History > 2009 > USA > War > Iraq (IV)
House Passes Defense Bill,
Rushes Toward Recess
December 16, 2009
Filed at 2:02 p.m. ET
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The House has passed a $636 billion Pentagon spending bill
that funds the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and provides a 3.4 percent pay hike
for military personnel.
Approving the defense bill was one of several major must-do tasks the House must
address before its planned adjournment for the year at the end of the day.
To accomplish that, Democratic leaders attached to the defense bill numerous
temporary extensions of programs about to expire at the end of the year. Those
included two-month extensions for federal highway programs and unemployment
The defense bill includes $128 billion for the war efforts in Iraq and
Afghanistan, but does not have money for the troop surge in Afghanistan recently
ordered by President Barack Obama.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's
earlier story is below.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The House launched a frenetic day of legislating Wednesday,
seeking to wrap up such end-of-session tasks as financing the military, helping
the jobless and permitting the government to run up more debt.
Lawmakers, with one eye on the door, plan to conclude the day with a vote on a
$174 billion jobs bill combining help for state and local governments with
spending on infrastructure and extended benefits for the jobless. Half of that
comes from diverting money from the Wall Street bailout fund.
''We've already put more than enough into shoring up Wall Street. Now we need to
focus on creating jobs for the Americans that will rebuild our economy from the
bottom up,'' said Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine.
While House members look to vacations and trips to Copenhagen for the climate
summit, the Senate is likely to work into Christmas week as Democrats make their
final push to pass a health care overhaul bill.
The Senate won't take up the jobs bill until next year and much of Wednesday's
House action would simply postpone until early next year a host of difficult
issues, such as long-term financing of highway and other infrastructure projects
and dealing with controversies surrounding the anti-terror USA Patriot Act.
An exception is the $636 billion Pentagon budget bill, which has been held back
to serve as a locomotive to tug a bunch of unrelated provisions into law as
Congress rushes to finish its work in the dwindling days of this year.
The defense bill includes $128 billion to finance the war efforts in Iraq and
Afghanistan, but does not pay for the increase in troop strength in Afghanistan
recently ordered by President Barack Obama.
Other measures to be included in the defense bill include two-month extensions
of federal jobless benefits approved as part of the economic stimulus package in
February, health insurance subsidies for the unemployed and several provisions
of the Patriot Act that are set to expire.
The spate of two-month extensions is required because the House and Senate have
simply run out of time to iron out Congress' typical flood of year-end business,
as the notoriously balky Senate is tied up with the health care overhaul bill.
''In a world of alternatives, that's the one we have,'' said House Majority
Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., acknowledging that the need to revisit so many
controversial items early next year will be a huge headache for Democrats, who
Particularly troublesome is must-pass legislation to make sure the government
doesn't default on its obligations when it hits its $12.1 trillion limit on
borrowing in the coming days. The bill would boost the ceiling by $290 billion,
giving the Treasury another six weeks of borrowing power before Congress will
have to act again.
Plans for a far bigger increase in the federal debt limit that would have
ensured lawmakers didn't have to vote on it before next year's midterm elections
Democratic leaders had proposed a huge increase of about $1.8 trillion, but ran
into trouble from fiscal conservatives in their own party, particularly Senate
moderates who wanted to tie the ceiling increase to creation of a task force on
Hoyer also said the House will approve a stopgap measure to ensure that the
Pentagon isn't deprived of money because of congressional delays in approving
the defense bill.
House action on all those bills would conclude its major tasks for the year. It
still would have to wait for the Senate, where debate could spill over into
Christmas week, depending on Senate action on the health care bill.
A host of tax issues would be ignored entirely, including action to prevent the
estate tax from expiring Jan. 1. The tax is set to disappear in 2010 but return
in 2011 at a rate of 55 percent for estates over $1 million. Also off the agenda
is the extension of about 30 business-related tax breaks that will end Dec. 31.
It's expected that Congress will have to act retroactively to address these tax
issues next year.
Action on the defense bill would close out congressional action on 12 spending
bills to fund agency operating budgets for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1.
On the Net:
House Passes Defense
Bill, Rushes Toward Recess, NYT, 16.12.2009,
Obama’s Condolence Problem
December 12, 2009
The New York Times
By PAUL STEINBERG
THE recent revelation that the families of service members who are suicides do
not receive presidential condolence letters created a stir, evoking questions of
fairness and raising concerns about a lack of compassion from our leaders.
Yet the issue is far more complicated than that. Indeed, there is nothing wrong
with stigmatizing suicide while doing everything possible to de-stigmatize the
help soldiers need in dealing with post-traumatic stress and suicidal thoughts.
The key question is to what extent any action we take after a suicide
inadvertently glorifies it. Early Christians realized that they were losing too
many believers to the attractions of martyrdom. A halt to this epidemic of
provoking martyrdom by suicide was brought about in the fourth century when St.
Augustine codified the church’s disapproval of suicide and condemned the taking
of one’s own life as a grievous sin.
Canonical law ultimately pushed civil law in too harsh a direction. Only in 1961
did England repeal its law making suicide a crime. As late as 1974 in the United
States, suicide was still considered a crime in eight states.
Has the pendulum swung too far in the other direction? Now that first-rate
treatments for depression and post-traumatic stress have evolved and are readily
available, and people with emotional problems do not have to suffer quietly, are
we taking away the shame of suicide?
For more than 30 years, we in the mental-health field have been aware of the
prevalence of copycat suicides. Whenever the news of a well-known figure killing
himself hits the front pages, a significant bump in suicides, reflecting copycat
deaths, invariably follows in the next few days. Strikingly, there is no
corresponding decline in suicides in the weeks after this bump — forcing us to
conclude that the victims are people who would not have otherwise killed
The hard truth is that any possible glorification of suicide — even reports of
suicide — make the taking of one’s life a more viable option. If suicide appears
to be a more reasonable way of handling life’s stresses than seeking help, then
suicide rates increase.
Certainly, a presidential condolence letter after one’s death is not exactly the
same encouragement for suicide as the purported Muslim promise of a gift of 72
virgins after death. But the increasing number of suicides in the military
suggests that we need to find the right balance between concern for the spouses,
children and parents left behind, and any efforts to prevent subsequent suicides
in the military.
As a psychiatrist formerly working on college campuses, I, along with my
colleagues, was concerned with how we handled the funerals and aftermaths of
even accidental deaths of students. Compassion for those left behind arose
naturally; at the same time, we did not want to glorify the death to a point
that lonely, distressed students might consider death better than life.
A difficult balancing act, to be sure. For people under 30, suicide is highly
correlated with impulsivity and suggestibility. Thus college campuses and
military installations, with their young populations, must be particularly aware
of the possibility of copycat suicides and the dangers of a veneration of death.
President Obama, as commander in chief, has to balance the wishes of families
with the demands of public health. In light of the condolence-letter
controversy, the administration is appropriately reviewing the policy that has
been in place for at least 17 years — and may indeed want to consider leaving it
as it is. But as a country, let’s focus our energies on doing everything we can
to diminish inadvertent incentives that might increase self-inflicted deaths.
Paul Steinberg, a former director of the counseling and psychiatric service
at Georgetown University, is a psychiatrist.
Problem, NYT, 12.12.2009,
Coordinated Bombings in Baghdad
Kill at Least 121
December 9, 2009
The New York Times
By STEVEN LEE MYERS
and MARC SANTORA
BAGHDAD — A series of devastating car bombings rocked Baghdad on Tuesday,
killing at least 121 people and wounding hundreds more, according to preliminary
accounts by witnesses, the police and hospital officials.
Five bombs in all, including at least three suicide attacks, struck near a
college, a court complex in western Baghdad, a mosque and a market and a
neighborhood near the Interior Ministry in what appeared to be a coordinated
assault on the capital.
The blasts began shortly after 10 a.m. and reverberated through the city for the
next 50 minutes, sending enormous plumes of black smoke into the air.
The attacks came as Iraq’s Presidency Council announced a date — March 6 — for
the country’s long-delayed parliamentary elections. And furor over Tuesday’s
bombings immediately became political, with prospective candidates blaming the
security forces and the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki for
failing, once again, to secure the heart of Baghdad.
Many victims linked the attacks to the protracted political jockeying over
holding the election, which was originally scheduled for January. “Are we
cursed?” yelled a young woman near the mosque that was struck in Qahira, in
northeast Baghdad. She had burns over her arms and legs. “When will we be
finished with this election issue?”
The attacks were the worst in Iraq since twin suicide bombings destroyed three
ministries on Oct. 25, killing at least 155 people. They fit a pattern of
spectacular attacks in the capital, followed by weeks of relative calm. In
August, two suicide car bombs exploded near the country’s Finance and Foreign
Ministries, killing at least 122.
Those attacks became known as Bloody Sunday and Bloody Wednesday, respectively.
Across the city, officials and ordinary Iraqis added the adjective to Tuesday,
as well. All of them illustrated the shortcomings of Iraq’s security forces,
which despite an overwhelming presence at checkpoints across the city, appear
unable to stop carefully orchestrated terrorist operations.
“There is no explanation at all for such a horrible security failure,” said
Muhammad al-Shalam, a Sunni member of Baghdad’s Provincial Council, which met on
Tuesday in a building damaged in October. “The security forces are totally
responsible for all this blood.”
One of the deadliest of Tuesday’s bombings occurred at a compound in western
Baghdad that includes the Cassation Court, which handles appeals and which moved
to the area after the attack in October. A suicide bomber plowed his car through
the main checkpoint leading into the compound and denoted explosives hidden
inside. The attack occurred near Zawra Park, which includes the city’s zoo and
Among dozens killed there were several judges, a spokesman for the Supreme
Judicial Council, Abdul Sattar al-Biriqdar, said in an interview. The court
buildings were severely damaged.
The office of a former prime minister, Ayad Allawi, was 300 yards from the
blast; its windows were shattered, its doors wrenched from their jambs.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Allawi, who has announced a political coalition with a
senior secular Sunni leader, Salih al-Mutlaq, released a statement on their
behalf denouncing the failure of Mr. Maliki’s government to stop the bombings.
“The government always forms investigation committees after each explosion, but
it comes up with nothing later,” the spokeswoman said.
Mr. Maliki’s office issued a statement, once again casting blame on remnants of
the Baath Party in exile, working in league with Al Qaeda of Mesopotamia, though
officials have yet to provide persuasive evidence implicating any of them. Mr.
Maliki’s opponents have accused him of focusing exclusively on the Baath Party
to bolster his political standing among Shiites.
“These cowardly terrorist attacks that took place in Baghdad today, after the
Parliament succeeded in overcoming the last obstacle to conducting elections
confirms that the enemies of Iraq and its people are aiming at creating chaos in
the country, blocking political progress and delaying the elections,” Mr. Maliki
said in a statement.
The attacks bore the signature of previous attacks by the Islamic State of Iraq,
an umbrella group for Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and other terrorist networks in
the country. It claimed to have carried out the August and October attacks.
The bombings began in Dora, in southern Baghdad, when a suicide bomber detonated
a car full of explosives as he passed a police patrol near the main entrance to
the Technical Institution, a vocational college. At least nine people were
killed, including three police officers in the patrol. At least 31 others were
taken to the hospital, many of students. Broken glass, body parts, blood and
sewage covered the street for hundreds of yards.
Another of the attacks struck the headquarters of the Rafaidyan Bank, where many
workers from the Finance Ministry moved after the ministry’s building was
destroyed in the August bombings.
“The bomber wanted numbers,” Capt. Said al-Dairi of the Federal Police said at
the scene in Dora. “He wanted to kill as many people as possible.” Referring to
the intent of Tuesday’s attacks, he added, “They want to create a scene of
confusion and chaos.”
American helicopters, drones and airplanes circled the city in the immediate
aftermath, while sporadic gunfire could be heard. In addition to the aircraft,
American troops, including explosives-removal teams, joined Iraqi security
forces responding to the attacks, a military spokesman, Maj. Joe Scrocco, said
in a statement. In the attacks in August and October, Iraqi forces kept the
Americans at arm’s length, allowing them to play a minimal, and belated, role in
helping assist the wounded and collect forensic evidence.
Reporting was contributed by Mohammed Hussein,
Riyadh Mohammed, Saad al-Izzi
and Anwar J. Ali.
Coordinated Bombings in
Baghdad Kill at Least 121, NYT, 9.12.2009,
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