Iraq, Saddam, Blackwater: Week in Review

Wars in Iraq, Afghanistan to Cost US $190 Billion in 2008

Congress has been asked to approve a funding package of $190 billion to continue the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan through 2008 – making next year the costliest since the conflicts began.

There are currently 165,000 US troops in Iraq, which the Pentagon plans to reduce to about 130,000 next summer. Defense Secretary Robert Gates told the Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday that he hopes to be able to reduce the US combat forces in Iraq to about a quarter of their current levels, yet he conceded, “I don’t know what that timeline looks like.”

President Bush said in his recent national televised address that the war would continue for years after he leaves office in January 2009.

Saddam Hussein Offered to ‘Disappear’ for $1 Billion

Less than one month before the US-led invasion of Iraq, Saddam Hussein offered to go into exile on the proviso that he could take with him $1 billion and information on weapons of mass destruction, according to a meeting transcript published on Wednesday by Spanish newspaper El Pais.

Mr Hussein’s offer was discussed at a meeting between US President George Bush, former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at President Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas on February 22, 2003.

In one exchange, Prime Minister Aznar said, “The greatest success would be to win the game without firing a single shot, and going into Baghdad.”

President Bush responded, “For me that would be the perfect solution. I do not want the war. I know what wars are. I know the destruction and the death that bring with them. I am the one that has to comfort the mothers and widows of the dead. By all means, for us that would be the best solution. In addition, it would save us 50 billion dollars.”

The transcript reveals the close rapport between the two heads of state and is peppered with colorful phrases, mostly from President Bush. Discussing former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s efforts to slightly postpone the invasion, Mr Bush said: “This is like a good cop, bad cop routine. It doesn’t matter to me if I’m the bad cop and Blair is the good cop.” He also joked that former French President Jacques Chirac saw himself as “Mister Arab”.

Blackwater Sent Contractors to Their Deaths in Fallujah

According to incident reports and eyewitness accounts of the ambush and mutilation of four Blackwater employees in the Iraqi insurgent stronghold of Fallujah in March 2004, management at Blackwater USA ignored multiple warnings, cut essential personnel from the mission, and sent an unprepared team “into the hottest zone in Iraq in unarmored, underpowered vehicles”.

  • Read the 18-page report released on Friday by the US House Oversight Committee

Private Security Firms in Iraq Impede Counterinsurgency

Blackwater USA and other private security firms are obstructing the US military’s counterinsurgency operations and further endangering US troops in Iraq, according to a study released on Thursday by the independent research organization, the Brookings Institution.

Iraqis regard the private contractors as little more than dangerous, lawless mercenaries – an unhelpful image for the US counterinsurgency which aims to provide a greater sense of security for Iraqis. Aggressive behavior by contractors also serves to inflame anti-American sentiment among Iraqis, which puts contractors and US troops at greater risk of harm.

US military commanders have long complained of the lack of oversight, management, doctrine, accountability and coordination attending the deployment of military contractors in Iraq.

  • Read the 26-page report released by the Brookings Institution

Accountability Introduced for Military Contractors in Iraq

On Tuesday, US Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England sent a memo to US military commanders around the world advising that they have the responsibility and authority to “disarm, apprehend and detain” security guards under contract to the Department of Defense if they are “suspected of having committed a felony offence” – which includes the use of excessive force.

The memo is a response to a September 16 incident in Baghdad in which Blackwater contractors shot and killed 11 unarmed Iraqi civilians. Five witnesses in Baghdad insist that Blackwater fired without provocation, forcing civilians and Iraqi police to run for cover, and that the Iraqi officers did not return fire.

The Pentagon memo will not affect employees of Blackwater, which is contracted by the State Department. Meanwhile, reports surfaced this week that Backwater has been involved in twice as many shootings as other security companies in Iraq.

On Tuesday, the Iraqi government announced that it had drafted its own law to hold all private contractors accountable for any further shootings in Iraq.

Bombings Kill 94 and Injure 126 Across Iraq

Suspected al Qaeda militants unleashed a wave of violence across Iraq this week, killing 94 people and wounding 126.

Just before dusk on Wednesday, twin car bombs ripped through a crowded market in Bayaa, a Shia area in south-western Baghdad, killing 32 people and injuring 28. The simultaneous blasts occurred as people were preparing for the evening meal to break their daylong fast, observed throughout the holy month of Ramadan.

Earlier in the day, two suicide car bombers slammed into an Iraqi Army patrol and a court building under construction in Mosul, capital of the mostly Sunni Nineveh province in northern Iraq. These attacks killed 13 people and wounded at least 50. Near the town of Sinjar in Nineveh, another suicide car bomber ploughed into the home of a tribal leader opposed to al Qaeda, leaving 10 people dead and 9 injured.

Two more coordinated car bombings in the Salah ad Din governorate immediately north of Baghdad left 7 dead and 5 injured. Meanwhile, in the south of Iraq, a roadside bomb exploded outside a Sunni mosque in the town of Abi Khasib (5 miles south of Basra), killing 4 people.

Prior to Wednesday’s bloodshed, a suicide bomber targeted a reconciliation meeting between Sunni and Shia Muslims in a mosque near the city of Baquba, capital of Diyala province northeast of Baghdad. The blast killed 28 people and wounded 34.

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