Residents Say Hussein Loyalists in Full Control
SHATT AL-BASRA BRIDGE, Iraq, April 1 -- For 13 days now, British artillery and U.S. helicopters have pounded Iraqi tanks, mortar positions and government targets inside Basra. The Baath Party headquarters has been hit twice. British commandos regularly raid the strategic port to abduct militia leaders -- all, British officials say, intended to pave the way for British troops to seize control of Iraq's second-largest city.
But to hear some Basra residents tell it, the punishing artillery barrages have had little effect in weakening the hold of President Saddam Hussein. At the Shatt al-Basra Bridge on the city's southern limits and along the highway linking Basra to the nearby town of Zubair, ask residents who is in charge of Basra today and the universal answer is: the same force that has held sway for the last three decades.
"The Baath Party and the army," said Ali, 39, who was on his way to the Zubair market to buy tomatoes to sell in Basra. "They are still very strong."
Ali, who once worked for the Korean carmaker Hyundai and speaks passable English, paused for a moment on the bridge while British soldiers at a checkpoint searched his truck for weapons. On condition that only his first name be used, he provided an account of a city where life functions almost normally, despite the standoff between British forces ringing the city and militiamen and soldiers holed up inside.
"The markets are functioning normally in Basra," he said. Dismissing reports that civilians in the predominantly Shiite Muslim city had tried to rebel against Hussein's government, he added, "There's been absolutely no uprising."
Ali's view was more or less echoed by other Basra residents, who are allowed to come and go with relative freedom over this single bridge left open by the British. The only restriction is that cars must pass through a British military checkpoint, where any vehicle deemed suspicious -- "dodgy," as the soldiers put it -- is singled out for a complete search.
"It's great. No problem," said a young man with a neatly trimmed beard and wearing a traditional loose-fitting black robe. Asked who was in charge in the city, he replied, "Baath Party. No army, just Baath."
Another man in brown, with a moustache and flecks of gray in his hair, said the main problems for Basra's 1.3 million residents are on-again, off-again electricity and a shortage of water, but not a reign of terror by Hussein loyalists, as described by British and U.S. officials.
"The people are living normally," said Falih, a teacher, speaking in English as he waited at the roadside with other passengers as their packed minibus was searched. "They go to the market, they go shopping, they go to the hospital when they are sick. Just there is this checkpoint here."
He added, "Life is normal."
The accounts of travelers moving back and forth from the besieged city seem to belie the depiction of Basra as gripped by fear, with a restive population under the sway of a ruthless militia that uses people as human shields. People here crossing to the town of Zubair, mostly on the way to markets, said they are free to come and go, and most intended to return to Basra after shopping.
"You see the same faces," said Sgt. Ian Pickford of the Irish Guards, who was posted at the bridge checkpoint from midnight until noon. "A lot of them come out with nothing, but go in with vegetables."
Among those he recognized was an old man riding on a rickety donkey cart who was a regular passer at the checkpoint.
The residents moving back and forth also seemed to counter some of the more dire predictions from aid groups that Basra faced a humanitarian crisis. Most said clean drinking water is a problem. But with markets open, and traffic flowing to Zubair, where the streets are now crowded with vendors, food appears to be less of a problem.
British commanders in the area said their information, from local residents, is that people in Basra should have enough food to last about one more month. A U.N. aid official contacted in Kuwait said the Iraqi government had been distributing extra food rations since summer in anticipation of a war and that the average family staying at home should have enough food to last until the end of April.
The residents did confirm what British commanders in the area have been saying since the siege began, that the army and militia fighters inside have interspersed with the civilian population, making it difficult for the British to pinpoint their positions. "The Baath Party people stand near the civilian homes," said the driver of a dark blue minibus, speaking through an interpreter. "And then the Americans and British fire on them."
With few foreigners having access to Basra, it is difficult to determine the accuracy of the British artillery and U.S. airstrikes or the extent of Iraqi casualties in the city. Ali, the vendor and former Hyundai worker, said, "Two or three died yesterday. Why are they killing our children? We are innocent. The children are scared."
The British believe the Iraqi fighters inside Basra are trying to draw them into a battle in the city's teeming streets, which could result in significant casualties. They fire at British positions with mortars, and they tempt counterattacks by moving tanks close to the edge of the city before quickly retreating up its main arteries.
On the bridge today, a brief moment of commotion erupted when British troops noticed a van moving from a factory building on the edge of town, from which several rocket-propelled grenades were fired Monday night. A Warrior armored vehicle unleashed a burst of machine-gun fire toward the vehicle, sending civilians on the bridge scampering for cover behind mounds of dirt, cars and an old concrete guard post once used by Iraqi sentries.
For now, British commanders said their strategy is to wait out the Iraqi defenders in Basra until conditions on the ground are right for a full-scale assault. As part of creating those conditions, British troops have launched operations in outlying villages dotted with date palms southeast of Basra. The British also said they want to scour the surrounding area for weapons caches and arms that could be used by army or militia fighters to attack British rear positions after any push into the city center.
© 2003 The Washington Post Company
Pentagon vetoes new task force to take control of Baghdad
The parallel internal war in Washington over Iraq flared again yesterday when the Pentagon vetoed a list of senior officials proposed by the State Department to help to run the country once Saddam Hussein has been overthrown.
The proposed team is understood to have included several present and former high-level diplomats, including ambassadors to Arab states, who would have joined what amounts to a cabinet under the retired General Jay Garner, named by the Pentagon to head an interim administration.
But Donald Rumsfeld, the Defence Secretary, is understood to have vetoed the group as "too bureaucratic". Among those favoured by the Pentagon is said to be James Woolsey, the former CIA director and long-standing proponent of military action against Iraq. The Pentagon also wants a job for Ahmed Chalabi, the head of the Iraqi National Congress opposition group, whom the State Department regards with high suspicion.
The dispute is more evidence of the Pentagon's determination to retain as direct a control as possible of the rebuilding of Iraq, relegating the international community, the United Nations, NGOs, and even other parts of the US government to supporting parts.
It is also another facet of the running battle – mostly submerged but sometimes bursting into public view – between Colin Powell, the Secretary of State, and the hardliners led by Mr Rumsfeld, his deputy Paul Wolfowitz and Dick Cheney, the Vice-President, for the ear of President George Bush.
The rivalry stretches back to last summer, when Mr Bush overruled the Cheney/ Rumsfeld camp and followed General Powell's urgings to take the crisis to the UN and to give the weapons inspectors one last chance.
The quarrelling ranges from the management of humanitarian aid to post-war Iraq, the shape of a post-Saddam administration, the place of the UN in reconstruction and the role of Iraqi opposition groups in the transition phase.
According to The Washington Post yesterday, the State Department's nominated group was due to leave Washington for Kuwait last week, but was told to "stand down" after objections from the Pentagon. At the same time, General Powell wrote to Mr Rumsfeld, saying civilian agencies co-ordinated by the State Department should be in charge of distributing humanitarian aid.
The Defence Secretary's response is unknown. But the exchange only underlines how Bush administration's plans for Iraq, even for the post-war phase, are still in flux.
General Powell fears that if the US military is seen to control matters, foreign governments who opposed the invasion without prior UN approval, and aid agencies, will be less willing to help. Last week, the heads of 14 US aid agencies wrote to Mr Bush, pleading that the UN takes charge. They left no doubt they did not want to be Pentagon subcontractors.
So far the President has been ambiguous on the issue. At the Azores summit with Tony Blair and Jose Maria Aznar, the Spanish Prime Minister, Mr Bush said the UN would play a vital part in aid efforts. That comment was generally taken as a nod in the direction of Mr Blair, a fervent proponent of UN involvement. But Mr Blair appeared to make little new headway when he met Mr Bush at Camp David last week.
The disagreement is an increasing worry for neutral Iraq exile groups. "Quarrelling between the US government agencies is terribly detrimental to Iraq," Rend Rahim Francke, the executive director of the Iraq Foundation, a non-profit group promoting democracy and human rights, said yesterday. "The best way of bringing the Iraqi opposition groups together is to end the divisions inside the US government. There should be one Iraq policy, not five or six."
She also urged that an Iraqi face be given to the military operation in progress. "When the troops go in, Iraqis see British and American soldiers who can't communicate," Ms Francke told a meeting at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, a think-tank and stronghold of neo- conservative hawks on Iraq. "I fail completely to understand why, when so many Iraqis are ready to go in to help build bridges, the coalition so far hasn't made use of them."
Ari Fleischer, Mr Bush's spokesman, said last night that the exact job of the UN in Iraq would only be decided once the war was over but the military is certain to play a key role.
In the build-up to the conflict, the President Bush has tended to side with the Cheney/Rumsfeld/Wolfowitz group. General Powell has had little choice but to go along, given the discipline of the administration and the premium Mr Bush places on loyalty.
Separately, Mr Fleischer stressed the President's complete faith in Mr Rumsfeld, who has been accused of overruling his top commanders and going to war with too small a force on the ground.
The latest claims, Mr Fleischer said, were second guessing one of "1,000 colonels" at the Pentagon.
American and British officials were entirely right to describe the deaths of at least eight Iraqi civilians at two US checkpoints as a "tragedy". But – even as the first skirmishes for Baghdad begin – these deaths, of mostly women and children, illustrate everything that is risky, contentious and uncertain about this ill-conceived conflict.
For soldiers, trained in the language and practice of war, a checkpoint is a place where those who approach with innocent intent know they must stop; only those with malign intent will ignore them. For those same civilians, however, unversed in combat, fleeing for their lives and doubtless terrified, a foreign military checkpoint is an unwelcome and alien obstacle. Misunderstandings are inevitable and, in conditions of war, so are fatalities.
These incidents occurred only 12 days into hostilities. The servicemen concerned had limited experience of real combat. The whole US contingent in Iraq was on edge after an earlier suicide bombing at just such a checkpoint, and the statement by Iraq that suicide bombings were from then on a weapon in the country's defence.
This does not mean, however, that there are not highly disturbing, even shameful, aspects to the killings or that there are not crucial lessons to be learned. An eye-witness account of the checkpoint incident near Karbala in which many members of one family died, tells of the senior officer chiding his juniors for firing their warning shot too late – too late, that is, for the speeding car to slow down in time.
Accounts are still confused, and an inquiry is in progress whose findings should not be prejudged. But the knee-jerk reaction of Allied officials, who laid the blame exclusively on Saddam Hussein, was disingenuous. With eight unarmed civilians killed at US checkpoints, it is not sufficient explanation to say, as the US commander's spokesman did, that this was "indicative of a bigger problem: the tactics of terrorism being employed by the regime's death squads".
It may also be "indicative of a bigger problem" within the alliance: one of attitude and assumptions. Both US and British officials have acknowledged that Iraqis have proved a more formidable enemy than anticipated. For all the promises to avoid civilian casualties where possible, some American conduct has been described by British servicemen and officers as needlessly aggressive. One British victim of "friendly fire" spoke of an American pilot behaving like a "cowboy".
The vocabulary of leading members of the Bush administration has done nothing to temper the impression of undue belligerence. Earlier US remarks to the effect that activities such as peacekeeping were for "wimps" hardly helped. If the campaign in Iraq is to be as humanitarian in intent as we were led to believe, the Americans must take more care with their words, as with their deeds.
The British army prides itself, with justification, on the precision, guile and forbearance that it acquired in Northern Ireland. The signs are that these skills are proving valuable in Iraq, and will become more so as the war proceeds. But we should not forget that these techniques were hard-won and that there were many deaths, injuries and just plain errors along the way.
The price of excessive or indiscriminate belligerence is high. And in Iraq, where the professed aim is to liberate, the price of failing to observe our self-imposed rules of restraint will be even higher. US and British forces must do their utmost to ensure that these first checkpoint deaths are also the last.
The war on Iraq is already beginning to affect the health of the US economy, research shows.
Economists have long warned that a protracted war is likely to have a significant impact on the global economy and the US in particular.
But new research suggests that the US economy is already suffering just 13 days after war began.
Manufacturing activity slumped in March, according to the Institute for Supply Management, breaking the recovery trend seen over the past four months and dashing hopes of a sustained turnaround.
Consumer activity was also lower in the first full week of the war, as consumers stayed away from shopping malls.
Sales at US retail chain stores fell by 1.4% in the week ending on 29 March, taking retail sales to their lowest point so far this year, according to research from investment bank UBS Warburg.
But according to ABC News/Money Magazine's Consumer Comfort Index, US consumer confidence increased slightly last week.
In spite of the increase, the index is still not far off from nine-year lows.
The report said anticipation of a conflict in the Gulf turned out to be a bit more worrying than the start of the war.
Over the last month the index turned in its worst four-week performance since December 1993, as consumers worried about the war, the economy and rising energy prices.
Carmaker Ford, meanwhile, reported that sales in March fell 8% as customers steered clear of making big investments with so much financial insecurity in the air.
Its rivals, General Motors and DaimlerChrysler, both said sales were down about 3% during the month.
And the National Retail Federation cut its forecast for retail sales growth by nearly a third, predicting that spending will increase at the slowest rate in at least a decade.
Such surveys are closely watched by investors and add to the existing gloom on the world's stock markets.
Despite the raft of gloomy data, economists still say the downturn could be a temporary blip if the war ends quickly.
"The problem is that a quick resolution to the war now looks increasingly unlikely," said Ken Wattret at BNP Paribas.
The proof: marketplace deaths were caused by a US missile
An American missile, identified from the remains of its serial number, was pinpointed yesterday as the cause of the explosion at a Baghdad market on Friday night that killed at least 62 Iraqis.
The codes on the foot-long shrapnel shard, seen by the Independent correspondent Robert Fisk at the scene of the bombing in the Shu'ale district, came from a weapon manufactured in Texas by Ray- theon, the world's biggest producer of "smart" armaments.
The identification of the missile as American is an embarrassing blow to Washington and London as they try to match their promises of minimal civilian casualties with the reality of precision bombing.
Both governments have suggested the Shu'ale bombing and the explosion at another Baghdad market that killed at least 14 people last Wednesday were caused by ageing Iraqi anti-aircraft missiles. Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, said yesterday it was "increasingly probable" the first explosion was down to the Iraqis and Peter Hain, the Welsh Secretary, suggested on BBC's Newsnight last night that President Saddam sacked his head of air defences because they were not working properly.
But investigations by The Independent show that the missile thought to be either a Harm (High Speed Anti-Radiation Missile) device, or a Paveway laser-guided bomb was sold by Raytheon to the procurement arm of the US Navy. The American military has confirmed that a navy EA-6B "Prowler" jet, based on the USS Kittyhawk, was in action over the Iraqi capital on Friday and fired at least one Harm missile to protect two American fighters from a surface-to-air missile battery.
The Pentagon and Raytheon, which last year had sales of $16.8bn (£10.6bn), declined to comment on the serial number evidence last night. A US Defence Department spokeswoman said: "Our investigations are continuing. We cannot comment on serial numbers which may or may not have been found at the scene."
An official Washington source went further, claiming that the shrapnel could have been planted at the scene by the Iraqi regime.
On Saturday, Downing Street disclosed intelligence that linked the Wednesday attack and by implication Friday's killings on Iraqi missiles being fired without radar guidance and falling back to earth. The Prime Minister's spokesman said: "A large number of surface-to-air missiles have been malfunctioning and many have failed to hit their targets and have fallen back on to Baghdad. We are not saying definitively that these explosions were caused by Iraqi missiles but people should approach this with due scepticism."
The Anglo-American claims were undermined by the series of 25 digits and letters on the piece of fuselage shown to Mr Fisk by an elderly resident of Shu'ale who lived 100 yards from the site of the 6ft crater made by the explosion.
The numbers on the fragment retrieved from the scene and not shown to the Iraqi authorities read: "30003-704ASB7492". The letter "B" was partially obscured by scratches and may be an "H". It was followed by a second code: "MFR 96214 09."
An online database of suppliers maintained by the Defence Logistics Information Service, part of the Department of Defence, showed that the reference MFR 96214 was the identification or "cage" number of a Raytheon plant in the city of McKinney, Texas.
The 30003 reference refers to the Naval Air Systems Command, the procurement agency responsible for furnishing the US Navy's air force with its weaponry.
The Pentagon refused to disclose which weapon was designated by the remaining letters and numbers, although defence experts said the information could be found within seconds from the Nato database of all items of military hardware operated across the Alliance, "from a nuclear bomb to a bath plug", as one put it.
Raytheon, which also produces the Patriot anti-missile system and the Tomahawk cruise missile, lists its Harms and its latest Paveway III laser-guided bombs, marketed with the slogan "One bomb, one target", as among its most accurate weaponry.
The company's sales description for its anti-radar missile says: "Harm was designed with performance and quality in mind. In actual field usage, Harm now demonstrates reliability four times better than specification. No modern weapons arsenal is complete without Harm in its inventory."
Faced with apparent proof that one of its missiles had been less accurate than specification, Raytheon was more coy on the capabilities of its products. A spokeswoman at the company's headquarters in Tucson, Arizona, said: "All questions relating to the use of our products in the field are to be handled by the appropriate military authority."
Defence experts said the damage caused at Shu'ale was consistent with that of Paveway or, more probably, a Harm weapon, which carries a warhead designed to explode into thousands of aluminium fragments and has a range of 80km.
Despite its manufacturer's claims, it also has a record of unreliability when fired at a target which "disappears" if, as the Iraqi forces do, the target's operators switch their radar signal rapidly on and off. Nick Cook, of Jane's Defence Weekly, said: "The problem with Harms is that they can be seduced away from their targets by any sort of curious transmission. They are meant to have corrected that but there have been problems." During the Kosovo conflict four years ago, a farmer and his daughter were badly injured when a missile exploded in their village. A shard of the casing was found near by with a reference very similar to that found in Baghdad: "30003 704AS4829 MFP 96214."
The American navy confirmed that one of its Prowler jets, which is used to jam enemy radar, had been over an unspecified area of Baghdad on Friday night. A pool reporter on the carrier USS Kittyhawk was told that the Prowler squadron had fired its first Harm on Friday evening in response to an air-defence unit that was threatening two F/A-18 Hornet jets. Lieutenant Rob Fluck told the journalist that the crew had not seen where their missile had landed.
U.S. Anti-War Movement Breaks Ranks with the '60s
BOSTON (Reuters) - Peace vigils and rallies against war in Iraq have broken out in U.S. towns and cities, drawing hundreds of thousands of participants.
Student strikes are disrupting college campuses, where old protest anthems like "We Shall Overcome" mix with the tinny sound of speeches belted out over bullhorns.
The scene may resemble the Vietnam-era U.S. student movement. But scratch the surface and it soon becomes clear that this peace push is strikingly different from that of the 1960s when it was a movement of the young, of university students and of those on the political left .
Now participants in U.S. anti-war protests cut across the spectrum of ages, races and backgrounds and include many who would consider themselves mainstream Americans. They are joining a more predictable crowds of college students, environmentalists, socialists, anarchists and other activists.
John Llewellyn, a 45-year-old computer industry worker from Knoxville, Tenn., is among the tens of thousands of people who turned up at a recent anti-war protest in Boston -- the city's biggest demonstration in at least 30 years.
A former "longtime Republican," Llewellyn said he has never protested against anything in his life and admitted he does not fit the mold of an anti-war activist, but said President Bush's policies have gone too far.
"It's gotten to the point that it's scary," said Llewellyn, who was visiting Boston with his family.
NOT THE 'USUAL SUSPECTS'
Although turnout at anti-war rallies has been strong, polls show that most Americans support the war in Iraq.
Still, many of Llewellyn's fellow protesters said the war has stirred something within them that has lain dormant for decades and, in some cases, their entire lives.
"This is the first time I have ever done something like this," said 66-year-old Jung Ming Wu of Acton, Massachusetts, as he gathered with thousands of other protesters gathered in a park in Boston. "It's very emotional."
Victoria Carter a 46-year-old actuary, said her appearance at the Boston rally was her first since taking part in an anti-apartheid protest decades ago.
"I usually trust the government, but this time it's different," said Carter, who lives in the Boston area.
Eli Pariser, the international campaigns director of MoveOn.org, an online political network that claims more than 1.3 million U.S. members and another 700,000 around the world, said many of those involved are not "the usual suspects."
"They're ordinary folks who often have never been politically involved before and consider themselves patriots," said Pariser, who is based in New York. "But they feel so alarmed by the direction the country is going and possible consequences of war that they feel like they have to get involved."
The participation of many middle-of-the-road Americans is no accident. Some anti-war groups have consciously reached out to the mainstream by avoiding some of the more strident rhetoric and confrontational tactics of recent left-wing campaigns such as the anti-globalization protests at the Seattle World Trade Organization talks four years ago.
Some anti-war strategists have strived to cast their cause as a patriotic one that loyal Americans can embrace as part of the nation's moral conscience.
Technology also aids their cause.
Armed with e-mails and the power of the Internet, anti-war activists organize protests in hours, not the days or weeks it took their predecessors. One of their tactics before the war began involved bombarding the White House and Congress with electronic mail and faxes in a bid to block telephone lines.
Joseph Gerson, a 56-year-old Boston-based pacifist, marvels at the speed at which rallies are put together, and he envies the breadth of information available to protesters online.
"I spent a big part of the Vietnam War era organizing anti-war protests in Arizona. We were pretty isolated. There was a right-wing monopoly newspaper, and we were dependent on what outside speakers would bring in or what we got in the mail. That was slow," says Gerson, a former classmate of Bill Clinton at Georgetown University in the 1960s.
Gerson said he is stunned by how quickly the anti-war movement has grown, noting that it took years to reach a critical mass of people opposed to the conflict in Vietnam.
New York has already seen two demonstrations within five weeks numbering in the hundreds of thousands -- a broad coalition of 200 groups under the umbrella of United for Peace and Justice.
Part of the movement's strength, Gerson said, comes from a newly energized student base -- a big shift from the economically booming '90s that generally kept a lid on campus activism.
"The students who are coming out to demonstrations ... are rediscovering their political power," he said. "They are learning lessons about American society and about democracy that have been submerged for the last decade."
Further distinguishing the present peace drive is the absence of a draft that sucked a generation of American men into military service and served as a major catalyst for the peace movement of the late '60s.
In place of the draft, Gerson said, is a sense of "straight altruism" shared by people who are simply concerned about their country's future.
Stephen Nathanson, a philosophy professor at Northeastern University and a former Vietnam-era peace activist, said many current demonstrators also are more comfortable with their sense of patriotism.
"In the '60s, people just accepted that if they were against the war, they were going to be anti-patriotic," Nathanson said. "Now, people seem to understand that you can oppose the war because you're patriotic. People who oppose the war actually think it's bad for the country, that it will make the country unsafe."
Joshua Jackson, an anti-war organizer at Hampshire College in western Massachusetts, said activism is not confined to "lefty" college towns like Madison, Wis., or Berkeley, Calif., -- and it goes beyond the free-love, drug-happy flower power of the late '60s.
"Sure there are punk rockers and hippies taking part," he said. "But this is not a counter-cultural movement: You're seeing a lot of 'normal' people involved with this."
~Did You Miss These?~
Just a Reminder - Tuesday, Nov. 04, 2003
Ravyne Is Moving - Friday, Oct. 17, 2003
The Mission - Sunday, Oct. 12, 2003
Siege Heil - Thursday, Oct. 09, 2003
Litany Of Lies - Wednesday, Oct. 08, 2003
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