“We don’t do [ Iraqi ] body counts.”
— General Tommy Franks, US Central Command

freeway blogger

Bush Flash

(JavaScript Error)

u.s. dead

the coffins

iraqi casualties
Just Foreign Policy Iraqi Death Estimator
Winter Soldier/Iraq Veterans Against the War

"I Believe that God wants me to be president."
— George W. Bush

"I would like to thank the Almighty for choosing me to wage this battle for Germany."
— Adolf Hitler Berlin, 1936

"Major combat operations have ended in Iraq. The American effort has now shifted to rebuilding the war-torn nation's infrastructure and government."
— George W. Bush, 5/1/03

"Victory means exit strategy, and it's important for the President to explain to us what the exit strategy is."
— Texas Gov. George W. Bush, 4/9/1999, on President Clinton's intervention in Kosovo

"We are the ruling race of the world... We will not renounce our part in the mission of our race, trustee, under God, of the civilization of the world... He has marked us as his chosen people... He has made us adept in government that we may administer government among savage and senile peoples."
— Senator Alfred Beveridge (R-Indiana)

"As President I’m no longer accountable to anyone for my actions."
— George W. Bush, in Bob Woodward interview

"HITLER: THE RISE OF EVIL basically boils down to an entire nation gripped by fear who ultimately choose to give up their civil rights and plunge the whole world into war. I can't think of a better time to examine this history than now."
— Ed Gernon, executive producer, (fired after making this comment in 2003)

"The reason we start a war is to fight a war, win a war, thereby causing no more war!"
— George W. Bush

"A failed Iraq would give the terrorists and extremists revenues from oil sales."
— George W. Bush, 8/21/06

George Bush and Karl Rove PIGGIE GOES TO OIL MARKET

king george borg
queen barbara bush
hillary vs giuliani
why they do it
the road to oil
chertoff & katrina
face of the enemy
not in my name
guantánamo & abu graib
bush's bitch
dinner satire
karl rove piggie
who's in charge?
face of the dead
born again dubya
the evil twins
nude emperor
time warp again
lynndie & rumsfie
the ventriloquist
the liberators
old enemies
condi & bushie
swatting flies
war ends
forever war
annie fuehrer
nietzsche's boy
cheney mummy
dr. lovebomb
bush's poodle
turkey & the prez
spider queen
david duke

Join Russ Feingold to help end the war

"By digging trenches around Baghdad, the U.S hopes to keep out WWI-era soldiers."
— Jon Stewart

"You're free! And freedom is beautiful. And, you know, it will take time to restore chaos and order -- but we -- order out of chaos. But we will."
— George W. Bush, 4/13/03

"We will stand up for terror. We will stand up for freedom."
— George W. Bush, 10/18/04

"I just want you to know that, when we talk about war, we're really talking about peace."
— George W. Bush

"The legislature's job is to write law. It's the executive branch's job to interpret law."
— George W. Bush

"You can fool some of the people all of the time and those are the ones you want to concentrate on."
— George W. Bush, Gridiron Club, 3/2001

7/15/2006  DEMOCRACY
"I talked [to Putin] about my desire to promote institutional change in parts of the world like Iraq where there's a free press and free religion, and I told him that a lot of people in our country would hope that Russia would do the same thing."

"We certainly would not want to have the same kind of democracy as they have in Iraq, I will tell you quite honestly."

"We found the weapons of mass destruction. We found biological laboratories … And we'll find more weapons as time goes on. But for those who say we haven't found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons, they're wrong, we found them." — George W. Bush, 5/30/03

GEORGE W. BUSH: Now, look, part of the reason we went into Iraq was -- the main reason we went into Iraq at the time was we thought he had weapons of mass destruction. It turns out he didn't, but he had the capacity to make weapons of mass destruction." You know, I've heard this theory about everything was just fine until we arrived, and kind of 'we're going to stir up the hornet's nest" theory. It just doesn't hold water, as far as I'm concerned. The terrorists attacked us and killed 3,000 of our citizens before we started the freedom agenda in the Middle East.

REPORTER What did Iraq have to do with that?

GEORGE W. BUSH: What did Iraq have to do with what?

REPORTER: The attack on the World Trade Center?

GEORGE W. BUSH: Nothing, except for it's part of -- and nobody has ever suggested in this administration that Saddam Hussein ordered the attack. Iraq was a -- the lesson of September the 11th is, take threats before they fully materialize, Ken. Nobody has ever suggested that the attacks of September the 11th were ordered by Iraq. I have suggested, however, that resentment and the lack of hope create the breeding grounds for terrorists who are willing to use suiciders to kill to achieve an objective. I have made that case.

Bush Ignores True Cost of Iraq War

January 23, 2007


This evening, in his State of the Union address, President Bush will make the case for his plan to escalate the war in Iraq. He'll paint the potential costs of pulling out of Iraq in stark colors. But he won't say much about the real costs of staying in and escalating.

We should never forget the incalculable cost of the war -- the lives and the limbs of U.S. soldiers. As of this month, more than 3,000 U.S. soldiers have died and 22,800 been wounded in this war. An estimated 35,000 Iraqi civilian lives were lost last year. A staggering percentage have been displaced from their homes. The U.S. casualties bring terrible grief to their families and friends, but the loss must sober and sadden us all.

In addition, this country pays very steep economic costs -- what economists call "opportunity costs" -- the costs of what is not done with the scarce financial resources we are devoting to war in Iraq. The price is particularly apparent as the president prepares to introduce a budget calling for cuts in child care, in education, in health care, and more.

Rep. John Murtha, the salty old Marine who chairs the House Armed Services Appropriations Committee, has been calling for redeploying the troops, and for letting the Iraqis settle their own civil war. This week, Murtha put out a document to remind people of the real domestic costs of staying in a war that costs nearly $9 billion a month, or $120 billion a year -- not counting the interest costs, the costs of veterans' health care and pensions, etc.

The president cuts Medicare and Medicaid in his FY 2007 budget: $5 billion will be cut over five years from Medicaid -- money that the country will spend in 2½ weeks in Iraq; $36 billion is slated for cuts in Medicare -- or about what the president will spend in a little more than 4½ months in Iraq.

The cost of six hours in Iraq would pay for the cuts in the National Institutes of Health research budget, cuts that are occurring even as scientists are starting to leave the field because of funding shortages.

For the cost of every 1½ months in Iraq -- about $15 billion -- we could provide health insurance for one year for 9 million children who now go without. Children who go without adequate health care when they are young find it more difficult to learn, and are more likely to develop chronic illnesses. We are not only stealing from their promise, we are adding to our own future health care bills.

At the price of 12 hours in Iraq, the president's budget cuts off food packages for 400,000 elderly poor people from the supplemental food program.

For the cost of 2½ days in Iraq, we could help 463,000 low-income students attend college, by paying to reverse the Perkins Loan program reductions in Bush's FY '07 budget. Thirteen days would enable us to reverse the cuts in funding for over 40 education programs, ranging from support for drug-free schools, to federal support for technology centers.

Or think about major national imperatives. The Apollo Alliance has detailed a program for energy independence -- $30 billion a year for 10 years would free us from our dependence on Persian Gulf oil, begin to address catastrophic climate change and generate 3 million jobs here at home.

We could pay for the whole agenda with what we've spent over the last two years in Iraq.

To make us more secure, five days in Iraq would pay for radiation detectors needed at all U.S. ports, rejected thus far due to cost. Two days would pay for detectors to scan 100 percent of all cargo on passenger planes. Two more days would pay to make emergency radio systems interoperable -- which still hasn't happened five years after Sept. 11. Five days would allow us to double federal spending for police on our streets.

So when the president calls for an escalation in Iraq, remember the price tag that he won't mention -- in the lives and limbs of young men and women, in children without nutrition and health care, the elderly without food and heating aid, and security in our own neighborhoods. We are a wealthy nation, but we cannot squander what economists estimate may total up to $2 trillion on a misbegotten war abroad without paying the price here at home.

PA Man's Letter Brings Secret Service

Sun Jan 21, 2:51 PM ET
p>An elderly man who wrote in a letter to the editor about Saddam Hussein's execution that "they hanged the wrong man" got a visit from Secret Service agents concerned he was threatening President Bush.

The letter by Dan Tilli, 81, was published in Monday's edition of The Express-Times of Easton, PA. It ended with the line, "I still believe they hanged the wrong man."

Tilli said the statement was not a threat. "I didn't say who — I could've meant (Osama) bin Laden," he said Friday.

Two Secret Service agents questioned Tilli at his Bethlehem apartment Thursday, briefly searching the place and taking pictures of him, he said.

The Secret Service confirmed the encounter. Bob Slama, special agent in charge of the Secret Service's Philadelphia office, said it was the agency's duty to investigate.

The agents almost immediately decided Tilli was not a threat, Slama said

"We have no further interest in Dan," he said.

Tilli said the agents appeared more relaxed when he dug out a scrapbook containing more than 200 letters that he has written over the years, almost all on political topics.

"He said, 'Keep writing, but just don't make no threats,'" Tilli said of one of the agents.

It wasn't Tilli's first run-in with the federal government over his letter writing. Two FBI agents from Allentown showed up at his home last year about a letter he wrote advocating a civil war to unseat Bush, he said.

"We thank all of the citizens of Iraq who welcomed our troops and joined in the liberation of their own country."
— George W. Bush, 5/1/03

"If Republicans had gone after bin Laden like they went after Clinton, bin Laden would be dead."
— Anonymous

"Conservatives are not necessarily stupid, but most stupid people are conservatives."
— John Stuart Mill

"The country is safer than it was prior to 9/11."
— George W. Bush, 8/10/06

"Tonight I ask you to pass legislation to prohibit the creation of human-animal hybrids."
— George W. Bush, State of the Union address 1/31/06

"I think energy independence is the wrong direction because the U.S. is not an island nation. We are interdependent on all of our global companies doing business all over the world, and I think the oil companies need to be interdependent as well. And I think that really is good for international relations. I think it's good for the economy, actually, to have oil coming from wherever it can come from."
— John Hofmeister, Shell Oil president, MEET THE PRESS 6/18/06

"Think of Iraq as a military base with a very large oil reserve underneath." — Fadel Gheit, oil analyst for Oppenheimer & Co.

"I just want you to know that, when we talk about war, we're really talking about peace."
— George W. Bush

"Nobody likes war. It creates a sense of uncertainty in the country."
— George W. Bush, 3/21/06

"No president wants war. Everything you may have heard is that, but it's just simply not true."
— George W. Bush, 3/21/06

"It would be much easier if this was a dictatorship, as long as I get to be the dictator."
— George W. Bush

Real Time with Bill Maher

"Mr. President, this job can't be fun for you any more. There's no more money to spend -- you used up all of that. You can't start another war because you used up the Army. And now, darn the luck, the rest of your term has become the Bush family nightmare: helping poor people. Listen to your Mom. The cupboard's bare, the credit cards maxed out. No one's speaking to you. Mission accomplished.

Now it's time to do what you've always done best: lose interest and walk away. Like you did with your military service and the oil company and the baseball team. It's time. Time to move on and try the next fantasy job. How about cowboy, or space man?

Now I know what you're saying: there's so many other things that you as President could involve yourself in. Please don't. I know, I know. There's a lot left to do. There's a war with Venezuela. Eliminating the sales tax on yachts. Turning the space program over to the church. And Social Security to Fannie Mae. Giving embryos the vote.

But, Sir, none of that is going to happen now. Why? Because you govern like Billy Joel drives. You've performed so poorly I'm surprised that you haven't given yourself a medal. You're a catastrophe that walks like a man. Herbert Hoover was a shitty president, but even he never conceded an entire city to rising water and snakes.

On your watch, we've lost almost all of our allies, the surplus, four airliners, two trade centers, a piece of the Pentagon and the City of New Orleans. Maybe you're just not lucky.

I'm not saying you don't love this country. I'm just wondering how much worse it could be if you were on the other side.

So, yes, God does speak to you. What He is saying is 'Take a hint."
— Bill Maher

Noam Chomsky on War Crimes in Iraq

In the Vietnam era, the subject of war crimes was the last to arrive and the first to depart.

When, in 1971 in Detroit, Vietnam Veterans Against the War convened its Winter Soldier Investigation into U.S. war crimes in Southeast Asia, it was roundly ignored by the media.

Over 100 veterans gave firsthand testimony to war crimes they either committed or witnessed. Beyond the unbearable nature of their testimony, the hearings were startling for the fact that here were men who yearned to take some responsibility for what they had done.

But while it was, by then, possible for Americans to accept the GI as a victim in Vietnam, it proved impossible for most Americans to accept him as a human being taking responsibility for a crime against humanity.

There was no place for this in the American imagination, it seemed, no less for the thought that the planning and prosecution of the war were potential crimes committed by our leaders.

Evidently there still is none, which is why it's important to follow Noam Chomsky back into the Iraq of recent years to consider the American occupation of that country in the context of war crimes.

The piece that follows is an excerpt from Chomsky's new book:
Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy
(New York: Metropolitan Books, 2006)

It is Chomsky at his best, a superb tour (de force) of a world in which the Bush administration has regularly asserted its right to launch "preventive" military interventions against "failed" and "rogue" states, while increasingly taking on the characteristics of those failed and rogue states itself. It will be an indispensable volume for any library. (You can check out a Chomsky discussion of it at Democracy Now!) Tom

Returning to the Scene of the Crime

War Crimes in Iraq
By Noam Chomsky

In 2002, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales passed on to Bush a memorandum on torture by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). As noted by constitutional scholar Sanford Levinson: "According to the OLC, ‘acts must be of an extreme nature to rise to the level of torture… Physical pain amounting to torture must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.'" Levinson goes on to say that in the view of Jay Bybee, then head of the OLC, "The infliction of anything less intense than such extreme pain would not, technically speaking, be torture at all. It would merely be inhuman and degrading treatment, a subject of little apparent concern to the Bush administration's lawyers."

Gonzales further advised President Bush to effectively rescind the Geneva Conventions, which, despite being "the supreme law of the land" and the foundation of contemporary international law, contained provisions Gonzales determined to be "quaint" and "obsolete." Rescinding the conventions, he informed Bush, "substantially reduces the threat of domestic criminal prosecution under the War Crimes Act." Passed in 1996, the act carries severe penalties for "grave breaches" of the conventions: the death penalty, "if death results to the victim" of the breach. Gonzales was later appointed to be attorney general and would probably have been a Supreme Court nominee if Bush's constituency did not regard him as "too liberal."

How to Destroy a City to Save It

Gonzales's legal advice about protecting Bush from the threat of prosecution under the War Crimes Act was proven sound not long after he gave it, in a case far more severe even than the torture scandals. In November 2004, U.S. occupation forces launched their second major attack on the city of Falluja. The press reported major war crimes instantly, with approval. The attack began with a bombing campaign intended to drive out all but the adult male population; men ages fifteen to forty-five who attempted to flee Falluja were turned back. The plans resembled the preliminary stage of the Srebrenica massacre, though the Serb attackers trucked women and children out of the city instead of bombing them out. While the preliminary bombing was under way, Iraqi journalist Nermeen al-Mufti reported from "the city of minarets [which] once echoed the Euphrates in its beauty and calm [with its] plentiful water and lush greenery… a summer resort for Iraqis [where people went] for leisure, for a swim at the nearby Habbaniya lake, for a kebab meal." She described the fate of victims of these bombing attacks in which sometimes whole families, including pregnant women and babies, unable to flee, along with many others, were killed because the attackers who ordered their flight had cordoned off the city, closing the exit roads.

Al-Mufti asked residents whether there were foreign fighters in Falluja. One man said that "he had heard that there were Arab fighters in the city, but he never saw any of them." Then he heard that they had left. "Regardless of the motives of those fighters, they have provided a pretext for the city to be slaughtered," he continued, and "it is our right to resist." Another said that "some Arab brothers were among us, but when the shelling intensified, we asked them to leave and they did," and then asked a question of his own: "Why has America given itself the right to call on UK and Australian and other armies for help and we don't have the same right?"

It would be interesting to ask how often that question has been raised in Western commentary and reporting. Or how often the analogous question was raised in the Soviet press in the 1980s, about Afghanistan. How often was a term like "foreign fighters" used to refer to the invading armies? How often did reporting and commentary stray from the assumption that the only conceivable question is how well "our side" is doing, and what the prospects are for "our success"? It is hardly necessary to investigate. The assumptions are cast in iron. Even to entertain a question about them would be unthinkable, proof of "support for terror" or "blaming all the problems of the world on America/Russia," or some other familiar refrain.

After several weeks of bombing, the United States began its ground attack in Falluja. It opened with the conquest of the Falluja General Hospital. The front-page story in the New York Times reported that "patients and hospital employees were rushed out of rooms by armed soldiers and ordered to sit or lie on the floor while troops tied their hands behind their backs." An accompanying photograph depicted the scene. It was presented as a meritorious achievement. "The offensive also shut down what officers said was a propaganda weapon for the militants: Falluja General Hospital, with its stream of reports of civilian casualties." Plainly such a propaganda weapon is a legitimate target, particularly when "inflated civilian casualty figures" -- inflated because our leader so declared -- had "inflamed opinion throughout the country, driving up the political costs of the conflict." The word "conflict" is a common euphemism for U.S. aggression, as when we read on the same pages that "now, the Americans are rushing in engineers who will begin rebuilding what the conflict has just destroyed" -- just "the conflict," with no agent, like a hurricane.

Some relevant documents passed unmentioned, perhaps because they too are considered quaint and obsolete: for example, the provision of the Geneva Conventions stating that "fixed establishments and mobile medical units of the Medical Service may in no circumstances be attacked, but shall at all times be respected and protected by the Parties to the conflict." Thus the front page of the world's leading newspaper was cheerfully depicting war crimes for which the political leadership could be sentenced to severe penalties under U.S. law, the death penalty if patients ripped from their beds and manacled on the floor happened to die as a result. The questions did not merit detectable inquiry or reflection. The same mainstream sources told us that the U.S. military "achieved nearly all their objectives well ahead of schedule," as "much of the city lay in smoking ruins." But it was not a complete success. There was little evidence of dead "packrats" in their "warrens" or on the streets, "an enduring mystery." US forces did discover "the body of a woman on a street in Falluja, but it was unclear whether she was an Iraqi or a foreigner." The crucial question, apparently.

Another front-page story quotes a senior Marine commander who says that the attack on Falluja "ought to go down in the history books." Perhaps it should. If so, we know on just what page of history it will find its place. Perhaps Falluja will appear right alongside Grozny [the destroyed capital of Chechnya], a city of about the same size, with a picture of Bush and Putin gazing into each other's souls. Those who praise or for that matter even tolerate all of this can select their own favorite pages of history.

A Burnt-Out Shell of a Country

The media accounts of the assault were not uniform. Qatar-based Al-Jazeera, the most important news channel in the Arab world, was harshly criticized by high U.S. officials for having "emphasized civilian casualties" during the destruction of Falluja. The problem of independent media was later resolved when the channel was kicked out of Iraq in preparation for free elections.

Turning beyond the U.S. mainstream, we discover also that "Dr. Sami al-Jumaili described how U.S. warplanes bombed the Central Health Centre in which he was working," killing thirty-five patients and twenty-four staff. His report was confirmed by an Iraqi reporter for Reuters and the BBC, and by Dr. Eiman al-Ani of Falluja General Hospital, who said that the entire health center, which he reached shortly after the attack, had collapsed on the patients. The attacking forces said that the report was "unsubstantiated." In another gross violation of international humanitarian law, even minimal decency, the U.S. military denied the Iraqi Red Crescent access to Falluja. Sir Nigel Young, the chief executive of the British Red Cross, condemned the action as "hugely significant." It sets "a dangerous precedent," he said: "The Red Crescent had a mandate to meet the needs of the local population facing a huge crisis." Perhaps this additional crime was a reaction to a very unusual public statement by the International Committee of the Red Cross, condemning all sides in the war in Iraq for their "utter contempt for humanity."

In what appears to be the first report of a visitor to Falluja after the operation was completed, Iraqi doctor Ali Fadhil said he found it "completely devastated." The modern city now "looked like a city of ghosts." Fadhil saw few dead bodies of Iraqi fighters in the streets; they had been ordered to abandon the city before the assault began. Doctors reported that the entire medical staff had been locked into the main hospital when the U.S. attack began, "tied up" under US orders: "Nobody could get to the hospital and people were bleeding to death in the city." The attitudes of the invaders were summarized by a message written in lipstick on the mirror of a ruined home: "Fuck Iraq and every Iraqi in it." Some of the worst atrocities were committed by members of the Iraqi National Guard used by the invaders to search houses, mostly "poor Shias from the south... jobless and desperate," probably "fan[ning] the seeds of a civil war."

Embedded reporters arriving a few weeks later found some people "trickling back to Falluja," where they "enter a desolate world of skeletal buildings, tank-blasted homes, weeping power lines and severed palm trees." The ruined city of 250,000 was now "devoid of electricity, running water, schools or commerce," under a strict curfew, and "conspicuously occupied" by the invaders who had just demolished it and the local forces they had assembled. The few refugees who dared to return under tight military surveillance found "lakes of sewage in the streets. The smell of corpses inside charred buildings. No water or electricity. Long waits and thorough searches by US troops at checkpoints. Warnings to watch out for land mines and booby traps. Occasional gunfire between troops and insurgents."

Half a year later came perhaps the first visit by an international observer, Joe Carr of the Christian Peacemakers Team in Baghdad, whose previous experience had been in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories. Arriving on May 28, he found painful similarities: many hours of waiting at the few entry points, more for harassment than for security; regular destruction of produce in the devastated remains of the city where "food prices have dramatically increased because of the checkpoints"; blocking of ambulances transporting people for medical treatment; and other forms of random brutality familiar from the Israeli press. The ruins of Falluja, he wrote, are even worse than Rafah in the Gaza Strip, virtually destroyed by US-backed Israeli terror. The United States "has leveled entire neighborhoods, and about every third building is destroyed or damaged." Only one hospital with in-patient care survived the attack, but access was impeded by the occupying army, leading to many deaths in Falluja and rural areas. Sometimes dozens of people were packed into a "burned out shell." Only about a quarter of families whose homes were destroyed received some compensation, usually less than half of the cost for materials needed to rebuild them.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Jean Ziegler, accused US and British troops in Iraq of "breaching international law by depriving civilians of food and water in besieged cities as they try to flush out militants" in Falluja and other cities attacked in subsequent months. US-led forces "cut off or restricted food and water to encourage residents to flee before assaults," he informed the international press, "using hunger and deprivation of water as a weapon of war against the civilian population, [in] flagrant violation" of the Geneva Conventions. The U.S. public was largely spared the news.

Even apart from such major war crimes as the assault on Falluja, there is more than enough evidence to support the conclusion of a professor of strategic studies at the Naval War College that the year 2004 "was a truly horrible and brutal one for hapless Iraq." Hatred of the United States, he continued, is now rampant in a country subjected to years of sanctions that had already led to "the destruction of the Iraqi middle class, the collapse of the secular educational system, and the growth of illiteracy, despair, and anomie [that] promoted an Iraqi religious revival [among] large numbers of Iraqis seeking succor in religion." Basic services deteriorated even more than they had under the sanctions. "Hospitals regularly run out of the most basic medicines… the facilities are in horrid shape, [and] scores of specialists and experienced physicians are leaving the country because they fear they are targets of violence or because they are fed up with the substandard working conditions."

Meanwhile, "religion's role in Iraqi political life has ratcheted steadily higher since US-led forces overthrew Mr. Hussein in 2003," the Wall Street Journal reports. Since the invasion, "not a single political decision" has been made without Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani's "tacit or explicit approval, say government officials," while the "formerly little-known young rebel cleric" Muqtada al-Sadr has "fashioned a political and military movement that has drawn tens of thousands of followers in the south and in Baghdad's poorest slums."

Similar developments have taken place in Sunni areas. The vote on Iraq's draft constitution in fall 2005 turned into "a battle of the mosques," with voters largely following religious edicts. Few Iraqis had even seen the document because the government had scarcely distributed any copies. The new constitution, the Wall Street Journal notes, has "far deeper Islamic underpinnings than Iraq's last one, a half century ago, which was based on [secular] French civil law," and had granted women "nearly equal rights" with men. All of this has now been reversed under the U.S. occupation.

War Crimes and Casualty Counts

The consequences of years of Western violence and strangulation are endlessly frustrating to civilized intellectuals, who are amazed to discover that, in the words of Edward Luttwak, "the vast majority of Iraqis, assiduous mosque-goers and semi-literate at best," are simply unable to "believe what for them is entirely incomprehensible: that foreigners have been unselfishly expending their own blood and treasure to help them." By definition, no evidence necessary.

Commentators have lamented that the United States has changed "from a country that condemned torture and forbade its use to one that practices torture routinely." The actual history is far less benign. But torture, however horrifying, scarcely weighs in the balance in comparison with the war crimes at Falluja and elsewhere in Iraq, or the general effects of the U.S. and UK invasion. One illustration, noted in passing and quickly dismissed in the United States, is the careful study by prominent U.S. and Iraqi specialists published in the world's leading medical journal, the Lancet, in October 2004. The conclusions of the study, carried out on rather conservative assumptions, are that "the death toll associated with the invasion and occupation of Iraq is probably about 100,000 people, and may be much higher." The figures include nearly 40,000 Iraqis killed as a direct result of combat or armed violence, according to a later Swiss review of the study's data. A subsequent study by Iraq Body Count found 25,000 noncombatants reported killed in the first two years of the occupation -- in Baghdad, one in 500 citizens; in Falluja, one in 136. U.S.-led forces killed 37%, criminals 36%, "anti-occupation forces" 9%. Killings doubled in the second year of the occupation. Most deaths were caused by explosive devices; two-thirds of these by air strikes. The estimates of Iraq Body Count are based on media reports, and are therefore surely well below the actual numbers, though shocking enough.

Reviewing these reports along with the UNDP "Iraq Living Conditions Survey" (April 2005), British analyst Milan Rai concludes that the results are largely consistent, the apparent variation in numbers resulting primarily from differences in the specific topics investigated and the time periods covered. These conclusions gain some support from a Pentagon study that estimated 26,000 Iraqi civilians and security forces killed and wounded by insurgents since January 2004. The New York Times report of the Pentagon study also mentions several others, but omits the most important one, in the Lancet. It notes in passing that "no figures were provided for the number of Iraqis killed by American-led forces." The Times story appeared immediately after the day that had been set aside by international activists for commemoration of all Iraqi deaths, on the first anniversary of the release of the Lancet report.

The scale of the catastrophe in Iraq is so extreme that it can barely be reported. Journalists are largely confined to the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad, or else travel under heavy guard. There have been a few regular exceptions in the mainstream press, such as Robert Fisk and Patrick Cockburn [of the British newspaper The Independent], who face extreme hazards, and there are occasional indications of Iraqi opinion. One was a report on a nostalgic gathering of educated westernized Baghdad elites, where discussion turned to the sacking of Baghdad by Hulagu Khan and his vicious atrocities. A philosophy professor commented that "Hulagu was humane compared with the Americans," drawing some laughter, but "most of the guests seemed eager to avoid the subject of politics and violence, which dominate everyday life here." Instead they turned to past efforts to create an Iraqi national culture that would overcome the old ethnic-religious divisions to which Iraq is now "regressing" under the occupation, and discussed the destruction of the treasures of Iraqi and world civilization, a tragedy not experienced since the Mongol invasions.

Additional effects of the invasion include the decline of the median income of Iraqis, from $255 in 2003 to about $144 in 2004, as well as "significant countrywide shortages of rice, sugar, milk, and infant formula," according to the UN World Food Program, which had warned in advance of the invasion that it would not be able to duplicate the efficient rationing system that had been in place under Saddam Hussein. Iraqi newspapers report that new rations contain metal filings, one consequence of the vast corruption under the U.S.-UK occupation. Acute malnutrition doubled within sixteen months of the occupation of Iraq, to the level of Burundi, well above Haiti or Uganda, a figure that "translates to roughly 400,000 Iraqi children suffering from ‘wasting,' a condition characterized by chronic diarrhea and dangerous deficiencies of protein." This is a country in which hundreds of thousands of children had already died as a consequence of the U.S.- and UK-led sanctions. In May 2005, UN rapporteur Jean Ziegler released a report of the Norwegian Institute for Applied Social Science confirming these figures. The relatively high nutritional levels of Iraqis in the 1970s and 1980s, even through the war with Iran, began to decline severely during the decade of the sanctions, with a further disastrous decline after the 2003 invasion.

Meanwhile, violence against civilians extended beyond the occupiers and the insurgency. Washington Post reporters Anthony Shadid and Steve Fainaru reported that "Shiite and Kurdish militias, often operating as part of Iraqi government security forces, have carried out a wave of abductions, assassinations and other acts of intimidation, consolidating their control over territory across northern and southern Iraq and deepening the country's divide along ethnic and sectarian lines." One indicator of the scale of the catastrophe is the huge flood of refugees "fleeing violence and economic troubles," a million to Syria and Jordan alone since the US invasion, most of them "professionals and secular moderates who could help with the practical task of getting the country to run well."

The Lancet study estimating100,000 probable deaths by October 2004 elicited enough comment in England that the government had to issue an embarrassing denial, but in the United States virtual silence prevailed. The occasional oblique reference usually describes it as the "controversial" report that "as many as 100,000" Iraqis died as a result of the invasion. The figure of 100,000 was the most probable estimate, on conservative assumptions; it would be at least as accurate to describe it as the report that "as few as 100,000" died. Though the report was released at the height of the U.S. presidential campaign, it appears that neither of the leading candidates was ever publicly questioned about it.

The reaction follows the general pattern when massive atrocities are perpetrated by the wrong agent. A striking example is the Indochina wars. In the only poll (to my knowledge) in which people were asked to estimate the number of Vietnamese deaths, the mean estimate was 100,000, about 5% of the official figure; the actual toll is unknown, and of no more interest than the also unknown toll of casualties of U.S. chemical warfare. The authors of the study comment that it is as if college students in Germany estimated Holocaust deaths at 300,000, in which case we might conclude that there are some problems in Germany -- and if Germany ruled the world, some rather more serious problems.

Noam Chomsky is the author of numerous best-selling political works. His latest books are Failed States, The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy and Hegemony or Survival, both in the American Empire Project series at Metropolitan Books. He lives in Lexington, Massachusetts, and is a professor in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

[Readers who wish to check the sources for information and quotes in this piece are directed to Noam Chomsky's new book, Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2006).]

Reprinted by permission of Metropolitan Books, an imprint of Henry Holt and Company, LLC.

Copyright 2006 Harry A. Chomsky as Trustee of the Chomsky Grandchildren Nominee Trust

Bush Was Set on Path to War, British Memo Says
March 27, 2006

LONDON — In the weeks before the United States-led invasion of Iraq, as the United States and Britain pressed for a second United Nations resolution condemning Iraq, President Bush's public ultimatum to Saddam Hussein was blunt: Disarm or face war.

But behind closed doors, the president was certain that war was inevitable. During a private two-hour meeting in the Oval Office on Jan. 31, 2003, he made clear to Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain that he was determined to invade Iraq without the second resolution, or even if international arms inspectors failed to find unconventional weapons, said a confidential memo about the meeting written by Mr. Blair's top foreign policy adviser and reviewed by The New York Times.

"Our diplomatic strategy had to be arranged around the military planning," David Manning, Mr. Blair's chief foreign policy adviser at the time, wrote in the memo that summarized the discussion between Mr. Bush, Mr. Blair and six of their top aides.

"The start date for the military campaign was now penciled in for 10 March," Mr. Manning wrote, paraphrasing the president. "This was when the bombing would begin."

The timetable came at an important diplomatic moment. Five days after the Bush-Blair meeting, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell was scheduled to appear before the United Nations to present the American evidence that Iraq posed a threat to world security by hiding unconventional weapons.

Although the United States and Britain aggressively sought a second United Nations resolution against Iraq — which they failed to obtain — the president said repeatedly that he did not believe he needed it for an invasion.

Stamped "extremely sensitive," the five-page memorandum, which was circulated among a handful of Mr. Blair's most senior aides, had not been made public. Several highlights were first published in January in the book "Lawless World," which was written by a British lawyer and international law professor, Philippe Sands. In early February, Channel 4 in London first broadcast several excerpts from the memo.

Since then, The New York Times has reviewed the five-page memo in its entirety. While the president's sentiments about invading Iraq were known at the time, the previously unreported material offers an unfiltered view of two leaders on the brink of war, yet supremely confident.

The memo indicates the two leaders envisioned a quick victory and a transition to a new Iraqi government that would be complicated, but manageable. Mr. Bush predicted that it was "unlikely there would be internecine warfare between the different religious and ethnic groups." Mr. Blair agreed with that assessment.

The memo also shows that the president and the prime minister acknowledged that no unconventional weapons had been found inside Iraq. Faced with the possibility of not finding any before the planned invasion, Mr. Bush talked about several ways to provoke a confrontation, including a proposal to paint a United States surveillance plane in the colors of the United Nations in hopes of drawing fire, or assassinating Mr. Hussein.

Those proposals were first reported last month in the British press, but the memo does not make clear whether they reflected Mr. Bush's extemporaneous suggestions, or were elements of the government's plan.

Consistent Remarks

Two senior British officials confirmed the authenticity of the memo, but declined to talk further about it, citing Britain's Official Secrets Act, which made it illegal to divulge classified information. But one of them said, "In all of this discussion during the run-up to the Iraq war, it is obvious that viewing a snapshot at a certain point in time gives only a partial view of the decision-making process."

On Sunday, Frederick Jones, the spokesman for the National Security Council, said the president's public comments were consistent with his private remarks made to Mr. Blair. "While the use of force was a last option, we recognized that it might be necessary and were planning accordingly," Mr. Jones said.

"The public record at the time, including numerous statements by the President, makes clear that the administration was continuing to pursue a diplomatic solution into 2003," he said. "Saddam Hussein was given every opportunity to comply, but he chose continued defiance, even after being given one final opportunity to comply or face serious consequences. Our public and private comments are fully consistent."

The January 2003 memo is the latest in a series of secret memos produced by top aides to Mr. Blair that summarize private discussions between the president and the prime minister. Another group of British memos, including the so-called Downing Street memo written in July 2002, showed that some senior British officials had been concerned that the United States was determined to invade Iraq, and that the "intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy" by the Bush administration to fit its desire to go to war.

The latest memo is striking in its characterization of frank, almost casual, conversation by Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair about the most serious subjects. At one point, the leaders swapped ideas for a postwar Iraqi government. "As for the future government of Iraq, people would find it very odd if we handed it over to another dictator," the prime minister is quoted as saying.

"Bush agreed," Mr. Manning wrote. This exchange, like most of the quotations in this article, have not been previously reported.

Mr. Bush was accompanied at the meeting by Condoleezza Rice, who was then the national security adviser; Dan Fried, a senior aide to Ms. Rice; and Andrew H. Card Jr., the White House chief of staff. Along with Mr. Manning, Mr. Blair was joined by two other senior aides: Jonathan Powell, his chief of staff, and Matthew Rycroft, a foreign policy aide and the author of the Downing Street memo.

By late January 2003, United Nations inspectors had spent six weeks in Iraq hunting for weapons under the auspices of Security Council Resolution 1441, which authorized "serious consequences" if Iraq voluntarily failed to disarm. Led by Hans Blix, the inspectors had reported little cooperation from Mr. Hussein, and no success finding any unconventional weapons.

At their meeting, Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair candidly expressed their doubts that chemical, biological or nuclear weapons would be found in Iraq in the coming weeks, the memo said. The president spoke as if an invasion was unavoidable. The two leaders discussed a timetable for the war, details of the military campaign and plans for the aftermath of the war.

Discussing Provocation

Without much elaboration, the memo also says the president raised three possible ways of provoking a confrontation. Since they were first reported last month, neither the White House nor the British government has discussed them.

"The U.S. was thinking of flying U2 reconnaissance aircraft with fighter cover over Iraq, painted in U.N. colours," the memo says, attributing the idea to Mr. Bush. "If Saddam fired on them, he would be in breach."

It also described the president as saying, "The U.S. might be able to bring out a defector who could give a public presentation about Saddam's W.M.D," referring to weapons of mass destruction.

A brief clause in the memo refers to a third possibility, mentioned by Mr. Bush, a proposal to assassinate Saddam Hussein. The memo does not indicate how Mr. Blair responded to the idea.

Mr. Sands first reported the proposals in his book, although he did not use any direct quotations from the memo. He is a professor of international law at University College of London and the founding member of the Matrix law office in London, where the prime minister's wife, Cherie Blair, is a partner.

Mr. Jones, the National Security Council spokesman, declined to discuss the proposals, saying, "We are not going to get into discussing private discussions of the two leaders."

At several points during the meeting between Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair, there was palpable tension over finding a legitimate legal trigger for going to war that would be acceptable to other nations, the memo said. The prime minister was quoted as saying it was essential for both countries to lobby for a second United Nations resolution against Iraq, because it would serve as "an insurance policy against the unexpected."

The memo said Mr. Blair told Mr. Bush, "If anything went wrong with the military campaign, or if Saddam increased the stakes by burning the oil wells, killing children or fomenting internal divisions within Iraq, a second resolution would give us international cover, especially with the Arabs."

Running Out of Time

Mr. Bush agreed that the two countries should attempt to get a second resolution, but he added that time was running out. "The U.S. would put its full weight behind efforts to get another resolution and would twist arms and even threaten," Mr. Bush was paraphrased in the memo as saying.

The document added, "But he had to say that if we ultimately failed, military action would follow anyway."

The leaders agreed that three weeks remained to obtain a second United Nations Security Council resolution before military commanders would need to begin preparing for an invasion.

Summarizing statements by the president, the memo says: "The air campaign would probably last four days, during which some 1,500 targets would be hit. Great care would be taken to avoid hitting innocent civilians. Bush thought the impact of the air onslaught would ensure the early collapse of Saddam's regime. Given this military timetable, we needed to go for a second resolution as soon as possible. This probably meant after Blix's next report to the Security Council in mid-February."

Mr. Blair was described as responding that both countries would make clear that a second resolution amounted to "Saddam's final opportunity." The memo described Mr. Blair as saying: "We had been very patient. Now we should be saying that the crisis must be resolved in weeks, not months."

It reported: "Bush agreed. He commented that he was not itching to go to war, but we could not allow Saddam to go on playing with us. At some point, probably when we had passed the second resolutions — assuming we did — we should warn Saddam that he had a week to leave. We should notify the media too. We would then have a clear field if Saddam refused to go."

Mr. Bush devoted much of the meeting to outlining the military strategy. The president, the memo says, said the planned air campaign "would destroy Saddam's command and control quickly." It also said that he expected Iraq's army to "fold very quickly." He also is reported as telling the prime minister that the Republican Guard would be "decimated by the bombing."

Despite his optimism, Mr. Bush said he was aware that "there were uncertainties and risks," the memo says, and it goes on, "As far as destroying the oil wells were concerned, the U.S. was well equipped to repair them quickly, although this would be easier in the south of Iraq than in the north."

The two men briefly discussed plans for a post-Hussein Iraqi government. "The prime minister asked about aftermath planning," the memo says. "Condi Rice said that a great deal of work was now in hand.

Referring to the Defense Department, it said: "A planning cell in D.O.D. was looking at all aspects and would deploy to Iraq to direct operations as soon as the military action was over. Bush said that a great deal of detailed planning had been done on supplying the Iraqi people with food and medicine."

Planning for After the War

The leaders then looked beyond the war, imagining the transition from Mr. Hussein's rule to a new government. Immediately after the war, a military occupation would be put in place for an unknown period of time, the president was described as saying. He spoke of the "dilemma of managing the transition to the civil administration," the memo says.

The document concludes with Mr. Manning still holding out a last-minute hope of inspectors finding weapons in Iraq, or even Mr. Hussein voluntarily leaving Iraq. But Mr. Manning wrote that he was concerned this could not be accomplished by Mr. Bush's timeline for war.

"This makes the timing very tight," he wrote. "We therefore need to stay closely alongside Blix, do all we can to help the inspectors make a significant find, and work hard on the other members of the Security Council to accept the noncooperation case so that we can secure the minimum nine votes when we need them, probably the end of February."

At a White House news conference following the closed-door session, Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair said "the crisis" had to be resolved in a timely manner. "Saddam Hussein is not disarming," the president told reporters. "He is a danger to the world. He must disarm. And that's why I have constantly said — and the prime minister has constantly said — this issue will come to a head in a matter of weeks, not months."

Despite intense lobbying by the United States and Britain, a second United Nations resolution was not obtained. The American-led military coalition invaded Iraq on March 19, 2003, nine days after the target date set by the president on that late January day at the White House.

Pundits Renounce The President
Among Conservative Voices, Discord

By Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 20, 2006; A04

For 10 minutes, the talk show host grilled his guests about whether "George Bush's mental weakness is damaging America's credibility at home and abroad." For 10 minutes, the caption across the bottom of the television screen read, "IS BUSH AN 'IDIOT'?"

But the host was no liberal media elitist. It was Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman turned MSNBC political pundit. And his answer to the captioned question was hardly "no." While other presidents have been called stupid, Scarborough said: "I think George Bush is in a league by himself. I don't think he has the intellectual depth as these other people."

These have been tough days politically for President Bush, what with his popularity numbers mired in the 30s and Republican candidates distancing themselves as elections near. He can no longer even rely as much on once-friendly voices in the conservative media to stand by his side, as some columnists and television commentators lose faith in his leadership and lose heart in the war in Iraq.

While most conservative media figures have not abandoned Bush, influential opinion-makers increasingly have raised questions, expressed doubts or attacked the president outright, particularly on foreign policy, on which he has long enjoyed their strongest support. In some cases, they have complained that Bush has drifted away from their shared principles; in other cases, they think it is the implementation that has fallen short. In most instances, Iraq figures prominently.

"Conservatives for a long time were in protective mode, wanting to emphasize the progress in Iraq to contrast what they felt was an unfair attack on the war by the Democrats and media and other sources," Rich Lowry, editor of the National Review, said in an interview. "But there's more of a sense now that things are on a downward trajectory, and more of a willingness to acknowledge it and pressure the administration to react to it."

Lowry's magazine offers a powerful example. "It is time to say it unequivocally: We are winning in Iraq," Lowry wrote in April 2005, chastising those who disagreed. This month, he published an editorial that concluded that "success in Iraq seems more out of reach than it has at any time since the initial invasion three years ago" and assailed "the administration's on-again-off-again approach to Iraq."

"It is time for the Bush administration to acknowledge that its approach of assuring people that progress is being made and operating on that optimistic basis in Iraq isn't working," the editorial said. Lowry followed up days later in his own column, suggesting that the United States is "losing, or at least not obviously winning, a major war" and asking whether Iraq is "Bush's Vietnam."

Quin Hillyer, executive editor of the American Spectator, cited Lowry's column in his own last week, writing that many are upset "because we seem not to be winning" and urging the White House to take on militia leaders such as Moqtada al-Sadr. Until it does, he said, "there will be no way for the administration to credibly claim that victory in Iraq is achievable, much less imminent."

Bush aides were bothered by a George F. Will column last week mocking neoconservative desires to transform the Middle East: "Foreign policy 'realists' considered Middle East stability the goal. The realists' critics, who regard realism as reprehensibly unambitious, considered stability the problem. That problem has been solved."

The White House responded with a 2,432-word rebuttal -- three times as long as the column -- e-mailed to supporters and journalists. "Mr. Will's kind of 'stability' and 'realism' -- a kind of world-weary belief that nothing can be done and so nothing should be tried -- would eventually lead to death and destruction on a scale that is almost unimaginable," wrote White House strategic initiatives director Peter H. Wehner.

Bush advisers said that they never counted Will or some others now voicing criticism as strong supporters but that the president's political weakness has encouraged soft supporters and quiet skeptics to speak out.

William F. Buckley Jr., the founder of the National Review and an icon of the Ronald Reagan-era conservative movement, caused a stir earlier this year when he wrote that "our mission has failed" in Iraq -- just a few months after Bush hosted a White House tribute to Buckley's 80th birthday and the magazine's 50th anniversary.

Thomas L. Friedman, a New York Times columnist who is not a conservative but has strongly backed the Iraq war, reversed course this month, writing that " 'staying the course' is pointless, and it's time to start thinking about Plan B -- how we might disengage with the least damage possible."

White House spokesman Tony Snow said the second-guessing was predictable, given the difficulties in Iraq. "It's hardly unusual in times of war that people get anxious, and that would include people who have supported the president," he said. "The president understands that and is not fazed by it."

Snow said much of the frustration articulated by conservatives stems from a desire to accomplish Bush's ambitions. "The good thing is they all have the same goal: They all want to win the war on terror," he said. "You don't have people quibbling over the goals; they're quibbling over the means -- or 'quibbling' is the wrong word. 'Debating.' "

Snow, who hosted a Fox radio talk show before joining the White House this spring, has made an effort to reach out to conservative audiences by appearing on his former competitors' programs, including shows hosted by Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham. "We're certainly more engaged on that front," he said.

And some of the president's neoconservative supporters have fired back on his behalf. Norman Podhoretz, editor-at-large of Commentary magazine, wrote an 11,525-word essay this month rebutting not only Will, Buckley and other traditional conservatives but also fellow neoconservatives who "have now taken to composing obituary notices of their own." He noted that he had been a tough critic of Reagan for betraying conservative values, only to later conclude that Reagan's approach served "an overall strategy that in the end succeeded in attaining its great objective."

Fred Barnes, executive editor of the Weekly Standard and a reliable Bush supporter, said the disillusionment is not surprising. "People get weary, especially when they expected a war to be over very quickly," he said in an interview. "Supporters fall off over time. I've been disappointed by some of the people who have fallen off, like George Will, but that's what happens."

Few have struck a nerve more than Scarborough, who questioned the president's intelligence on his show, "Scarborough Country." He showed a montage of clips of Bush's famously inarticulate verbal miscues and then explored with guests John Fund and Lawrence O'Donnell Jr. whether Bush is smart enough to be president.

While the country does not want a leader wallowing in the weeds, Scarborough concluded on the segment, "we do need a president who, I think, is intellectually curious."

"And that is a big question," Scarborough said, "whether George W. Bush has the intellectual curiousness -- if that's a word -- to continue leading this country over the next couple of years."

In a later telephone interview, Scarborough said he aired the segment because he kept hearing even fellow Republicans questioning Bush's capacity and leadership, particularly in Iraq. Like others, he said, he supported the war but now thinks it is time to find a way to get out. "A lot of conservatives are saying, 'Enough's enough,' " he said. Asked about the reaction to his program, he said, "The White House is not happy about it."

Bush Asks U.S. to Look Past Iraq Bloodshed
By TOM RAUM, Associated Press Writer

Beginning the fourth year of an unpopular war, President Bush defended his Iraq record on Monday against skeptical questioning. He said he could "understand people being disheartened" but appealed to Americans to look beyond the bloodshed and see signs of progress.

Bush fielded questions for nearly an hour at the City Club, a forum known for its tough interrogations of world leaders. Not only was he grilled on Iraq, but he also was asked to justify his warrantless wiretapping program, U.S. relations with Pakistan and his domestic priorities.

The president was asked why he deemed Iraq — which turned out not to have weapons of mass destruction — as enough of a threat three years ago to launch an invasion, in contrast to nuclear-ambitious Iran today.

"One difference was that, in Iraq, there was a series of unanimous (U.N. Security Council) resolutions that basically held the Iraqi government to account, which Saddam Hussein ignored," Bush said. Still, he said Iran was a concern, on the question of nuclear weapons and on its role in Iraq.

The White House has accused Iran of meddling in Iraqi politics and of supporting armed militias in Iraq by sending men and weapons, including components for increasingly lethal roadside bombs. Iran and the United States have agreed to talk about Iraq, but Bush said, "It's very important, however, for the Iranians to understand that the discussion is limited to Iraq. We feel like they need to know our position."

As the president delivered the latest installment in an upbeat defense of his Iraq policy, opponents used the day after the third anniversary of the invasion to step up their criticism.

Three potential 2008 presidential candidates — Democratic Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel (news, bio, voting record) of Nebraska — offered critical assessments at the International Association of Firefighters' legislative conference in Washington.

Biden said it was time for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to "be told to go home" and for Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff "be given his walking papers." Richardson said U.S. involvement in Iraq had been "badly mismanaged by the administration."

Hagel, in an interview at the conference, said many of the predictions and promises made by the administration have fallen short, such as that oil revenues would pay for the war and the conflict would be short. He also pointed to Vice President Dick Cheney's assertion last May that the insurgency was in its "last throes."

"There's been a credibility erosion for three years," Hagel said.

On Capitol Hill, some Democrats said there had been progress in Iraq, as Bush asserted, but they said it was clouded by problems across the country. They said Bush had gone to war without enough troops.

"Some positive signs do not mitigate this administration's gross miscalculations and stunning incompetence in Iraq," said Rep. Steny Hoyer (news, bio, voting record) of Maryland, the No. 2 Democrat in the House.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the "policies of the Bush administration and the civilian leadership of our military have made America less safe and left Iraq on the precipice of all-out civil war."

Bush pointed to success in stabilizing an insurgent stronghold in Tal Afar, a northern Iraqi city of 200,000 near the Syrian border.

"The strategy that worked so well in Tal Afar did not emerge overnight," Bush said. "It took time to understand and adjust to the brutality of the enemy in Iraq."

"The example of Tal Afar gives me confidence in our strategy," the president said.

One woman asked Bush whether he saw terrorism as a sign of the biblical Apocalypse, and a man followed up with how he could restore confidence in U.S. leadership after several reasons for going to war with Iraq later proved false.

"Like you, I mean, I asked that very same question: Where'd we go wrong on intelligence?" Bush said. He said he was working to improve intelligence gathering because "the credibility of our country is essential."

As for the Apocalypse, Bush said, "I haven't really thought of it that way. ... I guess I'm more of a practical fellow."

Bush bantered with the audience at times. And despite the probing questions, he received several rounds of enthusiastic applause.

"Anybody work here in this town?" Bush joked to laughter as he responded to question after question.

The White House made no attempt to screen either the audience or the questions, said spokesman Scott McClellan.

However, much of downtown near the hotel where Bush spoke was barricaded off. About 100 anti-war protesters chanted for the Republican president to leave the heavily Democratic city, held signs with peace messages and banged on drums.

Inside, not all the questions challenged Bush's war rationale.

One member of the audience invited him back for the Cleveland Hungarian Revolution 50th Anniversary next October. Others complimented him on his vision for a nuclear treaty with India and for his "very enlightening" comments about Iraq.

Cheney, attending a political fundraiser in Hanoverton, in northeast Ohio, also defended U.S. involvement in Iraq and said decisions on troop levels would be made without political consideration.

"Our coalition is also helping to build an Iraqi security force that is well trained and well equipped," Cheney said.

Guilty Plea and Wider Scheme Are Seen in Rebuilding of Iraq


Robert J. Stein Jr. could not have been clearer about his feelings toward the American businessman who was receiving millions of dollars in contracts from Mr. Stein to build a major police academy and other reconstruction projects in Iraq.

"I love to give you money," Mr. Stein wrote in an e-mail message to the businessman, Philip H. Bloom, on Jan. 3, 2004, just as the United States was trying to ramp up its rebuilding program in Iraq.

As it turned out, Mr. Stein had the money to give. Despite a prior conviction on felony fraud that his Pentagon background check apparently missed, Mr. Stein was hired and put in charge of at least $82 million of reconstruction money in the south central Iraqi city of Hilla by the Coalition Provisional Authority, the American-led administration that was then running Iraq.

In United States District Court in Washington, court papers indicate, Mr. Stein will plead guilty today to conspiracy, bribery, money laundering, possession of a machine gun and being a felon in possession of firearms, for essentially giving millions of that money to Mr. Bloom, and taking millions more for himself. Mr. Stein used some of his stolen money, the papers say, to buy items as wildly diverse as grenade launchers, machine guns, a Lexus, "an interest in one Porsche," a Cessna airplane, two plots of real estate in Hope Mills, N.C., a Toshiba personal computer, 18 Breitling watches, a 6-carat diamond ring and a collection of silver dollars. The papers say that the ring of corruption was much wider than previously known, drawing at least seven Americans, including Mr. Stein, Mr. Bloom and five Army reserve officers, into what is portrayed as a maelstrom of greed, sex and gun-running at the heart of the American occupation of a conservative Muslim country.

As part of their bribery scheme, Mr. Stein and his co-conspirators dispensed and received a wide range of other items like cigars, alcohol, first-class plane tickets and "money laundering services," according to the papers. And if all of that were not enough reason for Mr. Stein to love giving money to his partner, the papers say, there was another: Mr. Bloom kept a villa in Baghdad where he provided women who gave sexual favors to officials he hoped to influence, including Mr. Stein. Mr. Bloom's lawyer, Robert A. Mintz, declined to comment on the case.

The court papers say the money was taken by outright theft of millions of dollars in cash — some of it then lugged aboard commercial flights back to the United States — by steering millions of dollars in construction contracts to Mr. Bloom's companies in return for bribes, and through international wire transfers of millions more.

Over all, Mr. Stein is accused of stealing at least $2 million of American taxpayer money and Iraqi funds, which came from Iraqi oil proceeds and money seized from Saddam Hussein's government, accepting at least $1 million in money and goods in direct bribes and grabbing another $600,000 in cash and goods that belonged to the Coalition Provisional Authority. In return, Mr. Stein and his cronies used rigged bids to steer at least $8.6 million in contracts for buildings like the police academy, a library and a center meant to promote democracy, the papers say.

The papers say "Stein and his co-conspirators recommended numerous construction projects in Hilla, Iraq, that were intended to be, and were in fact, steered" to Mr. Bloom. That charge suggests that Mr. Stein, using his perch at the provisional authority, was manipulating at least part of the reconstruction program to enrich himself and his cronies.

There have so far been four arrests in the case, including Mr. Stein, of Fayetteville, N.C., and Mr. Bloom, who lived for many years in Romania. The others, who like Mr. Stein served as C.P.A. officials whose authority extended over a vast territory centered on Hilla, are Lt. Col. Debra Harrison of Trenton and Lt. Col. Michael Wheeler of Amherst Junction, Wis. They were all arrested late last year. Lawyers for Colonel Harrison and Colonel Wheeler did not immediately respond to phone messages left late last night.

The papers covering Mr. Stein's likely plea deal refer to Mr. Bloom, Colonel Harrison and Colonel Wheeler only as numbered co-conspirators, but their names are easily deduced from the context. The remaining three people called co-conspirators have not yet been publicly charged with crimes and their names are not known. The papers also suggest that others may have been involved.

As described in the court papers, reports by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, and other public documents, the story of Mr. Stein's slide into the depths of corruption began shortly after he was sent to Iraq after being hired by S&K Technologies, a St. Ignatius, Mont., company that had won Army contracts to provide administrative support in Iraq.

Although S&K's contract called for Pentagon background checks, some of which were actually carried out, according to former S&K employees, Mr. Stein was given extraordinary authority in Iraq to authorize and spend money, in spite of his fraud conviction in the mid-1990's.

Mr. Stein's control over astonishing sums of cash became so great, interviews with former officials in Hilla indicate, that at one point he and others picked up $58.8 million in shrink-wrapped $100 bills from provisional authority headquarters and drove back with it to Hilla. There Mr. Stein controlled access to the vault where the cash was put — though not before local employees posed for pictures in front of the money.

The story of Mr. Stein's misdeeds begins, according to the court papers, with an e-mail message Mr. Stein sent to Mr. Bloom asking if one of the other conspirators was now "on board." A few days later, Mr. Stein sent an exultant note saying that he had pushed through the first of the police academy contracts, for preparing the ground. "I will give you 200K sometime tomorrow afternoon!" Mr. Stein wrote.

Some $7.3 million in contracts and grants ultimately was written for the academy, with much of it going to Mr. Bloom, the papers say. Agents from the special inspector general's office later found that the work was done improperly or not at all. Mr. Stein had authority only to write contracts for under $500,000. He evaded that limit by writing at least 11 separate contracts, each for under that amount, federal papers say.

A few days after that first e-mail message, in the first of a series of wire transfers, Mr. Bloom sent $30,000 from a bank in Kuwait to an account controlled by Mr. Stein's wife at the Bragg Mutual Federal Credit Union in North Carolina. Two weeks later, the papers indicate, $70,000 more went out by the same route. The bribes had begun.

From that point on, through contract after contract, Mr. Stein, Mr. Bloom and the other conspirators descended into unbridled corruption, the papers indicate. They appeared to draw more people into the scam and became fearful of being exposed. On Feb. 25, 2004, Mr. Stein wrote a message saying that the official who had been brought "on board" had just stomped out of Mr. Stein's office, the papers say. "I guess he was expecting the next chunk for 60 sent," Mr. Stein wrote, referring to a bribe of $60,000, "and he got a call from his wife stating he had not received it."

And after Mr. Bloom wrote back saying "I sent the funds a week ago" and "tell him to stop acting like a child," Mr. Stein replied, seemingly with trepidation: "Shall I go ahead and give" the official "the 50 or 60 to shut him up?" The demands of the co-conspirators seemed to grow more extreme as time went on. By late June, Mr. Bloom carried on a correspondence with a car dealer in the United States to satisfy highly expensive demands by yet another alleged player in the scheme.

"Your friend is seeking a very desirable, hard-to-find color: electric blue," the dealer wrote back. "It appears that there are only two blue Nissan 350Z hardtops in the western United States," adding that the person "wants the following specifications: Touring model, manual transmission, aerodynamics package, cargo convenience package, floor mats, splash guards and trunk mat." Cost: $35,990.

A frantic tone crept into Mr. Stein's correspondence as he realized investigators could be closing in. One official, Mr. Stein wrote on June 25 to the person who wanted the Nissan, "is pushing some things that could snowball out of control."

"I am doing my best to keep a formal investigation from happening," Mr. Stein wrote. He added, "I would like to know if you are going to stand behind me or not!"

Elizabeth Rubin contributed reporting for this article.