Big News Network.com Friday 4th February, 2005 (UPI)
Nearly as many Iraqi security forces have been killed in Iraq since June 2004 as U.S. troops have died since 2003, a top Pentagon official says.
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz told the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday that 1,342 Iraqi police, soldiers and national guardsmen have died in Iraq since the country assumed sovereignty.
That number does not include a dozen Iraqi recruits killed Thursday by gunmen who ambushed their minivan near Kirkuk, according to news reports. It was just one of a string of incidents nationwide that claimed at least 29 in a surge of violence following a mostly peaceful election day.
At least 1,471 Americans have died in Iraq since March 2003, according to Wolfowitz. Another 126 coalition members have died as well.
- Journalists would be shielded from being forced to reveal confidential sources under the "Free Flow of Information Act."
Feb. 2, 2005 -- A bill to provide reporters with an absolute privilege against compelled disclosure of their sources was introduced in the House today by Reps. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) and Rick Boucher (D-Va.).
The bill, titled the "Free Flow of Information Act," also would keep journalists from being subpoenaed to testify or reveal any other information unless all other sources for the information had been exhausted and the material was essential to the underlying court case or investigation.
"Reporters rely on the ability to assure confidentiality to sources in order to deliver news to the public, and the ability of news reporters to assure confidentiality to sources is fundamental to their ability to deliver news on highly contentious matters of broad public interest," Boucher said in a prepared statement. "Without the promise of confidentiality, many sources would not provide information to reporters and the public would suffer from the resulting lack of information."
"Compelling reporters to testify and, in particular, compelling them to reveal the identity of their confidential sources is a detriment to the public interest," Pence said on the House floor while introducing the bill.
Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) introduced a similar bill in the Senate last year, and is expected to reintroduce it in this session.
The Pence-Boucher bill also would protect journalists from having other records held by third parties -- such as telephone records held by a phone company or e-mail communications tracked by an Internet service provider -- turned over without their knowledge. The bill would require that journalists be notified before such a subpoena is issued and be given an opportunity to contest it before the time the records must be turned over.
The bill would cover publishers, broadcasters and wire services and those who work for them. The definition would include freelance journalists who are working for a publisher or broadcaster, but not those without contracts or those who publish solely on the Web.
Congress has been asked to consider enacting a reporter's shield law many times, but none has ever passed. The first known proposal was introduced in the Senate in 1929. In the mid-1970s, after the Supreme Court had ruled that the First Amendment does not protect reporters from being compelled to reveal confidential sources and as efforts by the Nixon administration to find reporters' sources came to light, at least 99 different reporter's shield laws were introduced in Congress. Currently, thirty-one states and the District of Columbia have shield laws, with Maryland being the first to enact one, in 1898.
(Free Flow of Information Act of 2005, H.R. 581) -- GL
- Federal reporter's shield law proposed (11/22/2004)
© 2005 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
- The CIA lost its bid Wednesday to ignore the Freedom of Information Act in regard to records on the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody in foreign countries.
Feb. 3, 2005 -- U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein in New York City rejected the CIA's claim that records requested by the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups are "operational" files not subject to the Freedom of Information Act.
The agency had claimed that the CIA Information Act allows the agency's director to exempt operational files from the FOI Act, excusing the agency from publishing or disclosing the files and also from searching or reviewing the records in connection with an FOI request.
But Hellerstein said that an exception to the CIA Information Act kicks in when the agency's conduct of an intelligence activity is under investigation for impropriety or for violation of a law, executive order or presidential directive. Records the agency finds may still be withheld if an exemption to the FOI Act applies, but if there is an investigation, the agency may not avoid the requirements of the FOI Act, Hellerstein wrote.
The CIA director has never made a finding that these operational records would be exempt, the judge noted. But even if he had, the criminal investigation of allegations of impropriety in Iraq begun by the agency's inspector general in May 2004 would render the records subject to the FOI Act.
The ACLU and several other watchdog groups filed FOI requests in 2003 and 2004 seeking records concerning the treatment of detainees held after Sept. 11, 2001, the movement of detainees to countries allowing torture and detainee deaths. Hellerstein ordered the agencies to respond by mid-October.
The Defense Department has asked for more time to process its requests and will go before the judge in late February in an effort to make its case for more delay. Several other agencies have released records in response to the requests.
(ACLU v. Department of Defense; Attorney for requesters: Lawrence Lustberg, Gibbons, Del Deo, Dolan, Griffinger & Vecchione, Newark, N.J.) -- RD
© 2005 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
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finally! after waiting through the festivals of thanksgiving, christmas, new year, hannuka, and everything else people find to celebrate in the winter seaason, this duck's day is dawning. The SPRING FESTIVAL bringing to us the LUNAR NEW YEAR (4073) ARRIVES!!!
this is the first year I have ever raised chickens, and the two darlings that came to me as 3 month olds are now house chickens, as Ling, the Pekin duck, has been given the grand status of House Duck. Now Trixie and Alice join him and the days here are filled with great and grand adventures.
Happy days are here. I sent the messages up to the kitchen gods and begin to add to my collection of scripts and calligraphy, luck symbols and now, Rooster replaces Monkey. An auspicious time for all.
best wishes on the coming new year!
China to greet first Rooster Year of new century
The people throughout China, who often consider their country to be shaped like a rooster, are greeting the most lucky and auspicious animal sign this Spring Festival, the "Year of the Rooster."
The word for "rooster" has the same pronunciation as "luck" in Chinese language and is the 10th in a 12-year rotation on the Chinese lunar calendar that begins with rat and ends with pig.
In honor of the incoming new lunar year, the Beijing-based People's Bank of China has issued commemorative coins engraved with new-born chicks. Shanghai saw a two-story-high cock built from 10,000 soda cans. A zoo in southern Shenzhen even held a show displaying more than 1,000 rare pheasants.
At the threshold of the first fifth year in the new century, modernization has changed a host of traditional Chinese Spring Festival customs.
People will rely mainly on phone calls and mobile phone text messages to send their best new year wishes and 16 percent of them will prefer outdoor traveling to spend the coming festival, according to data collected by the Social Survey Institute of China in 12 large cities, including Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.
During the last Spring Festival, Beijing mobile phone users alone sent more than 100 million text messages, contributing at least 10 million yuan (about 1.2 million US dollars) of profits to China Mobile and China Unicom, the country's two largest mobile carriers.
In 2004, approximately 28,000 Beijing tourists went overseas for celebrations of traditional spring festival, or Chinese lunar new year, according to local travel agencies.
The survey, however, disclosed that 60 percent of the interviewees regret the decline in traditional celebrations. Most of them deem it necessary to continue the practice of hosting a family dinner on the lunar New Year's Eve.
Thus, temple fairs, markets and even modern shopping malls are filled with traditional paper-cut designs, popular New Year pictures, red lanterns and lucky Chinese knots. Fluffy rooster toys are also clad in Chinese-style costumes.
Newspapers, not to miss out on the story opportunities provided by a Rooster Year, have devoted page after page to reminding readerships that the rooster is not only a faithful herald announcing the dawn of a day but also believed a talisman warding off evil spirits in ancient times.
Rooster, also an incarnate of phoenix, has widely been taken as the leader of birds. Phoenix, a mythological poultry, can fly in heaven and bring people fortunes.
When the 20th century's first Rooster Year came in 1909, however, entertainment and celebrations were forbidden across China to mourn the passing of Emperor Quangxi in the imperial Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), the last feudal dynasty in the country.
The ensuing Years of Rooster have witnessed flames of war, political turmoil and reforms in the past century.
After the return of Hong Kong and Macao in 1997 and 1999, China had seen the first non-stop, round-trip flights across the Taiwan Strait just before this Spring Festival. The reunification of the motherland and national rejuvenation are again the most vital topics in welcoming the new year.
It was believed a good omen foretelling harmony and smoothness of the whole year. People have started to prepare themselves for a joyful, affluent and busy Year of Rooster.
People's Daily Online --- http://english.people.com.cn/
The U.S. government says embryos aren't "donated" to infertile couples -- they're "adopted." How language has become a front line in the abortion wars.
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By Lynn Harris
Feb. 5, 2005 | Last year -- for the second time -- the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services gave away nearly $1 million in grants to promote awareness of embryo donation, a fertility procedure wherein a couple's embryo is implanted in a woman's womb and, assuming the pregnancy takes, raised as her child. Such embryos are normally donated by couples whose in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedure (in which the egg and the sperm are combined outside the body and then implanted) has yielded more embryos than they intend to make use of. Rather than keeping the embryos frozen indefinitely, offering them to fertility researchers or disposing of them, the donor couple -- either anonymously or in an "open" process -- makes them available to a woman who can, in many senses, give them a good home. The appeal of impregnation with a donor embryo includes the relatively low cost -- thousands of dollars as opposed to tens of thousands of dollars with a donor egg -- along with the experience of pregnancy. "I can't afford to use eggs," says Kim Bell, 40, of Howard Beach, N.Y., who is currently searching online message boards for an embryo donor. Embryo donation, she says, "would give me a chance to nurture the baby from the very start." >
Embryo donation has been medically available, though not widely used, since the 1980s. A 2003 Harris poll commissioned by RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association, and funded in part by a 2002 HHS grant, found that 75 percent of people diagnosed with infertility who had considered treatment believed that they did not have enough information about embryo donation to make an informed decision about whether to try it. IVF clinics currently offer a patchwork of embryo-donation information and services, and the number of wait-listed would-be recipients far exceeds donor-embryo supply. Hence the effort to "promote awareness."
Now, however, this personal reproductive decision is also becoming -- with the switch of just one word -- political. HHS, along with some of the organizations it supports with funding, explicitly calls the process embryo "adoption."
"There's no such thing as embryo 'adoption,'" says Sean Tipton, spokesperson for the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. "You adopt a child. Embryo donation is a donation of medical tissue, like sperm or an egg. The groups that advocate 'adoption' have a vastly different and rather transparent political agenda. [They] have a very high political stake in establishing that a fertilized egg is a human being with legal rights and moral standing."
Most people who believe that embryos can be adopted, even symbolically, believe that embryos are children, or even, in the words of one conservative columnist writing in favor of embryo adoption, "microscopic Americans." And, the logic follows, if embryos are mini-children, they shouldn't be mined for stem cells -- which they can't be anyway, given the limits President Bush imposed in 2001-- or lost to abortion.
"The attempt to change the vocabulary around embryos is part of a larger strategy to elevate the fetus to 'personhood' under the 14th Amendment -- and an effort to overturn Roe," says Suzanne Martinez, vice president for public policy at the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. The imposition of the term "embryo adoption," she says, goes hand in hand with other ongoing efforts to confer personhood on embryos and fetuses: laws that make it a separate criminal offense to harm a fetus, for example, or government insurance plans that cover "an individual in the period between conception and birth up to age 19." What do those have to do specifically with Roe vs. Wade? Though the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion turns largely on the right to privacy, it also notes -- in an aside that has become anything but -- if fetuses were "people," they would be entitled to protection under the 14th Amendment, and abortion would still be illegal. The Center for Women Policy Studies has stated that "legislative efforts to establish fetal patienthood, victimhood and, therefore, personhood represent the primary threat to Roe v. Wade."
As far as current law is concerned, the word "adoption" in the context of embryos is purely symbolic. "Embryo 'adoption' is a misnomer from a legal perspective," says Susan Crockin, a Boston-area attorney who frequently writes about reproductive technology law. "In every state, adoption is a very specific, statutorily mandated set of procedures applicable to born children, birth parents and adoptive parents, and that model does not fit embryo donation." Currently, only eight states have enacted statutes that govern parental rights in embryo-donation arrangements: All but one use the term "donation" and state that an embryo donor is not a parent. Only Louisiana identifies embryos as "juridical persons" that are subject to "adoption." (Specifically, if fertility patients in that state terminate their rights to an embryo, the embryo cannot be destroyed or otherwise donated; it must be made available for "adoptive implantation" -- but only to married couples.)
Still, while Martinez and other abortion rights activists don't think the word "adoption" is going to sink Roe, they point out that the increasingly widespread use of the word -- as well as the implicit recognition of it by the federal government -- is a poisonous rhetorical arrow in the quiver of the anti-abortion (and anti-stem cell research) forces.
"The more people talk about it as 'adoption' rather than 'donation,' the more we as a culture start changing," says Martinez. "This is part of a concerted strategy. One day we're going to wake up and they're going to ask the court to say that society has recognized that a fetus is a person."
Recipients of HHS public-awareness grants do include RESOLVE, which uses the term "donation" and supports embryonic stem cell research (it received $236,000 in 2002 and $120,000 in 2004), along with the American Fertility Association, whose president, Pamela Madsen, opposes both the term "adoption" and the conflation of infertility treatment and abortion politics. (The AFA received $197,000 in 2003.) Another 2002 recipient (of $223,000) was the Women and Infants Hospital in Providence, R.I., the primary teaching affiliate for Brown University Medical School in obstetrics, gynecology and newborn pediatrics.
But at least five other organizations the HHS grants support are doing their part to contribute to what President Bush calls a "culture of life."
The Christian Medical and Dental Associations, the nation's largest faith-based organization for doctors -- which opposes abortion and stem cell research and supports the Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act -- is sharing $304,000 with the Baptist Health System Foundation, Bethany Christian Services and the National Embryo Donation Center (NEDC), which is housed at Knoxville, Tenn.'s Baptist Hospital for Women and which offers medical, legal and psychological services for embryo donors and recipients. (The salary of the NEDC's spokesperson, who travels around educating infertility clinics about the center's services, is paid by HHS.) In that regard, they're doing much the same work as RESOLVE -- and they share the goal of tapping into the estimated 400,000 frozen embryos currently stored in the U.S. -- but they're coming from a different place.
"If you believe that an embryo is human life, you think there ought to be something better to do with that human life than to discard it," says Dr. Jeffrey Keenan, director of the NEDC. After about a year in operation, the center has approximately 200 couples wait-listed for embryos and about 80 sets of embryos available; they've performed eight embryo transfers, resulting in two pregnancies, and have just completed seven or eight additional transfers. Keenan acknowledges that his views, and the Christian overtones of many embryo "adoption" endeavors, are "part of the pro-life spectrum."
Nightlight Christian Adoptions, home of the eight-year-old Snowflakes embryo adoption program, received $506,000 in 2002 (roughly half that year's grant) and $329,000 in 2004. Snowflakes functions not merely as a donor-recipient matching service but also, in many ways, as a traditional adoption agency, requiring prospective adopting families -- who are selected by the genetic parents -- to undergo screenings and complete classes on the raising of adopted children. Since 1997, they have matched 207 genetic families with 136 adopting families, with a live-birth success rate of 35 percent.
"Nightlight Christian Adoptions does take the position that the embryo is an unborn child, and we have 85-plus children here and on the way that unequivocally prove that," says Lori Maze, director of the Snowflakes program. "We also believe that children are adopted and not donated, but we don't use the term 'adoption' to further any political or legal agenda. When we use the term 'adoption,' as opposed to 'donation,' we are using it from a social service perspective, focusing on the child who results from the adoption of those embryos. Any resistance to embryos being adopted is simply a matter of some portions of society being overly sensitive to anything that they perceive might give greater value or importance to the human embryo."
Likewise, Nightlight's executive director, Ron Stoddart, said in a 2004 press conference that the use of the word "adoption" is a means of recognizing the emotional effect of the arrangement on the child. "We don't talk about children being born from an embryo transfer as being 'donated,' we talk about them being 'adopted.' By creating a positive emotional framework for embryo transfers from one family to another, we respect the contribution of the genetic family and, most importantly, reinforce the identity of the adopted child."
Snowflakes, however, has not sat on the political sidelines. That press conference -- held in the Capitol last September with seven Republican senators present including Rick Santorum, R-Pa. -- was sponsored by Snowflakes to voice its opposition to H.R. 4682, the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2004, which would revoke the Bush policy limiting federal funding to embryonic stem cell lines created prior to August 2001.
Critics of embryo adoption claim that proponents of the term tend to exaggerate the number of actual available, viable embryos -- along with the notion that they're trapped somewhere in a "frozen orphanage" waiting to be rescued. According to a May 2003 study conducted by the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology with the Rand Corp. and published in the journal Fertility and Sterility, of the estimated 400,000 embryos cryogenically preserved in the U.S., about 88 percent still belong to the families who created them; only 2 percent were earmarked for donation to others. What's more, their quality deteriorates over time, and many do not survive the thawing process.
Might some of those who own the 88 percent be persuaded to offer them for donation when they feel their families are complete? Maybe, but it's a hard sell. In other words, organizations promoting embryo donation -- no matter what they call it -- have their work cut out for them. Far removed from the rhetorical skirmishes and political banner waving, actual couples face the nuances and complexities of infertility, agonizing over their decisions.
A study by Dr. Susan Klock, of Northwestern University's Feinberg Medical School, found that 20 to 30 percent of couples who freeze embryos after IVF say that when the time comes to decide what to do with them, they'll donate -- but three years later, two-thirds of them change their minds. Attorney Crockin says that of the dozens of people who come to her every year for legal help with donating their embryos to another couple, one-half to three-quarters wind up backing out after they receive counseling. And she hears similar numbers from her colleagues nationwide. "We can't get 5 percent of our patients to even think about it," says registered nurse Mary Fusillo, the third-party coordinator at Houston's Center for Reproductive Medicine, a member of RESOLVE's board of directors, and herself an initially reluctant embryo donor.
Fusillo also says that among her peers with frozen embryos in storage -- which can cost several hundred dollars a year in storage fees -- offering them up for stem cell research would be Plan A. Not comfortable with either donation or destruction, they see no other Plan B but to keep them around. "I'm not doing anything with them until I'm 50," she once heard a woman say. "I can't bear the thought of giving them to someone else, or destroying them, so I'm going to leave them in the freezer."
What makes donation so challenging? For many people, it's just difficult to think about somebody else's body -- or home -- housing your baby. Those who work with families considering embryo donation say that at first -- especially when they identify with another couple's infertility struggles -- it sounds like an amazing, generous, satisfying thing to do. But once they have children -- or when they don't -- it becomes hard to stomach the notion of someone else having a child who's a genetic sibling to theirs, or someone else having the child they couldn't.
Efforts at raising embryo donation "awareness" may be increasing, and some may be effective -- alarmingly so -- in shifting public consciousness, even subliminally, toward a view of the embryo as an adoptable human. But persuading women to donate their embryos is another story. Politics and religion aside, many women already do view an embryo as potential life -- life that they gave. Which is precisely why they won't give it away.
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The father of infertility
When I was going through the grueling process of trying to have a baby, I longed for the comfort of empathetic women. I found it where I least expected it: From my blunt-spoken dad.
By Sabrina Paradis
The baby panic
Sylvia Ann Hewlett says young women should start husband-hunting in their 20s if they don't want to end up childless and sad. But she's as clueless about balancing work and family as the career-first feminists she decries.
By Joan Walsh
The election impressed the world, but now the Iraqis have to learn to share power. And there's still a savage firefight every night in my Baghdad neighborhood..
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By Mitchell Prothero
Feb. 5, 2005 | BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Sunday's vote was a huge event for Iraq. The performance of the Iraqis in putting aside their understandable cynicism toward their "liberation" deserved its laudatory headlines. But it was only a good first step. It may turn out that it was easier for Iraqis to risk mortar rounds than to take the next step: accepting that sometimes your candidate loses.
"Now the government is from us, the Iraqi people," says Nadeem Zubaydi, a 45-year-old shopkeeper in the Shiite neighborhood of Karada. "Before [the Governing Council] was not legitimate, because they came from outside Iraq, with the Americans."
His neighbor Hirsham, a cobbler, says that he and other Iraqis will respect the election's results even if their candidate or ticket does not win. "I will not be upset if my candidates do not win," he says. "With the winner, the people around him will have to discuss his decisions. And maybe say no and stop him from doing things."
The right to criticize his new government seems to mean most to Nadeem and other Iraqis. "When I talked before, I couldn't say exactly what I wanted," he continues. "Now I am sure that if I complain, the new government can find the solution."
But there is a huge caveat: Nadeem voted for the Shiite ticket -- the winning one.
The small number of votes counted so far show a commanding lead for the religious Shiite political coalition led by Abdul Hakim Aziz. This is disappointing news for secular Iraqis and supporters of interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, who are hoping that the Aziz ticket fails to muster a plurality of the new 275-seat Legislature, so they will be included in a coalition government. Final results could come next week.
The immediate benefit of the election was that huge segments of the Iraqi population embraced the possibility they could elect a government. This raises hopes that they will support this yet-unseen government in its fight against the nihilist insurgents and terrorists who are intent on stopping a successful government from stabilizing Iraq. Much has been written about the motivations of the insurgents and their foreign jihadi allies, but the insurgency has always had a weakness: its lack of a clear goal.
Whether the Sunnis will join the democratic process is unclear. Even the more moderate Sunni organizations did not encourage Sunni participation, and a prominent Sunni group, the Association of Muslim Clerics, maintains the elections were illegitimate. Nonetheless, the association has offered to work with the new government to write a constitution.
As Iraq forms a new government, the big question is whether that government will be a tyranny of the majority, or whether it will represent all the factions in the country. Will the government receive support only from those who voted for it, or will other Iraqis also accept its legitimacy?
A few weeks ago, I would have given a skeptical answer to that question. The election has made the picture more optimistic, but major hurdles remain. In the Middle East, family and tribal loyalties supersede abstract concepts like democracy, and the history of the region contains few examples of magnanimous victors. Considering Iraq's history -- the Sunnis' crushing of the Shiites in Karbala 1,300 years ago, the British occupation, the succession of corrupt monarchs, the Baath regime, sanctions, and an American occupation rife with almost petty score settling against former Baathists and the Iraqi army -- it isn't surprising that Iraqis sometimes seem programmed to expect the worst.
Abu Wamheeth, 62, comes from the perfect demographic for the new government. He's a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering, a former general in Iraq's missile programs, and a businessman who lived in the United Kingdom for eight years, returning to Iraq in 1992 only to be purged from the military.
He's also an aggressively secular Shiite and such a fervent supporter of the American invasion and occupation that he gets dewy-eyed talking about it. But he is deeply worried about Aziz's ties to Iranian religious fundamentalism, concerned about corruption, and doubtful that his countrymen will be able to work together politically.
"This man, Aziz, does not like Iraq," he says, pointing out that Aziz and his men fought against Iraq on behalf of Iran in the 1980s. "Even as the entire world was forgiving Iraq's national debts, Aziz said Iraq still owed Iran billions of dollars from our war. He also does not really represent the Iraqi view of religion. We are not like the Iranians. We are a moderate Shiite people. That is why we have always disliked Iran."
I asked Abu Wamheeth how much damage the new government could really do, considering its only tasks are to fight Sunni insurgents and draft a constitution before being replaced next December in the real elections.
"These Shiites will pack the ministries with their supporters and alienate the rest of Iraq," he says, echoing a fear expressed by many secular Iraqis. "And Iraqis will begin to complain when they see certain Shiite families getting all of the jobs, as the Sunni tribes in Anbar [the restive province that includes Ramadi and Fallujah] did under Saddam. You cannot forget that an Iraqi, when something goes wrong, calls it God's will. When something goes right, it was because he was smart. When an Iraqi fails a class, it's because the teacher was not from his tribe: That's what he will say. When they see that the new government has people they don't like, they will go crazy."
A big part of the problem, he says, is widespread corruption. "To prevent this, the new government has to stop the corruption -- without it we cannot have even security. I am working to build barracks and bases for the new Iraqi army. I have to pay all of the officers and even then, someone steals half my concrete. This is stolen by the soldiers whose base I am building. To protect them from the [insurgents]."
There is no doubt that, successful as the voting was, Iraq faces massive problems. Baghdad was comparatively quiet for a few days after the polling, but the insurgency is still going strong. Even in my Baghdad neighborhood, which is far and away the safest in the city for Westerners, I can set my watch by the firefight that has broken out every midnight for the last four nights. It's down the road at a roundabout that connects a dangerous neighborhood in southern Baghdad to the rest of the city by a bridge span. Each morning I check the news wires to see if there's been even a mention of casualties from the sustained shooting, which sometimes lasts for 15 minutes and involves hundreds of rounds of small-arms and heavy machine-gun fire.
There's never a mention of it. So although major car bombings are down, in an upper-class neighborhood of Baghdad, full of people that support the elections and don't hate America, there is a brief but intense firefight every night that no one talks about and no one reports because it's not news. That's where Iraq stands right now, successful election or not.
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About the writer
Mitchell Prothero is a freelance journalist in Iraq.
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A proud day in Iraq
At crowded polling places in Baghdad, excited citizens explain why they voted and how -- for one day, anyway -- hope suffused their country.
By Mitchell Prothero
On the Sunni side
From the besieged Sunni triangle, the glowing portrait of the Iraqi election doesn't hold.
By David Axe
News & Analysis
Living Under the Bombs
Dahr Jamail, Electronic Iraq
4 February 2005
One of the least reported aspects of the U.S. occupation of Iraq is the oftentimes indiscriminate use of air power by the American military. The Western mainstream media has generally failed to attend to the F-16 warplanes dropping their payloads of 500, 1,000, and 2,000-pound bombs on Iraqi cities -– or to the results of these attacks. While some of the bombs and missiles fall on resistance fighters, the majority of the casualties are civilian –- mothers, children, the elderly, and other unarmed civilians.
"Coalition troops and Iraqi security forces may be responsible for up to 60% of conflict-related civilian deaths in Iraq -- far more than are killed by insurgents, confidential records obtained by the BBC's Panorama programme reveal." As the BBC reported recently, these numbers were compiled by Iraq's Ministry of Health, in part because of the refusal of the Bush and Blair administrations to do so. In the case of Fallujah, where the U.S. military estimated 2,000 people were killed during the recent assault on the city, at least 1,200 of the dead are believed to have been non-combatant civilians.
"Some of my friends in Fallujah, their homes were attacked by airplanes so they left, and nobody's found them since," said Mehdi Abdulla in a refugee camp in Baghdad. His own home was bombed to rubble by American warplanes during the assault on Fallujah in November -- and in Iraq today, his experience is far from unique.
All any reporter has to do is cock an ear or look up to catch the planes roaring over Baghdad en route to bombing missions over Mosul, Fallujah and other trouble spots on a weekly – sometimes even a daily basis. It is simply impossible to travel the streets of Baghdad without seeing several Apache or Blackhawk helicopters buzzing the rooftops. Their rumbling blades are so close to the ground and so powerful that they leave wailing car alarms in their wake as they pass over any neighborhood.
With its ground troops stretched thin and growing haggard -- 30% of them, after all, are already on their second tour of duty in the brutal occupation of Iraq – U.S. military commanders appear to be relying more than ever on airpower to give themselves an edge. The November assault on Fallujah did not even begin until warplanes had, on a near-daily basis, dropped 500-1000 pound bombs on suspected resistance targets in the besieged city. During that period, fighter jets ripped through the air over Baghdad for nights on end, heading out on mission after mission to drop their payloads on Fallujah.
"Airpower remains the single greatest asymmetrical advantage the United States has over its foes," writes Thomas Searle, a military defense analyst with the Airpower Research Institute at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama. "To make airpower truly effective against guerrillas in that war, we cannot wait for the joint force commander or the ground component commander to tell us what to do. Rather, we must aggressively develop and employ airpower's counterguerrilla capabilities."
"Aggressively employ airpower's capabilities" -- indeed they have.
"Even the Chickens and Sheep Are Frightened"
"The first day of Ramadan we went to the prayers and, just as the Imam said Allahu Akbar ("God is great"), the jets began to arrive." Abu Hammad was remembering the early stages of the November Fallujah campaign. "They came continuously through the night and bombed everywhere in Fallujah. It did not stop even for a moment."
The 35 year-old merchant is now a refugee living in a tent on the campus of the University of Baghdad along with over 900 other homeless Fallujans. "If the American forces did not find a target to bomb," he said, "they used sound bombs just to terrorize the people and children. The city stayed in fear; I cannot give you a picture of how panicked everyone was." As he spoke in a strained voice, his body began to tremble with the memories, "In the morning, I found Fallujah empty, as if nobody lived in it. It felt as though Fallujah had already been bombed to the ground. As if nothing were left."
When Abu Hammad says "nothing," he means it. It is now estimated that 75% of the homes and buildings in the city were destroyed either by warplanes, helicopters, or artillery barrages; most of the remaining 25% sustained at least some damage as well.
"Even the telephone exchange in Fallujah has been flattened," he added between quickening breaths because, as he remembers, as he makes the effort to explain, his rage grows. "Nothing works in Fallujah now!"
Several men standing with us, all of whom are refugees like Hammad, nod in agreement while staring off toward the setting sun to the west, the direction where their city once stood.
Throughout much of urban Iraq, people tell stories of being terrorized by American airpower, which is often loosed on heavily populated neighborhoods that have, in effect, been declared the bombing equivalents of free-fire zones.
"There is no limit to the American aggression," comments a sheikh from Baquba, a city 30 miles northeast of the capital. He agreed to discuss the subject of air power only on the condition of anonymity, fearing reprisals from the U.S. military.
"The fighter jets regularly fly so low over our city that you can see the pilots sitting in the cockpit," he tells me, using his hand to measure the skyline and indicate just how low he means. "The helicopters fly even lower, so low, and aim their guns at the people and this terrifies everyone. How can humans live like this? Even our animals, the chickens and sheep are frightened by this. We don't know why they do this to us."
"My Whole House Was Shaking"
The terror from the air began on the first day of the invasion in March, 2003.. "On March 19th at two AM, we were sleeping," Abdulla Mohammed, father of four children,, says softly as we sit in his modest home in Baghdad. "I woke up with a start to the enormous blasts of the bombs. All I could do was watch the television and see that everything was being bombed in Baghdad."
Near his home, a pile of concrete blocks and twisted support beams that once was a telephone exchange remains as an ugly reminder of how the war started for Baghdadis. "I was so terrified. My whole house was shaking," he continues, "and the windows were breaking. I was frightened that the ceiling would fall on us because of the bombs."
Nearly two years later, he still becomes visibly upset while describing what it felt like to live through that first horrific "shock and awe" onslaught from the air. "It was unbelievable to see things in my house jump into the air when the bombs landed. They were just so powerful." He pauses and holds his hands up in a gesture of helplessness before he says, "Nowhere felt safe and there was nothing we could do. People were looking for bread and vegetables so they could survive in their homes, but they didn't know where to go because nowhere was safe."
He lives with his wife and sons in central Baghdad, but at a location several miles from where the heaviest bombings in the Bush administration's shock-and-awe campaign hit. Nevertheless, even at that distance in the heavily populated capital, it was a nightmare. "Everyone was so terrified. Even the guards who were on the streets left for their homes because everything was being destroyed," he says. "The roads were closed because there were so many explosions."
"My family was shivering with fear," he adds, staring at the floor. "Everyone was praying for God to keep the Americans from bombing them. There was no water, no electricity, and all we had were the extra supplies that we had bought before."
Like the sheikh from Baquba, he and his family continue to live in fear of what American warplanes and helicopters might at any moment unleash. "Now, there are always helicopters hovering over my neighborhood. They are so loud and fly so close. My sons are afraid of them. I hear the fighter jets so often."
He suddenly raises his hushed voice and you can hear the note of panic deep within it. "Even last night the fighter jets were so low over my home. We never know if they will bomb." After pausing, he concludes modestly, "We can only hope that they won't."
"Even the Mosques Quit Announcing Evening Prayers..."
There is no way to discuss American reliance on air power in a war now largely being fought inside heavily populated cities without coming back to Fallujah. While an estimated 200,000 refugees from that city continue to live in refugee tent camps or crowded into houses (with up to 25 families crammed under a single roof), horrendous tales of what it was like to live under the bombs in the besieged city are only now beginning to emerge.
Ahmed Abdulla, a gaunt 21 year-old Fallujan, accompanied most of his family on their flight from the city, navigating the perilous neighborhoods nearest the cordon the American military had thrown around their besieged city. On November 8, he made it to Baghdad with his mother, his three sisters (aged 26, 20, and 18), and two younger brothers (10 and 12). His father, however, was not permitted to leave Fallujah by the U.S. military because he was of "fighting age." Ahmed was only allowed to exit the besieged city because his mother managed to convince an American soldier that, without him, his sisters and younger brothers would be at great risk traveling alone. Fortunately, the soldier understood her plea and let him through.
Ahmed's father told the family that he would instead stay to watch over their house. "The house is all we have, nothing else," commented Ahmed despondently. "We have no land, no livestock, nothing."
Recounting an odyssey of flight typical of those of many Fallujans, Ahmed told me his father had driven them in the family car across winding, desert roads out the eastern side of the city, considered the quietest area when it came to the fighting. They stopped the car a kilometer before the American checkpoints and walked the rest of the way, holding up white "flags" so the soldiers wouldn't mistake them for insurgents. "We walked with our hands up, expecting them to shoot at us anytime," said Ahmed softly, "It was so bad for us at that time and there were so many families trying to get out."
Those inhabitants still trapped in the city had only two hours each day to emerge and try to find food. Most of the time their electricity was cut and water ran in the faucets only intermittently. "Every night we told each other goodbye because we expected to die," he said. "Every night there was extremely heavy bombing from the jets. My house shook when bombs hit the city, and the women were crying all of the time." In his mind he still couldn't shake the buzzing sound of unmanned surveillance drone aircraft passing overhead, and the constant explosions of the "concussion bombs" (or so he called them) that he claimed the Americans fired just to keep people awake.
"I saw a dead man near our home," he explained, "But I could barely see his face because there were so many flies on him. The flies were so thick and I couldn't bear the smell. All around his body, his blood had turned the ground black. I don't know how he died."
The sighting of such bodies, often shot by American snipers, was a commonplace around the city. They lay unburied in part because many families dared not venture out to one of the two football stadiums that had been converted into "Martyr Cemeteries." Instead, they buried their own dead in their gardens and left the other bodies where they lay.
"So we stayed inside most of the time and prayed. The more the bombs exploded the more we prayed and cried." So Ahmed described life inside Fallujah as it was being destroyed. Each night in the besieged city seemed, as he put it, to oscillate between an eerie quiet and sudden bursts of heavy fighting. "Even the mosques quit announcing evening prayers at times," he said. "And then it would be so quiet -- except for the military drones buzzing overhead and the planes of the Americans which dropped flares."
It was impossible, he claimed, to sleep at night because any sound -- an approaching fighter jet or helicopter -- and immediately everyone would be awake. "We would begin praying together loudly and strongly. For God to protect us and to take the fighting away from our city and our home."
Any semblance of normalcy had, of course, long since left the environs of Fallujah; schools had been closed for weeks; there were dire shortages of medicine and medical equipment; and civilians still trapped in the city had a single job -– somehow to stay alive. When you emerged, however briefly, nothing was recognizable. "You could see areas where all the houses were flattened. There was just nothing left," he explained. "We could get water at times, but there was no electricity, ever."
His family used a small generator that they ran sparingly because they could not get more fuel. "We ran out of food after they Americans started to invade the city, so we ate flour, and then all we had was dirty water…so eventually what choice did we have but to try to get out?"
"Why do the Americans bomb all of us in our homes," asked Ahmed as our interview was ending. And you could feel his puzzlement. "Even those of us who do not fight, we are suffering so much because of the U.S. bombs and tanks. Can't they see this is turning so many people against them?"
"I Saw Cluster Bombs Everywhere"
Fifty-three year-old Mohammad Ali, who is living in a tent city in Baghdad, was one of those willing to address the suffering he experienced as a result of the November bombings. Mohammad is a bear of a man, his kind face belying his deep despair as he leans on a worn, wooden cane. He summed up his experience this way: "We did not feel that there was an Eid [the traditional feasting time which follows Ramadan] after Ramadan this year because our situation was so bad. All we had was more fasting. I asked God to save us but our house was bombed and I lost everything."
Refugees aren't the only people ready to describe what occurred in Fallujah as a result of the loosing of jets, bombers, and helicopters on the city. Burhan Fasa'a, a gaunt 33 year-old journalist is a cameraman for the Lebanese Broadcasting Company. He was inside the city during the first eight days of the November assault. "I saw at least 200 families whose homes had collapsed on them, thanks to American bombs," he said. "I saw a huge number of people killed in the northern part of the city and most of them were civilians."
Like so many others I've talked with who made it out of Fallujah, he described scenes of widespread death and desolation in what had not so long before been a modest-sized city. Most of these resulted from bombings that – despite official announcements emphasizing how "targeted" and "precise" they were – seemed to those on the receiving end unbearably indiscriminate.
"There were so many people wounded, and with no medical supplies, people died from their wounds," he said. He also spoke of cluster bombs, which, he -- and many other Fallujan witnesses -- claim, were used by the military in November as well as during the earlier failed Marine siege of the city in April. The dropping of cluster bombs in areas where civilians live is a direct contravention of the Geneva Conventions.
"I saw cluster bombs everywhere," he said calmly, "and so many bodies that were burned -- dead with no bullets in them."
A doctor, who fled Fallujah after the attacks began and is now working in a hospital in a small village outside the city, spoke in a similar vein (though she requested that her name not be used): "They shot all the sheep. Any animals people owned were shot," she said. "Helicopters shot all the animals and anything that moved in the villages surrounding Fallujah."
"I saw one dead body I remember all too well. My first where there were bubbles on the skin, and abnormal coloring, and burn holes in his clothing." She also described treating patients who, she felt certain, had been struck by chemical and white-phosphorous-type weapons. "And I saw so many bodies with these strange signs, and none of them with bullet holes or obvious injuries, just dead with discoloring and that bubbled skin, dark blue skin with bubbles on it, and burned clothing. I saw this with my own eyes. These bodies were in the center of Fallujah, in old Fallujah."
Like Burhan, while in the city she too witnessed many civilian buildings bombed to the ground. "I saw two schools bombed, and all the houses around them too."
"Why Was Our Family Bombed?"
I was offered another glimpse of what it's like to live in a city under attack from the air by two sisters, Muna and Selma Salim, also refugees from Fallujah and the only survivors of a family of ten, the rest of whom were killed when two rockets fired from a U.S. fighter jet hit their home. Their mother, Hadima, 65 years old, died in the attack along with her son Khalid, an Iraqi police captain, his sister Ka'ahla and her 22 year-old son, their pregnant 45 year-old sister Adhra'a, her husband Samr, who had a doctorate in religious studies, and their four year-old son Amorad.
Muna, still exhausted from her ordeal, wept almost constantly while telling her story. Even her abaya, which fully covers her, could not hide her shaking body as waves of grief rolled through her tiredness. She was speaking of her dead sister Artica. "I can't get the image out of my mind of her fetus being blown out of her body," said Muna. Artica was seven months pregnant when, on November 10, the rockets struck. "My sister Selma and I survived only because we were staying at our neighbor's house that night," she said, sobbing, still unable to reconcile her survival with the death of most of the rest of her family in the fierce pre-assault bombing of the city.
"There were no fighters in our area, so I don't know why they bombed our home," cried Muna. "When this happened there were ongoing full-scale assaults from the air and tanks were attacking our city, so we slipped out of the eastern side of Fallujah and came to Baghdad."
Selma, Muna's 41 year-old sister, recounted scenes of destruction in the city -- houses that had been razed by countless air strikes and the stench of decaying bodies that swirled through the air borne on the area's dry, dusty winds.
"The rubble from the bombed houses covered up the bodies, and nobody could get to them because people were too afraid even to drive a bulldozer!" She held out her hands as she spoke, as if to ask her God how such things could happen. "Even walking out of your house was just about impossible because of the snipers."
Both sisters described their last months in Fallujah as a nightmarish existence. It was a city where fighters controlled the area, medicine and food were often in short supply, and the thumping concussions of U.S. bombs had become a daily reality. Rocket-armed attack helicopters rattled low over the desert as they approached the city only adding to the nightmarish landscape.
"Even when the bombs were far away, glasses would fall off our shelves and break," exclaimed Muna. Going to market, as they had to, in the middle of the day to buy food for their family, both sisters felt constant fear of warplanes roaring over the sprawling city. "The jets flew over so often," said Selma, "but we never knew when they would drop their bombs."
They described a desolate city of closed shops and mostly empty streets on which infrequent terrorized residents could be spotted simply wandering around not knowing what to do. "Fallujah was like a ghost town most of the time," was the way Muna put it. "Most families stayed inside their houses all the time, only going out for food when they had to." Like many others, their family soon found that it needed to ration increasingly scarce food and water, "Usually we were very hungry because we didn't want to eat our food, or drink all of the water." She paused, took a deep breath undoubtedly thinking of her dead parents and siblings, and added, "We never knew if we would be able to get more, so we tried to be careful."
I met the two sisters in the Baghdad home of their uncle. During the interview, both of them often stared at the ground silently until another detail would come to mind to be added to their story. Unlike Muna who was visibly emotional, Selma generally spoke in a flat voice without affect that might indeed have emerged from some dead zone. "Our situation then was like that of so many from Fallujah," she told me. "None of us could leave because we had nowhere to go and no money."
"Why was our family bombed?" pleaded Muna, tears streaming down her cheeks, "There were never any fighters in our area!"
Today fighting continues on nearly a daily basis around Fallujah, as well as in many other cities throughout Iraq; and for reporters as well as residents of Baghdad, the air war is an omnipresent reality. Helicopters buzz the tops of buildings and hover over neighborhoods in the capital all the time, while fighter jets often scorch the skies.
Below them, traumatized civilians await the next onslaught, never knowing when it may occur.
(c)2004, 2005 Dahr Jamail. More writing, photos and commentary at dahrjamailiraq.com. All images and text are protected by United States and international copyright law. If you would like to reprint Dahr's Dispatches on the web, you need to include this copyright notice and a prominent link to the DahrJamailIraq.com website. Any other use of images and text including, but not limited to, reproduction, use on another website, copying and printing requires the permission of Dahr Jamail.
Backup Warriors Fill Unrecognized Roll
Diane M. Grassi
For those who take real chances in their lives and who do so all in the interest of a better good are rightly and deservedly praised. Most recently the president, in his 2005 State of the Union Address starting off his 2nd term in office, thanked Congress “for providing our servicemen and women with the resources they have needed……and must continue to…….. give them the tools for victory.”
And as lip service and praise is given to our heroic troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the perceived success of the Iraqi people in their elections on January 30th, we are however provided a skewed view of another group of heroes who have often gotten overlooked, and in the capacity they have served our country in Iraq.
Many of our U.S. legislators will not admit that there is a need to officially reassess the structure of our armed services and our supply of available troops in light of the prolonged war in Iraq to make good on “providing our servicemen and women with the resources they have needed.” It would only be but healthy to do so in order to maintain our forces worldwide and to have the national guard available in the U.S. for matters of national regard and security.
Given that nearly 50% of the U.S. armed forces serving in Iraq are made up by the Army Reserve and our National Guard with deployments ongoing for up to 18 months, the 2005 yearly quota for recruiting reservists combined with reenlistments is down as much as 15%, and continues to decrease the longer the war goes on. How wise it is to depend so much on often aging reservists with growing families left behind in the midst of careers has been addressed on Capitol Hill, but not with any great fervor.
And shortage of troops has had a direct effect on another issue not being addressed, which is the “invisible” front line. There has been little media coverage as well as a lack of recognition to those who fill a void in those situations where there has been a shortage of combat soldiers serving in Iraq. And they are our female troops who are more and more found in the line of fire. Nearly 15% of those serving in Iraq are female soldiers who have included fighter pilots, combat helicopter pilots, as well as transport pilots. While not on the ground, but very much a part of the fall of Saddam Hussein, as well as with the ongoing transport of soldiers and supplies, they are flying above the front lines, often risking their lives.
But while not relegated to combat status, many female troops have recently been deployed with the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division for added “forward support companies” with supply and support services for infantry, armor and special forces and will find themselves on the “front lines” of Iraq, as terrorists do not acknowledge that line of demarcation between the front and back lines.
Prior to this acknowledged addition and admission by the Army this past November, female troops have been serving unacknowledged in this capacity since the beginning of the War in Iraq. Former POW’s Jessica Lynch and Shoshana Johnson and the death of Lori Piestawa were covered in the media as the exception to the rule, during their service in the supply line for the infantry, when caught in an ambush in 2003.
Presently, U.S. law prohibits women from serving in combat units. At issue is a separate Army regulation which also prohibits women from serving in front line support units. The Army claims the female troops in the 3rd Infantry are not “assigned” to the units but rather “attached” and therefore is following all laws and regulations. Since the Army is hiding behind its definitions, it stands by its decision in not advising the Congress, required by law, of its change to embed female troops with combat personnel. These roles until now were officially only held by male troops.
The traditional lines between combat and support functions has been blurred particularly by the characteristics of the War in Iraq. But the Army is also blurring the lines of the actual service these female troops are providing, while not having to credit them for it or provide the necessary training their male counterparts previously received. So often, with just basic infantry training, women are led to fend off attacks as well as protecting their comrades, much as if they were trained combat soldiers.
This is not at all a call for women to serve as combat troops. Advocates on one side are pushing for the status change of permitting women the right to engage as combat soldiers which is a different matter. Others believe this is an indirect way to unilaterally force women into combat situations, whether they want that assignment or not, whether capable or not and speaks to issues of proper training. Most important is providing our troops with the best training and equipment with the inherent ability to be as flexible as possible if need be. This is not an issue of gender but rather about one of sound policy-making.
That policy will ultimately fall upon the shoulders of the Pentagon and then hashed out by Congress most likely after the operation in Iraq. But let us not hail a policy which forbids women in combat while we use them in the air for battle operations and leave them on the ground without the appropriate training when caught in enemy fire. Given the volatile environment in Iraq which our soldiers must face, and many of them women reservists who are not active duty status, they are put further into harm’s way as we do not “train women for combat operations” according to the Army. That ultimately reflects upon the safety and security of all of our troops.
But putting policy aside for a moment, these women who have given their lives in the war in Iraq and Afghanistan - to date 32 with over 200 casualties - and those who continue to serve will never get the true recognition for the roles they play, mainly given the government’s continued denial that women do not serve in combat, and as a reminder to discourage such policy. Semantics aside, they are heroes nevertheless, and rather than covering up bad policy and skirting the real issues facing our forces in a post-9/11 world in the U.S. and abroad, it should be dealt with head on. There is no shame in doing so, but rather there is in denying our troops the best training and best chance to succeed, whether they be men or women. Let us not set up our women soldiers to fail, and then use them as scapegoats for failed missions.
Our security in the world and on our own soil depends just as much on sound policy and leadership as it does on state-of-the art weaponry. So let us give our troops the advantage of benefiting from both in order for them to successfully fulfill that mission.
Diane M. Grassi is a freelance columnist writing commentary on current events of the day providing honest and often politically incorrect assessments. From U.S. public policy to Major League Baseball, Ms. Grassi is an eclectic thinker, demanding the readers to also observe their thinking patterns from a different perspective. Whether you agree with her or not, Diane Grassi will have you coming back to note her opinions, and if at best she wakes you up, then her goal will have been accomplished.
Saturday February 5, 2005
The G7 nations are willing to write off up to 100 percent of the debt of the world's poorest countries, chancellor Gordon Brown said after a meeting of G7 finance ministers. "We are willing to provide as much as 100 percent debt relief on all multi-lateral debt for individual HIPC (Highly Indebted Poor Countries)," he told a news conference.
Brown, chairing the G7 talks, had pushed for a complete write-off of African debt and a doubling of aid flows to $100 billion a year but the latter proposal ran into US opposition.
Britain launched a last-ditch bid to muster support for its plan to rid Africa of poverty despite a flat rejection by the United States in talks among the Group of Seven industrial powers.
Finance ministers engaged in heated and occasionally angry exchanges late into Friday night but failed to achieve any kind of resolution, sources said as talks went into a second day.
"The Americans are on a different wavelength," German deputy finance minister Caio Koch-Weser told reporters.
British finance minister Gordon Brown wants approval for his International Finance Facility (IFF) scheme to double aid to Africa to $100 billion a year and write off the debts of the poorest countries completely.
The plan has the backing of South Africa's Nelson Mandela who made an emotional appeal to the G7, equating the fight against poverty to the struggle against apartheid.
"Do not delay while poor people continue to suffer," the 86-year-old former political prisoner said putting all his moral weight behind his plea. He demanded a full write-off of African debt and $50 billion extra a year in aid for the next decade.
But without US support the chances of any breakthrough appear remote.
US Treasury under secretary John Taylor yesterday rejected Brown's plan to double existing aid by using rich countries' guarantees to raise money in the capital markets.
Washington also said it was not keen on a separate Brown idea of re-rating the undervalued gold reserves of the International Monetary Fund to finance a debt-write off.
US officials stressed today that they fully support debt relief but do not think Brown's plan is the most efficient way to do so.
Europe's backing seemed to be fading with both Italy and Germany saying they would prefer something less ambitious than the British proposals.
But G7 officials said that a debt write-off was not dead in the water. "The issues are very open on the question of development," one G7 source said.
Others said some kind of deal was possible in time for a leaders' summit in July. Koch-Weser said his country liked the idea of a jet fuel tax to aid Africa, a proposal floated by French President Jacques Chirac but backed by few others so far.
The G7 includes the United States, Japan, Germany, Britain, France, Italy and Canada.
Back seat for other issues
The bulk of the meeting was devoted to the Third World but the ministers also discussed ways of reducing volatility in the oil market after prices hit record highs last October.
They were also discussing the more familiar G7 topics of currency management and economic risks.
US Treasury Secretary John Snow is not attending because of a cold so there appeared little chance of ministers straying from a year-old policy statement in which they called for less volatile currency markets and greater exchange rate flexibility.
The latter point is aimed mainly at China, which sent its finance minister and central bank officials to meet G7 members.
"We are determined to move towards a flexible exchange rate, but no timetable," Chinese central bank deputy governor Li Ruogu told reporters after breakfast talks.
Beijing says it is not going to rush into altering its yuan peg to the dollar, which many say keeps the yuan artificially low and makes life unfairly difficult for other trading nations.
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005
In early election results, Shiite cleric's alliance trouncing Washington's favorite
- Borzou Daragahi, Chronicle Foreign Service
Friday, February 4, 2005
Baghdad -- Partial results from Sunday's election suggest that U.S.-backed Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's coalition is being roundly defeated by a list with the backing of Iraq's senior Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al- Sistani, diminishing Allawi's chances of retaining his post in the next government.
Sharif Ali bin Hussein, head of the Constitutional Monarchy Party, likened the vote outcome to a "Sistani tsunami" that would shake the nation.
"Americans are in for a shock," he said, adding that one day they would realize, "We've got 150,000 troops here protecting a country that's extremely friendly to Iran, and training their troops."
The partial totals so far show the Iraqi List headed by Allawi, a secular Shiite and onetime CIA protege, trailed far behind with only 18 percent of the votes, despite an aggressive television ad campaign waged with U.S. aid. A lopsided majority of votes, 72 percent, went to the United Iraqi Alliance list, topped by a Shiite cleric who lived in Iran for many years and whose Sciri party has close ties to Iran's clerical regime. More than a third of the alliance's vote came from Baghdad, the cosmopolitan capital where Allawi had been expected to fare well.
Although the results are only from Baghdad and five southern provinces where the Shiite parties were expected to score strongly, and from only 10 percent of the country's 5,216 polling stations, the scale of the alliance's vote underscored the probability of a historic shift in the Shiites' favor from decades of Sunni minority rule in Iraq.
Safwat Rashid, a member of Iraq's Independent Election Commission, and international election officials warned observers not to read too much into the early numbers, which did not include tallies in the country's Sunni or Kurdish provinces.
Rashid said the Baghdad numbers came from "mixed" -- meaning Sunni and Shiite -- neighborhoods in the city where Allawi was expected to perform well. Hussein said Allawi had also performed poorly in Babil province, a relatively urbanized, mixed Shiite-Sunni area south of Baghdad.
He said the vote total and the total turnout numbers wouldn't be known for another 10 days.
Already, Western officials in Baghdad appeared to be downplaying worries about the possible victory by the alliance, topped by Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, a cleric who spent years exiled in Iran.
The alliance "is a very diverse group of people, from Westernized independents to Sunni sheikhs to people who really believe in an Islamic state, " one Western diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity said of the alliance on Wednesday. "It will be hard to maintain unity."
The election commission also released final vote tallies from overseas voters in eight countries, the United States, Britain, France, Iran, Syria, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Australia. The alliance won of 44 percent of the 170,000 votes cast in those countries, the Kurds 18 percent and Allawi's list 12 percent. In U.S. voting, Allawi garnered just 5 percent of the vote, less than the Communist Party total.
Some Sunni leaders said the Shiite coalition's strong showing to date did little more than validate the deep sense of alienation felt by Iraq's Sunnis, most of whom did not cast ballots Sunday.
"The Shia were determined and encouraged their supporters to vote and to register, and the Sunnis didn't care that much, either out of fear or apathy," said Adnan Pachachi, a foreign minister in the years before Saddam Hussein who is a prominent Sunni leader. "This is the story, really."
But signs also have emerged that some Sunni leaders are ready to involve themselves at least in a limited way in the country's political debate. The leaders of 13 mostly Sunni political parties that stayed out of the election agreed earlier this week that they would take part in writing a permanent constitution for Iraq.
When the vote count is final, the 275 seats in the National Assembly will be divided up among the 111 parties, individuals and coalitions that ran in the election, with each ticket getting seats according to its proportion of the vote. Each list that receives one-275th or more of the vote total gets at least a seat.
A two-thirds majority of the parliament must approve a president and two deputy presidents, who will be in charge of naming a Cabinet. The new assembly is also responsible for writing the constitution, a process that could be adjusted in order to include Sunni representatives.
Presuming the constitution is approved by referendum next autumn, new elections for a permanent government will be held by year's end.
None of the votes announced Thursday came from the Kurdish north, where heavy turnout is sure to guarantee a strong Kurdish presence in the assembly.
Kurdish political leader Jalal Talabani said he would seek the office of either president or prime minister when the legislature convenes. "We, as Kurds, want one of those two posts, and we will not give it up," Talabani, head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and a candidate on the unified Kurdish list of candidates, told reporters.
Now that the election is over, Pentagon authorities have decided to start reducing the level of U.S. forces in Iraq next month by about 15,000 troops, down to about 135,000, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told Congress Thursday. "I think we'll be able to come down to the level that was projected before this election," he said.
Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified that about 40,000 of Iraq's best forces "can go anywhere in the country and take on almost any threat." But he acknowledged that more than two-thirds of the 136, 000 members of Iraqi security forces that the United States and its allies have trained and equipped were unready to tackle the insurgency.
That uprising began rattling the nation anew Thursday as at least 26 Iraqis and three U.S. Marines died in an uptick of violence following days of post-election calm.
Insurgents stopped a minibus south of Kirkuk, ordered army recruits off the vehicle and killed 12 of them. Gunmen fired on a vehicle carrying Iraqi contractors to jobs at a U.S. military base in Baquba, killing two.
A suicide bomber struck a foreign convoy escorted by military humvees on Baghdad's airport road. Rebels attacked Iraqi police Thursday in the Baghdad suburb of Abu Ghraib, killing one policeman and wounding five, the Interior Ministry said.
One U.S. Marine was killed Thursday in Babil province, the U.S. command said. Two other Marines were killed in action Wednesday night in Anbar province.
Chronicle news services contributed to this report.
With 1.6 million votes counted, from only 10 percent of Iraq's polling
stations, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani's slate has a strong lead over Prime
Minister Ayad Allawi's party. The early returns are from polling stations in
southern Shiite provinces and Baghdad. Election officials cautioned that these
results should not be used to project final results.
Name on ballot with Votes won
United Iraqi Alliance Ayatollah al-Sistani 1,164,770 71.6
Iraqi List Ayad Allawi 294,587 18.1
National Independent Muqtada al-Sadr 23,980 1.5
Elites and Cadres
The remaining 108 parties together have received 8.8 percent.
Source: Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq
New York Times
Posted 01:21am (Mla time) Feb 06, 2005
By Nafa Abdul Jabbar
Iraq's leading Sunni authority on Saturday said it would help to draft the country's new constitution under a timetable for foreign troops to leave, hinting it could then help to end the insurgency.
In Rome, the Italian government scrambled to release a woman reporter kidnapped a day earlier in Baghdad, as two US troops and 11 Iraqis, including two children, were killed in rebel attacks.
The Committee of Muslim Scholars said it was willing to assist with the new constitution provided a consensus was found on a fixed departure of the US-led foreign troops after talks with UN special envoy in Iraq, Ashraf Qazi.
"Qazi asked the Committee to take part in drafting the constitution. We told him that we had conditions and that we would discuss them with the parties that boycotted the polls and would put forward a common stance," said spokesman Omar Ragheb.
"These demands focus on reaching a consensus with all political parties on a withdrawal of foreign forces," he added.
The organisation, which opposed last Sunday's general elections, hinted that the influential grouping of clerics could then weigh on insurgents to end the bloodshed which has marred Iraq's reconstruction.
"Then, the country's elders will tell the resistance: 'No need to spill more blood'," Ragheb said.
According to many observers, much of the success of the post-election period, during which parliament will have to draft a permanent constitution for the country, will depend on the level of involvement of the Sunni community.
Meanwhile, Italy was rocked by the latest hostage crisis in Iraq, following Friday's abduction of Giuliana Sgrena, 56, a correspondent for the leftist Il Manifesto daily.
She was snatched after visiting a mosque where refugees have been encamped since the devastating US-led assault on Fallujah in November. The area has become a notorious danger zone for journalists.
French reporter Florence Aubenas disappeared a month ago as she worked on the same story, while another Western reporter escaped an abduction attempt in the same area 10 days ago.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has said "the negotiating machinery has been set in motion" to press for the journalist's release.
The so-called Islamic Jihad Organisation handed Berlusconi, who has faced down domestic opposition to be one of the staunchest US allies in Iraq, a chilling 72-hour deadline to pull his 3,000 troops out of the country.
A month after Aubenas went missing, there has still been no claim of responsibility, fueling fears over her fate and that of her Iraqi translator, Hussein Hanun al-Saadi.
But French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier was quoted as saying by Aubenas's daily, Liberation, which like Sgrena's employer opposed the war in Iraq, "the most recent elements at our disposal allow us to stay hopeful".
In a rare bomb attack in the southern city of Basra, a booby-trapped motorcycle exploded, killing four Iraqi soldiers, an army spokesman said.
The attack, which took place in the heart of Basra, a Shiite-dominated city and the country's second largest, came amid fears of attempts to sow sectarian strife in Iraq.
In the country's Sunni heartland north of Baghdad, a roadside bomb attack also left two US troops dead and four wounded, the US military said.
Two children were killed when a landmine exploded in the restive Sunni city of Samarra, security and medical sources said.
Two Iraqi soldiers were also killed in a roadside bomb attack in the same city, while another soldier and a civilian were killed during clashes between Iraqi security forces and insurgents in central Samarra.
Another soldier was killed in clashes in the nearby troublespot of Dhuluiya.
Electoral commission officials continued to tally votes, six days after the country held its first democratic polls in half a century.
With 3.3 million votes counted out of an estimated eight million ballots cast last Sunday, the coalition of Shiite parties backed by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani held a commanding lead over its challengers.
Germany, a fierce critic of the war in Iraq, offered to provide more help for reconstruction, during a visit by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on her fence-mending tour of Europe.
Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder announced that Berlin was prepared to extend its training programmes for the Iraqi police and military which are currently taking place in the United Arab Emirates.
©2005 www.inq7.net all rights reserved
Nepali army fires on protesters
Violence erupts in the Himalayan state just days after the king sacks the government and declares a state of emergency.
South-East Asia Correspondent
King Gyanendra's supporters gather in Nepal's
capital Kathmandu to back the monarch's actions.
Maoist rebels had called for a nationwide strike,
but it was largely ignored. Photo: AP
The Nepali Army, under the direct control of the king after he sacked the government, fired at student protesters from helicopters, wounding at least 15, an Indian newspaper reported yesterday.
It is the first report of violence from the Himalayan kingdom since the king seized control on Tuesday.
The Hindustan Times said the shootings happened in the town of Pokhara hours after King Gyanendra fired the prime minister and declared a state of emergency. Immediately after the proclamation students at Pokhara's Prithvi Narayan College protested and prevented soldiers from entering the campus to halt the demonstration, the paper said.
The army responded with helicopters, firing at the protesters. About 15 students were shot and moved to army barracks. International observers said the army was using the state of emergency to arrest upper and middle-ranking politicians, student leaders and human rights activists in a clear attempt to silence opposition.
"This is a kidnap of democracy," Pimalendra Nidhi, the sacked education minister, said: "We are turning the clock back after so much struggle to get democracy."
Western observers predict the crackdown will get worse as the arrests continue.
"In doing this, the king has made enemies of everyone, the politicians, the Maoists, the people," a senior member of the international community said.
"There always were three corners to the power struggle, now his opponents are in one direct line."
The government has been fighting a nine-year battle against Maoist insurgents, with 11,000 casualties and human rights abuses on both sides. The army has changed from a largely ceremonial outfit to a well-equipped force, doubling in size to 80,000 men.
was using the state of emergency to silence opposition.'
The capital, Kathmandu, has become a communications black-hole with all mobile phones, landlines and internet services out of order.
Local radio stations have been ordered to present only music, Indian television news channels are blocked and army colonels are scrutinising newspaper editorials.
"We know the army is inside the telecommunications building, the phone system could be down for another week and when it is operating again, they will be tapping phones," the international observer said.
"Initially the phones were cut to stop people from organising when the government was dismissed. But now they are using it to facilitate more arrests, so no one knows what is going on."
One Asian diplomat believed 40-50 politicians had been arrested.
Local and international activists said the army was closing human rights offices. It was also reported to have told all non-government organisations to re-apply for approval to operate, raising fears of a further crackdown.
The army is under UN scrutiny for the disappearance of prisoners and Amnesty International recently accused it of shooting prisoners, rather than taking them.
The Ministry of Information has banned for the next six months the publication of any
"interviews, articles, news, information, opinions that are against the sentiment of the royal address made on February 1".
In response, the editorial in the country's leading Nepali-language paper Kantipur, a strong critic of the government, on Wednesday explored a ballet dance drama. On Thursday, it editorialised on archery in Nepal.
"They were expressly forbidden to (discuss the crisis) so Kantipur is ridiculing it by looking at archery," the Asian diplomat said.
Yesterday's Kathmandu Post editorial was titled Appreciating the weather:
"Thursday witnessed weather at its best . . .
It was the kind of day when things taken for granted suddenly take on new meanings."
There is an almost surreal normality on Kathmandu's streets. There was a heavy military presence earlier in the week but it is now limited to key facilities.
Taxi drivers and travel agents say the politicians were corrupt and that the king's decision to take power will be a good sign to tourists that things are again under control. But flights into Kathmandu are nearly empty and departing flights oversubscribed.
Nepal's two biggest supporters, the US and India, have expressed dismay at events.
The Indian Government called it a grave setback to democracy. The US State Department said it was deeply troubled by developments.
- with agencies