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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


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 benefits.

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 control Congress.

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 fell through.

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 deficit reduction.

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:

Congress: http://thomas.loc.gov

    House Passes Defense Bill, Rushes Toward Recess, NYT, 16.12.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/12/16/us/politics/AP-US-Congress.html






Op-Ed Contributor

Obama’s Condolence Problem


December 12, 2009
The New York Times



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 themselves.

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.

    Obama’s Condolence Problem, NYT, 12.12.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/12/opinion/12steinberg.html






Coordinated Bombings in Baghdad

Kill at Least 121


December 9, 2009
The New York Times


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 amusement areas.

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, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/09/world/middleeast/09iraq.html

    Related > Video report > http://video.nytimes.com/video/2009/12/08/multimedia/1247466029911/iraqi-capital-hit-by-multiple-attacks.html