Bush Administration Misled Americans on Climate Change

The Bush administration has consistently misled the public about the threat of global warming, said scientists who testified yesterday before a US House committee hearing into political interference with climate change science.

Global warming also took center stage at a separate hearing in the US Senate yesterday, where the debate flared as senators offered their views and solutions regarding climate change. The White House’s refusal to hand over documents requested by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has also raised a recurring issue attending federal investigations into the Bush administration – the conflict between Executive Privilege and the need for Congress to be able to hold the President accountable. Executive Privilege is not named in the US Constitution but is implied by the Separation of Powers; it can be invoked to protect state secrets, national security and confidential discussions between the government and its advisors.

Committee chair Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said he believes the public’s right to know, and their democratic right to hold the government accountable, must take precedence in the committee’s current investigation: “The committee isn’t trying to obtain state secrets or documents that could affect our immediate national security … We know that the White House possesses documents that contain evidence of an attempt by senior Administration officials to mislead the public by injecting doubt into the science of global warming and minimizing the potential dangers. I believe Congress is entitled to these documents.” Mr Waxman referred specifically to allegations that Philip Cooney, the Bush administration’s former head of the Council on Environmental Quality who now works as a lobbyist for ExxonMobil, had routinely imposed his own views on the reports of climate change scientists.

Dr Drew Shindell, a researcher at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies for 12 years, testified that his press releases about the findings of climate change studies had been “delayed, altered and watered down.” He cited one example where a study explained that Antarctica would warm considerably over the next century, based on projections of continued greenhouse gas emissions, which had clear implications for rising sea levels. He said the original press release had been “softened” to the extent that it raised almost no interest and delayed the study’s entry into the wider public discussion regarding the scientific understanding of global warming. Another witness, Rick Piltz, told the hearing that he resigned as senior associate with the US Climate Change Science Program in 2005 after White House officialsrepeatedly insisted that the language in official reports on global warming be weakened or deleted.  He cited one instance in which the potential consequences of climate change had been entirely deleted from a report to Congress.

Dr Francesca Grifo gave testimony on behalf of the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Government Accountability Project, which defends whistle-blowers. She said a survey of 279 scientists had revealed that nearly half the respondents had been pressured to delete the terms “climate change” or “global warming” from their reports, while one third of the scientists reported that officials had made public statements that misrepresented their findings.  Scientists who participated in the survey also complained that uncertainty had been injected into issues on which most scientists agree, and that they had been banned from talking to the media about their research, which Dr Grifo argued is a violation of their freedom of speech. “You don’t give up your constitutional rights when you become a federal scientist,” she said.

Meanwhile in the US Senate, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, conducted a hearing inviting Democrat and Republican senators to offer their views and solutions on climate change.  Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said his bill would cut greenhouse gases by 2 percent each year and reduce emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020. “This is an issue over the years whose time has come,” said Sen. McCain. “I don’t think any time is too late, but I do believe if we don’t act fairly soon, we may have reached a tipping point where we may not be able to reverse this trend.”

The bill’s co-sponsor, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), said that the Bush administration’s lack of leadership had undermined global efforts to reduce emissions. “We were laggards on this issue. That has been giving excuses to some of the rapidly developing nations, like China and India, to say, ‘If the United States with all its wealth and its enormous energy consumption is unwilling to do this, why would we who are still trying to feed our people want to invest in dealing with this problem?’”  Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) complained that the hearing was being used by some senators to enhance their presidential ambitions, and gestured towards Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.). He said capping carbon emissions would adversely affect the US economy and lifestyle. “We’re 25 percent of the world’s economy today, and, under today’s technologies, if you are 25 percent of the world’s economy, you are going to be the largest emitter,” said Sen. Craig. “We have the lifestyle to prove it, and all of us live that lifestyle, and none of us want to deny it to our citizens.”

As he walked out of the hearing, Sen. Clinton replied, “I’m sorry that Senator Craig is leaving the room, because I wanted to certainly express my very strong support for maintaining America’s lifestyle. As I recall, on my many trips to California, which has kept electricity use (low) for 30 years, the lifestyle is pretty good.” She also said, “This is a problem whose time has come.”   Former committee chair James Inhofe (R-Okla.), who has called global warming “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people” repeated his claim that there is “no convincing scientific evidence” that human activity is causing global warming, “We all know the Weather Channel would like to have people afraid all the time.”

“I’ll put you down as sceptical,” quipped Sen. Boxer.  Despite the scepticism of some senators, Sen. Boxer said, “We have the feeling that there is critical mass here to be very serious about this, at long last”. At least 60 votes are needed in the Senate to overcome a potential filibuster that could prevent the passage of legislation to cap greenhouse gas emissions. Sen. Boxer intends to first introduce measures to improve energy efficiency in federal buildings, which is supported by the White House.

President Bush recently referred to “the serious challenge of global climate change” in his State of the Union address. However, he remains opposed to mandatory caps on carbon emissions, which scientists consider critical in the fight against global warming. Even with bipartisan support for such legislation, there are concerns that Mr Bush will use his veto power to prevent its passage.


UN Climate Change Report Due On Global Warming

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is due to release a report in Paris on Friday entitled Climate Change 2007in which 2,500 scientists from 130 countries unequivocally state that the current trend towards potentially catastrophic global warming has been induced by human activity, which began with the dramatic increase in fossil fuel use during the Industrial Revolution of the mid-19th century.

A draft of the report, the fourth climate change assessment conducted by the IPCC, has been circulated among major news organizations over the past week.

“As we add to [greenhouse] gasses, we are just doing the same thing as putting another blanket on our bed at night,” said Sir David King, British chief government scientific adviser, in an interview with CBS News. “The consequences are that you get warmer, and that is as simple as it is.”

Dr Kevin Trenberth, head of Climate Analysis at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and also a lead author of the report told ABC News: “Certainly, it will say that global warming is happening, and secondly, that it is due to humans. The whole weight of the evidence has simply increased to show that stuff is already happening. What this report does is provide the basis for subsequent actions.”

The IPCC report highlights a number of consequences of climate change including:

  • more warmer days and fewer cold ones;
  • more heat waves;
  • increasingly intense tropical storms and hurricanes; and
  • higher sea levels.

In the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the implications of more intense hurricanes and rising sea levels could hardly be clearer for New Orleans.

“The sea level is rising worldwide, and that’s going to have an immediate impact on New Orleans,” said Tulane University geoscientist Torbjorn Tornqvist. “It’s all related to global warming. That’s what’s happening. We’ve seen in the past century, sea level is rising four times faster than in the preceding 1,000 years. We have to push harder than anyone else in the United States to reverse the problem of global warming because we are facing that problem here first.”

A major concern is the possibility that the current melting of Arctic ice is unstoppable, even with future reductions to greenhouse gas emissions, which would raise sea levels by more than 20 feet and see most of the world’s cities disappear into the sea. Sir David King told The Ecologist magazine that experts still have not determined whether a ‘tipping point’ has been reached: “We don’t know. That’s the problem. It is melting faster than anticipated. If we lose all the ice in Greenland, the sea level goes up 6.5m [21 feet] – 80 per cent of our global cities will go underwater.”

The report ominously predicts that sea levels will keep rising for more than 1,000 years even if governments manage to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A source quoted by Reuters said: “Twenty-first century anthropogenic (human) carbon dioxide emissions will contribute to warming and sea level rise for more than a millennium, due to the timescales required for removal of this gas.”

In addition to catastrophic flooding, other predicted impacts of global warming include severe droughts, desertification and famines. The social effects would include hundreds of millions of “climate refugees” forced from devastated regions.

The report says that recent extreme weather events have resulted from a rise of only 1.5 degrees in global temperatures over the last 150 years, and that a further increase of at least 2 degrees is expected over the next 50 years. According to the previous IPCC report released in 2001 , the very worst case scenario sees the earth’s temperature rising by 11 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century.

The report is not without its critics in the scientific community. One senior British climate expert quoted in The Observer warned that the report’s predictions are relatively rosy, given its painstaking consensus process: “The really chilling thing about the IPCC report is that it is the work of several thousand climate experts who have widely differing views about how greenhouse gases will have their effect. Each paragraph of this report was therefore argued over and scrutinized intensely. Only points that were considered indisputable survived this process. This is a very conservative document – that’s what makes it so scary.”

Other earth science experts expressed concern that the report does not include the recent and unexpected melting and breaking off of major polar ice sheets. Professor Lonnie Thompson of Ohio State University told the Associated Press that the report’s authors “don’t take into account the gorillas – Greenland and Antarctica. I think there are unpleasant surprises as we move into the 21st century.”

Nevertheless, scientists are united in their hope that humanity can stave off the worst case scenarios by limiting greenhouse gas emissions, increasing production of electric and hybrid cars, building more energy-efficient homes, developing alternative power sources and reducing travel where possible.

Responding to long-standing concerns that the solutions are too costly, economists are also uniting behind the consensus that humanity can’t afford not to address climate change, because it poses the single greatest threat to the world economy. The recently released Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change states that, “if we don’t act, the overall costs and risks of climate change will be equivalent to losing at least 5% of global GDP each year. If a wider range of risks and impacts is taken into account, the estimates of damage could rise to 20% of GDP or more. In contrast, the costs of action – reducing greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change – can be limited to around 1% of global GDP each year. Tackling climate change is the pro-growth strategy for the longer term, and it can be done in a way that does not cap the aspirations for growth of rich or poor countries.”

The US Supreme Court is currently considering a case brought by a dozen states who are suing the federal government in an effort to force the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate and reduce carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles on the basis that “there is sufficient scientific evidence to enable the EPA to make a determination under section 202 of the Clean Air Act that greenhouse gas emissions may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare.” The Supreme Court’s decision on the case is due in June.

Although President Bush recently referred to “the serious challenge of global climate change” in his State of the Union address, he has in practice resisted any binding measures to regulate greenhouse gas emissions in the US. Early in 2001, Mr Bush withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol.

Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.), former chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, labelled climate change “the biggest hoax ever perpetrated on mankind” and insisted that there is “no relationship between man-made gases and global warming”. He also repeatedly censored the scientific reports and public comments of top NASA climate scientist Dr Jim Hansen, who blasted the secretive nature of the Bush administration and once told an environmental journalists conference that, “In 39 years at NASA, I’ve never seen anything like the degree to which the information flow from our scientists to the public is as inhibited as it is now.”

This wayward course on climate change looks set to change with the new Congress. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who now chairs the Environment and Public Works committee, strongly supports mandatory caps on greenhouse gas emissions. She has scheduled a hearing on January 30 in which Democrat and Republican senators will present their own legislation to address the effects of global warming, and she believes that bipartisan support on the issue will make it difficult for President Bush to use his veto power. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also supports legislation that cuts greenhouse gas emissions and provides for the development of alternative sources of energy.

Major industrial producers of greenhouse gas emissions, including oil companies, acknowledge human-induced climate change and have also been pushing for federal regulations. They prefer a consistent national system instead of environmental rules that change between states, so they can make informed long-term decisions concerning such projects as building factories and power plants.

Without doubt, the greatest impediment to the scientific solutions offered in the IPCC report will be the political wrangling that has characterized the climate change debate thus far.

IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri told Reuters that he hopes the report will galvanize governments into action: “I hope this report will shock people, governments into taking more serious action, as you really can’t get a more authentic and a more credible piece of scientific work.”

IPCC AR4 Working Group 1:  http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg1/en/contents.html

The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change:  http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/Independent_Reviews/stern_review_economics_climate_change/sternreview_index.cfm

Fonda Anti-Iraq War Demonstration, Senate Resolutions Pressures President Bush

While Saturday’s demonstration outside the US Capitol building in Washington attracted a number of celebrity activists, the day belonged to tens of thousands of Americans who travelled from around the country to voice their opposition to the war in Iraq.

Chanting “bring our troops home”, the grass-roots gathering stepped up pressure on the US Congress to bring an end to the war and indicated the continuing groundswell of anti-war sentiment that has gained momentum since the November mid-term elections, when American voters expressed a vote of no confidence in the Bush administration’s conduct of the war and delivered control of both houses of Congress to the Democrats.

Prior to the mid-term elections, the Bush administration had insisted that the US was ‘winning’ in Iraq and would ‘stay the course’.

Jane Fonda, a much-maligned peace activist since her ‘Hanoi Jane’ days during the Vietnam War, addressed the gathering from a stage where a coffin stood draped in the American flag, symbolizing the deaths of more than 3,000 US troops in Iraq. The platform also bore a large bin filled with shoes tagged with the names of Iraqi civilians known to have died since the US invasion, and details of their fatal injuries.

Ms Fonda blasted the Bush administration for their “blindness to realities on the ground, hubris and thoughtlessness in our approach to rebuilding a country we’ve destroyed.” She also said that, while the parallels to the Vietnam war are increasingly obvious, the current anti-war movement in the US significantly includes veterans and their families.

In the crowd, families of soldiers killed in Iraq displayed pictures of their loved ones, including one photo of a soldier lying in a coffin, dressed in full military uniform.

Liam Madden, who served in Iraq as a US Marine sergeant, said, “No one wants to die for a lie. You don’t volunteer to throw your life away. You don’t say ‘I’m serving for nothing’. The occupation hasn’t benefited the Iraqi people at all. It doesn’t benefit the American people and certainly doesn’t benefit American service members.” Mr Madden co-founded the organization Appeal for Redress, which unites 1,200 active-duty personnel and veterans who favor a US withdrawal from Iraq.

The organization’s other co-founder, Iraq war veteran Navy Petty Officer Jonathan Hutto, said that many of his colleagues “see a separation between the global war on terrorism and the war in Iraq. They don’t see the connection.”

Garett Reppenhagen, who also served in Iraq as a sniper, told the crowd, “When I served in the war, I thought I was serving honorably. Instead, I was sent to war for causes that have proved fraudulent. We need to put pressure on our elected government and force them to bring the troops home.”

Twelve year-old Moriah Arnold, a sixth-grader from Harvard, Massachusetts stood on her toes to speak into the microphone, “Now we know our leaders either lied to us or hid the truth. Because of our actions, the rest of the world sees us as a bully and a liar.” Ms Arnold has organized a petition at her school to enable students to express their opposition to the war.

Barbara Struna, who travelled from Brewster, Massachusetts to take part in the demonstration, said in an interview, “We see many things that we feel helpless about. But this is like a united force. This is something I can do.”

Although most Americans do not support President Bush’s plan to send another 21,500 troops to Iraq, the ability of Congress to thwart those plans is currently the subject of extensive debate.

House Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.), bolstered the crowd’s spirits when he said Congress may withhold funding to stop the war. “George Bush has a habit of firing military leaders who tell him the Iraq war is failing,” he said. “He can’t fire you. He can’t fire us,” referring to members of the US Congress.

President Bush has so far been defiant. In his radio address on Saturday, Mr Bush accused the Democrats of being “reflexively partisan” and challenged them to come up with an alternative to achieve victory in Iraq.

Meanwhile, two non-binding resolutions expressing disapproval for sending more troops to Iraq will soon be put to the vote in the US Senate. One resolution is authored by Democrat Senators Joe Biden (Delaware), Carl Levin (Michigan) and Chuck Hagel (Nebraska). The other resolution is authored by Republican Senator John Warner of Virginia.

Senator Warner’s resolution is considered the favorite to unite a higher number of Congressional Republicans with Democrats against the surge in troops to Iraq, and would be a major embarrassment for an increasingly beleaguered and isolated President Bush.

Iraq War Week: Sunni, Shia Explode Despite Maliki Resolution

The Iraqi parliament passed a unanimous resolution this week to crack down on Shia militias and Sunni insurgents, as the latest campaign of deadly bombings continued in Baghdad.

“I ask everyone to excuse us as we do the job,” Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told Iraqis in a live televised address on Thursday. “No school, house, mosque or husseiniya [Shia mosque] will be out of reach of our forces if they are harboring outlaws. The same for political party headquarters.

“It’s a law-and-order oriented plan and it’s not targeted against any sectarian group as claimed by some media outlets. Some say it’s targeting Shia; others say it’s targeting Sunnis. I say it’s targeting everyone, everyone that is outside the law.”

All 160 MPs present in the 275-seat parliament voted for Mr Maliki’s plan, codenamed Operation Imposing Law, including Sadrist loyalists who returned to work on Sunday after ending a two-month boycott ordered by firebrand Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, to protest Mr Maliki’s meeting with President Bush in November.

The week began with the arrest in Baghdad of over 600 militiamen from Mr Sadr’s Mahdi Army. Then on Tuesday, a Blackwater (US private security firm) helicopter was shot down over central Baghdad as it tried to help a US embassy convoy that had come under fire in a Sunni area. All five occupants were killed, with four bearing execution-style gunshot wounds to the head, although it is still unclear whether they were still alive when shot. Two separate insurgent groups have claimed responsibility for the attack.

On Wednesday, US and Iraqi troops waged fierce battles with Sunni insurgents in Fadhel, Adhamiya and the notorious insurgent stronghold of Haifa Street in central Baghdad. During the battle for Haifa Street, helicopters circled overhead as US-Iraqi forces traded heavy gunfire with insurgents in the streets and plumes of smoke poured from buildings. After the day-long battle, which began at 6am, 30 insurgents had been killed and 35 taken into custody. The following day, insurgents fired rockets into the fortified Green Zone, wounding five people.

On Thursday, insurgents also targeted several commercial and residential areas in predominantly Shia districts on the east bank of the Tigris River.

Hours after the historic vote in parliament, a suicide car bombing near a police patrol in Karada’s shopping district killed 30 people and wounded 61. The blast left a bus filled with passengers engulfed in flames. After this second bombing in Karada within the same week, angry residents chanted, “We want the Sunnis out!”

Earlier, a bomb strapped to a motorcycle ripped through central Baghdad’s oldest market area of Shorja, killing four people and wounding twenty. Then two roadside bombs, detonated seconds apart in the shopping district of Al-Bayah in Baghdad’s south west, killed three people and injured ten.

In Sadr City in the northeast of the capital, a roadside bomb near a minibus exploded leaving 12 people wounded. Meanwhile, mortars fired into another nearby Shia neighborhood killed one resident and wounded four others.

Then on Friday, a bomb disguised as a birdcage killed 15 people and wounded 55 in a pet market in Ghazel, leaving a macabre scene of charred body parts, dead animals and the mixed sounds of chirping birds and wailing sirens as emergency vehicles converged on the scene.

Further violence is expected in the coming days as the Shia religious mourning festival of Ashura draws to a close on Monday.

Hundreds of thousands of Shia from around the country are expected to make the pilgrimage to the holy city of Karbala, 60 miles southwest of Baghdad, to mark the slaying of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson Hussein. There are fears that Sunni insurgents will target this gathering in an effort to maximize carnage.

Iraq Maliki Getting U.S. Oil, Shiite, Sunni Squeeze

An increasingly besieged Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is striving to define himself and demonstrate his authority in the face of mounting pressure from the Bush administration in the US, his own political base in Iraq and Arab leaders throughout the Middle East. The two issues currently courting the greatest conflict are related to Shiite militias and oil revenues.  

Clearly, the most urgent order of business is cracking down on Shiite militias who have been terrorizing Sunnis in Baghdad for at least two years. This has been a major point of contention for the US since the failure of Operation Together Forward last summer, when Mr Maliki prevented US troops and Iraqi security forces from carrying out raids on the Mahdi Army and later intervened to end a US blockade of Sadr City. 

Sunni Arab leaders in the region – in particular, the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt – have also been complaining bitterly to the US about the Shiite militias and death squads’ slaughter of Sunnis, most recently when Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice visited the Middle East last week. Saudi Arabia is known to have threatened to directly enter the sectarian conflict in Iraq if the US withdraws its troops before halting the rampage on Sunni civilians. 

At the same time, car bombings targeting Shiites, the bloodiest of which killed over 100 people on Monday and 215 people on November 23 last year, always result in increased support for the militias from local Shiite communities and their Members of Parliament, who form Mr Maliki’s political power base. 

Mr Maliki has been especially reluctant to crack down on the Mahdi Army loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr, who controls thirty seats including six cabinet positions in the Iraqi parliament, because Mr Sadr’s support is important for the stability and functioning of the coalition government.  

Sadrist loyalists began boycotting the Iraqi parliament in November, to protest Mr Maliki’s meeting with President Bush in Amman. This reflects Mr Sadr’s long-standing position that the US should withdraw all its troops immediately. However, Mr Sadr ended the boycott last Friday and ordered the MPs back to work in an effort to avoid an all-out military offensive against his militia. 

Two days earlier, Mr Maliki had demonstrated his resolve to take on Mr Sadr when he announced  that over 400 militiamen of the Mahdi Army had been arrested in Baghdad. Then on Friday came the news that US forces had taken a key Sadr aide, Abdul Hadi al-Daraji, into custody. Since ending the boycott late on Friday, Mr Sadr himself has lowered his profile and cooled his rhetoric.  

Mr Maliki’s turnaround on the Mahdi Army is said to have followed meetings with US intelligence officers in Iraq, who convinced the Prime Minister that Shiite militias have been operating death squads targeting Sunni civilians. Critics have pointed out that this had been clear for some considerable time. Nevertheless, Mr Maliki’s unequivocal support is crucial to the success of renewed efforts by the US to crush both Shiite militias and the Sunni insurgency.   

In the course of defending his decision to send more troops to Iraq, President Bush made it known that he has been losing patience with Mr Maliki’s slow pace of reform. He also criticized the Maliki government for ‘fumbling’ the execution of Saddam Hussein, which alienated Iraq’s minority Sunni community. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice also publicly rebuked Mr Maliki by warning that he and his government were ‘on borrowed time’.  

Confronted with the perception that he was being publicly ‘whipped’ by his US ‘masters’, Mr Maliki hit back that Mr Bush had “given in to domestic pressure” and that “Secretary Rice is expressing her own point of view if she thinks that the government is on borrowed time.” 

Mr Maliki must walk a fine diplomatic line with the US because, while he needs to demonstrate that he is no puppet of the Bush administration, he also cannot afford to alienate the US at such a critical time for his government.  

Over the next few weeks, the issue of oil revenues will come to a head and test Mr Maliki’s ability to reconcile conflicting agendas of the Bush administration and the best interests of Iraq. 

To date, the forthcoming hydrocarbon legislation has mainly been discussed in terms of introducing an equitable distribution of revenues throughout Iraq’s regions. Certainly, this would go a long way to easing the anxieties of Sunni provinces who fear being starved of funds. Meanwhile, the Maliki government will need to come to an agreement with the Kurds, who ultimately want regional autonomy, and will be fighting to keep any oil revenues generated in their northern provinces. 

However, there are indications that a much greater conflict is looming with the Bush administration. It was reported earlier this month in The Independent that the Bush administration has been pressuring Mr Maliki to use the same legislation to privatize the Iraqi oil industry and hand over the lion’s share of profits – up to 75% – to oil companies based in the US and the UK for the next 30 years.  

This would be an almost impossible ‘sell’ to the people of war-ravaged Iraq, and would stoke long-standing suspicions that Iraq was invaded so foreign occupiers could assume control of Iraq’s vast oil reserves. Legislating such unfavorable terms for his own people would also reignite criticisms that the Maliki government has been little more than a puppet regime of the US.  

Such unfavorable production-sharing agreements with foreign oil companies are unprecedented in the Middle East. Indeed, such arrangements would almost certainly ensure that Iraq will be heavily dependent on foreign aid for its reconstruction. 

With the stakes high and the implications clear, Mr Maliki would do well to stand up to the powerful foreign interests circling Iraq’s oil fields and do what is right for his country’s future. It seems fair to say that the ownership and the profits of the country’s oil wealth will make or break the future of Iraq.

Baghdad Bombings Surge

Baghdad is once again on high alert after yesterday’s co-ordinated car bombings in Bab al-Sherji market killed at least 88 people and wounded 207, mainly Shiites.   

Seconds after one parked car exploded in a street bordering the market, a suicide bomber rammed the second car into a cluster of stalls and set off the second explosion. The two cars were reportedly packed with 220 pounds of explosives each. 

The attack took place at midday, a peak shopping time, at one of the busiest bazaars in Baghdad where vendors sell DVDs, second-hand clothing and t-shirts, as well as fruit.  

Hours later, in the predominantly Shiite town of Khalis in Diyala province, 50 miles north of Baghdad, a local market was bombed and then attacked with mortars, killing at least 12 people and wounding 29. 

Monday’s death toll comes as Shiites observe the 10-day religious holiday of Ashura, which ends on January 30. 

This is the worst carnage seen in the capital since five car bombs exploded in the Shiite slum of Sadr City on November 23 last year, killing 215 people and wounding a further 250. Those attacks also involved suicide bombers and parked cars loaded with explosives. 

The same tactics were used less than a week ago at Mustansiriya University in eastern Baghdad, where a double-car bombing killed 70 people, mostly female students, and injured 170. Moments after a car bomb exploded at the university entrance, a suicide bomber drove into the fleeing crowd and detonated the second car bomb. 

It has also been a particularly deadly three days for the US in Iraq, having lost 28 troops. This includes one soldier killed on Monday when a roadside bomb exploded in Nineveh province northwest of Baghdad. The US military also reported that twelve service members died on Saturday in Diyala province when their Black Hawk helicopter crashed. Although one insurgent group has claimed to have shot down the helicopter, the cause of the crash has not yet been confirmed. 

There are suspicions that the spike in violence during the past week is a signal that Iraq’s insurgency is determined not to be put down by the forthcoming surge in US troops. This could also be a strategic attempt to destabilize the planned US-Iraqi security operations, by rushing them into implementation before comprehensive joint briefings are conducted and other preparations finalized.

President Bush Iraq New Way Forward A Page In Past

The details of President Bush’s “New Way Forward” in Iraq are beginning to unfold, with the new military strategy apparently presenting an opportunity for US troops to learn from the British colonial experience of occupation and counterinsurgency. 

It has been argued that the lack of experience as an occupying force left the US military ill-equipped to deal with the escalating conflict in Iraq, especially in Baghdad. Since the invasion of Iraq, the US focus has been on military force, not on local policing and security, and it is believed that this has served to alienate the local population and increase their support for the insurgency and local militias.  

Mr Bush’s newly-appointed overall commander in Iraq, Lieutenant-General David Petraeus, has studied and written extensively on occupation and counterinsurgency.  

His strategy emphasizes grass-roots diplomacy as well as community policing, local security and nation-building – the hallmarks of the British forces’ relatively successful occupation of southern Iraq. Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer has succinctly described this shift in tactics as one of ‘search-and-destroy’ to ‘stay-and-protect’. 

Lt-Gen Petraeus is said to have been influenced by the strategy in Malaya during the 1950s, where the British defeated the insurgency by developing a civil-military model that enabled intelligence to be gathered from a supportive local population. This contrasts sharply with the US experience in Vietnam, where the US employed overwhelming military force but was unprepared for the subtleties of guerrilla warfare and the need to win the trust of the local population to defeat the guerillas.

Lt-Gen Petraeus recently co-authored the US military’s 282-page manual, Counterinsurgency, published in December 2006. Chapter 2 of the manual deals with ‘Unity of Effort: Integrating Civilian and Military Activities’: 

“A successful COIN [counterinsurgency] operation meets the contested population’s needs to the extent needed to win popular support while protecting the population from the insurgents … Political, social, and economic programs are usually more valuable than conventional military operations in addressing the root causes of conflict and undermining an insurgency.” 

Most recently, this approach enabled the British to gain and maintain relative control while occupying southern Iraq. Although they could not effect much-needed political reforms, British troops made an effort to engage the local people while policing the streets, by talking to residents and shopkeepers – the ‘hearts and minds’ work needed to win over the locals. The British also undertook reconstruction projects to repair damaged schools, broken drains and faulty lighting throughout Basra. This restored a sense of hope and pride for the local population, which in turn weakened their support for the insurgency and reduced the level of violence.

Lt-Gen Petraeus also had a significant measure of success as commander of the 101st Airborne Division in Mosul, northern Iraq, where he reduced violence by combining local diplomacy with military force and policing. He conducted raids with minimal violence and allowed imams to inspect his jails. Meanwhile, he made every effort to revitalize the local economy through reconstruction projects that employed local Iraqis, and he made sure they were paid on time. He said this served the paramount goal of creating a population who felt that they were stakeholders in the new Iraq.   

Under the new strategy soon to be implemented in Iraq, Lt-Gen Petraeus plans to involve local religious and political leaders while providing local employment opportunities for Iraqis through reconstruction projects funded by the recently announced $1.2 billion economic assistance package from Washington. 

The new US strategy is further explained in Chapter 7 of Counterinsurgency, which makes the distinction between ‘Warfighting Versus Policing’: 

“The COIN environment frequently and rapidly shifts from warfighting to policing and back again. There are many examples from Iraq and Afghanistan where US forces drove insurgents out of urban areas only to have the insurgents later return and reestablish operations … US forces then had to deal with insurgents as an organized combatant force all over again … Maintaining civil security entails very different ethical obligations than establishing it.”

Lt-Gen Petraeus plans to reverse the long-standing operational strategy of US troops carrying out raids and patrols in Baghdad, and then retreating to the heavily fortified Green Zone, leaving Iraqi forces to police checkpoints. US troops will now be ‘permanently’ stationed in neighborhoods that have been cleared of militants, to ensure the ongoing security of residents.  

When the US hands over control of Baghdad’s eleven designated security districts next month, US officers will also maintain a presence in the office of the Iraqi commander-in-chief to ensure that both Shia militias and Sunni insurgents are targeted in joint US-Iraqi operations to reduce violence in the capital. 

This change in strategy may well be too late, given Baghdad’s seemingly relentless slide into anarchy.  Certainly, it would have stood a much greater chance of success had it been implemented in 2005, when a similar plan was presented by the British but rejected by then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. There are also concerns that US troops may not be able to culturally attune themselves to such a significant departure from their training, especially after years of sustained attacks at the hands of Iraqi insurgents. 

It is also fair to say that a meaningful and lasting peace will only be achieved when the Iraqi government puts its sectarian bias behind it, and demonstrates a genuine commitment and ability to lead the new Iraq on a more permanent course towards national reconciliation and unification.

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