Iraq war

From Bwtm


Your poll questions are very poorly worded, as usual. Are these the answers you want?

Escalation of the war in Iraq is wrong. Ever heard of Viet Nam?

Bush's War, Operation Iraqi Liberation, is all about oil. The mission is to steal as much money as possible. Randal LEE Cunningham is the poster boy representing Bush's values.

America's goal is to get out of Iraq NOW. That would be a victory for the American and Iraqi people and for world safety.

America should begin an immediate withdrawal. Why are my troops fighting for Bush and Cheney's oil?

America should begin an immediate withdrawal. Support the troops, don't kill them. Duncan DUKE Hunter has pimped for defense contractors for too long, his corruption and incompetence have wasted thousands of American lives, limbs and futures.

Congress should limit funding for Bush's imperialistic, fascist agenda. This war is all about greed and oil.





Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich is set to begin Jan. 4 on charges of manslaughter and assault.

Attack on Provincial Headquarters in Karbala

A look at the soldiers who were killed

January 27, 2007 "You don't have to love the war," Pvt. Johnathon M. Millican wrote on his MySpace page, "but you have to love the warrior."

He was one of four soldiers killed after militants abducted them Jan. 20 from the governor's office in Karbala, Iraq, in a sophisticated sneak attack, the military confirmed Friday.

Millican, 20, of Trafford, Ala., had been talking with his wife, Shannon, by Webcam the day he was abducted, said friend Linda Hill of Locust Fork.

"She (Shannon) heard somebody holler for them to run, and John took off," Hill recalled.

Hill said Shannon Millican told her that night her husband had been killed. He had been in Iraq for about three months.

Capt. Brian S. Freeman, 31, of Temecula, Calif., who was not abducted but was killed in the attack, competed in bobsled with the U.S. national team.

Steven Holcomb, the World Cup overall bobsled leader and a 2006 Olympian, called Freeman "one of the greatest men I have ever known."

First Lt. Jacob N. Fritz, 25, of Verdon, Neb., was a 2005 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y.

Pfc. Shawn P. Falter, 25, of Homer, N.Y., followed three of his older brothers into the Army -- all still on active duty.

Spc. Johnathan Bryan Chism, 22, of Prairieville, La., enjoyed skydiving and rock climbing and became an artillery specialist in the Army.

He had been due to come home next month for two weeks of rest and relaxation, his mother, Elizabeth Chism, said.

Some worry attack is a sign of a weakening Iraqi military

January 27, 2007 WASHINGTON -- Military analysts and members of Congress are concerned that the daring raid by Iraqi insurgents who masqueraded as American GIs to kidnap and kill four U.S. military members is further evidence of Iraq's faltering security forces.

According to U.S. Central Command in Baghdad, Iraqi units manning a series of security checkpoints in Karbala allowed insurgents dressed as Americans and driving American-style SUVs to enter a secured area Jan. 20.

The infiltrators then surprised a team of American troops meeting there with local Shiite leaders, killing one American, wounding three others and making a getaway with four U.S. soldiers as captives. Iraqi security forces at the checkpoints failed to halt the escape.

The four soldiers were later found shot 25 miles away in a neighboring province. Two of them had been handcuffed together. The Karbala attackers had accurate intelligence about when and where the Americans were meeting, suggesting that they had inside information.

"One thing I'm particularly concerned about is the failure of security for our troops," Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., said at a hearing last week of the Senate Armed Services Committee. "The incident in Karbala over the weekend is scary. It raises questions that we don't have answers to."

Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., said the Karbala attack is a likely harbinger of attacks to come in the capital as the U.S. increases its military presence there.

U.S. service members "will be more exposed and they'll be more vulnerable to these types of attacks," said Reed, a former Army Ranger and long-time critic of U.S. military operations in Iraq.

"They disguised themselves. They came through the checkpoints. The Iraqi troops let them through," Reed told MSNBC. "And we can expect that type of activity" in Baghdad.

Lt. Col. Scott Bleichwehl, a spokesman for the U.S. Central Command, said "the precision of the attack, the equipment used" and other factors "suggest that the attack was well-rehearsed prior to execution."

The attackers went straight to where the Americans were located in the government building in Karbala, "bypassing the Iraqi police in the compound," Bleichwehl said. Thomas Hammes, a retired Marine colonel who helped train Iraqi forces until 2004, said the Karbala attack is causing a rift between American and Iraqi military units just as the U.S. will have to increasingly rely on the Iraqis to shoulder more security duties.

Hammes said the Karbala strike "was a really well-executed and smart attack -- not for the quality of killing five guys but for the wedge it drives between Americans and Iraqis."

Retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey said the attack underscores concerns that a major vulnerability is the quality of the Iraqi police forces and some of the Iraqi military units.

"The police are a terrorist origination in uniform," McCaffrey said.

Truth emerges in daring Iraq attack

Gunmen disguised as U.S. convoy kidnapped, executed soldiers

January 27, 2007 BAGHDAD, Iraq -- In perhaps the boldest and most sophisticated attack in four years of warfare, gunmen speaking English, wearing U.S. military uniforms and carrying American weapons abducted four U.S. soldiers last week at the provincial headquarters in Karbala and then shot them to death.

The U.S. military confirmed a report earlier Friday by The Associated Press that three of the soldiers were dead and one was mortally wounded with a gunshot to the head when they were found in a neighboring province, about 25 miles from the compound where they were captured. A fifth soldier was killed in the initial attack on the compound.

The new account contradicted a U.S. military statement on Jan. 20, the day of the raid on an Iraqi governor's office, that five soldiers were killed "repelling" the attack.

The security breakdown and the dramatic kidnapping and killing of four soldiers leaked out just as President Bush faces stiffening congressional opposition over his plan to add 21,500 more troops to Baghdad and surrounding regions. Two of Congress' most vocal war critics, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. John Murtha, were in the Iraqi capital as the news broke.

In a statement issued late Friday, the military said two of the soldiers were handcuffed together in the back seat of an SUV near the southern Iraqi town of Mahawil. A third dead soldier was on the ground nearby. The fourth soldier died on the way to the hospital.

The brazen assault, 50 miles south of Baghdad, was conducted by nine to 12 gunmen posing as an American security team, the military confirmed. The attackers traveled in black GMC Suburban vehicles -- the type used by U.S. government convoys -- had American weapons, wore new U.S. military combat fatigues, and spoke English, according to senior U.S. military officials and Iraqi security officials.

The confirmation came after nearly a week of inquiries. The U.S. military in Baghdad initially did not respond to repeated requests for comment on reports that began emerging from Iraqi government and military officials on the abduction and a major breakdown in security at the Karbala site.

Within hours of the AP report Friday, the military issued an account of what took place.

"The precision of the attack, the equipment used and the possible use of explosives to destroy the military vehicles in the compound suggests that the attack was well rehearsed prior to execution," said U.S. spokesman Lt. Col. Scott Bleichwehl.

"The attackers went straight to where Americans were located in the provincial government facility, bypassing the Iraqi police in the compound," he said. "We are looking at all the evidence to determine who or what was responsible for the breakdown in security at the compound and the perpetration of the assault." The Karbala raid, as explained by the Iraqi and American officials, began after nightfall on Jan. 20, while American military officers were meeting with their Iraqi counterparts on the main floor of the Provisional Joint Coordination Center in Karbala.

Iraqi officials said the approaching convoy of black GMC Suburbans was waved through an Iraqi checkpoint at the edge of the city.

The Iraqi soldiers believed it to be American because of the type of vehicles, the distinctive camouflage American uniforms and the fact that they spoke English. Iraqi officials said the attackers' convoy divided upon arrival, with some vehicles parking at the back of the main building where the meeting was taking place, and others parking in front.

The attackers threw a grenade and opened fire with automatic rifles as they grabbed two soldiers inside the compound. Then the guerrilla assault team jumped on top of an armored U.S. Humvee and captured two more soldiers, the U.S. military officials said.

In its statement, the U.S. military said one soldier was killed and three were wounded by a "hand grenade thrown into the center's main office which contains the provincial police chief's office on an upper floor."

The attackers seized four soldiers and an unclassified U.S. military computer and fled with them east toward Mahawil in Babil province, crossing the Euphrates River, the U.S. military officials said.

The Iraqi officials said the four were captured alive and shot just before the vehicles were abandoned.

The military statement said: "Two soldiers were found handcuffed together in the back of one of the SUVs. Both had suffered gunshot wounds and were dead. A third soldier was found shot and dead on the ground. Nearby, the fourth soldier was still alive, despite a gunshot wound to the head."

The wounded soldier was rushed to the hospital by Iraqi police but died on the way, the military said.

The military also said Iraqi police had found five SUVs, U.S. Army-type combat uniforms, boots, radios and a non-U.S.-made rifle at the scene.

Three days after the killings, the U.S. military in Baghdad announced the arrest of four suspects in the attack and said they were detained on a tip from a Karbala resident. No other details were known.

The Defense Department has released the names of troops killed Jan. 20 but clearly identified only one as being killed because of the sneak attack.

Capt. Brian S. Freeman, 31, of Temecula, Calif., "died of wounds suffered when his meeting area came under attack by mortar and small-arms fire." Freeman was assigned to the 412th Civil Affairs Battalion, Whitehall, Ohio.

The four others were identified as 1st Lt. Jacob N. Fritz, 25, of Verdon, Neb.; Spc. Johnathan Bryan Chism, 22, of Prairieville, La.; Pfc. Shawn P. Falter, 25, of Homer, N.Y., and Pvt. Johnathon M. Millican, 20, of Trafford, Ala. All were with the 2nd Battalion, 377th Parachute Field Artillery Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, of Fort Richardson, Alaska.

Many Alternate Plans Have Been Presented

Bush: If you don't like my Iraq plan, tell me yours

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush on Saturday challenged lawmakers skeptical of his new Iraq plan to propose their own strategy for stopping the violence in Baghdad.

"To oppose everything while proposing nothing is irresponsible," Bush said.

In a pitch to lawmakers and the American people, Bush said the United States will keep the onus on the Iraqi government to take charge of security and reach a political reconciliation. Democrats and many Republicans oppose the Bush plan to send 21,500 more U.S. troops into Iraq.

"We have a new strategy with a new mission: Helping secure the population, especially in Baghdad," Bush said in his weekly radio address. "Our plan puts Iraqis in the lead."

The president asked for patience from lawmakers who grilled Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, when they testified before Congress in defense of the president's new plan.

Democratic leaders in the House and Senate intend to hold votes within a few weeks on Bush's revised Iraq policy. The nonbinding resolutions would be one way to show their opposition to any troop buildup and force Republicans to make a choice about whether they support the president's plan.

Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minnesota, said that he, along with most Democrats and an increasing number of Republicans, believe sending more troops compounds a bad situation. Walz, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, said diplomatic and political solutions are needed, not more troops.

"Before moving forward with this escalation, we owe it to these troops, to their families, and to all Americans to ask the tough questions and demand honest answers about this policy," Walz said in the Democrats' Saturday radio address.

"Is there a clear strategy that the commanders on the ground believe will succeed?" Walz said. "What are the benchmarks for success, and how long does the president believe it will take to achieve them? Is this a policy that will contribute to the America's security in the larger war on terror, or distract from it?"

Bush: Those who oppose plan must 'offer alternative'

"Members of Congress have a right to express their views, and express them forcefully," Bush said. "But those who refuse to give this plan a chance to work have an obligation to offer an alternative that has a better chance for success. "

In his radio broadcast, Bush replayed the highlights of his Wednesday night address to the nation.

He said the 21,500 troops being sent to Baghdad and Anbar province, a base for al Qaeda, have a changed mission.

"This time there will be adequate Iraqi and U.S. forces to hold the areas that have been cleared," Bush said.

Bush said Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has pledged that political sectarian interference with security operations will not be tolerated. "This time, Iraqi and American forces will have a green light to enter neighborhoods that are home to those fueling sectarian violence," he said.

The president also said the United States will hold the Iraqi government to its pledge to take responsibility for security in all of Iraq's provinces by November, pass legislation to share oil revenues among all Iraqis and spend $10 billion of its own money on reconstruction that will create new jobs.

"The Iraqi government knows that it must meet them, or lose the support of the Iraqi and the American people," Bush said.

What do you have, shit for brains?

#1) Iraq Study Group

Bush totally ignored key elements of the ISG proposal:

  1. a transition that could enable U.S. combat forces to begin to leave Iraq.
  2. political, military, or economic support for Iraq would be conditional on the Iraqi government's ability to meet benchmarks.
  3. an international support group for Iraq including all of Iraq's neighbors.
  4. a comprehensive Arab-Israeli settlement.

report pdf

Baker, Hamilton respond to Bush plan

WASHINGTON, Jan. 12 (UPI) -- The co-chairmen of the Iraq Study Group Friday urged U.S. President George W. Bush to adopt more recommendations from their report.

"We are pleased that the president reviewed the report of the Iraq Study Group carefully and seriously. Some of our recommendations are reflected in the new approach that he outlined Wednesday, while others have not been adopted," former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., said in their joint statement.

"We support increasing the number of American advisers embedded in Iraqi army units with the goal that the Iraq government will assume control of security in all provinces in Iraq by November 2007. We recommended many of the benchmarks President Bush outlined for Iraq, and agree that now is the time for the Iraqi government to act," the two elder statesmen said.

"We hope the president and his administration will further consider other recommendations of the Iraq Study Group," Baker and Hamilton said. "The president did not suggest the possibility of a transition that could enable U.S. combat forces to begin to leave Iraq. The president did not state that political, military, or economic support for Iraq would be conditional on the Iraqi government's ability to meet benchmarks. Within the region, the president did not announce an international support group for Iraq including all of Iraq's neighbors, nor mention measures we suggested to reach a comprehensive Arab-Israeli settlement."

"We are encouraged by the president's statement that 'America's commitment is not open-ended,'" the two men said.

"We welcome President Bush's commitment to form a working group with congressional leaders that will work across party lines in pursuit of a common policy," they said.

#2) Murtha

Jack's Stance on Iraq

Murtha Plan:

  1. To immediately redeploy U.S. troops consistent with the safety of U.S. forces.
  2. To create a quick reaction force in the region.
  3. To create an over- the- horizon presence of Marines.
  4. To diplomatically pursue security and stability in Iraq

This war needs to be personalized. As I said before I have visited with the severely wounded of this war. They are suffering.

Because we in Congress are charged with sending our sons and daughters into battle, it is our responsibility, our OBLIGATION to speak out for them. That's why I am speaking out.

Our military has done everything that has been asked of them, the U.S. can not accomplish anything further in Iraq militarily. IT IS TIME TO BRING THEM HOME.

Progressive Caucus

Liberal Lawmakers Seek End to Iraq War

WASHINGTON (AP) - The House's most liberal lawmakers, ignored while Republicans were in charge, are emerging to push resistance to President Bush's plan to send more U.S. troops to Iraq.

The Progressive Caucus members, who've long advocated withdrawing troops from Iraq, seized the chance to offer a gentle "I told you so" to those who are just now coming to that position.

"We were labeled dissenters," declared Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., caucus co-chair. "We have changed enough minds that ours is now the mainstream position."

More than a dozen House members and dozens of onlookers gathered Friday for the group's first forum in the new Democratic-controlled Congress. They were there to hear from George McGovern, the liberal former senator and presidential candidate, on his plan for withdrawing from Iraq in six months.

But first, they took time to delight in their new digs: the big, well-appointed Cannon Caucus Room across the street from the Capitol. It was a far cry from the out-of-the-way basement rooms allowed them when Republicans were in power. "Look where we are today!" Woolsey said.

McGovern, a South Dakota Democrat who ran for president in 1972 on an anti-Vietnam War platform, said he thought at the time there was one silver lining to that war.

"'This Vietnam situation is so outrageous we'll never go down that road again,'" he recalled saying. "And here we are." With Congress grappling with its response to Bush's plan to add more than 20,000 troops to the forces already in Iraq, several Progressive Caucus members made their stance clear: They want Democratic leaders to use Congress' power of the purse to block the move by refusing to fund it.

Democratic leaders in the House and Senate intend to hold votes within a few weeks on nonbinding resolutions to show their opposition to any troop buildup. Action on trying to block funding for a buildup could wait until the administration submits a supplemental war spending request later this year.

Some progressives want to attach conditions to that bill that would block the funding from going for a troop increase. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has indicated she's open to that but hasn't committed to it.

"This is all great, but the real test is going to come on the supplemental," said Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio. "It's not clear that Democratic leaders are prepared to bring an end to the war fairly quickly."

Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., who chairs a key Appropriations subcommittee, said Friday he'd like to add other conditions to the war spending measure as well, such as requiring more troop training and closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. "If he wants to veto the bill, he won't have any money" for the war, Murtha said.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., won McGovern's approval for a suggestion that Congress amend the war spending request to specify it only could be used for force protection, withdrawal and diplomacy.

"I'd endorse that all the way," McGovern said.

#3) Biden

Joe Biden is Delaware's senior U.S. Senator.

FACT SHEET: Biden Plan for Iraq

President Bush does not have a strategy for victory in Iraq. His strategy is to prevent defeat and to hand the problem off to his successor. Meanwhile, the frustration of Americans is mounting so fast that Congress might end up mandating a rapid withdrawal, even at the risk of trading a dictator for chaos and a civil war that could become a regional war. Both are bad alternatives.

There is a third way. The idea is to maintain a unified Iraq by decentralizing it and giving Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis their own regions. The central government would be responsible for common interests, like border security and the distribution of oil revenues. The plan would bind the Sunnis by guaranteeing them a proportionate share of oil revenues. It would increase economic aid but tie it to the protection of minority and women's rights and the creation of a jobs program. It would require a regional non-aggression pact, overseen by the U.N. Security Council. And it would allow us to responsibly withdraw most U.S. forces from Iraq by the end of 2007.

The new, central reality in Iraq is that violence between the Shiites and Sunnis has surpassed the insurgency as the main security threat. . In last December's elections, 90 percent of the votes went to sectarian lists. Ethnic militias increasingly are the law in Iraq. They have infiltrated the official security forces. Massive unemployment is feeding the militia and criminal gangs. Sectarian cleansing has forced 200,000 Iraqis to flee their homes in recent months. At the same time, Al Qaeda is now so firmly entrenched in Western Iraq that it has morphed into an indigenous jihadist threat. As a result, Iraq risks becoming what it was not before the war: a haven for radical fundamentalists.

There is no military solution to the sectarian civil war. The only way to break the vicious cycle of violence – and to create the conditions for our forces to responsibly withdraw -- is to give Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds incentives to pursue their interests peacefully. That requires a sustainable political settlement. That’s where my plan comes in..

This plan is not partition – in fact, it may be the only way to prevent violent partition and preserve a unified Iraq. This plan is consistent with Iraq's constitution, which provides for Iraq's 18 provinces to join together in regions, with their own security forces, and control over most day-to-day issues. This plan is the only idea on the table for dealing with the militia, which are likely to retreat to their respective regions. This plan is consistent with a strong central government, with clearly defined responsibilities. Indeed, it provides an agenda for that government, whose mere existence will not end sectarian violence.

The example of Bosnia is illustrative. Ten years ago, Bosnia was being torn apart by ethnic cleansing. The United States stepped in decisively with the Dayton Accords to keep the country whole by, paradoxically, dividing it into ethnic federations. We even allowed Muslims, Croatsand Serbs to retain separate armies. With the help of U.S. troops and others, Bosnians have lived a decade in peace. Now, they are strengthening their central government, and disbanding their separate armies.

The course we're on leads to a terrible civil war and possibly a regional war. This plan is designed to head that off. I believe it is the best way to bring our troops home, protect our fundamental security interests, and preserve Iraq as a unified country. The question I have for those who reject this plan is simple: what is your alternative?

A Five Point Plan for Iraq

1. Establish One Iraq, with Three Regions

  • Establish three largely autonomous regions with a strong but limited central government in Baghdad
  • Put the central government in charge of border defense, foreign policy, oil production and revenues
  • Form regional governments -- Kurd, Sunni and Shiite -- responsible for administering their own regions

2. Share Oil Revenues

  • Gain agreement for the federal solution from the Sunni Arabs by giving them 20 percent of all present and future oil revenues – an amount roughly proportional to their size – to make their region economically viable
  • Empower the central government to set national oil policy and distribute the revenues, which would attract needed foreign investment and reinforce each community’s interest in keeping Iraq intact

3. Increase Reconstruction Assistance and Create a Jobs Program

  • Provide more reconstruction assistance, but clearly condition it on the protection of minority and women’s rights and the establishment of a jobs program to give Iraqi youth an alternative to the militia and criminal gangs
  • Insist that other countries make good on old commitments and provide new ones – especially the oil-rich Arab Gulf countries

4. Engage the Neighbors, Maintain Iraq’s Territorial Integrity

  • With the U.N., convene a regional security conference where Iraq’s neighbors, including Iran, pledge to respect Iraq’s borders and work cooperatively to implement this plan
  • Engage Iraq’s neighbors directly to overcome their suspicions and focus their efforts on stabilizing Iraq, not undermining it
  • Create a standing Contact Group, to include the major powers, that would engage Iraq’s neighbors and enforce their commitments

5. Drawdown US Troops

  • Direct U.S. military commanders to develop a plan to withdraw and re-deploy almost all U.S. forces from Iraq by the end of 2007
  • Maintain in or near Iraq a small residual force – perhaps 20,000 troops – to strike any concentration of terrorists, help keep Iraq’s neighbors honest and train its security forces

#4) Hunter

Who knows what this screwball will come up with?

But, any how, he did come up with a plan:

Duncan DUKE Hunters basic plan: "We are going to talk about the need to get more Iraqis into the battle," Hunter, R-El Cajon, said in a telephone interview Monday. "We need to rotate more Iraqi battalions into the battle areas on an accelerated basis so they can get combat operations experience."

Hunter to meet with Bush today on Iraq strategy

Duncan DUKE Hunters basic plan: "We are going to talk about the need to get more Iraqis into the battle," Hunter, R-El Cajon, said in a telephone interview Monday. "We need to rotate more Iraqi battalions into the battle areas on an accelerated basis so they can get combat operations experience."

NORTH COUNTY -- U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter and 10 members of the House Armed Services Committee he leads will meet with President Bush this afternoon to recommend increased Iraqi troop deployment to Baghdad and other hotspots.

The White House meeting will take place less than 24 hours before the public release of the Iraq Study Group report, which will lay out options for continued U.S. involvement in Iraq.

"We are going to talk about the need to get more Iraqis into the battle," Hunter, R-El Cajon, said in a telephone interview Monday. "We need to rotate more Iraqi battalions into the battle areas on an accelerated basis so they can get combat operations experience."

The 2008 Republican Party presidential hopeful has been calling for the Bush administration to "go Iraqi" as one way to reduce U.S. troop exposure to insurgent attacks and strenghten the ability of the Iraqi army to stabilize the country.

Too many Iraqi forces remain lodged in relatively calm areas where they don't see much combat and therefore are not being shaped into battle-hardened units, he said. Only 35 of 114 Iraqi battalions are stationed in areas such as Baghad and the Anbar province of western Iraq, where the vast majority of the violence continues.

"We must have a fully trained and operating Iraqi military and that is the message we intend to take to the president," Hunter said.

As the outgoing chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Hunter will have one of his last chances at today's meeting to influence administration policy from a leadership position.

Hunter, 58, a U.S. Army veteran of the Vietnam War, said he believes that creating a more effective Iraqi army can be accomplished within the next few months.

"It's a function of leadership and maturity and should not be a function of the calendar," Hunter said, continuing to reject a firm timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces. "I think it can conceivably be done by the end of next year."

Hunter said Iraq is in what he calls the second stage of development. The first was creation of the new government followed by the establishment of sufficient domestic military capability and security forces to allow U.S. troops and forces from its remaining coalition partners to leave.

"Iraq remains in the second stage of that process and I think it can be done," Hunter said. "It's tough and it's dangerous but it is necessary and in my judgment absolutely doable."

Hunter said he wanted to wait to see the final Iraq Study Group report before commenting on its recommendations. According to published reports, the group headed by former Secretary of State James Baker and former congressman and 9/11 Commission vice chairman Lee Hamilton will urge shifting U.S. troops from an active combat role to more of an advisory role and stepping up diplomatic efforts in the region to reduce the violence.

With Democrats winning control of the U.S. House in the November elections, Hunter is losing his committee chairmanship in the next Congress, which convenes in January.

He will remain on the panel he has served on since first being elected to Congress in 1980 and said he will continue to go to Iraq as the ranking minority party member of the Armed Services Committee.

The incoming chairman, U.S. Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., and his counterpart in the Senate, Michigan Democratic Sen. Carl Levin, will be left with a better-trained, -equipped and -paid military under the GOP control of Congress, Hunter said.

"We are leaving the Democrat Party with a military which is extremely strong," he said.

Skelton and Levin have each said they want to increase the House and Senate Armed Services committees' oversight of military policy and spending.

"Ike is a good friend and a guy with a real heart for the ordinary soldier," Hunter said.

Hunter continues to work on his longshot bid for the GOP 2008 presidential nomination, having traveled to South Carolina last week for an appearance at a steel mill and an address at Charleston Southern University.

He will announce the members of his presidential exploratory committee early next year and will make several trips to Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, all early 2008 GOP primary states.

His message will focus on three areas -- a strong national defense, better border security and trade law improvements to end what he calls unfair advantages for countries such as China.

Hunter says he does not support sending more troops to Iraq.

San Diego Congressman Duncan Hunter is asking Americans to keep the Haditha hearings in perspective. KPBS reporter Andrew Phelps has more.

Eight Marines were charged at Camp Pendleton today in connection with 24 civilian deaths in Haditha, Iraq. Hunter says innocent or guilty, the accused Marines are a small part of America's armed forces.

Hunter: We've had now over a million men and women serve in Iraq and Afghanistan. And they've served with honor. They've served in difficult places. And the vast, vast majority of them have done excellent jobs. And let's not have our media focus exclusively on what happened in one town on one day in Iraq.

Hunter also says he supports President Bush's plan to beef up the Army and Marine Corps. But Hunter says he does not support sending more troops to Iraq. The San Diego lawmaker is head of the House Armed Services Committee until Democrats take Congress in January.

#5) Criscenzo

An Iraq War Exit Strategy

proposed by Jeeni Criscenzo, Democratic Congressional Candidate, California District 49

“We need an exit strategy we choose or it will certainly be chosen for us.” -- Max Cleland Sept. 15 Hearing on Withdrawal chaired by Rep. Lynn Woolsey.

I call on our representatives in Congress to establish an exit strategy to our occupation of Iraq set to begin within 30 days with a timetable for complete withdrawal within six months. I offer the following plan as a starting point to initiate a dialogue on how to extract ourselves from this horrendous crime while taking steps to mitigate the devastating impact our departure will have on the people of Iraq, the stability in the Middle East and the security of our country:

  1. Mediation. Coordinate independent, third-party mediation with the goal of finding a diplomatic solution that brings all factions, including the Sunnis, into the political process, works out local peace agreements and safeguards the rights of women.
  2. Military de-escalation. Immediately end all search and destroy missions and replace with peace-keeping functions during the exit process. Set a timetable in months for complete withdrawal of U.S. troops, beginning with an immediate initial troop reduction, and establishment of an international force to assist the Iraqi military in their own peace-keeping.
  3. No permanent bases. As long as we continue construction on 14 massive military bases in Iraq, we will continue to be perceived as occupiers. We must make it perfectly clear that we do not seek permanent military bases in Iraq.
  4. Relinquish control of Iraqi oil and resources. Not one of the series of reasons for going into Iraq offered by this administration said anything about taking their oil, but our actions have said it all along. The oil in Iraq belongs to Iraq and if we take it, we are stealing.
  5. Reconstruction financed by war profiteers, performed by Iraqis. Some U.S. corporations have reaped a bonanza from this military morass; many were awarded no-bid contracts and stole billions from the American taxpayers in over-billing and under-performance, often to the detriment of our troops. War profiteers should now foot the bill for reconstruction in Iraq, and reconstruction contracts should only be awarded to companies that employ the Iraqi people.
  6. Punish War Profiteers. Corporations and individuals (including legislators) suspected of war profiteering should be investigated and prosecuted. In addition to punishing the guilty, any corporation found to have engaged in war-profiteering should be banned from ever doing business with the U.S. government again.
  7. Do the Right Thing for Our Troops. Our troops signed up to defend us and now it’s our obligation to stand up to defend them. Americans were appalled to learn that our troops were sent into battle without armor, but that is only the tip of the iceberg. Any exit strategy must include budgeting for the care and assistance our returning troops have earned. Our troops are returning from Iraq suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome and radiation sickness due to exposure to depleted uranium in addition to horrendous injuries. While the administration proclaims that any calls to end the war hurt our troops, they continue to slash away at funding for VA benefits. We owe our veterans much more than a yellow ribbon sticker on our cars. We must provide our returning troops with the medical care they need, the opportunities for education and employment they have earned and help in making a transition into a civilian life that they deserve.

Jeeni Criscenzo,

#6) Others

let's place our bases around all of the major oil fields

Can't See wrote on January 10, 2007 11:34 AM: "What is it that President Bush and his cronies can't understand? The US people do not want this country spending any more money and lives in a country where the majority of the population doesn't appreciate our sacrifices and, more importantly,are not willing to do themselves what it would take to improve the living conditions. If we want the oil then let's place our bases around all of the major oil fields and let the Iraqi's have the cities to fight over. "

VACATION KING: "I'm the Decider and I decide when I decide what I decide"

Iraq 'surge' won't solve quagmire

December 19, 2006 So much for the long-awaited Iraq Study Group's report on the “way forward” in Iraq. It made headlines but not much of an impression on President Bush, who has suggested that some of the bipartisan panel's key recommendations were “ideas for defeat.” Bush plans to speak to the nation in January on his next move in Iraq after consulting with military leaders and his own national security team. We should be worried, especially with the news that Bush has begun imagining parallels between his wartime leadership and Harry Truman's.

Some of us assumed the debate in Washington by now would be on the study group's call for the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces in early 2008. But instead of debating how to get out of Iraq, we're considering whether to get in even deeper with a “surge” of additional troops, as if that is likely to change the outcome.

Sen. John McCain, who apparently believes the road to the White House in 2008 goes through Baghdad, is the loudest voice for sending in reinforcements, seemingly oblivious to the fact that no one is sure where the military would find them. On a visit to Baghdad last week, McCain told reporters that American military commanders in Iraq were discussing the possibility of adding as many as 35,000 combat troops to try “to bring the situation under control.”

Has anyone been listening to Gen. John Abizaid, commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East? He has said increasing troop strength would have only a temporary impact unless the Iraqi government can end the sectarian violence tearing the country apart. So far, it has been unwilling or unable to even try.

In Washington, some members of the joint chiefs of staff and other presidential advisers reportedly are proposing that the president send 10,000 to 15,000 additional troops to Iraq for a few months in an attempt to gain the upper hand against Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias who slaughter each other and American soldiers daily.

It's obvious that President Bush has his back up over the Iraq Study Group recommendations. So we shouldn't be surprised if his response is to go for the “surge” option, sacrificing more American lives in his stubborn pursuit of a failed policy. Bush apparently still thinks there is a military solution to the quagmire in Iraq. He keeps talking about “victory” and “finishing the job.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. military is feeling the strain of two wars on its personnel and equipment. Last week, Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the Army's chief of staff, was on Capitol Hill warning that the active duty Army “will break” from the stress of rotations in Iraq and Afghanistan unless it permanently increases its ranks. To ease the strain, he also wants the Pentagon to lift its restrictions on the frequency and duration of involuntary call-ups of Army National Guard and Reserve troops, a politically sensitive issue. That would mean Army Guard and Reserve soldiers could expect more and longer tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, disrupting careers and imposing hardships on their families.

It is not only more soldiers and Marines that the U.S. military needs. Some U.S. military bases don't have enough equipment to train combat troops being deployed to Iraq. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that, six weeks before their deployment to Iraq, soldiers in the 3rd Infantry Division's 1st Brigade at Fort Stewart, Ga., still lacked machine guns, long-range surveillance systems and other equipment needed to prepare them for their mission.

The Army has a serious readiness problem that will be the focus of congressional hearings early next year. Two-thirds of its units are rated as “nondeployable,” or not ready, but they are being deployed anyway.

Even the most zealous Vietnam hawks came to the recognition that you can't fight, much less win, a war without the support of the home front. The war in Iraq has lost the support of the American public, but that doesn't seem to matter to a president who appears bent on proving his critics wrong.

According to The Washington Post, Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., has been telling the story of how Bush, at a recent White House meeting with congressional leaders, seemed to be comparing his situation with that of Harry Truman's in the late 1940s. The Post said Bush told his congressional visitors that Truman's approach to the Cold War, not popular at the time, was vindicated by history. Bush left the impression he believes history will vindicate him on Iraq.

There may be some parallels between the Truman and Bush presidencies, but there is one big difference – Truman had some great successes, including the Marshall Plan for Europe's recovery from World War II and the building of the NATO alliance to counter the Soviet threat.

What are Bush's successes so far?

The Stupidity of 'Surge'

White House, Joint Chiefs At Odds on Adding Troops

December 19, 2006 The Bush administration is split over the idea of a surge in troops to Iraq, with White House officials aggressively promoting the concept over the unanimous disagreement of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, according to U.S. officials familiar with the intense debate.

Sending 15,000 to 30,000 more troops for a mission of possibly six to eight months is one of the central proposals on the table of the White House policy review to reverse the steady deterioration in Iraq. The option is being discussed as an element in a range of bigger packages, the officials said. But the Joint Chiefs think the White House, after a month of talks, still does not have a defined mission and is latching on to the surge idea in part because of limited alternatives, despite warnings about the potential disadvantages for the military, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the White House review is not public.

The chiefs have taken a firm stand, the sources say, because they believe the strategy review will be the most important decision on Iraq to be made since the March 2003 invasion.

At regular interagency meetings and in briefing President Bush last week, the Pentagon has warned that any short-term mission may only set up the United States for bigger problems when it ends. The service chiefs have warned that a short-term mission could give an enormous edge to virtually all the armed factions in Iraq -- including al-Qaeda's foreign fighters, Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias -- without giving an enduring boost to the U.S military mission or to the Iraqi army, the officials said.

The Pentagon has cautioned that a modest surge could lead to more attacks by al-Qaeda, provide more targets for Sunni insurgents and fuel the jihadist appeal for more foreign fighters to flock to Iraq to attack U.S. troops, the officials said.

The informal but well-armed Shiite militias, the Joint Chiefs have also warned, may simply melt back into society during a U.S. surge and wait until the troops are withdrawn -- then reemerge and retake the streets of Baghdad and other cities.

Even the announcement of a time frame and mission -- such as for six months to try to secure volatile Baghdad -- could play to armed factions by allowing them to game out the new U.S. strategy, the chiefs have warned the White House.

The idea of a much larger military deployment for a longer mission is virtually off the table, at least so far, mainly for logistics reasons, say officials familiar with the debate. Any deployment of 40,000 to 50,000 would force the Pentagon to redeploy troops who were scheduled to go home.

A senior administration official said it is "too simplistic" to say the surge question has broken down into a fight between the White House and the Pentagon, but the official acknowledged that the military has questioned the option. "Of course, military leadership is going to be focused on the mission -- what you're trying to accomplish, the ramifications it would have on broader issues in terms of manpower and strength and all that," the official said.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said military officers have not directly opposed a surge option. "I've never heard them be depicted that way to the president," the official said. "Because they ask questions about what the mission would be doesn't mean they don't support it. Those are the kinds of questions the president wants his military planners to be asking."

The concerns raised by the military are sometimes offset by concerns on the other side. For instance, those who warn that a short-term surge would harm longer-term deployments are met with the argument that the situation is urgent now, the official said. "Advocates would say: 'Can you afford to wait? Can you afford to plan in the long term? What's the tipping point in that country? Do you have time to wait?' "

Which way Bush is leaning remains unclear. "The president's keeping his cards pretty close to his vest," the official said, "and I think people may be trying to interpret questions he's asking and information he's asking for as signs that he's made up his mind."

Robert M. Gates, who was sworn in yesterday as defense secretary, is headed for Iraq this week and is expected to play a decisive role in resolving the debate, officials said. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's views are still open, according to State Department officials. The principals met again yesterday to continue discussions. The White House yesterday noted the growing number of reports about what is being discussed behind closed doors. "It's also worth issuing a note of caution, because quite often people will try to litigate preferred options through the press," White House press secretary Tony Snow told reporters.

Discussions are expected to continue through the holidays. Rice is expected to travel to the president's ranch near Crawford, Tex., after Christmas for consultations on Iraq. The administration's foreign policy principals are also expected to hold at least two meetings during the holiday. The White House has said the president will outline his new strategy to the nation early next year.

As the White House debate continues, another independent report on Iraq strategy is being issued today by the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based crisis monitoring group that includes several former U.S. officials. It calls for more far-reaching policy revisions and reversals than did even the Iraq Study Group report, the bipartisan report issued two weeks ago.

The new report calls the study group's recommendations "not nearly radical enough" and says that "its prescriptions are no match for its diagnosis." It continues: "What is needed today is a clean break both in the way the U.S. and other international actors deal with the Iraqi government, and in the way the U.S. deals with the region."

The Iraqi government and military should not be treated as "privileged allies" because they are not partners in efforts to stem the violence but rather parties to the conflict, it says. Trying to strengthen the fragile government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will not contribute to Iraq's stability, it adds. Iraq's escalating crisis cannot be resolved militarily, the report says, and can be solved only with a major political effort.

The International Crisis Group proposes three broad steps: First, it calls for creation of an international support group, including the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Iraq's six neighbors, to press Iraq's constituents to accept political compromise.

Second, it urges a conference of all Iraqi players, including militias and insurgent groups, with support from the international community, to forge a political compact on controversial issues such as federalism, distribution of oil revenue, an amnesty, the status of Baath Party members and a timetable for U.S. withdrawal. Finally, it suggests a new regional strategy that would include engagement with Syria and Iran and jump-starting the moribund Arab-Israeli peace process.

White House: No fight with Joint Chiefs


A casualty far from the battlefield

For veterans, coming home from war can be harder than being deployed

November 13, 2006 Clifton Park-- Last month, Jeanne "Linda" Michel came home from Iraq. Back in the suburbs, she tried to feel normal.

She'd been homesick for months. She couldn't wait to see her kids, ages 11, 5 and 4. Between her husband's deployment and her own, the children had been with just one parent for nearly three years.

She was 33, with a bright smile and stubborn determination. Reuniting should be easy. In another month, she'd be discharged from the Navy after five years of service.

"She had come through a lot and she had always risen to challenges," her husband, Frantz Michel, said last week.

What her family didn't see, and what she herself may not have realized, was the enormity of what she faced.

Like thousands of others returning from Iraq, her mental state was fractured. And it went untreated. Within two weeks, Linda Michel would become a private casualty of war.

Re-entry into the world of peace can be harder than deployment, experts say. Picking up where you left off doesn't just happen.

Husbands and wives report feeling like strangers to each other at first, according to Military OneSource, a support Web site for military families.

"Family roles, rituals, dynamics have changed," said Helena Davis, deputy director of the Mental Health Association in New York State. "And the vet has changed. Bonds have been fractured and need to be re-established."

Linda Michel was no exception. A self-sufficient medic known to help others, she was uncomfortable asking for that help for herself. But treatment and self-care are critical for returnees, Davis said. Without it, "the anxiety keeps them spiraling down." Some turn to alcohol, drugs or domestic violence. Or, Davis said, "they hurt themselves." August, three veterans in New York's Adirondack region committed suicide within three weeks, Davis told a recent gathering of mental health professionals.

And the third American female to die in Iraq, Army interpreter Spc. Alyssa Peterson, 27, of Flagstaff, Ariz., shot herself with her service weapon. A devout Mormon and Arabic interpreter, Peterson had objected to U.S. techniques after just two days of participating in interrogations.

Women experience stronger forms of post-traumatic stress disorder and have higher PTSD rates, experts say. In response, the Veterans Affairs Department launched a $6 million study of female veterans.

Seeking treatment -- seen by some as a weakness -- may be even tougher for women, who still feel the need to prove themselves to men in military service.

In Iraq, female troops experience attacks, mortar fire and critical injuries such as amputation. And, women soldiers also are more at risk for sexual assaults, up 40 percent in combat zones from last year, Davis said.

Camp Bucca, the U.S.-run military prison where Michel was stationed, was investigated after a female mud-wrestling match was staged there.

Two weeks after she got home to Clifton Park, Linda Michel shot herself to death, stunning her colleagues and family.

Like many women who are assigned to Iraq, Linda Michel wanted to serve.


National Center for PTSD at

S.A.F.E. Program. Support and Family Education: Mental Health Facts for Families. An 18-session curriculum on PTSD at

"When the Letdown Doesn't Let Up" and "How to Get Back to 'Normal' " by the National Mental Health Association at

Extraordinary acts of valor

For a soldier, going to war is a duty. Heroes go much further.

By Phillip Carter, PHILLIP CARTER, an attorney with McKenna Long & Aldridge, served in Iraq with the Army's 101st Airborne Division.

November 11, 2006 COMING HOME from a combat zone is an alienating experience. America's deepening civil-military divide crystallized for me two weeks after I had returned from Iraq, while sitting at a Starbucks in the San Fernando Valley. I looked around the cafe and saw a dozen people ordering coffee, talking, reading and studying, while the baristas were busily serving drinks. All of a sudden, it hit me. Even though we are a nation at war, the war does not really seem to exist here in America.

Frequently over the last two months, my friends have referred to me and other veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan as "heroes." This has disturbed me a great deal, forming another sort of alienation that is likely to become particularly acute this Veterans Day. American society venerates all soldiers as heroes, yet we in the military reserve that label for those who truly go above and beyond the call of duty. To us, the ordinary soldiers who merely served in harm's way, the label feels like a garish shirt — it neither describes us well nor fits us comfortably.

During peacetime, I remember wondering how I would perform under fire for the first time. I vividly recall my first raid in Iraq, when my team hit its first improvised explosive device, thanking God and my training that I did not wet my pants in fear. We stand in awe of those who, at the moment of truth, can muster the moral and physical courage to stand above the rest by rushing to a wounded comrade or into a hostile building.

Heroic legends, from the stories of Homer to the modern-day medal citations in Iraq, are passed on from sergeants to privates, captains to lieutenants. We mark these men and women with ribbons and medals to reward their heroism, but also to establish these warriors as role models whose example might encourage the rest of us soldiers.

Civilian society venerates its heroes too, often for similar reasons. Who can forget the example of the firefighters and police officers who rushed into the burning World Trade Center on Sept. 11? But in today's society, the mere act of volunteering for military service has somehow mutated into a heroic act.

Less than 1% of our country wears a military uniform; fewer still have served in Iraq or Afghanistan. Instead of being seen as a duty that should be borne by all, military service has been transformed into an elective chosen by the few. Today, with America at war, the burden of service is heavy, but it is not wide. Small military communities such as Oceanside, Calif.; and Clarksville, Tenn., feel the human cost of this war, but they are unusual in America. And so we lavish praise on those who make this decision, regardless of whether their choice is owed to personal patriotism, ambition or a quest for opportunity.

Soldiers and civilians also share a different moral code, something highlighted by those different definitions of heroism. Soldiers exist for their team; they will do anything for love of their brothers and sisters in uniform. Civilians, by contrast, live for themselves. Americans have become the quintessential rational actors of economic lore — pursuing their self-interest above all else, seeking enrichment and gratification.

To be sure, Americans engage in a great deal of altruism, and this is to be praised too. But the sporadic acts of selfless service performed by civilians cannot compare to the life of service chosen by our military personnel.

So when civilians approach us in airports and cafes to thank us for our service, it frequently causes some degree of discomfort and alienation. Although grateful for the warm reception, many of us don't know how to respond. Our service means a great deal to us. We will never forget the sacrifices, hardships or experiences we had in combat, nor will we ever forget those with whom we served. But I have never felt that such service merits praise, and certainly not the label of heroism.

I judge myself by the code of a warrior. That ethos demands selfless service, not aggrandizement. It praises the team, not the individual. And it saves its highest accolades for those who distinguish themselves through extraordinary acts of valor. As veterans, we know the real heroes among us; many of them did not come home. Awarding this distinction to everyone cheapens the accomplishments of those who earned it — and makes the rest of us feel guilty that we have somehow stolen recognition from the worthy.

On this Veterans Day, many Americans will pause for a moment to think of service to the nation and of those who have worn the uniform on their behalf. At a time when such a small fraction of our country serves, it may be just one of two days a year (the other being Memorial Day) when this occurs in any meaningful way. But when you talk to us, or about us, this Veterans Day, please don't call us heroes. Save that label for those warriors who truly deserve it. I was just doing my duty.,0,5788252.story?coll=la-home-commentary


About Face: Soldiers Call for Iraq Withdrawal

December 16, 2006 For the first time since Vietnam, an organized, robust movement of active-duty US military personnel has publicly surfaced to oppose a war in which they are serving. Those involved plan to petition Congress to withdraw American troops from Iraq. (Note: A complete version of this report will appear next week in the print and online editions of The Nation.)

After appearing only seven weeks ago on the Internet, the Appeal for Redress, brainchild of 29-year-old Navy seaman Jonathan Hutto, has already been signed by nearly 1,000 US soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen, including dozens of officers - most of whom are on active duty. Not since 1969, when some 1,300 active-duty military personnel signed an open letter in the New York Times opposing the war in Vietnam, has there been such a dramatic barometer of rising military dissent.

Interviews with two dozen signers of the Appeal reveal a mix of motives for opposing the war: ideological, practical, strategic and moral. But all those interviewed agree that it is time to start withdrawing the troops. Coming from an all-volunteer military, the Appeal was called "unprecedented" by Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice.

The Nation spoke with rank-and-file personnel as well as high-ranking officers - some on the Iraqi front lines, others at domestic and offshore US military bases - who have signed the Appeal. All of their names will be made available to Congress when the Appeal is presented in mid-January. Signers have been assured they are sending a communication to Congress protected under the Military Whistleblower Protection Act. The Pentagon is powerless to take official reprisals and has said that as long as active-duty personnel are not in uniform or on duty, they are free to express their views to Congress.

There are of course other, subtler risks involved. The military command exercises enormous power through individual reviews, promotions and assignments. But that hasn't kept a number of signers from going public with their dissent.

Navy Lieut. Cmdr. Mark Dearden of San Diego, for example, enlisted in 1997 and is still pondering the possibility of a lifetime career. "So this was a very difficult decision for me to come to. I don't take this decision lightly," he says. But after two "tough" deployments in Iraq, Dearden says signing the Appeal was not only the right thing to do but also gave him personal "closure."

"I'm expressing a right of people in the military to contact their elected representatives, and I have done nothing illegal or disrespectful," Dearden adds.

Other interviews with active-duty soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen who have signed the Appeal for Redress reveal an array of motivations. Here are excerpts:

"Lisa" - 20 years old, E-4, USAF, Stationed at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii:

I joined up two weeks after I turned 17 because I wanted to save American lives. I wanted to be a hero like any American child.

I supported the war when I joined because I thought it was justified. Only after my own research and the truth coming out did I learn how wrong I was, how - for lack of a better word - how brainwashed I was.

Now I know the war is illegal, unjustified and that our troops have no reason for being there.

When I saw an article about the Appeal in the Air Force Times I went online right away and signed it and have encouraged others to do the same.

"Sgt. Gary" - 21 years old. US Army. Deployed with 20th Infantry Regiment, near Mosul, Iraq:

I joined up in 2001, still a junior in high school. I felt very patriotic at the end of my US History class. My idea of the Army was that you signed up, they gave you a rifle and you ran off into battle like in some 1950s war movie. The whole idea of boot camp never really entered my head.

I supported the war in the beginning. I bought everything Bush said about how Saddam had WMDs, how he was working with Al Qaeda, how he was a threat to America. Of course, this all turned out to be false.

This is my second tour, and as of a few days ago it's half-over. Before I deployed with my unit for the second time I already had feelings of not wanting to go. When in late September a buddy in my platoon died from a bullet in the head, I really took a long hard look at this war, this Administration, and the reasons why.

After months of research on the Internet, I came to the conclusion that this war was based on lies and deception. I started to break free of all the propaganda that the Bush Administration and the Army puts out on a daily basis.

So far in three years we have succeeded in toppling a dictator and replacing him with puppets. Outlawing the old government and its standing army and replacing them with an unreliable and poorly trained crew of paycheck collectors. The well is so poisoned by what we have done here that nothing can fix it.

"Lt. Smith" - 24 years old, 1st Lieutenant, US Army. Deployed near Baghdad:

I cannot, from Iraq, attend an antiwar protest. Nor could I attend one in the States and represent myself as a soldier. What I can do is send a protest communication to my Congressional delegate outlining grievances I feel I have suffered. Appeal for Redress gives me that outlet.

I am encouraged by the November elections, but still wary. We rushed into the war on false assumptions, and now we might rush out just as falsely. What troops need now is a light at the end of the tunnel, not just for this deployment but for all deployments. Bringing everyone out this summer is too fast to be supported by our Army's infrastructure. We would hemorrhage lives if we do so. But so would we if we stay the course.

I am encouraged by politicians who call for a withdrawal by the conclusion of President Bush's term in office. That seems a realistic timetable for me.

Mark Mackoviak - 24 years old. US Army. Recently returned from Iraq. Stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina:

I joined the Army on September 23, 2001. I had been out of school for a year when September 11 came around, and I was supportive of our action in Afghanistan. I wound up there a year later, and it was pretty eye-opening to see how people live.

I was also in Iraq for about a year, deployed near the International Airport, west of Baghdad. I was never that supportive of the invasion. I thought the media coverage of it was horrendous, really disgusting.

Just about everything I saw in Iraq reinforced my views that it was wrong. The point that really hit me was when the Asmara Mosque got blown up. I said, Wow, this is really a civil war.

I really enjoy being in the Army, enjoy the experience. I just happen to not support this war. I'm very open about that. My buddies either disagree with me or just pay no attention. But I get absolutely no hostility. None.

"Rebecca" - 26 years old. 101st Airborne, US Army. Just returned from Iraq. Stationed at Fort Hood, Texas:

I joined in 2004. I was trying to go into the human rights field, but it was very competitive. I was in need of health insurance, and the Army seemed feasible. Now it looks like I will be stop-lossed until 2010.

I had strong feelings about the war, against it, but I'm the type of person that wants to fully understand both sides of the argument.

My experience in Iraq confirmed my views, but it also gave me a more multifaceted view of things. I did see some of the good things being done, but it seemed like a Band-Aid on a gushing wound. Mostly I saw the frivolity of the missions, the lack of direction, the absurdity of the mission. You go out in your Humvee, you drive around, and you wait to be blown up and get killed by an IED.

About 40 percent of my unit were stop-lossed. Their first mission was to take down Saddam and his regime, and they seemed to understand that and agree with the mission to take down a ruthless dictator. Now they can't seem to understand why they are there, caught in the cross hairs of a civil war.

I think it is safe to say that the majority of soldiers are wondering what this grand scheme is that we keep hearing about from those above us but that is never translating down to the ground level.

Some politicians are starting to see that not only a majority of Americans oppose to this war. Now they see this very powerful statement of soldiers who have already been on the front line and who are still in uniform and are also opposed. None of them have been where we have been, none of them have seen what we have seen. It's time they do.

GOP senator blasts Bush war policy

Oregon's Smith says it is 'absurd,' maybe 'criminal'

December 09, 2006 WASHINGTON -- A Republican senator issued a blistering attack on President Bush's Iraq war policy on the Senate floor, hours before Bush met with lawmakers at the White House Friday and lined up three days of talks with military brass, diplomats and outside experts on how to stop Iraq's slide toward anarchy.

Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., who voted in favor of the war and had supported it ever since, said in an impassioned speech in the Senate Thursday night that the current U.S. war effort is "absurd" and "may even be criminal."

Citing the hundreds of billions of dollars spent and the nearly 3,000 American deaths, Smith said, "I, for one, am at the end of my rope when it comes to supporting a policy that has our soldiers patrolling the same streets in the same way, being blown up by the same bombs day after day. That is absurd. It may even be criminal.

"I cannot support that anymore. ... So either we clear and hold and build or let's go home."

A Smith spokesman said later that the senator did not mean to call the war "criminal" in a legal sense, but in the sense of it being ridiculous or absurd.

In his speech, Smith called for changes in policy that could include rapid pullouts of U.S. troops from Iraq. He said he would have never voted for the conflict if he had known the intelligence that Bush gave Americans was inaccurate.

The senator said he is "tired of paying the price of 10 or more of our troops dying a day. So let's cut and run or cut and walk, but let us fight the war on terror more intelligently than we have, because we have fought this war in a very lamentable way."

Bush is expected to settle on a new course on Iraq and present it to the nation in a speech before Christmas, the debate and his new efforts framed by the Iraq Study Group's stinging rebuke this week of U.S. policy.

Incoming Senate Democratic leaders said Bush did not offer them hints of his plan when they met with him in the Cabinet Room of the White House Friday to talk about Iraq.

Incoming Senate Democratic Whip Richard Durbin of Illinois said the president talked about the Iraq panel's report and said he was open to changing tactics.

"I think we all understand tactics need to be changed, but the Iraq Study Group went further than tactics," Durbin said. "The Iraq Study Group talked about the new direction in Iraq in terms of starting to bring American troops home, redeploying them to safer places, holding Iraq to new standards of responsibility and opening up a new line of diplomacy."

"That goes beyond tactics. So the president did not endorse the Iraq Study Group at this meeting and his statements leave me (with) question(s) as to whether or not he is ever going to support their conclusions," Durbin said.

Bush goes to the State Department on Monday for talks, and then meets in the Oval Office with independent experts on Iraq. On Tuesday, the president confers in a video conference with senior military commanders and Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, the top U.S. diplomat in Iraq.

On Wednesday, he meets with senior defense officials at the Pentagon. Outgoing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Friday that the U.S. military is doing everything it can but the war cannot be won only "militarily." He said the power struggle in Iraq is partly about religion, economics and political power, and "not terribly military in its nature."

The release of the Iraq report set in motion a delicate waltz for the administration. On the one hand, it doesn't want to dismiss the ideas of a bipartisan commission partly led by former Secretary of State James Baker, a Bush family friend. On the other hand, Bush doesn't want to be held hostage to the panel's recommendations.

Bush's national security aides are drafting their own evaluation of Iraq, due in a week or two.

The Baker-Hamilton study paints a dismal picture both of conditions in Iraq and of the Bush administration policies in the wider Middle East.

"None of us see the situation in Iraq as favorable," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Friday in her first response to the independent report. "We all see it as extremely difficult."

Baker said the administration should not pick and choose among the report's 79 recommendations. "I hope we don't treat this like a fruit salad," he said. White House press secretary Tony Snow said the president was not treating the panel's document as a fruit salad, but neither did he offer any tidbits about the president's thinking.

Bush spoke on the phone Friday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who gave the president a readout on his recent visits to Iran and Syria.

"One of the things that the president was making clear is that regional allies, Muslim countries, can play a constructive role and they are doing so," Snow said.

Rumsfeld said there was nothing in the Baker-Hamilton report that Joint Chiefs Chairman Peter Pace and Gen. John Abizaid, the top commander for U.S. forces in the Middle East, and others in the administration hadn't thought about or worked to implement.

Tracking one theme of the Iraq Study Group calling for phasing combat troops into training missions, Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli said Friday that significant U.S. combat troops could be pulled out of Iraq by early 2008 -- as long as the Iraqis meet specific goals toward establishing a unified government.

In his speech, Senator Smith said there are no good options in Iraq, as the Iraq Study Group noted in its report this week.

Smith, who is up for re-election in 2008, said he was "at a crossroads" on the war, adding: "I want my constituents to know what is in my heart, what has guided my votes."

He said the U.S. military's "tactics have failed," adding that he "cannot support that anymore. ... We have paid a price in blood and treasure that is beyond calculation.

"Iraq is a battlefield in that larger war. But I do believe we need a presence there on the near horizon at least that allows us to provide intelligence, interdiction, logistics -- but mostly a presence to say to the murderers that come across the border: 'We are here, and we will deal with you.' "

But Smith added: "We have no business being a policeman in someone else's civil war."

Senate Democratic Policy Committee hearings

The president is not well served by this secretary of Defense, a man history will not treat kindly.
So what to do? Replace the secretary of Defense with a proven leader who has a vision to get the country's defense establishment back on track. he Army is in terrible shape. The Marines are not much better. A secretary who understands how to build alliances at home and abroad, who understands the operational art and understand the contemporary operating environment we live in.

Democrats hear war vets’ take on Iraqi forces

Pentagon and White House officials have pointed to the training of Iraq’s police and security forces as the way to end the U.S. presence, with the withdrawal of troops coming as soon as Iraq can take care of itself. The progress has been slow, made more difficult by recent revelations that some of the newly trained security forces have been working for insurgent groups. Last week, a brigade of special police was pulled from duty because of links to death squads.

A former Army police and civil affairs officer, Phillip Carter, said he served in Iraq for one year beginning October 2005 as operations officer for a police advisory task force in the Diyala province, leading one or two combat missions a week. Carter said he saw progress by Iraqi police in becoming an independent and competent force but also watched while the overall security situation deteriorated.

“As the public reports make quite clear, all attack trends continue to move in an upward direction, with the greatest violence directed at the Iraqi security forces, followed by the Iraqi population, trailed by U.S. forces,” he said.

“In my experience, the U.S. military has done an exceptional job at doing what it knows how to do — building an Iraqi military. Unfortunately, we have neglected the other aspects of the job, with telling results,” said Carter, who has become widely published on military security and legal issues since his last deployment.

Nathanial Fick, a former Marine Corps captain who served in Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002 and in Iraq in 2003, said he is worried because casualties are increasing. “The consequences of losing in Iraq are staggering, and our finite window of opportunity to make progress is slamming shut,” Fick said. “The most shocking part of serving in Iraq is coming home and realizing that most of the nation hardly knew we were gone.

“The American people have been given a false choice in Iraq, and we should recast the debate in more honest and accurate terms,” Fick said. “We must emphasize building over killing, and must tie our welfare to that of the Iraqis.

“Our stated goal of “standing down as the Iraqis stand up” makes perfect sense,” Fick said. “In the long term, Americans will leave, and Iraqis will have to solve Iraqi problems.”

Also testifying was Stephen Pierson, a New York National Guard member who deployed to Iraq in March 2003 for a year of duty to help train Iraqi police, with classes limited to 16 hours total.

“If we and the Iraqi government want well-trained forces in Iraq, then they need to be given the best training, the best equipment and the best pay,” Pierson said. “We need to reach out to other moderate Arab countries in the area, have them assist in our training efforts of the Iraqi security forces. We should also consider bringing small Iraqi units to the United States for training.”


December 20, 2005 In 1968, Martin Luther King told us: “If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess … strength without sight.”

Dr. King was talking about ending the Vietnam War. But 40 years later, his warning is increasingly relevant to the Iraq war.

Strength without sight has now led us into a war based on mistaken intelligence, and down a thorny path of pain for too long.

And none of us can afford to be silent, because as Martin Luther King also said: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

So we must have the courage to speak out about things that matter.

It matters that 2,158 servicemen and women have given their lives in Iraq, leaving their families grieving.

It matters that 16,155 have been wounded, many with scars that will last a lifetime.

It matters that the majority of the American people are demanding a new strategy so that we don’t have a war without end.

You know, America is more than an economic and military power. Our ideals have made us a shining light for those around the world seeking freedom, democracy and human rights.

Now that moral standing is at risk.

We all saw the horrific photos of Abu Ghraib, which were at odds with everything this country stands for. We all know that torture does not produce accurate intelligence or make us safer. Instead, as Senator McCain says, “It’s killing us.”

But, amazingly, banning torture was extremely controversial for this Administration. Dick Cheney even worked non-stop to exempt the CIA from the torture ban passed by the Congress.

Fortunately we won this one, but we still don’t know everything about the secret prisons or secret spying on Americans, all of which chips away at our reputation as a great beacon of freedom and gives an eerie sense of a secret government. And now we face the issue of our government spying on Americans without a warrant. This is serious and must be investigated to restore our credibility.


Iraq Coalition Casualties

145 die in deadliest attack of Iraq war

November 23, 2006 BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- In the deadliest attack since the beginning of the Iraq war, suspected Sunni-Arab militants used three suicide car bombs and two mortar rounds on the capital's Shiite Sadr City slum to kill at least 145 people and wound 238 on Thursday, police said.

The Shiites responded almost immediately, firing 10 mortar rounds at the Abu Hanifa Sunni mosque as Azamiya, killing one person and wounding seven people in their attack on the holiest Sunni shrine in Baghdad.

Beginning at 3:10 p.m., the three car bomb attackers blew up their vehicles one after another, at 15 minute intervals, hitting Jamila market, al-Hay market and al-Shahidein Square in Sadr City. At about the same time, mortar rounds struck al-Shahidein Square and Mudhaffar Square, police said.

As the fiery explosions sent up huge plumes of black smoke up over northeastern Baghdad, and left streets covered with burning bodies and blood, angry residents and armed Shiite militiamen flooded the streets, hurling curses at Sunni Muslims and firing weapons into the air.

Ambulances raced to the scenes and police Col. Hassan Chaloub said at least 145 people were killed and 238 wounded in the blasts, which destroyed many outdoor food stalls and parked automobiles and buses.

Sadr City is the home of the Mahdi Army, the militia loyal to radical anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Car bombs in Sadr City have killed and wounded hundreds of people.


Rebounding after War ad Looting

Sectarian fighting also broke in another part of northern Iraq on Thursday, when 30 Sunni insurgents armed with machine guns and mortars attacked the Shiite-controlled Health Ministry building. After a three-hour battle, during which Iraqi soldiers and U.S. military helicopters intervened, the attackers were repulsed. But at least seven guards of the ministry were wounded, said police 1st. Lt. Maitham Abdul-Razaq.

The Sadr City and Health Ministry attacks were the latest example of widespread sectarian fighting involving Sunnis and Shiites that is leaving Iraq either on the verge of a civil war or already fighting one.

At about noon Thursday, heavy clashes broke out between about suspected Sunni insurgent gunmen and guards at the Shiite-controlled Health Ministry building in northwest Baghdad, security officials said.

State-run Iraqiyah television said the Health Ministry was being attacked with mortars by "terrorists who are intending to take control of the building."

Security officials said about 30 gunmen, believed to be Sunni insurgents, had launched the attack. Iraqi troops were being rushed to the area and all roads leading to the ministry in Bab al-Muadham neighborhood were closed, said the security officials on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters.

Police Lt. Ali Muhsin said the attack began at 12:15 p.m. when three mortar shells hit the building, causing damage. After that, gunmen on the upper floors of surrounding buildings opened fire.

Ministry workers were trapped in the building.

"The gunmen fled as American helicopters and Iraqi armored vehicles arrived. Employees were able to leave starting about 3:15 p.m.," Health ministry spokesman Qassim Yehyah said.

Health Minister Ali al-Shemari is a follower of al-Sadr, the radical anti-American Shiite cleric.

Earlier Thursday, U.S. and Iraqi forces searching for a kidnapped American soldier also had swept through an area of Sadr City, killing four Iraqis, wounding eight and detaining five, police said.

The raid was the fourth in six days that coalition forces have raided Sadr City, which is home to the Mahdi Army, the militia loyal to radical anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

The militia is suspected of having kidnapped U.S. soldier Ahmed Qusai al-Taayie, a 41-year-old Ann Arbor, Michigan, resident as he was was visiting his Iraqi wife in Baghdad on Oct. 23.

The Mahdi Army also is suspected of having kidnapped scores of people during the raid on a Ministry of Higher Education office in Baghdad on Nov. 14. The ministry is predominantly Sunni Arab.

In the raid on Sadr City at about 4:30 a.m., coalition forces searched houses and opened fire on a minivan carrying Iraqi workers in the al-Fallah Street area, killing four of them and wounding eight, said police Capt. Mohammed Ismail. Iraqis often pay a small fee to crowd such vehicles and travel early in the morning to sites where they hope to get work as day laborers.

Ismail said the coalition raid also detained five Iraqis.

In a statement, the U.S. military confirmed the raid and said it was conducted in the continuing effort to find al-Taayiean. It confirm the detention of five Iraqis and that a vehicle was shot at by Iraqi forces after "displaying hostile intent." But the coalition did not report Iraqi casualties.

Residents of Sadr City gathered around the minivan, which had bullet holes in the windscreen and its sides, and blood stains inside.

"I was surprised by the heavy shooting on our minivan. I was hit badly in my left hand," said one worker, Ahmed Gatie, 24, as he was treated at Imam Ali hospital. "I can only feed my family when I work. What will happen now?"

Three other patients were lying on hospital beds or being treated, and four bodies were bodies were lying in a morgue attached to the hospital in Sadr City, an east Baghdad grid of streets lined with tumbledown concrete block structures and vacant lots.

Witness Salah Salman, 24, said he took cover when the coalition raid began and his house came under fire.

Afterward, Salman said, he joined other local residents in helping police carry victims of the attack from the minivan to the morgue and hospital.

In another development, the U.S. military on Thursday reported the deaths of three Marines who were killed while fighting in Anbar province, where many Sunni-Arab insurgents are based.

So far this month, 52 American service members have been killed or died.

October Deadliest Month Ever in Iraq

November 22, 2006 At least 101 Iraqis died in the country's unending sectarian slaughter Wednesday, and the U.N. reported that 3,709 Iraqi civilians were killed in October, the highest monthly toll of the war and one that is sure to be eclipsed when November's dead are counted.

The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq also said citizens were fleeing the country at a pace of 100,000 each month, and that at least 1.6 million Iraqis have left since the war began in March 2003.

Life for Iraqis, especially in Baghdad and cities and towns in the center of the country, has become increasingly untenable. Many schools failed to open at all in September, and professionals — especially professors, physicians, politicians and journalists — are falling to sectarian killers at a stunning pace.

Lynchings have been reported as Sunnis and Shiites conduct a merciless campaign of revenge killings. Some Shiite residents in the north Baghdad neighborhood of Hurriyah claim that militiamen and death squads are holding Sunni captives in warehouses, then slaughtering them at the funerals of Shiites killed in the tit-for-tat murders.

Wednesday's death count included 76 bodies found dumped in four cities, 59 of them in Baghdad alone, according to police, who said at least 25 people had been gunned down.

The U.N. figure for the number of killings in October was more than three times the 1,216 tabulated by The Associated Press and nearly 850 more than the 2,867 U.S. service members who have died during the war.

The U.N. said its figures for civilian deaths were based on reports from the Iraqi Health Ministry, the country's hospitals and the Medico-Legal Institute in Baghdad. The previous monthly record was 3,590 for July.

Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh called the U.N. report "inaccurate and exaggerated" because it was not based on official government reports.

Asked in a telephone interview if any such report existed, al-Dabbagh told the AP that one "was not available yet but it would be published later."

The U.N. report said Iraq's heavily armed and increasingly brutal Shiite militias were gaining strength and influence and that torture was rampant, despite the Iraqi government's vow to reduce human rights abuses.

"Hundreds of bodies continued to appear in different areas of Baghdad — handcuffed, blindfolded and bearing signs of torture and execution-style killing," said the report by the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq, or UNAMI. "Many witnesses reported that perpetrators wear militia attire and even police or army uniforms."

The two primary militias in Iraq are the military wings of the country's strongest Shiite political groups on which Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is heavily dependent. He has repeatedly rejected U.S. demands that he disband the heavily armed groups, especially the Mahdi Army of radical anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

"I think the type of violence is different in the past few months," Gianni Magazzeni, the UNAMI chief in Baghdad, told a news conference. "There was a great increase in sectarian violence in activities by terrorists and insurgents, but also by militias and criminal gangs."

He noted that religious clashes have been common since Sunni Arab insurgents bombed a major Shiite shrine on Feb. 22 in Samarra, north of Baghdad.

UNAMI's Human Rights Office continued to receive reports that Iraqi police and security forces have either been infiltrated by or act in collusion with militias, the report said.

It said that while sectarian violence is the main cause of the civilian killings, Iraqis also continue to be the victims of terrorist acts, roadside bombs and drive-by shootings, while some have been caught in the cross fire between rival gangs.

Access to the U.N. news conference was blocked for many because the main entrance to the fortified Green Zone in central Baghdad was closed as U.S. forces checked for a bomb in the area, a U.S. military official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.

On Wednesday, assassins killed a bodyguard of Iraq's parliament speaker one day after a bomb exploded in the hot-tempered politician's motorcade as it drove into a parking lot inside the Green Zone.

The bomb attack on the motorcade of Speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, a hard-line Sunni Arab nationalist reviled by many Shiites, was a major security breach in the heavily guarded compound that houses the U.S. and British embassies and the Iraqi government. It was also the fourth assassination attempt against a high-ranking Iraqi government official in recent days.

Last summer, Shiite and Kurdish parties organized an unsuccessful bid to oust al-Mashhadani as parliament speaker after he called the U.S. occupation of Iraq "the work of butchers."

On Nov. 1, al-Mashhadani had to be physically restrained from attacking a Sunni lawmaker. The speaker had been holding a nationally televised news conference when he lashed out at the legislator, Abdel-Karim al-Samarie, for alleged corruption and failure to attend sessions. He called him a "dog" — a deep insult in Iraq and other Arab societies.

Violence also continued against Iraq's journalists Wednesday, when gunmen sprayed Raad Jaafar Hamadi with bullets as he drove his car in the capital's Washash neighborhood, said police 1st Lt. Maitham Abdul-Razaq. Hamadi worked for the state-run al-Sabah newspaper.

At least 92 journalists have been killed in Iraq since the U.S.-led war began, according to an AP count, based on statistics kept by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

Thirty-six other media employees, including drivers, interpreters and guards, have been killed — all of them Iraqi except for one Lebanese.

The U.S. military reported the deaths of two U.S. soldiers on Tuesday. One was killed by a roadside bomb and the other died from non-combat causes. So far this month, 49 American service members have been killed or died.

News Stories

Private funds pave way for new rehab center

Center for Intrepid opened at Brooke; will benefit servicemen with serious injuries

January 29, 2007 SAN ANTONIO — Wounded warriors from all branches of service will benefit from a $50 million gift formally presented Monday — a state-of-the-art rehabilitation center for soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines recovering from amputations and other serious injuries.

The Center of the Intrepid, at Brooke Army Medical Center, Texas, was built with private funds donated by more than 600,000 Americans to the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund.

The private funds came from people who recognized that all have a duty to give back to the service members who have sacrificed, said Richard Santulli, chairman of the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund.

And it was important to keep the focus on the troops, not the donors, he said — hence, the name “Intrepid” to honor the valor and dedication of those it serves.

“We could have raised the funds in two weeks if we’d have allowed someone to name the building,” he said. “Instead, we chose ‘Intrepid.’”

But one person Santulli did credit was radio personality Don Imus, who played a crucial role in getting the project funded.

When fund-raising stalled at 60 percent, Santulli asked Imus to help — and besides making a personal donation, Imus made the project a daily topic on his radio program, resulting in donations filling the remaining 40 percent within six weeks.

Two new 21-room Fisher Houses, which provide free housing for families of seriously injured service members, also will be turned over to BAMC. That makes four Fisher Houses at BAMC and 37 in all at various military bases.

At the dedication ceremony Monday, 3,200 people gave a standing ovation as the 330 wounded service members who were the real guests of honor filed in.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Peter Pace told them he objected to descriptions that they had lost a limb or other function.

“You gave an arm, you gave a leg, you gave up your sight, as gifts to your nation, that we might live in freedom,” he said, thanking them and their family members as well.

“Those of you who are family members of the fallen and the wounded have served the country as much as anyone who has ever worn the uniform — and we thank you.”

Other speakers included Veterans Affairs Secretary R. James Nicholson, Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England, and Senators Hillary Clinton and John McCain.

The 65,000-square-foot center becomes the new home for BAMC’s Amputee Care Center, as well as providing rehabilitation support for burn patients and patients undergoing “limb salvage” — rebuilding arms and legs seriously damaged, but not amputated.

The main exercise area is adjacent to the shops where prosthetics are made and adjusted, allowing close coordination between therapists and prostheticians.

It includes exercise equipment, a running track and a climbing wall. Also in the center are a gait center, which uses sensor dots and pressure pads to create a 3-D computer analysis of how a patient moves, and a swimming pool that includes an artificial wave pool where patients can work on balance and “core strength.”

Another facility is the Computer Assisted Rehabilitation Environment (CAREN), a giant sphere able to surround a patient with various environments while he or she learns to balance and move on a computer-controlled platform.

While physical therapists retrain patients how to move, occupational therapists focus on how to live, with equipment ranging from a driving simulator with hand controls to a practice apartment.

In the Firearm Training System, computer simulations of everything from range firing to intense urban combat are available, allowing patients intent on returning to service to work on both their tactics and techniques — and psychologically recover from the trauma of combat.

Do you approve or disapprove of the way George W. Bush is handling the situation with Iraq?

Approve 35% Disapprove 42%

Marines lend a helping hand to tiny, unheated Iraqi school

December 29, 2006

An Iraqi schoolgirl waves at the camera during class at the primary school adopted by 9th Engineer Support Battalion. There is no power in the building, so most of the children wear tattered gloves and hats to stay warm during their lessons. The Marines plan to hook up a generator so the school can have heat.
Iraqi children in class Tuesday at the school "adopted" by the Okinawa-based 9th Engineer Support Battalion.
Sgt. Mansoo Masga takes photos of the Iraqi primary school's wiring on Tuesday. The 9th Engineer Support Battalion will be improving aspects of the building.
Marine Gunnery Sgt. Steven Burkett, left, tries to hand out candy in an orderly fashion — one piece at a time — as Lance Cpl. An'Tion Aikins smiles at the kids. "Sometimes you don't realize the impact you're making, but at the school you could see it on their faces," Burkett said. The system soon broke down when some of the older boys from the neighborhood — who are too old for the primary school — took one of the candy boxes and started throwing handfuls to the class.
Lance Cpl. Anna Perez lifts an Iraqi schoolchild away from the candy box on the floor after candy chaos broke out in the classroom. The excited children couldn't get enough. The 9th Engineer Support Battalion Marines will be making regular stops at the primary school to do improvement projects. On Tuesday they dropped off newly built wooden desks and soccer goals. Next, they'll tackle the electricity.

CAMP TAQADDUM, Iraq — Through a bright teal gate that stands out against the monochrome, dusty landscape sits a little school.

It’s a horseshoe-shaped building with a small concrete courtyard in the center. Off to the side an empty dirt lot substitutes for a soccer field. Two rocks on each end mark the goals.

The tiny classrooms lack heat, so many of the young Iraqi children wear tattered gloves and hats during their lessons. There’s little elbow room for them, packed three to a desk.

“Humble” is a good word to describe it.

But the primary school has a new benefactor. It’s been “adopted” by the Marines of 9th Engineer Support Battalion, out of Okinawa, Japan.

The school is in a small town between Ramadi and Fallujah, an area of Anbar province patrolled by Company A, 2-136 Combined Arms Battalion, 34th Infantry, a National Guard unit out of Minnesota.

To help improve daily life — and therefore, hopefully, improve the security situation — company commander Capt. Adam Gilbertson said he put the word out to other units asking for volunteers to adopt schools.

The Marines with 9th ESB jumped at the chance.

“I thought ‘This is what I’ve been waiting for,’ ” said Lt. Col. Mark Menotti, battalion commander. “Marines are very giving. They want to do projects like this.”

In the days before Christmas, 9th ESB’s Company B Marines built 20 wooden desks for the classrooms and two soccer goals to replace the rocks.

And grander plans are in the works.

“There’s a lot we can do,” Capt. Kevin Bright said. “We are an engineer battalion.”

On Tuesday, the Marines dropped off the desks and soccer goals. The convoy, which went out with the National Guard soldiers, was immediately greeted by smiling children in search of sweets. The kids were persistent and relentless, hounding each Marine and soldier for candy, pencils and paper.

Lance Cpl. Evan Keller, 20, got the kids stirred up by taking their photo and then showing them their image on his digital camera. The kids were real hams, posing with funny faces and jostling for camera time.

“I think they liked that better than the stuff given to them,” Keller said.

Most of the Marines seemed to be as excited to be there as the kids were to have them.

“It was awesome — just interacting with the civilians that actually live here, especially the kids. That was great,” Lance Cpl. An’Tion Aikins, 21, said. “It makes you feel good about doing what you do.”

Projects such as adopting a local school probably wouldn’t have been considered two or three years ago, but it’s the natural progression of improving the security situation, Maj. Patrick Hittle, battalion executive officer, said.

“Instead of just going after the bad guys, we’re trying to assist the local communities,” he said.

During Tuesday’s visit to the school, the Marines surveyed the electrical situation, which Maj. Mark Boone, Company B commander, labeled atrocious. The building has no power and the wiring is a mess.

Boone spent most the visit talking with the headmaster about the improvements he’d like to see.

“He was asking for everything under the sun,” Boone said.

First up is addressing the electrical problems. Hooking up a generator is normally a temporary fix, Boone said, but it was the first solution the headmaster threw out because it would be easy to get fuel to keep it going.

Boone said improving the windows so the building is warmer and adding classrooms are some of the things the Marines might do.

“I think we can make an impact on the future of the children of Iraq,” Boone said.

Possible projects were discussed through a translator Tuesday, but the last thing the school’s headmaster said to Boone was in English.

“Thank you very, very, very, very much.”

U.S. troops to plant symbol of peace in Iraq

December 13, 2006 Army troops at Camp Anaconda in northern Iraq will extend an olive branch this weekend to the citizens of that country — or rather, several hundred branches.

The soldiers will plant 200 olive tree saplings — courtesy of several donors and coordinated by a retired Cal Poly agriculture professor — Saturday around the 15-square-mile camp near Balad.

"It’s a gift that is super- symbolic," said Joe Sabol, the retired professor who helped to send the trees to Iraq. "I think it’s a super- positive story that will help our troops feel better about what they’re doing over there."

Sabol punctuated his story in exclamation points as he recounted the tale of how the planting came to be.

In October, an unusual request dropped into the e-mail account of the president of the California Rare Fruit Growers, written by an Army reserve soldier stationed at Camp Anaconda.

One of her unit’s goals is to improve their location, Master Sgt. Patricia Marsano wrote. Her team had researched trees and concluded that the olive tree would be the best to plant and could withstand the area’s hot, windy, dry environment.

"The Olive Tree is a symbol of Peace which is the message we want to leave the citizen (sic) of Iraq," Marsano wrote.

She asked for 164 olive trees to represent her unit, the 164th Corps Support Group. She hoped to get the trees by December.

The e-mail’s recipient, Bill Grimes, forwarded the e-mail to Sabol and other board members of the rare fruit growers group, an organization with chapters in California, Texas, Arizona and Nevada. The group was founded in 1968 and is believed to be the largest amateur fruit-growing organization in the world.

Initially, Sabol didn’t rush to help. But then he began to think of the request as a challenge, to see if he could help meet it.

He contacted Tom Burchell, owner of Burchell Nursery in Oakdale, and the plans took off.

Burchell offered to provide 200 trees at half-price, for $2.50 a tree. "Because this is a special project and a very worthy cause, I felt that we could go half of that" original price, Burchell explained.

An anonymous donor volunteered to cover the cost of buying the trees.

The next task was shipping. "We didn’t want to pay the $2,000 shipping costs to Iraq," Sabol said.

After much discussion, three scrapped plans and one false start, FedEx offered to ship the small, one-pound trees to Iraq for free.

Burchell put the trees in protective sleeves — essentially milk cartons — packed them into boxes and took them to FedEx.

The trees left Ontario, Calif., on Friday. From there they went to Memphis, Tenn., Paris and Dubai, and finally arrived in Balad at 10:30 a.m. Monday (Iraq time).

E-mail that started olive tree planting program in Iraq

Good Afternoon –

My name is Master Sergeant Patricia Marsano and I am an Army Reserve solider currently mobilized at Camp Anaconda, Iraq. One of our goals, as a unit while here in Iraq, is to leave our location looking better than when arrived. Part of our plan to do that includes planting trees in various locations around Camp Anaconda. My team and I have researched various tree specimens and have concluded that the Olive Tree would be a great variety to plant. The weather in Iraq is great for the Olive Tree and growing conditions we feel would be more than sufficient to have a healthy tree. In addition, the Olive Tree is a symbol of Peace which is the message we want to leave the citizen of Iraq.

While doing a search on Olive Trees I came across your association, the California Rare Fruit Growers. Since our unit, the 164th Corps Support Group (CSG) has its higher headquarters, the 63rd Regional Readiness Command (RRC), located in California it was only natural for us to approach a local organization to see if they would be interested in helping us accomplish one of our goals in support of the Global War on Terrorism by donating Olive Trees. We would like to plant 164 trees as a symbol of the 164th CSG. To do this we will have to rely strictly on donations as we have no funding to buy these trees. I have checked with our local terrain management and they are in full support of having Olive Trees planted as our symbol of Peace. I have checked with the local customs agents and they said there would be no problem on getting them into Iraq.

Would you organization be able to help us with this project? We are hoping to get our project completed before December. Our local Public Affairs Office (PAO) is interested in doing a story on this project if we can get the donation of Olive Trees. If you have any questions about our goals or would like to talk further about this request, please contact me at my email address: I will be more than happy to answer whatever questions you may have.

Thank you for taking the time to consider this request. I look forward to hearing from you.

Very respectfully,

MSG Patricia Marsano

Black-Market Weapon Prices Surge in Iraq Chaos

In a Truck A dealer’s wares: rifles, pistols and a grenade launcher.

December 10, 2006 SULAIMANIYA, Iraq, Dec. 8 — The Kurdish security contractor placed the black plastic box on the table. Inside was a new Glock 19, one of the 9-millimeter pistols that the United States issued by the tens of thousands to the Iraqi Army and police.

This pistol was no longer in the custody of the Iraqi Army or police. It had been stolen or sold, and it found its way to an open-air grocery stand that does a lively black-market business in police and infantry arms. The contractor bought it there.

He displayed other purchases, including a short-barreled Kalashnikov assault rifle with a collapsible stock that makes it easy to conceal under a coat or fire from a car. “I bought this for $450 last year,” he said of the rifle. “Now it costs $650. The prices keep going up.”

The market for this American-issued pistol and the ubiquitous assault rifle illustrated how fear, mismanagement and malfeasance are shaping the small-arms market in Iraq.

Weapon prices are soaring along with an expanding sectarian war, as more buyers push prices several times higher than those that existed at the time of the American-led invasion nearly four years ago. Rising prices, in turn, have encouraged an insidious form of Iraqi corruption — the migration of army and police weapons from Iraqi state armories to black-market sales.

All manner of infantry arms, from rocket-propelled grenade launchers to weathered and dented Kalashnikovs, have circulated within Iraq for decades.

But three types of American-issued weapons are now readily visible in shops and bazaars here as well: Glock and Walther 9-millimeter pistols, and pristine, unused Kalashnikovs from post-Soviet Eastern European countries. These are three of the principal types of the 370,000 weapons purchased by the United States for Iraq’s security forces, a program that was criticized by a special inspector general this fall for, among other things, failing to properly account for the arms.

The weapons are easy to find, resting among others in the semihidden street markets here, where weapons are sold in tea houses, the back rooms of grocery kiosks, cosmetics stores and rug shops, or from the trunks of cars. Proprietors show samples for immediate purchase and offer to take orders — 10 guns can be had in two hours, they say, and 100 or more the next day.

“Every type of gun that the Americans give comes to the market,” said Brig. Hassan Nouri, chief of the political investigations bureau for the Sulaimaniya district. “They go from the U.S. Army to the Iraqi Army to the smugglers. I have captured many of these guns that the terrorists bought.”

The forces propelling the trade can be seen in the price fluctuations of the country’s most abundant firearm, the Kalashnikov.

In early 2003, a Kalashnikov in northern Iraq typically cost from $75 to $150, depending on its condition, origin and style. Immediately after the invasion, as fleeing soldiers abandoned their rifles and armories were looted, prices fell, pushed down by a glut and a brief sense of optimism.

Today, the same weapons typically cost $210 to $650, according to interviews with seven arms dealers, two senior Kurdish security officials and several customers. In other areas of Iraq, prices have climbed as high as $800, according to Phillip Killicoat, a researcher who has been assembling data on Kalashnikov prices worldwide for the Small Arms Survey, a Geneva-based organization.

The price ranges reflect not only a weapon’s condition but its model. A Kalashnikov made in a former Soviet-bloc factory costs more than a Kalashnikov made in China, North Korea or Iraq. Collapsible-stock models have become disproportionately expensive. The price ranges do not include the most compact Kalashnikovs, like those Osama bin Laden has been photographed with, which now have a collector’s value in Iraq and can cost as much as $2,000.

In many ways, weapon prices provide a condensed history of Iraq’s slide into chaos.

Prices began moving upward in the summer of 2003 as several classes of customers entered the market together, Iraqi security officials and the arms dealers said. Western security contractors, Sunni insurgent groups, Shiite paramilitary units and criminals who were released from prison by Saddam Hussein before the war all sought the same weapons at once.

Kalashnikov prices quickly reached $200, they said. Since late last year, prices have been moving up again, as sectarian war has spread. Militias have been growing at the same time that more civilians have been seeking weapons for self-defense — twin demand pressures that pushed prices to new heights this fall.

“Now the Sunni want the weapons because they fear the Shia, and the Shia want the weapons because they fear the Sunni,” said Brig. Sarkawt Hassan Jalal, the chief of security in the Sulaimaniya district. “So prices go up.”

Mr. Killicoat put it another way. “When households start entering the market, that’s a free-for-all,” he said.

The surge is evident across a spectrum of arms. Pistol prices have nearly tripled since 2003. Western 9-millimeter pistols now sell for $1,100 to $1,800 in the bazaars of this city. Sniper rifles cost $1,100 to $2,000, the dealers said. In the West, similar pistols sell for $400 to $600.

Arms dealers say that rising prices have led to more extensive pilfering from state armories, including the widespread theft of weapons the United States had issued to Iraq’s police officers and soldiers.

“In the south, if the Americans give the Iraqis weapons, the next day you can buy them here,” said one dealer, who sold groceries in the front of his kiosk and offered weapons in the back. “The Iraqi Army, the Iraqi police — they all sell them right away.”

No weapons were displayed when two visitors arrived. But when asked, the owner and a friend swiftly retrieved six pistols, a rocket-propelled grenade launcher and three Kalashnikovs from a car and another room.

The rifles and the grenade launcher were wrapped in rice sacks. He slipped two of the rifles out of the cloth. They were spotless and unworn, inside and out, and appeared never to have been used. They had folding stocks and were priced at $560 each.

The dealer said they had recently been taken from an Iraqi armory. “Almost all of the weapons come from the Iraqi police and army,” he said. “They are our best suppliers.”

One pistol was a new Walther P99, a 9-millimeter pistol that the dealer said had been issued by the Americans to the Iraqi police. It was still in its box.

Glock pistols were also easy to find. One young Iraqi man, Rebwar Mustafa, showed a Glock 19 he had bought at the bazaar in Kirkuk last year for $900. Five of his friends have bought identical models, he said.

When asked if he was surprised that the Iraqi police and soldiers sold their own guns, he scoffed.

“Everything goes to the bazaar,” he said.

He added: “It is not only pistols. A lot of police cars are being sold. The smugglers brought us three cars and asked if we wanted to buy them. Their doors were still blue, and police labels were on them. The lights were still on top.”

Although the scale of weapons sales is unmistakably large, it is impossible to measure precisely. Sales are almost always hidden and unrecorded.

Tracing American-issued weapons back to Iraqi units that sell them is especially difficult because the United States did not register serial numbers for almost all of the 370,000 small arms purchased for Iraqi security forces, according to a report by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction.

The weapons were paid for with $133 million from the Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund. Among them were at least 138,000 new Glock pistols and at least 165,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles that had not previously been used, according to the report.

Lt. Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, commander of the Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq, agreed that weapons provided by the United States had slipped from custody.

“I certainly concede that there are weapons that have been lost, stolen and misappropriated,” General Dempsey said. He noted that the inspector general had estimated that 4 percent, or about 14,000 weapons, were lost between arriving in Iraq and being transferred to Iraqi forces. Most of the weapons were pistols.

The general said that he thought the estimate was high and that accountability was improving. A weapons registry was being created, he said. “Serial numbers are being registered,” he said.

But the estimate of a 4 percent loss did not include weapons that were lost or stolen after being issued to Iraqi units. The arms dealers said this was the main source of their goods.

The arms dealers described several factors that kept weapons flowing from state custody.

Some have been taken by insurgents in ambushes or raids. Defections and resignations have also been common in Iraqi police and army units, they said, and often departing soldiers and officers leave with their weapons, which are worth more than several months of pay.

Aaron Karp, a small-arms researcher at Old Dominion University, said Iraq resembled African countries that had had extraordinary difficulties with the police selling off their guns. “The gun becomes the most valuable thing in the household,” he said.

“If anything happens to a police officer’s family and he needs money, he walks into work the next day and says, ‘Hey, my gun got stolen.’ ”

Another weapons dealer, who Kurdish officials said had been providing them with weapons since 1991, said the latest black-market sales followed an old pattern precisely.

Throughout Mr. Hussein’s rule, Iraqi Army officers were in the arms trade, he said, selling weapons to smugglers. This was how the Kurdish guerrillas kept themselves supplied.

Now, he said, the smugglers remain in business, and their trade is made easier because the units often do not have inventories. “I am surprised sometimes by the numbers,” he said. “Sometimes they come by the hundreds.”

From fortified outpost, GIs keep wary eye on tough Iraqi town

1-18 soldiers watch Ta’meem from inside Combat Outpost Steel

Through a hole on the roof of Combat Outpost Steel, U.S. soldiers can keep an eye on the Ramadi suburb of Ta’meem, where roadside bombs and sniper attacks have been regular occurrences.
Capt. Adam Rudy, commander of Company B, 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, prepares to leave a motor vehicle registration office in Ta’meem, Iraq, after discussing how cars are accounted for in the suburb of Ramadi in Anbar province.
Capt. Adam Rudy, left, commander of Company B, 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, and an interpreter talk with a man at a motor vehicle registration office in Ta’meem, Iraq.
A young boy watches a U.S. military armored Humvee as it drives down a street in Ta’meem, Iraq.
A young girl and a man watch a U.S. military armored Humvee as it drives down a street in Ta’meem, Iraq.

November 28, 2006 TA’MEEM, Iraq — Talk about your mean streets. Even U.S. soldiers won’t walk down them in daylight.

Not if they don’t have to. Not even with Kevlar helmets, bulletproof vests, and shatter-resistant goggles.

Walk down the streets of Ta’meem? In broad daylight? No way. Not if you can’t even say hello.

“If you don’t have an interpreter, doing a foot patrol isn’t really useful,” said Capt. Adam Rudy of the Schweinfurt, Germany-based 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment. “You’re not making any headway. Just walking down the street doesn’t do you anything but get you shot at.”

That’s how it is in Ta’meem, even for soldiers like Rudy’s Company B “Predators,” who are as much prey as predator in this nervous suburb of Ramadi, where bombs are planted in the streets and snipers lurk.

The plan to fix the mess in Ta’meem and turn the town back over to Iraqi soldiers, Iraqi police and its 25,000 legitimate residents centers around a place called Combat Outpost Steel.

It’s a fortress that opened on Oct. 12 in the middle of Ta’meem from where soldiers of the 1-18 and an Iraqi battalion work. The plan is to use the inkblot strategy: Set up shop in the middle of hostile territory and make things right, one block at a time.

COP Steel and its soldiers will stay put until the snipers and bombers are swept out of town.

Ta’meem’s residential area is less than two miles long and a mile wide. It’s not fraught with the Shiite vs. Sunni sectarian violence that plagues Baghdad and other areas. There is a skeletal industrial zone and nearby, a barely functioning university. Many who used to work in factories and attend the university live here.

Across the Euphrates River lies downtown Ramadi, capital of Anbar province.

Perhaps by the end of the Predators’ yearlong tour, COP Steel will become an Iraqi army base or police station.

But for now the 1-18 soldiers largely communicate with the children of Ta’meem by waving through the bulletproof glass of their armored vehicles, from which the soldiers of COP Steel do much of their daytime work.

Keeping a lookout

Soldiers park at key intersections and watch for people acting suspiciously, such as digging holes for roadside bombs.

“No unauthorized stopping,” read signs in Arabic at one notorious intersection. “If stopped, you may be fired upon by Iraqi and coalition forces.”

Soldiers use the evening to do “census missions,” knocking on doors and introducing themselves. Residents are asked through an interpreter how many people live there, which mosques they attend, if they have jobs, and if they have issues that need to be addressed.

“We don’t come in to secure (a) house,” Rudy said. “We come in to get the pulse of the population. A lot of times people say, ‘We know where the bad people are.’”

The Iraqi soldiers, who work with U.S. military advisers, do patrol the neighborhood on foot. They oversee about 20 percent of Ta’meem. Since they speak the language, they have a natural advantage, said Marine Sgt. Timothy Embree, of Military Transition Team 10, which advises the Iraqi battalion.

Embree said the locals have reacted favorably to the Iraqi soldiers, and to Americans such as himself who walk with them.

“A big thing in the Arab culture is ‘masta,’ or macho,” Embree said. “You earn it by showing your manliness,” such as by patrolling on foot with less obvious protection, and trusting the people you’re with.

The long-stated goal of the U.S. military is to enable Iraqi forces to take over.

The plan here calls for the 1-18 soldiers to slowly phase themselves out of work. But the people are scared, Rudy said. Those who want to cooperate with U.S. and Iraqi forces feel intimidated.

Taming a town

Rudy’s soldiers have been in business for six weeks.

They’ve rounded up about 45 people who will be going to jail for planning and/or executing violence against U.S. and Iraqi forces, as well as general bullying.

The soldiers have found caches of mortars, artillery shells, rocket-propelled grenades and other paraphernalia, including a car that was hollowed out for possible use as a car bomb.

The Predators have lost a soldier, Cpl. Eric Palacios, killed by a sniper.

One Humvee driver lost his leg to a roadside bomb; a Humvee was disabled by an armor-piercing round to the engine.

“That’s why last night, it felt pretty good to nab some bad guys,” 1st Lt. Brian Miletich, a platoon leader, said of a recent raid.

The crew is not the first to try to rein in Ta’meem.

A unit from the Pennsylvania Army National Guard’s 2nd Brigade, 28th Infantry Division previously patrolled there. Soldiers from the Baumholder, Germany-based 2nd Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment spent four months patrolling Ta’meem, losing seven soldiers and others wounded.

Now, though, is the first time soldiers have actually been based there.

In addition to the military mission, soldiers such as Company B 1st Sgt. Jerry Almario have simple desires.

“My personal goal is bringing my boys home,” Almario said. “That should be the goal of every first sergeant.”

The bigger picture calls for Ta’meem’s citizens to govern themselves and walk their streets with peace of mind while blue-shirted Iraqi policemen uphold law and order.

Who knows what Ta’meem will look like after the soldiers’ yearlong tour?

“From when we took over to where we are now,” Rudy said, “I think it’s better.”


Commander: Half of Ramadi is dangerous

January 30, 2007

ARLINGTON, Va. — U.S. and coalition forces can go anywhere in Ramadi they please, but about half of the city remains dangerous, the top commander of Multi-National Force-West said Monday.

“We control the entire city — if I desire to go anywhere in the city,” said Marine Maj. Gen. Richard Zilmer.

But Zilmer said that “maybe as much as 50 percent” of Ramadi is still dangerous.

“The enemy still has the ability to move around; he will go where we are not, and we understand that, but if we must go someplace, then — again — there is no challenge to us that prevents us to go anywhere we need to go,” he said.

Ramadi has long been an insurgency hot spot. In May, Brig. Gen. Carter Ham of the Joint Staff told reporters that the city was in “contest.”

“There are clearly areas in which it is tough for the legitimate leaders in that city to operate and we’ve got to help them regain that ability to do so,” Ham said.

Since last summer, U.S. and coalition forces have worked to establish security throughout Ramadi, Zilmer said Monday.

The arrival in Ramadi of the Germany-based 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division in June allowed U.S. and coalition forces to set up checkpoints to screen all traffic on major roadways going into and out of the city, he said.

U.S. troops also built forward operating bases that double as Iraqi police stations in the city’s worst neighborhoods to develop a “full-time dismounted presence throughout the city,” he said.

The efforts since summer have paid off, Zilmer said.

“Early last summer, the [insurgent] attacks which we call ‘complex attacks,’ would last sometimes for 30 minutes to two hours,” he said. “The level of the attacks we’re seeing right now is significantly less than that.”

While the shopkeepers are returning to Ramadi and the city’s police department is getting bigger, there is still a long way to go, he said.

“It has been a fight in Ramadi and it is still a dangerous — parts of it are very dangerous,” Zilmer said.

Iraq's civil war worsened Friday

Wave of retaliation sweeps Iraq

Shiite bloc's threatened walkout could lead to the government's collapse.


Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr warned the prime minister not to meet with President Bush.

November 25, 2006 BAGHDAD — Iraq's civil war worsened Friday as Shiite and Sunni Arabs engaged in retaliatory attacks after coordinated car bombings that killed more than 200 people in a Shiite neighborhood the day before. A main Shiite political faction threatened to quit the government, a move that probably would cause its collapse and plunge the nation deeper into disarray.

The massacre Thursday in Sadr City — a stronghold of Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada Sadr and his Al Mahdi militia — sparked attacks around the country, reinforced doubts about the effectiveness of the Iraqi government and U.S. military and emboldened Shiite vigilantes.

In a sermon Friday, Sadr, a strong opponent of the United States, said the Pentagon's refusal to grant full control of Iraqi security forces to the Baghdad government was leaving the populace vulnerable to insurgent attacks.

And as Sadr's militiamen took matters into their own hands in battles with Sunni Arabs, his political representatives demanded that Prime Minister Nouri Maliki signal his displeasure with the U.S. military occupation by canceling a meeting with President Bush next week in Jordan.

Sadr's representatives said they would withdraw from Maliki's government if the prime minister did not meet their demands.

In spite of an emergency curfew, gunfire crackled throughout the day and mortar rounds arced over Baghdad's jagged skyline, smashing into houses of worship, residences and shops.

By Friday night, at least 65 deaths had been reported in the capital and elsewhere.

A dozen or more Sunni mosques around the country were hit by mortar rounds and gunfire or were burned down by Shiite mobs. Masked members of Sadr's militia swept through Sunni areas, setting up checkpoints and threatening to execute families that didn't leave their homes within 48 hours.

Hurriya, a mixed area of the capital, saw some of Friday's fiercest fighting. Uniformed men in police vehicles roared through the streets launching rocket-propelled grenades into houses and raking Sunni mosques with gunfire, said an Iraqi police officer stationed in the area. The attackers killed three security guards at a mosque and injured 10 worshipers inside.

"They proceeded to bombard the building with rocket-propelled grenades and hand grenades, starting a fire that consumed the structure," said the officer, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisal.

Attackers ambushed

As the uniformed assailants advanced to another area, members of the Battawia tribe, a prominent Sunni clan in the area, fought back.

"They were ready for them and … ambushed the attackers, countering them with RPGs and machine guns," the officer said. The ensuing fight brought casualties on both sides. A nearby hospital reported that it had received 28 dead and 32 injured.

The policeman said he and fellow officers stood alongside Iraqi army units near the battle, watching the bloodshed.

"The army did not interfere," he said. "And we [the police] didn't receive any orders to interfere. We would not have interfered even in the event that we were ordered to do so, because this is the Iraqi army's turf."

By Friday night, police had discovered at least 11 bodies around Baghdad. But the reprisals were not limited to the capital.

In Baqubah, 25 miles to the northeast, Sunni insurgents and Shiite militiamen exchanged ragged bursts of machine-gun fire in the streets and lobbed thunderous explosives as imams called out "Allahu akbar," or "God is great," from the city's mosques.

Insurgents used bombs to destroy an office of the Sadr movement shortly after U.S. troops raided the building and detained six militiamen. Later in the day, militiamen responded by destroying a Sunni mosque and toppling its minaret.

In the far northern town of Tall Afar, a car bomb blast ripped through a crowded car dealership, killing at least 22 people and injuring 26.

In the northern oil hub of Kirkuk, police found the bulletriddled body of a pipeline security guard, and a bomb damaged the Wahab mosque, one of the largest Sunni mosques in the city.

In the southern port city of Basra, rocket-propelled grenades damaged a mosque, the headquarters of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq and an apartment complex, injuring 15 people.

In Fallouja, a restive Sunni city in western Al Anbar province, a car bomb exploded at an Iraqi army checkpoint, killing at least six soldiers.

Meanwhile, a caravan of grieving Shiites drove casket-laden vehicles from Sadr City to Najaf's ancient necropolis to bury victims of Thursday's attack, the deadliest single incident in Iraq since U.S. forces toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Mourners carried the dead around the shrine of Imam Ali, the most important religious figure for Shiites after Muhammad, before burying them in the "martyr's cemetery," a series of plots festooned with Al Mahdi banners and posters of Muqtada Sadr on the edge of Najaf's tombstone forest. Amid wailing relatives and chanting militiamen, mourners lowered the remains into the earth.

"The reaction [to the bombings] will be huge," said Tahseen Ali Shareef, 28, a Najaf resident who watched the funeral processions. "The families of the victims will not be silent. The streets will be haunted with fear."

As Sunni and Shiite gunmen fought in the streets, Sadr and his followers lobbed rhetorical bombs into Iraq's political arena.

From his pulpit in the southern city of Kufa, Sadr called on Iraq's most prominent Sunni cleric, Harith Dhari — who became a fugitive this month after the government issued a warrant for his arrest for his alleged support of terrorism — to publicly forbid Sunnis to kill Shiites or to join Al Qaeda.

Sadr also demanded that Dhari, who is currently not in Iraq, issue an edict urging Sunnis to fund the reconstruction of a revered shrine in Samarra. Insurgents blew up the shrine in February, launching a similar storm of sectarian battles that left hundreds of people dead.

Sadr also reiterated his demand for the withdrawal of U.S. troops, whom he blamed for the violence.

"I denounce and condemn this incident which targeted the beloved Sadr City," Sadr said. "From this pulpit … I renew my demand for the withdrawal of occupation forces."

Sadr's political representatives in Baghdad, meanwhile, threatened to withdraw from the government if Maliki met with Bush as scheduled on Wednesday and Thursday in Jordan.

"If the situation does not improve, the government does not offer services and the prime minister doesn't cancel his meeting with George Bush in Amman, we shall suspend our membership in the parliament and any participation in the government," the Sadr bloc said in a statement.

White House officials said Maliki had confirmed that he would attend the meeting, and Iraqi officials discounted the Sadr group's demands as empty threats.

"I think this is a red herring," national security advisor Mowaffak Rubaie said. "It is more political posturing, but it doesn't mean anything."

But some observers say Sadr's demands could pose a serious challenge to Maliki.

A potential vacuum

If the Sadr bloc carries out its threat of a political walkout, Maliki's government will almost certainly collapse, leaving an even greater authority vacuum that militias and insurgents could exploit.

However, if Maliki backs out of his meeting with Bush, he could be severely weakened, losing any chance of reining in Sadr's paramilitary forces.

Canceling would also signal to other factions that they might be able to run roughshod over Maliki.

"Sadr is basically challenging Maliki's ability to govern," said P.J. Crowley, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel and a fellow at the Center for American Progress, a think tank in Washington. "He has to respond in a way that allows him to survive and actually strengthens his hand."

Anthony Cordesman, a former Defense Department official and a military expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, another Washington think tank, said Sadr's challenge to Dhari might be even more dangerous than that to Maliki. If the Sunnis fail to satisfy Sadr, Cordesman argued, sectarian violence could grow even worse.

"It's going to take a couple days to know how serious this is," he said. "Will this lead to a large-scale civil war? The worse case is that this leads to enough misunderstanding and anger to drive the country into full-scale civil war. The more likely result is that it will take a week to 10 days to play out and depend on the Sunni response. A lot will also depend on what Maliki does."

Despite frequent complaints about the Iraqi government and the U.S. military, most of Iraq's political and religious leadership called for calm Friday.

In a display of unity, several members of Maliki's Cabinet — Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds among them — held an emergency meeting to discuss the deteriorating situation.

And in mosques around Iraq, clerics preached about unity, intra-sectarian accord and blame for the United States.

"As we denounce the killings of the innocent in Sadr City yesterday, we must also hold the U.S. and British troops as well as the government responsible for what happened," said Abdul Kareem Ghazi, a preacher and supporter of Sadr.

"It is true that the perpetrators of these operations are the terrorists and Saddamists, but their tactics are designed by the occupation forces, and they are the beneficiaries of what is happening.",0,1345526.story?coll=la-home-headlines

Words of war collected in ‘Operation Homecoming’

NEA project seeks to preserve soldiers’ stories

November 12, 2006

A participant concentrates on her craft in an Operation Homecoming writing workshop at Hurlburt Air Field, Fort Walton Beach, Fla.

Contributing authors attend the Sept. 12 Operation Homecoming book launch party at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

Following are excerpts from the book “Operation Homecoming: Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Home Front, in the Words of U.S. Troops and Their Families,” edited by Andrew Carroll.

The book was part of a two-year project developed by the National Endowment for the Arts called Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience.

The goal of the project was to preserve the stories and reflections of the latest generation of Americans and their families to experience war, according to NEA officials.

Preserving their words

When Capt. Michael Sullivan e-mailed his family from Iraq on Dec. 12, 2003, his description of his day would have sounded familiar to thousands of servicemembers who have deployed to that country:

“Frankly, I easily could have been killed or at least seriously injured — it really just came down to the timing.”

Sullivan was stationed with the 82nd Airborne Division’s 313th Military Intelligence Battalion at Forward Operating Base Champion in Ramadi.

The day before Sullivan sent his e-mail, a car bomb detonated just outside his division’s headquarters. The blast wounded 14 soldiers and contractors, and killed the three Iraqis and an escort who were in the truck.

Sullivan was unhurt, even though his living quarters were “20 feet away at the most,” he wrote.

Normally, Sullivan told his family, he would have been lifting weights outside his quarters right about the time the truck exploded, exposing him directly to the blast.

Instead, “by a miracle of timing,” he and his friends had made plans to lift 30 minutes later that afternoon.

But two soldiers who were on the porch “were blown backwards through the front doors and into the building,” he wrote. “Both suffered injuries, one fairly severe, but they both survived. It took quite a while to mop up all the blood.”

Sullivan’s e-mail, titled “Try Not to Worry About Me,” is one of about 90 short stories, poems, letters and journal entries that make up “Operation Homecoming: Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Home Front in the Words of American Troops and Their Families,” which was edited by Andrew Carroll.

The book’s entries were selected from more than 1,200 submissions by servicemembers who have spent time in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as members of their families.

The book is almost impossible to put down. Some of the writing is laugh-out-loud funny, some is solemn, some is achingly sad. And with only a very small handful of exceptions, the submissions are heartfelt, honest, original, and free from flag-waving.

The selection of writings runs the full spectrum of emotions and topics, from soldiers describing their close calls to suddenly widowed spouses talking about how difficult it is to deal with a house full of children.

Reading the stories can be a humbling experience, particularly for a journalist. No matter how much time a reporter might spend embedded with a unit, the only way to really begin to understand what it’s like to wear a uniform and be in combat is to listening to the voices of the servicemembers themselves.

“Operation Homecoming” was part of a two-year project developed by the National Endowment for the Arts, called Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience.

The goal of the project was to preserve the stories and reflections of the latest generation of Americans and their families to experience war, according to NEA officials.

— Lisa Burgess / S&S

This is not a game

Army Capt. Ryan Kelly, 1st Battalion, 150th General Support Aviation Regiment, 42nd Infantry Division (Mechanized), New Jersey National Guard. From a letter to his mother dated Jan. 21, 2005, written from Camp Speicher, Iraq:

If it weren’t for the Army uniforms and the constant noise of helicopters taking off and landing, and the Russian 747-like jets screaming overhead every hour of the day, and the F-16s screeching around looking for something to kill, and the rockets exploding and the controlled blasts shaking the windows and the “thump, thump, thump” sound of the Apache gun ships shooting their 30mm guns in the middle of the night, and the heat and the cold, and the hero missions [moving KIA remains] and the body bags and the stress, and the soldiers fraught with personal problems — child custody battles fought from 3,000 miles away, surgeries on ovaries, hearts, breasts, brains, cancers, transplants, divorces, Dear John Letters, births, deaths, miscarriages and miss-marriages — and the scorpions and the spiders who hide under the toilet seats, and the freakish bee-sized flies humming around like miniature blimps, and the worst: the constant pangs of home, the longing for family, the knowledge that life is rolling past you like an unstoppable freight train, an inevitable force, reinforcing the desire for something familiar, the longing for something beautiful, for something safe, to be somewhere safe, with love and laughter and poetry and cold lemonade and clean sheets, if it weren’t for all that Iraq would be just like home. Almost.

What’s going on over here?

Army Sgt. Timothy J. Gaestel, 1st Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division. Gaestel’s vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device on Highway 8 south of Baghdad on Sept. 21, 2003. He wrote his father an e-mail account of the event from the Combat Support Hospital in Baghdad.

I reached around and felt my back and pulled my hand back and it was cover with blood, before that I honestly thought it just hit my IBA [body armor] and gone right through it.

I laid down on the back of the truck but this didn’t seem like a good idea and I didn’t have my weapon and had to yell for the S-2 to give me my weapon, I didn’t want an ambush to happen and for me not to have my weapon. So I stood up on my knees and yelled again to him to man the 240B [mounted gun], he was scared but that’s what happened when you don’t ever get any kind of training and you sit in an office all day. This guy didn’t react very well, when I showed him my back he started flipping out and yelling “oh, G you got him man, oh he’s hit bad man.” This is the last thing that you tell someone who has just been hit in the back and is bleeding. As you can imagine I was pretty pissed off at this point and I showed my anger toward the people in the town that we were driving through, I had my M-4 rifle at the ready and my trigger finger on the trigger and just waiting for someone to give me a reason to put it from safe to semi. I maintained my military bearing as well as one could in that situation. I sure wanted to shoot the bastard that had set the IED off. The people in the town must have thought I was crazy because I was cursing and yelling and wanting someone to give me one reason why they shouldn’t have me kill them.

Manning the home front

Peter Madsen. Madsen, a former soldier who was medically retired in 1999, is married to an Army Reserve medic, Spec. Julie Madsen. When Julie was deployed to Iraq in March 2004, Peter remained in North Carolina and cared for the couple’s three children: daughter Tyler, age 11; son Joshua, age 10; and daughter Erin, age 7.

When Julie first left for Iraq, I didn’t do as well as I thought I might. I sat in bed telling myself over and over that I could do this. Then the panic set in, and I cried. I had no idea how to get the kids to school on time, let alone how to feed them on a daily basis. I was simply not prepared for this. Apparently, our wives do more than sit around eating bonbons and watching the Home Shopping Network. The list of things that keep a house in running order doesn’t get done by itself, and that was pretty apparent in our home within days of Julie’s departure.

The house was a mess, the laundry pile grew daily, and the kids were rather unimpressed with the menu selection. I was lying on the couch watching Oprah on TiVo one evening after work when they gathered around. The eldest cleared her throat. “Dad,” she said, then paused to gather her thoughts. “Dad, we really don’t like pizza that much anymore.”

I looked at the younger two, and they were nodding rather emphatically. Being a good father, I realized we needed to make a change.

Two weeks later, they came back. This time Joshua, my middle child, spoke. “Dad, we don’t like Chinese, either.”

Road work

Army Staff Sgt. Jack Lewis, Tactical Operations Detachment 1290, 1-25 Stryker Brigade Combat Team. During his Iraq deployment, in February 2005, Lewis witnessed a collision between a 19-ton Stryker wheeled combat vehicle and a small car. No U.S. personnel were injured, but the young Iraqi driver, an honors engineering student driving his elderly father home from a shopping trip to a nearby town, was killed instantly. His father was nearly insane with grief. Lewis, a combat lifesaver, tries to calm the man and dress his wounds:

I wrapped a head bandage onto him and tied it gently in back. It looked like a traditional headdress with a missing top. Every few seconds he would get animated, and I would put my hand firmly on his shoulder. He would not hold still long enough for me to splint his arm.

“Why can’t he shut up?”

“You ever lose a kid?” This is a pointless question to ask a soldier who’s practically a kid himself.

… Forty minutes later, a medic arrived.

“What’s his status, sergeant?”

“He has a cut left earlobe. I think his hand is broken.” (I think his heart is broken).

“Roger. Okay, I got this.”

“Thanks.” (Bless you for what you do every day, doc.)

I get out of the way, letting the old guy go for the first time in almost an hour. He starts wailing again almost immediately.

An interpreter arrives on the scene.

Finally, I had to ask, “What does he keep saying?”

The terp looked at me, disgusted, resigned, or maybe just plain tired. “He says to kill him now.”

A little later, while the remains of the young Iraqi are being carried to an ambulance, Lewis goes to sit next to the Iraqi father on the back gate of the Stryker.

I felt the cold creep into me. The old man sat next to me, perhaps too tired to continue his tirade against cruel Fate, careless Americans, war, and its accidents.

I haven’t lost a full-grown son, just a little daughter. A baby. And she wasn’t torn from me in a terror of rending steel, stamped out by a sudden monster roaring out of the night. She went so quietly that her passing never woke her mother. I like to think that she kissed me on the way out, on her way home.

But still, sitting on the steel tail of the monster that killed his son, I think I knew exactly how one Iraqi man felt.

“Just kill me now.”

We sat and looked straight into the lights.

Here among these ruins

Army Spc. Helen Gerhardt, 122st Transportation Company, Missouri National Guard. In her e-mail home, Gerhardt shared her first impressions of the Iraqi people and their country, which seemed to be a curious mix of the ancient and the modern:

The first face I saw closely was a girl maybe ten years old, thin, but beating time on a half-full water bottle as she danced up and down on the shoulder of the road with confident grace. She looked straight into my eyes with no trace of humility, her brilliant smile seemed to command acknowledgment of a beauty impossible to deny anything to, her cinnamon and curry-colored gown waved like a flag of bold pleasure in past triumphs. I wished I could throw roses and roast beef, confetti and corndogs, wanted to celebrate her gutsy contrast to my worst fears and get a good square meal into her belly. Behind her, an older woman stood still and straight, wrapped in black, staring through her daughter and me to the desert beyond.

After Gerhardt arrives at the unit’s destination, a former Iraqi army base in Mosul:

In the regular soldier’s barracks, I found a detail that irrationally moved me … A black-bottomed coffee pot sat in the sill of a window, its spout pointing out the heavy bars on the windows toward the foothills in the distance. Here, the poorly fed draftees of years past must have shared coffee and cigarettes, read letters from home, told each other news of the families we knew they had not volunteered to leave. I sat there a long time, the door open behind me, finally moved to take myself back to the army barracks I had freely chosen. Just outside the door I found a boy waiting for me. “Thank you,” he said, his light brown eyes looking straight into mine, and then he smiled with what seemed years’ worth of relief. Despite all my reservations about this war, I could not help but wonder if he was thanking me for freeing father, uncle or brother from a cell like that I’d walked so easily out of.

Lunch with pirates

Army Staff Sgt. Clint Douglas, 20th Special Forces Group (Airborne), Illinois National Guard. In his personal narrative, Douglas says that he and his men worked well with most of the provincial officials appointed by Afghan President Hamid Karzai. But they did have one nemesis: Zia Audin, the local warlord in Gardez, who lived with his band of cutthroats and outcasts at “Bala Hissar”:

… or Castle Greyskull, as we called it, a massive fortification built by the British in the nineteenth century in the middle of Gardez. It dwarfed all the other structures in town and dominated the entire mountain plain that surrounded the city.

Zia Audin — sorry, General Audin — was responsible for many of the rocket attacks on our firebase and at least some of the IEDs that exploded around our patrols. All of the American and Afghan agencies around the region knew this, and most interestingly Zia Audin knew that we knew. But he didn’t try to kill us out of a sense of either hatred or malice in his heart; he did it out of jealousy and pride, for Zia Audin was heartbroken. He suffered from an unrequited love of America, and this was awkward for all parties. So Zia Audin, in a fit of adolescent pique, did what came naturally — he tried to kill us.

But the 20th SFG had their revenge:

“We’d whittled away at Zia Audin’s power and his honor to the point where his men sat dispersed at their various barracks despised, bored and hungry. Because of their previous turns at bad behavior, the locals were enthusiastic about informing on them. Shame is a powerful force in Afghanistan, and we disgraced these sad, pitiful [expletives] without mercy. The consistency with which the Americans had dealt with Zia Audin had also generated no small amount of goodwill among much of the local population.

Night flight to Baghdad

Air Force Master Sgt. Thomas Young, 167th Airlift Wing, West Virginia Air National Guard. Here is his personal narrative:

We park on a cargo ramp and off-load again, with engines running. I wipe my face with a handkerchief, double-check the takeoff speed and distance, then take a swig of water and a whiff of oxygen, just to clear the cobwebs. The loadmasters are almost too good. Before I can unbuckle my harness and stretch my legs, the guys have the cargo off the airplane.

“We’re all closed up back here,” calls Shambaugh. “Let’s get the hell out of Dodge.”

Works for me. As we taxi out, I briefly imagine Saddam himself boarding an aircraft ramp in his better days. No time to ponder that now, though. Throttle up, brakes released, and we’re off again, lifting into the angry night over Baghdad.

Langley’s flying now, and he wants what the Air Force pilots call “smash.” Smash is kinetic energy. Up high, it’s altitude we can convert into speed by diving. Down low where we are it’s velocity we can trade for altitude or a good, hard turn.

“I’m lowering the nose to get more speed,” Langley says, thinking out loud. I’ll remember that sentence for the rest of my life.

A tremendous flash lights up the cockpit like daylight. Magnified by night vision goggles, it blinds me.

For a tenth of a second I think: there’s a fireball. It’s all over.

The missile warning tone screeches like a demon. Langley whips the airplane into a steep bank, and my arm grows heavy with the pull of g-forces.

I expect heat, pain, fire, eternity.

Instead comes speed, and speed brings life. I realize I felt no impact, my vision is restored, and this airplane is still flying.

Humble chief gains national attention

Chief Master Sgt. John Gebhardt and his wife, Mindy, share a quiet moment with their dog, Cole, at their home in Wichita, Kan. The chief is the superintendent of 22nd Wing Medical Group at McConnell Air Force Base, Kan. He has recently gained worldwide attention for a photo of him comforting an Iraqi child. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Jeremy Larlee)

November 10, 2006 - MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. (AFPN) -- All of the attention embarrasses him, but as this chief master sergeant learned recently, a lifetime of caring and good deeds is bound to catch up with you eventually.

Chief Master Sgt. John Gebhardt, superintendent of the 22nd Wing Medical Group here, recently gained worldwide attention for a photo of him holding an injured Iraqi child. The photo was taken about a month ago, while he was deployed to Balad Air Base in Iraq.

The young infant had received extensive gunshot injuries to her head when insurgents attacked her family killing both of her parents and many of her siblings. The chief had a knack for comforting her and they often would catch a cat nap together in a chair.

Compassion Chief
Chief Master Sgt. John Gebhardt cradles a young Iraqi girl as they both sleep in the hospital. The girl's entire family was executed by insurgents. The killers shot her in the head but she survived. The girl received treatment at the U.S. military hospital in Balad, but cries often. According to nurses at the facility, Chief Gebhardt is the only one who can calm down the girl, so he holds her at night while they both sleep in a chair. Chief Gebhardt was assigned to the 332nd Expeditionary Medical Group at Balad Air Base, Iraq. (U.S. Air Force photo/David W. Gilmore Jr.)

Now, he is back at home in Wichita, Kan., with his wife, Mindy. They have a warm, hospitable home five minutes away from McConnell Air Force Base. His son Ryan, 25, and daughter Amber, 23, have long since outgrown being cradled and he said he thought about them constantly while he held the Iraqi child.

"I got as much enjoyment out of it as the baby did," he said. "I reflected on my own family and life and thought about how lucky I have been."

His affection for children is no secret to his wife, Mindy. While dating John in high school, she watched how he bonded with the child of a coach of one of his athletic teams. That softer side of him is one of the reasons she married him.

"People see him as this tough guy," she said, "but I always see that other side of him that is full of compassion."

The chief, who grew up in Jordan, New York, is not at home in the spotlight. When asked to talk about himself, he always tries to switch the focus to the other military people who served with him at Balad.

While deployed to Iraq, the chief tried to help out any way he could. He figured holding a baby that needed comforting that would free up one more set of arms that could be providing care to more critical patients.

"If I have an opportunity to help out, I look for that opportunity," he said. "They had more than enough to do."

The chief was not alone in volunteering at the hospital. There were more than 800 different volunteers at the hospital during the time he was deployed to Iraq, he said. Some of them volunteered so much that he mistakenly thought they were assigned to the hospital.

When Mindy describes the best qualities of her husband, the first word out of her mouth is integrity. She said the photo of her husband and the Iraqi child truly represents him. She believes he has been so successful because he is such a straight-shooter and puts others' welfare ahead of his own.

"He never leads anyone astray," she said. "He will never do something for himself that would have a negative effect on someone else. He always tells it like it is."

But, the chief attributes his success to his family.

"Without their support I don't know where I would be," he said. "I definitely wouldn't be in the position I am."

And it is the chief's hope that families in Iraq will receive the same kind of support in the future. They are just like American families, Chief Gebhardt said.

"I pray for the best for the Iraqi children," he said. "I can't tell the difference between their kids and our kids. The Iraqi parents have the same care and compassion for their children as any American."

Life is calmer for Chief Gebhardt now that he is back home, and even though his recent "fame" has highlighted an eventful 27-year career, he said he wouldn't change a thing.

"If I had to do it over again, I would sign up and give it another ride," he said.

Families dread idea of losing war

They hope for Iraq end that dignifies their loved ones

When Cpl. David Bass was killed in Iraq 21 days shy of his 21st birthday, his mother, Tammy Delle, of Madison, was confident she lost him to a noble cause.

The only thing that could take that away from her is losing the war.

With the Democratic Party taking leadership of Congress and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld resigning his position the next day, Delle is concerned about what direction the war might take.

"If anything, I'm more supportive of the war since my son was killed," Delle said. "I would feel like, if our troops pulled out without accomplishing the mission, my son would have died in vain. It really is a mission."

Delle's son is among more than 60 U.S. service members from Tennessee killed in action during Operation Iraqi Freedom. After Tuesday's election defeat, President George W. Bush acknowledged that the war was not progressing as many Americans would like, and that he was open to suggestions on how to win. The political upheaval from the unpopular war has some of the slain troops' families questioning whether their sacrifices will be worthwhile.

Delle said she wished she could bring her son home again and that her pain was intensified every time she heard of another soldier lost to the battle. But she thinks it would be much harder to cope if American troops were pulled from Iraq before victory is achieved. "I think our country is quite capable of winning," Delle said. "If we give up, if we surrender, then we are in trouble as a country." Political strategists doubt that any dramatic changes in Iraq strategy will happen quickly. "In the Vietnam era, Richard Nixon used to say you must get a peace that vindicates the sacrifice of the men who died," Vanderbilt University history professor Thomas Schwartz said.

The next step is to disengage, but leave a democracy stable enough to sustain itself in fights with al-Qaida and fundamentalists, he said.

"We don't want to leave a country that looks like Saddam Hussein's Iraq, but we probably can't stay until we've created the model democracy the president talks about," Schwartz said.

Cathy Odle of Manchester supported her son, Pfc. Brian J. Schoff, when he decided to enlist in the Army soon after high school. She has continued to support the war even after he was killed by a roadside bomb in January, because he was fighting for democracy. "I don't have a problem with anyone being freed from oppression," Odle said.

The last time she talked with her son, Odle said, he was concerned about al-Qaida and optimistic about the change he could help effect in Iraq. She tries to trust in the military's leaders and stay out of the politics, but she's interested to see what happens with a new defense secretary at the helm.

"If they're going to talk about changing the way things are being done, I'm optimistic," Odle said. "The strategies need to be changed, and they need to let the military fight the war and listen to the people that are over there."

While Robert Gates' stepping up as the new defense secretary is good news, foreign policy expert Michael O'Hanlon said, the bad news is that we're still losing the war in Iraq. Rumsfeld's exit marks a clean slate, but that's about it, O'Hanlon said.

"It would be politically dangerous for Gates and (the new Democratic leadership) to make any big changes in the next 12 months," said O'Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. •

Soldiers in Baghdad hand out toys to children

November 07, 2006 The soldiers of Company C, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division took a break from chasing insurgents last week to give out toys to kids in the streets of the Baghdad neighborhood of Adhamiyah. Company C, which patrols the neighborhood often, is based at Camp Apache.


Specialist Joshua Caiado, left, digs into a box of toys donated to Iraqi kids in Baghdad through a Web site maintained by family members in Schweinfurt, Germany,


Iraqi boys in the Baghdad neighborhood of Adhamiyah hold up the toys given to them last week by troops from the scout platoon of Company C, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division based at Camp Apache.


1st Lt. Matthew Waite, 25, from Alexandria, Va., shakes a little boy’s hand in the neighborhood of Adhamiyah in Baghdad.

Traumatic brain injuries taking toll on U.S. soldiers

TBIs now the most common combat-related injuries


Spc. Hugo Gonzalez, who was wounded in Iraq, gives a presentation about the brain and the effects of traumatic brain injury to fellow patients during a speech pathology TBI group session at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

DOD guarding data on TBIs The Department of Defense won’t make public any data about brain injuries suffered by troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, citing concerns that such a release could endanger troops.

This wasn’t always the case. When the war in Iraq began, the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center — home to virtually all of the military’s clinical brain injury care and research programs — made brain-injury information public. But the center, headquartered at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, was soon told to stop releasing the information, said Warren Lux, a neurologist and the center’s acting director. Now the information is controlled by the Pentagon and the Army surgeon general, he said.

More than a half dozen requests Stripes sent to the Army surgeon general’s office for information about brain injuries — including specific numbers and types and when they happened — were denied on grounds of “operational security.”

Meanwhile, the Department of Defense regularly releases similar information about troop deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, usually within days of the incident.

Casualty reports posted on Web sites for the Multi-National Force-Iraq and U.S. Central Command usually detail the time, location, method of attack and number of troops killed by enemy forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Pentagon also maintains a public, up-to-date list of statistics that categorizes the causes of troop deaths and injuries.

1999 war games foresaw problems in Iraq


A U.S. military helicopter flies over the heavily fortified Green Zone that houses the U.S. Embassy and Iraqi government buildings at sunset Wednesday Nov. 1, 2006. A U.S. soldier was killed in fighting in Anbar province, a key insurgent stronghold, the U.S. military announced on Wednesday, meaning that 104 American service members were killed in combat in October, the fourth deadliest month since the Iraq war began in March 2003. (AP photo/Dusan Vranic)

November 05, 2006 WASHINGTON -- The U.S. government conducted a series of secret war games in 1999 that anticipated an invasion of Iraq would require 400,000 troops, and even then chaos might ensue.

In its "Desert Crossing" games, 70 military, diplomatic and intelligence officials assumed the high troop levels would be needed to keep order, seal borders and take care of other security needs.

The documents came to light Saturday through a Freedom of Information Act request by the George Washington University's National Security Archive, an independent research institute and library.

"The conventional wisdom is the U.S. mistake in Iraq was not enough troops," said Thomas Blanton, the archive's director. "But the Desert Crossing war game in 1999 suggests we would have ended up with a failed state even with 400,000 troops on the ground."

There are currently about 144,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, down from a peak of about 160,000 in January.

A spokeswoman for U.S. Central Command, which sponsored the seminar and declassified the secret report in 2004, declined to comment Saturday because she was not familiar with the documents.

The war games looked at "worst case" and "most likely" scenarios after a war that removed then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein from power. Some are similar to what actually occurred after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003:

-"A change in regimes does not guarantee stability," the 1999 seminar briefings said. "A number of factors including aggressive neighbors, fragmentation along religious and/or ethnic lines, and chaos created by rival forces bidding for power could adversely affect regional stability."

-"Even when civil order is restored and borders are secured, the replacement regime could be problematic - especially if perceived as weak, a puppet, or out-of-step with prevailing regional governments."

-"Iran's anti-Americanism could be enflamed by a U.S.-led intervention in Iraq," the briefings read. "The influx of U.S. and other western forces into Iraq would exacerbate worries in Tehran, as would the installation of a pro-western government in Baghdad."

-"The debate on post-Saddam Iraq also reveals the paucity of information about the potential and capabilities of the external Iraqi opposition groups. The lack of intelligence concerning their roles hampers U.S. policy development."

-"Also, some participants believe that no Arab government will welcome the kind of lengthy U.S. presence that would be required to install and sustain a democratic government."

-"A long-term, large-scale military intervention may be at odds with many coalition partners."

hard bruising truth: Time for Rumsfeld to go


Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld —

“So long as our government requires the backing of an aroused and informed public opinion ...
it is necessary to tell the hard bruising truth.”

That statement was written by Pulitzer Prize-winning war correspondent Marguerite Higgins more than a half-century ago during the Korean War.

But until recently, the “hard bruising” truth about the Iraq war has been difficult to come by from leaders in Washington.

One rosy reassurance after another has been handed down by President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld: “mission accomplished,” the insurgency is “in its last throes,” and “back off,” we know what we’re doing, are a few choice examples.

Military leaders generally toed the line, although a few retired generals eventually spoke out from the safety of the sidelines, inciting criticism equally from anti-war types, who thought they should have spoken out while still in uniform, and pro-war foes, who thought the generals should have kept their critiques behind closed doors.

Now, however, a new chorus of criticism is beginning to resonate. Active-duty military leaders are starting to voice misgivings about the war’s planning, execution and dimming prospects for success.

Army Gen. John Abizaid, chief of U.S. Central Command, told a Senate Armed Services Committee in September: “I believe that the sectarian violence is probably as bad as I’ve seen it ... and that if not stopped, it is possible that Iraq could move towards civil war.”

Last week, someone leaked to The New York Times a Central Command briefing slide showing an assessment that the civil conflict in Iraq now borders on “critical” and has been sliding toward “chaos” for most of the past year. The strategy in Iraq has been to train an Iraqi army and police force that could gradually take over for U.S. troops in providing for the security of their new government and their nation.

But despite the best efforts of American trainers, the problem of molding a viciously sectarian population into anything resembling a force for national unity has become a losing proposition.

For two years, American sergeants, captains and majors training the Iraqis have told their bosses that Iraqi troops have no sense of national identity, are only in it for the money, don’t show up for duty and cannot sustain themselves.

Meanwhile, colonels and generals have asked their bosses for more troops. Service chiefs have asked for more money.

And all along, Rumsfeld has assured us that things are well in hand.

Now, the president says he’ll stick with Rumsfeld for the balance of his term in the White House.

This is a mistake. It is one thing for the majority of Americans to think Rumsfeld has failed. But when the nation’s current military leaders start to break publicly with their defense secretary, then it is clear that he is losing control of the institution he ostensibly leads.

These officers have been loyal public promoters of a war policy many privately feared would fail. They have kept their counsel private, adhering to more than two centuries of American tradition of subordination of the military to civilian authority.

And although that tradition, and the officers’ deep sense of honor, prevent them from saying this publicly, more and more of them believe it.

Rumsfeld has lost credibility with the uniformed leadership, with the troops, with Congress and with the public at large. His strategy has failed, and his ability to lead is compromised. And although the blame for our failures in Iraq rests with the secretary, it will be the troops who bear its brunt.

This is not about the midterm elections. Regardless of which party wins Nov. 7, the time has come, Mr. President, to face the hard bruising truth:

Donald Rumsfeld must go.

Military Times Editorial: For the greater good

President Bush’s decision to replace Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of defense came like a clap of thunder on a hot, humid day: It broke the tension and cleared the air.

The nation now has an historic opportunity to turn the page and start anew. The situation in Iraq will not change overnight, of course, but the opportunity afforded by a new Congress, a new defense secretary and a president newly committed to bipartisanship opens the way for new ideas, a new strategy and new hope in an otherwise intractable situation.

Now comes the hard part: developing and executing a new, effective strategy for Iraq.

President Bush’s choice of Robert Gates to succeed Rumsfeld is a hopeful start. A nonpartisan leader with a solid track record over more than three decades of government service, Gates has served presidents of both parties and is already well-versed in Iraq policy. He spent the past six months studying the war as a member of the Iraq Study Group, which is now completing a report that will offer new strategy options for the U.S. in Iraq.

  • Job No. 1 for the new secretary is to ensure that his mind and ears are open.

Today’s military — up and down the ranks — has more combat experience than any generation since Vietnam. Gates will hear the truth about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan only if those who know the truth believe they can express themselves without fear.

That said, he must listen with a skeptical ear for overly optimistic assessments, especially when it comes to the quality of Iraqi security forces. Although there are many brave Iraqis risking their lives to serve their nation, corruption is common and discipline, equipment and experience are in short supply.

  • Job No. 2 is to figure out what is, in fact, achievable in Iraq. Setting that objective will pave the way to shape a new strategy in a region in which it often seems every stakeholder is working against success.
  • Job No. 3 will be to reach out to his Cabinet-level peers and to the Congress, to open an honest dialogue in which he lays out a vision both for that strategy in Iraq and for long-term investment in the military that will ensure a well-equipped, effective fighting force — for this war and the ones that will inevitably follow.

That means explaining in honest, direct and specific terms what is at stake and why the U.S. cannot afford to waver in its resolve.

But it will not be enough to listen, strategize and communicate. Success in Iraq will not hinge on one man alone.

The new Democrat-controlled Congress has the power to help make progress in Iraq, or to distract the secretary and the nation with hearings and investigations that rehash every fight of the past four years, to seek scapegoats for decisions that brought us to war in the first place. Likewise, members of the Republican minority must resist the urge to devolve into petty partisanship in the wake of their losses. They must take the president’s lead and graciously reach out to the new majority.

The way forward is not to get stuck rehashing the recent past. We need instead clear national objectives stated by the president, a sound strategy to achieve those objectives, and a properly funded budget to pay for and execute that strategy.

We need to determine whether more troops in Iraq can make a difference and whether the Army and Marine Corps and their reserve components can provide those additional forces.

We need to consider how to give Iraq’s neighbors a stake in U.S. success in the region, so they are compelled to work alongside us and not against us.

And we need to determine whether existing strategies to cut the size of the Navy and Air Force make sense both now and in the future.

There are more than 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq today whose lives hang in the balance. More than 2,800 have already given their lives to the cause, and thousands more have paid in blood.

There is much to do and little time to do it. Success in this case will be defined by each party’s ability to subsume individual interests for the greater good.

Rumsfeld to talk war with Bush, Cheney

October 20, 2006 Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is meeting with President Bush and other top officials this weekend to discuss the way ahead in Iraq as both Democrats and Republicans — weeks before the midterm elections in Washington — turned up the heat on the administration to change course in the war effort.

Rumsfeld will meet Saturday with Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Army Gens. John Abizaid, commander of U.S. Central Command, and George Casey, top commander in Iraq, along with other top national security officials. Rumsfeld characterized the meeting as one of a handful he’s had over time.

It’s “a regular session where we are updated and we view the circumstances and discuss the way forward, so it’s nothing unusual,” he said at the Pentagon on Friday.

But it’s clear that even members of Bush’s own party are calling for a change in Iraq, whether that means a redeployment of troops home as many Democrats would like, or for more troops to be sent over.

The bottom-line: Consensus is growing that the current plan is not working.

“The situation in Iraq has changed over the years and evolved, not surprisingly,” Rumsfeld said. “And the commanders there are constantly adjusting their tactics, techniques and procedures just as the enemy … makes adjustments as well.”

He said the focus is on establishing what capabilities can be turned over to the Iraqi forces and what can’t. He acknowledged that the Iraqis would meet some deadlines and miss others.

Army Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, the chief U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, said Thursday that the level of violence rose 22 percent from the three-week period immediately preceding it.

He called the situation “disheartening” and said commanders are looking at the strategy there and how it might be changed because the attempt to secure Baghdad has not so far succeeded.

Some of Bush’s most supportive lawmakers, including Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, have called for a change. She reportedly wants Bush to consider partitioning Iraq into three areas to help end the sectarian violence there. The “Balkanization” of Iraq has also been floated by a prominent Democrat, Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware.

Meanwhile, Sen. John Warner, R-Va., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has indicated that the level of violence in Iraq is so serious that if it isn’t controlled within the next few months, the Bush administration and the U.S. military will have to consider other options.

Three weeks before the midterm elections, Democrats are stepping up the heat, saying the war cannot be won militarily and a new direction is needed soon.

“Time is not on our side,” said Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, who would potentially assume the chairmanship of the powerful committee if the Democrats take control of the House in the Nov. 7 elections.

“This is deeply concerning and a need for policy and leadership change,” Skelton said in a conference call with reporters in Washington.

Skelton, who was joined by Reps. John Murtha, D-Pa., and Tom Lantos, D-Calif., urged a redeployment of troops from Iraq.

Lantos said Democrats fully understand that the war on terrorism is a long one that must be fought.

“But the current course in Iraq is nonsustainable and counterproductive,” he said.

Asked if Rumsfeld would survive a Democratic takeover of the House, as many predict, the Democrats had little to say.

“He serves at the pleasure of the president,” Lantos said. “It will be the call of the president.”

Nine Paradoxes of a Lost War

October 15, 2006 The more force you use, the less effective you are.

Recently, the New York Times broke a story suggesting that the U.S. Army and the Marines were about to turn the conceptual tide of war in Iraq. The two services, reported correspondent Michael R. Gordon, "were finishing work on a new counterinsurgency doctrine" that would, according to retired Lt. Gen. Jack Keane, "change [the military's] entire culture as it transitions to irregular warfare."

Such strategic eureka moments have been fairly common since the Bush administration invaded Iraq in March 2003, and this one - news coverage of it died away in less than a week - will probably drop into the dustbin of history along with other times when the tactical or strategic tide of war was supposed to change. These would include the November 2004 assault on the city of Falluja, various elections, the "standing up" of the Iraqi army, and the trench that, it was briefly reported, the Iraqis were planning to dig around their vast capital, Baghdad.

But this plan had one ingenious section, derived from an article by four military experts published in the quasi-official Military Review and entitled "The Paradoxes of Counterinsurgency." The nine paradoxes the experts lay out are eye-catching, to say the least, and so make vivid reading; but they are more than so many titillating puzzles of counterinsurgency warfare. Each of them contains an implied criticism of American strategy in Iraq. Seen in this light, they become an instructive lesson from insiders in why the American presence in that country has been such a disaster, and why this (or any other) new counterinsurgency strategy has little chance of ameliorating it.

'Tragic day' claims eight US soldiers in Baghdad

BAGHDAD (AFP) - At least 17 US soldiers have been killed around Iraq since Saturday, including eight in a single day in Baghdad, the US military announced, saying the toll had brought "a tragic day".

The toll represents a dramatic spike for US casualties in Iraq which generally average no more than a couple of wounded a day, especially for the Baghdad-based forces.

"I don't have any comparative figures," said Lieutenant Colonel Barry Johnson, who declined to say whether the toll was an increase. "We have tragic days and this was a tragic day."

The average as of today October 03, 2006 was 2.11 dead per day (2730 US dead, 1293 days)


It's not just the Iraqis' fault

By Peter Beinart

December 10, 2006 Across ideological lines, American politicians and pundits are finally coming to a consensus on Iraq: It's the Iraqis' fault. “We gave the Iraqis their freedom,” pronounced liberal California Sen. Barbara Boxer on Nov. 16. “What are they doing with this freedom? They're killing each other.” The next day, conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer concurred heartily, writing: “We have given the Iraqis a republic, and they do not appear able to keep it.”

It's easy to see why this line of argument appeals to both left and right. For liberals, blaming the Iraqis justifies a U.S. withdrawal: If the Iraqis are incorrigible, then there's nothing U.S. troops can do. For conservatives, it excuses the Bush administration: If the Iraqis are incorrigible, this catastrophe is their fault, not ours.

It's a soothing, self-justifying argument, but it's dead wrong. The United States has not given Iraqis their freedom because freedom requires order, which the United States – from the very beginning – did not provide. And the United States has not given Iraqis a republic because a republic presupposes a state. Economist and sociologist Max Weber famously defined the state as the institution with a monopoly on legitimate violence, and, by that definition, there has been no Iraqi state since the United States invaded more than three years ago.

Shiite and Sunni Iraqis are not turning on one another because of ancient, primordial hatreds. They're turning on one another because when the state fails in its most basic task – keeping you alive – you turn to any entity that can. Imagine you're in prison. The state (embodied by the prison guards) doesn't protect you, and the hallways are controlled by racial gangs. If your survival depends on it, you'll develop a neo-Nazi or Nation of Islam identity awfully fast.

That's what is happening in Baghdad today. For most of the 20th century, while Kurds mourned the state they were denied after World War I, relations between Iraqi Sunnis and Shiite were good and national identity was strong. It's true that Iraq was created from three Ottoman provinces (centered in Basra, Baghdad and Mosul). But, as Iraqi historian Reidar Visser has observed, those three provinces were not homogenous – each was ethnically diverse even before Iraq was born. And, once it was, in 1921, nationalism overwhelmed Sunni-Shiite divisions. As Rutgers University's Eric Davis noted in his book, “Memories of State: Politics, History and Collective Identity in Modern Iraq” (University of California Press, 2004), Sunnis and Shiite not only rose up jointly against the British in 1920 (along with Iraqi Christians and Jews), they actually prayed at one another's mosques. The original leader of Iraq's Baath Party – now synonymous with Sunni domination – was Shiite. And, in the 1980s, 90 percent of the Iraqi troops who fought Shiite Iran were – you guessed it – Shiite. As Visser notes, in all of Iraqi history, the Shiite South has never launched a broad-based movement to secede.

After the disastrous Iran-Iraq war, however, the Iraqi state began to weaken. War bankrupted the country, leaving it unable to maintain the welfare state it had constructed during the oil-rich 1970s. The Gulf War made things worse, as U.S. bombing decimated Iraqi infrastructure. And, in the 1990s, sanctions turned Iraq's proud middle class – the historic bulwark of Iraqi nationalism – into paupers, forced to sell their heirlooms for ration cards while Saddam Hussein built palaces. To sustain themselves, many Iraqis turned to religiously based charitable groups. When Saddam was overthrown, these religious organizations were best positioned to fill the political vacuum.

But if Iraqi nationalism was weaker on the day we invaded than it had been two decades before, it was still quite strong. As the Brookings Institution's Kenneth Pollack has noted, when the National Democratic Institute asked Iraqi focus groups in the summer of 2003 which identity suited them best, a large majority eschewed Shiite, Sunni or Kurd in favor of Iraqi. “Iraq is not the Balkans,” insisted Phebe Marr, author of “The Modern History of Iraq,” in April 2003. “There really isn't traditional enmity or hostility between Sunni and Shiite communities.”

Then the United States overthrew Saddam's weak, brutal state and replaced it with virtually no state at all. In poll after poll, Iraqis said they were happy Saddam was gone but terrified at the lack of security. A Zogby survey in August 2003 found that nearly 30 percent of Iraqis had friends or family killed in the war or its anarchic aftermath. Basic services such as water and electricity remained scarce as the U.S. reconstruction effort foundered because of corruption and lack of security. Unemployment hit 50 percent.

In this dismal, often Hobbesian environment, those Iraqis who could (the more secular middle class) fled. Among those who remained, sectarian entrepreneurs such as Muqtada al-Sadr leveraged their pre-existing networks to provide services, jobs, safety and – increasingly – revenge. As sectarian militias offered the protection that the state could not, sect began replacing nation as the primary identity of many Iraqis. That shouldn't surprise us. Identity is not static, and, in war zones, as anyone who followed Sarajevo in the 1990s can attest, it can shift very fast. “Once Iraqis are safely . . . settled in Amman,” notes Iraqi-born scholar Hala Fattah, “bonds of civility [between Sunni and Shiite] re-emerge.”

It may be too late for the United States to provide the security required for those bonds of civility to return to Iraq. But we should, at least, have the decency to acknowledge that it was Americans (not Iraqis) who bore the responsibility under international law to provide security after Americans (not Iraqis) overthrew Saddam. It was we who failed and then handed Iraqi politicians the poisoned chalice of a government that did not sit atop a state. To be sure, Iraq's elected leaders are an uninspiring bunch. But the state fell, the army was disbanded, chaos reigned, the insurgency began, reconstruction faltered, and the die was cast in 2003 – before Iraqis first went to the polls.

When then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said, as looters ransacked Baghdad while U.S. troops watched, that “freedom's untidy,” Democrats rightly denounced his comments as an abdication and a disgrace. Now, more than three years later, it is just as disgraceful for Barbara Boxer to echo them. If we need to leave; we need to leave. But let's not pretend the defeat is anyone else's but our own.

Whose war is it?

The U.S. commitment to Iraq will depend on Iraqis' commitment to their country and one another.

December 03, 2006 AMERICAN TROOPS must not be allowed to become helpless bystanders in Iraq's civil war. Nor can they become co-conspirators with a government intent on taking sides in this civil war. These two axioms should guide the Bush administration's Iraq policy in the weeks and months ahead.

The endgame to the administration's Mesopotamian adventure may be in sight, but the timeline cannot be dictated by U.S. electoral politics — whether the triumph of the Democrats last month or the needs of Republican presidential hopefuls in 2008. It should depend on the military and political situation on the ground in Iraq.

U.S. troops should remain in that country, but only as long as the Iraqi government is willing and able to stay above the sectarian fray. Indeed, despite talk in Washington of troop reductions, a short-term increase in the number of U.S. troops may be necessary to help turn the tide on the streets of Baghdad and elsewhere in the country. U.S. troops may have to become even more involved in fighting the Sunni/Al Qaeda insurgency directly and in disarming Shiite militias. But they should only do so if the fledgling Iraqi government proves itself an ally committed to building a state that represents all Iraqi factions.

Iraq's commitment, and America's

That question — what exactly is Iraq's government willing and able to do? — provided the dramatic backdrop to last week's meeting in Jordan between President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki. Bush's insistence that Maliki is the "right guy" to lead Iraq was belied by his own national security advisor, Stephen Hadley, who, in a memo leaked to the New York Times, wondered whether Maliki is simply too weak to crack down on the Shiite death squads run by his supporters, or whether he is unwilling to so do.

It's time to find out the answer. We don't know exactly what Bush told Maliki in private, but we hope he told him to clean up his Interior Ministry and to start arresting Shiite death squad leaders. U.S. forces might also execute — or at least threaten to execute — the outstanding arrest warrant on murder charges for Muqtada Sadr, who controls one of the largest Shiite militias and is now boycotting the government. Maliki needs to break with Sadr if he is to be a credible leader in the eyes of moderate Sunnis, and the U.S. needs to take on Sadr if it is to continue imploring neighboring Sunni nations to help bring stability to Iraq.

At the same time, U.S. forces must redouble their efforts to arrest the Sunni terrorists whose atrocities have so provoked the Shiites. Their leaders should be tried and punished; an end to impunity on both sides could help quell vigilantism and help erase the perception that U.S. forces are becoming bystanders to sectarian slaughter.

Security remains the necessary condition to the political development of a representative government, and an all-out civil war may soon make Iraqis yearn for the terrible old days of Saddam Hussein. Time is running out for the U.S. and Maliki to restore order.

Maliki has promised that Iraqi troops will be ready to take over from the U.S. within six months. Whether that's realistic or not, it's hard to imagine that the U.S. has any more time than that to improve matters. Bush needs to use the leverage gained by those 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq to pressure Sunnis and Shiites into peace.

Meanwhile, Bush could make the best use of the growing calls for withdrawal from Iraq to hint to Iran and Syria, very privately, that he might do just that. At the moment, Damascus and Tehran can afford to be spoilers, watching the U.S. bleed in Iraq while (so far) being spared the potentially chaotic consequences of a U.S. withdrawal. Suggestions that Saudi Arabia and Jordan might intervene to protect their Sunni brethren if an Iranian-backed Shiite Iraqi government were to rise in Baghdad, possibly triggering a regional conflagration, should give all sides pause.

These steps could bring pressure to bear on Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds to hammer out a new internal political compact that would keep Iraq intact but provide more local autonomy to deal with sectarian tensions. It would necessarily include a long-overdue deal to divide up the nation's oil wealth. Civil wars rarely end at the negotiating table until one side is defeated, or realizes it soon will be, or until stalemate or exhaustion sets in. That may also prove true in Iraq. But there is still time for the living to change history.

We recognize that none of this adds up to a tidy, satisfying road map; there are no easy exits from a quagmire. The quandary for Bush, in some senses ironic, is that the mission of removing Hussein and of turning the nation of Iraq over to its people has been accomplished — but the outcome is still disastrous.

What is the U.S. to do if a sovereign government that represents the nation's long-oppressed majority is intent on settling scores by engaging in sectarian violence? Having dealt with the international dimensions of the threats posed by Hussein's regime (while continuing to worry about the international threat posed by anarchy within Iraq), Washington cannot indefinitely be held responsible for Iraq's domestic travails.

Which is not to say that it cannot be held responsible now. The Bush administration, let's be clear, did botch the postwar occupation of Iraq. Its poorly planned, arrogant and ahistoric approach to the aftermath of the invasion has been a blow to U.S. prestige and will earn Bush a prominent place among the roll call of failed presidents.

The (mis)uses of history

Decades from now, historians will still be debating whether a more competent occupation would have succeeded in building the peaceful, model democracy the administration once talked about, or whether sectarian violence and civil war were inevitable regardless. For now, we can ask how the most powerful nation in the world squandered billions of dollars and tens of thousands of (mostly Iraqi) lives in such a fiasco.

It is often noted that George Marshall had more than three years to develop his occupation plans for Japan and Germany, while retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner had 60 days to develop his for Iraq. Yet the fault lies not merely in the short time span but in the erratic nature of the planning, which was yanked from the State Department to the National Security Council to the Pentagon and from Garner to J. Paul Bremer III.

Each team spurned the work of its bureaucratic predecessors, and each refused to listen to their country's leading Middle East experts, whose warnings were interpreted as proof of ideological incorrectness. Each also turned a deaf ear to their British allies, whose experiences occupying Iraq after World War I were to prove shockingly relevant.

Historians may identify April 12, 2003, as the day the United States began to lose the peace in Iraq. That's when Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, responding to reports of widespread looting, declined to order up more U.S. troops to keep order and protect Iraqi lives and property. Instead, an irritated Rumsfeld asserted that the looting wasn't as bad as media reports made it seem, that it was an understandable result of the pent-up frustration of decades of repression and that "stuff happens."

"Stuff was tolerated" is more like it — and, as anyone familiar with the "broken windows" theory of crime prevention knows, failure to enforce law and order in small ways tends to encourage more brazen provocations. Veterans of conflicts past warned that day that if more troops did not arrive, terrified Iraqis would turn to their own ethnic kin for self-protection. No one was listening.

The administration's overreaching de-Baathification policy was another terrible blunder. Garner wanted to fire the top three layers of Hussein loyalists and leave Iraqis to deal with the rest, keeping some semblance of a civilian government in place; the Pentagon's Iraqi siren, Ahmad Chalabi, wanted to gut the ancien regime. Chalabi won, and thousands of low-level Sunnis were sacked and replaced by Shiites who saw no need to provide services to Sunni areas.

The senseless disbanding of the Iraqi army also helped bolster the insurgency. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz erroneously claimed that the Iraqi army had melted away; without consulting the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he and Bremer scrapped the military's plans to order the Iraqi rank and file back for vetting, in exchange for a $20 bonus (six months' pay).

By the time the U.S. military got that order countermanded, it was July. The armed, unemployed and alienated Sunni soldiers didn't wait for Washington to make a decision. Some joined the insurgency. By the time Al Qaeda began to foment attacks on Shiites in August 2003, Sunnis distrusted and disdained the U.S. and had ample motive to make common cause.

The disbanding of the Iraqi civil service and military was especially damaging in light of the administration's haste to transfer sovereignty to a new government. To this day, Washington is paying the price for relying on governmental institutions that it essentially dismantled at the outset of the occupation.

Tempering hope with realism

The history is instructive and, as usual, the road to the present from the past is more apparent than the road ahead, which can at times feel like the quest for the least-disastrous outcome. Iraq can't be a threat to its neighbors. It can't be a trigger for a regional war. It can't become a hollow, failed state that plays host to international terrorists. That much is clear.

U.S. troops should minimize the bloodshed while there is a pluralistic government in place; widespread ethnic cleansing must be averted. These are murkier goals, harder to pursue.

As for the model shining democracy setting an example for the entire Middle East — well, Iraq's realities may have gotten in the way of this particular Washington fantasy.,0,3511284.story?coll=la-opinion-leftrail

Financial Cost of War

On Sunday, war in Iraq will match length of U.S. involvement in World War II

November 25, 2006 The war in Iraq will reach another milestone this weekend, when it equals the number of days the U.S. was involved in World War II.

Sunday will mark the Iraq war’s 1,347th day — the same amount of time American troops fought in World War II. But from there, the similarities are largely over.

While the earlier war saw massive campaigns pitting hundreds of thousands of troops in direct combat, the Iraq war has largely been a guerrilla campaign, with U.S. troops rebuilding infrastructure; fostering elections and governments on both the local and national level; and weeding out insurgents from innocents.

According to historians, some 16 million Americans fought in World War II; more than 406,000 U.S. troops died.

By comparison, nearly 1.5 million Americans have now served in Iraq; more than 2,870 have died in the war.

The U.S. involvement in World War II began on Dec. 7, 1941, with the attack on Pearl Harbor. After the Germans surrendered on May 8, 1945, the Japanese surrendered on Aug. 15, 1945.

The war in Iraq began in March 2003, and its end date will likely be confused by the fact that the enemy in Iraq is an amalgam of groups largely without a central figure.

In terms of dollars spent, Iraq is becoming one of the most expensive wars in American history. The Congressional Research Service estimates the costs of the war has exceeded $300 billion. The Korean War cost around $350 billion (in dollars adjusted for inflation), and Vietnam cost some $530 billion.

The costs of the war in Iraq are averaging around $8 billion a month, the CRS found.

Family pays ransom in Iraqi kidnapping

he abduction last January of freelance journalist Jill Carroll received international attention that eventually led to her release.

But about a month later, the abduction of 21-year-old Sandy Gbou garnered no attention, beyond the concern of his family.

Gbou was in Baghdad, far from his remote village in the north, to take what Americans might call a community college final exam. He was alone when a group of men knocked on his door, pretended to be friends of his father and then abducted him.

A short time later, Gbou's family received a call from the kidnappers demanding $130,000 for his release.

As frantic family members tried to raise money, an uncle stepped in to negotiate and convinced the kidnappers raising $130,000 was impossible. Eventually, the abductors agreed to accept $13,000.

The ransom was paid and bought Gbou's freedom, but not before he was beaten and terrorized for five agonizing days.


Congress debates weight of WMD find

Committee chairman Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-California, held up a picture of Kurds lying dead on the ground in the village of Halabja following a chemical attack that killed thousands there.

"I go back to my office, and look at that picture, and come to the conclusion that this was a very justified mission (the 2003 Iraq war)," Hunter said.


Shocking Memo from U.S. Embassy in Baghdad

The Washington Post has obtained a cable, marked "sensitive," that it says shows that just before President Bush left on a surprise trip last Monday to the Green Zone in Baghdad for an upbeat assessment of the situation there, "the U.S. Embassy in Iraq painted a starkly different portrait of increasing danger and hardship faced by its Iraqi employees."

This cable outlines, the Post reported Sunday, "the daily-worsening conditions for those who live outside the heavily guarded international zone: harassment, threats and the employees' constant fears that their neighbors will discover they work for the U.S. government."

It's actually far worse than that, as the details published below indicate, which include references to abductions, threats to women's rights, and "ethnic cleansing."

A PDF copy of the cable shows that it was sent to the SecState in Washington, D.C. from "AMEmbassy Baghdad" on June 12. 2006. The typed name at the very bottom is Khalilzad -- the name of the U.S. Ambassador, though it is not known if this means he wrote the memo or merely approved it.

link to pdf file