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Iraq: Bush’s ‘Closest Friend’ Leaves Iraq

Prime Minister Gordon Brown yesterday announced that he will trim Britain's forces in Iraq nearly in half, withdrawing 2,500 troops by early 2008.

OCTOBER 9, 2007 by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna,
Matt Corley, Ali Frick, and Jeremy Richmond
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IRAQ

Bush’s ‘Closest Friend’ Leaves Iraq

Prime Minister Gordon Brown yesterday announced that he will trim Britain’s forces in Iraq nearly in half, withdrawing 2,500 troops by early 2008. “The next important stage in delivering our strategy is to hand over security to the Iraqis, and it is to move from a combat role in the rest of Basra province to overwatch,” Brown said in a speech to Parliament. Politically, this move will be popular with the British public, which favors a U.K. troop withdrawal. It will also distance Brown from former Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose unwavering support for the Bush administration’s Iraq policies led to domestic political defeats for his Labor Party. Strategically, it will likely help the security situation in southern Iraq. Since an early September withdrawal of British forces from Basra, attacks in the region have dramatically decreased. In his speech yesterday, Brown explained that since British forces “handed over our base in Basra City in early September, the present security situation has been calmer.”

DWINDLING COALITION OF THE WILLING: Brown’s announcement comes after a visit to Iraq last week, where he had initially announced that 1,000 British troops would withdraw from Iraq by the end of 2007. A senior British official told the AP yesterday that by the end of 2008, all the country’s troops may be out of Iraq. After the United States, Britain has the largest force in Iraq. Approximately 170 British troops have died since the March 2003 invasion, and public support for the war continues to wane. A recent PIPA poll shows that 65 percent of Britons want troops out of Iraq within a year. Yesterday, “more than 2,000 people marched from London’s Trafalgar Square to Parliament to demand a complete withdrawal of British troops.” In another sign that Bush’s infamous Coalition of the Willing continues to dwindle, the Czech Republic also yesterday announced that it would be withdrawing its 100 troops.

REMOVING A TARGET: When the British first announced in February that it would possibly withdraw its troops, the Bush administration tried to spin the news as progress. “I look at it and see it is actually an affirmation that there are parts of Iraq where things are going pretty well,” said Vice President Cheney. But the Basra region, where Britain’s troops are concentrated, has been the central front in a “turf war between rival Shi’ite groups.” British troops were “frequent targets”; 41 soldiers were killed this year, the most since 2003. A Nov. 2006 Pentagon report to Congress contradicted Cheney’s claims of success, listing “Basra as one of five cities outside Baghdad where violence remained ‘significant.’” But since British troops have begun to leave the region, the security situation has improved. Yesterday, Brown noted, “In the last month, there have been five indirect fire attacks on Basra Air Station compared with 87 in July.” Basra residents have “begun strolling riverfront streets again after four years of fear.” “The situation these days is better. We were living in hell. … [T]he area is calm since their [the British] withdrawal,” said Iraqi housewife Khairiya Salman. The need to remove coalition forces in order to improve security in Iraq was underscored by a British think tank report released yesterday. The Oxford Research Group analysis concluded that the “‘war on terror’ is failing and instead fueling an increase in support for extremist Islamist movements.”

SMEARING THE BRITISH: Earlier in the year, the Bush administration had no shortage of praise for the Britain’s work in Iraq. In February, Cheney said that British forces had “made progress in southern Iraq.” In July, Bush said of Brown, “I found a person who shares [my] vision and who understands the call.” But when word broke that Britain would begin withdrawing its forces, the White House lost no time in criticizing its ally. “There’s concern about Brown,” a senior White House foreign policy official told The Daily Telegraph, adding that there has been “‘a lot of unhappiness’ about how British forces had performed in Basra.” In August, Ret. Gen. Jack Keane, who was vice chief of staff during the 2003 Iraq invasion and remains a key adviser to the Bush administration, accused the British of plans to “cut and run.” He argued that instead of withdrawing, the British should escalate the number of troops in Basra, similar to Bush’s failed “surge” in Baghdad.

UNDER THE RADAR

ETHICS — RIGHT WING LAUNCHES BASELESS SMEAR CAMPAIGN AGAINST 12-YEAR OLD SCHIP RECIPIENT: Two weeks ago, the Democratic radio address was delivered by a 12-year old Graeme Frost, who was involved in a severe car accident three years ago and received access to medical care because of the Children’s Health Insurance ProgramFollowing the speech, conservatives began launching baseless attacks on Graeme and his family. A poster at Free Republic asserted that Graeme and his sister Gemma attend wealthy schools that cost “nearly $40,000 per year for tuition” and live in a well-off home. The smear attack against Graeme has also taken firm hold in the right-wing blogosphere. The National Review, Michelle Malkin, Wizbang, Powerline, and the Weekly Standard blog have all launched assaults on the Frost family. The story is slowly working its way into traditional media outlets as well. Here are the facts the right wing distorted in order to attack Graeme:  First, Graeme has a scholarship to a private school. The school costs $15K a year, but the family only pays $500 a year. Second, the Frosts bought their “lavish house” 16 years ago for $55,000 at a time when the neighborhood was less safe. And finally, the Frosts make $45,000 combined and over the past few years they have made no more than $50,000 combined. Since the address, right wing bloggers have been harassing the Frosts, repeatedly calling their home to get information about their private lives.

MEDIA — JOE WILSON CALLS OUT ROBERT NOVAK FOR ‘LYING’ ABOUT CIA LEAK: Over the weekend, conservative columnist Robert Novak, who infamously outed undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame in a July 2003 column, spoke at “a seminar on the CIA leak case at the 2007 Society of Professional Journalists Convention.” Novak claimed that Plame’s husband, Amb. Joe Wilson, “was not terribly exercised about” the column when he spoke to him prior to publication. “Instead,” claims Novak, “Wilson focused on not being portrayed as simply an opponent of the Iraq war.” In an interview with Talking Points Memo’s Greg Sargent yesterday, Wilson disputed Novak’s claims, calling him a “chronic liar.” “When I talked to him it was not about what he was writing,” Wilson told Sargent. “The purpose of my phone call to him was to tell him that it was not appropriate for him to be telling strangers in Washington that my wife works for the CIA.” Additionally, Wilson said “that Novak’s claim that he hadn’t forcefully objected to the naming of his wife was a severe distortion, based on the fact that Wilson couldn’t say anything direct about it to Novak without confirming it.” According to Sargent, The Hill, which reported Novak’s remarks, never contacted Wilson for comment.

TERRORISM — WHITE HOUSE LEAK OF BIN LADEN VIDEO FORCES INTELLIGENCE COMPANY TO END OPERATIONS: The Washington Post reports today that Search for International Terrorist Entities (SITE), a private intelligence company, gave the White House an advanced copy of an Osama bin Laden video last month under the condition that the government keep the video secret until it was officially released by al Qaeda. Within hours, however, the video was leaked to cable news shows. “The founder of the company…says this premature disclosure…destroyed a years-long surveillance operation that the company has used to intercept and pass along secret messages, videos and advance warnings of suicide bombings from the terrorist group’s communications network.” The breach spurred al Qaeda to shut down its intranet network and online communications. Nick Grace, the founder of clandestineradio.com who tracked the network shutdown, said, “It was both unprecedented and chilling from the perspective of a Web techie. The discipline and coordination to take the entire system down involving multiple Web servers, hundreds of user names and passwords, is an astounding feat, especially that it was done within minutes.” The government did not deny the leak charge, but “some intelligence officials called the incident regrettable.”

THINK FAST

“Two months after vowing to roll back broad new wiretapping powers won by the Bush administration,” the New York Times writes, “Congressional Democrats appear ready to make concessions that could extend some of the key powers granted to the National Security Agency.” Glenn Greenwald suggests that “the picture is more complicated and less depressing than this NYT article suggests.”

In a new report, the Iraqi government wants the United States to “to sever all contracts in Iraq with Blackwater USA within six months and pay $8 million in compensation to each of the families of 17 people killed when the firm’s guards” opened fire in a Baghdad last month. The Iraqis also want the United States to hand over the guards involved in the incident for possible trial in Iraqi court.

Army chief of staff Gen. George Casey said the Army “will need three or four years to recover from the strains of repeated deployments to Iraq even with a planned drawdown of US forces next year.”

Almost 40% of the people displaced from New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina” lived “below the poverty line last year,” according to a Census Bureau survey. The survey also found that “nearly a third of those who fled the hurricane could not find jobs last year, and thousands more weren’t trying.”

President Bush’s SCHIP veto has caused “fresh divisions” among Senate Republicans. “Because the president and Republican leaders are not pushing a positive health care agenda, a lot of people are not comfortable opposing anything that has children in it,” Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) told Roll Call that the “lack of a forceful positive agenda” has “sort of split our caucus.”

“Americans are hearing much less from the Bush administration about democracy for the Middle East than they did a year ago. As Shiite Iran rises, the White House has muted its calls for reform in the region as it redirects policy to reembrace Sunni Arab allies — who run, to varying degrees, authoritarian regimes.”

Six years after 9/11, “the ‘war on terror’ is failing and instead fueling an increase in support for extremist Islamist movements,” according to the Oxford Research Group, a British think tank. The group stated that a “fundamental re-think is required” if al Qaeda is to be rendered ineffective.

And finally: In the introduction of his new book, “I Am America (And So Can You!),” Stephen Colbert writes, “I AM NO FAN OF BOOKS. AND CHANCES ARE, IF YOU’RE READING THIS, YOU AND I SHARE A HEALTHY SKEPTICISM ABOUT THE PRINTED WORD. WELL, I WANT YOU TO KNOW THAT THIS IS THE FIRST BOOK I’VE EVER WRITTEN, AND I HOPE IT’S THE FIRST BOOK YOU’VE EVER READ. DON’T MAKE A HABIT OF IT.”

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GOOD NEWS

After gay marriage opponents failed to block the measure, Oregon is expected to join eight states “that have approved partnership rights in some form for same-sex couples.”

STATE WATCH

VIRGINIA: The city of Alexandria “is expected to pass a resolution tonight renewing its commitment to extend public services” to undocumented immigrants.

NEW YORK: Terrorism experts believe Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s (D) plan to give drivers licenses to all immigrants help national security.

CALIFORNIA: Gay marriage proponents “will launch a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign this week to ‘open hearts and minds'” of Californians.

HEALTH CARE
: “Laws aimed at breaking legal hurdles that prevented hundreds of doctors and nurses from volunteering to help Hurricane Katrina victims in 2005 are gaining momentum in states.”

BLOG WATCH

THINK PROGRESS: Fox News: global warming’s “indisputable” effects mean oil is “more accessible.”

THE HORSE’S MOUTH: One of Gen. David Petraeus’s own advisers says his testimony on Iraq was “potentially misleading.”

TRAILHEAD: Slate’s new political blog with original reporting and analysis.

RISING HEGEMON: Exactly a month ago, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) claimed there would be a “major” political “breakthrough” in Iraq in just a few “weeks.”

DAILY GRILL

Since British forces “handed over our base in Basra City in early September, the present security situation has been calmer.”
— British PM Gordon Brown, 10/8/07, after announcing a withdrawal of British troops from Iraq

VERSUS

“A contagion of violence would likely spread beyond Iraq’s borders, and much of the effort that’s gone into fighting the global war on terror would be dissipated.” 
— Vice President Dick Cheney, 9/14/07, on what would happen if the United States were to withdraw from Iraq