War roundup

Roudup of some war news so far. And an email from a man in Arbil, Iraqi Kurdistan!

NEW YORK — Today has been a busy day for a lot of people, obviously.
Some situation reports from Stratfor follow:

2003 GMT – White House officials said March 20 that the Bush administration will freeze the financial assets of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
1943 GMT – Though the determination is not yet final, U.S. analysts reportedly have concluded that the person who appeared on Iraqi television after initial U.S. strikes, and who subsequently appeared meeting with senior Iraqi officials, is Saddam Hussein.
1920 GMT – Kuwait’s stock exchange closed for an indefinite period March 20, hours after a U.S.-led war against Iraq started. “This decision has been taken to protect traders from any direct negative repercussions on the market and also to safeguard against any rumors, which usually increase in such extraordinary circumstances,” according to the Kuwait Stock Exchange. The bourse is the second-largest in the Arab world.
1855 GMT – The United States will ask all foreign nations to break links with Iraqi officials, and ask Iraqi embassies to close, in anticipation of the fall of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s regime, AFP reports. U.S. embassies will be instructed to ask their host countries to declare that they no longer recognize Hussein’s regime. The United Nations will be asked to make a similar request. One official said, “This may not go out until the government in Baghdad appears to be in more substantial distress.”

*British and United States forces have captured Umm Qasr and Safwan [Source: Stratfor]* Possibly a blocking action to allow other forces to sweep north from western Kuwait toward Baghdad. Once Basra is captured, the several Iraqi divisions there would be isolated and the road to Baghdad would be clear(er).
Also, as of 3:59 EST, MSNBC is reporting an AH-64 Apache is down somewhere in Iraq. No other details.
It seems the “shock and awe” strategty still hasn’t started, so the bombing shown on television could be a “softening up” on strategic targets, with the U.S. military hoping to score some early victories and “decapitate” the Iraqi leadership. This indicates the U.S. is still attempting to change the political situation in Baghdad without urban combat. The weirdly creepy appearances of Saddam reading from a notebook (later assesed to be genuine [NBC]) indicates the United States has failed for now.
Iraqi claims 72 Tomahawk missiles have struck Baghdad, but “many have failed.” Four “martyrs” (civilians) are dead and one officer. [CNN]
More on the Iraqi air defenses
About 20 minutes before the start of the latest round of attacks on Baghdad, air-raid sirens went off. This means, based on the air-speed of Tomahawks, was detected about 200 miles out, or around Basra. This could mean a visual or audible detection of the missiles passing over Iraqi forces. And that means the communication between Baghdad and Basra is still intact.
The 7th Cavalry has moved out early, and CNN reporter Walter Rodgers is reporting that they’re moving a day ahead of schedule, possibly because of Iraqi missile attacks on forces in Kuwait.
Things are quiet but tense on the northern front. The Turks haven’t moved in, but there are contradictory reports about their plans. Jalal Talabani, leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, told reporters in Mardin, Turkey, today that Turkey would not invade Iraqi Kurdistan. [TurkishPress.com daily email] Under a deal between the Kurds, Turks and Americans, the Kurds and Turks would both refrain from marching on Mosul or Kirkuk. Also decided upon was the participation of Iraqi Turkmen on the Iraqi National Council, which is intended to shape the future government of Iraq.
As Talabani said, emphasizing his point that Turkey doesn’t need to come in, “If we need help, our first phone call will be to Turkey.”
However, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Ali Sahin confirmed that Turkey would dispatch troops to Iraqi Kurdistan, despite the objections of both the U.S. and Kurdish parties. Refuting Talabani’s statement that he would pick up the bat-phone to Ankara, KDP president Massoud Barzani said, “If the Turkish army crosses the border there will be much suffering.”
On a related note, on March 18 the PUK and the Kurdistan Democratic Party placed their peshmergas, between 70,000 and 80,000 men, under U.S. command.
And I’ve been meaning to publish this, but i’ve been busy. A man in Arbil saw Back to Iraq and wrote me. He asked that if I published his email, I use an alias for him, which I’ve done, as indicated below. This is a voice of Kurdistan.

Dear Christopher,
I was referred to your blog by an American friend and liked what I read in short… wished to have more time to read the rest! Well… I don’t know if you will be interested to know about the life down here in Iraq and add it to your blog!
I’m Kurdish male living in Erbil city and working in Suleimaniyh city and have siblings in Baghdad… therefore and to some extent I’m aware of what is going here. Yesterday afternoon I left the city I work in turning back home to Erbil to join my family and get prepared for leaving it to some town or village to avoid risks and hazards expected for the major cities in entire Kurdistan! in the way back it was very discouraging to hear and join the conversation in the taxi cab with the other two men and the driver that was all about expectations for the disastrous circumstances ahead! in the way it was terrifying to see people leaving Erbil city to anywhere they can reach and find a single room to live in, for who do not have relatives in towns or villages they just had to put a tent in the open area where a water stream can be found and stay there under rain and the wind blowing up there ears all day time.. unfortunately the weather is gray, wet and cold here which is not usual! streets between cities are packed with cars of people leaving, and who don?t have a car he used a carriage pulled by a mule as transportation mean… it so looked like inside city streets than out-city highways!!!
I went out this morning to see how is life, all I could see was closed shops and the feeling of emptiness.. yes one still can see people in the streets and yet some of the neighbors, relatives and friends are in the city but yet you cannot stop feeling the city is just like been evacuated! there is no life, people are like walking dead!
Here in home (like most houses here in Kurdistan who are still in home) we are arguing all the time about staying home or leaving it out! but where to go and what to do there and till when and is it totally safe?! what if we stayed home and the city was bombed by chemical or biological weapons!?? these days we are memorizing the tragic catastrophe of Halabja .. there is the fear that that brutal action to happen once again, Saddam is unscrupulous and a tyrant and can commit that crime again! there is another fear that Iraqi army forces to bomb the cities in Kurdistan once American troops enter the cities!! … lot things that freezes blood in veins when think about!… its a messy and hard time to make decisions.
I couldn’t get to contact sisters in Baghdad, we are so worried about them, its been awhile when the shiaa people are threatening and planning so bad for the Sunnis! I hope a massacre not to happen by war time!! a little small chaos can lead to blood shower in Baghdad. Well I presume you have heard about the two major Islamic sects; shiaa and suna! I’m not so sure how it?s spelled in English but that’s the way we name them here!
I just want to say one more thing, I?m so happy that Saddam is about to be banished and to turn a page down and start a new life, but yet I wished it could happen without a war… I’m sure the international community is aware about Saddam and what is he doing to his people and also so sure they can help us to expel him but no one cares!! I also wished if a war to break out then not to be an American one, I wished the international community to take initiative if it had to happen, I can’t digest the idea of the single power pole and American?s as world?s sole policeman!
Thanks for your time,
djoy [an alias he asked me to use]

Do the Iraqis want Saddam gone? Absolutely. Do they want a war to do it? Well…
In news of trip preparations, I’m getting leads on visas, sat-phones and rugged laptops. I’ve heard that Ankara is issuing *same-day* visas, so I’ve initiated the transfer of the paypal funds to my checking account and I’m about to max out my credit cards on plane tickets to Turkey.
Man, I’m going to be so broke after this. As a friend of mine said, “Dude, you need to practice saying this: ‘Hi, I’m Christopher from Back-to-Iraq.com and would you like fries with that?” This whole endeavor, however, will be worth it.

Iraq air defenses better than expected?

Hearing some intriguing reports that Baghdad’s air defense system may have seen F-117A stealth fighter/bombers coming. Unsure yet of the timing, but the anti-aircraft fire seemed to be aimed in the direction of the jet’s approach and the sirens and guns lit up moments before the F-117As came into range. CNN is reporting that the Pentagon is concerned that sophisticated long-range radar may be operating somewhere in Iraq, which would complicate and possibly lessen the USAF stealth advantage.

Hearing some intriguing reports that Baghdad’s air defense system may have seen F-117A stealth fighter/bombers coming. Unsure yet of the timing, but the anti-aircraft fire seemed to be aimed in the direction of the jet’s approach and the sirens and guns lit up moments before the F-117As came into range. CNN is reporting that the Pentagon is concerned that sophisticated long-range radar may be operating somewhere in Iraq, which would complicate and possibly lessen the USAF stealth advantage.
But it wouldn’t take a a super-sophisticated technology to bring down a stealth fighter. In 1999, the Serbs likely shot down an F-117A using a Soviet-era surface-to-air missiles and a relatively simple electro-optical tracking sensors deployed in the former Soviet bloc. Military Information Technology Online says these sensors

have a narrow field of view and are only able to acquire a target with the accuracy necessary to “lock on” if cued precisely onto the highest threat. These systems use radar as the surveillance and cueing sensor to achieve this. But while one of these electro-optical sights will see a stealth aircraft, a radar would not be able to point it in the right direction.
A target would have to fly directly into the narrow field of view covered by the thermal sight in order to accurately track it. Some authorities suspect this is the scenario that led to the F-117A being shot down by the Serbs which, if true, still shows that the F-117 is vulnerable to even primitive technologies under the right circumstances.

Furthermore, Serbia sold off the material from the crash to the highest bidders, and Saddam made contacts with former Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic, according to ABC News back in 1999. China, too, is known to have worked with Iraq in developing an air defense system.

According to reports, the stealth-detection technology China has developed is known as passive coherent location (PCL). It works by tracking the signals of civilian radio and television broadcasts and analyzing the minute turbulence in these commercial wavelengths caused by aircraft, including stealth aircraft. [MIT-Online again]

This is not to say the American aircraft are going to be shot down willy-nilly. The Serbs got lucky in 1999. The Iraqis may be a little trigger-happy and just happened to be pointing in the direction of the F-117As. No doubt American air supremacy will be undiminished.
The Pentagon is giving a briefing at 11 a.m. EST, and maybe some more answers will be forthcoming.

Timing, it’s all about timing

It’s all about timing. The war, visas, everything.

Watching all of this on CNN leaves me with a cauldron of conflicting feelings. On one hand, I’m horrified that this war has started. This is the wrong war at the wrong time. It’s wrong for the United States, the Iraqi people, the system of alliances built up since World War II and for world stability. It will make America — and the world — less safe. It will also kill a lot of innocent people needlessly.
I’m also a little relieved, now that the tension of the last few months has been broken.
But as a journalist, I’m also very, very frustrated that I’m still waiting on visas and I’m not there yet. (This impatience is, admittedly, not one of my finer qualities. Other journalists will understand, though.) I don’t want to feel like a vulture, but I’m champing at the bit to get in there, get into the thick of the story and see first hand what’s going on. I don’t like relying on CNN et al. But I also want to be part of the biggest story in the world right now.
Today, the Syrians told me to refax my visa information, but they were — suddenly — much more optimistic about my paperwork. Fatima told me a transit visa shouldn’t take too long. An Iranian visa company I’m working with told me things would be more possible after 25 March, when the Norooz New Year (20-24 March) is over. After that it will take a week, I was told. So things are still looking good for a two-week or so departure date.

Meanwhile, back at the War on Terror

While the world turns its eyes toward Iraq, as initial cruise missile attacks have the weird feel of a false start on a sprint, it’s important to remember that other war: the one on terror.

While the world turns its eyes toward Iraq, as initial cruise missile attacks have the weird feel of a false start on a sprint, it’s important to remember that other war: the one on terror.
There’s a major offensive going on in Afghanistan at the moment, with about 1,000 U.S. troops raiding villages in southeastern Afghanistan searching for members of al Qa’ida. Members of the 82nd Airborne took part in the raid, the largest since Operation Anaconda about a year ago.
But there’s been another casualty in the War on Terror: Rand Beers, the National Security Council official in charge of the war on terror resigned this week. While a spokesman for the NSC said it was for personal reasons, various sources in the intelligence community say there is widespread worry that Iraq is hurting the terror war.
“Hardly a surprise,” said one former intelligence official. “We have sacrificed a war on terror for a war with Iraq. I don’t blame Randy at all. This just reflects the widespread thought that the war on terror is being set aside for the war with Iraq at the expense of our military and intel resources and the relationships with our allies.”
This is one of my major oppositions to going to war with Iraq. (Well, I guess that’s moot now.) I’ve not been opposed to _war_ because it’s immoral or innocents will die — although dead civilians is definitely an issue. War is sometimes justified and necessary, as in Afghanistan, and innocents die in a war. That’s part of what makes it so horrible.
I’m opposed to _this_ war with Iraq because I felt it wasn’t in the national interests of the United States. It will make the war on terror harder by pushing moderate Muslims into grumbling hostility and already hostile Muslims into the arms of Osama bin Laden. In short, I think invading Iraq will lead to more terrorism rather than less. Both in the short term and in the long term.
And now the question of whether the world will be safer after Saddam is gone will be answered. I don’t think we’re going to like the outcome.