April 29, 2004


Some people are citing an Insight article, claiming some kind of WMD evidence coverup. It's bizarre... there's no evidence in the article worth noting that we didn't already hear from Kay (or in some cases, Powell), so it's hard to see the fuss now. For instance:

Near the northern Iraqi town of Bai'ji, where Saddam had built a chemical-weapons plant known to the United States from nearly 12 years of inspections, elements of the 4th Infantry Division found 55-gallon drums containing a substance identified through mass spectrometry analysis as cyclosarin - a nerve agent.

This turned out to be rocket fuel.

Again, this January, Danish forces found 120-millimeter mortar shells filled with a mysterious liquid that initially tested positive for blister agents. But subsequent tests by the United States disputed that finding. "If it wasn't a chemical agent, what was it?"

A chemical false-positive?

The Iraqis never provided any explanation of what had happened to their VX stockpiles [from the 1980s].

"The sarin produced by Iraq in the 1980s was found to have up to 40% impurities, entailing it would deteriorate within two years."

A line of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, "not fully declared at an undeclared production facility and an admission that they had tested one of their declared UAVs out to a range of 500 kilometers [311 miles], 350 kilometers [217 miles] beyond the permissible limit.

Ah yes, the drones of death. This admission relates to the matching allegation by Colin Powell, made in his now famous UN speech, that they'd detected such a flight. Model airplane, no guidance or payload, flew 6 times around an 80 km track. Very impressive from a hobbyist's point of view, militarily completely useless.

But while the president's critics and the media might plausibly hide behind ambiguity and a lack of sensational- looking finds for not reporting some discoveries, in the case of Saddam's ballistic-missile programs they have no excuse for their silence. "Where were the missiles? We found them," another senior administration official told Insight.

We? Well, the UN did, really. And they were in the process of being destroyed by UN inspectors when the US moved to war.

Everything else in the story is more false-positives, or more of those "weapons-of-mass-destruction-related program activities."

Posted by BruceR at 08:42 PM


Nice piece on Fallujah, this, by Stirling Newberry. He's a better military commentator than this gassy fool, at any rate, who continues to inexplicably get kudos for throwing impressive sounding military words together, seemingly almost at random. No, better to waste your blog time reading this guy, instead:

It is impossible to have a small force of "500", kill 600 people "most of whom are military aged males", and still have a viable resistence [sic] force that can stand off 3000 heavily armored marines backed by gunships and bombing... Note that the predictions by many that the US would be able to grind the guerillas down have been completely off the mark. If the causalty [sic] ratios presented by the US government were accurate, then these predictions of straight military victory would follow. The US numbers have the US killing at 1:100 in many cases, and at 1:20 at worst. Based on the numbers released from hospitals in Iraq, in early May I estimated that 1:6 was a better fatality ratio, and that based on the superiority of US medicine, that our casualty ratio was closer to 1:3.

In other Agonist-derived news, the U.S. army is clawing back its 105mm howitzers from ski resorts.

Posted by BruceR at 07:36 PM


The new flag is the work of an Iraqi artist resident in London called Rifat Chadirji whose design was the best of those considered. He is also the brother of Nassir al-Chaderchi, the chairman of the IGC committee charged with choosing a new flag for Iraq. "I had no idea about a competition to design the flag. My brother just called me and asked me to design a flag on behalf of the IGC. Nobody told me about a competition," Mr Chadirji told The Independent yesterday.

--Christ, even the flag competition was hopelessly corrupt.

Here's some Iraqi opinion. Here's some more.

Posted by BruceR at 07:10 PM


This is a fascinating hypothesis, true or not. But... "Mr. Hussein's seasoned military officer corps?" They're kidding, there, right?

I'm just curious... what happens when the Republican Guard general the Americans just appointed to peacekeep in Fallujah runs into the Republican Guard/M-14 officers who've been running the resistance, and who he's promised to bring to justice? They cut out and grab a beer, or what?

Ah, but if it really is Gen. Salah Abboud al-Jabouri the Americans are dealing with now, isn't that ironic? First they're trying to "decapitate" you along with the rest of the playing-cards-to-be, then they want you to fix things up in Fallujah. Sheesh, what a year he's had.

UPDATE: The name of the fellow is actually Gen. Jasim Mohamed Saleh.

Posted by BruceR at 05:52 PM

DRY GULCH, POPULATION 2,000... 1,999... 1,998

Marine Lieutenant-Colonel Brennan Byrne told reporters in Fallujah that a deal was reached under which Marines would withdraw and a newly created Iraqi force led by a former general in Saddam Hussein's army would take over security in the city of 200,000...

Heavy U.S. bombardment of the city for the past two nights, televised around the world, heightened international pressure to negotiate a truce and spare civilian casualties in the city of 300,000...

--Globe and Mail, today

Also notable:

On the southern edge of Fallujah, U.S. marines packed up Thursday, saying they had been ordered to withdraw from the industrial zone they have held throughout the siege. Bulldozers flattened a sand barrier that troops had set up.

The Marines lost at least a dozen men securing that industrial area back at the beginning of all this, recall. Take the hill, then give it up... take the hill again, then give it up... the whole thing appears to have been a tremendous waste of lives and goodwill to this point.

UPDATE: And now they're denying the whole thing.

Posted by BruceR at 05:30 PM


This is a great piece by Steyn... one of his best, recently. "The British did it better" argument re Iraq and imperialism-in-general is so obviously unsupportable by the facts of the 19th century that it should not need a refutation at all: they screwed up a lot when it was their turn, too.

Posted by BruceR at 02:42 PM


Globe and Mail, today:

Mr. El-Maati says that shortly after his arrest he placated his torturers by falsely confessing to a bomb plot targeting Ottawa, and by falsely implicating others, including [Maher] Arar...

Flit, Nov. 26:

Arar, whose name was almost certainly produced through the torture of one of the other Canadians involved, was evidently sent to Syria for ten months in a move approved at the highest level of the U.S. Justice department, in the hope he would name more names through his own torture. Unfortunately, he turned out to be innocent, so that didn't quite work out.

Sy Hersh, last July:

"Syria also provided the United States with intelligence about future Al Qaeda plans... The Syrians also helped the United States avert a suspected plot against an American target in Ottawa."

The moral of the story? El-Maati, as we said long ago, was a legit suspect. He had acted suspiciously, and his brother was on a terrorist watch list. He was picked up passing through the Middle East by the Syrians, and predictably tortured, and predictably said whatever would keep the torturers away.

The Syrians duly reported his pain-avoiding statements to American and/or Canadian authorities. The Canadians said, "hm, that's nice, call us when you have some real evidence," or words to that effect, apparently doing little more than start files on the new suspects, but they did share their files on the names named with American authorities. The Americans, when one of those names passed through New York on business, grabbed him, violated their nation's Vienna obligations by not notifying Canadian authorities of their plans, and shipped him off to the torturers.

Obviously, if names of random acquaintances screamed on the rack count as evidence of terrorism by a Canadian citizen, all of us who know or work with a Muslim are potentially suspect to similar persecution passing through the States; last I looked, that's just about everybody. But it will be deeply tragic if the problem should come to be seen as stemming somehow from "intelligence sharing;" that's a good thing, of which we need more.

No, the real worry here is that, if the Americans don't overtly disavow Justice Department overreach in this case, that kind of sharing of vital security data with other countries is just going to dry up even further, creating a larger hole for real terrorists to exploit. I sympathize with the Arar family's suit against the Canadian government and its security agencies, but I really think it's a case of looking for one's keys where the light is: the resulting chill can only make our government more reluctant to work with American agencies on terrorism, and it's hard to see that being an overall positive. Based on all the information that's come to light to date, the real fault still lies over the border.

Posted by BruceR at 11:23 AM


A Pentagon official is being investigated for trying to reverse a CPA decision to go with a "quick-fix" cellular network for Iraq police and emergency personnel. Iraq is mostly on the technically inferior GSM standard now, meaning this allegedly could have been done more cheaply and quickly using that technology, but the American consortium's man in the Pentagon was apparently pushing the CPA to take the opportunity to convert the entire country over to the Qualcomm-designed CDMA standard used in the States. All the infighting over the CPA contract seems to have led to significant delays in getting firefighters and the like the means to talk with each other in emergencies, at a time when working public emergency services would seem to be a good thing to have had over there.

"Hey, we won the war," [the investigated official] said in an interview. "Is it not in our interests to have the most advanced system that we possibly can that can then become the dominant standard in the region?"

Steven Den Beste worked for Qualcomm and helped design the first CDMA handsets.

Days since story broke that Den Beste has said anything about this: One. And counting.

(We already know what he's going to say, pretty much. Den Beste is contemptuous of GSM, which he sees as an example of European technological and political backwardness. It's just going to be interesting to see how long it's going to take him to discuss an Iraq-related issue he actually has unique expertise on.*)

*After all, he did step up to the plate with a spirited defense of cell company profit-making when they all crapped out during the big blackout last August.

UPDATE: Den Beste writes in:

Please take note of this post by me. That's from more than a year ago, and in that article I said that Iraq should keep using GSM. Another point: I was not involved in designing "the first CDMA handsets". Actually, Qualcomm was well into development of its third major generation of handsets when I started working there. They had been selling handsets commercially for about five years at that point.

So what the hell was your point, BruceR? Okay, I was obviously too oblique when I wrote this earlier this morning. My point, if I had one, is that blogger expertise and ethics are an interesting thing. The closer we are to a story as people, the more interesting and valuable our opinion is. But there's a limit beyond which a story is too close, that for various reasons (privacy, work concerns, etc.) the specific blogger in question can no longer address, even when that's when we most want them to. There's sort of a "middle distance" between the limit of ethical restraint and the limit of useful knowledge, where the most useful blogposts lie.

A lawyer-blogger talking about, say, the military, risks being uninformed and useless. He'd be really informed on his own court cases, but obviously he can't talk about those. The interesting lawyer-blogger posts are those in between, in that middle distance where he knows more than, well, us, but less than the actual participants.

This is true on Flit, as well, of course. There are lots of things I can't or won't write about, because I'm too close to them. There are lots of other things I'm wholly unqualified to write about. It's only in that middle distance that I'm valuable, if ever.

You see this in another way... when you tune into a blog you expect to be covering something you've read about, and they're not. I feel compelled, for instance, to write about Canadian defence-related stories, even if they don't hold any personal interest for me, because I suspect at least some people would raise eyebrows at my silence if I did not. You can't tell otherwise whether a person is not blogging for ethical exclusion reasons, or because he finds the facts simply uncomfortable to relate. Silence, on a blog, speaks volumes.

I was stewing over this exact issue last night, largely because of a couple emails that came after my military medals post below, that asked, in effect, "you don't know American military stuff, so shut up." Aside from the fact that American reservist Phil Carter basically said exactly what I said on his blog today, in a more eloquent fashion mind you, those emails rankled for some reason. If it's in that middle distance I outlined above, so that it's safe to talk about, that means I'm going to be less than perfectly informed about it. Bloggers, in other words, can only ever be half-informed about what they write, definitionally.

Regular journalists have all kinds of conflict-of-interest rules that are meant to prevent them from getting too close to a story. Bloggers, on the other hand, have to self-police. I was genuinely curious on the subway in this morning how Den Beste, who, all the recent vitriol on both sides aside, remains a must-read for me on such matters, would deal with this one, a story which arguably could have been too close for his blogging comfort. I'm happy (and a little impressed) that he and other bloggers can still be comfortable giving us their own opinion about the current affairs affecting their own chosen livelihoods this way. If my post above came across as overly snarky or like I was suggesting Den Beste has become some kind of industry apologist, it's me who should apologize. Clearly, he's not.

Posted by BruceR at 10:44 AM