In Washington, James A. Baker III, the Republican co-chairman of a bipartisan commission tasked by Congress with assessing U.S. options in Iraq, suggested that the panel would recommend a departure from President Bush's calls to "stay the course."
"I think it's fair to say our commission believes that there are alternatives between the stated alternatives, the ones that are out there in the political debate, of 'stay the course' and 'cut and run,' " Baker said in an interview on ABC's "This Week With George Stephanopoulos."
The comments by Baker, a former secretary of state and a close confidant of the Bush family, are particularly significant because the blue-ribbon panel's findings, to be released after the November elections, are expected to carry significant weight with Congress and the president. Baker flatly rejected the idea of an immediate withdrawal from Iraq, saying, "I think that if we picked up and left right now, that you would see the biggest civil war you've ever seen." He emphasized that the Iraqi government's biggest challenge is disarming militias.
The above is from Amit R. Paley's "U.S. and Iraqi Forces Clash With Sadr Militia in South" (Washington Post), noted by Martha and we'll go straight to an excerpt from David E. Sanger's "G.O.P.’s Baker Hints Iraq Plan Needs Change" (New York Times) on the same topic:
His comments Sunday offered the first glimmer of what other members of his study group, in interviews over the past two weeks, have described as an effort to find a politically face-saving way for Mr. Bush slowly to extract the United States from the war. “I think it's fair to say our commission believes that there are alternatives between the stated alternatives, the ones that are out there in the political debate, of 'stay the course' and 'cut and run,'" Mr. Baker said.
He explicitly rejected a rapid withdrawal from Iraq, saying that would invite Iran, Syria and "even our friends in the gulf" to fill the power vacuum. He also dismissed, as largely unworkable, a proposal by Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to decentralize Iraq and give the country’s three major sectarian groups, the Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis, their own regions, distributing oil revenue to all. Mr. Baker said he had concluded "there's no way to draw lines" in Iraq's major cities, where ethnic groups are intermingled.
Until he demonstrates otherwise, Baker's doing what he always does, providing protection for Republicans and acting like a problem's being addressed. Well, that's not fair. Sometimes he also enriches himself. Possibly he'll be able to do both with this latest move?
For thos who've forgotten what happens when James Baker "helps" with Iraq, from Naomi Klein's "Bush special envoy embroiled in controversy over Iraq debt" (Guardian of London, October 2004);
President Bush's special envoy, James Baker, who has been trying to persuade the world to forgive Iraq's crushing debts, is simultaneously working for a commercial concern that is trying to recover money from Iraq, according to confidential documents.
Mr Baker's Carlyle Group is in a consortium secretly proposing to try to collect $27bn (£15bn) on behalf of Kuwait, one of Iraq's biggest creditors, by using high-level political influence. It claims Mr Baker will not benefit personally, but the consortium could make millions in fees, retainers and commission as a result.
Other countries, including Britain, have been urged by Mr Baker to relieve the new Iraq regime of its $200bn debt burden. Iraq owes Britain approximately $1bn.
One international lawyer described the consortium's scheme as "influence peddling of the crassest kind".
Jerome Levinson, an expert on political and corporate ethics at American University in Washington, told the Guardian: "The consortium is saying to the Kuwaiti government, 'Through us you have the only chance to realize a substantial part of the debt. Why? Because of who we are and who we know'."
When George Bush appointed Mr Baker, a former secretary of state, as his unpaid envoy on December 5 2003, he called Mr Baker's job "a noble mission". But Mr Baker is also a senior counsellor and an equity partner with a reported $180m stake in the merchant bank and defence contractor the Carlyle Group.
A confidential 65-page Proposal to Assist the Government of Kuwait in Protecting and Realising Claims Against Iraq was sent in January from the consortium to Kuwait's foreign ministry, according to documents obtained by the Nation magazine in New York, which are published today on the Guardian website.
In a letter dated August 6 2004, the consortium informs Kuwait's foreign ministry that the country's unpaid debts from Iraq "are in imminent jeopardy".
World opinion is turning in favor of debt forgiveness, another letter warns, as evidenced by "President Bush's appointment of former secretary of state James Baker as his envoy to negotiate Iraqi debt relief."
That's the first of a two-parter. From Klein's "The Manchurian cover-up:"
Less than 24 hours after it was disclosed that former secretary of state James Baker and the Carlyle Group were involved in a secret deal to profit from Iraq's debt to Kuwait, NBC was reporting that the deal was "dead". At The Nation magazine, which broke the story that was then carried on these pages, we started to get congratulatory calls.
They were commending us for costing the Carlyle Group $1bn, the sum the company would have received in an investment from the government of Kuwait in exchange for helping to extract $27bn of unpaid debts from Iraq.
We were flattered (sort of), until we realised that Carlyle had just pulled off a major PR coup. When the story broke, the notoriously secretive merchant bank needed to find a way to avoid a full-blown political scandal. It chose a bold tactic: in the face of overwhelming evidence of a glaring conflict of interest between Baker's stake in Carlyle and his post as George Bush's special envoy on Iraq's debt, Carlyle simply denied everything. The company issued a statement saying that it does not want to be involved in the Kuwait deal "in any way, shape or form and will not invest any money raised by the consortium's efforts" and, furthermore, that "Carlyle was never a member of the consortium". A spokesperson told the Financial Times that Carlyle had pulled out as soon as Baker was appointed debt envoy, because his new political post made Carlyle's involvement "unsuitable".
Mysteriously, there was no paper trail - just Carlyle's word that it had informed its business partners "orally". You have to hand it to them: it was gutsy. In the leaked business proposal from the consortium to the Kuwaiti government - submitted almost two months after James Baker's appointment - the Carlyle Group is named no fewer than 47 times; it is listed first among the companies involved in the consortium; and its partner James Baker is mentioned by name at least 11 times. In interviews, other consortium members, including Madeleine Albright's consulting firm, the Albright Group, confirmed that Carlyle was still involved, as did the office of the Prime Minister of Kuwait. Shahameen Sheikh, the consortium's CEO, told me that when Baker was named envoy in December, Carlyle was "very clear with us that they wanted to restrict their role to fund managers", but she said the firm was very much still a part of the deal.
That was exactly what Carlyle spokesman Christopher Ullman had told me. He also admitted that Carlyle would land a $1bn investment if the proposal was accepted. After I reported these facts, Ullman even called to thank me for quoting him accurately. So when I heard about Carlyle's about-face, I called Ullman to see what was up. I felt like I was talking to one of the brainwashed characters in The Manchurian Candidate, the Jonathan Demme remake about a Carlyle-esque company that conspires to put a mind-controlled candidate in the Oval Office. "We learned today that we did not even join the consortium," Ullman told me. "When I spoke to you yesterday, I did not know that." Amazingly, it worked. The story - which made front-page news around the world - vanished.
The New York Times has not printed a word about Baker's conflict, despite the fact that when Baker was first appointed envoy, it called on him to resign from Carlyle in order to "perform honourably in his new public job". The Kerry campaign has been equally silent, apparently for fear that any criticism would boomerang onto the Democrats because of Albright. This was Carlyle's stroke of genius: when Baker was appointed, the consortium recruited Albright to front the deal; when they got caught, Carlyle denied all involvement and left a prominent Democrat holding the bag. As the story disappeared under Carlyle's spell, it was as if the entire US media had been implanted with Manchurian memory chips. Here was hard evidence that the Carlyle Group - the "ex-presidents' club", run like a secret society - had participated in a scheme to use Baker to undermine US policy, possibly in violation of conflict-of-interest regulations, including criminal statutes. Yet Carlyle was slipping out of reach once again.
The central question remains unanswered by the White House: have Baker's business interests compromised his performance as debt envoy? That question does not go away simply because $1bn will stay in the coffers of a wealthy oil emirate rather than in a Carlyle equity fund. The week after losing the deal, Carlyle handed a record-breaking $6.6bn payout to investors.
James Baker helps James Baker, always. This "study group" may provide some false security to some American voters (and possibly that's why Baker did the chat & chew Sunday) but Baker's dirty hands were involved some time ago and there's little reason for anyone to swallow his self-serving statements that do not, note it, call for an end to the war.
For those who think Baker's jaw boning and justifying accomplishes anything (other than giving the Bully Boy some cover), Polly notes Andrew Buncombe's "US casualty rate in Iraq worst since Fallujah" (Independent of London):
The number of US troops being wounded in Iraq is now at its highest level for two years as American forces are confronted by increasing sectarian violence and a continuing insurgency.
Figures released by the Pentagon show that 776 soldiers were wounded in action in Iraq last month.
The September figure represents the fourth largest casualty rate since the US and UK invasion in the spring of 2003 and the largest since November 2004 when US forces were involved in a major offensive to clear the city of Fallujah. Some experts believe the number of wounded provides a better insight to the nature of the conflict in Iraq than the figure of 2,700 killed because - in relation to previous wars - many more wounded troops survive.
The ratio of wounded to killed is 8 to 1, compared with 3 to 1 during the Vietnam War. Anthony Cordesman, of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, told The Washington Post: "These days wounded are a much better measure of the intensity of the operations than killed."
The release of the figure came as violence yesterday continued to rock Iraq. US and Iraqi forces were involved in clashes with Shia militia in the southern city of Diwaniyah for the second time in as many months. The US claimed about 30 militia fighters were killed during the operation to secure a "high value" target.
And we'll close with Tom's highlight, "A Nation Still at War" (Common Dreams):
While Democrats are jumping for joy and Republicans are scrambling like Keystone Kops and falling all over each other to cover their asses, 25 of our brave young children have been killed in Iraq.
While Democrats are busy counting their un-hatched chickens and Republicans are getting muscle cramps from pointing fingers at everyone, including the pages that Foley hunted down, but themselves, Congress was busy erasing from common law and our constitution our centuries old rights to habeas corpus. (If anyone thinks that this abomination will only extend to "terrorists", I say: "how do you like living in fantasyland?")
The Foleygate scandal may be the thing that finally brings the corrupt party of gloat and bloat down, but it should be Iraq. It should be suspending habeas corpus. It should be the lies and subsequent cover-ups of the lies that led to now 2738 of our young people coming home to 2738 families in flag-draped coffins; not the scandal and subsequent cover-up of Foley and his corruption.
The war, which was never a popular news story, has fallen far behind Foley in coverage. However, the most important and potentially damaging story of all: Congress voting, once again, to consolidate power in the executive branch, by giving BushCo power to imprison us without our due process, is not in the public awareness at all. I guess I should also be jumping for joy that something is bringing the party of the corporations and hypocrites down, but I feel molested and by the entire Congress. We the people who do feel violated by Congress and by this out of control administration know that Congress has been busy invalidating themselves during the past six years and it may be very hard to regain any power, because by George, George has already exonerated himself from the crimes against humanity he and the rest of the ne’er do well neocons have committed.
I read an article about a mother whose son was deployed to Iraq and he was to be home in December. He is one of the soldiers who has been killed this month. The poor mom was at home when her door bell rang, and she reports that she immediately knew (we all know) who was at her door and she started "screaming." I have, unfortunately, been there and done that. I know what that mom has been going through since her son flew off to this misguided and evil occupation of Iraq. She has spent many sleepless nights and had many panic attacks and "unexplained" crying jags. She has been waiting for the other shoe to drop for almost a year. She started to relax just a little and she was planning for a joyous Christmas with her son finally home to rejoin the family. She knew that there would be some adjustment and awkwardness, but she knew that plenty of good food and motherly love would pull her son through the re-adjustment period. Well, that awful other shoe dropped and now her life is changed forever. She was looking forward to her son’s happy homecoming now all she can look forward to is a life of pain and longing.
25 families this month. 2000 since Casey was killed. 2600 since George declared "mission accomplished" on May 01, 2003. 3000 Iraqi families are devastated by we Americans every month. When will it end?
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