Army Cutbacks Will bite


Britain's expensive disaster in Iraq is beginning to have a drastic effect on our armed forces and their readiness for any future conflict. We've talked before about how the number of mid ranking officers departing is causing a long term problem and that recruitment rates remain low, indeed the infantry alone is 3,000 soldiers short and a recent TV recruitment campaign has flopped

However dramatic cutbacks are being planned. How dramatic?

Parachute training is to be halted for four years

The ISG Report, Margaret Beckett Responds [sic]


Ok, hold on to your hats folks, in fact, you should pour yourself a stiff drink, and make sure there are no heavy blunt objects within reach.

Finally, a Government Minister has responded to the Baker Hamilton ISG report. Margaret Beckett appeared on Radio 4's Today Programme yesterday [wednesday], the interview is online, and archived as a Lo Fi mp3 here.

Here's a clue to how it went - When asked [in the first question of the interview] if she agreed with the ISG report that the situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating our Foreign Secretary replied

"Well I'm, I'm not quite, I can't quite recall er the exact words that the study group used"...

The interview goes downhill from there...

There can't be many people left outside of government who continue to support or have confidence in our government's position on the chaos we have unleashed in Iraq. If you know anyone who still does, be sure to play them this interview.

The Tony And George Show *UPDATED*


I had a strange feeling whilst watching yesterday's press conference (Transcript). Looking through the heavy make up to Tony's steely, immobile, unblinking face, was it just me or did he look scared? Not ordinary fear, but the look of a man who realises he is trapped.

Bush bounced him into a joint statement on the ISG report and made him stand aside him as he wittered on, disjointed, rambling and utterly unwilling to face reality.

Nick Robinson lobbed a couple of hardballs:

Mr. President, the Iraq Study Group described the situation in Iraq as grave and deteriorating. You said that the increase in attacks is unsettling. That won't convince many people that you're still in denial about how bad things are in Iraq, and question your sincerity about changing course.

PRESIDENT BUSH: It's bad in Iraq. Does that help? (Laughter.)

Laughter. A nasty hollow, nervous laugh. How can you laugh answering that question. Tony looked horrified and that's when it hit me, perhaps, deep down he realises what a huge mistake he has made. Did it finally hit him what a fool Bush is?

Then Bush turned back to Robinson:

Why did it take others to say it before you've been willing to acknowledge for the world --

PRESIDENT BUSH: In all due respect, I've been saying it a lot. I understand how tough it is. And I've been telling the American people how tough it is. And they know how tough it is. And the fundamental question is, do we have a plan to achieve our objective. Are we willing to change as the enemy has changed? And what the Baker-Hamilton study has done is it shows good ideas as to how to go forward. What our Pentagon is doing is figuring out ways to go forward, all aiming to achieve our objective.

Make no mistake about it, I understand how tough it is, sir. I talk to families who die.

He talks to families who die? Sure listening to this fool could drain anyone's life force, but what on earth does he mean? Is he following in the Reagan tradition of being deeply Christian whilst employing seers, astrologers and psychics - all banned in Christian theology?

Now Tony has to stand next to him, once again providing support and cover to his overlord. Still, Bush has him well trained. Tony now responds to the commands of Walkies! Sit! Stay! And Beg! There is a rumour that he's about to be taught to fetch - remember, you heard it here first.

Bush is going to accept as little of the report as he can and Tony's going to have to go along with that. The rest of the world knows that these two people have no answers, no solutions.

The press conference can be easily condensed (mp3)

A clue to how desperately Blair is trying to run away and bury his head in the sand is that he's trying his best to stop parliament discussing the ISG report and General Jackson continues to show how words can be lethal weapons.

ringverse writes,

You can watch Nick Robinson vs The Idiot Son here,
and the somewhat confused opening remarks of The Idiot Son and his poodle are here.

The danger of being too close to Blair


The Iraq war has claimed another political scalp. Not as dramatic as, say, that of Donald Rumsfeld across the pond, but interesting nonetheless, is the ousting of Ann Clwyd as chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party. This is the first time in 25 years that a sitting chairman has been voted out, and she lost the vote to former foreign office minister Tony Lloyd, an anti-war rebel, because she was seen as being too close to Tony Blair. We've been here before, same contest, same contestants but a different result.

Ann Clwyd who is also Tony Blair's special human rights envoy to Iraq, was one of the biggest cheerleaders for the Iraq war in the UK. She supported the war on the grounds of Saddam Hussein's atrocious human rights record but had far less to say about the human rights abuses that took place after the invasion. Ann Clwyd's defeat, which apparently has left her feeling "extremely upset", shows a shift within the Labour party as MPs frantically try to distance themselves from Blair's disastrous policies.

Bush To Blair: Walkies!


So there is going to be a meeting of everyone who thinks we're winnig the war in Iraq. Yes, both people are going to be in the same room as Tony heads East to get his instructions.

The key is Iran. Cheney et al are whispering that the only way out of this mess is to bomb Iran. Saner voices are saying that would bring the whole region into turmoil and bring in other large players, such as Russia and China. The list of recanters keeps on growing.

How Time Flies


Operation Save the May Elections


It seems that Number Ten have learned a lesson from the US Mid-Term elections and they've wheeled out the deeply incompetent Margaret Beckett to announce that things are going so well that it'll all be over by spring and they will hand over to Iraqi control and withdraw.

Spring... as in before the May regional and council elections. Withdraw, as in hide in our bases. Actually they might later withdraw to 'bases in neayby friendly countries' which leads me to ask, who might they be and how welcome would they be?

Labour are terrified about the May elections, to the extent that they are the reason Tony's going in March, in order to save the party from meltdown. We will be continuing our 'Vote, but don't vote Labour' campaign for those elections.

But Margaret's statement shows what a deeply cynical and unprincipled party New Labour is. All that talk of 'staying the course', 'not leaving till the job is done', 'sticking it out' was just chaff and chuff.

Meanwhile in the real world the Iraqi PM asked Bush if he planned to remove him from government of the shiny new free and independent Iraq, and the bodies continue to pile up, currently over a hundred and ten a day... every day.

The Corruption Of Aid


I've always been cynical about Aid and Development and even more cynical about Blair's bi-annual claim that he can 'save Africa'.

But under Blair aid has now become something else; a way to buy his way out of his own mess. The idea of offering huge sums of cash to Iraq and Afghanistan is insane. Iraq is the most corrupt country in the world and billions is being spiphoned off by just about everyone involved with the government. bush's response was to secretly cut off funding to the anti-fraud watchdog. Thankfully, even the Senate noticed this and reinstated funding. Gordon's just bunged these crooks an extra 100 million quid. How very prudent.

Afghan reconstruction? It boils down to a football field for a school and a nice new office for a couple of dodgy ministers. The rest has been squandered. We're giving half a billion to Afghanistan but can't afford basic equipment for the soldiers at the sharp end of Blair's failure.

Don't Mention the War

Minister Margaret Hodge is reported to have called the Iraq war Tony Blair's "big mistake in foreign affairs".

She said she had had doubts about Mr Blair's attitude to foreign affairs as back as 1998, according to The Islington Tribune.

The industry minister also criticised Mr Blair's "moral imperialism", the newspaper adds.

Mrs Hodge is said to have denied the comments, which the paper says she made at a private dinner in North London.

Replying to a question from a guest at the Fabian Society event - that she had accepted Mr Blair's arguments about the supposed dangers posed by Iraq because "he was our leader and I trusted him," the paper writes.

After she had criticised the prime minister she said: "I hope this isn't going to be reported."

So, when taking time out from attacking the victims of paedophiles, or campaigning for the BNP, is Margaret 'Keeping your kids safe' Hodge is a closet anti war MP?!

Or, at risk of mixing my metaphors, is this a rat leaving a sinking ship upon catching sight of the writing on the wall?

Whilst she might be forthcoming about her views on the war she voted for when at dinner parties, she is slightly quieter on the subject in Parliament...

A Change Of Policy

Tony's got a message for Iran and Syria that can be summed up in one word; Heeeeeeeeellllp! The 'Axis of Evil' becomes the 'Axis of not so bad once you get to know them'. And that was just the start. He showed how utterly bereft of ideas New Labour are. The speech showed how little he understands the mess he's got us into.

On Iraq he described the insurgents as terrorist extremists, not understanding that much of the insurgency is nationalist and that the competing factions are simply trying to grab power and oil. The al Qaeda is a minority group in Iraq and may well be in serious decline. But he laid out his strategy for Iraq

* First, we need a strong political compact in Iraq led by the Iraqi Government to bring all parties together, with clear commitments to non-sectarian government and to democracy;
* Second, we need to build Iraqi governing capability, especially in the disbursement of money for reconstruction and rebuilding of the economy;
* Third, we must plug any gaps in training, equipment and command and control in the Iraqi Army and help the new Interior Minister root out sectarianism in the police, which in turn will allow us, within the timeframe set down by General Casey, to transition to Iraqi control.

Given that Tony can't root out sectarianism in Northern Ireland, perhaps he can explain how he's going to do all this.

In other words, a major part of the answer to Iraq lies not in Iraq itself but outside it, in the whole of the region where the same forces are at work, where the roots of this global terrorism are to be found, where the extremism flourishes, with a propaganda that may be, indeed is, totally false; but is, nonetheless, attractive to much of the Arab street.

That is what I call a "whole Middle East" strategy.

Oooooh Tony's come over all holistic, but this 'strategy' is nonsense. Instead of going to war he could have looked for a regional solution. The war blew that opportunity away.

we should start with Israel/Palestine. That is the core. We should then make progress on Lebanon. We should unite all moderate Arab and Moslem voices behind a push for peace in those countries but also in Iraq. We should be standing up for, empowering, respecting those with a moderate and modern view of the faith of Islam everywhere.

In fact Tony's busy demonising British muslims and treating them as an 'enemy within' - one method guaranteed to alienate people. In addition the war has been al Qaeda's best recruiting advert. Then there's Lebanon. After his disastrous policy during the recent Israel/Lebanon conflict it is a bit rich for him to start bleating on about making progress.

Right, sit down, here comes a Blair classic.

What is happening in the Middle East today is not complex. It is simple.

At this point someone should have signalled for the men in white coats.

Want another classic bit of reality avoidance from Blair? Here we go

I have put Britain at the centre of Europe because I am proud that we are part of the largest political union and biggest economic market in the world.

At the centre? We've got almost as much influence as Latvia. The UK Presidency this year was the worst in living memory and Blair had to rely on Merkel to make a deal that cost the UK 20 Billion Pounds for nothing in return.

There's more but i'm running out of the will to live, but examining this speech shows just how empty New Labour is. Meanwhile Gordon Brown hovers in the background offering more of the same...

Bechtel Cuts and Runs


Far from "staying the course", Bechtel is getting out of Iraq, despite the 2.3 billion dollars in US tax payers money it received for reconstructing Iraq. It didn't so much "finish the Job" as Bush likes to say, it barely even started it. Dahr Jamail's latest report paints a bleak picture.

BAGHDAD, Nov 9 (IPS) - The decision of the giant engineering company Bechtel to withdraw from Iraq has left many Iraqis feeling betrayed. In its departure they see the end of remaining hopes for the reconstruction of Iraq.


On every level of infrastructure measurable, the situation in Iraq is worse now than under the rule of Saddam Hussein. That includes the 12 years of economic sanctions since the first Gulf War in 1991, a period that former UN humanitarian coordinator for Iraq Dennis Halliday described as "genocidal" for Iraqis.

The average household in Iraq now gets two hours of electricity a day. There is 70 percent unemployment, 68 percent of Iraqis have no access to safe drinking water, and only 19 percent have sewage access. Not even oil production has matched pre-invasion levels.

Read on

Okay, so we knew that reconstruction wasn't exactly a top priority for the Bush administration but compare the depressing statistics in the above article with the rosy picture of reconstruction painted by the White House in its 10 SIGNS OF BETTER INFRASTRUCTURE & BASIC SERVICES. You'd think they were talking about another country.

Lord Hutton Applies Another Coat of Whitewash


Two years after the whitewash known as the Hutton Inquiry, which was set up to investigate the circumstances into the death of weapons inspector Dr David Kelly after the invasion of Iraq, Lord Hutton is defending his ruling. The report released in January 2004 cleared the Government of providing false information about Iraq's WMD and also cleared it of dishonourable conduct towards Dr Kelly. Despite the clean bill of health the Law Lord gave the Government, the inquiry has been regarded by the public and much of the media as a whitewash. His defence of his report seems to be as dodgy as the report itself as he blames the media for misinterpreting the scope of the investigation and concentrating only on the controversial aspects of the case which could harm the Government.

Lord Hutton says: "If I had delivered a report highly critical of the Government in terms which conformed to the hopes of some commentators, I have no doubt that it would have received much praise.

"However, in reality, if I had written such a report I would have been failing in one of the cardinal duties of a judge conducting an inquiry into a highly controversial matter.

"That duty is to decide fairly the relevant issues arising under the terms of reference, having regard to all the evidence, and not to be swayed by pressure from newspapers and commentators or from any other quarter."

This is all well and good except that on the instructions of the Government, the investigation had such a narrow remit that it could not fully explore all the issues surrounding the case, something Hutton himself hints at albeit obliquely.

“If all the evidence at my inquiry was fairly taken into account, there was no reasonable basis on which my conclusion that the Government did not know that the 45 minutes claim was wrong and had not ordered the dossier to be sexed up could be described as a whitewash.”

There were many questions which the inquiry failed to address, so many in fact that I hardly know where to start. For example, the mere possibility that Dr Kelly might have been murdered didn't even come up in the inquiry despite evidence to suggest that this could have been the case. Let's start with something that was mentioned at the Hutton Inquiry, the fact that Dr Kelly predicted his death five months before he died.

A Foreign Office diplomat related a conversation, held on Feb 27, during which Dr Kelly told him that he would "probably be found dead in the woods" if the Anglo-American coalition invaded Iraq.

On July 18 the scientist's body was discovered next to woodland near his home in south Oxfordshire. He had bled to death after apparently slitting his left wrist.

Then there are the ‘dark actors playing dark games’ that he mentions in an e-mail to a journalist hours before his death. Also suspicious was the refusal for the inquest into Kelly's death to be re-opened despite:

  • Dr Kelly’s body appeared to have been moved - twice
  • the knife, bottle of water, glasses, and cap reported beside the body by later witnesses, were not seen by the two volunteer searchers who first discovered it
  • DC Coe was with the body at the time its position changed from sitting to lying
  • DC Coe claimed he was with one other officer yet five witnesses said he was with two
  • the primary cause of death was given as haemorrhage from an incised wound to his left wrist, yet the amount of blood at the scene was, according to the paramedics, extremely sparse
  • vomit stains from the corners of his mouth to his ears suggested Dr Kelly had died on his back, yet his position when found was slumped against a tree
  • the puzzling nature of the wound: the severing of a single artery deeply embedded in the left wrist and total avoidance of the more superficial radial artery

There is also the discrepancy in the toxicology report:

Professor Milroy expands on the finding of Dr Nicholas Hunt, the forensic pathologist at the Hutton inquiry - that haemorrhage was the main cause of death (possibly finding it inadequate) - and falls back on the toxicology: "The toxicology showed a significant overdose of co-proxamol. The standard text, Baselt, records deaths with concentrations at 1 mg/l, the concentration found in Kelly." But Dr Allan, the toxicogist in the case, considered this nowhere near toxic. Each of the two components was a third of what is normally considered a fatal level. Professor Milroy then talks of "ischaemic heart disease". But Dr Hunt is explicit that Dr Kelly did not suffer a heart attack. Thus, one must assume that no changes attributable to myocardial ischaemia were actually found at autopsy.

And there is this interesting detail from Lib Dem MP Norman Baker's interview with The Mail on Sunday in July this year:

The police operation was also a rather curious one. The files are all off-limits, locked up at Thames Valley Police headquarters, but an interesting nugget is to be found deep in the inquiry website. 'Operation Mason', as it was termed, was begun at 2.30pm on July 17, around nine hours before David Kelly was reported missing, and at least half an hour before he left his home to go on that last walk. No satisfactory explanation has ever been given for this astonishing foresight on the part of police.

Norman Baker was so disturbed by the Hutton whitewash that he resigned his front-bench seat in order to conduct his own investigation into the affair. He must have been getting somewhere because shortly thereafter his hard drive was mysteriously wiped.

This all sounds like a giant conspiracy theory, and maybe that's all it is. But it does show how insufficient the Hutton inquiry was. A proper investigation should have answered these questions and others. Hutton coming out now to try and defend his whitewash is only going to re-open this can of worms. I wonder if he realised that.

Do Not Question Your Leaders


Ask no questions citizen. I can understand why Blair doesn't want an inquiry into a disaster that makes Suez look like a picnic, but they're really scraping the barrel for excuses...

We can't have an inquiry We have troops who are operating in the field of combat. We have an enemy who is looking for any sign of weakness at all, any sign of a loss of resolution or determination. The important thing is that we do not give any signal that we are anything less than fully determined to see the job through."

Seeing the job through? Pity Bush has just dropped the slogan Stay the course - perhaps Tony's not had his new instructions yet.

Seeing the job through? Perhaps that's why they closed the Consulate in Basra.

A Weekend of Bad Press for Blair's Wars


There has been a spate of bad news for Blair over his military campaigns this weekend with both Iraq and Afghanistan in the spotlight. Another General has gone off-message and criticised the way the Afghanistan mission is being conducted calling it "cuckoo". This time it's Blair's most trusted military officer, General the Lord Guthrie:

'Anyone who thought this was going to be a picnic in Afghanistan - anyone who had read any history, anyone who knew the Afghans, or had seen the terrain, anyone who had thought about the Taliban resurgence, anyone who understood what was going on across the border in Baluchistan and Waziristan [should have known] - to launch the British army in with the numbers there are, while we're still going on in Iraq is cuckoo,'

Oh dear, not exactly what the Prime Minister was hoping to hear, especially after his promise to give the troops in Afghanistan everything they need.

Conducting two wars such incompetence means that there is little prospect of either conflict succeeding. The military over-stretch has left the armed forces 'critically weakened'.

The British Army suffers from "critical weaknesses" to the point that, it is "almost impossible" to fulfil commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a Ministry of Defence briefing document obtained by The Independent on Sunday.

The Army is so stretched from having to fight on two fronts that 40 per cent of army divisions report they are suffering from "serious or critical" problems. Manning shortages mean that soldiers are having to go on to tours of duty before they are properly rested or trained. And there are such serious problems recruiting for key military professions that colleagues in the field are having to forgo leave and extend their tours.

It seems that in Afghanistan what the troops need most is the ability to venture out of their bases without being blown up by suicide bombers.

Hundreds of British soldiers in southern Afghanistan have been unable to venture outside their fortified bases because of a "critical" threat from suicide bombers.

Military commanders ordered the "lock down" after receiving intelligence that many bombers plan to attack British troops in two towns in northern Helmand.

The development marks a shift in Taliban tactics.

One senior officer said that some of its fighters were now prepared to turn themselves into "human claymore mines" in a renewed attempt to drive the British from the province.

And the news on the Afghan front doesn't get any better with the Taliban planning to break with tradition and fight on through the winter with a new offensive as they advance on Kabul after rejecting peace overtures from President Hamid Karzai's "puppet government".

The Iraq front is even more shambolic with the country experiencing its most deadly month for US troops in over a year (it's always the most deadly month for Iraqis). Even Margaret Beckett has been expressing “regrets” over the war and acknowledging that the country may now break up.

On Tuesday October 31, Iraq will be debated in Parliament for the first time since the invasion. The debate and vote may be a humiliation for Blair as the Tories threaten to withdraw their support for the war. Even if they don't the Government could scrape though badly damaged. Blair's ridiculous claim that there is no link between his foreign policy and terrorist attacks in Britain has yet again been comprehensively trashed which won't help him when the war is debated.

Bush and Blair's hubris over Iraq is now haunting these two leaders as never before as it slowly dawns on them that there is no way out of the mess they have created.

What are we doing here?


Exhibit A - Torture and Rendition

Vice President Dick Cheney has confirmed that U.S. interrogators subjected captured senior al-Qaida suspects to a controversial interrogation technique called "water-boarding"

Exhibit B - Ghost Plane

"What he claimed most significantly was a connection between Al-Qaeda and the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein. This intelligence report made it all the way to the top, and was used by Colin Powell as a key piece of justification ... for invading Iraq," he told the broadcaster.

Exhibit C - Another leaked Memo

Downing Street has distanced itself from leaked papers suggesting Iraq is fuelling terrorism, stressing they were not drawn up by its officials.