TPM News

With the administration trying to whip up hysteria about Iran's alleged training of attackers, Tom Lasseter of McClatchy details Muqtada al-Sadr's success in getting the U.S. to train his own men:

After U.S. units pounded al-Sadr's men in August 2004, the cleric apparently decided that instead of facing American tanks, he'd use the Americans' plans to build Iraqi security forces to rebuild his own militia.

So while Iraq's other main Shiite militia, the Badr Brigade, concentrated in 2005 on packing Iraqi intelligence bureaus with high-level officers who could coordinate sectarian assassinations, al-Sadr went after the rank and file.

His recruits began flooding into the Iraqi army and police, receiving training, uniforms and equipment either directly from the U.S. military or from the American-backed Iraqi Defense Ministry.

The result:

"Half of them are [Mahdi army]. They'll wave at us during the day and shoot at us during the night," said 1st Lt. Dan Quinn, a platoon leader in the Army's 1st Infantry Division.... "People (in America) think it's bad, but that we control the city [Baghdad]. That's not the way it is. They control it, and they let us drive around. It's hostile territory."

That was quick. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence just announced that an unclassified version of the Iraq National Intelligence Estimate's key judgments will be released tomorrow at 12:30. Expect a grim report, as the NIE is titled, "Prospects for Iraq’s Stability: A Challenging Road Ahead," but as we learned in 2002, there can be a huge difference in tone and substance between the classified and declassified versions -- as well as the key judgments and the actual body of the NIE. More on all this tomorrow.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has some sharp elbows. During her questioning of Director of National Intelligence nominee Mike McConnell, the senator pointedly said that she expected the DNI's office to release its forthcoming National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq tomorrow.

I immediately placed a call to the Office of the DNI to find out if that was in fact the case, and the rather harried spokeswoman suggested that it wasn't -- that Feinstein was putting a bit of subtle pressure on ODNI to get the estimate to Capitol Hill before the weekend. Keeping with what outgoing DNI John Negroponte said earlier this week, the NIE will be out by Monday, but not necessarily tomorrow, she said.

Of course, you might not see it. The spokeswoman added that "no decision has been made about declassification" of the NIE. So, unless you've got a security clearance, as of this writing, you're not going to read what the intelligence community assesses about the current state of the Iraq war. Never mind that last week, Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) -- joined by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-TX), the congressional intelligence committee chairs -- called for a public version of the document to be released.

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Would you buy some strategic intelligence from this man?

That's retired Vice Admiral Mike McConnell, the new nominee for the increasing backwater known as the Director of National Intelligence. John Negroponte, the first DNI, evidently couldn't get out of the job fast enough, as he defected for the safer bureaucratic harbors of the State Department. Negroponte's legacy at ODNI is still a bit murky, but during his tenure, he consolidated a fair amount of power within his office -- sometimes at the expense of long-term strategic intelligence forecasting.

McConnell is a far less flamboyant figure -- he hasn't been linked to any death squads, for instance -- but the former head of the National Security Agency has a reputation for quiet, professional diligence. During his confirmation hearing today before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, McConnell signaled that he intends to hew to that reputation. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) asked him what he would do if he learned President Bush was "cherry-picking or exaggerating" intelligence to justify a war. McConnell's response was encouraging:

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Round one in today's Casey-McCain fight definitely went to John McCain.

As the clip Josh posted on TPM shows, the Arizona hawk laid the Iraq albatross squarely around Casey's neck, referring to him as "one of the individuals who has been an architect of U.S. military strategy in Iraq." Never mind that Casey only became theater commander a year into the war, and that in his previous roles as Army Vice Chief of Staff and Joint Staff planning director, he was a marginal figure in the Rumsfeld Pentagon. Casey, for his part, didn't object. And that set the tone for the entire hearing: McCain slipped in the shiv, and Casey took the pain. Neither President Bush nor ex-Defense Secretary Rumsfeld made more than cameo appearances in the narratives spun today.

Casey made for an ideal villain. McCain accurately described his predictions during his 30-month command as "unrealistically rosy." Today was no different. He took quiet exception to Bush's televised description of Casey's strategy as "maybe a slow failure," arguing instead to Sen. John Warner (R-VA), "I actually don't see it as slow failure, I see it as slow progress." And responding to Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Casey contended that most of Iraq is peaceful.

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A analysis released today by the Congressional Budget Office shows that the administration, in its public comments, has vastly underestimated the actual number of extra troops that will be deployed to Iraq under the president's "surge" plan.

The administration's estimate of approximately 21,000 extra troops only counts combat units, according to the analysis, and because combat units require support forces, the actual number of additional troops who will be in Iraq will likely exceed 35,000.

From the analysis (you can read it here):

To reflect some of the uncertainty about the number of support troops, CBO developed its estimates on the basis of two alternative assumptions. In one scenario, CBO assumed that additional support troops would be deployed in the same proportion to combat troops that currently exists in Iraq. That approach would require about 28,000 support troops in addition to the 20,000 combat troops—a total of 48,000. CBO also presents an alternative scenario that would include a smaller number of support personnel—about 3,000 per combat brigade—totaling about 15,000 support personnel and bringing the total additional forces to about 35,000. [emphasis mine]

The analysis, which estimated the cost of the president's plan "from $9 billion to $13 billion for a four-month deployment and from $20 billion to $27 billion for a 12-month deployment," was sent to House Committee on the Budget Chairman John Spratt (D-SC) today.

Update: A statement out from Spratt says that the administration, in an estimate given to Congress, gave a cost far below (about $3 billion) the actual one:

According to CBO, these additional troop deployments will cost between $7 billion and $10 billion this year alone, $4 billion to $7 billion more than the Administration’s estimate. Total cost of the troop increase could range between $9 billion and $49 billion, which reflects the costs of a four-month and a 24-month troop increase.

The Still-Hampered Iraq Rebuilding Effort The Special Inspector General of Iraq Reconstruction reported yesterday that "despite nearly $108 billion that had been budgeted for the reconstruction of Iraq since the 2003 invasion, the country’s electrical output and oil production were still below prewar levels and stocks of gasoline and kerosene had plummeted to their lowest levels in at least two years." Many American contractors are suspected of having wasted funds; others, such as DynCorp, which "[billed] the United States for millions of dollars of work that was never authorized and [started] other jobs before they were requested," may have committed outright fraud. (The New York Times)

Continue below for the rest of the day's muck...

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Starting at 9:30 this morning, room 325 of the Russell Senate Office Building is only big enough for one reputation -- either Army General George W. Casey's or Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ).

Today the Senate Armed Services Committee takes up Casey's nomination to become the next Army Chief of Staff. For the last two years, Casey has had a far more stressful job: corps commander in Iraq, where he presided over a deteriorating and calamitous war. Consistently during his tenure, Casey promised that stability -- and subsequent troop reductions -- were just a few months away, only to have to renege. Just as consistently, Casey argued that increasing U.S. troop strength would deepen the Iraqis' sense of occupation and build an unhealthy dependency on U.S. troops.

McCain has also been consistent: he's backed a massive infusion of U.S. troops regardless of the changing circumstances of the war. And since he's counting on supporters of President Bush's relentless stance on the war to propel him to the party's nomination, criticizing Bush too much on Iraq has been a danger. Luckily for McCain, Bush renounced Casey's Iraqis-first approach in favor of escalation. Problem solved for McCain: Casey becomes the scapegoat. On a January 21 "Meet The Press" appearance, McCain blasted Casey's "failed leadership" and said he had "serious concerns" about Casey's nomination as Army chief.

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"There are four wars going on in Iraq right now," Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has said. Turns out he underestimated it by about twenty.

From The Boston Globe:

The messianic Soldiers of Heaven militia that fought US and Iraqi troops in one of the fiercest battles of the war Sunday is among the more than two dozen extremist militias operating across Iraq that are fast becoming a powerful, and hidden, new enemy.

US officials this week expressed concern about the explosion of splinter groups in Iraq, noting that their sheer number makes a political resolution to the ongoing violence in Iraq increasingly difficult. One Defense Department official said in an interview yesterday that the military is tracking at least 28 militias, many of them Shi'ite splinter groups, but knows little about their leadership or command structure.

From Shi'ite factions in southern Iraq to Sunni groups in Anbar Province to extremist Islamic militias operating in Kurdistan, it's a dizzying array. Take just the Shi'ite splinter groups, for example:

...more than a dozen Shi'ite factions command their own armed followings in southern Iraq, including two competing groups that both call themselves "Hezbollah," a family-run private army of the Garamsha tribe and armed fighters loyal to the Prince of the Marshes, an autocratic leader of Iraq's marsh Arabs, said Juan Cole , a Shi'ite specialist and University of Michigan professor.

Certainly, the proliferation of militias "makes a political resolution to the ongoing violence in Iraq increasingly difficult," as the Globe notes. In fact, "the Iraqi Constitution prohibits the formation of militias," and, well, that doesn't seem to have done much good.

Note: Don't miss another must read from today: Reuters on the plight of Iraqis trying (and failing) to get safe harbor in the U.S.