Sunday, March 16, 2008

Patrick Cockburn: Iraq is a country no more. Like much else, that was not the plan

The death rate in Baghdad has fallen, but it is down to ethnic cleansing

Sunday, 16 March 2008

'It reminds me of Iraq under Saddam," a militant opponent of Saddam Hussein said angrily to me last week as he watched red-capped Iraqi soldiers close down part of central Baghdad so the convoy of Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi Prime Minister, might briefly venture into the city.

Five years after the invasion of Iraq, the US and the Iraqi governments claim that the country is becoming a less dangerous place, but the measures taken to protect Mr Maliki told a different story. Gun-waving soldiers first cleared all traffic from the streets. Then four black armoured cars, each with three machine-gunners on the roof, raced out of the Green Zone through a heavily fortified exit, followed by sand-coloured American Humvees and more armoured cars. Finally, in the middle of the speeding convoy, we saw six identical bullet-proof vehicles with black windows, one of which must have been carrying Mr Maliki.

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Friday, March 14, 2008

Read this and weep. Amy

Open Letter to Three Iraqi Women from an Oregon Mother

Published by steve March 3rd, 2008 in Blog
From a Marine Mom (Member of MFSO - Oregon)

The steam has long since dissipated from my coffee cup as I strain to write this letter to the three of you. You don’t know me, and one of you will never have an opportunity to read this letter, but you have each left your mark upon my soul. Though I do not know your names you will recognize who you are and I speak to you woman to woman and mother to mother and mother to child.

Before I begin, if you don’t already know it, the US military can train a man to kill but cannot train that man how to handle it when he does. For this reason amongst many others my Marine son, John, who touched your lives in Iraq, (and through him, so did I), is in treatment along with other veterans of this and earlier wars. They are ten wounded warriors, five from the Iraq war and five from that earlier American fiasco, Vietnam.

John has bonded most closely with one of these older Vietnam vets, “Old Man”, he calls him. Like my son, Old Man is a first timer in the program. The reason I am telling you about Old Man is that it took him thousands of bottles of alcohol, dozens of jobs, seven marriages and forty years to accept that he had never recovered from his war time experiences. They never recover really I want you to know that.

So I am reaching out to you three Iraqi women because, while we didn’t realize it at the time, our paths have crossed, tragically and we are connected now. This connection has provided me with certain details about your lives that I feel I have to share if only that some small light may be shed on dark places.

There was a firefight in Baghdad, a 360 degree battle with the Marines taking fire from all around and overhead. You were there, not as a participant, just a civilian, and you are my first connection though I learned of you last because my son couldn’t tell me about you until recently.

Training had the Marines firing back reflexively at anything that moved, vehicles, stray dogs a blur of a shirtsleeve. The Marine who fired upon your husband and two children was almost 100 yards away and he jerked his weapon up in horror at the end of the burst and watched your family fall.

You didn’t know it at the time but he watched you run out to your family. He saw you in your light blue wrap as you went from one body to the other. He tried to avert his eyes as you picked up your dead child and then the other and wailed in your grief. He tried to look away but that light blue color was always in his peripheral vision, pulling at him drawing him back.
It might have been five, seven even ten minutes when, in what John described as the coldest thing he’d ever seen, that young Marine could bear your grief no more and killed you. So you see, we are connected because my son saw you die.

Does it matter to you about this man who killed you and your family? Perhaps not, but he hailed from what we call the Deep South. At 6’5” healthy and solid muscle he looked the perfect Marine. Though he returned from Iraq in one piece, he has not fared well since that day in Baghdad. Within months of returning stateside, he amassed multiple alcohol related assault charges and engaged in all the self destructive behavior typical of combat veterans.

Finally, in what John calls Karma, he plunged over a beachside cliff and lay in a coma for months. If not Karma, perhaps self imposed penance but he is only now relearning how to speak.

To the mother in Fallujah who also lost her family. Not long ago I met a Lance Corporal who had determined during the siege on your city that he and his men must enter your home in search of combatants. He prepared and set a timed charge to blow a new doorway in the side of your building. He gathered intelligence assessing the situation and finally gave the order to blow the charge, and his men darted through the newly opened breach and he followed closely behind.

You will remember him because when he entered to find your husband and children dead from the blast, you were standing there crying out, “lemad’a, lemad’a” (why, why?). You will remember him because when he saw what he had done his knees buckled and the blood drained from his twenty-two year old face. You will remember him because he fell back against the wall and clutched at his chest and gasped for breath.

You saw his reaction. You watched him try and shoulder the enormity of the order he had given and when his eyes finally met yours you placed your hand on his cheek and said, “masha, Allah” (God’s will). You should know that your compassion, your understanding and yes, your forgiveness that day destroyed him.

Please know that he would give his life to undo what he did. Please know that he works hard to end our occupation of your country. Please know that I have thought of you every day since he told me your story.

Now to you little girl of Ramadi, you cannot be more than six now, if that. With luck you do not remember that October day in 2004 when your parents died. With luck you are far away from Iraq now. To you I feel the closest connection, the greatest responsibility and the deepest agony. You see your father wanted only to rescue you. He wanted only to grab you from your dead mother’s arms, and he gave his life trying because he loved you so much.

My son and his sergeant did not understand. They mistook your father’s actions as a threat to their comrades and fired upon and killed your father. So you see we are connected because my son killed your father.
Please know that when the men of weapons platoon found you, scared and crying, that many of them including John fell apart. You undid them. You and your scared wide brown eyes and dark curls brought many of them to their knees.

They took your picture that day. You are a tiny bundle of pink and blue flowers and puffy sleeves set against the digital camouflage jacket of John’s sergeant who did not set you down for hours. Please know that John keeps your picture though he looks at it rarely because it hurts so much to remember.

What can I say to you? That I am sorry goes without saying. Does it help that my son suffers because of that day? Does it matter to your life that he will carry your image with him forever? Probably not, I don’t see how it can, but I will tell you that I love you.

As one American woman to you three Iraqi women, I am sure you cannot welcome this connection but I feel it nonetheless. Taking your families from each of you has also lost my son to me, for he will never be the same. In this way we are forever deeply connected. To each of you, Assalamu alaikum, peace be upon you.

A Marine mom

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Police and Army Getting Sidelined

Inter Press Service
By Ahmed Ali and Dahr Jamail*

BAQUBA, Jan 21 (IPS) - New military operations in Diyala province north of Baghdad have exacerbated a growing conflict between U.S.-backed Sunni fighters on the one hand and Iraqi army and police forces on the other.

The U.S. military commenced a large military operation Jan. 8 in the volatile Diyala province. Seven U.S. battalions led an offensive to push out fighters affiliated with 'Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia' from the area.

In the current operation, U.S., Iraqi, and local fighters have faced no serious resistance. U.S. military commanders admitted shortly after operations began that anti-occupation fighters were likely tipped off, and fled the area. But the operation has thrown up conflicts within the ranks.

"The military forces comprise the coalition forces, Iraqi police and army, and the popular forces (commonly called Kataib)," political analyst Akram Sabri told IPS in Baquba, capital of Diyala province. "It was found that the local forces are more truculent fighters who can always be relied on. This has made the coalition forces increasingly reliant upon these fighters to the extent that they will one day likely be joined to Iraqi police and army."

The Kataib Sabri speaks of are what the U.S. military calls "concerned local citizens". Most are former resistance fighters, now being paid 300 dollars a month to stop attacking occupation forces and to back them instead.

The groups, which the U.S. military claims are 82 percent Sunni, are viewed as a threat by the government in Baghdad led by U.S.-backed Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The PM has said these groups will never become part of the government security forces. But while seen with suspicion at many places, these forces are also being welcomed in some.

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Success in Iraq? Not for Iraqi Women Blog posting

Posted by Siun , Firedoglake at 4:22 AM on December 26, 2007.

"Let's make sure all of our candidates know that we are not distracted by the bright shiny surge success chatter. "
Reporters and too many politicians continue claiming that happy days are here again in Iraq. Golly, that surge has been soooo successful - and things are going just swell. In fact, US soldiers have even been told to treat approaching Iraqi civilians as ... civilians!
"Effective immediately, assume all civilian vehicles are friendly," it read.
The order admonished soldiers throughout Iraq to yield to civilian drivers, allow vehicles to pass, and avoid firing their weapons as they escorted convoys of concrete barriers, generators, water and food to U.S. military outposts.

And talk is growing of not only withdrawing the "surge" troops in 2008, but perhaps more:

Gen. George Casey, the Army's chief of staff and the former senior commander in Iraq, has been particularly frank about the state of the Army.
"We're deploying at unsustainable rates," General Casey said three weeks ago during remarks to an audience at the Brookings Institution in Washington. The Army agreed to a buildup of troops a year ago with the understanding that it was temporary, he said. "We can't sustain that. We have to come off of that, and we're working that very hard."

In the rush to distract voters from the real issues of the Iraq occupation, I suspect we will hear more tales of success and improvement in Iraq.

Yet for Iraqis, conditions continue to spiral down.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Tomgram: Chalmers Johnson, How to Sink America

posted January 22, 2008 3:27 pm

Within the next month, the Pentagon will submit its 2009 budget to Congress and it's a fair bet that it will be even larger than the staggering 2008 one. Like the Army and the Marines, the Pentagon itself is overstretched and under strain -- and like the two services, which are expected to add 92,000 new troops over the next five years (at an estimated cost of $1.2 billion per 10,000), the Pentagon's response is never to cut back, but always to expand, always to demand more.

After all, there are those disastrous Afghan and Iraqi wars still eating taxpayer dollars as if there were no tomorrow. Then there's what enthusiasts like to call "the next war" to think about, which means all those big-ticket weapons, all those jets, ships, and armored vehicles for the future. And don't forget the still-popular, Rumsfeld-style "netcentric warfare" systems (robots, drones, communications satellites, and the like), not to speak of the killer space toys being developed; and then there's all that ruined equipment out of Iraq and Afghanistan to be massively replaced -- and all those ruined human beings to take care of.

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Covering Up the Coverage - The American Media’s Complicit Failure to Investigate and Report on the Sibel Edmonds Case

Published on Monday, January 21, 2008 by The Brad Blog
by Daniel Ellsberg

For the second time in two weeks, the entire U.S. press has let itself be scooped by Rupert Murdoch’s London Sunday Times on a dynamite story of criminal activities by corrupt U.S. officials promoting nuclear proliferation. But there is a worse journalistic sin than being scooped, and that is participating in a cover-up of information that demands urgent attention from the public, the U.S. Congress and the courts.For the last two weeks — one could say, for years — the major American media have been guilty of ignoring entirely the allegations of the courageous and highly credible source Sibel Edmonds, quoted in the London Times on January 6, 2008 in a front-page story that was front-page news in much of the rest of the world but was not reported in a single American newspaper or network. It is up to readers to demand that this culpable silent treatment end.

Just as important, there must be pressure by the public on Congressional committee chairpersons, in particular Representative Henry Waxman and Senator Patrick Leahy. Both have been sitting for years on classified, sworn testimony by Edmonds — as she revealed in the Times’ new story on Sunday — along with documentation, in their possession, confirming parts of her account. Pressure must be brought for them to hold public hearings to investigate her accusations of widespread criminal activities, over several administrations, that endanger national security. They should call for open testimony under oath by Edmonds — as she has urged for five years — and by other FBI officials she has named to them, as cited anonymously in the first Times’ story.

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Friday, January 18, 2008

Pentagon, Big Pharma: Drug Troops to Numb Them to Horrors of War

By Penny Coleman, AlterNet
Posted on January 10, 2008, Printed on January 10, 2008

In June, the Department of Defense Task Force on Mental Health
acknowledged "daunting and growing" psychological problems among our
troops: Nearly 40 percent of soldiers, a third of Marines and half
of National Guard members are presenting with serious mental health
issues. They also reported "fundamental weaknesses" in the U.S.
military's approach to psychological health. That report was
followed in August by the Army Suicide Event Report (ASER), which
reported that 2006 saw the highest rate of military suicides in 26
years. And last month, CBS News reported that, based on its own
extensive research, over 6,250 American veterans took their own
lives in 2005 alone -- that works out to a little more than 17
suicides every day.

That's all pretty bleak, but there is reason for optimism in the
long-overdue attention being paid to the emotional and psychic cost
of these new wars. The shrill hypocrisy of an administration that
has decked itself in yellow ribbons and mandatory lapel pins while
ignoring a human crisis of monumental proportion is finally being
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