Hard News by Russell Brown

I'm a New Zealander, get me out of here!

Clearly, this is the right time for New Zealand's lightly-armed engineering corp to be gotten the hell out of Iraq. Although the Minister of Defence is, inevitably, offering a benign explanation - the troops have simply reached the end of their year-long posting, former defence chief Air Marshal Carey Adamson wasn't beating about the bush in this morning's Dom Post lead story:

"... what's happening now is that everyone's a combatant whether they want to be one or not. As time has gone on the situation has become much more lethal and no one can guarantee their absolute safety."

NZ First's Ron Mark has welcomed the decision to bring the troops home, but clearly technical issues at the National and Act parties' press offices have prevented the issuing of forthright statements calling for the continued presence of New Zealand forces in Iraq. How odd.

A current Knight-Ridder wire story includes even bleaker assessments from both former senior military personnel and (anonymously) administration officials:

Many experts on Iraq say the best that can be hoped for now is continued chaos that falls short of a civil war.

"The overall prospects ... are for a violent political future," said Jeffrey White, a former senior Defense Intelligence Agency analyst ...

One senior administration official deeply engaged in Iraq policy said the new U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, the huge Central Intelligence Agency station there and the U.S. military command are working together far better than they previously did and collecting much better and more refined information on the insurgency. However, the official said, the recent improvements may not be enough to overcome setbacks caused by mistakes that date back to inadequate prewar planning.

"We've finally got our act together, but it's probably too late," said the official, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because he's more pessimistic than the administration's official line on Iraq.

CBS News has some numbers, and Andi Henderson pointed me to this Sydney Morning Herald story which quotes the private security firm AKE Asia Pacific's assessment of the danger in Iraq:

AKE updates its security rating each week. At present Baghdad rates 62 out of 100. North and south Iraq are both 49. A rating of 40-49 indicates widespread militancy, 60-69 "advanced guerilla/civil war" and 90-100 is "total war (sub-nuclear)".

On this scale, Baghdad is not the most dangerous place on earth. Chechnya rates 72.

ABC Radio in Australia ran a report from its foreign affairs editor in Baghdad:

We're seeing kidnappings in the centre of Baghdad that we haven't seen the like of before. 30 armed men coming in and pulling those two Italian women and a couple of Iraqis out of their house.

We've had a over the weekend on Sunday, we had five car bombs in and around Baghdad, 13 or 14 rockets and mortars rained down on the green zone and one of them landed at a building behind my here as a matter of fact.

Today we've had that huge car bomb that you saw. There was another one outside the planning ministry. It didn't achieve its aim. Only the driver of that car was killed.

And just in the last little while there's been another attack in central Baghdad, a roadside bomb which struck a column of three four-wheel drive vehicles, completely destroying one of them. The other two managed to escape. Not sure at this stage how many people died there.

So certainly the temperature is hotting up.

And - hey ho! - the Ashburton Guardian has earned itself a notice on Today in Iraq for this editorial:

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the War on Terror is a joke.

It never really added up. The Americans should have known better. They won the War of Independence by refusing to take on huge standing armies.

They preferred to fight the British on their own ground and on terms of their own choosing.

They should know that it’s silly to chase terrorists with large standing armies.

Terrorists don’t obligingly line up in formation to fight conventional armies. They hide among civilians and they target civilians as well as soldiers. When innocent people are killed by US army or Iraqi police retaliation, the terrorists gain recruits.

In military terms, chasing terrorists with armies doesn’t add up. It’s a bit like invading Russia in winter. You’ll end up regretting it.

Terrorists are gaining a lot more recruits in Iraq and elsewhere.The bomb attack on the Australian embassy in Jakarta was obviously timed to remind the world that terror groups like Jemaah Islamiya, the Southeast Asian arm of al Qaeda is alive and thriving.

Effectively, the Americans have Fallujah-ised most of Iraq: created a situation where they cannot move against insurgents without creating further anger and distress amongst the civilian public. And now, the US Marine general responsible for Fallujah is telling reporters that he opposed both his original orders to attack the city and the later flip-flop instruction for him to withdraw. The upshot was the world of both worlds:

Lt. Gen. James Conway, the outgoing commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Unit, told the Washington Post he resisted called for revenge after four American security workers were killed and mutilated in Fallujah March 31. Instead, civilian authorities, Coalition Provisional Chief Paul Bremer and the White House, decided to send the Marines in to capture or kill the perpetrators

The Guardian's Ghaith Abdul-Ahad (aka onetime blogger Gee in Baghdad) describes the murder of Baghdad civilians from a US helicopter gunship.

Meanwhile, the White House is trying to slide over billions of dollars budgeted for reconstruction (only 6% of which have been spent) into the security effort (which, amazingly, isn't even counted towards the current year's US fiscal deficit because it's apparently too hard to assess). The New York-based Forward newspaper has an interesting editorial on the security implications of the deficit itself:

Right now, a steadily increasing share of our growing national debt is being bought up by a handful of foreign governments, not all of them friendly. Like any other debtor nation, America will eventually face restrictions on its freedom of action. The day will come, sooner than most of us realize, when our creditors will demand a say in our policies both at home and abroad. When that day comes, those who support the current administration because they think it keeps America strong and independent — and guarantees Israel's safety — will have a lot of explaining to do.

Forward also interviews Senator Bob Graham on his claims that the Bush administration killed an investigation into a Saudi connection to the 9/11 hijackers (which makes Michael Moore's theory seem a bit less wild-eyed) and that hundreds of Hezbollah operatives have been allowed to set up shop in the US.

Everywhere you look, it appears to be the most spectacular fuck-up imaginable. And yet all this stuff seems to berunning well behind arguments about what the candidates did or didn't do 30 years ago as an issue in the US presidential campaign.

Speaking of which, NoRightTurn and Josh Marshall both look at what might be the key to the CBS memos story: the statement by Colonel Killian's former secretary that the CBS documents are forgeries but they're true - in that they reflect both Killian's view of Bush's conduct in the National Guard and documents which did exist at the time but have been oddly mislaid. Marshall also notes previous lies by Bush on the campaign trail about how he came to get his soft Guard posting, and points to further evidence of embarrassing documents from his record having been withheld.

It all makes last night's Face the Nation interview with the Auckland mayoral candidates seem like a bit of a laugh - which it was, I suppose. While Kim Hill gurned away furiously, John Banks spoke as if he was not so much mayor of Auckland as president for life. Silly, solipsistic and bumptious, Banks blathered on about "my city council … our city council …" and contrived to give the impression that he alone was responsible for the city's economy.

Trouble is, it clearly unnerves his rival Dick Hubbard, and it sort of works on voters too. I have had a number of conversations lately with chaps who say, earnestly that Banks might be a prick, but "at least he makes things happen". I have started asking them exactly what he has made happen. There's never an answer …