Morning Report: March 23, 2007

A Friday morning roundup, including breaking news from Iran, and the good, the bad, and the ugly at CENTCOM.

British troops captured in Iran. Never Yet Melted from Bloomberg: 'Iran seized 15 British naval personnel who were conducting “routine boarding operations” in Iraqi waters, the U.K. Ministry of Defence said. “The boarding party had completed a successful inspection of a merchant ship when they and their two boats were surrounded and escorted by Iranian vessels into Iranian territorial waters,” the ministry said in an e-mailed statement. “We are urgently pursuing this matter with the Iranian authorities at the highest level.” The incident occurred in the Arabian Gulf at about 10:30 a.m. Iraq time today, the ministry said. It gave no details of the units and vessels involved.' (NYM)

Kesher Talk on "Breaking the Silence". Kesher Talk: 'In today's [New York] Times [Steve] Erlanger brings his obtuseness to bear on Breaking the Silence, a group which collects stories of malfeasance by IDF soldiers against Palestinians, and then the soldiers tour around college campuses and synagogues testifying to their misdeeds. A related group Combatants for Peace pairs an IDF soldier with a supposedly reformed Palestinian terrorist who demonstrate how peace can be achieved when the Israeli confesses his misdeeds and the Palestinian agrees with him. ...' Read the rest at the link. (KT)

Belmont Club on the Musharraf era. The Belmont Club: 'Musharraf's tightrope act suggests that Pakistan is divided between powerful forces, some sympathetic to the Jihad and others opposed with a big slug of criminality and thuggery thrown into the mixture. However, the "exit strategy" recommended by [Ahmed] Rashid has dangers too. ...' (Belmont Club)

Iraqi engineers learn new skills. MNF-Iraq: 'A class of Iraqi engineers completed a four-day course in construction quality management, enhancing their job skills to achieve a quality product safely, on time and within budget. The instructor of the course, Peggy McBride is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Quality Assurance lead for the Europe District. McBride explained how the construction quality management course, or CQM, teaches engineers the execution of tasks that ensure construction is performed according to plans and specifications; completed on time within a defined budget, and done in a safe work environment. “This class gives the Iraqi contractors the ability to meet the Corps’ construction contract requirements, and trains them to be contractor quality control personnel,” McBride said. “We give them standards that can be applied throughout Iraq.”' (MNFI)

Stopping corruption at Iraqi oil refinery. MNF-Iraq:
A United States Army captain met with a deputy commander of the Oil Protection Force to talk about security needs for the Bayji Oil Refinery here March 9.

U.S. Army Capt. Kwenton Kuhlman, Company B commander, 1st Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division and overseer of the oil refinery, and Nabhan Mohammed, deputy commander of the OPF in the Bayji refinery discussed corruption and embezzlement problems as well as the relationship between Iraqi Soldiers and OPF workers.

One of the biggest problems the refinery faced were guards being bribed and drivers being extorted, said Hassan Ahmad, an OPF employee.

“We have caught guys pumping extra fuel, short-changing government fuel tankers and a couple of OPF guys taking bribes from oil tankers,” said Kuhlman.

“The Iraqis are very aware of what is going on at the refinery, and they are fed up with it. Fuel is too important to the Iraqi people to have guards not doing their jobs,” said Kuhlman.

“We have to have a culture in the OPF that doesn’t tolerate corruption,” said Kuhlman.

To combat this corruption, Kuhlman introduced two contracts for new anti-corruption equipment which will be installed inside and outside the oil refinery.

“We will make it really hard and really expensive to steal from (the refinery),” said Kuhlman.

The Iraqi Army also did its part to make sure the corruption stops. Lt. Gen. Abdul-Aziz, commander of the 4th Iraqi Army Division, pledged to permanently station an infantry battalion at the refinery to help with security.

Bush: Mideast peace necessary for US security. CENTCOM: 'Peace in the Middle East is hard work, but it’s necessary for U.S. security and for the development of the region, President Bush said here today. “We have a remarkable country, and we have people from different walks of life, different levels of experience, make the decision to serve America by helping a young democracy survive,” Bush said after meeting with Iraq provincial reconstruction team leaders at the White House. “They understand what I understand, and that is, success in Iraq is important for the security of the United States.” Bush met with team members from the U.S. State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development, and the military. PRTs are joint civilian-military units that support local leaders and empower provincial authorities by working closely with the communities on reconstruction and other activities.' (CENTCOM)

Iraq reconstruction moves ahead. CENTCOM:
The reconstruction effort under way in Iraq is one of the most extensive and challenging of all time, but also one of the most important, the deputy commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers told the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs today.

Army Maj. Gen. Ronald Johnson, who served as the first commander of the corps’ Gulf Region Division, reported that the Iraqi reconstruction program “is yielding positive, tangible results every day and has significantly improved the lives of the Iraqi people.”

Despite a challenging and often hostile work environment, Johnson reported that some 4,000 Corps of Engineers soldiers and civilian employees have seen more than 2,800 projects completed. “We have completed 13 refurbished hospitals that can serve 5,500 patients a day, restored water treatment facilities benefiting over 2.3 million Iraqis, completed over 250 border forts, helping to secure more than 2,000 miles of Iraqi borders, completed over 800 new or renovated schools serving 325,000 Iraqi children, and have increased electric power generation, benefiting 1.3 million homes,” he said.

Why is CENTCOM kicking Michael Yon out? Michael Yon: 'A general emailed in the past 24 hours threatening to kick me out. The first time the Army threatened to kick me out was in late 2005, just after I published a dispatch called “Gates of Fire.” Some of the senior level public affairs people who’d been upset by “Proximity Delays” were looking ever since for a reason to kick me out and they wanted to use “Gates of Fire” as a catapult. In the events described in that dispatch, I broke some rules by, for instance, firing a weapon during combat when some of our soldiers were fighting fairly close quarters and one was wounded and still under enemy fire. That’s right. I’m not sure what message the senior level public affairs people thought that would convey had they succeeded, (which they didn’t) but it was clear to me what they valued most. They want the press on a short leash, even at the expense of the life of a soldier.' Captain's Quarters: 'Does the Army want to build honest support for the mission here at home? Or would they rather play bureaucratic games with one of the few journalists willing to go wherever our soldiers go? Someone needs a reality check at CENTCOM.' (Michael Yon, Captain's Quarters)

Blast from the past. Sand Gets In My Eyes links a prescient 1946 War Department report:
Six decades ago, just after WWII and before the start of the Cold War, the US War Department conducted a study on long-term threats to global security. The number one threat according to their study? Islamic fundamentalists in the Middle East.

The report is filled with political incorrectness that would today probably lead to lawsuits and sit-ins, but it is also filled with some pretty interesting thoughts.

According to the report – remember it was written long before the terrorist attacks of recent years – paints a picture of a region “full of frustration and discontent”, a region torn apart by two powerful urges: one internal and one, not surprisingly external:

“The Muslims remember the power with which once they not only ruled their own domains but also overpowered half of Europe, yet they are painfully aware of their present economic, cultural, and military impoverishment. Thus a terrific internal pressure is building up in their collective thinking.”

The report goes on to conclude that:

“The Muslims intend, by any means possible, to regain political independence and to reap the profits of their own resources, which in recent times and up to the present have been surrendered to the exploitation of foreigners who could provide capital investments. The area, in short, has an inferiority complex, and its activities are thus as unpredictable as those of any individual so motivated.”

Read the rest at the link. (SGIME)