Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Bundeswehr's Excesses in Afghanistan

The photos of German soldiers posing with skulls in Afghanistan have endangered the mission of an army deployed to win the "hearts and minds" of Afghans. The government has promised tough disciplinary actions.

German State Secretary of Defense Christian Schmidt was practically gushing with praise for Germany's troops, calling them "citizens in uniform" with strong characters and rock-solid ethics. Schmidt, a member of the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), even ventured to characterize the Bundeswehr's soldiers as "well-balanced individuals."

That, at least, was the theory.

Schmidt's statement was released to the press last Wednesday. On the same day, the German public got a taste of a completely different reality when images were published showing German soldiers who had placed a skull onto the hood of a Mercedes "Wolf" all-terrain truck as a sort of war trophy, a soldier pressing his naked genitalia against a skull and soldiers using the remnants of skulls as decorations, all the while smiling for the camera.

The scandalous photos from Afghanistan, published by the tabloid Bild and distributed worldwide last week, have plunged the Bundeswehr into its biggest crisis in years. They fly in the face of a concept under which German soldiers are meant to serve as ambassadors of democracy, and under which they are meant to seek acceptance in crisis regions like Afghanistan and Lebanon, a strategy intended to boost their own security. Only if it manages to win the "hearts and minds" of the local population, says Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung, of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), can the German military prevail over the enemy in such countries.

Jung calls Berlin's strategy "networked security policy." Indeed, the approach is the centerpiece of a document released last Wednesday, titled a "White Paper on Germany's Security Policy and the Future of the Bundeswehr." The theory is that if the military can provide security, other government or private agencies will build schools and roads, and distribute food and clothing, thereby enabling Afghan villages to recover from the ravages of war partly as a result of the German presence.

Desecrators of the dead

Until last Wednesday, the defense minister had proudly touted northern Afghanistan as a prime example of the successful implementation of German policies. Germany's troops were the good guys, and their combined civilian and military reconstruction teams in places like Kunduz and Faizabad were seen as a "model" that was to be "applied to all of NATO."

But how can the Bundeswehr hope to capture the hearts of Afghans, now that its soldiers are seen as desecrators of the dead?

Hoping to limit the damage to Germany's image, Chancellor Angela Merkel quickly appeared before the press in an effort to appease the Afghans. "Such behavior is inexcusable," she said, adding that the German government intends to deal severely with those responsible. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a Social Democrat (SPD), dispatched his ambassador in Kabul to the Afghan Foreign Ministry to express his regret and to underscore the German government's "strong" condemnation of the incidents.

The public's dismay has only been amplified by the fact that the Bundeswehr is still widely viewed as a humanitarian relief agency in military garb, an organization whose work normally consists of projects like building emergency dikes in flood-stricken regions.

But the series of photos shows German soldiers abroad doing precisely the opposite of what they are supposed to do, and it serves as a painful reminder of something the Germans have apparently forgotten over the past few decades: death and the military are all-too-often closely intertwined. Peacekeeping missions are rarely conducted in peaceful regions, and life on such missions means life at the limit -- the kind of life not every soldier can handle emotionally.

Only this spring, reports of the Haditha massacre in Iraq, where United States marines murdered 24 civilians in cold blood, invoked memories of the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War, when US soldiers murdered about 500 Vietnamese civilians. And the images of torture at Abu Ghraib are also recent enough not to have been forgotten.

We have always known that the emotional effects of war are devastating on those involved, and German troops are no exception. And yet compared to the excesses of American GIs, the Bundeswehr's behavior is almost innocent.

Disciplinary actions

The military, under the leadership of General Inspector Wolfgang Schneiderhan, has taken tough steps to lessen the shock of the incident. Last Friday Defense Minister Jung suspended two of the main suspects, a 25-year-old junior staff officer and a member of a mountain division based in the southern German town of Mittenwald. The case is being investigated by the public prosecutor's office in Munich, which plans to question the first defendant early this week.

The soldiers could face up to three years in prison for the crime of "disturbing the dead." In addition, they are almost guaranteed to lose their jobs, their ranks and their military pensions. The message the military intends to send with its tough action is that, despite a few bad apples, it remains a morally upright organization. Nevertheless, the incidents in Afghanistan also demonstrate that it is no longer as innocent as once believed.

The Defense Ministry has since managed to reconstruct the events leading up to the incriminating photos that so abruptly spoiled Germany's image abroad. The pictures were apparently taken in the spring of 2003 after a group of German soldiers had just completed a morning patrol. The group, which consisted of three "Wolf" and "Wiesel" military vehicles, stopped two or three kilometers from the Bundeswehr's Camp Warehouse. The vehicles contained eight soldiers from the Mittenwald-based mountain battalion 233, considered one the Bundeswehr's elite units, and an interpreter. The patrol stopped next to a field near Shina, a town south of Kabul. But German soldiers are not the only ones who are familiar with the site as a gold mine for souvenir hunters with macabre tastes.

In a clay pit that the locals use as a source of building material, there is apparently a mass grave containing visible human remains. Several wrecked Russian tanks are nearby, leading investigators to conjecture that the remains could be those of Russian soldiers killed in the Soviet war of occupation from 1979 to 1989.

It was also where the photos were taken that have now become such a boomerang for Germany's armed forces. And the repercussions are growing with each new image that is released. Last week the RTL television network secured another set of photos from Afghanistan, these images dated March 11, 2004. One of them shows a junior German officer kissing a skull, while another depicts a soldier posing with a skull on the hood of a military vehicle. The photos are presumed to be the handiwork of members of Armed Infantry Battalion 182, which is based in the northern German town of Bad Segeberg.

Military Commissioner Reinhold Robbe says he is not overly surprised by the shocking images. "Given the gruesome experiences to which these soldiers are exposed, such excesses are not exactly surprising."

Eighteen German soldiers have already been killed in Afghanistan. This is the highest death toll among all German military missions abroad, and it demonstrates just how dead serious life has become for these troops. Since the first deadly attack on the German military in June 2003, in which four German soldiers riding in a military bus in Kabul were killed -- an incident that almost coincided with the first skull photos -- Taliban and al-Qaida sympathizers have launched dozens of attacks against the Bundeswehr.

Most recently, unknown assailants attacked German patrols in northern Afghanistan with bazookas, wounding one soldier. One of the soldiers who was involved in the desecrations of corpses attributes the outrageous behavior to the tremendous pressure the troops face in a war zone. "We were nervous," he says. "There had been several accidents and attacks." Indeed, the risks have become so great that Defense Minister Jung has ordered his troops not to leave their camps unless they are riding in armor-plated vehicles. Welcome to war.

The photo scandal weighs heavily on a military force that, though currently involved in ten foreign missions worldwide, is poorly prepared for operations in real crisis zones. For decades, the Bundeswehr operated on the basis of Cold War principles, pursuing a strategy of military preparedness to avert military conflict.

Even operations such as the 1993/94 mission in Somalia, where the Bundeswehr drilled wells, or the airlift into besieged Sarajevo from 1992 to 1996, had little in common with true combat operations. Indeed, close encounters with war -- such as Serbian attempts to shoot down German fighter jets during the Kosovo conflict -- have been the exception rather than the rule for the Bundeswehr.

But in 2002, when then Defense Minister Peter Struck (SPD) announced that Germany was in fact being "defended in the Hindu Kush," it was an almost insurmountable challenge for what Struck characterized as a "powerful force." Suddenly German soldiers were being expected to have both the capability and the motivation to fight.

Before being sent overseas, the soldiers who volunteer for foreign missions spend weeks in training at the Bundeswehr's infantry school in the Bavarian town of Hammelburg. In addition to learning how to properly set up guard posts and what to do if taken hostage, soldiers are also trained in how to settle disputes and respect foreign customs -- at least in theory. The navy even offers "Islam lessons" for soldiers deployed to patrol the Horn of Africa, where they are patrolling the seas in order to prevent shipments to terrorists.

"Equating it with Abu Ghraib is ridiculous"

But for experts like Reinhard Erös, a former military physician who, with his organization German Aid for Afghan Children (Kinderhilfe Afghanistan) has been building schools in the Hindu Kush region for years, this isn't enough. Germany's soldiers, says Erös, were sent on missions "without fundamental knowledge" -- knowledge that a few hours of cultural sensitivity training in Hammelburg could not possibly have provided.

Robbe, a Social Democrat, agrees: "We must instill greater intercultural competency and moral values into our soldiers." Robbe believes that the troops must understand "that these values are not just applicable in Berlin or Hamburg, but should also be applied during missions in Afghanistan or the Balkans."

But Klaus Reinhardt, the former commander of NATO peacekeeping troops in Kosovo, warns against exaggerating the problem. "It's certainly a macabre affair, but equating it with Abu Ghraib is ridiculous." German soldiers, says Reinhardt, may not be "ethnologists or anthropologists," but compared with troops from other nations they are still the best prepared for foreign cultures. "More than that simply cannot be achieved in six weeks of preparatory training."

In truth, not too many German soldiers would do well if required to undergo excessively intellectual training. The Bundeswehr has not been successful in attracting the kinds of people it needs -- qualified officers, at the very least -- for foreign missions. In most cases, those with the best job prospects would much prefer to spend their days sitting in a comfortable desk job than risk their lives in inhospitable Afghanistan.

According to Ulrike Merten, the chairwoman of the defense committee in the German parliament, the Bundeswehr doesn't face the US military's problems of recruiting from among the lower classes of society. In his white paper, the defense minister raves about how innovative the Bundeswehr is when it comes to training and education. And yet the military has trouble making military service attractive to highly qualified IT specialists, medical professionals or radio operators. As a result, many of the more skilled positions within the Bundeswehr, especially among its medical corps and special forces, have remained unfilled.

Declining education

The level of education among soldiers has declined considerably, says military commissioner Robbe. Indeed, during a visit to one of the Bundeswehr's recruitment offices, the military commissioner was able to witness the lack of adequate education within the military profession firsthand. "One of the junior officers," says Robbe, "couldn't even tell me the names of the defense minister or the chancellor."

Sending uneducated hoodlums into war may be the customary practice worldwide, but the Bundeswehr knows all too well how a small spark can quickly set off a major conflagration. Late last week, the Defense Ministry gloomily predicted that the longer-term effects of the macabre photo shoots were unpredictable. The photos have circled the globe, reaching Afghanistan and the madrassa in Akora Khattak, Pakistan, a place so renowned that even chief Taliban religious warrior Mullah Omar received his religious training there.

Sami ul-Haq, the Taliban's senior religious teacher, clicked on the "shock photos" on the Internet the morning they were released. He is familiar with the photos showing German soldiers placing a bleached-out skull taken from Afghan soil onto the hood of their "Wolf" all-terrain truck.

The act was clearly a serious violation of the laws of Islam, the prominent madrassa director says over green tea and cookies. But, he adds, "how serious" a violation has yet to be determined. It would depend on whether the skull was that of a Russian infidel who once attacked Afghanistan or of a Muslim fighter, who would qualify as a holy warrior in Sami ul-Haq's eyes. He thoughtfully strokes his brownish-red beard as he speaks. In the latter case, as he sees it, the Germans would be no better than the Americans, with their torture chambers and sexual humiliation in the prisons of Bagram and Abu Ghraib.

Fears of a backlash

Things remained calm in the Islamic world until the weekend. There were public holidays and no newspapers were printed. Nor had the question of whether the skulls were Russian or not been resolved. Nevertheless, the West has already experienced just how explosive such incidents can become in countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq.

At least 15 people died during mass unrest in Afghanistan after Newsweek published an article in May 2005 about alleged desecration of the Koran at the US prison camp in Guantanamo. The Muhammed cartoons that were published in a Danish newspaper drove angry Muslims into the streets for massive protests in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria. That incident also claimed lives, as radical Islamists skillfully took advantage of emotions to incite violence. Pictures make for powerful arguments, especially in countries where the majority of the people are illiterate.

The international echo is already devastating today. "It is to be feared that, when television stations like Al Jazeera and others in the Middle East broadcast the images, a wave of anger and hate will rise up in the Islamic world," warns La Repubblicca in Rome. In Russia, Moscow daily newspaper Kommersant wrote on Friday that the incident was reminiscent of the darker pages in German history, and of "soldiers of the Führer playing with the skulls of their enemies." The conservative Turkish paper Cumhuriyet even wrote of what it called a "civilization of skulls."

"This is the way a lance-corporal can trigger a small war," says former military doctor Erös, who fears for the safety of his schools in Afghanistan if a wave of protests erupts.

Despite all the outrage, the main impact of the photos at the Bundeswehr's facility in Kabul was to trigger concerns over the German contingent's own safety. "As if it weren't dangerous enough here," complained one member of the German force.

NATO officials in Kabul, however, have taken a more relaxed approach to the incident. After all, they argue, other nations with a presence in Afghanistan have experienced dramatic mistakes on the part of their troops at one time or another. "Shit happens to everyone at some point," an English officer told a glum German companion at NATO headquarters late last week. "And today it happened to you. That's life."


Well at last we know what the deal is. It's skull sex. I was not kidding when I called the big "fucking" skull scandal. I guess they were fucking the skull.

Come on boys keep the skull porn out of the papers. Mail it back to your girl were it belongs. Or even better let's just say we did, and not.

I will build more and kill less, says Nato's Afghanistan general

THE British general commanding all 31,000 Nato troops in Afghanistan has pledged to focus his winter campaign on development projects rather than killing Taleban fighters.
Lieutenant-General David Richards conceded that significant improvements were needed over the next few months to persuade Afghans to “keep the faith” with the Nato mission.

In an interview with The Times, General Richards said that he aimed to switch all the efforts of his 37-nation force towards protecting and enabling “visible” reconstruction projects. He was ready to “put a security cloak” around rebuilding programmes that would make an immediate difference to the people.

The shift follows months of fighting in which hundreds of Afghans have been killed in some of the toughest fighting experienced by British troops facing a resurgent Taleban. While not playing down the threat still posed by the Taleban, General Richards said he hoped that the “kinetic energy” that marked the first six months of his command would ease through the winter. Forty-six Nato troops have died in Afghanistan this year.

“Something that really hit me in the eye was just how important it was for the Afghan people for us to prove that we could fight and defend their areas. We did prove this but we don’t need to carry on doing this in the long term, and I hope the fighting element throughout the winter will be minimal compared with what our troops have had to face in the summer,” he said.

Speaking from Kabul, he added: “The security situation has improved. The level of violence in the last few weeks has reduced considerably, although there are bound to be tactical blips and setbacks. In the last three days we have killed, wounded or captured 150 [insurgents], mostly in the southern provinces of Oruzgan and Zabul.”

Now, under Operation Oqab (Eagle), General Richards, 54, intends to show critics of the mission that his troops can make a difference to the Afghan people and the economic future of the country. He said that it was easy for “armchair critics” in Britain to carp, but significant reconstruction work was being carried out and more road-building was planned for the winter.

One road project is to link Highway 1, which runs across Afghanistan, with the crucial dam at Kajaki in Helmand, which is being guarded by troops from 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines.

“I think in the last few months we have managed to stabilise the security situation and now I want to put a security cloak around the reconstruction programmes. Operation Oqab is the first pan-Afghanistan synchronised mission designed to facilitate more focused and visible reconstruction and governance,” General Richards said.

He has recently intervened in one area of traditional concern among Afghans: the taking of illegal road tolls by police. Cars and lorries are stopped every day on Highway 1 by police demanding money. General Richards said that he had issued a directive to all troops under his command not just to “monitor” the illegal activities by the police but “to physically intervene to stop them”. It was, he said, another way of getting the message across to the Afghan people that life was better under Nato’s watchful eye.

General Richards’s tactical switch away from killing Taleban comes as army officers, local officials and defence analysts gave warning that Nato’s daily “body count” of Afghan fighters could be fuelling the insurgency. The lessons of Vietnam suggested that body counts bore no relation to progress in the war, and more often signified the disaffection of the local population, they said.

Colonel Christopher Langton, an analyst in the Afghan section of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said: “In Taleban culture death is victory, so the relevance of giving out body counts is doubtful, and may send out entirely the wrong message.”


Afghanistan becoming more unstable say returning NZ troops

WELLINGTON: New Zealand Defence Force personnel returning from Afghanistan say security is worsening in the country.

The eighth rotation of troops flew into Ohakea Airbase on Monday, finishing a six-month tour rebuilding and patrolling the wartorn country.

The commanding officer of the contingent, Captain Ross Smith, says violence in Afghanistan increased during his time there. He says bombings and other incidents have slowly spread closer to where New Zealand troops are based.

Captain Smith says the Bamyan province, where most of the New Zealand troops were based, remained stable enough for the contingent to carry out its duties.

A ninth rotation of Defence personnel has already taken over in Afghanistan.

FEATURE-Mopping up the blood in the Baghdad ER

BAGHDAD, Oct 31 (Reuters) - Staff at the U.S. military hospital in Baghdad like to pause to salute a dead combatant's body as it leaves on an "Angel Flight" helicopter bearing the remains on the journey home.

Sometimes they dare not linger on the hospital helipad for long because the demands of the living are often pressing.

"We've got helicopters two minutes out with seven urgents so we've got to get these guys off the pad," said Major Bill White, an army nurse from Griffith, Indiana standing by to take in fresh casualties from a night ambush in Baghdad on Monday.

Shouting above the din of the departing helicopter, White pointed to three more circling the landing pad in Baghdad's Green Zone.

A few hours earlier, grim-faced staff wheeled a black body-bag on a gurney to the morgue.

"This guy, we worked on for an hour and we did everything we could, humanly, medically possible to fix him and he still passed away," White said. "What goes through your mind is the family is going to get notified in four or five hours."

Rising U.S. casualties have put President George W. Bush under pressure before next week's midterm elections, when his Republican party could lose control of Congress in large part because of disenchantment over Iraq.

The U.S. military death toll in Iraq for October passed 100 on Monday and 2,816 have now died since the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion. More than 20,000 have been wounded.

Improved body armour and medical care mean more of the wounded survive than in past conflicts, but many soldiers return home horribly maimed.

Military statistics show that while 23 percent of U.S. combat wounded in World War Two died and 17 percent in Vietnam, the death rate in Iraq and Afghanistan is 9 percent.

The Baghdad ER boasts a 94 percent "save rate".


The soldier who died on Monday was one of 27 patients treated on the 12-hour day shift.

A few hours into the night shift at what staff call the "Superbowl of trauma", news of a big attack comes on the radio.

A Stryker armoured vehicle has been hit. Nurses hang around the radio, listening to the helicopter pilot saying he's having trouble finding a place to land to pick them up.

Around 40 minutes later, just as the Angel Flight departs, they arrive -- a lieutenant with shrapnel wounds and burns, wincing in pain, and six men from his platoon, their faces raw and red from burns and some of them dazed with concussion.

Nurses, doctors and medics surround Lieutenant Aaron Willard in the emergency room, stripping off field dressings, examining him front and back, cleaning a hole in his thigh, inserting a catheter and taking x-rays.

"My pants were on fire," Willard tells the burns specialist.

An x-ray shows a piece of shrapnel lodged in his knee. Willard, shivering but cheery, winces and groans. "Sorry about that doc. Do what you got to do, but man that hurts," he says.

An Iraqi cleaner is already mopping blood from the floor.

In the next room, nurses gently wipe the glistening burned faces and necks of the others and prepare two for CAT scans to check for brain injuries.

Robbie Strauch, from Grand Prairie, Texas, described the blast that hit the armoured vehicle as "a big fireball".

A wounded staff sergeant tells Major White they were hit by a "shaped" roadside bomb which fires a chunk of hot metal that can rip through armoured vehicles like a rocket.

A nurse brings them a cellphone to call loved ones.

"My little girl turns one next month," Strauch said. "She was born three months after I left for Iraq. I got to see her on leave. I've seen her about two weeks her entire life."

In little over an hour, all the wounded soldiers are shipped out to recovery wards or the operating theatre.

Awake and chirpy on Tuesday morning, Willard pointed to a green plastic cup containing the shrapnel removed from his knee.

He said his platoon was lured into a trap by gunfire. When they went to investigate, the blast hit, followed quickly by gunfire. "That's what they call a baited ambush," Willard said.

The night shift logged 17 patients, more than half Iraqis, mostly police and soldiers working with U.S. forces. One Iraqi had suffered gunshot wounds to the chest and abdomen, two collapsed lungs, damaged intestines and liver failure.

"As bad a shape as he's in, he should do fine now," said Lieutenant Ken McKenzie, a nurse. "They're all survivable injuries."


Child victims of Iraq's war trouble U.S. medics

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Staff at the U.S. military hospital in Baghdad are used to horrific injuries but when the limp, bullet-riddled body of a 5-year-old Iraqi boy was zipped up in a grotesquely oversized bodybag, it was different.

It got worse when they heard he was shot by an American.

The child was flown to Baghdad from Taji, 20 km (12 miles) to the north, on Monday evening and rushed into the emergency room with a blue stuffed bear tucked into a blanket wrapped round him.

Half a dozen doctors and nurses quickly unwrapped the naked body, feet already waxy and yellowing. They tore off field bandages to show an elbow reduced to pulp, a head wound that went through to the brain and several other injuries nurses said could be bullet wounds or shrapnel from a bomb.

A nurse pumped the boy's chest, trying to resuscitate him even though others told him there was no pulse and no bleeding from the wounds. "He doesn't have any vital signs," said one.

At 9.46 p.m. (1846 GMT) the boy was pronounced dead, though doctors said he had been dead on arrival, and probably already on departure from the spot where he was hit.

"That was horrible," said a Scottish nurse from the Royal Air Force, Squadron Leader Aileen Danby, who has left her children, aged 3 and 6, for three months to work in Baghdad.

"I was a wee bit upset there," she admitted, minutes later.

You kind of tell yourself in your head that you can handle what we see in there because it's adults .... but I don't know how you bargain with that. No matter how much you're in medicine, children get you every time."

Lieutenant Ken McKenzie, a nurse from Los Angeles, said many children came through the emergency room.

"It's crazy," he said. "We had a 3-year-old the other day. It was like 'Who'd shoot this little boy?' but he was the only one left. They (Iraqi gunmen) shot his entire family."

So we shot him?" McKenzie asked.

The circumstances were still unclear but it started to emerge U.S. troops had shot the boy at a checkpoint. Major Bill White, another nurse, suggested he may have been a decoy used by insurgents to get close.

"They'll deliberately put kids in the car so they get shot," he said.

During the night, a U.S. officer from Taji came for the body, McKenzie said on Tuesday.

"The guy who killed that kid came to collect the body," he said. "He said the car was driving at 45 miles an hour at the checkpoint. It didn't slow down. There was an old guy in the car and the kid in the front seat. They fired warning shots and it didn't stop."


I wish I could only post "good news". Any job opening over there in the fox universe?

General: Most of 3rd Infantry will return to Iraq in 2007

FORT STEWART, Ga. - The commanding general of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division said Tuesday he expects most of his 19,000 troops to deploy next year for a third combat tour in Iraq.

The division's 4,000-soldier 1st Brigade Combat Team has been training for months to return to Iraq in January. But Tuesday marked the first time Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, the division commander, has talked of future deployments for his remaining three brigades.

"There are indications the rest of the division will follow suit" behind the 1st Brigade, Lynch said in a question-and-answer session with reporters. "By next fall, the majority of the 3rd Infantry Division will be deployed back to combat operations in Iraq."

The 3rd Infantry's tanks and Bradley armored vehicles helped lead the charge to Baghdad when U.S. troops invaded Iraq in March 2003. The division was the first in the Army to serve a second tour when it returned on a yearlong deployment in 2005.

The four combat brigades of the 3rd Infantry will deploy separately, rather than as a whole division next year, under an Army reorganization since the war began that broke larger units into mix-and-match brigades equipped to plug into various commands.

Lynch said he's received no deployment orders other than for the 1st Brigade, but based his prediction on Army units available to rotate back into Iraq next year.

After the 1st Brigade departs in mid-January, Lynch said, the next to deploy would be the 3rd Brigade based at Fort Benning in Columbus.

Troops from the 3rd Brigade will travel in January to the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., for intensive training that's essentially its graduation exercise for war-readiness.

The 2nd Brigade from Fort Stewart will train at the California center in March, followed by the 4th Brigade - which would be the last to deploy.

"It's not a surprise," said Col. Terry Ferrell, the 2nd Brigade commander. "They all understand where we're going and the training cycles we're in."

After two previous Iraq tours, Lynch said, Fort Stewart has gotten better at making troops' families feel more at ease with constant deployments. But that doesn't mean they like it.

"They're not happy the soldiers are leaving again," he said. "I'm not saying that at all."

The general's prediction of more Fort Stewart deployments came at the end of a bloody October in which more than 100 U.S. service members were killed in Iraq - the fourth-highest monthly death toll for U.S. troops since the war began.

Echoing recent comments by Vice President Dick Cheney, Lynch blamed the increased U.S. casualties on insurgents upping their attacks in hopes of influencing next Tuesday's midterm elections. Polls show Americans growing increasingly restless with the war in Iraq.

"I'm not going to say they care if Democrats control Congress or Republicans control Congress," Lynch said of insurgents in Iraq. "They're just trying to influence it in such a way that the American people say, 'Enough's enough.'"

Asked if he thought the 3rd Infantry would be called up for a fourth tour in coming years, Lynch repeated a line he's used before that counterinsurgency operations such as in Iraq historically have taken nine years to win.

In other words, he's not promising 2007 will be the end of war for the 3rd Infantry.

"None of us in terms of Army leadership are saying, 'Hey, we'll do it this time and it'll be over,'" Lynch said.

Mercury News

Iraq PM ends U.S. blockade of militia bastion

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - U.S. troops lifted roadblocks around a Baghdad militia stronghold on Tuesday when Iraq's prime minister ordered them out, flexing his political muscle after a week of public friction with Washington ahead of U.S. elections.

Supporters of anti-American Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr celebrated in the streets of Sadr City, bastion of his Mehdi Army. An aide hailed the end of a "barbaric siege" begun to help find a kidnapped U.S. soldier possibly being held by militiamen.

But Iraq's Sunni vice president said the move could spell an end to a lull in sectarian death squad violence. The once dominant Sunni minority blames much of the killing on the Mehdi Army and Washington is pressing Maliki to disband the movement.

"The Commander in Chief, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, has ordered the lifting of all barriers and checkpoints to open roads and ease traffic in Sadr City and other districts of Baghdad," a brief statement from the premier's office said.

An aide to Maliki said it had been "discussed" with the U.S. ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and commander General George Casey. But military spokesmen were caught unawares by the lunchtime announcement, which set a 5 p.m. deadline for opening roads.

"For days the people there have been suffering," the aide said of the U.S.-coordinated cordon limiting movement for Sadr City's two million residents. "It can't go on. Even if you have intelligence information, you can't punish millions of people."

Late in the evening, after U.S. and Iraqi troops had taken down barriers and moved off in armoured vehicles, a senior U.S. embassy official insisted the decision was taken "jointly" at a noon (0900 GMT) meeting by Maliki, Khalilzad and Casey. He said the Americans had not known the outcome beforehand, however.

The move was intended to ease traffic congestion, balancing the need for economic life in the Iraqi capital with continued "intensive" efforts to find the missing soldier, he said.

U.S. President George W. Bush's Republicans risk losing control of Congress next Tuesday when Americans vote in an election dominated by arguments about whether to keep 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq as it heads towards all-out civil war.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said more Iraqis may be recruited to the security forces than the 325,000 planned.


Two more casualties announced on Tuesday took the U.S. death toll so far in October to 103, the highest in nearly two years -- a spike from 71 in September that U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney blamed on al Qaeda and others exploiting the election campaign.

Bush has accepted a possible comparison between the rise in attacks in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which ended last week, and the Communist offensive in 1968 during Vietnam's Tet holiday, which dented American public support for that war.

His ally, Prime Minister Tony Blair, won a vote in parliament to see off a bid to force an inquiry into the Iraq war, but discontent in his own Labour party cut his majority.

Sectarian violence kills hundreds every week, disappointing Bush and Blair's hopes for a beacon of democracy in the region.

As the checkpoints were being opened, a car bomb not far from Sadr City blasted a convoy of vehicles from a wedding party, killing 15 people, including four children, and wounding 19, Interior Ministry sources and police said.

Just north of the capital, gunmen erected roadblocks on the main highway, police said, seizing over 40 minibus passengers who came from mainly Shi'ite towns in the mostly Sunni area.

U.S. and Iraqi troops have raided homes and snarled traffic across mainly Shi'ite eastern Baghdad for a week since Ahmed al-Taie, a U.S. military "linguist" of Iraqi origin, was kidnapped during a visit to relatives in the city last Monday.

Maliki has chosen the past week to stake his claim to an independent say over security policy, publicly sparring with Bush and other U.S. officials, and rejecting their calls for him to set a timetable for disbanding militias like the Mehdi Army.

He also criticised a raid in Sadr City last week that killed 10 people, saying no one told him it was part of the search.

As Shi'ite and Kurdish leaders voice rising unease over U.S. rapprochement with Sunnis once loyal to Saddam Hussein, Maliki came out strongly last week in defence of the Shi'ite militias.

Apparently alarmed in turn by events in Sadr City, Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi said security in Baghdad had "noticeably improved" since the crackdown on the area.

"We were surprised at the decision, taken by the prime minister alone, to ... lift the checkpoints," he said in a statement. "It may mean freeing up the movement of terrorists."


They Did It!

"ABC News' Johnathan Silverstein and NPR's Xeni Jardin arethe only two journalists who have gotten it exactly right!

I already published the link to Xeni's article, so here's the link to Mr. Silverstein's:
Security or Censorship: Concern Over Soldiers' Blogs

Military Bloggers Face Increased Scrutiny Over What They Post

Oct. 31, 2006 — - Frustrated by the media's coverage of the war in Iraq, which they felt left out the good and instead focused on grim body counts and gory car bombings, two brothers from Texas decided to put out the message they thought wasn't getting through in the form of a blog, TankerBrothers.com."
Tanker Brothers

Bahrain blocks Web sites over election case

"MANAMA, Oct 31 (Reuters) - Bahrain has blocked several Web sites for violating a reporting ban in the case of a government adviser who was deported after alleging election irregularities.

Authorities imposed a ban on publishing information about the case of the adviser, British citizen Salah al-Bander, who was sacked and deported to Britain in September for what a minister said was an attempt to foment civil strife in the Gulf state."
Mahmood's Den

Stop the Presses!

"Sometimes we have to wait a long, long time for an admission from one's opponents of what seemed crystalline clear at the time. For the last couple of years TAI and his jolly ring of Iraqi "patriots" have maintained that the "glorious resistance" had never aided in any way Al-Qaeda in Iraq. Many of you here argued vigorously and in detail that in fact the Sunni tribes in the Anbar province not only offered them logistical support but even worked side-by-side with them when it served their purposes (killing innocent Shia, for example, standing in line to get jobs or going to pray in a mosque).

Today, finally, Baghdad Treasure has come out and acknowledged what we knew all along:"


"[...]Yesterday I listened to an interview that the Vice-President, Dick Cheney gave to Fox News anchor Neil Cavuto. Cavuto invited a former U.S. senator from the loyal opposition to comment on the Vice-President's remarks. This former senator continually refered to the jihadist thugs in Iraq who are killing our sons and daughters, and murdering Iraqi citizenry with horrific impunity as "insurgents".
Fire and Ice

Kerry Body Parts

Today’s John Kerry news. The man can’t help himself. He has to get body parts moving, one way or the other. Either he gets his foot caught in his mouth, or his hindquarters get a swift kick, or both at the same time. You have to wonder if he works for Karl Rove.

Here’s what he was on the record saying, courtesy of Captain Ed:
“You know, education, if you make the most of it, if you study hard and you do your homework, and you make an effort to be smart, uh, you, you can do well. If you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.”
Here’s his right this minute rebuttal:


Key graf:
I’m not going to be lectured by a stuffed suit White House mouthpiece standing behind a podium, or doughy Rush Limbaugh, who no doubt today will take a break from belittling Michael J. Fox’s Parkinson’s disease to start lying about me just as they have lied about Iraq. It disgusts me that these Republican hacks, who have never worn the uniform of our country lie and distort so blatantly and carelessly about those who have.
Okay, Senator Winter Soldier. I’m an Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) III Veteran, enlisted, smart as hell and twice as angry. I’ll lecture your sorry behind."

I went to the VA for the first time today.

This hasnt been a place Ive wanted to go. I get quality healthcare from my provider as it is and we've all heard about how overwhelmed the VA is.

But I went anyway. It was for my one in a life time free dental checkup that all us veterans qualify for, so I thought what the heck."
Chapter: War

Boxheads all upset

"Their squaddies have been acting like... errr squaddies
On one of the pictures, a soldier is seen holding the skull next to his exposed penis, on another - soldiers pose with the skull on their jeep.

German Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung expressed disgust at the photos and ordered an investigation.

"We are taking the accusations seriously," German defence ministry spokesman Thomas Raabe said.

The story was given wide coverage on German television on Wednesday.

"We can't use such people in our army," Bernhard Gertz, head of the main organisation representing German troops, said on ARD television channel.
No sense of humour
Full story here

More on the Skull deal with reaction from the British troops themselves.

Today’s Iraq developments: Chalabi resign

Almalaf published detailed information about Iraq government-Iraqi opposition negotiations in Amman yesterday [no precise information about who are the people participating in the negotiations, although there are some hints of the Báth party.

A meeting held yesterday in Amman between government delegation and Iraqi political personalities from different affiliations in order to ensure their participation in the political reconciliation conference forces, which would be held in Baghdad in the first half of the next month."
Roads to Iraq
Sounds promising.

A Call for Suggestions

"I am proud to come here, FIRST, to make an announcement and ask for a little help from my Soldiers Perspective Family.
I have been asked to go on-air with Troop Talk Radio every Sunday, and run a new segment called “haystack’s needles”. My focus will be on promoting MilBlogs, and bringing this forum out into the light for listeners to see how VAST and RICH the choices are for hearing from Soldiers directly, and finding the un-reported GOOD news coming from them and their work in the GWoT."
Oh no! it looks like fox news stole my idea...

All we need is another site dedicated to the good news and only the good news. What a fraud.

How about a site dedicated to brining THE NEWS. be it good or not so the reading public gets a fair, unbiased accounting at how the efforts overseas are actually going. That would be novel.

Needless to say I'll keep an eye on the site and I'll and when I see news there I'll bring it here.

'Go' for Hubble servicing mission

NASA Administrator Mike Griffin today reinstated a final shuttle mission to service and upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope, deciding the scientific value of the orbiting icon justifies the additional cost - and risk - of a stand-alone shuttle flight.

"We are going to add a shuttle servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope to the shuttle manifest before it is retired," Griffi told managers and engineers at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

Hubble Servicing Mission No. 4 - SM-4 - will be flown aboard the shuttle Discovery in May 2008. On board will be commander Scott Altman, pilot Greg C. Johnson, robot arm operator Megan McArthur and spacewalkers John Grunsfeld, making his third trip to Hubble, Mike Massimino, making his second, Andrew Feustel and Mike Good.

Altman served as commander of the most recent Hubble servicing mission, SM-3B, in 2002. Grunsfeld and Massimino participated in spacewalks during that mission and both are experts on Hubble servicing. The rest of the astronauts are making their first shuttle flight.

A graphic showing the past HST spacewalks is available here.

"What an exceptional day today is," said Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., a long-time Hubble supporter and instrumental advocate of a final servicing mission. "I'm so pleased and so excited that Dr. Griffin has just announced that Hubble will be serviced for the fifth time. ... It's a great day for science. It's a great day for discovery. It's a great day for inspiration, because that's one of the things Hubble has meant for so many people."

Spaceflight Now

The threat of congressional election has paid dividends again. Once again the administration fearing complete lose of control over the congress is trying to drum up support and flip flopping on it's long standing policy to abandon the telescope.

We here at TFW welcome this sudden return to reason and sanity in national policy, We hope that our fellow citizens will continue to put pressure on this administration.

Net Neutrality Explained

"Tim Carr runs down the threat of a telcom takeover of the internet on Alex Ansary’s RBN show, Outside the Box. This is a one hour program in the MP3 audio format. The show originally aired on Thursday, October 19, 2006."
Another Day in Empire

Glitches cited in early voting

After a week of early voting, a handful of glitches with electronic voting machines have drawn the ire of voters, reassurances from elections supervisors -- and a caution against the careless casting of ballots.

Several South Florida voters say the choices they touched on the electronic screens were not the ones that appeared on the review screen -- the final voting step.

Election officials say they aren't aware of any serious voting issues. But in Broward County, for example, they don't know how widespread the machine problems are because there's no process for poll workers to quickly report minor issues and no central database of machine problems.

In Miami-Dade, incidents are logged and reported daily and recorded in a central database. Problem machines are shut down.

''In the past, Miami-Dade County would send someone to correct the machine on site,'' said Lester Sola, county supervisor of elections. Now, he said, ``We close the machine down and put a seal on it.''

Debra A. Reed voted with her boss on Wednesday at African-American Research Library and Cultural Center near Fort Lauderdale. Her vote went smoothly, but boss Gary Rudolf called her over to look at what was happening on his machine. He touched the screen for gubernatorial candidate Jim Davis, a Democrat, but the review screen repeatedly registered the Republican, Charlie Crist.

That's exactly the kind of problem that sends conspiracy theorists into high gear -- especially in South Florida, where a history of problems at the polls have made voters particularly skittish.

A poll worker then helped Rudolf, but it took three tries to get it right, Reed said.

''I'm shocked because I really want . . . to trust that the issues with irregularities with voting machines have been resolved,'' said Reed, a paralegal. ``It worries me because the races are so close.''

Broward Supervisor of Elections spokeswoman Mary Cooney said it's not uncommon for screens on heavily used machines to slip out of sync, making votes register incorrectly. Poll workers are trained to recalibrate them on the spot -- essentially, to realign the video screen with the electronics inside. The 15-step process is outlined in the poll-workers manual.

''It is resolved right there at the early-voting site,'' Cooney said.

Broward poll workers keep a log of all maintenance done on machines at each site. But the Supervisor of Elections office doesn't see that log until the early voting period ends. And a machine isn't taken out of service unless the poll clerk decides it's a chronic poor performer that can't be fixed.

Cooney said no machines have been removed during early voting, and she is not aware of any serious problems.

In Miami-Dade, two machines have been taken out of service during early voting. No votes were lost, Sola said.

Joan Marek, 60, a Democrat from Hollywood, was also stunned to see Charlie Crist on her ballot review page after voting on Thursday. ''Am I on the voting screen again?'' she wondered. ``Well, this is too weird.''

Marek corrected her ballot and alerted poll workers at the Hollywood satellite courthouse, who she said told her they'd had previous problems with the same machine.

Poll workers did some work on her machine when she finished voting, Marek said. But no report was made to the Supervisor of Elections office and the machine was not removed, Cooney said.

Workers at the Hollywood poll said there had been no voting problems on Friday.

Mauricio Raponi wanted to vote for Democrats across the board at the Lemon City Library in Miami on Thursday. But each time he hit the button next to the candidate, the Republican choice showed up. Raponi, 53, persevered until the machine worked. Then he alerted a poll worker.

Miami Herald

I told you those things were rigged, I mean what else would you expect with a machine built by dibold and programmed by Chavez.

The Butcher Captured…Baker and Candlestick Maker Next

"I wrote the following story about three months into my deployment but didn’t feel comfortable posting it until I returned."
Midnight in Iraq

Soldier Voices (Part One)

" have spent considerable time lately mulling over diverse viewpoints of both supporters and opponents of our efforts in Iraq, and their implications for what I acknowledge as the Global War on Terror (GWOT), whatever terms are used to describe it. I am especially troubled by several, increasingly discordant strains of feedback coming from soldiers.
No, not the feedback packaged by General Officers enticed by fulfilling media, publishing, or partisan expectations, but feedback from boots really on the ground, lower ranking enlisted soldiers and officers.

Before I review some of these discordant voices, a disclaimer of sorts, to ground my opinion."

Source: Zawahiri Likely Alive, Bajur Accords on Hold

"I just spoke with a military intelligence source who confirmed that the Bajur airstrike (see Andy Cochran's post on it) was conducted by a U.S. Predator, adding that helicopters were also involved. The strike occurred around dawn, as people in the camp were preparing for their morning prayers. My source is skeptical of speculation that Zawahiri may have been killed in the strike, saying that Zawahiri sightings are a dime a dozen. He says it's possible that Matiur Rehman was killed, but is also skeptical of that."
CT Blog
Just look at the effects a threat of a democratic take over of the house are having on the war on terror. How can people in their right minds actually argue that the worst of two evils is to vote republican? Don't make any sense at all, just the threat of a democratic sweep has lit a fire beneath the feet of this administration and all of a sudden things are moving, people are moving even the Pak's are MOVING.

VOTE DEMOCRATIC, and keep the us moving

Monday, October 30, 2006

Majed Jarrar, a Teen in War - 10.30.2006

"I met Majed in Amman in 2005. He was a bright teen who was equal parts fire and self-righteousness and irresponsible and fun-loving. He helped start the ill-fated Iraq Indymedia, Al Muajaha. He’s had a mixed past dealing with Westerners, Americans, and activists.

Majed talks about the interest and exoticness of America and the possibility of Baghdad’s first McDonald’s. He has a strong love for his country and his home. It’s also important to remember, however, that despite Majed’s honest love for his country, he is not indicative of all Iraqi’s upbringing."
Alive in Baghdad
Admits to being a fixer with the Iraqi ministry of information, prior to the war working with the human shield people that went to Iraq. Well it's taken a long time but we finally have a Jarrar on the record admitting working directly with saddams government, or more precisely with the Minister of Information AKA Baghdad Bob.

Watch the video here

Update: Khalid's responds to Majids video.

Who do you believe? Khalid or your lying eyes and ears.

so i finaly got the chance to check the video:)

here how it really was:

There is this guy, Haider, who works now for the Routers i believe, anyways, we knew him throught the net and then turned out to be the sun of the owner of a house we rented before in baghdad for years, so we kind of became freinds.
This haidar studies in the university of baghdad, and he is in what we call lajnat tashreefat, thats kind of the committee that supervises on welcmoing important guests adn accompanying them? you know?
so before the war, the university of baghdad obviosuly with cooperation with minstry of inofrmation was recieving a delegation of americna students that were against the war. so Haidar called me and asked me if i could go with him to recieve those people since there really arent that much of peopel our age that speak good english.
So i agreed, and i went with majid.
and the deligation didnt come, but instead of them there was a belgum deligation of anti war activists and human shields. we vpluntered to accompany them with haidar and helped them by translating for them during their tour in baghdad, answeing their questions, etc.
that was i believe few weeks before the war.

that is very much what happened.
me or majid couldnt possibly work as fixers or translators for the minstry of information cause thats consdiered a national security issue, contacting foreigners and translating to them, so a mukhabarat guy must do the work.

we were volunteers to help those people in their time in Iraq, as a part of our gratitude for them for leaving their lvies and coming to iraq to supporting the anti war efforts.

thats my response, Tom.

Good day.

oh and btw, among that delegation there was two girls that became good friends for us still are, Joana wilding, who is very fairly famous, you can contact her and ask her.

-- Khalid Jarrar

Twofold Operation Seals Sadr City

BAGHDAD, Oct. 29 -- American military police backed by Iraqi troops maintained their cordon of Baghdad's Sadr City on Sunday, manning barricades and checkpoints in and around the Shiite slum in an operation to find a kidnapped U.S. soldier and to capture the man considered Iraq's most notorious death squad leader.

The soldier, an Iraqi American translator whose name has not been released, has been missing for six days. He was abducted by armed men while making an unauthorized visit to see relatives in the Karrada neighborhood of central Baghdad last Monday.

U.S. forces have effectively sealed off Sadr City and its 2.5 million residents from the rest of Baghdad, and within Sadr City, they have isolated the neighborhood around the home of alleged death squad leader Abu Deraa, according to an Iraqi Interior Ministry official who would not be named because he was not authorized to release the information.

U.S. officials have refused to comment on whether they believe that Abu Deraa is holding the missing soldier, and it was unclear whether the two goals of the U.S. operation -- finding the soldier and capturing Abu Deraa -- are related.

On Sunday, U.S. troops searched every car going in and out of Sadr City. Even donkey carts were searched; an American female MP patted a donkey as Iraqi troops sorted through the junked engine parts and cardboard piled on his back.

About a mile away, 1,000 men and women gathered inside Sadr City to protest the continuing U.S. operation. A woman cloaked in black robes declared over loudspeakers booming across a square that food and medicine were running short because of the near-blockade.

Parliament members and tribal leaders took the podium to demand that the Americans go away. Men pumped their fists but heeded appeals to remain calm.

"The Americans are trying to pull the Sadr movement into war with the U.S.," one speaker in brown robes exhorted. "Do not fall for their tricks. Keep calm, keep cool."

The Iraqi Interior Ministry official and residents of Sadr City said close lieutenants of Abu Deraa's and some of his relatives were killed in U.S. raids near his house on Wednesday and Friday. They said Abu Deraa, who is feared by Sunnis across the capital for allegedly leading a gang that has kidnapped, tortured and killed thousands of Sunnis, appeared at a funeral Friday and vowed revenge against the United States and anyone in Sadr City who cooperated in the attacks. The Interior Ministry spokesman said Abu Deraa accused Moqtada al-Sadr -- an anti-U.S. Shiite cleric with many followers in Sadr City who leads the Mahdi Army militia -- of being "a coward."

The Mahdi Army, which runs Sadr City, has been accused of killing thousands of Sunni Arabs. But many security officials believe that Sadr is losing control of extremist members of his militia and that Abu Deraa might be a rogue element.

Sadr denies knowing anything about the kidnapping of the U.S. soldier, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said last week. The soldier's brother also was abducted, but he was later freed and told police that the kidnappers were from the Mahdi Army, Maliki said.

Although the Sadr movement has previously disavowed Abu Deraa, a Sadr spokesman said Sunday that Abu Deraa was a member of the militia and that he would never speak against the cleric.

"Abu Deraa is merely a slave and a simple person in the Sadr movement, and he could not utter such words, for he is one of the dear fighters of the Mahdi Army and the Sadr movement," said Mohammed al-Kaabi, who works in Sadr's office in the city of Najaf.

[Early Monday, a bomb ripped through a Sadr City market where Iraqi Shiites were lined up for day labor jobs, killing at least 31 people and wounding more than 50, the Associated Press reported, citing police officials.]

On Sunday, the U.S. military said it launched a surprise attack on insurgents who were gathering in two places to ambush coalition forces near the city of Balad, about 50 miles north of Baghdad, killing about 17 guerrillas. Local officials and residents, who put the number of dead at 11, said the group had gathered to defend the Sunni hamlet of Duluiyah, about four miles across the Tigris River from Balad, fearing that it was going to be attacked.

The two towns were the site of intense Shiite-Sunni strife earlier this month, after Sunni insurgents kidnapped and beheaded 17 Shiite laborers in Duluiyah. Shiite leaders in Balad responded by asking for protection from the Mahdi Army, touching off a four-day sectarian rampage that left as many as 100 people dead. Both towns have since been bracing for reprisals.

Duluiyah police Maj. Ahmed Aziz said a group of armed men had gathered late Saturday to defend the town after receiving news that commandos from Iraq's Interior Ministry -- which has been accused of harboring Shiite death squads -- were preparing an assault. He said the men were "planning to ambush the commandos if they launched such an attack," but instead were struck by three missiles fired by U.S. jets.

Ali Kareem, a 35-year-old farmer whose brother was killed in the strike, said groups were positioned around the town to repel an expected offensive by U.S. forces and Interior Ministry commandos. He said their operations were coordinated with local police.

"We told the police that we do not need you with us in this operation, and we asked them to remain at their police station to defend the city in case the Interior commandos came and wanted to take over the city," Kareem said. "So we would be the first line of defense, and the police would be the second line of defense inside the city.

"We would not let them take us as prisoners. Either they kill us or we kill them."

The U.S. military statement said coalition forces were moving "toward their objective" early Sunday when they "encountered terrorist activity on two separate occasions along their route." The statement, which did not specify the purpose of the operation, said aircraft "engaged the targets with precision fire," killing four guerrillas in the first strike and about 13 more in subsequent attacks.

Elsewhere, 17 police trainees and translators reportedly were killed when gunmen ambushed their bus near the southern city of Basra, local authorities said. Baghdad police said 25 bodies, many bearing signs of torture, were found across the capital Sunday morning. And at least 25 more people were killed in shootings, bombings and other violence in Iraq on Sunday, according to police, security officials and wire services.

Officials at state television station al-Iraqiya said that one of the station's sports broadcasters, Naqsheen Hamma Rasheed, was killed along with her driver Sunday morning while headed to work in Baghdad. She was the second sportscaster from the station to be slain in the past five months.

Falah al-Fadhly, the station's managing editor for news, said Rasheed, a Kurd, was shot about 9:30 as she was getting out of the car at the station, which is across the street from the Justice Ministry. The gunmen fled, he said.


Journey across Utah: Iraq vet's 'stunt' turns to solace

It was a stunt, he said. Just a way to get people to pay attention to a war many seemed content to brush aside.
Army journalist Marshall Thompson, recently returned from the Iraq war, publicized his trek across Utah as a means to encourage those in the nation's "reddest" state to talk about ways to bring his fellow service members home.
But for the 28-year-old veteran from Logan, it was a journey more personal than he'd ever admitted.
Even to himself.
He had always been a dove, albeit one in Army fatigues.
So as his nation lurched toward war in Iraq, Marshall Thompson was wary.
The Logan soldier had joined the Army Reserves, enlisting as a journalist, upon returning from a church mission in Europe during which he felt immense appreciation for his country. A member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Thompson had been raised to believe in the justness of military service.
He understood his church's scriptures to permit war - as a last resort. The son of a politician, Thompson believed his nation's leaders shared his values.
But as the Iraq invasion approached, Thompson concluded he had been wrong. As an invasion-sized legion of U.S. troops moved into Kuwait, he joined protesters in Logan to demonstrate against the attack. In doing so, he found it was not just political leaders who wanted to go to war.
"We were met by so many counter-protesters," Thompson said. "And they were so angry. The police had to come and stand between us, to protect us."
As the Army called him into active service, Thompson couldn't even convince his own father - then Logan's mayor - that war was a wrong course.
Leaving his new wife - pregnant with their first child - was tough enough. Doing so without his father's understanding was dispiriting.
"It broke my heart when we didn't see eye to eye," Thompson said.

Coming home: Stationed on a large, often-attacked base in northern Iraq, the Army propagandist traveled all over Iraq on orders to seek uplifting stories about fellow troops. Yet Thompson's experiences only further confirmed his fears.
Among U.S. troops he found low morale, brutal tactics and a dehumanizing distance from the people whose country they occupied. Among Iraqis he found anger, fear and distrust of the American occupation.
His superiors allowed him to write about none of those things.
"We wrote in code," Thompson said. "Like, when we would write, 'This soldier has overcome many obstacles', it meant he pretty much complained about his job during the entire interview."
He returned home on July 24 - Pioneer Day in Utah. The blasts of exploding fireworks left him anxious and jumpy.
In Utah, where polls indicate support for the Iraq war runs higher than in any other state, Thompson found many who wanted to hear the kind of news he had been assigned to find in Iraq.
"I felt so alienated," he said. "What people wanted to hear was not what I was able to tell them."
Before returning home, ThompÂson and his wife, Kristen, discussed how they could help make the case for a withdrawal of U.S. troops. A few weeks after his return, they decided: From Idaho to Arizona, he would walk across the "reddest" state in the nation. He could do it in a month - roughly a day of walking for every 100 service members killed in the war.
The stunt, as Thompson called it on his Web site - www.soldierspeace.com - had its intended effect: Media attention drove thousands to his site before he had taken a single step.
The journey began early on the morning of Oct. 2. Approaching Logan that afternoon, Thompson braced himself for a spiteful response, akin to what he had tasted during the prewar protest.
Instead, more than 150 people gathered to walk by his side. Among the ranks was Thompson's father - who in the months since his son's return had come to the conclusion that the war in Iraq needed to end.
Over the next month, Doug Thompson would spend many days walking with his boy.
"It was as if I was finally home," Marshall Thompson said.

Support and sorrow: Thompson logged 25 miles in his first day. Brutally sore the following morning, he found encouragement in the companionship of a Vietnam vet from Oregon, who had learned of the protest on the radio.
Doug Firstbrook hadn't planned on making the entire trek. But he saw something in Thompson that was painfully familiar.
"We had similar jobs," said Firstbrook, a former Army journalist. "We both saw, firsthand, how information was manipulated and suppressed by the military. We both had a part in it."
The gray-bearded carpenter decided to stay by Thompson's side, logging an average of 20 miles each day through wind and rain and snow.
In Salt Lake City - a blue dot on a very red map - about 100 people turned out to walk. But the real surprise came as he marched into Provo, past Ephraim, and through Richfield. In every town he had written off as "too red" for his message, Thompson found flocks who agreed.
But as he moved farther south, the initial euphoria of his successes faded away. Greater distances separated smaller towns. And even with Firstbrook and sporadic others at his side, the miles were quiet and lonely.
Then, two weeks in, Kristen called with some frightening news: Their infant daughter, Eliza, had a lump on her neck. Doctors feared cancer, maybe leukemia.
Sitting alone in a hotel in Panguich, Thompson was awash in doubt.
"I thought: Is it worth it? I mean, it was just a stunt," he said. "We were having a family crisis and here I was in the middle of Nowhere, Utah - walking for peace."
But Kristen turned down her husband's offer to return home.
"We'll be OK," she told him. "We made it through a year with you in Iraq. We'll get through this."
For Kristen, the walk had become more than a stunt. With each passing mile, she could see her husband was changing. And she wanted him to continue.

Dealing with the dreams: Marshall Thompson wasn't unrecognizable to his wife when he returned home from Iraq - but he was different.
By his own admission, he angered easier and had less patience - symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. He slept fitfully. And, on at least one occasion, Kristen had to wake her husband from a dream so real and terrifying that he was sobbing in his sleep.
But as he walked, connecting with fellow veterans, his father, and others "who love and accept me just for the fact that I came home alive," Thompson felt his symptoms melting away.
"Every symptom of PTSD, and especially the anger, just disappeared completely," he said. "For the first time since coming home I felt very in control and very normal."
And with that came the ability to deal with things once hidden.
There is a lot of time to think in 500 miles. And as he walked, Thompson's thoughts turned often to a night he spent on a dark highway near Balad, Iraq.
His truck, separated from its convoy, was waiting on the side of the road when a civilian vehicle pulled up and flashed its lights. The driver waited a moment, then flashed again.
On a night which began with small arms fire and included several close calls with roadside bombs, the commander of Thompson's truck was nervous the civilian driver might be signaling an attack. He ordered Thompson to point his rifle at the driver of the car.
"He said, 'If he flashes his lights again, kill him.' "
For three hours, Thompson trained his sights on the driver's head. Seated on the gravel side of Utah's Highway 89, a day's walk south of Hatch, last week, Thompson cried at the memory.
"It's so horrible, because you have this guy - can you imagine how terrified he must have been?"
Implied in the truck commander's order was a moral decision difficult for Thompson to accept: That the life of the car's driver - most likely a civilian in the wrong place at the wrong time - was worth less than his own.
And yet Thompson knew how he would have reacted had the lights flashed again. He had been given three hours to think it over and he was certain.
"I would have killed him," he sobbed. "Just a man. An innocent person. How can you possibly square that with what you believe?"

A soldier's peace: Doctors plan to perform a biopsy on the lump on Eliza Thompson's neck later this week. Because she's shown no other signs of sickness, they are hopeful it is not cancerous, but the little girl's father still worries.
He wants to be near his daughter. He misses his wife. He pines for his bed. His feet are tired and, even as he moves farther south, the days are growing darker, colder. And so the soldier is eager for his walk to end as planned on Wednesday, even if the journey has helped him in ways he couldn't have comprehended.
When he began, on the Idaho border, Thompson called his trek a stunt. But now, as he approaches Arizona, he's more apt to call it penance.
"I think that maybe I've known that from the beginning," he said. "But I didn't want to say it. When you say something like that, I think, it's hard for people to understand."
And yet understanding, he has come to realize, is not so hard to find.
Even for a dove in Army fatigues. Even in Utah.


Iraq Can Teach the U.S. How To Fight Future Wars

Beyond the bitter partisan arguments, the Iraq war is America's first strategic and military conflict since the collapse of communism. Given America's status as the world's only superpower, other conflicts almost certainly will follow.

It is not too soon, then, to examine the lessons of Iraq and what they foreshadow for future efforts to fracture dictatorships without destroying the countries hosting them.

One premise in need of revision is that all oppressed societies will naturally flock to freedom once their "Berlin Wall" is torn down, as was the case in Eastern Europe.

It is now clear that this did not happen in Iraq, nor is it likely to in the other failed states of the Muslim Middle and Near East.

One hypothesis for the failure of the Iraq war is that success requires a minimum of "common denominators" shared by liberator and liberated.

Indeed, the totalitarian police states of Eastern Europe shared many attributes with the West: a culture of intense secularism, advanced technological and scientific conditions, a basic equality of the sexes, universally good education, and — on a social level at least — a fair amount of liberalism, complete with a vast measure of sexual liberation. In the end, these elements formed the necessary "bridge" for a transition without too much fracture.

Almost none of these attributes can be found in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, and the Muslim republics of the former Soviet Union.

What seems to have happened in Iraq, and what will certainly reproduce itself in other Muslim countries when their time comes, is a springboard effect. After a long repression, the oppressed segments of these societies, just like the children of the abused, turn around and oppress others.

Today in Iraq, Iran, and Lebanon, Shiite Muslims who have long been humiliated by Sunni Muslims or Maronite Christians, are settling accounts using death squads, torture, and the eradication of the pseudo-secularism that was the only good hallmark of the rule of Saddam Hussein, the shah of Iran, and the Westernized elites of Lebanon.

In the European communist system, a sense of general equality prevailed, albeit in misery and the absence of freedom of expression for all, but it was without tribal, ethnic, or factional division.

By contrast, Arab and Muslim regimes always have an elite — be it Sunni, Shiite, Maronite, Arab nationalist, or simply a family, royal or otherwise — that dominates. Before the 1975–90 civil war, for instance, Maronite Christians ran the show in Lebanon. In Saudi Arabia, early in the last century the Al Saud tribe wiped out everyone else, then created a pecking order with the royals at the top, the non-royal sycophants next, then the Wahhabi religious establishment, and Shiites all the way at the bottom. In Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Algeria, the so-called Arab nationalists and army officers that disguised family cliques such as the Assads, the Mubaraks, and the Gadhafis have ruled since the 1950s.

In the past few years, many in the West must have asked themselves how, after the overthrow of Saddam, any Iraqi could opt to replace the man's obscenely tribal, sectarian, and divisive rule with a carbon copy. But that is precisely what the Shiites are striving for today, with the help of Shiite Iran and its Alawite state proxy, Syria.

A Berlin Wall, standing or not, is of no interest to these factions because they never thought in terms of the "whole" of society being liberated, just one segment.

It is imperative that when the powerful thought engines of the West — academia, the military, the intelligence communities — churn out their studies and analyses of what went wrong in Iraq, they not be limited by narrow-minded partisan arguments.

The real task is to have a better understanding of the undertow pulling such societies back into the open sea whenever a shoreline looms on their horizon or a savior nears their shores.

For future campaigns to make this a more decent planet, a necessary companion of that task is to redefine "universal values" into a formula that a broader coalition of powers, along with America, can expect to enforce around the globe. Clearly, these will not be America's values, but a modicum of decency exists out there, one on which today's major powers — America, China, Russia, and Europe — can agree.


Sunni Activist Professor Killed in Iraq

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) - A leading Iraqi academic and prominent hardline Sunni political activist was fatally shot by three gunmen Monday as he was leaving his Baghdad home, police said.

The killers escaped in a car after gunning down Essam al-Rawi, head of the University Professor's Union and a senior member of the influential Association of Muslim Scholars, according to police Lt. Maitham Abdul-Razaq.

The association is a Sunni organization believed to have links to the insurgency raging against U.S. forces and their Iraqi allies. The group has boycotted elections and stood aside from the political process.

An association official confirmed the killing of al-Rawi, a geologist, saying he was behind the wheel of his car and had just left his home for the drive to work at Baghdad University accompanied by two bodyguards.

The gunmen drove in front of al-Rawi's car, forced it to stop, then sprayed it with automatic weapons fire, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared reprisal. One of al-Rawi's bodyguards was killed and the other was wounded, the official said.

The association was independently investigating the killing and would issue a statement later, the official said.

Although al-Rawi was likely targeted because of his political views, Iraqi academics have increasingly fallen victim to the country's religious extremists and other violent groups. About 180 professors have been murdered and at least 3,250 have fled Iraq since the outbreak of widespread sectarian violence in February, the Higher Education Ministry said in August.

With law and order in free-fall, some professors have also been killed by students angered over poor grades or other grievances, or because of their past membership in the Baath Party of former dictator Saddam Hussein.


On Israeli Border, a Surprising Optimism

METULLA, Israel (AP) - For years, whenever Asher Greenberg left his home in this frontier town to work in the orchards along the Lebanon border, he took his M-16 rifle in case Hezbollah guerrillas attacked. Since Israel's war with Hezbollah ended in August, Greenberg's rifle hasn't left his closet once.

At Zarit, a nearby farming village where chicken coops and red-roofed houses hug the border fence, farmers are beginning to return to orchards they abandoned during the years when Hezbollah guerrillas controlled the Lebanese side of the line.

More than two months after the war ended in stalemate, many Israelis have come to see it as a costly failure. Those who live closest to Lebanon, though, say it altered their lives dramatically for the better.

"The war erased a threat we lived with for years," Greenberg said. "We aren't afraid of snipers or kidnappings anymore. We can breathe."

Today, he said, he sees more U.N. peacekeeping troops and, for the first time, Lebanese soldiers, 10,000 of whom have been deployed in south Lebanon since the war ended with a cease-fire on Aug. 14.

The sentiment is echoed in other small farming communities where Israelis have for decades lived with occasional barrages, infiltrations and Israeli army invasions and withdrawals.

In 2000, when Israel pulled out of south Lebanon after an 18-year occupation, Hezbollah guerrillas, not the Lebanese government, took control of the border. At Zarit, villagers got used to the Shiite group's armed men and its yellow flags flying from a base overlooking their homes from a nearby hill.

In 2004, a Hezbollah sniper picked off two Israeli soldiers fixing an antenna next to Zarit, in one of the sporadic flare-ups that punctuated six years of uneasy quiet along the border. During those years, the army closed off some fence-side areas, and some Zarit farmers had to abandon their crops.

In May, two months before the 34-day war began, Yossi Milgram of Zarit climbed on his roof to hang an Israeli flag for Independence Day. "I felt that the Hezbollah men were looking at me," he recalled. "I could feel the crosshairs on me. It's a feeling we had for six years."

Zarit with its 70 families was at the epicenter of this summer's war, ignited on July 12 when Hezbollah guerrillas crossed the border nearby and attacked an Israeli army patrol, killing three soldiers and capturing two others. And it was here, after fighting that killed more than 150 Israelis and more than 850 Lebanese, that the last Israeli infantrymen came through on the way home from Lebanon on Oct. 1.

But the bitter debate in Israel over the war erupted before the last soldiers had returned, with critics slamming the army's perceived disorganization and the country's failure to defeat Hezbollah or get back the two captives. The government's popularity plummeted, one senior officer has already stepped down, and the army and the government are investigating the handling of the war.

But Zarit residents see Hezbollah's flags gone, and its nearby base destroyed, along with many of its fortifications.

"Instead of Hezbollah, we see the Lebanese army and the U.N.," said Rachel Varkatt, 58. "We have a real sense of relief."

The mood is similarly upbeat at Manara, a kibbutz to the east. In May, its vulnerability was felt when a soldier in the kibbutz was wounded by a Hezbollah sniper.

The situation is different now. "I think the war critics are right in many ways, but they have created the impression that we lost," said Shabtai Mayo, the kibbutz's secretary general. "There were mistakes, but from here this looks very different from a defeat."

Lt. Col. Ishai Efroni, a senior army officer in an Israeli border unit, said his men along the fence also feel a marked change for the better, now that Hezbollah men with grenade launchers are no longer a few yards from Israeli tanks.

Efroni said Israeli soldiers trade pleasantries with UNIFIL troops along the border, and that even the Lebanese soldiers sometimes wave. "They're still hesitant - this is new for them," he said.

The army sometimes has to deal with Hezbollah supporters throwing stones over the fence at soldiers, but Efroni said he only has to call a U.N. liaison officer and "within half an hour" U.N. or Lebanese troops arrive.

However, Hanan Rubinsky, who grows apples by the border, thinks the change is illusory. Hezbollah wasn't destroyed, he said; it's just lying low.

"The yellow flags are gone, but they'll be back," he said.


Pakistani Attack on al-Qaida Kills 80

KHAR, Pakistan (AP) - Pakistani troops and helicopters firing missiles killed as many as 80 militants training at a religious school used as an al-Qaida training center near the Afghan border, officials said.

Local leaders said all those slain when the school, or madrassa, was destroyed were civilians.

Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan said initial estimates based on intelligence sources on the ground indicated that the attack killed about 80 suspected militants, who appeared to be in their 20s and were from Pakistan and other countries.

"These militants were involved in actions inside Pakistan and probably in Afghanistan," Sultan told The Associated Press.

The bodies of 20 men killed in the attack were lined up in a field near the madrassa, in Chingai village near Khar, the main town in the Bajur tribal district, before an impromptu burial attended by thousands of local people, according to an Associated Press reporter at the scene.

Dozens of villagers sifted through the rubble of the madrassa, shifting blocks of smashed concrete and mud bricks aside to try to find survivors. Some picked up body parts scattered across the area and placed them in plastic bags normally used for fertilizer.

"We heard helicopters flying in and then heard bombs," said one of the villagers, Haji Youssef. "We were all saddened by what we have seen."

Among the dead was Liaquat Hussain, a local Islamic cleric who ran the madrassa, locals said. Several of his aides also died, they said.

The attack came two days after 5,000 pro-Taliban tribesmen held an anti-American rally in the Bajur area near Damadola, a village close to the site of an alleged U.S. missile attack that killed several al-Qaida members and civilians in January.

"We received confirmed intelligence reports that 70-80 militants were hiding in a madrassa used as a terrorist-training facility, which was destroyed by an army strike, led by helicopters," Sultan said.

An Associated Press reporter living in the area said he saw several helicopters hovering near his house early Monday before hearing a series of explosions, apparently caused by missiles being fired into the madrassa compound.

Helicopters fired four to five missiles into the madrassa, Sultan said.

The strike came on the day a peace deal was expected to be signed between Bajur tribal leaders and the military, similar to an accord signed earlier this year in nearby North Waziristan.

"This attack is very strange as we were told Sunday that the peace agreement would be signed today," local lawmaker Mohammed Sadiq said.

Sultan declined to say if an accord was scheduled to be signed Monday, but added that militants cannot hide behind peace deals. He said the purported militants using the madrassa had rejected orders to end their activities.

A senior intelligence official in Bajur also said a local al-Qaida leader, Faqir Mohammed, who led Saturday's rally, was believed to have been inside the madrassa.

It was unclear if Mohammed was among those killed, said the official, who declined to be identified further because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Siraj ul-Haq, a Cabinet minister from the North West Frontier Province, condemned the attack and announced he would resign from the government in protest.

"The government has launched an attack during the night, which is against Islam and the traditions of the area," ul-Haq told the AP during the funeral. "They (the victims) were not given any warning. This was an unprovoked attack on a madrassa. They were innocent people."

Ul-Haq, who belongs to the powerful Islamic political party, Jamaat-e-Islami, said protests would be staged throughout the northern tribal region on Tuesday to denounce the attack.

Pakistan has been trying to defeat militants along its porous border with Afghanistan since the U.S.-led invasion of that country in 2001 fanned increased terrorist activity on the Pakistan side of the frontier.

Pakistan became a key U.S. ally in its war on terror after the Sept. 11 attacks in the U.S., and has deployed about 80,000 soldiers to flush out Taliban and al-Qaida members hiding in the mountainous frontier tribal region.

Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, are believed to be hiding along the Pakistan-Afghan border.


Back to hellcity

"Hello, there! I'm here in Iraq again leaving ma family behind in Syria....
I'm intending to continue ma studies here, although, there are alot of students missing or absent and so are the doctors and lecturers.
I dunno what to say now.... "

Fear and beyond

"I feel like a different person, I am now an engulfed by fear & cowardness, I jump at the sound of a squeaking door, I feel like I’m half dead.

I have this feeling of being stalked; it’s like Spiderman when he gets those vibes when danger approaches. Such a terrible feeling, you feel your heart is going to burst out of your chest."
Where Date Palms Grow

"Tell them in America about the children in Iraq,"

"So said a mother, on a rare visit with her son to a local park in Iraq. In the Washington Post on 27th October, is an article about families and their children reclaiming parks that since the violence, have been unsafe places for them to play - BE children.

Excerpts include:"
Tanker Brothers

“Unblock Mahmood’s Den” Petition released

"The good guys at IWantMyMTV and HAMSA have released a petition to unblock my blog. Please consider adding your signature in support of free speech in Bahrain.

Thank you. "
Mahmood's Den

Doğu Ergil:" Matter can be transformed from warfare to inclusive politics"

"Turkish Daily News "Confusion!" by Dogu ERGIL

Is there a way out of this dismal situation? Of course there is: a sound strategy that will provide us a convincing and hopeful picture of the future -- our future -- and the way to reach that target. Do we see it? No! That is what alienates the people in general and make them lose hope for the ? their -- future.

Let me give one example where we lack a viable strategy: the Kurdish question. Up until the '70s and the '80s, we officially insisted that there were no Kurds in this country. Rebellions broke out in the middle of the '80s. They were labeled as ?an ethnic group? in Turkey, and ?northern Iraqis? in Iraq; in short they were referred to tribesmen and bandits. Those that are up in arms are still bandits that will be wiped out ?tomorrow? (that never came). However, all of a sudden millions of Kurds appeared in Turkey officially acknowledged as what they are in the '90s. We common citizens are now put in an awkward position: how can we call these people Kurds when we had learned that they were non-existent and hallucinating that they existed was a criminal offense? I will still call them "Mountain Turks" as our elders asked of us for the sake of loyalty to their understanding of "national homogeneity". Otherwise as a citizen, I would feel responsible for silently endorsing the evacuation of thousands of villages and forceful displacement of their inhabitants some of whom now threaten our cities as common criminals. Is creating unsafe cities the end result of a strategy to create a safe countryside? How efficient!"

One Day Closer

"Well, I'm no longer accountable for any property here in Baghdad. At least none that I signed for while I was here. It's a good day when your replacement can sign what used to be your property book and everything is accounted for.

Inventories are the bane of just about everyone in the military. I hesitate to say everyone because somewhere out there is a masochist who just loves to crawl through dusty storage closets and squint his beady little eyes to read serial numbers on widgets just so that he can get another bullet on his evaluation. I, however, am not one of these creatures, but I do make a concerted effort to do a good job because if I don't I could go to jail."

About the Center for Religious Freedom

The Center for Religious Freedom is a self-sustaining division of Freedom House. Founded in 1941 by Eleanor Roosevelt and Wendell Willkie to oppose Nazism and Communism in Europe, Freedom House is America's oldest human rights group. Its Center for Religious Freedom defends against religious persecution of all groups throughout the world. It insists that U.S. foreign policy defend Christians and Jews, Muslim dissidents and minorities, and other religious minorities in countries such as Indonesia, Pakistan, Nigeria, Iran and Sudan. It is fighting the imposition of harsh Islamic law in the new Iraq and Afghanistan and opposes blasphemy laws in Muslim countries that suppress more tolerant and pro-American Muslim thought.

Since its inception in 1986, the Center, under the directorship of human rights lawyer Nina Shea, has reported on the religious persecution of individuals and groups abroad, and undertaken advocacy on their behalf in the media, Congress, State Department and White House. It also sponsors investigative field missions and presses official Washington for overall religious freedom in China, Sudan, Vietnam, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and elsewhere.

Freedom House is a 501 (c) 3 organization, headquartered in New York City. The Center for Religious Freedom is located at 1319 18th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036.

The Importance of Religious Freedom

Religious freedom is pivotal to a free society. Thomas Jefferson called it the “first freedom.” It is enshrined in the first clause of the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution. And it is first in another sense: freedom of thought, conscience and religion is the prerequisite for the exercise of all other basic human rights. In theory and practice, free expression, freedom of press and freedom of association depend on the prior guarantee of a free conscience. The historical reality is that where religious freedom is denied, so too are other basic human rights.

Religious freedom has two dimensions. It belongs to individuals and also to religious groups. It includes a person’s right to walk down the street wearing a cross, a yarmulke or a headscarf, or not to do so, and to express and live out one’s beliefs in society. It also includes the rights of groups to worship God as they wish in community, to run schools, hospitals and other institutions, to publish and possess sacred literature, and order their internal affairs.

In recent decades, the institutional dimension of religious freedom has proved crucial in opening up social space and offering essential political protection for reformers in repressive societies as diverse as Poland, Chile, the Philippines and South Africa. Today, we see a new generation of dissidents claiming their individual rights to religious freedom – including courageous Iranian and Saudi reformers who are being imprisoned and silenced for crimes of “blasphemy” when they dissent from their governments’ policies.

The fundamental nature of religious freedom found worldwide acceptance in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In fact, it was above all the horror of the Nazi Holocaust against the Jewish people, a religious genocide as well as an ethnic one, that stirred support for it. In its preamble, the Declaration states that "recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world." It is precisely this shared recognition of human dignity as the basis for religious freedom – and all human rights -- that enables practical collaboration between believers of various faiths or no faith, despite irreconcilable differences regarding the ultimate source of human dignity.

Religious freedom is as salient today as it was a half century ago.

State-sponsored religious persecution –going far beyond even pervasive discrimination and bigotry –occurs today under three types of regimes: the remaining officially atheistic communist governments, such as China, North Korea, and Vietnam; repressive Islamist states, such as Saudi Arabia, Iran and Sudan; and nationalist authoritarian states, such as Burma and Eritrea. These are the countries that have been officially designated by the U.S. State Department as “countries of particular concern” for their egregious, systematic, and continuing violations of religious freedom. In such countries only those who uphold government-approved orthodoxies -- religious or secular -- are tolerated. Others risk torture, imprisonment, and even death.

Despite its central importance historically, politically and socially, the issue of religious freedom has been the most neglected human right in U.S. foreign policy. Because of either lack of interest or an understanding of religion’s importance to most of the world’s people, America’s foreign policy establishment has typically failed to defend religious freedom as a principle or speak out on behalf of beleaguered believers. This is one reason why, for example, U.S. intelligence turned down a 1978 proposal to study the role of religion in Iran, calling it “mere sociology”; a year later, the Islamic revolution in Tehran caught the United States unaware.

In 1998, the U.S. Congress sought to correct this failure by passing overwhelmingly the International Religious Freedom Act or IRFA. One of its main purposes is to make the issue of religious freedom an integral part of the U.S. foreign policy agenda, in order to combat a “renewed and, in many cases, increasing assault in many countries around the world” against religious freedom. The promotion and protection of religious freedom abroad is now official U.S. policy.

Religious freedom faces hard new challenges. Recent decades have seen the rise of extreme interpretations of Islamic rule that are virulently intolerant of other traditions within Islam, as well as of non-Muslims. Many in our policy world still find religious freedom too “sensitive” to raise. But since 9/11, the link between our own security and freedom, between our national interests and our ideals, has never been clearer. Winning the War on Terror turns on the battle of ideas and at its heart is the principle of religious freedom.

Freedom House /about