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Saturday, February 10, 2007

Deadliest Bomb in Iraq Is Made by Iran, U.S. Says

February 10, 2007


Deadliest Bomb in Iraq Is Made by Iran, U.S. Says

By MICHAEL R. GORDON

WASHINGTON, Feb. 9 — The most lethal weapon directed against American troops in Iraq is an explosive-packed cylinder that United States intelligence asserts is being supplied by Iran.

The assertion of an Iranian role in supplying the device to Shiite militias reflects broad agreement among American intelligence agencies, although officials acknowledge that the picture is not entirely complete.

In interviews, civilian and military officials from a broad range of government agencies provided specific details to support what until now has been a more generally worded claim, in a new National Intelligence Estimate, that Iran is providing “lethal support” to Shiite militants in Iraq.

The focus of American concern is known as an “explosively formed penetrator,” a particularly deadly type of roadside bomb being used by Shiite groups in attacks on American troops in Iraq. Attacks using the device have doubled in the past year, and have prompted increasing concern among military officers. In the last three months of 2006, attacks using the weapons accounted for a significant portion of Americans killed and wounded in Iraq, though less than a quarter of the total, military officials say.

Because the weapon can be fired from roadsides and is favored by Shiite militias, it has become a serious threat in Baghdad. Only a small fraction of the roadside bombs used in Iraq are explosively formed penetrators. But the device produces more casualties per attack than other types of roadside bombs.

Any assertion of an Iranian contribution to attacks on Americans in Iraq is both politically and diplomatically volatile. The officials said they were willing to discuss the issue to respond to what they described as an increasingly worrisome threat to American forces in Iraq, and were not trying to lay the basis for an American attack on Iran.

The assessment was described in interviews over the past several weeks with American officials, including some whose agencies have previously been skeptical about the significance of Iran’s role in Iraq. Administration officials said they recognized that intelligence failures related to prewar American claims about Iraq’s weapons arsenal could make critics skeptical about the American claims.

The link that American intelligence has drawn to Iran is based on a number of factors, including an analysis of captured devices, examination of debris after attacks, and intelligence on training of Shiite militants in Iran and in Iraq by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and by Hezbollah militants believed to be working at the behest of Tehran.

The Bush administration is expected to make public this weekend some of what intelligence agencies regard as an increasing body of evidence pointing to an Iranian link, including information gleaned from Iranians and Iraqis captured in recent American raids on an Iranian office in Erbil and another site in Baghdad.

The information includes interrogation reports from the raids indicating that money and weapons components are being brought into Iraq from across the Iranian border in vehicles that travel at night. One of the detainees has identified an Iranian operative as having supplied two of the bombs. The border crossing at Mehran is identified as a major crossing point for the smuggling of money and weapons for Shiite militants, according to the intelligence.

According to American intelligence, Iran has excelled in developing this type of bomb, and has provided similar technology to Hezbollah militants in southern Lebanon. The manufacture of the key metal components required sophisticated machinery, raw material and expertise that American intelligence agencies do not believe can be found in Iraq. In addition, some components of the bombs have been found with Iranian factory markings from 2006.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates appeared to allude to this intelligence on Friday when he told reporters in Seville, Spain, that serial numbers and other markings on weapon fragments found in Iraq point to Iran as a source.

Some American intelligence experts believe that Hezbollah has provided some of the logistical support and training to Shiite militias in Iraq, but they assert that such steps would not be taken without Iran’s blessing.

“All source reporting since 2004 indicates that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Corps-Quds Force is providing professionally-built EFPs and components to Iraqi Shia militants,” notes a still-classified American intelligence report that was prepared in 2006.

“Based on forensic analysis of materials recovered in Iraq,” the report continues, “Iran is assessed as the producer of these items.”

The United States, using the Swiss Embassy in Tehran as an intermediary, has privately warned the Iranian government to stop providing the military technology to Iraqi militants, a senior administration official said. The British government has issued similar warnings to Iran, according to Western officials. Officials said that the Iranians had not responded.

An American intelligence assessment described to The New York Times said that “as part of its strategy in Iraq, Iran is implementing a deliberate, calibrated policy — approved by Supreme Leader Khamenei and carried out by the Quds Force — to provide explosives support and training to select Iraqi Shia militant groups to conduct attacks against coalition targets.” The reference was to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Iranian leader, and to an elite branch of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Command that is assigned the task of carrying out paramilitary operations abroad.

“The likely aim is to make a military presence in Iraq more costly for the U.S.,” the assessment said.

Other officials believe Iran is using the attacks to send a warning to the United States that it can inflict casualties on American troops if the United States takes a more forceful posture toward it.

Iran has publicly denied the allegations that it is providing military support to Shiite militants in Iraq. Javad Zarif, Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, wrote in an Op-Ed article published on Thursday in The Times that the Bush administration was “trying to make Iran its scapegoat and fabricating evidence of Iranian activities in Iraq.”

The explosively formed penetrator, detonated on the roadside as American vehicles pass by, is capable of blasting a metal projectile through the side of an armored Humvee with devastating consequences.

American military officers say that attacks using the weapon reached a high point in December, when it accounted for a significant portion of Americans killed and wounded in Iraq. For reasons that remain unclear, attacks using the device declined substantially in January, but the weapons remain one of the principal threats to American troops in and around Baghdad, where five additional brigades of American combat troops are to be deployed under the Bush administration’s new plan.

“It is the most effective I.E.D out there,” said Lt. Col. James Danna, who led the Second Battalion, Sixth Infantry Regiment in Baghdad last year, referring to improvised explosive devices, as the roadside bombs are known by the American military. “To me it is a political weapon. There are not a lot of them out there, but every time we crack down on the Shia militias that weapon comes out. They want to keep us on our bases, keep us out of their neighborhoods and prevent us from doing our main mission, which is protecting vulnerable portions of the population.”

Adm. William Fallon, President Bush’s choice to head the Central Command, alluded to the weapon’s ability to punch through the side of armored Humvees in his testimony to Congress last month.

“Equipment that was, we thought, pretty effective in protecting our troops just a matter of months ago is now being challenged by some of the techniques and devices over there,” Admiral Fallon said. “So I’m learning as we go in that this is a fast-moving ballgame.”

Mr. Gates told reporters last week that he had heard there had been cases in which the weapon “can take out an Abrams tank.”

The increasing use of the weapon is the latest twist in a lethal game of measure and countermeasure that has been carried out throughout the nearly four-year-old Iraq war. Using munitions from Iraq’s vast and poorly guarded arsenal, insurgents developed an array of bombs to strike the more heavily armed and technologically superior American military.

In response, the United States military deployed armored Humvees, which in turn spawned the development of even more potent roadside bombs. American officials say that the first suspected use of the penetrator occurred in late 2003 and that attacks have risen steadily since then.

To make the weapon, a metal cylinder is filled with powerful explosives. A metal concave disk manufactured on a special press is fixed to the firing end.

Several of the cylinders are often grouped together in an array. The weapon is generally triggered when American vehicles drive by an infrared sensor, which operates on the same principle as a garage door opener. The sensor is impervious to the electronic jamming the American military uses to try to block other remote-control attacks.

When an American vehicle crosses the beam, the explosives in the cylinders are detonated, hurling their metal lids at targets at a tremendous speed. The metal changes shape in flight, forming into a slug that penetrate many types of armor.

In planning their attacks, Shiite militias have taken advantage of the tactics employed by American forces in Baghdad. To reduce the threat from suicide car bombs and minimize the risk of inadvertently killing Iraqi civilians, American patrols and convoys have been instructed to keep their distance from civilian traffic. But that has made it easier for the Shiite militias to attack American vehicles. When they see American vehicles approaching, they activate the infrared sensors.

According to American intelligence agencies, the Iranians are also believed to have provided Shiite militants with rocket-propelled grenades, shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles, mortars, 122-millimeter rockets and TNT.

Among the intelligence that the United States is expected to make public this weekend is information indicating that some of these weapons said to have been made in Iran were carried into Iraq in recent years. Examples include a shoulder-fired antiaircraft missile that was fired at a plane flying near the Baghdad airport in 2004 but which failed to launch properly; an Iranian rocket-propelled grenade made in 2006; and an Iranian 81-millimeter mortar made in 2006.

Assessments by American intelligence agencies say there is no indication that there is any kind of black-market trade in the Iranian-linked roadside bombs, and that shipments of the components are being directed to Shiite militants who have close links to Iran. The American military has developed classified techniques to try to counter the sophisticated weapon.

Marine officials say that weapons have not been found in the Sunni-dominated Anbar Province, adding to the view that the device is an Iranian-supplied and Shiite-employed weapon.

To try to cut off the supply, the American military has sought to focus on the cells of Iranian Revolutionary Guard operatives it asserts are in Iraq. American intelligence agencies are concerned that the Iranians may respond by increasing the supply of the weapons.

“We are working day and night to disassemble these networks that do everything from bring the explosives to the point of construction, to how they’re put together, to who delivers them, to the mechanisms that are used to have them go off,” Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last week. “It is instructive that at least twice in the last month, that in going after the networks, we have picked up Iranians.”

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Special flights brought in tonnes of banknotes which disappeared into the war zone

How the US sent $12bn in cash to Iraq. And watched it vanish
Special flights brought in tonnes of banknotes which disappeared into the war zone

David Pallister
Thursday February 8, 2007

Guardian

The US flew nearly $12bn in shrink-wrapped $100 bills into Iraq, then distributed the cash with no proper control over who was receiving it and how it was being spent.
The staggering scale of the biggest transfer of cash in the history of the Federal Reserve has been graphically laid bare by a US congressional committee.

In the year after the invasion of Iraq in 2003 nearly 281 million notes, weighing 363 tonnes, were sent from New York to Baghdad for disbursement to Iraqi ministries and US contractors. Using C-130 planes, the deliveries took place once or twice a month with the biggest of $2,401,600,000 on June 22 2004, six days before the handover.

Details of the shipments have emerged in a memorandum prepared for the meeting of the House committee on oversight and government reform which is examining Iraqi reconstruction. Its chairman, Henry Waxman, a fierce critic of the war, said the way the cash had been handled was mind-boggling. "The numbers are so large that it doesn't seem possible that they're true. Who in their right mind would send 363 tonnes of cash into a war zone?"

The memorandum details the casual manner in which the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority disbursed the money, which came from Iraqi oil sales, surplus funds from the UN oil-for-food programme and seized Iraqi assets.

"One CPA official described an environment awash in $100 bills," the memorandum says. "One contractor received a $2m payment in a duffel bag stuffed with shrink-wrapped bundles of currency. Auditors discovered that the key to a vault was kept in an unsecured backpack.

"They also found that $774,300 in cash had been stolen from one division's vault. Cash payments were made from the back of a pickup truck, and cash was stored in unguarded sacks in Iraqi ministry offices. One official was given $6.75m in cash, and was ordered to spend it in one week before the interim Iraqi government took control of Iraqi funds."

The minutes from a May 2004 CPA meeting reveal "a single disbursement of $500m in security funding labelled merely 'TBD', meaning 'to be determined'."

The memorandum concludes: "Many of the funds appear to have been lost to corruption and waste ... thousands of 'ghost employees' were receiving pay cheques from Iraqi ministries under the CPA's control. Some of the funds could have enriched both criminals and insurgents fighting the United States."

According to Stuart Bowen, the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, the $8.8bn funds to Iraqi ministries were disbursed "without assurance the monies were properly used or accounted for". But, according to the memorandum, "he now believes that the lack of accountability and transparency extended to the entire $20bn expended by the CPA".

To oversee the expenditure the CPA was supposed to appoint an independent certified public accounting firm. "Instead the CPA hired an obscure consulting firm called North Star Consultants Inc. The firm was so small that it reportedly operates out of a private home in San Diego." Mr Bowen found that the company "did not perform a review of internal controls as required by the contract".

However, evidence before the committee suggests that senior American officials were unconcerned about the situation because the billions were not US taxpayers' money. Paul Bremer, the head of the CPA, reminded the committee that "the subject of today's hearing is the CPA's use and accounting for funds belonging to the Iraqi people held in the so-called Development Fund for Iraq. These are not appropriated American funds. They are Iraqi funds. I believe the CPA discharged its responsibilities to manage these Iraqi funds on behalf of the Iraqi people."

Bremer's financial adviser, retired Admiral David Oliver, is even more direct. The memorandum quotes an interview with the BBC World Service. Asked what had happened to the $8.8bn he replied: "I have no idea. I can't tell you whether or not the money went to the right things or didn't - nor do I actually think it's important."

Q: "But the fact is billions of dollars have disappeared without trace."

Oliver: "Of their money. Billions of dollars of their money, yeah I understand. I'm saying what difference does it make?"

Mr Bremer, whose disbanding of the Iraqi armed forces and de-Ba'athification programme have been blamed as contributing to the present chaos, told the committee: "I acknowledge that I made mistakes and that with the benefit of hindsight, I would have made some decisions differently. Our top priority was to get the economy moving again. The first step was to get money into the hands of the Iraqi people as quickly as possible."

Millions of civil service families had not received salaries or pensions for months and there was no effective banking system. "It was not a perfect solution," he said. "Delay might well have exacerbated the nascent insurgency and thereby increased the danger to Americans."

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

As Inflation Soars, Zimbabwe Economy Plunges

February 7, 2007
As Inflation Soars, Zimbabwe Economy Plunges
By MICHAEL WINES

JOHANNESBURG, Feb. 6 — For close to seven years, Zimbabwe’s economy and quality of life have been in slow, uninterrupted decline. They are still declining this year, people there say, with one notable difference: the pace is no longer so slow.

Indeed, Zimbabwe’s economic descent has picked up so much speed that President Robert G. Mugabe, the nation’s leader for 27 years, is starting to lose support from parts of his own party.

In recent weeks, the national power authority has warned of a collapse of electrical service. A breakdown in water treatment has set off a new outbreak of cholera in the capital, Harare. All public services were cut off in Marondera, a regional capital of 50,000 in eastern Zimbabwe, after the city ran out of money to fix broken equipment. In Chitungwiza, just south of Harare, electricity is supplied only four days a week.

The government awarded all civil servants a 300 percent raise two weeks ago. But the increase is only a fraction of the inflation rate, so the nation’s 110,000 teachers are staging a work slowdown for more money. Measured by the black-market value of Zimbabwe’s ragtag currency, even their new salaries total less than 60 American dollars a month.

Doctors and nurses have been on strike for five weeks, seeking a pay increase of nearly 9,000 percent, and health care is all but nonexistent. Harare’s police chief warned in a recently leaked memo that if rank-and-file officers did not get a substantial raise, they might riot.

In the past eight months, “there’s been a huge collapse in living standards,” Iden Wetherell, the editor of the weekly newspaper Zimbabwe Independent said in a telephone interview, “and also a deterioration in the infrastructure — in standards of health care, in education. There’s a sort of sense that things are plunging.”

Mr. Mugabe’s fortunes appear to have dimmed as well. In December, the ruling party that has traditionally bowed to his will, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front, balked at supporting a constitutional amendment that would have extended his term of office by two years, to 2010. The rebuff exposed a fissure in the party, known as ZANU-PF, between Mr. Mugabe’s hard-line backers and others who fear he has brought their nation to the brink of collapse.

The trigger of this crisis — hyperinflation — reached an annual rate of 1,281 percent this month, and has been near or over 1,000 percent since last April. Hyperinflation has bankrupted the government, left 8 in 10 citizens destitute and decimated the country’s factories and farms.

Pay increases have so utterly failed to keep pace with price increases that some Harare workers now complain that bus fare to and from work consumes their entire salaries.

Citing a leaked central bank document, Reuters reported Tuesday that prices of basic items like meat, cooking oil and clothes had risen 223 percent in the past week alone.

Soaring costs have made it impossible for both national and local governments to meet budgets and for businesses to afford raw materials, while subsidies for basic commodities have drained the government treasury and promoted corruption.

Seeking to revive farm production, for example, the government sells gasoline to farmers at a bargain rate of 330 Zimbabwe dollars per liter — and farmers promptly resell it on the black market for 10 times that, leaving their fields idle.

Mr. Mugabe, who blames a Western plot against him for Zimbabwe’s problems, has rejected all calls for economic reform. The government refuses to devalue Zimbabwe’s dollar, which fetches only 5 to 10 percent of its official value on the thriving black market. As a result, foreign exchange to buy crucial imported goods like spare parts and fertilizer has effectively dried up.

Despite acceptable rains, one international aid official said, Zimbabwe’s corn crop is currently lagging behind last year’s — and that harvest was among the worst in history. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the assessment had not been made public.

The central bank’s latest response to these problems, announced this week, was to declare inflation illegal. From March 1 to June 30, anyone who raises prices or wages will be arrested and punished. Only a “firm social contract” to end corruption and restructure the economy will bring an end to the crisis, said the reserve bank governor, Gideon Gono.

The speech by Mr. Gono, a favorite of Mr. Mugabe, was broadcast nationally. In downtown Harare, the last half was blacked out by a power failure.

Eighty-two years old, wily and physically robust, Mr. Mugabe has survived both international condemnation and domestic upheaval before.

Efforts to suppress dissent are rising: in recent weeks, trade union officials were seriously injured in police beatings, arsonists burned the home of a leading pro-democracy activist and church leaders were arrested while meeting to discuss the economic crisis. Foreign journalists remain barred from the country under threat of imprisonment, and harassment of Zimbabwean journalists has sharply increased.

But hyperinflation is eroding the government’s control over every aspect of public life and, by extension, over its own future.

“It’s out of control now, and they have to bring it back in control,” said John Robertson, a Harare-based economist and a frequent critic of government policies. “We’re reaching the steepest slopes of the process. They say they can fix prices, but the things that cause price increases come from so many different directions that the government can’t control them all.”

That growing loss of control is apparent. The black market, which already flourishes beyond the reach of tax collectors and regulators, is likely to grab an even larger share of the economy when the government freezes prices in March, because stores will be unable to make a profit selling products at government-fixed prices.

Problems with water and power supplies have become acute because of a lack of foreign exchange and salaries for workers; a wave of blackouts hit the nation early last month when 100 electrical workers walked out to protest low pay.

Zimbabwe’s political opposition has failed for years to mount an effective work stoppage to protest living conditions. But public workers, the bedrock of government support, this year have begun to walk off the job because there is no longer enough money to pay them a living wage.

The average teacher, for example, earns barely one-fourth of the salary needed to keep a family of six out of poverty. The military, unhappy with January’s 300 percent pay hike, is seeking 1,000 percent.

The growing number of strikes also has emboldened the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, a center of opposition to Mr. Mugabe, to make its own plans for a general work stoppage.

“People in Zimbabwe tend to be resilient,” said Jamal Jafari, an analyst for the Washington-based International Crisis Group, which monitors political risks worldwide. “But that having been said, what has to be the scariest statistic for the government is the fact that large sectors of the civil service and the military are far below the poverty line. They simply can’t raise salaries fast enough.”

Mr. Jafari and some political and economic analysts in southern Africa say they now believe that Zimbabwe faces a political showdown within months, as the governing bodies of ZANU-PF wrangle over whether to grant Mr. Mugabe an extended term or to put less radical members of the ruling party in power.

Few expect a democratic revolution; the one rival party, the Movement for Democratic Change, is riven by splits, systematically suppressed by the government and without an effective leader. Regardless, these experts say, by failing to arrest this accelerating decline, Zimbabwe is edging toward a day of political reckoning that years of diplomatic jawboning and political jockeying have failed to produce.

For the government, “the big problem about Zimbabwe is that the one thing you can’t rig is the economy,” said one Harare political analyst, who refused to be identified for fear of being persecuted. “When it fails, it fails. And that can have unpredictable effects.”

Monday, February 05, 2007

Iraqis Fault Pace of U.S. Plan in Attack

February 5, 2007

Iraqis Fault Pace of U.S. Plan in Attack

BAGHDAD, Feb. 4 — A growing number of Iraqis blamed the United States on Sunday for creating conditions that led to the worst single suicide bombing in the war, which devastated a Shiite market in Baghdad the day before. They argued that the Americans had been slow in completing the vaunted new American security plan, making Shiite neighborhoods much more vulnerable to such horrific attacks.

The critics said the new plan, which the Americans have started to execute, had emasculated the Mahdi Army, the Shiite militia that is considered responsible for many attacks on Sunnis, but that many Shiites say had been the only effective deterrent against sectarian reprisal attacks in Baghdad’s Shiite neighborhoods. Even some Iraqi supporters of the plan, like Hoshyar Zebari, the foreign minister who is a Kurd, said delays in carrying it out had caused great disappointment.

In advance of the plan, which would flood Baghdad with thousands of new American and Iraqi troops, many Mahdi Army checkpoints were dismantled and its leaders were either in hiding or under arrest, which was one of the plan’s intended goals to reduce sectarian fighting. But with no immediate influx of new security forces to fill the void, Shiites say, Sunni militants and other anti-Shiite forces have been emboldened to plot the type of attack that obliterated the bustling Sadriya market on Saturday, killing at least 135 people and wounding more than 300 from a suicide driver’s truck bomb.

“A long time has passed since the plan was announced,” Basim Shareef, a Shiite member of Parliament, said Sunday. “But so far security has only deteriorated.”

American officials have said the new plan will take time, but new concerns emerged Sunday about the readiness of Iraqi military units that are supposed to work with the roughly 17,000 additional American soldiers who will be stationed in Baghdad under the plan, which President Bush announced last month.

Iraqi and American military officials said the command structure of the Iraqi side had still not been resolved, although the plan is supposed to move forward this coming week.

Naeem al-Kabbi, the deputy mayor of Baghdad and a senior official loyal to Moktada al-Sadr, the powerful cleric who heads the Mahdi Army, said he believed the plan had been delayed “because the Iraqi Army is not ready.”

American military officials have not laid out a precise timeline for the security plan, and would not say if undermanned Iraqi units had delayed its start. But American officials have said Iraqi units arriving in Baghdad to fulfill their part of the new plan are only at 55 to 60 percent of their full strength.

With much of Baghdad devolving further into chaos, many Iraqis have begun to question whether the security plan has ambled along too slowly, setting up a situation in which American and Iraqi troops will be greeted with hostility rather than welcomed as protectors.

Concerns about the unintended consequences of the American security plan rippled through many levels of the Iraqi government.

“People’s expectations went up,” Mr. Zebari said. “They were hopeful, optimistic that this new surge, this new plan would provide a better life for them. And this daily killing — this bomb — they lose hope. Still the troops haven’t arrived.”

An American military official, responding to accusations that American efforts opened Shiite areas to attacks, said American checkpoints around eastern and central Baghdad last October seemed to reduce the number of car bombs until the checkpoints were removed because of objections from Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki and Shiite officials loyal to Mr. Sadr. The official was not authorized to comment about the subject and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, the American military spokesman in Iraq, called for patience as the new security plan rolls out. “Give the government and coalition forces a chance to fully implement it,” he said in remarks carried by several news agencies.

His comments, however, came as more than a dozen mortar shells crashed on Adhamiya, a Sunni area of eastern Baghdad, in what appeared to be an act of retaliation by Shiites. At least 15 people were killed and more than 56 wounded, an Interior Ministry official said.

Clashes in western Baghdad between Sunni and Shiite militias left 7 dead and 11 wounded, and the authorities found 35 bodies throughout the city, many showing signs of torture.

Meanwhile in the streets of Sadriya, the poor, mostly Shiite area of central Baghdad where the bomb exploded on Saturday, merchants and residents struggled to contain their anger.

“I saw with my own eyes young children flying from the windows of the apartments on top of the shops when the explosion arrived,” said Haydar Abdul Jabbar, 28, a car mechanic who was standing near a barber shop when the bomb exploded. “One woman threw herself out of the window when the fire came close to her.”

Mr. Abdul Jabbar said he rushed to collapsed buildings trying to help the wounded, but found mainly hands, skulls and other body parts.

“The government is supposed to protect us, but they are not doing their job,” he said. “I watch the TV and see the announcements on the imminent implementation of the security plan. Where is it, for God’s sake?”

“I wish they would attack us with a nuclear bomb and kill us all,” he added, “so we will rest and anybody who wants the oil — which is the core of the problem — can come and get it. We can not live this way anymore. We are dying slowly every day.”

The truck exploded around dusk on Saturday at a market flush with crowded food stands. The crater from the blast was large enough to hold a sedan; the blast threw the truck’s gnarled engine block more than 100 yards away.

As the sun rose on Sunday, the rescue effort continued with workers and relatives tugging at concrete pieces in a mad search for victims amid the piles of debris where apartments and offices once stood. Processions heavy with death moved through the area. Men lashed simple wood coffins to the top of minibuses for the long journey to cemeteries, while families in the backs of trucks wailed after collecting the bodies of relatives.

While the American military put out a statement saying that the Iraqi Army assisted at the scene, the area closest to the crater was controlled by the Mahdi Army. Between 8 and 15 men dressed in black and carrying AK-47s, waved reporters away on Sunday morning.

The scene was thick with anger directed at the Iraqi government and American military for letting the people down and allowing such a devastating attack. When asked about the “tragedy” of the blast, one Mahdi guard responded, “The only tragedy was when we voted for weak officials.”

He then pointed toward the bombed-out buildings and added, “This is the result.”

Later, when two American Humvees and an Iraqi patrol passed just after 1 p.m., one of the men in black called the soldiers “apes and cowards.”

“They’re the ones who brought us the catastrophe,” one of them said. “If they were not here such a thing wouldn’t happen to us.”

Mr. Abdul Jabbar, the car mechanic, was one of many Iraqis who said that the American military would have been better off leaving the Mahdi Army in charge of Shiite neighborhoods.

Uday Ahmed, 31, a Sunni whose three restaurants at the market were obliterated by the blast, killing 20 of his workers, said that until a few weeks ago, Mahdi militiamen were more visible on the streets, checking vehicles, watching and offering to arbitrate disputes. After American and Iraqi officials arrested several top Mahdi commanders last month, he said, many of the Mahdi militants drifted into the shadows or fled.

He said their departure contributed to the recent spasm of violence in Shiite neighborhoods.

Some Shiites in the area said that the truck could have been stopped at a checkpoint, decreasing damage from its payload. Hussein Ali, 57, said Shiite militiamen might have recognized that the driver was not from the neighborhood.

“They don’t have any system or apparatus to check the cars,” he said. “But they know from looking at the faces who is supposed to come to Sadriya to bring vegetables or fruits. They have a relationship with the merchants.”

Iraqi officials, after meeting with American military commanders, are expected to announce as early as Monday that they have agreed on some of the details of the command structure for the new security plan.

American military officials say that the Iraqi officer who will lead his forces participating in the new Baghdad security effort, Lt. Gen. Aboud Qanbar, will take command on Monday and that the Baghdad plan will be carried out soon.

McCain Criticizes War Resolution

WASHINGTON, Feb. 4 — On the eve of a Senate showdown over a bipartisan resolution opposing President Bush’s war strategy in Iraq, Senator John McCain of Arizona, a leading Republican critic of the measure, accused its sponsors Sunday of intellectual dishonesty. He described the nonbinding resolution as a “vote of no confidence in both the mission and the troops who are going over there.”

He said on the ABC News program “This Week” that if the sponsors wanted to block Mr. Bush’s plans to expand the American troop presence in Iraq, they should be brave enough to vote to cut off financing.

A principal Republican backer of the resolution, Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, said on the same program that it was important for the Senate to make a clear stand against the troop building, which he said would produce only more turmoil.

Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, a Democratic supporter of the resolution, said she was frustrated that Republican leaders would try to filibuster to block a vote. “Look, debate is going on in every schoolyard, in every state, in every city of this nation,” she said on CNN’s “Late Edition,” describing the proposed filibuster as “obstructionism.”

Reporting was contributed by Wisam A. Habeeb, Qais Mizher, Khalid W. Hassan, Marc Santora, James Glanz and Iraqi employees of The New York Times from Baghdad, and Philip Shenon from Washington.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

McCain’s Advisers Once Made Ads That Drew His Ire

February 4, 2007

McCain’s Advisers Once Made Ads That Drew His Ire

WASHINGTON, Feb. 2 — Senator John McCain, intent on succeeding where his freewheeling presidential campaign of 2000 failed, is assembling a team of political bruisers for 2008. And it includes advisers who once sought to skewer him and whose work he has criticized as stepping over the line in the past.

In 2000, Mr. McCain, Republican of Arizona, said the advertisements run against him by George W. Bush, then the governor of Texas, distorted his record. But he has hired three members of the team that made those commercials — Mark McKinnon, Russell Schriefer and Stuart Stevens — to work on his presidential campaign.

In 2004, Mr. McCain said the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth advertisement asserting that Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts had not properly earned his medals from the Vietnam War was “dishonest and dishonorable.” Nonetheless, he has hired the firm that made the spots, Stevens Reed Curcio & Potholm, which worked on his 2000 campaign, to work for him again this year.

In October, Mr. McCain’s top adviser expressed public displeasure with an advertisement against former Representative Harold E. Ford Jr., Democrat of Tennessee, that some saw as having racist overtones for suggesting a flirtation between Mr. Ford, who is black, and a young, bare-shouldered white woman, played by a blond actress.

The Republican committee that sponsored the spot had as its leader Terry Nelson, a former Bush campaign strategist whom Mr. McCain hired as an adviser last spring. In December, just weeks after the Ford controversy broke, Mr. McCain elevated Mr. Nelson to the position of national campaign manager.

Taken together, the moves provide the strongest indication yet that Mr. McCain intends to run a far tougher campaign than the one he ran in the 2000 primary. And they come as he transitions from being a onetime maverick to a candidate seeking to gather his party around him and create an air of inevitability about his prospects for winning nomination.

As Mr. McCain assembles his team, he is also making it that much harder for his Republican challengers by scooping up a significant circle of the party’s top talent.

In recent years, Mr. McCain has made a concerted effort to mend fences with Mr. Bush and reassure the Republican base that he is a reliable conservative. But his moves have focused new attention on the extent to which he may risk sacrificing the image he has long cultivated of being his own man, driven by principle rather than partisan politics.

Mr. McCain’s advisers said he was not changing. But they were unapologetic about putting together a group dedicated to doing what it takes to reach the White House and employing lessons from his defeat at the hands of Mr. Bush in 2000.

“This is about winning at the end of the day,” said John Weaver, Mr. McCain’s longtime senior strategist. “I don’t want to be in a knife fight ever again, but if I am, we’re going to win it.”

Mr. McCain’s representatives said he would not provide an interview.

Seven years ago, Mr. McCain charmed the news media and the public with his Straight Talk Express bus tour. He had a lean operation befitting an upstart candidacy, and he regularly spoke out against attack advertising, a quaint notion in retrospect.

In the end, he ran his share of confrontational advertisements, once even leveling the ultimate Republican-to-Republican insult: that Mr. Bush was as dishonest as Bill Clinton. But he was perceived as having been knocked back on his heels by the rougher, tougher Bush campaign.

Now Mr. McCain is building a larger organization, bringing together the heart of the bare-knuckled Bush crew once overseen by Karl Rove while keeping most of the advisers who ran his shoestring effort of 2000.

“It’s like an all-star World Wrestling Federation cage match, except that instead of fighting one another, all of the brawlers are on the same team,” said Steve McMahon, a strategist for the Democratic National Committee. “There are very few people who play this game at the highest level, and on the Republican side these guys are among the best.”

Mr. McCain has also hired Brian Jones, an adviser to Mr. Bush’s 2004 campaign; Fred Davis, a media consultant for Mr. Bush in 2004; and Steve Schmidt, who oversaw Mr. Bush’s 2004 war room, exploiting any tidbit that could help paint Mr. Kerry as a “flip-flopper.”

The hires are another signal that the 2008 primary campaign could be a combative one all around.

On the Democratic side, John Edwards, the former senator from North Carolina, has wasted no time attacking Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s position on Iraq. And Mrs. Clinton’s team includes strategists who invented the concept of the modern campaign war room for her husband 15 years ago. But Senator Barack Obama of Illinois drew cheers at a party gathering on Friday when he warned his fellow candidates against attacking one another.

Mitt Romney, a Republican and the former governor of Massachusetts, has hired Alex Castellanos, a onetime Bush strategist who also famously produced the 1990 commercial for Jesse Helms, the former North Carolina senator, in which a pair of white hands crumpled a rejection letter as a narrator said, “You needed that job and you were the best qualified, but it had to go to a minority because of a racial quota.”

Given Mr. McCain’s history with some of the people on his team, the evolution of his staff may present an early challenge: How does he stay true to the “Straight Talk” spirit of his 2000 campaign, which helped him win the stature he has now, while also engaging in the political brinkmanship it can take to win?

The Democratic National Committee is already criticizing Mr. McCain for his hires, issuing a statement this week calling them “a testament to how far he’s gone down the do-anything-to-win path.”

Tony Fabrizio, a Republican pollster who is not yet allied with a candidate, said Mr. McCain was running the risk of looking “politically expedient” and of blunting his brand as “Senator Straight Talk.” He said the risk was highlighted by Mr. McCain’s recent suggestions that he may not use the campaign finance system he has long championed.

In 2000, Mr. McCain received money from the system, which gives public financing to candidates who agree to strict spending limits. Mr. Weaver, the senior strategist, said Mr. McCain was keeping his options open because others, including Mrs. Clinton, were planning to work around the system.

As Mr. McCain’s aides often point out, for all its appeal, the McCain 2000 campaign was a losing one. And they said it would be unfair to suggest that because Mr. McCain was augmenting his team he was somehow preparing to change who he was.

“There are no negotiations regarding his principles,” Mr. Weaver said.

In an interview on Friday, Mr. Jones, the campaign communications director, said Mr. McCain was not allowing his distaste over the Swift Boat commercials to interfere with his relationship with Stevens Reed Curcio & Potholm, with whom Mr. McCain has his own decade-long association. In addition, he said, Mr. McCain hired Mr. Nelson because of his breadth of experience in national campaigns. “The campaign,” Mr. Jones said, “is not going to let past contests on the battlefield limit how it’s going to go after talent.”

Presidential politics are rich in fungible allegiances. James A. Baker III ran the primary campaigns of Gerald Ford and the elder George Bush against Ronald Reagan, only to become Mr. Reagan’s chief of staff. This year, David Axelrod is serving as a senior strategist for Mr. Obama; he was a senior strategist to Mr. Edwards in his 2004 campaign.

“You could dissect any campaign this way: this guy did this ad this one time,” said Mr. Schriefer, the former Bush media strategist, who will run Mr. McCain’s advertising team. “There’s a tremendous history of foes becoming allies.”

Mr. McKinnon, who led Mr. Bush’s advertising group in 2004, said he saw no inconsistency in working for Mr. McCain. Mr. Bush was right for 2000, he said, and Mr. McCain is right for 2008. “At the end of the day, the campaign will be won or lost on the character of the candidate and his or her core message,” Mr. McKinnon said. “Of course, I believe that will be John McCain.”

Asked if the senator would avoid the attacks he criticized in 2000, Mr. Jones said that while Mr. McCain had yet to declare his candidacy, any campaign he ran would be “consistent with his beliefs and values.”