Nine killed near Fallujah

The bloodiest day for Americans in Iraq in weeks. This is winning?

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An Iraqi boy holds a leaflet in broken English that reads ‘Fallujah, the cemetery of the Americans,’ near a burning car in Fallujah. (AFP/Karim Sahib)

Today in Fallujah:

FALLUJAH, Iraq (AP) — In one of the bloodiest days in weeks for the U.S. military, five troops died when a bomb exploded under their military vehicle west of Baghdad on Wednesday. At least four foreign nationals, including one American, were killed in a separate attack and some of the bodies were burned, beaten and hanged from a bridge.

*UPDATE* By now, everyone knows that the burned bodies of the four contractors were dragged from their vehicle, mutilated and strung up. Shades of Mogadishu, 1993.
Some questions: Who were the contractors? What were they doing there? I’ve heard reports from NPR this morning that they may have been connected to the Department of Defense. APTV, the broadcast arm of the Associated Press, showed footage of a DoD identification card found near one of the bodies. Fallujah is considered so hot, however, that no Coalition or other allied forces operate there right now. About 4,000 Marines are based nearby, but they didn’t come to help. No ambulances, no police came either.
[UPDATE 2 AP is reporting that the four contractors worked for Blackwater Security, of North Carolina, (thanks, hah!) which provides security training and guard services. “The company said in a statement Wednesday that it was a government subcontractor providing security for the delivery of food in the Fallujah area.”]
The descriptions of what happened are horrible:

Falluja’s streets were thick with men and boys and chaos.
Boys with scarves over their faces hurled bricks into the burning vehicles. A group of men dragged one of the smoldering corpses into the street and ripped it apart. Someone then tied a chunk of flesh to a rock and tossed it over a telephone wire.
“Viva mujahadeen!” shouted Said Khalaf, a taxi driver. “Long live the resistance!”
Nearby, a boy no older than 10 put his foot on the head of a body and said: “Where is Bush? Let him come here and see this!”

When crowds of men and boys desecrate bodies, this is no longer an insurgency made up of “dead enders” and foreign terrorists. This is a movement with popular support and it should be seen as truly frightening.
Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, deputy operations director for Combined Joint Task Force 7, said the U.S. would be “undeterred” by these attacks. “To buckle under to a bunch of insurgents” would be the ultimate disgrace to the victims’ memories, he said.
In a press release from CJTF-7, Kimmitt called the attacks examples of “a slight uptick in localized engagements,” which he said have had a “negligible impact” on the Coalition’s progress. During the past week, Kimmitt said, daily engagements have averaged 28 per day against Coalition military forces, five per day against Iraqi security forces, and just under four per day against Iraqi civilians.
This “uptick” has lead to a total of 50 dead and 300 wounded U.S. troops in March, making it the second deadliest month of the liberation/occupation/war since President Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” stunt on May 1, 2003. Lord knows how many Iraqis are dead. The cumulative death toll is 599 Americans, 59 British troops and 42 other Coalition deaths, for a total of 700 soldiers dead. Again, no one knows about the number of Iraqi civilians killed.
Meanwhile, he said, the Coalition is “stepping up its offensive tempo” to kill or capture insurgents.
OK. Good. But bear in mind that Central Command has been saying that the capture of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein on Dec. 13, along with documents in his possession, allowed for the infiltration of insurgent cells.

American generals have said that these breakthroughs had given them the upper hand in the battle against Saddam loyalists and created the conditions for the American occupation authority to move forward with confidence to the planned handover of sovereignty under an interim government on June 30 and to an elected government in January 2006.
At the same time, the generals have been saying that their main focus in the conflict has shifted to Islamic terrorists who they believe to have been responsible for many suicide bombings and other attacks on the Iraqi police, civilians and foreigners. These attacks, they say, have effectively carried the Iraqi conflict into a new landscape that makes the fighting here part of the worldwide war on terrorism.

But today’s slaughter was not an Islamic _jihad._ This was nationalism, not Islamism. But that distinction doesn’t seem to matter much.

In a modulation of their assessments in recent days, the generals had begun to say that there may be a merging of diehard loyalists to Mr. Hussein and Islamic militants, with the two groups at least loosely coordinating their attacks.
On Tuesday, Kimmitt, who had previously emphasized the growing role of Islamic terrorists in the conflict, said at a news conference that the military no longer considered the distinction between Saddam loyalists and militant Islamists to be so significant from the viewpoint of military operations.
“I’m not sure trying to over-classify these different groups is helpful,” he said. “It might help somehow in the intelligence community, in terms of trying to find out where they come from and trying to find some trails onto them. But on the operations side we just call them targets.”

Look, I understand that anyone trying to kill you is a target. I think most people get that. But not to keep that distinction in mind when you’re making plans and tactics is a sure sign that the U.S. military has given up the battle to win hearts and minds. I fear the U.S. is on the verge of giving up even the pretense that Operation Iraqi Freedom was about Iraqis’ freedom. God help the Iraqi people if that’s the case. Coupling the awesome firepower that the U.S. military can bring to bear with angry, twitchy soldiers who have stopped seeing the Iraqi people as anything but “the enemy” is a recipe for massive civilian casualties, harsh reaction from the Arab street and more recruitment for radical Islamists like Osama bin Laden. But you shouldn’t blame the troops for this attitude. No one who’s not been there should dismiss the psychological conditioning a soldier must do to protect him- or herself from people who are trying to kill as many Americans as possible. A soldier almost _has_ to see the Iraqis as an enemy, otherwise, he ends up dead very quickly.
While the deaths of those soldiers and contractors falls squarely on the a group of savage killers, the deaths of soldiers’ souls rests — in part — on the war planners and politicians in Washington. You know who you are.
George over at Warblogging has a picture, if you want to see. I don’t want to put it up here, as I don’t think it serves any purpose other than incite strong emotions, of which I think we’re have plenty right now, thank you.

Those who would destroy…

“…The tone and the terms of the evolving struggle for political dominance here present the possibility that such an attack could similarly strengthen those whom both candidates have pledged to destroy…”

Mark Danner, in this week’s New Yorker:

America has endured fierce electoral struggles over war and peace before, most recently over Vietnam in 1968. This “war on terror” campaign, however, in its focus on the critical question of “Who can make us safer?,” may come to more closely resemble the Red-baiting campaigns of the fifties or the elections after the Civil War in which rivals “waved the bloody shirt.” But this campaign includes a shadow player the others lacked. For nearly a decade, Al Qaeda has attempted not to defeat the United States militarily but to gain adherents by building its image among Muslims as the only effective counter to America and to the moderate regimes that American power sustains. To this political program the Bush Administration sought to offer what it thought of as a political response: to “transform the Middle East,” by way of war in Iraq. So far, the occupation has done much to diminish American prestige among the moderate Muslims it was meant to persuade — and has helped increase the prestige of those who make the claim, while they go on killing the occupiers, that they are the only effective opposition to American power.
In the United States, the debate over Iraq has encouraged a kind of corrosive, brutal politics that has at its center an appeal to personal fear. That leaves a powerful weapon in the hands of the terrorists, who gained enormously after the attacks in Madrid by appearing to swing Spain’s election against a major ally of President Bush. No one can say what effect a terrorist attack would have on the American election. But the tone and the terms of the evolving struggle for political dominance here present the possibility that such an attack could similarly strengthen those whom both candidates have pledged to destroy.

One Condi, under Oath…

Good news. National Security Advisor Condi Rice will testify under oath before the 9/11 commission. But there are hitches…

Good news. National Security Advisor Condi Rice will testify under oath before the 9/11 commission.
In White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales’ letter, he writes:

The president has consistently stated a policy of strong support for the commission and instructed the executive branch to provide unprecedented and extraordinary access to the commission. To my knowledge, the executive branch has provided access to documents or information in response to each of the requests issued by the commission to date, including many highly classified and extremely sensitive documents that have seldom, if ever, been made available outside the executive branch.

Ah, but wait, there’s more:

The necessary conditions are as follows. First, the commission must agree in writing that Dr. Rice’s testimony before the commission does not set any precedent for future commission requests, or requests in any other context, for testimony by a national security adviser or any other White House official.
Second, the commission must agree in writing that it will not request additional public testimony from any White House official, including Dr. Rice.

Nice. One shot guys, and that’s it. Let’s leave aside the fact that the commission is not an arm of Congress and is a presidentially appointed body, so the separation of powers argument is shaky, at best. What this is, is a face-saving move as Josh Marshall notes. He also makes the excellent point that without any followup sessions allowed, what happens if Rice’s testimony contradicts Clarke’s?
Regardless, it’s about time. After a week of surging storm clouds, Team Bush has finally decided that the only way to rebut Richard Clarke’s remarks is to make Rice talk, publicly and under oath. The question is, will she be able to avoid perjuring herself and will anyone be able to do anything about it if she does?
Those of us who opposed the war and just about everything the Bush administration has done obviously suspect the Administration has been resistant to Rice’s testimony because we think the administration has something to hide — likely gross incompetence, obsession and a small-minded agenda. Nothing criminal, but it would be very, very damaging to Bush’s halo as a “war president.”
Those who support the war and the White House think Clarke is a propagandist for the evil doers, aka the Democratic Party, that _he’s_ the liar and — the horror! — that he’s a big ol’ gay. Now if they can just finger him as a Canadian or Frenchman, the demonization will be complete.
Speaking of complete, I’ve spent too much time on l’affaire de Clarke. People like Josh Marshall, Billmon, Kevin Drum and George Paine are doing a better job and I urge you to check on them for Washington politicking re Clarke. We will now return to our regularly scheduled war in Iraq.

Never Threaten to Eat Your Co-Workers

New book out details the “best of the blogosphere” for 2003. And yeah, I’m in there. But buy the book anyway.

Well, well. Richard Clarke’s not the only one with a “suspiciously timed” book out. A couple of entries from B2I have been anthologized in Never Threaten To Eat Your Co-Workers. It’s a fun book, with some really talented authors. (Much more so than me, frankly.) Check out the FAQ.
From the back of the book:

Thanks to online Web journals, or blogs as they’re affectionately nicknamed by Net savvy voyeurs, anyone can jump into the shoes of a TV star, international journalist, criminal court lawyer, video sales clerk and a busy mom, among others. These online diaries serve as an entertaining and educating cross-section of the people dwelling online.
The Best of Blogs features the most provocative online writing by unknown writers and underground celebs. MTV’s The Real World’s cast member Neil Forrester gives new meaning to the phrase “Bite your tongue.” Star Trek: The Next Generation actor Wil Wheaton gives his take on the Hollywood system and fleeting stardom. Web designer Heather Hamilton finds herself in the unemployment line after publishing work stories in her blog, Dooce.com. Humorist Choire Sicha gives advice on broken hearts and timeshares. Illustrator Mark Frauenfelder throws out his cell phone and uproots his family from Los Angeles to the sandy beaches of Rarotonga. Plus tales of creepy video store customers, online love lies, Iraqi politics, office pranks gone wrong, jury duty, a childhood meeting with Darth Vader and so much more.

Alan Graham and Bonnie Burton, the editors, should really be commended for putting together this “best of the blogosphere” for 2003. I’m really honored to be included. And not to sound too self-serving, but I hope the book is a big success — these writers deserve a lot more attention in the wider world.

TypeKey is coming

TypeKey is coming to B2I.

Hello all. A little bit of housekeeping. As you may know, SixApart, which publishes the software MoveableType, is coming out with a new, majorly updated version soon — 3.0. B2I will be upgrading because it looks to have a lot of great features that will make everyone’s lives a bit easier. One of the features is TypeKey, a “free, open system providing a central identity that anyone can use to log in and post comments on blogs and other web sites.”
The reason that I’m encouraged by this is comment spam, against which I’m fighting a rearguard action. I can’t tell you how many propecia or other pharmacopian spam I have to delete on a daily basis. Jay Allen’s MT-Blacklist helps, but it still requires maintenance. And when I’m in Iraq, I’ll be less inclined to deal with buttheads like gigi@gigi.com. (Hey, gigi: Keep you vimax pills off my site!)
What TypeKey will do, according to the FAQ, is “ensure that people who comment on a site have a verified identity, keeping conversations on track and helping to prevent abusive or offensive content (comment spam) from being posted. Sites that enable TypeKey have better accountability for the content that’s being published.”
What this means is that sometime when TypeKey and MT 3.0 are rolled out, you will have to register to comment. This is a one-time deal only and you’ll be good to post on every TypeKey-enabled blog on on the Net, not just B2I. You also will have control over how much information you want to give out. It will be free, according to SixApart. And from reading the FAQ it sounds like it will be a fairly non-intrusive process. I hope it will be anyway.
I’m not thrilled with the idea of registering for comments, but the spammers are leaving me with little choice. Don’t worry; I won’t be banning anyone for the content of your posts — except for spammers such as gigi, of course.
As the date for the release gets closer, I’ll have more details, but I just wanted to give everyone a heads-up.

It’s the truth, stupid

Josh Marshall makes it clear what’s at stake with Clarke.

Josh Marshall gets it exactly right.

If you’re just interested in having the facts come out, then it’s really not a great source of concern. For the public, the fact that Clarke might have lied once and told the truth once isn’t really point. All that matters here is what the truth actually is, and that it comes out. And the White House is doing us the favor of showing that that is not a goal they share.

Fighting near Fallujah

1st Marine Expeditionary Force in combat near Fallujah. And it sounds bad out there.

From the press office of the Combined Joint Task Force-7:

I MEF OPERATIONS UNDERWAY IN AL FALLUJAH
CAMP MEK, Iraq — I Marine Expeditionary Force Marines are currently conducting offensive operations in Al Fallujah in order to foster a secure and stable environment for the people of Al Anbar. Those who seek to impede the freedom, prosperity and progress of the Al Anbar residents are being physically challenged. Among those, some have chosen to fight. Having elected their fate, they are being engaged and destroyed.
Since these operations are ongoing, it is not appropriate to comment at this time. Once operations have been completed, and reports have been verified, additional information will be released.

And it sounds like the fighting is fierce.
“At least 12 people, including one American marine, were killed in a series of gunbattles today, as guerrilla violence swept the Sunni-dominated area north and west of the Iraqi capital,” the New York Times reported. One of the Iraqis killed was an ABC cameraman who walked into the middle of a firefight.

The combat today was the most dramatic measure of the violence that has continued unabated throughout the Sunni heartland in recent months. In both the level of sophistication and ease of maneuver displayed by the insurgents, the fighting has appeared to raise new doubts about the claims of American military officers that that they were close to defeating the insurgency led by members of Saddam Hussein’s fallen regime and were dealing with a smaller number of foreign-led Islamic terrorists.
The fierce street fighting in Fallujah demonstrated anew that this city, 35 miles west of Baghdad and in the heart of the so-called Sunni Triangle, the epicenter of anti-American resistance, was far from pacified and that there were large areas of the city where the Americans could enter only at their peril.

It’s so bad in Fallujah that the Times‘ Dexter Filkins said he was waved away from a hospital by its administrators who warned him there was a very good chance he would be “shot and killed” if he went inside.
The fighting comes a day after the 1st MEF took over responsibility for Al Anbar province from the 82nd Airborne Division.