Thursday, June 28, 2007


BAGHDAD - A car bomb killed 22 people Thursday in a bus station in western Baghdad, and police said 20 beheaded bodies had been discovered on the banks of the Tigris River southeast the capital. Government security officials raised doubts about the decapitation report.

The car bomb ripped through a crowded transport hub in southwest Baghdad's Baiyaa neighborhood at morning rush hour, killing at least 22 people and wounding more than 50, police said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized the release the information.

Many of the victims had been lining up for bus rides to work. Some 40 minibuses were incinerated, police said.

Baiyaa is a mixed area with a Shiite majority. It is one of a string of neighborhoods just south of the main road to Baghdad International Airport where sectarian tensions have been running high.

APTN video showed a square strewn with smoldering car parts and charred bodies with clothes in tatters. Bystanders, some weeping, gingerly loaded human remains into ambulances.

A pickup truck rumbled slowly away from the scene, with two pairs of legs - the dead bodies of victims - dangling out of the back.

To the south, two policemen from separate commands said the 20 decapitated remains were found near the Sunni Muslim village of Um al-Abeed, near the city of Salman Pak, which lies 14 miles southeast of Baghdad.

The bodies - all men aged 20 to 40 - had their hands and legs bound, and some of the heads were found next to the bodies, the two officers said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.

One of the police officers who gave information is based at Interior Ministry headquarters in the capital, and the other is based in Kut, 100 miles southeast of Baghdad.

However, an official in Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's office said no such report had been received. He also spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not supposed to talk to media.

Al-Maliki's office normally would be informed of incidents of serious violence and some reports of attacks in the past have proven false.

Another police officer in eastern Baghdad said officials had heard the report and tried to send a force to the area to confirm it. But visit was called off because the area was too dangerous.

Sporadic clashes had been under way in the Salman Pak area for several days, between Interior Ministry commandos and suspected insurgents, the Kut officer said. It was unclear whether the discovery of the bodies was related to the recent fighting.

Salman Pak and its surrounding area has been the focus of new U.S. military operations to oust suspected al-Qaida fighters from the Baghdad's outskirts. American forces launched a drive into Salman Pak and neighboring Arab Jabour two weeks ago.

At the time, ground forces commander Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno said U.S. troops were heading into those areas in force for the first time in three years.

One U.S. soldier was killed and another was wounded by a roadside bomb Thursday during a combat patrol in eastern Baghdad, the military said.

At least 3,569 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count. The figure includes seven military civilians. At least 2,930 died as a result of hostile action, according to the military's numbers.

In other violence Thursday, three mortar rounds slammed into a popular shopping district in central Baghdad, killing three pedestrians, police said. The attack damaged shops in the Shorja market area and wounded 14 people, an officer said on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to talk to media.

Mortars also fell early Thursday in eastern Baghdad's al-Amin neighborhood, killing two civilians and wounding four others, police said.

It was unclear whether the mortars were aimed at the Shorja shopping area, or whether they fell short of an intended target. In recent months, tall security barriers have been built around popular marketplaces in Baghdad, preventing car bombers from entering. However, mortars can be lobbed over such blast walls.

Later Thursday, at least one mortar or rocket targeted the U.S.-guarded Green Zone, sending a huge blast echoing across central Baghdad. There was no immediate word on any casualties.

A car bomb exploded at a fuel station Thursday afternoon in western Baghdad's Mansour neighborhood, killing one person and wounding three others, police said. The victims had been lining up to buy fuel, they said.

In Nasiriyah, about 200 miles southeast of Baghdad, local police said two suspected militants were killed early Thursday when the bomb they were planting near a house of a U.S. translator detonated prematurely.

Also Thursday, the British military said three British soldiers were killed in a roadside bomb in southern Iraq.

The bomb exploded near the soldiers' vehicle late Wednesday southeast of Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, the military said in a statement. Another soldier was wounded in the blast and remains in stable condition at a military hospital, it said.

The death raised to at least 154 the number of British troops killed in Iraq since the war began in March 2003.

Britain has withdrawn hundreds of troops from Iraq, leaving a force of around 5,500 based mainly on the fringes of Basra, 340 miles southeast of Baghdad. The U.S. currently has about 155,000 troops in Iraq.

On Wednesday, outgoing British Prime Minister Tony Blair said his country would withdraw even more troops within weeks, but he refused to set a more specific timetable.

--SINAN SALAHEDDIN (Associated Press Writer)

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Bombed Bridges of Baghdad

Unlike the film, The Bridges of Madison County, the bombed bridges of Baghdad are not a quaint romantic tale, but a warning sign of potential disaster for U.S. forces in Iraq. The ongoing attacks on bridges in and around Baghdad creates significant risks and logistical obstacles for U.S. forces in Iraq. In my opinion these attacks are part of deliberate strategy to create ambush chokepoints, degrade the capability of U.S. Quick Reaction Forces, and enhance the ability of insurgent forces to cut the U.S. lines of communication.

Juan Cole summarizes the latest activity:

Guerrillas blew up another bridge in Iraq on Monday, this time over the Euphrates in Diyala province. Its destruction will make drivers from northeastern Diyala who want to go to Baghdad take a route through Baquba, among the more violent cities in Iraq. Guerrillas are attempting to cause Iraqi society and government to collapse by hitting the infrastructure, and the bridge demolitions are part of that strategy. Late on Sunday, an overpass leading to a bridge south of Baghdad was destroyed, and 3 American soldiers were killed and 6 wounded.

These attacks continue a trend that started in April, with the attack on the Sarafiya Bridge in central Baghdad (see U.S. Policy in the Drink). The loss of these bridges represent more than increased inconvenience for commuters and travelers.

Traffic will be re-routed, which means there will be more traffic in a concentrated area. This is a boon for insurgents who can in turn concentrate their limited resources and simplify their planning for successful attacks. It also creates logistical nightmares for the United States forces. Most of the basic necessities required to sustain U.S. forces in Iraq are carried in truck convoys. The destruction of these bridges will further increase the transportation time for drivers and the maintenance requirements just to keep the vehicles on the road.

Beyond the inconvenience factor, we must recognize that the destruction of bridges can produce the defacto isolation of U.S. outposts and bases. If a U.S. unit is attacked and requires reinforcements, the loss of these bridges increase the difficulty of the U.S. Quick Reaction Force reaching the scene in a timely manner. Moreover, with fewer alternate routes available, insurgents can anticipate where to hit a responding American force. In fact, an attack on an outpost could be a feint intended to provoke a U.S. reaction and give the insurgents the opportunity to ambush the inbound soldiers.

It is incumbent on U.S. commanders to boost security around the bridges. But that is a manpower issue. If you do not have enough troops in country then you must divert troops from patrolling streets to sitting on a bridge and guarding its perimeter. The tactical job of protecting a bridge is fairly simple and straightforward--you need people with guns. But we do not have enough troops in Iraq to carry out the various missions required to make the surge work. The systematic destruction of bridges in and around Baghdad are the early warning signs that the mission for our soldiers in Iraq is going to get tougher and more deadly.

-- Larry C. Johnson

Monday, June 11, 2007

Friday, June 08, 2007

A Painting of the Butterfly Dream by the Master Artist Li Tsai

I used to dream of Chuang Tzu;
I read every word in his book.
Day and night I thought of meeting him,
"flitting and fluttering" before my eyes!
But Chuang Tzu cannot come back,
the butterfly cannot appear again:
so who put them into this painting?
I see them and feel we're old friends!
If Chuang Tzu could become a butterfly,
why shouldn't a butterfly be able to become me?
The dream of a thousand years, here on this paper --
how do I know it is not my own?

-- Chu Yun-Ming - Ming Dynasty (1460-1526)

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

When You Wish

When you wish upon a star
Makes no difference who you are
Anything your heart desires
Will come to you

If your heart is in your dream
No request is too extreme
When you wish upon a star
As dreamers do

Fate is kind
She brings to those who love
The sweet fulfillment of
Their secret longing

Like a bolt out of the blue
Fate steps in and sees you through
When you wish upon a star
Your dreams come true

Hometown Baghdad

Saturday, June 02, 2007

The Truth Is

"First I saw the mountains in the painting; then I saw the painting in the mountains."
-- Chinese Proverb.

"A man paints with his brains and not with his hands."
-- Michelangelo (1475-1564)

"Only when he no longer knows what he is doing does the painter do good things."
-- Edgar Degas (1834-1917)

"Painting is very easy when you don't know how, but very difficult when you do."
-- Edgar Degas

"Drawing and color are not separate at all; in so far as you paint, you draw. The more color harmonizes, the more exact the drawing becomes. When the color achieves richness, the form attains its fullness also."
-- Paul Cézanne (1839-1906), French Post-Impressionist painter. Quoted by Émile Bernard, L'Occident, July, 1904.

"PAINTING, n: The art of protecting flat surfaces from the weather and exposing them to the critic."
-- Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914), American writer. The Cynic's Word Book, also known as The Devil's Dictionary, 1906.

"Whenever I see a Frans Hals I feel like painting, but when I see a Rembrandt I feel like giving up!"
-- Max Liebermann (1847-1935).

"There is nothing harder to learn than painting and nothing which most people take less trouble about learning. An art school is a place where about three people work with feverish energy and everybody else idles to a degree that I should have conceived unattainable by human nature."
-- G.K.Chesterton (1874-1936), British writer. Autobiography.

"Painting is stronger than I am. It can make me do whatever it wants."
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), modern Spanish artist. A note written on the back of one of his sketchbooks.

"Painting is just another way of keeping a diary."
-- Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), modern Spanish artist.

"Painting is a blind man's profession. He paints not what he sees, but what he feels, what he tells himself about what he has seen."
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), Spanish artist. Quoted in: Jean Cocteau, Journals, part 1, "War and Peace" (1956)

"To me, a painter, if not the most useful, is the least harmful member of our society."
-- Man Ray (1890-1976), modern American photographer, artist. Self Portrait, chapter 6 (1963)

"The painting has a life of its own."
-- Jackson Pollock (1912-1956)

"Painting is an attempt to come to terms with life. There are as many solutions as there are human beings."
-- George Tooker (1920-)

Friday, June 01, 2007

Lake Tai

BEIJING - Fast-spreading, foul-smelling blue-green algae smothered a lake in eastern China, contaminating the drinking water for millions of people and sparking panic-buying of bottled water, state media said Thursday.

The algae bloom in Lake Tai, a famous but long-polluted tourist attraction in Jiangsu province, formed because water levels are at their lowest in 50 years, leading to excess nutrients in the water, Xinhua said.

Officials in Wuxi, a city along the banks of the lake, called an emergency meeting Wednesday to discuss measures to deal with the situation and allay public fears, said a posting on the local government's Web site.

"The government calls for the residents facing the natural disaster to help each other to deal with the difficulties," the notice said, advising people to boil the water before drinking it.

"The situation has lasted three days already. It's so inconvenient," said Qin Yingxian, 53, a video store owner in Wuxi. "The smell of our tap water is just so awful. If you use the water to shower, the smell will stay on your body."

Residents swarmed stores in Wuxi, a city of 5 million, to buy bottled water Wednesday and prices skyrocketed from $1 to $6.50 for a two-gallon bottle, Xinhua said.

The city has placed a ban on price hikes and threatened hefty fines to violators, the report said. A Wal-Mart store imposed rations of 24 bottles per person, Xinhua said.

"Now we depend on bottled water for all our daily uses," Qin said. "People form long queues in the supermarkets for bottled water. Nobody expected something like this to happen. We aren't prepared."

State TV showed a yellowish trickle coming from taps and a restaurant worker said customers refused to eat there until they were assured that the water used was safe.

The Wuxi government said it was not authorized to give out information and referred all questions to provincial officials. A man who answered the telephone at the Jiangsu government office said authorities were "looking into the matter" and could not give any details.

Xinhua said the Wuxi government is planning to artificially induce rain in the next two days to dilute the lake water, and the provincial government has agreed to divert more water from the Yangtze River to the lake.

The local government is also using active carbon to filter the lake water and is importing bottled water from surrounding cities, China Central Television reported.

Lake Tai, famed for centuries for its beauty, is notoriously polluted from industries in the fast-developing region 80 miles west of Shanghai.

Blue-green algae often looks like green paint spilled on top of the water's surface. It is caused by factors such as run-off and excess nutrients in the water.

The algae, which scientists say are actually plantlike bacteria, are common in fresh water the world over. Some types can produce dangerous toxins.

Drinking toxin-tainted water can cause vomiting, diarrhea, headache, muscle pain, paralysis, respiratory failure and, on rare occasions, even death. Pets and livestock are especially vulnerable.

The incident is the latest to hit China's troubled waterways, which are dangerously polluted after decades of rapid economic growth and the widespread flouting of environmental regulations. Millions of people lacking access to clean drinking water.

In 2005, an accident caused a Chinese chemical plant to spew tons of toxic nitrobenzene and other chemicals into the north China's Songhua River, forcing authorities to cut water to millions of residents.


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