History > 2009 > USA > War > Iraq (III)
Families of Military Suicides
Seek White House Condolences
November 26, 2009
The New York Times
By JAMES DAO
Since at least the time of Abraham Lincoln, presidents have sent letters of
condolence to the families of service members killed in action, whether the
deaths came by hostile fire or in an accident.
So after his son killed himself in Iraq in June, Gregg Keesling expected that
his family would receive a letter from President Obama. What it got instead was
a call from an Army official telling family members that they were not eligible
because their son had committed suicide.
“We were shocked,” said Mr. Keesling, 52, of Indianapolis.
Under an unwritten policy that has existed at least since the Clinton
administration, presidents have not sent letters to survivors of troops who took
their own lives, even if it was at the war front, officials say. The roots of
that policy, which has been passed from administration to administration via
White House protocol officers, are murky and probably based in the view that
suicide is not an honorable way to die, administration and military officials
But at a time when the Pentagon is trying to destigmatize mental health care in
hopes of stemming a near epidemic of suicide among service members, the question
of whether the survivors of military suicides deserve presidential recognition
has taken on new significance.
“These families already feel such shame and so alienated from the military and
the country, a letter from the president might give them some comfort, some
sense that people recognize their sacrifice,” said Kim Ruocco, director for
suicide support for Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, or TAPS, a
military support group. “What better way to eliminate stigma?”
As suicide has crept out of the shadows and become a front-burner problem for
the military, TAPS, members of Congress and individuals like Mr. Keesling have
begun raising the thorny issue of equal honors for survivors of military
suicides. Tommy Vietor, a White House spokesman, said the administration had
begun a review of the policy on letters of condolence.
“The president’s thoughts and prayers are with every military family who has
lost a loved one in service to our country,” Mr. Vietor said.
Presidential letters of condolence go to survivors of troops who died in action
in a war theater. Though most suicides take place on posts in the United States,
a significant number occur in Iraq and Afghanistan: at least 184 since 2001,
according to Defense Department statistics.
Through October, the Army, which far and away leads the armed forces in
suicides, reported 133 among active-duty soldiers, putting it on pace to surpass
last year’s record, 140. The Marine Corps, which has the second-largest number,
is also likely to have more suicides than last year, 42.
The spike in suicides has prompted an array of actions at the Pentagon. The Army
is collaborating with the National Institute of Mental Health to study mental
health and suicide. It has created a suicide prevention task force led by a
brigadier general. It has instituted suicide prevention programs at most posts
and will require all soldiers to take intensive training in emotional
resiliency, to help them cope with the stress of war and deployment.
But as much as anything, the Army is trying to soften the longstanding sense
that psychological problems are a sign of frailty. “We have to reduce the stigma
surrounding seeking mental health help,” Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, the Army vice
chief of staff, said this year. “Getting help for emotional problems should be
as natural as seeking help for a sprained ankle.”
Mr. Obama has also spoken forcefully about the pain of suicide in the military.
“We know that incidence of psychological injury increase with each additional
tour of duty in Iraq, and that our troops are not getting the support they
need,” he said in the 2008 campaign. “Too many are falling through the cracks
because they need help but feel they can’t get it.”
Advocates for suicide survivors say the military has come a long way in
equalizing the way it deals with suicides. Death benefits are largely the same
for families, regardless of how a service member died. And suicides are eligible
for an array of military honors, like burial in a national cemetery or color
guards at funerals.
But a suspicion remains among survivors that there are differences. Ms. Ruocco,
whose husband, a Marine, killed himself in 2005 after returning from Iraq
several years ago, said several members of TAPS had said they had not received
the folded flags from the military after family members committed suicide. She
said it was possible they were not eligible, but the Pentagon had not been able
to clarify its rules for suicide cases.
She also said the Gold Stars that parents of military suicides received were
slightly different from the Gold Stars given to parents of troops killed in
action. It is a small difference, she said, but one that further separates
suicide survivors from other military families. The stress of war and deployment
is often a cause of suicide, she argued, making it no different than a fatal
wound from a roadside bomb.
But opponents of presidential letters of condolence argue that treating suicide
the same as other war deaths might encourage mentally frail soldiers to take
their lives by making the act seem honorable.
After Gregg Keesling’s son, Chancellor, shot himself in a latrine on June 19,
the family received a folded flag, a letter from the Army praising their son, a
rifle salute at his burial and financial death benefits.
But he views the letter of condolence as an important step toward reducing the
shame and guilt many survivors feel. Hours before Chancellor, a 25-year-old
specialist, killed himself, he had argued with his girlfriend over the phone and
then sent a rambling, despondent e-mail message home.
“I can’t explain how ashamed i am i said some things out of anger,” he wrote. “I
can’t cope without each and every one of you there by me the whole way. I feel
alone and unappreciated for some odd reason this deployment is ending up to be
like the last i thought about killing myself and went to the porti john and
chambered a round into my m4 but decided not to pull the trigger. I realize i
need help and i need to have family put first. Please forgive me and except my
About 17 hours later, he was dead.
“My last words to my son were, ‘Be a man and get through it,’ ” Mr. Keesling
said, recalling one of dozens of frantic phone calls to Iraq in the hours before
Chancellor’s death. “I was the stupid dad. If my son had said, ‘Dad, I’ve broken
my leg, I can’t go on,’ I would have understood. But I didn’t understand the
mental health side.”
Andrew W. Lehren contributed reporting.
Families of Military
Suicides Seek White House Condolences, NYT, 26.11.2009,
Rebuilding Its Economy, Iraq Shuns U.S. Businesses
November 13, 2009
The New York Times
By ROD NORDLAND
BAGHDAD — Iraq’s Baghdad Trade Fair ended Tuesday, six years and a trillion
dollars after the American invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, and one country
was conspicuously absent.
That would be the country that spent a trillion dollars — on the invasion and
occupation, but also on training and equipping Iraqi security forces, and on
ambitious reconstruction projects in every province aimed at rebuilding the
country and restarting the economy.
Yet when the post-Saddam Iraqi government swept out its old commercial
fairgrounds and invited companies from around the world, the United States was
not much in evidence among the 32 nations represented. Of the 396 companies that
exhibited their wares, “there are two or three American participants, but I
can’t remember their names,” said Hashem Mohammed Haten, director general of
Iraq’s state fair company. A pair of missiles atop a ceremonial gateway to the
fairgrounds recalled an era when Saddam Hussein had pretensions, if not weapons,
of mass destruction.
The trade fair is a telling indication of an uncomfortable truth: America’s war
in Iraq has been good for business in Iraq — but not necessarily for American
American companies are not seeing much lasting benefit from their country’s
investment in Iraq. Some American businesses have calculated that the high
security costs and fear of violence make Iraq a business no-go area. Even those
who are interested and want to come are hampered by American companies’
reputation here for overcharging and shoddy workmanship, an outgrowth of the
first years of the occupation, and a lasting and widespread anti-Americanism.
While Iraq’s imports nearly doubled in 2008, to $43.5 billion from $25.67
billion in 2007, imports from American companies stayed flat at $2 billion over
that period. Among investors, the United Arab Emirates leads the field, with $31
billion invested in Iraq, most of that in 2008, compared to only about $400
million from American companies when United States government reconstruction
spending is excluded, according to Dunia Frontier Consultants, a emerging-market
analyst. “Following this initial U.S.-dominated reconstruction phase, U.S.
private investors have become negligible players in Iraq,” Dunia said in a
Indeed, even those companies that prospered during the war and occupation,
including many of the big military contractors, will simply leave with the
United States military as it completes its pullout over the next two years.
KBR was among the earliest contractors in Iraq and has $33 billion in contracts
to support American bases. Yet it has not had any contracts with the Iraqi
government to support those facilities when they’re handed over — or for that
matter, to build anything else in the country.
“KBR is currently assessing the business environment in Iraq in order to make an
informed decision regarding potential government contract opportunities there,”
said a spokesperson, Heather Browne.
A few big American multinationals, like Bechtel, will still be in the midst of
long-term projects like power plants and waterworks — but those were five- and
10-year undertakings kick-started with American reconstruction aid.
Now, Iraq is doling out its own oil-financed funds for capital projects, and
American companies have so far received surprisingly little of it. Sports City,
a billion-dollar complex of stadiums and housing in Basra planned for the Gulf
Games in 2013, was awarded to an Iraqi general contractor, Al Jiburi
Construction, over 60 other bidders, many of them American.
“We have a couple American companies as our subcontractors,” said Adai
al-Sultani, an assistant to the firm’s owner, with evident pride. When the
transportation ministry put up more than $30 billion in railroad expansion
contracts recently, they went to Czech, British and Italian companies.
Those nations had been members of the coalition led by the United States,
although all pulled outlong before the United States. But one of the biggest
beneficiaries of Iraqi contract money is Turkey, which wouldn’t allow American
warplanes to use its airbases during the invasion of Iraq, followed closely by
Turkey has gone from almost no legal trade with Iraq before the war to $10
billion in exports last year, five times as much as the United States. Turkey’s
trade minister, Kursad Tuzmen, predicted that number would triple in the next
Both Turkey and Iran had huge pavilions at the trade fair, crowded with
businessmen discussing deals. So did France and Brazil, also not coalition
Last month, FedEx, which had been flying packages in and out of Iraq since 2004,
announced it was suspending its operations. The reason is that Iraqi officials
gave RusAir, a Russian airline, exclusive rights to cargo flights.
FedEx was one of the very few American businesses that braved the risks of
working not only on American bases but also in the Red Zone, back when it was
particularly dangerous to do so. Now that the danger is much less, its business
is being thwarted by an upstart Russian come-lately.
“FedEx Express has had no choice but to use Rus and, as a result, the
reliability of our service to Iraq has been substantially degraded,” the company
said in a statement about the suspension.
It is almost an article of faith among many Iraqis, judging from opinion polls,
that the United States invaded Iraq not to topple Saddam Hussein, but to get
their country’s oil.
If true, then the war failed in even more ways than some critics charge.
It wasn’t until last week that the first major oil field exploitation contract
was signed with a foreign company — BP, in a joint deal with China’s state-run
China National Petroleum Corporation.
Exxon Mobil, an American company, has an oil field deal awaiting final approval
from Iraq’s oil ministry. The Italian oil giant Eni, whose junior partner is the
American-owned Occidental Petroleum, is expected to sign a similar deal. These,
however, are service contracts, so the foreign oil companies don’t actually own
rights to any new oil they may find.
The newest edition of the Iraqi Yellow Pages, a business-to-business directory,
doesn’t have a single ad from an American company.
American officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were
not authorized to comment on the record, disputed that United States companies
were having a difficult time in the Iraqi free market. “I wouldn’t read too much
into American presence or lack of it at the trade fair as a bellwether,” one
official said. “I would say the future is very positive.”
Another official pointed out that a recent Iraqi-American investment conference
held in Washington stirred up enormous interest among American companies. “We
had to turn away several hundred companies that wanted to come,” he said, adding
that the embassy in Baghdad has had many subsequent inquiries from firms. That
interest has not translated into action yet.
“After the conference in Washington, I’m surprised you can get on a flight here
considering all the opportunities,” said Mike Pullen, a lawyer at the
British-American firm DLA Piper, who works in Iraq.
“It’s a pity we can’t get more people to come,” he said. “They’re losing out to
Turkish companies, Russian companies.”
“Turkish companies are acceptable to all different Iraqi ethnic groups, because
they are not an occupier, and they can implement big reconstruction projects at
a lower cost,” said an executive of a leading Iraqi construction firm that often
works with the Turks. He did not wish to be identified for fear of offending
Even Iraqi Kurds, many of whom are politically at odds with Turkey, seem to get
along with the Turks when it comes to business.
“Turkish companies are not afraid to do business in Iraq,” said Eren Balamir,
who was in charge of Turkey’s pavilion at the fair.
The high cost of security — a cost that most regional businesses don’t have —
has dissuaded many American businesses from coming; some contracts spent as much
as 25 percent of their budgets on security.
Security isn’t the only impediment. Being seen as the occupier is just not good
for business. Although the United States, legally speaking, has not been an
occupying power since June 2004, when the Security Council formally ended
occupation, many see it that way. Even Iraq’s prime minister, Nuri Kamal
al-Maliki, has described Americans as occupiers to curry electoral support.
One European ambassador, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of his
government’s policy, said his own country’s trade opportunities greatly
increased in Iraq after it withdrew the last of its troops more than a year ago.
“Being considered an occupier handicapped us extremely,” he said. “The farther
we are away from that the more our companies can be accepted on their own
“As a U.S. company, you already have a few strikes against you before you even
step foot in Baghdad airport,” said Marc Zeepvat of the Trans National Research
Corporation in New Jersey, who specializes in studying the Iraqi market for
institutional investors. “The U.S. government and U.S. companies have to wake up
and realize they’re not in a privileged position any more.”
“The State Department’s travel advisory doesn’t help either,” Mr. Zeepvat said.
It tells people, in effect, “don’t come.”
Mohammed Hussein and Sa’ad al-Izzi contributed reporting.
Rebuilding Its Economy,
Iraq Shuns U.S. Businesses, NYT, 13.11.2009,
When Soldiers Snap
November 8, 2009
The New York Times
By ERICA GOODE
“Every man has his breaking point,” said military doctors in World War II,
believing that more than 90 days of continuous combat could turn any soldier
into a psychiatric casualty.
For Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the Army psychiatrist who military officials said
gunned down dozens of soldiers at Fort Hood, Tex., on Thursday, that point may
have come even before he experienced the reality of war; he was bound for a
combat zone but had not yet embarked.
Major Hasan was being sent not to fight, but to join those ranks of doctors who,
over centuries of war, have worried about breaking points — how much fear and
tedium soldiers can take; how long they can slog through deserts or over
mountains; how much blood they can see, how many comrades they can lose — and
have sought ways to salve the troops’ psychic wounds and keep them fighting.
Much is unknown about Major Hasan’s motives. He is said to have dreaded
deployment, but what he feared is unclear. And officials have not ruled out the
possibility that his actions were premeditated or political. One report had him
shouting something like “Allahu Akhbar” — Arabic for “God is Great” — before the
But even in this absence of certainty, his case invites a look at the long
history of psychiatric medicine in war, if only because of his status as a
battlefield psychiatrist, and the chance that his own psyche was, on some level,
undone by the kind of stress he treated.
Over the centuries, soldiers have often broken under such stress, and in modern
times each generation of psychiatrists has felt it was closer to understanding
what makes soldiers break. But each generation has also been confounded by the
unpredictability with which aggressions sometimes explode, in a fury no one sees
The current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have claimed more than their share of
stress victims, with a rising number of suicides among soldiers and high rates
of post-traumatic stress disorder. Such casualties often occur not on the
battlefield but after it — or, sometimes, merely in its proximity.
In World War I, the disorder was known as shell shock, and the soldiers who fell
victim were at first believed to have concussions from exploding munitions.
Their symptoms appeared neurological: They included trembling, paralysis, a loss
of sight or hearing.
Yet it turned out that some affected soldiers had been nowhere near an exploding
shell, suggesting “that the syndrome could arise in anticipation of going into a
stressful situation,” said Dr. Richard McNally, a professor of psychology at
Harvard and an expert on traumatic stress.
Some doctors devised methods to treat shell shock victims — one German doctor
tried electroshock to the limbs. But there was also widespread suspicions that
the soldiers were malingering. Some soldiers were shot for cowardice.
Yet shell shock was simply the Great War’s version of a reaction to combat that
has been detected even in the writings of antiquity. Achilles, Jonathan Shay
maintains in “Achilles in Vietnam,” (Scribner, 1994) displayed a form of
traumatic stress when in the Iliad he grieves over the death of his friend
Soldiers in the Civil War suffered from irritability, disturbed sleep, shortness
of breath and depression, a syndrome Jacob Mendes Da Costa, an Army surgeon,
described in 1871 as “irritable heart.”
In World War II, the paralysis and trembling of the early 1900s did not recur.
But nightmares, startled reactions, anxiety and other symptoms persisted as
“battle fatigue” or “war neurosis,” a condition whose treatment was heavily
influenced by the rise of Freudian psychoanalysis.
Out of that war emerged a theory of battlefield treatment known as PIE, or
proximity, immediacy and expectancy. The doctrine held that if a soldier broke
down during combat, he should be treated close to the front, because if he was
sent home, he would do poorly and seldom return to battle. Major Hasan, had he
reached Iraq, would have practiced a similar approach: Soldiers are treated
close to the forward lines and only removed to hospitals farther from the front
in the most severe cases.
Today, the flashbacks, nightmares and other symptoms of soldiers are diagnosed
as post-traumatic stress disorder or P.T.S.D., a term that replaced
“post-Vietnam syndrome” and entered the official nomenclature in 1980, appearing
in the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual. Like its
predecessors, the disorder has been easier to diagnose than it has been to
understand or to treat.
Research has yielded some treatments that studies show help soldiers, and the
military — now acutely aware of the problem — has taken steps to make the
methods widely available. Yet the history of treatments for combat stress has
often been a circular one, with experts “remembering and forgetting and
remembering and forgetting but never integrating and creating a lasting
narrative that could be a blueprint for going forward,” as one psychiatrist put
Similarly, scientific views of what makes soldiers susceptible to stress
disorders have waxed and waned. Some experts, in a modern echo of a view put
forward in World War II, argue that soldiers who develop P.T.S.D. have
longstanding vulnerabilities — psychological or physiological — that make them
unable to withstand the pressures of combat. Others assert, in agreement with
the military doctors of World War I, that every soldier simply has a breaking
point, and that multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan have contributed to
the numbers who return to a second, psychological war at home.
Yet no theory seems able to capture the unpredictable effects of sustained
violence on human beings, the subtle pressures that years of killing and more
killing exert on a soldier, a doctor or a society — or the reality that every
war travels home with the soldiers who fight it.
“All these people have been under a tremendous amount of stress,” said Dr.
Stephen Sonnenberg, a psychiatrist and adjunct professor at the Uniformed
Services University of the Health Sciences, speaking of soldiers and those who
treat them. “They are holding the stress for everybody.”
When Soldiers Snap, NYT,
Obama Visits Returning War Dead
October 30, 2009
The New York Times
By JEFF ZELENY
President Obama traveled to Dover Air Force Base early Thursday morning,
where he met with family members and paid his respects as the bodies of 18
Americans killed this week in Afghanistan were returned to the United States.
It was the president’s first trip to the Delaware air base, the main point of
entry for the nation’s war dead to return home. The trip was a symbolic one for
Mr. Obama — intended to convey the gravity of his decision as he moves closer to
announcing whether he will send more troops to Afghanistan.
The overnight trip was not announced in advance. The president, wearing a dark
suit and long overcoat, left the White House at 11:44 p.m. A small contingent of
reporters and photographers accompanied Mr. Obama to Dover, where he arrived at
12:34 a.m. aboard Marine One. He returned to the South Lawn of the White House
at 4:45 a.m.
October has been the deadliest month for U.S. troops in Afghanistan since the
war began eight years ago, with at least 55 troops killed in action. This week
alone, about two dozen soldiers have died in attacks and accidents. The bodies
returning to Dover Air Force Base shortly after midnight included seven Army
soldiers and three agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration who were
killed when their helicopter crashed on Monday in rural Afghanistan. The bodies
of eight soldiers killed in an attack on Monday also arrived on an Air Force
On a clear fall morning, Mr. Obama boarded the back of the gray plane at 3:40
a.m., standing watch as Air Force Chaplain, Maj. Richard S. Bach, offered a
brief prayer over the cases containing the remains of the 15 soldiers and three
The family of Army Sgt. Dale R. Griffin, 29, of Terre Haute, Ind., agreed to
have the transfer of his remains photographed early Thursday morning. The other
families chose not to, officials said, under a new Pentagon policy that lifted
an 18-year ban on media covering the return of U.S. service members killed in
action if families provide permission.
As the Commander-in-chief stood on the darkened tarmac and saluted, the
flag-draped case was unloaded from the cargo plane in what the military calls a
“dignified transfer,” as six soldiers in white gloves and camouflage fatigues
carried the remains in precision. Mr. Obama and uniformed officers stood at
attention as the case was placed in a white mortuary van parked nearby.
The transfer of the bodies — a solemn, 15-minute proceeding — took place after
Mr. Obama spent nearly two hours meeting privately with several family members
in the chapel of the Air Force base.
Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, traveled with the president to
Dover. He told reporters earlier that Mr. Obama was “probably getting to the
end” of his decision-making process on his military plans for Afghanistan. The
recent rise in violence would not necessarily influence the strategy, he said,
but it was weighing on the president.
“The hardest task that he has on any given day is signing the condolence letter
to a loved one who’s lost a son or a daughter or a husband, a wife, in Iraq or
Afghanistan, or serving our country overseas,” Mr. Gibbs said.
The trip early Thursday morning came several hours after Mr. Obama signed a
defense spending bill, which he said “reaffirms our commitment to our brave men
and women in uniform and our wounded warriors.” Three days ago, Mr. Obama spoke
to soldiers and Marines at a Naval Air Station in Florida, where he defended
himself against critics who have suggested that he is taking too long to
announce a new military strategy in Afghanistan.
“I will never rush the solemn decision of sending you into harm’s way,” Mr.
The images and the sentiment of the president’s five-hour trip to Delaware were
intended by the White House to convey to the nation that Mr. Obama was not
making his Afghanistan decision lightly or in haste.
The president returned to the White House less than three hours before sunrise
on Thursday morning. He will meet with the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Friday, his
seventh major session on Afghanistan since beginning his review.
Doug Mills contributed reporting from Dover, Del.
Obama Visits Returning
War Dead, NYT, 30.10.2009,
Iraq Ministries Targeted
in Car Bombings; Over 130 Dead
October 26, 2009
The New York Times
By TIMOTHY WILLIAMS
BAGHDAD — For the second time in two months, synchronized suicide car
bombings struck at the heart of the Iraqi government, severely damaging the
Justice Ministry and Provincial Council complexes in Baghdad on Sunday, killing
at least 132 people and raising fresh questions about the government’s ability
to secure its most vital operations.
The bombers apparently passed through multiple security checkpoints before
detonating their vehicles within a minute of each other, leaving the dead and
more than 520 wounded strewn across a busy downtown district. Blast walls had
been moved back off the road from in front of both buildings in recent weeks.
It was the deadliest coordinated attack in Iraq since the summer of 2007 and
happened just blocks from where car bombers killed at least 122 people at the
Foreign and Finance ministries this August.
The attacks came as the American military prepares to withdraw in large numbers
— from about 120,000 troops today to some 50,000 by the end of next July, with
almost all gone by the end of 2011. Iraq is also readying for national elections
For months, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, who is seeking another term in
office, has made painstaking efforts to present Iraq as having turned a corner
on the violence that threatened to tear the country apart in 2006 and 2007.
He has recently ordered blast walls removed from dozens of streets in the
capital and has insisted that Iraqi forces are capable of securing the country.
In large part, his popularity has rested on the belief that he has kept the
country reasonably secure.
But the wave of bombings at four high-profile, well-protected government
buildings within a two-month span led some Iraqis to to say Sunday that they
were reconsidering their support for Mr. Maliki.
“We don’t want a government that does not provide us with security,” said Saif
Adil, 26, who has been unemployed since graduating from college two years ago.
“It was good for awhile, and now explosions happen less often, but they are
having big effects — large numbers of dead in important places.”
Ali Hussein, 32, said the explosions had also caused him to question his support
of the prime minister. “Why should I vote for Maliki?” he asked. “He has done
nothing except bring explosions and corruption.”
On Sunday, a statement from American Ambassador Christopher R. Hill and Gen. Ray
Odierno condemned the bombings saying that the attacks would not “deter Iraqis
from administering justice based on the rule of law and carrying out their
legitimate responsibilities in governing Baghdad.”
On Sunday, American Marines were seen walking around the debris-filled streets
after the attack. One Marine said the Americans had been asked by the Iraqi
government to aid in the investigation.
Iraqi and American officials in Baghdad have repeatedly warned about a potential
rise in violence as the Jan. 16 parliamentary election approaches, with
political parties and their allies vie for advantage and insurgent groups
redoubling their efforts to destabilize the country.
In a rare personal appearance at a bombing site, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal
al-Maliki arrived at the provincial council building about an hour after the
explosion, his face ashen as he surveyed the carnage.
Around Mr. Maliki, paramedics rushed the injured into waiting Red Crescent
ambulances, workers wearing plastic gloves scooped body parts off of the street
and into plastic bags, and scorched cars — their occupants trapped inside — were
pried open in a desperate search for signs of life.
Surrounding streets had been blocked off and were under more than a foot of
water because the blast had apparently also damaged a water main. Pools of water
were colored red with blood.
Mr. Maliki, wearing a dark suit, did not venture far from his armored white
sports utility vehicle. He made no public comment before being driven away.
Mr. Maliki later issued a statement calling the attacks “cowardly” and blamed
elements of the Baath Party and the Sunni insurgent group Al Qaeda in
Mesopotamia. He said the attack would not affect the scheduled elections.
President Jalal Talibani said the attackers had sought to damage Iraq’s fragile
“The perpetrators of this have revealed publicly that they are targeting the
state and its basic pillars,” Mr. Talibani said. “They want to hinder the
political process or to stop it and to sabotage what we have built during six
years with great sacrifice.”
The two government buildings, typically filled with officials as well as
civilians seeking government help, are situated on Haifa Street in one of
Baghdad’s most congested sections. Nearby are other Iraqi government buildings,
foreign embassies, the heavily fortified Green Zone, and bridges crossing the
In a testament to the power of the explosion at the provincial council building,
a section of 12-foot high blast wall collapsed, crushing people underneath,
The Iraqi Police said the first bomb struck the Justice Ministry building around
10:30 a.m. blowing out its large windows that overlook Haifa Street, sending
flying glass and shrapnel into passersby. A plume of black smoke rose over the
city that could be seen for miles.
“I was eating in a restaurant near the Justice Ministry when a huge explosion
took place,” said Sa’ad Saleem, 28, an employee of Iraq’s state-owned television
channel, who had shrapnel wounds in his neck and chest. “The entire scene was
filled with bloody human flesh. Large pools of blood were everywhere, in
addition to the remains of burned cars. It was horrible.”
At the provincial council building, Sheikh Hadi Salih, 60, had been attending a
meeting on the second floor when he heard the sound of an explosion followed by
the collapse of the ceiling onto people’s heads.
“We tried to find our way out down the stairs, and as we went we found many dead
bodies,” he said. “I’ve seen 20 bodies and more than 60 injured.”
Among the wounded were at least two American security contractors, a United
States Embassy official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity under
diplomatic ground rules.
Anwar J. Ali, Duraid Adnan, Mohammed Hussein and Riyadh Mohammed contributed
Iraq Ministries Targeted
in Car Bombings; Over 130 Dead, NYT, 26.10.2009,
Pullout From Iraq Poses Daunting Challenges
October 9, 2009
The New York Times
By MARC SANTORA
JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq — There is no more visible sign that America is
putting the Iraq war behind it than the colossal operation to get its stuff out:
20,000 soldiers, nearly a sixth of the force here, assigned to a logistical
effort aimed at dismantling some 300 bases and shipping out 1.5 million pieces
of equipment, from tanks to coffee makers.
It is the largest movement of soldiers and matériel in more than four decades,
the military said.
By itself, such a withdrawal would be daunting, but it is further complicated by
attacks from an insurgency that remains active; the sensitivities of the Iraqi
government about a visible American presence; disagreements with the Iraqis
about what will be left for them; and consideration for what equipment is
urgently needed in Afghanistan.
All the while, the Army must sustain its current force of about 124,000 troops
across the country, trucking in fuel, food and other essential supplies while
determining what to leave behind for the 50,000 troops who will remain in a
mostly advisory role until 2011.
“It’s a real Rubik’s Cube,” Brig. Gen. Paul L. Wentz, the commander of the
Army’s logistical soldiers, said in an interview at this sprawling military
complex north of Baghdad, which will serve as the command center for the
But just as the buildup in the Kuwaiti desert before the 2003 invasion made it
plain that the United States was almost certain to go to war, the preparations
for withdrawal just as clearly point to the end of the American military role
here. Reversing the process, even if Iraq’s relative stability deteriorates into
violence, becomes harder every day.
The scale of the withdrawal is staggering. Consider a comparison with the
Persian Gulf war in 1991: it lasted 1,012 hours, or about six weeks, and when it
was over, Lt. Gen. William G. Pagonis, in charge of the Army’s logistical
operations at the time, wrote a book, “Moving Mountains” (Harvard Business Press
Books, 1992), about the challenges of moving soldiers and equipment in and out
of the theater.
He called the undertaking the equivalent of moving all the people of Alaska,
along with their belongings, to the other side of the world “in short order.”
The current war in Iraq has lasted more than 57,000 hours, or more than six and
a half years. And now General Pagonis’s son, Col. Gust Pagonis, is one of the
leading logisticians assigned to the task of figuring out how to extricate
America from the desert.
“When I told my dad what my assignment was, he just laughed and said good luck,”
Colonel Pagonis said.
A major reduction in troops is not scheduled to begin until after the January
national elections. But preparations for that withdrawal can be seen on the
roads across Iraq, with an average of 3,500 trucks a night traversing the nation
on sustainment and redeployment missions.
The military has largely identified which materials are not essential anymore
and has begun to move them out of the country, in some cases to Afghanistan. For
instance, lumber, ammunition and barriers used to defend against car bombs are
all desperately needed in Afghanistan, and as bases are taken apart here, those
are among the items sent to the fight there, commanders said.
In August, about 3,000 shipping containers and 2,000 vehicles were shipped out
of Iraq, and the heavy lifting is just beginning.
“When the brigade combat teams come out, I want to be in a position where I
don’t have to deal with the excess equipment and matériel at the same time,”
General Wentz said.
In a conference room here at the base, dozens of soldiers monitor the movements
of every American truck in the country on two large flat-screen televisions,
using GPS technology and radio communications, getting current information about
attacks and the progress of convoys. Every movement is planned about 96 hours in
advance to allow for rehearsals and readjustments.
As the pace of withdrawal is stepped up, the American military must also assuage
the worries of Iraqi politicians who want the American troops to be less
visible, so most missions are carried out in the dark of night.
The Americans hope that by next spring, they will be operating from what General
Wentz described as a hub-and-spoke system, with 6 supersize bases and 13 smaller
ones. Fewer bases means traveling greater distances, at greater risk.
“The distance between two points does not get any shorter,” said Colonel
Pagonis, asserting that the logisticians in his command — known as “loggies” —
are also warriors.
Turning the former American bases over to the Iraqis, and deciding what to give
them, have proved to be among the biggest challenges.
Until May, there was no system in place even to figure out who legally owned the
property where Americans had set up camp. This led to scenes like the one at
Forward Operating Base Warhorse, where a local Iraqi commander showed up
essentially demanding a list of items that the Americans were not ready to turn
So last spring, panels made up of Iraqi and American officials were set up to
help work through some of these issues.
Congress has limited the total value of equipment — like computers and furniture
— that the military can leave to the Iraqis to roughly $15 million per base, but
that amount does not include items considered part of the infrastructure, like
buildings, sewerage and power facilities.
Even coming up with a value for some of the American investments is hard because
in many cases the initial costs were inflated by large outlays for security.
Commanders say it is often simply more economical to turn over more equipment to
the Iraqis because the cost of moving it is prohibitive. Last month, the
military announced the end of its detention operations at Camp Bucca on the
Kuwaiti border and said that $50 million worth of infrastructure and equipment
would be given to the Iraqis.
The United States has also brokered a deal with an Iraqi trucking network, led
by a coalition of tribal sheiks, to move equipment that is not deemed sensitive
between bases. The truckers currently move about 3 percent of all American
matériel here, commanders said.
Commanders also said they would closely watch the January elections for what
they say about the reliability of Iraq’s security forces and the direction the
country is heading. But for the planners of the withdrawal, there is no time
left to wait and see.
“You can’t wait for some big ‘Aha!’ moment,” said Brig. Gen. Heidi Brown, a
deputy commander overseeing the withdrawal. “That does not give you flexibility.
That just puts you in a box.”
Pullout From Iraq Poses
Daunting Challenges, NYT, 9.10.2009,
U.S. Moves in Iraq
September 9, 2009
The New York Times
By MARC SANTORA
BAGHDAD — In the worst day of violence against American soldiers in Iraq
since combat troops moved out of the cities this year, two bombings left four
Americans dead, underscoring the dangers troops here still face even as they
prepare for their exit from this country.
The American military provided little detail about the attacks, saying only that
one soldier was killed in a roadside bombing in southern Baghdad and that three
more were killed in another roadside bombing in northern Iraq.
While the American presence here has been greatly diminished, with Iraqis and
Americans rarely conducting joint patrols and Iraqis eager to appear in control
of their own security, there are still thousands of American soldiers working as
advisers inside cities and towns across Iraq. Tens of thousands more are also on
the road every night as Americans move equipment and resources in preparation
for the large-scale reduction of forces scheduled to begin after January
One critical calculation is how the Americans can both provide the protection
needed to move the vast accumulation of equipment from six years of war and
maintain the capacity to support Iraqi forces if violence spins out of control.
Iraq’s security forces also continued to come under attack on Tuesday, with at
least 10 police officers killed in Kirkuk Province, including a police
commander, and another 6 wounded.
While Iraq’s police and army have long been targets of insurgents, August was
the deadliest month for them since the Americans withdrew combat troops from the
cities in late June, with 32 members killed. Since January, 164 Iraqi police
officers and army soldiers have been killed.
The strategy of those committing violence in Iraq, never easy to divine, is
particularly difficult to gauge when dealing with attacks on police officers in
Insurgents, of course, seek to destabilize the government. But there are also
networks and overlays of crime, corruption, political power plays, ethnic
rivalries and local factions in competition for control over vital areas.
In few places do those tensions form as combustible a mix as they do in Kirkuk
Province, known as the country’s fault line because of the simmering tensions
between the central government in Baghdad and the autonomous region of Iraqi
Kurdistan to the north. The deadliest attacks against Iraqi police officers on
Tuesday took place around the city of Kirkuk. In one bombing in the town of
Armeli, populated with Shiites from Iraq’s Turkman ethnic minority, the local
police commander was killed along with three other officers when his convoy
struck a roadside bomb. In a separate attack in the same area, four other police
officers were killed.
The ongoing tensions in Kirkuk Province are an increasing focus for American
commanders here, who have announced a new initiative to try and bring stability
to the factions competing for power in the area. The details of the campaign,
and how American troops will be involved, remain unclear.
There were also attacks against Iraqi police in Baghdad on Tuesday, with at
least six officers wounded in two bombings.
Another bombing in Baghdad targeted an official in the Health Ministry, killing
one of his employees and wounding 12 more people. But the official emerged
Even as security forces are targeted, civilians here often bear the brunt of the
violence, with 4,111 people killed around the country so far this year.
The ongoing violence has raised questions about the ability of Iraqi forces to
maintain security as the American role shrinks, especially after deadly attacks
in the heart of the capital last month left roughly 100 people dead.
Seeking to address those doubts, the Iraqi government on Tuesday announced that
29 police and army officers arrested after that bombing were being charged with
negligence in the performance their duties.
“There was clear negligence from the security forces,” said Maj. Gen. Qassim
Atta, the spokesman for the Baghdad’s security command center. “Absolutely, what
has been achieved so far in the intelligence and security efforts is below
An Iraqi employee of The New York Times
contributed reporting from Kirkuk
Attacks Complicate U.S.
Moves in Iraq, NYT, 9.9.2009,