Thursday, June 28, 2007

First artificial life 'within months'

Scientists could create the first new form of artificial life within months after a landmark breakthrough in which they turned one bacteria into another.

In a development that has triggered unease and excitement in equal measure, scientists took the whole genetic makeup - or genome - of a bacterial cell and transplanted it into a closely related species.
This then began to grow and multiply in the lab, turning into the first species in the process.

The team that carried out the first “species transplant” says it plans within months to do the same thing with a synthetic genome made from scratch in the laboratory.

If that experiment worked, it would mark the creation of a synthetic lifeform.

The scientists want to create new kinds of bacterium to make new types of bugs which can be used as green fuels to replace oil and coal, digest toxic waste or absorb carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

But this pioneering research also triggers unease about the limits of science and the inevitable fears about “playing god,” as well as raising the spectre that this technology could one day be abused to create a new generation of bioweapons.

Producing living cells from synthetic genomes of lab-made DNA would require the ability to move and manipulate whole genomes.

To that end, a milestone was passed today by a team led by Craig Venter, the first person to have his entire genetic makeup read, and which included the Nobel prizewinner Ham Smith.

Dr Venter said that, in the light of this success, the culmination of a decade’s work, he will be attempting the first transplant of a lab-made genome to create the first artificial life “within months.”

Dr Venter said: “We would hope to have the first fuel from synthetic organisms certainly within the decade, possibly within half that time.”

The breakthrough occurred at the J Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, Maryland, the team reports today in the journal Science.

One of its editors called it “a landmark in biological engineering.”

Since the 1970s, scientists have moved genes - instructions to make proteins - between different organisms.

But this marks the first time that the entire instruction set, consisting of more than a million “letters” of DNA, has been transplanted, transforming one species of bacterium into another.

They are attempting to build a microbe with the minimal set of genes needed for life, with the goal of then adding other useful genes, such as ones for making biofuels.

It recently submitted broad patents for methods to create a synthetic genome from such lab-made DNA.

In anticipation, the team wanted to develop a way to move a complete genome into a living cell, chosing the simplest and smallest kind, a bacterium.

In all, of the millions of bacteria that they tried the transplant on, it only worked one time in every 150,000.

Dr Venter likened it to “changing a Macintosh computer into a PC by inserting a new piece of software” and stressed it would be more difficult in other kinds of cells, which have enzymes to snip the DNA of invaders.

But he said to achieve the feat, without adding anything more than naked DNA, “is a huge enabling step.”

“This is a significant and unexpected advance,” commented Robert Holt of the Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre, Vancouver, Canada.

“It’s a necessary step toward creating artificial life,” added microbiologist Fred Blattner of the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Antoine Danchin of the Pasteur Institute, Paris, calls the experiment “an exceptional technical feat.”

But he told Science “many controls are missing.” And that has prevented Glass’s team, as acknowledged by Ham Smith, from truly understanding how the introduced DNA reprograms the host cell.

“We are one step closer to synthetic organisms,” said Markus Schmidt of the Organisation for International Dialogue, Vienna.

He said the experiment will drive discussions about the safety issues related to synthetic biology and the implications for society.

Dr Venter stressed that the work had been halted for some time for a review to ensure it is ethical, though acknowledged concerns that synthetic biology could pave the way to new kinds of biowarfare.


I know this has nothing to do with the war, except maybe that we are months away from "disproving" creation. And in a round a bout way, it might have something to do with this war after all

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Operation Fahrad Al Amin: the Anbar Offensive

"An interview with Brigadier General Gurganus on Multinational Forces West's role in Operation Phantom Thunder

As operations north of Baghdad in Baqubah and south in Babil province have taken center stage, the third theater in eastern Anbar province has received little attention in the reporting from Iraq. The reporting has been so sparse that the name of Multinational Forces West's operation has yet to be released. In an interview with Brigadier General Charles M. Gurganus, commanding general of Ground Combat Element, Multi-National Force-West, The Fourth Rail has learned the name of the operation is Fahrad Al Amin, or Operation Safety and Security."
The Fourth Rail

With profits like these, Why should any any One consider ending the war?

"Why does the war in Iraq go on and on?

One reason is that it is immensely profitable for the Bush family and its friends.

These four minutes from the documentary "Iraq for Sale" were specifically banned by from being shown during a Congressional hearing by concerted action from Republican politicians.

See the Video"
Citizen of Mosul

US Foot Patrols Seeks to Sidestep Mines

BAQOUBA, Iraq (AP) - U.S. armored vehicles stand idle on the edge of western Baqouba's apartment blocks. The soldiers who normally ride in them have left on foot patrols - a simple, but apparently effective, tactic being used against insurgents planting increasingly large and devastating bombs deep underground.

Bringing troops onto the streets in bloody places such as Baqouba carries some new risks, including small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades that armored vehicles can usually repel. But it's designed to avoid a more serious threat: the buried explosives that can take out Humvees and the bigger Strykers that can hold up to 10 soldiers.

The weight of a single soldier is insufficient to trigger such bombs, which may be planted 10 feet underground and packed in makeshift casings such as refrigerators. Insurgents are hesitant to "waste" a large bomb by triggering it with remote control to kill a single soldier, said U.S. officers involved in an offensive in the capital of Diyala province northeast of Baghdad.

The foot patrols have been credited with preventing heavy U.S. casualties in the battle for Baqouba. U.S. deaths from the bombs - which the military calls improvised explosive devices, or IEDs - dropped in Diyala from at least 16 in May before the 10,000-troop offensive to just two so far this month, according to an Associated Press count based on Defense Department reports.

But that sharp drop is not being reflected in other parts of Iraq. In May, at least 68 U.S. soldiers were killed by road bombs, or 67 percent of all military deaths that month, according to the AP analysis. This month, at least 51 deaths were linked to IED blasts, or 60 percent of the total.

And avoiding the bombs does not make them go away.

One of Baqouba's main thoroughfares is so packed with IEDs that the U.S. military is considering declaring it "irrevocably mined," said Col. Steve Townsend, commander of the Army's 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.

U.S. forces would then build their own road - right alongside the mined one - and guard it 24 hours a day, said Townsend, 47, from Griffin, Ga.

"We have yet to clear the roads well enough to penetrate with our vehicles," he said. "We're infantry, and we're comfortable on foot anyway."

Once U.S. troops leave Baqouba, the task of keeping these roads clear of IEDs would fall to Iraqi security forces. But American commanders estimate it will be months - or longer - before Iraqi forces can do the job on their own.

Main roads throughout this city are pockmarked with huge craters, some 10 feet wide and just as deep. Military vehicles that must travel swerve gingerly around them. Gunners train their weapons on the holes, watchful for secondary devices covered over by garbage.

Before the Americans shifted their tactics, the bombs took a heavy toll.

On May 6, a deep-buried IED killed six U.S. soldiers from Townsend's brigade serving in Baqouba, along with a Russian photographer embedded with them. The blast flipped their Stryker vehicle - an eight-wheeled, 37,000-pound troop carrier - upside down and tore out the interior, killing everyone inside except the driver.

Most of the bombs apparently were laid months ago, but about 30 IEDs were planted along Baqouba's main thoroughfare before the start of the current U.S. operation last week, said Maj. Robbie Parke, spokesman for the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, which is doing most of the fighting in western Baqouba.

It's a sign that insurgents likely knew the offensive was coming.

"They were putting in berms, and had backhoes digging trenches ahead of time. We have UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) footage of all of this," said Parke, 36, from Rapid City, S.D.

In the following seven days, U.S. troops discovered and safely detonated 50 more IEDs - more than half of them deeply buried - in western Baqouba alone, Townsend said.

Some were discovered by unmanned drones equipped with temperature sensors that can scan for cold spots under the otherwise blazing hot asphalt in summer, another U.S. officer said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.

Deep buried IEDs usually consist of hundreds of pounds of homemade explosives, though sometimes they employ military-grade weapons such as mortar rounds, said Maj. Maj. Doug Baker, the executive officer for the 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, under Townsend's command. They are buried at least three feet underground, though some have been found 10 feet down, he said.

Insurgents lie in wait to detonate the explosives manually. "They'll let you drive over it nine, ten times, and on the 11th time, they pull the cord," said Baker, 38, from Goose Creek, S.C.

Traditionally found in rural areas, where dirt roads and canals provide soft terrain for planting explosives, deep-buried IEDs are increasingly being discovered on paved roads in urban areas, U.S. officials said.

"In some cases, they're tunneling from the side (of the road), and in other cases they pour gasoline on the road and set it on fire, softening the asphalt so they can dig through it," Baker said. "Then they do the same thing to essentially repave the area afterward."

Because of such an invisible threat, U.S. military commanders have encouraged their soldiers to carry out the current Baqouba offensive on foot and under cover of darkness - scurrying single file down the edge of wide thoroughfares and searching house-to-house methodically.

But the reduction in mobility makes it difficult to control a wide area. One of the Stryker's strong points was its ability to move troops quickly to areas where they are needed.

In the first four days of the operation last week, soldiers moved just slightly over a mile into western Baqouba, said Command Sgt. Maj. Jeff Huggins, 41, the senior noncommissioned officer with the 5-20.

As they plodded closer to the city center, soldiers discovered IEDs buried in concentric circles around suspected al-Qaida hideouts, the Honolulu native said.

"It's part of their defensive measures. They line the routes to their hideouts with deep buried IEDs - with complete disregard for the city and its residents," Huggins said.


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Tokens of Home

"There's a small charm that hangs around my neck. Many soldiers carry some small token or good luck charm- Saint Christopher medallions, coins, crosses, sometimes even hand blown glass hearts. Mine is a stylized fishhook carved and polished out of bone. The Maori call it Hei-Matau; they believe it will bring strength, peace and good health. My sister bought mine for me while in New Zealand this winter, and I've worn it ever since. The Maori say that with time, part of the essence of the bone and of the wearer will swap places, and the necklace will become a small part of one's self. Mine has certainly changed in the six months I've worn it- one side has become even more highly polished from the constant rubbing of my cotton shirt, and the other shows dark streaks along the pores of the bone and hints of color from months of sweat and dust."
Acute Politics

For G.I.’s in Iraq, a Harrowing Day Facing a Trap

BAQUBA, Iraq, June 25 — The enemy was a phantom who never showed his face but transformed a neighborhood into a network of houses rigged to explode.

And the soldiers from Comanche Company’s First Platoon confronted this elaborate and deadly trap.

The platoon’s push began shortly after 4 a.m. on Saturday, as American forces continued their effort to wrest the western section of this city north of Baghdad from Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. Tracer rounds zipped through the air as the soldiers fired antitank weapons, mortar shells and machine guns at the abandoned houses they planned to inspect across the street.

They calculated that the firepower would blow up any bombs the insurgents might have planted in the houses, while providing cover so the first squads could move south across the thoroughfare.

The use of house bombs is not a new trick, but as the soldiers were to learn, the scale was daunting. The entire neighborhood seemed to be a trap.

After darting across the road, Sgt. Gerard Mennitto, 23, checked the front door of a partly constructed house and peered through a window looking for telltale signs of enemy explosives. The house was free of explosives and the operation seemed to be going as planned.

But there were a few early indications that the bomb threat in the area might be more challenging than the Americans had expected. The street the soldiers had raced across was strewn with slender copper wires, which the insurgents used to set off buried bombs powerful enough to upend armored vehicles.

As the platoon watched from its new foothold south of the road, a Buffalo vehicle, a heavily armored truck with a V-shaped body to dissipate bomb blasts and a giant mechanical claw, began to scour the nearby roads for bombs. It found three, which were exploded by American combat engineers.

“Controlled dets,” a soldier called out, referring to a deliberate detonation of a discovered bomb. The good news was that the buried bombs had been found and neutralized. But some had been deeply buried on the road the platoon had just crossed.

The street bombs were probably little threat without a triggerman to set off the blast. The houses where the soldiers had secured their toehold seemed to have been abandoned, but soon after the platoon settled in, a small line of weary Iraqi civilians carrying a white flag emerged and slowly walked away. If some civilians had been lingering in or near the neighborhood, perhaps some insurgents were, too.

To blast a path through the next bomb-ridden stretch of road, combat engineers brought in a mine-clearing device. A bright fireball appeared over the street and a cloud of gritty dust engulfed the platoon’s house as the soldiers huddled in the back and plugged their ears.

Afterward, as Sgt. Philip Ness-Hunkin, 24, walked to the house next door, he saw copper wires leading to the home. The gate was unlocked and the front door was invitingly open.

“Right in the front door there was a pressure plate under a piece of wood,” he said, referring to a mine that is set to blow when it is stepped on. “Over in that neighborhood there were wires going all over the place.”

“H-BIED,” a soldier called out, using the military’s acronym for a house-borne improvised explosive device.

The last place the platoon wanted to be was next door to a house bomb and a series of structures that had not been cleared. If the soldiers got into a firefight and had to dart in and out of the houses along the road, they might be diving into a series of deadly booby traps, explained First Lt. Charles Morton, 25, the platoon leader.

The explosive-rigged house needed to be destroyed by an airstrike or artillery fire. So the soldiers were instructed to move back across the road they had just crossed.

Once there, the troops clambered into a two-story house. When Sergeant Mennitto got to the second floor, however, he spotted antiaircraft ammunition and a detonation cord next to two propane tanks. The platoon had escaped from one house bomb, only to encounter another.

“Everyone get out!” he yelled.

Next, the men found a nearby building American troops had recently occupied. They were safe, but the insurgents’ bombs had forced them to the starting point. The temperature soared to over 110 degrees and the soldiers had been sleeping on floors of abandoned homes, without a shower or clean clothes for days.

Three soldiers sat down on a couch facing a large rectangular, blown-out window and looked at the street as if watching a large-screen television.

The insurgent strategy appeared to be to use deep-buried bombs under the road and small-arms fire to force the soldiers to take refuge in the houses adjoining the route — and then to blow them up. Col. Steve Townsend, the commander of the Third Stryker Brigade Combat Team, Second Infantry Division, which carried out the assault on western Baquba, said the network of house bombs here was the most extensive he had seen in Iraq. He said that in the first seven days of the attack, the brigade destroyed 21 house bombs. The platoon had encountered more than its share.

The radio traffic was crackling. Capt. Isaac Torres, the commander of Comanche Company, was impatient. An airstrike was called in on the house with the propane tanks. But now it was late afternoon, and he wanted to know what the platoon’s plan was to resume the mission to clear the area south of the street.

The platoon thought it was time to pound the houses across the road with airstrikes or artillery. There were 84 days left in its 15-month tour. Apart from the fleeing family and a stray man who came bearing a white flag to beg for water, no civilians were in sight.

“I don’t know how realistic it is to ask for this, but I really think we could destroy this block, not cause any damage to the civilian populace and reduce a lot of risk to ourselves,” Lieutenant Morton said over the tactical radio. “This entire place is literally rigged.”

The final decision was to pound the houses fronting the street and to declare the rest of the homes in the section off limits until explosives experts could be brought in.

“It is too painful to deal with right now,” Colonel Townsend said. “We need some expertise to come in here and find out, is there a way to reduce those house-borne I.E.D.’s without destroying the whole block? We need real bomb-squad kind of guys to come do this for us.”

The next morning, an M1 tank arrived. The neighborhood reverberated with enormous booms as soldiers blasted the homes suspected of containing bombs with antitank missiles, artillery and tank fire. The platoon’s advance had been stymied for a day, but there were no American casualties and more bombs had been cleared out.

Lieutenant Morton, the platoon commander, sought to put the hectic, anxiety-filled day in the arc of a long war. He said, “It is one of those days when you’re not doing anything, but stuff happens.”


It may be that we have left the land of Iraq and moved to the opposite side of the Earth, but Iraq does not seem to be able to quit our hearts and minds. It follows us like some phantom and refuses to leave us in peace to find our way in this new life. Where I am staying at the moment there is a satellite TV that receives Al-Iraqia and many of the other Arabic channels, and most of the time we watch these with sinking hearts as news of new disasters and painful tragedies reach us almost everyday."
The Mesopotamian
""Can I ask you about the war" he asked. Judging from his grizzled face he was in is late sixties. He had longish curly gray hair that continued right into a beard. He wore overalls and work boots like many of the rural types out here. His leathery hands were massive, his fingers thick and meaty from years of hard work. The sunlight that filtered through the trees glinted from his grey-blue eyes. I saw no malice.

"Sure" I replied, hoping the usual question wouldnt come."
Chapter: War

Sunni Leaders Angry Over Arrest Warrant

BAGHDAD (AP) - Iraqi commandos raided the home of a Sunni Cabinet member Tuesday after a warrant was issued for his arrest, outraging Sunni politicians and jeopardizing U.S.-backed reconciliation efforts within the Shiite-led government.

The move against Culture Minister Asad Kamal al-Hashimi came after he was identified by two suspected militants as the mastermind of a Feb. 8, 2005, ambush against secular politician Mithal al-Alusi, an Iraqi government spokesman said. Al-Alusi escaped unharmed but two of his sons were killed.

"The two who planned and carried out the killings of Mithal al-Alusi's two sons confessed that they took orders from him," Ali al-Dabbagh said. The spokesman said al-Hashimi was a mosque imam at the time.

Al-Hashimi was not at home when the security forces staged the pre-dawn raid and detained some 40 of his guards. Muhanad al-Essawi, a spokesman for the main Sunni parliamentary bloc, said the minister was being kept in an undisclosed safe place in Baghdad and that Sunni politicians were asking the government to close the case.

Al-Hashimi is the first serving Cabinet minister to face arrest. The deputy health minister was arrested in February for alleged ties to Shiite militiamen.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, has promised not to let political or sectarian considerations stop him from cracking down on violence. But the move threatened to set back efforts to bring the disaffected Sunni minority into the political process, a step the U.S. says is key to stem support for the insurgency and enable American troops to go home.

Al-Hashimi's party, the Congress of the People of Iraq, condemned the arrest warrant and warned the government to avoid "playing with fire" by "fabricating lies to exclude Sunni politicians and officials from the Iraqi arena."

A government official said the warrant was issued after culture minister failed to respond to a summons by judicial authorities two days ago.

The official said that Deputy Prime Minister Salam al-Zubaie, a Sunni, asked al-Maliki about the raid during a Cabinet meeting Tuesday but the prime minister told him it was a legal matter. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not supposed to release the information.

Al-Alusi, the politician whose sons were killed, gained a measure of notoriety in 2004 when Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress fired him for visiting Israel to attend an anti-terrorism conference. He now is a member of parliament with his own party.

In a telephone interview with Al-Jazeera, al-Hashimi accused the government of pursuing him as part of a campaign to sideline Sunni politicians.

"When they want to get rid of anybody, the easiest way for them to do that is to charge him with terrorist activities," al-Hashimi said. "They have ready-made charges and they use them against us so that they can chase us out of the country."

The Iraqi Accordance Front, the biggest Sunni bloc in the legislature, said the warrant was based on statements made under torture.

"We are fed up and there is no room for patience and we wish that this mistake would be fixed and not repeated," the Front said. The statement added that al-Maliki had promised the minister would not be arrested, although officials in the prime minister's office denied the claim.

The Sunni community, which was dominant under Saddam Hussein, has been struggling for a greater role in government. At the same time, hardline Sunni insurgent groups have been targeting Sunnis who want to join the political process.

A Sunni sheik, Hamid Abdul Farhan al-Shujairi, was gunned down Tuesday in a mainly Sunni area of Baghdad, police said. A member of his tribe, Akram al-Shujairi, said the sheik had attended a conference several weeks ago on supporting the government and fighting al-Qaida.

The attack occurred one day after a suicide bomber slipped into the busy Mansour Hotel in Baghdad and blew himself up, killing as many as six tribal leaders who oppose al-Qaida.

U.S. Marine Maj. Jeff Pool, a military spokesman in western Iraq, said Sunni sheiks from Anbar province were meeting with Shiite sheiks at the Mansour to talk about reconciliation.

An al-Qaida front group, the Islamic State of Iraq, claimed responsibility in a statement posted Tuesday on an Islamist Web site.

Sectarian violence persisted Tuesday, with at least 41 Iraqis killed or found dead nationwide, including a top Baghdad University official who was shot to death while being driven home from work in the capital and a university student who was killed after final exams in the northern city of Mosul.

U.S. troops called in help from their British allies as a Royal Air Force plane bombed a building south of Baghdad, killing six insurgents, the U.S. command said.

A U.S. statement said the GR-4 Tornado jet was summoned after insurgents fled into a building following an attack on an Iraqi police station and checkpoint in Salman Pak. Four Iraqi vehicles were destroyed.

After the insurgents took shelter in the building, the British jet destroyed the target with a 2,000-pound bomb, the statement added. Two U.S. OH-58D helicopters also joined the fight, engaging about 30 insurgents with rocket and machine gun fire, the U.S. said.


Bad Days

"It had been a quiet night. A Friday, when we usually don't see a lot of action, as everyone's at the mosques praying. I was almost done with my shift. The route clearance patrols were out sweeping for IEDs. Then one of them got hit. "
All Quiet on the Southwest Asian Front

Arrowhead Ripper: Surrender or Die

"First a quick media round-up. (This is not all-inclusive.)
Alexandra Zavis from Los Angeles Times is down in the heat of the battle bringing home information. Michael Gordon from New York Times is still slugging it out, and his portions are accurate in the co-authored story, “Heavy Fighting as US Troops Squeeze Insurgents in Iraqi City.” (Long title.)"
Michael Yon

"That Was Some Scary Shit"

"Yesterday, I experienced something I didn't think I ever would, but knew was a possibility.

I told you recently about some force protection upgrades we were working on for our Iraqi Army (IA) brothers in an outpost in this area. Yesterday, we stopped by that outpost in a small town to perform several tasks. My boss met with the city leaders, I checked in with the IA and others on our team were going to meet with various other folks in this town. The barriers were in place and the IA guards were well positioned and understood their jobs. The IA commander of this outpost felt he understood the dangers in this town and this area but I'm certain that he only had a partial understanding of what was going on. His outpost had been attacked on the very first night his unit arrived. It was a very ineffectual attack with no casualties on either side, but it seemed that the attack was more a message than an attempt to engage in a serious battle. The message being, "we know you're here and we don't like it." Hence the new barriers and such."
Jack Army

Monday, June 25, 2007

Slave to the System

""Dude, you're not on the nine-line!"

"What, your kidding me! I'm going to have to go on this one! Either that, or the patient stays on the deck, and we re-submit another request."

"I already have a monitor." The flight medic yells above the roar of the rotors 20 yards away.

I shrug my shoulders, as if to say "What now?""
Desert Flier

Sunday, June 24, 2007

"I stood in the middle of the road my feet evenly planted shoulder width apart. The sun beat down on me from a piercing blue sky. My individual body army hung from my shoulders with all of its weight, a full combat load of ammunition and my weapon slung on my front. A total of over fifty pounds."
Chapter: War

Iraq prompts US Army rethink on nation-building

WASHINGTON, June 24 (Reuters) - Stung by failures in Iraq, the U.S. Army says it is getting serious about nation-building, overcoming reluctance in its own ranks and reflecting a big change in Bush administration policy.

Army officers prefer the term stability operations to nation-building, which became politically sensitive, but they mean much the same -- helping provide basic services and build institutions to stabilize a foreign state, often after war.

The Army has traditionally seen major combat as its main mission and was wary of the stability and peacekeeping operations in Somalia, Bosnia and Kosovo undertaken on the orders of the Clinton administration in the 1990s.

"The word was 'we don't do nation-building,'" Gen. George Casey, the Army's chief of staff, recalled from his time in Bosnia in the mid-1990s.

"That was so ingrained in the force," Casey said, that the Army would not let a senior U.S. diplomat, the deputy head of international peace efforts, sleep on its compound.

"We've come a long way from there with what we're doing in Baghdad," said Casey, formerly the top commander in Iraq.

U.S. forces are involved in a huge range of nation-building tasks in Iraq -- training the army and police, building roads, schools and clinics and strengthening local governments.


It is not just the Army that has changed its outlook.

"I don't think our troops ought to be used for what's called nation-building," George W. Bush said in October 2000 as he ran for president. "I think our troops ought to be used to fight and win war."

But when U.S. forces failed to stabilize Iraq after easily toppling Saddam Hussein, Bush's administration decided it had to take stability operations much more seriously.

The Pentagon issued a directive in late 2005 declaring "stability operations are a core U.S. military mission."

Military officers would like more civilians -- from police officers to economists and agricultural experts -- involved in nation-building but many have concluded that will not happen any time soon and they will have to fill the gaps.

"If nobody else is there, at the end of the day, we've got to be prepared to take on some of those roles and responsibilities," said Col. Simon Wolsey, a British officer attached to U.S. Army headquarters.

Wolsey heads a unit trying push stability operations into every corner of the force. He says the Army is embracing "a radical departure from previous doctrine," and a new field manual reinforces the importance of stability operations.


Outside experts acknowledge a change in rhetoric but say they have yet to see major changes in how the Army operates.

"Simply issuing a new doctrine or adopting a new strategy doesn't change the institution," said James Dobbins, an authority on nation-building at the Rand Corp. research group and a former assistant secretary of state.

The Pentagon could for example use special forces more to train foreign troops, one of their specialist tasks, and less for combat operations, Dobbins said.

Rick Barton, a post-conflict reconstruction expert, said the military should devote the same sort of resources to stability operations as it lavishes on a new aircraft carrier.

"I don't see the more dramatic shifts that need to take place so that careers rise and fall on it," said Barton, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank.

But the Army says it is wary of changing too much until the U.S. government has worked out how much nation-building it expects other agencies to take on.

The Pentagon had to step in earlier this year to fill reconstruction posts in Iraq for several months after the State Department said it could not quickly recruit the necessary experts or provide them from its own ranks.

"Can we change the culture in the other departments so that their folks can participate in areas like Iraq that are at a relatively high level of violence?" asked Casey. "Or is that too hard and should the military do it itself?"


U.S. troops battle "minefield" of bombs in Iraq's Baquba

BAQUBA, Iraq (Reuters) - U.S. troops hoping to directly confront al Qaeda militants in a major offensive in the Iraqi city of Baquba instead found themselves "swimming through a minefield", a senior officer said on Sunday.

The operation in and around Baquba, capital of volatile Diyala province, is in its sixth day and is a major part of one of the biggest offensives by U.S. and Iraqi forces against the Sunni Islamist group in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion.

Some U.S. officers said they believed the initial combat phase of the offensive is nearly complete and any militants left could be confronted in the next 24 hours. Hundreds of militants were thought to be still holed up in Baquba's western districts.

But others believe many al Qaeda fighters left Baquba after getting clear signals from U.S. commanders who have said for some time that the city was high on their list of priorities.

"It's frustrating. You set up something that you know will work ... now we know that most of the al Qaeda enemy got away," said Captain Julian Kemper. "Our purpose was not to push them out somewhere else. It was to end it here."

Lieutenant-General Ray Odierno, the deputy U.S. commander in Iraq, has said there was little doubt al Qaeda knew that a major offensive was coming.

"They watched the news. They understood we had a surge, they understood Baquba was designated as a problem area," he told Pentagon journalists on Friday.

Colonel Steve Townsend, commander of the 3rd Stryker Brigade, said the latest intelligence indicated some fighters were still inside an American cordon, which has been steadily tightened since the operation began.

The campaign in Diyala, north of Baghdad, as well as offensives in other regions around the capital, is expected to last several weeks.

After heavy street fighting on the first day, Operation Arrowhead Ripper in Baquba has shifted to the slow and dangerous job of clearing scores of buried bombs and booby-trapped houses.


A U.S. jet dropped a precision-guided bomb on one booby-trapped house, setting off a massive secondary explosion.

"Even though we're not fighting an enemy soldier, we are swimming through his minefield," Townsend told Reuters.

He expected the combat phase of the operation in Baquba to be over in the next 24 to 48 hours as his men re-checked areas to make sure they had not missed any concealed bombs.

Barriers and checkpoints, manned by Iraqi security forces, were being put up around three of the most troubled districts in west Baquba to prevent al Qaeda slipping back into the city.

Baquba is an al Qaeda stronghold that has also become a sanctuary for militants escaping a security crackdown launched in Baghdad in February.

Tens of thousands of U.S. and Iraqi soldiers are engaged in the simultaneous offensives in and around Baghdad to deny al Qaeda sanctuary in farmlands and towns from where they launch car bombs and other attacks in the capital and elsewhere.

In Operation Marne Torch, an offensive targeting al Qaeda in Baghdad's southern "beltlands", Major-General Rick Lynch said 12 insurgents had been killed and 142 detained.

U.S. and Iraqi forces say they have killed 90 al Qaeda fighters around Baghdad, 55 of them in the Baquba operation.

With more U.S. soldiers engaged in offensives around the country the death toll for U.S. forces has begun to rise in June after hitting a two-and-a-half year monthly high in May of 126, the third highest monthly total since the start of the war.

Eighty U.S. soldiers have been killed so far in June, 28 of them in the past week.


Military campaigns alone are not enough for success

"In the West of Iraq in Al-Ramadi was the most strong hold base for Al-Qaeda. Both the occupation forces and the Iraqi weak police and force failed to achieve any kind of success in spite of big losses from both. However when the tribes decided to fight and expel Al-Qaeda they did it quickly. Ramadi is now almost cleared from Al-Qaeda which transferred its weight into Diayla.

Diayla though consist tribes similar to Ramadi is of a different geography and arrangement. The US occupied troops started a new military campaign few days ago in Diayla capital city Baaqoba. All the signs until now indicate that this campaign is no difference from previous campaigns in Ramadi and facing even stronger resistance."

Operation : Adhamyia

"As you may have heared what's been going on lately in Adhamyia, and maybe you haven't because of the media mask from both the Americans and the iraqi government.
Its been 3 days since the attack on the American patrol which ended up killing 9 American soldiers and starving all the population of Adhamyia.

Here comes what happened:"
Nabil's Blog

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The FOB Quick Reaction Force (QRF) in action

"The day dawned clear around 5.30 and going with my daily routine, I took a little time for my own sketching. I headed up the mountain to the outpost LAVIII hoping to sketch it standing vigil in the early morning sun. One of three soldiers manning the mountain outpost came and chatted while I worked and I ended up interviewing the Captain on duty at the post. One of the other soldiers ferried us all breakfast in a gator ATV, then we all sat and shot the breeze. Absolute luxury, breakfast and a view."
A Kandahar Journal
H/T RantBurg

U.S., Iraqi Troops Sweep Into Baqouba

BAQOUBA, Iraq (AP) - Hundreds of U.S. and Iraqi troops, under cover of F-16s, fought their way into three neighborhoods of besieged Baqouba on Friday to help clear Diyala province of entrenched insurgents. To the north of the city, American helicopters killed 17 al-Qaida gunmen trying to sneak past a checkpoint.

As the mission of 10,000 U.S. soldiers to take back the volatile and extremely dangerous province intensified in its fourth day, so have concerns about keeping al-Qaida fighters on the run. The terrorist fighters and their allies already have been run out of Fallujah and Ramadi in Anbar province, only to regroup in Diyala's capital of Baqouba and surrounding districts.

The U.S. ground forces commander, Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, said more than three-quarters of Baqouba's al-Qaida leadership fled before the Americans moved into the city this week. At the time, drone observer planes spotted fighters planting dozens of roadside bombs on the main highway into Baqouba.

Brig. Gen. Mick Bednarek, assistant commander for operations with the 25th Infantry Division, estimated that several hundred low-level al-Qaida fighters remained.

"They're clearly in hiding, no question about it. But they're a hardline group of fighters who have no intention of leaving, and they want to kill as many coalition and Iraqi security forces as they possibly can," Bednarek said Friday.

"It's 24-7 for us here, and it's probably the same for our adversary as well," he said. "It's house-to-house, block to block, street to street, sewer to sewer - and it's also cars, vans - we're searching every one of them."

An Associated Press employee in Baqouba reported heavy fighting as U.S. troops swept into three eastern neighborhoods in Friday's operation, which began after U.S. forces warned residents to leave or stay indoors.

The American military said the 17 al-Qaida fighters were killed trying to flee past Iraqi security blockades on the road to Khalis, a predominantly Shiite city northeast of Baqouba.

Earlier this week, creeping house-to-house through western Baqouba, U.S. soldiers made a startling discovery: a suspected al-Qaida field hospital stocked with oxygen tanks, heart defibrillators and other medical equipment.

The find displayed al-Qaida's sophisticated support network in Baqouba, a mostly Sunni town of about 300,000 people, located 35 miles north of Baghdad.

And that may presage great problems in an outright defeat of al-Qaida even if U.S. forces succeed in ousting the group from Baqouba. The city has received little aid or other services from the central government, which feared supplies would end up in al-Qaida hands.

As the al-Qaida field hospital proved, much assistance did bypass residents and found its way to the terrorist organization.

Until trust is mended, U.S. military commanders say, any success they have in this offensive could be lost on a city unable or unwilling to reconcile sectarian differences.

Historically a mixed province, Diyala has become predominantly Sunni as Shiites fled an influx of Sunni militants from Anbar province. The militants were welcomed by many of Saddam Hussein's former Baath party members.

The shifting population balance only increased tension between local Sunni tribal leaders and the Shiite-dominated federal government in Baghdad.

"There are a multitude of systematic functions that aren't working," said Maj. Robbie Parke, 36, of Rapid City, S.D., and spokesman for the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division. "The Iraqi government has to say, 'Look, Baqouba is in trouble, and we need to help.'"

So far that has not happened, U.S. officials say. But there are signs of hope.

"The (Iraqi) government is very immature, but they're getting better and saying the right things. We've got to hold them to that," said Odierno, the ground forces commander.

He spoke to AP during a trip to Baqouba on Thursday as American forces began in earnest to squeeze al-Qaida, Sunni insurgents and Shiite militiamen after the arrival of the final brigade of an additional 30,000 troops dispatched by President Bush.

Diyala province is one of a quartet of operations targeting militants entrenched in the so-called "belts" of Baghdad - regions on the capital's flanks where mostly Sunni insurgents are believed to have based car-bomb factories, weapons stashes and militant safe houses.

High-level U.S. military officials and diplomats are exerting pressure on the Shiite-led government to back national reconciliation and ensure that basic services are restored in Baqouba, Odierno said. Those measures are needed to earn public trust and sustain any U.S. military successes here, he said.

"It goes all the way to the prime minister, and they've promised to do this thing," Odierno told midlevel U.S. commanders involved in the fighting here. "It's my job to hold their feet to the fire, because we're not going to waste this (military) effort and we're not going to allow al-Qaida to come back here."

Baqouba, the largest consolidated U.S. military effort in Iraq right now, follows the same strategy as the four-month-old Baghdad security plan: U.S. forces clear militants in an effort to allow local Iraqi politicians to regain control of their city. The maintenance - keeping insurgents out for good - will be left to Iraqi security forces.

But U.S. commanders acknowledge that Baqouba's prognosis is tenuous even without al-Qaida unless Iraqis themselves can get a grip on security issues and put aside sectarian divisions.

"Sure, there's tension between Shiites and al-Qaida. But once we get rid of al-Qaida here, we have to see whether there remains Shiite-Sunni tension," Odierno said. He also sought to reassure Sunnis that extremists from their sect were not the only ones responsible for Baqouba's spike in violence.

"The real thing here is our ability to hold and control these areas (once the major fighting is over)," Odierno said. "We'll have to go into Shiite areas as well, to see if there are any extremists there fueling the tension."

In recent months, the Baqouba police chief and the head of the 5th Iraqi Army division, which is in charge of all of Diyala province, were both fired on suspicion they were fueling sectarian tension, said Col. David Sutherland, 45, from Toledo, Ohio. Several members of a Shiite death squad were discovered serving in an Iraqi battalion in Baqouba in February, and were also removed from duty, he said.

The 5th division is the only Iraqi army unit in the country that has not been transferred back to full Iraqi ground force control, U.S. officials said.

"They're minimally equipped," said Bednarek. "It takes a while to get them up to the level of proficiency to perform a difficult role against a sophisticated enemy - al-Qaida," he said.


Friday, June 22, 2007


"The three of us had moved up the pine and scrub covered hill, dried leaves and pine boughs under our boots, the smell of the forest strong in our noises, to the edge of a trench line. This section looked unguarded and open.
Just below the ridge line, the military crest, was a machine gun nest firing down on the rest of the battalion, an MG-42. Keo, lugging the BAR that was nearly has tall as he was had called the type correct just by the sound.
Always trust Keo and his hearing. I had learned that months ago."
This is Your War II

Willy Pete makes an appearance in Baqubah

"Last night Michael Gordon was on ATC talking about the battle in western Baqubah. Gordon is currently embedded with the 1st Batallion, 23rd Infantry Regiment. What you would have missed if you had sneezed while listening to the report was the part about civilians being injured by White Phosphorus.

The interviewer asked Gordon, almost as an afterthought, whether there were any civilian casualties. (What a question!) Gordon said, 'Oh yes. 'In fact,' he says, his photographer had seen civilians who had been injured by "phosphorus shells.""
Non Sum Dignus

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Reality of Counterinsurgency OPS

"AS things progress here in Iraq and as the situation changes there become new things to criticize and critique. Some of that of course is perfectly appropriate, however some of the criticism also demonstrates the fundamental lack of understanding of the nature of counterinsurgency operations.

In war, generally the goal is not to kill everybody on the opposing side. Rather the goal is to make the losses too painful for the other side to continue to absorb and otherwise make them feel that resistance is a futile effort."
Badgers Forward

The Battle of Iraq»

"A look at the largest offensive operation in Iraq since 2003

Four days after the announcement of major offensive combat operations against al Qaeda in Iraq and its allies, the picture becomes clearer on the size and scope of the operation. In today's press briefing, Rear Admiral Mark noted that the ongoing operation is a corps directed and coordinated offensive operation. This is the largest offensive operation since the first phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom ended in the spring of 2003."
The Fourth Rail

Must be my lucky day

Consider very urgent

Pls.send replies to this email address(
Attention MY Good Friend,
Greetings to you!

I am Lieutenant Colonel Alan Foster.a US soldier in Iraq, I am one of the top officers of the First Battalion of the US MARINE.As you may Know,there are several cases of insurgents attacks and suicide bombing going on here.However We managed to move funds belonging to some deceased persons who were attacked and killed through insurgent attacks.The total amount is US$25 Million dollars in cash.

We want to move this money to you so that you may keep our share for us untill when we shall come over to meet You. We will take 70%, my partner and I while you take 30%.No strings attached.Just help us move it out of Iraq as Iraq we all know is a war zone.Note that We plan to use the British Diplomatic courier in shipping the money out in two large metallic Boxes,using diplomatic immunity.If you are interested I will
send you the full details.

My job is to find a good partner that we can trust and that will assist us. Can I trust you? When you receive this letter, kindly send me an e-mail signifying your interest including your most confidential telephone/fax numbers for quick communication and also your contact details.
This business is risk free. Get back to me immediately on this E-mail address.

Lieutenant Colonel Alan Foster.
Pls.send replies to this email address(

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Ten More Years of This Nightmare!!!!

"General David Petraeus today sucked the life out of me with his comments on the bleak future awaiting Iraq and Iraqis. The Australian reports:"
Fayrouz in Beaumont
You know I have been thinking outside just the present, and I have to tell you that I do not know if I could continue to support military operation in Iraq indefinably. I need to start seeing something to give me back the hope I lost in this administration from it's inspection.

War of The Shrines

"Attacking the Askari shrine for the second time emphasizes how those who ordered the attacks have been betting their money on this tactic to spark civil war in Iraq. Civil war would kill any hope for the rise of a stable democracy and is also the best option to stop the change project in the region by associating it with the ugly image of civil war.
Such war would not only destroy Iraqis' hopes in stability and prosperity, it would also bury every aspiration in the region for pluralism and reform—the Iraqi example could be used then as call for accepting dictatorship or going back to the Salafi origins as an easy alternative for a change that leads to civil war."
Pay attention.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Iraq in need of action to provide security and not propaganda

"The world media after the American CBC showed nauseated pictures for orphan children in orphanage in Baghdad. Some of these pictures showed these children naked and chained to their beds. Other pictures showed that they are sleeping in groups of 5 or more in one bed. All these children were malnourished and looked that they are emotionally and may be physically abused.

On the other hand the pictures showed some American soldiers giving these children water and food! The question here who is the main cause for such orphans? Is it not the American-British occupation and wars as well as 12 years barbaric sanctions which led to thousands of orphans in Iraq?"
You know the strange thing about this post? I does not sound like sam! I think sam has been replaced. Attack of the blogger snatchers.. who the hell is this guy. Is it just me.

French officials want their BlackBerrys despite security warning

Top French government officials are ignoring warnings to ditch their cherished BlackBerrys -- smartphones with e-mail capacity -- despite warnings their messages may be intercepted by US spy agencies, a report said Tuesday.
"They tried to offer us something else to replace our BlackBerrys," an unnamed official in the prime minister's office told Le Monde newspaper. "But that didn't work and some people use their BlackBerrys in secret."

French security officials are worried that e-mails sent by government officials from a BlackBerry might be picked up by the US National Security Agency because the servers for BlackBerry mail are located in the United States and Britain, according to Le Monde.

They first notified the government of this risk 18 months ago but have had to reissue the warning, the paper said.

"The risk of interception is real, it's an economic war," Alain Juilllet, a senior French economic intelligence official, told Le Monde.

Research in Motion, the Canadian firm that makes BlackBerry, is the market leader for mobile e-mail devices with more than seven million users of its smartphones in use worldwide.

BreitBartUS Officials were quoted as saying, "we don't recall".

You would think with all the important spying the administration is doing, American citizens, gays that work as linguist for the military, and now the French, sooner or later they might actually have time to get around to do some spying on the "enemy". When asked, they replied,

"I can't remember"

Someone check the temperature

Hell must have frozen over...Bush administration official take responsibility. I know, I know it's hard to believe, so I went looking for the video of today's hearing on the passport backlog to prove it, but the video is not yet available.

So I would like to give Asst. Sec. of State Maura Harty the TFW truth in testifying before congress award, for going before congress and taking responsibility.

She not once used the words "I don't recall" "I can't remember" "I lost all my e-mail" or any number of friendly reminders that the person testifying is a member of the Bush Administration.
I hope she likes our award, I bet she's fired by the end of the week.

Egypt Moves Ambassador to West Bank

"Egypt has decided to move its ambassador to Palestine from Gaza to the West Bank. This actions is a clear indication that the Egyptians government, which is extremly worried at the new neighbours who showed up on our door step, is backing the new government appointed by the Palestinian president. "
Big Pharaoh

A disastrous Nightmare...

"The media can have alot of positive and negative points. Let me start by the negative ones which I just saw on TV, on Sky news. Im sure you have heard that the GZ got hammered by a number of mortars while back. And what does Sky news do???They go to their sister channel Fox news, and show LIVE PICTURES of the GZ in smoke!!! I mean what better way to encourage the insurgents of doing more??? Very good on you Sky and Fox news, you are the very best tool for the insurgents. I mean who in their stupid mind would do this???They are putting their own people at risk. And you wander why so many contractors are dying!!! Do I dare say more??? It would have been suffice to say that the GZ is being hit, thats it, no more details and DEFINITELY NO PICTURES!!! I try to be as vague as I can when I talk about attacks against the GZ cuz of the risk that I will be putting everyone in incase some idiot is reading my blog and is part of the insurgents/militias."
Neurotica, your text is unreadable on the new background, which is beautiful, and those picture of heartbreaking.
But at least your not kidnapped

Photo Gallery: Baghdad Today

"Scenes of Devastation from Western Baghdad:

These random pictures were taken by residents of western Baghdad during April, May and June, 2007. They provide a glimpse of life in the Iraqi capital four years after the the American invasion: abandoned streets, burnt out buildings and vehicles, piles of uncollected garbage and rubble, unknown bodies decaying on the streets, makeshift roadblocks placed by residents to fend off militia attacks. Most of the pictures, which have been circulating on Iraqi Arabic-language message boards, are from the Jami'a district and surrounding areas in predominately Sunni western Baghdad. (Warning: some graphic content.)"
Healing Iraq

Army Spc. Mark Ryan Climaco Caguioa

"MaryAnne from Soldiers Angel Germany pointed me out to Mark's story last week and I told her I would write about it after reading into it more, here are my thoughts.

Corporal Caguioa was the son Filipino immigrants, raised in Stockton and graduated from Bear Creek High School class of 2002. After high school, he worked at a sushi chef before enlisting in the Army in 2005 and deployed to Iraq in October of 2006.

On the 4th of May 2007, he lost both of his legs from an improvised explosive device and later lost his left arm."
Doc in the Box

Fort Stewart Soldier, Blogger Goes AWOL, Objects to Iraq Deployment

APN) FORT STEWART – "Just because we volunteered, doesn't mean we volunteered to throw our lives away for nothing. You can only push human beings so far," Marc Train, 19, a soldier from America's heartland, stationed most recently in Fort Stewart, Georgia, says.

"Soldiers are going to Iraq multiple times. The reasons we're there are obviously lies. We're reaching a breaking point, and I believe you're going see a lot more resistance inside the military."

Train's a Private in the US Army, but the last time anyone saw him on base at Fort Stewart was March 16, 2007, just before he headed to Washington, DC, to protest the Occupation in which he is expected to fight.

Before leaving for DC, Train contacted Garett Reppenhagen, Chairman of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW). Train wanted to participate in the street theater protests Reppenhagen was organizing for Iraq veterans to mark the fourth anniversary of the Invasion.

"When I learned he was coming from Fort Stewart where he was still an active duty soldier, my first thought was, Wow, the kid has guts," Reppenhagen said.

Photos show Train at an anti-war demonstration outside the Pentagon that drew over 30,000 people on March 17, 2007. He was on stage with veterans and other GIs opposing the Occupation. In one hand he held an antiwar banner; in the other, a red flag, waving in the wind, high above his head.

"We parted that evening with plans for Marc to get a ride to the Operation First Casualty [street theater] preparation the next day," Reppenhagen recalls. "Marc never showed. Something deep down inside me figured he wasn't going back to Fort Stewart."


Marc Train was an Army brat. His father, Eric, was stationed in Germany, where Marc spent the first three years of his life.

Eric Train was responsible for border security between East and West Germany. "He may have seen some bad things there," his son Marc says, uncertain. "I've heard stories from people stationed with my Dad. When people tried to cross from East to West, they'd get pretty torn up. They were shot down. My Dad might have been exposed to that."

When the Berlin Wall came down, Eric moved his family back to the United States. Seeking to spare them the monotony of an active duty lifestyle, Eric transferred to the Army Reserves.

When Eric couldn't find a job, he started drinking. Spiraling into debt, Eric and Charlene were in the process of splitting up. When young Marc Train was five, his father shot himself in the head with a deer-hunting rifle.

After that, Train went through a predictable string of psychotropic medications for young people with trauma.

At one point, he was spent a month at Charter Mental Hospital in Wichita, Kansas.

"I'm kind of a mamma's boy," Train says, laughing a little. "For 13 years, I put her through a lot... I never went to class and the school would call her job all the time. We'd get really frustrated and yell at each other. The cops would come and I'd get taken away to jail. My Mom always came to pick me up later, though."

Marc and his mother ended up in Salina, Kansas, a city that promised boom-time economic growth. Marc Train bounced from school to school just the same: Salina High School South, an alternative school, and finally the Job Corps. He graduated from the Job Corps with a GED.

Marc and his mother weren't hungry, but they still struggled to make ends meet. The family wasn't homeless, but they occasionally went to stay with his grandparents. Mostly, they just kept moving from place to place. Looking around, Train didn't see much in the way of a future ahead of him.

"I was in an economic trap," he says. "I just wanted to find some stability in my life. The Army seemed like just the thing. Going through school, they teach you implicitly, if you're [unsuccessful] here, you're gonna be [unsuccessful] forever. I needed a way out of that."

Train signed up for the Army under the delayed-entry program in the summer of 2005.


On September 1, 2005, Marc Train was picked up at his house by a recruiter and delivered to the military entrance-processing station (MEPS) in Kansas City. Nine days later, Train ended up at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, where he began a new life on September 9, 2005.

"That was zero day," Train says, talking about the Army process of breaking down and rebuilding new recruits. "They tried to shatter everybody."

As Train's boyhood was being smashed out of him by Army drill instructors, he watched Hurricanes Katrina and Rita rip through the Gulf Coast of the US. As drill instructors tried to remake him into a US Army soldier, Train grew more and more critical of the government's callous response to the death and economic devastation in the region.

He knew the National Guard should have been around to assist with the disaster, but the troops were deployed in Iraq instead.

After Basic Training, Train spent 16 weeks at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, learning to be an intelligence analyst. He was given an interim top-secret security clearance, and after an initial investigation, would have access to highly sensitive compartmentalized intelligence.

"The really spooky, CIA stuff," Train explains, without going into further detail.

In April 2006, he arrived at his first duty station at Fort Stewart, Georgia.

The problems began when Train started a blog critical of the US government's financial decisions. How could the Administration disburse funding to its pals at Halliburton's KBR and Bechtel, but allocate nothing for the people in the Gulf Coast, he asked. Along the way, Train says he may have been a bit disrespectful to those responsible.

Seeing as how his writings were posted anonymously, it shouldn't have mattered.

But when Train's commanders saw his blog, they hit the roof. On the grounds he was a threat to national security, his clearance was suspended. A months-long investigation resulted in the revocation of his top-secret security status and other disciplinary action. He could no longer do the only job he knew how to do.

"No one ever asked me if I intended to overthrow the government, or even if I would have supported that. If they had asked, I would have said no, because I wanted to support my unit," Train says. "I'd seen movies like Iraq for Sale, and I had heard about the scandal at Abu Ghraib. I wanted to use my knowledge to support our mission and help the people in Iraq. But no one asked me.”

Train says his commanders told him they “thought I was an infiltration and espionage threat."

In November 2006, Train's security clearance was formally revoked and his commanding officer started to talk seriously about Train leaving the Army. Train agreed he and the Army weren't such a good fit anymore. He filled out a separation packet, and was pulled off the deployment roster in January 2007. His paperwork made its way through the chain of command.

By every indication, Train was on his way to getting out of the Army.

By this time, Train had signed the Appeal for Redress, an online petition for active duty members of the military. He joined IVAW and was developing a political critique of the policies that supported the Invasion of Iraq.

In February 2007, Train began hearing rumors his discharge had been rejected and he would be sent to Iraq anyway. His Rear Detachment Commander eventually confirmed the rumors, saying Train would deploy as an 11Bravo infantryman, with generic assignments and combat responsibilities.

"Everyone in the Army gets a few combat skills. But infantry? It's not what I was trained for," Marc says. "It would have been a suicide mission."

Train knew the threats were serious when he was sent to the rapid fielding initiative (RFI) and equipped for deployment.

Because he wasn't reclassified with more useful duties or properly prepared for the ones to which he was now assigned, Train became convinced going AWOL was his best option.

He left for the March 17, 2007, protests in Washington, DC, knowing he wouldn't return to Fort Stewart. Train arranged to meet other GIs in DC.

Jonathan Hutto, Cofounder of the Appeal for Redress, didn't know about Train's plans, but no soldier makes the decision to go AWOL lightly, he says.

"I support any and everyone who has been driven to go AWOL," says Hutto, himself an active duty member of the Navy. "It's not his fault he went AWOL. It's the government's fault for committing this war and creating such an untenable situation."

Like Hutto, IVAW’s Garett Reppenhagen says Train going AWOL was an understandable choice given the circumstances. "I also would have supported him if he had gone back and continued service," Reppenhagen said.

"I have a huge pain in my heart, like it's literally breaking," Train said after leaving Washington, DC.


"The recruiters are coming into these inner-city schools, full of kids who are already going to have a hard life, harder than most people. When the same kids come back with post-traumatic stress disorder, the military denies them benefits. It sickens me because I wore that uniform. I represented a system of treating people like garbage."

The militarization of America's schools is shocking, Train says. "They're creating a culture of conformity. They're teaching kids to lash out at anything different." Train notes the metal detectors, the security guards on every floor, and students wearing uniform-like clothes.

"I want to counter the whole idea that just because you think you might have messed up one area of your life, your life is ruined forever," Train says.

He doesn't know specifics, but in the long run knows his future work will have something to do with giving young people hope. "I want to build support networks for troubled kids so they don't have to join the military."

"Regardless of what the mainstream media says about troops supporting the war, a lot of people around me disagreed with the policies," Train says.

"Recruiting is down. The length and number of tours is up. GIs are exhausted, and we're angry. When a bunch of uniformed soldiers say the war is [messed] up, the anger begins to spill over. There's going to be a breaking point soon. The Army already has a situation on its hands."


Monday, June 18, 2007

Pentagon Deals Another Deck

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Pentagon is sending another deck of playing cards to troops in Iraq - this time showing some of the country's most precious archaeological sites instead of the most-wanted former regime officials.

Some 40,000 new decks of playing cards will be sent to troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan - as part of an awareness program so troops can help preserve the heritage of those countries, said Laurie Rush, archaeologist at Fort Drum in New York.

It's aimed at making troops aware they shouldn't pick up and bring home artifacts and also to avoid causing damage to sites - such as an incident after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, when American troops built a helicopter pad on the ruins of Babylon and filled their sandbags with archaeological fragments from the ancient city.

Each card in the deck shows an artifact or site or gives a tip on how to help preserve antiquities.

"Drive around, not over, archaeological sites," says the five of clubs.

"This site has survived 17 centuries. Will it and others survive you?" asks the seven of clubs, which pictures Ctesiphon Arch in Iraq.

The majority of cards are about Iraq, but some shows sites in Afghanistan - the king of diamonds shows Buddha statuary at Hadda.

In another program, American pilots have received training in recognizing and identifying ruins, cemeteries and other sites so they don't accidentally bomb them.

In another, soldiers are simulating incidents - such as practicing what they would do if they were taking hostile fire from an archaeological ruin.

"Obviously we have to put our soldiers safety first," Ms. Rush said, but they would consider whether there might be a way to return fire without harming the site. MoThe Archaeological Institute of America reported on the program in the July-August issue of its magazine.

New York Sun

Exclusive: Suicide Bomb Teams Sent to U.S., Europe

"Large teams of newly trained suicide bombers are being sent to the United States and Europe, according to evidence contained on a new videotape obtained by the Blotter on
Teams assigned to carry out attacks in the United States, Canada, Great Britain and Germany were introduced at an al Qaeda/Taliban training camp graduation ceremony held June 9.

A Pakistani journalist was invited to attend and take pictures as some 300 recruits, including boys as young as 12, were supposedly sent off on their suicide missions."
ABC Blotter

Coalition Forces disrupt Secret Cell terrorist network

BAGHDAD, Iraq – Coalition Forces killed at least 20 terrorists, wounded six suspected terrorists and detained one suspected terrorist during operations targeting Secret Cells operating in Amarah and Majjar al-Kabir.

The individuals detained during the raid is believed to be members of the secret cell terrorist network known for facilitating the transport of weapons and explosively formed penetrators, or EFPs, from Iran to Iraq, as well as bringing militants from Iraq to Iran for terrorist training.

In coordination with the Government of Iraq, Coalition Forces conducted coordinated raids in the Maysan province of eastern Iraq. During the morning’s operations, Coalition Forces came under heavy small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenade attacks in both Amarah and Majjar al-Kabir. Using appropriate escalation of force measures, ground forces were forced to use close air support to suppress the enemy fire. During the close air support, at least 20 terrorists were killed and six suspected terrorists were assessed to be wounded by the strafing. A vehicle being used by the terrorists as a fighting position was also destroyed by the close air support.

Intelligence reports indicate that both Amarah and Majjar al-Kabir are known safe havens and smuggling routes for Secret Cell terrorists who facilitate Iranian lethal aid. Reports further indicate that Iranian surrogates, or Iraqis that are liaisons for Iranian intelligence operatives into Iraq, use both Amarah and Majjar al-Kabir as safe haven locations.

“Terrorists learned this morning that there is no safe haven in Iraq,” said Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, MNF-I spokesperson. “Coalition Forces will seek out and find terrorists anywhere and everywhere in Iraq.”


Sunday, June 17, 2007

Zawraa: Al-Hakeem died

"Al-Zawraa TV channel (recently in Syria), broadcast a banner today [the red line in the image above] saying that Abdul Aziz Al-Hakeem [Hakim] died today in a hospital in Tehran, no confirmation yet by any news agency."
Baghdad Dweller
Who knows, I'll keep an eye out for more news...You know if true this will bump Sadr up a notch on the Shi'a totem poll.

China arming terrorists

New intelligence reveals China is covertly supplying large quantities of small arms and weapons to insurgents in Iraq and the Taliban militia in Afghanistan, through Iran.

U.S. government appeals to China to check some of the arms shipments in advance were met with stonewalling by Beijing, which insisted it knew nothing about the shipments and asked for additional intelligence on the transfers. The ploy has been used in the past by China to hide its arms-proliferation activities from the United States, according to U.S. officials with access to the intelligence reports.

Some arms were sent by aircraft directly from Chinese factories to Afghanistan and included large-caliber sniper rifles, millions of rounds of ammunition, rocket-propelled grenades and components for roadside bombs, as well as other small arms.

The Washington Times reported June 5 that Chinese-made HN-5 anti-aircraft missiles were being used by the Taliban.

According to the officials, the Iranians, in buying the arms, asked Chinese state-run suppliers to expedite the transfers and to remove serial numbers to prevent tracing their origin. China, for its part, offered to transport the weapons in order to prevent the weapons from being interdicted.

The weapons were described as "late-model" arms that have not been seen in the field before and were not left over from Saddam Hussein's rule in Iraq.

U.S. Army specialists suspect the weapons were transferred within the past three months.

The Bush administration has been trying to hide or downplay the intelligence reports to protect its pro-business policies toward China, and to continue to claim that China is helping the United States in the war on terrorism. U.S. officials have openly criticized Iran for the arms transfers but so far there has been no mention that China is a main supplier.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Wednesday that the flow of Iranian arms to Afghanistan is "fairly substantial" and that it is likely taking place with the help of the Iranian government.

Defense officials are upset that Chinese weapons are being used to kill Americans. "Americans are being killed by Chinese-supplied weapons, with the full knowledge and understanding of Beijing where these weapons are going," one official said.

The arms shipments show that the idea that China is helping the United States in the war on terrorism is "utter nonsense," the official said.

John Tkacik, a former State Department official now with the Heritage Foundation, said the Chinese arms influx "continues 10 years of willful blindness in both Republican and Democrat administrations to China's contribution to severe instability in the Middle East and South Asia."

Mr. Tkacik said the administration should be candid with the American people about China's arms shipments, including Beijing's provision of man-portable air-defense missiles through Iran and Syria to warring factions in Lebanon and Gaza.

Apologists for China within the government said the intelligence reports were not concrete proof of Chinese and Iranian government complicity.

Pentagon spokesmen declined to comment. A spokesman for the Chinese Embassy did not return telephone calls seeking comment.

Iran boat threat

Iran is adding Chinese-made small boats armed with anti-ship cruise missiles to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps navy that can be used in attacks on shipping in the oil-rich Persian Gulf, according to the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI).

"Iran still states that the [Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps navy] will employ swarming tactics in a conflict," ONI analyst Robert Althage said in an e-mail, noting that the paramilitary organization "continues to add boats armed with anti-ship cruise missiles, such as the FL-10, to its inventory."

China began supplying Iran over the past several years with small, high-speed C-14 catamarans armed with the optically guided FL-10 anti-ship cruise missiles.

Mr. Althage said in response to questions posed by Bloomberg News that recent exercises by the Iranians did not show any new capabilities and that the maneuvers appeared designed "for publicity."

Currently, Iran operates three Russian-made Kilo submarines but has not yet mined waterways, the ONI analyst stated.

A 2004 ONI report said the Iranian IRGC navy has more than 1,000 small boats ranging in length from 17 to 60 feet, and many are concentrated near the strategic Strait of Hormuz, where a large majority of the world's oil passes.

The boats can be used in attacks against shipping and include infantry weapons, unguided barrage rockets, recoilless guns, shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles and rocket-propelled grenades.

North Korea watch

U.S. intelligence agencies think North Korea is continuing development of nuclear weapons, as well as working on "miniaturization" of weapons for missile warheads, according to a senior Bush administration official.

Since the February nuclear accord reached in Beijing, North Korea has continued work on weapons, said a senior Bush administration official involved in North Korean affairs.

"There are no indications that they are not pursuing a nuclear weapons capability, to include the weaponization and miniaturization," the official said.

U.S. intelligence officials think North Korea, which received equipment through the covert Pakistani nuclear-supplier network headed by Abdul Qadeer Khan, obtained Chinese documents on designing a small warhead, the key to developing a nuclear weapon small enough for missile warheads.

The Chinese-language warhead design documents were first uncovered in Libya, which gave up its nuclear program in 2003.

Three recent missile tests in North Korea over the past several weeks were anti-ship cruise missiles fired during exercises that were not unusual for North Korean military forces at this time of year, the official said.

"Those who are looking at the six-party process and where we are today with [the Banco Delta Asia funds transfer] are very disappointed," the senior official said. "This doesn't build confidence. This is a time that is very tense and we want to go to implementing the 13 February agreement. So even though this is a normal exercises, I think there is an element of disappointment that North Korea would move in that direction."

North Korea has shown no signs of preparing of another underground nuclear test but "they could have a nuclear test at any time with minimal or no warning," the official said.

The October test was a "nuclear event" but the blast caused by the test was smaller than North Korea had hoped, the official said.

Washington Times

Law at War

"The National Review offers two stinging rebukes of the Fourth Circuit decision in the enemy combatant case: one from the NRO Editors, another by Andrew McCarthy.
No surprise that everybody at NRO, a media organization that considers the war waged against us [not to be called the Global War on Terror] with some seriousness, express alarm and outrage at the decision. Note the references to September 10th thinking, and how obvious enemy foes such as Mohammad Atta would warrant full constitutional and legal protections under the logic of this poorly reasoned decision.

Here’s McCarthy’s summary:"

Fightin' 6th Marines

"I had no idea that Regimental Combat Team - 6 had a unit blog.

The RCT Commander made point of it in a roundtable discussion with bloggers as reported by Grim at Blackfive.

Grim tells us that the Marines need more than anything to hear that you love them. Well in the nature of joint operations there are numerous Army units attached to the fighting 6th Marines. There is at least one Cav Squadron and I think an Army Engineer Company."
Badgers Forward

The Ultimate Question

"In the last week, my husband and I, although he is far away, have been faced with the ultimate decision. To stay in or not to stay in? While he still has approximately 3 years in, we have started to contemplate our options.
This is a harder decision than I would have thought. Surprisingly we are on completely different sides of the fence, and they aren't the sides you would think. He wants out, especially right now. He isn't liking carrier life, or being stationed overseas. No one likes deployment, that is not surprising, but he is getting fed up with being away from home.
I of course want him here more than anything, but when I consider the idea in the long run, I have mixed feelings. The military has provided us with great stability and benefits that you do not see often in other careers."

What Iraqi civilians? It's all about Bush

"The latest argument to abandon the Iraqi people comes from two thinkers at the Council on Foreign Relations. Actually, I misspoke. Steven Simon and Ray Takeyh don't even mention the Iraqi people. To the authors of the piece in the Washington Post, civilians are just an inconvenience. We are an annoyance for all those who accuse the Bush administration of complete failure.

By now, everyone knows that the United States made some horrendous mistakes in Iraq. I'm not here to defend Bush's errors. But I do take issue with these people who ignore millions of Iraqi civilians."

The Results of Democracy!

"I was struggling the last few days not to write something political about the situation in the Middle East these days. But I eventually gave up because the temptation is much stronger than I am.

In Iraq, the Parliament agreed to oust its speaker, Sunni Arab Mahmood al-Mashhadani, because he is impolite when dealing with his colleagues and is not trying to change, several parliament members said.

This issue became the most important in Iraq in the last week or so.

Because we have “democracy” in Iraq, every side was empowered. Everyone single ethnic and sectrain group in the parliament has the power to ruin the country now, and they have succeeded and will succeed more."
24 Steps to Liberty

Mugged by Reality: The Liberation of Iraq and the Failure of Good Intentions (Hardcover)

The author, Dr. John Agresto, is a self-described neoconservative who spent nine months working in Iraq for the Coalition Provisional Authority to revitalize higher education. The title of this book has long been a popular headline - The Economist is using it this week (22 March 2007) to describe the situation in Iraq, and the Hoover Institution's Policy Review used the phrase in 1997 in an essay on the crime epidemic. Feminists and others have also claimed that they have been "mugged by reality," and it seems one of liberalism's frequent laments when confronting the wider, less liberal world. The title, while a recycled one, is accurate when considering Agresto's driving contention: "In this age, we are all, all of us, seduced by hope but mugged by reality. And the pre-eminent reality of the day is a religious fanaticism, self-assured, unafraid of death, unafraid of killing, medieval in its outlook yet armed with powerful modern weaponry, growing in its mass appeal and able to co-opt democratic forms and elections." Agresto's authority and experience qualify him to write this book, and despite his identification with neo-conservatism, this book is neither Right nor Left in any orthodox sense. There is plenty herein to upset assumptions on both sides of the aisle. His intellectual honesty is evident in that he has not claimed to have found the easy answers too many pundits rave about: he supported the war; he acknowledges it has gone badly; he does not attempt to justify mistakes with intentions. As he describes the cardinal error, it was "hope triumphant over rationality," and Iraq has become more a tragedy than a mistake.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

My secret..

"Hello friends.
I couldn’t write to you because my computer wasn’t working and I had to fix it by myself , it took me a week.
Since my summer holiday started until now , I didn't feel bored, I spend my time working on my book, I think I'll finish it this summer holiday, and making handmade work , I promised to take pix but my camera is not working properly.!!! I took those pix only .."
Days of my Life


"On June 6 a meeting was held in the House of Commons, hosted by British MP ElfynLlwyd, the vice-chairman of Parliamentarians for National Self-Determination (PNSD), on the question of what chance now for a peaceful resolution of the conflict in North Kurdistan. Speakers included Maureen Freely, who has translated Orhan Pamuk's novels; human rights lawyer and KHRP legal advisor, Margaret Owen; Mark Muller, who has headed up KHRP's legal team; and Desmond Fernandes, who has done much research, writing, and activism for North Kurdistan's cause.

Among the issues discussed at the meeting were the following:"

Looters raid Arafat's home, steal his Nobel Peace Prize

Enraged Fatah leaders on Saturday accused Hamas militiamen of looting the home of former Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat in Gaza City.

"They stole almost everything inside the house, including Arafat's Nobel Peace Prize medal," said Ramallah-based Fatah spokesman Ahmed Abdel Rahman. "Hamas militiamen and gangsters blew up the main entrance to the house before storming it. They stole many of Arafat's documents and files, gifts he had received from world leaders and even his military outfits."

Abdel Rahman said the attackers also raided the second floor of the house and stole the personal belongings of his widow, Suha, and daughter, Zahwa. "They stole all the widow's clothes and shoes," he added. "They also took Arafat's pictures with his daughter."

Eyewitnesses told The Jerusalem Post that dozens of Palestinians participated in the raid, which took place late Friday.

"Most of the looters were just ordinary citizens," they said. "They stole almost everything, including furniture, tiles, water pipes, closets and beds."

According to the Fatah spokesman, the raid on Arafat's house, which has been empty since 2001, occurred despite promises from Syria-based Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal to prevent such an attack.

"The Palestinian people will never forgive the Hamas gangs for looting the home of the Palestinian people's great leader, Yasser Arafat," Abdel Rahman said. "This crime will remain a stain of disgrace on the forehead of Hamas and its despicable gangs."

The homes of several other Fatah leaders have also been looted over the past few days, Palestinian reporters in Gaza City said over the weekend. Among them are the homes of Muhammad Dahlan and Intisar al-Wazir (Um Jihad).

Wazir complained that looters stole her jewelry, furniture, clothes and family albums and the personal belongings of her husband, Khalil al-Wazir (Abu Jihad), a top PLO leader who was assassinated by Israel in 1988 in Tunis.

She said the looting occurred in broad daylight and under the watchful eye of Hamas militiamen. "We don't feel secure any more," she said. "We fear for our lives and property."

The Popular Resistance Committees, an alliance of various armed groups, announced over the weekend that its men stormed Dahlan's house and confiscated a suitcase full of gold, forged US and Pakistani passports and an ID card belonging to Nissim Toledano, an Israeli Border Police officer from Lod who was kidnapped and murdered by Hamas in December 2002.

Following the raid, hundreds of Palestinians rampaged the house and stole all of Dahlan's furniture and clothes.

Dahlan and some 80 top Fatah officials are now staying in hotels in Ramallah. On Friday night, a group of 15 senior Fatah security commanders arrived in the city after Israel gave them permission to leave the Gaza Strip. At least 150 other Fatah security commanders and activists have fled to Egypt aboard fishing boats.

The Fatah officials who fled to Ramallah had been abducted by Hamas militiamen late Thursday night and released a few hours later. They include Jamal Kayed, commander of the PA's National Security Force; Musbah al-Buhaisi, commander of Abbas's Presidential Guard, and his deputy, Hamoudeh al-Sheikh; Tawfik Abu Khoussa, Fatah's spokesman in the Gaza Strip; and Majed Abu Shamalah, a Fatah legislator.

"What's happening in the Gaza Strip these days reminds me of the first days after the US invasion of Baghdad," said Omar al-Ghul, a columnist from Gaza City. "In Baghdad, the Iraqis stole everything they could get their hands on inside Iraqi ministries and institutions. And in Gaza City the Palestinians stormed security installations and stole everything, including windows, doors and food."


U.S. Launches New Offensive in Baghdad

BAGHDAD (AP) - The U.S. military, which just days ago completed its latest troop buildup in Iraq, has launched a large offensive operation in several al-Qaida strongholds around Baghdad, the top U.S. commander said Saturday.

Gen. David Petraeus said the operation began in the last 24 hours and will put forces into key areas surrounding Baghdad that, according to intelligence, al-Qaida is using to base some of its car bomb operations.

Petraeus, who met with Defense Secretary Robert Gates at a morning breakfast, also said that he doesn't have all the American troops he might want, but he knows he's got all he's going to get.

"There's never been a military commander in history who wouldn't like to have more of something or other - that characterizes all of us here," he told reporters traveling with Gates. "The fact is frankly that we have all that our country is going to provide us in terms of combat forces. That is really it right now."

He said the buildup of nearly 30,000 additional forces that has just been completed allowed him to launch the latest assault. The move, he said, is allowing him to send operations for the first time into "a number of areas around Baghdad, in particular to go into areas that were sanctuaries in the past of al-Qaida."

He said: "Our job now, frankly, along with the job of our Iraqi counterparts ... is to do everything that we can with the additional forces that we have."

Underscoring the challenges ahead, Gates arrival Friday night for his unannounced visit, brought him to a city all but shut down by a security lockdown. Iraqi leaders imposed a strict curfew this week after a bombing of an important shrine north of the city.

It is Gates' fourth trip to Iraq since he took over the Defense Department last December. He was meeting with military and political leaders to assess progress, and to continue to urge the Iraqi government to move more quickly toward reconciliation and stabilizing their country.

Petraeus provided few details of the new offensive, but said he believes it will help the military make some progress in Iraq, where the war is in its fifth year and U.S. casualties have surpassed 3,500.

Gates and his military leaders are under intense pressure from Congress and the American public to begin to show real progress in Iraq so that troop withdrawals can start.

There are currently about 155,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.

At the same time, Gates and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker expressed continuing frustration with the lack of political progress by the Iraqis to meet a number of benchmarks set by the U.S., including oil revenue-sharing legislation and political reconciliation.

"We are pressing hard on those," said Crocker. "The Iraqi government is pressing itself. Progress has ben frustratingly slow. We will see where we are by September."

Gates also visited the al-Madain Joint Security Station Saturday morning in southeast Baghdad, traveling under tight security, and wearing body armor. His helicopter sent up a cloud of dust as it set down in the rectangular, walled station in the largely Shiite enclave of Karada, a relatively stable area of the city.

Gates heard from both Iraqi and U.S. military officials, who talked about the effort to put as many as 60 of the security outposts in the Baghdad region. There are about 27 joint security stations, which are staffed by Iraqi police and army soldiers as well as U.S. troops. And there are about the same number of smaller combat outposts.

Col. Jeffrey Bannister, commander of the 2nd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division which has forces at the station, said the facility was a model for Baghdad and "has a very good fusion effect amongst the Iraqis."

He added, however, that his troops have faced a lot of newer armor-piercing roadside bombs. "We are at the tip of the spear for that," he told reporters who traveled to the station with Gates.

Gates thanked the Iraqi forces there for their service and expressed sympathy for those who have been wounded and killed. "They are serving the interests of the Iraqi people," Gates said.

Gates is the third top U.S. official to travel to Baghdad this week to press the Iraqi government to move more quickly toward political reconciliation and other vital reforms that many see as critical to putting a cap on the violence.

The top U.S. commander in the Middle East, Adm. William Fallon carried that message to the Iraqis last weekend, and John Negroponte, the No. 2 State Department official, reinforced it in a visit midweek.

Gates also was cautious in his assessment of the progress in the war. He's to give Congress an update next month, and a full review in September, of how well the buildup ordered by President Bush has worked.

"It remains to be seen how much progress will be made over the course of the next two or three months," Gates said, adding "There are some positive trends, there are some negative trends."