

The view from the military on the troop surge is murky. The Pentagon's top generals have been on the record before Congress and in the press for the past two years as saying the current troop levels in Iraq are adequate for the balancing act of standing up an Iraqi military and also fighting off largely Sunni insurgents. At the same time, last June's Baghdad offensive, which moved troops to Iraq's capital from other troubled provinces such as Anbar has been widely seen as a failure, as Shiite militias continue their killing spree undeterred. The failure of what was known as "Operation Forward Together" has led to a rethinking of strategy.

Before taking over as defense secretary earlier this month, Mr. Gates had been a member of the 10-person Iraq Study Group, also known as the Baker-Hamilton commission. That group has warned against a long-term buildup of forces in Iraq, arguing it would lessen pressure on the elected government in Baghdad to reach a political accommodation there, which the commission says is the only way to stabilize the deteriorating nation.

That's the way many of the Democrats preparing to take over Congress see things as well. Yesterday, in a conference call with reporters, the incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Joseph Biden, a Democrat of Delaware, said he would launch three weeks of hearings on Iraq in January in part to persuade Republicans to go to the White House to oppose a new troop surge for Iraq.

"I totally oppose the surging of additional troops in Baghdad," Mr. Biden told reporters yesterday. He also said a majority of his colleagues in the Senate also opposed the push for new troops "absent some profound political announcement, addressing the two overriding issues," which he said were sharing oil revenues and dealing with largely Shiite factional militias.

Click for more on this story

Edwards shoots for White House again

NEW ORLEANS - Former vice presidential nominee John Edwards said Thursday that he is a candidate for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, promising "a grass roots, ground-up campaign where we ask people to take action."

Clad in blue jeans, an open-necked shirt and with his sleeves rolled up, Edwards chose the backyard of a victim of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans' devastated 9th Ward for his unorthodox announcement.

"We want people in this campaign to actually take action now, not later, not after the next election," the former North Carolina senator said, sounding as much like a recruiter as a presidential campaigner.

"Instead of staying home and complaining, we're asking Americans to help," Edwards said. "Most of the good that has been done in New Orleans has been done by faith-based groups, charitable groups and volunteers."

Edwards — who is calling for cuts in poverty, global warming and troops in Iraq — chose the site to highlight his signature concern of the economic disparity that divides America.

"I'm here to announce I'm a candidate for president of the United States," Edwards told NBC's "Today Show" earlier Thursday, one of three back-to-back interviews by the candidate on morning news shows. "I've reached my own conclusion this is the best way to serve my country."

Edwards, 53, said the difference between his message to voters in 2004 and his 2008 presidential bid is that, "I've learned since the last campaign that it's great to identify a problem ... but the way you change things is by taking action."

And Iraq is one of the biggest issues facing the country.

"It would be a huge mistake to put a surge of troops into Iraq," Edwards said on ABC's "Good Morning America. "It sends exactly the wrong signal. We can maximize our chances for success by making clear we are going to leave Iraq and not stay there forever."

And the next president must restore America's leadership in the world, he said.

"It's absolutely crucial that America re-establish its moral authority and leadership role in the world," Edward said on CBS "Early Show."

Edwards' campaign got a little ahead of itself Wednesday and announced his intentions online a day early. His Web site briefly featured the logo "John Edwards '08" and its slogan, "Tomorrow begins today" — literally, in this case — before aides quickly removed them.

In his message to supporters, Edwards listed five priorities to change America.

Among them: "Guaranteeing health care for every single American," "Strengthening our middle class and ending the shame of poverty," "Leading the fight against global warming," and "Getting America and the world to break our addiction to oil."

Edwards has been working to build his campaign ever since he and John Kerry lost a close race to the Bush-Cheney ticket in 2004.

The campaign could pit Edwards against his former partner on the Democratic ticket.

Kerry has not said yet whether he will run, nor have other big names like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, but Edwards did not wait to find out who will be his competition.

He has positioned himself as a serious contender. He's been strengthening his ties to labor and other Democratic activists behind the scenes, rebuilding a top-notch campaign staff and honing his skills. The efforts have made him the leading candidate in early polls of Iowa Democrats who will get the first say in the nomination fight.

Edwards' advisers scheduled a six-state announcement tour between Christmas and New Year's Day with the hopes that news would be slow and he could dominate media coverage. Over three days, Edwards also planned to travel to Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina and his home state of North Carolina.

Edwards was kicking off his campaign at one of the few homes in the neighborhood that appears close to being habitable. It belongs to Orelia Tyler, 54, who has been living in a Federal Emergency Management Agency trailer in her yard while her home was rebuilt.

Edwards' challenge over the next year will be to show that he can keep up with front-runners Clinton and Obama, should they get in the race, in terms of fundraising and support. Unlike officeholders who may run, Edwards does not have a federal campaign account and will have to start raising money from scratch.

He also has hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt from his 2004 campaign.

The son of a textile mill worker, Edwards has been on a fast track most of his life despite his up-by-the-bootstraps roots.

A standout law student who became a stunningly successful trial lawyer and millionaire, Edwards vaulted from nowhere politically into the U.S. Senate and then onto the 2004 Democratic presidential ticket — all in less than six years.

In 1998, in his first bid for public office, Edwards defeated incumbent Sen. Lauch Faircloth, R-N.C., a leading advocate for impeachment of President Clinton.

Edwards began building support for his first presidential bid shortly after arriving in the Senate. He quickly made a name for himself in Congress, using his legal background to help Democratic colleagues navigate the impeachment hearings.

Edwards launched a bid for the Democratic nomination in 2003 and quickly caught the eye of Democratic strategists. Although he won only the South Carolina primary, his skills on the trail, his cheerful demeanor, and his message of "two Americas" — one composed of the wealthy and privileged, and the other of the hardworking common man — excited voters, especially independents and moderate-leaning Democrats.

Edwards' handsome, youthful appearance also gave him a measure of star quality, one of the reasons Kerry selected Edwards as his running mate.


'This is no longer America's war in Iraq,' says U.S. commander of Iraqi military training unit

Thursday's edition of The New York Times includes a story which records the frustrations of some commanding officers in charge of training Iraqi soldiers in Baghdad, who fear that "sectarian ties" may be almost insurmountable in a country where "everyone, to some extent, is influenced" by the Shiite militias.

"I have come to the conclusion that this is no longer America’s war in Iraq, but the Iraqi civil war where America is fighting," Maj. William Voorhies, the American commander of a military training unit in Baghdad tells the Times.

"A two-day reporting trip accompanying Major Voorhies’s unit and combat troops seemed to back his statement, as did other commanding officers expressing similar frustration," writes Marc Santora.

Excerpts from article:

The car parked outside was almost certainly a tool of the Sunni insurgency. It was pocked with bullet holes and bore fake license plates. The trunk had cases of unused sniper bullets and a notice to a Shiite family telling them to abandon their home.

“Otherwise, your rotten heads will be cut off,” the note read.

The soldiers who came upon the car in a Sunni neighborhood in Baghdad were part of a joint American and Iraqi patrol, and the Americans were ready to take action. The Iraqi commander, however, taking orders by cellphone from the office of a top Sunni politician, said to back off: the car’s owner was known and protected at a high level.

For Maj. William Voorhies, the American commander of the military training unit at the scene, the moment encapsulated his increasingly frustrating task — trying to build up Iraqi security forces who themselves are being used as proxies in a spreading sectarian war. This time, it was a Sunni politician — Vice Prime Minister Salam al-Zubaie — but the more powerful Shiites interfered even more often.


Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Ford Disagreed With Bush About Invading Iraq

Former president Gerald R. Ford said in an embargoed interview in July 2004 that the Iraq war was not justified. "I don't think I would have gone to war," he said a little more than a year after President Bush had launched the invasion advocated and carried out by prominent veterans of Ford's own administration.

In a four-hour conversation at his house in Beaver Creek, Colo., Ford "very strongly" disagreed with the current president's justifications for invading Iraq and said he would have pushed alternatives, such as sanctions, much more vigorously. In the tape-recorded interview, Ford was critical not only of Bush but also of Vice President Cheney -- Ford's White House chief of staff -- and then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who served as Ford's chief of staff and then his Pentagon chief.

"Rumsfeld and Cheney and the president made a big mistake in justifying going into the war in Iraq. They put the emphasis on weapons of mass destruction," Ford said. "And now, I've never publicly said I thought they made a mistake, but I felt very strongly it was an error in how they should justify what they were going to do."

In a conversation that veered between the current realities of a war in the Middle East and the old complexities of the war in Vietnam whose bitter end he presided over as president, Ford took issue with the notion of the United States entering a conflict in service of the idea of spreading democracy.

"Well, I can understand the theory of wanting to free people," Ford said, referring to Bush's assertion that the United States has a "duty to free people." But the former president said he was skeptical "whether you can detach that from the obligation number one, of what's in our national interest." He added: "And I just don't think we should go hellfire damnation around the globe freeing people, unless it is directly related to our own national security."

The Ford interview -- and a subsequent lengthy conversation in 2005 -- took place for a future book project, though he said his comments could be published at any time after his death. In the sessions, Ford fondly recalled his close working relationship with key Bush advisers Cheney and Rumsfeld while expressing concern about the policies they pursued in more recent years.

"He was an excellent chief of staff. First class," Ford said. "But I think Cheney has become much more pugnacious" as vice president. He said he agreed with former secretary of state Colin L. Powell's assertion that Cheney developed a "fever" about the threat of terrorism and Iraq. "I think that's probably true."

Describing his own preferred policy toward Saddam Hussein's Iraq, Ford said he would not have gone to war, based on the publicly available information at the time, and would have worked harder to find an alternative. "I don't think, if I had been president, on the basis of the facts as I saw them publicly," he said, "I don't think I would have ordered the Iraq war. I would have maximized our effort through sanctions, through restrictions, whatever, to find another answer."

Ford had faced his own military crisis -- not a war he started like Bush, but one he had to figure out how to end. In many ways those decisions framed his short presidency -- in the difficult calculations about how to pull out of Vietnam and the challenging players who shaped policy on the war. Most challenging of all, as Ford recalled, was Henry A. Kissinger, who was both secretary of state and national security adviser and had what Ford said was "the thinnest skin of any public figure I ever knew."

"I think he was a super secretary of state," Ford said, "but Henry in his mind never made a mistake, so whatever policies there were that he implemented, in retrospect he would defend."

In 1975, Ford decided to relieve Kissinger of his national security title. "Why Nixon gave Henry both secretary of state and head of the NSC, I never understood," Ford said. "Except he was a great supporter of Kissinger. Period." But Ford viewed Kissinger's dual roles as a conflict of interest that weakened the administration's ability to fully air policy debates. "They were supposed to check on one another."

That same year, Ford also decided to fire Defense Secretary James R. Schlesinger and replace him with Rumsfeld, who was then Ford's White House chief of staff. Ford recalled that he then used that decision to go to Kissinger and say, "I'm making a change at the secretary of defense, and I expect you to be a team player and work with me on this" by giving up the post of security adviser.

Kissinger was not happy. "Mr. President, the press will misunderstand this," Ford recalled Kissinger telling him. "They'll write that I'm being demoted by taking away half of my job." But Ford made the changes, elevating the deputy national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, to take Kissinger's White House post.

Throughout this maneuvering, Ford said, he kept his White House chief of staff in the dark. "I didn't consult with Rumsfeld. And knowing Don, he probably resented the fact that I didn't get his advice, which I didn't," Ford said. "I made the decision on my own."

Kissinger remained a challenge for Ford. He regularly threatened to resign, the former president recalled. "Over the weekend, any one of 50 weekends, the press would be all over him, giving him unshirted hell. Monday morning he would come in and say, 'I'm offering my resignation.' Just between Henry and me. And I would literally hold his hand. 'Now, Henry, you've got the nation's future in your hands and you can't leave us now.' Henry publicly was a gruff, hard-nosed, German-born diplomat, but he had the thinnest skin of any public figure I ever knew."

Ford added, "Any criticism in the press drove him crazy." Kissinger would come in and say: "I've got to resign. I can't stand this kind of unfair criticism." Such threats were routine, Ford said. "I often thought, maybe I should say: 'Okay, Henry. Goodbye,' " Ford said, laughing. "But I never got around to that."

At one point, Ford recalled Kissinger, his chief Vietnam policymaker, as "coy." Then he added, Kissinger is a "wonderful person. Dear friend. First-class secretary of state. But Henry always protected his own flanks."

Ford was also critical of his own actions during the interviews. He recalled, for example, his unsuccessful 1976 campaign to remain in office, when he was under enormous pressure to dump Vice President Nelson A. Rockefeller from the Republican ticket. Some polls at the time showed that up to 25 percent of Republicans, especially those from the South, would not vote for Ford if Rockefeller, a New Yorker from the liberal wing of the Republican Party, was on the ticket.

When Rockefeller offered to be dropped from the ticket, Ford took him up on it. But he later regretted it. The decision to dump the loyal Rockefeller, he said, was "an act of cowardice on my part."

In the end, though, it was Vietnam and the legacy of the retreat he presided over that troubled Ford. After Saigon fell in 1975 and the United States evacuated from Vietnam, Ford was often labeled the only American president to lose a war. The label always rankled.

"Well," he said, "I was mad as hell, to be honest with you, but I never publicly admitted it."


Novak: McCain's 'aggressive surge' stance backfiring

In the latest Evans-Novak Political Report, conservative columnist Robert Novak suggests that Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) "aggressive" push for a U.S. troop expansion - or "surge" - in Iraq may be costing the top 2008 GOP contender in the polls, especially when matched against another presumed front-runner, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY).

"The decline in the polls of [McCain], as measured against [Clinton], reflects more than declining Republican popularity nationally in the weeks after the election," writes Novak in his exclusive report. "It connotes public disenchantment with McCain's aggressive advocacy of a 'surge' of up to 30,000 additional U.S. troops to Iraq."

One recent poll shows Clinton - who hasn't confirmed her intent to run for president yet - pulling ahead of McCain, who recently launched his own exploratory committee website. According to the Newsweek poll, voters with their choices limited to just the pair, prefer Clinton by seven percent (Clinton earned 50% to McCain's 43%, with 7% opting for "undecided, other").

Novak warns that unless the expanded U.S. force in Iraq yields quick results, "President George W. Bush's determination to put more boots on the ground is feared by Republicans as another political burden to bear."

Yet McCain presses on, despite "the American public's growing impatience for the end of the war," Holly Bailey wrote for Newsweek two weeks ago.

Republicans "are growing unhappy with the war," Bailey reported, including voters in critical states such as South Carolina, where McCain lost to Bush in the 2000 GOP primaries, which essentially marked the end of his last presidential bid.

"Even in conservative New Hampshire," Bailey adds, citing a state poll, "38 percent of voters now support bringing troops 'home ASAP.'"

"People are wondering how long this is going to go on," a Republican Columbia, South Carolina committeeman told Newsweek. "I don't think a proposal like [a troop surge] is going to get McCain any votes down here."

But Bailey concluded that, despite unfavorable signs, "some members of McCain's inner circle are convinced the position could actually work to his advantage, reminding independents of the maverick they fell in love with in 2000."

On Tuesday, The Washington Post reported that McCain's troop push was "personal."

"John McCain's public certainty about Iraq masks a more private and potentially wrenching connection," Elizabeth Williamson wrote. "If more troops go there, as McCain hopes they will, his youngest son could be one of them, taking his place in a line of family warriors that is one of the longest in U.S. history."

Earlier today, the 2004 Democratic Vice Presidential candidate, former Senator John Edwards, stepped into the race, as Raw Story reported, one day earlier than expected due to an Internet mix-up.

Also, Novak's latest column claimed that freshman Democratic Senator Barack Obama had made up his mind, as well, and would run for certain in 2008, now that security fears based on his race had been "dismissed as a problem."

Novak added that the Illinois senator's "strength" was partly responsible for Clinton's recent statements that she would have opposed the invasion of Iraq, if she had full knowledge of the information which came to light afterwards. Edwards has gone even further, and apologized for his vote to support the resolution in 2002.


Long-rumored shuffle of generals expected

A shuffle of top American generals in Iraq is likely to accompany the shift in U.S. policy that President Bush is considering.

Army Gen. John P. Abizaid, commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, has submitted plans to go ahead with a retirement that is months overdue, according to the U.S. Central Command.

And the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, has indicated in recent months that he also may not stay much longer than the end of this year.

Since they have opposed sending more troops to Iraq, their departures could make it easier for Bush and his new Defense Secretary Robert Gates to switch course in the troubled campaign, where they are considering a short-term surge in forces.

Abizaid’s three-year tour as commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East was to have ended last July, but he agreed to stay until early 2007 at the request of former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, said a Central Command statement from Tampa, Fla.

The changes, both rumored before Rumsfeld’s announced resignation and Gates’ nomination, would allow Gates to choose his own commanders for Iraq, the issue he has said will be his top priority as secretary.

Abizaid, long considered a voice of candor, told a Senate committee last month that the number of troops deployed to Iraq should not increased or decreased sharply. Instead, the U.S. should focus on accelerating the training of Iraqi forces so they can be pushed front and center into battle, he said.

His remarks provided no help to lawmakers hoping for big changes in Iraq policy following elections in which Democrats were handed control of Congress by Americans angry over the course of the war.

The opposition to a bigger force in Iraq now also appears to be out of step with the White House, which says it is considering sending more U.S. troops to try to get spiraling violence under control.

Abizaid and other generals worry that sending thousands of additional troops temporarily to Iraq could be ineffective without bold new political and economic steps. And they fear the effect it could have on an already overstretched Army and Marine Corps — the two services bearing the brunt of the work in Iraq.

Casey has been mentioned as a possible choice for Army chief of staff or to replace Abizaid at Central Command.

Others that could be affected in a shuffle include:

• Army Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, who led the 101st Airborne Division during the 2003 Iraq invasion and later headed the effort to train Iraqi security forces. He most recently oversaw the rewriting of the Army and Marine field manual for counterinsurgencies.

• Army Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, who last week finished his tour as the No. 2 general in Iraq, as commander of the multinational forces there.

• Army Lt. Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, also a former division commander in Iraq and now head of the Iraq training effort.


U.S. ready to send 3,500 troops: sources

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon is expected to send 3,500 troops into Kuwait to stand ready for use in Iraq, senior defense officials said on Tuesday as the Bush administration weighs adjusting force levels in the war.

The "call-forward" force was requested by Army Gen. John Abizaid, head of the military command responsible for the Middle East, and must be approved by Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

According to one official, Abizaid's request came before Gates' fact-finding trip last week to Iraq to assess possible alternative strategies in a war that he and
President George W. Bush say America is not winning.

Options for changing course in the war include a short-term increase, or "surge," of 20,000 to 30,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. The U.S. force level there now stands at 134,000.

"If we're going to surge, this makes sense," the official on Tuesday.

Gates questioned U.S. commanders last week about the possibility of a surge and what it might accomplish. He has given little hint of his thoughts on the concept, but said generals in the war zone worry an increase in U.S. forces could allow Iraqis to delay taking responsibility for security.

"I think that any time that you look at adjusting the troop strengths, the coalition troop strengths, you have to consider the impact that that has on the populace, to the extent that it benefits the security situation and at the same time has a negative impact on the Iraqi people given that you are still an occupying force in a sovereign nation," said Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman about Gates' consideration of more troops.

"There's a tension there that you have to be cognizant of and finding the right balance is important and I think that's what our commanders have always emphasized and I'm sure that they relayed to the secretary in their discussions," Whitman said.

Another official, speaking on condition of anonymity, did not know if Gates had yet approved the deployment of the standby force, but said the announcement was expected as early as Wednesday.

The unit likely would come from Fort Bragg and fill a reserve slot that has been empty since commanders moved the previous call-forward force into the war zone earlier this year, that official said.

The troops could be in place in Kuwait by mid-January.


Waxman sets sights on 'very long list'

Bush administration, war contractors likely to be among Democrat's targets

WASHINGTON — Bald, mustachioed, 5-foot-5, the Hollywood congressman who'd rather watch the Academy Awards at home than mingle with the stars, Henry Waxman is hardly a fearsome or famous figure to most of America.

But Time magazine recently dubbed the California Democrat "The Scariest Guy in Town."

With his political party taking control of Congress, the incoming chairman of the House Government Reform Committee has subpoena power to probe the Bush administration or just about anything else that strikes his investigative fancy.

The soft-spoken son of a Jewish grocer, Waxman grew up over the family store in Watts. During more than three decades in Congress, he has relished putting powerful people — from baseball sluggers accused of taking steroids to tobacco company officials who claimed nicotine wasn't addictive — on the committee witness chair.

He has been called "the Eliot Ness of the Democrats" by Nation magazine, and aims to go after the Republican administration with zeal over the coming two years.

"The most difficult thing will be to pick and choose" what to investigate, Waxman told reporters after the November elections.

"He's got a very long list," said Norman Ornstein, a congressional analyst with the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative-leaning think tank. "I'm sure he's going back to the contracting mess (in Iraq and Afghanistan and post-Katrina), Halliburton and others. And not just contractors."

Waxman also will be examining the role of the federal government, from the Defense Department to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and grilling the officials who greased the deals with contractors, Ornstein predicted.

"Henry is not afraid to go after anyone," said Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., his predecessor as chairman of the committee. "He's going to be very aggressive."

When parties collide

When one party controls the House and the other controls the executive branch, the Government Reform Committee is historically more eager to exercise its oversight powers, Davis said.

When Indiana Republican Dan Burton was chairman, for instance, the committee was relentless in its investigations of the Clinton administration.

But Waxman's successful relationship with Davis shows that neither is as partisan as often painted, said Ornstein.

"Does Henry have strong liberal views? Yes. Can he be a tough-as-nails partisan? Absolutely," said Ornstein. "But I don't think he's going to come in as some sort of avenging angel taking a meat ax to his political adversaries."

Community connections

When the new Congress convenes in January, the 67-year-old Waxman will begin his 17th term representing Los Angeles' West Side, a district that includes the famed Beverly Hills 90210 ZIP code, the shops of Rodeo Drive, the movie studios of Hollywood and the ritzy neighborhoods of Malibu and Bel Air.

The district also holds California's largest Jewish community. Re-elections have come easily for an unabashedly liberal congressman who keeps kosher.

Despite long fundraising ties with the entertainment industry, glitzy he is not. Waxman takes pride in having never attended the Academy Awards. At first he wasn't invited, but now it is part of his shtick.

"It's such a long night," he told Time. "When I watch it on TV, I can get a snack."


Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Bush in Texas to rethink Iraq course

CRAWFORD, Texas - President Bush went to his ranch Tuesday to rethink U.S. involvement in Iraq as his spokesman hailed a Baghdad court's decision upholding the death sentence for former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Saddam, who was deposed by the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, is to be hanged within 30 days.

"Today marks an important milestone in the Iraqi people's efforts to replace the rule of a tyrant with the rule of law," deputy White House press secretary Scott Stanzel told reporters aboard Air Force One to Texas, where Bush was to meet this week with his national security team.

Iraq's highest appeals court on Tuesday upheld the Nov. 5 sentence against Saddam for ordering the killing of 148 Shiites in Dujail in 1982, following an attempt on his life. Chief Judge Aref Shahin said the sentence must be implemented within 30 days, and could be carried out as early as Wednesday.

"Saddam Hussein has received due process and legal rights that he denied the Iraqi people for so long, so this is an important day for the Iraqi people," Stanzel said.

Bush, saddled with low approval ratings for his handling of Iraq, will host a National Security Council meeting on Thursday at the ranch, but is not expected to make any final decision on what he says will be a new way forward in Iraq.

Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley will attend the meeting.

Stanzel said there could be other National Security Council meetings before the president makes up his mind and delivers a speech to announce his decisions. The speech is expected before the State of the Union address on Jan. 23.

Bush is under mounting pressure to change U.S. involvement in Iraq where violence continued to escalate this month.

On Tuesday, the U.S. military reported that seven more American soldiers had died, pushing the U.S. military death toll for the month to 90. With five days remaining in the month, December is already the second deadliest month for the U.S. military this year, behind the 105 soldiers killed in October.

The latest deaths also brought the number of U.S. military members killed since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003 to at least 2,978 — five more than the number killed in the Sept. 11 attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

Stanzel said Bush continues to question advisers and think through the consequences of various U.S. actions. "Our forces, coalition forces in Iraq are continuing to take the fight to the enemy, and the president will announce a new way forward when he's comfortable" with his decision, he said.

When the president arrived in Texas, about 50 well-wishers, squinting in the sunshine, welcomed him as he walked down the steps of the plane with Mrs. Bush and her mother, Jenna Welch. The president spent the Christmas holiday with his family at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland.

Mrs. Bush gave the president a new blue suit, biking shoes and country singer Sam Moore's CD titled "Overnight Sensational." He gave her amber-colored citrine earrings to match the triple-strand citrine necklace he gave her for her birthday.

As part of a family gift name drawing, the Bushes donated mosquito nets in the name of former President George H.W. Bush through, a mission set up to urge individuals, organizations and institutions to protect families from malaria.


Biden vows to fight any Iraq troop boost

WASHINGTON - Sen. Joseph Biden, the incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he will fight President Bush if the administration decides to send more U.S. troops to Iraq.

Biden, who has his eye on the Democratic presidential nomination, also warned that if congressional Republicans do not join him in speaking out against Bush that they — not Democrats — will suffer in the 2008 elections.

"I just think it's the absolute wrong strategy," Biden said Tuesday of an increase in troops.

Bush is scrubbing his options in Iraq, after Republicans lost control of Congress in the Nov. 7 elections and an independent bipartisan panel determined Bush's plan was dangerously off track. The Iraq Study Group, led by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton, concluded that the U.S. could pull combat troops out of Iraq by early next year. The few troops left behind would be tasked with advising Iraqi units.

While administration officials say all options remain on the table pending Bush's final decision to be announced next month, a surge of up to 30,000 troops is widely considered a favored option by Bush.

Biden said he is interested in the study group's findings and wants to hold a series of hearings on Iraq beginning Jan. 9. Biden said he has asked Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to testify and she has agreed; the timing of Rice's testimony, however, is not decided. Rice said she would come to Capitol Hill after Bush announces his new plan in Iraq.

In a conference call with reporters, Biden said the purpose of the hearings would be to generate a bipartisan consensus among lawmakers on Iraq and pressure the president to abandon any talk of surging U.S. forces into Baghdad.

"Even with the surge of troops, in a city of 6 million people you're talking about a ratio that would still be roughly above one to 100," Biden said. "It's bound to draw down support that we need in other parts of Iraq, including Anbar province."

Biden, taking advantage of the quiet holiday week to generate media attention by holding a telephone press conference and appearing on CBS' "The Early Show," said he thinks Republicans will have more to lose in 2008 than Democrats if the violence in Iraq continues and U.S. troops remain committed in such large numbers. There are currently an estimated 140,000 troops in Iraq.

"I think we'll only have to accept responsibility for the war if we remain silent," said Biden, who has spoken candidly of his desire to run for president and has made repeated visits in the past year to early voting states like Iowa and New Hampshire.

Biden said he delivered this message in a recent meeting at the White House, where he told Bush: "Mr. President this is your war."


Bush is bracing for new scrutiny

White House hiring lawyers in expectation of Democratic probes

WASHINGTON- President Bush is bracing for what could be an onslaught of investigations by the new Democratic-led Congress by hiring lawyers to fill key White House posts and preparing to play defense on countless document requests and possible subpoenas.

Bush is moving quickly to fill vacancies within his stable of lawyers, though White House officials say there are no plans to drastically expand the legal staff to deal with a flood of oversight.

"No, at this point, no," Tony Snow, the White House spokesman, said recently. "We'll have to see what happens."

Snow rebutted the notion that Bush is casting about for legal advice in the wake of his party's loss of control of the Congress.

"We don't have a war room set up where we're ... dialing the 800 numbers of law firms," he said.

Still, in the days after the elections, the White House announced that Bush had hired two replacements to plug holes in his counsel's office, including one lawyer, Christopher G. Oprison, who is a specialist in handling white-collar investigations. A third hire was securities law specialist Paul R. Eckert, whose duties include dealing with the Office of the Special Counsel. Bush is in the process of hiring a fourth associate counsel, said Emily A. Lawrimore, a White House spokeswoman.

"Obviously, if we do have investigations, we'll have to make sure we have enough people to be prepared to answer questions that come our way," Lawrimore said. "As of right now, I wouldn't say it's anything special."

Republicans close to Bush say any such moves would not come until the White House sees how aggressive Democrats are in trying to pry the lid off the inner workings of the administration.

"They just think it's inevitable that there will be some investigations that will tie up some time and attention," said Charles Black, a strategist with close ties to the White House. But there's no panic in the ranks of Bush's team, he added. "They don't think they have anything to hide."

Bush still must do what he can now -- before Democrats take over the majority in Congress next month -- to prepare, legal specialists say.

"At a time like this, the experienced people in the White House view themselves as in a race they hope to win, of organizing and coordinating their defenses to have them in place in time to slow down or resist oversight before the oversight can get organized," said Charles Tiefer of the University of Baltimore Law School, a former House counsel and veteran of congressional investigations.

People familiar with the counsel's office caution against reading too much into the new additions, saying that Bush has yet to go on a hiring spree akin to President Bill Clinton's when he faced impeachment. But White House officials know of the potential challenges, they said.

"It's certainly not lost on them that there will be more investigative requests and more things for them to respond to, but I don't think that you're going to see any dramatic changes," said Reginald Brown, a former associate in Bush's White House counsel's office who is now in private practice.

Democrats' stated intention to conduct more rigorous oversight of the Bush administration "simply will mean that [White House officials] need a few more people to manage the paper flow," Brown said.

Veterans of investigative battles between the White House and Congress predict that Bush ultimately will need to add staff members -- or at least borrow some from government agencies -- to contend with Democrats with subpoena power on Capitol Hill.

"Like any White House that has to deal with a Congress run by the other party, this White House has to bulk up its staff to deal with the inevitable flood of subpoenas. They're also going to have to coordinate with lots of friends and supporters," said Mark Corallo, a former top Republican aide to the House committee that issued more than 1,000 subpoenas to the Clinton camp.

Corallo and Barbara Comstock, another Republican public-relations executive with broad experience in Hill investigations, are launching a crisis-communications firm to serve officials and corporations who, Corallo said, could end up as "drive-by victims" in a new round of probes.

Snow said the firm is "certainly independent of the White House."

Republican lobbyist David M. Carmen has added an oversight practice to his firm's menu of services, tapping Frank Silbey, a veteran of congressional investigations, to minister to companies and public figures caught in the web of expected probes.

Democrats are reluctant to reveal their investigative plans, but they have made it plain that they want to conduct more oversight of the Bush administration.

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7 Americans killed in Iraq; 90 in Dec.

BAGHDAD, Iraq - At least 54 Iraqis died Tuesday in bombings, officials said, including a coordinated strike that killed 25 in western Baghdad. Separately, the U.S. military announced the deaths of seven American soldiers, raising the death toll significantly in one of the bloodiest months for the military this year.

The three coordinated car bombs in western Baghdad injured at least 55 people, a doctor at Yarmouk hospital, where the victims were taken, said on condition of anonymity because of safety concerns. The attacks occurred in a mixed Sunni and Shiite neighborhood.

In other attacks, a car bomb exploded near a Sunni mosque in northern Baghdad at the beginning of the evening rush hour, killing 17 people and wounding 35, a doctor at Al-Nuaman hospital said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

A bomb also exploded in a central Baghdad market, killing four people and wounding 15, police said. Two roadside bombs targeted an Iraqi police patrol in an eastern neighborhood of the capital, killing four policemen and injuring 12 people.

In Kirkuk, 180 miles north of the Iraqi capital, a roadside bomb killed three civilians — including an 8-year-old girl — and wounded six other people, police said.

The U.S. military, meanwhile, said seven more American soldiers had died, pushing the U.S. military death toll for the month to 90. With five days remaining in the month, December is already the second deadliest month for the U.S. military this year, behind the 105 soldiers killed in October.

In Washington, White House Deputy Press Secretary Scott Stanzel said Tuesday that President Bush grieves for each member of the armed forces who has died.

"The war on terror is going to be a long struggle," he said. "We will be fighting violent jihadists for the peace and security of the civilized world for many years to come."

The latest deaths also brought the number of U.S. military members killed since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003 to at least 2,978 — five more than the number killed in the Sept. 11 attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

President Bush has said the Iraq war is part of the United States' post-Sept. 11 approach to threats abroad. Going on the offense against enemies before they could harm Americans meant removing the Taliban from power in Afghanistan, pursuing members of al-Qaida and seeking Saddam Hussein's ouster in Iraq, Bush has said.

There has been no direct evidence of links between Saddam's regime and the Sept. 11 attacks. Democratic leaders have said the Bush administration has gotten the U.S. bogged down in Iraq, detracting from efforts against al-Qaida and other terrorist groups.

The Associated Press count of those U.S. military members killed in Iraq includes at least seven military civilians. Prior to the deaths announced Tuesday, the AP count was 15 higher than the Defense Department's tally, last updated Friday. At least 2,377 died as a result of hostile action, according to the military's numbers.

American troops fought gunmen in a Shiite militia stronghold in east Baghdad on Tuesday, witnesses said.

Fighters loyal to the anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr engaged in the clashes with U.S. forces in and near Sadr City, an official in al-Sadr's office said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. There was no immediate word on casualties.

British soldiers were on alert for reprisals a day after they raided a police station in the southern city of Basra, killing seven gunmen in an effort to stop renegade Iraqi officers from executing their prisoners.

"We fully expect more attacks on our bases and on Basra stations, but that's nothing out of the ordinary," said Maj. Charlie Burbridge, a military spokesman. "But this is part of a long-term rehabilitation of the Iraqi police service, to make it more effective and more accountable, and ultimately provide better security for the people of Basra."

After the British stormed the police station, they removed 127 prisoners, who showed evidence of torture, then evacuated the building before blowing it up, he said.

Burbridge had previously said only 76 prisoners were in the station, but later said soldiers miscounted the prisoners because the operation was done under cover of darkness.

Some 800 of the British military's 7,200 troops in Iraq were involved in the operation, he said.

A spokesman for Iraq's defense minister said Monday that the Iraqi Interior and Defense ministries approved the Basra operation, but some members of the Basra provincial council were not notified.

"We object to the way the operation was conducted," council member Hakim al-Maiyahi told The Associated Press. "There was no need to bring in such a huge number of forces and break down the station."

Burbridge acknowledged the council members' concerns, but said British officials had alerted the provincial governor, Mohammed al-Waili, who approved the operation.

"He told us it was the right thing — the way forward. He supported our activity," Burbridge said.

Al-Waili refused to comment on the matter.

Separately, in Cairo, Khaled al-Attiya, deputy speaker of the Iraqi parliament, said Iraq's neighbors should do more to prevent terrorists from illegally entering Iraq.

"What is happening in Iraq will reflect on its neighbors. Arabs and Muslims should not wait until civil strife" spreads to their countries, al-Attiya said.

Elsewhere, Jordanian Prime Minister Marouf al-Bakhit said Tuesday that a former Iraqi Cabinet minister who escaped from a Baghdad prison this month had arrived in Jordan on a U.S. plane.

Ayham al-Samaraie, a former minister of electricity with dual U.S. and Iraqi citizenship, had been serving time for corruption when he escaped mid-December.

Lou Fintor, spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, said the U.S. government was not involved in al-Samaraie's escape "in any way." He denied in "unequivocal terms" the claim that al-Samaraie flew out of Iraq on an American plane.


A U.S. military 'at its breaking point' considers foreign recruits

WASHINGTON: The armed forces, already struggling to meet recruiting goals, are considering expanding the number of noncitizens in the ranks — including disputed proposals to open recruiting stations overseas and put more immigrants on a faster track to U.S. citizenship if they volunteer — according to Pentagon officials.

Foreign citizens' serving in the U.S. military is a highly charged issue, which could expose the Pentagon to criticism that it is essentially using mercenaries to defend the country. Other analysts voice concern that a large contingent of noncitizens under arms could jeopardize national security or reflect badly on Americans' willingness to serve in uniform.

The idea of signing up residents who are seeking U.S. citizenship is gaining traction as a way to address a critical need for the Pentagon, while fully absorbing some of the roughly one million immigrants that enter the United States legally each year.

The proposal to induct more noncitizens, which is still largely on the drawing board, has to clear a number of hurdles. So far, the Pentagon has been quiet about specifics, like who would be eligible to join, where the recruiting stations would be, and what the minimum standards might involve, like English proficiency. In the meantime, the Pentagon and the immigration authorities have expanded a program that accelerates citizenship for legal residents who volunteer for the military.

Since the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the number of immigrants in uniform who have become U.S. citizens has increased from 750 in 2001 to almost 4,600 last year, according to military statistics.

With severe manpower strains because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a mandate to expand the overall size of the military, the Pentagon is under pressure to consider a variety of proposals involving foreign recruits, according to a military affairs analyst.

"It works as a military idea and it works in the context of American immigration," said Thomas Donnelly, a military scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute in Washington and a leading proponent of recruiting more foreigners to serve in the military.

As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan grind on, the Pentagon has warned Congress and the White House that the military is stretched "to the breaking point."

Both President George W. Bush and Robert Gates, his new defense secretary, have acknowledged that the total size of the military must be expanded to help alleviate the strain on ground troops, many of whom have been deployed repeatedly in combat theaters.

Bush said last week that he had ordered Gates to come up with a plan for the first significant increase in ground forces since the end of the Cold War.
That has led Pentagon officials to consider casting a wider net for noncitizens who are already in the United States, said Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Hilferty, an army spokesman.

Already, the army and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement division of the Department of Homeland Security have "made it easier for green-card holders who do enlist to get their citizenship," Hilferty said.

Other army officials, who asked not to be identified, said personnel officials were working with Congress and other parts of the government to test the feasibility of going beyond U.S. borders to recruit soldiers and marines.

Currently, Pentagon policy stipulates that only immigrants legally residing in the United States are eligible to enlist. There are currently about 30,000 noncitizens who serve in the U.S. armed forces, making up about 2 percent of the active- duty force, according to statistics from the military and the Council on Foreign Relations. About 100 such noncitizens have died in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A recent change in U.S. law, however, gave the Pentagon authority to bring immigrants to the United States if it determines it is vital to national security. So far, the Pentagon has not taken advantage of it, but the calls are growing to use this new authority.

Indeed, some top military thinkers believe the United States should go as far as targeting foreigners in their native countries.

"It's a little dramatic," said Michael O'Hanlon, a military specialist at the nonpartisan Brookings Institution and another supporter of the proposal. "But if you don't get some new idea how to do this, we will not be able to achieve an increase" in the size of the armed forces.

"We have already done the standard things to recruit new soldiers, including using more recruiters and new advertising campaigns," O'Hanlon added.

O'Hanlon and others noted that the country has relied before on sizable numbers of noncitizens to serve in the military — in the Revolutionary War, for example, German and French soldiers served alongside the colonists, and locals were recruited into U.S. ranks to fight insurgents in the Philippines.

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Saturday, December 23, 2006


Porkrinds Roasting On An Open Fire

Porkrinds roasting on an open fire,
Fitzgerald nipping at your nose,
Fitzmas carols being sung by a choir,
And folks dressed all in orange clothes.

Everybody knows a Grand Jury and some mistletoe,
Helps to make the season bright.
Fitz’s bloggers with their eyes all aglow,
Will find it hard to sleep tonight.

They know that Fitz is on his way;
He's loaded lots of indictments on his sleigh.
And every CIA Agent is going to spy,
To see if Turdblossom really knows how to fly.

And so I'm offering this simple phrase,
To bloggers from one to ninety-two,
Although its been said many times, many ways,
A very Merry Fitzmas to you!

Written By--S-Q (2006)



Bush signs executive order on pay raises

WASHINGTON - President Bush signed an executive order Thursday to raise the pay of federal workers, members of Congress and Vice President Dick Cheney in the new year.

Congress passed the pay raises earlier this year, but Bush was required to sign an executive order to enforce them.

The president's annual salary of $400,000 is not affected by the legislation.

The size of the pay raises was based on a formula in federal law that takes into account cost-of-living changes.

Civil servants, on average, will get a 2.2 percent pay increase in January. So will uniformed members of the military.

Members of Congress, the vice president and most senior federal officials will get a 1.7 percent pay increase, as will federal administrative law judges.

Congress opted to put off its pay increases until Feb. 16, not Jan. 1, on the urging of the incoming Democratic leaders in the House and Senate. They say no pay raise should kick in until Congress approves an increase in the federal minimum wage, which has been stuck at $5.15 an hour for the past 10 years.

Currently, rank-and-file members of Congress get $165,200.


Bush Is Urged to Act on Criticism of Muslim

White House officials said they were aware that some Democrats and Muslims were urging President Bush to admonish Representative Virgil H. Goode Jr., Republican of Virginia, and Dennis Prager, the conservative commentator, for suggesting that the first Muslim elected to the House had no place in Congress. “We’re aware of the situation,” said Dana Perino, a spokeswoman for Mr. Bush, “but no judgments have been made.” Mr. Goode said the election of Keith Ellison, a Minnesota lawyer who converted to Islam as a college student, posed a threat to American values. Mr. Prager, a presidential appointee to the board that oversees the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, said Mr. Ellison should not serve if he could not swear on a Bible, though he has apologized for those remarks. Mr. Ellison plans to use the Koran during a private swearing-in ceremony next month.


Lawmaker stands firm on Quran criticism

ROCKY MOUNT, Va. - A congressman said Thursday that he will not retract a letter warning that unless immigration is tightened, "many more Muslims will be elected" and use the Quran to take the oath of office.

Republican Rep. Virgil Goode (news, bio, voting record) triggered angry responses from a civil rights group and some colleagues with a letter this month to constituents concerned about a decision by Rep.-elect Keith Ellison of Minnesota, the first Muslim elected to Congress, to use the Quran when he is sworn in.

"I will not be putting my hand on the Quran," Goode said at a news conference Thursday at the Franklin County Courthouse.

Goode, who represents Virginia's 5th Congressional District, said he is receiving more positive comments from constituents than negative.

"One lady told me she thinks I'm doing the right thing on this," he told Fox News. "I wish more people would take a stand and stand up for the principles on which this country was founded."

Goode also told Fox News he wants to limit legal immigration and do away with "diversity visas," which he said let in people "not from European countries" and "some terrorist states."

In his letter, Goode wrote that strict immigration polices are necessary "to preserve the values and beliefs traditional to the United States of America."

"The Muslim representative from Minnesota was elected by the voters of that district and if American citizens don't wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran," he wrote.

Ellison said Thursday that Goode and others had nothing to fear about Muslims.

"They are our nurses, doctors, husbands, wives, kids, who just want to live and prosper in the American way," Ellison, a Democrat from Minneapolis, said Thursday on CNN when asked what he would say to Goode if they met. "All of us are steadfastly opposed to the same people he's opposed to, which is terrorists, and so there's nothing for him to be afraid of."

Asked whether he thought Goode was a bigot, Ellison said, "I don't know the fellow, and I'd rather just say that he has a lot to learn about Islam. ... I don't want to start any name-calling."

Virginia's senior senator, Republican John Warner, said in a statement Thursday that he respects the right of congressional members to freely "exercise the religion of their choice, including those of the Islamic faith utilizing the Quran."

Rep. Rahm Emanuel (news, bio, voting record), an Illinois Democrat who is Jewish, said Thursday that he hoped Goode would meet with Ellison, saying he would "see what I saw: a good American with good values of a different faith who's trying to do right by the people he represents."

The Council on American-Islamic Relations had asked Goode to apologize, saying the remarks sent "a message of intolerance that is unworthy of anyone elected to public office."

Ellison was born in Detroit and converted to Islam in college.

His decision to use the Quran at his ceremonial swearing-in next month prompted criticism from conservative talk radio host Dennis Prager. The American-Islamic relations council has called for Prager's removal from the board of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.


The redacted Iran op-ed revealed

The New York Times has taken the unusual step of publishing an op-ed in which parts of the contents have been "redacted" or blacked out by government censors, who believe that its contents would reveal "sensitive" information that the White House wants to withold. Below is RAW STORY's best informed guess at what might hide behind the redactions.

In addition to the redacted op-ed, the Times published an explanatory note from its authors, Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann. Leverett served in the Bush National Security Council under Condoleezza Rice, and is now affiliated with the Washington, DC-based Brookings Institution. Hillary Mann is an ex-foreign service officer who participated in US dialogue with Iran from 2001 to 2003.

Leverett and Mann made available a set of publicly-available sources of information which they had " the board to demonstrate that all of the material the White House objected to is already in the public domain." However, as they noted, "to make sense of much of our Op-Ed article, readers will have to read the citations for themselves."

RAW STORY has examined these sources and has attempted to connect the previously published materials to the redacted paragraphs in the op-ed. What the information reveals is a series of events in which US-Iran dialogue broke down. In the aftermath of 9/11, the cooperative spirit around the world sparked by America's victimhood encouraged Iran to collaborate with the United States in its effort to topple the Taliban in Afghanistan. But the goodwill that might have been sustained by those early negotiations was undermined by a series of disputes between the US and Iran.

The matters that particularly undermined US-Iran dialogue involved the Mujaheddin-e-Khalq(MEK) -- an anti-Tehran militia that had been given safe harbor by Saddam Hussein in Iraq and had surrendered to the US -- as well as US allegations that Iran was giving safe haven to al Qaeda terrorists who had fled Afghanistan.

As the disputes over these issues deepened, and worries about Iran's nuclear ambitions spread, the conflict between the two states became more intractable. Leverett and Mann warn in their op-ed that negotiations between the two states on improving Iraq's stability will suffer as a consequence of this history of tumult. They write that "issue-specific engagement with Iran is bound to fail," because "resolving any of the significant bilateral differences between the United States and Iran inevitably requires resolving all of them."

The explanation will proceed redaction by redaction and include materials from the sources provided by the authors of the op-ed which RAW STORY believes might shed light on the removed portions of the article.

Leverett and Mann write:

But Tehran was profoundly disappointed with the United States response. After the 9/11 attacks, xxx xxx xx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxx xxxxxxx xx set the stage for a November 2001 meeting between Secretary of State Colin Powell and the foreign ministers of Afghanistan's six neighbors and Russia. xxxx xxxxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxx xxxx xx xxxxxx xxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxx xxx xxxxxx xxxxxx xxxxxx xxxx xxxxx xxxxx xx xxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxx xxxxx Iran went along, working with the United States to eliminate the Taliban and establish a post-Taliban political order in Afghanistan.

Secretary of State Powell in a press briefing en route to Moscow, December 9, 2001:

On Iran, setting aside pipelines. I am open to explore opportunities. We have been in discussions with the Iranians on a variety of levels and in some new ways since September 11. Jim Dobbins spoke with Iranians in Bonn as we put together the new interim administration in Afghanistan, and I had a brief handshake and discussion with the Iranian Prime Minister in the UN."

Flynt Leverett in an earlier New York Times op-ed on January 24, 2006:

In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, Tehran offered to help Washington overthrow the Taliban and establish a new political order in Afghanistan.

James Dobbins in a May 6, 2004 Washington Post editorial:

Two weeks after the fall of Kabul, all the major elements of the Afghan opposition came together at a U.N.-sponsored conference in Bonn. The objective was to create a broadly based successor government to the Taliban. As the U.S. representative at that gathering, I worked both with the Afghan delegations and with the other national representatives who had the greatest influence among them, which is to say the Iranian, Russian and Indian envoys. All these delegations proved helpful. None was more so than the Iranians. On two occasions Iranian representatives made particularly memorable contributions. The original version of the Bonn agreement, drafted by the United Nations and amended by the Afghans who were present, neglected to mention either democracy or the war on terrorism. It was the Iranian representative who spotted these omissions and successfully urged that the newly emerging Afghan government be required to commit to both.

Next, Leverett and Mann write:

In December 2001, xxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxx x Tehran to keep Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the brutal pro-Al Qaeda warlord, from returning to Afghanistan to lead jihadist resistance there. xxxxx xxxxxxx so long as the Bush administration did not criticize it for harboring terrorists. But, in his January 2002 State of the Union address, President Bush did just that in labeling Iran part of the "axis of evil." Unsurprisingly, Mr. Hekmatyar managed to leave Iran in short order after the speech. xxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxx xxxxxx xxxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxx xxxx xxxx xxx the Islamic Republic could not be seen to be harboring terrorists.

From a February 2002 Time Magazine article by Tony Karon and Azadeh Moaeveni:

Not surprisingly, the U.S. wants Iran to end Hekmatyar's activities. And Iran's reformist elected government appears inclined to comply. They shut down his offices two weeks ago and the country's top foreign policy body, the Supreme National Security Council, voted last week to expel Hekmatyar from Iran. But Iranian media reports suggested the delay in implementing that decision resulted from urgent appeals from Washington and Kabul to hold off on expelling him. The Iranian daily Qods recently quoted an official source saying that "Karzai has asked Tehran to keep Hekmatyar in Iran so that Kabul is always informed about his whereabouts and activities." One possible reason for requesting the delay: Following the closure of his offices, Hekmatyar warned that he would return to Afghanistan if forced to leave Iran. According to a spokesperson, the State Department hasn't sent any direct messages to Tehran about Hekmatyar. But Washington's preference is clear: "We're not looking for him to go back to Afghanistan," says the spokesperson. Iran would have liked him gone sooner, but according to Foreign Minister Kharrazi: "The reason Hekmatyar is still in Iran is because our friends and those outside the region have requested it, but he is free to leave the country."

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Friday, December 22, 2006

Media Want Documents in CIA Leak Case

WASHINGTON -- Two news organizations are asking a federal judge to unseal documents in the CIA leak case, arguing that Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald never needed the testimony of reporters because he knew the source of the leak all along.

The Associated Press and Dow Jones, in court papers filed this week, asked for the release of the sworn statements Fitzgerald gave to justify subpoenas for New York Times reporter Judith Miller and Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper.

Fitzgerald wanted the reporters help in his investigation of the leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity to syndicated columnist Robert Novak.

Miller spent 85 days in jail in 2005 for refusing to testify. Cooper testified under a court order.

"Recently the public learned that the special counsel's pursuit of those reporters was entirely unnecessary for him to determine who leaked Ms. Plame's name to Mr. Novak," lawyers for the news services wrote.

Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage has acknowledged being Novak's source but said it was a passing, inadvertent conversation. He also said he told Fitzgerald about the conversation as soon as the investigation began.

Lawyers for the news organizations said the public has the right to know why, despite that knowledge, Fitzgerald testified that he needed the testimony of reporters to continue the investigation. The only way to know that, the lawyers argued, is to unseal Fitzgerald's affidavits and the court's full legal opinion on the issue.

No one was charged with the leak. Former White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby was charged with lying to investigators and to grand jurors. He is scheduled to go on trial in January.


Cafferty on the Costs of War

No one on television expresses their disgust and dismay with the current state of American policy like Jack Cafferty. On the heels of the Pentagons request for an additional $99.7 billion for military operations in Iraq, he challenges us to reflect on the incredibly high cost of this war — in both life and treasure — and ask ourselves what those sacrifices are achieving.

Video WMP Video MOV

"If approved the total cost of the war in Iraq will be close to a half a trillion dollars — so far. And there are alot of people who would love to know exactly what it is we've bought with all that money besides grief and bloodshed as far as the eye can see."


Rice backs 'worthwhile' Iraq war

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has again defended the war in Iraq, saying the investment in US lives and dollars will be "worth it".

Ms Rice said a lot had been sacrificed for Iraq but success would change the entire Middle East.

She was speaking soon after eight US marines were charged over the deaths of 24 Iraq civilians in Haditha last year.

President Bush said for the first time this week that the US was not winning the war, but was not losing it either.

In the latest violence on Friday, three US marines and a sailor died from their wounds during fighting in Anbar province, the US military said.

Cover-up charges

The BBC's Justin Webb in Washington says that in her interview with Associated Press news agency, Ms Rice made it plain that she still believed Iraq should be seen as the centrepiece of US-Middle East policy.

She acknowledged that a lot had been sacrificed for Iraq and a lot invested in the country but that it would be worthwhile.

She said: "There have been plenty of markers that show that this is a country that is worth the investment, because once it emerges as a country that is a stabilising factor, you will have a very different kind of Middle East."

President Bush faces continuing pressure in Congress to find a new strategy for the war.

In recent months, many of those advising the White House, including UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and the Iraq Study Group, have suggested that the Arab-Israeli conflict is the real key to peace in the region.

Ms Rice was speaking after the announcement of the Haditha charges, which our correspondent says is likely to add to a sense of national gloom over Iraq.
Haditha is now the biggest US criminal case involving civilian deaths since the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Four of the eight marines charged are accused of unpremeditated murder and the four others are charged with attempting to cover up the incident.
The US military initially said the civilians died in unrest. If found guilty of second-degree murder, the marines could face life imprisonment.

Lawyers for the marines accused of murder will strongly defend their clients' actions.

The BBC's Nick Miles in Washington says the case has provoked debate about the training and leadership of US troops in Iraq.

The defence team says a group of marines from Kilo Company in the First Marine Division were engaged in a furious battle on 19 November 2005 in Haditha after a roadside bomb exploded, killing one marine and injuring two others.

It is known that five unarmed men were shot dead in a car when they approached the scene in a taxi and others, including women and children, died in three houses over the next few hours.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has called the deaths a "terrible crime".
The BBC's Peter Greste in Baghdad says the response in Iraq to the charges has been muted.

He says there is a perception that Iraqi civilians die every day, either directly or indirectly as a result of US military action, and that this case stands out only in the numbers involved.

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