Archive for December 13th, 2006

Official: Saudis to back Sunnis if U.S. leaves Iraq

WASHINGTON (CNN) — Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah has warned Vice President Dick Cheney that Saudi Arabia would back the Sunnis if the United States pulls out of Iraq, according to a senior American official.

The official said the king “read the riot act” to the vice president when the two met last month in the Saudi capital, Riyadh.

The New York Times first reported the conversation Wednesday, saying Saudi support would include financial backing for minority Sunnis in the event of a civil war between them and Iraq’s Shiite majority.

Violence between the two sects has exploded in waves of revenge killings since February’s bombing of a revered Shiite mosque in Samarra, north of Baghdad.

An official with Cheney’s office said the one-on-one meeting lasted two hours. The November 25 visit marked the fourth time Cheney had been to Saudi Arabia as vice president.

The Saudi king told Cheney that his country would be forced to step in and support “like-minded Sunni Arabs” if the situation in Iraq fell apart and the Sunnis’ safety was in jeopardy, the senior U.S. official said.

The monarch said he would “intervene aggressively on one side absent an American presence,” the source said.

The source said the king did not mean to imply that Saudi Arabia would support al Qaeda in Iraq, but rather tribal groups. However, some of those groups overlap with insurgents who are fighting Americans, the source conceded.

The bipartisan Iraq Study Group that reported to President Bush and Congress last week said money from Saudi citizens is funding Sunni insurgents in Iraq, although the Saudis may not know exactly where their money is going.

Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution said Saudi Arabia has a reason to take sides.

“They’re terrified that Iraq is going to fall into civil war. They’re terrified that civil war will spill over into Saudi Arabia. But they’re also terrified that the Iranians, backing the various Shiite militias in Iraq, will come out the big winner in a civil war,” Pollack told CNN.

Another recommendation of the Iraq Study Group called for engaging other countries in the region, including Iran and Syria, in the search for solutions in Iraq.

In his meeting with Cheney, the Saudi king voiced strong opposition to talks between the United States and Iran, which has a majority Shiite population.
According to the senior American official, he told Cheney that Sunni Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, believed that talking to Iran was dangerous.

A senior U.S. official said the conversation between the two men reflects the “anxiety about the situation” and the Saudi concern about being left “high and dry” if the United States leaves Iraq.

But the official said leaving Iraq is a “doomsday scenario” that will not happen because the United States isn’t going to withdraw.

“We are not walking away from it,” the official said.


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Noting that the 9/11 terrorists “were hiding in plain sight,” a report released this week by the Washington, DC-based Cato Institute concludes that the practice of data-mining will not help investigators discover terrorists, and severely infringes on civil liberties.

The report was written by Jeff Jonas, a distinguished engineer and chief scientist with IBM’s Entity Analytic Solutions Group, and Jim Harper of the Cato Institute. The blog Defense Tech notes that Jonas has considerable expertise in data-mining activities, as “Casino chiefs and government spooks alike have used his CIA-funded “Non-Obvious Relationship Awareness” software to scour databases for hidden connections.”

The Cato report used a Congressional Research Service definition of data-mining, which says it involves “the use of sophisticated data analysis tools to discover previously unknown, valid patterns and relationships in large data sets.”

Applying this concept to terrorism is faulty, the report warns. Jonas and Harper find that “Unlike consumers’ shopping habits and financial fraud, terrorism does not occur with enough frequency to enable the creation of valid predictive models….The one thing predictable about predictive data mining for terrorism is that it would be consistently wrong.”

Frighteningly, the report cites other studies that show that “Assuming a 99 percent accuracy rate, searching our population of nearly 300,000,000, some 3,000,000 people would be identified as potential terrorists.”

To become more effective “data-mining efforts would rely on even more collections of transactional and behavioral information, and on centralization of that data, all to examine Americans for criminality or disloyalty to the United States or Western society. That level of surveillance, aimed at the entire citizenry, would be inconsistent with American values.”

The full Cato report can be downloaded at their website.


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White House to Delay Shift on Iraq Until ’07

WASHINGTON, Dec. 12 — The White House said Tuesday that President Bush would delay presenting any new strategy for Iraq until early next year, as officials suggested that Mr. Bush’s advisers were locked in internal debates on several fronts about how to proceed.

The absence of an immediate new American plan for Iraq is adding to anxiety among Iraq’s moderate neighbors, who identify with the country’s minority Sunni Arab population, and has opened the way for new proposals from many quarters, in Iraq as well as in Washington, about the next steps. But several administration officials said Mr. Bush had concluded that the decisions about troops, political pressure and diplomacy were too complicated to rush in order to lay out a plan to the nation before Christmas.

The White House decision prompted criticism from Democratic Congressional leaders and from at least one Republican senator who said Mr. Bush was failing to show sufficient urgency about Iraq despite months of escalating violence there.

The Iraq Study Group’s report last week portrayed the situation in Iraq as “grave and deteriorating,” and on Tuesday alone, 70 Iraqis were killed and more than 200 wounded in a truck-bomb attack in a central Baghdad square.

Among the complicated debates under way within the administration is the question of whether the United States should dispatch more American troops to Baghdad as part of a short-term surge aimed at quashing such attacks. The idea of a surge has been raised repeatedly by Stephen J. Hadley, the national security adviser, but has prompted skepticism from commanders on the ground about its effectiveness.

Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is not expected to advocate a surge when he briefs Mr. Bush at the Pentagon on Wednesday. A White House official said Mr. Hadley was only keeping options open for the president and not necessarily advocating one over another.

A central thrust of the discussions at all levels of the administration is how to pressure Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki to move faster to provide basic services and quell sectarian violence — some of which stems from his powerful supporter, the radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr — and whether to force him to meet certain benchmarks or face penalties and rewards, also to be determined.

The administration is also debating whether to back a Shiite government in the conflict with the Sunnis, or to seek a new strategy for national reconciliation between Sunni and Shiite factions that would be intended to expand the political base of Mr. Maliki, at Mr. Sadr’s expense.

Some members of the administration, including some in Vice President Dick Cheney’s office, have argued that the administration needs to provide clear support to a strong Shiite majority government, but the State Department, led by Condoleezza Rice, views that as a recipe for perpetual civil war. Ms. Rice has instead advocated a proposal intended to woo centrist Sunni leaders to Mr. Maliki’s side, including provincial leaders. One senior administration official said reports of internal arguments on this issue were “overblown” because “everyone believes in national reconciliation.”

The internal administration discussions were described by officials from the Pentagon, the State Department, the White House and outside the administration who had been briefed on the deliberations. None of them were willing to be identified, but they represented various points of view in the debate.

Mr. Bush consulted by videoconference on Tuesday morning with top American commanders in Baghdad, and the White House announced shortly afterward that the strategy would be made known later than previously announced.

In an interview, Senator Chuck Hagel, the Nebraska Republican who is often critical of the president’s war policy, called the delay “unpardonable” and added: “Every day that goes by, we are losing ground.” Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader in the Senate, said in a statement, “Waiting and delaying on Iraq serves no one’s interests.”

A senior administration official said Mr. Bush had decided over the last two days to prolong the deliberations based on a concern that a pre-Christmas announcement might quickly be overtaken by events. That happened to Mr. Bush in late 2005 after he used a series of speeches to unveil a “Plan for Victory” in Iraq.

“The president knows he’s got only one shot at this speech,” said a senior administration official involved in the debate. “He didn’t want to make half-way announcements.”

Tony Snow, the White House press secretary, said the administration was continuing to “whittle away at options” and seeking more information from advisers, but already had a clear idea of the general outlines of his new approach. Mr. Bush also wanted to allow more time for Robert M. Gates, the incoming defense secretary, to weigh the military options he will ultimately have to carry out, the spokesman said. But Mr. Snow acknowledged that the debate continued.

“Look, there is one camp — it is the camp that works for the president,” Mr. Snow said. “Now, people are going to have disagreements, and there may be some areas on which there are still going to be debates, but most have kind of been ironed out. I would not rule out the fact that there may be some discussion on some points.”

Several officials said the administration was currently leaning away from a plan advocated by some in Mr. Cheney’s office in which the United States would effectively choose sides and direct outsized support to Iraqi Shiites at the expense of the Sunnis. Some administration officials say the discussion about tilting toward Shiites may be intended in part to put pressure on Sunni leaders who might crack down on extremists within their ranks to pre-empt any such policy change.

Ms. Rice has instead advocated propping up moderate Sunnis and encouraging them to support Mr. Maliki. As part of that approach, the United States would work with Sunni tribal leaders who have become disenchanted with the Sunni insurgency, a move long advocated by Saudi Arabia.

Mr. Bush met Tuesday with the Iraqi vice president, Tariq al-Hashemi, an influential moderate Sunni who would presumably be part of the coalition supporting Mr. Maliki. That meeting was initially planned for next month but the White House said Mr. Hashemi had requested an earlier visit.

American officials regard security in Baghdad as essential to political and economic stability, but there continues to be debate between those who support giving Iraqis the lead in combating sectarian violence and those who do not, and those who support a large surge of forces in Baghdad and those who do not. “Some believe there needs to be a visible demonstration of our commitment,” a senior administration official said. But another official who does not support a surge said “the mission in Iraq requires strategic patience and the realization that it is going to take time to get it right.”


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Pentagon’s plan: More U.S. troops in Iraq

Boosting presence and aid, and an anti-Sadr offensive, carry risks but offer the best path to victory, military officials say.

WASHINGTON — As President Bush weighs new policy options for Iraq, strong support has coalesced in the Pentagon behind a military plan to “double down” in the country with a substantial buildup in American troops, an increase in industrial aid and a major combat offensive against Muqtada Sadr, the radical Shiite leader impeding development of the Iraqi government.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff will present their assessment and recommendations to Bush at the Pentagon today. Military officials, including some advising the chiefs, have argued that an intensified effort may be the only way to get the counterinsurgency strategy right and provide a chance for victory.

The approach overlaps somewhat a course promoted by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz). But the Pentagon proposals add several features, including the confrontation with Sadr, a possible renewed offensive in the Sunni stronghold of Al Anbar province, a large Iraqi jobs program and a proposal for a long-term increase in the size of the military.

Such an option would appear to satisfy Bush’s demand for a strategy focused on victory rather than disengagement. It would disregard key recommendations and warnings of the Iraq Study Group, however, and provide little comfort for those fearful of a long, open-ended U.S. commitment in the country. Only 12% of Americans support a troop increase, whereas 52% prefer a fixed timetable for withdrawal, a Los Angeles Times/ Bloomberg poll has found. “I think it is worth trying,” a defense official said. “But you can’t have the rhetoric without the resources. This is a double down” — the gambling term for upping a bet. Such a proposal, military officials and experts caution, would be a gamble. Any chance of success probably would require major changes in the Iraqi government, they said. U.S. Embassy officials would have to help usher into power a new coalition in Baghdad that was willing to confront the militias. And the strategy also would require more U.S. spending to increase the size of the U.S. military and for an Iraqi jobs program.

Defense officials interviewed for this article requested anonymity because the deliberations over the Pentagon’s recommendations were continuing and had not been made public.

“You are dealing with an inherently difficult undertaking,” said Stephen Biddle, a military analyst called to the White House this week to advise Bush. “That doesn’t mean we should withdraw. But no one should go into this thinking if we double the size of the military, the result will be victory. Maybe, but maybe not. You are buying the opportunity to enter a lottery.”

The wild card in the Pentagon planning is Robert M. Gates, due to be sworn in Monday as Defense secretary. Gates had breakfast Tuesday with Bush and will participate, along with outgoing Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, in today’s meetings.Bush is collecting recommendations from his administration this week as he crafts his strategy for Iraq. But some defense officials say Gates may seek more time to weigh other options. And before endorsing an increase in combat forces, Gates may press commanders in Iraq for assurances that U.S. forces can hold off an escalation of the sectarian civil war.

“This is the big moment,” said the defense official. “It is enormously important for the new secretary of Defense to revisit what the overall objective is … and what is needed to achieve that.”

Some military officers believe that Iraq has become a test of wills, and that the U.S. needs to show insurgents and sectarian militias that it is willing to stay and fight. “I’ve come to the realization we need to go in, in a big way,” said an Army officer. “You have to have an increase in troops…. We have to convince the enemy we are serious and we are coming in harder.”

The size of the troop increase the Pentagon will recommend is unclear. One officer suggested an increase of about 40,000 forces would be required, but other officials said such a number was unrealistic. There are about 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. The administration has spent about $495 billion for Iraq and terrorism-related efforts since 2001, including $70 billion so far in fiscal 2007. It is planning to request as much as an additional $150 billion to fund the war effort through the rest the budget year.

The problem with any sort of surge is that it would require an eventual drop-off in 2008, unless the president was willing to take the politically unpopular move of remobilizing the National Guard and sending reserve combat units back to Iraq. But military officials are taking a close look at a proposal advanced by Frederick W. Kagan, a former West Point Military Academy historian, to combine a surge with a quick buildup of the Marines and the Army. That could allow new units to take the place of the brigades sent to Iraq to augment the current force.

“It is essential for the president to couple any recommendation of a significant surge in Iraq with the announcement that he will increase permanently the size of the Army and the Marines,” Kagan said.

Kagan, who plans to release a preliminary report on his proposal Thursday, said he had discussed his ideas with people in the government. Although the military has had trouble meeting recruiting goals, Kagan said Army officials believed they could recruit at least an extra 20,000 soldiers a year. The Army missed its recruiting targets in 2005 but met this year’s goal.

The troop-increase strategy faces substantial hurdles. Although both Democrats and Republicans have voiced support for increasing the overall size of the ground forces, key Democratic leaders are opposed to sending additional forces to Iraq.

Military leaders are also aware that the public has grown impatient. With a majority of the country favoring a timetable for withdrawal, a strategy to increase the number of troops in Iraq would have to include a plan to buy the military more time.

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TEHRAN, Iran (Reuters) — Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Tuesday told delegates at an international conference questioning the Holocaust that Israel’s days were numbered.

Ahmadinejad, who has sparked international outcry by referring to the killing of 6 million Jews in World War II as a “myth” and calling for Israel to be “wiped off the map,” launched another verbal attack on the Jewish state.

“Thanks to people’s wishes and God’s will, the trend for the existence of the Zionist regime is downwards, and this is what God has promised and what all nations want,” he said. (Watch an ex-KKK leader say why he’s at the conference )

“Just as the Soviet Union was wiped out and today does not exist, so will the Zionist regime soon be wiped out,” he added.

His words received warm applause from delegates at the Holocaust conference, who included ultra-Orthodox anti-Israel Jews and European and American writers who argue the Holocaust was either fabricated or exaggerated.

His remarks were condemned in Washington, where U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters that the Iranian president’s behavior was “despicable” and called his comment “absolutely outrageous.”

The Vatican, Germany and the European Commission added their voices Tuesday to others — such as the United States and Israel — who have condemned the Tehran meeting.

Iran says it organized the conference to shed light on the reasons behind the formation of the state of Israel after World War II and to allow researchers from countries where it is a crime to question the Holocaust to speak freely.

“Iran is your home and is the home of all freedom seekers of the world,” Ahmadinejad said. “Here you can express your views and exchange opinions in a friendly, brotherly and free atmosphere.”

He urged countries where Holocaust denial is a crime to respect freedom of speech and not to take action against any of the conference participants on their return.

Human rights groups frequently number Iran as one of the world’s worst violators of free speech, where scores of newspapers have been closed, journalists jailed, access to Web sites blocked and government critics hounded out of the country.


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