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History > 2008 > USA > Wars > Iraq (I)




Illustration: Paul Hoppe


When Veterans Fight the War Within


January 16, 2008
















Study Ties Soldiers' Maladies to Stress


January 30, 2008
Filed at 8:47 a.m. ET
The New York Times


Traumatic brain injury, described as the signature wound of the Iraq war, may be less to blame for soldiers' symptoms than doctors once thought, contends a provocative military study that suggests post-traumatic stress and depression often play a role.

That would be good news because there are successful treatments for those conditions, said several nonmilitary doctors who praised the research.

Thousands of soldiers returning from Iraq have struggled with memory loss, irritability, trouble sleeping and other problems. Many have suffered mild blast-related concussions, but there is no easy way to separate which symptoms are due to physical damage and which are from mental problems caused by the traumatic stress of war. Imaging of the brain is being tested, but hasn't yet proven to be helpful.

The new study, based on a survey of 2,500 soldiers, found that brain injury made traumatic stress more likely. The study tied only one symptom -- headaches -- specifically to brain injury.

''We found that the symptoms and health concerns that we expected to be due to the concussion actually proved to be more strongly related to PTSD,'' or post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression, said Dr. Charles Hoge, a colonel and psychiatry chief at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research who led the study. ''There isn't a clear delineation between a psychological and a physical problem.''

Other doctors were optimistic about treatment efforts.

''It gives us hope, because we've got good treatments for PTSD,'' said Barbara Rothbaum, a psychologist who heads a trauma recovery program at Emory University in Atlanta. ''If we can relieve the PTSD and depression, I'm hoping we'll see alleviation of a lot of these physical symptoms.''

Hoge was to report on the survey Wednesday at a military health conference in Washington. Results also are being published in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine.

The journal's editor-in-chief, Dr. Jeffrey Drazen, said editors initially were skeptical of the findings, which depart from the gloom-and-doom picture some have painted for soldiers with brain injuries.

However, the solid research methods and the ''strong and robust'' data linking stress and concussion symptoms persuaded them, said Drazen, who is a scientific adviser to the Veterans Administration.

The case of Eric O'Brien, a 33-year-old Army staff sergeant from Iowa's Quad Cities, suggests the researchers may be right.

After an explosion in Baghdad in 2006, O'Brien was treated at Vanderbilt University's brain injury rehabilitation program and at Fort Campbell, Ky., for post-traumatic stress. Now he is preparing to redeploy, this time to Afghanistan.

''I retested on a lot of the tests and they showed a pretty decent increase,'' he said of his mental function tests. As for stress, ''I don't know if it's something you just learn to deal with or if it just gets a little bit better over time,'' he said. ''It's not as bad as it was.''

The vast majority of brain injuries, or concussions, are mild, but the military previously estimated that one-fifth cause symptoms lasting a year or more.

The new study tried to pin down the potential long-term effects of mild brain injury, through an anonymous survey of two Army combat brigades -- one active and one Reserve -- in 2006, several months after they returned home from Iraq.

Fifteen percent of soldiers reported a mild brain injury -- having been knocked unconscious or left confused or ''seeing stars'' after a blast. They were more likely than other soldiers to report health problems, missing work, and symptoms such as trouble concentrating.

The worst symptoms were in soldiers who lost consciousness. About 44 percent of them met the criteria for post-traumatic stress, compared with 16 percent of soldiers with non-head injuries, and only 9 percent of those with no injuries.

''The same incident might have triggered both processes,'' Rothbaum said, noting that after World War I, ''they thought that shell shock was a neurological disorder and it turned out to have a lot of overlap with the psychological disorder.''

Concussions may compound stress by damaging brain areas that tamp down responses to fear, Richard Bryant, a psychologist at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, writes in an editorial in the journal.

''PTSD and depression may be the primary problem,'' he writes. ''Soldiers should not be led to believe that they have a brain injury that will result in permanent change.''

The military recently started screening all returning troops for concussions. Any soldiers who saw intense combat should be similarly checked for stress disorder, said Anthony Stringer, director of Emory University's neuropsychology rehabilitation program.

The new study can be viewed as positive ''if the results are used to make sure that soldiers have the care they need when they return,'' he said.


On the Net:

New England Journal: www.nejm.org

Army Medicine: http://www.armymedicine.army.mil

Defense and Brain Injury Center: http://www.dvbic.org/

Centers for Disease Control:


National Institutes of Health:


    Study Ties Soldiers' Maladies to Stress, NYT, 30.1.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/us/AP-Iraq-Brain-Injuries.html






At White House, a Second Look at Iraq Troop Cuts


January 30, 2008
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — Four months after announcing troop reductions in Iraq, President Bush is now sending signals that the cuts may not continue past this summer, a development likely to infuriate Democrats and renew concerns among military planners about strains on the force.

Mr. Bush has made no decisions on troop reductions to follow those he announced last September. But White House officials said Mr. Bush had been taking the opportunity, as he did in Monday’s State of the Union address, to prepare Americans for the possibility that, when he leaves office a year from now, the military presence in Iraq will be just as large as it was a year ago, or even slightly larger.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Mr. Bush wanted to tamp down criticism that a large, sustained presence in Iraq would harm the overall health of the military — a view held not only by Democrats, but by some members of his own Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Within the Pentagon, senior officers have struggled to balance the demands of the Iraq war against the competing demands to recruit, train and retain a robust and growing ground force. That institutional tension is personified by two of Mr. Bush’s top generals, David H. Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq, and George W. Casey Jr., the Army chief of staff. General Petraeus’s mission is to win the war; General Casey must also worry about the health of the whole Army.

“We’re concerned about the health of the force as well, but the most important thing is that they succeed in Iraq,” said one senior White House official, adding, “If the commanders on the ground believe we need to maintain the troop numbers at the current level to maintain security for a little while longer, then that’s what the president will do.”

That strong White House tilt in favor of General Petraeus comes as he prepares to testify before Congress in April about the next step in Iraq. In September, based on General Petraeus’s earlier recommendation, Mr. Bush announced that he intended to withdraw five combat brigades and Marine units — roughly 20,000 troops — from Iraq by July. That would leave 15 combat brigades in place.

In his address to Congress, Mr. Bush spoke of those reductions, but not of any future ones.

What a continuing commitment of 15 brigades — more than 130,000 troops — would mean for the Army as a whole is said to be a major concern of General Casey, among others on the joint staff. But officials said Mr. Bush’s primary concern was not letting military gains in Iraq slip away, a warning he issued in his State of the Union address.

After meeting General Petraeus in Kuwait this month, he appeared to give the general tacit permission to recommend no further troop reductions.

“My attitude is, if he didn’t want to continue the drawdown, that’s fine with me, in order to make sure we succeed, see,” Mr. Bush said then. “I said to the general, if you want to slow her down, fine, it’s up to you.”

Mr. Bush hinted in September that there might be more reductions to come, although he has never made an explicit promise. The Pentagon has also not made any promises, although military planners have talked about wanting to reduce the number of brigades to 12 from 15 by the end of this year, if the security situation improves enough to permit it.

Mr. Bush’s defense secretary, Robert M. Gates, has said he would like to cut even further, eventually dropping to 10 brigades if possible. But Mr. Gates has avoided using specific numbers in more recent comments, and says unswervingly that he would be guided by conditions on the ground.

At the Pentagon, officials said the withdrawal of 20,000 combat troops pledged by Mr. Bush left open the future of the 7,000 to 8,000 support and aviation troops that accompanied those “surge” combat forces.

If those extra support troops remain in Iraq even after the withdrawal of the additional combat troops, then it is possible that the number of American military personnel in Iraq after the surge could be higher than before, officials said.

    At White House, a Second Look at Iraq Troop Cuts, NYT, 30.1.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/30/washington/30military.html?hp






Severed heads and bodies found in Iraq field: police


Tue Jan 29, 2008
6:53pm EST
By Paul Tait


BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Police found nine bodies and 10 severed heads in an abandoned field north of Baghdad on Tuesday, in a region where U.S. and Iraqi forces were pressing ahead with offensives against al Qaeda forces.

In the northern city of Mosul, a suicide car bomber killed one civilian and wounded 15 others in an attack on a U.S. convoy, U.S. and Iraqi security officials said.

The U.S. military said none of its soldiers were wounded in the latest attack in Mosul, where extra Iraqi troops and police have been sent for what Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has called a "decisive" final push against al Qaeda.

But Major-General Mark Hertling, commander of U.S. troops in northern Iraq, cautioned against such descriptions of the fight against al Qaeda, saying the Sunni Islamist militants could easily regroup elsewhere as they had done in the past.

"I'm just not confident enough to say this is the final push against AQI (al Qaeda in Iraq) ... in Mosul," Hertling said.

"What we can say is that there has been an attempt by AQI to gain control of Mosul. We have to not allow them to get that stronghold," he told Reuters by telephone.

Extra Iraqi troops, backed by tanks and helicopters, began arriving in the city on Sunday but the Iraqi government has so far not given full details about numbers involved. The U.S. military says its efforts there are part of a continuing push.

Five U.S. soldiers were killed on Monday by a roadside bomb in a coordinated ambush in Mosul, which U.S. commanders regard as al Qaeda's last major urban stronghold in Iraq.



Police found the bodies and severed heads in a field in Muqdadiya, 90 km (55 miles) northeast of Baghdad in Diyala, one of four northern provinces where U.S. and Iraqi forces have launched offensives against al Qaeda.

Police said some of the nine complete bodies were partially decomposed while others had been killed more recently. The bodies were all handcuffed and blindfolded and had bullet wounds, police and hospital officials said.

The 10 heads found nearby were all also blindfolded, some with bullet wounds, said Ahmed Fouad, the chief of the morgue in Baquba hospital. Baquba is the provincial capital of ethnically and religiously mixed Diyala.

Hertling said beheadings had been used before by al Qaeda to intimidate residents in Muqdadiya. "We know that they have paraded heads through that area," he said.

On January 9, five severed heads were found, all with messages scrawled in blood in Arabic on the foreheads warning that volunteers working with U.S.-backed neighborhood patrol groups would suffer the same fate.

Sharp falls in violence across Iraq have been attributed to the neighborhood units, formed by mainly Sunni Arab sheikhs who turned against al Qaeda because of its indiscriminate killings, and to an extra 30,000 U.S. troops deployed last year.

The neighborhood patrols have become frequent targets. The leader of one such unit in Taji, just north of Baghdad, was killed by a bomb in his car on Monday, local officials said.

In a separate incident on Tuesday near Mosul, 390 km (240 miles north of Baghdad, unidentified gunmen killed two off-duty police and wounded two others, police said.

Tens of thousands of U.S. and Iraqi soldiers are taking part in operations in Iraq's northern provinces, part of a wider offensive that was launched early this month.

Attacks across Iraq have fallen 60 percent since last June, when the extra troops became fully deployed, but northern Iraq remains the biggest security headache for U.S. and Iraqi forces.

Al Qaeda, blamed for most large-scale attacks in Iraq, and other insurgents regrouped in the north after being squeezed out of their former strongholds in western Anbar province and from around Baghdad during security crackdowns last year.

The new push in Mosul was announced after a huge blast in a building the U.S. military said had been used by al Qaeda to store weapons and explosives. Up to 50 people were killed.

(Editing by Jon Boyle)

    Severed heads and bodies found in Iraq field: police, R, 29.1.2008, http://www.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idUSL1880448320080129






U.S. Army investigates detainee deaths in Iraq


Tue Jan 29, 2008
3:17pm EST
By Andrew Gray


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Army is investigating allegations of misconduct against soldiers over the deaths of several detainees in Baghdad last year, officials said on Tuesday.

The allegations involve the deaths of several detainees captured during combat operations in the Iraqi capital by the 2nd brigade combat team of the Army's 1st Infantry Division, Army spokesman Paul Boyce said.

The alleged incidents took place in spring or summer of 2007 in the southern Rashid district of the Iraqi capital, Boyce said. The brigade has since redeployed from Iraq back to its base in Schweinefurt, Germany, Boyce said.

Boyce declined to specify who had made the allegations. But he said, "Traditionally, when units return after such a length of time ... (and) when an allegation comes forward, it's because soldiers may have talked about it amongst themselves."

The allegations came to light about a week ago and the Army's Criminal Investigation Command launched an investigation, Boyce said.

The command said it could not release details about the case, such as how many detainees had died, as investigators were still gathering information.

"We are aggressively pursuing the information that we do have," said Chris Grey, a spokesman for the command. "We're investigating it fully."

The Army announced the investigation on it Web site on Friday. But it went largely unnoticed until it was reported on Tuesday by Stars and Stripes, the newspaper for U.S. troops overseas partly funded by the Defense Department.

Preliminary information indicated that the alleged incidents did not take place at a detention facility but at the detainees' point of capture, Boyce said.

Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell declined to comment on details of the case.

"At this point we simply have an allegation," Morrell told reporters. "But we of course take seriously any credible allegation of abuse or mistreatment of detainees."

The U.S. military's image was damaged by the scandal over prisoner abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison in 2003. Eleven low-ranking soldiers were convicted in military courts over the abuse but no U.S. officers were found criminally responsible.

(Reporting by Andrew Gray; editing by Mohammad Zargham)

    U.S. Army investigates detainee deaths in Iraq, R, 29.1.2008, http://www.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idUSN2959169320080129






Look at US Troop Levels


January 27, 2008
Filed at 9:35 a.m. ET
The New York Times


A look at U.S. troop levels during 2007 in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, showing end-of-month totals, as well as current and projections.


Iraq 2007:

January -- 137,000

February -- 138,000

March -- 145,000

April -- 144,600

May -- 148,000

June -- 155,300

July -- 156,300

August -- 164,000

September -- 161,200

October -- 166,000 (peaked during the month at 170,000)

November -- 160,000

December -- 156,000





As of Jan. 25 -- 158,000

Projected for July -- 135,000

Unofficial goal expressed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates for December 2008 -- 100,000




Afghanistan 2007:

January -- 26,000

February -- 25,200

March -- 24,300

April -- 24,100

May -- 26,500

June -- 23,700

July -- 23,800

August -- 24,000

September -- 24,500

October -- 25,000

November -- 25,000

December -- 25,000





As of Jan. 25 -- 28,000

Projected for March-April -- 31,200



Currently less than 100.

No month-by-month or year-by-year numbers available.

    Look at US Troop Levels, NYT, 27.1.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/us/AP-Terror-War-Troops-Glance.html






A small town mourns its big sacrifice in Iraq


24 January 2007
USA Today
By Rick Hampson


LEE, Maine — It's a question old-fashioned Yankee wisdom can't answer: How, in just five months, could a town whose population is less than 850 lose two young men in Iraq — as many as it lost in all of World War II?
Why Lee? No one can say. Not the high school guidance counselor who sees new military recruits come into her office; not the pastor who's leading his Bible class through the Book of Job; not the Red Cross volunteer who helped plan the funerals of Joel House and Blair Emery.

Both were killed last year by roadside bombs during the U.S. military's troop buildup in Iraq. Both had had their tours extended.

"It feels like we're being picked on, and we don't know why," says Gail Rae, the Red Cross volunteer. Joel House used to mow her lawn. "It was a punch in the stomach," says Kendra Ritchie, the guidance counselor. She played the piano at both funerals.

The House and Emery families live a mile apart. "What are the odds?" asks Paul House, Joel's father.

Lee is the nation's smallest municipality to have suffered more than one military death in Iraq, according to military records. It's the epitome of small town, rural America, which has contributed a disproportionate number of recruits — and suffered disproportionate losses.

A USA TODAY analysis of Pentagon reports indicates that Lee is the smallest of at least four communities with populations under 1,000 that have lost two people in Iraq. Conversely, a score of cities with populations over 100,000 are not listed as the hometown of any servicemember killed in Iraq.

Is Lee unlucky, or in some way typical? "Probably a little of both," says William O'Hare, a demographer at the University of New Hampshire's Carsey research institute. In a study released in November, O'Hare concluded that rural Americans are dying in disproportionate numbers in Iraq and Afghanistan. What he defines as rural areas — counties outside metropolitan areas — account for only 19% of the population; but they have suffered 26% of the fatalities — 1,102 of the first 4,197 U.S. deaths.

Whatever the reason — bad luck or demographics — "our town has given too much," Ritchie says. "Our boys have given too much." She's at her desk, across from the bench where students sit when they come in to talk about their futures. Where Blair and Joel once sat. She keeps tissues handy.

"I have more kids in here everyday (who) want to sign up" for the military, she says. "I have a student who contacted me, he's in college, he said, 'It's not fair that they died and I'm taking the easy way out.' The kids are so idealistic and they want to protect and to fight for their country, and why … " Then she starts to cry.

Each war death is a unique calamity, but in a small town it reverberates "because everybody knows everybody else," says Christian Appy, who has written about how war affects communities.

"The fabric is so tight, it's like we're all related," Ritchie adds. "It's as if they're our own kids."

There are so many reminders: the grassy rise near the door to the high school gym where Blair parked his battered red pickup, the one he decorated with racing stripes and called "the Red Rocket;" the spot at Silver Lake where Joel's father baptized him when he was 11; the soccer field where Blair, No. 17, played midfield, and Joel, No. 22, played defense.

Nicole Worster knew them both. She was best friends with Joel's cousin and used to hang out in Joel's garage while the boys shot pool. Blair was her first date, at Lee's Winter Carnival, when he was in seventh grade, she was in sixth, and she was taller. "It's not just them," she says. "I know their parents and their relatives. … Now we'll have two graves to visit."

Why Lee? Mitchell Bickford, pastor of Lee Baptist Church, has no clue. His reading of Job leads him to conclude: "We're accountable to God. God is not accountable to us."


Little town in the woods

Lee is a rural crossroads about an hour's drive north of Bangor. It has a post office, two churches, a general store/diner/gas station, a small ski area, a couple of sawmills and no traffic light. The largest employer is Lee Academy, the high school.

As kids, Joel and Blair never wanted to leave. They played on the same teams, hunted in the same woods, fished the same waters. But by high school, where they were a year apart, they were opposites: one a flamboyant extrovert, the other a taciturn introvert.

Blair was one of the popular kids, and a bit of a rebel. He liked to color his hair. He got his truck stuck "mudding" in the woods, piled up the speeding tickets, spun his tires. He attracted the prettiest girls. He was more an athlete than a student. Before Blair was sent to Iraq, says his father, Bill, "he didn't even know it existed."

He knew baseball; the yearbook lists his curveball as his "best feature." Standing on the mound in the game of his life — the Eastern Maine high school championship in Bangor — he was so relaxed he waved to a late-arriving teacher. He pitched a complete game. Lee won, 6-2. The banner hangs in the gym.

At the end of his senior year, Blair walked into the office of admissions director Jeff Wright with his entourage and tossed him a camera. "Take our picture," he said. "We're gonna be famous." Joel was different — "almost painfully shy," Ritchie says. His father, Paul, calls him "kind of a loner, a homebody."

But he taught himself to play the guitar and performed at the high school talent show and with the school band. The guitar, his father decided, "was his way of talking."

"They were a couple of good country boys, just having fun here in little old Lee," Joel's father says.

The boys' decisions to join the Army after their graduations — Blair in 2002, Joel a year later — were motivated by patriotic sentiment, family military tradition and economic necessity.

Their fathers had started out as woodsmen, slinging their chainsaws and selling lumber to the paper mills, as men had for generations. But the independent logger has been displaced by big, expensive machines that can harvest 150 cords a day instead of 10. Paul House is now a hunting and fishing guide; Bill Emery works for a logging company for an hourly wage.

"Before, you made a living. Now, you survive week to week," Emery says. "We didn't have $100,000 to say, 'Here, go to college.' "

Blair and Joel each saw military service as a means to an end — money for vocational education and credentials for employment. (Blair wanted to go into law enforcement; Joel talked of becoming a game warden.)

They were typical, says UNH's O'Hare. In much of rural America, he says, "young people lack opportunity and the military looks like a better option. Mechanization has reduced employment in logging in Maine, farming in the Midwest, coal mining in Appalachia."

"Kids say, 'I'm going to join the Army and see the world,' " Ritchie says. "How else are they going to get out of Lee, Maine?"


Second tours in Iraq

Blair joined a military police unit, Joel the 1st Cavalry. Both had an uneventful first year-long tour in Iraq; they once had breakfast together in Baghdad. It was in Iraq where Blair met his future wife, Chu Pak, who also was in the Army.

Joel and Blair returned to Iraq for a second tour in 2006. The next year each was wounded — Joel in February when a suicide bomber tried to drive a truck into his barracks, Blair in April when a roadside bomb exploded by his convoy. Each also lost a friend. Blair told his family his best friend died in his arms.

By summer 2007, Blair was disillusioned — "bitter at the world," his father says. "Iraq was different from what he thought it'd be." He suspected some of the Iraqis he was training by day were planting roadside bombs at night. "He said, 'We don't know who we're fightin'!' " his dad recalls.

Joel never complained, his father says. After the barracks attack he posted a photo on his MySpace page that showed his sleeping bag with wreckage behind it. The caption: "My sleeping bag got dirty."

On June 23, his mother's birthday, Joel was killed on patrol in Taji when a bomb exploded under his Humvee. He was 22.

On Nov. 30, about five weeks after he originally was to have gone home, Blair was killed on patrol in Baqouba when a bomb exploded under his Humvee. He was 24.

Worster says the sorrow over Joel's death turned into raw shock: "How could this happen twice?"

Again, a flag-draped coffin was unloaded at the Bangor airport. Again, people lined the streets of neighboring Lincoln as a body arrived at the funeral home. Again, the governor came to a memorial service at the school gym, the only place big enough for the crowd.

"This town has kept me going," Bill Emery says. "I don't think I could have done it in a bigger town. Everyone comes and supports the family. The phone calls, people stopping in, cards, donations, the food — it's been tremendous."

When Joel died, one of the first people to call on the Houses was Bill Emery. When Blair died, Paul House was at the Emerys' door. The two fathers have been consoling each other ever since.

They talk about how sons so different in life were so similar in death. Both had their military service extended; both were wounded and lost close comrades; both were manning a gun turret when they were killed.

Paul, 51, is a born-again Christian who believes he will see his son in heaven. "God doesn't make mistakes," he says. "It's hard, but I have never felt so close to God." He hugged the military officers who brought the news of Joel's death.

Bill, 55, lacks such faith: "I have too many 'whys?' and 'what-ifs?' "

They also differ a bit on the war.

Paul supports it enthusiastically. He says the Iraqis need support and that the United States would be selfish to withdraw and let the country fall into anarchy.

Bill wants to support the cause for which his son died, but he can't ignore Blair's misgivings about the war, or the extension that cost Blair his life: "That's what hurts so much. He coulda been back. … I get bitter about that."

Every time a student tells Ritchie he's planning to enter the military, "I ask myself, 'Am I watching you go off to your death?' "

But Ritchie, who opposes the war, says the loss of Joel and Blair has tended to stifle honest talk about its merits. "It's hard, because their families want them to be heroes. And they are, but I don't think (the government is) giving the troops the support they need. I get bitter sometimes about that."

She points to a photo in the 2002 yearbook of the varsity soccer team. Blair, No. 17, is standing behind Joel, No. 22.

In spring, when the earth thaws, that order will be echoed at the cemetery, where Blair's remains will be buried directly behind Joel's. That's how Worster and everyone else will find them, a couple of good country boys who went to war and didn't come back.

Contributing: Paul Overberg

    A small town mourns its big sacrifice in Iraq, UT, 24.1.2008, http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2008-01-24-smalltowns_N.htm






Attacks Imperil Militiamen in Iraq Allied With U.S.


January 24, 2008
The New York Times


BAGHDAD — American-backed Sunni militias who have fought Sunni extremists to a standstill in some of Iraq’s bloodiest battlegrounds are being hit with a wave of assassinations and bomb attacks, threatening a fragile linchpin of the military’s strategy to pacify the nation.

At least 100 predominantly Sunni militiamen, known as Awakening Council members or Concerned Local Citizens, have been killed in the past month, mostly around Baghdad and the provincial capital of Baquba, urban areas with mixed Sunni and Shiite populations, according to Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani. At least six of the victims were senior Awakening leaders, Iraqi officials said.

Violence is also shaking up the Awakening movement, many of whose members are former insurgents, in its birthplace in the Sunni heartland of Anbar Province. On Sunday, a teenage suicide bomber exploded at a gathering of Awakening leaders, killing Hadi Hussein al-Issawi, a midlevel sheik, and three other tribesmen.

Born nearly two years ago in Iraq’s western deserts, the Awakening movement has grown to an 80,000-member nationwide force, four-fifths of whose members are Sunnis. American military officials credit that force, along with the surge in United States troops, the Mahdi Army’s self-imposed cease-fire and an increase in Iraqi security forces, for a precipitous drop in civilian and military fatalities since July.

But the recent onslaught is jeopardizing that relative security and raising the prospect that the groups’ members might disperse, with many rejoining the insurgency, American officials said.

“There’s a recognition that sustained attacks cannot continue,” said a United States official who was not authorized to speak publicly. “We’ve got to break that.” The official said that American military and intelligence officials were taking the threat to the Awakening movement “very seriously.”

American and Iraqi officials blame Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia for most of the killings, which spiked after the Dec. 29 release of an audio recording in which Osama bin Laden called the volunteer tribesmen “traitors” and “infidels.” While the organization is overwhelmingly Iraqi and Sunni, American military officials say it has foreign leadership, though its links with Mr. bin Laden himself are unclear.

Officials say that Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia has a two-pronged strategy: directing strikes against Awakening members to intimidate and punish them for cooperating with the Americans, and infiltrating the groups to glean intelligence and discredit the movement in the eyes of an already wary Shiite-led government. “Al Qaeda is trying to assassinate all the Awakening members that support the government, but I believe that criminal militias are also doing this,” Mr. Bolani said during a recent interview in Taji.

Both Sunni and Shiite officials in Baghdad blame two government-linked Shiite paramilitary forces for some of the attacks: the Mahdi Army and the Badr Organization. Sunni officials charge that militia leaders are involved, while Shiite officials believe that the attackers are renegade members of the groups. Both militias have close ties to Iran and have been implicated in death-squad operations against Sunni Arabs, although the Mahdi militia’s leaders have publicly told their members to abide by a cease-fire.

Citizen guardsmen and Iraqi intelligence officials say they have also captured Iranians with hit lists and orders to attack Awakening members. American military officials say they suspect that Iran’s paramilitary force, Al Quds, is directing the Shiite militias’ attacks against the Awakening movement. But other than finding Iranian-made weapons, which are sometimes used by Shiite militia fighters, American military officials offered no evidence that Iranians were participating in direct attacks. “Right now, the Concerned Local Citizens groups are being heavily targeted by Al Qaeda,” said Brig. Gen. Mark McDonald, who is working with the volunteers. “They’re also being targeted by some Shiite extremist groups.”

Killings of guardsmen are mounting even as Awakening members are becoming increasingly frustrated with the Iraqi government, which has yet to fulfill its promise to integrate 20 percent of the volunteers into the Ministries of Interior and Defense and give nonsecurity jobs to the rest — a process that American officials say could take until the end of the year.

“If I give you a gun and tell you to stand at a checkpoint but I don’t give you support, how long will you stay?” asked Khadum Abu Aya, one of the Awakening leaders in Adhamiya, a neighborhood in northwest Baghdad that was once dominated by Sunni insurgents.

Officials in Baghdad who support the movement worry that if attacks on the tribal forces continue without faster progress by the Iraqi government, Awakening members could begin to fall away, harden into antigovernment militias or even rejoin the Sunni Arab insurgency.

They are worried about losing men like Omar Abbas, 23, one of the thousands of Awakening foot soldiers who expose themselves to danger every day at checkpoints throughout the country. American and Iraqi officials agree that Al Qaeda is the major threat, followed by the Shiite militias.

But many Awakening members like Mr. Abbas turn that hierarchy of risk upside down, singling out the Shiite militias.

“Badr is the worst threat,” he said, referring to the military arm of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, a leading Shiite political party. The next greatest threat, he said, is the Mahdi Army, the armed wing of the political movement of the radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr. Both militias have deep influence in Iraq’s security forces.

Despite their opposition to Al Qaeda, Mr. Abbas says, most Awakening members feel even more alienated from the Shiite government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. “Fifty percent of Al Qaeda in Adhamiya has joined the Awakening,” he pointed out.

For months, threats ricocheted around Col. Riyadh al-Samarrai, the leader of the Awakening council in Adhamiya. Spray-painted messages appeared on walls near Adhamiya checkpoints: “Awakening is an obstacle to jihad” or “Death to you.”

Threatening calls to his cellphone became routine. And his son was accosted at a barbershop by a man who put a gun to his head and said, “Tell your father we’re going to kill him.”

Then on Jan. 7, they did. A man walked into a guarded religious compound, greeted Colonel Samarrai with the easy familiarity of a friend and detonated a bomb, killing himself and the Awakening leader.

Adhamiya guardsmen said that in recent weeks at least 25 Awakening members had been killed in the Baghdad districts of Shaab and Yarmouk.

Among the victims was Ismael Abbas, a Shiite tribal leader in Shaab, who was shot to death outside his home this month. Eight of Mr. Abbas’s men were abducted the next day. Awakening members blame Mahdi Army fighters.

But Sheik Hassan al-Mayahi, a Sadrist cleric in Shaab, denied that anyone loyal to Mr. Sadr would flout his cease-fire order. He blamed Sunni militants for the violence, but warned that Sadrists took a dim view of the Awakening groups in Shaab, which remained a Mahdi Army stronghold.

“Why do we need an Awakening Council in Shaab if the neighborhood is safe and people are satisfied?” he said, describing the guardsmen as “masked men carrying weapons.”

“We can’t distinguish them from the insurgents,” he said.

Despite losing ground in Baghdad, Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia continues to recruit, propagandize and attack — often secretly, Iraqi and American officials say.

Across the Tigris River at the National Police barracks in the predominantly Shiite district of Kadhimiya, police officers questioned a young insurgent propagandist named Ali Taleb Jassim Mohammed. He stood before his interrogators’ desk wearing stylish denim pants, a leather jacket, handcuffs and a blindfold. The police had seized him two days earlier at a checkpoint in possession of a stack of threatening pamphlets. He showed no signs of mistreatment.

Mr. Mohammed told his questioners that operatives for Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia approached him two months ago while he was working for the Awakening movement in the Baghdad neighborhood of Ghazaliya. The operatives threatened to kill him if he did not leave the citizen guard and join their group, he said.

“They told me to do killings and plant I.E.D.’s,” or improvised explosive devices, against Shiite militiamen and Awakening members, he told his interrogators. “I refused and later they gave me these leaflets and told me to hand them out in Yarmouk.”

The police also displayed a handwritten counterintelligence manual that was found with another man detained at headquarters. It was disguised as a child’s geography notebook, a sticker of Sylvester and Tweety Bird affixed to the cover.

“What are our most important secrets?” read one passage on resisting interrogations. “The members of the organization. The location of their homes. Hide phone numbers, names, addresses and countries they are from.

“How is information compromised? By failing to do your job well. Confiding in stupid people. Bribery. People who talk too much. Confessions under torture. Electronic listening devices. Infiltration by spies.”

An Iraqi intelligence official said, “Our battle in Iraq has become an intelligence battle.” The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the nature of his job, added, “Half of the Awakening movement is infiltrated by Al Qaeda.”

The official said that the most dangerous threat, however, was posed by the Mahdi and Badr militias who, he claimed, were working with Iran to undermine the Awakening movement.

“Two weeks ago, we captured one Iraqi and two Iranians meeting in a house in Baghdad,” he said. “They are hitting the Sunni councils, because the Shiites think that they will form a Sunni militia that will be a force to hit them hard. When we capture these Shiite militiamen, they tell us they have orders from Iran.”

He warned that if Awakening groups were provoked into retaliatory attacks against government-linked Shiite militias, the results could be catastrophic.

In Diyala Province, a violently troubled area of Sunnis and Shiites north of Baghdad, attacks against citizen guardsmen have been aggravated by some of the worst sectarian conflict in the nation. Qasim al-Jafari, a Shiite tribal council leader, said dozens of Awakening members in Diyala had been killed in the last month, mostly by fighters for Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia.

Iraqi police officials in Diyala say that since June more than 200 Awakening members have been killed and more than 500 wounded. The Diyala tribes, organized about a year after the Anbar movement, are relative newcomers; Mr. Jafari’s force, for example, is still seeking certification from the central government.

Compared with neighborhood groups in Baghdad, some of Diyala’s largest Awakening groups are linked more by tribe than by geography or sect — Mr. Jafari said his volunteers were evenly divided between Shiites and Sunnis. In contrast to community-based volunteer squads, their tribal forces thwart terrorist infiltrators more effectively because relatives vouch for one another.

Despite their advantages, many Diyala tribes are being overwhelmed by the scale of violence in the province, parts of which remain a haven for Sunni insurgents. Accounts of killings of volunteers in Diyala resemble Baghdad’s “intelligence war” less than they do conventional warfare.

Sheik Jafari said that 13 tribesmen were killed during one recent five-hour gun battle. Fighters for Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia are also blamed for the assassinations of several high-ranking sheiks in the province, including two tribal chiefs: Faiz Lafta al-Obeidi and Abu Sadjat, who was killed when a suicide bomber leapt onto his car.

While the attacks are taking a toll on Awakening members, they are causing even more damage to the delicate relationships between former insurgents and the government.

In Fadhil, the Awakening leader, Khalid al-Qaisi, said he had little hope that Iraqi politicians would support the movement and offered this opinion of Baghdad’s Shiite-led elite: “The garbage in Fadhil is better than the Iraqi government.”

Reporting was contributed by Ahmad Fadam, Karim Hilmi, Mudhafer al-Husaini, Qais Mizher, Wisam A. Habeeb and Abeer Mohammed from Baghdad, and an Iraqi employee of The New York Times from Baquba.

    Attacks Imperil Militiamen in Iraq Allied With U.S., NYT, 24.1.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/24/world/middleeast/24sunni.html?hp






Suicide Bomber Attacks Iraqi School


January 22, 2008
Filed at 12:38 p.m. ET
The New York Times


BAGHDAD (AP) -- A suicide bomber pushing an electric heater on top of a cart packed with explosives attacked a high school north of Baghdad on Tuesday, killing a bystander and injuring 21 people -- mainly youngsters and teachers.

The school attack and other recent bombings against funerals and social gatherings raised the possibility that al-Qaida in Iraq has shifted tactics to focus on so-called soft targets and undermine public confidence that security is improving in Iraq.

The bombing at a gate in front of the two-story schoolhouse came at about 8:30 a.m., half an hour after classes began. The blast, which left a crater in the road, killed a 25-year-old man and injured 12 students, eight teachers and one policeman, a doctor at Baqouba General Hospital said.

Mohammed Abbas, 15, said he was walking outside his classroom after finishing a test when he heard a big boom.

''Immediately I fell down, and the next thing I was aware of was a doctor treating me in the hospital,'' Abbas said, his wounded head bandaged as his father stood near him. ''We did not expect that explosions would reach our school. I can't think of any reason to target students.''

A police officer said the school appeared to be the target because the attacker blew himself up at the gate. The school is more than 30 yards from the back gate of the provincial governor's office in Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad. Both the officer and the doctor spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared reprisals.

Baqouba is the turbulent capital of Diyala province, which has defied a nationwide trend toward lower violence over the past six months. One reason for the continued bloodshed in Diyala is that al-Qaida in Iraq fighters fled there after Sunni insurgents and clan members joined with American troops to oust them from much of Baghdad and Anbar province to the west.

However, the Diyala attack followed three suicide attacks in as many days in Sunni Arab areas thought to have been largely rid of al-Qaida militants.

U.S. commanders credit anti-al-Qaida fighters from Sunni groups, a six-month cease-fire by a Shiite militia and the dispatch of 30,000 additional U.S. soldiers last year for the reduction in violence. But there has been an increase in high-profile bombings in recent weeks.

On Monday, a suicide bomber apparently targeting a senior security official blew himself up inside a funeral tent, killing 18 people. The attack was in Hajaj, a village between Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit and the oil hub of Beiji, 155 miles north of Baghdad. But police said the attack bore the hallmarks of al-Qaida in Iraq.

Witnesses said about 70 people were inside the tent when the attacker set off his explosives soon after entering.

Officials said the target appeared to be Ahmed Abdullah, deputy governor in charge of security for Salahuddin province, of which Tikrit is the capital. He escaped unharmed.

Abdullah was a relative of the deceased man, Antar Mohammed Abed. He was a former bodyguard of Saddam's wife, Sajida Khairallah Tulfah.

Abed's son and a grandson were among the 18 killed, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

As a relative, Abdullah should have been sitting close to the son and grandson, because family members take the seats closest to the entrance on such occasions to be the first to receive visitors.

Awad Jassim, a 25-year-old laborer hired by Abed's family to make tea and coffee for mourners, said he was only a few yards from the tent when the explosion ripped it down, sending him running for cover.

''Later, I returned to the tent when I heard the voices of the wounded begging for help,'' he said. ''There was chaos everywhere, but we managed to carry out the dead and the wounded.''

The attack came one day after a teenage suicide bomber targeted U.S.-backed, anti-al-Qaida fighters near the former insurgent stronghold of Fallujah in Anbar province west of Baghdad. Six people were killed by that blast.

On Saturday, three suicide bombers attacked a police station in Ramadi, Anbar's provincial capital. Guards killed one attacker, but the other two detonated their explosives at the entrance, killing at least five officers.

Meanwhile, a soldier killed over the weekend south of Baghdad was the first American casualty in a roadside bomb attack on the newly introduced, heavily armored MRAP -- Mine-Resistant, Ambush-Protected vehicle, a military spokeswoman said Tuesday.

The hull of the huge armored truck is v-shaped, designed to deflect blasts from roadside bombs which have killed more American soldiers than any other tactic.

The soldier who died Saturday was the gunner who sits atop the MRAP vehicle. Three crew members tucked inside the cabin were wounded. The vehicle rolled over after the blast and it was not clear whether the gunner died from the explosion or the roll-over.

There now are more than 1,500 of the costly vehicles in service in Iraq and the Pentagon is working to get at least 12,000 more into the theater, using $21 billion provided by Congress.

The sophisticated vehicles are being built and put into service in a bid to provide soldiers and Marines more protection than is offered by armored Humvees, which have flat bottoms which absorb the shock waves from a blast. The bottom of an MRAP also is 36 inches above ground, while Humvees sit much lower.


Associated Press writer Sameer N. Yacoub contributed to this report.

    Suicide Bomber Attacks Iraqi School, NYT, 22.1.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/world/AP-Iraq.html






Suicide Bomber Kills 17 at Ceremony Near Capital


January 22, 2008
The New York Times


BAGHDAD — A suicide bomber killed 17 people in Salahuddin Province north of Baghdad on Monday in the latest suicide attack outside the capital.

Meanwhile, in the wake of a suicide bombing on Sunday near Falluja in Anbar Province, local tribesmen burned the house of the young suicide bomber’s family and prevented a female cousin from collecting the bomber’s head for burial.

In the attack on Monday, a suicide bomber in the village of Hajaj near the northern oil refinery town of Baiji entered a communal hall where a feast was under way, observing the end of the seven-day mourning period for the uncle of a high-ranking security official in the Salahuddin provincial government. The bomber detonated his explosive vest, demolishing the hall.

Seventeen people were killed and 11 wounded, according to a senior official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the news media.

The level of anger on Monday in Albo Issa, the village where the Sunday bombing took place, laid bare the intensity of the blood feuds and vengeance killings that often characterize the violence in the provinces. As women keened in the courtyard and men sat somberly in a separate house, family members talked about those they had lost.

“After this crime, we will never allow any of those people to stay in our area,” said Mohammed Hadi Hassan, 20, whose father was killed. “Not even their women and children. We will not permit anyone with such an ideology to stay in our village.”

The bombing took place at a celebratory lunch among members of the local Awakening Council, the American-backed movement of Sunni Arab tribes opposed to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. According to witnesses, the suicide bomber, a boy of 13 or 14 identified as Ali Hussein Allawi al-Issawi, detonated his vest just after handing chocolates to his host. Four people were killed, including the bomber.

On Sunday night, some of the men who lost relatives in the bombing set his house on fire, Mr. Hassan said, setting off explosions because of the amount of ammunition stored there. Mr. Hassan, an AK-47 on his lap, spoke tearfully on Monday about his father, Hadi Hussein al-Issawi, and the split within the Issawi tribe to which he belongs.

The tribe has long been divided between a majority who fiercely oppose Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and a minority who support the militants, he said. Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia is a homegrown militant group that American officials say has foreign leadership.

The two tribal factions live close to each other in Albo Issa; the bomber’s house lies about 500 yards from the house of Mr. Hussein, the victim.

Soon after members of the tribe joined with the Americans to fight Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, more than a year ago, the men in the area who supported the group fled north, leaving behind their women and children, Mr. Hassan said.

“The bomber’s father was one of the senior leaders in Al Qaeda, which here they call ‘the Islamic State of Iraq,’ ” Mr. Hassan said. “He left his house a long time ago. The child disappeared 10 months ago, but he reappeared 10 days ago. We told the police forces about his return as soon as he got back, but they took no action.”

A boy, who was among those mourning the victims, said he remembered the bomber as a normal child.

“He was my classmate in school as well as in the neighborhood,” said Dhaher Hussein Ali, 13. “He was very calm, and we used to play together. He joked with all of us. Ten months ago, he disappeared. When he came back recently, he kept to himself and he did not even say hello to us.”

Another cousin of Mr. Hussein’s, Ghazi Feisal Hashem al-Issawi, 30, said Mr. Hussein had not recognized the young boy at the lunch gathering. He said that as the boy handed Mr. Hussein the chocolates, Mr. Hussein asked him who he was. “The bomber told him, ‘I am Hussein Allawi’s son,’ then he detonated himself,” he said.

As the sun began to set on Monday, gunshots rang out in the village. Relatives of Mr. Hussein were trying to keep a female cousin of the bomber from approaching the house where the explosion occurred.

She had wanted to retrieve the young boy’s head so that it could be properly buried. But no one would allow her to approach.

The military announced on Monday the deaths of two American soldiers in combat. Both died Saturday. A marine was killed in Anbar province and a soldier was killed by an improvised explosive device while on patrol in Arab Jabour, south of Baghdad, in a new Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected armored vehicle that the military has turned to as a way to reduce deaths and injuries from roadside bombs.

Seven unidentified bodies were found in Baghdad and two in Mosul. Two Iraqi civilians were killed near Samarra when an improvised explosive device detonated beneath their vehicle.

Abeer Mohammed and Qais Mizher contributed reporting from Baghdad, and Iraqi employees of The New York Times from Falluja, Tikrit and Mosul.

    Suicide Bomber Kills 17 at Ceremony Near Capital, NYT, 22.1.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/22/world/middleeast/22iraq.html






Suicide Bombing Kills 14 in Iraq


January 21, 2008
Filed at 1:50 p.m. ET
The New York Times


BAGHDAD (AP) -- A suicide bomber blew himself up inside a funeral tent in a predominantly Sunni village, killing at least 14 and wounding 17, in the third such bombing in Sunni areas in as many days.

There were no immediate claims of responsibility, but the attack bore the hallmarks of al-Qaida in Iraq, which has been trying to derail a movement that has seen Sunnis join forces with the U.S. against the terror network.

The attacker detonated his explosives belt amid mourners in the Hajaj village on the outskirts of Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's hometown some 80 miles north of Baghdad, a police officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of security concerns.

The blast brought down the tent and the casualty toll rose to at least 14 killed and 17 wounded as victims were pulled from the rubble.

''I heard a big explosion and I ran away out of fear. I came back to the tent after hearing the voices of wounded begging for help,'' said Awad Jassim, a 25-year-old who had been making coffee over an open fire. ''The tent fell down and there was chaos everywhere, but we managed to carry out the dead and the wounded.''

Police, meanwhile, rounded up clansmen in Anbar province as a U.S.-backed tribal leader suggested a teenager who carried out a suicide bombing against the anti-al-Qaida fighters had help from inside the group.

Sunday's suicide attack near Fallujah killed six people in the former insurgent stronghold and raised concerns about the infiltration of Sunni groups that have joined forces with the Americans against al-Qaida in Iraq.

The attacker was a teenage relative carrying a box of candy at a gathering of tribal members to celebrate the recent release of a relative, Hadi Hussein, who had been released after more than a week in U.S. custody. Hussein and five other people were killed in the blast.

The young man blew himself up in a reception area as Hussein was greeting well-wishers in the compound of Aeifan al-Issawi, a leading member of the Anbar Awakening Council. Al-Issawi said he believed he was the target but the bomber got nervous and detonated his explosives before he arrived.

''I was the target,'' al-Issawi said. ''This is not the first time that we have been targeted by our relatives who live in the same area around us.''

Al-Issawi said the bomber was Ali Hussein Allawi, the 15-year-old son of an al-Qaida militant who had traveled to the area from Samarra to visit relatives.

The tribal leader said some two dozen suspects had been rounded up and five remained detained after the attack.

He also said police were investigating how Allawi had been armed, suggesting he must have received the explosives after arriving in the area to penetrate tight security and avoid extensive checkpoints along the way.

''After the explosion, police forces detained uncles and relatives of this boy,'' al-Issawi said. ''It is unbelievable that he came from Samarra with an explosive belt on him.''

The implication that it was an inside job reflects the tangled relationships of tribes in Anbar province, a vast desert area that has been relatively calm in recent months as Sunnis switched sides to join forces with the U.S. against al-Qaida in Iraq.

The so-called awakening movements have spread to other areas and have been hailed by the U.S. military as one of the main reasons for a recent decline in violence. But the military has acknowledged concerns that some members could retain allegiances to al-Qaida.

Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, a U.S. military spokesman, said members were carefully screened and must pledge to renounce violence before being accepted.

''That's not to say that al-Qaida has not found a way to infiltrate some members, some groups, that clearly could be the case,'' Smith said Sunday, referring to the Sunni movements.

The U.S. military also said a Marine was killed Saturday during fighting in Anbar, the first U.S. combat death in the province since Oct. 8.

South of Baghdad, a roadside bomb killed another soldier in the rural al-Qaida in Iraq stronghold of Arab Jabour on Saturday, the military said separately.

In the capital, hundreds of men carried a huge Iraqi flag as they followed the coffin of Jawad Abdul-Kadim during a funeral service in the Amil neighborhood. Protesters said he was not affiliated with any militant groups.

The military said the slain extremist brigade commander led a network of 10 groups in Baghdad that were implicated in murder, kidnappings and other criminal activity against Iraqi security forces and civilians. The suspect had established a group to collect information used to target Iraqi troops, according to the statement.

''Credible intelligence indicates he and his group are responsible for the sectarian murder of several hundred Iraqi civilians in the past year,'' the statement said.

The man, who was not identified by the military, ran into another room after the assault force entered the building, according to the military's account. He was killed after troops forced the door open and saw him trying to grab a weapon, it said.

U.S.-led forces have routinely carried out raids in Baghdad searching for Shiite extremists since they launched a security crackdown in the capital nearly a year ago. Residents frequently complain of unnecessarily heavy-handed behavior at the hands of the troops.

Abdul-Kadim's son, Hamza Jawad, said his father was trying to keep the troops out of the bedroom until his wife could dress properly, but one of the soldiers reached through a space in the door and opened fire.

''My father is innocent, and he is not affiliated with any group,'' the 13-year-old said.


Associated Press Writer Hamid Ahmed contributed to this report.

    Suicide Bombing Kills 14 in Iraq, NYT, 21.1.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/world/AP-Iraq.html







When Veterans Fight the War Within


January 16, 2008
The New York Times


To the Editor:

Thank you for “Across America, Deadly Echoes of Foreign Battles” (front page, Jan. 13), a bone-chilling article.

Some may say that America rode into the war on terror on a wave of misinformation from the Bush administration, but no element played a more crucial role in perpetuating the war than a constant reminder from the Bush administration that we, as Americans, have a duty to “support our troops.”

Support surely doesn’t end when the troops come home. Yet with so much money going to corporations that are profiting from the war, military mental health programs are still, as a Pentagon task force described them, “woefully” understaffed.

Why does it seem as if the leaders of this war have conveniently, almost cruelly, stopped supporting our troops upon their homecoming?

Nicholas Commins
Cambridge, Mass., Jan. 13, 2008

To the Editor:

As a nation that depends on an all-volunteer armed force, we need to provide all the tools and resources for our troops when they are sent off to war and especially when they return.

Supporting the troops must go deeper than words, both in the civilian and military worlds. There must be a way to help returning troops process and adapt to a civilian culture that is so out of touch with war. Until then, the troops will bring home the horrors of war.

Yolanda Perez
Boston, Jan. 13, 2008

To the Editor:

There have been more than 90,000 murders and nonnegligent homicides in this country since 9/11 and the onset of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. You found “121 cases in which veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan committed a killing in this country, or were charged with one” during that period — just a small fraction of 1 percent of those 90,000 homicides.

It is contemptible to pander to the worldview that American troops are drunken, debt-ridden psycho killers. Articles like yours feed into and perpetuate a negative stereotype of our soldiers, who have in truth shown a level of courage and civic duty far beyond what is asked of the hundreds of millions of their fellow citizens.

As an Iraq war veteran, I can tell you that soldiers need respect, not pity, contempt, hatred or fear.

Robert C. Verdi
Central Islip, N.Y., Jan. 13, 2008

To the Editor:

It was simply not manly to seek psychiatric help during and after Vietnam. In my own case, I suffered for some 40 years. After all the nightmares, sleepwalking, waking myself up with my own screams and causing my near relatives anxiety and fear, a police officer introduced me to a talk group of Vietnam veterans at the local V.A. hospital.

I was finally able to talk of the death and maimings and fear of those combat days (and I was a Roman Catholic chaplain and had killed no one).

You are never the same when you return from combat. The American people must therefore be absolutely sure of the engaged war because of the terrible things war does to the psyches of those soldiers. It may be worth it, but only if the objectives of the war are worth it.

Deep down, those images and sounds never go away. I am happy that today the military has recognized the humanity and manhood of those who seek help.

Peter J. Riga
Houston, Jan. 14, 2008

To the Editor:

The Pentagon spokesman’s response to the roster of homicides The New York Times presented reflects a callous indifference. The reasons given for not responding are irrelevant. There was no need to replicate The Times’s research.

The Pentagon should accept the information and start a program to gather more. It should not matter how the crime is classified, whether it’s manslaughter or murder. The common denominator is that someone died and a combat veteran was involved in that death.

The Pentagon should be thankful that there is greater media coverage of returning combat veterans. That will help gain support for what we should do: treat returning combat veterans humanely, do what is necessary to help them adjust to civilian life successfully, and do not throw them away like a piece of broken equipment when they can no longer function effectively as competent persons.

Ray Hazen
Shelton, Wash., Jan. 14, 2008

To the Editor:

The “deadly echoes of foreign battles” you note are, indeed, being heard across America. If history is any guide, they will only get louder.

The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan seem to be breeding grounds for post-traumatic stress disorder. The military has made huge gains in treating combat injuries, but mental health care lags far behind. We are all at risk as a result.

Those of us who work to stop family and sexual violence know that family members and women may pay the highest price. Vietnam veterans with PTSD also had serious problems with domestic violence.

Five years ago, during a six-week period, three wives of servicemen returning from Afghanistan were murdered by their husbands. The military concluded that returning vets needed more support. But in the years since, it hasn’t done nearly enough to help them transition back home. Our heroes and their families deserve better. Esta Soler

Jacquelyn Campbell
San Francisco, Jan. 14, 2008

The writers are, respectively, the president of the Family Violence Prevention Fund and a professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing.

To the Editor:

Your article about veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars who have committed or been charged with murder perpetuates the myth about crazed war veterans.

You note that in researching “homicides involving all active-duty military personnel and new veterans for the six years” after the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, there have been 349 cases.

There are more than 1.4 million Americans on active duty. Philadelphia, a city with a similar population, alone had 392 murders in 2007.

As a veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan, I find articles like yours do a disservice to America’s combat veterans by shaping a public perception that they are damaged people, prone to violence.

Wade Gailes
Owings Mills, Md., Jan. 13, 2008

    When Veterans Fight the War Within, NYT, 16.1.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/16/opinion/l16vets.html






War Torn

Across America, Deadly Echoes of Foreign Battles


January 13, 2008
The New York Times


Late one night in the summer of 2005, Matthew Sepi, a 20-year-old Iraq combat veteran, headed out to a 7-Eleven in the seedy Las Vegas neighborhood where he had settled after leaving the Army.

This particular 7-Eleven sits in the shadow of the Stratosphere casino-hotel in a section of town called the Naked City. By day, the area, littered with malt liquor cans, looks depressed but not menacing. By night, it becomes, in the words of a local homicide detective, “like Falluja.”

Mr. Sepi did not like to venture outside too late. But, plagued by nightmares about an Iraqi civilian killed by his unit, he often needed alcohol to fall asleep. And so it was that night, when, seized by a gut feeling of lurking danger, he slid a trench coat over his slight frame — and tucked an assault rifle inside it.

“Matthew knew he shouldn’t be taking his AK-47 to the 7-Eleven,” Detective Laura Andersen said, “but he was scared to death in that neighborhood, he was military trained and, in his mind, he needed the weapon to protect himself.”

Head bowed, Mr. Sepi scurried down an alley, ignoring shouts about trespassing on gang turf. A battle-weary grenadier who was still legally under-age, he paid a stranger to buy him two tall cans of beer, his self-prescribed treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.

As Mr. Sepi started home, two gang members, both large and both armed, stepped out of the darkness. Mr. Sepi said in an interview that he spied the butt of a gun, heard a boom, saw a flash and “just snapped.”

In the end, one gang member lay dead, bleeding onto the pavement. The other was wounded. And Mr. Sepi fled, “breaking contact” with the enemy, as he later described it. With his rifle raised, he crept home, loaded 180 rounds of ammunition into his car and drove until police lights flashed behind him.

“Who did I take fire from?” he asked urgently. Wearing his Army camouflage pants, the diminutive young man said he had been ambushed and then instinctively “engaged the targets.” He shook. He also cried.

“I felt very bad for him,” Detective Andersen said.

Nonetheless, Mr. Sepi was booked, and a local newspaper soon reported: “Iraq veteran arrested in killing.”

Town by town across the country, headlines have been telling similar stories. Lakewood, Wash.: “Family Blames Iraq After Son Kills Wife.” Pierre, S.D.: “Soldier Charged With Murder Testifies About Postwar Stress.” Colorado Springs: “Iraq War Vets Suspected in Two Slayings, Crime Ring.”

Individually, these are stories of local crimes, gut-wrenching postscripts to the war for the military men, their victims and their communities. Taken together, they paint the patchwork picture of a quiet phenomenon, tracing a cross-country trail of death and heartbreak.

The New York Times found 121 cases in which veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan committed a killing in this country, or were charged with one, after their return from war. In many of those cases, combat trauma and the stress of deployment — along with alcohol abuse, family discord and other attendant problems — appear to have set the stage for a tragedy that was part destruction, part self-destruction.

Three-quarters of these veterans were still in the military at the time of the killing. More than half the killings involved guns, and the rest were stabbings, beatings, strangulations and bathtub drownings. Twenty-five offenders faced murder, manslaughter or homicide charges for fatal car crashes resulting from drunken, reckless or suicidal driving.

About a third of the victims were spouses, girlfriends, children or other relatives, among them 2-year-old Krisiauna Calaira Lewis, whose 20-year-old father slammed her against a wall when he was recuperating in Texas from a bombing near Falluja that blew off his foot and shook up his brain.

A quarter of the victims were fellow service members, including Specialist Richard Davis of the Army, who was stabbed repeatedly and then set ablaze, his body hidden in the woods by fellow soldiers a day after they all returned from Iraq.

And the rest were acquaintances or strangers, among them Noah P. Gamez, 21, who was breaking into a car at a Tucson motel when an Iraq combat veteran, also 21, caught him, shot him dead and then killed himself outside San Diego with one of several guns found in his car.


Tracking the Killings

The Pentagon does not keep track of such killings, most of which are prosecuted not by the military justice system but by civilian courts in state after state. Neither does the Justice Department.

To compile and analyze its list, The Times conducted a search of local news reports, examined police, court and military records and interviewed the defendants, their lawyers and families, the victims’ families and military and law enforcement officials.

This reporting most likely uncovered only the minimum number of such cases, given that not all killings, especially in big cities and on military bases, are reported publicly or in detail. Also, it was often not possible to determine the deployment history of other service members arrested on homicide charges.

The Times used the same methods to research homicides involving all active-duty military personnel and new veterans for the six years before and after the present wartime period began with the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

This showed an 89 percent increase during the present wartime period, to 349 cases from 184, about three-quarters of which involved Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans. The increase occurred even though there have been fewer troops stationed in the United States in the last six years and the American homicide rate has been, on average, lower.

The Pentagon was given The Times’s roster of homicides. It declined to comment because, a spokesman, Lt. Col. Les Melnyk, said, the Department of Defense could not duplicate the newspaper’s research. Further, Colonel Melnyk questioned the validity of comparing prewar and wartime numbers based on news media reports, saying that the current increase might be explained by “an increase in awareness of military service by reporters since 9/11.” He also questioned the value of “lumping together different crimes such as involuntary manslaughter with first-degree homicide.”

Given that many veterans rebound successfully from their war experiences and some flourish as a result of them, veterans groups have long deplored the attention paid to the minority of soldiers who fail to readjust to civilian life.

After World War I, the American Legion passed a resolution asking the press “to subordinate whatever slight news value there may be in playing up the ex-service member angle in stories of crime or offense against the peace.” An article in the Veterans of Foreign Wars magazine in 2006 referred with disdain to the pervasive “wacko-vet myth,” which, veterans say, makes it difficult for them to find jobs.

Clearly, committing homicide is an extreme manifestation of dysfunction for returning veterans, many of whom struggle in quieter ways, with crumbling marriages, mounting debt, deepening alcohol dependence or more-minor tangles with the law.

But these killings provide a kind of echo sounding for the profound depths to which some veterans have fallen, whether at the bottom of a downward spiral or in a sudden burst of violence.

Thirteen of these veterans took their own lives after the killings, and two more were fatally shot by the police. Several more attempted suicide or expressed a death wish, like Joshua Pol, a former soldier convicted of vehicular homicide, who told a judge in Montana in 2006, “To be honest with you, I really wish I had died in Iraq.”

In some of the cases involving veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, the fact that the suspect went to war bears no apparent relationship to the crime committed or to the prosecution and punishment. But in many of the cases, the deployment of the service member invariably becomes a factor of some sort as the legal system, families and communities grapple to make sense of the crimes.

This is especially stark where a previously upstanding young man — there is one woman among the 121 — appears to have committed a random act of violence. And The Times’s analysis showed that the overwhelming majority of these young men, unlike most civilian homicide offenders, had no criminal history.

“When they’ve been in combat, you have to suspect immediately that combat has had some effect, especially with people who haven’t shown these tendencies in the past,” said Robert Jay Lifton, a lecturer in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School/Cambridge Health Alliance who used to run “rap groups” for Vietnam veterans and fought to earn recognition for what became known as post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

“Everything is multicausational, of course,” Dr. Lifton continued. “But combat, especially in a counterinsurgency war, is such a powerful experience that to discount it would be artificial.”

Few of these 121 war veterans received more than a cursory mental health screening at the end of their deployments, according to interviews with the veterans, lawyers, relatives and prosecutors. Many displayed symptoms of combat trauma after their return, those interviews show, but they were not evaluated for or received a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder until after they were arrested for homicides.

What is clear is that experiences on the streets of Baghdad and Falluja shadowed these men back to places like Longview, Tex., and Edwardsville, Ill.

“He came back different” is the shared refrain of the defendants’ family members, who mention irritability, detachment, volatility, sleeplessness, excessive drinking or drug use, and keeping a gun at hand.

“You are unleashing certain things in a human being we don’t allow in civic society, and getting it all back in the box can be difficult for some people,” said William C. Gentry, an Army reservist and Iraq veteran who works as a prosecutor in San Diego County.

When Archie O’Neil, a gunnery sergeant in the Marines, returned from a job handling dead bodies in Iraq, he became increasingly paranoid, jumpy and fearful — moving into his garage, eating M.R.E.’s, wearing his camouflage uniform, drinking heavily and carrying a gun at all times, even to answer the doorbell.

“It was like I put one person on a ship and sent him over there, and they sent me a totally different person back,” Monique O’Neil, his wife, testified.

A well-respected and decorated noncommissioned officer who did not want to endanger his chances for advancement, Sergeant O’Neil did not seek help for the PTSD that would later be diagnosed by government psychologists. “The Marine way,” his lawyer said at a preliminary hearing, “was to suck it up.”

On the eve of his second deployment to Iraq in 2004, Sergeant O’Neil fatally shot his mistress, Kimberly O’Neal, after she threatened to kill his family while he was gone.

During a military trial at Camp Pendleton, Calif., a Marine defense lawyer argued that “the ravages of war” provided the “trigger” for the killing. In 2005, a military jury convicted Sergeant O’Neil of murder but declined to impose the minimum sentence, life with the possibility of parole, considering it too harsh. A second jury, however, convened only for sentencing, voted the maximum penalty, life without parole. The case is on appeal.

As with Sergeant O’Neil, a connection between a veteran’s combat service and his crime is sometimes declared overtly. Other times, though, the Iraq connection is a lingering question mark as offenders’ relatives struggle to understand how a strait-laced teenager or family man or wounded veteran ended up behind bars — or dead.

That happened in the case of Stephen Sherwood, who enlisted in the Army at 34 to obtain medical insurance when his wife got pregnant. He may never have been screened for combat trauma.

Yet Mr. Sherwood shot his wife and then himself nine days after returning from Iraq in the summer of 2005. Several months before, the other soldiers in his tank unit had been killed by a rocket attack while he was on a two-week leave to celebrate the first birthday of his now-orphaned son.

“When he got back to Iraq, everyone was dead,” his father, Robert Sherwood, said. “He had survivor’s guilt.” Then his wife informed him that she wanted to end their marriage.

After the murder-suicide, Mr. Sherwood’s parents could not help but wonder what role Iraq played and whether counseling might have helped keep their son away from the brink.

“Ah boy, the amount of heartbreak involved in all of this,” said Dr. Jonathan Shay, a psychiatrist for the Department of Veterans Affairs in Boston and the author of two books that examine combat trauma through the lens of classical texts.


An Ancient Connection

The troubles and exploits of the returning war veteran represent a searing slice of reality. They have served as a recurring artistic theme throughout history — from Homer’s “Odyssey” to the World War I novel “All Quiet on the Western Front,” from the post-Vietnam-era movie “The Deer Hunter” to last fall’s film “In the Valley of Elah.”

At the heart of these tales lie warriors plagued by the kind of psychic wounds that have always afflicted some fraction of combat veterans. In an online course for health professionals, Capt. William P. Nash, the combat/operational stress control coordinator for the Marines, reaches back to Sophocles’ account of Ajax, who slipped into a depression after the Trojan War, slaughtered a flock of sheep in a crazed state and then fell on his own sword.

The nature of the counterinsurgency war in Iraq, where there is no traditional front line, has amplified the stresses of combat, and multiple tours of duty — a third of the troops involved in Iraq and Afghanistan have deployed more than once — ratchet up those stresses.

In earlier eras, various labels attached to the psychological injuries of war: soldier’s heart, shell shock, Vietnam disorder. Today the focus is on PTSD, but military health care officials are seeing a spectrum of psychological issues, with an estimated half of the returning National Guard members, 38 percent of soldiers and 31 percent of marines reporting mental health problems, according to a Pentagon task force.

Decades of studies on the problems of Vietnam veterans have established links between combat trauma and higher rates of unemployment, homelessness, gun ownership, child abuse, domestic violence, substance abuse — and criminality. On a less scientific level, such links have long been known.

“The connection between war and crime is unfortunately very ancient,” said Dr. Shay, the V.A. psychiatrist and author. “The first thing that Odysseus did after he left Troy was to launch a pirate raid on Ismarus. Ending up in trouble with the law has always been a final common pathway for some portion of psychologically injured veterans.”

The National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study, considered the most thorough analysis of this population, found that 15 percent of the male veterans still suffered from full-blown post-traumatic stress disorder more than a decade after the war ended. Half of the veterans with active PTSD had been arrested or in jail at least once, and 34.2 percent more than once. Some 11.5 percent of them had been convicted of felonies, and veterans are more likely to have committed violent crimes than nonveterans, according to government studies. In the mid-1980s, with so many Vietnam veterans behind bars that Vietnam Veterans of America created chapters in prisons, veterans made up a fifth of the nation’s inmate population.

As Iraq and Afghanistan veterans get enmeshed in the criminal justice system, former advocates for Vietnam veterans are disheartened by what they see as history repeating itself.

“These guys today, I recognize the hole in their souls,” said Hector Villarreal, a criminal defense lawyer in Mission, Tex., who briefly represented a three-time Iraq combat veteran charged with manslaughter.

Brockton D. Hunter, a criminal defense lawyer in Minneapolis, told colleagues in a recent lecture at the Minnesota State Bar Association that society should try harder to prevent veterans from self-destructing.

“To truly support our troops, we need to apply our lessons from history and newfound knowledge about PTSD to help the most troubled of our returning veterans,” Mr. Hunter said. “To deny the frequent connection between combat trauma and subsequent criminal behavior is to deny one of the direct societal costs of war and to discard another generation of troubled heroes.”


‘The Town Was Torn Up’

At the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution in Nebraska, Seth Strasburg, 29, displays an imposing, biker-style presence. He has a shaved head, bushy chin beard and tattoos scrolled around his thick arms and neck, one of which quotes, in Latin, a Crusades-era dictum: “Kill them all. God will know his own.”

Beneath this fierce exterior, however, Mr. Strasburg, an Iraq combat veteran who pleaded no contest to manslaughter and gun charges in 2006, hides a tortured compulsion to understand his actions. Growing up in rural Nebraska, he read military history. Now he devours books like Lt. Col. Dave Grossman’s “On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society” and Dr. Shay’s “Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming.”

Because Mr. Strasburg is introspective, he provides a window into the reverberations of combat violence within one veteran’s psyche and from there outward. In Arnold, Neb., population 679, the unintentional killing last year by Mr. Strasburg of Thomas Tiffany Varney V, a pre-mortuary science major known as Moose, was a deeply unsettling event.

“To lose one young man permanently and another to prison, with Iraq mixed up in the middle of it — the town was torn up,” said Pamela Eggleston, a waitress at Suzy’s Pizza and Spirits.

In late 2005, Mr. Strasburg returned to Arnold for a holiday leave after two years in Iraq. Once home, he did not easily shed the extreme vigilance that had become second nature. He traveled around rural Nebraska with a gun and body armor in his Jeep, feeling irritable, out of sorts and out of place in tranquil, “American Idol”-obsessed America.

During his leave, he shrank from questions about Iraq because he hated the cavalier ones: “So, did you kill anybody? What was it like?”

He had, in fact, killed somebody in Iraq and was having trouble dealing with it. Like several veterans interviewed, Mr. Strasburg was plagued by one death before he caused another one.

In 2004, Sergeant Strasburg’s section was engaged in a mission to counter a proliferation of improvised explosive devices, or I.E.D.’s, on the road west of Mosul. One night, posted in an old junked bus, he watched the road for hours until an Iraqi man, armed and out after curfew, appeared and circled a field, kicking the dirt as if he were searching for something. Finally, the man bent down, straining to pick up a large white flour sack, which he then dragged toward the road.

“In my mind at the time, he had this I.E.D. hidden out there during the day and he was going to set it in place,” Mr. Strasburg said. “We radioed it in. They said, ‘Whatever, use your discretion.’ So I popped him.”

With others on his reconnaissance team, Mr. Strasburg helped zip the man into a body bag, taking a few minutes to study the face that he now cannot forget. When they went to search the flour sack, they found nothing but gravel.

“I reported the kill to the battalion,” Mr. Strasburg said. “They said, you know: ‘Good shot. It’s legal. Whatever. Don’t worry about it.’ After that, it was never mentioned. But, you know, I had some issues with it later.”

Mr. Strasburg’s voice broke and he turned his head, wiping his eyes. A reporter noted that he was upset.

“I’m trying not to be,” he said, then changed his mind. “I mean, how can you not be? If you’re human. What if I had waited?”

“Maybe I was too eager,” he added. “Maybe I wanted to be the first one to get a kill, you know? Maybe, maybe, maybe. And that will never go away.”

Which bothers him, Mr. Strasburg said, telling himself: “Get over it. You shot somebody. Everybody else shot somebody, too.”

Shortly after Mr. Strasburg’s military tour of duty ended, he returned to Iraq as a private contractor because, he said, he did not know what else to do with himself after eight years in the Army. “I have no skill other than carrying a gun,” he said.

By late 2005, home on leave, he was preparing to return once more to Iraq in January.

On New Year’s Eve, Mr. Strasburg, accompanied by his brother, consumed vodka cocktails for hours at Jim’s Bar and Package in Arnold. Toward evening’s end, he engaged in an intense conversation with a Vietnam veteran, after which, he said, he inexplicably holstered his gun and headed to a party. Outside the party, he drunkenly approached a Chevrolet Suburban crowded with young people, got upset and thrust his gun inside the car.

Mr. Strasburg said he did not remember what provoked him. According to one account, a young man — not the victim — set him off by calling him a paid killer. Mr. Strasburg, according to the prosecutor, stuck his gun under the young man’s chin. There was a struggle over the gun. It went off. And Mr. Varney, a strapping 21-year-old with a passion for hunting, car racing and baseball, was struck.

Asked if he pulled the trigger, Mr. Strasburg said, “I don’t know,” adding that he took responsibility: “It was my gun and I was drunk. But what the hell was I thinking?”

The Suburban drove quickly away. Mr. Strasburg jumped into his Jeep, speeding along wintry roads until he crashed into a culvert. Feeling doomed, he said, he donned his bulletproof vest and plunged into the woods, where he fell asleep in the snow as police helicopters and state troopers closed in on him.

Mr. Strasburg had never been screened for post-traumatic stress disorder. Like many soldiers, he did not take seriously the Army’s mental health questionnaires given out at his tour’s end. “They were retarded,” he said. “All of us were like, ‘Let’s do this quickly so we can go home.’ They asked: ‘Did you see any dead bodies? Did you take part in any combat operations?’ Come on, we were in Iraq. They didn’t even ask us the really important question, if you killed someone.”

After his arrest, a psychologist hired by his family diagnosed combat trauma in Mr. Strasburg, writing in an evaluation that post-traumatic stress disorder, exacerbated by alcohol, served as a “major factor” in the shooting.


A Judge’s Harsh Words

At the sentencing hearing in Broken Bow, Neb., in September 2006, however, the judge discounted the centrality of the PTSD. He called Mr. Varney “the epitome of an innocent victim” and Mr. Strasburg “a bully” who “misconstrued comments” and “reacted in a belligerent and hostile manner.” In a courtroom filled with Arnold townspeople and Iraq veterans, he sentenced Mr. Strasburg to 22 to 36 years in prison.

Mr. Strasburg’s mother, Aneita, believing that the shooting was a product of his combat trauma, started an organization to create awareness about post-traumatic stress disorder.

Her activism, however, deeply offended the victim’s parents, who run the Arnold Funeral Home.

“I’m sorry, but it feels like a personal affront, like she’s trying to excuse our son’s death with the war,” Barb Varney said, adding that Mr. Strasburg has “never shown any remorse.”

Thomas Tiffany Varney IV, the victim’s father, expressed skepticism about Mr. Strasburg’s PTSD and the disorder in general, saying, “His grandfather, my dad, a lot of people been there, done that, and it didn’t affect them,” Mr. Varney said. “They’re trying to brush it away, ‘Well, he murdered someone, it’s just post-traumatic stress.’ ”

Mr. Strasburg himself, whose diagnosis was confirmed by the Department of Veterans Affairs, expressed discomfort with his post-traumatic stress disorder and its connection to his crime. “It’s not a be-all-and-end-all excuse, and I don’t mean it to be,” he said.

As Mr. Strasburg prefers to see it, he had adapted his behavior to survive in Iraq and then retained that behavior — vigilant, distrustful, armed — when he returned home. “You need time to decompress,” he said. “If the exact same circumstances had happened a year later” — the circumstances of that New Year’s Eve — “nothing would have happened. It never would have went down.”

Mr. Strasburg also voiced reluctance to being publicly identified as a PTSD sufferer, worried that his former military colleagues would see him as a weakling. “Nobody wants to be that guy who says, ‘I got counseling this afternoon, Sergeant,’ ” he said, mimicking a whining voice.

Mr. Strasburg’s former platoon leader, Capt. Benjamin D. Tiffner, who was killed in an I.E.D. attack in Baghdad in November, wrote a letter to Nebraska state authorities. He protested the length of the sentence and requested Mr. Strasburg’s transfer “to a facility that would allow him to deal with his combat trauma.”

“Seth has been asked and required to do very violent things in defense of his country,” Captain Tiffner wrote. “He spent the majority of 2003 to 2005 in Iraq solving very dangerous problems by using violence and the threat of violence as his main tools. He was congratulated and given awards for these actions. This builds in a person the propensity to deal with life’s problems through violence and the threat of violence.

“I believe this might explain in some way why Seth reacted the way that he did that night in Nebraska,” the letter continued. “I’m not trying to explain away Seth’s actions, but I think he is a special case and he needs to be taken care of by our judicial system and our medical system.”


Many Don’t Seek Treatment

Unlike during the Vietnam War, the current military has made a concerted effort, through screenings and research, to gauge the mental health needs of returning veterans. But gauging and addressing needs are different, and a Pentagon task force last year described the military mental health system as overburdened, “woefully” understaffed, inadequately financed and undermined by the stigma attached to PTSD.

Although early treatment might help veterans retain their relationships and avoid developing related problems like depression, alcoholism and criminal behavior, many do not seek or get such help. And this group of homicide defendants seems to be a prime example.

Like Mr. Strasburg, many of these veterans learned that they had post-traumatic stress disorder only after their arrests. And their mental health issues often went unevaluated even after the killings if they were pleading not guilty, if they did not have aggressive lawyers and relatives — or if they killed themselves first.

Of the 13 combat veterans in The Times database who committed murder-suicides, only two, as best as it can be determined, had psychological problems diagnosed by the military health care system after returning from war.

“The real tragedy in these veterans’ case is that, where PTSD is a factor, it is highly treatable,” said Lawrence W. Sherman, director of the Jerry Lee Center of Criminology at the University of Pennsylvania. “And when people are exposed to serious trauma and don’t get it treated, it is a serious risk factor for violence.”

At various times, the question of whether the military shares some blame for these killings gets posed. This occurs especially where the military knew beforehand of a combat veteran’s psychological troubles, marital problems or history of substance abuse.

In some cases, the military sent service members with pre-existing problems — known histories of mental illness, drug abuse or domestic abuse — into combat only to find those problems exacerbated by the stresses of war. In other cases, they quickly discharged returning veterans with psychological or substance abuse problems, after which they committed homicides.

Perhaps no case has posed the question of military liability more bluntly than that of Lucas T. Borges, 25, a former private in the Marines whose victims are suing the United States government, maintaining that the military “had a duty to take reasonable steps to prevent Borges from harming others.” The government is trying to get the claim dismissed.

Mr. Borges immigrated from Brazil at 14 and joined the Marines four years later. After spending six months in Iraq at the beginning of the war, he “came back different, like he was out of his mind,” said his mother, Dina Borges, who runs a small cleaning business in Maryland.

Assigned on his return to a maintenance battalion at Camp Lejeune, N.C., Private Borges developed a taste for the ether used to start large internal combustion engines in winter.

Mr. Borges did have a history of marijuana use, which he disclosed to the Marines when he enlisted, said Jeffrey Weber, a lawyer who represented the victims until recently.

But inhaling ether, which produces both a dreamy high and impairment, was new to him, and his sister, Gabriela, a 20-year-old George Washington University student, believes that he developed the habit to relieve the anxiety that he brought home from war.

The Marines, aware of Mr. Borges’s past drug use, also knew that he had developed an ether problem, but they never removed him from the job where he had ready access to his drug of choice, according to the lawsuit. They never offered him drug treatment, either, Mr. Borges’s own lawyer said in court.

Four months after he returned from Iraq, military officials moved to discharge Private Borges when he was caught inhaling ether in his car. They impounded the car, which contained several canisters of the government’s ether, and sent Mr. Borges, who threatened to kill himself, to the mental health ward of the base hospital.

“He was finally under the care of a psychiatrist, but they pulled him from that because he was a problem and they wanted to get rid of him,” Mr. Weber said. “They processed him out, handed him the keys to his car, and his supervisor said, ‘If you’re not careful, you’re going to kill somebody.’ ”

When Mr. Borges retrieved his 1992 Camaro, he discovered that the Marines had left their ether canisters inside — they did not have anywhere to store them, officials said at trial — and immediately got high. He then drove east down the westbound lane of a state highway, slamming headfirst into the victims’ car, killing 19-year-old Jamie Marie Lumsden, the daughter of a marine who served in Iraq, and seriously injuring four others.

Convicted of second-degree murder, Mr. Borges was sentenced to 24 to 32 years in prison.


Lost in Las Vegas

The Army has recently developed a course called “Battlemind Training,” intended to help soldiers make the psychological transition back into civilian society. “In combat, the enemy is the target,” the course material says. “Back home, there are no enemies.”

This can be a difficult lesson to learn. Many soldiers and marines find themselves at war with their spouses, their children, their fellow service members, the world at large and ultimately themselves when they come home.

“Based on my experience, most of these veterans feel just terrible that they’ve caused this senseless harm,” Dr. Shay said. “Most veterans don’t want to hurt other people.”

Matthew Sepi withdrew into himself on his return from Iraq.

A Navajo Indian who saw his hometown of Winslow, Ariz., as a dead end, Mr. Sepi joined the Army at 16, with a permission slip from his mother.

For a teenager without much life experience, the war in Iraq was mind-bending, and Mr. Sepi saw intense action. When his infantry company arrived in April 2003, it was charged with tackling resistant Republican Guard strongholds north of Baghdad.

“The war was supposedly over, except it wasn’t,” Mr. Sepi said. “I was a ground troop, with a grenade launcher attached to my M-16. Me and my buddies were the ones that assaulted the places. We went in the buildings and cleared the buildings. We shot and got shot at.”

After a year of combat, Mr. Sepi returned to Fort Carson, Colo., where life seemed dull and regimented. The soldiers did not discuss their war experiences or their postwar emotions. Instead, they partied, Mr. Sepi said, and the drinking got him and others in trouble. Arrested for under-age driving under the influence, he was ordered to complete drug and alcohol education and counseling. Shortly after that, he decided to leave the Army.

Feeling lost after his discharge “with a few little medals,” he ended up moving to Las Vegas, a city that he did not know, with the friend of a friend. Broke, Mr. Sepi settled in the Naked City, which is named for the showgirls who used to sunbathe topless there. After renting a roach-infested hole in the wall with an actual hole in the wall, he found jobs doing roadwork and making plastic juice bottles in a factory. Alone and lonely, he started feeling the effects of his combat experiences.

In Las Vegas, Mr. Sepi’s alcohol counselor took him under his wing, recognizing war-related PTSD in his extreme jumpiness, adrenaline rushes, nightmares and need to drink himself into unconsciousness.

The counselor directed him to seek specialized help from a Veterans Affairs hospital. Mr. Sepi said he called the V.A. and was told to report in person. But working 12-hour shifts at a bottling plant, he failed to do so.

In July 2005, when Mr. Sepi was arrested, he identified himself as an Iraq veteran. But, Detective Andersen said, “He didn’t act like a combat veteran. He acted like a scared kid.”

Soon afterward, Nancy Lemcke, Mr. Sepi’s public defender, visited him in jail. “I asked him about PTSD,” Ms. Lemcke said. “And he starts telling me about Iraq and all of a sudden, his eyes well up with tears, and he cries out: ‘We had the wrong house! We had the wrong house!’ And he’s practically hysterical.”

As part of an operation to break down the resistance in and around Balad, Mr. Sepi and his unit had been given a nightly list of targets for capture. Camouflaged, the American soldiers crept through towns after midnight, working their way down the lists, setting off C-4 plastic explosives at each address to stun the residents into submission.

“This particular night, it was December 2003, there was, I’d say, more than 100 targets,” Mr. Sepi said. “Each little team had a list. And at this one house, we blow the gate and find out that there’s this guy sitting in his car just inside that gate. We move in, and he, like, stumbles out of his car, and he’s on fire, and he’s, like, stumbling around in circles in his front yard. So we all kind of don’t know what to do, and he collapses, and we go inside the house and search it and find out it’s the wrong house.”

Although Mr. Sepi said that he felt bad at the time, he also knew that he had done nothing but follow orders and that the Army had paid the man’s family a settlement. He did not imagine that the image of the flaming, stumbling Iraqi civilian would linger like a specter in his psyche.

Listening to Mr. Sepi recount the story of a death that he regretted in Iraq while grappling with a death that he regretted in Las Vegas, his lawyer grew determined to get him help. “It was just so shocking, and his emotions were so raw, and he was so messed up,” Ms. Lemcke said.


An Unusual Legal Deal

She found compassion for him among the law enforcement officials handling the case. The investigation backed up Mr. Sepi’s story of self-defense, although it was never determined who fired first. It made an impression on the police that he was considerably outweighed — his 130 pounds against a 210-pound man and a 197-pound woman. And it helped Mr. Sepi that his victims were drifters, with no family members pressing for justice.

The police said that Kevin Ratcliff, 36, who was shot and wounded by Mr. Sepi, belonged to the Crips and was a convicted felon; Sharon Jackson, 47, who was killed, belonged to NC, the Naked City gang, and an autopsy found alcohol, cocaine and methamphetamines in her blood.

Buoyed by an outpouring of support from Mr. Sepi’s fellow soldiers and veterans’ advocates, Ms. Lemcke pressed the Department of Veterans Affairs to find treatment programs for Mr. Sepi. This allowed an unusual deal with the local district attorney’s office: in exchange for the successful completion of treatment for substance abuse and PTSD, the charges against Mr. Sepi would be dropped.

After about three months in jail, Mr. Sepi spent three months at a substance abuse program in Prescott, Ariz., in late 2005, where the graying veterans presented an object lesson: “I don’t want to be like that when I’m older,” he said to himself. In early 2006, he transferred to a PTSD treatment center run by the V.A. in Topeka, Kan., where he learned how to deal with anger, sadness and guilt, to manage the symptoms of his anxiety disorder and, it seems, to vanquish his nightmares.

“For some reason, my bad dreams went away,” he said. “It’s pretty cool.”

Free to start life over, Mr. Sepi stepped tentatively into adulthood. Settling in Phoenix, he enrolled in automotive school and got a job as a welder for a commercial bakery. Once in a while, he said, a loud noise still starts his heart racing and he breaks into a cold sweat, ready for action. But he knows now how to calm himself, he said, he no longer owns guns, and he is sober and sobered by what he has done.

“That night,” he said, of the hot summer night in Las Vegas when he was arrested for murder, “if I could erase it, I would. Killing is part of war, but back home ...”

Research was contributed by Alain Delaquérière, Amy Finnerty, Teddy Kider, Andrew Lehren, Renwick McLean, Jenny Nordberg and Margot Williams.

    Across America, Deadly Echoes of Foreign Battles, NYT, 13.1.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/16/opinion/l16vets.html






Booby-trap bomb kills six U.S. troops in Iraqi house


Wed Jan 9, 2008
5:03pm EST
By Peter Graff


BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Six U.S. soldiers were killed on Wednesday when a house rigged with explosives blew up north of Baghdad during a new U.S.-Iraqi offensive targeting al Qaeda guerrillas in Iraq, the U.S. military said.

It was one of the highest daily death tolls for U.S. troops in Iraq for months and followed the deaths of three soldiers in the operation a day earlier. More than 3,900 U.S. soldiers have been killed in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

The military gave few details of the incident but said the six soldiers were killed by a "house-borne improvised explosive device" during operations on Wednesday in Diyala, a volatile province north of Baghdad that is a hotbed of al Qaeda activity.

The three other soldiers were killed in Salahuddin province, also north of Baghdad, another target area of the new U.S.-led offensive against al Qaeda that was launched on Tuesday.

The commander of U.S. forces in northern Iraq, Major-General Mark Hertling told a news conference in Baghdad that 24,000 U.S. troops and 50,000 Iraqi army soldiers were participating in Operation Iron Harvest in four provinces north of the capital.

The operation is part of a wider offensive called Operation Phantom Phoenix, which U.S. commanders announced on Tuesday in Baghdad and its southern outskirts as well as the north.

Hertling said the main northern effort was in Diyala, an ethnically mixed and volatile area which he said al Qaeda considered the capital of its Islamic Caliphate.

A brigade of about 5,000 U.S. troops and a division of Iraqis had launched assaults near Muqdadiya in a fertile part of the Diyala River valley known as the bread basket.

Hertling said they had run into lighter opposition than they expected, with guerrillas apparently withdrawing from villages as the Americans advanced. He said Iraqi military reports that about 20-30 militants had been killed "sound about right".

U.S. forces say al Qaeda Sunni Arab militants have regrouped in northern Diyala, Salahuddin and Nineveh provinces after being driven from western Anbar province and Baghdad.

"The people that left Anbar and Baghdad have moved up into my area," Hertling, whose northern area covers Diyala, Salahuddin, Nineveh and Kirkuk provinces, told a briefing.


Hertling said additional troops were being sent into his northern area, which in previous years was a "force economy region" with a lighter U.S. contingent than elsewhere.

"I've got enough to do what we need to be doing right now," he said, declining to give details on the additional forces.

U.S. forces have acknowledged an increase in so-called "spectacular" attacks -- mainly large-scale suicide bombings -- in recent weeks despite an overall decline in violence.

Increasingly, strikes have hit volunteer security patrols, which U.S. forces refer to as "concerned local citizens" and pay to guard neighbourhoods against al Qaeda.

Hertling said five severed heads had been found on a road in Diyala with warnings in Arabic written in blood on their foreheads that all volunteers would share their fate.

"I think these spectacular attacks of suicide bombers and suicide vests are in fact going to be AQI's Achilles' heel," he said, referring to al Qaeda in Iraq. "They are going to continue to kill innocent people, and that in fact is what is generating the concerned local citizens in the first place."

Northern provinces are also among the most ethnically and religiously diverse, which Hertling said can lead to tension.

In Kirkuk bombers struck two churches on Wednesday, wounding three people and causing damage to the buildings. Those strikes followed a campaign of seven strikes on Christian targets in Baghdad and Mosul on Sunday, which wounded four people in total.

The recent strikes on churches have so far hit when buildings were empty, leaving few casualties but renewing fears of sectarian violence against Iraq's small Christian community, about 3 percent of its 27 million mainly Muslim population.

(Writing by Peter Graff and Ross Colvin, additional reporting by Mustafa Mahmoud in Kirkuk, editing by Andrew Roche)

    Booby-trap bomb kills six U.S. troops in Iraqi house, R, 14.1.2008, http://www.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idUSL0950566020080109






U.S. troops kill 60 in Iraq al Qaeda offensive


Mon Jan 14, 2008
11:55am EST
By Ross Colvin


BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The U.S. military said on Monday it had killed 60 militants during a week-long offensive in northern Iraq against al Qaeda which has proved a resilient foe and has resisted previous attempts to drive it from the region.

The offensive in four northern provinces and Baghdad's southern suburbs was launched on January 8 by the U.S. military, which regards al Qaeda as the single greatest threat to Iraq's security and has blamed it for an upsurge in suicide bombings.

In Baghdad, gunmen killed appeals court judge Amir Jawdat al-Naeib as he drove to work on Monday. Naeib's driver was also killed. Militants have frequently targeted judges, academics, other professionals and their families.

The new offensive is seen as part of the U.S. strategy of reducing violence to give Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government time to cement the security gains with political progress towards national reconciliation.

The military said in a statement that U.S. and Iraqi forces had killed 60 militants, detained 193 and found 79 weapons caches containing thousands of rounds of ammunition, explosives and home-made bombs during the offensive in northern Iraq.

Troops had found one cache in an underground bunker complex with several rooms during operations in Diyala, a volatile, religiously mixed province north of Baghdad.

But the fighting has not been one-sided. Police said seven policemen were killed when the house they were searching blew up in the town of Buhriz just south of Baquba, Diyala's capital.

Six U.S. soldiers were killed in Diyala last week when a house booby-trapped with explosives collapsed on top of them. It was the single greatest loss of life by U.S. troops so far during the operation.

A similar offensive targeting al Qaeda in Diyala last summer failed to drive out the Sunni Islamist group because many militants escaped before the well-flagged operation.

A series of U.S. and Iraqi operations against al Qaeda in the second half of 2007 largely drove the group from the capital and western Anbar province, and they are now regrouping in the north, U.S. officials say.



While overall levels of violence in Iraq have dropped by about 60 percent since last June, suicide bombings have surged in Iraq's northern provinces since December, killing dozens.

Progress towards reconciliation has been slow and many Iraqis complain that while security has improved, the government is still failing to provide water and electricity.

Faced with a particularly cold winter, Iraqis are struggling with the absence of such basic services in some areas.

Parts of Iraq have been hit by power cuts. In the capital and in the northern cities of Mosul and Kirkuk, residents say they only have one or two hours of electricity a day.

The Electricity Ministry on Monday blamed Turkey for cutting power to the northern Kurdish provinces of Dahuk and Arbil and Kuwait for halting supplies of fuel to electricity stations in the south. It also said some power lines had been sabotaged.



Washington is anxious that Maliki's government begins to show it serves all Iraqis, not just the Shi'ite and Kurdish communities whose political blocs dominate his administration.

Iraq's main Sunni Arab bloc said on Monday it was ready to return to Maliki's cabinet in an effort to revive the national unity government that collapsed last year.

Sunni Arab Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, leader of the largest political party in the Accordance Front, appeared to signal a new readiness to strike a deal after parliament on Saturday voted to allow members of Saddam Hussein's Baath party to return to government jobs, a long-time Sunni Arab demand.

"We believe that the interests of Iraq needs us to return, not only the Accordance Front, but the other blocs and parties that withdrew from government," said Hashemi.

Hashemi said there was an urgent need to end what he called the "unprecedented stagnation" of the political process.

(Additional reporting by Waleed Ibrahim and Wisam Mohammed in Baghdad; Editing by Caroline Drees)

    U.S. troops kill 60 in Iraq al Qaeda offensive, R, 14.1.2008, http://www.reuters.com/article/topNews/idUSL1435634720080114






Iraq to Reinstate Saddam Party Followers


January 12, 2008
Filed at 10:46 a.m. ET
The New York Times


BAGHDAD (AP) -- Iraq's parliament adopted legislation Saturday on the reinstatement of thousands of former supporters of Saddam Hussein's Baath party to government jobs, a key benchmark sought by the United States as a step toward easing sectarian tensions.

The bill, approved by a unanimous show of hands on each of its 30 clauses, is the first piece of major U.S.-backed legislation approved by the 275-seat parliament. Other benchmarks languish, including legislation to divide the country's vast oil wealth, constitutional amendments demanded by minority Sunni Arabs and a bill spelling out rules for local elections.

The bill approved Saturday, titled the Accountability and Justice law, seeks to relax restrictions on the rights of members of the now-dissolved Baath party to fill government posts.

It is also designed to reinstate thousands of Baathists dismissed from government jobs after the 2003 U.S. invasion -- a decision that deepened sectarian tensions between Iraq's majority Shiites and the once-dominant Sunni Arabs, who believed the firings targeted their community.

The strict implementation of so-called de-Baathification rules also meant that many senior bureaucrats who knew how to run ministries, university departments and state companies ended up unemployed in a country where 35 years of Baath party rule and extensive government involvement in the economy had left tens of thousands of party members in key positions.

That, coupled with the disbanding of the Iraqi army, threw tens of thousands of people out of work at a critical time in Iraq's history and fueled the burgeoning Sunni insurgency.

Traveling with President Bush in Manama, Bahrain, White House press secretary Dana Perino said the legislation, coupled with a pension measure approved by the parliament, ''is important especially not just for the Iraqis but it shows the American people that our troops and Americans that are there working hard to help them get this to the point, are doing the job, they are fulfilling their mission. It also shows the region that they should have some confidence in what is happening in Iraq.''

The Bush administration initially promoted de-Baathification but later claimed that Iraqi authorities went beyond even what the Americans had contemplated to keep Saddam's supporters out of important jobs.

With the Sunni insurgency raging and political leaders making little progress in reconciling Iraq's Shiite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish communities, the Americans switched positions and urged the dismantling of de-Baathification laws.

Later, enacting and implementing legislation reinstating the fired Baath supporters became one of 18 so-called benchmark issues the U.S. sought as measures for progress in national reconciliation.

The legislation can become law only when approved by Iraq's presidential council. The council, comprised of Iraq's president and two vice presidents, is expected to ratify the measure.

The draft law approved Saturday is not a blanket approval for all former Baathists to take government jobs.

The law will allow low-ranking Baathists not involved in past crimes against Iraqis to go back to their jobs. High-ranking Baathists will be sent to compulsory retirement and those involved in crimes will stand trial, though their families will still have the right to pension.

The Baathists who were members in Saddam's security agencies must retire -- except for members of Fidayeen Saddam, a feared militia formed by Saddam's eldest son, Oday. They will be entitled to nothing.

Inside parliament, when the Kurdish lawmakers raised their hands in favor of the article that the members of Saddam's security bodies should be sent to compulsory retirement, the Sunni Arab parliament speaker, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, told the Kurds: ''Now you raise your hands in favor of sending Saddam's security men to retirement, while earlier you reinstated the Kurds who collaborated with or worked for Saddam to government jobs in Kurdistan.''

Al-Mashhadani spoke of ''donkeys,'' a term used by Kurds to describe the Kurdish people who used to collaborate with Saddam. They were pardoned by Kurdistan officials after 2003 war.

''Are your donkeys better than our donkeys?'' al-Mashhadani asked, referring to Kurds who used to work for Saddam's security operations.


Associated Press writers Terence Hunt in Manama, Bahrain, and Sameer N. Yacoub in Baghdad contributed to this report.

    Iraq to Reinstate Saddam Party Followers, NYT, 12.1.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/world/AP-Iraq.html






Bush hails Iraq progress after desert update


Sat Jan 12, 2008
3:44am EST
By Tabassum Zakaria and Matt Spetalnick


CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait (Reuters) - President George W. Bush said on Saturday that America's change of strategy in Iraq had sharply reduced violence and the United States was on track to complete the withdrawal of 20,000 troops by mid-year.

After talks at a base in the Kuwaiti desert with his military commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, and the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad, Ryan Crocker, Bush said security gains in Iraq "are allowing some U.S. forces to return home".

"Any additional reductions will be based on the recommendations of General Petraeus," he said. "Conditions on the ground will be those that guide his recommendations. I need to know his considered judgment to make sure that the security gains ... remain in place."

Bush said last year's new strategy, which involved a "surge" in troop numbers and a focus on counter-insurgency warfare, had dealt "heavy blows" to the al Qaeda network in Iraq. "Iraq is now a different place," he said. "Levels of violence are significantly reduced. Hope is returning to Baghdad."

Conceding that until last year, "our strategy simply wasn't working", he added: "The new way forward ... changed our approach in fundamental ways."

With the Iraq war nearing the five-year mark, Bush has refused to discuss any further troop cuts for now, saying that will depend on his commanders' judgments. The limited phased withdrawal of 20,000 troops was announced by Bush in September.

But he gave a sense of the long-term U.S. commitment when he said in a television interview on Friday that the United States would have a presence in Iraq that could "easily" last a decade.

The war remains deeply unpopular among Americans, keeping Bush's approval ratings stuck around 30 percent and below. But a fall in violence has taken much of the steam out of efforts by Democratic congressional leaders to try to link war funding to troop withdrawal timetables, something Bush refuses to accept.

Most Democrats still maintain, however, that dramatic changes are needed in Bush's Iraq strategy.

Petraeus is due to report to the U.S. Congress in March on whether more troop reductions are advisable. He said last month that security gains were fragile and still reversible without political reconciliation between warring sects to cement them.

Despite heavy U.S. pressure, Iraq's main Shi'ite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish political blocs have failed to agree on key laws seen by Washington as crucial to bridging the sectarian divide.



Bush arrived in Kuwait on Friday evening after wrapping up his first presidential visit to Israel and the occupied West Bank, emboldened enough to have predicted a peace treaty within a year but with no major breakthroughs for his efforts.

He had dinner with Kuwait's ruler, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, who thanked Bush for his efforts to make progress on issues crucial to the Middle East. Kuwait was the first of five Arab countries Bush will visit and which he hopes to enlist to help contain Tehran's growing regional clout.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said talks would now turn to "the threats that we've seen in the Gulf, the problem of extremism, whether it be extremism from al Qaeda, Sunni extremism, or whether it be Iran and its tentacles, like Hezbollah and the part of Hamas that Iran supports".

Gulf states have battled al Qaeda militants in recent years, but they are also concerned about the crises in Lebanon and Iraq, as well as the standoff over Iran's nuclear program.

Local media said Kuwait's emir would tell Bush of his concerns that a U.S. strike on nearby Iran would destabilize the Gulf, key to world oil supplies.

Bush is likely to hear a similar message from other Gulf Arab leaders who want to curb their Shi'ite Muslim neighbor's nuclear program without resorting to war.

Kuwait has said it will not allow the United States to use its territory for any strike against Iran.

Speaking at the U.S. base on Saturday, Bush said Iran and Syria had to stop promoting violence in Iraq. "Iran's role in fomenting violence has been exposed," he said.

"Syria needs to further reduce the flow of terrorists to the territory, especially suicide bombers. Iran must stop supporting the militia special groups that attack Iraqi and coalition forces and kidnap and kill Iraqi officials," he said.

(Writing by Andrew Marshall; Editing by Ibon Villelabeitia)

    Bush hails Iraq progress after desert update, R, 12.1.2008, http://www.reuters.com/article/newsOne/idUSL0828300120080112






U.S. Bombs Insurgent Hideouts South of Baghdad


January 11, 2008
The New York Times


BAGHDAD — American bombers and fighter aircraft dropped 40,000 pounds of bombs on suspected militant hide-outs in a southern suburb of Baghdad on Thursday, the military said.

In one of the largest air raids in recent months, which was accompanied by assaults by ground forces, the B-1 and F-16 aircraft dropped 38 bombs within 10 minutes on the Arab Jabour district.

Arab Jabour is a densely foliated area, blanketed with tall grasses and palm trees, beside the Tigris River. United States military officials have identified it as a known haven for militants linked to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the largely homegrown Sunni insurgent group that American intelligence says is foreign-led and now represents the principal threat to stability in Iraq. The air attacks were targeting 40 Al Qaeda insurgents, the military said.

The bombing mission started several miles outside of Arab Jabour on Thursday morning, according Abu Amna, a tribal chief who lives near the area.

“There was a big sound of explosions,” he said during a phone interview, adding that people began to flee the area after the bombing.

Two Air Force B-1 bombers and four F-16 fighter jets were involved in the attack, according to reports, which targeted three large areas in Arab Jabour.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, militants killed nine American soldiers in the volatile Sunni Arab heartlands north of Baghdad as the military tried to dislodge Sunni guerrillas from sanctuaries deep within the lush farmlands and palm groves of Diyala Province.

Six of the American soldiers were killed Wednesday at an unspecified location in Diyala in part of the offensive when insurgents detonated a large bomb hidden in a house. Four other soldiers were wounded, and an interpreter of unknown nationality was killed.

A military spokesman later confirmed that the explosion had occurred while the soldiers were clearing a building.

The military did not release further information, but in Diyala, northeast of Baghdad, house bombs have long been a staple weapon for Sunni fighters who try to lure soldiers inside booby-trapped buildings. Another house rigged to explode was discovered in the Diyala village of Khan Bani Saad on Sunday. Warplanes destroyed it with bombs.

Three American soldiers were killed Tuesday in neighboring Salahuddin Province, where fighting has been fierce recently between Sunni extremists and Sunni militiamen who have allied with American forces.

The attacks were another sign that insurgents remained very strong in the Sunni-dominated cities and countryside north of Baghdad.

Sixteen Americans have died already this year, mostly north of Baghdad, and Sunni militants have carried out devastating attacks in Diyala against Sunni militiamen who recently joined forces with American troops.

Five severed heads were found on a road near the provincial capital, Baquba, on Monday. The killers used blood to scrawl a gruesome warning in Arabic across the foreheads: Join the American-backed militias “and you will end up like this.”

While the Diyala insurgents have been striking at American soldiers and their Sunni militia allies, the commander of American ground troops in northern Iraq acknowledged on Wednesday that many of the militants who were the focus of the new offensive had fled in advance, possibly after being tipped off.

“I’m sure there’s active leaking of communication,” said the northern commander, Maj. Gen. Mark P. Hertling.

Encountering insurgent booby traps but few evident insurgents, troops in armored Stryker units advanced through the Diyala River Valley on Wednesday during the second day of the offensive. Soldiers passed through deserted streets on patrols aimed at driving extremist Islamist factions from their strongholds north of Baquba.

Speaking to reporters in Baghdad, General Hertling identified unsecured Iraqi Army communications as a possible reason the insurgents targets had managed to slip through the net, as may have happened before an offensive in Baquba last June. He noted that the Iraqi forces relied on unsecured cellphones and radios.

However, General Hertling said forces would continue to hunt Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia.

He described the Diyala offensive as part of a wider operation to kill or capture the group’s fighters across the country. General Hertling said that in his northern command, 24,000 American troops, 50,000 Iraq soldiers and 80,000 Iraqi police officers were now involved in the hunt. He said that in Diyala Province, 20 to 30 of the group’s fighters had been killed since the start of the current operation.

Planners said before the operation that the Diyala Valley was a stronghold for extremist groups, including Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the Islamic State of Iraq and Ansar al-Sunna.

But as soldiers of Company I, Third Squadron, Second Stryker Cavalry Regiment moved in from the north on the second day of the offensive, they found little sign of the 200 or so insurgents thought to be operating there.

In villages near the insurgents’ supposed nerve center, residents confirmed that carloads of armed and masked men operated freely until recently. Some residents said the gunmen left after being alerted to the operation by increased helicopter traffic.

The American troops say they believe that some insurgents remained, in part because residents reported that one car bomb was planted on the morning the offensive began. They say they also suspect that some residents know more than they disclose but are too intimidated to speak, at least until American and Iraqi forces show they are going to remain in the area.

Near the village of Arab Hamadah, the Stryker unit discovered an Islamist leaflet bearing a photograph of an attack on an Iraqi government checkpoint and threatening to “kill anyone working with the Iraqi Army, the police and the American forces.”

It also warned residents not to become part of the Awakening, the Sunni tribal movement that has turned against Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and begun cooperating with the Americans, providing neighborhood watch patrols that are increasingly the targets of insurgents.

As the Americans moved through vineyards and canals, First Lt. David Moore said the dense vegetation posed the greatest threat.

“None of us is afraid of the firefights, the guns and all that,” he said. “It is the deep-buried stuff that you can’t see.

“I don’t think we have lost anybody from our company in a firefight; we have only lost people from explosions.”

But even before news emerged of Wednesday’s deadly attack, officers voiced fears that as they penetrated deeper into insurgent strongholds, the threat of house bombs would increase.

Solomon Moore reported from Baghdad and Graham Bowley from New York. Stephen Farrell contributed reporting from Arab Hamadah, Iraq, and Richard A. Oppel Jr. from Baghdad.

    U.S. Bombs Insurgent Hideouts South of Baghdad, NYT, 11.1.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/11/world/middleeast/11iraq.html?hp






US Military Deaths in Iraq at 3, 910


January 6, 2008
Filed at 7:17 p.m. ET
The New York Times


As of Sunday, Jan. 6, 2008, at least 3,910 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count. The figure includes eight military civilians. At least 3,178 died as a result of hostile action, according to the military's numbers.

The AP count is six higher than the Defense Department's tally, last updated Friday at 10 a.m. EST.

The British military has reported 174 deaths; Italy, 33; Ukraine, 18; Poland, 21; Bulgaria, 13; Spain, 11; Denmark, seven; El Salvador, five; Slovakia, four; Latvia, three; Estonia, Netherlands, Thailand, Romania, two each; and Australia, Hungary, Kazakhstan, South Korea, one death each.


The latest deaths reported by the military:

-- A soldier was killed Sunday by an explosive in southern Baghdad.


The latest identifications reported by the military:

-- No identifications reported.


On the Net:


    US Military Deaths in Iraq at 3, 910, NYT, 7.1.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/us/AP-Iraq-US-Deaths.html






Suicide Bomber Kills Key Sunni Leader in Baghdad


January 8, 2008
The New York Times


BAGHDAD — A suicide bomber assassinated a key leader of American-backed militia forces in a Sunni stronghold of Baghdad on Monday morning, the latest attack on nationalist Sunnis who have recently allied themselves with American troops. That attack, and a second bomb that exploded minutes later, killed at least six and wounded another 26 in total, hospital officials said.

The killing of the militia leader, Col. Riyadh al-Samarrai, on the fringes of north Baghdad’s Adhamiyah district, was one of the most significant attacks so far on leaders of former Sunni insurgents who have banded into militias, known as Awakening groups, to fight extremist militants.

Colonel Samarrai was one of the leaders of the Sunni Awakening movement in Adhamiyah, and was also a close aide and a security adviser to the head of the Sunni Endowment, which oversees Iraq’s Sunni mosques and is one of the most powerful Sunni institutions in Iraq.

According to witnesses and Awakening officials, the assassin, who they said may have been known to Colonel Samarrai, waited patiently at the offices of the Sunni Endowment until his target emerged from a meeting. The killer then walked up, tried to embrace Colonel Samarrai, and pulled the trigger on his explosive vest or belt.

Minutes later, as onlookers rushed to the scene, a car bomb exploded, killing several more people and damaging two trucks that were being loaded with victims of the first bombing to take them to the hospital.

The timing and execution of the twin blasts suggested that the attack was very well planned and coordinated. The perpetrators were able to plant a car bomb despite the heavy presence of Awakening fighters in the area.

There were conflicting initial reports of casualties. The Ministry of Interior said the two bombings killed 10 people and wounded 16. But officials at the Numan Hospital in Adhamiyah said they had received six corpses and treated 26 wounded, including four who were in critical condition.

Relatives of the dead and wounded were prevented from entering the hospital for several hours because of fears that another bomber would get through.

They stood outside, sobbing, and trying to keep warm in the cold weather after they had rushed to the hospital without time to grab a coat or heavy clothing.

Awakening fighters and American troops quickly locked down the area around the scene of the assassination.

“The martyrdom of Colonel Riyadh is a big loss,” said Ayad Saad, an Awakening fighter in Adhamiyah. “Al Qaeda is still there actively targeting us, and the proof is what happened today.”

If Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a mostly homegrown insurgent group whose members are overwhelmingly Iraqi but which American military officials believe has foreign leadership, was behind the assassination, it would be the latest indication that the organization is trying to show that it can get to any Sunni who has recently thrown in his lot with American forces.

Overall levels of violence have fallen significantly in Baghdad and in much of central and western Iraq in recent months. A principal reason is that thousands of Sunni militants who used to fight American forces have renounced their ties to insurgents and have been placed on the American military’s payroll in the Awakening groups.

Standing guard in onetime insurgent strongholds like Adhamiyah, they are organized into groups known as Awakening Councils or Concerned Local Citizens that are working hand-in-hand with American ground troops.

Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia has been blamed for a rising series of attacks on Awakening fighters and leaders in recent weeks.

Late last month, Osama bin Laden denounced the Awakening movement as a plot “hatched by the Zionist-Crusader alliance” to “steal the fruit of blessed jihad” in Iraq.

With reporting from Mudhafer al-Husaini, Khalid Al-Ansary, Karim Hilmi and Abeer Mohammed in Baghdad.

    Suicide Bomber Kills Key Sunni Leader in Baghdad, NYT, 7.1.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/08/world/middleeast/08iraq.html?hp






Mental toll of war hitting female servicemembers


1 January 2008
By Andrea Stone


MENLO PARK, Calif. — Master Sgt. Cindy Rathbun knew something was wrong three weeks after she arrived in Iraq in September 2006. Her blond hair began "coming out in clumps," she says.

The Air Force personnel specialist, in the military for 25 years, had volunteered for her first combat zone job at Baghdad's Camp Victory. She lived behind barbed wire and blast walls, but the war was never far.

"There were firefights all the time," Rathbun says slowly, her voice flat. "There were car bombs. Boom! You see the smoke. The ground would shake."

As the mother of three grown children prepared to fly home last February, she took a medic aside. Holding a zip-lock bag of hair, she asked whether this was normal. "He said it sometimes happens," she says. "It's the body's way of displaying stress when we can't express it emotionally."

Numb, angry, verging on paranoia, Rathbun checked herself into a residential treatment center for female servicemembers suffering the mental wounds of war. Last month, she and seven others became the first all-Iraq-war-veteran class of the Women's Trauma Recovery Program here. The oldest of 12 residential centers run by the Department of Veterans Affairs, it is part of a rapidly growing network of 60- to 90-day programs for female warriors who, until the Iraq insurgency, had mostly been shielded from the horrors of war.

Many who seek help are haunted by another demon that can exacerbate their battlefield stress: military sexual trauma, or MT. For Rathbun, 43, of Yuba City, Calif., the war brought back to the surface a long-buried secret: She says she was raped by a military superior when she was a young airman.

Shell shock. Battle fatigue. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The military's mental toll of war has historically hit men. But more women are joining these ranks.

More than 182,000 women have served in Iraq, Afghanistan and the surrounding region — about 11% of U.S. troops deployed, the Pentagon says.

That dwarfs the 7,500 who served mostly as nurses in Vietnam and the nearly 41,000 women deployed during the brief Gulf War.

Although some of those women suffered PTSD, few saw actual fighting or were subjected to the stress of multiple deployments.

In Iraq, "there are no lines, so anybody that deploys is in a war zone," Rathbun says. "Females are combat veterans as well as guys."

Darrah Westrup has treated hundreds of women since she founded the Menlo Park program in 1992. Only during the past year, though, have large numbers with war-zone trauma sought help. Many learned only recently that there are specialized VA mental-health programs for women.

Those who come, Westrup says, often have seen the most gruesome aspects of war. "Women are talking about dismembered bodies, seeing their buddies blown up in front of them," she says. "They are trying to reconcile, 'I have killed people.' "


The 'equal opportunity war'

Women are barred from ground jobs in infantry, armor and artillery units and are technically confined to support roles. But those jobs include some of the most dangerous: driving supply convoys, guarding checkpoints and searching women as part of neighborhood patrols.

Iraq is "an equal opportunity war" in which attacks come not only from enemy fighters, but also from roadside bombs and mortars, says Patricia Resick, director of the Women's Health Sciences Division of the VA's National Center for PTSD in Boston.

More than 100 female servicemembers have died and nearly 570 have been wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the Pentagon. More than 4,200 men have died and nearly 30,000 have been wounded.

The ranks of psychologically wounded from this war are far larger. In 2006, nearly 3,800 women diagnosed with PTSD were treated by the VA. They accounted for 14% of a total 27,000 recent veterans treated for PTSD last year.

In June, the Defense Department's Mental Health Task Force reported that the number of women suffering from combat trauma might be higher than reported. It cited "a potential barrier" for women needing mental-health treatment as "their need to show the emotional strength expected of military members."

The report also said that after leaving the military, "many women no longer see themselves as veterans" and might not associate psychological symptoms with their time in the war zone.

Yet Rachel Kimerling, a psychologist here, sees the signs: "Driving is so treacherous with the (roadside bombs) in Iraq, they come back and report seeing a paper cup in the mall parking lot and swerving around as if it were life or death."

Many women become overly protective. Even the innocent pop of a biscuit tube on a kitchen counter can speed the heart, Rathbun says. When young soldiers left Camp Victory and didn't return, she thought of her 21-year-old son. "Women are protective, nurturing. I couldn't do either," she says. "I couldn't prevent them from dying."

For some, combat trauma is complicated and intensified by rape or other sexual abuse, often by comrades they've trained and fought beside. The VA says 20% of women seeking its care since 2002 showed symptoms of military sexual trauma, compared with 1.1% of male veterans.

Like Rathbun, many say they were preyed upon by men higher in the chain of command, crimes military women call "rape by rank." Rathbun says some women in Iraq risked dehydration by refusing to drink liquids late in the day for fear of being raped while walking to latrines after dark.

Recent allegations that civilian female employees of contractor KBR were raped in Iraq have renewed attention on war-zone sexual assaults. VA research on Gulf War veterans found higher rates of sexual assault and harassment than in the peacetime military.

The Defense Department's 2-year-old Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office says there were 201 sexual assaults in 2006 within the U.S. Central Command, which includes Iraq and Afghanistan. That's up from 167 in 2005, when the Pentagon began a policy that allows victims to get medical help without launching a criminal investigation.

Kay Whitley, who heads the office, says "restricted reporting" is expected to boost the numbers of cases as more women grow bolder in stepping forward. There is no way to know whether sexual-assault rates are higher in combat areas because "women back-burner assaults," she says. "There may be more (assaults) over there, and they may be waiting to report it until they get home."

For military women, abuse by fellow soldiers is "an unnecessary betrayal," Westrup says, noting that women often are more scarred by sexual violence than combat. "Most go over understanding the nature of war."

PTSD and MT "will exacerbate the other," Kimerling says. "It erodes the social support you have to cope with the ongoing stress of serving in a war zone."

Natara Garavoy, another psychologist here, says there can be added stress for those who are the only woman in a unit. "They don't want to stand out," she says, adding that some try to appear unattractive to ward off male soldiers who might not see another American woman for months.

Whatever their trauma, military women often hesitate to report problems. That's partly because of the military's ingrained emphasis on unit cohesion and the unspoken taboo against telling on a fellow soldier. It also stems from the fear of reinforcing stereotypes that theirs is the weaker sex.

"Women do have to prove themselves more," says VA spokeswoman Kerri Childress, a Vietnam-era Navy veteran. "They have to work really, really hard to look tough."

All that pressure must go somewhere, Resick says. Men with PTSD often are angry and act out aggressively. Women often turn inward and become depressed, she says. Both men and women "try not to deal with it" and often take years to seek counseling, Resick says.

Even so, men started applying to the 41-bed program for males here soon after the war began. Applications for its 10-bed women's program picked up recently, Westrup says.

Seventeen percent of female veterans use VA health services, compared with 11% of men. "We may be seeing the tip of the iceberg," Kimerling says, adding that more women are likely to seek help as they return home with unresolved trauma.


Facing the need to get help

Lauren Bess was a model sailor who rose fast to master helmsman. Driving a Navy fast-combat-support ship in round-the-clock replenishment operations in the Persian Gulf before and during the Iraq war, she was "constantly stressed" by frequent "general quarters" calls to battle and going days without sleep, she says.

As her ship sailed home to Bremerton, Wash., in August 2003, she says, she began getting in trouble for shirking her duties. She constantly felt anxious.

"I was breaking down," she says.

Bess, now 26, began drinking and stayed away from friends. Her downward spiral cratered the night she overdosed on prescription drugs and woke up in a hospital.

Feeling "like I was failing life," Bess was put on limited duty and sent to a base in Florida for treatment. During a hurricane, she says, she was raped by a fellow sailor in a deserted barracks.

She says she feared her career would be ruined if she reported the attack, so she said nothing and never filed a criminal complaint.

In April 2005, she was given an administrative discharge under honorable conditions.

"In the military, they train you that your brother is there always for you," says Bess, her head down, her hands shaking. "The person who hurt me was someone who was there for me."

Bess moved home to Lodi, Calif., and tried to work through her problems, but it was "rough, really hard." She finally entered the 90-day residential program here.

"Coming here was the first hope for me to get back to a new life," she says. Bess hopes that by speaking out, she'll encourage other women to get help.

Tucked in a corner of a VA campus here, the red-tile-roofed center is reached through a vine-covered walkway. Patients sleep two to a room in hospital beds brightened by stuffed animals and patchwork quilts donated by volunteers.

In a day room down the hall hang other quilts left by women who've passed through the program. One is appliquéd with military service patches. A Native American dream catcher is stitched to a quilt hanging next to it, a memento to snare the nightmares of war. In another corner hangs a pink quilt that reads, "Powder Puff Girls — Go Girls Go."

"They make me feel that I'm not alone," Rathbun says.

Starting with a military-style wake-up at 6 a.m., the women spend most of their time in group therapy. They learn communication skills, stress management and ways to short-circuit self-defeating behavior.

The most grueling moments come during "exposure therapy," when the women recount the details of their trauma. The idea: to face fears head-on so they can become desensitized to the pain.

Easier was a trust-building exercise Rathbun and Bess performed. Melissa Puckett, a recreational therapist, asked the women to stand on a wooden board and, while grasping attached ropes, move across a room to pick up objects on the floor.

The two blushed as they fumbled to reach and grab a toy rubber crab. The exercise forced them to work as a team, or else fall off the board.

"You have to trust," Bess says after finishing.

"How long since you trusted somebody?" Puckett asks.

"Ages," Bess replies.

After more than two decades, Rathbun says she's finally coming to terms with the rape that she never officially reported.

Last month, she told her husband, Larry, the Air Force veteran she married two years ago.

Nearly a year after being "sucked out of a vortex" in Iraq, Rathbun is on the mend. She knows there are thousands of other women who need help.

"We went over there and did a job, but it affects you," she says. "There's going to be a flood when we drawdown in Iraq."

    Mental toll of war hitting female servicemembers, UT, 1.1.2008, http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2008-01-01-womenvets_N.htm






28 Dead in Suicide Bomb at Iraqi Funeral


January 1, 2008
Filed at 11:09 a.m. ET
The New York Times


BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- A suicide attacker detonated an explosives-rigged vest at a Shiite funeral in Baghdad, killing 28 people gathered to mourn the death of an Iraqi army officer killed in a car bombing, police and ambulance officials said.

The afternoon explosion took place in Baghdad's eastern Zayouna neighborhood, a mixed Shiite and Sunni district, the officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release details of the attack.

The funeral was for Nabil Hussein Jassim, a retired lieutenant colonel killed in a car bombing in downtown Baghdad's Tayaran Square. That blast left at least 14 people dead.

In Jalula, a city about 80 miles north of Baghdad, the bodies of a Sunni policeman and four of his relatives were found hours after gunman abducted them from their home, authorities said.

The abductions occurred in Diyala province, where al-Qaida in Iraq retains a presence and violence has persisted despite falling elsewhere.

Hours later in the same province, a Shiite man and his 16-year-old son where killed in a drive-by shooting as they stood outside their home, police said.

Late Monday, Iraq's government released statistics on the number of civilians and members of security forces it said were killed in 2007.

According to the health, defense and interior ministries, 16,232 civilians, 432 soldiers and about 1,300 policeman died in 2007. The year before, the ministries said that 12,371 civilians, 603 soldiers and 1,224 policeman were killed.

The government figures were roughly in line with a count by The Associated Press.

For 2007, the count found that 18,610 Iraqis were killed. In 2006, the only other full year an AP count has been tallied, 13,813 died.

The AP count -- which includes civilians, government officials, and police and security forces -- is compiled from hospital, police and military officials, as well as accounts from reporters and photographers. Insurgent deaths were not included. Other counts differ and some have given higher civilian death tolls.

In addition to policemen and Iraqi soldiers, the more than 70,000 Sunni fighters who have joined an anti-al-Qaida in Iraq movement are being targeted by extremists.

On Monday, a suicide bomber attacked a checkpoint manned by such fighters, killing 12 people in one of a series of strikes against the movement singled out by Osama bin Laden as a ''disgrace and shame.''

Leaders of the rapidly expanding U.S.-backed movement, credited with helping reduce the overall number of attacks in Iraq by 60 percent since June, condemned bin Laden's latest message to his followers.

''We consider our fighting against al-Qaida to be a popular revolution against the devil,'' said Sheik Mohammed Saleh al-Dohan, head of one of the groups in southern Ramadi, a city in Anbar province where the movement was born.

Al-Dohan blamed al-Qaida, which espouses a radical version of Sunni Islam, for bringing destruction to Iraq: ''They made enemies between Sunnis, Shiites and Christians who lived in peace for centuries.''

Bin Laden and his fighters ''are the traitors who betrayed the Muslim nation and brought shame to Islam in all the world,'' he said.

In a weekend audio message, bin Laden warned Iraq's Sunni Arabs against joining the groups, known as ''awakening councils,'' or participating in any unity government. He said Sunni Arabs who join the groups ''have betrayed the nation and brought disgrace and shame to their people. They will suffer in life and in the afterlife.''

The government, meanwhile, sent the speaker of parliament a draft bill for an amnesty for some prison detainees, said spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh.

The bill excludes those held in U.S. custody and those imprisoned for a variety of crimes, such as terrorism, kidnapping, rape, adultery, homosexuality and smuggling antiquities. It also excludes senior figures of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party.

If passed in its current form, the bill could see about 5,000 prisoners released, al-Dabbagh said. The government has about 20,000 people in custody, while the U.S. military holds about 25,000.

Sunni lawmakers have criticized the draft for its limited scope. They have argued that most prisoners are charged with terrorist crimes, rendering the bill ineffective. Some also fear referring the bill to the gridlocked parliament will actually delay prisoner releases.

Many key draft laws -- including measures to share oil revenue and to allow some Baath Party members to hold government jobs -- have remained mired in parliament for months.


Associated Press writer Hamid Ahmed

contributed to this report.

28 Dead in Suicide Bomb at Iraqi Funeral, NYT, 1.1.2008,




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