Monday, September 04, 2006

Political news of the week take 22

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

Pentagon gives gloomy Iraq report:
Sectarian violence is spreading in Iraq and the security problems have become more complex than at any time since the U.S. invasion in 2003, a Pentagon report said Friday.

In a notably gloomy report to Congress, the Pentagon reported that illegal militias have become more entrenched, especially in Baghdad neighborhoods where they are seen as providers of both security and basic social services.


Death squads targeting mainly Iraqi civilians are a growing problem, heightening the risk of civil war, the report said.

"Death squads and terrorists are locked in mutually reinforcing cycles of sectarian strife," the report said, adding that the Sunni-led insurgency "remains potent and viable" even as it is overshadowed by the sect-on-sect killing.

"Conditions that could lead to civil war exist in Iraq, specifically in and around Baghdad, and concern about civil war within the Iraqi civilian population has increased in recent months," the report said. It is the latest in a series of quarterly reports required by Congress to assess economic, political and security progress.


Peter Rodman, the assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, in a separate session with reporters, said that despite progress this summer in reviving the Iraqi economy, raising electricity production and increasing the number of trained Iraqi troops, security conditions have deteriorated.

The report covered the period since the Iraqi government led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki was seated May 20.

From that date through Aug. 11, the average number of attacks per week against Americans and Iraqis was 792, up 24 percent from the previous period of Feb. 11 to May 19. The 792 figure was the highest for any counting period since the war began. The previous high was 641 in the Feb. 11 to May 19 period.

Killings in Baghdad Escalate Over Past Week (dated Sept. 4)
The number of killings in the Iraq capital escalated last week despite an American-led crackdown, with morgue workers receiving as many bodies as they had during the first three weeks of the month combined.

At least 334 people, including 23 women, were slain in Baghdad between Aug. 27 and Sept. 2, according to morgue figures provided by Ministry of Health officials. Most of the victims had been kidnapped, tortured, hogtied and shot.

During the week, at least 394 other people were killed around Iraq in other types of violence, including bombings, mortar attacks and gunfights, Iraqi authorities said.

The spike in violence followed an announcement by U.S. and Iraqi officials at the beginning of the week that the number of killings in the capital had dramatically fallen during the month, from more than 1,800 in July. Although August as a whole was still less violent than the month before, last week's killings suggested that death squads were still able to move about Baghdad despite checkpoints and curfews.

Today, the mutilated, handcuffed and blindfolded bodies of another 33 men were found in various Baghdad neighborhoods, according to authorities.


In the past, Americans have turned over control of certain areas to Iraqis only to see violence flare up once they leave.

Iraqi forces "lack training and weapons," said a high-ranking Iraqi army officer, who wanted to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the issue. "The terrorists have more powerful weapons."


The Iraqi army employs about 115,000 combat soldiers. However, the report noted a lack of junior leadership, problems of absenteeism and sectarian divides with Sunni, Shiite or Kurdish soldiers "mostly serving in units located in geographic areas familiar to their group. These divisions are even stronger at the battalion level, where battalion commanders of one particular group tend to command only soldiers of their own sectarian or regional backgrounds."

Observers fear that those battalions would take sides in a full-scale war, turning weapons and vehicles paid for by the U.S., against each other. Last weekend, in what the British military described as a mutiny, 100 out of a 550-strong Iraqi army battalion from the Shiite-dominated south refused to deploy to Baghdad, in part because they didn't want to fight fellow Shiites.

Opium Harvest at Record Level in Afghanistan
Afghanistan’s opium harvest this year has reached the highest levels ever recorded, showing an increase of almost 50 percent from last year, the head of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Antonio Maria Costa, said Saturday in Kabul.

He described the figures as “alarming” and “very bad news” for the Afghan government and international donors who have poured millions of dollars into programs to reduce the poppy crop since 2001.

He said the increase in cultivation was fueled by the resurgence of Taliban rebels in the south, the country’s prime opium growing region. As the insurgents have stepped up their attacks, they have also encouraged and profited from the drug trade, promising protection to growers if they worked to expand their opium operations.

“This year’s harvest will be around 6,100 metric tons of opium — a staggering 92 percent of total world supply. It exceeds global consumption by 30 percent,” Mr. Costa said at a news briefing.

He said the harvest increased by 49 percent from the year before, and it drastically outpaced the previous record of 4,600 metric tons, recorded in 1999 while the Taliban governed the country. The area of land cultivated increased by 59 percent, with 165,000 hectares planted with poppy in 2006 compared with 104,000 in 2005.


The increase in cultivation was mainly because of the strength of the insurgency in southern Afghanistan, which has left whole districts outside of government control, and the continuing impunity of everyone involved, from the farmers and traffickers to corrupt police and government officials, he said.

Lebanon's Coast Is Drowning in Oil
The azure waters of the Mediterranean have long been a symbol of Lebanon's fun-loving character and proud maritime history. But the country's prized 135-mile coast has become its biggest environmental disaster.

Thick gobs of oil have clogged the coast's coral reefs. Sandy beaches have become black-stained no-go zones. Rocky fishermen's coves have become dark soups of crude. All are the result of Israeli airstrikes on seaside oil tanks in the first days of the war against Hezbollah.

Between 3 1/2 and 5 million gallons of oil have fouled more than half of the Lebanese coast, and the damage grows each day that the fractured central government fails to begin the cleanup. Scientists have compared it to the 1989 Exxon Valdez tanker, which ran aground in Prince William Sound, Alaska, dumping 11 million gallons of oil.

West Virginia tests 9 coal miners' air packs; all fail

In a random test of nine emergency air packs used by West Virginia coal miners, all nine failed, the state's Office of Miners' Health Safety and Training said Thursday.


The state mining agency issued an alert on the SR-100s after selecting 17 of them at random and testing nine of them. All failed a test of their oxygen-starting cartridges, said Caryn Gresham, a spokeswoman for the agency. The failed tests indicate the devices would delay the release of vital oxygen for 15 to 20 minutes

"The air packs tested were made in 1998 prior to the installation of heat damage devices, which were installed only from 2004. The 1998 air packs purchased by our agency have a shelf life of 10 years," Gresham said.

A Year When Deals Prevail [in California]
Piercing two years of partisan gridlock, a humbled Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Democratic lawmakers brandishing newfound clout created one of the most fruitful legislative sessions in years, if not decades.

Ambitious accords that emerged from Sacramento at session's end Thursday take on some of California's most neglected problems, such as its congested roads and dilapidated levees. Lawmakers tackled a daunting worldwide problem — global warming — intending that their efforts to reduce greenhouse gases would be emulated throughout the country.

Other deals — to raise the minimum wage and compel drug makers to lower their prices for the working poor — were notable because they dissolved angry impasses that had existed since Schwarzenegger was elected.

"This is probably the most productive session on issues that matter to the people of California in 20 years, issues where their lives intersect," said Barbara O'Connor, a Cal State Sacramento professor and longtime Capitol observer.


"There was a confluence of factors this year that probably will not be there next year," said Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata (D-Oakland).

Much of the year's success was made possible because Schwarzenegger dropped the imperious stance he had displayed toward the Legislature early in his tenure, when he belittled the Democrats as "girlie men," mused about the possibility of reducing their jobs to part-time status and accused them of being vassals to labor unions.

Instead, Schwarzenegger ceded the lead to Democratic lawmakers and relegated himself to a supporting role, even though ultimately it meant that many of his own priorities would wither.

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