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




Adam Zyglis


Buffalo, NY, The Buffalo News





U.S. President George W. Bush















U.S. Planes Attack

Militia Strongholds

in Basra Fighting


March 29, 2008
The New York Times


BAGHDAD —American military forces conducted air strikes on targets in Basra late Thursday, joining for the first time an onslaught by Iraqi security forces intended to oust Shiite militias in the southern port city.

Two American war planes shelled two targets in Basra, entering the battle at the request of the Iraqi Army, which asked the American and British forces to make the strikes, according to Maj. Tom Holloway, a spokesman for the British Army in Basra.

The air strikes are the clearest sign yet that the coalition forces have been drawn into the fighting in Basra. Up until Thursday night, the American and British air forces insisted that the Iraqis had taken the lead, though they acknowledged surveillance support for the Iraqi Army.

The assault on militia forces in Basra has been presented by President Bush and others as an important test for the American-trained Iraqi forces, to show that they can carry out a major ground operation against insurgents largely on their own.

But the air strikes suggest that the Iraqi military has been unable to successfully rout the militias, despite repeated assurances by American and Iraqi officials that their fighting capabilities have vastly improved.

A failure by the Iraqi forces to secure the port city of Basra would be a serious embarrassment for the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki and for the Iraqi Army, as well as for American forces who are eager to demonstrate that the Iraqi units they have trained can fight effectively.

However, Major Holloway said that coalition forces only took part because Iraqi security forces did not have aircraft that could conduct such strikes. “I think the point here is actually that Iraq’s army is capable, they are strong and they have been engaging successfully,” Major Holloway said.

He said the first target of the American strikes was a militia stronghold in the city and the second target was a mortar team that was targeting Iraqi Army forces.

The fighting this week in Basra against the Mahdi Army, the armed wing of the political movement led by the radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, has set off clashes in cities throughout Iraq, and raised tensions. Major demonstrations have been staged this week in a number of Shiite areas of Baghdad, including Sadr City, the huge neighborhood that is Mr. Sadr’s base of power.

Although President Bush praised the Iraqi government on Thursday for leading the fighting, the Iraqi government has also appeared to pursue its own agenda, calling the battles a fight against “criminal” elements but seeking to marginalize the Mahdi Army.

On Wednesday, Mr. Maliki set a 72-hour deadline for Shiite militia fighters in Basra to lay down their arms or else face harsh repercussions. While that deadline still holds, on Thursday he offered an additional cash reward to any residents of Basra who turn in heavy weapons or artillery.

After fierce clashes on Thursday in Basra, the streets of the city were quiet Friday morning before Friday prayers, according to Iraqi police officials on the scene.

However, fighting continued in the Qurna district, 40 miles northwest of Basra, with three civilians reported injured.

In Baghdad, the Green Zone office of one of Iraq’s two vice presidents, Tariq al-Hashimi, was hit by two rockets or mortar shells on Friday afternoon, killing one person, according to Mr. Hashimi’s daughter and chief secretary, Lubna al-Hashimi. Mr. Hashimi’s office later said a security guard was the person killed.

Ms. Hashimi, weeping, said in a telephone interview that at least three Iraqis were also wounded. There was no immediate information available about whether Mr. Hashimi was in his office at the time, or whether he was hurt in the attack.

An American official in the Green Zone confirmed the attack on the vice president’s office and said that the wounded had been taken to the combat support hospital there.

The attacks, which resounded with sharp cracks about an hour after the finish of Friday prayers, put a violent end to a morning of relative calm in the capital, which is under a strict curfew. Later, in the Sadr City neighborhood of Baghdad gunfire was heard Friday and American helicopters were flying low to the ground.

The Americans share the Iraqi government’s hostility toward what they call rogue elements of the Mahdi Army, but will also be faced with the consequences if the battles among Shiite factions erupt into more widespread unrest.

The violence underscored the fragile nature of the security improvements partly credited to the American troop increase that began last year. Officials have acknowledged that a cease-fire called by Mr. Sadr last August has contributed to the improvements. Should the cease-fire collapse entirely, those gains could be in serious jeopardy, making it far more difficult to begin bringing substantial numbers of American troops back to the United States.

Although Sadr officials insisted on Thursday that the cease-fire was still in effect, Mr. Sadr has authorized his forces to fight in self-defense, and the battles in Basra appear to be eroding the cease-fire.

During a lengthy speech on Thursday at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, near Dayton, Ohio, Mr. Bush praised Iraq’s government for ordering the assault in Basra and portrayed the battle as evidence that his strategy of increasing troop strength was bearing fruit.

“This offensive builds on the security gains of the surge and demonstrates to the Iraqi people that their government is committed to protecting them,” he said.

“There’s a strong commitment by the central government of Iraq to say that no one is above the law.”

Mr. Bush also accused Iran of arming, training and financing the militias fighting against the Iraqi forces.

Mr. Bush spoke after three days of briefings with senior advisers and military commanders on the situation in Iraq and the options for reducing the number of American troops there beyond the withdrawals already announced. It was one in a series of speeches he has been giving to build support for his policy before Gen. David H. Petraeus, the senior commander in Iraq, testifies before Congress next month.

In a videoconference with the president on Monday, General Petraeus recommended taking up to two months to evaluate security in Iraq before considering additional withdrawals, officials said Monday.

On Thursday, medical officials in Basra said the toll in the fighting there had risen to about 100 dead and 500 wounded, including civilians, militiamen and members of the security forces. An Iraqi employee of The New York Times, driving on the main road between Basra and Nasiriya, observed numerous civilian cars with coffins strapped to the roofs, apparently heading to Shiite cemeteries to the north.

Violence also broke out in Kut, Hilla, Amara, Kirkuk, Baquba and other cities. In Baghdad, where explosions shook the city throughout the day on Thursday, American officials said 11 rockets struck the Green Zone, killing an unidentified American government worker, the second this week.

Another American, Paul Converse of Corvallis, Ore., an analyst with a federal oversight agency, the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, died of wounds suffered in a rocket attack on Sunday, a spokeswoman for the agency said Thursday.

The Iraqi government imposed a citywide curfew in Baghdad until Sunday.

Thousands of demonstrators in Sadr City on Thursday denounced Mr. Maliki, who has personally directed the Basra operation, and Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the Shiite cleric who leads the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, a political party that is a crucial member of the coalition keeping Mr. Maliki in power.

The Supreme Council’s armed wing, the Badr Organization, is one of the most powerful rivals of the Mahdi Army in Basra, where Shiite militias have been fighting among themselves for years to control neighborhoods, oil revenues, electricity access, the ports and even the local universities.

Contributing reporting were James Glanz from Baghdad; Steven Lee Myers from Ohio; Graham Bowley from New York; and Qais Mizher, Ahmad Fadam, Mudhafer al-Husaini, Hosham Hussein, Karim al-Hilmi, and other employees of The New York Times from Basra, Kut, Baghdad, Hilla, Kirkuk and Diyala Province.

    U.S. Planes Attack Militia Strongholds in Basra Fighting, NYT, 29.3.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/29/world/middleeast/29iraq.html






FACTBOX: What is the Mehdi Army?


Wed Mar 26, 2008
3:04pm EDT


* Formed after Saddam Hussein's overthrow in April 2003, the Mehdi Army is loyal to Sadr, a fiercely outspoken cleric who is popular among Iraq's poor, urban Shi'ite majority.

* Sadr led rebellions against U.S.-led forces in 2004. In August 2004 the army took refuge in Iraq's holiest Shi'ite shrine, the Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf, during fighting with U.S. forces. A three-week siege was ended after a compromise under which the Shi'ite militiamen agreed to leave the shrine and U.S. forces pulled out of the city.

* Since the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra unleashed a wave of sectarian bloodletting in February 2006, the Mehdi army has grown more powerful. Sunni Arab leaders and U.S. officials blamed it for death squad killings.

* Sadr ordered the Mehdi Army to freeze its activities for six months in August 2007 after gunbattles among rival Shi'ite factions killed dozens of people in the holy city of Kerbala. Sadr undertook the move to weed out rogue elements which have splintered away from the militia and to reassert his control. He extended the ceasefire by six months on February 22.

* The U.S. military praised Sadr for the truce and says it helped reduce violence in the second half of 2007, but U.S. forces have also pursued what they call "rogue" Mehdi Army elements, who they say are armed, trained and funded by Iran.

(Writing by David Cutler, London Editorial Reference Unit)

    FACTBOX: What is the Mehdi Army?, R, 26.3.2008, http://www.reuters.com/article/newsOne/idUSL2558021920080326






Bush Given Iraq War Plan

With a Steady Troop Level


March 25, 2008
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — Troop levels in Iraq would remain nearly the same through 2008 as they have been through most of the five years of war there, under plans presented to President Bush on Monday by the senior American commander and the top American diplomat in Iraq, senior administration and military officials said.

Mr. Bush announced no final decision on future troop levels after the video briefing by the commander, Gen. David H. Petraeus, and the diplomat, Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker. The briefing took place on the day when the 4,000th American military death of the war was reported and just after the invasion’s fifth anniversary.

But it now appears likely that any decision on major reductions in American troops from Iraq will be left to the next president. That ensures that the question over what comes next will remain in the center of the presidential campaign through Election Day.

General Petraeus, speaking to Mr. Bush by secure videoconference during a two-hour meeting of the National Security Council, recommended putting off decisions on further troop reductions for a month or two after the departure in July of five extra brigades sent last year to help secure the nation, the officials said. They spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to speak freely about internal deliberations.

There would be more frequent reviews after that to see when withdrawals might be allowed to resume, without any predetermined outcome and, given the time required to put troops into motion, little likelihood of big reductions on short timetables.

During the briefing to the president, General Petraeus laid out a number of potential options, the officials said, but avoided using the term “pause.” That word has gained traction here in Washington over recent weeks to describe the plateau in troop levels that is widely expected to last through the fall elections and perhaps beyond.

Instead, he described the weeks after the departure of the extra brigades ordered to Iraq in January 2007 as a period of “consolidation and evaluation,” a phrase first used publicly by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates during a visit to Iraq in February.

The officials said that Mr. Bush and General Petraeus, recognizing public and Congressional wariness about the toll of the war, would publicly hold out the possibly of withdrawing more troops, but only if conditions allowed it. Mr. Bush, in particular, is eager to end his presidency with the appearance that things are getting better in Iraq.

A review of conditions in Iraq roughly once a month, as opposed to the large, formal reviews that have taken place every six months, would be likely to prevent long debates like the one that began almost the moment General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker reported to Congress last September on the progress of the troop increase up to that point. The withdrawal of the additional troops began in December and will be completed in July.

The two men are to appear on Capitol Hill again on April 8 and 9.

These more frequent reviews are advocated, officials said, by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and by the military’s Central Command, which is responsible for operations across the region, including those in Afghanistan. The reviews would determine how many more brigades, if any, could be ordered out of Iraq in the final months of the Bush presidency.

Reducing the troops in Iraq as much as is feasible has been a priority of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who are to brief Mr. Bush this week. The Joint Chiefs have argued in favor of finding ways to ease the strain of the war in Iraq on military training and morale and to balance General Petraeus’s plans for Iraq with the need to prepare for other potential conflicts. A decision to suspend further reductions has already prompted criticism from Democrats in Congress, especially as the presidential primary campaign has intensified.

The two Democratic candidates, Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, have proposed more rapid withdrawals of troops, though on different timelines. The Republican candidate, Senator John McCain, has advocated following a policy close to that of President Bush’s.

Mr. Bush on Monday addressed the milestone of the 4,000th death during a brief statement at the State Department, where he met with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other senior aides. In a statement that began haltingly, he expressed his sympathies for the families of those killed, both soldiers and diplomats, and sought to put their deaths in historical context.

“I have vowed in the past, and I will vow so long as I’m president, to make sure that those lives were not lost in vain; that, in fact, there is a outcome that will merit the sacrifice that civilian and military alike have made; that our strategy going forward will be aimed at making sure that we achieve victory,” he said.

By many accounts, the addition of five combat brigades last year, which raised the American troop level to a peak of nearly 170,000 from 132,000, was a factor in helping reduce violence in Iraq. But Mr. Bush and his aides are described as wary of risking the gains.

Mr. Bush, according to officials, could decide to make no further reductions in troops after the departure this summer of the last of the additional troops, leaving roughly 140,000. That number includes the 15 combat brigades in Iraq before the troop increase, as well as additional support, training and other units that are expected to stay.

Senior Army planning officers say it typically takes about 45 days to withdraw a combat brigade, meaning that only two or three more brigades — at most — could be withdrawn before the end of the year, which would leave troop levels far above 100,000.

At the same time, a fresh brigade now on the rotation schedule for Iraq would need to know 70 to 90 days in advance of a change in plans, in particular as heavy equipment is loaded long before the troops step onto transport planes.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff, as part of a study ahead of their report to Mr. Bush at the Pentagon on Wednesday, have been analyzing how those brigades that may not be sent to Iraq can be used best, with options including greater attention to training as well as whether missions or elsewhere can be bolstered.

Another factor that may complicate the decisions on troop levels this fall is the anticipation of provincial elections across Iraq in October. For each previous nationwide election, American force levels actually were increased significantly to provide security for the voting.

Michele A. Flournoy, president of the Center for a New American Security, a nonpartisan research organization, said that many factors weighed on General Petraeus and other commanders as they considered recommendations to the president. Those included the coming Iraqi regional elections, as well as the period of transition that will follow the American election in November.

Ms. Flournoy expressed concern that some officials, lawmakers and analysts were already looking beyond the Bush presidency, when, she said, the administration needed to keep pressing for more meaningful progress by the Iraqi government to provide security and bridge ethnic and sectarian divisions.

Referring to the troop increase ordered last year, she said, “The only happy ending to the surge is for it to produce some strategic results, which it has yet to do.”

    Bush Given Iraq War Plan With a Steady Troop Level, NYT, 25.3.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/25/washington/25policy.html






Six of the Fallen,

in Words They Sent Home


March 25, 2008
The New York Times


By the time Specialist Jerry Ryen King decided to write about his experiences in Iraq, the teen-age paratrooper had more to share than most other soldiers.

In two operations to clear the outskirts of the village of Turki in the deadly Diyala Province, Specialist King and the rest of the Fifth Squadron faced days of firefights, grenade attacks and land mines. Well-trained insurgents had burrowed deep into muddy canals, a throwback to the trenches of World War I. As the fighting wore on, B-1 bombers and F-16s were called in to drop a series of powerful bombs.

Once the area was clear of insurgents, the squadron, part of the 82nd Airborne Division, uncovered hidden caches with thousands of weapons.

Two months later, Specialist King, a handsome former honors student and double-sport athlete from Georgia, sat down at his computer. In informal but powerful prose, he began a journal.

After 232 long, desolate, morose, but somewhat days of tranquility into deployment, I’ve decided that I should start writing some of the things I experienced here in Iraq. I have to say that the events that I have encountered here have changed my outlook on life...

The most recent mission started out as a 24-36 hour air-assault sniper mission in a known al-Qaida stronghold just north of Baghdad. We landed a few hours before daybreak and as soon as I got off the helicopter my night vision broke, I was surrounded by the sound of artillery rounds, people screaming in Arabic, automatic weapons, and the terrain didn’t look anything like what we were briefed. I knew it was going to be a bad day and a half.

Jerry Ryen King, journal entry, March 7, 2007

A month later, Specialist King was sitting inside his combat outpost, an abandoned school in Sadah, when suicide bombers exploded two dump trucks just outside the building. The school collapsed, killing Specialist King on April 23, 2007, along with eight other soldiers, and making the blast one of the most lethal for Americans fighting in Iraq.

In that instant, Specialist King became one of 4,000 service members and Defense Department civilians to die in the Iraq war — a milestone that was reached late Sunday, five years since the war began in March 2003. The last four members of that group, like the majority of the most recent 1,000 to die, were killed by an improvised explosive device. They died at 10 p.m. Sunday on a patrol in Baghdad, military officials said; their names have not yet been released.

The next day we cleared an area that made me feel as if I were in Vietnam. Honestly, it was one of the scariest times of my life. At one point I was in water up to my waist and heard an AK fire in my direction. But all in all the day was going pretty good, no one was hurt, I got to shoot a few rounds, toss a grenade, and we were walking to where the helicopter was supposed to pick us up.

Jerry Ryen King, journal entry, March 7, 2007

The year 2007 would prove to be especially hard on American service members; more of them died last year than in any other since the war began. Many of those deaths came in the midst of the 30,000-troop buildup known as “the surge,” the linchpin of President Bush’s strategy to tamp down widespread violence between Islamic Sunnis and Shiites, much of it in the country’s capital, Baghdad. In April, May and June alone, 331 American service members died, making it the deadliest three-month period since the war began.

But by fall, the strategy, bolstered by new alliances with Sunni tribal chiefs and a decision by the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr to order his militia to stop fighting, appeared to be paying off as the country entered a period of relative calm. Military casualties and Iraqi civilian deaths fell, and the October-December period produced the fewest casualties of any three months of the war. The past month, though, has seen an uptick in killings and explosions, particularly suicide bombings. Much of the violence has traveled north to Mosul, where the group calling itself Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia remains strong.

Everything changed in a matter of 15 minutes... About the time I was opening my MRE (meal ready to eat) I heard an explosion. Everyone started running towards the sound of the explosion. Apparently a suicide bomber had blown himself up killing four soldiers from my squadron and injuring another. Our 36 hour mission turned into another air- assault into a totally different city, the clearing of it, and 5 more days. We did find over 100 RPG’s, IED making materials, insurgents implacing IED’s, artillery rounds, a sniper rifle, and sort of like a terrorist training book and cd’s.

Jerry Ryen King, journal entry, March 7, 2007

Unlike the soldiers of some previous wars, who were only occasionally able to send letters back home to loved ones, many of those who died left behind an extraordinary electronic testimony describing in detail the labor, the fears and the banality of serving in Iraq.

In excerpts published here from journals, blogs and e-mail messages, six soldiers who died in the most recent group of 1,000 mostly skim the alarming particulars of combat, a kindness shown their relatives and close friends. Instead, they plunge readily into the mundane, but no less important rhythms of home. They fire off comments about holiday celebrations, impending weddings, credit card bills, school antics and the creeping anxiety of family members who are coping with one deployment too many.

At other moments, the service members describe the humor of daily life down range, as they call it. Hurriedly, with little time to worry about spelling or grammar, they riff on the chaos around them and reveal moments of fear. As casualties climb and the violence intensifies, so does their urge to share their grief and foreboding.

A Last Goodbye

Hey beautiful well we were on blackout again, we lost yet some more soldiers. I cant wait to get out of this place and return to you where i belong. I dont know how much more of this place i can take. i try to be hard and brave for my guys but i dont know how long i can keep that up you know. its like everytime we go out, any little bump or sounds freaks me out. maybe im jus stressin is all. hopefully ill get over it....

you know, you never think that anything is or can happen to you, at first you feel invincible, but then little by little things start to wear on you...

well im sure well be able to save a couple of bucks if you stay with your mom....and at the same time you can help her with some of the bills for the time being. it doesnt bother me. as long as you guys are content is all that matters. I love and miss you guys like crazy. I know i miss both of you too. at times id like to even just spend 1 minute out of this nightmare just to hold and kiss you guys to make it seem a little bit easier. im sure he will like whatever you get him for xmas, and i know that as he gets older he’ll understand how things work. well things here always seem to be......uhm whats the word.....interesting i guess you can say. you never know whats gonna happen and thats the worst part. do me a favor though, when you go to my sisters or moms or wherever you see my family let them know that i love them very much..ok? well i better get going, i have a lot of stuff to do. but hopefully ill get to hear from you pretty soon.*muah* and hugs. tell mijo im proud of him too!

love always,
your other half
Juan Campos, e-mail message to his wife, Dec. 12, 2006.

When Staff Sgt. Juan Campos, 27, flew from Baghdad to Texas for two weeks last year, there was more on his mind than rest and relaxation. He visited his father’s grave, which he had never seen. He spent time with his grandparents and touched base with the rest of his rambling, extended family.

The day he was scheduled to return to war, Sergeant Campos and his wife went out dancing and drinking all evening with friends. Calm and reserved by nature, Sergeant Campos could out-salsa and out-hip-hop most anyone on the dance floor. At the airport, his wife, Jamie Campos, who had grown used to the upheaval of deployment, surprised herself.

“I cried and I have never ever cried before,” said Mrs. Campos, 26, who has a 9-year-old son, Andre. “It was just really, really weird. He knew, and I kind of knew. It felt different.”

“We both felt that it was the last goodbye,” she said.

Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2006
Mood: gloomy
The life of an infantryman is never safe..how do I know, well I live it every day.

I lost a good friend of mine just two days ago to an enemy sniper. The worst feeling in the world is having lost one of your own and not being able to fight back. The more I go on patrol, the more alert I tend to be, but regardless of the situation here in Iraq is that we are never safe. No matter the countermeasures we take to prevent any attacks. They seem to seep through the cracks. Every day a soldier is lost or wounded by enemy attacks. I for one would like to make it home to my family one day. Pray for us and keep us in your thoughts...for an infantryman’s life is never safe.

Juan Campos, Myspace blog

Sergeant Campos, a member of the First Battalion, 26th Infantry, Charlie Company out of Germany, was one of thousands of infantrymen assigned to stabilize Baghdad and the surrounding areas last year during the troop buildup. Troops were sent deep into insurgent neighborhoods, where they lived in small outposts, patrolled on foot, cleared houses, mingled with Iraqis and rebuilt the infrastructure.

The extra 30,000 service members — 160,000 in all — were deployed to Iraq to help quell the runaway violence that threatened large-scale civil war. Most soldiers spent 15 months in Iraq, a length of time that military commanders have said is unsustainable. Many had fought in the war at least once. A few had been in Iraq multiple times.

My only goals are to make it out of this place alive and return you guys and make you as happy as I can.

Juan Campos, e-mail message to his wife, Dec. 15, 2006.

But to Sergeant Campos and the rest of Charlie Company in Adhamiya, a north Baghdad stronghold for Sunni insurgents, the buildup seemed oddly invisible. The men patrolled almost every day, sometimes 16 to 18 hours a day for months, often in 120-degree weather. Exhaustion was too kind a word for their fatigue.

More than 150 soldiers lived in a two-story house with portable toilets, no air-conditioning and temperamental showers. Sleep came only a few hours at a time. The fighting was vicious. Adhamiya was such a magnet for sectarian bloodletting that the military built a wall around it to contain the violence.

“They walled us in and left us there,” Staff Sgt. Robin Johnson, 28, said of the 110 men in Charlie Company. “We were a family. I would die for these guys before I die for my own blood brother.”

On patrol, sniper fire rang out so routinely that soldiers in Sergeant Campos’s platoon seldom stood still for more than four seconds. They scoured rooftops for Iraqi children who lobbed grenades at American soldiers for a handful of cash. Roadside bombs burst from inside drainage pipes, impossible to detect from the street. The bombs grew larger by the month.

Last year, these powerful improvised explosive devices, known as I.E.D.s were responsible for a majority of American fatalities, a new milestone. The bombs also killed multiple soldiers more often than in the past, a testament to their potency.

“It was the most horrible thing you could possibly imagine,” Sergeant Johnson said. “As soon as you left the gate, you could die at any second. If you went out for a day and you weren’t attacked, it was confusing.”

Charlie Company soldiers found a steady stream of Iraqis killed by insurgents for money or revenge. Some had their faces wiped clean by acid. Others were missing their heads or limbs.

'It Could Have Been Me'

to tell the story of iraq is a hard one.

Ryan Wood, Myspace blog.

Sgt. Ryan M. Wood, 22, a gifted artist, prolific writer and a sly romantic from Oklahoma, was also one of the bluntest soldiers inside Charlie Company.

it is fighting extreme boredom with the lingering thought in the forefront of your mind that any minute on this patrol could be my last endeavour, only highlighted by times of such extreme terror and an adrenaline rush that no drug can touch. what [expletive] circumstances thinking “that should’ve been me” or “it could’ve been me”. wondering it that pile of trash will suddenly explode killing you or worse one of your beloved comrads..only backed by the past thoughts and experiences of really losing friends of yours and not feeling completely hopeless that it was all for nothing because all in all, you know the final outcome of this war. it is walking on that thin line between sanity and insanity. that feeling of total abandonment by a government and a country you used to love because politics are fighting this war......and its a losing battle....and we’re the ones ultimently paying the price.

Ryan Wood, Myspace blog, Adhamiya

For the soldiers in Iraq, reconciling Adhamiya with America was not always easy. One place was buried in garbage and gore and hopelessness. The other seemed unmoored from the war, fixated on the minutia of daily life and the hiccups of the famous. The media was content to indulge.


“What the hell happened?” any intelligent American might ask themselves throughout their day. While the ignorant, dragging themselves to thier closed off cubicle, contemplate the simple things in life such as “fast food tonight?” or “I wonder what motivated Brittany Spears to shave her unsightly, mishaped domepiece?”

To the simpleton, this news might appear “devastating.” I assume not everyone thinks this way, but from my little corner of the earth, Iraq, a spot in the world a majority of Americans could’nt point out on the map, it certainly appears so. This little piece of truly, heart-breaking news captured headlines and apparently American imaginations as FOX news did a two hour, truly enlightening piece of breaking news history. American veiwers watched intently, and impatiently as the pretty colors flashed and the media exposed the inner workings of Brittany’s obviously, deep character. I was amazed, truly dumbfounded wondering how we as Americans have sank so low. To all Americans I have but one phrase that helps me throughout my day of constant dangers and ever present death around the corner, “WHO THE [expletive] CARES!” Wow America, we have truly become a nation of self-absorbed retards. ... This world has serious problems and it’s time for America to start addressing them.

Ryan Wood, Myspace blog, May 26, 2007

The somberness of the job was hard to shake off. But, day to day, there was no more reliable antidote than Pfc. Daniel J. Agami, a South Floridian with biceps the size of cantaloupes, and Pfc. Ryan J. Hill, a self-described hellion who loved his “momma” and hailed from what he called the “felony flats” of Oregon. Funny men in the best sense of the word, the two provided a valuable and essential commodity in a war zone.

Their mother jokes — the kind that begin, “your mother is so...” — were legendary, culminating in a Myspace joke-off. It ended abruptly after an enough-is-enough phone call from Private Hill’s mother, who ranked No. 1 on his list of heroes in Myspace. Private Agami proclaimed victory.

About a month later...I went to my room and my mattress was missing and all my close were being worn by other people. I couldn’t figure it out so I knew right off the bat to go to Hill. I saw him walking down the hall wearing five of my winter jackets. He sold half my wardrobe right off his back to people in our company and my mattress was in someone else’s room. So then I had go to around and buy all my stuff back. (Now I think he won).

Daniel J. Agami, Charlie Company. Eulogy sent via e-mail message to his mother, Jan. 29, 2007

To keep their spirits up, combat soldiers learned to appreciate the incongruities of war in Iraq. Jokes scrawled inside a Port-o-Potty quickly made the rounds. Situational humor, from goofy to macabre, proved plentiful.

A really girly guy who was a cheerleader in high school, got knocked down and nearly hurt by the wind of the helicopter. Listening to Dickson recite what was in every single MRE was pretty funny. A cow charged and nearly trampled one of my friends when we were raiding a compound. And lastly, I thought that it was pretty comical that I shot at a guy a long ways out but missed and later after taking his house and using it as a patrol base he offered me Chai and rice.

Jerry Ryen King, Diyala Province

Even a trip to the dentist, with its fringe benefits, is cause for amusement in a war zone.

Last Sat. I had two of my wisdom teeth pulled. After taking double the prescribe percocot and morphine pills that the doctor gave me for the pain I decided to catch a flight back to my FOB (forward operation base). It was the coolest Blackhawk ride I’ve had, I was absolutely ripped and I talked the pilots into leaving the doors open. We had four more guys die a couple days ago. They hit an IED, it killed everyone in the humvee.. It’s starting to get a little scary. We made it our first six months with just two deaths and that was plenty. But now just in the past two and a half weeks we’ve had nine more guys get killed, and over 50 wounded. I’m just hoping that I can make it the 75 more days or so that we have left of combat operations before we start packing.

Jerry Ryen King, journal entry, April 11, 2007

Among the guys in Charlie Company, Private Agami, 25, was one of the boldest and most resilient. He was the kind of guy who joined an endurance ski contest on a whim. He came in fourth. He had never skied in his life.

Private Agami had time for everyone, and everyone had time for him. Affectionately called GI Jew, he held his religion up to the light. He used it to build tolerance among the troops and shatter stereotypes; few in his unit had ever met a Jew. He flew the Israeli flag over his cot in Adhamiya. He painted the words Hebrew Hammer onto his rifle. He even managed to keep kosher, a feat that required a steady diet of protein shakes and cereal.

Commander Mom, I cant wait to come home and when I do, dont worry ill have allot to say to the congregation. Dont worry about my mental stage either, we all receive counseling and help from doctors when something like this happens. I am a strong individual physically and mentally and if there is one thing the army teaches you, it is how to deal with death. Everyday that passes it gets easier and easier. I miss you guys very much and I love you!

Daniel Agami, e-mail message to his mother, Oct. 28, 2006

It did not get easier.

I try not to cry. I have never cried this much my entire life. two great men got taken from us way too soon. i wonder why it was them in not me. I sit here right now wondering why did they go to the gates of heaven n not me. I try everynight count my blessing that I made it another day but why are we in this hell over here? why? i cant stop askin why?

Ryan Hill, Myspace blog, Nov. 1, 2006

Private Hill was riding in a Humvee on Jan. 20, 2007 when an I.E.D. buried in the middle of the road detonated under his seat, killing him instantly.

Sergeant Campos was riding in a Humvee on May 14, 2007, two weeks after returning from Texas, when it hit an I.E.D. The bomb lifted the Humvee five feet off the ground and engulfed it in flames. “That’s when we just left hope at the door,” Sergeant. Johnson said. Severely burned over 80 percent of his body, Sergeant Campos lived two weeks. He died June 1. Another soldier, Pfc. Nicholas S. Hartge, 20, of Indiana, died in the same attack.

Private Agami was driving a Bradley fighting vehicle on June 21, 2007 when it hit an I.E.D. The explosion flipped the 30-ton vehicle, which also carried Sergeant Wood. Both men were killed, along with three other soldiers and an Iraqi interpreter.

“Obviously, it came to a point, you didn’t care anymore if it got better,” said Staff Sgt. Jeremy S. Rausch, 31, one of Sergeant Campos’s best friends in Charlie Company. “You didn’t care about the people because they didn’t care about themselves. We had already lost enough people that we just thought, you know, ‘why?’ ”

During their time in Adhamiya, the soldiers of Charlie Company caught more than two dozen high-value targets, found nearly 50 weapons caches, detained innumerable insurgents and won countless combat awards. They lost 14 men. Their mission was hailed a success.

Just in Case

Texan to the core, enamored of the military, Specialist Daniel E. Gomez, 21, an Army combat medic in the division’s Alpha Company, relied on his books, his iPod and an Xbox to distract him from the swirl.

strange but this place where we are at is unreal almost. I hope I come back mentally in shape. lol.

Daniel Gomez, Myspace blog, Sept. 9, 2006

He took pride in being the guy who tended to wounded soldiers under fire, patching them up to help them survive. He did not hesitate to do the same for Iraqis.

this iraqi national who I have to say was extremely lucky that he escaped with only sharpnel wounds (metal fragments that fly away from a bomb) when he was standin near a car bomb that was aimed at Iraqi police patrol. Turns out it blow up just when we were passin by soo we had to stop and help. He really was not that lucky though...He had sharpnel to the ankle (it was also broken), to the calf and in the stomach. And he lost his 2 sons in the blast. this [expletive] happens everyday here. [Expletive] insurgents. Anyhow there are more pictures.

Daniel Gomez, e-mail message to friends and family, Sept. 15, 2006

As the violence intensified, Specialist Gomez set aside thoughts of a free Iraq or a safer America and, like generations of soldiers before him, simply started fighting for the soldier next to him.

A few days ago I realized why I am here in Baghdad dealing with all the gunfire, the rocket attacks, the IEDs, the car bombs, the death. I have only been here going on a month and a half. Already I have seen what war really is... but officially its called “full spectrum operations.” No I don’t down Bush, he is my CinC, and I think he is doing an good job with what Clinton left him. I don’t debate why we are involved in Iraq. I just know why I am here. It is not for the smiling Iraqi kids, or the even the feeling of wearing the uniform ( it feels damn good though :) . I am here for the soldier on patrol with me.

But why are you there in the states. Why are you having that nice dinner, watching TV, going out on dates...

Daniel Gomez, e-mail to friends and family. Sept. 27, 2006

And then Specialist Gomez fell in love. An e-mail flirtation with Katy Broom, his sister’s close friend, gradually led to a cyber exchange of guarded promises about the future. Headed home for a rest break in May, the tentativeness lifted and they began to rely on each other to get through the day. The two joked about “the best sex we never had.”

...this R&R there is someone new in my life. Exactly what she is too me, and what I am to her is uncertain, but its not really important at the moment. Just the thought that I could spent a second of my life with her, before I have to come back here makes everything worth it.

Daniel Gomez, Myspace blog, May 9, 2007

Rest and relaxation in Georgia went better than expected. He fell in love with the love of his life all over again, this time in person. The couple shared one kiss during his leave.

“He was everything I expected and more,” said Ms. Broom, 20, who spent one week and two days with him. “It was kind of surreal when we met. It’s almost like a perfect love and war story.”

Not many soldiers leave behind a just-in-case letter. Specialist Gomez did. He handed Ms. Broom an envelope at the airport with the words, “Don’t read unless something happens to me.”

On July 18, 2007, two months after his leave, Specialist Gomez died in Adhamiya when the Bradley fighting vehicle he was in struck a roadside bomb. The explosion and flames also killed three other soldiers.

Ms. Broom waited three days after she got word to open the letter. She sat alone in the couple’s favorite spot, her apartment balcony.

“I was very thankful that he wrote it,” she said of the letter. “I have opened and closed it so many times, I’m surprised it hasn’t fallen apart.”

R+R 2007

Hey baby. If you’re reading this, then something has happen to me and I am sorry. I promised you I would come back to you, but I guess it was a promise I could not keep. You know I never believe in writing “death letters.” I knew if I left one for my folks it would scare them. Then I met you. We were supposed to meet, darling. I needed someone to make me smile, someone that was an old romantic like I was. I was going through a very rough time in Iraq and I was startin to doubt my mental state. Then one day after a patrol, I go to my facebook and there you were...

I can’t stop crying while I writing this letter, but I have to talk to you one last time, because maybe the last time I heard your voice I did not know it would be the last time I heard your voice....

I Love You. Go be happy, go raise a family. Teach your kids right from wrong, and have faith, darling. I think I knew I loved you even before I met. I love you, Katy. * Kiss * Goodbye

    Six of the Fallen, in Words They Sent Home, NYT, 25.3.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/25/us/25dead.web.html






At Grim Milestone, White House Says Focus Is on Success in Iraq


March 24, 2008
The New York Times


The White House acknowledged another grim milestone in the war in Iraq on Monday — the rise in the overall American death toll to at least 4,000 — but said that President Bush, although “grieved” by the new numbers, would continue to push forward and “focus on succeeding.”

The unofficial death toll compiled by The Associated Press reached the latest threshold late Sunday night in Baghdad, when a homemade bomb exploded along a road in the southern part of the city, killing four American soldiers who were patrolling in a vehicle. The milestone was the second dire water mark for the war in less than a week, coming only a few days after the fifth anniversary of the American-led invasion.

Mr. Bush responded only indirectly to the passing of the milestone. He made reference to “this day of reflection” during a brief statement at the State Department on Monday afternoon, in which he noted the deaths of foreign service officers, as well as soldiers.

“I hope their families know that the citizens pray for their comfort and strength,” he said, “whether they were the first one who lost their life in Iraq or recently lost their lives in Iraq — that every life is precious in our sight.”

Earlier, the White House spokeswoman, Dana Perino, said that Mr. Bush would not be deterred in Iraq.

“It’s a sober moment, and one that all of us can focus on in terms of the number of 4,000,” Ms. Perino told reporters on Monday morning. “The president feels each and every one of the deaths very strongly and he grieves for their families. He obviously is grieved by the moment but he mourns the loss of every single life.”

Mr. Bush “bears the responsibility” for the decisions to go to war in Iraq, she added, but he also “bears the responsibility to continue to focus on succeeding.”

The 4,000 figure includes two categories of deaths that some other tallies omit: American contractors, and members of the armed services whose names have not been released by the Pentagon. Its passing was noted by both The Associated Press and Icasualties.org, an independent Web site that tracks casualties in Iraq.

The latest deaths of Americans occurred during a fierce wave of violence throughout Iraq on Sunday, an explosion of violence that claimed the lives of 58 Iraqis and reinforced a prevailing sense that insurgent and sectarian attacks are climbing rapidly in the country.

The Bush administration has been gradually reducing troop levels in Iraq since last year’s “surge” of additional forces, and the president and his top advisers say they are now trying to determine whether to continue withdrawing troops. Administration officials have repeatedly said that the surge produced an immediate reduction in violence, and some are questioning whether pulling troops out will reverse those gains.

President Bush conferred on Monday by videoconference with Ryan C. Crocker, the United States ambassador in Baghdad, and Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top American military commander in Iraq. The two officials were expected to offer President Bush their recommendations on what to do about the troop levels, but it remained unclear when a final decision might come. Ms. Perino, the press secretary, would not comment on exactly what was said during the teleconference, but she did say that Mr. Bush was under “no deadline” to reach a decision on troop levels before next week, when he is due to leave Washington for a NATO summit in Romania.

Vice President Dick Cheney, who was in Jerusalem on Monday for the final leg of a Middle East trip, was asked by reporters at a round table discussion if he had ever considered that the number of American fatalities might reach its current figure. He did not answer that question directly, saying instead that the president regrets “every casualty, every loss,” and underscoring that the soldiers who died in Iraq had joined the military willingly.

“One of the tremendous assets we have as a nation is the all-volunteer force, where people sign up and serve in the United States military to go in harm’s way and to take those risks on behalf of the rest of us,” he said. “When you’re sitting in one of these jobs, especially in a time — in wartime, you never lose sight of that.”

The new milestone, meanwhile, elicited strong statements on the presidential campaign trail on Monday. At the University of Pennsylvania, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton began a scheduled speech about the economic impact of home foreclosures by asking the audience to recognize the somber development.

“I want to take a moment to note yesterday’s heartbreaking news that, five years after the start of this war, there have been 4,000 U.S. military deaths in Iraq,” she said. “Tens of thousands of our brave men and women have also suffered serious wounds, both visible and invisible, to their bodies, their minds and their hearts.

“As president,” she added, “I intend to honor their extraordinary service and the sacrifices of them and their families by ending this war and bringing them home as quickly and responsibly as possible.”

Senator Barack Obama, whose next scheduled public event was a town hall meeting on Wednesday in Greensboro, N.C., acknowledged the milestone in a statement his campaign sent to reporters.

“Each death is a tragedy, and we honor every fallen American and send our thoughts and prayers to their families,” he said “It is past time to end this war that should never have been waged, by bringing our troops home and finally pushing Iraq’s leaders to take responsibility for their future.”

To mark the occasion, a number of peace groups are planning candlelight vigils across the country, from San Francisco to New York, for Monday night.

Veterans’ advocacy groups also noted the grim new toll by using the occasion to call on the public and the media to focus greater attention on the war effort. One of those groups, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, pointed out in a statement on Monday that a study last month by the Pew Research Center found coverage of the war in the news media at its lowest level in five years, and that only one-third of the public was aware of the number of American fatalities in Iraq.

“The 4,000th killed-in-action in Iraq is newsworthy, but the truth is that every death should be a news item,” Paul Rieckhoff, the executive director of the group, said in the statement. “The 4,000th death should not be exploited in the polarized arguments about the war. Honoring the fallen is neither a pro- nor an anti-war statement. It’s about respecting the sacrifice of thousands of America’s sons and daughters.”

Steven Lee Myers contributed reporting.

    At Grim Milestone, White House Says Focus Is on Success in Iraq, NYT, 24.3.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/24/us/24cnd-react.html






FACTBOX: Military and civilian deaths in Iraq


Mon Mar 24, 2008
1:09am EDT


(Reuters) - A roadside bomb killed four U.S. soldiers in Baghdad on Sunday, the military said, bringing the number of U.S. military deaths to 4,000 since the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Following are the latest figures for soldiers and civilians killed since the U.S.-led invasion in March, 2003:


United States 4,000

Britain 175

Other nations 134


Military Between 4,900 and 6,375#

Civilians Between 82,267 and 89,778*

# = Think-tank estimates for military under Saddam Hussein killed during the 2003 war. No reliable official figures have been issued since new security forces were set up in late 2003.

* = From www.iraqbodycount.net (IBC), run by academics and peace activists, based on reports from at least two media sources. The IBC says on its Web site the figure underestimates the true number of casualties.

The U.S-led military coalition toll includes casualties from Iraq and the surrounding area where troops are stationed.

(Writing by David Cutler, London Editorial Reference Unit)

    FACTBOX: Military and civilian deaths in Iraq, R, 24.3.2008, http://www.reuters.com/article/newsOne/idUSHAR41202820080324?virtualBrandChannel=10112






A.P.’s Death Toll for Iraq War Reaches 4,000


March 24, 2008
Filed at 7:15 a.m. ET
The New York Times


BAGHDAD (AP) -- The overall U.S. death toll in Iraq rose to 4,000 after four soldiers were killed in a roadside bombing in Baghdad, a grim milestone that is likely to fuel calls for the withdrawal of American forces as the war enters its sixth year.

The American deaths occurred Sunday, the same day rockets and mortars pounded the U.S.-protected Green Zone in Baghdad and a wave of attacks left at least 61 Iraqis dead nationwide.

An Iraqi military spokesman said Monday that troops had found rocket launching pads in different areas in predominantly Shiite eastern Baghdad that had been used by extremists to fire on the Green Zone, which houses the U.S. Embassy and the Iraqi government headquarters.

''We hope to deal with this issue professionally to avoid civilian casualties,'' said spokesman Qassim al-Moussawi.

The four soldiers with Multi-National Division -- Baghdad were on a patrol when their vehicle was struck at about 10 p.m. Sunday in southern Baghdad, the U.S. military said. Another soldier was wounded in the attack -- less than a week after the fifth anniversary of the conflict.

Navy Lt. Patrick Evans, a military spokesman, expressed condolences to all the families of soldiers killed in Iraq, saying each death is ''equally tragic.''

''There have been some significant gains. However, this enemy is resilient and will not give up, nor will we,'' he said. ''There's still a lot of work to be done.''

Last year, U.S. military deaths spiked as U.S. troops sought to regain control of Baghdad and surrounding areas. The death toll has seesawed since, with 2007 ending as the deadliest year for American troops at 901 deaths. That was 51 more deaths than 2004, the second deadliest year for U.S. soldiers.

The Associated Press count of 4,000 deaths is based on U.S. military reports and includes eight civilians who worked for the Department of Defense.

Tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians also have been killed since the U.S.-led invasion on March 20, 2003, although estimates of a specific figure vary widely due to the difficulty in collecting accurate information.

One widely respected tally by Iraq Body Count, which collects figures based mostly on media reports, estimates that 82,349 to 89,867 Iraqi civilians have lost their lives in the conflict.

Overall attacks also have decreased against Iraqi civilians but recent weeks have seen several high-profile bombings, underscoring the fragile security situation and the resilience of both Sunni and Shiite extremist groups.

Mosul, Iraq's third largest city about 225 miles northwest of Baghdad, has been described as the last major urban area where the Sunni extremist al-Qaida group maintains a significant presence.

The persistent violence has led to strong public opposition to the war in the United States, with both Democratic presidential hopefuls Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton promising a quick pullout if they are elected.

President Bush has insisted the decline in violence shows his strategy is working and needs more time, a position taken by Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain.

Iraq's National Security Adviser Mouwaffak al-Rubaie said he sympathized with the American losses but warned against pulling out U.S. troops before Iraqi forces are ready to take over their own security and the situation is sufficiently stable.

''Honestly, this war is well worth fighting. This war, we are talking about war against global terror,'' he said Sunday in an interview with CNN.

No group claimed responsibility for the Green Zone attacks, but suspicion fell on Shiite extremists based on the eastern areas from which the weapons appeared to have been fired.

At least 10 civilians were killed and 20 more were wounded in rocket or mortar blasts in scattered areas of eastern Baghdad, some probably due to rounds aimed at the Green Zone that fell short.

The U.S. Embassy said at least five people were injured but no Americans were reported killed in the Green Zone attacks, which sent dark plumes of smoke rising over the district in the heart of the capital.

A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to release the information, said those injured included an American and four third-country nationals, meaning they were not American, British or Iraqi.

The heavily fortified area has frequently come under fire by Shiite and Sunni extremists, but the attacks have tapered off as violence declined over the past year.

The attacks followed a series of clashes last week between U.S. and Iraqi forces and factions of the Mahdi Army, the biggest Shiite militia loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Al-Sadr has declared a cease-fire through mid-August to purge the militia of criminal and dissident elements but it has come under severe strains in recent weeks.

Al-Sadr's followers have accused the Shiite-dominated government of exploiting the cease-fire to target the cleric's supporters in advance of provincial elections expected this fall and demanded the release of supporters rounded up in recent weeks.


Associated Press writer Bushra Juhi contributed to this report.

    A.P.’s Death Toll for Iraq War Reaches 4,000, NYT, 24.3.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/world/AP-Iraq.html?hp







Mission Still Not Accomplished


March 20, 2008
The New York Times


It has been five years since the United States invaded Iraq and the world watched in horror as what seemed like a swift victory by modern soldiers and 21st-century weapons became a nightmare of spiraling violence, sectarian warfare, insurgency, roadside bombings and ghastly executions. Iraq’s economy was destroyed, and America’s reputation was shredded in the torture rooms of Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and the Central Intelligence Agency’s secret prisons.

These were hard and very costly lessons for a country that had emerged from the cold war as the world’s sole remaining superpower. Shockingly, President Bush seems to have learned none of them.

In a speech on Wednesday, the start of the war’s sixth year, Mr. Bush was stuck in the Neverland of his “Mission Accomplished” speech. In his mind’s eye, the invasion was a “remarkable display of military effectiveness” that will be studied for generations. The war has placed the nation on the brink of a great “strategic victory” in Iraq and against terrorists the world over.

Even now, Mr. Bush talks of Iraqi troops who “took off their uniforms and faded into the countryside to fight the emergence of a free Iraq” — when everyone knows that the American pro-consul, L. Paul Bremer III, overrode Mr. Bush’s national security team and, with the president’s blessing, made the catastrophically bad decision to disband the Iraqi Army and police force.

Mr. Bush wants Americans to believe that Iraq was on the verge of “full-blown sectarian warfare” when he boldly ordered an escalation of forces around Baghdad last year. In fact, sectarian warfare was raging for months while Mr. Bush refused to listen to the generals, who wanted a new military approach, or to the vast majority of Americans, who just wanted him to end the war.

All evidence to the contrary, Mr. Bush is still trying to make it seem as if Al Qaeda in Iraq was connected to the Al Qaeda that attacked America on Sept. 11, 2001. He tried to justify an unjustifiable war by ticking off benefits of deposing Saddam Hussein, but he somehow managed to forget the nonexistent weapons of mass destruction.

Vice President Dick Cheney was equally deep in denial on Monday when he declared at a news conference in Baghdad that it has all been “well worth the effort.”

Tell that to the families of nearly 4,000 Americans who have been killed — far too many of them because Mr. Bush and his arrogantly incompetent secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, failed to plan for an insurgency that many others saw coming. Thousands more Americans have been wounded and deprived of adequate post-conflict care while Iraqis have died by the tens of thousands. More than five million have been driven from their homes.

Add in a cost to the United States that some say could exceed $3 trillion, the new political opening created for Iran, the incalculable damage to America’s reputation and the havoc wreaked on Iraqi society. Few lament Saddam Hussein’s passing, but the war has left Iraq a broken country, made the United States more vulnerable, not safer, and stretched the American military to a point that compromises its ability to fight elsewhere.

The increase in American forces last year initially produced a steep decline in insurgent attacks. But the conflict has drifted into a stalemate with the levels of violence remaining constant, and unacceptably high, from November 2007 through early 2008, according to a Government Accountability Office report. As Mr. Cheney visited Iraq, a bombing killed 43 people.

One of the cruelest ironies is that Iraqis have not taken advantage of the American troop surge, which was intended to create space for them to resolve their political differences. After much foot-dragging, they passed a 2008 budget and a law granting amnesty to thousands of Sunnis and others in Iraqi jails. But a law on sharing oil wealth is stalled and one aimed at allowing former Baathist Party members back into government may actually drive many out. Another bill, mandating provincial elections by October, was passed by Parliament, then vetoed by the Presidency Council of Iraq’s top leaders. Only after pressure from Mr. Cheney was it suddenly revived.

The plight of Iraqis uprooted by violence is further proof of how broken the country is. Some 2.7 million Iraqis are displaced internally and another 2.4 million have fled as refugees, mostly to Syria and Jordan. That’s nearly 20 percent of Iraq’s prewar population — the kind of inconvenient truth the Bush administration would rather ignore.

Although thousands of refugees returned to Iraq last year, most ended up leaving again because they did not feel secure. American, Iraqi and international aid to Iraqi refugees is insufficient, and many refugees, their savings depleted and barred from most jobs, are despairing, aid workers say. No one knows when — or if — they can ever return. Syria and Jordan generously allowed Iraqis in, but the huge numbers could destabilize both countries and fuel anti-America resentment.

The United States agreed to admit a paltry 12,000 Iraqi refugees in fiscal year 2008; so far, only 2,000 have been processed.

Brighter spots — Iraq’s economy is projected to grow 7 percent this year — are offset by problems: millions of Iraqis still don’t have clean water and medical care, thousands are jobless and the Iraqi Army, while improving, cannot defend the country on its own.

Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney refuse to let these facts interfere with their benighted notion of keeping troops in Iraq indefinitely and insisting that Iraq — not Afghanistan and Pakistan where Al Qaeda and the Taliban have gained ground — must remain America’s top priority.

It was clear long ago that Mr. Bush had no plan for victory, only a plan for handing this mess to his successor. Americans need to choose a president with the vision to end this war as cleanly as possible.

Mission Still Not Accomplished, NYT, 20.3.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/20/opinion/20thu1.html















 Bush Says U.S. Must Win Iraq War; Troop Surge Is Producing Results        WSJ        19.3.2008
















Bush Says U.S. Must Win Iraq War;
Troop Surge Is Producing Results

Antiwar Demonstrators Arrested
On 5-Year Anniversary of Invasion

March 19, 2008
1:39 p.m.
Associated Press
Wall Street Journal


WASHINGTON -- Five years after launching the invasion of Iraq, President Bush strongly signaled Wednesday that he won't order troop withdrawals beyond those already planned because he refuses to "jeopardize the hard-fought gains" of the past year.

As antiwar activists demonstrated around downtown Washington, the president spoke at the Pentagon to mark the anniversary of a war that has cost nearly 4,000 U.S. lives and roughly $500 billion.

The president's address was part of a series of events the White House planned around the anniversary and next month's report from the top U.S. figures in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker. That report will be the basis for Mr. Bush's first troop-level decision in seven months.

"The battle in Iraq has been longer and harder and more costly than we anticipated," Mr. Bush said. (See the full text of Bush's remarks.)

But, he added, before an audience of Pentagon brass, soldiers and diplomats: "The battle in Iraq is noble, it is necessary, and it is just. And with your courage, the battle in Iraq will end in victory."

Democrats took issue with Mr. Bush's stay-the-course suggestion.

"With the war in Iraq entering its sixth year, Americans are rightly concerned about how much longer our nation must continue to sacrifice our security for the sake of an Iraqi government that is unwilling or unable to secure its own future," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.). "Democrats will continue to push for an end to the war in Iraq and increased oversight of that war."


Fighting Terror

Mr. Bush repeatedly and directly linked the fight there to the global battle against the al Qaeda terror network. And he made some of his most expansive claims of success. He said the increase of 30,000 troops that he ordered to Iraq last year has turned "the situation in Iraq around." He also said that "Iraq has become the place where Arabs joined with Americans to drive al Qaeda out."

"The surge ... has opened the door to a major strategic victory in the broader war on terror," the president said. "We are witnessing the first large-scale Arab uprising against Osama bin Laden, his grim ideology, and his terror network. And the significance of this development cannot be overstated."

Mr. Bush appeared to be referring to recent cooperation by local Iraqis with the U.S. military against the group known as al Qaeda in Iraq, a mostly homegrown, though foreign-led, Sunni-based insurgency. Experts question how closely -- or even whether -- the group is connected to the international al Qaeda network. As for Mr. bin Laden, he is rarely heard from and is believed to be hiding in Pakistan.

The U.S. has about 158,000 troops in Iraq. That number is expected to drop to 140,000 by summer in drawdowns meant to erase all but about 8,000 troops from last year's increase.

Faster and larger withdrawals could unravel recent progress, said Mr. Bush. "Having come so far and achieved so much, we are not going to let this happen," he said.

It is widely believed that he will endorse a recommendation from Gen. Petraeus next month for no additional troop reductions, beyond those already scheduled, until at least September. This pause in drawdowns would be designed to assess the impact of this round before allowing more.

The surge was meant to tamp down sectarian violence in Iraq so that the country's leaders would have time to advance legislation considered key to reconciliation between rival Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish communities. But the gains on the battlefield have not been matched by dramatic political progress, and violence again may be increasing.


Bush's Legacy

Mr. Bush, who has successfully defied efforts by the Democratic-led Congress to force larger troop withdrawals, criticized those who "still call for retreat" in the face of what he called undeniable successes.

"The challenge in the period ahead is to consolidate the gains we have made and seal the extremists' defeat," he said. "We have learned through hard experience what happens when we pull our forces back too fast -- the terrorists and extremists step in, fill the vacuum, establish safe havens and use them to spread chaos and carnage."

Both Democratic candidates have said they would begin withdrawing forces quickly if elected. Only expected GOP nominee John McCain has indicated he planned to continue Mr. Bush's strategy of bringing troops home only as conditions warrant.

Vice President Dick Cheney, who just completed a two-day visit to Iraq, said the administration won't "be blown off course" by continued strong opposition to the war in the U.S. (See related article.)

Mr. Cheney compared the administration's task now to Abraham Lincoln's during the Civil War. "He never would have succeeded if he hadn't had a clear objective, a vision for where he wanted to go, and he was willing to withstand the slings and arrows of the political wars in order to get there," Mr. Cheney said of Lincoln in an interview broadcast Wednesday on ABC's "Good Morning America."

As of Tuesday, at least 3,990 members of the U.S. military have died in the war, which has cost the U.S. roughly $500 billion. Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph E. Stiglizt and Harvard University public finance expert Linda Bilmes have estimated the eventual cost at $3 trillion when all the expenses, including long-term care for veterans, are calculated.

Without specifics, Mr. Bush decried those who have "exaggerated estimates of the costs of this war."

"War critics can no longer credibly argue that we are losing in Iraq, so now they argue the war costs too much," he said.


Antiwar Protesters Arrested

Police arrested more than a dozen people who crossed a barricade and blocked entrances at the Internal Revenue Service building in Washington Wednesday morning.

A crowd of more than 100 gathered outside the IRS headquarters, chanting "This is a Crime Scene" and "You're Arresting the Wrong People." A marching band led protesters down the street near the National Mall and around the IRS building before dozens of demonstrators gathered at the entrance. Protesters blocked the main entrance for a time, but no federal workers appeared to be trying to use those doors. Police detained 13 people who sat down at a side entrance. The demonstrators said they were focusing on the IRS because it gathers taxes that are used to fund the war.

Antiwar protests and vigils were planned throughout the day around the nation. In San Francisco, police said a handful of people were arrested outside of the Federal Reserve Bank. An antiwar march and protest were also planned outside the Marine recruiting station in Berkeley, Calif. In Ohio, more than 20 different vigils, rallies, marches and other events were planned across the state.

Copyright © 2008 Associated Press

    Bush Says U.S. Must Win Iraq War; Troop Surge Is Producing Results, WSJ, 19.3.2008, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB120592985052048279.html?mod=hpp_us_inside_today






Estimates of Iraq War Cost Were Not Close to Ballpark


March 19, 2008
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — At the outset of the Iraq war, the Bush administration predicted that it would cost $50 billion to $60 billion to oust Saddam Hussein, restore order and install a new government.

Five years in, the Pentagon tags the cost of the Iraq war at roughly $600 billion and counting. Joseph E. Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize-winning economist and critic of the war, pegs the long-term cost at more than $4 trillion. The Congressional Budget Office and other analysts say that $1 trillion to $2 trillion is more realistic, depending on troop levels and on how long the American occupation continues.

Among economists and policymakers, the question of how to tally the cost of the war is a matter of hot dispute. And the costs continue to climb.

Congressional Democrats fiercely criticize the White House over war expenditures. But it is virtually certain that the Democrats will provide tens of billions more in a military spending bill next month. Some Democrats are even arguing against attaching strings, like a deadline for withdrawal, saying the tactic will fail as it has in the past.

All of the war-price tallies include operations in the war zone, support for troops, repair or replacement of equipment, reservists’ salaries, special combat pay for regular forces and some care for wounded veterans — expenses that typically fall outside the regular Defense Department or Veterans Affairs budgets.

The highest estimates often include projections for future operations, long-term health care and disability costs for veterans, a portion of the regular, annual defense budget, and, in some cases, wider economic effects, including a percentage of higher oil prices and the impact of raising the national debt to cover increased war spending.

The debate raging on Capitol Hill, on the presidential campaign trail, in research institutes and in academia touches on such esoteric factors as the right inflation index for veterans’ health care costs; the monetary value of nearly 4,000 soldiers killed; and what role, if any, the war has had in higher oil prices.

Some economists who track the war expenses say they worry that politicians are making mistakes similar to those made in 2002, by failing to fully come to grips with the short- and long-term financial costs.

“The relevant question now is: what do we do now going forward? Because we can’t do anything about the costs that have already happened,” said Scott Wallsten, an economist and vice president of research with iGrowthGlobal, a Washington research institute. “We still don’t hear people talking about that.”

Congressional Democrats, led by Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, the chairman of the Joint Economic Committee, have sought to spotlight the rising costs and limited political progress in Iraq.

“This administration still has no clear exit strategy for our troops, no path to political reconciliation, and no accounting of the costs to our budget or economy,” Mr. Schumer said.

The White House press secretary, Dana M. Perino, acknowledged that costs had risen higher than predicted, but said the administration was committed to giving the military everything it needed for success.

“None of these calculations take into account the cost of failure in Iraq,” Ms. Perino said. “Should Al Qaeda have safe haven in Iraq, we are more likely to be attacked again on our homeland. We know the cost of that.”

On the campaign trail, the Democratic candidates, Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton, often say that money for the war would be better spent at home, as Mrs. Clinton did Tuesday when she pegged the war costs at “well over $1 trillion.”

“That is enough,” she continued, “to provide health care for all 47 million uninsured Americans and quality pre-kindergarten for every American child, solve the housing crisis once and for all, make college affordable for every American student and provide tax relief to tens of millions of middle-class families.”

But what the candidates often fail to note when making such points is that the full cost of the war has been added to the national debt, and that the money spent in Iraq would not necessarily be available for other programs. And, of course, anything short of an immediate withdrawal will entail billions more in continuing expenses.

Debate aside, there is general consensus that Congress will have allocated slightly more than $600 billion for Iraq operations through the 2008 fiscal year.

And some analysts say that may be half the final price.

“Under reasonable scenarios, assuming we don’t pull out rapidly, we may only be halfway through,” said Steven M. Koziak, of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment, a nonpartisan research group. “Even in direct budgetary costs, it’s quite easy to get up on the order of $1 trillion for Iraq alone.”

Meanwhile, the five-year anniversary of the war has focused a spotlight on the costs so far and on future projections.

In a new book, called “The Three Trillion War,” Mr. Stiglitz, the Nobel laureate, and a co-author, Linda J. Bilmes, a professor at Harvard, say the total economic impact may be a staggering $4 trillion or more. Even some economists who call themselves fans of Mr. Stiglitz say they think that number is exaggerated; the authors insist their projections are moderate.

Lawrence B. Lindsey, who was ousted as President Bush’s first economic adviser partly because he predicted the war might cost $100 billion to $200 billion, also has a new book that serves in part as an I-told-you-so.

“Five years after the fact, I believe that one of the reasons the administration’s efforts are so unpopular is that they chose not to engage in an open public discussion of what the consequences of the war might be, including its economic cost,” Mr. Lindsey wrote in an excerpt in Fortune magazine.

Mr. Lindsey insists that his projections were partly right. “My hypothetical estimate got the annual cost about right,” he wrote. “But I misjudged an important factor: how long we would be involved.”

He was not alone.

Congressional Democrats, for instance, predicted that the Iraq war would cost roughly $93 billion, not including reconstruction.

Virtually every forecast was off in this way. “It’s clear that operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have gone on longer and have been more expensive than the projections initially suggested,” Peter R. Orszag, director of the Congressional Budget Office, said in an interview.

Only one economist, William D. Nordhaus of Yale, seems to have come close. In a paper in December 2002, he offered a worst-case estimate of $1.9 trillion, “if the war drags on, occupation is lengthy, nation-building is costly.”

Getting at the true costs is difficult though. Expenses like an overall increase in troops were paid from the base defense budget, not the war bills.

    Estimates of Iraq War Cost Were Not Close to Ballpark, NYT, 19.3.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/19/washington/19cost.html






Bush Says Iraq War Was Worth It


March 19, 2008
Filed at 1:39 a.m. ET
The New York Times


WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush says he has no doubts about launching the unpopular war in Iraq despite the ''high cost in lives and treasure,'' arguing that retreat now would embolden Iran and provide al-Qaida with money for weapons of mass destruction to attack the United States.

Bush is to mark the fifth anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq on Wednesday with a speech at the Pentagon. Excerpts of his address were released Tuesday night by the White House.

At least 3,990 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the war in 2003. It has cost taxpayers about $500 billion and estimates of the final tab run far higher. Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph E. Stiglizt and Harvard University public finance expert Linda Bilmes have estimated the eventual cost at $3 trillion when all the expenses, including long-term care for veterans, are calculated.

Democrats offered a different view from Bush's.

''On this grim milestone, it is worth remembering how we got into this situation, and thinking about how best we can get out,'' said Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich. ''The tasks that remain in Iraq -- to bring an end to sectarian conflict, to devise a way to share political power, and to create a functioning government that is capable of providing for the needs of the Iraqi people are tasks that only the Iraqis can complete.''

In his remarks, Bush repeated his oft-stated determination to prosecute the war into the unforeseen future.

''The successes we are seeing in Iraq are undeniable, yet some in Washington still call for retreat,'' the president said. ''War critics can no longer credibly argue that we are losing in Iraq, so now they argue the war costs too much. In recent months, we have heard exaggerated estimates of the costs of this war.

''No one would argue that this war has not come at a high cost in lives and treasure, but those costs are necessary when we consider the cost of a strategic victory for our enemies in Iraq,'' Bush said.

Bush has successfully defied efforts by the Democratic-led Congress to force troop withdrawals or set deadlines for pullouts. It is widely believed he will endorse a recommendation from Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, for no additional troop reductions, beyond those already planned, until at least September.

The U.S. now has about 158,000 troops in Iraq. That number is expected to drop to 140,000 by summer in drawdowns meant to erase all but about 8,000 troops from last year's buildup.

''If we were to allow our enemies to prevail in Iraq, the violence that is now declining would accelerate and Iraq could descend into chaos,'' Bush said. ''Al-Qaida would regain its lost sanctuaries and establish new ones fomenting violence and terror that could spread beyond Iraq's borders, with serious consequences to the world economy.

''Out of such chaos in Iraq, the terrorist movement could emerge emboldened with new recruits ... new resources ... and an even greater determination to dominate the region and harm America,'' Bush said in his remarks. ''An emboldened al-Qaida with access to Iraq's oil resources could pursue its ambitions to acquire weapons of mass destruction to attack America and other free nations. Iran could be emboldened as well with a renewed determination to develop nuclear weapons and impose its brand of hegemony across the broader Middle East. And our enemies would see an American failure in Iraq as evidence of weakness and lack of resolve.''

Looking back, Bush said, ''Five years into this battle, there is an understandable debate over whether the war was worth fighting ... whether the fight is worth winning ... and whether we can win it. The answers are clear to me: Removing Saddam Hussein from power was the right decision and this is a fight America can and must win.''

Bush said the past five years have brought ''moments of triumph and moments of tragedy,'' from free elections in Iraq to acts of brutality and violence.

''The terrorists who murder the innocent in the streets of Baghdad want to murder the innocent in the streets of American cities. Defeating this enemy in Iraq will make it less likely we will face this enemy here at home,'' Bush said.

Bush said anew that the war was faltering a little more than a year ago, prompting him in January 2007 to order a big troop buildup known as the ''surge.''

''The surge has done more than turn the situation in Iraq around; it has opened the door to a major strategic victory in the broader war on terror,'' he said.

''In Iraq, we are witnessing the first large-scale Arab uprising against Osama bin Laden, his grim ideology, and his terror network. And the significance of this development cannot be overstated ,'' the president said.

''The challenge in the period ahead is to consolidate the gains we have made and seal the extremists' defeat. We have learned through hard experience what happens when we pull our forces back too fast -- the terrorists and extremists step in, fill the vacuum, establish safe havens and use them to spread chaos and carnage.''

    Bush Says Iraq War Was Worth It, NYT, 19.3.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/us/AP-Bush-Iraq.html






FACTBOX: Selected remarks by Bush on the Iraq war


Wed Mar 19, 2008
10:58am EDT


(Reuters) - Following is a selection of remarks by U.S. President George W. Bush about the Iraq war since it began in March 2003:

"Our nation enters this conflict reluctantly -- yet, our purpose is sure. The people of the United States and our friends and allies will not live at the mercy of an outlaw regime that threatens the peace with weapons of mass murder."

- March 19, 2003, televised address from the White House as the war began.

"Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed."

- May 1, 2003, aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln under a banner declaring "Mission Accomplished."

"I hope there's not an expectation from people that all of a sudden there's going to be zero violence ... It's just not going to be the case."

- June 14, 2006, White House Rose Garden.

"We will stay the course, we will help this young Iraqi democracy succeed and victory in Iraq will be a major ideological triumph in the struggle of the 21st century."

- August 30, 2006, Salt Lake City.

"Stay the course means keep doing what you're doing. My attitude is, don't do what you're doing if it's not working -- change. Stay the course also means don't leave before the job is done. We're going to get the job done in Iraq."

- October 11, 2006, White House Rose Garden.

"It's my responsibility to provide the American people with a candid assessment on the way forward ... Absolutely, we're winning."

- October 25, 2006, White House East Room.

"We're not winning, we're not losing."

- December 19, 2006, interview with The Washington Post (published on December 20).

"The situation in Iraq is unacceptable to the American people -- and it is unacceptable to me ... Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me.

- January 10, 2007, White House library.

"Our country is pursuing a new strategy in Iraq -- and I ask you to give it a chance to work."

- January 23, 2007, State of the Union address to Congress.

"The struggle in Iraq may be hard, but this should not be a time for despair."

- March 6, 2007, speech to the American Legion in Washington.

"A free Iraq will be our partner in the fight against terror -- and that will make us safer here at home. Realizing this vision will be difficult, but it is achievable."

- September 13, 2007, address from the Oval Office.

"Some may deny the surge is working, but among the terrorists there is no doubt. Al Qaeda is on the run in Iraq and this enemy will be defeated."

- January 28, 2008, State of the Union address to Congress.

"Five years into this battle, there is an understandable debate over whether the war was worth fighting, whether the fight is worth winning, and whether we can win it. The answers are clear to me. Removing Saddam Hussein from power was the right decision, and this is a fight America can and must win."

- March 19, 2008, speech at the Pentagon.

(Reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky; editing by Mohammad Zargham)

    FACTBOX: Selected remarks by Bush on the Iraq war, R, 19.3.2008, http://www.reuters.com/article/topNews/idUSN1929955320080319?virtualBrandChannel=10112






FACTBOX: U.S. marched to Iraq with inaccurate intelligence


Wed Mar 19, 2008
10:27am EDT


(Reuters) - Five years ago, the Bush administration marched to war with Iraq armed with inaccurate intelligence, mistaken assumptions and extravagant hopes that have cost the United States dearly in blood and treasure.

Following is a series of quotations, statements and subsequent outcomes of some of the main justifications that led the United States to invade Iraq on March 19, 2003:



* President George W. Bush, two days before the war's start: "Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised."

* Then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice in September 2002: "We don't want 'the smoking gun' to be a mushroom cloud."

* Vice President Dick Cheney on August 26, 2002: "There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction."

"Many of us are convinced that Saddam will acquire nuclear weapons fairly soon."

* An October 2002 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate -- representing the consensus views of the American intelligence community -- concludes that Iraq is pursuing a nuclear device, has an active biological weapons program and has resumed making deadly mustard, sarin and VX chemical agents.

* In an exhaustive 2005 review, the blue-ribbon Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, finds that the NIE's conclusions were flat wrong.

"The intelligence community's Iraq assessments were, in short, riddled with errors," the commission concludes.

"The harm done to American credibility by our all too public intelligence failings in Iraq will take years to undo."



* Top Bush administration officials spoke of ties between Saddam and al Qaeda and implied Iraqi involvement in the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington. Cheney said on September 14, 2003: "He (Saddam) had long established ties with al Qaeda."

* But independent bodies, including the September 11 commission, found there had been no collaborative links between Iraq and the militant network before the 2003 invasion.

* In February 2007, a report by the Pentagon inspector general said former U.S. defense policy chief Douglas Feith presented the White House with claims of a "mature symbiotic relationship" between Iraq and al Qaeda while ignoring contradictory views from the intelligence community.



* In September 2002, Lawrence Lindsey, then director of the White House National Economic Council, estimates that war with Iraq could cost between $100 billion and $200 billion.

The Bush administration quickly disputes the assertion, with White House budget director Mitch Daniels calling it "very, very high." Other officials estimate the tab at $50 billion.

* A congressional report released in January 2008 shows the U.S. Congress has so far set aside $440 billion for the war, plus $21 billion to support Iraqi security forces and $26 billion for diplomatic operations and foreign aid.



* In April 2003, Cheney predicts Iraqi oil production could rise to between 2.5 million and 3 million barrels per day by the end of 2003 -- up from around 2 million barrels per day the year before the war began.

Five years later, Iraqi oil production has yet to reach the lower end of Cheney's prediction.

Baghdad was pumping 2.3 million barrels per day at the start of this year and expects to boost production to between 2.6 million and 2.7 million during 2008, Iraqi Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani told Reuters in January.



* Cheney, on NBC's "Meet the Press" on March 16, 2003: "My belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators."

* While violence has fallen significantly since Bush ordered additional U.S. troops to Iraq last year, tens of thousands of Iraqis have died as a result of insurgent and sectarian attacks since the invasion.

According to the human rights group Iraq Body Count, up to 89,300 Iraqi civilians have been killed since 2003. Over the same period, U.S. military deaths have reached nearly 4,000.

(Reporting by Arshad Mohammed and Richard Cowan in Washington and Adam Entous in Jerusalem; Editing by Xavier Briand and Vicki Allen)

    FACTBOX: U.S. marched to Iraq with inaccurate intelligence, R, 19.3.2008, http://www.reuters.com/article/topNews/idUSN1928791920080319?virtualBrandChannel=10112






Suicide Blast in Iraq Eclipses Cheney’s Visit


March 18, 2008
The New York Times


BAGHDAD — A female suicide bomber penetrated one of the most secure perimeters in Iraq Monday evening and killed at least 42 people near the Imam Hussein shrine in the Shiite holy city of Karbala, according to the Iraqi authorities.

The explosion, the deadliest attack in Karbala in nearly a year, overshadowed a Baghdad visit by Vice President Dick Cheney, who met with Iraqi and American leaders and extolled what he described as “phenomenal” security improvements in the country.

The explosion rocked central Karbala at about 6 p.m. “Many people were killed and wounded,” said Abu Ahmed, 36, who minutes earlier had walked past the site where the blast would occur, and then came rushing back afterward to help the wounded. “Everyone near the bomber was killed.”

Iraqi forces sealed off the area, and a grim mood descended on the city. Areas that are normally brisk evening shopping districts were deserted, and shops were closed.

If the Iraqi police account of the bomber’s gender is confirmed, it would be one of the most devastating suicide bombings carried out by a woman. The number of female suicide bombers has increased recently, facilitated by Muslim customs that do not allow males to touch women. The customs enable the bombers to elude security checkpoints because women are not searched.


And in a religious center like Karbala, most women wear a flowing head-to-toe black overgarment, known as an abaya, that provides an easy way to conceal an explosive vest or belt.

Salim Khadum, a Karbala health ministry official, said the death toll was 32, with 52 others wounded. Seven Iranians were among the wounded, he said. But an official with the Interior Ministry in Baghdad later said the toll had risen to 42 dead and 58 wounded.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility. Nor was it clear whether the attack was meant to upstage visits to Iraq by Mr. Cheney and by the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Senator John McCain of Arizona, who, like Mr. Cheney, is a strong proponent of keeping large numbers of troops in the country.

North of Baghdad, two American soldiers were killed just after noon on Monday when a large roadside bomb exploded near their vehicle, the American military command in Baghdad reported. The soldiers were part of a team working to clear a roadway of bombs and other threats, the military said.

In Baghdad, Mr. Cheney said it would be a mistake to reduce American forces in Iraq. After a meeting with the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, he said “there has been dramatic improvement in the security situation.”

He added that part of the reason for his trip was to “reaffirm to the Iraqi people the unwavering commitment of the United States to support them in finishing the difficult work that lies ahead.”

Violence has dropped sharply in Baghdad over the past six months, but attacks nationwide are running roughly at levels seen in 2005, and militants are still killing an average of one American servicemember per day. Seventeen American troops have died this month.

Some American officials in Iraq worry about whether the drop in violence is permanent. Much of the decline, for example, is attributable to Shiite cleric and militia leader Moktada al-Sadr’s decision to order his ´followers to stop fighting almost seven months ago, a move that has allowed him to winnow the ranks of his militia of those he feels are disloyal to him.

And thousands of former Sunni insurgents who used to carry out attacks on American and Iraqi forces are now being paid by the American military to serve in neighborhood militias. It’s not clear how many of the 91,000 men who are in the new militia forces are former insurgents, but American officers worry what may happen if Iraqi leaders disband the militias without incorporating the militiamen into the government.

Karim Hilmi contributed reporting from Baghdad, and an Iraqi employee of the New York Times contributed from Karbala.

    Suicide Blast in Iraq Eclipses Cheney’s Visit, NYT, 18.3.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/18/world/middleeast/18iraq.html?hp






Cheney on Unannounced Visit to Iraq


March 18, 2008
The New York Times


BAGHDAD — Vice President Dick Cheney made an unannounced trip Monday to Baghdad, where he plans to push Iraqi political leaders toward opening the country’s vast oil fields to international companies, a senior Bush administration official said.

Mr. Cheney, who arrived in the Iraqi capital with his wife and daughter in the morning, is to meet with top officials including the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, a Shiite, and the Iraqi president, Jalal Talabani, a Kurd.

The vice president plans, among other things, to push Iraqi officials to pass petroleum legislation that would help bring international oil companies to Iraq, according to a pool report of comments by a senior administration official who was flying with Mr. Cheney.

The official described the petroleum issue as being about Iraqi leaders “figuring out how they really begin to exploit” the country’s resources, according to the pool report.

Perhaps the most contentious major legislation pending in Iraq covers how to divvy up the country’s vast petroleum wealth and develop its oil fields. But some Iraqi leaders fear that the proposals may allow American and western firms too much access to contracts for developing and exploiting Iraqi oil reserves.

In particular, politicians loyal to Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, whose political alliance could take control of several southern Shiite provinces in the next round of provincial elections, are concerned about what will happen to the country’s oil wealth.

“Exploiting and controlling the Iraqi oil fields have been part of the American scheme for more than four years,” said Hassan al-Rubaie, a member of parliament and senior member of Mr. Sadr’s political alliance. “Our presence in the parliament and among the Iraqi people will work with other national forces to stop this scheme.”

Administration officials have characterized their efforts on behalf of international oil companies as leveling the playing field to make sure there is a free and competitive market.

On board Mr. Cheney’s aircraft, the senior administration official said the vice president would thank Iraqi leaders “for the hard work they’ve done” and he would urge them to proceed with “the rest of the hard work necessary to consolidate Iraq’s democracy.” The official said that “several landmark pieces of legislation” have passed since the vice president was last here, in May.

Political progress has been limited. New legislation recently approved includes the 2008 budget and a bill that grants amnesty to thousands of Sunnis and others in Iraqi jails.

But other key proposals have stalled, or made questionable progress. A bill intended to allow some former Baath Party members back into the government may end up causing as many problems as it fixes, as some American officials worry it will force Sunnis out of some key security and ministry positions.

Another crucial piece of legislation that called for provincial elections by October was vetoed, the result of a deep split between the country’s two most powerful Shiite political parties. Without provincial elections, Sunni Arabs in many areas of the north will continue to be dominated by Kurd and Shiite provincial politicians despite the Sunnis’ greater numbers.

Mr. Cheney is to meet Monday with top American leaders, including Ryan C. Crocker, the American ambassador, and Gen. David H. Petraeus, the senior American military commander.

He will also have lunch with the country’s vice presidents — Adel Abdul Mahdi, a Shiite, and Tariq al-Hashemi, a Sunni. He will also meet with Mahmoud Mashhadani, a Sunni who is the speaker of the parliament, and Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, the powerful Shiite party that forced the veto of the provincial powers legislation.

The senior administration official said that the trip was an opportunity for the vice president to observe “how much things in Baghdad have changed” and that “now he can see first hand what progress has been made.”

Violence has dropped sharply in the past six months, after the troop escalation reached full strength. But some American officials in Iraq worry about the permanence of those gains. Some of the decline in violence, for example, is attributable to Mr. Sadr’s decision to order his militia followers to stop fighting almost seven months ago, a move that has allowed him to winnow the ranks of his militia of those he feels are disloyal to him.

And thousands of former Sunni insurgents who used to carry out attacks on American and Iraqi forces are now being paid by the American military to serve in neighborhood militias. It’s not clear how many of the 91,000 men who are in the new militia forces are former insurgents, but American officers worry about what will happen if Iraqi leaders disband the militias without incorporating the militiamen into the government.

The senior administration official said Mr. Cheney’s discussions with Iraqi leaders will be a mix of security and legislative issues, and that he will also discuss the relationship between the United States and Iraq over the long term. “We’ve got to be talking to each other about exactly what that relationship is going to look like,” the official said.

Karim Hilmi contributed reporting from Baghdad.

    Cheney on Unannounced Visit to Iraq, NYT, 18.3.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/18/world/middleeast/18iraq.html?hp






Clinton says "we cannot win" Iraq war


Mon Mar 17, 2008
6:23pm EDT
By Jeff Mason


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democrat Hillary Clinton charged on Monday the Iraq war may end up costing Americans $1 trillion and further strain the economy, as she made her case for a prompt U.S. troop pullout from a war "we cannot win."

This week marks the fifth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, but voters now say the economy is their top issue in the campaign for the November presidential election.

Clinton, the former first lady who is trying to convince voters she has foreign policy gravitas, hurled criticism both at her rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, and the Republicans' choice, Arizona Sen. John McCain.

She said the war has sapped U.S. military and economic strength, damaged U.S. national security, taken the lives of nearly 4,000 Americans and left thousands wounded.

"Our economic security is at stake," she said. "Taking into consideration the long-term costs of replacing equipment and providing medical care for troops and survivors' benefits for their families, the war in Iraq could ultimately cost well over $1 trillion."

It has already cost $500 billion.

New York Sen. Clinton pointedly noted that while Obama insists he will withdraw U.S. troops in Iraq within 16 months of taking office, his former foreign policy adviser, Samantha Power, had said he might not follow through on the pledge.

"In uncertain times, we cannot afford uncertain leadership," Clinton said. Power resigned after a British newspaper quoted her as calling Clinton a "monster."

Obama, who routinely scolds Clinton for having voted for a 2002 Senate resolution that authorized the war, fired back.

"I think Senator Clinton has a lot of chutzpah, as they say, to in some way to suggest that I'm the person who has not been clear about my positions on Iraq. I have been opposed to this war from the start," he told PBS.

Obama, who leads Clinton in nominating delegates with the next important contest in Pennsylvania not until April 22, began a second straight week on the defensive.

A CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll said 52 percent of Democrats would most like to see Obama as the party's nominee, compared to 45 percent for Clinton. Clinton had led on the same question 49 percent to 46 percent in early February.

Obama, who would be the first U.S. black president, was due to deliver a speech about race on Tuesday in Philadelphia to try to put to rest questions about his Chicago preacher, Jeremiah Wright, an African-American who sometimes laces his sermons with anti-American rhetoric.



"I am going to be talking about not just Reverend Wright, but the larger issue of race in this campaign," he said.

McCain, who has clinched the Republican presidential nomination, drew fire from Clinton even as visited Iraq as part of a Middle East and Europe swing this week that he hopes will remind Americans of his national security credentials.

She accused McCain of joining President George W. Bush in pushing a "stay the course" policy that would keep U.S. troops in Iraq for 100 years.

"They both want to keep us tied to another country's civil war, a war we cannot win," she said. "That in a nutshell is the Bush/McCain Iraq policy. Don't learn from your mistakes, repeat them."

Clinton said if elected she would convene military advisors and ask them to develop a plan to begin bringing U.S. troops home within 60 days of taking office next January.

McCain is a big backer of Bush's troop build-up in Iraq, credited for slowing the death toll there. He told CNN if Clinton started bringing home troops, "al Qaeda wins."

Added McCain spokeswoman Jill Hazelbaker: "It would be the height of irresponsibility to stick with campaign promises to the left wing of the Democratic Party and proceed with withdrawal regardless of what the situation is on the ground in Iraq in January 2009."

McCain appears to be benefiting from the protracted Democratic battle. Polls show him running slightly ahead or nearly even with both Obama and Clinton in hypothetical matchups for the November election.

(Additional reporting by Caren Bohan in Pennsylvania and Andy Sullivan in Washington, writing by Steve Holland, editing by Alan Elsner)

(To read more about the U.S. political campaign, visit Reuters "Tales from the Trail: 2008" online here http://blogs.reuters.com/trail08/

    Clinton says "we cannot win" Iraq war, R, 17.3.2008, http://www.reuters.com/article/topNews/idUSN1440646120080317?virtualBrandChannel=10112






Clinton Says Iraq War May Cost $1 Trillion


March 17, 2008
Filed at 12:51 p.m. ET
The New York Times


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democrat Hillary Clinton charged on Monday the Iraq war may cost Americans $1 trillion and add strain to the buckling U.S. economy as she made her case for a prompt troop pullout from a war "we cannot win."

With the United States this week marking the fifth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the economy's assorted strains competed for attention as the top issue facing voters when they choose their next president in November.

Clinton, a New York senator and former first lady, said U.S. policy on Iraq is at a crossroads. She said the war has sapped U.S. military and economic strength, damaged U.S. national security, taken the lives of nearly 4,000 Americans and left thousands wounded.

The money to fund the war, she said, could be used to provide health care to 47 million uninsured Americans, solve the mushrooming U.S. housing crisis and make college affordable.

"Our economic security is at stake," she said. "Taking into consideration the long-term costs of replacing equipment and providing medical care for troops and survivors' benefits for their families, the war in Iraq could ultimately cost well over $1 trillion."

Clinton, locked in a closely fought duel with Illinois Sen. Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination, is claiming to have the foreign policy experience that Obama lacks.

She took aim at the likely Republican nominee, Arizona Sen. John McCain, accusing him of joining President George W. Bush in pushing a "stay the course" policy that would keep U.S. troops in Iraq for 100 years.

"They both want to keep us tied to another country's civil war, a war we cannot win," she said. "That in a nutshell is the Bush/McCain Iraq policy. Don't learn from your mistakes, repeat them."

She said if elected she would convene military advisers and ask them to develop a plan to begin bringing U.S. troops home within 60 days of her taking office next January.

"Senator McCain and President Bush claim withdrawal is defeat. Well, let's be clear, withdrawal is not defeat. Defeat is keeping troops in Iraq for 100 years," Clinton said.

McCain, 71, who hopes to win the presidency based on the strength of his national security experience, was in Baghdad at the start of a week-long Middle East and Europe swing with two Senate colleagues.

McCain is a big backer of Bush's troop build-up in Iraq, credited for slowing the death toll there. He said if Clinton were allowed to start bringing home troops in 60 days of taking office, "I just think what that means is al Qaeda wins."

"All I can say is that this will be a big issue in the election as we approach November because at least a growing number of Americans, though still frustrated and understandably so, believe that this strategy has succeeded," he told CNN.

Clinton also accused Obama, who would be the first U.S. black president, of not starting to end the war until he began his race for the White House.

"Senator Obama has said often that words matter. I strongly agree. But giving speeches alone won't end the war and making campaign promises you might not keep certainly won't end it," Clinton said.

(Writing by Steve Holland, editing by David Wiessler)

(To read more about the U.S. political campaign, visit Reuters "Tales from the Trail: 2008" online at http://blogs.reuters.com/trail08/

    Clinton Says Iraq War May Cost $1 Trillion, NYT, 17.3.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/washington/politics-usa-politics.html






McCain, Cheney: US in Iraq Long - Term


March 17, 2008
Filed at 12:08 p.m. ET
The New York Times


BAGHDAD (AP) -- Vice President Dick Cheney and Sen. John McCain vowed in meetings with Iraq's prime minister Monday that the U.S. would maintain a long-term military presence in Iraq until al-Qaida is defeated there.

Explosions went off near the heavily fortified Green Zone shortly after Cheney arrived. Helicopter gunships circled central Baghdad, but no details were immediately available on the cause of the explosions.

The presumptive Republican candidate for president, who has linked his political future to military success in Iraq, met with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki shortly before the Iraqi leader began separate talks with Cheney.

Al-Maliki said he and the vice president discussed ongoing negotiations over a long-term security agreement between the two countries that would replace the U.N. mandate for foreign troops set to expire at the end of the year.

''This visit is very important. It is about the nature of the relations between the two countries, the future of those relations and the agreement in this respect,'' the prime minister told reporters. ''We also discussed the security in Iraq, the development of the economy and reconstruction and terrorism.''

McCain stressed that it was important to maintain the U.S. commitment in Iraq, where a U.S.-Iraq military operation is under way to clear al-Qaida from its last urban stronghold of Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad.

''We recognize that al-Qaida is on the run, but they are not defeated,'' McCain said after meeting al-Maliki. ''Al-Qaida continues to pose a great threat to the security and very existence of Iraq as a democracy. So we know there's still a lot more of work to be done.''

McCain, who arrived in Iraq on Sunday, told reporters that he also discussed with the Shiite leader the need for progress on political reforms, including laws on holding provincial elections and the equitable distribution of Iraq's oil riches.

Cheney arrived at Baghdad International Airport, then flew by helicopter for talks with U.S. and Iraqi officials. It is Cheney's third vice-presidential trip to Iraq, where 160,000 American troops are deployed and the U.S. death toll is nearing 4,000.

Violence has dropped throughout the capital with an influx of some 30,000 additional U.S. soldiers as well as a Sunni revolt against al-Qaida and a cease-fire by radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia.

The U.S. military has said attacks have fallen by about 60 percent since last February.

McCain, the senior Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, was accompanied by Sens. Joe Lieberman, an independent, and Republican Lindsey Graham, two top supporters of his presidential ambitions. The weeklong trip will take McCain to Israel, Britain and France.

Police said they found the bodies of three members of a U.S.-allied group fighting al-Qaida in Udaim, 70 miles north of Baghdad. Members of the mostly Sunni groups have been increasingly targeted by suspected al-Qaida members seeking to derail the recent security gains.

A bomb in a parked car in Baghdad's central Karradah neighborhood killed three civilian bystanders and wounded nine, police said, while a separate roadside bomb in eastern Baghdad killed one and wounded three others.


Associated Press writers Bushra Juhi and Sinan Salaheddin contributed to this report.

    McCain, Cheney: US in Iraq Long - Term, NYT, 17.3.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/world/AP-Iraq.html






Kidnapped Iraqi Archbishop Is Dead


March 14, 2008
The New York Times


BAGHDAD — The body of the Chaldean Catholic archbishop of Mosul, Paulos Faraj Rahho, who was kidnapped by gunmen in Mosul in northern Iraq late last month as he drove home after afternoon Mass, was discovered Thursday in an area south of the city, church officials and Iraqi police said.

A church official in Baghdad, Cardinal Emmanuel Dali, confirmed that Archbishop Rahho’s body had been found and taken to the morgue in Mosul. The body would be released to the archbishop’s family late Friday or early Saturday so that they could bury him, Cardinal Dali said.

The body was found buried in the ground in al-Intessar, a residential area near the city known as a haven for gangs and criminal activity. Iraqi officials in Mosul said that the church had received a phone call telling them were to find the body, and church officials dug up the body with the help of the local police.

It was not immediately clear how the archbishop died. However, Msgr. Shlemon Warduni, the auxiliary bishop of Baghdad, was quoted by Sir, the news service of the Italian Conference of Catholic Bishops, as saying that the body showed no sign of gunshot wounds or other violence. He said the archbishop was in precarious health and his kidnapping could have aggravated his condition. He said the kidnappers had called on Wednesday to say that the archbishop was ill and later that he had died.

A morgue official in Mosul also said the body showed no signs of violence and that the archbishop had apparently died from natural causes. The archbishop had suffered from high blood pressure and had a heart condition.

In the kidnapping, on Feb. 29, Archbishop Rahho’s car was sprayed with bullets and two of his body guards were killed.

The kidnapping followed a series of attacks in January on Christian churches in Mosul and Baghdad, including a Chaldean church.

After the attacks, Archbishop Rahho, the head of the Chaldean church in Mosul, appeared on television and made a strong statement against the attacks, according to an Iraqi Christian who watched the broadcast.

In the last few years, Mosul has been a difficult place for Christians. Last June, a priest and three companions were shot and killed in the same church where Archbishop Rahho presided.

In January 2005, Archbishop George Yasilious was kidnapped and later released. In October 2006, an Orthodox priest, Polis Iskander, was beheaded after he was kidnapped and attempts to ransom him failed.

The Chaldean church is an Eastern denomination that maintains ties with Rome.

The Vatican confirmed the death in the form of a telegram to cardinals. Pope Benedict XVI called it “an act of inhumane violence that offends the dignity of human beings and gravely damages the cause of fraternal co-existence among the blessed people of Iraq.”

The pope’s spokesman, Rev. Federico Lombardi, said: “Unfortunately, the most absurd and unwarranted violence keeps tormenting the Iraqi population, in particular the small Christian community, which the Pope and all of us are particularly close to, with our prayer and solidarity at this time of great sorrow.”

Ahmad Fadam, Kareem Hilmi, Khalid al-Ansary contributed reporting from Baghdad. An employee of the New York Times contributed reporting from Mosul. Ian Fisher contributed reporting from Rome and Graham Bowley from New York.

    Kidnapped Iraqi Archbishop Is Dead, NYT, 14.3.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/14/world/middleeast/14iraq.html?hp






Iraq Attacks Lower, but Steady, New Figures Show


March 12, 2008
The New York Times


BAGHDAD — Newly declassified statistics on the frequency of insurgent attacks in Iraq suggest that after major security gains last fall in the wake of an American troop increase, the conflict has drifted into at least a temporary stalemate, with violence levels remaining stubbornly constant from November 2007 through early 2008.

The new figures, presented Tuesday at a Senate hearing in Washington by David M. Walker, the top official at the Government Accountability Office, emerged a day after eight American soldiers — five in downtown Baghdad and three in Diyala Province — were killed in bomb attacks. And the trend appeared to continue on Tuesday, as bombings and small arms attacks led to casualties among Iraqi civilians and security forces in or near at least seven cities.

In the deadliest of those attacks, a roadside bomb between the southern cities of Nasiriya and Basra struck a bus full of Iraqi civilians, killing at least 16 and wounding 22, The Associated Press reported. But Iraqi security forces also recorded deadly attacks in area of Hilla, Karbala, Baquba, Mosul, Baghdad and the town of Dulia, just north of the capital.

Mr. Walker, in prepared remarks for his testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee, said that the average number of daily insurgent attacks tallied by the American military has decreased from about 180 in June 2007 to 60 in the latest available count, for January. But the figures show that the last significant decrease in attacks was between October and November, and that the new lower level, roughly equivalent to the levels of violence in the spring of 2005, had not decreased in for at least two months.

“While security has improved in Iraq, a permissive security environment has yet to be achieved,” Mr. Walker said in his prepared remarks.

    Iraq Attacks Lower, but Steady, New Figures Show, NYT, 12.3.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/12/world/middleeast/12iraq.html?hp






8 U.S. Soldiers Killed in 2 Iraq Attacks


March 11, 2008
The New York Times


BAGHDAD — A man walked up to a group of American soldiers on foot patrol in an upscale shopping district in central Baghdad on Monday and detonated the explosives-filled vest he was wearing, killing five soldiers and wounding three others and an Iraqi interpreter who accompanied them.

In eastern Diyala Province, north of the capital, three more American soldiers and an interpreter were also killed Monday when they were attacked with an improvised bomb, according to the military, which did not release any more details.

Another soldier was wounded in the blast.

The suicide bombing in Baghdad was the deadliest single attack on American soldiers in the capital since the height of the troop buildup here last summer. Nine Iraqi civilians were also wounded in the blast, according to officials at Yarmuk Hospital, where the victims were taken.

Reports from Iraqi witnesses suggest that the soldiers may have let down their guard because of the relative quiet of the last few months, leaving the safety of their Humvees and chatting with residents and shopkeepers.

Hours later, a car bomb exploded outside a hotel in the northern Kurdish city of Sulaimaniya, killing two people and wounding 30 in the first significant attack in that city in several years.

The attacks underscored how fragile security in Iraq remains despite a recent drop in violence and statements by American military officials that Sunni insurgents were on the run.

In Baghdad, the suicide bombing, in the Mansour neighborhood, shattered a perfect springlike afternoon, with shoppers out sampling hamburgers and sausage from street vendors and browsing through boutiques for the latest fashions.

The owner of a clothing store on Mansour Street said five soldiers and an interpreter entered his shop about 3 p.m.

“The soldiers were asking about the security situation and also making jokes and laughing,” said the store owner, who refused to give his real name for fear of reprisals from local militias. “Some of them said, ‘Be sure that we’ll come back again in order to buy clothes from you before we leave on vacation.’ ”

After the soldiers left the store, he said, he climbed up a ladder to a storeroom to retrieve his lunch and then heard a large explosion. He scrambled back down, he said, to find the bodies of two of the soldiers he had just been chatting with lying in the doorway of the store. Four of the soldiers died at the scene, and a fifth died later of his wounds.

Muhammad, a hamburger vendor whose stand is about 175 feet from the site of the bombing, said the same group of eight or nine American soldiers had been coming to the street for the last three days, getting out of their Humvees and walking around the shopping area, called the Rawad intersection after a popular ice cream parlor there.

“Usually, we see the Americans come in Humvees and they don’t stop, they just keep driving,” said Muhammad, who was afraid to give his last name. On Monday, he said, a soldier carrying a notebook walked into a currency exchange called The Ship. The other soldiers gathered in a small group.

“When the explosion happened we panicked and started running, and the gunner on one of the Humvees started shooting,” he said. “Even the Iraqi soldiers and police started firing in the air, so we jumped into one of the narrow alleys and remained there hiding until the Iraqi soldiers ordered us to walk at least two blocks away from the spot.”

He said that before the bombing, he had been surprised that the soldiers had allowed pedestrians to come up and talk to them, instead of keeping them at a distance as they normally do.

Military officials did not release details of the attack or explain how the suicide bomber was able to approach the soldiers so easily. But an Iraqi Army officer at a checkpoint near the site of the bombing said the suicide bomber was a young man who had walked up to the soldiers and engaged them in conversation. “He came and stood beside them and started talking to them and then detonated himself,” the officer said.

The attack in Baghdad was the worst of a string of attacks throughout the country that appeared to be directed at Iraqis sympathetic to American forces.

In Baquba, northeast of Baghdad, a suicide bomber killed a tribal leader in charge of local forces known as Awakening Councils, groups of American-backed former insurgents who have risen up against Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a largely homegrown group that intelligence officials say is led by foreigners.

The bomber, a woman, went to the door of Sheik Thaer Ghadhban al-Karkhi’s house in Kanaan, about 12 miles east of Baquba, shortly before 8 a.m., while the sheik was sitting in the garden with his 9-year-old nephew, one of his guards said.

When Sheik Karkhi, accompanied by his nephew, went outside to see who it was, the woman blew herself up, killing the sheik, his nephew and two of his bodyguards. Six other bodyguards were wounded.

In Basra, Dr. Khalid Nasir al-Mayah, one of only two psychiatrists left in the region, was shot and killed by gunmen at Basra al-Sadr Hospital. Since 2003, Basra’s medical professionals have been in peril: 5 doctors have been assassinated, 12 have been kidnapped, 16 have left the area and 23 have fled Iraq.

The attack in Sulaimaniya occurred about 7 p.m., striking a hotel favored by Western investors who have been racing into eastern Kurdistan to exploit new opportunities to drill for oil.

Witnesses said the blast sent a shock wave through the center of the city. “There was a big noise from the blast and a wave of hot air,” said Shamal Ahmed, 35, who was driving by the hotel. “I got shrapnel in my face and arms because the front windshield of my car was completely destroyed.”

Mudhafer al-Husaini and Ahmed Fadam contributed reporting from Baghdad, and employees of The New York Times from Sulaimaniya, Basra and Diyala.

    8 U.S. Soldiers Killed in 2 Iraq Attacks, NYT, 11.3.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/11/world/middleeast/11cnd-iraq.html






Five American Soldiers Killed in Baghdad


March 10, 2008
The New York Times


BAGHDAD — Five American soldiers were killed and three others wounded when a suicide bomber walked up to their patrol on a crowded shopping street in central Baghdad on Monday and blew himself up, the military and Iraqi police said.

The blast was one of the worst single attacks on the American military since the so-called surge campaign of additional American troops to pacify the Iraqi capital and surrounding areas was undertaken last year.

The soldiers were on a regular daily patrol in the middle of the afternoon on a busy street of clothing, food and souvenir stores in Mansour, a relatively upscale and predominantly Sunni Arab district, when the suicide attacker, described as a young male, approached the soldiers and engaged them in conversation.

“He came up and stood beside them and started talking to them and detonated himself,” said an Iraqi police officer at the scene.

An Iraqi interpreter was wounded by the blast, which occurred at about 3 p.m., said Navy Lt. Michael Street, a military spokesman in Baghdad.

Four of the soldiers were killed by the explosion and the fifth died later from his injuries. “Initial reports indicate the explosive device was a suicide vest,” the military statement said. Iraqi police officers said the soldiers undertook regular patrols and were well known in the neighborhood.

While there have been other big attacks on the Americans in Iraq this year, they have been relatively rare in Baghdad as the city has become safer and more secure.

In January, militants killed nine American soldiers over two successive days in the volatile Sunni Arab heartlands north of Baghdad. Six of the soldiers died when they were clearing a house in Diyala during an offensive and insurgents detonated a large bomb hidden in the house.

Despite the overall drop in violence in Iraq, deadly assaults on American troops have continued, particularly in the northern Arab provinces, where Sunni Arab guerrillas have many strongholds.

In Diyala Province on Feb. 17, two American soldiers were shot to death, and another was wounded, according to the American military.

Five American soldiers were killed on Feb. 8 in two roadside bombings, one in Baghdad and the other in northern Iraq, the military said.

Earlier on Monday, one of the most important leaders of local Sunni Arab forces in Diyala Province, just north of Baghdad, who are working with the Americans against insurgents in Iraq, was killed by a female suicide bomber who blew herself up at his home.

The leader of the neighborhood forces, Sheik Thaer al-Ghadhban al-Karkhy , was killed in the province, along with a child and a police guard, according to a police official. Seven other people were wounded in the explosion, a few miles outside Baquba, including three of his relatives, the official said.

He was one of the leaders of local forces, called Awakening Councils, which are American-backed and opposed to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a group of Sunni insurgents which has loosely aligned itself with Al Qaeda. In recent months, the Awakening Councils have been hit with a wave of assassinations and bomb attacks. Those attacks have threatened a fragile linchpin of the military’s strategy to pacify the nation and highlight the militants’ strategy of eliminating militia commanders who have embraced partnerships with American forces but who themselves remain vulnerable to attack.

In January, a suicide bomber on foot killed Col. Riyadh al-Samarrai, a founder of the Sunni Awakening Council in Adhamiya, a Sunni stronghold in northern Baghdad that until recently was a haven for insurgents.

The Associated Press quoted Mahmoud, the brother of the sheik killed Monday, as saying that the bomber had visited the sheik’s house on Sunday, when she claimed that her husband had been kidnapped and asked for help. Mahmoud said his brother told the woman to return on Monday.

“She came back this morning and nobody checked her,” Mahmoud said, according to The A.P. “She had an appointment with the sheik and the guards told her to go and knock on his door.”

The bomber blew herself up as soon as she got near to the sheik, Mahmoud said, according to The A.P.

Born nearly two years ago in Iraq’s western deserts, the Awakening groups have grown to an 80,000-member force nationwide. Four-fifths of the groups’ members are Sunnis, but also include Shiites.

American military officials credit the Awakening groups, along with the surge in United States troops, a self-imposed cease fire by the Shiite militia the Mahdi Army and an increase in Iraqi security forces, for a precipitous drop in civilian and military fatalities since last July.

Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Erica Goode reported from Baghdad. Graham Bowley contributed reporting from New York.

    Five American Soldiers Killed in Baghdad, NYT, 10.3.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/10/world/middleeast/11iraq.html?hp






Bombs Kill 54 and Wound 123 in Baghdad


March 7, 2008
The New York Times


BAGHDAD — Two bombs struck a bustling shopping district in the heart of Baghdad on Thursday evening, turning display windows and cabinets and glass shelves into deadly shrapnel, and killing 54 people and wounding 123, the Iraqi authorities said.

The attack, in the Karada neighborhood, was the worst here in the capital since early February, when bombings killed almost 100 people at two pet markets, and it reinforced fears that insurgents could still carry out devastating attacks in well-guarded areas. While violence has declined sharply from last year, bomb attacks in Baghdad have increased in recent weeks.

No one claimed responsibility. But the attackers used an old tactic to maximize casualties: detonating one bomb, then setting off a second blast to kill passers-by and emergency workers who rushed to the scene to aid the victims.

A shoe salesman who would identify himself only by his first name, Hatam, said the first bomb slammed him to the ground. He got up, looked behind him, and ran to aid a woman whose leg had been ripped off by the blast.

“We managed to drag her away from the spot, and then the police came really quickly, and they were shouting at the people to move back because there might be another explosion,” he said. “But the people didn’t listen, and even some of the policemen who were already there didn’t pay attention, and that is when the second explosion happened.”

This time, Hatam said, he walked away. “I couldn’t go back again,” he said. “The scene was so horrible, and I lost the energy to see dead people.”

The explosions sprayed chunks of human flesh for 50 yards. The second bomb, about 10 minutes after the first, killed more people. A number of Iraqi soldiers and police officers who hurried in after the first attack were among the dead and wounded.

Some witnesses said the first bomb had been hidden in a trash can. The second explosion may have originated in a vest worn by a suicide bomber, the American military said. One witness said a man on a motorcycle carried the bomb into the crowd. But other witnesses interviewed later said the second bomb had been planted previously.

In the chaos that followed the attacks, Iraqi security forces fired Kalashnikov rifles into the air to scare people away. But many people pushed forward anyway to search for family members feared dead.

The attack “was like an electric shock, it happened so suddenly nobody could avoid it,” said Abu Abdullah, who operates a kebab stand nearby. “Some people were burning, and I saw some without legs.”

In other violence reported Thursday, insurgents struck in the north, Iraqi authorities in Mosul said, killing one guard and wounding another at Badoosh Prison with an improvised bomb. The bodies of four guards who were kidnapped Wednesday were found Thursday.

On the political front, the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, refused to proceed with the execution of the man known as Chemical Ali, one of Saddam Hussein’s most notorious henchmen, in what seemed to be an effort to press other top Iraqi leaders to ratify the death sentences of two other former military commanders.

Chemical Ali, whose real name is Ali Hassan al-Majid, commanded the brutal Anfal campaign in the late 1980s that killed as many as 180,000 Kurds. He was sentenced to death last summer, and Iraq’s three-member Presidency Council, which has the constitutional power to ratify death sentences, approved his punishment last week.

Now, Mr. Maliki is arguing that Mr. Majid should not be sent to the gallows unless the American military also hands over for execution two other former military commanders who were sentenced to death at the same time.

One of the men, Sultan Hashem Ahmed al-Jabouri al-Tai, was a former defense minister and general who remains a hero to many Sunni Arabs. Some Iraqi leaders and American commanders question the appropriateness of his sentence and fear that executing him would anger Sunnis already wary of the Iraqi government, which is dominated by Kurds and Shiites. But many Shiites say he deserves to be executed and that sparing him would set a dangerous precedent.

The other condemned man is Hussein Rashid al-Tikriti, a former senior Iraqi armed forces commander.

The Presidency Council — President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd; Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, a Sunni; and Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi, a Shiite — has refused to ratify the execution of Mr. Hashem. Mr. Talabani and Mr. Hashemi have said they do not approve of his sentence.

The American military, which holds all three of the condemned prisoners, is unlikely to transfer custody until the issue is resolved with the Presidency Council.

But Mr. Maliki contends that the council’s power to ratify executions does not extend to sentences on members of Saddam Hussein’s former government that were handed down by the Iraqi High Tribunal, the court that tried Mr. Hussein and his top lieutenants, said Ali al-Dabbagh, a government spokesman.

“The prime minister feels the Presidency Council has no power to reduce the sentence or give any amnesty to the convicted persons, so it is not necessary for them to approve this verdict,” Mr. Dabbagh said. “That is why the prime minister feels the execution cannot be done unless the other two are also handed over.”

It remains unclear how long this latest twist could leave the fates of all three in limbo. Mr. Dabbagh suggested that Mr. Maliki was not interested in any political deal to resolve the conflict with the council. “There is no compromise on this,” he said.

A senior American military spokesman in Baghdad, Maj. Gen. Kevin J. Bergner, said Wednesday that the Iraqi government had not presented the Americans “with a request yet for the release of Majid” into Iraqi custody. “We will fulfill our responsibility once that request has been submitted to us,” he said.

Ahmad Fadam contributed reporting from Baghdad, and an Iraqi employee of The New York Times from Mosul.

    Bombs Kill 54 and Wound 123 in Baghdad, NYT, 7.3.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/07/world/middleeast/07iraq.html






Op-Ed Columnist

The $2 Trillion Nightmare


March 4, 2008
The New York Times


We’ve been hearing a lot about “Saturday Night Live” and the fun it has been having with the presidential race. But hardly a whisper has been heard about a Congressional hearing in Washington last week on a topic that could have been drawn, in all its tragic monstrosity, from the theater of the absurd.

The war in Iraq will ultimately cost U.S. taxpayers not hundreds of billions of dollars, but an astonishing $2 trillion, and perhaps more. There has been very little in the way of public conversation, even in the presidential campaigns, about the consequences of these costs, which are like a cancer inside the American economy.

On Thursday, the Joint Economic Committee, chaired by Senator Chuck Schumer, conducted a public examination of the costs of the war. The witnesses included the Nobel Prize-winning economist, Joseph Stiglitz (who believes the overall costs of the war — not just the cost to taxpayers — will reach $3 trillion), and Robert Hormats, vice chairman of Goldman Sachs International.

Both men talked about large opportunities lost because of the money poured into the war. “For a fraction of the cost of this war,” said Mr. Stiglitz, “we could have put Social Security on a sound footing for the next half-century or more.”

Mr. Hormats mentioned Social Security and Medicare, saying that both could have been put “on a more sustainable basis.” And he cited the committee’s own calculations from last fall that showed that the money spent on the war each day is enough to enroll an additional 58,000 children in Head Start for a year, or make a year of college affordable for 160,000 low-income students through Pell Grants, or pay the annual salaries of nearly 11,000 additional border patrol agents or 14,000 more police officers.

What we’re getting instead is the stuff of nightmares. Mr. Stiglitz, a professor at Columbia, has been working with a colleague at Harvard, Linda Bilmes, to document, among other things, some of the less obvious costs of the war. These include the obligation to provide health care and disability benefits for returning veterans. Those costs will be with us for decades.

Mr. Stiglitz noted that nearly 40 percent of the 700,000 troops from the first gulf war, which lasted just a month, have become eligible for disability benefits. The current war is approaching five years in duration.

“Imagine then,” said Mr. Stiglitz, “what a war — that will almost surely involve more than 2 million troops and will almost surely last more than six or seven years — will cost. Already we are seeing large numbers of returning veterans showing up at V.A. hospitals for treatment, large numbers applying for disability and large numbers with severe psychological problems.”

The Bush administration has tried its best to conceal the horrendous costs of the war. It has bypassed the normal budgetary process, financing the war almost entirely through “emergency” appropriations that get far less scrutiny.

Even the most basic wartime information is difficult to come by. Mr. Stiglitz, who has written a new book with Ms. Bilmes called “The Three Trillion Dollar War,” said they had to go to veterans’ groups, who in turn had to resort to the Freedom of Information Act, just to find out how many Americans had been injured in Iraq.

Mr. Stiglitz and Mr. Hormats both addressed the foolhardiness of waging war at the same time that the government is cutting taxes and sharply increasing non-war-related expenditures.

Mr. Hormats told the committee:

“Normally, when America goes to war, nonessential spending programs are reduced to make room in the budget for the higher costs of the war. Individual programs that benefit specific constituencies are sacrificed for the common good ... And taxes have never been cut during a major American war. For example, President Eisenhower adamantly resisted pressure from Senate Republicans for a tax cut during the Korean War.”

Said Mr. Stiglitz: “Because the administration actually cut taxes as we went to war, when we were already running huge deficits, this war has, effectively, been entirely financed by deficits. The national debt has increased by some $2.5 trillion since the beginning of the war, and of this, almost $1 trillion is due directly to the war itself ... By 2017, we estimate that the national debt will have increased, just because of the war, by some $2 trillion.”

Some former presidents — Washington, Franklin Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower — were quoted at the hearing on the need for accountability and shared sacrifice during wartime. But this is the 21st century. That ancient rhetoric can hardly be expected to compete for media attention, even in a time of war, with the giddy fun of S.N.L.

It’s a new era.

    The $2 Trillion Nightmare, NYT, 4.3.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/04/opinion/04herbert.html?ref=opinion






Baghdad Bomb Kills 15


March 3, 2008
Filed at 3:44 a.m. ET
The New York Times


BAGHDAD (AP) -- A parked car bomb killed at least 15 people and wounded 38 in central Baghdad on Monday morning, police and hospital officials said.

The bomb detonated in the Bab al-Mudham area of the capital. The car was parked on a road leading to the Housing and Municipality Ministry located in that the area, police added.

The dead included one police officer. The Bab al-Mudham district is a commercial area on the eastern side of the Tigris River.

Baghdad Bomb Kills 15, NYT, 3.3.3008, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/world/AP-Iraq.html




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