Archive for October, 2006

Just to update on this post, now well on its way into the TYR Greatest Hits..

Current status of various US aircraft carriers is as follows: Dwight D. Eisenhower, CVN-69 sailed from Limassol, Cyprus on Saturday after calling in for a chilled Keo beer or twenty thousand. To arrive on station in the Gulf, she still has a long way to go, including the passage of the Suez Canal.

Enterprise, CVN-65, meanwhile, called at Jebel Ali outside Dubai, from where she sailed on the 23rd. Since then, she was visited by the admiral commanding the 5th Fleet, who spoke in terms strongly suggesting the end of her deployment. Enterprise’s ship’s newspaper (pdf) is carrying TV listings including “Return to Homeport” – i.e. road safety warnings for the crew – as well as reporting on preparations for the ship’s INSURV (Inspection and Survey), a dockyard inspection carried out on her return home.

Kitty Hawk, CV-63 sailed from Yokosuka on the 17th of October, which she does every year (see link under “back log”). She is expected back in mid-December, having taken part in an annual exercise with the Japanese in the 7th Fleet area (i.e. off Japan, China and south-east Asia). The most recent location for her is given as off southern Japan.

As far as the amphibious ships go, the 7th Fleet’s Boxer is off southern India taking part in an exercise with the Indian Navy and will probably relieve the 5th Fleet’s Iwo Jima on station, the forward-deployed 7th Fleet ship Essex just finished one with the Philippines. USS Wasp‘s group is scheduled to sail for the Mediterranean early in 2007.

Sniper at work

Nibras Kazimi reports on the sniper propaganda some Iraqi insurgent groups have been putting out recently. The “Islamic Army of Iraq” (i.e. a chapter of NOIA) claims a large number of dead US soldiers, shows its sniper team preparing for action, using a US Marine Corps manual (nice touch), and then shooting various people. Interestingly, they engage with “Juba”, the name US soldiers in Baghdad gave to a sniper back in 2004 – in fact, they claim that the man on screen is Juba and speculate on the name’s origins.

I doubt it. Snipers seem to be a universal meme of warfare, and this sort of mixture of impersonal, long-range, silent death and extremely personal mythology is classic. The targets tend to attribute all sniping to The Sniper, and the other side always plays this up. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if “Juba” is a group identity – some say the Stalingrad hero Zaitsev was a propaganda construct rather than any one man.

The rest of Kazimi’s report rather bears it out. He complains bitterly about newspaper reports that the Islamic Army is negotiating with the Americans and demands to know “how American families who’ve lost soldiers in Iraq through Juba’s crosshairs would feel about that?” Well, there’s no point negotiating with the people who haven’t been shooting at you. (More here.) He also suggests that the sniper, who appears to speak English, might be getting around security checks because he works for the coalition. It’s not impossible by any means, but it does point to “Juba”‘s real role – the generation of paranoia.

Speaking of which, Kazimi quotes in another post a rumour that the Iranians are going to assassinate the Iraqi prime minister. Check out the whole thing for the explanation of why they might want to do something so wildly opposed to their own interests. After all, Nouri al-Maliki is a Dawa Party man leading a government dominated by Dawa and SCIRI, which has permitted the SCIRI and Dawa factions in parliament to pass legislation to permit a pro-Iranian SCIRI state in a state down south.

The story goes that they want to kill him to prevent the Americans from making him disarm the Sadr movement. Of course, were the Americans to remove the Sadrists from the chessboard by..ah..enter handwaving here, the most pro-Iranian force in Iraq, SCIRI, would be greatly strengthened. So why on earth would the Iranians want to weaken their own hand?

The answer is, of course, the Dr Evil theory. Now that’s what I call paranoia.

Update: This post delayed from Saturday due to Blogger outage. Can this be time to move?

Right. I’m sure I said somewhere that the man shot by police in the now-infamous Forest Gate raid, who was then charged with possessing child porn, would never be prosecuted for it. Well, whaddya know. CPS concludes there is insufficient evidence to proceed. Something tells me this won’t be on the front page of the Scum or the News of the Screws this weekend, unlike the charges, which the Met predictably leaked to the ‘bloids.

Let’s be clear: on the unsupported word of a man with an IQ of 69, the Metropolitan Police brought up 200 cops and stormed the house of an innocent man, shot him in the arm because “my hand slipped”, tore the place apart over several weeks of searching for a “chemical dirty bomb suicide vest”, having declared an aerial exclusion zone overhead presumably in case the CDBSV leapt up out of the foundations and – as stunned bobbies watched – mutated into a surface-to-air missile before hurtling skywards, attempted to seize his savings, alleged that the suspect was a paedophile, having tipped off the biggest-circulation newspaper in the country, and finally confessed that he was nothing of the sort.

This is after they managed to botch a surveillance operation so completely that they shot an innocent man dead in a tube train – and then briefed the press first that he was really a terrorist (a lie), then that he was an illegal immigrant (technically true, but irrelevant), then that he was a rapist, which was a direct lie, and also that he was a cocaine dealer, also a lie.

Is there any reason to think Sir Ian Blair should not be sacked at once? For some reason, despite all this, he is still seen as a trustworthy political eminence by the Government. And this is the worst of it. The senior police officers are increasingly becoming a political force in their own right, usually but not always aligned with the Government’s “security agenda.” ACPO, for example, is behaving with a shocking degree of quasi-legislative arrogance. Very serious changes are being made to the political culture on which no votes are taken. For some reason, the pundits who were outraged that General Dannatt saw fit to speak publicly about his concerns seem unconcerned at ACPO monitoring all vehicle movements on the motorway system by executive (or should that be extra-executive?) whim.

It’s even more worrying, by the way, that the CPS spokesman’s explanation of Kahar’s exoneration does not sound very satisfying. I have in the past blogged on the worryingly flaky evidence used in Internet child-porn cases and the painfully slow realisation of same. I still think it’s a suspiciously convenient charge in this particular case. But what is this supposed to mean?

Of the total, 23 had been “embedded” images – which could have been inadvertently downloaded on the back of other computer files – and 21, on the external hard-drive and a Nokia 3G mobile, had been “deleted”.

The spokesman said: “To transfer to the phone, the suspect would have to have specialist knowledge.

“There was no evidence that Mr Kahar had possession of, or access to, equipment or the technical knowledge to do so.”

What, a USB cable? Bluetooth? As it was a UMTS device, it wouldn’t have been impractical to send images or video to it as an e-mail attachment. This is dangerously clueless for the supposed experts, although there is a strong possibility that the spokesman is talking rubbish.

The thinnest attempt to discredit the Lancet study yet: apparently if you don’t live on a main street you can’t be blown up by a carbomb, murdered by fake policemen or shot by coalition convoy guards. Worse, it is alleged the back streets weren’t sampled although the methodology explicitly states they were. And one of the people behind this is a professor – a professor at Royal Holloway, University of London.

Damn, when I was there we used to have standards. It surely can’t have gone downhill this far in two years? (Mind you, I recall that the intellectual gradient from the history department to economics was pretty steep. And negative.)

Interesting piece in the Grauniad about the British communists and the Soviet intervention in Hungary. I was especially amused by the Daily Worker doing a version of the jaunt to the Green Zone by Rush Limbaugh to “get the good news from Iraq the MSM is keeping quiet”. Their reporter, Peter Fryer, was briefed that he ought to “contradict that sort of thing”, where the things were reports of tanks machine-gunning crowds of demonstrators. On arriving in Budapest he discovered that they were all true, and said so. His editor, Johnny Campbell, did the obvious thing and spiked the lot. Fryer quit, as did some 19 other journalists. Apparently the readers were forced to read the Daily Telegraph to get their information. Why not the Guardian? Presumably because “social democracy is social fascism.”

Interesting as the story is, though, I find a nasty taste in the way many of the people interviewed experienced the whole thing as a disagreeable but pleasantly exciting social kerfuffle, a leftie/intellectual version of so-and-so’s latest affair in suburbia.

Alison Macleod, the Daily Worker’s TV critic, described how “all around us the marriages of party members were cracking up”. Everywhere friendships were under strain. The Thompsons fell out with the Kettles.

Hey! Janos! Bad news! What, are we running out of RPGs? No, the Thompsons have fallen out with the Kettles. And what the fuck is this about?

Another friend, the philosopher Maurice Cornforth, stayed in the party, but guiltily sent the Thompsons a cheque for £50 when Imre Nagy, the reformist Hungarian Communist leader, was executed in 1958.

What, did they have a bet on?

More mass biometric surveillance evil. Home Office wants to fingerprint guests at pubs as part of war on anti-social behaviour, torture dolphins parenting binge estates, etc. We’ve long been documenting the biometric and RFID vendors’ war on dancing, but this is a sinister new step. The government wants a monster database of everyone who’s gone to a pub. Who voted for this?

There is something almost atavistically horrible about this. It may just be that I drink too much beer, but pubs are traditionally where people go to conspire. The original Ranters convened in taverns in places like Kildwick, according to Christopher Hill’s The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution. Later, in the 18th century, groups of revolutionary sympathisers, Revolution-Men and followers of John Wilkes, met in pubs to evade the press censorship. One could go on. Crick and Watson burst into the Eagle in Cambridge to celebrate the discovery of DNA. I hear a lonesome whistle blow.

I wonder if the data from this scheme will be hooked into the DHS computer? John Reid is the most dangerous man in Britain. And if this had existed when he was still on the sauce, there wouldn’t have been enough hard drives in the world to hold his file.

The chatter is building up that a serious change in policy in Iraq is afoot. Supposedly, there is talk of an ultimatum to the Iraqi government to do various defined things or face undefined sanctions (this is an old John Paul Vann idea from South Vietnam), but there are also reasons to imagine that the Americans are preparing themselves to accept a break-up (see the Harpers’ story), and Des Browne told the BBC today that British forces might be out in 12 months because “planning was under way to hand over to Iraqi security forces”.

To quote Vann, “Damn, I’m an optimist. I think we can hang on longer than that!” More seriously, at the same time we saw the SCIRI-led Iraqi police being run out of Amara by the local Sadrists, who sealed the deal by destroying the police stations after seizing them. The last we heard, the Queen’s Royal Hussars group was standing by in case the order came to retake the place. Given the strength of the local Mahdi Army – it was this lot who fought Camilla’s Killers through August, 2004, and who mortared the QRH out of Abu Naji camp a couple of months ago – this would have been a very bloody business.

The Sadrists pulled something similar just down the road a day later, and some of their leaders are on record as boasting that the next objective is Basra. The entire incident was a demonstration of two things – the increasing Shia/Shia split between SCIRI and Dawa on one hand, and Sadr on the other, and the progressive loss of coalition control between Basra and Baghdad. The British security perimeter in the south is shrinking – the Sadrists used a supposed 800 men to storm Amara, a force the size of a battalion with better recruitment rates than most of ours. That kind of movement should have been spotted, if all the crap about drones was true.

Apparently the US government is considering eight options, these being as follows:

1. British out now.

2. Everyone out now.

3. Phased withdrawal.

4. Talk to Iran and Syria.

5. Remove Nuri al-Maliki in favour of a “strongman”.

6. Break-up of Iraq.

7. Retreat to “Super Bases”.

8. One last push.

Well, if those are your options… Close examination suggests that some of these options are actually double-counted. For example, 3 is only another way of saying 2, as it’s more than one day’s work to get from Baghdad to the Kuwaiti border, so any withdrawal will be in some sense phased. Even a British unilateral departure will involve at least a move back to Basra and Shaibah before the final evacuation. 1 won’t solve the problem on its own, but it will require 4 if 2 isn’t going to be immediately brought about. And a phased withdrawal, even more than a straight dash for the exits, will need coordination with the neighbouring states.

Further, talks alone won’t solve anything. The ex-officers of the New-Old Iraqi Army and the Sadrist street kids are not controlled by a state-sponsor Dr Evil and cannot just be switched off. Talking to Iran and Syria is only useful if the discussions involve some course of action, like 1, 2, 3, 5 or 6. It’s a necessary, not sufficient, condition. Speaking of 5, I see they are yet again parading the ragged corpse of Iyad Allawi’s credibility through the streets, trying to make it look like it’s alive. Look, the last time he had to deal with the Shia they ran him out of Najaf beating him with their shoes on live television. He’s only still alive because he spends as much time in London as possible. And what is he meant to do?

There is, of course, always Saddam, although I suspect if it ever looks like he might be sprung the SCIRI will shoot him first. This is only partly a joke: see Nibras Kazimi on the strange case of the former Electricity Minister.

That brings us to option 6, the break-up of Iraq. I’d argue that it’s already happening and we have little control over it, but anyway. If it looks like happening, 2 is top priority – the last thing we want is to have 140,000 troops in the middle of the break-up – and 4 is urgently necessary to consider how to limit the damage. Iran, Syria, Turkey, Jordan and to a lesser extent Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have serious interests in Iraq, and could all become embroiled. After all, the Syrian army could get to Baghdad in three days, there being no-one on that particular route who would fight them, and park its tanks in Dora, where they might even be greeted with flowers, until/unless the SCIRI arrived to greet them with RPGs, car bombs, kitchen sinks etc (in that scenario, the Sadrists’ position would be very ambiguous indeed).

7 is easily disposed of. Ever since 2003, every time casualties spike, George Bush has promised that the US Army is being pulled out of the cities to secure bases out in the desert. US lefties are obsessed by “permanent bases!” And, in fact, the US army did indeed move into big fortified camps on desert airfields. They can’t do it again. And it’s not cost-free – it’s precisely living in land submarines that denies them useful intelligence and orientation. Check out this post (and Slate article) of Phil Carter’s about the problems caused by living in the Balad “super base”. Moving into them leaves the country and the population to the enemy. In the worst case scenario, they become insurgent magnets; without the Euphrates valley main supply route, they become so many besieged fortresses dependent on their capability to suppress mortar or rocket fire to keep the runways open, and their garrison’s ability to keep the SAM template clear to prevent the planes being shot down on approach.

8 is frankly ridiculous – even if it is possible to improve the operational situation by a further effort, what is the strategic aim? With the “push” complete, we would just be facing the same list of options. And what would such a “push” look like? The only halfway sensible scenario is something as follows – we do X in order to get the mayhem down to a tolerable level, so we can then hand over to a stronger Iraqi government (i.e. option 2 or 3). But I can’t see any kind of discrete operation in prospect that would do that.

The inclusion of option 8, though, does serve a purpose. If all the options were negative, the report would be rejected out of hand. Including 8 and 5, though, permits its authors to show that they have considered all options and that their recommendation is “sensible”, “moderate”, “reasonable” etc. Further, it makes all options short of 2 look like a happy mean and hence be more thinkable. I sense the formidable political abilities of James Baker at work here.

The new map of the Middle East crazed wingnut Ralph Peters came up with needs a bit more battering, I think. Specifically, as well as the fact that even though in the text of the article he accepts that the Israelis ought to go back to the Green Line, and on the map he blithely confiscates Saudi Arabia’s oilfields and gives them to a new Shia state including southern Iraq, he can’t bring himself to mention the word “Palestine” (it’s given as “West Bank – status undetermined”), his worldview is truly bizarre and it shows through.

Iran is expected to surrender its Arab bit and coastal strip to the new Shia state, some land to the Kurds, and the northern bit around Tabriz to Azerbaijan – rather like Stalin did in 1945 – and for some reason it’s marked as Iran (Persia). Really. What is it with right-wing Americans and restorationist fantasies? Peters probably considers China to be China (Taiwan Mainland) or something. Meanwhile, a straight line is drawn across Iraq right through the centre of Baghdad between “Sunni Iraq” and the new Shia state. That’s what I call a dead straight line, even though Baghdad is marked as a “city state” in a desperate afterthought. The Sunnis miss out on the oil except perhaps for the East Baghdad field, but there is no mention of their control of the Shias’ water supply (perhaps Peters doesn’t realise you need water).

As well as being mulcted of their oil, the Saudis are asked to hand over a huge tract of land to Yemen (why?), Mecca and Medina, plus more land, to a new “sacred state”, and accept being downgraded from a Kingdom to the “Independent Saudi Homeland Territories”. Christ. Territories and a homeland in one name. Still, it couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of hypocritical, corrupt medieval torturers. Jordan also gets some Saudi territory – why, I’ve no idea, except that it ends up looking rather like a rhinoceros rotated through 25 degrees from the horizontal.

Oman, the UAE, Qatar and Kuwait are entirely unchanged, presumably because he doesn’t know where they are except that they are rich. Going for the big finish, he also gives the entire Syrian coast to Lebanon, incidentally putting his (presumably) friends and allies there in the permanent minority, on the grounds that it would be a “new Greater Phoenicia.”

Maps are nice, aren’t they? So let’s have a look at a few maps of Iraq. This one shows Iraq’s administrative divisions, its roads and its rivers. Note especially that there are essentially two major roads between Baghdad and Basra. One runs along the Tigris valley parallel to the Iranian border. The other runs just inside the Euphrates valley on the right bank of the river, crossing it twenty or so miles upstream of Nasiriyah. There are two secondary roads, one of which runs up the left, western bank of the Euphrates from a junction with the main road before the crossing as far as Karbala, the other of which connects the Nasiriyah bridges with Kut on the northern main road. The first of these, Highway 8, is known to the Coalition as Main Supply Route Tampa, the road which connects the US Army’s Logistic Support Area Anaconda at Balad South-East airfield north of Baghdad, Baghdad Airport, Mosul, Basra and Kuwait City. Literally everything the coalition uses comes in either up this road from the docks in Kuwait, or else into one of the three strategic air bridgeheads (Baghdad, Balad, and the RAF’s Basra Air Station) and then along it to the point of use.

This map shows Iraq’s major oil infrastructure. You will note two things – first, the core-centric nature of the refinery at Baiji, which is why the insurgents go to such lengths to harass it, and secondly that the only pipeline between northern and southern Iraq runs next to Highway 8.

This map shows the distribution of religions and tribes in Iraq. Notice that the entire area of the main roads, pipelines and rivers (not to speak of the main railway line between Basra and Baghdad) is shown as entirely Shia, and borders on Iran. It’s also, although it’s not on the map, heavily SCIRI.

This map shows Iraq by population density. Note that, among many other things this map should tell you, the top 3 cities make up one-third of the population. The only areas of Iraq that can be described as “quiet”, except for Kurdistan, are the ones where there is either nobody to fight or nothing to fight over. The much mocked Information Minister, Mohamed Ali Al-Sahaf, had a point when he described the US army advancing on Baghdad as being like a snake in the desert – the only serious fighting before Baghdad occurred at the urban choke points of Nasiriyah and the Karbala area.

Now, there are some 5 coalition divisions in Iraq. There is the British-led division in the south-east, more and more these days concentrated around Basra. There are two US divisions in Baghdad, another division equivalent split between the north-central zone and the Karbala/Najaf area, and one brigade up north. There are also the leftovers of the old Multinational Division South Centre, not that they add up to much. To put it another way, there is a yawning gap between the British in Basra and the road to Kuwait, and the bulk of coalition forces around Baghdad. It is open to the Sadrists, SCIRI or Iran to make a retreat from Iraq very difficult and very bloody.

There is no alternative line of retreat. The road towards Jordan leads through Fallujah and Ramadi, and even the Jordanians might not be happy to help us make our exit via..Israel. Going north is a nonstarter – it means marching through Baghdad and the Sunni insurgent heartland, and then bringing the army over the mountains into Turkey. (Look at the first map, which shows precisely one tarmacked road crossing the border.) The light brigade up in Kurdistan could leave that way, or by air, but the three armoured divisions can’t. They have to go south, back the way they came. The conclusion?

We need to open military-to-military talks, so-called staff conversations, with the Iranians. We need to discuss the modalities, in the Northern Irish phrase, of an orderly departure. We need guarantees that their supporters in Iraq will not blow the bridges as they did in the first Shia rising, in April, 2004, and won’t mortar the airfields.

And this map is a work of psychotic stupidity.

Surveillance

Avient Aviation, flying to Baghdad. Flight no. SMJ872, arrived Sharjah ex-Baghdad 0818 local time today.





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