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All we want is for the Americans to stay out (5 September 2004)

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  • Jim Galasyn
    Iraq Front News Subscribe: IraqFrontNews-subscribe@yahoogroups.com 5 September 2004 News roundup by Jim Galasyn ... In this issue: ~ Bring Them Home ~ a..
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 6, 2004
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      5 September 2004
      News roundup by Jim Galasyn

      In this issue:
       
      ~ Bring Them Home ~
      ~ Fool Me Once ~
      ~ Hearts and Minds ~
      ~ White Man's Burden ~

       ~ Bring Them Home ~
       
       
      Seven US Marines killed, eight wounded in convoy ambush near Fallujah
       
      Sept. 6 (Bloomberg) -- A car bombing took place today near the Iraqi city of Fallujah, causing an unknown number of fatalities, the U.S. military said by telephone from Baghdad. At least six U.S. Marines were killed, Agence France-Presse said.
       
      Another eight Marines were wounded in the attack, which hit a military convoy in the town of Saqlawiya on the northern outskirts of Fallujah, AFP reported, citing the military, its own correspondent and witnesses.
       
      A U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, who declined to be identified, couldn't immediately confirm the number of casualties.
       
      Fallujah, a mainly Sunni Muslim city, was the scene of a three-week siege by the U.S. military in April. The U.S. says the city, west of the Iraqi capital, harbors insurgents loyal to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The suspected al-Qaeda operative has been linked by the military and by the Iraqi government to attacks and kidnappings including the beheading in May of U.S. citizen Nick Berg. top
       

      Mortar Attack Kills 2 U.S. Soldiers in Iraq
      By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
      Published: September 5, 2004
      Filed at 3:14 p.m. ET
       
      BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- A mortar attack Sunday killed two U.S. soldiers and left 16 wounded -- one critically -- at a base west of the Iraqi capital.
       
      Maj. Richard Spiegel of the Army's 13th Corps Support Command said the mortar barrage slammed into Logistical Base Seitz, on Baghdad's western outskirts, around 6 p.m. local time.
       
      Eight of the injured were evacuated by air to the Army's 31st Combat Support Hospital in Baghdad, where the two later died of their wounds, Spiegel said.
       
      One wounded soldier was listed in critical condition, and four others returned to duty. Names of the dead and wounded were being withheld pending next-of-kin notification.
       
      The soldiers killed and wounded all belonged to the Army's 13th Corps Support Command, which oversees distribution of military fuel, food, water and other supplies to U.S. forces across Iraq.
       
      As of Friday, 976 U.S. service members have died since the beginning of military operations in Iraq in March 2003, according to the Defense Department.
       
      U.S. bases are daily targets of insurgents' mortar and rocket barrages. Most of the munitions explode without injury.
       
      Also Sunday, a car bomb exploded outside an air base used by U.S. forces near Dijiel, about 25 miles north of Baghdad, injuring one American soldier and two Iraqi civilians, the U.S. military said. Three suspects were detained near the site of the attack, said Army Sgt. Robert Powell. top
       

      U.S. Troops in Iraq See Highest Injury Toll Yet
      U.S. Troops See Highest Toll Yet
      By Karl Vick
      Washington Post Foreign Service
      Sunday, September 5, 2004; Page A01
       
      BAGHDAD, Sept. 4 -- About 1,100 U.S. soldiers and Marines were wounded in Iraq during August, by far the highest combat injury toll for any month since the war began and an indication of the intensity of battles flaring in urban areas.
       
      U.S. medical commanders say the sharp rise in battlefield injuries reflects more than three weeks of fighting by two Army and one Marine battalion in the southern city of Najaf. At the same time, U.S. units frequently faced combat in a sprawling Shiite Muslim slum in Baghdad and in the Sunni cities of Fallujah, Ramadi and Samarra, all of which remain under the control of insurgents two months after the transfer of political authority.
       
      "They were doing battlefield urban operations in four places at one time," said Lt. Col. Albert Maas, operations officer for the 2nd Medical Brigade, which oversees U.S. combat hospitals in Iraq. "It's like working in downtown Detroit. You're going literally building to building."
       
      The sharp rise in wounded was, for the first time, accompanied by a far less steep climb in battlefield fatalities. Since the start of the war in March 2003, 979 U.S. troops have died in Iraq and almost 7,000 have been wounded. Until last month, however, the monthly tallies of fatalities and wounded rose and fell roughly in proportion.
       
      In August, 66 U.S. service personnel were killed in Iraq, according to the Defense Department. The toll was the highest since May, when 80 fatalities were recorded. But it was well below the 135 U.S. combat deaths in April, when a sporadic guerrilla war that had largely been confined to the so-called Sunni Triangle north and west of Baghdad spread to cities across the previously quiescent Shiite Muslim belt in southern Iraq. The U.S. military does not routinely release the reported number of Iraqi casualties and wounded.
       
      Commanders said they had no immediate concrete explanation for why the number of wounded increased so sharply without a comparable rise in combat deaths.
       
      "All I know is I've got more patients here," said Col. Ryck Beitz, commander of the 31st Combat Support Hospital in Baghdad, which admitted 425 patients last month, a new high.
       
      One possible explanation lay in the brawn some units brought to the fight in crowded city centers. In Najaf, for example, two of the three U.S. battalions squaring off in close quarters against a Shiite militia were categorized as "heavy armored." Army officers said their Abrams tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles not only offer substantial protection from incoming fire, but also answered with immediate and overwhelming large-caliber salvos.
       
      "We've been given the best tools in the world for waging war," said Maj. Tim Karcher of the 2nd battalion of the 1st Cavalry Division's 7th Regiment. In two weeks of almost constant combat, the heavily armored battalion sustained several injuries, but not a single fatality, as it fought its way through Najaf's crowded old city.
       
      Lives surely were also saved by the proximity of the fighting to a nearby combat hospital; the forward surgical station at Babylon is a short Black Hawk helicopter hop from Najaf.
       
      Maj. Dellone Pascascio, who compiles tallies of U.S. wounded across Iraq, said injuries sustained in conventional fighting may tend to be slightly less severe than those inflicted by the improvised explosive devices planted along roadsides that continue to kill and maim U.S. forces by spraying shrapnel upward.
       
      There were also indications that troops might have suffered more severe wounds in August than in previous months.
       
      At the Baghdad hospital, staff members are accustomed to seeing the most severely injured soldiers and Marines. The hospital, the only one in Iraq where the military's brain and eye surgeons work, handles the worst head wounds. Normally, perhaps half the patients who come to the emergency room qualify as "acute" cases, a term that indicates severity and urgency.
       
      "A soldier who comes in and is almost bleeding to death will require more care than someone who is just shot with a bullet," Beitz explained.
       
      In August, however, the rate of acute cases jumped to three of four ER patients.
       
      "It was intense," said Lt. Col. Greg Kidwell, who oversees the emergency room at the hospital.
       
      Capt. Neil Taufen, an emergency room physician, said the pace was all the more striking because it came after a quiet stretch.
       
      "July was just dull, and it was like: Everything's going to be all right. And then Najaf fired up, and it was just like nothing had ever changed," said Taufen, of Fort Sill, Okla.
       
      Najaf and the neighboring town of Kufa, about 90 miles south of Baghdad, have been quiet since a peace deal was brokered in late August by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. Last week, an informal cease-fire also took hold in Sadr City, the Shiite slum that is the main stronghold of junior cleric Moqtada Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia, which fought in Najaf.
       
      But U.S. forces continued to clash with Sunni Muslim insurgents and foreign-born fighters west and north of Baghdad. Twenty-six Marines were killed during August in Anbar province, which takes in Fallujah and Ramadi and extends across the western desert to the Syrian border. Insurgents hold sway in both cities and routinely attack U.S. patrols.
       
      "It's always kind of a smoldering fight out there," Kidwell said.
       
      Parts of Baghdad also remain combat zones.
       
      Propped on pillows in a ward of the Baghdad combat hospital Saturday afternoon, Spec. Christopher Riang, 19, wore a zipper of surgical staples up his abdomen after a nasty surprise the night before off the capital's hostile Haifa Street.
       
      "I yelled 'grenade!' and made sure the Iraqi translator took off," he said, describing the overnight ambush that left him with a belly full of steel shards. "Then I took off. I guess I couldn't outrun the grenade."
       
      The interpreter was also injured, as were four other 1st Cavalry soldiers caught in the alley when grenades began raining down.
       
      "Almost everybody took shrapnel," said Capt. Chris Ford, the company commander. Three soldiers were injured lightly enough to return to duty after treatment, as are about 45 percent of U.S. forces wounded in Iraq. Two others needed medical evacuation. The interpreter went home.
       
      "Basically, we had to fight our way out of that alley," Ford said. Bradleys came to help, he said, but most of the patrolling in the largely hostile neighborhood is conducted on foot.
       
      "It's a labyrinth," Ford said. "And it's conducive to their kind of fighting."
       
      More and more often, children are lobbing the grenades, Ford said. Insurgents offer boys of 10 or 12 years old $150 to toss a grenade at a U.S. patrol, the captain said.
       
      "For the longest time, we've had a good relationship with the children," Ford said. "Now this. Who enjoys putting a bead on a kid?
       
      "Nobody. That's why they paid them." top
       

      One by One, Iraqi Cities Become No-Go Zones
      By DEXTER FILKINS
      September 5, 2004
       
      BAGHDAD, Iraq — At a recent meeting with a group of tribal sheiks, an American general spoke with evident frustration about the latest Iraqi city to fall into the hands of insurgents.
       
      "Not one dime of American taxpayers' money will come into your city until you help us drive out the terrorists," Maj. Gen. John R. S. Batiste said in his base in Tikrit, tapping the table to make sure he was understood.
       
      The sheiks nodded, smiled and withdrew, back to the city that neither they, nor the American military, any longer control.
       
      The city under discussion was Samarra, a small metropolis north of Baghdad known for a dazzling ninth-century minaret that winds 164 feet into the air. In the heart of the area called the Sunni Triangle, Samarra is the most recent place where the American military has decided that pulling out and standing back may be the better part of valor, even if insurgents take over.
       
      In Iraq, the list of places from which American soldiers have either withdrawn or decided to visit only rarely is growing: Falluja, where a Taliban-like regime has imposed a rigid theocracy; Ramadi, where the Sunni insurgents appear to have the run of the city; and the holy Shiite cities of Karbala and Najaf to the south, where the Americans agreed last month to keep their distance from the sacred shrines of Ali and Hussein.
       
      The calls are rising for the Americans to pull out of even more areas, notably Sadr City, the sprawling neighborhood in eastern Baghdad that is the main base for the rebel cleric Moktada al-Sadr. There, leaders of his Mahdi Army are demanding that American soldiers, except those sent in to do reconstruction work, get out.
       
      Negotiations with rebel leaders foundered last week on precisely the issue of the freedom of American soldiers to enter the area; the Iraqi government, possibly with American backing, refused to accept the militia's demand. Even so, the point seemed clear enough: where Iraqis once tolerated American soldiers as a source of stability in their neighborhoods, they increasingly see them as a cause of the violence. Take out the Americans, the Iraqis say, and you take out the problem. Leave us alone, and we will sort our own problems.
       
      "All we want is for the Americans to stay out," said Yusef al-Nasiri, a top aide to Mr. Sadr. "When the Americans come into the city, they insult our people. That's when the people get nervous. It makes them uncomfortable."
       
      That certain Iraqis believe their cities and neighborhoods would be better off without American soldiers is neither new nor surprising; that is what the guerrillas' insurgency, now in its 17th month, is all about. What is new, however, is that the Americans, in certain cases, appear to agree or have decided that the cost to prove otherwise would be too high.
       
      The pullback began in the west, in Falluja, which the Marines surrounded and attacked in April, after the killing and mutilation of four American contract employees. The Marines moved to within sight of the city center, but called off their attack after a public outcry spurred by reports that as many as 600 Iraqis had been killed.
       
      Since then, American plans to have a group of former Baathist officers take control have collapsed, and the city is now run by a group of Islamic fundamentalists called the "Islamic council of holy warriors." The Americans do not go inside.
       
      In recent months, much of the rest of the surrounding area, Anbar Province, has slipped away from American control. Insurgents roam freely in the provincial capital, Ramadi, and the Americans appear to have abandoned a permanent presence inside the city.
       
      Even in the once-friendly Shiite areas, the Americans are giving way to local demands that they stay away. When American fighters expelled the Mahdi Army from the shrines in Karbala and Najaf, a condition for each of the peace agreements was that the Americans pull back.
       
      There is a huge difference, of course, between the pullbacks in Falluja and Samarra and the ones in the Shiite cities. In Karbala and Najaf, the Americans cleared the way for Iraqi police officers. The struggle over Sadr City is over just that - who would take control, the Iraqi police or the Mahdi Army. The Americans, who have watched repeatedly as the Iraqi police have retreated before Mr. Sadr's militia and as the Mahdi Army has broken its promises, clearly fear the worst.
       
      In places like Falluja, Samarra and Ramadi, on the other hand, the Americans and the Iraqi government appear to have forfeited their influence. Residents of all three places say insurgents are in charge.
       
      Falluja, for instance, has become a haven for insurgents and terrorists, including, the Americans believe, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian thought to be responsible for a number of car bombings that have killed hundreds of civilians. In Falluja, the insurgents are free to carry out their own brand of justice, like the public lashings of people suspected of theft and rape, and the videotaped beheading last month of Suleiman Mar'awi, one of the city's National Guard commanders.
       
      Most significant of all, the withdrawal from these cities calls into question the practicality of nationwide elections scheduled to take place before the end of January. At the moment, the Americans appear to be prepared to hold elections without cities like Falluja and Ramadi. But excluding the largely Sunni Arab areas from the elections would raise serious doubts about their legitimacy. Already, one of the country's leading Sunni groups, the Sunni Clerics Association, boycotted the selection of the National Council, which serves as a de facto Parliament here.
       
      "We think the elections will be fake," said Abdul Salam al-Qubesi, a leading Sunni cleric and a member of the association.
       
      There are indications that American commanders would like to reassert their control over some of these no-go zones before the January elections; in purely military terms, they have little doubt that they could. In Falluja, a Marine commander said that at the time he ordered his men to halt their offensive in April, they were just two or three days from capturing the middle of the city.
       
      But the question now, as it was then, is at what cost, not just in American lives, but in American credibility, if Iraqi casualties begin to mount. "We could go into Samarra tomorrow if we wanted to," said Maj. Neal O'Brien, a spokesman for the First Infantry Division. "But we want to arrive at an Iraqi solution."
       
      The problem facing the American leadership here is whether, in places like Falluja and Samarra, there are Iraqi solutions they cannot accept.
       
      John F. Burns contributed reporting for this article. top
       

      U.S. Assault Likely Before Jan. Elections
      By JIM KRANE, Associated Press Writer
       
      BAGHDAD, Iraq - A U.S. assault on one or more of Iraq (news - web sites)'s three main "no-go" areas — including Fallujah — is likely in the next four months as the Iraqi government prepares to extend control before elections slated for January, the U.S. land forces commander said Sunday.
       
      Army Lt. Gen. Thomas F. Metz's announcement came after a month that saw attacks on U.S. forces reach an average of almost 100 per day — the highest level since the end of major combat last year.
       
      Metz, the No. 2 American military leader here, said Iraq's upcoming general election is the next major milestone in Iraq.
       
      The U.S. military will work to regain control of rebel strongholds and turn them over to Iraq's fledgling security forces so elections will be seen by Iraqis — and the world — as free and fair.
       
      "I don't think today you could hold elections," Metz said during an interview with three reporters at Multinational Corps headquarters near Baghdad International Airport. "But I do have about four months where I want to get to local control. And then I've got the rest of January to help the Iraqis to put the mechanisms in place."
       
      An American military offensive will be needed to bring the toughest places to heel, Metz said.
       
      The rebel-held western city of Fallujah is the biggest obstacle, he said. The next biggest problem, in U.S. military terms, is Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad — and also in guerrilla hands.
       
      Metz believes the easiest of the three troublespots to regain control is Baghdad's Shiite Muslim slum of Sadr City. Parts of the neighborhood of 2 million remain the fiefdom of rebel cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose supporters have wired it with hidden bombs and booby traps, U.S. officials say.
       
      Besides these centers of rebellion, large sections of Iraq remain beyond government control and out of reach of elections. These include Sunni Muslim areas north and west of Baghdad and, perhaps, southern Shiite cities like Basra, where sections resist U.S. or British troops.
       
      Assaults to retake these areas could be done consecutively or simultaneously, Metz said. He said one or more might be solved through negotiations, with leaders warning that their cities face a devastating U.S. offensive if the insurgents don't stand down.
       
      "If you're a leader in a town ... do you want to have to go rebuild it because it got destroyed, because foreign fighters came to hang out in your city? They can help us make these decisions," Metz said.
       
      The general also said the Americans' August siege of Najaf could be considered a model for subduing rebel-held areas.
       
      U.S. and Iraqi officials consider the three-week battle a success, although it left the Shiite holy city in ruins with hundreds of Iraqi fighters and civilians dead and nine Americans killed. Al-Sadr's defeated militia fled and the city is now under government control.
       
      Across Iraq, August saw the highest number of attacks on U.S.-led forces since major combat ended in May 2003. The U.S. military counted 2,700 attacks last month, averaging 87 per day.
       
      By contrast, July saw 1,600 or 52 per day. In April, the deadliest month of the war, there were 1,800 attacks on American and allied troops, or 60 per day.
       
      Separately, the U.S. military acknowledged that previous estimates placing the number of Iraqi guerrillas at 5,000 were too low. A military spokesman said Sunday that Iraq is beset by up to 12,000 full-time insurgents, a number that swells when part-timers are active.
       
      A military source told The Associated Press in July that as many as 20,000 total participate in attacks.
       
      Metz didn't rule out allowing elections in Iraq's government-held areas without participation by voters in rebel strongholds like Fallujah. He said polling was critical in Iraq's three biggest cities, Baghdad, Basra and Mosul. But smaller cities could be left out, he said.
       
      "That's not our intention," he said. But "I'd envision the Iraqis could have an election. And if a piece of cancer in the country like Fallujah didn't participate, it would still ... be a legitimate election."
       
      The vote is a massive undertaking. Some 10 million eligible voters need to be registered and around 9,000 polling places across the country must be set up and protected. Candidates, who have yet to begin campaigning, need to be able to move across Iraq. top
       

      Suicide bomber in Iraq kills 20, wounds 36 -
      Attack occurs near police academy
      Yehia Barzanji
      Associated Press
      Sept. 5, 2004 12:00 AM
       
      KIRKUK, Iraq - A suicide attacker detonated a car bomb Saturday outside an Iraqi police academy as hundreds of trainees and civilians were leaving for the day, killing 20 people and wounding 36 others in the latest attack designed to thwart U.S-backed efforts to build a strong Iraqi security force ahead of January elections.
       
      U.S and Iraqi forces, meanwhile, launched an operation in another northern town, Tal Afar, to flush out a militant cell reportedly smuggling men and arms in from Syria, sparking a fierce gunbattle that left at least eight people dead and more than 50 injured.
       
      South of Baghdad, attackers fired mortar rounds at an Iraqi police patrol, killing three officers, said Col. Adnan Abdul-Rahman of the Interior Ministry. The attack occurred between the towns of Mahmoudiya and Latifiyah 25 miles from the capital.
       
      The car bomb in Kirkuk littered the street with bloodied bodies, gutted cars, shards of glass and twisted metal. The police academy's steps were covered in blood.
       
      "I saw one of my friends killed before my eyes. I couldn't do anything to help him," said Bassem Ali, a student at the academy who was hurt in the blast.
       
      Kirkuk police put the toll at 20 dead and 36 wounded.
       
      No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.
       
      Insurgents see police as collaborators with U.S.-led forces and are bent on disrupting American efforts to build a strong Iraqi security force ahead of January elections.
       
      Militants have blown up police stations all over the country, gunned down officers in drive-by shootings and battered police recruitment centers with mortar barrages and rocket-propelled grenades - leaving policemen increasingly terrified and deterring would-be recruits.
       
      From April 2003 to May 2004 alone, 710 Iraqi police were killed out of a total force of 130,000, authorities said.
       
      In Tal Afar, a U.S. OH-58D Kiowa helicopter was hit by enemy fire and forced to make an emergency landing, U.S. Army Capt. Angela Bowman said. The aircraft's two crew members were wounded, she said.
       
      A U.S. Stryker Brigade vehicle securing the helicopter's site was later attacked by rocket-propelled grenades, the military said. Troops fought back, killing two attackers.
       
      The attacks came amid fierce resistance to smash a militant cell operating in the town, which U.S. intelligence believed had become a haven for militants crossing the border from Syria.
       
      Fawazi Mohammed, the head of the local hospital, said at least eight people died and an additional 50 were wounded during the clashes. Many of the casualties were caused by a mortar shell explosion in a Tal Afar market, authorities said.
       
      In Baghdad, mortar rounds landed near a convention center where members of Iraq's 100-member transitional assembly, known as the Iraqi Council, gathered for a meeting. Despite the explosions, delegates elected four vice chairmen of the National Council, which is intended to act as a watchdog over the interim government of Prime Minister Ayad Allawi until the election.
       
      Also Saturday, saboteurs blew up an oil pipeline in southern Iraq, part of a campaign of attacks on the country's oil infrastructure aimed at hampering reconstruction efforts.
       
      Firefighters struggled to put out the blaze caused by the explosion near Hartha, 19 miles north of Basra, and technicians were forced to shut down the pipeline, said police Maj. Col. Nouri Mohammed.
       
      Its shutdown is not expected to significantly affect Iraqi oil exports. top
       

      Iraqi Nuclear Scientist Assassinated South Of Baghdad
      AFP: 9/5/2004
       
      MAHMUDIYA, Iraq, Sept 5 (AFP) - An Iraqi nuclear scientist has been assassinated in the Sunni Muslim insurgent bastion of Mahmudiya, south of Baghdad, his brother told AFP Sunday.
       
      Mohammed Toki Hussein al-Talakani, who had practised nuclear physics since 1984, was shot dead on Saturday as he was driving in Mahmudiya, Alaa Toki Hussein said.
       
      The 40-year-old scientist lived in the small town of Al-Kifl, some 100 kilometres (60 miles) south of the capital.
       
      Another man was killed in the town on Sunday during clashes between insurgents and Iraqi forces, while a woman was also wounded, the head of the local hospital said. top
       

       
      ~ Fool Me Once ~
       
        
      Bush's National Guard File Missing Records
      By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
      September 5, 2004
      Filed at 3:20 p.m. ET
       
      WASHINGTON (AP) -- Documents that should have been written to explain gaps in President Bush's Texas Air National Guard service are missing from the military records released about his service in 1972 and 1973, according to regulations and outside experts.
       
      For example, Air National Guard regulations at the time required commanders to write an investigative report for the Air Force when Bush missed his annual medical exam in 1972. The regulations also required commanders to confirm in writing that Bush received counseling after missing five months of drills.
       
      No such records have been made public and the government told The Associated Press in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit that it has released all records it can find.
       
      Outside experts suggest that National Guard commanders may not have produced documentation required by their own regulations.
       
      ``One of the downfalls back then in the National Guard was that not everyone wanted to be chief of staff of the Air Force. They just wanted to fly or maintain airplanes. So the record keeping could have been better,'' said retired Maj. Gen. Paul A. Weaver Jr., a former head of the Air National Guard. He said the documents may not have been kept in the first place.
       
      Challenging the government's declaration that no more documents exist, the AP identified five categories of records that should have been generated after Bush skipped his pilot's physical and missed five months of training.
       
      ``Each of these actions by any member of the National Guard should have generated the creation of many documents that have yet to be produced,'' AP lawyer David Schulz wrote the Justice Department Aug. 26.
       
      White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said there were no other documents to explain discrepancies in Bush's files.
       
      Military service during the Vietnam War has become an issue in the presidential election as both candidates debate the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
       
      Democrat John Kerry commanded a Navy Swift boat in Vietnam and was awarded five medals, including a Silver Star. But his heroism has been challenged in ads by some veterans who support Bush.
       
      The president served stateside in the Air National Guard during Vietnam. Democrats have accused him of shirking his Guard service and getting favored treatment as the son of a prominent Washington figure.
       
      The AP talked to experts unaffiliated with either campaign who have reviewed Bush's files for missing documents. They said it was not unusual for guard commanders to ignore deficiencies by junior officers such as Bush. But they said missing a physical exam, which caused him to be grounded, was not common.
       
      ``It's sort of like a code of honor that you didn't go DNF (duty not including flying),'' said retired Air Force Col. Leonard Walls, who flew 181 combat missions over Vietnam. ``There was a lot of pride in keeping combat-ready status.''
       
      Bush has said he fulfilled all his obligations. He was in the Texas Air National Guard from 1968 to 1973 and was trained to fly F-102 fighters.
       
      ``I'm proud of my service,'' Bush told a rally last weekend in Lima, Ohio.
       
      Records of Bush's service have significant gaps, starting in 1972. Bush has said he left Texas that year to work on the unsuccessful Senate campaign in Alabama of family friend Winton Blount.
       
      The five kinds of missing files are:
       
      --A report from the Texas Air National Guard to Bush's local draft board certifying that Bush remained in good standing. The government has released copies of those DD Form 44 documents for Bush for 1971 and earlier years but not for 1972 or 1973. Records from Bush's draft board in Houston do not show his draft status changed after he joined the guard in 1968. The AP obtained the draft board records Aug. 27 under the Freedom of Information Act.
       
      --Records of a required investigation into why Bush lost flight status. When Bush skipped his 1972 physical, regulations required his Texas commanders to ``direct an investigation as to why the individual failed to accomplish the medical examination,'' according to the Air Force manual at the time. An investigative report was supposed to be forwarded ``with the command recommendation'' to Air Force officials ``for final determination.''
       
      Bush's spokesmen have said he skipped the exam because he knew he would be doing desk duty in Alabama. But Bush was required to take the physical by the end of July 1972, more than a month before he won final approval to train in Alabama.
       
      --A written acknowledgment from Bush that he had received the orders grounding him. His Texas commanders were ordered to have Bush sign such a document; but none has been released.
       
      --Reports of formal counseling sessions Bush was required to have after missing more than three training sessions. Bush missed at least five months' worth of National Guard training in 1972. No documents have surfaced indicating Bush was counseled or had written authorization to skip that training or make it up later. Commanders did have broad discretion to allow guardsmen to make up for missed training sessions, said Weaver and Lawrence Korb, Pentagon personnel chief during the Reagan administration from 1981 to 1985.
       
      ``If you missed it, you could make it up,'' said Korb, who now works for the Center for American Progress, which supports Kerry.
       
      --A signed statement from Bush acknowledging he could be called to active duty if he did not promptly transfer to another guard unit after leaving Texas. The statement was required as part of a Vietnam-era crackdown on no-show guardsmen. Bush was approved in September 1972 to train with the Alabama unit, more than four months after he left Texas.
       
      Bush was approved to train in September, October and November 1972 with the Alabama Air National Guard's 187th Tactical Reconnaissance Group. The only record tying Bush to that unit is a dental exam at the group's Montgomery base in January 1973. No records have been released giving Bush permission to train with the 187th after November 1972.
       
      Walls, the Air Force combat veteran, was assigned to the 187th in 1972 and 1973 to train its pilots to fly the F-4 Phantom. Walls and more than a dozen other members of the 187th say they never saw Bush. One member of the unit, retired Lt. Col. John Calhoun, has said he remembers Bush showing up for training with the 187th.
       
      Pay records show Bush was credited for training in January, April and May 1973; other files indicate that service was outside Texas.
       
      A May 1973 yearly evaluation from Bush's Texas unit gives the future president no ratings and stated Bush had not been seen at the Texas base since April 1972. In a directive from June 29, 1973, an Air Force personnel official pressed Bush's unit for information about his Alabama service.
       
      ``This officer should have been reassigned in May 1972,'' wrote Master Sgt. Daniel P. Harkness, ``since he no longer is training in his AFSC (Air Force Service Category, or job title) or with his unit of assignment.''
       
      Then-Maj. Rufus G. Martin replied Nov. 12, 1973: ``Not rated for the period 1 May 72 through 30 Apr 73. Report for this period not available for administrative reasons.''
       
      By then, Texas Air National Guard officials had approved Bush's request to leave the guard to attend Harvard Business School; his last days of duty were in July 1973. top
       

      Italy blames France for Niger uranium claim
      By Bruce Johnston in Brussels and Kim Willsher in Paris
      (Filed: 05/09/2004)
       
      A row has broken out between France and Italy over whose intelligence service is to blame for the Niger uranium controversy, which led to Britain and America claiming wrongly that Saddam Hussein was trying to buy material for nuclear bombs.

      Italian diplomats say that France was behind forged documents which at first appeared to prove that Iraq was seeking "yellow-cake" uranium in Niger - evidence used by Britain and America to promote the case for last year's Gulf war.
       
      They say that France's intelligence services used an Italian-born middle-man to circulate a mixture of genuine and bogus documents to "trap" the two leading proponents of war with Saddam into making unsupportable claims.
       
      They have passed to The Sunday Telegraph a photograph which they claim shows the Italian go-between, sometimes known as "Giacomo" - who cannot be identified for legal reasons - meeting a senior French intelligence officer based in Brussels. "The French hoped that the bulk of the documents would be exposed as false, since many of them obviously were," an Italian official said.
       
      "Their aim was to make the allies look ridiculous in order to undermine their case for war."
       
      According to an account given to The Sunday Telegraph, France was driven by "a cold desire to protect their privileged, dominant trading relationship with Saddam, which in the case of war would have been at risk".
       
      The allegation, which has infuriated French officials, follows reports last month that "Giacomo" claimed to have been unwittingly used by Sismi, Italy's foreign intelligence service, to circulate the false documents.
       
      The papers found their way to the CIA and to MI6, and in September 2002 Tony Blair accused Saddam of seeking "significant quantities" of uranium from an undisclosed African country - in fact, Niger. President George W Bush made a similar claim in his State of the Union address to Congress four months later, using information passed to him by MI6.
       
      The International Atomic Energy Agency expressed doubts over the documents' authenticity, however, and in March 2003 declared them false.
       
      The suggestion that Italy, driven by its government's support for America, had forged the documents to help to justify the war in Iraq, has caused a furore and has now led to the revelation of new information about "Giacomo".
       
      The Sunday Telegraph has been told that the man has a criminal record for extortion and fraud, but draws a monthly salary of €4,000 (£2,715) from the DGSE - the French equivalent of MI6 - for which he is said to have worked for the past five years.
       
      He had an expense account and received bonuses in return for carrying out orders allegedly given him by the head of the French services' operations in Belgium.
       
      "Giacomo" could not be reached for comment on the claims last week at either his home in Formello, a suburb on the northern edge of Rome, or at his second home in Luxembourg.
       
      He is said to be wanted for questioning over the Niger affair by Italian investigating magistrates, and is believed to be in the United States.
       
      He is said to have received an 18-month prison sentence in 1985 for threatening violence against a bank manager in an extortion attempt. More recently he was apparently reported by Carabinieri for using stationery forged to appear to be from the Italian prime minister's office. He is said to have previously worked for Italian military intelligence, but was "kicked out" for running up debts with illegal loan sharks.
       
      "Giacomo" was allegedly first engaged by the French secret service to investigate genuine fears of illicit trafficking in uranium from Niger. He collected a dossier of documents - some real, some forged by a diplomat - by offering large sums of money to Niger officials.
       
      American intelligence officials were further misled over Saddam's supposed attempt to buy uranium when France - which effectively controls mining in Niger - told Washington that it had reason to believe that Iraq was trying to do so. "Only later did Paris inform Washington that its belief had been based on the same documents that had tricked the Americans and the British," an Italian diplomat said.
       
      "This was la grande trappola [the big trap]. The Americans were now convinced by the French that Saddam really was trying to buy uranium. They thought the French must be right, since not even a gram of uranium in Niger could be shifted without their knowledge."
       
      British officials still say that the claim about Iraqi uranium purchases rested on a second source, not just the now-discredited documents. Intelligence officials from some other Western countries now believe, however, that the second source was also France - part of a "sinister trap" for Mr Blair.
       
      French intelligence was asked by The Sunday Telegraph for a public comment on the allegations against it, but has yet to give one. top
       

      General Says 'conspiracy' Among Top Commanders Left Her to Blame for Abu Ghraib
      by Jim Krane
      Published on Sunday, September 5, 2004 by the Associated Press
      http://www.commondreams.org/headlines04/0905-02.htm
       
      BAGHDAD, Iraq - The Army general who once ran detention operations in Iraq said a "conspiracy" among top U.S. commanders has left her to blame for the abuses of Iraqi inmates at Abu Ghraib prison.
       
      Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, who commanded the Army's 800th Military Police Brigade, said she fears more senior Army generals may escape punishment, even though they issued or approved guidelines on the interrogation of Iraqi prisoners.
       
      Karpinski said in an e-mail interview with The Associated Press that she was unfairly cited by a report issued last month by an independent panel of nongovernment experts headed by former defense secretary James Schlesinger.
       
      The Schlesinger report blamed Karpinski for leadership failures that "helped set the conditions at the prison which led to the abuses." She failed to ensure that Iraqi prisoners were protected by the Geneva Conventions and failed to deal with ineffective commanders below her. It recommended that she be relieved of command and given a letter of reprimand, which would essentially end her career.
       
      The panel also said disciplinary action "may be forthcoming" against Col. Thomas M. Pappas, commander of the Army's 205th Military Intelligence Brigade, which was assigned to Abu Ghraib last year.
       
      That recommendation may allow top generals in Iraq to sidestep punishment, Karpinski said.
       
      Those she said might avoid sharing responsibility are Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the former land forces commander in Iraq; his deputy, Maj. Gen. Walter Wojdakowski; Maj. Gen. Barbara Fast, the former head of military intelligence here; and Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, deputy commander for detention operations in Iraq.
       
      "It was a conspiracy all along," Karpinski said. "Sanchez and Miller and likely Fast had fallback plans and people to blame if anything came unglued."
       
      Fast, Wojdakowski, Sanchez, as well as Karpinski are criticized in the Schlesinger report and a subsequent Army investigation led by Maj. Gen. George Fay.
       
      Karpinski has denied knowing about any mistreatment prisoners until photographs were made public at the end of April showing hooded and naked prisoners being tormented by their U.S. captors.
       
      The Senate Armed Services Committee has scheduled a hearing for Thursday to consider the Fay and Schlesinger reports and likely raising questions about which, if any, senior military officials should share blame for what happened at Abu Ghraib.
       
      Fast and Miller declined to comment on the report or Karpinski's allegations. Sanchez, Wojdakowski and Pappas could not be reached.
       
      Karpinski said she was snared in a Catch-22 situation. Allowing the tougher methods of prisoner interrogation to go ahead as recommended by Miller and approved by Sanchez landed her in trouble. But, she said, if she had disregarded those guidelines, she would also be in trouble.
       
      "Can't win," she said.
       
      Karpinski complained that Schlesinger's investigation gave her an only perfunctory opportunity - an interview of less than an hour - to rebut the allegations and defend her leadership.
       
      Karpinski also scoffed at the Schlesinger report's finding that Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and other top Pentagon officials can be faulted for failed leadership and oversight, even though the report's conclusion finds that Rumsfeld bears no direct responsibility for the abuses.
       
      The general said the report's focus on Rumsfeld was "clearly done as a show of unbiased investigation techniques" to bolster its credibility.
       
      In fact, Karpinski may not be the only Army general whose career suffers - or ends - because of the Abu Ghraib abuses.
       
      Observers have said they believe the probe could eventually reach the others. Investigators concluded that the other generals are partly responsible, but not legally culpable, for the abuse last fall.
       
      Sanchez and Wojdakowski are cited in an Army investigation for failure to "ensure proper staff oversight of detention and interrogation operations" in Iraq.
       
      Sanchez, who returned in June to his command of Army 5th Corps headquarters in Germany, has already been passed over for promotion to a four-star slot as chief of Southern Command because of Rumsfeld's expectation that Sanchez would face trouble in a Senate confirmation hearing.
       
      On the Net:
       
       
       
       

      Saddam top aide's capture denied

      Reports that Saddam Hussein's top aide Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri is in custody in Iraq have proved unfounded.
       
      Initial announcements by the Iraqi authorities suggested he had been arrested on Saturday while receiving treatment at a clinic near Tikrit.
       
      But the US military have made it clear he is not in their custody, and the Iraqi national guard later denied involvement in any operation.
       
      There have been several previous false reports about his arr

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