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Analysis of under-reported news, updates on previous Monitor stories


[Editor's note: Before there were blogs, there were the Monitor "404 Reports," which began in 1997 as a forum to offer updates on previous Monitor stories and discuss items in today's news that deserved greater media attention. Significant additions or changes to the Albion Monitor site will also be announced here. Do not bookmark this page, as the 404 Reports address will change with each edition.]

Petraeus and Crocker, our new faces in Baghdad


Iraqi Militias Vie For Control Of Mosul (2003)

Iraq Uprising Spreads After Battle Of Falluja (2004)

In Mosul, Iraq Solders Turn From Hunter To Hunted (2005)

The Failed State of Iraq (2006)

Pakistan And The True WMD Threat (2004)

Who's Winning Friends, Making Enemies in Pakistan? (2006)

  + THE WAY FORWARD OF DIMINISHED EXPECTATIONS     Not often does the reality-based community send up a cheer for the Bush White House, but much approval followed the nominations of the new top U.S. military commander and U.S. ambassador for Iraq. Lt. Gen. David Petraeus will take over from Gen. Casey, and Ryan Crocker replaces Zalmay Khalilzad. Both men have street creds as early nay-sayers of the way the Iraq occupation was botched, and scores of bloggers approvingly lifted part of a Washington Post article about them:

Crocker, who spent the summer of 2003 helping to form Iraq's Governing Council, left the country frustrated with the CPA's reluctance to reach out to minority Sunnis. Even before the invasion, he wrote a blunt memo for then-Secretary of State Colin Powell warning of the uncontrolled sectarian and ethnic tensions that would be released by the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

Petraeus, who spent 2003 commanding the 101st Airborne Division in Mosul, grew dismayed by the heavy-handed tactics fellow military commanders were using to combat insurgents. He also opposed the methods by which Bremer disbanded the Iraqi army and fired Baathists from their government jobs. And he chafed at the way reconstruction money, personnel and decision-making were centralized in Baghdad.

There's no begrudging these men their I-told-you-sos, which at least shows they don't share the neo-con's fetish of playing dress-up as Knights Templar. But important questions about their capabilities aren't being asked: Is either man such a giant as to be realistically capable of managing such a seemingly impossible task? And perhaps more important, will Crocker and/or Petraeus have the spine to confront Bush/Cheney when things inevitably go worse? Sadly, the answer to both questions is probably no.

The most in-depth background on Petraeus comes from a July 5, 2004 Newsweek feature written during his tenure in Mosul. The adulatory profile ("It's widely accepted that no force worked harder to win Iraqi hearts and minds than the 101st Air Assault Division led by Petraeus") shows he's smart, charismatic, and ambitious. It also reveals that he's not experienced, seeing combat for the first time only after the invasion of Iraq; Petraeus rose to be a two-star general as one of the "perfumed princes" attending the needs and wants of higher-ups. Schwarzkopf, Powell, he ain't.

Nor has his tour in Iraq proved that he's a can-do guy. He boasted to Newsweek of his triumphs in Mosul ("I go back there and it's like the return of the prodigal son"), but by the end of that year, it was the same urban war zone as other Iraqi cities, and so it remains today. His assignment after that was to rebuild the Iraqi army, and given unlimited $$ and resources to do it -- and we all know how well that job has gone.

Crocker has a stellar resume as an old Middle-East hand who speaks fluent Arabic and who's served as U.S. ambassador to Syria, Kuwait, and Lebanon. But since 2004 he's been ambassador to Pakistan, where he is viewed as an apologist for General Pervez Musharraf, the country's dictator. Crocker also has made comments that have outraged Asian human rights advocates and diplomats -- remarks that were ignored by the Western press.

A few months after settling in Islamabad, Crocker met with reporters from South Asian news media. He told the journalists that the U.S. was satisfied with Musharraf's handling of the A.Q. Khan investigation, although the 'Father of the Pakistani Bomb,' who admitted to selling WMD know-how and materials to Iran, Libya and North Korea, was immediately pardoned for his crimes by Musharraf (this was our top story in the 2004 Wayward Press awards).

He also pronounced Pakistan a democracy, of sorts. "The media is free here, the judiciary is working, the parliament is functioning," Crocker said. A few months later he went farther, saying "Gen Musharraf had outlined the vision of a sustainable, stable and true democracy in Pakistan" and that he believed in him. The U.S, Crocker said, didn't want to see the kind of democracy that Pakistan had before Musharraf's coup -- which means, of course, the elected kind of democracy.

Those types of comments earned him deserved scorn from the Pakistani exiles blocked by Musharraf from running from office and the South Asian press, particularly the Indonesian newspapers Nation and Dawn. But even Pakistan's own media was astonished by the cluelessness of Crocker's views following the 2005 Himalayan earthquake.

As reported here, the earthquake left an estimated 3.5 million survivors fighting for their lives in harsh winter conditions. The good news in this terrible situation is that relief organizations moved in quickly to setup tent cities, offer medical care at field hospitals, and deliver aid to those remaining in outlying areas. The bad news is that this successful effort was being run by militant Islamic groups, not the UN or any government.

Pakistan's notoriously corrupt army placed itself in charge of the multibillion-dollar relief and reconstruction efforts, forming a new organization that, as Pakistan's opposition political party complained, is accountable to no one but itself (although one of its first acts was to preemptively grant immunity from prosecution to any uniformed officers working in the earthquake-hit areas). National and regional government were elbowed out, and the fast initial response slowed as generals quarrelled with experienced aid groups, even forcing workers out of some camps. As a result, some NGOs gave up and withdrew.

Did America's representitive demand accountability from the army's relief org? Plead for better cooperation between the military and international civil aid groups? Nope; Crocker denounced the jihadi relief efforts because it provided legitimacy to the outfits, and suggested that Pakistan should block them from providing help. A White House spokesman repeated this message a few days later when Vice President Dick Cheney visited Pakistan, about the same time that Crocker also claimed that conditions were no longer so bad, after all.

For suggesting that Pakistan should use its limited resources in stopping relief efforts, we nominated ambassador Crocker at the time for the "Heckuva Job Brownie Prize" -- at least FEMA manager Michael Brown didn't call for the National Guard to arrest Hurricane Katrina volunteer relief workers.

Crocker's dictatorship-is-democracy slant and Petraeus' short history of (failed) tasks does not bode well for providing the kind of leadership that's needed to fix this mess, but we know one thing for sure: to get their new jobs, both had to agree with Bush that "victory" was still possible, so at least they both know how to salute on demand.   (January 24, 2007)

The genocide trial that wasn't


Saddam's Death Also Leaves Questions Hanging

Quick Saddam Execution May Cheat Kurds of Genocide Trial

Who's Not On Trial With Saddam (2005)

Saddam Trial Will Indict West For Weapons Sales (2004)

New Documents Show How Rumsfeld And Reagan Armed Saddam (2004)

The Lost History of The U.S. and Iraq (2003)

  + WHO EXECUTED SADDAM?     What a disappointment for the right-wing bloggers and Drudges; Saddam's neck was stretched after years of anticipation, yet there was no fun in it. The ex-tyrant didn't struggle or beg for his life or hurl some crazy, amusing accusation about George Bush; instead, he stood quietly with shoulders square at the gallows, looking for all the world like a statesman or diplomat about to deliver a policy speech on tariffs. How dare he.

While Saddam failed to satisfy, the rest of the freakshow offered up plenty for gawking. The executioner's black ski masks lent a nice thuggish touch, and the chanting of "Muqtada! Muqtada!" quickly became the focus of media attention -- although only those asleep for the last three years have an excuse to be surprised that followers of powerful Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr would be on hand to lay claim to Saddam's Sunni head.

But news media pundits overlooked the ripe symbolism of the chant. There at the scene of Saddam's death, a bloody baton was being passed on to his heir apparent al-Sadr, commander of the Shiite death squads; the moment was more of the beginning of a new chapter in Iraq's history than the closing of an old one. It lacked only the Hollywood touch of Saddam in Darth Vader garb hissing, "Muqtada, I am your father" before his body dropped through the trap door.

The swirling chaos of the black masks and chanting made another point inescapable: this was a lynching, not a state execution. While the official U.S. reaction was bemused dismay ("Had we been physically in charge at that point we would have done things differently," Major General William Caldwell sniffed to reporters), it wasn't clear why the need to rush him up the gallow's steps.

A superb article in the January 7 New York Times confirmed the not-so secret that prime minister Maliki and other Shiites were itching to get their hands on him, quarrelling with U.S. military commanders that they, as the legitimate government of Iraq, had the legal right to execute a condemned prisoner. Now. The Americans, who had custody of Saddam, wanted to make sure that they first had CYA letters in hand from Iraqi legal experts and all powers-that-be affirming they should hand him over, but that was also a stalling tactic; up to the last hours, Ambassador Khalilzad was trying to negotiate a delay at least until foreign reporters and UN observers could be present to give the killing a whiff of decorum. Calls and e-mails flew between Baghdad and Washington until a decision was made at the highest level: Give him to the Iraqis at once, despite the risk that they'd botch it. As, of course, they did.

The news media was quick to accept Shiite thirst for revenge as the reason for the hasty hanging, but a greater motivation was rarely mentioned: To silence Saddam at his second trial, which was about to begin in earnest. The crime for which he was sentenced to death was the "systematic persecution" of a Shiite town where 148 were executed after a 1982 assassination try -- a footnote in the history of his regime compared to the genocide charges stemming from the "Anfal" campaign of 1988 that butchered up to 180,000 Kurds in northern Iraq. In that trial, however, Saddam could make a stink about unindicted co-conspirators: Presidents Reagan and George HW Bush.

The year after those 148 Shiite villagers were killed, Donald Rumsfeld, Reagan's personal envoy, shook hands with Iraq's dictator in Baghdad. Rumsfeld also met in December 1983 with Iraq's Foreign Minister, promising him that the U.S. had "willingness to do more" to help Iraq win its war with Iran. Soon after, the Reagan administration permitted sale to Iraq of dual-use products, such as helicopters, heavy trucks, and armor-plated ambulances. While the U.S. officially condemned Saddam's use of chemical and biological weapons -- and knew since 1983 that Saddam was using chemical WMDs against "Kurdish insurgents" within Iraq as well as the Iranian foe -- the Commerce Dept. later allowed export of weapons-grade anthrax, botulin, and chemicals used to make mustard gas, even during the middle of the "Anfal" massacres.

The U.S. wasn't alone in arming Saddam Hussein. The Soviets sold the MIGs he used to spray poison gas over Iranian troops and Kurd villages; France, Germany and Britain also sold him chemical agents, and Italian-built Valmara landmines still lay in deadly wait throughout Kurdish northern Iraq (as do Made-in-USA M-14s).

Arguing in his defense case, Saddam would have surely mentioned all of this -- and maybe even more damning details that have yet to surface, such as the CIA's alleged role in using a Chilean front company to provide Iraq with cluster bombs; a U.S. program to keep Iraq's military supplied with spare parts and ammunition, in part by using captured Soviet gear and ammo provided by the Israelis; and a reported secret memo from Reagan urging Iraq to "step up its air war and bombing of Iran" that was delivered by VP Poppy Bush. In short, Saddam might have spilled the beans on another operation that looked very much like Iran-Contra II.

But since the defendant was now dead, all charges against Saddam were dropped when the Anfal genocide trial resumed on January 8th. Nor will details from this period surface in the U.S. archives; one of George W. Bush's first acts as president was an order to block the release of papers from the Reagan-Bush years, a shroud of secrecy he soon extended further to suppress documents related to "military, diplomatic or national security secrets."

The question remains open: Who really executed Saddam Hussein, and why? Was it vengeful Shiites in control of Iraq's government seeking blood to close the Saddam era -- or was it the president and son of a former president (and leader of a political party that venerates Ronald Reagan) seeking to keep dangerous skeletons closeted? Whatever the answer to the debate, note that the final decision to proceed immediately with the hanging came from the only top U.S. government official intimate within the Bush family circle: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.   (January 15, 2007)

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