Sunday, November 26, 2006

Political links of the week take 31

[You can skip to the end of this post, if you want. See also: political news of the week takes 30, 29, 28, 27, 26, 25, 24, 23, 22, 21, 20, 19, 18. 17, 16, 15, 14, 13, 12, 11, 10, 9b, 9a, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1.]

Top Marine: Troops under too much strain:
The new Marine Corps commandant said Wednesday that the longer than anticipated pace of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan is putting an unacceptable strain on his troops.

Gen. James Conway said the service is unable to meet its goal of giving Marines twice as much time at home as in a war zone.

He said unless the demand on the corps eases, he may have to propose increasing the size of the force.

Currently there are 180,000 Marines on active duty and about 40,000 in the active reserves. Marine units serve seven-month deployments in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Conway, who led Marine units into Iraq in 2003 and served on the Pentagon's joint staff, said his troops should get 14 months of relief before they are sent back.

Typically, however, they get only seven or eight months home before being returned to combat, he said.

Assuming the Marines' top job little more than a week ago, Conway told reporters at a Pentagon roundtable discussion that he sees two ways to alleviate stress on troops.

"One is reducing the requirement [of a set deployment time]. The other is potentially growing the force for what we call the long war," Conway said.

Some units are serving their fourth tour in Iraq, and the strain on their families has raised concern that Marines will start leaving the service when their enlistments are up.

"There is stress on the individual Marines that is increasing, and there is stress on the institution to do what we are required to do, pretty much by law, for the nation," he was quoted by The Associated Press as saying.

The current rotation of troops to Iraq is also limiting training, he said.

"We're not sending battalions like we used to for the mountain warfare training, the jungle training," he told reporters. "We're not doing combined arms exercises that we used to do for the far maneuver-type activities we have to be prepared to do."

U.S. Finds Iraq Insurgency Has Funds to Sustain Itself:
The insurgency in Iraq is now self-sustaining financially, raising tens of millions of dollars a year from oil smuggling, kidnapping, counterfeiting, connivance by corrupt Islamic charities and other crimes that the Iraqi government and its American patrons have been largely unable to prevent, a classified United States government report has concluded.

The report, obtained by The New York Times, estimates that groups responsible for many insurgent and terrorist attacks are raising $70 million to $200 million a year from illegal activities. It says $25 million to $100 million of that comes from oil smuggling and other criminal activity involving the state-owned oil industry, aided by “corrupt and complicit” Iraqi officials.

As much as $36 million a year comes from ransoms paid for hundreds of kidnap victims, the report says. It estimates that unnamed foreign governments — previously identified by American officials as including France and Italy — paid $30 million in ransom last year.

A copy of the seven-page report was made available to The Times by American officials who said the findings could improve understanding of the challenges the United States faces in Iraq.

The report offers little hope that much can be done, at least soon, to choke off insurgent revenues. For one thing, it acknowledges how little the American authorities in Iraq know — three and a half years after the invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein — about crucial aspects of insurgent operations. For another, it paints an almost despairing picture of the Iraqi government’s ability, or willingness, to take steps to tamp down the insurgency’s financing.


The document says the pattern of insurgent financing changed after the first 18 months of the war, from the Hussein loyalists who financed it in 2003 to “foreign fighters and couriers” smuggling cash in bulk across Iraq’s porous borders in 2004, to the present reliance on a complex array of indigenous sources. “Currently, we assess that these groups garner most of their funding from petroleum-related criminal activity, kidnapping and other criminal pursuits within Iraq,” the report concludes.


The document tracing the money flows acknowledges that investigators have had limited success in penetrating or choking off terrorist financing networks. The report says American efforts to follow the financing trails have been hamstrung by several factors. They include a weak Iraqi government and its nascent intelligence agencies; a lack of communication between American agencies, and between the Americans and the Iraqis; and the nature of the insurgent economy itself, primarily sustained by couriers carrying cash rather than more easily traceable means involving banks and the hawala money transfer networks traditional in the Middle East.

Experts Concerned as Ballot Problems Persist:
After six years of technological research, more than $4 billion spent by Washington on new machinery and a widespread overhaul of the nation’s voting system, this month’s midterm election revealed that the country is still far from able to ensure that every vote counts.

Tens of thousands of voters, scattered across more than 25 states, encountered serious problems at the polls, including failures in sophisticated new voting machines and confusion over new identification rules, according to interviews with election experts and officials.

In many places, the difficulties led to shortages of substitute paper ballots and long lines that caused many voters to leave without casting ballots. Still, an association of top state election officials concluded that for the most part, voting went as smoothly as expected.

Over the last three weeks, attention has been focused on a few close races affected by voting problems, including those in Florida and Ohio where counting dragged on for days. But because most of this year’s races were not close, election experts say voting problems may actually have been wider than initially estimated, with many malfunctions simply overlooked.

That oversight may not be possible in the presidential election of 2008, when turnout will be higher and every vote will matter in what experts say will probably be a close race.

Voting experts say it is impossible to say how many votes were not counted that should have been. But in Florida alone, the discrepancies reported across Sarasota County and three others amount to more than 60,000 votes. In Colorado, as many as 20,000 people gave up trying to vote, election officials say, as new online systems for verifying voter registrations crashed repeatedly. And in Arkansas, election officials tallied votes three times in one county, and each time the number of ballots cast changed by more than 30,000.

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