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May 7, 2004
Notes from the Pentagon

Umm Qasr threat
Defense officials say the danger of attack in the southern Iraqi port of Umm Qasr appears to be growing.

"The threat level is up," one official tells us.

The port facility key entryway for goods shipped to Iraq has been targeted in recent weeks by what officials said is small-scale probing incidents.

Local Iraqis have driven trucks at high speed toward the port's gates and dhow boats have sailed close to facilities and the Iraqis on board have thrown rocks simulating tossing of grenades.

The port is being managed by SSA Marine and a major reconstruction project is under way. Several hundred U.S. and British troops are providing protection for the port, located on the western side of the Faw Peninsula on the shore of the Shatt al-Arab waterway leading to the Persian Gulf.

In recent days, Umm Qasr has been in the news because it is where one of three main military prisons is located at Camp Bucca.

Last month, suicide bombers in three small dhows killed two U.S. Navy sailors guarding an oil terminal about 100 miles from Umm Qasr. The attack was blamed on the al Qaeda terrorist group.

A military spokesman in Baghdad referred questions about the threats to Umm Qasr to a British military spokesman in Basra. A spokesman there could not be reached for comment.

Uniform problem
One of the big problems for Marines in Iraq is the inability to clearly distinguish between the good guys and bad guys. Part of the problem, we are told, is a major contracting problem in buying new uniforms for Iraqi police the good guys. Delays in the uniform buy have left Iraqi police in civilian clothes, something that has made it very difficult to distinguish them from the Iraqi insurgents made up of former regime military, intelligence and political personnel.

Marines are using snipers to take out insurgents in hot zones like Fallujah. Long-distance fighting like that makes the need for the uniforms even more critical.

One Pentagon official said that without the uniforms the risk of so-called friendly fire against the Iraqis goes way up.

"We need to get those uniforms," the official said.

Karpinski's defense
At a time when the Bush administration is looking for top officers to fess up to mistakes in the prison abuse scandal, such contrition is not coming from the woman who ran the prison system.

Army Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski has been doing the talk show circuit, denying any knowledge of the subhuman treatment and blaming it on another Army branch, military intelligence. Those were the officers who actually conducted the interrogations in Abu Ghraib prison, while military police soldiers provided security.

Gen. Karpinski's media ride has not sat well with officials inside the office of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. "All the public sees is the officer in charge passing the buck," said a defense official.

Gen. Karpinski, whose 800th MP Brigade was demobilized as scheduled, is now back home in South Carolina, where she works as a business consultant. She has fought her battle in private as well as in public. Her military attorney filed a four-page rebuttal to a scathing report on her leadership by Army Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba.

He recommended she be reprimanded a career-ending action for what he considered poor leadership, and that she be relieved of her command. Instead, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez decided on a much milder penalty a letter of admonishment.

For one, the attorney wrote that Gen. Taguba's report ignored praise offered by subordinate MPs.

"Their statements are replete with praise and admiration of her clear guidance, firm, fair and common sense enforcement of standards, her caring for the soldiers of the brigade and her constant visits to see the soldiers where they lived and worked, often at great personal risk.

"They know she tried her best to obtain support and replacements. They know higher headquarters did not respond to these requests. The findings in this subject area and specifically the finding that Brig. Gen. Karpinski materially [misled] investigators concerning her travels is completely without the requisite evidentiary support.

"Brig. Gen. Janis L. Karpinski is the first and only female general officer to lead soldiers in combat. She is a hero to the men and women of the 800th Military Police Brigade. As the successes of the brigade are told around the country with the return of brigade's citizen-soldiers to their homes, she will become a hero to the American public as well."

Taguba's rebuttal
In his 53-page report, Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba offers a blistering attack on Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski's leadership.

"During the course of this investigation I conducted a lengthy interview with Brig. Gen. Karpinski that lasted over four hours, and is included verbatim in the investigation annexes. Brig. Gen. Karpinski was extremely emotional during much of her testimony. What I found particularly disturbing in her testimony was her complete unwillingness to either understand or accept that many of the problems inherent in the 800th MP Brigade were caused or exacerbated by poor leadership and the refusal of her command to both establish and enforce basic standards and principles among its soldiers."

Of Gen. Karpinski's MPs, Gen. Taguba wrote, "There was no clear uniform standard for any MP soldiers assigned detention duties. Despite the fact that hundreds of former Iraqi soldiers and officers were detainees, MP personnel were allowed to wear civilian clothes in the [prison] after duty hours while carrying weapons. Some soldiers wrote poems and other sayings on their helmets and soft caps."

  • Bill Gertz and Rowan Scarborough are Pentagon reporters. Gertz can be reached at 202/636-3274 or by e-mail at Scarborough can be reached at 202/636-3208 or by e-mail at

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