The new U.S. operational commander in Iraq said Sunday that it will take two or three more years for American forces to gain the upper hand in the war — even if President Bush sends in more troops. Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno’s comments come just days before the president is planning to announce a new escalation of the war. The president is expected to give a prime-time speech on Wednesday night and call for 20,000 more troops and the creation of a billion-dollar Iraqi jobs program run by the U.S. Army.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have written to the president opposing the deployment of more troops. Adding combat troops, they argued, would only endanger more Americans and stretch the nation’s military to the breaking point for no strategic gain. On Sunday, Pelosi said Congress would not give the president a blank check and that President Bush would have to justify the sending of extra troops to Iraq. Democratic Senator Joseph Biden also criticized President Bush’s push for more troops.
Sen. Joseph Biden: “The question is: Do we continue with a policy that is failing? We’ve tried this policy twice in the last 12 months, surging troops into Baghdad. Unfortunately, my friends have got this backward. We need a political solution before you can get a military solution. What has changed from three years ago, when I sat on this program and said we need to surge 60,000 troops then, is we now have a civil war.”
Biden spoke on NBC’s Meet the Press. During the interview, he also announced plans to run for president. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham also appeared on the show and defended the president’s policy.
Sen. Lindsey Graham: “We are not winning, and if you’re not winning, you’re losing. Now’s the time to come up with a strategy to win. The reason President Bush is going to do this is because he understands we have to win in Iraq. … We cannot let this country go into the abyss. Now is the last chance, the only chance we have left, to get this right.”
New data from the Iraqi Health Ministry shows that more than 17,000 Iraqi civilians and police officers died violently in the latter half of 2006. That is more than three times the number of Iraqis reported to be killed during the first six months of the year. A Health Ministry official provided the data to The Washington Post. The actual number of violent deaths in 2006 is believed to be higher because the official said these numbers were incomplete.
The Independent of London is reporting the Iraqi government is drafting a new law that would give big oil companies such as BP, Shell and Exxon 30-year contracts to extract Iraqi crude. The law is expected to come before the Iraqi Parliament within days. Foreign oil companies would be allowed to take up to 75 percent of the profits until they have recouped initial drilling costs. After that, they would collect about 20 percent of all profits — that is about twice the industry average for such deals. The oil law would allow the first large-scale operation of foreign oil interests in the country since the industry was nationalized in 1972.
More information has come to light about the U.S. massacre in the Iraqi town of Haditha in 2005. The Washington Post has obtained an internal military report and photographs that show U.S. marines gunned down five unarmed Iraqis who stumbled onto the scene of a roadside bombing in Haditha. The squad’s leader, Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, shot the men one by one after marines ordered them out of a white taxi in the moments following the explosion. Another marine fired rounds into their bodies as they lay on the ground. The shootings were the first in a series of violent reactions by marines on the morning of November 19, 2005. By the end of the day, 24 civilians had died — many of them women and children.
The Iraqi government has announced plans to proceed with the execution of two of Saddam Hussein’s co-defendants despite international criticism over the handling of Hussein’s hanging. The New York Times reports that on the streets of the Arab world, the former Iraqi president has undergone a resurgence of admiration and awe over the past week. Meanwhile, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Saturday his government might cut off diplomatic relations with countries that criticized Hussein’s execution. If Maliki goes ahead with his threat, one of those countries affected could be Britain. On Saturday, British Finance Minister Gordon Brown said this about the execution:
Gordon Brown: “Now that we know the full picture of what happened, I think we can sum this up as a deplorable set of events. It is something, of course, of which the Iraqi government has now expressed its anxiety and its shame at.”
Gordon Brown has been tipped to succeed Tony Blair as British prime minister.
Israel has drawn up secret plans to destroy Iran’s uranium enrichment facilities with tactical nuclear weapons, this according to the Times of London. The paper is reporting that two Israeli Air Force squadrons are training to blow up an Iranian facility using low-yield nuclear “bunker-busters.” The attack would be the first with nuclear weapons since 1945, when the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Israeli weapons would each have a force equivalent to one-15th of the Hiroshima bomb. The Israeli Foreign Ministry denied the report.
On Friday, President Bush nominated Vice Admiral Mike McConnell to replace John Negroponte as the director of national intelligence. Mike McConnell said he would work to increase the coordination between the nation’s 16 different spy agencies.
Vice Admiral Mike McConnell: I plan to continue the strong emphasis on integration of the community to better serve all of our customers. That will mean better sharing of information, increased focus on customer needs and service, improved security processes, and deeper penetration of our targets to provide the needed information for tactical, operational and strategic decision making.”
McConnell is a former director of the National Security Agency and the current director of defense programs at Booz Allen — one of the nation’s biggest defense and intelligence contractors. Salon.com is reporting that under McConnell’s watch, Booz Allen has been deeply involved in some of the most controversial counterterrorism programs run by the Bush administration, including the infamous Total Information Awareness data-mining scheme. Salon reports that Booz Allen is likely participating in the NSA’s warrantless surveillance of the telephone calls and emails of American citizens.
Mike McConnell’s predecessor, John Negroponte, is moving to the State Department to become Condoleezza Rice’s deputy.
John Negroponte: “It’s been a great honor, Mr. President, to serve as your first director of national intelligence. I will always be grateful to you for having given me the opportunity to help achieve the goals that you and the Congress set for intelligence reform. During the past 20 months, I believe that our intelligence community has embraced the challenge of functioning as a single, unified enterprise and reaffirmed the fact that it is the best intelligence community in the world, second to none.”
A prominent Muslim leader from Ohio was deported last week by the U.S. government and hasn’t been heard from since. Fawaz Damra was the former imam at Ohio’s largest mosque, the Islamic Center of Cleveland. In 2004 he was jailed for allegedly concealing ties to the Palestinian group Islamic Jihad. The U.S. government says he was deported Thursday morning to the West Bank. But his friends and family say no one has heard from him since he was taken. Palestinian officials have said they don’t know where he is. Damra’s attorney also criticized the U.S. for giving no notice prior to the deportation. Damra was not given a chance to say goodbye to his wife or his three daughters who were born in the United States.
In Gaza, the kidnapped Peruvian journalist Jaime Razuri has been released — nearly a week after being seized by gunmen. The 50-year-old Razuri was on assignment for Agence France-Presse. He was set free on Sunday.
Jaime Razuri: “That’s what I can say. … I can’t — it’s too much for me to have more words than this right now, as you could understand, so just to say that I am very happy to be released by the action they have took. … So that’s all. Thank you very much to all of you to take care of what was going on with me all these days.”
No group has taken responsibility for the kidnapping.
Meanwhile in Iraq, the body of an Associated Press employee was found on Friday with a gunshot to the back of his head. The 28-year-old Ahmed Hadi Naji had gone missing on December 30. He is the fourth AP staffer to die violently in the Iraq War. He worked as a messenger and occasional cameraman.
A delegation of human rights activists have arrived in Cuba to protest outside the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo. Protesters include Cindy Sheehan and CodePink founder Medea Benjamin, who spoke in Havana.
Medea Benjamin: “We see that there are still close to 400 people in that prison (Guantanamo Bay), and they don’t have access to due process by the law, and we know of all the abuses that have taken place there. We are part of an international group which is asking that the prison be closed.”
The U.S. activists plan to march to the prison along with a former detainee and the mother of a man being held. Thursday marks the fifth anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo. Protests are scheduled around the world to call for the prison’s closing.
And in San Francisco, about 1,200 peace activists gathered on the beach Saturday to spell out the word “impeach” in giant letters visible from the sky. The protest occurred in the district of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Advocates of impeaching President Bush have criticized Pelosi for saying that impeachment is off the table.