Monday, December 31, 2007

Operations for Dummies

"I wasn't going to post for a few more days, but this is just too damn funny. I know my buddy CI Roller Dude will especially like this. The funniest thing though is the fact that this is way more accurate than the real FM. Sorry if this doesn't make a hell of a lot of sense to my civilian readers, but trust me - this shit is funny. ht to B5"
Sergeant Grumpy

Difficult mission

"One week ago, we started work of the end year story that we share the work together. Sunni journalist took the Sunni neighborhoods and Shiite journalist took the Shiite neighborhoods. I was excite to do this story. I had to visit one family in each of mine neighborhood,I mean the Shiite majority neighborhood. But when I started my trip to do my job I faced so many difficulties not because the fears of the militias or terrorist.The difficulty was that most people feel afraid from the journalist and they deal with them as spies who work to serve the interest of their enemies. Some times, people refuse to cooperate and wonder about the benefit they will gain if they talk to a journalist."
Inside Iraq


" Before this week, how many of you knew who Benazir Bhutto was? Considering how important Pakistan is to our efforts in Afghanistan, I made the silly assumption that the average American would at least have some passing knowledge of her. But when my wife called me from work to tell me Benazir Bhutto had been assasinated, I soon learned otherwise. Jancy understood that this could have a big impact in a dangerous part of the world. Naturally she started telling people at work. This was, after all, BIG NEWS. Yet, sadly, in yet another example of Americans knowing more about Brittney Spears than important people, only one person knew who Benazir Bhutto was. Teriffic. I know, not a statistically meaningful sample, yadda, yadda. Still, most dissapointing.

I was also amazed by the piercing insight of yet another of the pretty people who do TV news. She was talking about how little we know about the mysterious Mormon religion. You know, because Mitt Romney is a Mormon, and Huckabee made some snide comment about Jesus and Satan being brothers, and so on. Perhaps someone should introduce Miss Air-for-Head to the concept of research, maybe even a google search engine on the internet. There really isn’t that much secret about Mormonism any more. There really aren’t many secrets period in the age of the internet."
Afghanistan Without a Clue

As war changes, so do troops

EDINBURGH, Ind. -- When it comes to searching Iraqi homes, the "soft knock" is in for the 76th Infantry Brigade Combat Team. The "hard knock" is out.

The days of kicking down a front door and crashing through with rifles ready are mostly over. The approach has been widespread for much of the fighting in Iraq, but now the war has changed, and Indiana's National Guard troops are changing with it.
As the men and women of the 76th head to Fort Stewart, Ga., for their final two months of training, they'll be preparing for an Iraq that appears to be less volatile though still far from stable.

They'll be learning some Arabic and honing their soft-knock skills, relying on a simple rap or call from the street to open doors. When a soldier does enter, it will be without a bullet ready to fire in his rifle, a contrast to the lock-and-load mentality that, for now at least, is passe.

Such tactics could give any insurgents waiting in ambush an upper hand, but Lt. Col. Burt Owens of the 76th says the approach is key to winning the hearts and minds of Iraqis. "It means we're taking more chances," Owens says.

There are other new twists for the brigade as it prepares for duty in Iraq. From shorter rifles for close-in combat to fire-retardant uniforms that help protect against the searing blast of roadside bombs, the soldiers have gear tailored to the fighting in Iraq.

Even some Guard units that went to Iraq in 2003 have been reorganized to meet the needs of a changed war, adding aerial drones and highly skilled snipers.
Nation in the balance

In Iraq, bloodshed is at its lowest level in nearly two years.
The key to lasting calm, military planners think, is increased political and economic opportunity, as well as restoration of the country's infrastructure and public services. But that can't happen amid violence.

"Security is still very, very important," says Michael O'Hanlon, a researcher with the Brookings Institution and an expert on the current situation in Iraq.
Hence, the 76th's task is considered vital. The brigade will be broken up into units of about 100 soldiers to provide security for convoys and guard towers at bases. Such work "will be crucial to building on the momentum of 2007," O'Hanlon says.
The Indiana soldiers expect to be up close with Iraqis while patrolling or on special missions. They'll be on guard, constantly, for suicide bombers, car bombers, roadside explosives and snipers, as the lull in violence could show itself to be temporary.

To that end, the soldiers of the 76th are learning rudimentary Arabic. They've had a few classes at Camp Atterbury and will have more in the coming days at Fort Stewart.
They're being instructed not to use the word "Haji." Just as there were slang, derogatory names for foes in wars past, Haji has become the term in this one.
"You hear it a lot over there," says Col. Corey Carr, who commands the 76th and has made two recent trips to Iraq to survey the scene. "I discourage it. A lot of the emphasis is turning responsibility over to the Iraqis. Our guys will be talking with Iraqi police officers and Iraqi soldiers, and it's important we show respect."
About 70,000 Iraqi men, many of them Sunnis and at least some of them thought to be former insurgents, have applied for jobs with the Iraqi police, according to recent news reports. It falls to the U.S. military to help them or risk facing them later when they're desperate, hungry and armed.
"There's more to this mission," says Carr, "than just military might."

The Pentagon's top brass, confronted with a long war in Iraq and the prospect of other similar conflicts around the globe, has reorganized the army into smaller, more nimble units. Where it once was "division-centric," it is now "brigade-centric."
A division is a mighty force typically 10,000 strong, three times the size of a brigade. It's an appropriate tool to fight against a comparable conventional army, a "peer" foe, but unwieldy in dealing with a disjointed group of guerrilla forces such as the Iraq insurgency.

Previously, such heavily equipped U.S. military units played into the insurgents' hands, especially with their huge demands for fuel and other supplies. Supply lines are vulnerable to guerrillas, and tanks and armored vehicles isolate soldiers from the Iraqi people they are supposed to help.

"We had to become more agile, easier to deploy, lighter in composition -- lethal, but in a different vein," said Maj. Gen. R. Martin Umbarger, the adjutant general of the Indiana National Guard.

They bring with them their own support services: medical, transportation, communications, military police, mechanics.
Today's brigade "is a little self-contained army," Umbarger says.
Instead of tanks, artillery or other heavy equipment, the brigade relies chiefly on ground pounders.

One battalion of about 600 soldiers has been converted for use in reconnaissance and scouting. Based in New Albany, the 1st Battalion of the 152nd Infantry Regiment is now a reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition squadron bolstered with unpiloted drones to search the battlefield and with other special gear to seek out the enemy.
New gear

To the average grunt, however, it's the little things that matter. New body armor protects as well as the older models but is easier to put on and take off.
The soldiers in the brigade tote a new rifle, too, the M-4 carbine that is a shorter version of the M-16 that debuted in Vietnam.
The M-4's shorter length and adjustable butt make it easier to use in close quarters, and the high-tech scope that comes with it makes marksmanship easier.
And almost every soldier carries a new tool that's critical in the war zone: a strap cutter for slashing through seat belts and freeing people from wrecked or flipped Humvees.
Uniforms are fire-retardant, another recent development, a step to protect against the blast of roadside bombs.
Troops even sport GI-issue silk skivvies for cold nights, another first, and polypropylene long johns for really cold nights.
"The more comfortable the soldiers are," says Maj. Reino Mattson, of the 76th, a logistics expert, "the more alert they'll be, the better able to protect the people and accomplish the mission."


Sunday, December 30, 2007

Iraq town's safety a matter of discussion

YOUSIFIYA, IRAQ -- The sheiks and other local leaders rattled off requests to an Iraqi army commander and U.S. military officers one recent morning.

One asked where the tower was that he had been promised for the checkpoint guarded by his tribesmen. Another said his checkpoint lacked basic supplies, such as sandbags. Yet another demanded more men to staff his checkpoint, and asked for extra cash to pay them.

The Iraqi army commander, Amman Ibrahim Mansur, a tall burly man, calmly addressed his 20 or so guests.

"You can tell everybody we're going to start on a new page," he said.

Then he demanded that the local leaders do more to cooperate with his troops and U.S.-led coalition forces to help root out insurgents and enforce security in the area.

The goal is to turn towns such as Yousifiya, a mostly Sunni Arab enclave 10 miles south of Baghdad, into safer zones that can eventually be pieced together to form a stable, democratically ruled country.

The process is sometimes messy, but U.S. military officials and Iraqi military leaders say they are slowly making progress.

Part of that messy process is to teach these local leaders, steeped in their age-old tribal culture based on patronage, corruption and fear, to lead in more effective, democratic and law-abiding ways.

Members of the group assembled recently certainly had tuned in to what they could get from both governments. But not all were totally sold on what they had to give up.

Some, for example, had been facilitating the movement of insurgents in the area and entry of foreign fighters into the region, Mansur said. One sheik, caught working with militants, had landed in jail. And two women recently had been gunned down at checkpoints supervised by some of the sheiks gathered in the commander's office.

"Enough of this!" Mansur reprimanded the group. "Enough of the bloodshed! It must stop! You are the leaders inside the community. You know who the bad guys are. And you can stop them."

Some of the leaders nodded or muttered in concurrence. Others sat impassively smoking, or sipping hot, syrupy-sweet tea.

Army Lt. Col. Andrew Rohling, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, sat listening to the elders' requests.

Careful not to use a threatening tone, he explained to the leaders that meeting their demands for improvements to checkpoints, more men and more pay, would require the contracts for the concerned local citizens groups that guard their neighborhoods to be renegotiated.

When these groups first started in Iraq, each leader worked out a deal with the U.S. commander in the area, Rohling told the men. So there were different plans, depending on where a group was located and the number of volunteers. Some groups ended up with more men, and therefore more money, than others. The going rate for the civilian guards is $10 to $15 a day.

"What we're struggling with now is, how do you make it fair for everybody?" Rohling said. And more important, he told the leaders, was figuring out how to gradually move some of the armed volunteer guards into other jobs, such as the national police force.

"Because I think we all agree, we can't pay volunteers for the rest of their lives," Rohling said.

Again, there were nods of agreement along with noncommittal stares.

"A lot of what you get is posturing," Rohling said later. He acknowledged that he often must combine softer diplomacy with military assertiveness to coax and cajole some local leaders to cooperate.

"It's a cultural challenge," the U.S. commander said. "In the end they will need to follow our plan, but we've got to make them feel that it's their plan."

One of the main difficulties is determining the best person to take charge, Rohling said.

"Who's going to stand up and say, 'I'm the sheik'? They either fear, or they're dead."

The local council has proved to be largely ineffectual, the commander pointed out. Corruption is rife, and some officials are known to be profiting from the sales of seed and grain intended for the population.

Rohling said his strategy emphasizes empowering those sheiks willing to lead. He defers to them on many decisions that involve the population. The tactic has yielded some success. Many former fighters are listening to their leaders' call for calm.

For the most part, the bombings have stopped, said Capt. Michael Starz of Charlie Company, 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, whose troops share the patrol base with Mansur's forces. And numerous civilians have volunteered to become part of concerned local citizens groups to help secure their town. Twenty men are assigned to each checkpoint, eight to 12 per shift.

However, progress is slow. On a recent day, for example, a few patrons trickled into the well-known Yousifiya market. In safer times, Starz said, about 10,000 customers a day passed through the throng of hawkers and maze of stalls selling a colorful array of vegetables, fruit and clothes.

And since a sniper recently killed an Iraqi policeman, some Iraqi law enforcement and military personnel are afraid to patrol the streets -- even with a U.S. military escort -- he said.

The map in Starz's operations room has red flags indicating battle positions, some less than a mile from the patrol base.

His troops have engaged in several clashes and been targeted by bombs. But they have avoided casualties.

Taming Yousifiya is "on the road to success," Starz said.

But they're not there yet.


New Armored Vehicles Destined For Iraq Drive Heated Debate

Washington — It was just what American soldiers had been longing for — a patrol vehicle designed to withstand the powerful roadside bomb blasts that have killed more service members than any other insurgent weapon in the Iraq war.

But just as the Defense Department hits its year-end goal of delivering 1,500 heavily armored, V-hulled “mine resistant ambush protected” trucks to Iraq, the feeling in the Pentagon is far from elation. Instead, an intense debate has broken out over whether the vehicle that is saving lives also could undermine one of the most important lessons of the whole war: How to counter an insurgency.

While offering needed armor, the MRAPs lack the agility vital to urban warfare. “It's very heavy; it's relatively large; it's not maneuverable as you'd like it to be,” Gen. William S. Wallace, the officer in charge of Army doctrine and training, said recently. “All of those things should be of concern.”

But with nearly 12,000 of the trucks on order in a program that has a projected cost of more than $17 billion, the MRAP — the most expensive new Army weapons systems acquired since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks — is likely to influence how the Army fights future wars.

Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary, said MRAPs are an important part of the military's response to the needs of U.S. soldiers in Iraq.

“There is never one silver-bullet solution for all the problems you find in war,” Morrell said. “The key is to find a combination of things that address the problems.”

Support for MRAPs within the Pentagon has weakened recently in part because of a decline in military casualties in Iraq. With the threat from roadside bombs diminishing, the military services worry that they will be saddled in the near future with thousands of large, heavy and expensive trucks that they will no longer need.

But more fundamentally, the MRAP has reignited a debate that has bedeviled strategists since the war began: Is the best way to save soldiers' lives giving them tools to survive attacks, or pre-empting the attacks?

On one side of the argument are senior officials in Washington, including Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joe Biden, D-Del., who have insisted that MRAPs are a moral imperative, needed to protect vulnerable soldiers from death and dismemberment.

But a growing number of counterinsurgency experts, prodded by an October report by influential Pentagon consultant Andrew F. Krepinevich Jr., have argued that the hulking vehicles are antithetical to fighting a guerrilla war.

Guerrilla warfare, or counterinsurgency, requires soldiers to mingle with Iraqi citizens — a task that has been at the center of the strategy implemented by Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the Iraq war commander.

“You've got Dave Petraeus telling his people get out and walk, because the long-term solution to reducing our casualties is ... getting to know the people, providing security in the neighborhood,” Krepinevich said in an interview. “In a sense, you've got two competing priorities.”

The decision to make MRAPs the Pentagon's top wartime procurement priority was one of Gates' first decisions as defense secretary. Occasionally frustrated with the department's inability to move quickly, Gates ordered MRAPs flown to Iraq in scarce cargo planes in an unprecedented logistical effort.

“There was a moral imperative to provide a better way to protect soldiers,” said Lt. Gen. Stephen M. Speakes, the Army general in charge of procurement programs. “That was the driving factor that united all of us in a realization we had to do something different. Soldier protection was job one.”

But earlier this month, Marine Corps officials announced they were cutting the number of MRAPs they intended to buy from 3,600 to 2,300, citing the reduced violence in Iraq and the questionable utility of the vehicles in other missions.

Army officials, who were planning the largest purchases, are considering a similar move


Story of this Presidents war. Always reacting, never on the offensive.

Iraq to discuss border agreement with Iran

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq will send a delegation to neighboring Iran in the coming days to seek slight changes to the agreement that defines the two countries' borders, Iraq's deputy foreign minister Labeed Abbawi said on Saturday.

The announcement came after the two countries appeared to resolve a diplomatic quarrel over the 32-year-old agreement, which erupted this week when Iraq's President Jalal Talabani said the treaty was now void.

Talabani subsequently reversed himself and said the treaty was still valid, although he said Iraq would like to negotiate changes in it.

"We support Talabani's recent stance that the 1975 treaty between Iran and Iraq is valid," Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki was quoted on Saturday as saying by the student news agency ISNA.

"This view can be a strong basis for Iran and Iraq's relations."

Iraq's Abbawi said the Iranians had agreed to discuss the issue of changes to the treaty, although he gave no date for the talks.

"Part of the discussion will be on the Algiers treaty, we will discuss the border and try to mark it clearly. There are oil wells on the border and we want their benefits to be split between us," Abbawi told Reuters.

"It is not a problematic issue to Iran. They have agreed to talks on the issue and there isn't a problem," he said.

The Algiers agreement has been a source of dispute since it was signed by Iraq's then-Vice President Saddam Hussein and the shah of Iran in the Algerian capital.

In the 1980s, disagreements over the border resulted in one of the deadliest conflicts in Middle East history, the eight-year Iran-Iraq war in which more than 1 million died. The quarrel centered on the strategic Shatt al-Arab waterway which controls access to the Gulf and valuable nearby oil fields.

Abbawi said some Iraqi land was now submerged in water due to erosion and geographic change in the area. He said Iraq wanted to reach an agreement with its neighbor to begin clearing thousands of mines from Shatt al-Arab.


Well if phase two, getting the Iranians out of Iraq, was not in play yet, it is now.

FEATURE-Iraq's Kurd villagers see no hope after air strikes

SANKASAR, Iraq, Dec 30 (Reuters) - Since Turkish warplanes turned her village home into a heap of rubble last week, mother of eight Aziya Rasheed says she has lost all hope for the future.

Air strikes on mountain villages around the town of Sankasar in northern Iraq on Dec. 16 destroyed much of Rasheed's modest home as the family slept, injuring her 16-year-old daughter so severely that she had to have her leg amputated above the knee.

"We lost everything, even my daughter's leg. Isn't this terrorism from Turkey?" she said angrily.

"I have no hope of going back to my demolished home, all my livestock are dead and the future of my children is uncertain. How are they going to study here when I'm living in a small room like this?"

The family will have to survive the rest of the bitter winter in a small mud-brick room belonging to relatives in Sankasar, about 160 km (100 miles) north of the city of Sulaimaniya.

The fate of Iraqi civilians caught up in the fight between Turkish forces and Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) guerrillas could effect the delicate balance of security in northern Iraq.

Turkey has massed up to 100,000 troops on the Iraqi border and waged a campaign of low-level cross-border strikes on PKK militants for several months, accusing PKK fighters based in Iraq of carrying out deadly attacks in Turkey.

The campaign intensified this month, with air and artillery strikes and small-scale cross-border raids by ground forces.

U.S. and Iraqi authorities describe the PKK as terrorists and say they support Turkey's right to strike back. But they have also expressed concern that civilian casualties could destabilise northern Iraq. Washington has had to tread a delicate path between the interests of its two close allies.


Turkish forces say they killed more than 150 PKK fighters in the Dec. 16 air strike, their biggest yet.

The mayor of Sankasar, Abdullah Ibrahim, said there were no PKK fighters in the area and the strikes had forced 370 Iraqi Kurdish families to flee their homes in surrounding villages.

"The constant presence of Turkish planes over the villages has deterred everyone from returning because they fear another attack," he said.

Reuters was unable to verify whether PKK fighters were in the area or how much damage was caused to PKK targets.

Iraq protested after the Dec. 16 strike that at least one civilian, a woman, had been killed. The Turkish military denied any civilian targets were hit.

The Iraqi government said on Sunday it would pay 1 million dinars (about $700) to each family displaced by the strikes.

Mohammed Hasan, a 40-year-old father of six whose house was destroyed by Turkish bombing, says he is afraid to return to his village because Turkish planes still fly overhead.

"The bombing began in the middle of the night, I quickly got everyone out of the house and soon after, I looked back at my house and saw it burning," he said, breathing deeply.

"It was destined for us Kurds to face all these tragedies. First Saddam Hussein kept us on the run and now Turkey and Iran take it in turns to bomb us," he added.

Aid from charities and donations from businessmen in Sulaimaniya have provided most needy families with basic food like rice, sugar and tea, and blankets were distributed to help them survive the cold weeks ahead.

Shlier Khudhur, a 30-year-old woman now living with her brother, sobs as she recalls the night she lost her home.

"I was wounded when the house fell on top of us during the air strikes. We have lost everything we ever owned," she said.

"I wish I had died rather than live through this." (Writing by Mussab Al-Khairalla; editing by Tim Pearce)


Police chief survives bombing in Iraq's Basra

BASRA, Iraq (Reuters) - The police chief of Iraq's second-largest city, Basra, survived a roadside bomb attack on Sunday, the first attempt on his life since British forces handed the city to Iraqi control on Dec. 18, police said.

Abdul-Jalil Khalaf had already survived six assassination attempts since he was placed in control of Basra's police force in June, with orders to battle the Shi'ite militias who held sway in the city's streets.

He has often been praised by U.S. and British commanders as one of the most able leaders of Iraq's security forces.

One of Khalaf's bodyguards was wounded when two bombs exploded near the police chief's convoy in the northern part of the city, police said. Khalaf himself was not hurt.

The province of Basra, which accounts for more than 80 percent of Iraq's oil exports and is home to Iraq's only port, has been the scene of a turf war among rival militias.

Its fate is seen as a test of whether the Iraqi authorities can keep peace without troops from the United States or Britain.

Violence has subsided somewhat since British forces pulled out of the city in September.

US Military Continues Push to Quash al-Qaida in Iraq

U.S. military efforts to quash the al-Qaida in Iraq terrorist network are showing signs of success in some areas. But, the U.S. military says al-Qaida remains a top concern. In an area south of Baghdad once known as the "Triangle of Death," U.S. forces have bolstered their troop presence to rout al-Qaida. VOA's Deborah Block went with the U.S. Army's 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry on a mission to find suspected al-Qaida members in an isolated village south of Baghdad.

It was almost daybreak when Black Hawk helicopters dropped off 80 soldiers and several Iraqi police in a farming village near the town of Iskandariyah.
U.S. military officials say they could not enter the village by road because the main roads were blown up by al-Qaida and subsequently flooded.

U.S. soldiers, accompanied by Iraqi police, begin canvassing homes, taking residents by surprise. A soldier instructs the others to begin checking houses in the village for suspected militants.

"I'm going to need you guys to clear at least the first buildings, one, two and three," he said.

In each house, men are separated from women and children.

This was the first time in a year that U.S. troops had entered the village, where, they say, al-Qaida has been able to gain a foothold. The purpose of their mission was to rout out suspected al-Qaida members and win the trust of village leaders.

The leader of the U.S. mission, Captain Michael Penney, questions a man.

PENNEY: "When was the last time al-Qaida was here?"

Captain Penney explains that the military has received information that this man may have links to al-Qaida.

"Intelligence from people who live here, or know people who live here, and some people who have been attacked [by al-Qaida]," said Captain Penney.

The man denies any link to al-Qaida, but is taken into custody.

At one house, a woman cries out that her son was kidnapped by al-Qaida, and she begs the soldiers for help.

The U.S. military push in this village comes about a month after a local sheikh told Iraqi police that suspected al-Qaida militants had raided the village in November, stealing money and weapons. The sheikh said three villagers were killed and five kidnapped. Those five are still missing.

During the mission, a total of four suspected al-Qaida militants are taken into custody.

One of the handcuffed men is accused of killing the three villagers during the November raid.

In this area, once known as the "Triangle of Death," U.S. military officials say, local sheikhs and former members of the Iraqi military who have had enough of al-Qaida have begun cooperating with U.S. forces.

On this day, village leaders speak with some of the soldiers in a Muslim prayer room about ways to stop intimidation by al-Qaida.

Lieutenant William Kuebler says the soldiers told the villagers that the U.S. military will take measures to help secure the area.

"Trying to explain what we plan to do in the future - fix roads, so we can have more of a presence out here," said Lieutenant Kuebler.

There is no health clinic in the village, and Army medic Specialist Martin Reynolds helps an Iraqi villager who was recently wounded.

"He was injured in a gunfight with al-Qaida," said Reynolds. "He had been shot through both legs. His wounds had become infected, so we cleaned them up, gave him some more different types of bandages, so he could keep his wounds clean and the infection under control."

Captain Penney says there are plans to go back to the village soon to continue searches for al-Qaida militants and to begin development projects U.S. military officials say those projects can help solidify support and cooperation from the local population.


Kurdish rebels in Iraq vow to carry out more attacks against Turkey if airstrikes continue

QANDIL MOUNTAINS, Iraq: A Kurdish rebel leader in northern Iraq vowed to take the group's battle for autonomy deep inside Turkey if its cross-border airstrikes do not stop.

In a recent interview in the isolated and rugged Qandil mountains in northern Iraq, rebels with the Kurdistan Workers' Party said they would lay down their weapons only if Ankara agreed to give Kurds equal rights, including the right to speak and teach their own language in Turkish schools.

"We will not surrender, and if Turkey continues its aggression against our bases and kills civilians we will respond, we'll begin fighting inside Turkey," said Suzdar Avista, a local PKK leader.

The PKK has been fighting for autonomy in southeast Turkey since the mid-1980s, and their insurgency has left thousands of people dead.

On Dec. 26, Turkish jets hit suspected Kurdish rebel shelters on these snow-covered, rugged mountains for a third time. Turkey has also launched a cross border raid and fired artillery at Kurdish rebel positions since the first airstrike on Dec. 16.

Two days after that airstrike, last Friday, Avista sat with fellow rebels in an area nestled among spindly trees and patches of snow.

"We have these weapons and these mountains," she said, sitting next to a small wood fire to ward off the bitter winter cold, wearing loose drab olive pants and a shirt covered with a blue jacket. Other rebels — men and women — also gathered, drinking cans of cola and heating cans of tuna on the hot embers.

The path to reach Avista wove through a hardened mud road that passed destroyed, abandoned rebel bases shelled by Turkey. Avista said the PKK abandoned the bases before the shelling.

Local residents said the rebels were staying in distant caves. The rebels traditionally withdraw to such hideouts during winter when snowfall hampers their movement in the mountainous regions. They usually intensify their attacks on Turkish targets in the spring.

In the mountain village of Louzai, 54-year-old Aaziz Ibrahim sat despondently on the rubble of her partially destroyed brick and mud thatched home. She sat with her 59-year-old husband Mushir Jalal, wearing the traditional Kurdish dress of loose pants, a long jacket and a scarf wrapped around his head. He said their daughter Suzan, 27, lost her leg in the shelling, which also destroyed their small vegetable garden and a pen for farm animals.

"My daughter was wounded for three hours, hemorrhaging, and there were no ambulances or cars," Jalal said. Dried blood still spattered one wall.

The isolated mountain region has become even more deserted following the airstrikes and shelling as many villagers fled.

Jalal said it was the sixth time his home was destroyed in fighting with Kurdish rebels. The first five times, he said, Iraqi troops under the leadership of Saddam Hussein had demolished it in airstrikes.

"I will build my house again," Jalal said. "But we want a political solution to our region, not shelling."

In October, the Turkish Parliament authorized the military to strike back at the rebels across the border in Iraq.

The United States, which along with Turkey and the European Union considers the PKK a terrorist organization, has long cautioned Ankara against a mass incursion, fearing that it could disrupt one of Iraq's most stable regions. Since November, the U.S. has been providing intelligence on the PKK to Turkey.

"The Turkish state is fighting a psychological battle," Avista said. "They want to raise the spirits of Turkish citizens and break our spirit, but they will not be able to."

Avista said Turkey's bombing and shelling was pointless.

"Fighting is not the solution, and won't benefit either side. The only solution will be on the negotiating table," she said. That would come when Turkey decided to "democratically resolve the Kurdish issue."

She said that meant Turkey had to recognize Kurdish identity, freedom to speak and teach their language in schools and freedom to form political parties.

Turkey does not recognize its Kurdish population as a distinct minority. It has allowed some cultural rights such as limited broadcasts in the Kurdish language and private Kurdish language courses with the prodding of the European Union.

Avista said the PKK was also demanding the release of their leader, Abdullah Ocalan, captured in 1999 and sentenced to life in prison.

Until then, she said they would not surrender.

"Liberation fighters don't go to the mountains to surrender. They come to obtain their freedom. For that, they struggle and die," she said.



"Christmas arrived at BAD VOO DOO land only 1 day late. Some of the guys were up north earning a great "Last Christmas.." story for when they are back in civilization while the rest of us waited like little kids for their return so we could open gifts and be together.
As you probably saw in a previous post the tree was set up and hidden from the platoon so only a select few of us knew of it and we were able to surprise and impress those who didn't know or expect to have christmas. Sherri and Mike sent a great tree that I had been hiding in my tent behind medical supplies that was truly large and with the decorations from JP's Mom, Ranger Sids family, Crystal and our family suport group we were able to hook it up. Unfortunately the LT like any other impatient young man rushed to hook up the lights and forgot to check the voltage or set up a transformer first and blew the lights up. It was good for a laugh and some ridicule though."
Northern Disclosure

30 DEC 2007 So many holes

"Today was pleasant and calm. I biked to the hospital under a steely grey sky. My little friend with the back burn was scheduled for a check of her dressing. To avoid any pain, she was given a sedative that relaxed her and prevented her from remembering any of the procedure. I removed her dressings and took out all the steel staples holding the artificial skin to her back. The wound had dried up well and the artificial skin was sticking like shrink wrap. Even the deeper burn on her hand was starting to look cleaner. Her father has been doing a good job keeping the burn clean, though she protests loudly every time her hand iswashed."
Made a Difference

U.S. worried new turmoil could affect Afghanistan

WASHINGTON — President Bush held an emergency meeting of his top foreign-policy aides Friday to discuss the deepening crisis in Pakistan, as administration officials and others explored whether Thursday's assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto marks the beginning of a new Islamic extremist offensive that could spread beyond Pakistan and undermine the U.S. war effort in neighboring Afghanistan.

U.S. officials fear that a renewed campaign by Islamic militants aimed at the Pakistani government, and based along the border with Afghanistan, would complicate U.S. policy in the region by effectively merging the six-year-old war in Afghanistan with Pakistan's growing turbulence.

"The fates of Afghanistan and Pakistan are inextricably tied," said J. Alexander Thier, a former U.N. official in Afghanistan who is now at the U.S. Institute for Peace.

U.S. military officers and other defense experts are concerned that continued instability eventually will spill over and intensify the fighting in Afghanistan, which has spiked in recent months as the Taliban have strengthened and expanded its operations.

Unrest in Pakistan and increasing fuel prices already have boosted the cost of food in Afghanistan, making it more likely that hungry Afghans will be lured by payments from the Taliban to participate in attacks, a U.S. Army officer in Afghanistan said.

"We've really got a new situation here in western Pakistan," said Army Col. Thomas Lynch III, who has served in Afghanistan and with Central Command, the U.S. military headquarters for Pakistan and the Middle East. He said the assassination marks a "critical new phase" in jihadist operations in Pakistan and predicted the coming months would bring concentrated attacks on other prominent Pakistanis.

"The Taliban ... are indeed a growing element of the domestic political stew" in Pakistan, said John Blackton, who served as a U.S. official in Afghanistan in the 1970s and again 20 years later. He noted that Pakistani military intelligence created the Taliban in Afghanistan.

"Pakistan must take drastic action against the Taliban in its midst or we will face the prospect of a nuclear weapon falling into the hands of al-Qaida — a threat far more dangerous and real than Hussein's arsenal ever was," he said, referring to the deposed Saddam Hussein.

But President Pervez Musharraf has a track record of promising much to Washington but doing little to counter the militants, others said.

"My prediction is, Musharraf will go into a bunker mentality and be nicer to the Muslims," said John McCreary, who led the Defense Intelligence Agency's 2001 task force on Afghanistan. "He goes through the pretenses of crackdown but never follows through."

"Pakistan isn't really engaged in a fight against terror," Blackton added. "One of the mistakes amongst many U.S. policymakers is to project the American construct of a war on terror onto the Pakistani regime struggle for survival. There are some congruencies between the two, but even more differences."

The clever move for Musharraf would be to allay such doubts by capturing or killing a major Islamic extremist leader in the coming weeks, said Larry Goodson, an area expert who teaches strategy at the U.S. Army War College. But he said he doubts that would happen or that Musharraf would take many concrete actions, aside possibly from declaring a new state of emergency.

A countervailing pressure on Musharraf is that if he does not respond effectively to an Islamic militant campaign against his government, he also could face falling from power. At some point, said Teresita Schaffer, a former State Department official specializing in India and Pakistan, the Pakistani army "could conclude that he's a liability."

The Seattle Times

Saturday, December 29, 2007

NFL Hype

Well for once in a long time a football game has lived up tot he hype. Needless to say I'm rooting for the Giants.

It Never Stops (Neither Of These Terrible Things)

"I pressed the PUBLISH POST button and sat back, pleased with myself and filled with anticipation for the mixed reactions my last post would get. And I breathe a sigh of relief, because until then, I'd felt like I had written myself into a corner, and because of who reads this, I have to watch what I talk about. Like a cornered animal, I lashed out with the best I had, pushed the envelop that was pushing me. This would be interesting, I knew, and I went to bed."
The Unlikely Soldier
Damn a cliffhanger, what is he up too.

29 DEC 2007 No surprises

"Today again started cold, but ended up a very mild afternoon. Much of the OR staff migrated to the roof to enjoy the sinking sun, have a drink, or puff on a cigar. The rooftop lounge is nearly complete and bears the initial coats of paint and varnish. We have been meaning to rig up a slingshot for some time. Today I tried to fashion one with a long elastic strip called an Esmarch's bandage. Freidrich von Esmarch designed it in the 19th century to help control blood loss during battlefield amputations. Fortunately, we haven't had to do an amputation for a few days, so I decided to put one to a different use in a purely scientific interest in ballistics. I was able to fling an orange, but no further than 40 feet or so because it kept rolling out of the strip of bandage when released. I'll have to add a pocket sling to the middle or switch to the traditional slingshot of two passes of surgical tubing. If I can get enough distance, I might even be able to hit my hooch from the hospital. This is what happens when a surgeon doesn't have a trauma victim on whom to operate. I'm thankful for these moments when we aren't seeing a tide of casualties roll in. I got to enjoy a good phone call with my parents."
Made a difference

Iraqi metalheads rocks Istanbul - 22 Dec 07

"Look at this awesome report done by al-Jazeera English on the fearsome foursome, indeed, as evidenced by the VBS.TV documentary before, Marwan still is the most impressive person of the lot and he's still the only one who exudes a cool-guy aura with his deep voice, this one made me yearn back to hungry days rocking in my bedroom. Good luck guys, i hope you do write something good finally..."
Konfused Kid
Here it is just as predicted. Turkey are the good guys, just look they like heavy metal bands, and there taking in refugees, even weirdo rockers...The spin machines are on full spin cycle.

Now if we could only find a "solution" for those nasty Kurds.

29 December

"The past few days have just kinda blended together with my messed up sleep schedule…one day I wake up at noon, went to bed at 4am, then woke up in the afternoon, went to sleep around sunrise, took a nap for a few hours, woke up at 10pm…not even really sure what day it is…worked on a few trucks, went to a couple meetings, watched some tv and movies, and hit the gym a couple times…yesterday there was a FOB weight lifting contest…I didn’t compete because I worked out really heavy the night before—really it’s because I can’t lift heavy weight…if I need to lift something really heavy I use a jack or a forklift…it was a good friendly competition for everyone on the FOB"
Desert Consciousness

Meeting, Greeting, Learning, Seeing

"Getting settled in a new area means more than finding a place to stay on the FOB, knowing where all the infrastructure is, and getting a temperature check on the fobbit factor. I am pleased to report that the new landlord is very professional and has a low fobbit factor. Even the meetings here are very simple and direct and quickly over with.

In short, I'm impressed.

We are also getting to know the local ANP, their leadership, where they are, where their trouble spots are, readings on corruption levels, and the efficacy level of their systems. The team that is RIP'ing out have been great, of course. These guys have emplaced a framework that we will work to expand. Everything is incremental. "
Afghan Adventure

The Butterfly That Killed Benazir Bhutto

"By now, you have heard of the assassination of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto. Please, don't tell me you live under a rock and don't know Bhutto.

Since Bhutto decided to end her self-imposed exile and return to Pakistan a few months ago, I knew her life was going to be cut short. I don't trust the Pakistani government for one second. I don't believe our so-called "ally in the war on terror" gives a hoot about the lives of his opponents."
Fayrouz in Beaumont

US: al-Qaida Fears Iraq Sunni Councils

BAGHDAD (AP) - The top U.S. commander in Iraq said Saturday al-Qaida was becoming increasingly fearful over losing the support of Sunni Arabs and had begun targeting the leaders of tribal councils who have switched allegiances in favor of America.

Gen. David Petraeus made the comments a few hours before a new audiotape of Osama bin Laden emerged, warning Iraq's Sunni Arabs against joining the councils fighting al-Qaida or participating in any unity government.

"The most evil of the traitors are those who trade away their religion for the sake of their mortal life," bin Laden said in the tape posted on the Web.

He denounced Abdul-Sattar Abu Risha, the leader of the Anbar Awakening Council, a tribal force fighting al-Qaida in western Iraq. Abu Risha was killed in a bombing in September. The Awakening Council has since morphed into a mass movement that now includes more than 70,000 fighters in Anbar, Baghdad and other Sunni-dominated provinces.

Also known as Concerned Local Citizens, the councils are funded by the United States and have slowly started becoming a political force - organizing themselves and actively seeking more participation in Iraq's Shiite-dominated political life.

Bin Laden said U.S. and Iraqi officials are seeking to set up a "national unity government" joining the country's Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds.

"Our duty is to foil these dangerous schemes, which try to prevent the establishment of an Islamic state in Iraq, which would be a wall of resistance against American schemes to divide Iraq," he said.

Petraeus said that al-Qaida's fear of the councils was obvious. The councils, along with the inflow of thousands of additional U.S. troops, and a six-month cease-fire announced in August by radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, have led to a 60 percent decline in violence since June.

"They attach enormous importance to these Concerned Local Citizens groups, these tribes that have turned against them, and to the general sense that Sunni Arab communities have rejected them more and more around Iraq," Petraeus told a small group of Western journalists.

"You can see this in their public statements," he added. "They are trying to counter this and they have done so by attacking them," which is increasingly turning Sunnis against them.

He said this shift was pushing Sunnis back into the political process they effectively abandoned after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Iraq's Sunni Arabs boycotted the first elections in January 2005.

"It is very, very important for them to have a stake in the new Iraq," he said of the Sunni and urged Iraq's Shiite prime minister to reach out to the minority.

"This is about helping the Iraqi government win the hearts and minds" of the Sunni, he added. "That's why it is so important for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to reach out to the Awakening in Anbar."

Iraq's interior ministry spokesman claimed that 75 percent of al-Qaida in Iraq's terrorist network had been destroyed in 2007, and gave some of the credit to the rise of anti-al-Qaida in Iraq councils.

Maj. Gen. Abdul Kareem Khalaf said the disruption of the terrorist network was due to improvements in the Iraqi security forces - which he said had made strides in weeding out commanders and officers with ties to militias or who were involved in criminal activities.

Khalaf's assertion that three-fourths of al-Qaida in Iraq had been destroyed could not be independently verified and he did not elaborate on how the percentage was determined.

"Their activity is now limited to certain places north of Baghdad," he said at a news conference. "We're working on pursuing those groups, that is the coming fight."

Petraeus said that despite a number of successes against al-Qaida in recent months, destroying the group was still a top concern for the U.S. military and Iraq's biggest security challenge in 2008.

But he warned that al-Qaida remained active and lethal, despite being forced to flee north into Diyala and Ninevah provinces from their former strongholds in Anbar and Baghdad.

"It is the most significant enemy Iraq faces because it carries out the most horrific attacks, that causes the greatest damage to infrastructure, and seems most intent on re-igniting ethno-sectarian violence," Petraeus told reporters.

He likened al-Qaida to a boxer that has been knocked down a couple of times but keeps "coming up off the canvas, has a lethal right hand, can land very tough blows and has demonstrated the ability to do that periodically in recent months."

He blamed al-Qaida for a three deadly bombings that killed 49 people in the past week, including 14 who died Friday when a car bomb blew up in central Baghdad.

In Ninevah's capital of Mosul, which remains an al-Qaida stronghold, police reported that gunmen killed three members of a patrol in the eastern part of the city.

Another group of gunmen attacked the head of the police department's press office, killing one of his bodyguards and wounding him. In nearby Tal Afar, on the road to Syria, police said by five insurgents were killed in gun battles with Iraqi and U.S. forces.

According to Petraeus, al-Qaida has been significantly degraded but is far from being wiped out. He said the group was having serious problems and had resorted to racketeering and other forms of organized crime to fund its activities.

Concerted actions by a number of Arab nations had helped reduce the inflow of foreign funds and fighters. And he said a crackdown by neighboring Syria had reduced the flow of insurgents through that country by 50 percent.

"We think that funding from abroad has gone down and have intelligence that indicates that," Petraeus said. "Some of what we are told is that they are really struggling to buy gas for the vehicles. You are seeing a much more survival level of conversation" among al-Qaida extremists.


Iraq says most of Al-Qaeda network destroyed in 2007

The Iraqi interior ministry lauded its achievements over the past year on Saturday, saying that 75 percent of Al-Qaeda's networks in the country had been destroyed in 12 months.
Ministry spokesman Abdul Karim Khalaf also outlined sharp falls in the numbers of assassinations, kidnappings and death squad murders.

He told a news conference that increased patrols along the borders with Saudi Arabia and Syria had slowed infiltration by militants and played a key role in Iraq's improved security situation.

"We have destroyed 75 percent of Al-Qaeda hide-outs, and we broke up major criminal networks that supported Al-Qaeda in Baghdad," he said.

"After eliminating safe houses in Anbar province, which used to be Al-Qaeda's base, we moved into areas surrounding Baghdad and into Diyala province. Al-Qaeda headed north and we are pursuing them," he said.

Khalaf said kidnappings were down 70 percent and that an average of three to five people killed by death squads were being found each day in Baghdad compared with 15 to 20 a day in February.

Personnel with militant or criminal links had been weeded out from Iraqi security forces, he said, adding that Sunni-US alliances against Al-Qaeda had also significantly contributed to the drop in violence


Boy these people are really smart, who could have guessed that that would work.


"Let's see . . . first item tonight: Mîr at Rastbêj throws out his ideas of what needs to be done now for the Kurdish situation, all laid out in four points for the Southern Kurdish leadership as follows:
1) Create a common Kurdish National Policy,

2) Use oil contracts with Western countries as a card against them,

3) Found high quality universities to train the brightest youths from all over Kurdistan,

4) Use international media effectively,
The bottom line? Cooperate or die.

Andrew Lee Butters, at TIME, has a few historical reminders for all those who can't remember what happened yesterday, much less ten years ago:"
You might want to go to the main page and give Rasti a glance. Not that I agree, but this is the way they see it. You've been warned, don't cry later

Father, Son Prepare For Stint In Iraq

FORT SMITH -- John Jay Johnson loves working on classic cars with his dad.

The two will have to put their tools in storage Jan. 2, though, when Johnson ships off to Camp Shelby, Miss., in preparation for a 12 month tour in Iraq with the 217th Brigade Support Battalion in Rogers.

The 22-year-old Guardsman, however, will still get a chance to reflect on the 1966 Chevrolet Impala he refurbished with the help of his dad. That's because his father, Sgt. 1st Class John Lawson Johnson, 44, will be serving alongside him in the same Army National Guard unit.

"There's a fear factor. Planning for the best, preparing for the worst," the elder Johnson said Friday in his son's Fort Smith apartment. "That's what we all do. I look at serving with him as a plus because at least I get to have an impact on his training, so he won't go over there and fail."

John Lawson Johnson, 44, works full-time in the Rogers National Guard Armory. He, his son and at least 92 others in Bravo Company of the 217th Support Battalion headquartered in Booneville, will report back to Fort Chaffee next week after 11 days of holiday leave. From there, they will leave for Camp Shelby, Miss., and then to Iraq to serve their country.

The company -- based in Rogers but not heavy in Rogers flavor -- never had a planned or elaborate send-off before they were called to premobilization training Oct. 1, Johnson said.

"You don't have eyes on you. We're spread out. We have people from Sebastian County to Branson, Mo., serving out of Rogers," he said. "We're not all wearing our uniforms in Rogers, eating at restaurants and rubbing elbows. It's hard for people to know about you."

Thus, Johnson said, no one planned a send-off like most, Capt. Aaron Cater said.

"We're a new unit with a lot of new soldiers," Cater said. "A lot of people just don't know about us."

The company was activated in April 2006 as part of the largest restructuring plan by the Arkansas Army National Guard since 1967.

Eleven months a year, the unit is at Fort Chaffee for drills, Johnson said. When there is a need to be in Rogers, the 217th is some times overshadowed by their brothers in Battery C of the142nd Fires Brigade. The two units share the Rogers armory, but the 217th rarely makes use of it, Johnson said.

"Because of our resources and where we have to train, it's understandable that not a lot of people have heard about us," he said.

The Johnson family lives in Charleston and Fort Smith, with dad driving often to Rogers to work at the armory. The elder Johnson also has another son, David Lawson Johnson, 19, who serves in the National Guard as an aviator.

David will travel to Virginia in April for a 16-week training session, while his father and older brother serve overseas.

"It's been hard," said John Lawson Johnson's wife, Ki Nam Johnson. "I've been crying almost every night. Nobody is going to be home to take care of me."

John Lawson Johnson met Ki Nam in Korea in 1984 during an overseas stint with the Army. They married that same year, and 23 years later have two sons serving along dad in the National Guard.

"Nobody likes me," Ki Nam Johnson joked.

Both sons joined the National Guard at early ages, with little persuasion from their dad, they said. Now, during drills and training, all three see each other on base at Fort Chaffee. Mom brings meals to the base for the three from time to time.

But reality will hit soon, John Lawson Johnson said. Ki Nam will be without her husband and oldest son for at least one year.

"(Reality) probably won't hit until I get off the plane and get that first shot of hot air in my face," her husband said.

Hopefully, John Lawson Johnson said, he and his oldest son will still get to see each other daily in Iraq. Dad will be handling operations and son will work in supplies. They will be working out of two separate buildings sectioned off by 15- to 20-foot-tall cement barriers at their Iraq base, the elder Johnson said.

"We'll probably have to take a few steps to see each other," father said. "But we'll probably see each other every day still."


Obama Aide Ties Pakistan to Iraq War

DES MOINES — The chief strategist of Senator Barack Obama’s campaign said Thursday that the assassination of the Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto “underscores the case for judgment” when voters begin to select their presidential candidates next week.

The strategist, David Axelrod, said voters should take into consideration that the Iraq war led to the rise of terrorist activity and political instability in Pakistan. Mr. Axelrod said that Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton backed the Iraq war in 2002, while Mr. Obama did not.

“She was a strong supporter of the war in Iraq, which we would submit was one of the reasons why we were diverted from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Al Qaeda, who may have been players in this event today,” he said, according to “So that’s a judgment she’ll have to defend.”

Phil Singer, a spokesman for the Clinton campaign, responded, saying the situation should not be politicized. “This is a time to be focused on the tragedy of the situation, its implications for the U.S. and the world, and to be concerned for the people of Pakistan and the country’s stability,” Mr. Singer said in a statement.

In a telephone interview on Thursday evening, Mr. Axelrod said it was indisputable that the war took the United States’ attention away from fighting terrorists in Pakistan.

“I think she should be held accountable as everyone should who was involved in that vote for a flawed policy,” Mr. Axelrod said. “That’s a long way from saying that she bears responsibility for the events of today. That would go too far.”

Well at least it's not just me.

ISI "Defense Minister" Captured?

I put the question mark because this is unconfirmed:

The Iraqi Army claimed to have captured the minister of defense of the Islamic State of Iraq, al Qaeda’s political front organization. Ahmed Turki Abbas was captured after being wounded in a skirmish near Mahmudiyah and “claimed the rank of defense minister,” Qassim al Moussawi, Iraq's military spokesman told Reuters.

Confirmation on the arrest of Abbas, which is also likely a nom de guerre, has not been given by Multinational Forces Iraq at this time. The Iraqi government has made claims of killing and capturing Abu Omar al Baghdadi several times this year, which turned out to be false reports or cases of mistaken identity.
The Jawa Report

Iraq says it does not repudiate Iran border treaty

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq said on Thursday it had not repudiated a 32-year-old border treaty with Iran, despite a declaration by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani that the accord over which the countries waged a decade of war was now void.

Talabani's office said on Thursday that his remarks earlier this week did not amount to a formal repudiation of the accord.

"The Algiers Treaty is valid and not void. It is still in force and no party can unilaterally cancel the treaty. This fact is recognized by the president and he did not mean in his passing and improvised remarks to cancel the active treaty," Talabani's office said in a statement.

Talabani's earlier remarks had threatened to reopen a border dispute that caused one of the bloodiest wars in the history of the Middle East.

More than 1 million people died in the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, triggered by disputes over the two countries' border.

After that war, Iran and Iraq both agreed to abide by the Algiers agreement, which had been signed in 1975 by Iraq's then-Vice President Saddam Hussein and the shah of Iran and defined the border between the two countries.

On Tuesday Talabani was asked by a journalist during a televised conference whether the treaty was still in force.

"This treaty has been voided by the current government," he replied. "This was a treaty between Saddam and the shah and not a treaty between Iraq and Iran. We previously expressed our rejection of the treaty during visits to Iran.

"I tell you: the Algiers treaty is void," he added.

Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said Baghdad was unhappy with the terms of the treaty but recognized that it could not unilaterally revoke it.

"The Iraqi government is still committed to all previous international treaties signed by Iraq. But the government believes the Algiers treaty does not satisfy our ambitions. We have reservations toward this treaty," he told Reuters.

"The government is looking forward to an alternative treaty that will be better than the Algiers treaty," he said.


Smart this guy Talabani, it's no coincidence that he survived saddam.

Confusion as Fiji's Bainimarama trapped in Iraq

Fiji's coup leader Voreqe Bainimarama is trapped in the Iraqi capital Baghdad in unexplained circumstances.

And increasing the confusion in Fiji has been the revelation his right-hand man, Prime Minister's Office head Premesh Chand, is in Auckland tending to his sick wife.

Bainimarama, who staged a coup a year ago, spent Christmas with Fijian troops serving with the United Nations in the Kurdish area of Iraq.

He was due home today but in a statement late today, the Fiji Government said his departure from Baghdad had been cancelled due to the tense situation on the ground.

The statement said his flight was scheduled to depart Baghdad for the Jordan capital Amman yesterday.

But without giving details they said it was cancelled as security measures were heightened in Iraq.

The statement said this led to a cancellations of all flights to and from Baghdad.

"Once the situation in Baghdad eases, flights to and from Baghdad will resume," the statement said.

The government said they were now expecting Bainimarama back in Fiji on Monday.

Meanwhile Chand is due to fly home to Suva tomorrow.

Mothers Sacrifice to Help Wounded GIs

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Rose Lage swears it is true: Suddenly, in the midst of a fitful night of sleep last June, she knew that her son had been injured in Iraq.

"I heard my son's voice," she recalls. "It might sound weird, but I heard him holler 'Mama!'"

In fact, Staff Sgt. Michael Lage was the only survivor of a blast that killed four others. Lage suffered third-degree burns to nearly half his body; part of his nose and ears were missing, and his face, scalp, arms and torso were seared. His left hand had to be amputated.

Rose Lage, 54, understood her son's life would change. But she didn't understand how much her own quiet life — a life spent playing with grandkids, fishing and preparing for her husband's retirement — would change, as well.

She would exchange her two-story house in Atlanta for a hotel room on an Army post, watch her nest egg shrink and spend her days helping a 30-year-old son change bandages and wriggle into garments meant to reduce scarring.

The sacrifices of injured soldiers, airmen and Marines are recognized with medals and commendations. But the mothers and wives who arrive here wide-eyed and afraid make their own sacrifices — abandoning jobs and homes and delaying retirement to help their wounded children reclaim their lives.

"The women here are the heroes, every bit the heroes as their soldiers," said Judith Markelz, who runs a 4-year-old program to aid the families of injured soldiers sent here for treatment. "These kids could not survive without their women."


The patients who arrive at Fort Sam Houston are among the worst wounded in war, suffering the kind of injuries that killed their predecessors in earlier conflicts.

So far, about 600 burn victims and 250 amputees have been sent here to recover at the Army's only burn center and at an amputee rehabilitation program set up since the start of the Iraq war.

Their injuries will take multiple surgeries and months or years of recovery and rehabilitation.

When the injured arrive, fathers and siblings are often here for the immediate aftermath or early surgeries. But the wives and mothers most often stay, Markelz said. They quit jobs, give up health insurance and abandon homes.

"None of us realized people were going to be here two years. That's not your normal hospital stay," Markelz said. "They didn't want to make San Antonio their home. Now, they can vote here."

Markelz, the wife of a retired Fort Sam deputy commander, was hired four years ago to start the Warrior and Family Support Center, a program that has morphed from a few computers in converted conference rooms to a catchall program for families of the wounded.

The Army provides housing for families in a post hotel or at one of the Fisher Houses, family-style dorms with a living room, large kitchen and dining room.

But most arrive here with few or no friends and with little understanding of what they or their wounded family member will now face.

"They come in with their purses like this," said Markelz, hugging her chest. "They look like a deer in headlights."

Markelz and her staff make sure no one gets past the door without getting noticed.

"Did you sign in?" she genially shouts at family members and wounded soldiers between phone calls and assigning tasks to volunteers.

In the past four years, family members and wounded have signed in 200,000 times and counting.

The assistance center — which will move to a new 12,000-square-foot building next year — provides meals, a place for baffled family members to seek advice, rides to Wal-Mart, just about anything Markelz and her staff find they can do to help.

Among the family members who stay for the long haul, about half are wives and half are mothers.

Markelz said it's especially hard on the wives of guardsmen and reservists and on the middle-aged mothers of soldiers — women who had well-established civilian lives away from the typically nomadic life of active military families.

"They didn't sign up for that," she said.

___ Staff Sgt. Michael Lage had always been an independent kid. The youngest of three and the only boy, he was the first to leave home. He joined the Army at 18.

He served two full tours in Iraq, first in 2003 and again two years later.

Through both tours, his mother prayed and lit a yellow candle every day at a shrine fashioned from his photo, angel figurines and military mementos in front of her fireplace in Atlanta. She continued the ritual when he was deployed a third time in May.

But less than a month later, his Bradley Fighting Vehicle was hit by a bomb in Baghdad. Lage was the only one who managed to crawl out or get blown free of the wreckage. He was on fire, still carrying his gun, witnesses later told his family.

Rose Lage and her husband, Larry, arrived in San Antonio to find Michael in intensive care in a medically induced coma. He was covered in bandages with tubes coming in and out of his body.

His mother recognized her son by his long dark eyelashes.

But she wasn't allowed to touch him, couldn't embrace him the way she longed to.

"It took everything I had to be strong," she said, her voice breaking.

Now, six months have passed since she arrived in San Antonio with one large suitcase.

Her husband stayed as long as he could, but he had to return to work after the couple tapped their retirement savings for months.

Her two daughters, too, have come to help, but they have their own homes and young children to care for.

Rose hasn't gone anywhere.

Pieces of her wardrobe have arrived with family members as the seasons have changed and as she's lost weight from crisscrossing the post on foot. A few photos of grandkids have gone up around the hotel room, along with Indian dream catchers — charms traditionally meant to protect against nightmares.

Rose has cobbled together an unexpected life here, learning her way around town and building new routines and friendships she never imagined.

Days of housekeeping and care for grandkids have been replaced with new routines: the careful wrapping of gauze around reddened skin, vigilant adherence to medication regiments, the zipping and buttoning of Michael's clothes.

"We've given up a lot for him," Rose concedes, sitting in a hotel room where a giant flag signed by her son's unit hangs. "We'd give up a lot more for him."

Michael is grateful for his mother's help, but parents and adult children living together can get on each other's nerves. The close quarters and the stress chafe.

"I appreciate her being here, but living in a small hotel room with your mom tends to wear on you a bit," Michael says.

A career soldier and divorced father of 8-year-old twins, he never dreamed he'd be living with or reliant on his mother at age 30. (His son and daughter live in Tennessee with their mother.)

Even as a child, he was never good at asking for help, Rose says.

"That's what annoys her most: I never ask for help," he says.

Rose struggles, too, because she knows he doesn't tell her everything. He holds back some of the emotional and mental struggles that come with such serious injuries and with the memories of friends lost at war.

"It's been very hard because I know he is frustrated because I'm a mom and I haven't been there. I guess he thinks I don't know what's going on," she says.

"They forget that you're a person. You have a life, that you have feelings."


The Lages both finally left San Antonio on Dec. 15 for a Christmas trip to see Michael's kids and other family and friends.

But Michael will have to return in January to face a series of surgeries to reconstruct his elbow, and eventually his amputated arm and his nose and ears. It will probably take another year of treatment and rehabilitation.

That means Rose will be back, too.

"I will always be here for him no matter what. He can always depend on me. I will never leave him," she says, looking at Michael. "I'll be here for my other kids, too. That's what a mom's for. I would give up my life for him, and if I could give him my other hand, I would."

At that, Michael quickly brushes away a tear, and his mother adds one last thing: "He's my baby."


Bush to Host Turkish President

CRAWFORD, Texas (AP) — President Bush will host Turkish President Abdullah Gul at the White House on Jan. 8, a meeting sure to be dominated by Turkey's incursions into Iraq.

Gul, elected in August, will be making his first visit to Washington as president.

"The president looks forward to establishing a good relationship with President Gul and discussing issues of mutual concern," Bush spokesman Scott Stanzel said.

Chief among those concerns is the separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, which is considered a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and the European Union. The PKK has waged a war for autonomy in parts of Turkey for more than two decades, a conflict that has cost tens of thousands of lives. Its fighters use bases in Kurdish parts of northern Iraq.

In recent days, Turkey has launched air assaults on the PKK in Iraq, incursions that came after the U.S. pledged a greater sharing of intelligence to track the PKK. Bush has personally promised such cooperation to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Yet the raids into Iraq also put Washington in an awkward position because Turkey and Iraq are both key U.S. allies. The Bush administration opposes any large-scale Turkish incursion into northern Iraq, currently one of the country's most stable areas.

Stanzel said Bush and Gul will talk about promoting peace in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, and the broader Middle East. The two are also expected to review Turkey's efforts to join the European Union, which the United States supports.

Bush will meet with Gul before leaving the same day for the Middle East, with stops in Israel, the West Bank, Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.


Shame of Imported Labor in Kurdish North of Iraq

SULAIMANIYA, Iraq — The tiny Filipino woman’s hands trembled. She was in hiding, fearing capture at any moment.

She and a friend had come to Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish north as guest workers six months earlier. Now they worried they would be forcibly returned to Erbil, where they had been locked in a house for a month and made to work for free, they said, after their passports, cellphones and plane tickets were taken away.

The two had escaped by begging their captor to let them attend church, then making contact with other Filipino workers, who spirited them away.

Thousands of foreign workers have come to the Kurdish districts in the last three years, a huge turnaround for a place that had hardly any before, making it one of the fastest growing Middle Eastern destinations for the world’s impoverished. They come from Ethiopia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Bangladesh and Somalia, supporting an economic boom here that is transforming Kurdish society.

But nearly all foreign workers interviewed over a two-week period here said they had been deceived by unscrupulous agents who arrange the journeys. Unable to communicate, some arrive not knowing what country they are in. Once here, their passports are seized by their employment agencies, and they are unable to go home.

Some are satisfied with their decision to come here, but agents’ fees are high, often as much as two years’ wages. To come up with the money, many borrow at high interest rates and find that their wages are equal only to the interest. In essence, they say, they end up working for free.

While war rages to the south, mile after mile of new buildings are rising here, and wages for Kurds have risen sevenfold since 2003. Billions of dollars in investment are flowing in from Turkey and the United States, and large-scale oil exploration has just begun.

For the Kurds — guest workers themselves in Europe for generations — the newly arrived Asians and Africans are met with ambivalence. There are too few Kurds to take all the low-paying menial jobs, and many are uncomfortable hiring local Arabs, given the longstanding animosity between the groups.

Foreign women are integral to another transformation. As in some wealthy Persian Gulf states, the traditional Kurdish lifestyle is adopting some European ways: the rich and powerful want live-in maids, nightclubs need non-Muslim women to serve alcohol and men want intimate relationships before marriage — all roles largely forbidden for Kurdish women.

Importing such workers relies on a far-reaching network of recruiters in poor countries, and for most of the 150 Bangladeshis cleaning the streets here, the journey to Kurdistan began at 5 Bonany Road in Dhaka, Bangladesh, the headquarters of the Travel Mix agency.

“They said at the agency that I would make $300 a month and work as a waiter in a restaurant,” said Tufazil Hussan. He said that he took out a $3,000 loan with monthly interest of $150 to pay the agency, but that upon his arrival his passport was taken and he was put to work sweeping the streets seven days a week for $155 a month.

Optimistic, Mr. Hussan, 30, thinks he will soon get a better-paying job; other Bangladeshis say he will probably sweep the streets until the end of his three-year contract, then go home with little or nothing.

His supervisor, Abdul Khadar, is not much better off. A farmer from Tangai, Bangladesh, he makes $185 a month. Mr. Khadar said he borrowed $4,000 to pay Travel Mix. He estimates that for his first two years in Kurdistan, he will work only to pay off his loan.

For the city, the guest workers fill a manpower shortage while saving money. “We need 1,500 cleaners; we have 350,” said Razgar Ahmed Hussein, Sulaimaniya’s director of cleaning operations. “I never wanted to bring foreign workers to this city, but we had no other option. Kurds do not want the jobs.”

The city pays the local Lion Gate agency $325 per month for each cleaner. “The company takes more than half of that,” Mr. Hussein said. “It’s not a fair arrangement. Groups of Bangladeshis have tried to run away to Turkey. If you pay them what they need, they won’t run away. Three months ago the situation was so bad, they were living in a garage, their food was so little. They were begging for money in the street.”

Lion Gate officials said conditions had never been bad and were getting better. “We pay for the workers’ housing, food, electricity and plane tickets,” said Nizar Mustafa Chawjwan, director of the company’s Sulaimaniya office. “We take care of the workers’ health, and we have brought a cook from Bangladesh for them.”

As for allegations that Lion Gate business partners in Bangladesh cheated workers, Mr. Chawjwan said, “If Bangladeshi agents take money from them, we don’t know anything about the deals they make over there.”

Nisha Varia, an investigator with Human Rights Watch, said the combination of unscrupulous brokers in the workers’ home countries and labor practices in Kurdistan left the workers with few options.

“Each side denies that it knows what other is doing,” she said. “In reality, they are much more interconnected than that. They are dong business together, and that leads to these recruiting fees and debts, and puts the workers at risk of forced labor.”

Mr. Chawjwan argued that the wages workers got were higher than those in the Persian Gulf, and that his company had good reason to hold the workers’ passports. “We keep the passports to stop them from running away to Turkey,” he said. “We spend a lot of money to bring each one here.”

But Ms. Varia rejected that argument. “It is a violation of international law to take someone’s passport,” she said. “You don’t own a person because they signed a contract.”

Guest workers are a new phenomenon here, and government workers acknowledge that there is no agency to monitor their labor conditions.

An agent who has brought in hundreds of Asian and African women in their teens and early 20s said that some had complained of unwanted sexual advances. She told of one client who expressed interest in an exceptionally beautiful young Ethiopian woman, offering extra money for her. He disappeared with the woman for several months, then inexplicably sent her home at his own expense. “I suspect he got her pregnant,” the agency manager said, insisting on anonymity.

Another Filipino, who gave her name only as Kikay for fear of retribution from her employer, said she and other young women came expecting $600 a month to work in restaurants in Kurdistan, which they were told was near Greece.

“In the Philippines, they said we get the contract in Dubai, then in Dubai the agent said the contract is at the airport,” she said. “At the airport, they grab our luggage and push it through the X-ray machine, then they start shouting at us, ‘Go, go, your contract in Kurdistan.’ We are confused. We don’t know what to do.”

In Sulaimaniya, Kikay said, an agent from the Qadamkher employment agency met them at the airport. He was carrying a gun and was friendly with the police and immigration officials.

“They took our passports and then drove us to a house,” she said. “We couldn’t understand what they were saying. We were very scared.” Once there, Kikay said, the women were presented with a contract paying them $200 a month to work in a hotel.

If the women wanted to leave, they say now, they had to pay $2,000 to get their passports back. Cold and hungry, clad only in T-shirts in the winter chill, they signed the contract. As with the Bangladeshis, Kikay says, her wages are about equal to the interest on the loans she took out to come to the region, which she was surprised to learn is part of Iraq.

The local Qadamkher agency rejected allegations that workers were brought here without their knowledge or consent. But several of their contracts specified that foreign workers must pay $100 to $350 for every month left on the contracts if they break them. Most contracts run two or three years.

Sana Muhammad, a Qadamkher employee, said business was growing rapidly. The agency collects a one-time fee of $2,500 from Kurdish families for each domestic worker.

“We have requests for 10 Indonesian girls right now that we’re trying to fill,” she added. “We have Ethiopian girls available but clients don’t want them. They say their faces are ugly — the black skin is unfamiliar.” (Similarly, the city cleaning supervisor said the Bangladeshi cleaners had to be moved away from the market because they were being racially harassed.)

Eva Enju is one of the Indonesian women in demand here. This fall, shortly after her 18th birthday, she arrived here believing she had landed in Turkey. She makes $150 a month and has had the good luck to be placed as a maid with Latifah Noori, a kind and funny 75-year-old who is partly paralyzed.

“I came here so that I could save money to buy a house,” Ms. Enju explained.

Ms. Noori says Ms. Enju has been a godsend, working around the clock without complaint. “Enju has no one here,” she said. “She has just me to serve.”

But Kikay’s situation is less amicable. “My manager has my passport and identification,” she said. “Do you think they will let me leave at the airport without it?” If not, she said, “then I am trapped, and there is no future for me here.”


I wonder if all this is true, or a hit job by the drive by media?

SKorean MPs vote to extend Iraq troop deployment

SEOUL (AFP) — South Korea's parliament voted Friday to keep troops in Iraq for one more year, a move aimed at cementing the alliance with the United States in the face of North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

The MPs endorsed a government proposal to extend the contingent's stay until December 2008 but to halve the size of the force to about 650, a spokesman for the National Assembly said.

The force reduction has already taken place, with about 600 troops returning home over the past few weeks. The remaining 650 will stay for one more year, the defence ministry said.

President Roh Moo-Hyun had called in October for the troops to continue their reconstruction and medical mission for another year.

"Under the situation where North Korea's nuclear issue could develop in an unpredictable way, we judge that the South Korea-US alliance, more than anything else, should be maintained," he said at the time.

South Korea and the US are involved in six-nation negotiations seeking North Korea's denuclearisation in exchange for aid and diplomatic benefits.

Roh at the time also cited potential business opportunities in Iraqi Kurdistan, where the Zaytun (olive) force is stationed.

President-elect Lee Myung-Bak backed the continued deployment, which was subject to parliamentary approval. Friday's motion was passed 146-104.

The extension was South Korea's fourth since 3,000 troops were deployed with a one-year mandate in 2004 at the request of the US government.

Calls for a pullout grew after a South Korean worker was kidnapped and murdered in 2004 by Iraqi insurgents who demanded the Korean soldiers leave. The unit itself has suffered no battle casualties.

"In the international community, you don't give today and take back tomorrow," MP Song Young-Sun of Lee's conservative opposition Grand National Party told parliament.

"Even though there are no economic gains right now, a country doesn't build its international relationship in one day. This is for sure an investment."

Opponents said the US-led "war on terror" lacks legitimacy due to the escalating civil war in Iraq and the failure to link the toppled Saddam Hussein regime to Al-Qaeda, Yonhap news agency reported.

"They cite the Korea-US alliance as the main reason for the deployment, but other allies are withdrawing their troops -- take Italy, Sweden, Norway, Portugal and even Britain and Japan," said legislator Im Jong-Seok of the liberal pro-government United New Democratic Party.

South Korea has so far spent 636.7 billion won (680 million dollars) for its four-year deployment to Iraq and needs 44.6 billion more for the next year.

It withdrew the last of its troops from Afghanistan this month despite a US request for the army engineers and medics to stay on.

Roh's office has said this will be the final extension for the Iraq force. But Lee, who takes office in February, has not ruled out a longer stay.


First Signs of Hope Appear in Iraq

BAGHDAD (AP) - Former Sunni insurgents are signing up to fight al-Qaida, Shiite militias have toned down attacks, commerce is reviving and monthly casualty counts are falling. But the failure of Iraq's leaders to strike power-sharing deals raises questions whether the progress can survive after America begins sending its troops home next year.

Nearly a year after the U.S. gambled by pouring troops into Iraq's capital, there is finally cause for hope that the worst of the Iraq war may have passed, even if the endgame takes longer than Americans and Iraqis want.

The political rivalries between Sunnis and Shiites that fueled the conflict remain unresolved. And time may be running out for America to midwife a solution.

By July, the United States expects to withdraw all five combat brigades that were rushed to Iraq this year by President Bush to quell a tide of Sunni-Shiite slaughter that threatened to tear apart the country.

Also by mid-2008, U.S. and Iraqi officials hope to finish negotiations on a new deal that will shift more power to the Iraqis and probably reduce Washington's ability to influence decisions by Iraq's sectarian-minded leaders.

The security turnaround over the past three months has been startling.

In November 2006, at least 2,250 Iraqis were killed in political violence. Last month, the death toll was 718.

American deaths are down too, plunging from 126 in May to fewer than 40 for both October and November - even though 2007 is the deadliest year of the war for U.S. forces.

Thousands of Iraqis who fled the country are now returning. Areas of Baghdad that were ghost towns only a few months ago are reviving. Shoppers stroll the streets with their children.

"I think next year will be better because the situation is improving every day," said Firas Adel, a Shiite clothing merchant. "More people are returning to their homes and businesses. There is sense of safety and stability, and this will boost the economy."

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, in an early December stop in Iraq, was even able to project a sense of optimism that would have seemed ludicrous at the beginning of the year. "I believe that a secure, stable Iraq is within reach," Gates said. But he added: "We need to be patient."

The relative calm in Baghdad, Anbar and other battlefronts is fragile; fighting still rages in key areas not far from the capital. Bombs explode nearly every day in Baghdad, but draw little attention unless they cause multiple casualties.

Furthermore, Shiite and Sunni extremists groups, including al-Qaida in Iraq, have been battered but not destroyed. Al-Qaida fighters forced out of Baghdad are trying to regroup in northern Iraq and in the Euphrates Valley near Haditha to the west.

Other armed groups are believed laying low, waiting for the U.S. drawdown to return to the streets.

"There are good stories to tell here in terms of returning Iraqis. There are economic developments that are occurring that need to be reported. But I would do it at a measured pace," U.S. military spokesman Rear Adm. Gregory Smith counseled journalists recently.

Much of the success is due to President Bush's decision to send nearly 30,000 American reinforcements to Iraq and to changes in tactics by top U.S. commander Gen. David Petraeus.

With the added firepower, U.S. forces drove Sunni militants, including al-Qaida in Iraq, away from their strongholds in Sunni-dominated areas in and around Baghdad. U.S. and Iraqi forces are pressuring extremists in northern and western Iraq to prevent them from regrouping.

The buildup encouraged Sunni tribal leaders to accelerate their revolt against al-Qaida, which began even before the troop surge. Now thousands of Sunnis are signing up to join U.S.-backed defense groups to make sure the extremists cannot return.

On the Shiite side, growing public discontent over criminality and abuses within the ranks of the biggest Shiite militia prompted its leader, anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, to suspend attacks and purge his Mahdi Army.

U.S. officials also say there are signs Iran has slowed or even stopped delivering weapons to Shiite militants, including those who ignored al-Sadr's orders.

"I think the new year will bring better life for Iraqis," said Ali Muhsin, 26, an Education Ministry employee. "If the pressure on al-Qaida and the other terrorist groups will continue, then I expect better days for Iraqis in the near future."

U.S. officials have long insisted that there can be no purely military solution to the Iraq conflict without lasting political agreements among Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds.

With little sign of political progress, Washington is increasingly frustrated, fearing that gains achieved at the price of U.S.. and Iraqi lives will be squandered by politicians unable to set aside sectarian bitterness and hatred.

"The security surge has delivered significant results," U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte said recently. "Now progress on political reconciliation, including key national legislation as well as economic advances, is needed to consolidate the gains made thus far."

Otherwise, he warned "we risk falling back to the more violent patterns of the past."

Prospects for agreements on a range of issues - including sharing the oil wealth and relaxing the ban on supporters of ex-President Saddam Hussein in government jobs - are clouded.

Outside Baghdad, the central government barely functions. Millions of Iraqis are still clamoring for reliable electricity, clean water and other services they hoped for when Saddam's regime collapsed nearly five years ago.

Profound divisions remain over the vision for the new Iraq - either a strong central government or self-rule by ethnic and sectarian regions.

"The principal problem is this is a country with no agreement on what the country is," said Mideast analyst Jon Alterman. "You have lawlessness, thuggery and organized crime."

Sectarian wounds inflicted by Saddam's Sunni-dominated regime against Shiites and Kurds - and ripped open in the recent wave of sectarian slaughter - are far from healed.

"The distrust, the fear, the resentment on the part of the people who are in (Iraq's) government is profound," Phebe Marr, a leading Iraq scholar, told "You only have to sit in a room and listen to these people talk to understand how deep the distrust is."

American soldiers encounter signs of this every day.

Sunni ex-insurgents are often more willing to deal with Americans than the Shiite-dominated security forces. Shiite police and army officers openly complain the Americans are dealing with Sunnis who have Shiite blood on their hands.

With such broad differences, many U.S. diplomats, military commanders and private analysts doubt the Iraqis will reconcile through grand, sweeping agreements or landmark legislation at the national level.

Instead, they believe the best shot is a patchwork of local peace deals between Sunni and Shiite tribes which, over time, will produce reconciliation from the bottom up. That process could take years.

"You will see some levels of reconciliation in some places, but it's going to be hard to strike a grand agreement that means all sectarian problems are put behind us," Alterman said.


Damn these people must get some really good drugs, nothing like the shit around here, we're, expect the war to get more violent from here on out.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Snorting a Brain Chemical Could Replace Sleep

In what sounds like a dream for millions of tired coffee drinkers, Darpa-funded scientists might have found a drug that will eliminate sleepiness.

A nasal spray containing a naturally occurring brain hormone called orexin A reversed the effects of sleep deprivation in monkeys, allowing them to perform like well-rested monkeys on cognitive tests. The discovery's first application will probably be in treatment of the severe sleep disorder narcolepsy.

The treatment is "a totally new route for increasing arousal, and the new study shows it to be relatively benign," said Jerome Siegel, a professor of psychiatry at UCLA and a co-author of the paper. "It reduces sleepiness without causing edginess."

Orexin A is a promising candidate to become a "sleep replacement" drug. For decades, stimulants have been used to combat sleepiness, but they can be addictive and often have side effects, including raising blood pressure or causing mood swings. The military, for example, administers amphetamines to pilots flying long distances, and has funded research into new drugs like the stimulant modafinil (.pdf) and orexin A in an effort to help troops stay awake with the fewest side effects.

The monkeys were deprived of sleep for 30 to 36 hours and then given either orexin A or a saline placebo before taking standard cognitive tests. The monkeys given orexin A in a nasal spray scored about the same as alert monkeys, while the saline-control group was severely impaired.

The study, published in the Dec. 26 edition of The Journal of Neuroscience, found orexin A not only restored monkeys' cognitive abilities but made their brains look "awake" in PET scans.

Siegel said that orexin A is unique in that it only had an impact on sleepy monkeys, not alert ones, and that it is "specific in reversing the effects of sleepiness" without other impacts on the brain.

Such a product could be widely desired by the more than 70 percent of Americans who the National Sleep Foundation estimates get less than the generally recommended eight hours of sleep per night (.pdf).

The research follows the discovery by Siegel that the absence of orexin A appears to cause narcolepsy. That finding pointed to a major role for the peptide's absence in causing sleepiness. It stood to reason that if the deficit of orexin A makes people sleepy, adding it back into the brain would reduce the effects, said Siegel.

"What we've been doing so far is increasing arousal without dealing with the underlying problem," he said. "If the underlying deficit is a loss of orexin, and it clearly is, then the best treatment would be orexin."

Dr. Michael Twery, director of the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research, said that while research into drugs for sleepiness is "very interesting," he cautioned that the long-term consequences of not sleeping were not well-known.

Both Twery and Siegel noted that it is unclear whether or not treating the brain chemistry behind sleepiness would alleviate the other problems associated with sleep deprivation.

"New research indicates that not getting enough sleep is associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease and metabolic disorders," said Twery.

Still, Siegel said that Americans already recognize that sleepiness is a problem and have long treated it with a variety of stimulants.

"We have to realize that we are already living in a society where we are already self-medicating with caffeine," he said.

He also said that modafinil, which is marketed as Provigil by Cephalon and Alertec in Canada, has become widely used by healthy individuals for managing sleepiness.

"We have these other precedents, and it's not clear that you can't use orexin A temporarily to reduce sleep," said Siegel. "On the other hand, you'd have to be a fool to advocate taking this and reducing sleep as much as possible."

Sleep advocates probably won't have to worry about orexin A reaching drugstore shelves for many years. Any commercial treatment using the substance would need approval from the Food and Drug Administration, which can take more than a decade.


Make sure you know what's in your water..