With the political season at full-steam, it is appropriate to start with the words of Democratic Senator John Rockefeller, who had the courage, three years on, finally to say what the Democrats really think about Iraq:
Rockefeller went a step further. He says the world would be better off today if the United States had never invaded Iraq — even if it means Saddam Hussein would still be running Iraq.
At the same time, French-looking John Kerry was calling on
Democrats to rally around his plan to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq.
Perhaps the senators should read what one Iraqi had
to say recently about the trial of Saddam:
“I’m happy to see justice taking its course today,” said Haider Kadhim, 28, the owner of an electronics shop in Baghdad, a city that suffers from chronic power shortages.
Kadhim said he had bought 20 litres of petrol for his generator to make sure he had the electricity needed to watch the trial, which was broadcast on all local channels with a 20-minute delay. This was to ensure that sensitive portions with security implications could be censored.
“It is shameful that Saddam should claim he is the president and commander in chief of the armed forces,” said Kadhim, referring to Saddam’s self-introduction when he was asked by the judge to identify himself for the record.
In addition, let me reprint the words of the Sgt. Major of the Army, Kenneth O. Preston:
The morale of American GIs serving in Iraq continues to be high, regardless of the danger, difficult conditions and family sacrifices they face, the Army’s top enlisted leader said yesterday.
“They really look at it as a badge of honor,” the sergeant major said.
Indeed, the Army will meet its recruiting goal for 2006.
Perhaps this story will give lie to the idea that Iraq would be better off under Saddam:
The remains of 80 people, believed to be Kurdish victims of Saddam Hussein’s regime, were unearthed in two mass graves near the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk on Monday, a Kurdish security official said.
Tens of thousands of Kurds were killed in a military campaign in 1988 codenamed Anfal — Spoils of War — for which Saddam, his cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid, known as Chemical Ali, and five other former commanders are now on trial in Baghdad.
The Political Situation
Prime Minister al-Maliki continues his push for national reconciliation, largely ignored by the U.S. media:
National Reconciliation was the headline of talks during the visit of Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki to Mosul City in Ninawa Province. Before a crowd of political and social figures in addition to Heads of Tribes representatives, Al-Maliki underlined the importance of establishing a free Iraq where only freedom, justice and equality rule among the people regardless of their orientations after long years of oppression, tyranny and murder.
As part of his reconciliation effort, 40,000 soldiers in Saddam’s army are now eligible to serve in the new Iraqi army.
The prime minister has a long way to go, and Iraq’s parliament is expected to debate the issue of splitting Iraq into three independent zones in the coming weeks. The Sunnis have the most to lose from breaking Iraq up:
At the top of the agenda was the controversial issue of whether to allow Iraq’s provinces to merge into larger autonomous regions, a move which some Sunni Arab lawmakers fear could tear the country apart.
Other groups, however, strongly support a plan which would create virtually independent zones in the oil-rich Shi’ite south and Kurdish north, and leave Sunni Arabs economically isolated in the barren western desert.
As of this Sunday, debate on the federalism issue was suspended.
General Abizaid recently said that Iraq was “far from civil war.” His sentiment was echoed by Iraq’s national security advisor:
“This is absolutely not a civil war,” Rubaie told Reuters in an interview during a visit to Japan. “Al Qaeda tried for that for three years and failed miserably. But it has created a crack between Shias and Sunnis.”
Rubaie went on to credit the security crackdown in Baghdad for a drop in violence in the capital.
Jordan became the first Arab country to have an accredited ambassador in Iraq.
The media focused on the negative in the recent DoD report to Congress on Iraq, but there was plenty of positive news to be found, especially on the political front:
On the political side, the last quarter saw the national government getting on its feet, the assistant secretary said. In June, the parliament approved the three national security ministers, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki introduced a national reconciliation plan to the Council of Representatives and the council began tackling legislation particularly in the economic area. “The point is that you have a national government that is functioning,” Rodman said. “It is a national government that includes the leaders of all the major communities.”
The fact that the national government is functioning is “one relevant data point” that shows Iraq is not engaged in a civil war, he said.
On September 8, the Iraqis assumed operational control of their armed forces.
Clerics across Iraq called for an end to sectarian violence:
“We lost all our feelings. We are saying goodbye to our sons every day,” said Khaled Hassnawi, a Sunni imam, in his sermon at the Sheik Abdul Kadir mosque in Baghdad. “Wherever you go, you see the blood of Muslims being shed. When will this time pass? When will those playing with this fate be satisfied?”
Speaking at the largest Shiite mosque here, Imam Sayed Nail Musawi said: “These adversities that you are seeing every day is like training for us. God is testing our patience. … The incident in Najaf, who was killed? Poor people in the market. More than 30 were martyred. Najaf’s sacredness was violated by this attack.”
Unfortunately, Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani has made the decision that it is futile to do so:
Hopes for a peaceful transition were further eroded when the most influential moderate Shiite leader in Iraq announced that he had abandoned attempts to restrain his followers.
Aides say Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is angry that thousands of Shiites are ignoring his calls for calm and are switching their allegiance to more militant groups that promise protection from Sunni violence.
He warned that continued violence could risk an increase in other armed groups.
Iraq’s deputy prime minister said recently that the parliament had resolved the issue of how to share Iraq’s oil revenues.
Security, Part I: The Iraqis Stand Up
If there is one thing to be gleaned from the following section, it is that the Iraqis are becoming increasingly capable of handling their own security, and that the media in this country is pretty much ignoring the story. Much of this section focuses on the work the Iraqis are doing to secure their country.
As of the first week of September, the accomplishments of Operation Together Forward include:
ISF and MND-B have cleared more than 36,000 buildings, 32 mosques and 26 muhallas, detained 42 terrorist suspects, seized more than 900 weapons, registered more than 184 weapons and have found 18 weapons caches. The combined forces have also replaced 444 doors, 18 windows and 656 locks damaged during clearing operations and have removed more than 17,000 tons of trash from Baghdad streets.
The number of Coalition troops in the north of Iraq has been cut in half over the last year, thanks to an intensive training program for Iraqi forces. There are now two Iraqi divisions and 35 battalions of Iraqi forces operating in the area, compared to just one nearly one year ago.
Responsibility for security in much of Kirkuk was transferred to the Iraqis on September 2.
Security handovers could allow the British to withdrawal half of their troops from Iraq by the middle of next year, and Iraq’s president said that all British troops could withdraw by the end of the year.
During recent operations against anti-Iraqi forces, the country’s security forces showed their ability to operate independently:
“Over the past 24 hours Baghdad and its outskirts witnessed a series of military operations carried out by security forces from the defence and interior ministries to achieve security and stability,” Maliki’s office said, according to AFP.
“The units in charge of the southern and middle Euphrates district, the 8th and 10th army divisions, killed 14 terrorists and arrested 98 of them along with 95 more suspects,” the statement said.
All Iraqi battalions in Tal Afar are now in the lead of security operations.
The 4th Brigade of the 6th Iraqi army assumed control of a 322 sq. kilometers located in the “Triangle of Death.”
In Rawah, Iraqi police killed one of the area’s most-wanted terrorists during an independent operation.
In Baghdad, soldiers of the 9th Iraqi army, operating independently, uncovered a large weapons cache inside a mosque:
The IA soldiers seized 20 AK-47 assault rifles, 55 AK-47 magazines, a PKC rifle and 600 PKC rounds.
In another independent operation, Iraqi soldiers uncovered a cache consisting of 93 artillery shells and 23 mortar rounds.
Iraqi-army soldiers freed a kidnapped policeman in Fallujah.
Iraqi soldiers and police, accompanied by coalition advisors, captured the leader of an IED-making cell in Mussayib.
Three top-tier terrorists were captured during raids by the Iraqi army:
Iraqi army forces conducted precision raids on three separate objectives Aug. 18 capturing three death squad leaders, all of whom participated in a massacre of Iraqi families in al Jihad on July 9th. As Coalition advisers provided support, Iraqi forces captured all three of these individuals in the Al Rasheed district without incident. The three captured terrorists are senior-level insurgent-cell leaders believed to be responsible for the July 9 ambush of Iraqi families at a checkpoint in the al Jihad area. Their cells are also believed to be responsible for kidnappings and murders in two Baghdad districts; improvised explosive device, or IED attacks in the city; and burning and looting local businesses. One of the individuals is also believed to be responsible for kidnapping and murdering Iraqi citizens and then attaching the bodies to cars and dragging them through the streets.
A tip from a citizen led Iraqi soldiers to a weapons cache being hidden in a mosque:
A tip from a concerned citizen led the soldiers to the weapons, which included seven AK-47 assault rifles, two PKC machine guns, two pistols, 20 fully-loaded magazines of 7.62mm ammunition, three handheld radios rigged as bomb detonators and a set of body armor.
Also based on a tip, Iraqi soldiers rescued a kidnap victim and uncovered a weapons cache:
The Iraqi citizen lead soldiers from 1st Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 6th Iraqi Army Division, to a house where the victims and a weapons cache were located.
Inside the building they seized two rocket-propelled grenade launchers, 20 RPG rounds, nine RPG propellant charges, an AK-47, two sniper rifles and 12 hand grenades.
Two suspected terrorists were detained in connection with the kidnapping.
Acting on a tip, Iraqi soldiers detained three terrorists accused of murdering a local.
Soldiers from the 6th Iraqi Division captured four terrorists after searching a suspect’s vehicle and finding weapons and propaganda material.
Iraqi police and army troops repelled a coordinated terrorist attack in Mosul:
Mosul police officers and Iraqi soldiers defeated a complex attack by terrorists in eastern Mosul Friday morning. The attack included a suicide bomber using a vehicle-borne improvided [sic] explosive device, several IEDs and small arms fire.
Iraqi security forces conducted a raid in Sadr City, capturing three terror suspects:
As they received sustained automatic weapons and rocket propelled grenade, or RPG fire from several insurgent positions in the Sadr City neighborhood, Iraqi forces and coalition advisers detained three suspected insurgents, conducted intelligence gathering on the objective, and then departed the area.
Minimal violence was perpetrated against one million Shiite pilgrims making their way to a shrine in Baghdad, with security planned and executed by Iraqis:
The event occurred with relatively little violence; security for the celebrants was planned, led and executed by Iraqi Security Forces from the Iraqi National Police, Iraqi police and the Iraqi army, who worked together to safeguard those participating in the religious event.
Iraqi military and civil leaders provided a comprehensive security plan to ensure there would be no recurrence of violence that marred last year’s event. As a result, there were no major attacks, and the ISF was effective in containing violent elements.
A religious festival in Karbala drew millions of Shiite pilgrims. No major security incidents were seen.
Nine raids in August resulted in the arrest of more than 100 suspected terrorists.
Iraqi soldiers freed three kidnapped Iraqi policemen in Babil Province.
During an early morning raid, Iraqi forces captured a top terrorist facilitator:
Soldiers from the 4th Iraqi Army Division, assisted by coalition advisers, conducted a precision raid and captured this facilitator whose alleged involvement in fraud, local corruption and embezzlement provides support to terrorist operations in the area. Additionally, he is believed to be responsible for improvised explosive device, or IED attacks against coalition forces, including one attack that killed a U.S. soldier.
Just two days earlier, Iraqi police captured a terrorist weapons dealer in Baghdad.
The Iraqi army uncovered a large weapons cache in a mosque in Baghdad:
The weapons cache consisted of four PKC machineguns, 13 AK-47 assault rifles, two rocket-propelled grenade launchers, three RPGs, four RPG fuses, five 60mm mortar rounds, a 60mm mortar tube, a box of mortar cartridges, a flare gun, various bomb-making materials and terrorist propaganda.
Three leaders of death squads were captured by Iraqi forces, supported by coalition advisors:
Iraqi army forces conducted precision raids on three separate objectives in Baghdad on August 18 capturing three death squad leaders, all of whom participated in a massacre of Iraqi families in Al Jihad in July.
Iraqi security forces captured a terrorist wanted in the shooting of an American soldier and his interpreter:
Iraqi Security Forces, supported by Coalition advisors, conducted the intelligence-focused, precision raid at a two-story residence in the Mansour district, capturing their primary target without incident. This individual is believed to be responsible for the shooting death of one U.S. soldier and one interpreter in January.
Iraqi and coalition troops captured the third most-wanted terrorist in Adhamiyah:
The suspect taken into custody is believed to lead criminal elements, which have conducted deadly road side bombings against Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces, as well as sectarian murders and kidnappings that resulted in murder. He is believed to act as a financier, planner and director of those criminal activities in east Baghdad.
In west Baghdad, the Iraqi army arrested four terrorists and uncovered a weapons cache.
Iraqi police, along with coalition troops, stopped a terrorist attack on a police station in Mosul.
Raids conducted by Iraqi security forces led to the capture of three terrorists suspected of being members of an IED cell.
A Saudi member of al Qaeda and 14 other terrorists were detained during an operation in Ar Ramadi. Intelligence indicated that the group were planning multiple suicide bombings in the area.
Iraqis continue to sign up for the police, even though they are therefore targeted by the terrorists. In Fallujah, 950 recruits began a 10-week training program, and a recruiting drive netted 176. In Ramadi, a recruiting drive netted 395 recruits for the police. And in Anbar Province, more than 500 men signed up for the Iraqi police.
According to Major General Joe Peterson, the majority of Iraqi police are now trained, although equipment problems still plague them:
The Iraqi police included in that total are 90 percent trained and 83 percent equipped, according to Major General Joe Peterson.
The National Police – formerly the Special Police – are 98 percent trained and 92 percent equipped, according to Peterson, who gave a briefing along with Army Major General William Caldwell, spokesman for Multi-National Force – Iraq, from Baghdad, Iraq, August 14 via videoconference to the Pentagon.
Also included under the Interior Ministry are Department of Border Enforcement police, which are now 92 percent trained though just 56 percent equipped, Peterson said.
Security, Part II: American Forces Stay Busy
Coalition forces killed a wanted terrorist during a raid in Baghdad in late July:
The raid targeted an al-Qaida in Iraq terrorist leader who is known for vehicle-borne improvised explosive device attacks against Iraqi civilians, security forces and Coalition troops. This individual was a known bomb maker and weapons dealer and had significant links to several high level al–Qaida in Iraq leaders.
Another series of raids on July 29 led to the capture of two high-level al Qaeda leaders:
A recent detainee provided information that led the security forces to one of the terrorists, a top leader for the Al Dhuluiyah area. The targeted individual was reportedly the main planner for the attack against Peshmerga forces at a checkpoint in Al Dhuluiya in May 2006. Credible intelligence also ties the terrorist leader to other al-Qaida leaders in the area.
In a separate raid, security forces detained a principal financial and logistical coordinator for al-Qaida in the MosulMosul. [sic] area. He also was reportedly the leader of a terrorist cell responsible for kidnappings and executing vehicle borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) and IED attacks.
Four terrorists were killed in an air strike while planting IEDs.
In Bayji, a senior al Qaeda leader was captured.
A tip from an Iraqi citizen led Coalition and Iraqi soldiers to a weapons cache consisting of 18 mortar rounds.
A tip from an Iraqi led U.S. troops to a gas station in a neighborhood of Baghdad where they found and rescued a kidnapping victim.
Soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division detained four kidnappers and rescued one kidnapping victim in New Baghdad.
Soldiers of the 4th ID killed a terrorist digging a hole for an IED.
Soldiers of the 3rd Marine Regiment detained 40 insurgents in Anbar Province:
Some of the insurgents captured are known for intimidating the local populace, attacking Coalition and Iraqi forces, and providing logistical support to local insurgents. In one captured insurgent’s home, a Marine patrol discovered various materials used to construct improvised explosive devices (IEDs), an AK-47 assault rifle with multiple round cartridges and binoculars.
Furthermore, a U.S scout sniper team fired upon anti-Iraqi forces, which were firing upon a Marine M1A1 tank on a road in Haditha. Two of the insurgents were killed; one was critically wounded and medically evacuated to a U.S. military medical facility for treatment. This follows a day after a separate scout sniper engagement which resulted in one insurgent being killed while digging a hole in a spot where numerous IEDs have recently been discovered or detonated.
The 172nd Stryker Brigade uncovered a huge weapons cache in a Baghdad neighborhood:
The weapons and munitions seized included more than 580 mortar rounds, about 39,000 rounds of small-arms ammunition, more than 100 rocket-propelled grenades, more than 270 rockets, two landmines, a shape charge, a crater charge, 11 fragmentation grenades, several machine guns, ammunition drums, 5,000 feet of detonation cord, mortar tubes and bipods, land mines, more than 50 rocket motors and various other bomb-making materials and ordnance.
Sixty terrorists with suspected ties to al Qaeda were captured during a raid in Arab Jabour:
The targeted individuals are believed associated with a senior al Qaida in Iraq leader in a cell that specializes in bomb making and VBIED attacks in Baghdad. The group has been reported to be planning and conducting training for future attacks like the attack in Mahmudiyah July 17 that killed 42 and injured 90 innocent Iraqis.
The Economy & Reconstruction
Over the last three years, 2,500 reconstruction projects have been completed, and more than 3,500 started.
Since April 2003, completed U.S. projects have increased potable water availability in Iraq to an estimated 4.2 million additional residents; an estimated 5.1 million additional people have access to sewage treatment.
U.S. projects have added or restored an estimated 2,700 Megawatts of electrical generation capacity to Iraq’s electrical grid. Peak electricity generation in Iraq is currently around 4,900 megawatts compared to an average of 4,300 in 2002.
A trade fair was held in Cairo to encourage investment in Iraq. Eight companies and 250 individuals attended the conference.
Oil companies are already maneuvering to win lucrative oil contracts in Iraq, as Iraq announced that it would increase output to three million barrels a day by the end of the year.
In other oil news, Iraq has issued a tender for six million barrels of oil stored in Turkey, and a pipeline to that country has been repaired, allowing Iraq to begin exporting 700,000 barrels a day.
Iraq has inked a contract to sell 10,000 barrels of oil a day to Jordan.
A Denver firm is expected to win a contract to build a $750 million refinery in northern Iraq.
A German company signed a contract worth more than $137 million to build a metal pipe factory in southern Iraq.
The Basra International Airport is to be designated a free-trade zone.
The governor of Iraq’s Central Bank expects $120 billion of Iraq’s $146 billion debt to be cancelled by year’s end. Dr. Al-Shabibi said that Iraq cannot undergo reconstruction and development if the debt is not cancelled.
U.S. civil-affairs personnel restored water to the village of Jurn:
Thus, when on Aug. 22 U.S. civil affairs personnel in the village of Jurn opened a restored water well to residents, it was cause for celebration. The well will provide a source of clean drinking water to the community, and thus help curb the spread of water-related illnesses.
Humanitarian assistance was provided to residents of Adhamiyah by the 414th Civil Affairs Battalion:
“We’re showing the Iraqi people that we’re here to help them,” said Capt. Andrew Corbin, native of Austin, Texas, and civil affairs team leader with 414th CA Bn.
The DAC and Soldiers from the battalion contracted with area vendors to provide more than 15 generators to local leaders, school headmasters and business owners as well as more than 3,000 bags of food to families in the Adhamiyah district.
“We’re giving out food to those who are in need,” said Mohammed, a local resident and member of the DAC through an interpreter. “It’s good to be able to cooperate with the people of the city.”
Contracts to operate 142 walk-in clinics throughout Iraq have been awarded:
Building an Iraqi health-care system based on outpatient clinics and primary care is a high priority of the Government of Iraq. To that end, all contracts for the 142 primary healthcare clinics in the country have been awarded, according to the Gulf Region Division, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The contracts – the last of which was awarded on 31 Aug 06 – total more than $185 million.
Soldier of the 4th ID came up with an ingenious solution to the challenge of providing all Iraqis with potable water:
As a way to resolve the local water problem and prevent tragedies such as this, leaders from 1st Battalion, 67th Armor Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, requested the help of a college professor to teach local Iraqi potters how to make clay/sawdust ceramic filter pots capable of decimating 99.88% of water-borne disease agents.
The Baghdad police academy has been expanded in order to speed up the training process:
Baghdad Police Academy’s capacity has been significantly expanded with a $73 million investment. When finished, the Academy will feature seven new classrooms, eight cadet barracks, six new instructor barracks, a new dining facility, library, forensic laboratory, range control building, firing ranges, guard towers, motor pool, warehouse, armory, contractor shop, renovations to existing buildings, and new site utilities (water, sewer, internal power grid).
The cadet barracks are designed to house 6 to 8 cadets per room, 400 cadets per building.
A new telecommunications center is being built in Baghdad. The $22.7 million project will provide jobs to more than 400 Iraqis.
The residents of the village of Hor al Bash benefited from a free medical clinic and the delivery of school supplies by U.S. soldiers:
“Our mission was to conduct a medical operation at the Tartawar Primary School and provide local citizens with free pharmaceuticals and screening for the day,” said Capt. William LeFever, civil affairs officer in charge from Company C, 414th CA Bn. “We supplied about $5,000 worth of pharmaceuticals purchased from a local pharmacy.”
The combined effort also provided the Soldiers an opportunity to deliver school kits to the Tartawar School as faculty and community members prepare for the upcoming school year, he added.
“Today, we provided this school with notebooks, folders, chalk, pens, pencils, water coolers and other supplies valued at more than $2,500,” he added.
In Erbil, a new water treatment plant is providing almost 1 million Iraqis with safe drinking water.
Nine electrical substations, built by Iraqis, went online recently in Diyala Province:
Built by local construction companies and over-watched for quality assurance by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, these nine substations provide power to newly constructed areas, neighborhoods, businesses and industry. Two of the nine are 400 kV substations and considered to be important components of the national electrical system, having a significant impact on the stability of the national grid.
The only secondary school for girls in Najaf Province reopened after extensive renovations:
During the renovation, a new water closet, with clean flowing water, and tiled floors was added. Two water fountains were placed in the school as well as new desks and chairs in each office and classroom. New windows were installed, which included screens, drapes, doors and ceiling fans.
Handrails were installed in each stairwell. Cement sidewalks were laid down between each building, and the entrance gate was replaced with steel doors and flanked by a seven-foot exterior brick wall to protect the perimeter of the school.
Crumbling walls were replaced and repainted and new electrical circuit breakers were installed to run power to a new air-conditioning system and fluorescent lighting that was installed throughout the buildings.
A free medical clinic was provided to the residents of Tahrir:
With tears welling up, a little Iraqi girl reacts to receiving a shot from a coalition forces medic that will clear-up her upper respiratory infection. While pain is minimal, the after effects will provide her with a more healthy start in her young life.
The little girl’s medical treatment was courtesy of the Soldiers from 4th Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 5th Iraqi Army Division and Soldiers from 1-68 Combined Arms Battalion, 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, Task Force Band of Brothers, who jointly conducted a Medical Civil Action Project in the town of Tahrir; a town that is not used to readily available medical care.
A building in the town had been converted into a waiting room, pharmacy and doctor’s offices where one Iraqi doctor, Capt. Farhan, from 2nd Brigade, 5th Iraqi Army Division and one American Maj. Jeremy Beauchamp, battalion surgeon, 1-68 Cab, prepared to see patients.
An asphalt plant in Tal Afar is being upgraded. When work is completed in late 2006, the plant will be able to produce 100 tons of asphalt per hour.
Navy SEAL Mark Lee was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for his actions in Iraq, which saved the lives of members of his team. He was also awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.
Army linguist Melissa Mathis was awarded the Bronze Star for her bravery during her tour in Iraq:
In a narrative to accompany her Bronze Star, Mathis was described by her commander as, “Always going above and beyond, SPC Esparza sacrificed almost all of her personal time in the pursuit of making people’s lives better. She volunteered to place herself in harm’s way willing just to make a difference outside the wire. Her huge heart and extreme dedication in taking on more responsibility than many senior NCOs and officers made life better, not only for Americans on LSA Anaconda, but Iraqis as well, making her more than deserving of this prestigious award.”
Yeoman First Class Matthew Bryan earned the Bronze Star for his actions in Iraq:
According to the award narrative, Bryan led “his team of soldiers, sailors and airmen in over 40 combat convoys throughout Iraq. These convoys often came under attack from small arms fire and homemade bombs.”
Lieutenant Commander Benito Baylosis received the Bronze Star for personally disarming more than 1,000 IEDs during his tour in Iraq.
– Bill Crawford lives in San Antonio, Texas. He blogs at All Things Conservative.