Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Syria Missile Explodes, Followed By Media Blackout

I didn't do a ton of looking around, but it seems that not too many news outlets are interested in reporting the fact that it is just coming to light that a Syrian missile which exploded at a Syrian military base in May killed dozens of Iranian engineers.

It was reported in May that a missile exploded in a Syrian military site. Today, new facts are surfacing. The major media outlets do not seem to be interested, although they are very interested in analyzing a recent Israeli air strike on a military facility in northern Syria.

The new facts are that dozens of Iranian engineers were killed in the May missile explosion. The blast occurred while engineers were trying to outfit a Scud C missile with mustard gas. AFP reports

The July 26 explosion in Aleppo, northern Syria, was reported at the time. The official Sana news agency said 15 Syrian military personnel were killed and 50 people were injured, most of them slightly from flying glass.

The agency said only that "very explosive products" blew up after fire broke out at the facility and that the blaze was not an act of sabotage.

But in the September 26 edition of Jane's Defence Weekly, Syrian defence sources were quoted as saying the explosion happened during tests to weaponise a Scud C missile with mustard gas, which is banned under international law.

Fuel caught fire in a missile production laboratory and "dispersed chemical agents (including VX and Sarin nerve agents and mustard blister agent) across the storage facility and outside.

"Other Iranian engineers were seriously injured with chemical burns to exposed body parts not protected by safety overalls," the publication quoted the sources as saying.

Among the dead were "dozens" of Iranian missile weaponisation engineers, it added.

Friday, September 14, 2007

What I Learned About Iraq From Losing a Consultant

Recently, our computer programming project ran out of budget for external consultants. At what I particularly felt was a very inopportune time to let them go, we let them go. Interestingly, however, I learned a great deal about myself in the process. That is, when I don't have someone to fall back on, I have the ability to rise the occasion.

Since the consultants left, I have become a markedly better programmer. I have come to several solutions that at first appeared to be very small needles in very giant haystacks. The key realization I came to just yesterday was that had my subject matter experts (the consultants) not left, I would have been content to float along in my relative mediocrity.

It is a very imperfect comparison, I know, but I'd like to illustrate my situation as a microcosm of Iraq. America is the subject-matter expert for Iraq--their crutch. As the situation drags on, Iraqis will be more likely to "float along in [their] relative mediocrity". At some point, coming soon to a theater near you, Iraq needs to get rid of its consultants. I guess I'm glad that President Bush announced last night that he intends to draw the American forces down over the next few months to pre-surge levels, although I don't think he did a good job of explaining why.

Lanny Davis, former member of the Clinton Administration, appeared on Greg Allen's the Right Balance this morning. He made a good point. The Democrats have a good point, which I have just spent the last couple of paragraphs essentially agreeing with. They are not, however, articulating it very well.

Lanny Davis said that we need to have a phased draw down in fairly short order to let the Iraqis know that it's time to realize that their consultants are leaving. Every Democratic candidate for president believes this. So far I think only Barack Obama has done a good job of articulating it. Only one Republican candidate, Ron Paul, believes that the consultants should take their leave. He has articulated very well, too.

I think the surge is working. I think Iraqis are realizing that the Americans (at least the soldiers, if not the politicians) care for them. I think the Americans know that it is a tenuous relationship, i.e. that the Sunnis in Anbar will turn against the Americans if we overstay our current purpose.

Our current purpose, I think, will soon be at an end. Let's give the Iraqis notice that they will soon be on their own, and let's hope and trust that they will be able to shine without their consultants.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

With Abu Risha's Death, The Cheerleaders Are Jubilant

Hurray, the anti-war bigots are shouting. Abu Risha is dead! I find it hard to stomach that so many Americans do cartwheels when something goes wrong in Iraq. But they're doing it again. Their hope for failure in Iraq is palpable and pathetic.

Today in a car bomb explosion prepared by al Qaeda, Abdul Sattar abu Risha and some of his body guards were killed.

The assassination Thursday of the leader of the Sunni Arab revolt against al-Qaida militants dealt a setback to one of the few success stories in U.S. efforts to stabilize Iraq, but tribesmen in Anbar province vowed not to be deterred in fighting the terror movement.

American and Iraqi officials hoped the death of Abdul-Sattar Abu Risha would not stall the campaign to drive al-Qaida in Iraq from the vast province spreading west of Baghdad and reconcile Sunnis with the Shiite-led national government.

And there was glee in the streets of anti-war America! Rob Kall of Op-Ed News gloats

"What's the bottom line to this killing,"- I asked.

Rowley answered, "It puts the lie to the statement that there's security in the region."-

"Bottom line," finishing my interview with Rowley, I said, "This is a charade, a chimera, this success which Petraeus portrays is actually something that will fall apart when the money stops coming in and could actually explode into far worse conflict, when the troops leave."

That statement is far from necessarily true, and can only be interpreted as a not-so-subtle hint of a hope of failure in Iraq.

The previous excerpt was from an interview Mr. Kall had with a so-called reporter in the region, a Rick Rowley, who clearly has an opinion and an axe to grind. Mr. Rowley's main sources, besides himself, for his claims are members of the al Dulaimi clan, who are know to have had serious disagreements with abu Risha.

As the Associated Press reported

"This is a criminal act and al-Qaida is behind it," said Sheik Jubeir Rashid, a senior member of Abu Risha's council. "We have to admit that it is a major blow to the council. But we are determined to strike back and continue our work. Such attack was expected, but this will not deter us."

Ali Hatem al-Sulaiman, deputy chief of the province's biggest Sunni tribe, said that if "only one small boy remains alive in Anbar, we will not hand the province over to al-Qaida."

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite who had been reluctant to support Abu Risha, expressed "great sorrow" over the killing, but said he was confident "that this criminal act will strengthen the determination of Anbar people to wipe out the terrorists."

Meanwhile, someone who is constantly mingling with the military and with the Iraqis in Anbar and elsewhere, Michael Yon, has a completely different perspective. Here are some excerpts from his recent dispatches.

Back in 2005, many Iraqi Soldiers and Police preferred to hide their identities.Today it seems that most Iraqi Soldiers and Police want their photos taken. Their confidence is growing and their attitude toward the terrorists is increasingly one of being more the hunter than the hunted.

Shops in Anbar [are] reopening. Cigarettes [are] for sale. Just recently, al Qaeda was executing people who smoked, but this shop was selling cigarettes on the street.

To many of the Iraqis I’ve spoken with, terrorists are fair game. Kill them. But if we kill justice while doing so, we will create terrorists out of farmers. Here the Marines are creating farmers, police officers, shepherds, and entrepreneurs out of insurgents. To do that, they have to be seen as men who respect and honor legitimate systems of government and justice.

The sheiks of Anbar turned against al Qaeda because the sheiks are businessmen, and al Qaeda is bad for business. But they didn’t suddenly trust Americans just because they no longer trusted al Qaeda. They are not suddenly blood allies. This is business, and that’s fine, because if there is one thing America is good at, it’s business.

This conflict is often cast as either a battle between good and evil, or as a clash of religious ideologies, perspectives that fill cemeteries with brave souls willing to die for something they believe most fervently.

Reframed thus from a position of strength, this stage of the Anbar-war is more a sort of business transaction, where alliances beneficial to all sides—except al Qaeda—are formed. From this perspective, there is now a moment of genuine ground-floor opportunity in Anbar, if the people here can see that by doing business with the Coalition, everyone benefits—except al Qaeda, an exclusion that most can live with.

Politics often sucks. But beyond the politics are the people, in this case, the Iraqi people. Far beyond the news headlines, many stories are being made. Stories of success. Stories of friendship. Stories of improving lives.

I think I trust Michael Yon more than I trust Mr. Rowley.

I wish the anti-war cheerleaders would change their cheer for a while. Little by little, it's working. People's lives are better. Life in Anbar is improving.