Friday, February 29, 2008

Man Critical After Ricin Find in Vegas

LAS VEGAS (AP) - Police say a man is in critical condition after the deadly toxin ricin was found in his Las Vegas motel room.
Las Vegas police Lt. Lewis Roberts says the man has been in a coma since he was found in his room at the Extended Stay America Motel on Thursday.

He's one of seven people hospitalized after the ricin was discovered. Police have said most were examined as a precaution.

Roberts says police don't think foul play is involved, and the FBI says the case doesn't appear to be terrorism-related.

But authorities aren't sure why the man had a vial of powdered ricin in his room.

Ricin is made from processing castor beans, and can be extremely lethal.

If this is not related to terrorism, I can't wait to hear what this is really about? No one would think of releasing ricin in a casino, never happen.

Move along, nothing else to see here.

27 February

"Today started around 0600…got up and cleaned myself up for the trip to J-Bad…I was a gunner on a hummer, rockin the MK-19…it’s a pain in the ass gun to mount and load and clear and all that, but just one time of firing that bad boy makes it all worth it—unfortunately we never get the chance to use it—or you could make the argument that it a fortunate thing, since it means we don’t get attacked…either way, I would just love to fire that thing off and blow some shit up with it…so, as usual, I had to wake up the armory room guy to get in and sign out my weapon…loaded up the truck and stage it in the convoy pre-departure area…hit the briefing, which was pretty much same ol stuff—bad guys here and there, historic ambush sites, what to do in case of IEDs, breakdown procedures, current intel on suicide bombers and planned attacks against Coalition Forces…none of that stuff happened on our trip—it was just another road trip for us…it was a little chilly this morning on the way out, but it’s definitely spring time weather around here…we made it to the main road thru town and again there were kids waving and giving us the “thumbs up” and yelling for pens and water and candy, the roads were filled with donkey carts, herds of sheep/goats, a couple camels here and there, and the normal stench of trash and food and manure…"
Desert Consciousness

New hope ..

"Staying at home all the time is really boring, but we have to get use to it, I wanted to write a post, but I had nothing to write about, the same routine ,day after day, in my spare time I do handmade work, I am reading a fantastic book called “ Don’t be sad” I like it very much, I think every Iraqi should read it!!! Specially during these circumstances, I listen to music all the time, and when we don’t have electricity I listen to Radio Sawa.. I’m working hard on my book, and Luke is editing it for me, he’s wonderful.
My mom’s uncle will find me a publisher (he lives in USA), I am so lucky to have such an encouraging relative..
My mom was sick, her blood pressure is not stabled, most of the Iraqis have blood pressure, because of all the stress in our lives ..
The new operation is about to start as you know, I feel like it’ll work this time, although not everyone think so, because the troops announced the operation before it starts ..
I still have hope, I don’t know why.. All the ex-operations failed, but there is a voice inside my heart telling me to be optimistic"
Days of my Life

Reunions And Getting Short

"I'm at Bagram now, and there have been a number of remarkable reunions since I've gotten back from Qatar. Sam, the combat terp, he of The Valley Operation back in August, was the first.

When you get to know an Afghan, it all starts with a handshake. The single handed handshake of American business associates is the standard, although many Afghans don't have a lot of grip to it. However, to Afghans, handshakes are mandatory. To not offer a hand; or to not accept a proffered hand, is practically hostile.

Stage two of a developing friendship is signified by the two-handed handshake, or the handshake with the forearm clasp. Stage three is the handshake with chest bump type hug over the clasped hands. Stage four is the full hug... either a handshake going into a two-armed hug or just straight to the hug.

Stage five is the full hug with touching cheeks. Stage six is the full hug, touching cheeks, and a kissing noise. Stages five and six are very uncomfortable for Americans. It requires conscious acceptance.

Stage seven is holding hands.

An Afghan may skip stages and go straight to stage seven. Stage seven is the most challenging of all for an American. It is just plain uncomfortable to hold hands with another man; but it doesn't mean the same thing here as it does in the United States, obviously. It is the highest compliment that an Afghan can pay you. It is an act of friendship and trust that surpasses all others.

Then there is the full on bear hug. It is universal, transcending all languages. It says, like nothing else, "man, it's really good to see you!""
Afghan Adventure

Thursday, February 28, 2008

On Barack Obama's claim that Americans confiscate and use enemy weapons

"Taliban in body armor. Who wants to use that junk?

There's nothing more ridiculous than saying that American soldiers use enemy equipment, as Barack insisted today in his debate with Hillary Clinton.

First, what does the enemy have: AK-47s and old, dangerous (to soldiers and civilians) RPGs? Bringing up the lack of "body armor" (Did American's have "body armor" in any other war?) was a stretch, but no rifles? Even basic trainees have rifles.
Second, AK-47s use 7.62mm ammunition. American M-4s use 5.56mm. The quality's different too. I can't imagine soldiers using it.

This may be a good way to bring up Barack's inexperience, mendaciousness, or credulity. It would make a good laugh line at a stump speech, anyways."
Asymmetric Military

SGT james Craig, R.I.P

My blogging buddy, Flag Gazer, lost a friend of hers last week, SGT James Craig, in Mosul Iraq. R.I.P. God keep him.

You're Visitor 100,000! Click here to claim your prize.

"Sometime in the last few days, my hit counter surpassed 100,000 visit to this blog. Like your dad in the family station wagon counting the odometer, I'm very excited to be at this historic number. I created the blog in April 2006 but I only added a counter in September of last year, days before I came home from Iraq. Blue Man was the first person to link to me before my quote and URL appeared in the LA Times and Associated Press stories, making him fan #1. My parents have always been the most supportive readers from the start, along with my wonderful girlfriend Lauren.

I'm often asked why I started the blog in the first place. If you go back to the very beginning, you'll see writing that's rough around the edges with heavy doses of sarcasm. I had neither point nor purpose back then, only hoping to showcase the maddening Army lifestyle and the mundane day to day tasks that we were handed. It was frank as it was anonymous, and only my roommate knew of its existence. We had used the term 'Army of Dude' to describe a new military: free of the cover your ass ideals that our superiors used. We didn't want to screw each other for the next promotion and we didn't want to play politics. We wanted to do our time together. We didn't want to stay in for thirty years and continue the vicious cycle in place where seniority meant more than reason and teamwork. We wore our hair long and our sideburns flared. We called each other dude, and we used that word as a reaction to happiness, sadness, surprise and apprehension."Army of Dude

just when things start getting good, time to leave

"We’re getting into the stages of last time doing this, last time doing that and so on now. I can’t believe it’s almost all over. Some of the days seem painfully slow but looking at large blocks of time, it has gone by quickly. It seems like just at the end is when things start getting good around here. The gym has been completely renovated, a new aviation unit is in country now with a lot more assets than the last one meaning…we have air support and escorts flying overhead on a lot of missions now, the weather has warmed up to being perfect recently, and just the other week one of our trucks was able to return fire on a baddie position (very small small incident with just a few shots). There was even a brief upturn in the chow hall, I saw chicken nuggets for the first time in a year and they actually tasted pretty decent too."
Afghan Vacation

Residents: Sadr City Raids Target Civilians

[Update: Our correspondent, Nabeel Kamal, tells us that the cousins interviewed by the New York Times about the US raids later died due to their wounds. These are the same cousins mentioned in this video as having been “martyred.”]
Baghdad, Iraq - Sadr City - In October 2007 the US Military claims it raided 3 locations in pursuit of a Shi’a masterminding a kidnapping gang. Iraqi civilians in the area claimed differently. The Coalition forces claim 49 criminals were killed and no civilians were injured in the raid. Iraqi Police and hospital officials reported only 15 deaths including three children. Another report from the Iraqi Ministry of Interior claimed there were 13 killed and 69 injured.
In other reports, the shadowy “Task Force 88″ or “Task Force Black” was cited as being involved in this raid. The report from Long War Journal suggested that they were involved due to the United States’ claim that the raid targeted the so-called “Special Groups,” off-shoots of the Mahdi Army who have defied Muqtada Sadr’s ceasefire order and are being supplied by Iran. In Esquire, Thomas P.M. Barnett writes that Task Force 88 was sent into Somalia seeking Al-Qa’eda operatives, with orders to “Kill anyone still alive and leave no unidentified bodies behind.”"
Alive in Baghdad

Sons of Iraq: Recruiting and Employing

" Coalition forces in Iraq have moved to a doctrine centered more on counterinsurgency and begun to engage the sheikhs, the military has relied more and more on security forces supplied by local sheikhs to point out bad guys, weapon caches, and IEDs. In Arab Jabour, those forces are called Sons of Iraq.
Sayifiyah, in southern Arab Jabour, had local villagers trying to start a Sons of Iraq program before US forces even reached their village.

Al Qaeda in Iraq has long been the only power in much of Arab Jabour, and the people of Sayafiyah were fed up. At the start of January, a group of sheikhs from the area traveled to meet Colonel Ferrel, the commander of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division to ask for help in their village. They talked about the many things that they needed, and about their desire to use Sons of Iraq to secure their village. Colonel Ferrel asked for a volunteer from among the sheikhs to head the Sons of Iraq when he reached their village. The sheikhs looked at each other indecisively, until Sheikh Sayeed (a pseudonym, used for his protection), dressed like an al Qaeda in Iraq fighter, volunteered. Colonel Ferrel looked at him and said, “OK. You’d better be ready, because if my guys get there and get shot at, I’m coming after you!”"
Acute Politics
You know these stories of the recent success with the tribal leaders is almost too painful for me to post. No not because I hate America, but because for the better part of the last three years we had been calling for a change of course, and we had been posting the voices of the people crying for help, and we read about the "rumors of a tribal awakening" and nothing was done. Most of the same people that now tout the success were the same ones fighting a change in strategy or a rise in the troop numbers...It's such a hollow victory for many of us on this side of the fence. We have had to argue for the change, and at the same time watch our friends and their families die in Iraq.

So I guess we will celebrate the success, it's just we still have such a bitter taste in out mouth, that you might not be able to tell our delight from first glance.

A little bit of hooah, a little bit of IVAW

"It's funny to me sometimes when people tend to assume my life is all one or the other. That since I'm an Army sergeant who's a little bit gung-ho about some stuff, I must completely support everything we do, including the war-or that since I'm an IVAW member taking on a lot of responsibility, I must hate the Army and all of its ways. I was thinking about this (not that the conversation caused it) as I took a phone call the other day from an IVAW member, while I had an Army weapon in one hand. I spoke briefly to the IVAW member, told him I'd call him back, and then proceeded to give the best training I could to my guys on how not to die. When I was done with the training and was no longer on Army time, I called back the IVAW member and proceeded to give them my full due as well. It occurred to me in retrospect how odd it might seem to an outside observer-but I view IVAW as an extension of my NCO self. It's taking care of soldiers, which is my job, just in a little bit different way. Taking care of the bullets they don't know how to dodge-the political bullets that they think they just have to suck up."
Active Duty Patriot

ِHere we go

"...The other day as an American patrol was passing in front of our house, shooting started, and there was a little explosion so they came into the house for cover.
They searched through the house too just for people not for weapons, and they didn't mess it up. They felt comfortable when they saw that we could all speak English. Some sat in the kitchen with dad around the kitchen table and asked him questions for about half an hour.
They finally said that "You guys are cool", apologized for coming in like that and left after a visit that lasted about an hour.

Many neighborhoods have been searched in the last month, and we heard stories of arrests and cruel treatment. At one neighborhood they got the residents out of their houses, entered with their dogs to search for weapons and such, and kept the people outside for hours in the cold (one time they even got the men to undress except for their underwear). In the news they said that two new-born twin babies died in the cold outside."
A Star From Mosul

Raseef 28

"I assume I’m one of the few lucky people who have survived Iraq, looking back the years, though I truly try not to, I only remember the good things in my life, the gathering of Friends on “Rasseef 28” that’s what we used to call on of our friends front door because we used to gather there nearly each day when we were teens.Cruising the streets of Al-Mansour and going to Al-Sa’a'ah Restaurant. Then when I really miss home I call some of my not so fortunate friends who have either never managed to get out of Baghdad or are (Visitors) of Syria, Egypt and (this you will not Believe) Darfur, Sudan and Ghana!!!"
Where Date Palms Grow
And people still wonder how the sunnis minority in Iraq maintained it's majority.

Iraq: F*** you Washington Post

" says Raed Jarrar. Today's post features voices from the edge. Sunshine is waiting for the war on her doorstep to end and writes of her hopes and aspirations; Last of Iraqis is turned back at the Jordanian border and writes of hopes lost; Layla waits in the immigration queue; Baghdad Dentist writes of a relaxed Baghdad and the blogger formerly know as Konfused Kid writes of a world that has changed.(Cross Posted to Global Voices Online)But first...The Washington Post publishes a story about a dog that was rescued from the 'Baghdad slums' and Raed is incensed. He writes:
one million Iraqis killed in the last 5 years, and you celebrate rescuing an iraqi dog. what a bunch of racist a**holes.f*** you Karin Brulliard, and f*** the washington post.
and he invites concerned people to send similar comments to that journalist."


Talabani will have more bottles thrown at him!

"May be I am one more naive Kurd who cannot think properly let alone politically or dipolomatically enough to assess some of Talabani's acts more than foolish, selfish and desperate acts on behalf of his personal gain!

His latest consent towards an invitation by the Turkish government for him to be further rediculed after what happened to him in 2003 when he went to tell them "I am sorry for the foolish act of some stupid Kurds who burnt your holy flag in my centre-of-power-town of Slemany" is another blow in his failure to do the even desperate politics for the Kurds in Iraq. This will not only affect his position within the Turkish-Kurdish equasion but also within the presidency he is in on behalf of the Kurds in Iraq and directly the issue of article 140."

And They Still Call It A Government!

"It’s been several days since the Turkish forces launched their big military operation in northern Iraq to rout out the Kurdish separatists, the PKK. And I have yet to see a serious reaction from the Iraqi government, or at least from the Kurdish forces. Nouri al-Maliki “condemned” the Turkish attacks. The Kurdish leaders’ statements were came a little short of vowing to defend their territories. And the US administration, which is, in the eyes of Iraqis, responsible for protecting the average Iraqis, only said “We urged the Turkish government to limit their operations to precise targeting of the PKK; to limit the scope and duration of their operations.”That left me to wonder: why is it so casual that Turkey is invading Iraqi lands, attacking its territories and as a result forcing out hundreds of Iraqi families out of their homes and turn them into homeless population? "24 Steps to Liberty

A largely successful Arba'een

"Yesterday completed an important holiday period for the Shia's of Iraq. (Well for the Shia's of the world I guess, but the holiday's impact is all here in Iraq). Arba'een (literally Arabic for the number 40) is the 40th day after Ashura and commemorates the suffering of wives and children of Husayn ibn Ali, who was murdered on Ashura in the Battle of Karbala. His wives and children were then marched across the desert to Syria by the Sunni Caliphate army and many of them perished.

The Shia in my observation* are obsessed with suffering and, as might be said in America, immerse themselves in a culture of being the victim. During Ashura they beat and cut themselves to show their devotion to Husayn and his suffering. They also have a bizarre tradition where they put their sons in a tent which is then lit on fire. All the kids are supposed to run out, but we have had to treat some poor boys who were badly burned. (As an aside, we have treated a lot of burned children and women, apparently there is something wrong with Iraqi stoves in that hot oil is always falling off them) Anyway, the relevance here is to show their devotion to Husayn and the suffering of his family many Shia walk to his shrine in Karbala. They walk from nearby Babil, and Baghdad, but also from Najaf, Basra, even I was told Kuwait and Iran. That is a serious walk, and the sight of hundreds and hundreds of these Shia, all dressed in black, walking down one whole side of the highway, which was closed off for the holiday, is indescribable. Mile after mile off to the horizon of black ninjas. Ah and the noise and the blaring mosque speakers all day long."Sergeant Grumpy

Al-Maliki: Iraqis Are Reconciling

BAGHDAD (AP) - Iraq's prime minister declared Thursday that national reconciliation was moving forward despite the embarrassing collapse of a deal to hold provincial elections and a warning of possible escalating Shiite feuds over the failure.

It was a day of charged rhetoric - heightened by a flurry of political drama.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who is part of the nation's Shiite majority, spoke from one of the sect's holiest sites - the shrine of Imam Hussein, 50 miles south of Baghdad. The city is the centerpiece of Arbaeen, a commemoration that marks the end of the mourning period that follows the anniversary of Hussein's martyrdom in the seventh century. The holiday wound up Thursday.

A big, supportive crowd greeted al-Maliki. Some waved Iraqi flags as he gave a soaring assessment of national affairs in this war-weary country - tempered with an appeal to Shiites to continue participating in the political process.

"National reconciliation efforts have succeeded in Iraq and the Iraqis have once again become loving brothers," he said in a speech broadcast live on television. "We have ended the security instability and we have to chase al-Qaida elements in other places such as Mosul, Diyala and Kirkuk in order to finish the battle for good so that we can concentrate on the reconstruction phase."

The prime minister, who spent the past few days in London getting follow up medical tests after a previous heart exam, also acknowledged the need to move forward on political unification.

"I affirm the necessity of pushing the political process, boosting security and the economy and combating corruption," he said. "We should be united and keep away from personal interests in order to face the greater challenges and achieve final victory."

One of the greatest challenges right now is resurrecting a deal on provincial elections that would find support among Iraq's three main groups: Shiites, Sunni Arabs and Kurds. New elections are seen as step toward handing greater power to Iraq's varied regions and giving Sunnis a stronger political voice. Its collapse on Wednesday dashed hopes both in Baghdad and Washington.

The Bush administration backed it as one of 18 benchmarks to promote reconciliation.

Most of the benchmarks remain unmet. But the U.S. view is that - if compromises can ultimately be reached - the deals would stabilize Iraq and ultimately allow America to withdraw its troops.

Parliament approved the elections measure in a bundle with two others, the budget and a key amnesty bill, and then broke for a five-week vacation.

The budget and amnesty bills were then approved by the three-member presidential council, but the provincial law was rejected. The deal apparently fell apart because of a power struggle among Shiites, pitting the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council - the largest Shiite bloc and the party of Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi - against followers of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who controls the powerful Mahdi Army militia.

"We are suffering a new wave aimed at the destruction of a new Iraqi national law (that) could fracture the country's unity and replace it with laws based on sectarian and political motivations," Sadrist lawmaker Nassar al-Rubaie said.

He worried that Iraq was shifting from a period of sectarian violence to "a period of chaos and corruption."

The fate of the provincial election law is uncertain at best. Lawmakers do not even return until March 18, and it took them weeks to strike a deal last time. A legal adviser to parliament said that a simple majority will be enough to pass the measure again, but it also must go back to the presidential council for final approval.

Outside al-Maliki's speech - which did not specifically discuss the provincial elections measure - the streets were clogged with pilgrims.

Karbala provincial Gov. Aqil al-Khazali estimated that the main procession in Karbala drew some 9 million pilgrims, including 80,000 foreigners. The U.S. military has said 6 million pilgrims traveled in and out of the Karbala area for the holiday.

Religious festivals have a history of being targeted by insurgents, and the U.S. has blamed Sunni-led al-Qaida in Iraq for a flurry of attacks on worshippers that killed at least 64 people over the past week as they made their way to Karbala.

Police chief Raid Shakir Jawdat, commander of Karbala's security operations, said Thursday that a man with an explosive belt was arrested near a checkpoint outside the city.

Extremists "wanted to ignite civil war, but the Iraqis through their solidarity were able to end it forever," al-Maliki said. "They wanted to divide Iraq and the Iraqi people, but the awareness of the Iraqi people has foiled this plot."

In separate developments, Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said a date would be scheduled by March 15 for a fourth round of talks between Iran and the United States. Iraq has brokered the discussions.

U.S. and Iraqi officials also wound up a broad-ranging meeting on economic issues, with the two sides pledging cooperation in several areas, including banking reform and trade.

"This year is vital," Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh said. "2007 was a year for security achievements, but they will not stay in place without Iraq being able to make a quantitative leap in living standards."

The U.S. military said Thursday that troops killed an Iraqi civilian who raised suspicion and failed to heed warnings to stop as he approached their foot patrol north of Baghdad.

The man, who was wearing a bulky jacket and his hands in his pockets, was killed Wednesday in an area around Muqdadiyah, about 60 miles north of Baghdad, according to a statement.


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Iraqi Diaspora

"Today I was thinking about all the Iraqis who left Iraq, back to the 1980s when my family left and before. I remembered a post by Baghdad Treasure about the "Farhood al Yahood", during which Iraqi Jews were persecuted. Most of my relatives left Iraq in 1991, after the Gulf War. Most of them fled immediately after the bombing and stayed in Amman for up to 18 months before moving to the UK. The flight from Iraq began long ago, but in the last four years the number of refugees fleeing Iraq has risen dramtically. The largest number of Iraqi refugees today are in Syria and Jordan, two countries that have what can be described as love-hate relationships with Iraq. "
Iraqi Mojo

Iran agents 'sabotaging' anti-Qaeda groups: Iraq intel chief

BAGHDAD (AFP) — Iranian secret service agents are working to "sabotage" the operations of groups fighting Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Baghdad's intelligence chief said on Wednesday.

Mohammed Abdullah Shahwani issued the statement shortly before a landmark visit to Baghdad on Sunday by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

"We have information confirming that Iranian secret services have sent agents to sabotage the Sahwa experience in Iraq," the statement said, referring to mostly Sunni groups fighting Al-Qaeda in Iraq alongside the US military.

Shahwani "stressed the need for the Iraqi people to be vigilant in facing these activities."

He also urged Iraqis "to consolidate the security gains that have been achieved in Iraq and that all citizens are benefitting from."

There are about 90,000 members of the Sahwa, or "Awakening" forces across Iraq, according to the US military which pays them about 300 dollars a month. The bulk of the fighters are Sunni Arabs, but a good 20 percent of them are Shiite.

Iraqi Council Strikes Down Key Law

BAGHDAD (AP) - Iraq's presidential council rejected a plan for new provincial elections and sent the bill back to parliament Wednesday for reworking, a major setback to U.S.-backed efforts to promote national reconciliation.

The ruling came despite a reported last-minute telephone call by Vice President Dick Cheney to the main holdout on the three-member panel, which has to sign off on laws passed by the legislature. The White House tried to put its best face on the development, saying "this is democracy at work."

The outcome underscored the immense challenges involved in efforts to distribute power among Shiites, Sunni Arabs and Kurds five years after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Such power-sharing agreements are the end goal of last year's buildup of U.S. troops. The hope has been that the declining bloodshed will remove the fear that has paralyzed Iraqi politicians, enabling them to compromise and strike deals across the sectarian divide. And that, in theory, should blunt support for the Sunni insurgency and allow American troops to withdraw from the country.

Many Sunnis boycotted the last nationwide elections, in January 2005, for the 275-member parliament and for local officials. The vote ushered in representational government, but it also gave majority Shiites and minority Kurds the bulk of power.

The U.S. hopes new elections, to be held Oct. 1 according to the draft measure, would give the Sunni more political power and thereby weaken the insurgency.

The main sticking point in Wednesday's decision, however, appeared to have more to do with internal Shiite divisions. The main objection focused on whether local officials or the central government currently led by Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will have the right to fire provincial governors.

"There are some items in this law that contradict the constitution, such as the governor and how to sack him," said Nasser al-Ani, a Sunni lawmaker and presidential council spokesman. "There is an objection and it is constitutional. The presidential council has the right to object."

He didn't say who objected.

But Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi later said it was his Shiite counterpart, Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi.

"There were some objections from my colleague Adel Abdul-Mahdi on the provincial law, thus the presidency returned it to the parliament for reviewing," al-Hashemi told the U.S.-financed Al-Hurra TV station.

Kurds supported Abdul-Mahdi's objection, according to lawmakers who attended the council meeting where the elections law was discussed. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

The three-member panel is led by President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, though it was unclear whether he signed off on the measure.

Underscoring the importance of the issue to the Americans, Cheney called Abdul-Mahdi on Tuesday to try to persuade him to sign the bill, an Iraqi government official said, declining to be identified because he wasn't authorized to disclose the information.

But Iraqi political divisions may have proved more important than Cheney's plea.

Abdul-Mahdi is a senior official in the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council, the country's largest Shiite party. A provision in the bill allows the Iraqi prime minister to fire a provincial governor, but Abdul-Mahdi's bloc wants that power to rest with the provincial councils, or legislatures, where his party has a strong base of support around the country, the lawmakers said.

Although the presidential council did not sign off on the elections law, it did approve the 2008 budget of $48 billion and another law that provides limited amnesty to detainees in Iraqi custody. Those laws will take effect once they are published in the Justice Ministry gazette.

The Bush administration, which had sought passage of the provincial and amnesty laws as two of 18 benchmarks to promote reconciliation, had praised the Iraqi parliament when it approved both measures Feb. 13.

On Wednesday, the White House said that it does not believe the council's ruling had dealt a fatal blow to the provincial elections law. White House press secretary Dana Perino said the Bush administration would have liked the law to move forward without complications, but added: "This is democracy at work."

State Department spokesman Tom Casey also said the council's action "is a normal part of the democratic process in Iraq." The U.S., he added, does not think there will be a long delay.

It was unclear how quickly legislators could move on reworking a new draft. The Iraqi parliament is on a five-week holiday through March 18. It took weeks of wrangling for to pass the budget and the two laws the presidential council reviewed, finally doing so in a single bundle so that neither Shiites nor Sunnis nor Kurds would feel double-crossed.

Any measure rejected by the council needs a two-thirds majority approval in parliament to pass the second time through, according to Saleh al-Aujaili, a lawmaker from radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's faction.

Al-Aujaili criticized the council for putting party interests above the nation's.

"The members of the Presidency Council should study the laws as representatives of the Iraqi people, not their own parties," he said.

Khalid al-Attiyah, the Shiite deputy parliament speaker, also expressed disappointment.

"We expected that all the three laws would be approved together," al-Attiyah said. "It will take us a long time and new agreements now to pass the law."

Millions of Shiites, meanwhile, thronged the streets of the holy city of Karbala, 50 miles south of Baghdad, as Arbaeen commemorations marking the end of a 40-day mourning period for a revered religious figure reached their peak.

Pilgrims headed to the gathering were targeted again by extremists on Wednesday when a roadside bomb detonated near a bus in Baghdad, killing one traveler.

At least 64 people have been killed in assaults this week targeting pilgrims en route to Karbala to honor Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammed who died in a seventh-century battle near the city.

The chief of the Iraqi Journalists' Union, Shihab al-Timimi, also died Wednesday of wounds suffered in an ambush. He was 74.

Violence has dropped substantially across Iraq in the last six months as the U.S. has boosted troop levels, former al-Qaida fighters with American backing have switched allegiances and the powerful Mahdi Army, a Shiite militia, has declared a cease-fire.

But Wednesday's toll pushed the total number of Iraqi deaths in February to at least 719 - compared with 610 in January, when violence reached a low not seen since the end of 2005.


Boy talk about the "axis of evil", Cheney trying to cut the locals out of the deal? as usual

I would go with the Governors having local allegiances, and independence.
We're just growing by leaps and bounds this week

Presenting our newest sidebar link
Daughters of Vietnam Veterans

Marines Call New Body Armor Heavy, Impractical

BAGHDAD, Iraq — The Pentagon and Marine Corps authorized the purchase of 84,000 bulletproof vests in 2006 that not only are too heavy but are so impractical that some U.S. Marines are asking for their old vests back so they can remain agile enough to fight.

Marine Commandant Gen. James Conway wants to know who authorized the costly purchase of the nearly 30-pound flak jackets and has ordered the Marine procurement officers at the Quantico base in Virginia to halt the rest of an unfilled order, FOX News has learned.

"I’m not quite sure how we got to where we are, but what I do know is it is not a winner," Conway told FOX News at the end of his recent trip to Iraq.

"I think it is foolish to buy more."

• Click here to view photos.

Twenty-four thousand more vests were scheduled to be shipped to Iraq in the coming months, but Conway halted that order during his trip.

"I’ve asked them to tell me — to walk me through — the whole process ... how it evolved," Conway said.

"It goes back a couple of years. I think the vest has its advantages. It fits pretty well on the waist. The weight is distributed more evenly on the hips than shoulders, but Marines don’t like it. I didn’t like it when I put it on."

The protective jackets, manufactured by Protective Products International in Sunrise, Fla., are known as Modular Tactical Vests, or MTVs. With heavy plates, known as sappis, on their sides, they provide more coverage than the older vests. That makes them much safer but also much heavier. The MTVs have more protection than the older "Interceptor," made by Point Blank, and they distribute weight more evenly.

The new vests, weighing in at about 30 pounds each, are three lbs. more than previous regulation body armor. Marines, who are already carrying up to 95 lbs. depending on the mission, say they feel the difference.

The vest slips over the head, but one Marine said that because of its weight, it often rips the skin off one’s nose and scrapes the ears.

It also has a rip cord that allows for quick release should the fighter fall into water. But many Marines say the cord is hard to reach and often gets caught on equipment in their vehicles. They say it literally falls apart; one Marine said it was like getting caught in battle with your pants around your ankles.

Marines are issued an instructional video to learn how to use the vest properly.

The Marine commandant and his sergeant major, Carlton Kent, became aware of the problem during a Thanksgiving visit to Iraq. At town hall meetings, few Marines raised their hands when asked if they liked the new equipment.

Conway and his team refused to wear the vests during their visit to Iraq last week due to their weight and impracticality.

Marine Corps Systems Command, in a written statement to FOX News, said it responded in January 2006 to an Urgent Universal Need Statement from the field for better protective gear and awarded the contract in September 2006 after a series of user conferences at Quantico and in consultation with the Marine Expeditionary Forces.

The order was placed before Conway became commandant in November 2006.

Marine spokesman Lt. Col. TV Johnson said the problem with the vests is not that they are unsafe or impractical.

"Marines are still able to run and climb walls with the gear. The fact that the additional protection adds weight, and that the means of getting in and out of it "over-the-head" seem to be the chief complaints," Johnson told FOX News in an email.

"In Desert Storm, we wore flack jackets that were a fraction of the weight of the lighter vest we wore before the MTV. They wouldn't, however, stop a bullet or even a knife, so if I were going to a gunfight, I know what piece of gear I'd take," said Johnson.


I wonder what ever happened to the Dragon Scale armor, and if this armor is the same that everyone insisted was better.

How this happened? Most likely this vender was more "republican" than the other..

Latest terror craze: The 'Sticky IED'

BAGHDAD — A new type of improvised explosive device in Iraq has been taped underneath cars and stuck to fuel trucks, animals and women.

Official said Iraq Army has found a new and much lighter IED typically attached to cars and other vehicles. The weapon, dubbed "sticky IED," has consisted of a small plastic explosive wrapped in duct tape.
"They are just small plastic bombs that include highly explosive material and they can be moved manually," Iraq Army Maj. Gen. Qassim Atta, spokesman for Operation Law and Order, said. "And they are put beneath any car and triggered through a remote control."

The use of sticky IEDs was said to mark the latest tactic in the Al Qaida war against the U.S.-led coalition. Al Qaida has also recruited women as well as the disabled for suicide bombings.

In a briefing on Feb. 25, Atta said insurgents were using sticky IEDs to booby-trap cars, fuel trucks or animals. He said the bomb has been seen throughout the Baghdad area.

"They aim to influence the citizen and also influence the performance of the security services in Baghdad," Atta said.

Atta said the sticky IEDs were manufactured in Iraq but consist of imported components. The general urged Iraqis to check underneath their cars before driving.

"Now the citizens and due to their cooperation we managed to find some of those bombs," Atta said. "But, of course, you know after an explosion happens, they are harmful."

"Careful, Clint! You can almost hear the metal clang of a windmill, can't ya?"

Classic Jeffrey
I had to laugh

Researchers: Disk Encryption Not Secure

Researchers with Princeton University and the Electronic Frontier Foundation have found a flaw that renders disk encryption systems useless if an intruder has physical access to your computer -- say in the case of a stolen laptop or when a computer is left unattended on a desktop in sleep mode or while displaying a password prompt screen.

The attack takes only a few minutes to conduct and uses the disk encryption key that's stored in the computer's RAM.

The attack works because content as well as encryption keys stored in RAM linger in the system, even after the machine is powered off, enabling an attacker to use the key to collect any content still in RAM after reapplying power to the machine.

"We've broken disk encryption products in exactly the case when they seem to be most important these days: laptops that contain sensitive corporate data or personal information about business customers," said J. Alex Halderman, one of the researchers, in a press release. "Unlike many security problems, this isn't a minor flaw; it is a fundamental limitation in the way these systems were designed."

The researchers successfully performed the attack on several disk encryption systems -- Apple's FileVault, Microsoft's BitLocker, as well as TrueCrypt and dm-crypt -- but said they have no reason to believe it won't work on other disk encryption systems as well, since they all share similar architectures.

They released a paper about their work as well as a video demonstration of the attack (below).

Satellite Hit Boosts Missile Defense

WASHINGTON - The stunning image of a Navy missile streaking into outer space at 6,000 mph to obliterate an orbiting spy satellite boosts the credibility of missile-defense advocates. Yet questions remain whether that success could be duplicated against a surprise, real-world attack

The idea, whether the target is an unarmed satellite or an enemy missile, is basically the same: fire a guided missile into the path of the moving target and smash it to bits by the force of impact. In theory, the collision could render harmless even a nuclear- or chemical-armed missile, an idea that evolved from President Reagan's "star wars" program of the 1980s.
In the case of the spy satellite, a Navy SM-3 missile launched from a cruiser in the Pacific not only hit the U.S. satellite but apparently struck precisely where its operators had aimed: a titanium-encased tank of fuel that officials said could pose a health hazard to humans on re-entry.

It was the first time a U.S. missile interceptor had been used in an anti-satellite role.

It was not exactly a dry run for a missile defense test, but there are significant parallels. One is that neither mission _ against a satellite or a missile _ can be executed successfully without a network of space- and ground-based radars to track the target and to cue the intercepting missile. The satellite shootdown offered a chance to coordinate all those missile defense-related pieces.

"The successful intercept is further validation of America's sea-based missile defense capability," said Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., the senior Republican on the House Armed Services Committee.

The satellite, deemed worthy of a shootdown because of the slim possibility that its fuel tank could land in a populated area, was moving faster and traveling at a higher altitude than the missiles that the SM-3 had hit in controlled anti-missile tests. So it was a new challenge for the Navy missile.

"It did confirm the ability of the SM-3 to intercept at a higher elevation," said Baker Spring, a specialist at the Heritage Foundation think tank and a longtime advocate of missile defenses.

Raytheon, the maker of the SM-3, said the missile was put in an unexpected role.

"The missile was never designed to engage a satellite," company spokesman David Albritton said.

A major problem in ballistic missile defense is that an opponent like China might equip a warhead with enough decoys and other countermeasures to "outsmart" and evade a U.S. missile interceptor. Or it might launch a big enough volley of missiles to overcome a limited defensive system.

That's not an issue when shooting at satellites, which move in isolation on a relatively predictable path through space. Which helps explain why the United States has chosen not to field an arsenal of anti-satellite weapons: the risk of inviting retaliation against highly vulnerable U.S. satellites, which are vital to national and economic security.

This is a particularly touchy issue with China, which drew strong U.S. condemnation last year when it downed one of its own weather satellites, creating a large amount of space debris. Wednesday's U.S. shootdown was timed to minimize the amount of debris that would remain outside the atmosphere. Space is increasingly a field of military competition between China and the U.S.

The Pentagon had shown decades ago that it could smash an orbiting satellite. This week's strike showed that it could be done with an improvised array of missiles, radars and command systems that at times have failed to perform as advertised in tests against long-range ballistic missiles.

Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, applauded the outcome of the satellite shootdown but stressed that it should stand as a one-of-a-kind operation.

"This action should not be construed as standard U.S. policy for dealing with problem satellites," he said.

It is not the policy of the U.S. government to field anti-satellite weapons. But some of the same technologies are at the heart of the Bush administration's efforts to accelerate the development of a far-flung network that can reliably defend U.S. and allied territory against ballistic missiles. The Bush administration has spent about $10 billion a year on missile defense in recent years.

At the Pentagon, Gen. James Cartwright told reporters it would be wrong to think that the satellite shootdown was done to demonstrate that the U.S. military has an anti-satellite capability.

"We understand ASAT," Cartwright said, using the military's acronym for anti-satellite weaponry. "There's no reason to go back and re-prove what we've already done." And he said the satellite operation required modifications to the SM-3 missile that do not translate to an anti-missile mission.

"It doesn't correlate," said Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "Will I be able to convince everybody that that's the case? No."

One such skeptic may be China, which raised concerns about the satellite shootdown before and after the fact.

On Thursday the Beijing government asked the U.S. to release data on the shootdown, and the Communist Party's newspaper blasted what it called Washington's callous attitude toward the weaponization of space.

Asked about China's concerns, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters during a visit to U.S. Pacific Command in Hawaii that the United States is prepared to share with China some of the information about the shootdown, but he was not specific. He said some was provided beforehand.

If you ask me, and no one in their right mind would, they shot the thing down a month before they announced they would try the soot down.

Most likely fired a decoy the night they did it live, then showed video of the earlier strike...

US athletes plan to boycott Olympic food

Chinese Olympic organisers yesterday criticised US athletes who are bringing their own food to the Games in Beijing this summer instead of trusting local cuisine.

Competitors are banned from importing their own food into the athletes' village under rules drawn up by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that are designed to protect the rights of sponsors such as McDonald's and to police the use of illegal substances.

The United States Olympic Committee, which will have more than 600 people in its delegation, is planning to transport its own produce because of fears about public health and food standards in China.

The athletes will eat their three daily meals at their training camp at a local university, which is outside the official confines of the Olympic Park.

“I feel it's a pity that they decided to take their own food,” Kang Yi, the head of the food division for the Beijing Olympic organising committee, said. “We have made lots of preparations to ensure that the athletes can get together at the Olympic Games.”

The athletes' village will house about 17,000 athletes and officials during the 16-day event in Beijing, serving up to 6,000 meals simultaneously in several restaurants round the clock.

It is standard practice for delegations to eat the food prepared by the contract caterer, in this case Aramark, a Fortune 500 company based in Philadelphia. The British Olympic Association said that it would not be taking food for its 270 athletes. The party will include one nutritionist who will work with local chefs to prepare the team's meals.

Other countries are understood to be considering plans to cater their own food after a series of public health scares in China. Chinese-made dumplings contaminated by pesticides made thousands of Japanese ill last month.

Tang Yunhua, a spokeswoman for the Beijing Municipal Office for Food Safety, said: “The standards for Olympic food safety are much more strict than international standards.”


The Japanese were probably poisoned on purpose

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Sons of Iraq Part 1

"[This is going to be a series that I will write in a few parts as it covers several months worth of experiences and interactions. Save your final judgments for the ending]

An organization that was a fairly new concept in Baqubah when my unit arrived in August. At the time we called them CLN, standing for Concerned Local Nationals; that of course evolved into a more politically correct name of CLC, Concerned Local Citizens. Now they've been renamed, and they're making headline news from Iraq, the Sons of Iraq are filling the gap that the US Military and Iraqi Military can't provide, and that is the 24/7 surveillance of hot spot areas."
False Motivation
Just in case you did't notice, False Motivation is the newest addition to our sidebar link family.
Many thanks to Toysoldier for the privilege.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Myth Of Sunni-Shia Unity

"When you ask an Iraqi if he is Sunni or Shia, he gets annoyed and pissed off as if it is a huge insult, however, you should keep in mind that he is not insulted because he believes Sunnis and Shias are united and that we are all Muslims, he is afraid that you will realize how much of a conflict is suppressed behind closed doors, in public venues, Iraqis of various sects pretend the same moronic hypocrisy, however, as soon as they are behind closed doors they start to curse the shit out of each other's sect. Sure, Iraqis may be united by language, customs, or culture, but religion will always be a throng in that unity's foundation ; because Sunnis and Shias, religiously speaking, are mortal enemies. However, because Shias have long been oppressed, and because their vengeance is postponed until the Mahdi arrives, they have learned to go about their lives with caution, in spite of that, the Sunnis view them with the utmost distrust, and it's very easy today to visit any Shia website and read those facts. The fact is, Sunnis and Shias are hostile, and they only keep their peace because they are reluctant to speak out about their disunity. A person like Yassir al-Habib might be considered an extremist in that vein, but what he is doing is only being frank about it."

Saturday, February 23, 2008

U.S. Institute of Peace Panel on Iraq Politics (02/21/2008)


Friday, February 22, 2008

Insurgents in the Bloodstream

It's why I lost my leg, so it sucks."

The assessment, from a 22-year-old Marine toughing out physical therapy on two prosthetic limbs, is laconic, matter-of-fact. Sgt. David Emery lost one leg in February 2007 when a suicide bomber assaulted the checkpoint near Haditha, Iraq, where he and fellow Marines stood guard. Military surgeons were forced to remove his remaining leg when it became infected with acinetobacter baumannii-a strain of highly resistant bacteria that since U.S. forces began fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan has threatened the lives, limbs, and organs of hundreds wounded in combat.

"They could have saved it," says Emery. "They had a rod in it, but then the bacteria was in too bad and my white blood cell count was up to 89,000-and they told my mom on a Friday that they had to take it."

Emery's mother recalls that the hazard was not confined to her son's limbs.

"He ended up getting it in his stomach," says Connie Emery, "and they tried to close his stomach back up, but when they did, the stitches ended up pulling away because the infection was taking over."

An Army infectious disease physician says the germ has spread rapidly since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began. "Prior to the war, we were seeing one to two cases of acinetobacter infection per year," remembers Lt. Col. Kimberly Moran, deputy director for tropical public health at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland.

"Now that's much different. We've had hundreds of positive cultures over the last four years."

And the toll has been serious, observes Army Col. Glenn Wortmann, acting chief of infectious disease at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. "Of the infectious disease problems that have come out of the conflict," notes Dr. Wortmann, "it is the most important complication we've seen."

Most striking about the problem is that men and women wounded in combat have acquired the bacteria in the very hospitals where aggressive surgery has, in many cases, saved their lives. "The outbreak," acknowledges a Defense Department fact sheet, "appears to have started during the care of patients (both U.S. military and non-U.S.) in the combat support hospitals of Iraq and Afghanistan."

"They go to what's called 'far forward' surgical outfits where the main concern is keeping them alive," explains Dr. Rox Anderson of Harvard Medical School, "and in the process there's not a hundred percent of the [anti-contamination] controls. Despite a great effort by the military medical people, there's a high risk of infection anyway."

Once established at frontline surgical sites, the bacteria began "traveling with patients or on patients," says Dr. Moran, "from Iraq all the way back to Walter Reed, with stops along the way through the evacuation chain and getting into our hospitals." There, she adds, "it was spread from patient to patient through various means, just being on surfaces and having one person come in a room after another person has left."

Most evidence of the bacteria has been confirmed at military hospitals in Germany, the Washington, D.C., area, and Texas -- though cases have also been confirmed on board the hospital ship USNS Comfort and at Tripler Army Medical Center in Hawaii.

(As Proceedings went to press, the Baltimore Sun reported an outbreak of acinetobacter baumannii infections at the University of Maryland Medical Center.)

The persistence of the outbreak has pushed it to momentous proportions. "I believe this is the largest in-hospital acinetobacter outbreak in history," asserts Dr. Timothy Endy, a retired Army colonel now teaching infectious disease medicine at the State University of New York, Upstate Medical University. Endy battled the bacteria while attending to patients at Walter Reed.

Researchers say they don't know exactly how acinetobacter baumannii first made its way into frontline treatment facilities. Early suspicions pointed to the possibility that the germs, mixed with soil, were blown deep into penetrating wounds. Some physicians speculated that bacteria residing in the combat zone had settled onto the skin of service members-lying dormant until open wounds allowed the bugs to create havoc. Small-sample testing, however, has indicated little or no evidence of problem-causing acinetobacter in Iraqi soil. And the only Iraq or Afghanistan veterans so far showing signs of acinetobacter colonization on their skin are those who have spent time in casualty treatment centers.

Moreover, say scientists, nothing in the character of the outbreak would indicate that it originated as a result of intentional biological attack.

The bug's dangerous effects were first noticed just weeks into the March 2003 assault on Iraq. During April of that year, then-Lt. Cdr. Kyle Petersen, a Navy physician treating battle casualties on board the Comfort, observed a number of not-easily-explained patient deaths. He contacted fellow infectious disease specialists via online message boards, describing his American and Iraqi patients' symptoms-and, when they were eventually available, their lab results. The interaction helped rapidly identify the problem and initiated testing of frontline medical facilities.

"There were bacteria," recalls Moran, "acinetobacter bacteria, on hospital surfaces like in operating rooms, on ventilator machines, or on light surfaces or environmental control units."

At first glance, acinetobacter baumannii does not seem particularly fiendish. It is neither intensely virulent nor remarkably energetic. Its name, in fact, derives from the Greek word akinetos, meaning "unable to move." But, as hundreds of those wounded in combat have learned, it exhibits one particularly troubling genius. Noteworthy even among better-known, more-feared microorganisms, it is able to steal resistance capabilities from other bacteria with which it comes into contact.

In addition to agonizing over what treatment to use, physicians worry about when they should bring medications to bear. This is particularly difficult since tests to prove infection take days. So a doctor may have to wait up to 72 hours to learn if bacteria have colonized on a patient's skin or, more dangerously, insinuated themselves into a wound.

"Is my patient infected, or just colonized?" asks Petersen, recalling the dilemma faced when suspecting that acinetobacter is threatening a patient. "If [the person's skin] is colonized and I over-treat him, I could damage his kidneys. If he's infected, and I ignore that and say he's colonized, he could die."

"The infection, if it goes on," notes Anderson, "sometimes will lead to amputation, so these are tough choices."

Defense Department records-provided in response to a December 2007 query from Proceedings-indicate that from March 2003 to March 2005 acinetobacter infections attacked more than 250 patients at U.S. military healthcare facilities. As of June 2006, the same documents say, seven deaths had been linked to acinetobacter-related complications. The records did not contain figures for the bacteria's impact during the remainder of 2006 and 2007.

While the majority of those fighting acinetobacter infection in military hospitals have been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, up to a third have not -- infants and the elderly among those apparently acquiring the bacteria in armed forces healthcare centers.

Those hit hardest are typically the weakest of the weak. In the case of men and women hurt on the battlefield, observes Anderson, those with "complex wounds, combination of burns, blast injury, and lacerations."

Of the seven people the Defense Department acknowledges to have died because of acinetobacter-related complications, five were non-active duty patients being treated in the same hospital as infected service members-patients already weakened by such problems as organ failure, immune system deficiency, or multiple traumatic wounds.

Two key issues seem behind the persistence of the outbreak. A number of infectious disease specialists point to difficulties in completely ridding hospital environments of acinetobacter. Doing so, they say, requires more stringent cleaning than that typically sufficient to kill other bacteria. Additionally, several express concern that policies on antibiotic use differ at commands and hospitals along the casualty evacuation chain.

Sometimes trying to err on the side of caution, doctors on the frontline prescribe wide-spectrum antibiotics prior to determining if a patient is actually carrying acinetobacter. In the long term, this has created problems.

"I think antibiotic use is probably driving some of this," suggests Petersen of the Comfort, "because when you keep people on prolonged antibiotics unnecessarily, it lets them be colonized with worse and worse bacteria."

In 2006, doctors at Walter Reed began successfully curbing acinetobacter infections using an antibiotic called imipenem. Soon thereafter, Endy recalls, frontline surgeons began using imipenem as a prophylactic antibiotic-infusing it into injured service members even when it was not clear the bacteria had colonized on the patients' skin or invaded their wounds. The result, he says: "We started to see increasing resistance to this antibiotic, resulting in the use of the more toxic drug, colistin."

Wortmann at Walter Reed understands the urge of frontline providers to "break out the big guns" right away, particularly when they know their facilities are contaminated with acinetobacter. But he counsels caregivers to first use antibiotics targeted toward more common bacteria, treating for acinetobacter only when tests show a patient has been colonized or infected. "When you give an antibiotic," he says, "you'll kill most of the bacteria that's on that patient, but if a bacteria either is resistant to that antibiotic or is able to rapidly become resistant to that antibiotic, then it will grow because all the other bacteria have been killed off."

Researchers in military laboratories and elsewhere are exploring better means of fighting acinetobacter. Some are examining possible uses of radiation. At Harvard, Anderson is experimenting with a dye "painted" onto open wounds then activated with light. "Even the worst strains that are resistant to multiple antibiotics," he says, "will succumb to the light-activated dye approach."

Policies on infection control and antibiotic use, meantime, remain essentially unchanged from those in place when the war began. "There are guidelines," says Wortmann, "and sort of loose oversight of the practicing patterns of the physicians, but there is no one person that says, 'Doctor Jones in Baghdad, you must do this.'"

Timothy Endy, the former Walter Reed physician, is among those who believe that, in some measure, there should be. He urges defense leaders to bring a more systematic approach to the fight-across military service lines and command structures-citing "lessons that should be learned from this outbreak but have not been implemented to my knowledge."

A key reform he feels necessary, and past due: creating the means for military services and the Department of Veterans Affairs to gather and share real-time information on antibiotic-resistant infections in medical centers.

He also recommends application of unified policies on infection control and prophylactic use of antibiotics-and advocates that the service's most senior medical officers, employing a more global view than physicians at single points along casualty evacuation routes, be afforded authority to order clinical practice guidelines for infection control.

Most important, he adds, in order for treatment rules to work more swiftly than fast-adapting bacteria, such guidelines must be "executed in the war theater without delay."

During 2004, the outbreak's worst point so far, some 30 percent of all patients returning from Iraq and Afghanistan tested positive for acinetobacter. Four years into the fight, up to 20 percent of those returning wounded still face biological onslaught by this bloodstream insurgent.

"That's what really held me back," says Marine Sergeant Emery. "That's why I was laid up in the hospital for so long."
So who is right in all of this? Why is the enemy—at least if defined by who is killing American soldiers—still a shadowy mystery to the American public after five years of warfare?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Under Saddam, Castro and Other Dictators Were Revered

I would almost certainly have praised Fidel Castro if I were to have written about him years ago, when I was young back home in Iraq. Where I grew up, you were only taught to revere your presidents and commend and support their ideologies, decisions and achievements. In a way, a president to me was a god-like figure I could only admire and obey.

Besides, Castro was always lauded by Saddam Hussein and, as such, he had always been seen by Iraqis as a symbol of heroism (he probably came second after Saddam in that regard). As Iraq became isolated economically and politically, Saddam sometimes referred to Castro and how the U.S., despite all its might, had failed to bring Cuba to its knees. He said this was because of Castro’s leadership, his courage and his people’s belief in him. That was one of Saddam’s mantras. He told us the U.S. had vicious schemes to destroy Iraq, steal its resources and humiliate its people. But he said Iraqis could defeat the U.S. by copying what Cubans were doing in the face of U.S. pressure. The U.S. sanctions on Cuba had always been seen by Iraqis under Saddam as a symbol of America’s hegemony and arrogance.

In fact, no dictator was spoken of negatively or described as oppressive in Saddam’s Iraq. Arab rulers were all referred to as “excellencies”; China and the Soviet Union were our friends; and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez was seen as another heroic Latin American figure, especially after showing his support for Saddam with a visit to Baghdad in 2000 in defiance of international sanctions. I remember watching videos of Saddam wearing a dark suit and driving Chavez in the Karrada district of Baghdad in a new black Mercedes.

Growing up in Iraq, we liked any official who was shown on Iraqi TV with Saddam. We considered them friends of Iraq and sometimes, especially after the first Gulf War and the imposition of U.N. sanctions, as heroes. Yasser Arafat was another regular in Baghdad. He was seen as a beleaguered and oppressed hero. I sometimes felt that if Arafat were to live anywhere other than among the Palestinians, Iraq would be his choice. When Saddam drove Chavez in the Mercedes, one place they traveled was on the then newly named Yasser Arafat Street.

Even dictators such as Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin were not spoken of badly under Saddam. We grew up being taught to admire their ambition and desire to lead. Information about their atrocities was repressed. In my high school I studied World War I and World War II in history class, but there was no mention of the mass killings committed by the Nazis. To the surprise of my classmates and professors, I only learned about the Holocaust, for example, when I came to New York in 2004 to study at Columbia University. Instead, we were taught about domineering U.S. and British regimes, which were cast as arrogant and belligerent in our media.

In Iraq, Saddam was seen as a demigod. His posters and pictures adorned the streets, walls and houses and first pages of school books. His statues were ubiquitous. He was the leader, the inspirer and the father. Most national songs were more about him than about Iraq itself. When my Columbia University professor drove me from the airport after I arrived in the U.S., I looked from the car windows for posters and statues of President Bush. He told me there were none, and I was shocked. At first, I thought he was hiding the truth so that I would think he didn’t like the Bush administration and was against the war.

Even today when walking in the streets of New York I sometimes find myself unwittingly mumbling an Arabic song about Saddam called “Our Father.” There was continuous propaganda about him, his visits and his speeches when I was growing up. Radio and television programs were dedicated every day to teaching wisdom from his speeches or reciting poetry about him. Posters and pamphlets with his quotes and recommendations were given away at Baath Party headquarters. His birthday became a holiday, and we celebrated it.

Many of us, in fact, found it hard to believe that Saddam would one day die. In moments of despair, I sometimes thought that things would never change in Iraq until I was old. I feared that I would never see my country with a leader other than Saddam or his son. When Saddam got 100% of the votes in the “presidential elections,” his vice president said something that many of us kind of already believed. He said if Prophet Mohammed wasn’t the seal of prophets, Saddam would have been the next. By Muslim standards, that should have been condemned as a blasphemous assumption.

When President Bush warned Saddam and his sons to leave Iraq to save its people from the imminent war in 2003, his remark made a good joke in Iraq. It became even funnier when, in response, Uday, Saddam’s eldest son, warned President Bush to leave the U.S. And when the sheik of the United Arab Emirates offered Saddam asylum to save Iraq another war, we found the offer insulting. “The sheik of the Emirates apparently doesn’t know Saddam very well. Only cowards would do something like that,” we said then.

When I think about that asylum offer for Saddam — and now Castro’s resignation due to his illness — giving up one’s dictatorship strikes me as bizarre and in some ways oxymoronic. In my experience, dictators didn’t resign or flee under pressure. They could be assassinated, overthrown in a coup or they could die, but they never just gave up their jobs. And I guess that is part of what makes them dictators.


Beeb ‘slurs’ on Iraq heroes

THE BBC is to accuse the most highly decorated battalion in the Army of torturing and executing six Iraqi prisoners in cold blood.

The allegations include claims that a 14-year-old boy was garrotted and a man was shot point-blank in the head.

Flagship programme Panorama will claim the prisoners were murdered after being captured during a bloody battle in 2004. The shootout, dubbed the Battle of Danny Boy after a checkpoint where it took place, saw the first bayonet charge in 20 years.

Soldiers from the 1st Battalion, the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment won a Conspicuous Gallantry Cross and two Military Crosses for their bravery.

The accusations, to be aired on Monday, have caused fury among top brass who believe they were fabricated by militants to embarrass the British Government.


Investigations by both the Royal Military Police and International Red Cross have found NO atrocities had taken place.

And a senior defence source said: “What the BBC are going to do is a disgrace.”

In six months in Iraq 1PWRR lost two dead, 48 wounded and won 30 medals – including a VC earned by L/Cpl Johnson Beharry two weeks before Danny Boy. There is no suggestion of any allegations involving him.

The claims have been made by nine fighters from the fanatical Medhi Army, who have taken on antiwar lawyer Phil Shiner to push their case in Britain.

The battle erupted near hotspot town Majar al Kabir when a company from 1PWRR went to the rescue of an underfire unit.

As the ambushers were well hidden in deep ditches, Our Boys assaulted them with bayonets.

Afterwards 20 enemy dead were taken back to base. The Iraqis claim six were still alive on arrival but executed overnight, with a boy strangled.

A BBC spokesman insisted the programme was still under discussion, adding: “We are examining a range of things.”

Tory MP Patrick Mercer, an ex-Army officer, said: “It is totally unacceptable.”


Cordesman: U.S. Making ‘Major’ Security Gains in Iraq but Needs to Stay for Years to Come

Anthony H. Cordesman, a leading expert on Iraq and Afghanistan security issues, just returned from the region and reports a discouraging situation in Afghanistan. He also saw military gains in Iraq, however, and says that in both countries patience will be needed to achieve stability. Officials in Iraq “freely admit that it’s going to take us five or six years or more to meet these goals,” he says. “It doesn’t mean, and I have to stress this, that we have to do what we’re doing now indefinitely into the future. But it does mean that we need effective, long-term plans and patience. It’s just an honest understanding that history takes time.”
You’ve just returned from a trip to Iraq and Afghanistan where you met with military and civilian leaders. Can you sum up your impressions? Can you start with Afghanistan?

I think you see two very different wars. Inside Afghanistan, the tactical situation is still one where NATO can win every clash. But you see an expanding Taliban influence on the ground where the Taliban dominate or have a major political or economic impact. The situation in the south is extremely troublesome. There have simply not been enough forces present in the south to really win and hold, to provide for any type of development or governance except for some limited or select areas.

What about in Iraq?

The tactical situation in Iraq is really very different. You’ll see that Al-Qaeda has been pushed out of Baghdad, out of areas in Anbar Province. Its influence in Diyallah Province has been greatly limited. It’s been concentrating in the Ninevah and Mosul areas but it has done so at the price of taking steadily greater losses. This doesn’t mean an end to violence. U.S. commanders use the term of seeking an “irreducible minimum” of violence until you can get better governance or economics. That means in effect you’re having serious security problems in Afghanistan, which is really an Afghan-Pakistan war, and major security gains in Iraq.

Is there a similarity?

The wars are very similar in that you do not have effective central governance in either country that are able to provide services, to provide effective government security forces as of yet. You have very serious development problems and employment problems. Once again, this situation is significantly better in Iraq. In Iraq, weakness of the central government is, to some extent, overcome, or limited by negotiations, which go around the prime minister, between key factions at the center. The build up of provincial and local governments could, at some point this year, be followed up not only by much stronger provincial powers but provincial elections which could serve as a counterbalance to the weakness of the central government. That has helped and it has been affected by the strengthening of the PRTs, the provincial reconstruction teams, the expansion of the PRTs, and the role of the U.S. military. It is much stronger in the center part of the country than it is in the south, but there is real progress.

If you look at Afghanistan, NATO’s under-strength force is further weakened by having four key countries, Germany, France, Italy and Spain, refusing to send troops into harm’s way. There is almost no real coordination to the aid effort; it is far too small in terms of supporting governments. The efforts to build up local and provincial governments have had very, very mixed impact and are far more limited even though they began significantly earlier than in the case of Iraq.

In terms of aid, I think that one of the tragedies is what happened in Iraq—the inspector general of Iraqi reconstruction is correct. We’ve wasted a vast amount of some $37 billion in U.S. and Iraqi money. We do not have clear or credible plans for Iraq to absorb projects we did complete. The Iraq government is not ready to spend its own money effectively, or in some cases at all. But there is a lot more money and it is at least somewhat easier to deal with than the problems in Afghanistan.

Can you elaborate on Afghanistan?

In Afghanistan, there is no central or real coordination of effective planning. This has created a host of small, ineffective programs, which do some good but don’t solve the problem of bringing services, of bringing stability, or of meeting people’s expectations. They have been compounded by U.S. under-funding of the country team’s request, by congressional problems and barriers to effective spending. You’re dealing with near term aid in Afghanistan, which is a far less developed country than Iraq. At this point in time, another difficulty we have in both countries is that there’s no real U.S. plan for the future.

How would you define victory in Iraq?

It is to have a reasonably friendly, stable, secure state that does not operate through repression and with some elements of pluralism. But if we talk about Iraq or Afghanistan you cannot assume that either country will remotely resemble a Western European or American society within the foreseeable future. As one aid worker put it: “You’re not going to get democracy, but you may get Iraqocracy.” That’s what we really have to define as “victory.” And ultimately, we need to also recognize that when you have societies capable of making their own choices, they are not going to be our choices in many ways, whether it is in the matter of how their government works, their security works, or how their civil society functions. This is something we are not only going to have to accept in Iraq and in Afghanistan, but frankly we’re going to have to accept around the world. The illusion that was once the sort of neo-liberal illusion in Vietnam, or the illusion of some neo-conservatives in going into war in Iraq and Afghanistan, that this is something that you can really change, suddenly and radically, to make other countries into the equivalent of clones. That is an illusion we can’t afford.


FEATURE-Baghdad-Basra train helps stitch up Iraq's wounds

BAGHDAD, Feb 21 (Reuters) - Like a stitch across a deep wound, the train between Iraq's two biggest cities reminds people of a more peaceful time before sectarian carnage nearly tore their country apart.

The service between Baghdad and Basra resumed with little fanfare in December after a hiatus of 18 months. Few dared use it at first, but word has spread of a safe and cheap journey, and railway officials are scrambling for funds for more carriages.

"There's been a great acceptance of the service ... People do not feel anxious. They're coming with their families," said Abdul-Ameen Mahmoud, the railway company's head of passenger transport.

The Iraqi General Railways Company halted the service in 2006 after killings, bombings and kidnappings intensified in the infamous "Triangle of Death", an area south of the capital through which the line passes.

Built by imperial German and British engineers in the first two decades of the 20th century in a race between Berlin and London to control the region, Iraq's railways were once a vital link between Europe and the Middle East.

The Baghdad-Basra line passes through a part of Iraq that became a notorious al Qaeda stronghold until U.S. and Iraqi forces poured more troops into it last year.

Attacks overall in Iraq have fallen 60 percent since last June when 30,000 extra U.S. troops became fully deployed and Sunni Arab tribal leaders turned against Sunni Islamist al Qaeda because of its indiscriminate violence.

Aboard the diesel-powered train, passengers settled in for the trip, oblivious to whether fellow travellers were Sunni or Shi'ite.

Women jiggled children on their knees and men chatted as the gleaming carriages pulled away from a spotless Baghdad platform, a picture of cleanliness and order in a country racked by chaos.

"Praise God, praise God for the return of the train. I was a bit afraid at first, but now I call on everyone to use it," said a man who gave his name only as Mehdi, travelling with his family.


Iraq has 3,300 km (2,000 miles) of railway track stretching across the country. The line reaches to Syria in the west and the railway company said it planned to extend it east to Iran and south to Kuwait.

The Baghdad-Basra journey takes 11 or 12 hours, stopping at about 40 stations.

"When the train goes by, people feel safe and feel that things are going back to how they were," said Colonel Ali al-Tamimi, the railway company's head of security.

"The railways are for all of us ... Do you think passengers declare their sect when they get on the train?"

Passenger after passenger praised the comfort of travelling on the train compared with stopping at checkpoints on the road from Baghdad to Basra, a gruelling journey of 550 km (340 miles).

"First of all, it's the cost. And it's comfortable and safe," said Um Khaled, surrounded by her children, explaining why she was happy to be making the journey.

Passengers were also thrilled about the government-subsidised price.

At 4,000 dinars ($3.33) for a seat, the trip is almost a quarter of the price of the lowest fare to Basra by public minivan, the more common form of transport. A sleeper ticket costs 10,000 dinars.

The cost of petrol has rocketed to 450 dinars per litre from about 50 dinars before the fall of Saddam Hussein.

"This is not the true ticket price, which does not cover the service cost at all. It's priced low as a service to the Iraqi people," Baghdad rail chief Mohammed Hashem said. "They're tired of going by car and constantly stopping at checkpoints."

Passengers are searched before boarding the train and the railway company's guards in blue uniforms patrol the carriages.

Even so, only four carriages are available on the Baghdad-Basra service, compared with six or seven before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, Hashem said.

Since then, trains, stations and tracks suffered from sabotage, looting and coalition and Iraqi army security operations, the railway company said.

While services from the capital to Basra have just restarted, the Baghdad railway company has kept many other lines open throughout the violence, with some services resuming as little as two weeks after the overthrow of Saddam five years ago.

The company's 11,000 employees -- a patchwork of Iraq's ethnic groups including Sunnis, Shi'ites, Kurds and Christians -- have braved bombs and violence to keep at least some of the network going during that time, Hashem said.

"Truth be told, we never really stopped the service," said Hashem. "Even when the situation was at its most dangerous, we kept going. It's our job."


GERECHT: Iraq may yet become America’s victory over al-Qaida

Among Democrats and even many Republicans, it is by now accepted wisdom that the war in Iraq brought huge numbers of holy warriors to the anti-American cause. But is it true? I don’t think so.

Regarding the Iraq war and jihadism, two facts stand out. First, if we make a comparison with the Soviet-Afghan war of 1979-89, which was the baptismal font for al-Qaida, what’s most striking is how few foreign holy warriors have gone to Mesopotamia since the U.S. invasion.

Admittedly, we don’t have a perfect grasp of the numbers involved in either conflict. But the figure of 25,000 Arab mujaheddin is probably a decent figure for those who went to Pakistan to fight the Red Army.

Most probably did so in the last four years of the war, when the recruitment organizations and logistics became well developed. In Iraq, we see nothing of this magnitude, even though Iraq, unlike Afghanistan, is in the Arab heartland and at the center of Islamic history.

According to the CIA and the U.S. military, we are now seeing at most only dozens of Arab Sunni holy warriors entering Iraq each month. Even at the height of the insurgency in 2006-07, the figure might have been just a few hundred (and may have been much smaller).

In the 1980s the Muslim Brotherhood, the largest and most well-organized Islamist movement, was at the center of the anti-Soviet jihadist recruitment effort. But in the case of Iraq, the Brotherhood has largely sat out the war.

Even in Saudi Arabia, the mother ship of virulently anti-American, anti-Shiite, anti-moderate Muslim Wahhabism, the lack of commitment has been striking.

A second striking fact about Islamism and the Iraq war is that the arrival of foreign holy warriors is deradicalizing the local population — the exact opposite of what happened in Afghanistan.

In the Soviet war, the “Arab Afghans” arrived white-hot — their radicalization had occurred at home in the 1960s and 1970s, when Islamic fundamentalism replaced secular Arab nationalism as the driving intellectual force.

Arab holy warriors accelerated extreme Islamism among both Afghans and Pakistanis. We are still living with the results.

In Iraq, as we have seen with the anti-al-Qaida, Sunni Arab “Awakenings,” Sunni extremism is now in retreat. More important, the gruesome anti-Shiite tactics of extremist groups, combined with the much-quoted statements made by former Sunni insurgents about the positive actions of the United States in Iraq, have caused a great deal of intellectual turbulence in the Arab world.

It’s way too soon to call Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida spiritual outcasts among Arab Muslims, but they have in fact sustained enormous damage throughout the region because of Iraq.

If bin Ladenism is now on the decline — and it may well be among Arabs — then Iraq has played an essential part in battering the movement’s spiritual appeal.

Iraq could still fall apart (and if an American president starts withdrawing troops haphazardly, it probably will). But it is certainly not too soon to suggest that Iraq could well become America’s decisive victory over Osama bin Laden, al-Qaida and all those Muslims who believe that God has sanctified violence against the United States.


IRAQ: Goat grab

Marines and State Department employees in Iraq are adjusting to Iraqi hospitality, particularly a communal style of eating the Americans refer to as a goat-grab.

The Iraqis lay out a feast of goat, lamb, beef and chicken, backed by rice, raw vegetables, and a tortilla-style bread. It's all served on large platters and diners, sitting on the floor, are obliged to use their hands to scoop up large portions.

As good hosts, the Iraqis like to plop large amounts of food on the Americans' plates, using their fingers.

The difference between the two cultures' views of personal hygiene can cause some angst among the Americans. Some Marines avoid certain parts of goat; others stay away from the pinkish part of the chicken or find a way not to eat anything they didn't put on their plates themselves.

One sergeant caused a bit of a stir when he left a feast just as the food was served, explaining that he needed to check on Marines outside. High-ranking officers have little choice but to dig in, so as not to offend their hosts.

John Matel, the State Department employee in charge of reconstruction projects in western Anbar province, has been to many such feasts and loves the food. He says he can't help but thinking it's fun for the Iraqis to "see what the American will eat."

Babylon & Beyond

Pause in Iraq? Try Permanent Bases in the Region

The "pause" is now official, replacing the surge. Once the summer's withdrawal of five-plus brigades from Iraq is completed, a broad consensus of defense leaders appears to believe, a period of consolidation and reorganization will follow with the remaining U.S. forces. This period will take us into the general elections, during which time the likelihood of any significant change in Iraq is slim.

The pause makes sense, if for no other reason than a new president should be allowed to make his or her own policies for the future, regardless of what he or she is promising now on the stump.

Beware, though: This road to the pause has been in play for some time, and those in the military and defense establishment who believe that the United States requires a long-term presence in Iraq are quietly putting in place the pieces that will indeed tie the next president's hands. This isn't some conspiracy to install "permanent bases" in Iraq. What is unfolding is much more insidious.

Gen. David Petraeus now says that it would be "sensible and prudent" to pause with the drawdown of forces once the surge troops return this summer. "The consensus is that when you have withdrawn over one quarter of your combat forces -- it's literally a quarter of our brigade combat teams plus two Marine battalions and the Marine expeditionary unit - that it would be sensible and prudent to have a period of consolidation, perhaps some force adjustments and evaluation before continuing with further reductions," Petraeus told Army Times.

With all eyes on the number of troops physically stationed in Iraq, one of the ways in which further reductions will be allowed is by shifting missions to other Persian Gulf countries, a process that is already underway. In Kuwait, for instance, the Army is completing the finishing touches on a permanent ground forces command for Iraq and the region, one that it describes as being capable of being a platform for "full spectrum operations" in 27 countries around southwest Asia and the Middle East.

Permanently deployed with the new regional headquarters in Kuwait will be a theater-level logistical command, a communications command, a military intelligence brigade, a "civil affairs" group and a medical command. "These commands now have a permanent responsibility to this theater," Lt. Gen. James J. Lovelace told the Mideast edition of Stars and Stripes. "They'll have a permanent presence here."

The Air Force and Navy, meanwhile, have set up additional permanent bases in Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Oman. By permanent I mean large and continuing American headquarters and presences, most of which are maintained through a combination of coalition activities, long-standing bilateral agreements and official secrecy. Tens of billions have been plowed into the American infrastructure. Admiral William J. Fallon, the overall commander of the region, was just in Oman this week after a trip to Iraq to secure continuing American military bases in that country.

When a war with Iran loomed and World War III seemed to be gaining traction in the Bush administration, this entire base structure was seen as the "build-up" for the next war. The build-up of course began decades ago, but since 9/11, the focus has been almost exclusively "supporting" U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Iran is there, but to interpret the planting of the American flags and the moving of chess pieces as being focused on Tehran is to miss what is really going on.

Regardless of who is elected, in the coming year U.S. combat forces in Iraq will undoubtedly continue to contract to a fewer number of combat brigades and special operations forces focused on counter-terrorism and the mission of continuing to train and mentor the Iraqi Army and police forces. Much of the "war" that is already being fought is being supported from Kuwait and other locations, and the ongoing shifts seem to point to an intent to increasingly pull additional functions and people out of harm's way.

Of course they will not be out of harm's way at all, because a permanent American military presence in the region brings with it its own dangers and provocations. But most important what it brings for the next president is a fait accompli: a pause that facilitates a drawdown that begins to look a lot like a continuation of the same military and strategic policy, even at a time when there is broad questioning as to whether this is the most effective way to fight "terrorism."