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June 11, 2004
Notes from the Pentagon

Umm Qasr threat
Security threats to the strategic Iraqi port of Umm Qasr are continuing to grow as the formal date of the handover of authority looms.

Insurgents conducted a rocket attack against the military base of Camp Bucca at the port facility May 29, according to a report we obtained.

"The unprecedented rocket attack on Camp Bucca May 29 positively signals the start of serious terrorism in Umm Qasr," the report said. "The rockets were launched within a mile of the North Port's main gate well within the striking distance to cause significant damage to the port."

The joint report by the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the contractor SSA Marine, paints a dire picture of the port. It notes that the Iraqi Port Authority, which took over running the port from SSA Marine on May 29, is ill-prepared to operate the facility that is the main entry point to Iraq for ships bringing reconstruction aid and bringing out oil.

Dredging operations at the port are not being carried out and as a result the growing silt buildup "will render the port inaccessible to large vessels in short order."

The report also states that Iraqi authorities now in charge of issuing vehicle passes to the port are undermining "the established gate security plan."

Iraqi officials are refusing help with training from U.S. port specialists in learning to operate the port with such functions as dredging, power, water service, crane operations, equipment and cargo handling.

According to the report, many within the Iraqi Port Authority "expect [the authority] to fail during the bridge period this summer, which would impede the flow of reconstruction cargoes into the country."

Unless things are fixed "the commercial aspirations of the port and the country will implode," the report said.

Theft of goods is also growing, ranging from thefts of up to 65 pounds by individual criminals to several large-scale attempted thefts by organized crime groups, the report said.

About 60 British troops that patrol the port have thwarted many of the thefts, the report said. It said that Iraqi police at the port are poorly trained, ill-equipped and in some cases Iraqi security guards have cooperated with criminal activity or allowed it to take place.

According to the report, "the Iraqis may not be able to provide the effective, reliable, autonomous policing that we originally hoped for in the short term."

A military spokesman in Basra sought to play down the rocket attack, saying that the two rockets fired during the May 29 incident caused no damage or casualties.

Wedding party
Military sources who have seen the after-action reports say there is overwhelming evidence that U.S. aircraft struck a safe house for foreign fighters May 19, not a wedding party as some Iraqis had said.

The only permanent dwelling at the site contained what appeared to be document-forging equipment, as well as large amounts of medical supplies and ammo. No "nuptial tent" was found, contradicting accounts from Iraqis. Nor was there any evidence of economic support for the dwelling, such as farm animals.

Discovered weapons included rocket-propelled grenades. Among the equipment was binoculars.

The dwelling is near the border with Syria, from where thousands of foreign fighters from various Islamic nations have come to kill Americans.

Schmidt wins
Maj. Harry Schmidt has won a key pretrial battle as the Air Force is about to court-martial him in connection with the mistaken bombing deaths of four Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan in 2002.

The Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces this week overruled the decision of the trial judge, Col. Mary Boone. She had ruled that classified information from Maj. Schmidt to his attorney, Charles Gittins, must be cleared by the prosecution. Mr. Gittins objected, arguing this gave government attorneys control over his defense strategy.

An Air Force appeals court agreed with Col. Boone. But the higher court disagreed, reversing the judge's opinion. The court said the judge misinterpreted a military rule on the sharing of classified information.

The appeals opinion read, "The rule does not require an accused, without benefit of his own counsel, to engage in adversarial litigation with opposing counsel as a precondition to discussing with defense counsel potentially relevant information which the accused already has personal knowledge of based on his prior authorized access as part of his military duties."

The court added, "The government must also respect the important role of the attorney-client relationship in maintaining the fairness and integrity of the military justice system." On a second matter, the Air Force had been denying classified information to Mr. Gittins. The appeals court ruled that issue was moot, since the prosecution lifted the prohibition based on the lawyer's security clearance as a Marine Corps officer. The court is made up of five civilian judges, appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.

Maj. Schmidt is charged with dereliction of duty for dropping a bomb from his F-16 on a Canadian live-fire exercise that he mistook for enemy antiaircraft barrages.

Rummy and Gipper
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld always admired Ronald Reagan. He wasn't afraid to say so, even in 1976 when Mr. Reagan was challenging Gerald Ford.

Mr. Rumsfeld was Mr. Ford's defense secretary at a time when Mr. Reagan was warning about the Soviet threat and calling for big increases in defense spending.

The Republican insurgent's charge particularly upset Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who desperately wanted a big arms-control agreement before the election. It upset him more that Mr. Rumsfeld was repeating in public some of Mr. Reagan's themes.

The book, "Rumsfeld's War," contains this dialogue at a March 1976 National Security Council meeting.

Kissinger: If we say the trend is going against us, that is bad enough. The impression that we are slipping is creating a bad impression around the world. Rumsfeld: But it's true.

Kissinger: Then we have to define our goals. It is inevitable that our margin since '60 has slipped. Are we trying to maintain the same margin as we had in 1960 or to maintain adequate forces?

Rumsfeld: But it is true. We have been slipping since the '60s from superiority to equivalence, and if we don't stop, we'll be behind.

Ford: I don't think the president should say we are slipping.

Kissinger: I think the posture to take is that Reagan doesn't know what [he is] talking about and he's irresponsible.

  • 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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